So I was trying to explain to some Christians the other day that they had it all wrong. Here's how it went:
I said, "I talk about what 'G-d' has shown me, but you do what your parents and tradition have told you to do."

They said, "We do what Jesus told us to do."

I said, "If you really followed Jesus, you would do the same things that he did. All I have ever done is to tell you the truth I heard straight from G-d, yet you are trying to crush my spirit. Jesus did nothing like this to anyone! You are doing what your parents and tradition have told you to do."

They said, "God [they used that word as his name] himself is the only one who tells us what to do, and we are his true followers."

I said, "If G-d really were your Father, you would love me, because I came from G-d and now I am here. I did not come on my own authority, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to listen to my message. You are the children of your parents, of lies, and you want to follow tradition. Those of you who know what G-d is will listen to the words I speak. You, however, are not from G-d, and that is why you will not listen."
Then everybody took a deep breath and a drink of Diet Cola and the conversation continued.
They asked me, "Were we wrong in saying that you are no prince or king, and that you are probably insane?"

I said, "I am not insane. I honor G-d, but you dishonor me. I am not seeking honor for me. But there is One who is seeking it and who judges in my favor. I am telling you the truth: whoever concurs with what I say and acts accordingly will never die."

They said, "WHAT!?! -- did you just say we'd never die!?! Now we know for sure you are insane. Moses and Abraham died, and only Jesus didn't die, yet you say that whoever obeys you will never die? Who do you think you are?"

I answered, "If I were to honor myself, that honor would be worth nothing. The One who honors me is my G-d -- the very One you say is your God. You have never known what you mean when you say 'God,' but I know the reality that is G-d. If I were to say that I do not know G-d, I would be lying like you. But I do know it, and I obey what it teaches me. Even Jesus rejoiced that he was to see the time of my coming; he saw it and was glad."

They said to me, "You were born in 1978; how could you know what Jesus saw?"

Then I decided, what the hell, and said, "I am telling you the truth. Before Jesus was born, 'I Am.' "
Then they went to get their pickup trucks and shotguns, but I ran away and left before they returned.

Of course, all of this is a parable. None of it ever happened. But if it did, it would be spectacular. Also, I plagiarized all of this straight out of the gospel of John. Check it out, verses 8:37-59. Also I sort of changed/updated the situation.

This is my next little blog-project. I want to find ways of eliciting reactions similar to those Jesus elicited. If a person taught the same things he taught, including saying things like, "Aw, hell with what's in the Bible," I wonder what would happen.

Illusion, Thou Shalt Dissipate

A friend emailed me and told me she was having terrors about death -- in particular the part about the cessation of (her) consciousness. I was so pleased she turned to me. So pleased that I turned prideful and wrote 8 paragraphs trying to explain Death away. Then later, I wrote a poem, probably to keep myself from dealing with the same reality.

What Maya Is

The lord Buddha continued: "If any person were to say that the Buddha, in his teachings, has constantly referred to himself, to other selves, to living beings, or to a universal self, what do you think, would that person have understood my meaning?"

The Bodhisattva chooses illusion for the sake of others.
Enlightenment is a value-neutral state.
The fear of death and the fear of life are one.
She who fears living refuses to choose to let go of Maya.
There is no choice until one chooses what she thinks is death.
There is no death.
Only Bodhisattvas may speak.
The only subject of discourse is Maya.
There is no Maya.

The body, standing at a shoreline,
ankles wet in surf, shoulders hot,
eyes tracing horizon—
that body is mind, and nothing else,
and nothing else is mind.

Death exists and nothing dies.
There is nothing that lives.
Nothing lives but Bodhisattvas.
There are no Bodhisattvas.
There is no death.

The Great Self awoke once
in an orange sleeping bag on a red carpet
in a slant of sunlight, roofers pounding above
in steady rhythm. For some minutes,
the Great Self only listened.
Mirror up to the ceiling textured paint,
sweaty brow, limbs, and something else familiar.
Knowing what would become,
for some minutes the Great Self only listened.

Death comes only to Bodhisattvas.
No Bodhisattvas fear Death.
The Bodhisattva chooses others for the sake of illusion.
There is only illusion.
There are no others.
There are no Bodhisattvas.
There is only Separation.

Long Spring and testament reading aside,
Difference serves only as comedy,
And pollutes what takes it seriously.
In three days understanding will rise to meet you—
Take time, then, to listen. Believe that faith
Can heal, and wonder what is meant by trust.

Death is only a figure of speech.
In Maya, only figures of speech are real.
There is no separation. There is no separation.
Death and Maya and Separation are One.
The Bodhisattva who forgets the One experiences Death.

But come back, return the ocean to itself;
The universe is larger than a grain.
Remember that clouds have no intention,
That what appears is not always what is,
What looks a crocodile is often cloud.
To wonder what is meant by trust can heal.
Go home—It willshall ever lead you there;
Forever take what is what isn’t fair.

Separation only is in Being.
All Beings fear Death.
All Beings die.
Being is illusion.
Maya is not. Maya is not.


Prayer for Peace

Dear Universe,

Ong namo guru dev namo. Please forgive me for my rants and manifestos. I have chosen stubbornness and association where only uncertainty and contentment were offered. In remaking me, please protect me from re-entering the dungeon of political discourse. And help me not to judge those who do enter there, O Unnameable One; that dungeon may be a paradise for others, though it be a madhouse for me. I see clearly today, and regret that I have been so blind in recent days. But not my will, but thy will be done.

Amen. Om. Shantih Shantih Shantih.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Challah Bread.
Let it rain.


Your Very Self



"Nutrition is not a simple physiological operation; it renews a communion." --Mircea Eliade, Cosmos and History


Murray Rothbard on Money and the Federal Reserve

Ever wonder why your great-grandpa and his wife were able to raise 8 children on one middle-class income? I just discovered the Mises Institute's channel on YouTube. Give it a listen if you've got a spare half an hour. Watch at least the first ten minutes:

I know that academics tend to think of Libertarians as wackos, but this video hardly features candidates for the asylum. Anyway, I find all of this very convincing.

Anyway, I'm not gonna argue this Austrian-Economics video. Just thought I'd share.

Image and Idea

When I started loving literature, I was drawn to transcendental abstractions and (embarrassingly) axiomatic wisdom. Trite little Nietzschean or Emersonian truths: "Wisdom sets bounds to even knowledge" or "Beauty is the mark God sets upon virtue." I think I liked them because they seemed to answer questions that I hadn't asked yet--maybe I thought I was saving myself time by preemptively learning by rote what can only, really, be learned by experience.

But for the past five years or so, I've been much more attracted to imagistic thought. My favorite line in Whitman's "Song of Myself" is not anything like "Out of the dimness opposite equals advance," but this perfectly "concrete" description: "The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her tipsy and pimpled neck."

Think about writing that line. About what you would have had to observe to write that line. Whitman can write that because he has seen it, he has noticed precisely that prostitute, that draggling shawl, that bonnet & that pimpled neck. Think about what it implies about how we ought to look -- about how Whitman's vision contradicts my own father's, who would've told me "it's impolite to stare" at such a draggling shawl, at such a pimply neck. More than any abstraction of philosophy, Whitman's list moves me to widen the circumference of my responsibility.

And it's this, I've finally realized, that keeps me from forgetting about Jesus altogether. Jesus helps me to answer the question of what G-d is. Ecce Homo. Behold even this man. Of course, even more important than noticing dead-Jesus is noticing his contemporary parallels, those who, like him, have been beaten and dragged by civilization. In this view, to refuse to behold Jesus is to refuse to behold G-d. It is no more or less unethical than turning your back on Whitman's prostitute. G-d as I understand it is just those things: Jesus and the prostitute, and more especially their living parallels.

I was listening to a podcast this morning devoted to a Gnostic text called The Thunder, The Perfect Mind. Like Whitman's Leaves, this text steers awareness with images, not with abstraction:
And do not banish me from your sight.
And do not make your voice hate me, nor your hearing.
Do not be ignorant of me anywhere or any time. Be on your guard!
Do not be ignorant of me.
For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
and many are her sons.
I am she whose wedding is great,
and I have not taken a husband.
I am the midwife and she who does not bear.
I am the solace of my labor pains.
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
and it is my husband who begot me.
I am the mother of my father
and the sister of my husband
and he is my offspring.
I am the slave of him who prepared me.
It's worth noting that Thunder wasn't discovered until 1940-something... Whitman couldn't have been plagiarizing. But this strategy: notice me, and me, notice both -- is central in both texts. I find it decidedly more effective than a text that might read something like this: "When considering an argument, always be sure to research contrary views."

If you're going to notice only one among pairs, I suppose it seems more noble to notice the whore (not the holy one) and the scorned one (not the honored one)... but these texts demand that our attention be there too. These texts obliterate distinctions. And it's also noteworthy that neither of the texts pushes us to do anything about what we see.

I have wondered before whether Ethics, at a deep level, may only consist of seeing right, or correctly -- no, just seeing. In my view, philosophy (and "theory") generally fail in encouraging this foundation by their refusal to show particulars. What poetry and fiction do right is offer us image where idea is insufficient.


I don't know what "dvar" means, but...

Professional beard-grower and man of YhWh Luke Ford recently wrote about a perceived association between President Obama and Nimrod, of the Bible. Check out his entire post. I suppose a sensitive person might consider the comparison racist, but Luke's self-consciousness absolves him: "Most Jews I know would rather eat ham than saying anything publicly that could be considered racist."

I only know five Jews, but it's true: at least four of them would rather eat ham than say anything that might be perceived as racist.

Luke quotes Josephus:
Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it were through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power… Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower, neither sparing any pains, nor being in any degree negligent about the work: and, by reason of the multitude of hands employed in it, it grew very high, sooner than any one could expect; but the thickness of it was so great, and it was so strongly built, that thereby its great height seemed, upon the view, to be less than it really was. It was built of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water. When God saw that they acted so madly, he did not resolve to destroy them utterly, since they were not grown wiser by the destruction of the former sinners; but he caused a tumult among them, by producing in them diverse languages, and causing that, through the multitude of those languages, they should not be able to understand one another. The place wherein they built the tower is now called Babylon, because of the confusion of that language which they readily understood before; for the Hebrews mean by the word Babel, confusion…
Hmm. Um, no comment. Not quite yet.


Talk about Imperialism!

Did you know America's D.E.A. is "working" in Afghanistan to stop the opium trade? That's weird. Maybe that's only because we're occupying Afghanistan? I mean, is our D.E.A. in Mexico? In Columbia? In Russia? The world's police force, I guess...

Dancing Nancy

I'm going back and forth between the muck and the transcendent, and I'm proud of myself for it.

Today Nancy Pelosi referred to the Public Option as the "Competitive Option." After I got over gagging at the sheer condescension implicit in that gesture, I immediately became re-frustrated by what I have to believe is a sweeping illiteracy when it comes to understanding the most basic principles of economics. Not even economics really, but "math."

The fact is, if the government creates a Public healthcare plan, it is playing by entirely different rules than the corporations it will pretend to compete with. A little like if I showed up on a playground with a bunch of 4th graders and said I'd like to "compete" with them in basketball -- I could, obviously, act like a stupid sucker and only barely defeat them... or act like a stupid sucker and only barely lose to them. Or, I could completely crush them.

See, when taxpayers are the source of revenue, there is effectively nothing preventing a program from being a monument of efficiency -- nothing except cost to taxpayers, that is. I wish Pelosi or Obama would field this question from a reporter or at a town-hall meeting (that is, if reporters weren't airhead-suck-ups and town-hall meetings weren't pre-screened):
Precisely how much better (or worse... though, it'd be hard to imagine you creating a worse "option"--what would be the point?) than currently existing "options" will the government option be? Leaving aside for a moment the cost to taxpayers, how much awesomer will this plan be? It will cover everyone? Never deny anyone coverage for any treatment? Or will it cover "almost-everyone" and cover "reasonable treatments?" Or will it be the same as existing plans, but "non-profit." In that case, can you crunch some numbers for us and show us how that'll work, exactly?


Thou Art That

The opening page-or-so of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is/are making my brain tingle lately. The more I read and teach Emerson and read the Upanishads, the more I'm interested in "Self." Not coincidentally, I suspect, my interest in what is called "God" has grown co-equally with my interest in knowing myself. Calvin offers two opening propositions: "Without knowledge of Self there is no knowledge of God" and "Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of Self." And he even says, maybe surprisingly, "But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other."


Every Tory is a Coward... until the cable sweeps?

Why are British people pervasively in the role of authority figure on American trash-TV? Someone explain that to me.

Here's what Crevecoeur said in 1782:
"And what is a Tory? Good God! what is he? I should not be afraid to go with a hundred Whigs against a thousand Tories, were they to attempt to get into arms. Every Tory is a coward; for servile, slavish, self-interested fear is the foundation of Toryism; and a man under such influence, though he may be cruel, never can be brave."

Endowed by my Creator with the Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, and the Absence of Eczema, at no cost to myself...

The other day I was practicing negative capability, flipping back and forth between Diane Rehm and Rush Limbaugh, when I heard somebody on Rehm's show say that, in the old days, before health insurance was the norm, people just bought their medicines -- and paid for their extended stays and surgeries. And these latter were the problem. So some genius crunched some numbers. He discovered that people spend more annually on cosmetics than they do on healthcare, but that when spending on cosmetics, they spread their spending out evenly across long periods of time. With emergency surgeries, however, consumers had to spend a huge overwhelming chunk all at once. This is the guy who "invented" insurance: he figured that if he could get people to cough up 50 cents a month, he could cover them all when the shit hit the fan.

Fastforward to 2009, tonight. I go into Wal-Mart to pick up my prescription. I have eczema. It's quite irritating, and although I could live without the medicine, I wouldn't really want to. It's definitely worth the $7.50 I paid for it to me. But guess what it retails for? $143.00. It's a 4 oz. tube of ointment. What would happen if we stopped insuring things like skin-care? Would I be faced with the decision between no medicine and paying $143.00/mo. for this ointment?

I don't know the answer to this. There have been creams and ointments since 1900 that were more or less as effective as what I'm using now. The new stuff probably tests marginally better in a lab, but the testers are probably being paid by the corporation to get the results right. The guy on the radio suggested that a big part of the problem is that insurance has been conventionally "employer-based" for a long time, which has (inefficiently) separated consumers from the price of the consumed goods. I know that my laissez-faire Austrian economists would say (convincingly, in my opinion) that prices as absurd as that could never find their way into a system that was unregulated. They would say that regulation creates the conditions that make such absurdities possible.

This all seems interesting to me. I'm listening. It seems incredibly strange to me that a person might say that I have a right, by virtue of being born American, to as many $143.00 tubes of skin cream as I need -- that I should never have to pay for it -- that the government (i.e., other taxpayers) should pay for my medicines, and I for theirs.


Re: Holy Authority

I don't know how I missed this as an undergraduate (yes I do; I was looking at a girl's legs), but Keats' "Negative Capability" is one damn clear expression of what I believe:

Negative capability

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Portrait of John Keats by William Hilton, circa 1822

Negative capability is a theory of the poet John Keats.

Keats' theory of "negative capability" was expressed in his letter to George and Thomas Keats dated Sunday, 28 December 1817.[1]

I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.

Keats believed that great people (especially poets) have the ability to accept that not everything can be resolved. Keats was a Romantic and believed that the truths found in the imagination access holy authority. Such authority cannot otherwise be understood, and thus he writes of "uncertainties." This "being in uncertaint[y]" is a place between the mundane, ready reality and the multiple potentials of a more fully understood existence.


For Reference & Meditation

El dao que puede expresarse con palabras, no es el dao permanente.

ДАО, которое может быть выражено словами, не есть постоянное дао.

Það Alvald, sem um er talað, er ekki Vegur eilífðarinnar.

Невиäимото ще назовем условно Äао.

Tao, které se dá popsat slovy, není stálé Tao.

Det Tao, som kan defineres, er ikke det absolutte Tao.

Wat de weg betreft, de Weg die genoemd kan worden is niet de eeuwige Weg.

La voie qui peut être exprimée par la parole n'est pas la Voie éternelle.

Over de Tao praten, dat kan, maar niet over de oneindige Tao.

Sõnades öeldud Tao, ei ole igavene Tao.

Se Tao, jota voidaan määritellä, ei ole Ikuinen Tao.

Tao yang dapat ditelusuri bukanlah Tao yang bertahan dan tak terubah.


Dao, ko iespējams apjēgt, Nav mūžīgi esošais Dao.

Tao, które można wyrazić słowami nie jest prawdziwym Tao.

Det Tao som kan observeras är inte det eviga Tao.

Das Tao, das mitgeteilt werden kann, ist nicht das ewige Tao.

1. Tao called Tao is not Tao.
2. Who would follow the Way must go beyond words.
3. The Ineffable, about which is spoken, is not the eternal Ineffable.
4. Nature can never be completely described, for such a description of Nature would have to duplicate Nature.
5. The Way that can be described is not the absolute Way.
6. There are ways but the Way is uncharted.
7. Words cannot describe the Tao, and The Tao cannot be named.
8. Existence is beyond the power of words to define.
9. The way that can be told of is hardly an eternal, absolute, unvarying one.
10. The Tao that can be told of is not the eternal Tao.
11. The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.
12. Tao that can be described is not the universal and eternal Tao.
13. Tao that can be spoken of is not the Everlasting Tao.
14. The Way that can be spoken of is not the changeless DAO.
15. The Tao that can be spoken of is not the Tao itself.
16. Words and names are not the way.
17. A way can be a guide, but not a fixed path.
18. The Tao that can be defined is not the real Tao.
19. The Tao-Path is not the All-Tao.
20. The Tao that is spoken of, cannot be truly explained.
21. The Cosmic Consciousness described is not quite the timeless Origin.
22. The Way that may truly be regarded as the Way is other than a permanent way.
23. The perceived Way is not the eternal Way.
24. The Tao you can tell is not the true Tao.
25. Tao is beyond words and beyond understanding.

How will it end?

I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul. A wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab's quenchless feud seemed mine. With greedy ears I learned the history of that murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken our oaths of violence and revenge." --from chap. 41 of Moby-Dick
I'm convinced that I've seen Moby-Dick the way Melville intended it, seen it not as the modernists saw it -- as a meditation on dialectical tensions between (as I noted in my dissertation) doubt and “intuition” (Matthiessen 408), order and chaos (Pease 113), “poetry” and “journalism” (Stewart 192), “heart” and marketplace (Gilmore 124), “self and the not-self” (Chase 108), “comprehension” and quest (Feidelson, Jr. 169-173). It's not those things -- it's about the sub-linguistic structure of that kind of opposition... and the idea of something else. It's about how "X and not-X" is itself only part in a larger schema, namely the opposition of the One and the Many.

What I love about the excerpt above is that Ishmael is penitent, that he acknowledges his own culpability. The modernists hated Ahab -- they took him as representative of all that was worst in the 20th century, as a figure akin to Mussolini, Stalin, and even Hitler. But the modernists missed the tremendously important point about Ishmael's involvement in what happened. He was not dragged to destruction -- he walked willingly toward it, possibly cheering "Yes we can!"

Is it fair to suggest a correspondence between Obama and Ahab? Well it would only be unfair if you cannot imagine that a unifying leader might be a force for good (Wrangler). If you immediately associate "unity of vision" with tyranny, then both Ahab and campaign-Obama (possibly not President Obama, who seems divisive as any President) must be regarded as frightening.

But what I did while I was writing my chapter on Moby-Dick was to begin again in thinking about Captain Ahab. "Yes," I had to say to my dissertation advisor, "I realize that every major critic in the 20th century aligned Ahab with evil; nevertheless, I want to revisit the scene of their judgments."

I introduced two happier historical parallels for Ahab -- the first was Martin Luther King, Jr., who certainly must be seen as a unifier, and who gathered up quite a "crew" as he spoke of uniting against racism and injustice. The other, more a propos, probably, was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's efforts to save the Union against faction and secession is almost universally respected; but somehow, nobody has testified to the similarities between Lincoln and Ahab.

After Ahab has unified the entire crew in a quest to kill the white whale, in chapter 36, there remains one skeptic. Trying to convince Starbuck, Ahab lowers his voice and speaks to his first mate privately:
So, so; thou reddenest and palest; my heat has melted thee to anger-glow. But look ye, Starbuck, what is said in heat, that thing unsays itself. There are men from whom warm words are small indignity. I meant not to incense thee. Let it go. Look! see yonder Turkish cheeks of spotted tawn—living, breathing pictures painted by the sun. The Pagan leopards—the unrecking and unworshipping things, that live; and seek, and give no reasons for the torrid life they feel! The crew, man, the crew! Are they not one and all with Ahab, in this matter of the whale? See Stubb! he laughs! See yonder Chilian! he snorts to think of it. Stand up amid the general hurricane, thy one tost sapling cannot, Starbuck!
To unify diverse factions! -- Turks, Chilians, and Stubb himself! Come, Starbuck, even you must see the wisdom in that. I think history remains to tell us whether, and under what conditions, Obama might unify a divided people. Obviously, even a vast majority of his political opponents would hope that he comes out looking more like Lincoln than like Mussolini. Right now, I feel like I am only in chapter 41 of a book with 135 chapters. I don't know how things will turn out, but I know that if I am to speak honestly of my role in all of this, I will have to say, paraphrasing Ishmael,
I, Casey, was one of that crew; In October of '08, my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul. A wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me; Obama's quenchless feud seemed mine. With greedy ears I learned the history of that murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken our oaths of violence and revenge.
In the book, of course, the murderous monster gets the last laugh. " 'God keep me!--keep us all!' murmured Starbuck, lowly."


1500 pages and two aspirin might help a little...

I spent about an hour scanning/skimming the proposed Healthcare Bill -- I don't mean to imply that I read anywhere approaching 1500+ pages, but some features in the table of contents caught my attention. Here's some of what I read:
“SMALL EMPLOYER.—The term ‘small employer’ means, in connection with a group health plan with respect to a calendar year and a plan year, an employer who employed an average of at least 1 but not more than 100 employees on business days during the preceding calendar year and who employs at least 1 employee on the first day of the plan year.” (from section 2230)

“LIMITED AGE VARIATION PERMITTED.—By age (within the standard age bands established under subsection (c)) so long as the ratio of the highest such premium to the lowest such premium does not exceed the ratio of 4:1.” (from section 2204)

“DOLLAR LIMITATION.—The amount of the tax imposed by this section on any taxpayer for any taxable year with respect to all individuals for whom the taxpayer is liable under subsection (b) (3) shall not exceed an amount equal to twice the applicable dollar amount for the calendar year with or within which the taxable year ends.”

“CHRONIC CONDITION.—The term ‘chronic condition’ has the meaning given that term by the Secretary and shall include, but is not limited to, the following: A) A mental health condition. B) Substance abuse C) Asthma D) Diabetes. E) Heart disease. F) Being overweight, as evidence by having a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 25.” (from section 2104)
Some of this is fascinating to me. Most of it makes me either want to laugh or join a local militia. I'm sure, for example, Congress has good and justifiable reasons to limit age variation premium ratios to 4:1. Same goes for the BMI exceeding 25.

Of course, someone might argue that, "Well, the number has to be something," and point to statutory issues like the age of consensual sex (Why 18? Why not 16? Or 21?)... the difference here is that this bill is supposed to be calculable, which obviously necessitates having a close estimate as to how many Americans have a BMI over 25. Further, legislation like this cannot possible take into account the fact that some very healthy people have a BMI over 25. Mine's 23.7, for the record, and I exercise 5+ days a week, eat vegetables for dinner every night, and usually don't exceed 2400 calories a day. 5'11", 170lbs. Three pounds heavier than when I graduated high school as a three-sport athlete.

Yes, if we're going to legislate at this level, we need lines in the sand -- but the arbitrariness of it (the numerical definition of "small business," for example) is absurd enough to warrant, at least, a little teasing.

*Note: Yeah, I forgot to source that third one as I was copying it from .pdf file... then I lost it and couldn't find it again. Wishydig, don't even think about asking me to be more careful with my sources. Not this time, buster.

Quiet Down, Class

A good and ancient good friend of mine wrote me poem when she wasn't looking. I hope she doesn't mind me adding the line breaks, which suggested themselves rhythmically:

Lake Michigan has a voice for each season.
In the fall, it is raspy, an octave lower
than just a month before as waves
crash onto the shore with choppy,
cold strokes.
Its movements amplify against the autumn
leaves and fill your head with urgency,
as if to make you remember the sounds before
the ice creates only silence, distant creaks,
low groans.
I was hypnotized by its song. I felt a rhythm
that I can only describe as timeless or primal
or something even more.
I picked up a stone.
Of course, this is how it has to be. Poetry moves through us when we aren't looking [for poetry], and maybe only then. There's a kind of listening that doesn't anticipate, that doesn't plan its response. As Jiddu Krishnamurti has said, "There is a totally different kind of energy when there is pure perception, which is not related to thought and time."

Yesterday I quoted MLK, Jr. at length -- he talked about how there was a need to go back, to rediscover something that was lost. Maybe that's what all of this is about. I think poetry is a part of what was lost. To find it again requires this totally different kind of energy, though. Like a perfectly thrown Hail Mary into the end-zone, poetry is nothing unless it finds a wide-open receiver. I'm re-inspired to become that receiver, that reader, that listener.

Also, my wife's pregnant. Ha! Seriously! Due date: April 25th.


Getting to Nazareth


My friends, all I'm trying to say is that if we are to go forward today, we've got to go back and rediscover some mighty precious values that we've left behind. (Yes) That's the only way that we would be able to make of our world a better world, and to make of this world what God wants it to be and the real purpose and meaning of it. The only way we can do it is to go back (Yes) and rediscover some mighty precious values that we've left behind.

Our situation in the world today reminds me of a very popular situation that took place in the life of Jesus. It was read in the Scripture for the morning, found over in the second chapter of Luke's gospel. The story is very familiar, very popular; we all know it. You remember when Jesus was about twelve years old, (Well) there was the custom of the feast. Jesus' parents took him up to Jerusalem. That was an annual occasion, the feast of the Passover, and they went up to Jerusalem and they took Jesus along with them. And they were there a few days, and then after being there they decided to go back home, to Nazareth. (Lord help him) And they started out, and I guess as it was in the tradition in those days, the father probably traveled in front, and then the mother and the children behind. You see, they didn't have the modern conveniences that we have today. They didn't have automobiles and subways and buses. They walked, and traveled on donkeys and camels and what have you. So they traveled very slow, but it was usually the tradition for the father to lead the way. (Yeah)

And they left Jerusalem going on back to Nazareth, and I imagine they walked a little while and they didn't look back to see if everybody was there. But then the Scripture says, they went about a day's journey and they stopped, I imagine to check up, to see if everything was all right, and they discovered that something mighty precious was missing. They discovered that Jesus wasn't with them. (Yes) Jesus wasn't in the midst. (Come on) And so they paused there and looked and they didn't see him around. And they went on and started looking among the kinsfolk. And they went on back to Jerusalem and found him there, in the temple with the doctors of the law. (Yeah, That's right)

Now, the real thing that is to be seen here is this: that the parents of Jesus realized that they had left, and that they had lost a mighty precious value. They had sense enough to know that before they could go forward to Nazareth, they had to go backward to Jerusalem to rediscover this value. (That's right) They knew that. They knew that they couldn't go home to Nazareth until they went back to Jerusalem. (Come on)

End Quote. --Martin Luther King, Jr., 1954, "Rediscovering Lost Values," a trial sermon delivered in the city of Detroit, MI


For My Liberal Homies

In the interest of spurring another round of pretend-debate on economic order, I'm willing to mention that I've been listening to Limbaugh lately. Driving home from Philadelphia last week, I heard this clip, which features a pair of very brief interviews, conducted by a WJR reporter in Detroit:

Yes, picking on mentally handicapped people isn't very nice, but I think the reporter's line of questioning is actually fair: where does money come from? How can monetary policy -- printing or refraining from printing money -- "save the financial system," as so many NPR reports have suggested? What is money?

I think I won't be wrong to suggest that a majority of conservatives think of money as a real reflection (in a market economy) of subjective values. To the question, "where does it come from," a conservative answers, "from mutually agreeable exchanges -- from profit." I have $20.00, and you have a pair of old bowling shoes that I want. You'd rather have $20.00, and I'd rather have bowling shoes. You probably would've sold them for $10.00, but I was happy to pay $20.00, because they were worth at least $30.00 to me. Both sides win, and new value is created in the process. You have a day and good health to labor for ten hours? I'll give you $50.00. Want the job? No? Got a better option back in Mexico? Both sides win; new value is created.

It's much less clear to me what progressives think of money. Where do they imagine it comes from? What is the source of money? Is it "labor-hours," as Marx suggested?

Yesterday, in response to a question from a New Orleans resident asking why there was not a hospital in a particular part of the city, President Obama said, "I can't just write a check--" (here people cheered and yelled, "why not?") and Obama continued, "There's a little thing called the Constitution."

Apparently, Obama thinks the only thing keeping him from writing big fat checks for everybody is the Constitution -- he assumes that "reality" would have no objections. This is where I differ most severely with what I perceive to be Obama's economic attitude: money cannot be created out of thin air. The answer to the WJR reporter's question is very clear and easy: any checks given to the citizens of Detroit comes from the IRS's revenue -- i.e., from collected taxes. If you've ever seen the videos of people in the Weimar republic carrying wheelbarrow's full of money to the market to buy a loaf of bread, you'll understand why printing money is bad policy. [the same, in my view, goes for creating jobs with public money; it's a net-zero project, at best. If it were anything other than that, Obama could simply end the 9.8% unemployment problem with a bill.] Then, here's a problem:

Here's the source for that chart. It's a fairly conservative estimate; I've heard that the number is actually closer to 50% -- in any case, we're approaching the point where half of Americans will pay no Federal income tax. Will not contribute to the IRS revenues.

What's the problem with that? It's a problem identified a long, long time ago: "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money." --Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in America, 1835. If half of the people are not burdened by taxes, there is literally nothing but thin air and "morality" (yeah right) keeping them from taking as much as they want from the minority (<49%) population.

Conclusion: money is a symbol for really-existing value... until it's not. And when it's not, make sure you know where all of your gold is buried.


They're Baaa(r)aaack

If ABC's new upcoming series 'V' does what it ought to do, it's going to flatten people who have oversimplified their understanding of political philosophy -- especially party-line Democrats who line up behind Obama, and all those who believe that "how it will work, exactly" is a question that it's not necessary to address when it comes to redistributing wealth.

Anyway, check out the trailer, and be honest enough to admit that at least a part of you would be soooo excited if these aliens really showed up. I don't know the premise of the show, but I have a bad feeling about these hope-mongers, and I remain a skeptic:

I will confess: I have a very vague reminiscence of being 5-years old and watching the original television series... and I'm pretty sure these Rachel-Maddow looking aliens rip their own faces off eventually and look more like Barney Frank. So I might've had a hint in not coughing up my trust as easily as the apparently gullible citizens in the trailer.

Also: does this post have the greatest title ever, or what?

I've Found It!

A little while ago, I linked to an article describing a hypothesis developed by Travis Proulx and Steven J. Heine suggesting that human beings have a need for order. That part of the research is very dull, and nothing new; remember Wallace Stevens' poem, "The Idea of Order at Key West": "Oh, Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon / The maker's rage to order the words of the sea."

But the article I linked to, originally appearing in the NY Times, suggested that Proulx and Heine believe this "rage for order" is so intense that, when people are faced with "nonsense" (a term I'll come back to), their brains start firing in interesting ways: following a confrontation with "nonsense," we seek meaning wherever we look.

Dissatisfied with their definition of "nonsense" (they use Kafka [!] as a nonsense-stimulus), I read the original/entire article myself.

...Well, to put it mildly, I'm so thunderstruck by this single article that I can't even begin to cough up my reaction in a blog post. I've found a new research project. It's true I may have to work with a social-psychologist to get the project done, but I'm more than sufficiently motivated to make it happen.

Eureka! Anyway, don't steal my idea, okay? And here's my new direction for "around here." Hope you find it interesting!


Lip-Chewing, Nail-Biting, and the Cultivation of Wisdom

Oh! thou big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness, have mercy on this small black boy down here; preserve him from all men that have no bowels to feel fear! --Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Since before 9/11 (a possibly important detail) I have had trouble with physical relaxation. As I fall asleep, the problem tends to increase. That is, as I drift off, my fists clench harder, my jaw grinds, and tension in my body can be pretty significant.

Today while I was listening to an Audio Dharma podcast, the speaker, Andrea Fella said,
This kind of fear [of the life-threatening]... almost slows down our experience, so that we have a chance to think and respond to the situation and understand what we can and can't respond to in the situation. So this kind of fear is not so much what I'm talking about today. This is a very biological kind of fear, that actually doesn't hinder awareness; in fact it seems to support it--it creates it, in that situation. Something about being in that life-threatening situation brings up this immediacy and presence of mind.
So then, since she's not interested in that kind of fear, she goes into an extended talk on another kind of fear. But a thought struck me before she moved on. I'm wondering if, in order to increase awareness, I've found a way to get stuck in the kind of fear that is generally only present in our systems in life-threatening situations. That is, perhaps I've found ways of creating this kind of fear in myself so that I am more aware of my environment than I might otherwise be. I wonder, because I often feel more aware than people around me. If I'm doing this, I couldn't be the only one. Maybe hypertension is a strategic kind of effort-at-perception? When I was a kid, I used to insist on covering my head with sheets on the outside chance that a bullet, already slowed by the walls of my bedroom, if it hit my head, might be stopped by an extra layer of sheets. That is, even at 7-years old, I fell asleep afraid of being shot accidentally through the head and dying.

Needless to say, all of this would be very un-Dharma of me. The Buddhists encourage us to discover true knowledge by letting go, not by clenching. But isn't it interesting that this whole page of "fear quotes" (that was my Google search) treats fear as something to be overcome? Not a single quote about using fear to enhance perception?


"...no ideas but in things..."

I was reading The Blog of Henry David Thoreau again tonight; as usual, I'm more impressed than I would've expected.

What the postmodernists cannot bring themselves to admit is that they have no less faith than the most orthodox religious folks; the only difference is that while the religious folks claim to put their faith in "God," the postmodernists put their faith in the Federal Reserve Bank, the United States Constitution, their elected officials, the local police force, and the IRS.

Today's post from Thoreau is worth quoting and reading at length. It is such a clear reminder that Truth is, and that the term is only difficult to define if you are immersed in a dangerously
"constructed" worldview. Here's Thoreau, from today, October 14th, 1857:
It is indeed a golden autumn. These ten days are enough to make the reputation of any climate. A tradition of these days might be handed down to posterity. They deserve a notice in history, in the history of Concord. All kinds of crudities have a chance to get ripe this year. Was there ever such an autumn? And yet there was never such a panic and hard times in the commercial world. The merchants and banks are suspending and failing all the country over, but not the sand-banks, solid and warm, and streaked with blackberry vines. You may run upon them as much as you please,—even as the crickets do, and find their account in it. They are the stockholders in these banks, and I hear them creaking their content. You may see them on change any warmer hour. In these banks, too, and such as these, are my funds deposited, a fund of health and enjoyment. Their (the crickets) prosperity and happiness and, I trust, mine do not depend on whether the New York banks suspend or no. We do not rely on such a slender security as the thin paper of the Suffolk Bank. To put your trust in such a bank is to be swallowed up and undergo suffocation. Invest, I say, in these country banks. Let your capital be simplicity and contentment. Withered goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) is no failure, like a broken bank, and yet in its most golden season, nobody counterfeits it. Nature needs no counterfeit detector. I have no compassion for, nor sympathy with, this miserable state of things. Banks built of granite, after some Grecian or Roman style, with their porticoes and their safes of iron, are not so permanent, and cannot give me so good security for capital invested in them, as the heads of weathered hardhack in the meadow. I do not suspect the solvency of these. I know who is their president and cashier.
Truth is those withering goldenrods. It is as real now as it was in 1857, and the collapse of one banking system or another is illusory by comparison. Those who pin their hopes to the one are their own source of happiness and contentment; those who pin their hopes to the other are the playthings of fate, powerless with regard to their own peace of mind.

Also, will you frickin' LOOK at this picture below? This picture has convinced me to re-focus on what really interests me, which is G-d, which is Nature, which is G-d, which is human nature, which is Nature, which is Me, which is me. Look at this picture:

So just remember: things are changing around here...

Lazarus, come back to tell them all...

I just read the awesomest sci-fi story I've ever read, and it was a news item in the New York Times, and it might be "science," and not sci-fi. If you think it'd be neat to see what would happen if the writers of LOST and the ghost of Philip K. Dick had a baby who then grew up to be a professor of physics at M.I.T., check this story out.


I'm not a divider, am I?

I beheld leaves within the unfathomed blaze
Into one volume bound by love, the same
That the universe holds scattered through its maze.
Substance and accidents, and their modes, became
As if fused together, all in such wise
That what I speak of is one simple flame.
That's from Dante's Paradiso. Because, see, almost nobody sees the one simple flame anymore--at least, almost no Americans. Indeed, it might almost be said that the one thing uniting America is everyone's entrenched belief that they themselves are not like other Americans.

I value my friend Mxrk's blog for how explicit it is in making this division clear. Mxrk isn't hoping to win Republicans over to his side -- he's hoping to whip his fellow Democrats into a frenzy by instigating laughter at the expense of Republicans. He sees no possibility for reconciliation. He gets points for speaking candidly, honestly.

Then there's MSNBC and Fox News. There's the Sunday morning talk-shows, on which you can find pundits whose lines are even more predictable and scripted than the lines doled out on MTV's The Hills. George Will, what do you think? Paul Krugman, what's your opinion? Nary a surprise to be found.

Similarly with regard to the race dialog. Few black people are anything but embarrassed by Booker T. Washington's 1895 speech at the Atlanta Exposition where he told black people and white people to cast down their buckets where they stand. Instead, most white people will do anything they can to buy homes in all-white neighborhoods (insisting all the while that it's about property value), and a vast majority of black people are not overly concerned with recruiting white people into their churches, homes, weddings, and backyard parties. These really are largely "sides," and I am 90% convinced that the center cannot hold: there aren't enough people willing to maintain "colorblindness" as an ideal. I am clinging to my 10% hopefulness, though, writing posts like I did yesterday, remaining not a participant in the ongoing division, but only an observing prophet of the dynamics of the scrum. [Note: it may be true that for the past 300 years and more, racial and gender oppression constituted the holding center. Let us go all the way through with this, then, until we rid ourselves of any center and release ourselves from the notion of unity. But then--]

You are thoroughgoing polytheists, all, despite the fact that some of you call yourselves atheists, and some call yourselves Jews and Christians and Muslims. For a time, when Obama remained a blank slate, it looked as if he might be the voice howling in the wilderness, offering a new and unified vision. But "Healthcare Reform" is never going to create a will to unity, no matter what the package does or does not include. (What if, Elizabeth Alexander, the mightiest word isn't Love?)

I'm going to consciously try to hold the center now, even as my 10% wanes. I hope I'm not the last holding on. I hope I don't have to be the one left when the whole world is divided around me. I'm calling for someone else to move into that tenuous position, to offer a genuinely unifying vision for the future of humanity. The world has always been this one volume bound by love; but I'd like to live long enough to see 90% of humankind wake up and know it, or even dare to "feel" it. From the Gospel of Thomas (#72):

A [person said] to him, "Tell my brothers to divide my father's possessions with me."

He said to the person, "Mister, who made me a divider?"

He turned to his disciples and said to them, "I'm not a divider, am I?"


White-Face and Minstrelsy

A few days ago, Harry Connick, Jr. wisely expressed outrage on an Australian talent show when a group of performers donned black-face makeup to do a routine.

One of the funniest things is Dave Chappelle's impersonation of his friend, Chip. If you've never seen it, you're not ready for my teaching.

Anyway, Chappelle's impersonation of a stereotypical white guy is only the "best" version of this kind of act -- I've seen many other black comedians attempt variations on the theme. The Wayans' effort was less than spectacular, but you probably have seen efforts at white-face.

But as I was watching Wanda Sykes do her impersonation of her white/French wife the other day during her HBO special, "I'ma be Me," I was struck by the thought that these acts might make it fair season for good ol' fashioned minstrelsy again. Obviously, I'm not a comedian, and I'm not willing to risk making my private ideas public (taboo radar beeping?), but I can imagine a ballsy white comedian just doing a destructive impersonation of his black friend, Del'a'Onte.

Because see, Chip's obviously a ridiculous composite (and exaggeration) of all of the most egregiously white things that Dave Chappelle has observed -- a hilarious fiction, even a minstrel. The only difference has to do with power (real and perceived). You might possibly convince me that a white person doing an exaggerated impression of his black friend is "just wrong" if you argue that it's not fair for a white person to do that because white people have secret societies that meet underground at Yale and that they exchange meaningful glances and run things to the exclusion of black people and other minorities. In other words, I (white Casey) can "afford" to laugh at Chappelle's impersonation of Chip because I'm white, and this is America.

But frankly, it's an argument I'm less and less interested in hearing... I learned one thing on the playground growing up: when someone makes fun of you, you can laugh with them for a while. Once or twice. If they keep at it, you've either gotta make fun back, or start listening to NPR and hanging out in the library more, preparing yourself for a life's worth of loserhood. So keep in mind while you're making the "that's just wrong" argument, I'm more and more ready to say "Buck up, Pussy" -- because that's what white guys say to each other. I'm concerned that responses like Harry Connick's are becoming insincere -- that those expressing outrage are motivated more by an impulse to show that they are not racist ("Oh, see, I know that you're not supposed to do that in polite society!") than actually feeling appalled. Remember, many a North Carolina racist knew that it wasn't socially acceptable to say nigger long before they ceased to feel what the word means/meant.

(Where does Fred Armisen's version of Obama fit in here?)

So, I'm not saying that I and my fellow white-masons had a secret meeting at Yale this weekend, but don't be surprised if some time soon you see comedy coming from a white comedian that looks dangerously, eerily, interestingly like it did 100 years ago. Soon, somebody's going to remember that it's not illegal to tease black people, even to hurt their feelings, and that's going to be both really ugly and maybe a little interesting.



I've been reading the Mary Leader poem I linked to in the post below this one. Go read it. Then look at this. These are the "comparable" lines from each of the six different "versions" of the poem:

(1) You, Sieve, enact slow departure.

Wail, Poor Kettle, duplicate crisis.

(2) You, Moraine, enact slow kettle.

Wail, Poor Departure, Duplicate Daughter.

(3) You, Kettle, enact slow moraine.

Wail, Poor Sieve, duplicate house.

(4) You, Departure, enact slow sieve.

Wail, Poor Moraine, duplicate maze.

(5) You, Punctuation, enact slow mother.

Wail, Poor Apartment, duplicate heaven.

(6) You, Presence, enact slow apartment.

Wail, Poor Mother, duplicate word.

[In my judgment, the meaning communicated here is not so much in the words as it is in the "underlying structure": there is some essential "motion" or "way" being told here -- some movement, some action. It's not in any of the words, it's literally between them. It's when, after a number of transformations, "Poor Apartment" becomes "Poor Mother." Whether it is an acting Apartment, or Mother, or Departure, is only part of what's working here... possibly a minor part.]

Anyway, in my comments I went a little crazy responding to a pretty simple question from Wishydig. In short, I'm trying to figure out whether Linguistics can give any account of how this poem "works." By "works," I mean, "creates the valuable sensation of intellectual impasse (identified in the article that I linked to below in the NY Times) in readers."

Because I'm convinced that this poem "does something" to careful readers that truly nonsensical representation (like, for example, "aasdkdkk39eiei////ddkd\...,..") does not do to readers. I'm trying to understand how Mary Leader creates that effect.

Now if Linguistics can contribute to the conversation, I imagine it will say something very general like, "The effect is created by using words in unusual ways," but that suggests a kind of formulaic substitution would get the same effect. A linguist might produce six variations like this, I imagine:

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

Bright red ideas sleep furiously.

Furious red sleepers with bright ideas.

Ideas furiously sleep green color.

Colorful gray hypotheses whine difficultly.

Difficult sleep greens furious Brightness.

But -- and I'd love to test this the way the Times writer reports "scientists" are testing subjects exposed to "nonsense" -- I suspect that these six variations do not create the same kind of effect that Mary Leader's poem does. I half-joked with Wrangler about this stuff this morning, and suggested that we should really start testing which literary works produce the desired effects (measurably increased awareness after reading). I'll be the first literary scientist.

Here's my hypothesis, and it's a hypothesis I suspect a linguist would deem dubious: Mary Leader's poem would create measurably greater awareness than the string of six variations I created in a few minutes there.

What I want, of course, is to get back to the question: how the heck do Kafka and Mary Leader make a little slow shot of adrenaline leak up the back of my neck and into my forearms -- and can a linguist teach me how to write like that?

UPDATE: I deserve the sixth or seventh ring of hell for talking at such length about this. Plus, I think I'm wrong about most of what I'm saying. Forgive us our trespasses.

Colorful Red Objects Wake Gracefully

I read a story that, with slightly carefuller definitions, could've been dead-on. The New York Times article was titled, "How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect." I don't even mind that the writer, Benedict Carey, doesn't clearly define "intellect," or that "sharpens" is a very non-specific metaphor. I'm interested in making sure that we distinguish between "nonsense," which looks like this:
...and the stuff that actually/probably "sharpens" the "intellect," which looks like a poem by Mary Leader. I f*ckin' dare you linguist-scientists and men and women of powerful words to read your whole way through that poem without accidentally sharpening your intellect in the process. After you click on that link, you might have to click once more to see the poem.

I'd bet dollars to dimes that looking at sheer and utter nonsense like my "afdjkl1-1..." phrase above doesn't sharpen the intellect much. Then the question is, what is it about Mary Leader's poetry that does sharpen the intellect?


Possibly, a True Story

The Challenger Space Shuttle blew up on my brother's 5th birthday, January 28th, 1986. On February 7th, 1990, one day before my 12th birthday, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union agreed to give up its monopoly of power. At some point between these historic moments, three or four Russian Cosmonauts visited my elementary school; I had lunch with them because I was on the student council. All I remember is that the room was yellow-lit: it was a room that I hadn't been in before; and the Cosmonauts sat down the table to my left, and that I brought a brown-bag lunch that day, that very likely included a rice-crispy treat. Nothing the Cosmonauts said impressed me enough that I have a memory of it. But, I think I remember the remarkable appearance of their faces, or one of their faces -- it was both rounder and harder than the faces I was accustomed to. I think I remember seeing one of their helmets on the table. But, I also think I remember thinking to myself, "God, how embarrassing!--Russian Cosmonauts reduced to having lunch with third and fourth graders at an elementary school in Michigan!--is there no justice in the universe?"

But of course, I must be imagining that last part, and possibly the whole story. Today, I looked at all 55 wikipedia pages of former and current Russian Cosmonauts. If I had to guess, I would say this guy was present at my elementary school at some point in the 1980s:

Assignment: write an essay in which you argue how much (if any) of this essay is true, and be sure to explain how you made your judgment.


You say Comedy's the Ticket?

One of the comments under this video at YouTube.com says, "This isn't actually comedy, this is like someone's dad complaining about 'kids these days' and lecturing the audience." Which sounds to me like the kind of comment a14-year old makes, on a day when his dad is making him come straight home from school to clean up his bedroom.