Evolution and Eden: Integrating Genesis with Fossil Records

Sunday, November 25, 2007


John Lundberg
Keats Secret: the Power of the Imagination.

If you live under a rock like I do, you may have missed out on the phenomenon that is The Secret, an uber-popular film (turned book) by Australian writer and producer Rhonda Byrne. I know, I know. How could I resist opening one of those faux-parchment paperbacks with the "secret" emanating toward me in glossy beams of light? Well, curiosity finally got the better of me this week. If you don't know already, The Secret claims that "people's feelings and thoughts attract real events in the world into their lives; from the workings of the cosmos to interactions among individuals in their physical, emotional, and professional affairs." More simply: if you imagine something you want hard enough, it happens.

In a materialistic twist, the film actually encourages people to use this imaginative power to get rich and collect stuff they want. As Reason's Greg Beato put it, for Secret believers, "The universe is a giant vibrating ATM, ready to shower you with new cars, fine jewelry, unexpected checks in the mail, and magical sunsets." Byrne herself admitted that her inspiration for the film came from a book called The Science of Getting Rich Quick.

No, this is not your daddy's New Age philosophy. I miss those days. When I was in college, a girl approached me at a coffee shop convinced that I had something to tell her. I tried to laugh it off, but she insisted that I was supposed to be some sort of guide. You see, she'd been reading The Celestine Prophecy. I could have given her a dead-serious look and told her to go to Machu Picchu and wait for Miguel, but I ended up offering advice so banal I can't even remember what it was.

Some guru I would be.

Anyway, according to Byrne, the Secret isn't something she invented. It has been known to certain highly successful people throughout history. Her list of "keepers" includes Plato, Einstein and Alexander Graham Bell(!) but is surprisingly bereft of great writers. Honestly, if the guy who may have invented the telephone made the list, how about a poet or two?

In fact, long before Byrne had ever been thought up, the English poet John Keats was exploring the power of the imagination. In a letter to a friend, Keats famously wrote: "I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart's affection and the truth of Imagination--what the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth--whether it existed before or not..." Keats didn't think that the imagination could create, say, money or a woman, but it could create beauty--and he was certain that beauty, even when imagined, is real.

Whether you agree or not, the beauty you imagine can certainly spill into and impact your reality. I experienced this idea firsthand a few years back when I had a dream about a friend of mine. I'd never been attracted to her before, but in the dream I was, and when I woke up I was still attracted. The beauty I'd imagined had changed the way I really felt. We even ended up dating. How'd it go? Let's just say that was the last time I let my imagination set me up.

Keats explores this phenomenon in some of his poems. In "The Eve of St. Agnes," Madeline, a young heroine, is dreaming of her lover Porphyro when the real Porphyro wakes her up. Madeline finds that her imagination has changed the way she feels about the real Porphyro, who's now a little disappointing:

"Ah Porphyro! said she, "but even now

Thy voice was at sweet tremble in mine ear...

How changed thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear!"

She implores him to act more like the man she'd been dreaming of:

"Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,

Those looks immortal, those complainings dear!"

In Keats's ballad "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," a traveler comes across a "haggard" and "woe begone" knight, whose reality has been shattered by a beautiful woman who lures men in and traps them. She seems to exist somewhere between reality and a dream:

"I saw pale kings, and princes too,

Pale warriors, death pale were they all;

they cried--La belle dame sans merci

Hath thee in thrall.

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,

With horrid warning gaped wide,

And I awoke and found me here,

On the cold hill's side."

Why is this important? When we explore how the imagination impacts real life, we explore the potential power of art. Because instead of coming from a dream, couldn't the imaginative spark come from a novel, a poem, or even a movie? It's something to think about. That is, when you're not thinking really hard about the promotion and the Jaguar you want.

For more on Keats, take a look at John Lundberg's Poem of the Week blog

Monday, November 19, 2007

School of Americas: now 20,000 protest

Twenty Thousand Protest at Fort Benning: Eleven Face Federal Criminal Trials
By Bill Quigley
t r u t h o u t | Report

Monday 19 November 2007

In what has become the nation's largest annual gathering for peace and human rights, over twenty thousand people protested outside the gates of Fort Benning, GA, on November 18, 2007. Eleven people were arrested on federal criminal charges and face up to six months in prison.

Fort Benning is the site of the internationally notorious US Army training school for Latin American military and security personnel. For decades it was called the School of the Americas (SOA) - it is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). The school has graduated hundreds of military officers who have led or participated in nearly every human rights atrocity in the hemisphere. Organizations across the world, including Amnesty International USA, have called for its closure since discovering copies of torture manuals used at the school. In June 2007, 203 members of the US House of Representatives voted to close the scandal-ridden school - six votes shy of the margin of victory.

Thousands listened quietly as Adriana Portillo-Bartow told how her father, stepmother, sister, sister-in-law and two daughters, ages nine and 11, were "disappeared" in Guatemala in a war directed and carried out by graduates of the US Army School of the Americas. Thousands moved towards the gates of the Fort and called out "presente!" as the names of hundreds of other victims of graduates of the school were sung out.

Veterans of WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the never-ending Gulf Wars marched side by side with Catholic sisters and Buddhist monks.

Flowers, posters, pictures and thousands of small white crosses bearing the names of people executed by graduates of the school were put on the closed padlocked gates topped with barbed wire. Thousands of college and high school students chanted and prayed Grandmothers for Peace as military loudspeakers blared warnings and law enforcement helicopters hovered overhead. Huge puppets, singing children and drum circles alternated with the spirited calls of priests, rabbis and ministers of many faiths and races. Songs in many languages, indigenous chants, guitars, horns and mountain flutes filled the air.

The eleven people who crossed onto the grounds were arrested by military police. The eleven, ranging in age from 25 to 76, are scheduled for federal criminal trial January 28, 2008, for trespass - punishable by up to six months in federal prison. Over 200 people have served federal prison time for civil disobedience at prior protests - dozens of others arrested have served years of supervised federal probation. The movement to close the school started in 1990 when about 20 people held the first protest outside Fort Benning.

Even if the US government is reluctant to close the school, Latin American countries look like they will do it themselves. Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Venezuela have announced they are withdrawing their militaries from the school.

Crimes by graduates continue. Colombia recently arrested five high-ranking military officers who received training at the US Army School of Americas and two additional officers who were instructors at WHINSEC. All are charged with providing security and troops for the major drug cartel in Colombia.

Simultaneous protests occurred in Santiago, Chile, Tucson, Arizona - outside of Fort Huachuca - where three people were also arrested and face federal criminal charges, Toronto, Canada, as well as Berkeley and Monterey California.

For more on the movement to close the School of the Americas see www.soaw.org.


Bill is a human rights lawyer and professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. Bill is also a member of the legal collective of School of Americas Watch. Quigley@loyno.edu

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hidden Epidemic: Military Suicides.:

Tonight CBS will air the first of a two-part series on the "hidden epidemic" of military suicides, revealing numbers that CBS calls "stunning." The report examines data on the suicide rate amongst veterans once they return home, which indicates a serious mental health issue — and a hidden mortality rate.

"We first started researching military suicides because it had never been done before," said Armen Keteyian, CBS News' chief investigative correspondent in a statement forwarded by CBS News. "But when all the data was collected, we were astonished. I had no idea how much of an epidemic CBS uncovered. We expect this to be a wake up call."

Keteyian previewed the segment on the "CBS Early Show" today, saying that the CBS five-month study found that vets were "more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 as non-vets." Chillingly, though the Veterans Affairs Department estimates that "some 5,000 ex-servicemen and women will commit suicide this year,' that's a lowball estimate. Said Keteyian: "Our numbers are much higher than that, overall."

According to a CBS spokesperson, the report represents the first time an actual count of veteran suicides at home has been tallied, as opposed to estimates. "We also have number from the DOD of active duty suicides that we believed have never been reported before dating back to 1995," said the spokesperson. "Many believe, including the family members, that they VA hasn't done a true nationwide count of the numbers (which are stunning) because they just don't want to know."

This echoes findings in a CBS report on the matter back in January 2004, which focused on soldier suicides during deployment but which also noted that the Pentagon did not count post-release suicides, and that a pre-Iraq war army study had predicted "an impending soldier-suicide crisis" (which, according to critics, was "largely ignored").

The two-part series will focus tonight on the numbers, and tomorrow on how the Dept. of Veterans Affairs is handling this problem (our guess, based on the above: Not well). According to CBS, tonight's segment runs 5 minutes — long for a newscast (though tonight is a single-sponsor broadcast (Pfizer) which will definitely save a few minutes).

Military suicides have been in the news recently owing to the passage last month of the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (HR. 327), named for 22-year-old Army Reservist Joshua Omvig who commited suicide a few months after his return from Iraq. The bill "directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop and implement a comprehensive program to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans," by virtue of better screening of veteran patients for mental health, tracking of veterans, better suicide prevention training for VA staff (including designating one suicide-specific counselor at each facility), and a 24-hour mental-health care, including a hotline. The legislation also requires the VA to report back on "status, timeline and costs for complete implementation within 2 years" within 90 days (i.e. by late January). Hopefully they can reverse the trend. If not, hopefully CBS will still be there.

Vets' Suicide Rate "Stunning" [CBS]

Veterans' Suicides: a Hidden Cost of Bush's Wars
Paul Rieckhoff: Suicide: Vets Fight The War Within [HuffPo]
H.R. 5771 [109th]: Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act [GovTrack.us]

Friday, November 02, 2007

Another way we got into the Iraqi war mess revealed: false reports on biological weapons.

Faulty Intel Source "Curve Ball" Revealed
Nov. 1, 2007
(CBS) 60 Minutes has identified the man whose fabricated story of Iraqi biological weapons drove the U.S. argument for invading Iraq. It has also obtained video of "Curve Ball," as he was known in intelligence circles, and discovered he was not only a liar, but also a thief and a poor student instead of the chemical engineering whiz he claimed to be.

60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon's two-year investigation will be broadcast this Sunday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Curve Ball is an Iraqi defector named Rafid Ahmed Alwan, who arrived at a German refugee center in 1999. To bolster his asylum case and increase his importance, he told officials he was a star chemical engineer who had been in charge of a facility at Djerf al Nadaf that was making mobile biological weapons.

60 Minutes has learned that Alwan’s university records indicate he did study chemical engineering but earned nearly all low marks, mostly 50s. Simon’s investigation also uncovered an arrest warrant for theft from the Babel television production company in Baghdad where he once worked.

Also appearing in Sunday's segment is video that 60 Minutes obtained of Alwan at a Baghdad wedding in 1993 - the first time images of him have ever been made public.

He eventually wound up in the care of German intelligence officials to whom he continued to spin his tale of biological weapons. His plan succeeded partially because he had worked briefly at the plant outside Baghdad and his descriptions of it were mostly accurate. He embellished his account by saying 12 workers had been killed by biological agents in an accident at the plant.

More than a hundred summaries of his debriefings were sent to the CIA, which then became a pillar - along with the now-disproved Iraqi quest for uranium for nuclear weapons - for the U.S. decision to bomb and then invade Iraq. The CIA-director George Tenet gave Alwan’s information to Secretary of State Colin Powell to use at the U.N. in his speech justifying military action against Iraq.

Tenet gave the information to Powell despite a letter - a copy of which 60 Minutes obtained - addressed to him by the head of German intelligence stating that Alwan appeared to be believable, but there was no evidence to verify his story.

Through a spokesman, Tenet denies ever seeing the letter. "[Tenet] needs to talk to his special assistants if he didn’t see it," says Tyler Drumheller, a former CIA senior official. "I am sure they showed it to him and I am sure ... it wasn’t what they wanted to see," he tells Simon.

Other CIA officials doubted Curve Ball’s authenticity, including former Central Group Chief Margaret Henoch, who speaks publicly for the first time, telling Simon she openly refuted Alwan’s story. "And it was like 'Whack a Mole.' He just popped right back up. It was unbelievable."

Alwan was caught when CIA interrogators were finally allowed to question him and confronted him with evidence that his story could not be as he described it. Weapons inspectors had examined the plant at Djerf al Nadaf before the fall of Baghdad and found no evidence of biological agents.

In the end, however, Alwan got what he wanted. He is believed to be in Germany, free and probably living under an assumed name.

Why did he do it?

"It was a guy trying to get his green card essentially, in Germany, and playing the system for what it was worth," says Drumheller. "It just shows ... the law of unintended consequences," he tells Simon.

Paschal: when government wants to do something, it will do it, hook or crook. This is true of every administration, Democratic and Republican.

It is the arrogance and blindness of power, and further the filtering out of data that would challenge the drive already underway to impose will on another without reckoning consequences.. Name every disaster: the failed Cuban invasion, Vietnam, two space disasters, Katrina, and now the Iraqi invasion and war.