The River

Friday, September 29, 2006

A Soul Defying, Tacit Approval of Torture:
How Did We Come to This?

by Phil Rockstroh
September 28, 2006

“True sanity entails in one way or another the dissolution of the normal ego, that False Self competently adjusted to our alienated social reality . . . and through this death a rebirth, the ego now being the servant of the divine, no longer its betrayer.”

-- R. D. Laing

The pathology of American culture is as ubiquitous as its strip mall ugliness. It is abundantly evident in almost every aspect of contemporary life. From the predatory (to the point of psychopathic) practices of its morally scurvy pirates at the helm of the corporate/governmental ship of state, down to the pandemic enervation and proliferate anomie of its galley slaves languishing in their soulless cubicles -- from the genitalia-devoid mascots at Disney World to the genitalia-obsessed torturers of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo -- the soul-sickness spreads before us like George W. Bush's taunting, executioner's smirk.

more (brilliant piece)

It can happen here

If you had "a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent," as Bush says of Islamic terrorists while really talking about his own criminal government, what law would you most like to see passed?

The 2006 Military Commissions law.

I'm not going to go into what I think will follow. I think Bush has already described the type of society we have become. History provides plenty of examples of what follows.

There is one thing that I think is irrefutable: it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

This is how it starts.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Report’s Startling Conclusion: Bombing People Really Pisses Them Off

by Mark Drolette
September 25, 2006

Whew! I’m glad that’s been cleared up.

I’m talking about the “consensus view of the 16 disparate [American] spy services” as provided in the recently-disclosed National Intelligence Estimate [NIE], a classified U.S. government assessment compiled in April “that concluded the [Iraq] war has helped create a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks” (per Associated Press writer Nedra Pickler, 09/24/06).

The Democrats are right on it, too, boy. Though they’ve faithfully commented publicly on all the thousand or so previous government reports concerning 9/11 and Iraq and torture and reconstruction fraud and the national surplus of reports that, basically, have all shared the same conclusion -- the Bushies are all a bunch of corrupt, bald-faced liars who’ve made America a despised pariah state -- and then backed up their righteous displeasure with strong, patriotic action like, well, um, nothing really quite yet, still, make no mistake: you can tell this time for sure they mean real business because at several press conferences already, the Dems have somberly held copies of the NIE conclusion much higher over their heads than they would’ve in times past, noticeably shaken it more often with greater umbrage and audibly uttered an unmistakably higher number of “tsk-tsks.”

Can truly courageous “Nyeah, nyeah, nyeah-nyeah, nyeahs” be far behind?


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Why 9/11 questions matter

The knowledge of how people have been repeatedly tricked into going to war, is like a vaccine. It can be used to inoculate the public with healthy doses of distrust for official, war pretext narratives and other deceptive stratagems. Through such immunization programs we can help to counter our society's susceptibility to "war fever" and, hopefully, prevent the next bout of war from infecting us.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Two writers

Both insightful, penetrating, and deeply empathetic. One an essayist, the other a songwriter. Each illuminating the other, adding color, depth, and almost heartbreaking understanding.

Futsie, by Inspector Lohmann

Nebraska, by Bruce Springsteen

Monday, September 25, 2006

More 9/11

Much of the information and most of the rather limited media coverage about the 9/11 Truth Movement focuses on college professors, such as: David Ray Griffin, Steven Jones, James Fetzer, Kee Dewdney, and others. In August of 2006, I began searching for statements about 9/11 by members of the intelligence services, military and government. Because of their experience in these areas, I felt their opinions about 9/11 would be an additional valuable source of information. I was surprised by the amount of criticism of 9/11 from this group...

-- Alan Miller, who provides photos, quotes and documentation of more than 50 such personages

But the main problem with the 9/11 debate is that there has not really been a debate. Instead, we have had a report from a political commission run by a Bush administration insider, Philip Zelikow. In place of a real independent investigation, we have a collection of Washington players reassuring the public by defending the government’s story line.

Studies, such as those referred to by the Popular Mechanics editors, are in fact not forensic studies of evidence but what the editor-in- chief of “Fire Engineering” called “paper- and computer-generated hypotheticals.”

The explanation that the three WTC buildings collapsed as a result of damage and fire is a mere assertion. The assertion is not backed up with scientific calculation to demonstrate that the energy from the airliners, fire, and gravity were sufficient to collapse the buildings. A number of independent authorities believe that there is a very large energy deficit in the official account of the collapse of the buildings. Until this issue is resolved, the official explanation is merely an assertion no matter who believes it.

-- Paul Craig Roberts, "Where is the evidence?"

Some facts cannot be denied. Clearly, 9-11 was carried out by more than one person. Therefore, by definition, there was a conspiracy. What we’re arguing is that the true conspirators have abused their enormous power and the trust of the American people to concoct and to sell to the world a false conspiracy theory, to justify war and mass murder for economic and political gain.

Since the neo-cons, allied with the president, said in almost so many words that they wished for a new Pearl Harbor, why dismiss out of hand an allegation that they used their undeniably sufficient power to actually bring it about? Why has there been no full and transparent investigation? Isn’t it shocking that the federal government grabbed up all of the physical evidence, and that no police authority has conducted a true criminal investigation into 3,000 homicides?

Instead of due process of law, government officials and the mass media convicted Osama bin Laden, and had names and photos of his 19 accomplices on the Internet, literally within hours of the attacks.

-- Lawyer Philip Berg, representing William Rodriguez, a former maintenance worker at the World Trade Center, who "has filed suit in a Philadelphia federal court naming George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and others as being complicit in the 9-11 attacks."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Is Dis Info?

I appreciate that Alexander Cockburn does not give credence to alternative theories of 9/11, but why does he need to go off on 2,755-word rant to tell us how much he HATES not just alternative theories, but the people who hold them?

His September 10th Counterpunch piece is far from a debunking. Instead, it’s an essay featuring ungrounded speculation and death-defying leaps of logic – the very thing he purports to be concerned about.

For example, when discussing the question of why no planes were scrambled to intercept the errant flights, he says it's due to stupidity, cowardice, venality, weather [weather?] and the whims of providence. Would Cheney's hijacked plane drill for that morning have anything to do with it? Don’t ask Cockburn, because he doesn’t attempt to fit the fact into his “stupid bureaucracy” theory, acting as if it didn't happen.

However, Wikipedia states: "During the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US was holding multiple war games." And Michael Kane of From the Wilderness writes:

We know multiple Air Force war games were running on the morning of 9/11, as documented extensively in the mainstream press. 16 What Crossing the Rubicon has documented conclusively is that there was a live-fly drill taking place on 9/11 titled Vigilant Warrior. Richard Clarke disclosed the name of this drill on page 4 of his book, but it was Major Don Arias of NORAD who confirmed the definition of the title "Warrior" to Mike Ruppert via email.

Warrior = JCS/HQ NORAD sponsored FTX, or field training exercise (live-fly). 17

That means that the Vigilant Warrior drill conducted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff involved at least one real commercial aircraft in the skies, intended to simulate exactly the kind of airliner hijack emergency presented on 9/11. Coincidence?

This was further supported by an April 18 2004 USA Today article titled, "NORAD had drills of jets as weapons." The report cited NORAD officials who confirmed live-fly drills were conducted using hijacked airliners originating from the continental United States used as weapons crashing into targets including the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The specific drill USA Today referred to was "planned in July [2001] and conducted later" - likely on 9/11 itself. 18

Cockburn's not interested. Instead, he compares the failure of the routine scrambling of jets to intercept hijacked planes to the failure of a test of "minutely prepared plans of the Strategic Air Command” involving an “impending Soviet attack would have prompted the missile silos in North Dakota to open, and the ICBMs to arc towards Moscow and kindred targets." To use one of his favorite charges, the comparison is ludicrous. Nuclear missile launches and routine, easily executed police procedures have nothing to do with each other, no matter how far you’d like to strain your logic.

To further back up his “stupid bureaucracy” theory, Cockburn regales us with tales of Giuliani’s corrupt handling of the emergency preparedness of New York’s Port Authority, police and fire departments, as if these have any bearing on the 9/11 attacks.

According to the article, to consider alternative theories to 9/11 is just as crazy as believing the moon landing was faked. “The proponents of the “fake moon landing” plot tend to overlap with the JFK and 9/11 nuts,” Cockburn tells us, all but extending his middle finger inches from our faces.

He devotes long passages of his screed to drive home his guilt-by-association insults, alternatively implying that 9/11 theorists are anti-Semites as well as bigoted to Arabs. He writes, "many of them start with the racist premise that “Arabs in caves” weren’t capable of the mission," without any awareness that such a statement can be used to mock the official story, not Arab abilities in general. Four paragraphs later he implies questioners of one of the world's biggest unsolved crimes are no different than anti-Semites worried about Jews taking over the world.

This need to fit all who give credence to alternative narratives into into the same nutcase mold, no matter how nonsensical, is, ironically, a great example of the simplistic and illogical worldview he wants us to shake our heads about.

Curiously, he says his brother Andrew, who is writing a book about Rumsfeld and the DoD, “has seen photos taken within 30 minutes of Pentagon impact clearly showing outline of entire plane including wings." He adds helpfully that "This was visible momentarily when the smoke blew away." Now I don't pretend to know if the Pentagon incident explanation holds up or not. Like everything else, it looks fishy because so much information is classified. Similarly, the government has not seen fit to release these wing-revealing photos to the public.

Cockburn thinks the towers fell because they were "badly built as a consequence of corruption, incompetence, regulatory evasions by the Port Authority" and because jet planes crashed into them. Sounds reasonable enough, but doesn’t this rely on speculation that the towers were built in such a way as to be perfectly viable 110-story buildings (how many corners can you cut on a skyscraper?), yet were also constructed in such a way that should a plane crash into them, they will collapse into their footprints. If I were stoop to the level of Cockburn's article, this would be a good point to wonder if he thinks a phantom jet plane crashed into WTC 7, but I won’t go there ;-). Still, his article ignores the fact that a 47-story office tower collapsed at near freefall speed into its own footprint after suffering minor damage and a few isolated fires. Official government reports don’t even pretend to have a conclusive theory as to why this building collapsed.

Cockburn also posits that placing charges in the towers would take a conspiracy of thousands. It’s a wild claim, but he doesn’t stop there. Since he’s so revved up on his theories, he continues with more unfounded speculation. For some reason, known only to Cockburn, he thinks the companies/agencies involved in removing the evidence, the WTC debris, would have to be in on the conspiracy. Yes, he mocks, "tens of thousands of people" would have to be "silent as the tomb to this day." Wow. Incredible.

Ultimately, I think this whole freedom thing is too much for Cockburn. The world just isn’t big enough for 9/11 researchers, theorists, and nutcases. Everyone must be on the same page, with us or against us, that’s the only way we’re going to defeat the terrorists…I mean the Bush Administration.

Not that the (don’t forget the scare quotes) “conspiracy theorists” care about that, implies Cockburn. If we could just shut them up, the progressive agenda could move forward, he concludes. Then all will be well and everyone can sleep tight, with their 9/11 Commission report tucked securely on their nightstand.

Friday, September 15, 2006

who cares
by Suzzy Roche

I like to watch tv
listen to the news
hear what everybody is saying
there's a lotta talk about God
peace and safety and
war and fear and
there goes a girl in a bikini

this guy's saying that guy's an idiot and
she's on the right he's on the left and
everybody's screaming and yelling at each other and
calling each other jerks
it's a party

who cares where the truth lies
who cares where the truth lies

guys dressed up in suits and ties
look you straight in the eyes
telling lies
but I really wish I knew
what they were talking about
meanwhile human beings
are being strung up on bridges and
little kids are getting their legs blown off and
young soldiers are coming home no more

if you live in new york city
keep your eye on he sky
afraid to take a subway ride
wondering about the next time
the next time

who cares
who cares

so I look inside my own angry heart
the violent world
of my misdeeds and my mistakes
my old messy heartbreaks
and fantastic fakes
the good intentions paved in gold
another war story gets told

I like to watch tv
listen to the news
hear what everybody is saying
I think that I'm a dove but
maybe I'm a hawk and
someday I will fly away

who cares where the truth lies


From the highly recommended 2004 Red House Records release "Why the Long Face."

I saw the Roches about a month ago at the 1,000-seat Variety Playhouse. They were completely charming and captivating, definitely one of the best concert experiences in my long career of concert-going.

I picked up the CD at the show. Bought it from Suzzy. Always nice to be able to pay an artist directly. If you'd like another sample of Suzzy's writing, check out The Long Lonely Road to Nowhere. ya go, ya non-link-clickers:

the long lonely road to nowhere
by Suzzy

I bought a book
the 7 habits of highly effective people
powerful lessons in personal change
it's a #1 bestseller
10 million copies sold
I guess the guy who wrote it
has his share of personal change

there's a quote on the cover
from the editor in chief of success magazine
steve degarmo
I wish I had met steve
when I was young and pretty
I might've tricked him into marrying me

you may think that's a mean way of thinking
and sweetheart I know that you're right
but I'm on a long lonely road to nowhere

[the rest of the story]

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Appeased to meet you, hope you guess my name

It’s been five years since the operation. The façade is beginning to wear thin.

Think of this. Forget Sept. 11. What would happen if all Americans had full knowledge of every crime ever committed by the mysterious “intelligence” agencies of the Federal Government? Every assassination, every death squad (definition: kill and torture anyone, kids, women, using the most heinous means imaginable; we literally wrote the manual on it), every bomb landing on peaceful residences, every family blown to bits, all in the name of an insidious tyranny. Would they doubt the official story?

On Sept. 11 I did not believe a word of the psychopaths who have made the above their business, their calling, their fervent and incessant activity.

Or think of this: How long have “they” been planning to “do” Iraq? There are Pentagon documents stating that they deliberately murdered 500,000 children with a brutal invasion they set up – Gulf War I – wherein they bombed water treatment facilities and other infrastructure to punish, to weaken, and yes to knowingly murder the children of Iraqi parents. This was in the 1990s, setting back a thriving, modern society for eventual invasion.

All of this depravity is justified to the people everyday when Bush says “we will protect civilization” or “we will defend our way of life” or most nakedly, “we will protect American interests.” What civilization? Whose interest? The interest of accumulation, of more, of exploitation. Of greed. But not humanity or America’s interests.

Are not the crimes against Iraq, and the long list of others, the product of a large and criminal conspiracy that is countenanced by the hundreds directly involved, who sleep soundly every night, perhaps with the aid of a little Ambien and warm milk? And even, of course, by ourselves, who don’t want to know.

Why would it be hard to believe that the same criminals would hesitate to plan and execute 9-11, along with, of course, the requisite patsies? We would call them out and string them up? Has yet to happen, with the exception of Nixon, who "just got caught doing what all of them do." Someone would come forward? Why? Mass murder is what they do, it's part of the air they breathe. Even moreso than ordinary people, and to a much more concious degree, they are already completely inculcated into a culture which views people everywhere as expendable to their manic aims. They have no feeling, no loyalty, and certainly no love, for life itself, let alone a country or countrymen. The people under them, who they depend on, aren’t quite so deep into the mindset, but they would merely need to follow orders. There is always a plausible explanation for what they would need to do, or even implausible, as those too are routinely accepted, because it’s either that or find other work. Like us, they wouldn't want to know too much anyway.

Reasons to launch already devised war plans – a new American century -- don’t just fall in warmongers’ laps. And buildings don’t turn to powder from burning jet fuel. Not to mention the forgotten, 47-story WTC 7, which can’t be explained by burning jet fuel.

Once you look beneath the façade, it is hard to see 9-11 as a surprise offensive. It only makes sense as another depraved operation carried out by psychopathic American murderers – people with the same characteristics and goals that the neocons continuously proscribe to “the terrorists who hate our freedoms.”

We have learned that they are evil and kill without mercy -- but not without purpose. We have learned that they form a global network of extremists who are driven by a perverted vision of Islam -- a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent. And we have learned that their goal is to build a radical Islamic empire where women are prisoners in their homes, men are beaten for missing prayer meetings, and terrorists have a safe haven to plan and launch attacks on America and other civilized nations. The war against this enemy is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century, and the calling of our generation."

--George W. Bush, September 11, 2006 Presidential Address to the Nation

Chillingly messianic.

September 11 was years in the planning. A false flag. A hypnotist’s trick. A brilliantly conceived psyop of misdirection. Operation Northwoods -- and every other bloodsoaked operation -- come home to roost.

Meanwhile, the perpetrators and by any definition the absolute worst of humanity, continue their calling – terrorize the world into acceptance of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent.

UPDATE: Inspector Lohmann on appeasing the monster.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The towers burned

...with the help of thermite, says 9/11 researcher Dr. Steven E. Jones

Why Indeed Did the WTC Towers Completely Collapse

Are pools of molten metal the smoking gun of 9/11 complicity?

Just asking. Or rather, Dr. Jones is.

Here's another question: When a jet explodes in a massive fireball, does whatever jet fuel may be leftover leak out of, er, what would be left? Ok, fall back down out of the sky to run down elevator shafts? Are there experts that have experience with similar, ok somewhat similar, events that have seen this happen before, this leftover jet fuel sloshing around?

While we're on alternative theories, here's a tidbit that denotes The Federal Criminals Governments' confidence in _their_ theory.

FBI says not enough evidence to charge Osama bin Laden with 9/11

This means both the CIA and FBI don’t consider as reliable evidence the confession video released in December 2001 in which a character we’re told is Bin Laden is celebrating the attacks! Notice the main-stream media hasn’t reported on this? Notice our Congress hasn’t acted on this stunning news, yet they have us mired in this “global war on terror” with Bin Laden as their bogeyman?

Instead, they’ve used Bin Ladin to scare us into two Middle East wars, torturing people, and allowing the NSA to tap our phone calls and e-mails. It's worked like a charm for the war profiteers. But all along they've known that Usama Bin Laden is NOT GUILTY of the 9/11 attacks and have concealed it from us. The evidence above demonstrates the brutal, frightening truth: we've been DECEIVED AND BETRAYED. Now how could anyone think Bin Laden tapes used to keep us in fear can be real? This knowledge alone should alert you to the fact that something is terribly wrong with the official account of the 9/11 attacks on America.

And this article by Alex Constantine
is pretty good. Part 36 (!) in a series, it concentrates on how key players in the military industrial spook nexus seem to radiate from former CIA Director George Tenet.

One was John Fulton,

a CIA officer assigned as chief of NRO's strategic gaming division, the announcement says, "On the morning of September 11th 2001, Mr. Fulton and his team ... were running a pre-planned simulation to explore the emergency response issues that would be created if a plane were to strike a building. Little did they know that the scenario would come true in a dramatic way that day."

-- USA Today

An exceedingly coincidental and dramatic way.

Monday, September 11, 2006

"If an American is concerned only about his nation, he will not be concerned about the peoples of Asia, Africa, or South America. Is this not why nations engage in the madness of war without the slightest sense of penitence? Is this not why the murder of a citizen of your own nation is a crime, but the murder of citizens of another nation in war is an act of heroic virtue? "

Martin Luther King, Jr.

from here

Today, with this incessant, maudlin, and fradulent media focus only on American lives, I miss Martin more than ever.

The New Pearl Harbor

9/11 is the New Pearl Harbor, right? Geedubya wrote that in his diary five years ago today.

First, the neocons lamented the fact that they couldn't put plans for a Project for a New American Century (what we say goes) into motion without a new Pearl Harbor. Then they got one and have followed the plan ever since. Over the last five years, obviously fake and completely unsubstantiated videos, tapes and documents, not to mention other incidents of questionable origin, have popped up just when they seem to need them.

Is it all...coincidence?

Perhaps this will shed some light: The Coincidence Theorist's Guide to 9/11 , by Jeff Wells.

The Hologram Ripples with the Cry of a Thrush

The Simulacrum Republic

By Joe Bageant


The average American spends about one-third of his or her waking life watching television. The neurological implications of this are so profound that they cannot even be comprehended in words, much less described by them. Television creates our reality, regulates our national perceptions and our interior hallucinations of who we Americans are (the best and only important tribe on the planet.) It schedules our cultural illusions of choice, displays pre-selected candidates in our elections, or types of consumer goods. It regulates holiday marketing opportunities and the national neurological seasons, which are now governed by the electrons of the illusion. We live within a media generated belief system that functions as the operating instructions for society. Anything outside of its parameters represents fear and psychological freefall to the faceless legions within it.

Our civilization, our culture, in as much as it can be said to exist in any cohesive way, is based upon two things, television and petroleum. Whether you are a custodian or the President, your world depends upon an unbroken supply of both. So it is small wonder that we all watch a televised global war for oil. As in all produced illusions, everyone we see is an actor. There are the television actors portraying what passes for reality, and real people performing for television. Non-actors in Congress perform in front of the cameras, grappling over the feeding tube on Terri Schiavo; real actors portray non-actors in “reality shows.” Michael Jackson shows up for court in pajamas and Jeff Weise shows up for class with a gun. The demand for “newsmakers” is relentless as the empire’s corporate cultural machinery weaves the warp of consumer illusions that make up our notion of individualism, and the weft of democratic mythology that constitutes our political system. This is by no means a free country and given the intense luminosity of the hologram, we cannot even see freedom from here, and probably would not recognize it if we could. Moreover, though, we cannot tear our eyes away from the great flickering glow of the hologram.


Full disclosure: I had read this piece when it was published at the end of last year, but it was not top-of-mind when I wrote "What Do I Think?" It's just a coincidence that Joe Bageant's essay tracks strikingly close to my own, from TV consciousness to disconnect from the natural world to Jerry Mander references to a similar final sentence.

I just ran across it on the rigint board and didn't even realize I had read it before, until I found the whole thing at Dissident Voice and remembered the beginning.

Coincidence. That and similar experiences with hallucinigens and Jerry Mander books. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, September 08, 2006

TV programming about 9/11 shifts into high gear this weekend...


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Lies and videotape

I have a theory. It started when a friend and I were discussing movies. I asked him something about the latest M. Night Shyamalan movie, The Lady in the Water. He said it was awful. I told him about an interview on NPR where they were discussing the imminent release of said movie and how M. Night had become a household name director and his movies were greeted with much anticipation. We wondered why this was considering his movies are mediocre and formulaic. I mean, why these mediocre and formulaic movies, as opposed to all the others? My friend said they mostly follow the weird stuff happens and it’s all explained with a revelatory twist at the end, a la The Sixth Sense.

We also discussed the dominance of the superhero flick in recent years. These will be viewed as dated pieces o crap in short order, I speculated. Why’d people flock to these things? will be the question. Then the theory hit me. The superhero movies and the M. Night’s ouvre together tell the story. In one set of popular entertainments, we see America as the world’s superhero, standing up for good.


... the united states with out a doubt has a good governemnt. we help those who need to be helped we heal those nations that need to be healed. we are a good nation with a governement that only trys to help. i under stand alot of ur logic in ur videos make sence but to blame a thing like 9/11 on the governemnt thats just crazy! were in afganistan and iraq for good reason and bad. but atleast were makein the world a better plcae.


In the other, we get an increasingly uneasy feeling that everything our eyes tell us to be true isn’t, and that waiting for us at the end is a shocking revelation that it’s all been illusion, and the opposite to what we believed is the truth. Evil has been lurking all along.

Here is a YouTube video proposing that the Osama video confession, made public on December 13, 2001, was fake. The video, as well as other questionable audio tapes, are the source of quotes that Bush has been touting recently to bolster war support.

One of the greatest lies every perpetrated – Al Qaeda pulled off 9/11 – has only led to a deluge of lies, a glurgefest known as the “War on Terror.” And get ready, a "documdrama is coming to network television to shortcircuit the public's thought process. With United 93 and World Trade Center, this latest fiction, The Path to 9/11, only serves to reinforce the feeling that you are merely a viewer of a simulation of reality.

What would it take, what twist could cause the brain to begin to function with a whole new perspective?

Or do you look beyond the propaganda, only to retreat to the comfort of a movie. Sure, it’s dreadful and menacing, but there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t walk up to the screen and change the ending.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Tufte’s war

Edward Tufte

Recently, I found myself sitting in the audience at a swanky downtown hotel listening to a former Yale professor expound on communications.

I was there for the Edward Tufte one-day course, Presenting Data and Information.

What did I know about Tufte? I knew of his self-published and highly regarded books, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Envisioning Information, and Visual Explanations. They were around the office a few years ago because the VP of Marketing Communications where I work had sent his entire department to see Tufte, and the books were part of the package. I didn’t have the books myself, because I’d missed the course due to a schedule conflict. But I admired them – without actually reading them -- and I had heard good things about his course. The same VP offered me this second opportunity, and I jumped on it.

I viewed Tufte as a Vint Cerf kind of modern communications guru. He must be roughly the same age as Cerf, and has what I take to be a roughly similar attitude – enthusiasm for the democratizing effects of information distribution.

And with Tufte, I was to learn, such enthusiasm is tempered with abhorrence for the corrupting influence of poor information design, dishonest and manipulative information design, and perhaps worst of all, vague, lazy thinking. This last is where it all starts for Tufte: poor thinking leading to weak content leading to even weaker presentation, leading, finally and inexorably, to the Bush Administration.

The unavoidable Bush Administration that squats on our national psyche like a big, fat traffic cop with mirrored sunglasses. “Don’t you know everything comes through me, boe-wa? You havin some speculative thoughts? They end right here, son. Right here. Let me show ya.” Said cop then does something horrific I’d rather not describe.

Such horrors were on my mind when a co-worker asked me what I thought during a break. I replied, “it’s important stuff.” Whether she knew why I’d say that about a one-day course for business types, I don’t know, because she went immediately into smart-alec-response-mode: “Only to you, Bruce.”

Well, it often feels that way.

But it is important. Because over and over, Tufte comes back to it: lies. We lie and we lie some more. Hierarchies, he says, encourage the lies, promote the liars. Hierarchies encourage people to say what others want to hear. Hierarchies are undemocratic.

And along comes PowerPoint, the perfect tool for substance-starved toadyism.

Does Tufte hate PowerPoint? Let me count the ways. (and yes, ironically, I could make this a bullet list)

Tufte says PowerPoint replicates the hierarchy of the company that created it. Information is regimented into nest within nest within nest, never to break out and truly relate upward or across hierarchies.

Tufte, of course, cannot abide the simplistic way one must write on a PPT slide. We’ve seen this style before, he says. It’s the style of first-grade reading primers.

PowerPoint puts your audience to sleep. The information per slide is incredibly thin, a few seconds of reading.

PowerPoint stacks data in time. How can one analyze data when it’s presented bit by excruciating bit, rather than arranged in space where relations can be discerned?

Data-starved slides and bullet lists let authors get away with showing effects without causes. Detail increases clarity.

We’re cheating the rich data processing ability of our eye/brain. Tufte gave some astronomical figure for how much information we take in when looking at the natural world.

PPT slides get dressed up with branding and other decorations to hide the fact of thin data. It doesn’t help.

A PowerPoint presentation is commonly called a “pitch,” says Tufte, which puts it in the realm of marketing, not serious inquiry.

In short, PowerPoint shapes content so that the presentation replicates a good many of the sins of our communications products – it spoon-feeds the audience, assuming they are bored with substance and care most about soothing lies and flashy presentation.

And so, Tufte, who has taken his course across the country for many a year now, seems to be on a one-man crusade. But rather then harangue the audience or denigrate the liars, he merely presents his views, the excellence of his work.

It was left for the audience to determine the importance, and yes, the politics, notwithstanding a jab or two at Washington.

Making a presentation is not only an intellectual act, but a moral act as well, says Tufte. Nor does he let the consumers of information off the hook. One can fail as both a presenter and a consumer of information. Be aware, his course implores. Use the amazing faculties you were given. Don’t let yourself be cheated.

Tufte if fighting the good fight, a war against all the lying and marketing. Physicist Richard Feynman, Galileo, 19th century French engineer Charles Joseph Minard, these are his touchstones.

Tufte said Feynman pointed out something few want to hear: Nature cannot be fooled. Feynman was referencing the NASA’s inability to recognize the trouble the O-rings would eventually cause for the Challenger space shuttle.

Like Feynman, Galileo had a lively, playful mind. Unlike Feynman, he got a lot of shit for it, particularly from the Catholic Church, who found his truth-seeking threatening.

Minard designed the famous Napoleon’s March poster, meant to be an anti-war poster.

Tufte designs his own books, creates sculpture, and lectures. Some of the most compelling parts of his lecture involved both the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters. Tufte traces the thread of disinfo back to the point where it results in poor decision-making.

Tufte is demanding, both of himself and his audience. He produced his books independently, because he couldn’t find a publisher to meet his standards. Information wants to be free, from PowerPoint and other tools that sell us short, says Tufte, but it’s up to us to make it happen.