Reality Sandwich Reviews, March 7, 2013
In this edition of Reality Sandwich reviews:
- American Cyclopath
- Downton Abbey
- Push the Sky Away
- Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
- The Psychedelic Future of the Mind: How Entheogens are Enhancing Cognition, Boosting Intelligence, and Raising Values
- The Next Day
- WSIS +10 Review
Review by Jonathan Zap
(A review of the Lance Armstrong/Oprah Winfrey interview. Watch excerpts on the: OWN network website)
There are liars, damned liars and then there is Lance Armstrong, who was, literally, a liar on steroids. Lance was a brazen, defiant, bullying and litigious liar. For example, here’s what he said in his victory speech on the podium after his seventh and last Tour de France win:
“Finally, the last thing I’ll say to the people who don’t believe in cycling —the cynics and the skeptics, I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry you can’t dream big. And I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles. But this is one hell of a race and this is a great sporting event and you should stand around and believe, believe in these athletes and you should believe in these people. I’m a fan of the Tour de France for as long as I live and there are no secrets. This is a hard sport and hard work wins it.”
Lance was an abusive, destructive liar who called one of his whistleblowers “crazy” and a “bitch” and implied that another one was a whore. He threatened several of them with extreme physical violence, sued them, and wrecked their careers, reputations and finances. He wasn’t just abusive to those who called him out on his lies; he was apparently abusive toward everyone, even waiters.
Lance’s ruthless manipulation of others and facility with lying would no doubt earn him a far above average score on Hare’s psychopathy checklist. (see: Foxes and Reptiles, Psychopathy and the Financial Meltdown for more on psychopaths and their devastating impact on society). An even stronger case could be made for narcissistic personality disorder, the diagnosis that’s been applied to the ever-abusive Steve Jobs. But these labels are just the “industrialized form of story telling” as my writing mentor, E.L. Doctorow, once put it. It may be more appropriate to say that he has very bad character.
Jung, who believed that a person’s name was sometimes synchronistic, might have predicted that someone named Lance Armstrong would be someone imbued with warrior essence and single pointed focus. Lance certainly embodied unbending intent, and his concentration near the end of races looked positively reptilian, like a cobra about to strike. To be a warrior with a capital “W,” however, one needs to serve transpersonal aims, and Lance’s work on behalf of his Livestrong Foundation made that appear to be the case. By the time of the Oprah interviews, however, it’s become obvious that Lance’s aim was to win at any cost, especially at any cost to others. Unbending intent is a talent, but not necessarily a virtue.
There is an irony in Lance’s choice of Oprah as his confessor. Oprah, as exhaustively documented in the Kitty Kelly biography, was a serial liar herself who largely fabricated her childhood Cinderella story to craft herself as a mythological figure. Lance and Oprah are highly talented people, with tremendous will to power, and both can be bullies. Oprah, who is so expert at drawing out the confessions of others, has every one who works for her sign some of the toughest nondisclosure agreements ever written.
In the interview, Lance, despite all the coaching he no doubt received, still comes across as focused on winning his redemption at any cost. With his craftily simulated sincerity and legalistically parsed sentences, Lance reminded me at times of a skinnier version of Bill Clinton. There were admissions, half lies, and straight up lies, according to people who really know his case. For example, he still asserts that he did not dope during the two years of his comeback, but that may be because those races are still within the statue of limitations. Although he tells Oprah, at one point, that he is “a better person without a doubt” for having been caught, at another point he says that if it weren’t for his comeback, “We wouldn’t be sitting here today.” In other words, what he really regrets is getting caught, and he would gladly trade being a better person for being a celebrated winner.
A cartoon I once saw (probably in The New Yorker) depicts two businessmen walking together, each carrying a briefcase. ‘We’re only morally bankrupt,’ says one. ‘Thank God,’ says the other. Lance Armstrong, who has had his titles stripped from him, faces an avalanche of lawsuits, and is barred for life from competition. He seems like a man who can no longer be thankful for being only morally bankrupt. Now he must live with his deep regret at getting caught.
Jonathan graduated with honors in philosophy and English from Ursinus College and has an MA in English from NYU. He is a photographer, author, teacher, paranormal researcher and philosopher who has written extensively on human evolution, contemporary mythology and many other subjects. A large collection of his writings and his popular online oracle can be found at zaporacle.com.
[Book] Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History by Richard Smoley (Tarcher/Penguin 2013) Review by Gary Lachman
For many years Richard Smoley has been a reliable guide through the difficult terrain of esoteric thought. In his new work, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History, Smoley brings together some of his best journalism from recent years, collecting pieces originally published in Parabola, Quest, Gnosis, and New Dawn. Investigating a wide range of subjects, Smoley moves from Atlantis, The Da Vinci Code, and Nostradamus, to ‘new thought’, demons, and divination, with a fluency that assures readers they are in the hands of a master.
Supernatural offers just as much to readers getting acquainted with the esoteric, or ‘hidden’ tradition in the west as it does to those for whom it is a familiar landscape. Novices will be introduced to some of the key themes in the western inner tradition; those well versed in esoteric thought will have their assumptions provoked by a keen and able mind. If there is a single message found in these different articles, is it that if we need to be ‘saved’ – and many in the early twenty-first century take this as a given - we cannot depend on higher beings, ancient predictions, or lost continents to do it. As Smoley writes apropos of prophecy, “If we are to solve the problems that confront us, it will be by facing them soberly and realistically, without feeling the need to terrify ourselves into action.” “In the New Age,” Smoley remarks, “we will have to live without prophecies.”
Smoley is no sceptic, but he is also no fool, and he points out the obvious fact that many famous predictions about the future end up on the cosmic cutting room floor. Smoley himself is the author of The Essential Nostradamus, so he is no stranger to visions of the future. He is simply intelligent and honest enough to recognize that history is littered with the debris of failed prediction and that a better guide to what is to come is to “look upon our own hopes and fears and wishes, and bring them face to face” with “the reality principle”. Less exciting, perhaps, then contemplating cosmic singularities, but more likely of greater use to us in our everyday concerns.
A short review can’t do justice to the range of ideas covered in Supernatural. ‘Masonic Civilization’ offers a brief account of esoteric history. ‘A Course in Miracles Revisited’ and ‘The Science of Thought’ explore the powers of healing within us, while ‘Toxic Prayer’ looks at our equal ability to harm through our imagination. ‘Cultivating the Field of Images’ looks at imagination too, as the Paradise we lost by falling to earth, and ‘An Encounter with Ancient Wisdom’ gives us some background in Smoley’s own spiritual pursuits. But ‘Secrets of The Da Vinci Code’ best exhibits a quality that runs through all of Smoley’s work: his generosity of spirit. Even when critical of the mistakes that pepper Dan Brown’s writing, Smoley finds something useful in it, gleaning a kind of gold from what is by most accounts a piece of lead. If Supernatural finds enough readers, the history it speaks of may not remain hidden for long.
Gary Lachman is the author of several books on the link between consciousness, culture, and alternative thought. His books include Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius; A Secret History of Consciousness; In Search of P.D. Ouspensky; A Dark Muse; Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to His Life and Thought; and The Dedalus Book of Literary Suicides: Dead Letters.
[TV Series] Downton Abbey (Carnival Films)
Review by Adam Elenbaas
I finally heard enough people talking about Downton Abbey that I had to give the show a solid viewing. After only a few episodes I was admittedly hooked on the masterpiece theater that has won numerous awards, including a Golden Globe and Emmy for best television series. The show is many things and hosts a lot of good character writing, eloquent storytelling, and fantastic acting, but perhaps its most compelling quality is that scope of history and the evolution of human consciousness covered in the sweep of its (thus far) three season narrative.
The story follows the lives of a wealthy, aristocratic British family, the Crawley's, and their servant staff living in the post-Edwardian era, in the fictional community of "Yorkshire County." The symbolic arc of the series is set from the start of the very first episode as both the lords and ladies and cooks and maids alike react to the local newspaper's reporting of the Titanic sinking. The world is changing, and the series slowly, and sensitively, captures the complexities of the deterioration of the British social hierarchy through World War 1, the Spanish Influenza, and the formation of an Independent Ireland (so far). What's more, as the journey with the Crawley's and their house staff deepens each season a variety of themes emerge that demonstrate for the viewer how human consciousness, as a whole, was evolving at the time.
Traditionalists find themselves being bound by "traditional" laws to make paupers their financial heirs, moralists find themselves lying to the law to protect homosexuals they realize they must fully accept for who they are, and elders find themselves being charmed by the increasingly socialist ideas of the youthful "new world" generation. The beauty of Downton Abbey is its ability to teach people history, and the evolution of consciousness during a specific time period, while paying close attention to the many diverse characters that embody and actually "incarnate" the flow of time and change.
It's easy to look at the state of things, from any moment in history, and say "look at how little progress is being made." I'm not sure I could have that same perspective after watching Downtown Abbey. This is a series that shows us, through the deterioration of the British aristocracy, how much mighty change has come into our world, and how real and how very human it's been for everyone involved. Downtown Abbey takes the "bad guys" out of the historical equation and instead puts us in touch with the heart of history. Perhaps only BBC could do something so smart and serious with so much sensitivity!
Adam Elenbaas is the author of Fishers of Men: The Gospel of an Ayahuasca Vision Quest. Adam is the director and founder of Nightlight Astrology, a donation based astrology school located in Washington DC and NYC. Elenbaas is one of the founding writers and contributing editors for RealitySandwich.com.
[Film] Leviathan (Cinema Guild)
Review by Maxi Cohen
Leviathan is a haunting, immersive, mesmerizing, gorgeous, artful, ugly, unrelenting, thrilling, extraordinary film that is like none other I have ever seen. It may not be for everyone, but for everyone who sees it, it will be memorable. Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Sweetgrass) and Véréna Paravel (Foreign Parts) team at a study totally at sea, submerged in the highly dangerous profession of commercial fishing off the coast of New Bedford, Massachusetts. This film gave me deep reverence for these men who labor at the mercy of the Leviathan.
It may be considered an art film, but I have this desire to have it play in fishing towns where men, often with little education, who dream of drowning in the sea and sometimes do, live. I wonder if working class people will appreciate this sophisticated tapestry that plays against all conventions of filmmaking.
This filmic painting is a result of many cameras set what seems like everywhere, gathering abstractions in close ups and wondrous sea and sky scapes in wide shots, from high on masts to deep in the sea, on fishermen and fishing nets, in the boat’s kitchen and bathroom, moving from below the ocean to above, catching fish and birds and blood and raw sounds. The New York Film Festival called the result “a hallucinatory sensory experience quite unlike any other.” I do agree.
Maxi Cohen is a filmmaker of the feature documentaries & shorts "Joe and Maxi," "Seven Women - Seven Sins," "South Central LA: Inside Voices," & "The Holy Give Me."
[Music] Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Push The Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd. 2013)
Review by Jill Ettinger
It's been 30 lightning-fast years since Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds released their first album. All of a sudden, the inimitable Cave seems more like Mick Jagger than the former raucous front man of post-punk revolutionary precursor to the Bad Seeds, The Birthday Party. He's no longer the in-your-face-yeah-I-wear-a-diaper-on-stage-and-scream-about-Jesus-and-trash-cans. His biggest rebellion, it turns out, is his unwavering pursuit of his own artistic evolution, which is consistently inconsistent, but as the band's 15th official album Push the Sky Away illuminates, is nothing short of necessary elegance.
Push the Sky Away is raw. It finds Cave in an especially contemplative space where his brilliant storytelling rarely lifts the tempo past his dirgeful piano playing, the deep, unruly bass lines and droning guitars held together by erratic percussions. Opening softly with "We No Who U R", Cave delivers a gentle sermon, a welcoming invitation to self-reflection: "and we know you are/and we know where you live/and we know there's no need to forgive." He lures us inward on a journey of discovery as the record wafts through more dramatic, atmospheric ballads ("Wide Lovely Eyes," "Water's Edge," "Mermaids").
"Jubilee Street," the album's first single, also delivers the record's first familiar taste of Cave's characteristic spastic eruptions in the tale of woman who "had a history, but she had no past." It's dark; the listener ultimately feels the deep shame of the main character as loneliness builds into a pensive struggle: "I'm transforming. I'm vibrating. I'm glowing. I'm flying. Look at me, now." The song lingers so long after it's over that the album also contains the notable track, "Finishing Jubilee Street," which details the exhaustive repercussions writing the song had ("I just finished writing 'Jubilee Street' and I lay down on my bed and fell into a deep sleep."). It's nothing short of classic Cave insisting that the listeners allow him to erase the perceived space between them.
The darkness continues with the epic and curious "Higgs Boson Blues," a tale of wandering and wondering, riffing on the elemental particle discovery last year widely embraced as the most significant achievement in physics. So, it makes sense that the track is built around often-nonsensical imagery ("my basement patio"; "If I die tonight, bury me in my favorite yellow patent leather shoes with a mummified cat and a cone-like hat that the Caliphate forced on the Jews.") The album's title track ends the journey where it began—with a droning, dark, tear-jerking invitation within: "If you got everything and you don't want no more/You've gotta just keep on pushing, keep on pushing, push the sky away." While the rough and tumble tone and temperament may have mellowed for Cave and the Bad Seeds on Push the Sky Away, the band still seems to be always one step ahead of the rest of us—delivering humbling reflections of the world we're responsible for creating. Fortunately, they make it sound beautiful, no matter how fucked it really is.
Jill Ettinger is the editor and a featured writer on OrganicAuthority and Ecosalon. Her work also appears weekly on NaturallySavvy and SunwarriorNews. Jill’s focus on food, herbs, wellness and world cultural expressions blends the mystical and modern as she explores what our shifting food, healing systems and creative landscapes will look, sound and taste like in the future. Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter: @jillettinger
[Book] The Psychedelic Future of the Mind: How Entheogens are Enhancing Cognition, Boosting Intelligence, and Raising Values by Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. (Inner Traditions - Bear & Company, 2013)
Educational psychologist Tom Roberts has been teaching a course called Foundations of Psychedelic Studies at Northern Illinois University since 1981. He is the author of Psychedelic Horizon, and edited the book Spiritual Growth with Entheogens. His new work, The Psychedelic Future of the Mind, is one of the more insightful and far-thinking books on psychedelic consciousness that I’ve encountered in quite a while. Roberts goes well beyond a scientific or even academic psychological point of view. He skillfully directs the reader using an eclectic humanistic approach to consciousness study that is both intriguing and disarming.
The book is broken into three parts. The first examines the power of mystical experiences — what Roberts calls “The Experience that Alters All Others.” The second part deals with something he terms Multistate Theory, which effectively means looking at the full range of cognitive shifts that psychedelics entail. He wants us to understand how important it is to get outside the box of ordinary, singlestate reality. “As we move from one state to another, we may also discover new, different abilities—ones that do not exist in our ordinary state. Systematic exploration of all mindbody states and inventorying their resident abilities are two huge mind-mapping tasks that remain in the quest to fully describe the human mind.”
The third part of this book is also quite creative and insightful. Roberts presents a general mapping for a business plan to develop psychedelic research towards enhancing and amplifying the potential of the human mind. He provides examples of a number of scientific studies to justify this business plan along with interesting anecdotal evidence (like Doc Ellis’s June 12 1970 no-hitter on LSD). The idea here is that neuroscience, psychology, and psychiatry are in the process of opening the doors of perception in ways that no one ever conceived of before. The implications are enormous. The potential to enhance human consciousness and human society, to essentially re-direct the evolution of human beings, is extraordinary and potent.
This is a book that could certainly serve as an important psychology text, but it should really be read by everyone who claims to be interested in spiritual and psychological issues. Tom Roberts may be an extraordinary academic thinker, but he presents the ideas in this book poetically and directly in ways that will allow everyone from artists and intellectuals to shamanic seekers and born-agains to understand the value of psychedelics as we map out the geography of the global future of consciousness.
David Biddle is the author of the novel Beyond the Will of God, a mystery-thriller-speculative-visionary-psychedelic-magical realism novel set in Central Missouri farm country. As a contributing writer to Talking Writing magazine, David posts a regular column on the Indie Writing Movement called “Talking Indie.”
[Music] David Bowie, The Next Day (Iso Records 2013)
Review by Tony Torn
David Bowie is the Hindu Deity of Pop Gods: He comes at you in infinite forms. Sometime this is part of the problem among his devotees - they tend to form into mutually hostile camps: space-folkies, acid rockers, soul freaks, modern lovers and thin white dukes eyeing each other suspiciously across the hall. Despite my early love for "Suffragette City" (the first song I ever played compulsively over and over) I was always firmly aligned with the Dukes, though really a subset of them. I was a Steel Clown, devoted above all to Lodger's superb side B, and the harrowing side A of Scary Monsters.
For a fan like me, The Next Day the a second coming of the particular avatar I cherished most. It certainly rocks harder on occasion than anything since Tin Machine. The mixes are nice and dirty, the band lively, and Tony Visconti recreates the ambiance of their late 70's collaborations with Brian Eno in a satisfying way. Some songs recall the epic pathos of his Berlin records, while others blast off into strange but satisfying arena rock from another galaxy. The thing that really sells it are Bowie's vocals: he sounds rejuvenated, energized, unselfconscious. The elegiac "Where Are We Now" has a deeply affecting vibe to it.
Despite its aggressive nod to the past, The Next Day feels like it could be a reasonable start to a Next Chapter. It also benefits from coming off of a hiatus. After Bowie's soft pop breakthrough in the eighties with Lets Dance, it became hard to buy into his constantly shifting identity from record to record. Occasionally a superb song like "Under The God," "Thursday's Child" or "Little Wonder" would come along and jolt one out of complacency. But the story linking persona to persona no longer seemed resonant. After the Gene Genies' Hero's descent into the lows of Low, followed by Major Tom's sudden rebirth as a skinny-tied pop cheerleader, what could he possibly do as an encore? Dropping out and re-entering gives Bowie back his sense of mystery, which has always been a key to appreciating him.
Todd Haynes' Glam Rock epic Velvet Goldmine was built on a fanboy's sense of betrayal: the Bowie-esque rocker loses his soul, murdered even, to be be reborn as a blond-coiffured, zoot-suited automaton, ringing in the era of Thatcher and Reagan with a plastic smile. As a dismayed high school student in the early eighties, I felt that sense of betrayal as much as anyone, but it was purely a political uneasyness. It wasn't just Bowie - everywhere, cutting edge artists like Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Public Image, OMD, R.E.M., you name it, were turning into shiny, happy people overnight. But last weekend I went to a bon voyage party for a filmmaker friend who was moving to Berlin. It was White Duke Central. But when “Modern Love” came on, all of us voted with our feet: dukes, freaks, rockers all, we put on our red shoes and danced the blues. It's time to give propers to the size of Bowie's big big tent.
Tony Torn is an actor, director, and long time member of the Reality Sandwich community. His experimental, satirical web miniseries The Grand Inquisitor can be found at http://newsdate2011.com.
Making HappyTalk in Paris: Disneyland and the WSIS +10 Review Review by Michael Gurstein
I came to the WSIS +10 Review in Paris (in the middle of the coldest winter in 100 years) not really knowing what to expect. I had been at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis and was fairly active in some of the civil society activities leading up to both the Geneva and Tunis summits, but hadn’t had much involvement since in the on-going activities associated with the Summit.
Without having very high expectations, I did at least expect that there would be some attempt at a “stocktaking” — an assessment of what had been accomplished since 2003 (and most importantly what had not), and what had changed for the better (and what had changed for the worse). What we are having instead is three days of “happytalk” folks talking “happy,” not because they are particularly happy, but rather as a strategy for not saying anything much about anything much.
We have Minister after Minister regaling us with tales about the wondrous progress being made in their countries as a result of their government’s ICT policies. We have Jeff Sachs giving us a global tour of his adventures in ICTland, but mostly talking about what the wondrous future with ICTs hold for the billions. We have workshop after workshop presenting case study after case study of the wondrous successes being achieved by one donor or another and the momentous impacts that these will be having just over the next horizon.
Now, at over ten years into the Internet revolution, there is actually a whole lot to review at a global level and by those responsible for public policy nationally and (hopefully) globally. There those being damaged by these processes from not being able to keep up with the fast kids on the block due to poverty, or disability, or just, well, not being quite able to keep up. There are also those whose world has disappeared because of these wonders, and while the race is going to the swift, (or, in the current parlance, the “innovative”) there is less and less means in place to cushion their losses. The massive numbers of unemployed in developed countries whose jobs or opportunities for jobs have been internetworked; the small farmers in Africa who can’t quite fit into the emerging South – North, South – East value chains transforming their traditional plots of land into specks in some distant corporate Internet-enabled business plan; or the vast populations in slums in South Asia where mobile costs represent 20-30-40% of household incomes with not much evident return in household well-being or security. Over-arching everything is the rapidly accelerating gap between the rich and the poor where the Internet is almost certainly playing a significant if not a central role.
That is what I wanted to hear discussed at this “review.” Not more cheerleading but some analysis and statistics and some serious reflection and assessment on where we are and how far we’ve come, where we have fallen short, and where we’re going as collaborating citizens of a globalized and interdependent world.
Michael Gurstein is currently Executive Director of the Centre for Community Informatics Research, Development and Training (Vancouver BC and Cape Town, South Africa). Canadian, he completed a B.A. at the University of Saskatchewan and a Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of Cambridge.
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