Dec 13, 2013

Chipping Away at Lululemon

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Chip Wilson is bad for business. He announced earlier this week that he will step down as chairman of the company he founded in 1998 -- a yoga-themed retail chain he created to address the scourge of feminism and named to mock the Japanese.

But the news just keeps getting worse for Lululemon. Yesterday the company took a beating on Wall Street after lowering its sales projections. Shares fell 11.7%.

Under the new chairmanship of Michael Casey and with new CEO Laurent Potdevin, Lululemon will try to rehabilitate its image and stock price.

Lululemon Athletica Inc (LULU.O) named a new chief executive on Tuesday and said founder Chip Wilson will step down as chairman, as the upscale yogawear retailer tries to expand globally and put a series of embarrassing quality issues and other gaffes behind it.

The company said Laurent Potdevin, most recently president of trendy footwear brand TOMS Shoes, will replace Christine Day as CEO in January and emphasized Potdevin's role leading TOMS' global expansion.

Lululemon, in the early stages of a push into Europe and Asia, was forced to recall some of its signature black stretchy pants in March because they were see-through. The incoming CEO said quality will be a top priority when he takes the helm.

"Product and quality for any premium brand such as Lululemon is absolutely paramount," Potdevin told Reuters. "It will be a very clear area of focus for me."

One hopes not insulting the public with one outrageous statement after another figures into Potdevin's plans because that would appear to be the larger problem. Most recently, Wilson announced that  women whose thighs touch are bad for their overpriced yoga pants. You can never be too rich or too thin to be a Lululemon customer. Their stores shun the over size 8 woman, burying a minimal selection of sizes 10 and 12 in the back. And if you're over size 12, forget it. Your ass is too fat for Lululemon's bottom line. Wilson explained that the extra fabric would cost too much, ignoring the obvious fact that other companies manage to eek out a profit making larger pants for far less than Lululemon's roughly $100 price tag.

Amazingly these aren't the worst things he's ever said or done. A rundown of some of Chip Wilson's greatest hits can be found here, such as his pontification on the toll feminism has taken on women's lives and health.

"Women’s lives changed immediately [after the pill]. ... Men did not know how to relate to the new female. Thus came the era of divorces," Wilson wrote in a blog post in 2009.

"With divorce and publicity around equality, women in the 1970′s/80′s found themselves operating as 'Power Women.' The media convinced women that they could win at home and be a man’s equal in the business world.... The 1980′s gave way to Power Women dressing like men in boardroom attire with big shoulder pads. They went to 3 martini lunches and smoked because this is what their 'successful' fathers did in the business world.

"... Breast cancer also came into prominence in the 1990’s. I suggest this was due to the number of cigarette-smoking Power Women who were on the pill (initial concentrations of hormones in the pill were very high) and taking on the stress previously left to men in the working world.

"Ultimately, Lululemon was formed because female education levels, breast cancer, yoga/athletics and the desire to dress feminine came together all at one time."

Strangely, these ideas didn't go over well with the store's customer base.

Also unpopular was his plan to stem the problem of youth unemployment in the Third World. Where most of us call that exploiting child labor, the forward thinking Wilson saw it as a way for impoverished children to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Then there was his childlike glee at the unintentional hilarity of Japanese people who "try to say" Lululemon. Wilson seems almost impossibly tone-deaf.

The ironic contempt of a yoga clothier for women's bodies that stray from a largely unattainable ideal has even alienated some of Lululemon's most ardent supporters. "Luluheads" lit up social media with their outrage over Wilson's comments about thigh "pressure." And at least two Lululemon ambassadors have written public kiss-offs.

"Chip Wilson can kiss my fat yoga ass," says Alanna Kaivalya, whose long relationship with the store included twice acting as an ambassador and teaching free yoga classes in their stores.

I have taught free classes for Lululemon all across the country, and only been paid in sweat-shop-labor-made Whisper tanks. I felt like it was good exposure, and I always try to teach when it's asked of me, but eventually something didn't add up. Why wasn't I feeling good about participating in these "community building" events? Because they weren't for me, or for the students, they were for Lululemon.

I mean, it's great free advertising, right?

Get a bunch of people in a vacant store filled with nothing but Lululemon product and feed them 60 minutes of free, good quality yoga. And when they're just coming out of their yoga buzz-filled shavasana, turn on the lights and start up the cash registers. Ka-Ching!

Brilliant move. Except, the yoga teacher has just given up her Saturday and will probably go teach three more paid classes that day just to make what she needs to pay her electricity bill that week.

Word to the wise: When a business is making a profit on your free labor, you're being exploited. This is something more and more TED speakers -- and TED refuseniks -- are learning. It's something I grokked early on in the new age marketplace. People who are passionate about their non-traditional careers and interests are a very exploitable commodity. Teaching yoga is a labor of love.

Kaivalya had also grown increasingly concerned about the LGATs and cultishness in Lululemon stores, as discussed here. But the final straw was the non-inclusiveness of Wilson's comments about women who happen to have thighs -- an attitude that stands so at odds with the principles of yoga.

Natalia Mehlman Petrzela hung up her Lululemon ambassadorship because Wilson's thigh-bashing comments starkly revealed what has long been an undercurrent of misogyny in the store's corporate culture.

In 2010 I was flown to Vancouver to attend Lululemon's inaugural Global Ambassador Summit: three days of networking, exercise, and immersion in lululand. The organizers described it as an opportunity to "create awesome" and in many ways it was. At a roundtable discussion with a senior executive, however, I enthusiastically raised the idea of focusing more deliberately on pregnant women, whom I knew loved their clothes. The answer? A bemused snicker, and an explanation that Lululemon was about "aspirational fashion -- and there is NOTHING aspirational about pregnancy." I smiled weakly, astonished at the incongruence between this arrogance and the attitudes of the lulu team back in New York.

I immediately thought of this interaction when I heard Wilson's interview. That same macho derision toward female bodies, especially heavy ones. Most of all: a repugnantly familiar misogynist tendency to reduce a woman to her body parts. This cultural malaise reaches far beyond loudmouths at lululemon. The anti-choice movement is notorious for defining women as little more than uteruses. Ardent "lactivists" are guilty as well, disdaining women who choose not to breastfeed. Even the breast cancer awareness movement has embraced a do-it-for-the-boys campaign to "save second base." Wilson's comments, in correlating a woman's worthiness to wear lululemon with the distance between her thighs, (that's an inverse relationship, FYI) partake of the same disturbing trend.

There is "nothing aspirational about pregnancy." I don't even know how to begin to process such a statement. Chip Wilson has created a company that is utterly contemptuous of women's bodies. Perhaps it can be rehabilitated under its new leadership but I'm not optimistic. Wilson will still sit on the board of directors and will no doubt continue to exert a great deal of control over the direction of his brainchild. This is probably little more than a cosmetic change. Only time and clothing sizes will tell.

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Dec 12, 2013

Strings and Things

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There have been some big doings in the world of physics, real front page stuff. For simplicity's sake, I'm going to skip the part where I try to pretend I understand any of it.

The theory of the holographic universe just got a major boost from new developments in string theory.

A team of physicists has provided some of the clearest evidence yet that our Universe could be just one big projection.

In 1997, theoretical physicist Juan Maldacena proposed that an audacious model of the Universe in which gravity arises from infinitesimally thin, vibrating strings could be reinterpreted in terms of well-established physics. The mathematically intricate world of strings, which exist in nine dimensions of space plus one of time, would be merely a hologram: the real action would play out in a simpler, flatter cosmos where there is no gravity.

Maldacena's idea thrilled physicists because it offered a way to put the popular but still unproven theory of strings on solid footing — and because it solved apparent inconsistencies between quantum physics and Einstein's theory of gravity. It provided physicists with a mathematical Rosetta stone, a 'duality', that allowed them to translate back and forth between the two languages, and solve problems in one model that seemed intractable in the other and vice versa. But although the validity of Maldacena's ideas has pretty much been taken for granted ever since, a rigorous proof has been elusive.

In two papers posted on the arXiv repository, Yoshifumi Hyakutake of Ibaraki University in Japan and his colleagues now provide, if not an actual proof, at least compelling evidence that Maldacena’s conjecture is true.

A new geometrical model simplifies quantum calculations and may bring us closer to a unified field theory.

Physicists reported this week the discovery of a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality.

“This is completely new and very much simpler than anything that has been done before,” said Andrew Hodges, a mathematical physicist at Oxford University who has been following the work.
The revelation that particle interactions, the most basic events in nature, may be consequences of geometry significantly advances a decades-long effort to reformulate quantum field theory, the body of laws describing elementary particles and their interactions. Interactions that were previously calculated with mathematical formulas thousands of terms long can now be described by computing the volume of the corresponding jewel-like “amplituhedron,” which yields an equivalent one-term expression.

“The degree of efficiency is mind-boggling,” said Jacob Bourjaily, a theoretical physicist at Harvard University and an author of the first of two papers detailing the new idea. “You can easily do, on paper, computations that were infeasible even with a computer before.”

The new geometric version of quantum field theory could also facilitate the search for a theory of quantum gravity that would seamlessly connect the large- and small-scale pictures of the universe. Attempts thus far to incorporate gravity into the laws of physics at the quantum scale have run up against nonsensical infinities and deep paradoxes. The amplituhedron, or a similar geometric object, could help by removing two deeply rooted principles of physics: locality and unitarity.


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Dec 9, 2013

James Arthur Ray Has a Record

One thing I learned during the James Ray sweat lodge trial was that you can't rely on mainstream media to report the unvarnished truth about the man's character or his crimes. If the recent Piers Morgan puff piece proved anything, it's that CNN is not so much a news organization as it is a PR venue for criminals. But then, the media has always been an enabler for the rogues gallery behind The Secret, ignoring one financial misdealing after another.

But there is a record. It's scattered across teh internets on blogs, zines, and message boards. The latest installment can be found on The Verge, who not long ago brought us Scamworld. In The Death Dealer, Matt Stroud offers a crash course in what went so horribly wrong on that awful day in Sedona. He also delves into Ray's autobiographical details, separating fact from fiction.

In Harmonic Wealth Ray describes sitting in the front row of his father’s church as a child. There he first heard that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." He describes how angry he felt, how that Biblical verse made him question his family’s situation — even question God. His parents didn’t have money to buy nice clothes, or own a home — they had to live next to the church. Rather than pay a barber, his mother would cut his hair. From his upbringing he concluded: "Here’s what I know: it’s a sin to be poor." That belief stayed with him for the rest of his life.

"I was the kid with the big Coke-bottle glasses and buckteeth who everyone made fun of," Ray writes, painting himself as a stereotypical nerd, mocked for his gangliness and lack of athleticism. Later, a classmate told the Arizona Republic that, like much of his "rags-to-riches" biography, Ray’s tale of an impoverished, socially outcast childhood contained embellishments if not outright lies. He dressed well and carried himself with confidence, said the former classmate. "It depends on what you call poor, but his dad made more than my family made."

Yes, Ray has both under and over estimated his net worth throughout his career -- his financial picture has always been more narrative than balance sheet driven. But more to the point, it's a sin to be poor?! Words matter. To Ray, poverty and illness are not simply unfortunate, they're spiritual failings -- even indicators of moral turpitude. Except, somehow, when it's Ray who's in financial trouble.

For a man who knows "how the universe works" Ray's fortunes, on every level have fallen, yet Piers Morgan mysteriously deduced that his misfortune would make him a still better self help leader.

Ray is recasting himself as something even more frightening than a wannabe shaman and purveyor of pop spirituality. The more I think about his recent appearance, the more disturbed I am. Ray's disdain for Christian poverty consciousness aside, he has never stopped being a preacher's son. There have always dog whistles aimed at a Christian audience and his latest reinvention is no exception. Twice by my count he told Piers Morgan that his four years of struggle felt like forty. What kept popping into my head was Jesus Christ Superstar:

Listen surely I've exceeded
Tried for three years
Seems like thirty
Could you ask as much
From any other man?

My husband heard a different tune. Moses led his people through the wilderness for forty years. It wouldn't be the first time he obliquely compared himself to Moses, as Matt Stroud points out.

In Harmonic Wealth Ray describes taking a self-imposed exile from his wealth because "a warrior doesn’t have or need anything." He began "by seeking out a wise kahuna in Hawaii and a Peruvian shaman." He writes unspecifically of his studies, which culminated in 2005 with an epiphany at the summit of Mount Sinai. "I was the only one there all night long, shivering from the cold on top of the mountain, and hovering over a tiny candle flame. This is where it all came together for me," he writes, "where the final pieces of Harmonic Wealth and the quantum physics material I had studied for over a decade took form for me in a kind of rapid download into my journal." According to his book, in the same cave where Moses received the Ten Commandments, James Arthur Ray received his own universal laws.

And how long was Moses at Mt. Sinai? That would have been forty days and nights.

The only thing more nauseating than Ray's self-pity over deaths he caused are the veiled allusions to martyrdom, sacrifice, and acquired wisdom.

Watch him. Watch carefully as he flounces about with his new Jesus coif and revisionist mythology. And just remember that, as the Salty Droid reminds us, we are watching, too. The bloggers, the authors, the survivors, the grieving families. We are watching. And we keep records.

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Dec 2, 2013

The Remarkable Vision of Jimmy Nelson

I don't like the title of this book. It sounds fatalistic to me, as if the attrition of these indigenous cultures is inevitable. But it is also a warning, a reminder of what a treasure they are, a call to protect what's left of humanity's origins.

These are truly remarkable photographs. Jimmy Nelson devoted 25 years of his life gaining the trust of these tribal peoples, so much so that they were willing be documented by a Westerner.

Looking at Nelson’s photographs, it’s difficult to imagine how a British man could gain this kind of access. “I never, ever take out the camera right away,” Nelson says firmly. “I didn’t know their language, but we connected as people.”

Because each tribe has its own particular dialect, there was only so far a local translator could go. The rest was up to Nelson. He says he used body language to convey ideas. By way of demonstration, he stretches his eyes wide, puts his hands on his face, makes an expression of awe and ‘ooos’ and ‘aahs.’

“It’s all about vanity and empathy,” Nelson says. “You literally go onto your knees and you beg them… You put them on a pedestal and you say until you can’t hear yourself anymore, ‘You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful. You’re important.' And eventually people feel that.”

And they are beautiful -- so, so beautiful.

Nelson's story reads a little like a shamanic initiation. At age 16 all his hair fell out. This trauma set him on a course of spiritual discovery that sent him to Tibet where he explored the lives of Buddhist monks through the lens of his camera.

He went on to travel the globe and gain access to the hidden world of largely forgotten peoples. The result is a breathtaking compendium of images of very diverse cultures connected only by a set of principles.

The cultures Nelson visited spanned continents, worshipped different gods and had histories and mythologies all their own. But Nelson says all of the communities had two things in common: a sense of balance between the physical and spiritual, and they placed a heavy importance on family.

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Nov 30, 2013

Cardinal Dolan on Losing the Culture Wars

Last night I had the strangest dream. I dreamt that Pope Francis had resigned and been replaced by yet another pope. How many retired popes, I wondered, could Vatican City accommodate? Would this become the new normal in the Catholic Church? And what about the Malachy prophecy? Because it looks very likely that Pope Francis is, in fact, Peter the Roman. Mostly, I was just really disappointed because I like this pope. He's not perfect but his heart is in the right place.

I was somewhat relieved to find this morning that Francis was still the pope and all was, more or less, right with the world. But then I was disheartened to hear that Cardinal Dolan was on Meet the Press spinning like a top. Because it's never about the regressive views of US bishops. It's about how they're being unfairly portrayed in media. Why oh why do they have so much trouble getting their message across?

They're not anti-gay says Cardinal Dolan. That's just how they've been "caricatured" by the media, simply because they're so pro "traditional marriage." But they've been "outmarketed," says Dolan.

"When you have forces like Hollywood, when you have forces like politicians, when you have forces like some opinion molders that are behind it, it is a tough battle.”

What the round-faced, red-hatted one never seems to understand is that if you're for something to such an extent that you want to prevent everyone else from doing differently, you are by definition, "anti." And Cardinal Dolan is "anti-anybody" who wants to get gay married. But he seems somewhat resigned to the fact that the "stampede" of same sex marriage support is crushing formal Catholic opposition.

Also horribly unfair, says Cardinal Dolan is the misconception that the Catholic Church is opposed to universal healthcare. They were way ahead of the curve, says he, going all the way back to 1819. But they can't support Obamacare because, you know, birth control mandate. It goes against the teachings of the Church. Never mind that 98% of Catholic women in America have used birth control.

This tells us a lot about the priorities of US Bishops. Landmark legislation that the Catholic Church has been wanting for nearly a century and they can't support it because of a handful of wedge issues. This is called letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. There were many things the political left wanted from Obamacare and didn't get -- a public option for instance -- but they didn't let that stop their support for the overall aims of the bill. Because that would have been letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. That US Bishops were willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater over contraception tells you very quickly that they are far more preoccupied with our wombs than our health.

Pope Francis has gone on record regarding the Catholic Church's priorities and found them wanting. The relentless obsession with things like abortion, gay marriage, and contraception, are contrary to the overall aim of spreading the Gospel, says the pontiff.

A few days ago His Holiness made waves again when he released an exhortation addressing the injustices of modern capitalism.

Pope Francis has taken aim at capitalism as "a new tyranny" and is urging world leaders to step up their efforts against poverty and inequality, saying "thou shall not kill" the economy. Francis calls on rich people to share their wealth.

The existing financial system that fuels the unequal distribution of wealth and violence must be changed, the Pope warned.

"How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" Pope Francis asked an audience at the Vatican.

The Bible contains over 300 verses on social injustice and caring for the poor. It is, in fact, a major theme. Whereas a smattering of verses on homosexuality say nothing about marriage rights and actually call for execution. That traditional marriage Cardinal Dolan waxes on about loses out big time to polygamy. And the tireless obsession with our lady parts is ridiculously counter-biblical in all respects but the misogyny. News flash: Abortion isn't forbidden in the Bible.

I know that Cardinal Dolan is adhering to Catholic doctrine but he's cherry-picking that just as he is the Bible. Pope Francis seems to have his priorities in better order. I hope he remains pope for a good, long time, or until the end of time, whichever comes first.

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Nov 26, 2013

On Watching Piers Morgan Interview James Ray -- UPDATED

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Yes, Ladies! He's keeping the hair. Natch!

*See Update Below*

Well that was about insufferable.

Piers Morgan had an opportunity last night to hold James Ray's feet to the fire in a way that Arizona prosecutors could not. But it was Ray who was in control of that interview. Morgan could have had Ginny Brown on to offer a counterpoint, but Ray would not allow it. He would only deign to appear if he was the only guest. Why James Arthur Ray, convicted felon, is such a hot media property that he gets to set his terms is a mystery to me.

Morgan continued in the long CNN tradition of playing passive apologist for James Arthur Ray. This is, after all, the news organization that lost interest in covering the trial as it became increasingly apparent that Ray was going to be convicted. And that he's a horrible, horrible person.

For 45 minutes, Ray emoted for the camera about the totally unforeseeable events of October 8, 2009 and how painful it's been for himself and his family. Said Ray:

I think the most difficult thing I can ever imagine is investing your entire life in helping people, and then finding them getting hurt. It's just the antithesis of anything that I had ever stood for or wanted. [emphasis added] And so that anguish has continued every single day since that moment.

And much like when Lululemon announced that brutal murder was antithetical to their values, I gotta wonder why anyone would need to spell that out. Is Ray afraid we'll all think he asked his genie to bring him death and destruction? 

The sweat lodge, as Ray tells it now, was just a tiny piece of Spiritual Warrior -- "the sizzle on the steak." I wonder where all those people -- his students year after year -- got the idea that it was the pinnacle event.  No, says Ray to a nodding Piers Morgan, he really wasn't that into it. But you see, people had all these expectations and they had signed contracts. He didn't want to let them down. Some of them were really looking forward to it.

Except that the sweat lodge was only tangentially mentioned in the contract -- which was more of a tissue thin waiver really -- as something that "may" occur. No one was officially told about the sweat lodge until right before it happened. That would ruin the surprise!

Keep in mind that we will be working diligently to make this event memorable. For this reason, it is important that we do not disclose any further information regarding the event schedule or planned activities. However, we will tell you that it is going to be an exciting, unforgettable, and transformational week!

The rest of Ray's performance -- and I do mean that literally -- had about that much relationship to the truth.

He had no forewarning that something like those awful sweat lodge deaths could occur. Nothing remotely like this had ever happened before. Daniel Pfankuch? He just got a little dehydrated. And it's not like anybody -- students of his or a medical doctor, say -- had been telling him for years that he was risking people's lives with those temperatures. Nope. Never happened. That must be why his attorneys worked so hard to keep the evidence from previous years out of the trial -- previous years that looked like this.

Piers Morgan did a good job of looking grave and serious as he lobbed one softball after another and let Ray squirm out of the occasional tough question without scrutiny. But then, this is the hallmark of TV News in America now.

Only near the end did he ask the key question raised by Ray's recent communiques. "What about the families?" Why all the focus on the pain he has suffered? As he did throughout the interview, Ray cranked up the tear machine and talked about how he wished he could trade places with James, Kirby, or Liz. And how he knows he cannot -- which no doubt makes that sentiment a little easier to express, huh.

But I read Ray's self-indulgent twaddle and there is not a single mention of the people who died that day, or of their families, or of the people who were permanently harmed, or of the traumatized witnesses to that hellscape.

There's nothing in his email:

I know it's been quite a while since you heard from me, and I just want to begin by expressing my sincere thanks for staying with me over the last 4 years. For the last 4 months since my re-emergence I've been catching my breath and doing my best to rest, spend time with my family, and integrate the experiences of the last 4 years. Frankly understanding and integration will probably take the rest of my days.

After my birthday yesterday, it seemed the perfect time to begin a new chapter in my life; and continue to find ways in which I can be of service, given all that I've learned and experienced.

I've posted my first blog today and I plan on many more to come. If you'll take a moment and read it when you have a chance, my sincere hope and prayer is that it will be of value to you and your current situation in life.

Again thank you from the bottom of my heart for your continued love and support, and I look forward to connecting again soon.

Much love and gratitude,

And there's nothing in his blog post, which is particularly odd because it's all about coming through the adversity of the last four years ("feels like forty"). He actually says that twice. Nowhere is there any mention of what happened that made it so rough. Just that he has been through hell. We're all supposed to be very impressed, I guess, that James Ray suffered the tortures of the damned in some vague, undefined way.

He's born it all stoically, it would seem, and has learned about the transformational power of the darkness. He is, as the title of his post suggests, filled with gratitude.

At the beginning and end of each day, I’m grateful to be alive; to have the gift of life; and to have the opportunity to take all the lessons and experiences and move forward. I believe we should all be grateful for each and every single day of life… regardless of whether we perceive them as positive or negative, up or down.

He's glad to be alive with all the gifts and days of life that we should all be grateful to be living... says the man who was convicted for the deaths of three people.

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Ray is just full of gratitude. He's made it through a "spiritual, mental, and physical tsunami."

In the depth of darkness I made a conscious choice to “utilize” everything to my advantage—to facilitate my own development, advancement, and growth. For isn’t that what you and I both really want? The entirety of life and the whole of the Universe are about fuller expression, experience and expansion. Aren’t they?

Yes, it's all about him -- about what he has gone through and what he has learned. Because James Ray can use anything to his advantage... and anyone I guess. 

Perhaps the biggest lie of all came near the very end of his interview. Asked if he'll go back into the self help industry, he says he just doesn't know. Oh, really. That must be why he's relaunched his blog, sent out emails to his list, and gotten himself booked on Piers Morgan. That he could say that with a straight face should tell you everything you'd ever want to know about his sincerity or the lack of it.

Update: Connie Joy has learned that James Ray and Piers Morgan are related by show biz marriage.

"Piers Morgan is represented (and proudly) by non other than Octagon entertainment. As a matter of fact, John Ferriter - who is now the media contact for James Arthur Ray - is also Piers Morgans' manager. Cozy, isn't it? A softball interview indeed. And the quotes Piers chose to repeat on his twitter account certainly make it look like a well-planned PR campaign."

I was just reflecting on how completely Morgan made himself an instrument of Ray's PR, even going so far as to suggest that Ray would make a better teacher after all he's lived through. That wasn't an interview. It was a dance.

And a scheduled follow up with Ginny Brown? Canceled.

Can we stop calling Piers Morgan a journalist yet? And how should we refer to CNN?

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Nov 21, 2013

Colbert's Alpha Dog of Yoga

Stephen Colbert skewered Lululemon's Chip Wilson the other evening, naming him Alpha Dog of the Week. For more background on the yoga tycoon's misogynistic, fat-shaming, racist blather see here and here.

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Nov 19, 2013

Da Vinci's Music

Slawomir Zubrzyck performs on his viola organista.

Just when you thought you knew how brilliant da Vinci was, you find out he was even smarter. Painter, sacred geometer, scientist, flight engineer, aaaaaaannnd musician.

As if all his other accomplishments were not impressive enough, it should be noted that according to his early biographers, Leonardo da Vinci was also a “brilliant musician,” who was a talented player of the lira da braccio.

According to award-winning biographer and author, Charles Nicholl, Leonardo must “have excelled” since the biographers “the Anonimo” and Vasari insisted Leonardo:
”...went to Milan, probably in early 1482, [where] he was presented to the Milanese court not as a painter or technologist, but as a musician.”
The lira da braccio was not the lyre of ancient antiquity, but rather a forerunner to the violin. Leonardo excelled at playing this instrument, and was, according to Vasari:
”...the most skilled improviser in verse of his time.”

In addition to all those flying machines, he made up plans for crazy musical instruments, including the viola organista. And Polish concert pianist Slawomir Zubrzyck has gone to the great trouble of building one.

Full of steel strings and spinning wheels, Slawomir Zubrzycki’s creation is a musical and mechanical work of art.

‘‘This instrument has the characteristics of three we know: the harpsichord, the organ and the viola da gamba,’’ Zubrzycki said as he debuted the instrument at the Academy of Music in the southern Polish city of Krakow.

. . .

The effect is a sound that da Vinci dreamt of, but never heard; there are no historical records suggesting he or anyone else of his time built the instrument he designed.

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Nov 16, 2013

Lululemon's Law of Attraction Fail

What has Lululemon done to law of attract its shrinking stock price?! Numerous ham-fisted efforts to shrink women down to nothing perhaps?

The yoga-wear retailer is both alienating current customers and "making it tough" to get new ones, an analyst at Sterne Agee, Sam Poser, wrote in a note to clients on Thursday. Poser downgraded the company's stock and sent Lululemon shares downhill 4 percent to $66.24 on Thursday afternoon.

"We believe that the core Lululemon customer has been alienated and will begin to look for yoga and active-wear pants from the likes of Nike, Under Armour, Athleta and numerous other brands," Poser wrote.

Lululemon did not respond to a request for comment.

Poser singled out the "mouth of the chairman," pointing to the recent controversy surrounding Lululemon chairman and co-founder Chip Wilson. In an interview on Bloomberg TV last week, Wilson attempted to address recent reports of issues with the company's yoga pants, which customers said were too sheer and easily pilled.

Wilson blamed the pants' problems on women's bodies, sparking outrage from consumers.

Yes ladies. Even women thin enough to fit Lululemon's yoga pants might be too fat to not rip them apart.

"Frankly some women's bodies just don't actually work for it," Wilson said (at 2:40 in the above video).

He didn't stop there.

"They don't work for some women's bodies," he continued. "It's really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use it."

Oh, women! With all your nasty, nasty curves. Your bodies just aren't adequate racks for the latest fashions... in yoga.

The poor pants! Will no one think of the pants and what is best for them?! Priorities, people!

It sounds like the problem is that even women in that target size 8 and under market don't have the "thigh gap" necessary to not cause undue stress to Lululemon's lovely, $100 work-out pants.

What is thigh gap? I only learned this recently and I was rather taken aback. This gorgeous, gorgeous, "plus size" model explains.

So it's no longer enough for women to be unnaturally thin. Our thighs aren't even allowed to touch... at all.

What I flashed on immediately was something Callan Pinckney says in the original Callanetics video. She shows an image of the "perfect legs" she'd grown up with. Four coins could be held at the places legs should touch. Note that one of those coins is between the thighs.

While this is also an overly idealized vision of a woman's body, what I can't help noticing is that the fashion industry seems determined to make women thinner and thinner. Ironically, the more public outcry there is against dangerous messaging that contributes to growing rates of anorexia and bulimia, the skinnier the fashion industry standard gets.

Worse still, the burgeoning yoga industry is following suit. Is it me or is there something particularly pernicious about the commingling of spirituality and fat shaming that issues from trendy yoga marketing. As I wrote here, it's just more of the hideous trend toward equating spiritual well-being with our material wealth and beauty. Reminder: Yoga means "union" with the divine.

Chip Wilson responded to the outcry over his odious comments with an equally odious non-apology apology. It's one of those I'm not sorry for what I said, I'm just sorry you got upset apologies.

For what it's worth, Wilson appears to understand that he's bad for his own brand, expressing concern that the cult status of his creepy, cult-like stores may be "chipped away."

So what have we learned? Well, for one thing, that Chip Wilson's apparent attempt to put into practice Rhonda Byrne's stellar advice to not "observe" fat people or think "fat thoughts" may not have proved to be the best business model. And we've learned that controlling your thoughts to attract health, wealth, and success may not be as important as just watching your mouth when you're on camera.

Nov 13, 2013

Who and What is Teal Scott?

Because Teal Scott speaks for God!

Several weeks ago I followed a link to the blog of one Teal Scott, self-described Spiritual Catalyst. I was pulled in for a bit. At first blush it struck me as the very open, honest disclosures of a psychic sensitive in a lot of pain. I can certainly relate to the challenges of being a super-sensitive in a jagged world. Teal was writing about her latest man trouble, about repeating abusive patterns in relationships. Yea verily, sister!

But as I clicked through a few more pages and tried to trace the narrative, things became increasingly convoluted. And was she really disclosing this man's identity? Wait, was he disclosing his identity on her blog? This man she was describing as a psychopath? That seemed most peculiar. And what was she really saying about the workings of spirit? It was something of a jumble, which would be fine, if she weren't relaying it all with such authority and certainty.

My bullshit meter was blinking red. I closed the tab and forgot all about Teal Scott.

A Facebook friend put her back on my radar when he posted one of her video lectures the other day. This led to a very frank discussion about spirituality, sexuality, sexism, and whether or not Teal Scott is a total fraud.

Nov 12, 2013

Massive Heart Integration

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important message.

Breathe into your Heart

I don't usually do things like this but the system is blinking red. Over the past couple of days this has come up in multiple readings as well as in my own process. There is some sort of mass integration underway. I don't know any other details. It's not anything I've read anywhere. I just keep seeing it. It's playing out in different ways for different people, as naturally it would, but it's in every case some version of a massive influx of new energy, soul parts, previously inaccessible components of our SELVES, that can be and need to be integrated now in a new way. Grounding this energy is important but it's not enough. The important thing is to breathe into the heart center whenever we have a few free moments to focus on it.

There are also feelings of emotional and psychic overwhelm for a lot of us. Taking a few moments to breathe into the heart as well as grounding into the earth is tremendously helpful in navigating this new dynamic.

Blessings to you all.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Nov 10, 2013

Once Upon a Time There Was a Voiceless Mermaid

I've told many people through the years that there are two ways to read Women Who Run With the Wolves. The first is bibliomancy, which is to simply let the book fall open to a random page and begin there. The other is to read it in order from the beginning, but to do so on no particular timetable and to take it up only when the spirit moves. To do otherwise is to find the book impenetrable -- nigh well unreadable. This is something many women have told me about their attempts to read it. But trust me, I would say, read it only when you feel it calling to you from the shelf and what had been a thick tangle of far too many words will be magically transformed into the most lucid, meaningful prose you've ever indulged. Read past the point in the book you were meant to read on any particular occasion and it will once again look like something written in a foreign language.

I read the book from front to back. It took me well over a year. But each time I picked it up it was a flawless reflection of that moment in time. Not only was the text the perfect insight into an experience I'd just had or some realization that had only just begun to dawn, it came accompanied by sometimes comical Jungian synchronicities. Like the time a boisterous, eccentric old woman in a restaurant bumped into my table and sent my chicken dinner clattering to the floor just as I was reading about Baba Yaga and her house on its crazy chicken legs. Some were far less humorous. One evening I felt moved to open the book again after I returned from the emergency ward. I had very nearly lost the tip of my finger to a confrontation with a trailer hitch. With my unbandaged hand, I removed the bookmark and found myself staring in disbelief at a story called "The Handless Maiden." A few short months later I was pregnant with my daughter. The day after she was born, the World Trade Center fell down and the realization that her father would almost certainly be heading off to war was inescapable. To anyone who's read that portion of the book, the parallels would be hard to miss.

As I enjoy my new favorite show Once Upon a Time, I find myself once again seeing the line between dreams and reality becoming blurred. After taking in a number of episodes from the first season, it occurred to me that I should grab the book I sometimes refer to as "the oracle" from the shelf and more deeply consider some of the rich themes that emerge between the lines of the show's deceptively pedestrian dialog. Book in hand I sat down to watch the next episode which turned out to be "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter." In it one of the residents of Storybrooke has some very strange encounters with a wolf. It causes him to begin awakening in the dream as the viewer learns that the wolf had been his constant companion during his life as the Woodsman in the Enchanted Forest. I ran my hand across the gold embossed wolf on the cover of my book and just shook my head at the wonder of it all.

Oct 25, 2013

Bishops Behaving Badly

Catholic bishops are making headlines again and not in a good way. This week saw the suspension the "Bishop of Bling." It's a decisive action from the new pope that shows him actually putting his money where his mouth is, so to speak. One hopes it is a harbinger of things to come and that Pope Francis will start backing up more of his lovely rhetoric with decisions that reflect it. For a pope who seems to take the vow of poverty very seriously, the German bishop is downright embarrassing.

When Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Germany traveled to India last year to minister to poor slum dwellers, he reportedly flew first class.

This year, renovations of the Roman Catholic bishop's church-owned residence in the city of Limburg ran massively over budget to cover $620,000 worth of artwork, $1.1 million in landscaping and last-minute design revisions -- $42 million in all, billed to the Vatican and German taxpayers, Hamburg's tabloid daily Bild reported.

Dubbed the "Bishop of Bling" by European media that have been avidly tracking the bespectacled clergyman's lavish lifestyle, Tebartz-van Elst was suspended from his post by Pope Francis on Wednesday in a clear sign that the new pontiff is serious about diverting resources from the "princes of the church" to the paupers in its congregations.

Because Tebartz-van Elst is a bishop in Germany, there's more to this case than the obvious hypocrisy. For Germans, donations to their church aren't voluntary. Germany does not separate church and state and German church-goers pay taxes to support their churches.

In Germany, churches are largely funded by taxes – there is no direct prohibition between mixing Church and State as there is in the United States. The origins of the so-called “church tax” can be traced back to the Middle Ages.

Here’s how the “church tax” or Kirchensteuer works: taxpayers register affiliation with a church or religious group on a Lohnsteuerkarte (kind of like a form W-2). Registration indicates where and how much tax you’ll pay: the rate is 9% for Catholic and Protestant churches in most of the country with a slightly lower rate of 8% in the heavily Catholic states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg (a similar tax, the Kultussteuer, applies to the Jewish community). If you aren’t a member of a church, you can apply to opt out of the tax – but prepare to prove that you’re actually avoiding church and not taxes. It will also cost you money if you want to leave the church: you have to register and pay a fee (depending on the location, it can run about $50). Failure to pay the tax, however, doesn’t come without consequences: if you don’t pay into the Catholic Church, you may not receive sacraments (except before death), work in a church or church-related entity (including hospitals) or serve as a godparent; it’s very nearly like excommunication though the Catholic Church really doesn’t like to use the word.

Why all of the pressure to pay into the system? The tax is a lucrative source of income for churches in the country. In 2013, the Catholic Church alone collected €5.2 billion ($7.18 billion US) in church taxes. The revenue is thought to represent nearly 70% of church funding inside Germany – though the numbers are a bit clouded due to a lack of financial transparency.

Such legally compelled tithing definitely ups the ante when a steward of the church is caught soaking in a $20,000 bathtub.

In another case of mind-melting hypocrisy, it was revealed earlier this month that a Bishop who resigned in July, over the paternity of a child, pleaded with the birth mother to have an abortion. As the Catholic Church tirelessly drives global policies on abortion and birth control that result in staggering maternal death rates all over the third world -- not to mention Ireland -- a bishop in Peru not only, violated celibacy rules and knocked a woman up, but then begged her to break that country's laws.

Ex-Bishop Guillermo Abanto has officially recognized the paternity of the two-year-old daughter he fathered with a young woman that he met though his work as a priest.

. . .

However, Alexandra Daniela de la Lama, the child’s mother, has also come forward with unflattering details about the case. De la Lama alleges that Abanto asked her to abort the pregnancy, telling television program Punto Final, “Yes, he asked me not just one, but several times. He said ‘Are you sure you want to have it, that you don’t want to have an abortion?’”

Abortion is illegal in Peru except in cases where the life of the woman is endangered by the pregnancy. Furthermore, abortion is prohibited by the doctrines of the Catholic church.

So why was a sitting bishop so willing to dispense with a central doctrine of his faith? Well, the whole thing was just so bloody inconvenient and it might have forced him to actually make changes in his own life. De la Lama explained.

"When I got pregnant, he began to mourn, he did not know what to do. I expected him to drop everything and take responsibility. But he screamed at me and said 'You're crazy! So, stop being a priest, marry you, and live with you?!' So, I decided to find another solution", Lama further disclosed.

Bitches, man. They slow a playuh down.

Meanwhile, another Peruvian bishop was removed due to sex abuse allegations.

Gabino Miranda, auxiliary bishop in Ayacucho, Peru, has been removed from his post after allegations surfaced that he sexually abused children. Little is known at this point about the nature or number of the accusations, but church officials have confirmed to the press that Miranda’s dismissal was the result of allegations of sex abuse.

Bishop Emeritus of Chimbote Luis Bambarén told RPP Noticias that the swift action by church authorities can be credited to Pope Francis strict policies on sex abuse scandals: “It’s what the pope said— zero tolerance […] Those are very serious crimes, especially when it has to do with a bishop.”

By Vatican standards, that's beyond swift. It's the rough equivalent of breaking the sound barrier. So once again I am guardedly optimistic that Pope Francis may be really serious about change. It should come as no great surprise that such a proactive response to an accused pedophile has resulted in some grumbling.

It is heartening to see that Pope Francis is holding bishops to account on some of the issues that matter to the little people -- almost as heartening as it is annoying to see that some of the Vatican's harshest punishments are still reserved for those clergy who support women's and glbt rights.

An Australian priest vocal in his support of women's ordination has become the first person excommunicated for such beliefs under the papacy of Pope Francis.

Fr. Greg Reynolds of Melbourne, Australia, told NCR by email late Monday night his initial reaction was "shock" upon learning of his separation from the church. Australian media have reported he is the first member of the Melbourne archdiocese excommunicated and the first priest from the area laicized for reasons other than pedophilia.

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Oct 20, 2013

Stealing Malala

An excellent write-up in Salon takes on Sam Harris's disturbing crush on Malala Yousafzai.

In an era of narcissistic self-obsession, there’s something to be said for the value of self-awareness. This week, atheist philosopher Sam Harris leapt forward to claim Malala Yousafzai as another trophy in his one-man jihad against Muslims and the weak-kneed “Muslim-apologists” he perceives on the left.

That Harris has been denounced as a crude, pseudo-intellectual bigot for his various tirades about the monolithic evil of Muslims didn’t do much to deter him; but what was most interesting about his latest missive was its complete disregard for Malala’s actual words and opinions. Either he didn’t listen to her words at all before plastering her face on his website or he was too contemptuous of her to think it necessary.

According to Harris:
Given the requisite beliefs…. an entire culture will support such evil. Malala is the best thing to come out of the Muslim world in a thousand years. She is an extraordinarily brave and eloquent girl who is doing what millions of Muslim men and women are too terrified to do—stand up to the misogyny of traditional Islam
It’s worth pausing here to listen to whether Malala thinks that she is standing up to her own evil culture and the misogyny of “traditional Islam”:
“The Taliban think we are not Muslims, but we are. We believe in God more than they do, and we trust him to protect us…..I’m still following my own culture, Pashtun culture….Islam says that it is not only each child’s right to get education, rather it is their duty and responsibility.”
Whatever one thinks of this, given that these are Malala’s beliefs, anyone with a modicum of decency or respect for her would not go ahead and use her suffering as a tool to attack the very things she is fighting to defend. Yet Harris takes up this opportunity with great vigor. For him it doesn’t matter whether Malala believed she was defending traditional Islam, because anyone who tries to differentiate Islam from the acts of extremists are part of the “tsunami of stupidity and violence breaking simultaneously on a hundred shores … the determination that ‘moderate’ Islam not be blamed for the acts of extremists.’”

Another way of saying that is that Harris's blog post doesn't make a lick of sense. As I said when I first read it last week, if Muslims like Yousafzai are standing up to the Taliban and demanding education for girls, how is Islam the problem?

In Harris's world, no "Moderate Muslims" have ever pushed back against extremists before -- just Malala. She apparently sprung up out of nowhere to become the lone voice in the entire Muslim world to stand up for a girl's right to be educated.

Throughout its roughly twenty year history, the Taliban has targeted education for women and girls, closing schools, forcing professional women out of their jobs and into burqas, and confining all females to their homes. A logical person, even with no real knowledge of the Muslim world, would deduce from that basic and well-known set of facts, that countless Muslim women in Afghanistan and Pakistan were educated and working in a range of careers long before the Taliban came along. Sam Harris, on the other hand, somehow deduces that Islam has been oppressing women and keeping them from getting an education for at least a thousand years. Huh? What then does the Taliban keep closing down?

Harris's post, entitled "No Ordinary Violence," goes on with such fact-free, ahistorical leaps in logic for many florid paragraphs. Muslims kill because they are Muslims. Period. They're deluded by promises of paradise. Iraq, Afghanistan, drone attacks... all irrelevant. In fact, all that military action would be unnecessary but for their religion-fueled, as opposed to clinical, insanity. No. Really. He says that.

Yes, our drone strikes in Pakistan kill innocent people—and this undoubtedly creates new enemies for the West. But we wouldn’t need to drop a single bomb on Pakistan, or anywhere else, if a death cult of devout Muslims weren’t making life miserable for millions of innocent people and posing an unacceptable threat of violence to open societies.

Blithely ignoring the fact that his new-found heroine is a passionate Muslim, Harris exploits her iconic status to bash the religion she loves.

Shortly after Harris posted his paean-to-Malala/anti-Muslim-screed, it was reported that she had told President Obama that, actually, the drones? Kind of a problem.

“I thanked President Obama for the United States’ work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees,” she said in the statement. “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.” 

Since then, not a peep from Harris about how his golden girl went off the script that exists only in his head and told the leader of the free world that it might just be ordinary violence after all.

Amazingly enough, this is not the worst thing Harris has ever said about Muslims. He has a long, documented history of bigotry masquerading as intellectual enlightenment. Even among New Atheists, his animus toward Muslims is extreme. And New Atheism has created a lot of slickly packaged Islamaphobia.

When criticism of religion morphs into an undue focus on Islam - particularly at the same time the western world has been engaged in a decade-long splurge of violence, aggression and human rights abuses against Muslims, justified by a sustained demonization campaign - then I find these objections to the New Atheists completely warranted. That's true of [Richard] Dawkins' proclamation that "[I] often say Islam [is the] greatest force for evil today." It's true of [Christopher] Hitchens' various grotesque invocations of Islam to justify violence, including advocating cluster bombs because "if they're bearing a Koran over their heart, it'll go straight through that, too". And it's true of Harris' years-long argument that Islam poses unique threats beyond what Christianity, Judaism, and the other religions of the world pose.

Not only has Harris aligned himself ideologically with European fascists who dream of turning Muslims "into soap," he opines in The End of Faith that, "Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them."

I think it's safe to say that when one begins advocating genocide, one has given up the moral high ground.

The rabid anti-Muslim bias of New Atheists has come under increasing scrutiny as their fundamentalist zeal to rid the world religion has gained ground. They simply don't disparage all religions equally. Dawkins, for instance, has made numerous statements along the lines of “Religion poisons everything, but Islam is in a toxic league of its own.”

Dawkins has also refused to distance himself from Harris's many outrageous statements, saying at one point:

You mean the Koran and the Hadith don’t say what Sam claims they say? I’m delighted to hear that, but can you substantiate it? I do hope you can, then we can all sleep easier. If, on the other hand, Sam is summarising Islamic scriptures accurately, why should I be ashamed of myself for simply quoting Sam’s accurate summary?

What may be evident from that statement is something that he's also admitted publicly. He's never read the Quran.

Dawkins, in a recent rant on Twitter, admitted that he had not ever read the Quran, but was sufficiently expert in the topic to denounce Islam as the main culprit of all the world’s evil: “Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter and verse like I can for Bible. But [I] often say Islam [is the] greatest force for evil today.” How’s that for a scientific dose of proof that God does not exist?

A few days later, on March 25, there was this: “Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read the Qur’an. You don’t have to read “Mein Kampf” to have an opinion about Nazism.”

It’s an extraordinary feat for an Oxford scholar to admit that he hasn’t done the research to substantiate his belief, but what’s more extraordinary is that he continues to believe the unsupported claim. That backwards equation — insisting on a conclusion before even launching an initial investigation — defines the New Atheists’ approach to Islam. It’s a pompousness that only someone who believes they have proven, scientifically, the nonexistence of God can possess.

As we know from years of seeing Dawkins and Harris in action, whatever scholarly standards they may apply to work in their own fields of science go right out the window when they start talking -- and writing -- about religion. They are scientists. Therefore everything they do is scientific, even when it isn't, seems to be the reasoning. As Terry Eagleton observed, "Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology."

That problem of ignorance masquerading as scholarly rigor can only be compounded when they start holding forth on a religion in which they were not raised. That they have a childlike grasp of Judaism and Christianity can carry them a ways in bashing both. But, notably, they've both made a great deal of apology for both of those religions as compared to the Islam of which they have zero experiential knowledge.

Now, into the thick of that fiercest of ironies, Sam Harris has dragged a devout Muslim, magically transforming her courage and faith into a testament to his lack of both. Hasn't she suffered enough?

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Oct 14, 2013

Once Upon a Time There Was a Chymical Wedding

 photo OnceUponATimegold_zps4ef63114.jpg

"Stories are medicine. I have been taken with stories since I heard my first. They have such power; they do not require that we do, be, act anything -- we need only listen. The remedies for repair or reclamation of any lost psychic drive are contained in stories." ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés in Women Who Run With the Wolves

I'm a little late to this party -- two years to be exact -- but I have recently fallen in love with Once Upon a Time. Once again I tried to curl up with a little diversionary fluff and was instead abruptly pulled into the heart of the mysteries. As ever with these pop culture creations I am left to wonder if the writers are just randomly pulling these profound archetypes out of their deep subconscious, totally unaware of the implications, or if it's a carefully scripted foray into Gnosis.

The central plot is clever and entertaining. The evil queen from Snow White, she of the poison apple, takes her revenge by casting a spell that drags a myriad of fairy tale characters into a small town in Maine. There they live trapped in time and unable to remember who they really are. But the curse may be undone by the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, who was secreted out of the enchanted forest before the curse fell and predestined to return at the age of 28. Twenty-eight years later Emma Swan is living a lonely life in Boston until a young boy claiming to be the son she put up for adoption pulls her to Storybrooke. He insists she must fulfill her destiny and break the curse cast by his adoptive mother, who he is quite sure is the evil queen in his very unusual book of  fairy tales.

Each episode weaves together the complimentary narratives of the characters' lives in Storybrooke and their history as fairy tale creatures. It's skillful, if somewhat predictable, storytelling. But it's in the imagery that the creators tip their hand. They speak the language of symbols far too well for me to take the series lightly. From the first episode I was struck by the subtle but brilliant use of sacred geometry, character names, and striking tableaux. 

It is essentially a mystical story employing the most basic numerical code to appeal to conscious oneness.

Oct 10, 2013

TEDx Gets Punk'd

While some of us were focused on TED's censorious and insular nature, the many people who don't care about that were noticing something else: TED has simply jumped the shark. Snooty articles are popping up all over the place opining about the fact that the once clever packager of ideas has devolved into self parody. TED hate is the new black.

And so the stage was set for the self-important TED talk to be lampooned by an ostensibly serious TEDx speaker.

Everyone is annoyed by TED Talks these days, those vacuum-sealed idea nuggets. So comedian Sam Hyde sneaking onto an (independently organized) TEDx program at Drexel University last weekend and delivering this incomprehensible 20 minute talk on the "2070 paradigm shift" must be seen as a symbolic victory in the war on bullshit, even if it gets kind of old after minute 10. (Which is, I think, part of the joke.)

The best part: "What inspire me, is teaching African refugees how to program Javascript. What inspires me is finding out how to use MagLev trains to get resources to the moon. These are the challenges that tomorrow's going to face."

And on it went:

“Guys, pat yourselves on the back right now, okay? I’m not gonna let you stop until I see everyone do it,” he began. “That pat on the back is for saving the world.” Hyde launched into a discursive presentation that touched on the “trash economy,” described a future in which gay men will develop the ability to procreate, and recounted his experience traveling to Africa with Elon Musk to give iPads to the impoverished:

“Now, we looked at the data, and what we found surprised us. What we found was that culture is a sewer. We’ve got lewd media, nasty bedroom things on TV. And they’re sexualizing young girls and it’s getting to the point where even I have a problem with it. And it shouldn’t be that way.”

. . .

“Great ideas come in all shapes and sizes,” Hyde said in his talk on Saturday. “9/11, September 11th. We’re gonna use some reverence here and not be silly about this, but look at what they accomplished with no weapons and just 11 guys who didn’t even speak English? And that proves that sometimes great ideas are actually horrible ideas.”

Fifteen minutes of this shite, delivered by a lunatic in a sweatsuit and a gladiator breastplate that looks like it was nicked from a college theater department discard pile. It is at once insufferable and hilarious.

So how did Sam Hyde get past the door? Apparently with a pitch perfect pitch to TEDx organizers so drenched in narcissistic bullshit that they couldn't tell the difference.

One wonders if the organizers of TEDx whiffed on vetting Hyde, which wouldn’t have taken more than a few minutes of Googling. [Dhairya] Pujara was not immediately available to comment afterward, but Hyde allegedly fed them a good story. Hyde said: “I told them I had just returned from Mogadishu where I was shooting war journalism following this group of women cleaning up the neighborhood, and by picking up trash, they had lowered crime rate. So it’s like broken window theory there, or whatever the fuck. A little Malcolm Gladwell. [They] wrote back and said, ‘Wow, that’s exciting. We got some real hard hitting stuff here.’”

I can't help noticing that he titled his talk with the phrase that should have made him an easy target for TED censors: "paradigm shift." But I guess as long as he wasn't talking about non-local consciousness or the correlation between nutrition and health, he could squeak by.

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Sep 24, 2013

Two Popes?

In a very strange turn of events, the former pope -- Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI -- has broken his public silence to defend against allegations that he covered up sex-abuse.

The comments - which a victims' group rejected - were made in an 11-page letter to Italian author and mathematician Piergiorgio Odifreddi, who had written a book about the problems facing the Roman Catholic Church before the pope resigned in February.

"As far as you mentioning the moral abuse of minors by priests, I can only, as you know, acknowledge it with profound consternation. But I never tried to cover up these things," said Benedict, who now has the title Emeritus Pope.

Excerpts of the letter were published in the Rome newspaper La Repubblica on Tuesday with the former pope's permission.

It was believed to be the first time Benedict has responded to the sexual abuse accusations in the first person, although the Vatican has always said he did much to put an end to sexual abuse of minors by priests and never tried to cover it up.

Even stranger than the public nature of retired pontiff's statement is the fact that it appears to echo a letter from Pope Francis to the publisher of La Repubblica -- or does Pope Francis's statement echo Pope Benedict's?

The letters indicate that the two men in white – who live across the Vatican gardens from one another – are pursuing an active campaign to engage non-believers. It's a melding of papacies past and present that has no precedent and signals that the popes – while very different in style, personality and priorities – are of the same mind on many issues and might even be collaborating on them.

. . .

Benedict became the first pope in 600 years to resign when he retired Feb. 28, setting the stage for the election of Francis two weeks later. Benedict said at the time that he would spend his final years "hidden from the world," living in a converted monastery tucked behind St. Peter's Basilica, reading and praying.

Benedict's decision to cloister himself was in part due to his own shy, bookish nature, but also to make clear that he was no longer pope and that his successor was in charge.

Fear of schism in the church had prevented popes for centuries from stepping down, and Benedict's resignation immediately raised some not-insignificant questions: How would the Catholic Church deal with the novel situation of having one reigning and one retired pope living side-by-side, each of them called "pope," each of them wearing papal white and even sharing the same aide in Monsignor Georg Gaenswein?

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi denied that the two living popes were acting in concert and claimed the fact that they both wrote letters on the same subject matter to two prominent atheists in as many weeks was entirely coincidental.

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Sep 22, 2013

The Surprising Nature of the New Pope

Pope Francis created shock waves again this past week with his surprising ability to not hate on entire groups of people. Of all the comments in his interview with fellow Jesuit Antonio Spadaro, what has gotten the most press was his blunt assessment of the Church's relentless focus on divisive issues. The Church is "obsessed," he said, with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception.

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

The pontiff reveals much more than the radical nature of his thinking here. He reveals that he has been "reprimanded" for it. By whom, one wonders.

People as diverse as John M. Becker of the Bilerico Project and Bill Donohue of the Catholic League have quite rightly pointed out that there has been some overreach in the reading of the pope's remarks. This is not a break with Church doctrine. What it is is a shift in tone and emphasis. He's reading from a different part of the Catechism. Where his recent predecessors were focused on the homosexuality as "objectively disordered" portion, for instance, Pope Francis is more interested in the "respect, compassion, and sensitivity" portion. At no point is he calling on the Church to dispense with its moral teachings, however backward they may be. He is, after all, a "son of the church." 

What both sides of this debate miss, however, is just how drastic this shift in tone is. I don't think Bill Donohue -- like much of the Catholic hierarchy -- has the self-awareness to realize how hateful he sounds most of the time. And I don't know if Becker is considering fully the potential power of compassion.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., said Francis’ comments amount to a “new dawn” for the Catholic Church.

“Pope Francis’ words and example have opened up new opportunities for the Catholic Church to welcome and dialogue with LGBT people,” DeBernardo said. “His words will give courage and hope to thousands of pastoral ministers and Catholic faithful who have been doing this work for many decades, but who have often received penalties and discouragements from church leaders who did not share this pope’s broad vision.”

What the uproar over the pope's most publicized comments reflects more than anything is how out of alignment with Christ's core teachings the Catholic Church has been. As I wrote here, there is something horribly wrong when a pope's announcement that he won't judge people is seen as a radical departure.

What I found even more striking than his more tolerant focus was his introspection, self-examination, and humility. This excellent analysis by John Reese puts some of these statements in the context of Jesuit principles. But you don't have to be a Jesuit, or even a Catholic, to see that this pope strikes a very different posture than his predecessors. When he describes himself as a "sinner" it doesn't sound like lip-service to an ideal -- mainly because he goes on to discuss some of his transgressions in very frank terms.

In the interview, Pope Francis explains why he was labeled a conservative by many Jesuits in Latin America. He confesses it was his own fault.

In my experience as superior in the Society, to be honest ... I did not always do the necessary consultation. And this was not a good thing. My style of government as a Jesuit at the beginning had many faults. That was a difficult time for the Society: an entire generation of Jesuits had disappeared. Because of this I found myself provincial when I was still very young. I was only 36 years old. That was crazy. I had to deal with difficult situations, and I made my decisions abruptly and by myself.

My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative. I lived a time of great interior crisis when I was in Cordova. To be sure, I have never been like Blessed Imelda [a goody-goody], but I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.

This method of learning from one's mistakes is very Ignatian and reflects how imbued Francis is by the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola as experienced in his Spiritual Exercises. Pope Francis may sometimes look like a Franciscan, but he always thinks like a Jesuit.

That kind of humility is something the Church hierarchy has been unable to muster -- even as the sex abuse crisis makes its sins nakedly apparent. Pope Francis's articulation of personal responsibility marks a sharp departure from that Hierophant energy that has been so reflexive whenever Church officials have been challenged by the press, concerned clergy, and their own flock. Pope Francis seems unwilling to float above the fray in the rarefied air of spiritual superiority. He'd rather live in modest surroundings and wash all the wrong kinds of feet. And he seems to be really serious about putting the needs of the poor above the comfort of the priesthood.

There are still open questions about how this very different communication style will translate into meaningful action and an eyebrow raising track-record. Pope Francis has remained in lockstep with some of the most regressive decisions of his predecessors -- the crackdown on those uppity nuns, for instance. But he sure has changed the conversation.

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