re-Occupying the Cabaret-Long Version

This is the expanded version of my somewhat rambling thinking regarding re-opening this old blog. I’m not sure if the post is finished but I’m tired of writing it, so if there’s sentences left dangling or misspellings etc…just move on. I have.

I wanted to make a decision about this blog. Then I ran across a few things that reminded me of why I began it in the first place.

The first I’ll mention, as these are not chronological, was a long series of discussions on occupying on-line Buddhism. If you haven’t been comatose for the past 6 months you will have at least heard of the Occupy movement and the various protests around the world focused on the corporate takeover of …well…everything and the corruption that out of control consumerism–encouraged, abetted, seduced and coerced by crony capitalism has engendered.

Bill Schwarz, who started the Google+ discussion, wrote:

When we shut up online, as Buddhists, in the context of people talking about Buddhism on the internet, we do more harm than we do in speaking about our respective practices. In the dharma center, the norm of minding your own business in this regard is perhaps a good idea. I am of the opinion that it is a bad idea for Buddhism online. I believe that we need to occupy this space, instead of conceding it to those who are here for commercial interests.

He had a little more to say than that in numerous posts that he made public. But it sparked or re-sparked a few ideas.

On another front, someone asked me not long ago if they might use one of my posts here Manifesting Idiot Compassion as a resource in a Buddhist chaplaincy program. That post has received quite a wide readership. Many, for example, in the Well Spouse organization, which is a support group for care giving spouses of chronically ill people, found it quite useful. This is, to me, the best possible outcome for a blog post. It has also got me thinking of revising and expanding that post-it is a bit of a hard read as I put a lot of information into it in fairly condensed form- into a PDF booklet of some sort.

It is encouraging to me, in terms of continuing to write publicly, to have things like that occur. I have written, mainly for myself, sometimes for pay, for many years, had stuff published with and without my name attached to it and even attempted a fine arts degree in creative writing at one time. What happened in the last case is a long story but suffice it to say dealing with commercial oriented and ego driven writing professors who demand obeisance is not my forte.

Some of my better very casual non-fiction writing pieces, or at least a few somewhat original ideas, have appeared on this blog. And it has gotten something of a response for better or occasionally worse. The urge to keep putting it forward has not abated. I am still curious about exploring this kind of path.


Speaking of response, a thing that has been kind of mystifying me is that people keep subscribing to this old blog even though there hasn’t been a post here in many months. As well the readership of it is currently higher than the new one and my political one combined, again even though I don’t write anything here. That’s kind of odd. The persistence of these readers is a phenomenon I had not anticipated.

Many people consider blog posts a bit of a temporary, if not a throw-away, piece of work. They are usually time bound, in the sense that they deal with passing issues and once dealt with everyone moves on. Rather like a diary or journal.

I happen to be a fan of autobiography, particularly in diary, journal or letter form. I enjoy reading these kind of things in great variety which can range from my grandmother’s old diaries [“We got the last of the crop off today. Weather sunny and clear. Ordered a new tire for the tractor.”] or Martin Luther King’s famous Letter from Birmingham Jail [“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. “] to travelogues to diaries and journals to opinion columns and personal essays. They each, in their own way chronicle a life. And they generally lack the formality that the essay or even fictional forms take. They are more casual in that way and that is one of the attractions. The audience is deemed limited which inspires a larger range of expression. The blogging form can do this too I’ve found much to my surprise, despite the potential for wide readership. It’s a bit of a hybrid in that way between a formal publication and a private correspondence. [That’s why I’m glad to see blogs being created such as the one covering the correspondence between the brothers William and Henry James]

Now I have other blogs, as I mentioned, but this one seems to have something of a groove of it’s own. It has a theme though I’m a little hard pressed to try to describe what that consists of. I know it when I read it however.

So this blog is just sitting here, rather derelict. Not even squatters have moved into the comments section. That’s a bit of a thorn. A image19perfectly usable space going to waste, passersby looking for something to happen here, the owner an absentee landlord just letting it fall to ruin. OK, it’s my social responsibility to do something with it. Otherwise I might get some protesters camping outside. I might have to start camping outside myself. Better to keep it inside in posts and in the comments section where I can keep an eye on it all.  {image:Salvador Dali-Cabaret Scene}

Then a third thing…or rather a bunch of third things have been going on and are still going on that seem rather worthy of the Cabaret treatment.

In no particular order:

BG 239: Consensus Buddhism and Mindful Mayonnaise is an interview with David Chapman that sums up some of the ideas he’s been writing about for a while on his blogs such as Meaningness. I’ve found some interesting ideas in his writing though not so much with the Buddhist Geeks end of things, on which I’ve made my opinion known from time to time. But you know anyone who writes stuff like this on Twitter is going to get my attention:


"One Dharma. Whose?" Joseph Goldstein’s manifesto of Consensus #Buddhism is peculiarly incoherent.

Dec 31 2011

Incoherence is not difficult to achieve. I do it frequently. But I’m not at the head of any sort of spiritual organization, the author of numerous books, a teacher of many[or any]. The lack of critical examination of what passes for Buddhism in popular quarters is part of the problem that engenders incoherence and a whole lot of other things.

As well the somewhat heated dialogues between the monk Sujato and the uber-philosophers at Speculative Non-Buddhism have been interesting as well as occasionally entertaining. Attempting to dismantle Buddhism via po-mo contortion may become a new spectator sport. Points have been scored by both sides however.

Then there’s the multiple on-going scandals, which are…well…on-going. So keeping the magnifying glass on those, as well as the heat, remains a priority.

Sociological issues, as they relate to conditioned behavior, identity, group formation and issues of exclusion also remain of interest.

Another thing that continues to crop up, often from publishers wishing to send me books for review, (a primary source for my holiday re-gifting BTW, and thanks mostly-though some I can’t even give away-or won’t) is the aspect of the psychological self-help movement’s co-option of Buddhism as just another feel good therapy within the miasmic sea of consumerist hedonism and abandon. It’s like a tsunami of a guilt trip “You should feel good, be happy, smile, be 100% positive 100% of the time and if you don’t then there’s something wrong with you”, the Brightsided Syndrome (non-stop forced positivity) that Barbara Ehrenreich has written about, that is far worse in terms of a pragmatic and realistic outlook than the alleged “illness” of discontent and the various facets of suffering, in both conventional and Buddhist senses. In other words the cure being pushed at every turn is exacerbating problems rather than relieving them. 100 % is unrealistic. There is no indication that this is abating at all but it seems to me to be just ramping up. To say that this irritates as much as a roll through a nettle field is not an overstatement. Both psychology and Buddhism have value, for different purposes and to convolute them does a disservice.

That is all aside from the “quick fix”  and enlightenment for dollars bullshit that is also proliferating.

A few more specific items:

Tricycle has brought back Michael Haederle of "Buddhist Bullies" fame to write in the Fall 2011 issue. But you’ve got to pay to read it, though it’s not an opinion piece but rather a safe portrait of a well-known calligrapher. I do admit a certain part of me is throwing a childish tantrum and screaming, “C’mon, let him write an opinion piece. Pulllleeeeezzzzze!” Just waiting for the issue guest edited by Mr. Former People Magazine that will delineate “The Ten Sexiest Buddhists”.  Rubbing my hands with absolute glee about such a possibility.

With that in mind here’s a dedication going out to the Tricycle crew.


So when Tammy rears her pretty little head, clenches her teeth, clutches the bannister and urges us to carry on who are we to disagree?

I mentioned the various ongoing sangha scandals. I wrote a piece on Madhushala that really should have appeared here. That was Sex and the Sangha: Out of Touch. As well the big hoopla over the big meeting was covered in The New Improved Buddhist Council [now with more enzymes, lather and added vitamins] . That too would have been better in this venue.

The Madhushala blog is, as I wrote, more personal, more like a journal or diary than a place for big production numbers with all the singers, dancers and other performers necessary to carry those kinds of things off. There’s a reason it’s a cabaret. It’s a bit of a performance with a bit of a larger than life mistress of ceremonies.

I enjoy the performative aspects of this blog. As actors might tell you, performance can be quite freeing. One can expand in directions that are unusual. There’s something to be learned in doing the unusual. One is required to let go of the habitual and strike out into unknown territory.

That is not to say that because something of a performance is involved that it isn’t real in terms of sentiment, opinion and intention. What is written here is sincere. It is not written to power trip at other’s expense nor is it written to demean others who are peers/comrades/regular folks/etc.  If it sometimes seems like certain institutions or even persons are targeted then those targets will have the upper hand in the differential power relationship vis-à-vis ordinary sangha members or the general public. I don’t need to bully or troll to feel good about myself. But I will not hesitate to speak of and to those who have significant spheres of influence. That includes teachers, public figures, institutions, authority figures and the like.

When performance is mentioned some consider that fakery or adopting a persona. That is not the case here. It is quite a real expression of elements of my personality which rarely get exercised, or exorcised, depending upon the circumstance. Being something of an introvert, if not an outright hermit at times–need I say silent retreat is my normal mode of being?–it is quite a challenge to bring forth the ebullient extrovert who has my own voice. That is simpler in poetry or prose as those are character voices which can be somewhat disowned as fake when necessary, but the personal voice is something else. It takes a certain force of will and a consistent state of awareness to maintain that level of presence, in the theatrical sense, and effort to project at the required volume for the room. Consider public speaking as an example. It’s similar to that. The public speaker is no different than the private speaker, only the presentation is altered to suit the circumstances.

Another aspect of writing as NellaLou on this blog breaks through certain sensations of security that one might like to rely upon, despite their illusory nature. It is very tempting to hide silently in many aspects of life rather than be the nail that sticks out. All too often silence equals, if not complete assent, then a wishy-washy “go-along-to-get-along” cowardice that allows all sorts of nonsense if not outright injustice and in the extreme, atrocity, to prevail. It feels uncomfortable to live with too many “Shoulda, woulda, coulda” thoughts that run through the bystander mind. I can’t numb myself that much and I’ve tried in the past so it’s no supposition but experience informing the decisions that are involved with what is written here.

A question that kept appearing during those numbing experiments was, “Where is your line in the sand?” It’s kind of important to know that if one is professing Buddhism which includes ethical principles. Buddhism without ethical principles is something else…self-help, New Age psychobabble bullshit, a costume, another escape to try to hide within. Developing an ethical viewpoint is an individual exercise but it’s context is very much social. Viewing one’s self as an isolated individual does not require ethics. One is then similar to a rock or a chair or some other object rather than a dynamic system in continuous interaction with other dynamic systems. A noun rather than a verb. Understanding inter-dependence or interbeing requires a great deal of ethical examination.

Returning to the subject of autobiography, I’ve been a volunteer for the Dickens Journal Online project at the University of Buckingham in the UK, since early this year.  This has kept me a little busy as have a few other personal situations. The main task of this volunteer project is bringing a lot of works put out by Dickens and many of his cohorts which were published in several newspaper formats and mainly edited by Dickens himself, into electronic format suitable for text-to-speech applications as well as indexing. Many of these writings are in the form of journals such as travelogues, reports of political, social and religious events, personal opinions and the serialization of novels, including many of Dickens own novels. Volunteers are being used to scrutinized the OCR images and correct text. It’s rather tedious at times, something like intense proofreading, but the material is so interesting that it’s not hard to get lost in the narratives and forget the proofing task at other times. The material is being prepared for Dickens bicentennial celebrations which commence in March 2012.  Here’s a little more about it.

So that’s in my thinking when I borrow and bastardize a few lines from that publication:

These developments were, we are told, enough to re-awaken the appetite of the satiated, to see the author with her lace cuffs turned up, fire in her eye, and eloquence on her lips, arranging with her own hands the sauces sarcastique, in which she so skillfully combined her magic mushrooms and spicy words. Thither, too, she was in the habit of sending from her own house in the Rue des Petits Champs the posts blogue and volatile-vents which had been elaborated under her own eyes, and were eaten hot by herself and friends from the ovens of La Cabaret.

It just so happens I also have a bunch of piping hot bonbons in the queue that seem to fit better here than anywhere else and I really do want to put the icing on them. And since I’ve renewed my interest in performance and slam poetry, mainly from doing this blog,  I just might put some of that on YouTube and stick it here as well. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that though. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any actual performance of anything.

image_thumbSo tighten up your corset and put your fishnet stockings back on because the Smiling Buddha Cabaret is






Tonight’s playlist.

Try playing them all at the same time…makes for an interesting mix.

This basically encompasses the past, current and future direction of this little corner of the Internet. I could have put some Johnny Cash and a few others in here as well but………………..these wimmins sing good.

Choose your version.

Rose Garden…Lynn Anderson or Suicide Machine













These Boots Are Made For Walking…Nancy Sinatra or Siouxie Sioux









You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man…Loretta Lynn or Courtney Love












Making Believe…Kitty Wells or Social Distortion











Be advised that before writing every post on here in the future I’ll be styling my hair in the following fashion and singing the following song for inspiration…


“Only a Crazy Person Would Do That”

Rev. James Ford wrote on the Arizona tragedy in a sermon he delivered Sunday at his Unitarian church in Providence. The piece was called “TREMBLING BEFORE THE THRONE OF GOD A Meditation on the Attempted Assassination of Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the Necessity of Speaking Truth in Violent Times” It’s worth a read.

The signature phrase in that piece is:

…I will not be silenced.

In response to all those issues of inequality, injustice and unfairness that divide. And in spite of those who would silence all dissenting discourse through subtle intimidation or more directly at the barrel of a gun.

The conversation, as heated as it may get, cannot stop. Because if it does we have lost, all of us, everywhere, everything.

But note I wrote conversation. Not violent one-way directives. The latter are the domain of the truly weak attempting to appear strong.

Some specific things have been bandied about as blameworthy with regard to the violent tragedy. People seem to be looking for causes and meaning.

Terms and Preamble

1. Guns

Guns in and of themselves don’t kill people. They are not sentient or mobile so naturally it is not possible for them to do so. People with or without access to guns do kill people and quite frequently. It is far more likely that people with access to guns will kill people, as opposed to simply injuring them. I’m not against guns in and of themselves. I’ve fired guns enough to know that prefer a .22 pistol with a laser sight to anything else, light and not much kickback so one doesn’t have to worry about wrist injuries because of that or shoulder injuries as one might with a long gun. But I consider a gun to be a piece of sports equipment, with a time and place for use that fulfills that purpose, and therefore won’t own one, even if I could, for the purposes of personal protection.

Being from Canada and living mostly in India, both of which have severe weapons restrictions (guns, martial arts weapons, knives-even hunting is not allowed in India), I have a real hard time getting my head around the idea that everyone needs to walk around armed to the teeth. It seems to me that the more weapons there are in any given locale the more insecure the place seems. Go somewhere that martial law or high alert security is in force and check the tension levels. Both practically and symbolically where weapons are numerous a sense of security is conversely lacking.

2. Political rhetoric

It may be in some factions interest to maintain a strategy of tension. If people have a sense of insecurity it is more likely that they will fall in line with the ideas, programs and directives of those who appear to have the power to implement and enforce security. It was Chairman Mao who said “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” and apparently many still believe that either literally or metaphorically.

Power is often about perception. Visibility is often equated with power. We hear about the power of celebrity for example. The choice of Charleton Heston to head the NRA was no accident.

But are the most visible necessarily the most appropriate leaders? Probably not in many cases because it takes a great deal of effort to manufacture and sustain visibility and/or celebrity. If a good deal of someone’s resources are spent doing that, how much time do they have left to actually study the issues which they purport to address? Even with the most qualified entourage and best access to advice and information the presenter is still left on their own when the spotlight comes on. So they are left with talking points that have to fulfill double duty, that of attempting to address the issue and that of maintaining visibility. Often the latter wins out. So we get sound bites about “reloading”, “targeting” or what have you.

Those who defend violent rhetoric often claim that rhetoric alone is not the problem and that those who disagree cannot demonstrate causality nor are they aware of the mindsets of people using such rhetoric.  Yet in almost the same breath many of these same people are diagnosing the perpetrator with all kinds of pseudo-psychological problems, attributing political affiliation to the point of propagandizing, again without demonstrating causality or knowing the mindset of the individual. A person can read both The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf and not have any desire whatsoever to go on a shooting rampage. I know because I’ve read them both and do not have any desire or thought whatsoever to go on a shooting rampage. I read them because they have been hugely influential social documents and so I could have an informed opinion should either of them be mentioned.

Let’s illustrate that point about attribution. We have Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) stating:

It’s probably giving him too much credit to ascribe a coherent political philosophy to him. We just have to acknowledge that there are mentally unstable people in this country. Who knows what motivates them to do what they do? Then they commit terrible crimes like this. (quoted in Huff-Po)

Not only does the Senator seem to know what kind of philosophy, or lack of, the perpetrator follows but that he belongs to a particular group of people labeled with mental disabilities. One might presume by making that statement the Senator is a licensed psychological professional, He’s not, he’s a lawyer. Or that he has interviewed the suspect at length. As far as I can find out only the police and forensic psychiatrists have and he’s evoked his 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination so isn’t talking to anyone. Or that the Senator also has some credits (even a minor) in political philosophy.  I haven’t seen his transcript so I don’t know.

The link above about the 5th Amendment also states that the suspect had political motives in mind and planned what, in his own handwriting, he labeled an “assassination” based on a filed affidavit regarding materials found in his place of residence. He may have also had some other motives. We don’t really know.

3. Delusion, even psychotic delusion

After reading a Twitter post by cabell which said “Bottom line: blaming mental illness is both #ableism & a failure of sociological understanding” [ableism is the position of discriminating against people with disabilities for those too lazy or lame [example of ableist talk] to look it up-it’s another privilege position] Mumon wrote in his post Those responsible for violent political rhetoric DO have to bear responsibility for their words

…putting this on “insanity” is a compartmentalization that does not do justice  to the reality.

The psychotic boogey man is a convenient scape goat. By remanufacturing the image of the perpetrator into that culturally iconic figure of the psychotic boogey man it all at once, objectifies him, dehumanizes him, distances him from the social sphere and attributes blame solely to that individual. That’s what I mean by scape goat, not that the person is not responsible for his actions but that he is being made responsible for the actions of all others who may have influenced him directly or indirectly, in an attempt to deflect blame and responsibility. That’s how scapegoating works.

Many, particularly in the news media, have tried to isolate this person as some kind of “anomaly”.  A “deranged” mind does not exist in isolation.  “Derangement” is fed by context, circumstances, learning, exposure–environmental input. If a person is severely deluded, even psychotic, the content of those thoughts come from somewhere. They are not self manufactured. Work with or know people labeled psychotic and this is abundantly obvious. What also is obvious is that those with severe perceptual issues are even more sensitive to the environment than many others. Ask anyone with knowledge of psychology who’s worked in milieu therapeutic approaches. Ask anyone who’s ever worked in or resided or otherwise spent time in a psychiatric facility why the situation is so strictly controlled, why stimulation is severely limited.

None of us is an isolated entity. We are all both products and expressions of our environments and we express that back into the environment through whatever mental filters we may have acquired.

On the continued demonization of the differently conscioused person here’s a fantastic blog post on that subject Discussion of an assassination: ableism & the failure of sociological understanding and another that just appeared as I was writing this ‘Psycho killer’? The Jared Lee Loughner case brings out the usual abuse


Causality is never simple. It is not some 1 to 1 correspondence. A does not always follow B. When we take those three elements-guns, political rhetoric and possibly altered perception we may wish to tease out one or the other of these elements and try to make it into a sole causative factor.

However, in this case, and in many others:

1 + 2 + 3 ≠ 6

Defies apparent logic if logic could be defined that simplistically. But usually it can’t.

It often comes out in other ways. The combination of these three elements could be expressed:

(1 + 2) 3 = 9

1 x 2 x 3 = 6

3 x 2 + 1 = 7

1 + 2 – 3 = 0

3 – 2 + 1 = 2

3 ÷ 1 + 2 = 5

2³ – 1 = 7

1 + 2 + 3 = 6 [sometimes it does = 6]

Then of course there are amplification effects and various other distortions. If some element is continually reinforced or combined with others, over time we might end up with something like this:

√12 + 3 – 11 x w +  2f x 33³³ – 1 ÷ 2 + x =  ??? (I have no idea)

1, 2 and 3 are as described above. Let f=family relationships and let w=work relationships and there could be dozens of other unaccounted for variables (x).

The point is none of gun ownership, violent rhetoric or altered perception is solely responsible for this situation. They and a host of other things, many of them socio-cultural  and possibly some of them genetic or neurologically based are responsible.

There is no sure formula for assessing blame. But no one is utterly blameless either. As cultural participants, even on a global level there is some connection. It may be vague or difficult to discern. It may be related to some memory of similar circumstances. It may be an action we couldn’t be bothered to take because it was too inconvenient. It may be a destructive impulse we didn’t want to control because it just felt better to lash out violently. It may be that we see all this as somebody else’s problem.

Some have advocated not speaking about this tragedy at all. As if silence will drown out the calls for targeting, removing, assassinations and so on.  There is also some presumption that reflection on the current situation should be done without evoking any socio-cultural references particularly of a political nature. And sometimes it is implied or even stated that discussion of such is not examination and is only being disrespectful to those who have been killed or injured. In some cases that may be true, but not for most people.

Perhaps by discussion some are examining it. In a time of social dissolution or at least with the feeling that is what is happening, people try to get some meaning out of the situation, both individually and collectively. A frenzy of insecurity and reassurances ensues. Yes some will exploit this to bolster or defend their hardened political position but others will examine that in the social context. It isn’t only the tragedy of the deaths and injuries, but a rend in the entire social fabric. Rather like a hole in a boat. And with all the various reactions to that kind of scenario.

Most of the talk is about “this country” meaning the United States. The United States is part of the global community. It is not an autonomous, isolated entity. What happens there reflects elsewhere, and vice versa. The same is true of both the perpetrator and the victims in this situation. They are not some isolated entities that have no connection to everything and everyone else.

In that way again no one is utterly blameless or disconnected.

Some people wish to simply write off the perpetrator as a “crazy person”, “nut job” or other short dismissive label. Labels are easy to dispense. One can then usually dispense with thinking too deeply about the situation as well. The blatant ad hominem is the refuge of the nincompoop. [Yes I do get it that sentence can be highly self-referential] It’s a strategy of isolationism and avoidance. It’s lazy and far to easy to indulge. Anyone can call anyone else an asshole without having to put any thought whatsoever into another’s point of view. I’ve done it a few times, sure, mostly when I’ve sought to dismiss someone unpleasant, but it’s far from my personal modus operandi. It is far from many people’s way of dealing with issues. An issue or opinion and a person discussing an issue or holding an opinion are two different things.  Many Christians use the phrase “Love the sinner, hate the sin” to distinguish between a being and a behavioral action. To engage the issues and the actual meat of the discussion is the real challenge.  Even in the most heated  of debates.

There is a huge difference between passionate debate and eliminationist rhetoric. Violent threatening speech is not debate. It is not a conversation, nor does it even acknowledge fully its subject or even it’s listeners who are perceived as unthinking, passive receptacles . It is a one way directive communication that does not await or even expect response from that which it labels as other. Its only purpose is to diminish its target and make them go away. One way or another.


[I’ve had to bold some sections because apparently a few people missed some of the crucial points and want to put words in my mouth and attribute positions to me which I did not utter. Maybe try reading what I actually said as opposed to what you imagined I said.]


There’s been a lot of uproar about TSA screenings over the Internet in the past week or so. Apparently at the direction of Homeland Security in the United States, those passengers who opt out of going through the human microwaver…um I mean the backscatter x-ray screening machine have the lovely option of an enhanced pat down by friendly TSA staff. This enhancement includes breast squeezing for the ladies and genital groping for everyone. Even children have the chance to be officially fondled by these dedicated personnel.

Here’s a few of the stories as well as some proposed remedies:

Rape Survivor Devastated by TSA Enhanced Pat Down

TSA targets ‘smoking hot’ woman for naked scan; fondles children

From the Atlantic magazine-For the First Time, the TSA Meets Resistance with a follow up ‘Are Any Parts of Your Body Sore?’ Asks the Man From TSA

TSA to Punish Passengers who Opt-Out of Virtual Strip Search with Non-Virtual Groping

Pilot to TSA: ‘No Groping Me and No Naked Photos’

Blog calls for men to wear kilts, sans underpants, to protest TSA screenings

Homeland Security Wants to See You Naked from the ACLU’s blog-if you have had a problem at the airport there are links there to report it. The ACLU is considering taking some action on this matter.

And of course YouTube comes to the rescue with assorted parodies and video commentary such as

Alternative Universe “TSA Training Film” [adult content-NSFW for some]

So I want to look at the question of this “meaningless security theater” that is taking place and try to pull some of the curtain back as to why it is a theatrical exercise rather than an effective means of ensuring security. And some possibilities as to what underlies the current scenario. So I’ll just go at it from a bunch of different angles and maybe something of use will come of such an exercise.

Who Owns Privacy?

One thing I’m wondering is if celebrities and other prominent people are going through the same thing as everyone else. Are Britney Spears, Kanye West, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pamela Anderson, Bill Gates,  Rush Limbaugh, Jon Stewart, Michelle Obama or any others also being subjected to the same sort of scrutiny with the same sort of enthusiasm as anonymous “hot chicks” are?  Now if the purpose of this “meaningless security theater”, so dubbed in the Atlantic article, is to avoid the appearance of profiling or any other sort of discriminatory activity certainly that would include the well known as “random” targets for scrutiny. But then again they have private planes or at least VIP entrances to the 1st class areas so not only do they not go through the pat down or the microwave they also don’t go through regular security either.

And how do I know that? I happen to be acquainted with someone who manages a large private hangar at an international airport in a major city. People like George Bush have gone through that hangar. There are thousands of such hangars, as well as private airports,  not only in North America but all over the world. It is like an exclusive and separate air traffic system. (Just like the military has)  The security involved there is all about the safety and privacy of the passenger. It is to insure that the VIP experience is not “tainted” by such proletarian practices as personal invasions of privacy or public sexual assault.  The entourages, crews and employees of such lofty individuals are also exempt from most (but not all) of the security practices at “public” airport terminals.  The latter depends upon your “degree of separation” from the powerful individual in question. If they really “need” you, then you get the perk of being unmolested.

Here’s another example of the separate systems at work. It is interesting that so many celebrities get “caught” by the paparazzi or TMZ at such places as LAX, JFK or other airports when they definitely have an option to leave the premises via other exits. No one need even know they were there. I suppose some do this “normal” thing just to feel a little more “normal” in the hyped up culture in which they work, but it seems many may have other motives. By example, do you ever see Meryl Streep, Cameron Diaz (tho she used to get caught, but not any more), Jim Carrey, Steven Spielberg,  or some of the other really big names get “caught” at the airport. I’ve never or very rarely seen it. They work with security to bypass all that either by going to private hangars and airports or by using alternative VIP exits.

The closer you are to power and popularity the less likely it is that you will experience any of the above mentioned incidents if you travel by air.  So if you can scam a ride aboard a celebrity’s private jet, a government aircraft, any military airborne vehicle or a corporate helicopter you are home free.

And Who Else is Exempt?

A pilot wrote this interesting essay recently TERMINAL MADNESS: An Essay On Security in which he explains the many groups of people who are exempt from rigorous security screening yet have open access to aircraft and airport systems. While he didn’t list them all some of these include aircraft maintenance personnel, caterers, shop keepers, luggage handlers, grounds keepers, fire and police, janitorial staff, restaurant staff, electricians and other building maintenance personnel, construction crews and so on.

Some of the many reasons he gives for decrying the current security protocols include:

-weapons checks which target conventional types of weapons and disregard the types of specific people who might be coming up with unconventional types of weapons

-obsession with methods that have worked in the past ie 9-11 which, now that they’ve been exposed are likely to be abandoned for different scenarios.

Both of these are symptomatic of typical government types of responses to situations. Rather than thinking outside the box the policy makers sit inside the box and wait for someone, usually with malice in mind, to throw an new idea into the box.

The author has further points to make but one of the most salient is that the responsibility for security doesn’t start at the airport but long before that with other government agencies who should be obtaining far more and credible intelligence about security situations. I mean if they (Bush, Blair, NATO, their respective governments and security establishments etc) couldn’t even tell if Iraq had weapons of mass destruction how can it be expected for some minimum wage security guard to figure out if tweezers are a viable weapon or not. When the latter scenario becomes your front line defense there is no security to be had. It’s all façade.

Handsy or What?

Most people don’t do the kinds of work that involves touching other people as a condition of employment. There are however those who do and that category might include nurses, doctors, dancers and dance instructors, massage practitioners, yoga instructors, WWF wrestlers, prison guards, undertakers, prostitutes, hairdressers and cosmetologists, police, lap dancers, professional pairs skaters, make up artists, chiropractors, physio-therapists, x-ray technicians, dentists, actors, dental assistants, acrobats, ambulance personnel, extreme fighters, bouncers, security people, certain athletes like synchronized swimmers and football players, fundamentalist Christian preachers who slap people on the head and scream “You’re healed!” and probably a few others.

There are certain protocols in place for most of these occupations. Not that everyone follows protocols of course.

I’ve been subject to an enhanced pat down many years ago in Taiwan. At the time though they had just lifted martial law so most of the previous security features were in place, including jeeps full of soldiers with serious armaments driving about the streets. The security screening I went through was done by a woman in a curtained area. It was thorough alright but utterly impersonal and efficient. I felt like I could have been a piece of furniture being checked over for coins before being vacuumed. And I appreciated that attitude and understood the very serious security situation that the country was in, still “technically” being at war with mainland China.

Similar situations have occurred in other places too. While leaving India, Oman and Turkey there are often pat downs. Since all of these countries have had more than their share of security situations in addition to their locations it’s understandable. And most of the protocols have been in place from the beginning of the commercial air travel booms. One thing to note though is that any pat down has been in a curtained area and by a woman. I think that is the norm in Asia and the Middle East. Come to think of it I’ve been patted down in Dubai too.  It’s still something of a feeling of intrusion but done as respectfully as possible.

And anyone who’s gone on a prison visit gets the same treatment. In many cases, though certainly not all, even inmates, when being checked for contraband, we’re talking cavity search,  are dealt with in a professional and distant manner.  In the prison scenario that is crucial because the inmate and the guard have to face each other on a daily basis and to get into making the thing personal ultimately leads to disruptions at the institution. Everybody knows their roles and their limits.

In the public scenario however the average passenger doesn’t generally know their role. Routine travellers might have a clue about it, as pilots have illustrated with their union-wide protest of practices. But the average holiday traveler barely knows enough to pack their luggage properly (overweight, quarts of pickles in their carry-ons, butane cans for the lighters they forgot to fill at home, etc.) never  mind what goes on at a security checkpoint (jacket off, laptop out, shoes in the tray, coins out of the pockets, boarding pass in hand, wait at the red line, one at a time, etc.)

The average passenger, that is the average citizen, also often doesn’t generally know their rights as well as their role. Without such knowledge people will capitulate to nearly anything provided there is some kind of rationale, no matter how bogus, put forward to justify the treatment.

Another viewpoint on this is the perspective of the security person themselves. Many years ago I had a part-time security job. Sometimes it involved having to pat people down for contraband, mostly looking for booze people were trying to smuggle into concerts. We would confiscate it and throw it out. (No we did not keep it and party after work because who knows what was really in it?)It wasn’t the most pleasant part of the job but it wasn’t horrible either. The thing that goes through your head in those instances is “Avoid the soft lumpy parts and feel for solid objects” and the entire person’s body constituted “soft lumpy parts”.  We didn’t do the crotch grab or the boob fondle. But I can see in that scenario those just being delegated to “soft lumpy parts” and moving on. I know I could view it that way without much problem. It becomes very mechanical after a while.

Unfortunately there seems to be a problem for some security staff in building up and maintaining this kind of professional distance. As well as using whatever discretion is available to them instead of blindly following the rules or what they believe the rules to be. In so many of the reported instances either the individuals or their supervisors were “new” , “not following protocol”, “adjusting to the new system” and so on. Somebody ought to be doing some actual thinking on the front line so that things don’t get so out of hand.

But that is the downside of playing a role. And when the play is as badly written as what is being presented by Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration departments it is no wonder that the actual actors dumbly mouth the rules at everyone and when someone refuses to follow along the over-reaction is almost hysterical. Lawsuit? Prison time? Really? Even for *NOT* getting on the plane.

It is utterly hysterical and without reason. Safety and security are not being served by terrorizing the domestic population and that is what it is coming down to.

Insularity has long been a hallmark of American thinking. Or at least of those who have come to be in charge of the decision-making processes. (Commie paranoia, immigrant paranoia, Islamophobia, etc.-interesting how the “foreign,” that is the global context, is the enemy usually under the guise of protecting “American interests”. As an aside also interesting how this is very similar to the thinking involved with China’s foreign and domestic policy)  Perhaps that is a hallmark of empires as well as the reason for their downfalls. Insularity may once have been confidence but when confidence shakes insecurity becomes paramount. Insularity and ignorance of context and a sense of global insecurity, and I don’t mean from terrorism, I do mean the fear of being usurped as top dog,  are a couple of the reasons so much of America’s foreign policy has engendered so much bitterness around the world. Without taking context into account policies are put forward, based on this insular, closed thinking and practices are engendered from that perspective and inflicted upon populations. For the longest time it was foreign populations who endured it, but now it’s becoming a domestic situation as well.

The passenger paranoia is based on unknowns, just like the paranoias of the past.

“We don’t know who these people are!”

Therefore rather than gather information and intelligence and develop a strategy that would bring further information, and cooperation to the fore, the force of paranoia and all of it’s malignant manifestations continues to arise.

I’m not talking about some ridiculous conspiracy theory but a mindset that is apparently incapable of seeing beyond the introspective box until a grenade is lobbed into that box. And even so the response is not to venture out of the box to discover actual causes to the disastrous effects but reinforce the box while the contents simmer in  grandiose paranoid delusions of what is “out there”.

How we got to this point is an interesting study in reactionary politics, fear mongering, and a disconcerting willingness of the American public to accept almost anything, no matter how illogical, inconvenient or unreasonable, in the name of security. Conned and frightened, our country demands not actual security, but security spectacle.

from TERMINAL MADNESS: An Essay On Security

[Thanks to Bodhipaksa for the Facebook exchange that prompted this post]

Musical Accompaniment

Iggy Pop in the 70s-The Passenger [with a few swears and a rather odd musical arrangement]


The Passenger-Lyrics

[so you can sing along as you go through TSA screening]

I am the passenger and I ride and I ride
I ride through the city’s backsides
I see the stars come out of the sky
Yeah, the bright and hollow sky
You know it looks so good tonight
I am the passenger
I stay under glass
I look through my window so bright
I see the stars come out tonight
I see the bright and hollow sky
Over the city’s ripped backsides
And everything looks good tonight
Singing la la la la la.. lala la la, la la la la.. lala la la etc
Get into the car
We’ll be the passenger
We’ll ride through the city tonight
We’ll see the city’s ripped backsides
We’ll see the bright and hollow sky
We’ll see the stars that shine so bright
Stars made for us tonight
Oh, the passenger
How, how he rides
Oh, the passenger
He rides and he rides
He looks through his window
What does he see?
He sees the sign and hollow sky
He sees the stars come out tonight
He sees the city’s ripped backsides
He sees the winding ocean drive
And everything was made for you and me
All of it was made for you and me
‘Cause it just belongs to you and me
So let’s take a ride and see what’s mine
Singing la la la la.. lala la la [x3]
Oh the passenger
He rides and he rides
He sees things from under glass
He looks through his window side
He sees the things that he knows are his
He sees the bright and hollow sky
He sees the city sleep at night
He sees the stars are out tonight
And all of it is yours and mine
And all of it is yours and mine
So let’s ride and ride and ride and ride
Oh, oh, Singing la la la la lalalala

More More More More More on Idiocy [addendum]

In the comments of the last post about Idiot Compassion someone left a spam comment that is linked to selling a t-shirt. The t-shirt is to promote people to draw pictures of Mohammed on May 20th as some sort of outburst against the South-Park kerfuffle. Here is their spam-comment:

movieflight said on Manifestations of Idiot Compassion

April 30, 2010 at 02:27

In response to the South Park censorship, May 20 has been designated Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. Google it. Pass it along!

Someone sent me an email taking note of the spam-comment and wrote this above it:

I think this one is out of place……

But it occurs to me that such a cause, if you want to call it that, and such a reaction to it;the spam-comment, particularly since the main purpose is to sell t-shirts and not really to support anti-censorship efforts, is a good example of idiocy and is especially ironic in this situation.

The fundamentalist Muslim guy (and he’s a guy – maybe two guys – not a huge terrorist organization as people have tried to make out)  who wrote the incendiary Internet post about South Park in the first place has written further on that subject. The spam-comment goes some distance to lend a hint of credibility to what has been said:

from Revolution Muslim-run by the blogger that originally wrote in a threatening manner about the South Park creators.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Clarifying the South Park Response and Calling on Others to Join in the Defense of the Prophet Muhammad –

The cancer we are referring to is that of American imperialism and its coincident culture of pagan hedonistic barbarism, a culture which drives to dehumanize the intrinsic morality of the rest of the world. As it stands today the vast majority of the world has witnessed the cloud of American debauchery, and those whom it has not hovered over have at the very least been affected by its dust.

It is no secret that America’s military uses American goods to spread its culture and propaganda in order to create docile societies.

In order to survive, empires must conscript support, and they usually impose loyal indigenous elite over the lands they conquer. Oftentimes these loyal elite find ways of influencing the home front as well. Empire is primarily concerned with preserving political, economic, and military dominance and therefore tends to portray itself as tolerant and pluralistic of the cultures and customs of they come to conquer.

However, a closer objective analysis always reveals that this tolerance is a guise of strategy and is only apparent where the conquered are willing to retain personal customs and control in exchange for the sacrifice of indigenous sovereignty over wealth, natural resource, and political decision. Thus while empires rape and extract the material wealth of the people they dominate, they grant the seeming retention of indigenous language, custom, religion and the like.

In reality, this focus on power and control leads to the actual loss of spiritual, psychological, and emotional health and, as an oligarchy is imposed, the educated class is granted modest concessions and then political and economic rights of the general people are violated for the long term. This requires that what a conquered people consider sacred must be portrayed as backwards. While this process tends to occur subconsciously it leads to a sense of power and privilege on the home shores of the imperialist, and that serves as a justification for the atrocities committed and thereby minimized on the frontier. The term “sand-nigger” or “camel jockey” did not start with American soldiers on the ground in Iraq, but was a phrase coined during Britain’s imperialist adventure in the Middle East. The ‘other’s’ culture and custom must always be degraded in order to retain a justification for physical domination. Media always plays a role in perpetuating these ideas.

The contemporary American Empire is dependent on a hedonistic, consumerist mindset that effectively numbs the general world populace and keeps them ignorant and oblivious to the imperialist reality.

Now here is what some other Muslims had to say about the situation in their blogs and columns.  Interesting to read the comments involved there too.

from Irshad – a blog which has the subtitle “For Muslim Reform and Moral Courage” -Irshad Manji is Canadian woman Muslim writer

Sign my petition… or else

See, as a faithful Muslim who’s trying to educate her fellow Muslims that Islam can be reconciled with free expression, I’m offended by the broadcaster of South Park, a channel called Comedy Central, which has censored any mention of Muhammad. I’m offended that the executives are caving to Islamist criminals. I’m offended that they’re infantilizing Muslims by expecting so little from us. Above all, I’m offended that they’re making my mission of Muslim reform that much harder.

from The Chicago Islam Examiner – Qasim Rashid has has quite a number of articles on this topic.

In mocking Prophet Muhammad, has South Park gone too far?

So, in mocking the Prophet Muhammad, has South Park gone too far?  The answer is, it’s irrelevant.  Regardless of how someone might desire to insult Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, it is never an excuse to respond in violence.  Such a notion has no place in Islam.

Prophet Muhammad and South Park: a Muslim sets the record straight

Muslims have not been humiliated, the Prophet Muhammad has certainly not been irreparably reviled, and everything sacred in Islam is still sacred, rest assured.  Did South Park wish to offend Muslims?  Probably, but so what?  Why only be offended when Prophet Muhammad is mocked?  Since Muslims believe in all prophets of God, why not demonstrate displeasure when Prophet Jesus is regularly mocked?  Is Prophet Buddha snorting cocaine an acceptable belief to Islam?  Of course not.

In mocking Jesus, Moses, Bhudda, and Krishna, has South Park gone too far?

Islam champions freedom of thought and forbids compulsion in such matters. (HQ 2:256). However, a restriction on compulsion of thought and a promotion of vulgarity in the name of free speech are quite different phenomenon.

Has it become impossible to express freedom of speech without resorting to offensive depictions of some of history’s most beloved individuals?  Why is it more funny, or funny at all to have such people derided and mocked? We don’t mock contemporary heroes such as Dr. King, who, looked to personages like Prophet Jesus for their inspiration.  Then, why malign the legacy of the people who revolutionized our world?

from altmuslim comment Aziz Poonawalla writes:

South Park and the freedom to blaspheme

I don’t watch South Park, and likely never will. But I much prefer their attempt at depiction of the Prophet, which is rooted in a simple need to assert their creative freedom, rather than any genuine intent to defame or insult Islam – quite unlike the Danish newspaper cartoons, which were created with only malice in mind. To understand this, compare and contrast the images of the Prophet as a super hero or a bear, versus a dark figure with a bomb in his turban. The real insult to the Prophet is in refusing to make a distinction at all.

The American Muslim response to insults to the Prophet is mostly indifference with perhaps some wounded silence. Only one nut on one lone website made any threat – the rest of us have behaved as anyone would to an impolite fool slandering our loved ones: by ignoring them. Instead, we’ve saved our critique for the real idiots in this silly tale – the ones who think Islam and the Prophet actually need defending from mere cartoons.

from Muslim Matters author Amad writes:

South Park Episode & Censorship of Mohammed’s (S) Depiction: The Script Played to Perfection

As far as the Islamic ruling around the issue of defaming the Prophet (S), many scholars have discussed this in the context of an Islamic state (like on Islam-QA). Islam pays a great deal of attention on individual actors not taking state matters in their own hands in an Islamic state. We can argue and discuss the rulings around blasphemy in an Islamic state, but that discussion is irrelevant to the issue at hand. No respectable scholar residing in the East, with any sort of mainstream following, has urged Muslims in the West to take the law in their own hands, and to resort to violence. Similarly, the fact that NOT ONE mainstream scholar in the West has ever encouraged or approved of violence by Muslims in this issue, is sufficient to prove that any other opinion is a fringe, marginalized view with no place in the mainstream public sphere.

from The American Muslim Robert Salaam writes:

South Park creators getting death threats

Some Muslims are just ignorant plain and simple.  It baffles the mind how hypocritical we are at times.  How can we truly ever get angry at any cartoon called “Muhammad” if we don’t even know what the Prophet (saw) actually looked like?  It’s just stupid that we would get offended as if a cartoon actually held any power over the Messenger of God (saw) or Allah (swt).  Is our faith that weak that we believe we have to go defending Allah (swt) and the Prophets (saw) honor every time someone draws an image or uses the name?  We are hypocrites for a myriad of reasons on this issue.  For one thing, if we were to actually get angry we are supposed to get angry at the depiction of ALL Prophets and Messengers, peace and blessings be upon them, of God.  So where is our “outrage” when Jesus (as) or Moses (as), etc. are depicted?  I know, I know, crickets….  Furthermore, don’t we have more important things to be angry about?  You know like the suffering and oppression of Muslims in so-called Muslim lands, carried out by so-called fellow Muslims?  You know where Muslim women are routinely raped in Darfur, child brides bleed to death in Yemen from forced intercourse, and people are routinely killed, harassed, etc. all over?  Have we become so perverted that we would give death threats to cartoonists and ignore suffering under our noses.  Why not use all that zealotry to fix our lands and truly make them a place where Muslims feel safe and secure and lands in which our neighbors feel safe.  You know as the Prophet (saw) actually ordered us to.  Do we really think the Prophet (saw) would prefer us threaten cartoonists over providing and defending the orphan, woman, weak, wayfarer, and fellow believers in our own lands?  We are a terribly misguided Ummah!  Leave these people alone.  Allah (swt) will chastise whom HE wills in this life and the hereafter.  Surely the Creator of the Universe has the power to deal with a cartoon if He chose to.  Maybe it’s just me, but we have more important things to be “outraged” about.

So within the Muslim community there seems to be a lot more variety of opinion than major news media and t-shirt-selling spam-comment writers could imagine.

Why I Think This Whole Thing is Idiotic

There is just more than enough idiocy to go around in this situation. The whole thing, from every side is a pretty small blip on the global scale radar. But there is money and attention to be had on all sides by whipping this up into some kind of frenzy.

Everybody is pimping the Prophet in this one.


Satire is known in many cultures. It is:

1.the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.

2.a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule.

3.a literary genre comprising such compositions.


Medieval Arabic poetry included the satiric genre hija. Satire was introduced into Arabic prose literature by the Afro-Arab author Al-Jahiz in the 9th century. While dealing with serious topics in what are now known as anthropology, sociology and psychology, he introduced a satirical approach, “based on the premise that, however serious the subject under review, it could be made more interesting and thus achieve greater effect, if only one leavened the lump of solemnity by the insertion of a few amusing anecdotes or by the throwing out of some witty or paradoxical observations. He was well aware that, in treating of new themes in his prose works, he would have to employ a vocabulary of a nature more familiar in hija, satirical poetry.”

from Wikipedia

There is also Arabic satire and Persian satire [so it’s not like an American invention or only understood by English speaking people]

The Idiocy of South Park

Not a fan of South Park. It’s creators have been hailed as some kind of post-modern prophets rampaging through the temples and ideals many people hold in some kind of regard.  They are busy deconstructing all the sacred cows in their little frat-boy way with their high-school art-class doodled cartoon with the wind up jack-in-the-box music and we are all supposed to take it up as some kind of huge revelation. No thanks. There’s more insightful stuff on YouTube. Yeah OK I am a satire snob.

Nobody really listens to any issue, however legitimate, when someone is insulting and boorish. [and boring]

The Idiocy of Threats Against the South Park Creators

The South Park portrayal of Mohammed was not something that rational people would even take seriously. Getting into a big snit and quoting Osama bin Laden and then requesting a rational dialogue is a little hypocritical and over the top. Attention seeking behavior of this kind is not all that different than the South Park creators.

Nobody really listens to any issue, however legitimate, when someone is shouting and threatening. [and boring]

The Idiocy of Spam-Comment T-Shirt Sellers

Now even if there were some concerted non-commercial effort to stage a Draw the Prophet event it just comes off as pointless.  Expressing some smug slogan is not going to change centuries of history or the beliefs of millions of people.

What’s the purpose of even suggesting this? What will be accomplished? What is the goal?

Let’s all go way off the deep end because South Park guys did what they do in their attention seeking way to make money and one Muslim guy did what he did to get attention and some news coverage, and then have a bunch of people piss all over the whole Islamic religion and the many hundreds of thousands who didn’t get irate or even bother to get involved.

Keep some damn perspective.

Every religion, belief, philosophy, opinion is open to abuse from both the outside and within. Whether from Dharma-pimps, Jesus-pimps, Mohammed-pimps, atheist-pimps or just the straight out money-making pimps like at South Park.  If there is gain to be made from anything there is someone willing to exploit it.

Why is this even an issue?

[Probably because a bunch of people will actually jump on that bandwagon, buy t-shirts, draw pictures for their blogs and get all self-righteous-y about doing their part to combat anti-censorship]

Here’s another interesting link from the Christian Science Monitor ‘South Park’ episode 201 and the frustration of being Muslim-American


From this blog post

Everybody Draw Muhammad Day

which links to this blog post

Freedom of sketch

which links to this blog post

Post-‘South Park’: Cartoonist retreats from ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!’ [UPDATED]

I’ve  finally tracked down where this idea originated. And there are bandwagon jumpers aplenty. A Facebook group Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. among other things has been set up. (There is also a “Ban Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” Facebook page) People such as Dan Savage and Andrew Sullivan have also decided to participate.

It is highly ironic that the originator of this idiocy had this to say in the Washington Post.

In that interview, Norris said of the Facebook campaign: “Dare me, I’ll pursue it.” A day later, however, she told Comic Riffs she had a change of heart, saying the campaign had grown far larger than she intended and that her cartoon was being appropriated in ways that were beyond her control. [sort of like the image of Mohammed?]

…As for the larger campaign, Norris says simply: “I just want to go back to my quiet life.”

Duh! Maybe she knows how a lot of Muslims feel then.

Some More Links About This

Draw Mohammed by John Kranz of Three

The South Park Test by David Hazony of Commentary Magazine

Everybody Burn the Flag: If we don’t act like inconsiderate jerks, the terrorists will have won! and Everybody Draw Rebuttals from David Taranto of the Wall Street Journal