Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rumi - America's Best Selling Poet

Sunday, September 30 is the 800th anniversary of the birth of Rumi, one of the great spiritual poets of all history and the best selling poet in the United States for the last several years. Born in what is modern-day Afghanistan, Rumi fled through Persia to Turkey ahead of the Mongol hoards that later conquered all of Central Asia. Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi is credited as the founder of the Sufi branch of Islam. Sufis are Islam's mystics, using sacred dance and meditation to connect with and to channel the love of God. As such, Sufi mystics are often persecuted by more fundamental Islamists like the Salafi Muslims of Saudi Arabia - who appear to be more interested in Jihad than in love. Indeed, like fundamentalists of every stripe, the Salafis believe that the use of music is "Halal" or "forbidden" by the faith. How weak their faith must be to deny themselves and others the beauty of music, art and human culture. In contrast, Sufi Muslims use sacred song, dance, poetry and most of all love to unlock the divine within.

2007 has been declared the "Year of Rumi" in Turkey and Central Asia, where Dervishes continue to whirl in meditative dance to the sacred music of the region. (image: Rumi's Tomb, Turkey) But most of us know Rumi from his poems, which often focus on love and always reflect insight and an appreciation for great beauty. I've included several relevant YouTube videos. The first is a short elocution on the poetry of Rumi by Dr. Majid M. Naini, a leading authority on Rumi who has authored several books on the Sufi master.

The second Video showcases one of Rumi's poems, set to colorful images accompanied by peaceful music. Just for a taste. And the third video is a clip of Sufi Dervishes whirling in sacred dance. These three Dervishes, from the Damascus Dervish group, really capture for me the trancelike meditation of the dance. One hand raised to heaven to connect with divine love, and the other facing down toward the earth passing that love along to all creatures as the Dervish whirls. Check it out.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Freedom Watch - Funding Fascism in America

By now you've probably seen a number of the pro-war, pro-administration ads that are running on nationwide television. You know the ones, featuring grieving family members exhorting us all to finish the job in Iraq. Juxtaposed against Alan Greenspan's recent public admission that the war is all about oil, one wonders just what job our young and talented troops are supposed to finish?

The war, in case anyone's forgotten, was started with a lie about WMD. Then, it morphed into a war against International terrorism, after the hostilities attracted every Jihadist on the planet that wasn't already committed to the Afghan conflict. Let's be totally clear about that: terrorists and foreign fighters came to Iraq after we did, to fight the occupation of an Arab and Islamic land by a western power in league with other oil consumers and Israel.

But I digress. I'm posting today to focus attention on Freedom Watch, funding the new fascism in America. Brought to you by Dick Cheney and the very neo-cons that promoted the Iraq war and promised a quick victory, Freedom Watch is underwriting the new ads. And according to this article in the New York Times, the group is just getting going. Funded by corporate hegemonists with very deep pockets, this propaganda arm of the uber-rich is busy readying ads promoting an attack on Iran. Like we need another war. Un huh.

Don't forget it was president Eisenhower, himself a retired five-star general and war hero, who warned about the consequences of an unbridled military industrial complex. That's right, if you leave the corporate interests to their own devices they're more than happy to make a profit on the excesses of war. And the more wars the better, it seems.

So what exactly is fascism? And what do we have to fear from it? Retired Columbia University professor Robert O. Paxton describes the essence of fascism this way: "......a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond reach of traditional solutions; 2. belief one’s group is the victim, justifying any action without legal or moral limits; 3. need for authority by a natural leader above the law, relying on the superiority of his instincts; 4. right of the chosen people to dominate others without legal or moral restraint; 5. fear of foreign `contamination'." (ref)

Sound familiar? I thought so. Fascism's threat is to the individual, and to the foundations of law and democracy itself. As Fascism progresses, individual rights, personal liberty and democracy recede until finally, they are no more. A totalitarian, police state is often the result.

What a great excuse to surf right over to; True Majority or Democracy for America and make a contribution. That's the thing about the net and the power of bottom-up politics. If enough of us make $25 contributions when asked by trustworthy, progressive orgs, we can counter the influence and effect of the very rich, American fascists seeking to maintain the status quo at all costs (it preserves their authority, revenue streams and makes their actuaries happy).

Voting - Texas Style

One rule for the serfs, another for the masters - as one comment to this video notes. Though I know I'm coming late to this clip, I'd add that this is yet another example of the Web exposing hypocrisy. A good thing. And remember, "'s about integrity." Check out the video.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New Book Looks at The Israel Lobby

There's a newly released non-fiction book that I'm putting on my personal wish list. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. The Iraq war and our new focus on Middle East regional politics are reason enough to read the book. And getting all sides of a complex picture is important to context and perspective.

The issue has been of personal interest to me for decades and was brought home when my acquaintance, Alex Odeh, was assasinated by an explosive device while sitting at his desk in Santa Ana, California in 1985. It is clear that Alex, a Palestinian/American and a Christian, was killed by a Jewish/Zionist extremist. In fact, two members of the JDL fled to Israel following his murder. He was bombed because he suggested that Israel should negotiate with the late Yasser Arafat (Abu Mazen). In 2001, the FBI classified the JDL as a violent, extremist Jewish organization.

I'd add a couple more facts to the mix, then ask you to search the net and do your own research on this controversial topic. We should not forget that Israel sank the U.S.S. Liberty in 1967, has had several high-profile spies (here and here) caught in this country stealing American secrets, and defied 20 years of U.N. resolutions to build and deploy a large nuclear arsenal. Unlike South Africa, which abandoned its nuclear ambitions when confronted by the U.N., Israel has stubbornly clung to its WMD.

In spite of its extensive nuclear arsenal and economic prosperity, Israel has received more direct and indirect economic and military aid from the United States than any other country; the largest total aid package since World War II (reference). The Israel Lobby is largely responsible. I know that I want to learn more, that's why I'm buying the book.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Net Neutrality IS Important

There's been a lot of talk around net neutrality in recent months. As a former Oregon Telecommunications Forum Councilor, I wanted to post a note about the importance of this issue to all of us who rely on the Internet for information, communication and data aggregation. Large corporate ISPs are already restricting user access to some sites and to some downloads. Just review the recent news on Comcast's decision to penalize users deemed to be large downloaders, without defining what constitutes a large download in the first place. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. If you value your connection, your freedom to surf whatever sites you chose and to download without restriction, then it is time to push back. I found this great explanatory video on Open Left today, and if you are unclear on the issues involved in this argument, check it out.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

On the Road - Words as Jazz

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Jack Kerouac's Beat classic On the Road. To commemorate the occasion, original publisher Viking Press (now a part of the Penguin Group) is issuing an unabridged anniversary edition - a must have for readers.

Kerouac coined the phrase Beat Generation, and influenced countless readers, poets and seekers with his wonderfully beautiful prose. He certainly influenced me. I carried Dharma Bums around in my backpack hitchhiking from Orange County to Big Sur back in the day. Thanks to my early mentor and guide, Diane Smith, for introducing me to the Beat Poets and Kerouac.

A 120 WPM typist, Kerouac famously wrote his breakthrough novel in an often-cited three week marathon - typing on a single scroll so he wouldn't have to change pages and shuffle papers. Rooted in progressive jazz and loosely based on the jounals of cross-country trips he'd kept, the lyrical novel was his attempt at spontaneous, improvisational prose. It *so* worked. Once he finally got the book published, six years and many rejections after it was written, On The Road was an instant best-seller and critical success.

Kerouac's personal spiritual journey led him to jazz and the bliss of spontaneous performance. His contributions were many, including his debut album, Poetry for the Beat Generation, recorded with Steve Allen accompanying Jack on piano in 1959. Jack described himself as a "Catholic," not a Beatnik, but in the end he adopted many Buddhist spiritual practices. Personally, I get the impression that for Jack, it all worked together in harmony, like a tenor sax, bass fiddle with snare drums & cymbals.

Significant cultural movements have many voices. The Beat Generation (Kerouac hated the term Beatnik) had progressive jazz at its musical core and a group of avant garde thinkers, poets and novelists as principal literary proponents. Along with his friends Allen Ginzberg, William Burroughs and Neal Cassidy, Jack Kerouac defined an iconic, American age. His life was characterized by hard partying, passion and profound quests of personal discovery - all documented in his books. He died in 1969 of the complications of Cirrhosis at the age of 47, after a life of heavy drinking.