Letters to the Editor

(August 16, 2004)


Kerry or Bush . . . . Regarding Ed Herman's The Left And The Election Choices

To the Editor,

In response to Edward S. Herman's "The Left And The Election Choices" (SWANS; July 19, 2004) and Ricardo Levine Morales's "The Lizard Strategy--Elect the Flake; Evict the Snake"

- I actually worked with someone who had a "Vote For The Crook, It's Important" bumper sticker on his car and had actually lived in Louisiana during the Edwards-Duke election. If John Kerry successfully orchestrates a UN or NATO-endorsed withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. If he appoints more progressive judges to the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court, even if some appear only marginally better. These are not theoretical or semantic questions. Just ask any lawyer who must argue her/his case before one of these judges. Electing John Kerry would be a reassuring sign to many in the rest of the world that the American political process still functions with at least a shot of rationality, if not pseudo-democracy.

- I voted for Al Gore in 2000 with some reservation. Previously, I thought of him as a DLC environmentalist whose words were usually in the right place but whose voting record was cautious and even timid by comparison. Eight years as Clinton's handmaid and his own inarticulateness as a politician did not help. Now I somewhat sympathize with him. Al Gore won the popular vote and in any other elected office would have been declared the winner. Ralph Nader has the absolute right to get on as many state ballots as he can. One point he should consider are the dead in Iraq (~20,000?) and Afghanistan (~11,500?). They deserve an advocate. It doesn't seem like they currently have one.

Richard Cunningham
San Luis Obispo, California, USA - July 20, 2004

[ed. Apologies for not having included this letter in the August 2 edition. Please put this lapse on our relocation and the disruptions it caused.]

Slandering the Buddha? (see front page, left column)

To the Editor,

Regarding your website quote:
"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your common sense." --Buddha

Please let me know where the quote you have on your website comes from and why it is attributed to Buddha. The thought conveys a modern western concept that is not Buddhist in the least. Without knowledge about Buddhism, a reader, regardless of his/her reason and common sense, may actual believe the quote to be words of Buddha and that is very misleading and slanderous, indeed.

Thank you.

Madeleine Dunn
New York, New York, USA - July 23, 2004

[ed. Here is another letter that fell through the cracks of our relocation. Apologies again. As to the origin of the quote, José Tirado, who is a Shin Buddhist priest teaching in Iceland, has this to say:]

Despite what the reader/writer says, the sentiment is actually quintessentially Buddhist and was said directly by the Buddha himself. It is from one of the earliest Suttas, the Kalama Sutta, where the Buddha was questioned by a group from the Kalama clan about how does one know when a particular teaching is "valid." His response, which you quote a (paraphrased) portion of, was revolutionary in its day and remains so to today. A longer excerpt I've included below:

"Rely not on the teacher/person, but on the teaching. Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words. Rely not on theory, but on experience. Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it." --The Buddha

I hope this helps.


[Ed. Milo Clark, for his part, sent these comments:]

The approximate quotation to which you are referred is one seen reasonably frequently; however, I have never seen this specific attribution before. The Pali text may be as stated. I'll buy it for now.

I have heard distinguished teachers such as Lama Anagarika Govinda, my first Tibetan-trained teacher who came through Ceylonese Therevadan schools, make similar statements in supporting the widely held allegation that Gautama Buddha asked his people personally to check his teachings rather than take them on faith.

As there is no god, per se, in Buddhism, there is also little need for abject faith or reliance on teachers or teachings which strain the heart or demand allegiance for its own sake. Buddhism teaches that the goal is one which any human can obtain. As Gautama Buddha shows in his life, he was a man who pursued a goal. He took paths which were, in retrospect, detours from which he eventually returned to the central path, to his goal.

Taking cues from the Advaita Vedanta schools, the intellectual sides of Vedic studies, Buddhism as it evolved in several distinct paths on the same trail typically includes reminders that doubt is part of the process.

It is today commonly assumed that the pursuing of a Buddhist path requires a strong relationship with a guru. The relationship is that of teacher and student, guru and Chula and beyond. The quote referenced on the SWANS website and as expanded by José also provides guidance for chelas in the relationship. Once again, question authority rather than submit abjectly. Yet, in parallel, accept authority when it is right and appropriate for your heart and consonant with the path pursued. Be aware also that perhaps the way to find out is to move forward accepting doubt and question as facilitators rather than blocks.

Lama Govinda always warned that a choice to step on a Buddhist path is irrevocable, that is, be very sure and very open to whatever comes as it comes. His core teaching is, "You will know what you need to know when you need to know it." Doubt and question but stay centered. When in doubt, breathe. Staying with breathe will get anyone through to the next breathe.

Maybe the clarity of a vote for Kerry will emerge thereby.


Vermont or l'Héraut? . . . . Regarding Gilles d'Aymery's Plaisirs d'Amour: Jesuzzy Lib-Labs Meet Dick Cheney

To the Editor,

Gilles d'Aymery writes in respect to Sen. Patrick Leahy, "[A]nd the whining Vertmonter is shocked, as though he had never entered a business room -- like Enron -- or his corner store in Montpellier."

Montpelier, Vermont.
Montpellier, France.

I think he meant the former.

Tom Keel
A self-exiled Texan in Montpellier
Montpellier, Héraut, France - August 2, 2004

Gilles d'Aymery responds:
Cher Tom: Ah, mais c'est bien sûr! Many thanks. I've made the correction. It must have been a Freudian slip. I spent a good part of my youth around Montpellier (my grandfather was born there). Spent a couple of years in the Causses, namely in Mazamet, the former wool capital of France. Mazamet, Albi (Toulouse Lautrec), Cordes (the family grave on my mother's side) and of course Toulouse, oh Toulouse, la ville rose (Claude Nougaro)...

A self-exiled half languedocien (other half is parisien) in Northern California.

Tom Keel follows up:
I knew that "blue denim" was bleu de Nîmes, but I didn't know that Mazamet had been la capitale de la laine. Pourtant le blue jean n'est pas fait de laine... I guess back then it was a long way from Mazamet to Nîmes...

There is a lot of symmetry here. One of my great grandfathers left southwestern France (je ne sais plus quel village pas loin de Toulouse) for Texas back in the late 19th century (1880s?). One of his daughters, my grandmother, went back with him for a visit in the late 1920s. I came to France back in 1981, spent 12 years in Paris, then moved down here.

I stumbled onto Swans the other day, and have barely started reading the articles. What I did read, I found interesting. I think there is no essential difference between the official left and right in any country. Blair supports the war, Chirac opposes it. For those who rule, there is only imperial interest, and the necessity of dealing with the pesky lower classes.


Regarding Gilles d'Aymery's Julien Benda, The Failure of Imagination and Thought (March 2003)

To the Editor:

I've just read La Trahison des Clercs by Julien Benda and was looking for extra material on the Web when I came across your article. Your insight is very interesting and is helping me greatly. Indeed, I was looking for ways to convince friends to read the book and I will simply forward them the link to your article since it gives a very good summary of this fantastic book.

Thanks again for your great insight.

Michelle Haenlein-Eyny
Paris, France - August 6, 2004


This is the year for underdogs

To the Editor:

Ralph Nader has common sense and a love of democracy which never goes out of style, but is frequently corrupted by yellow journalism, contrived propaganda (corporatism). What Nader has on his side is the law, with which Nader will win, and you might learn, why Nader is in the race for president after all...

Have an enlightened day,

Jeanette Doney
Springville, California, USA - August 2, 2004

[ed. If only the Dems were not unearthing a muddy constellation of "dirty tricks"...]


John Steppling's Review of Swans' August 2 Edition

To the Editor:
"When I came out of prison in 1966 as an ex-con, I had more freedom under parole supervision than is available...in America now."
—Merle Haggard

"Slavery emerges from powerful psychological forces in the unconscious, and consequently is part of the political unconscious that constantly re-emerges into public expression."
—Tomek Kitlinski
The psychology of the modern mass man is again at the forefront of this SWANS issue, and at the forefront of a good deal of liberal and leftist (and even conservative) writing of late. The SWANS contributors manage to cite Jung, Alinsky, Nietzsche, Plato, Foucault, Strauss, Lakoff, and Hegel. The search for answers is spreading wider and wider. The often overwhelming sense of cognitive dissonance one feels is starting to generate some pretty fascinating takes on cause and effect. Maybe it's the fallout from suppressing one's gag reflex while watching the turgid and fatuous Democratic Convention.

Mohammed Ben Jelloun writes a compelling essay that attempts to examine modern state theories (focusing on US Imperialistic foreign policy) in a context of modernism vs. postmodernism, or realism vs. idealism, or really, just the cynicism of post-WWII US policy. Terry Eagleton said "...nineteenth century bourgeois society was offered by Friedrich Nietzsche as an alluring way out: don't bother trying to justify your practices at all. Forget about God, truth, morality, History, the state: let your activities become their own splendid, self grounding justification, as marvelously self-born and self-generative as the work of art." This legacy of Nietzschean subjectivism has pretty far reaching consequences...not least in the reactionary politics of most post-structuralist (or post-modernist, you pick) thinkers. He ends up with Leo Strauss (who seems to be everywhere these days). I am reminded of a discussion of nature and the conclusion that big fish eating small fish was "natural"...though Marcuse noted, it's probably "not natural to the small fish." Strauss is, indeed, a big fish kind of thinker. Wolfowitz too, is a big fish kind of guy. This should lead eventually to a discussion of class consciousness, and efforts by the left to explain why the proletariat tended toward reformism and/or military hegemony and born-again colonialism. A look at Chiapas and one sees the failure of reform movements; one looks at FARC and one sees revolutionary politics and a longer shelf life (at the least). Russel Jacoby has said that "the belief in private property and capitalism itself accorded with nature served as a powerful weapon." Today's neo-con think tank alter boys are all big believers in the "natural law" of neo-liberal free markets, and Jelloun is right that the new "realism" is just simulated "idealism" (if it's even that). I find myself wondering about the interaction between the machinery of the capitalist system (which I know can seem but an abstraction) and the individuals in it. Dick Cheney is both a creator of destruction, and a man created by the system of destruction he flourishes in. The neo-cons running much of the Bush foreign policy are, I would argue, less post-modernist (for I don't know if post-modernism even exists in this way...a category mistake by Jelloun I think, though I could be missing the point here) and simply the logical outcome of the material forces of advanced capitalism. The militarization of the economy is a reaction to a number of things, but probably not just a theoretical choice Wolfowitz learned at the knees of Wohlstetter.

Jelloun does expertly place and describe the debacle in Kosovo as the trial balloon for later interventions like Iraq. This is a highly pertinent point and Jelloun dissects it with some genius, actually. I don't know, it's a compelling article to discuss, and certainly raises topics worthy of further analysis. With the looming crises in the Sudan -- the latest of the endless roll call of genocides -- one is well advised to look deeply at how and why these things appear and when they appear and who is "selling" them. Five million people dead in neighboring DRC, yet no mention of a "genocide," while maybe 50,000 dead in Sudan (fighting has been going on for twenty years) and it's suddenly a genocide. Makes one wonder... So first Kosovo, then Iraq, now Sudan...with short stops in between in Haiti, Liberia, et al. The specter of Leo Strauss hangs over this, but I still think other matters may be more relevant; which is not to deny the Straussians, only to caution a quick re-cap of the material forces at work these last fifty some years.

And thanks to Eli Beckerman for pointing out, as if this were needed, how at risk our basic civil liberties are...and not just from whipping boy John Ashcroft...but from the Democratic Party itself. Please explain to me how one can justify a vote for a Party that supports suppression of free speech?

All I will say about Michael Moore, whose Fahrenheit 9/11 is pertinently reviewed by Gerard Donnelly Smith from a particular angle I've not seen elsewhere (that of propaganda), is that Moore serves as a training wheels introduction to political consciousness. He doesn't really have any politics, and that's okay, and look, I'm glad people are going to see his film. I am glad he makes visible a lot of the underclass that are all but invisible most of the time in our media. That doesn't make him a sophisticated thinker. It also doesn't mean his film isn't a bit incoherent, or that the residue of trust in Democrats isn't a bit surreal in the context of the recent convention. And hey Michael, where was a discussion of Israel?

Gilles d'Aymery's excellent work on dissent and propaganda is re-printed. It's timely for many reasons, but especially for describing the mechanics of media distortion. On reading it again I was struck with how certain gambits, like, say, the appeal to reasonableness, has now conditioned a whole swath of the liberal left and made for an acceptance of repression. After the latest debacle at the Democratic Convention, where strategy was the excuse for nary a mention of child torture, government lies, body counts, or radiation poisoning, this is particularly relevant.

Finally, a word on Phil Rockstroh's piece. Phil again finds himself suffering under the inflexibly shallow and nerve deadening assault of the uber-culture, and again cogently and colorfully provides a cultural autopsy. Good stuff Phil.

John Steppling
Krakow, Poland - August 5, 2004
(Steppling is a LA playwright (Rockefeller fellow, NEA recipient, and PEN-West winner) and screenwriter (most recent was Animal Factory directed by Steve Buscemi). He is currently living in Poland where he teaches at the National Film School in Lodz.)


Regarding José M. Tirado's Damned If We Do? Damned 'Cause We Didn't!

To the Editor:

Since I discovered Swans a month or so ago, I have enjoyed reading the many articles about the coming election, especially the discussions of whether or not to vote for Kerry and the Democrats, under this or that circumstance. I find these discussions extremely interesting and of real importance.

I've come to pretty much the position that José Tirado has and for a lot of the same reasons. I especially like this paragraph:

"So please, stop urging us to vote for your party. I have said this many times but it's worth repeating here: we can't get the system we want by voting for people who don't want our system. Each time we push that lever for the Dems, we push ourselves back into the political wilderness. Why? Because the influence of the Dems' 'progressive' wing pales in comparison to the power of the moneyed interests they have been cozying up to for the past 20 or so years. They are not now and will not be a 'progressive' party. They regularly dilute the progressive influence within their ranks to appease the same financiers and corporate interests that also dominate the Republicans."

Thanks for publishing this and many other fine articles.

John D. Bartram
Scotch Plains, New Jersey, USA - August 3, 2004


The needle in the haystack
Dear Swans,

I am very pleased to discover Swans. Please pardon me for not saying more. At this moment I feel as if I've received an unexpected and precious gift, and wish to savor the thrill.

I discovered Swans by accident, while web surfing subjects related to my favorite author, Erich Fromm.


Robert B. Livingston
San Francisco, California, USA - August 7, 2004


Alouette, gentille alouette...

Hey, Monsieur d'Aymery,

Long time no see. What happened to you? Your silence is deafening. Two issues and not a word from you. Have the Palo Altoan Jesuzzy Lib-Labs sued you and you're in the dock? And where did you snatch the expression -- Jesuzzy Lib-Labs -- anyway? And why don't you name names?

Anyways, thumb down: Bill Egers, what a boring fella...must not have had an erection in decades... Drop him before he does you in. Thumbs up: 1) This little Steppling guy -- but keep his ego in check. 2) Is Louis Proyect married? That's says it all, I suppose...and second thought, married or not do you have his phone number handy? 3) I like the old guard (ya know, Richard, and Philip and Milo), they're for real. 4) If I had to (could) vote, my ballot would go to Frank Wycoff (is he married?). He makes sense, period. 5) Phil is a killer; hang on to him (yes, I know, he's married -- not that I'm looking for matrimony...just good times -- which Phil amply provides........and I could not compete with Angela's talent...though see my legs, etc., err I digress). 6) If I were you, I'd tell Eli to relax...he'll grow up, just in time. 7) enuf said...for today.

Get out of that country before they tar and feather you. This is not a place for humans...not even your dog...take it with you... Heed my words.

You haven't answered my question: Can I come for a visit? Summer is on the short leash...

Allez, bon vent. Get back at it.

Alouette Arouet
Paris, France - August 10, 2004

Gilles d'Aymery responds:

Too many questions...but I'll do them.
- Amidst relocating boxes I've kept Swans going on and wrote the bi-weekly Note from the Editor.
- The Palo Altoan Jesuzzy Lib-Labs did not sue me. They do not read Swans due to their inherent, god-given superiority...and there still is a flimsy, slowly dying First Amendment in the USA, notwithstanding the usual -- that renders them silent...out of love, of course!...if not intellectual cowardice. But, no worry, two abusive thugs, namely, Joe Ortiz (badge# 16630) and José Chavez (badge# 16524), of the dreaded Santa Rosa CHP, will get me in. Lib-Labs need order. Even Priam was impounded as a "stray dog," though not reported on any of their multiple reports. Cops, Lib-Labs, Global Community, Palo Alto...same combat! I'll survive.
- I learned "Lib-Labs" from Bruce Anderson, a genial man. Palo Altoan Jesuzzy comes from, I think, but cannot affirm (all my books remain in boxes), Wanda Tinasky. Bruce Anderson would know. Tinasky is a fascinating story.
- No need to name names. Just google on "Global Community, Palo Alto," and you will get to their "foundation."
- I do not give phone numbers that easily. Louis will be grateful!
- I do hear you... It's not just that simple... But on my way out I am... Just a matter of time.
- As to the visit, you deal with Jan.

Thanks for the input and for visiting Swans. What's your name, already?


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Published August 16, 2004
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