1.29.2010

The Arc of History is Long, but it bends toward Justice

You're only allowed to show your boobs in Australia if you're packing larger than an A-cup. This is discrimination at its worst, and we should not tolerate tit.


1.28.2010

Open Letter to those who Know

J.D. Salinger died yesterday. I was happy to see about a dozen of my friends post little homages on their Facebook pages. One of my friends wrote, "Catcher in the Rye changed things for me when I was 15." My witty but very accurate reply: "Franny & Zooey changed me for things when I was 28."

In posting my little homage, I put up a quote from the end of Franny & Zooey that made my body so cold no fire could ever warm me, that made me feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off. I can't explain it, and it won't make sense, unless you've read it. It's dialog. One of the characters says to another:
There isn't anyone anywhere that isn't Seymour's Fat Lady. Don't you know that? Don't you know that goddam secret yet?
And today I'm thinking about why it should have to be a secret. Mind you, I'm not wondering about why it has to be a secret; I'm only meditating on it. The fact is, I know why it has to be a secret. It's the strangest thing, you know. It's an open book, this secret. Few pick it up and read it. I'm not keeping the secret. I try every day to tell it. But it's amazing what some people will do to keep themselves from knowing that everyone everywhere, including those who don't know, are Seymour's Fat Lady.

And here I'm talking in shameless allegorical doublespeak, aren't I? I see that because I try to tell the secret, the secret cannot be known. The louder, the more roughly, I shout the secret--tat tvam asi!--the more it is concealed. Or perhaps, if I'm right that Salinger really did change me for things a few years ago... perhaps it can be told, if the listener listens right.


After the State of the Union Address

No mention the two wars our "Union" is waging?! Wow. Impressive.

He keeps saying that if we didn't pass the bank-bailout/stimulus package, something really bad would've happened. I wonder what would happen if, out of exasperation, we hit the reset button on this country. Back to 1787ish.

Slavery. Yep. Child labor. Yep. Sixteen-hour workdays, yep. Unjust voting laws.

So let's pass four more laws, bringing the total number of Federal laws to 14: the Bill of Rights and our four pro-justice laws.

See because I suspect that nobody's telling us what really-bad-thing is happening to us because we keep choosing legislation. I suspect (but then, where would I find out?) that there are a thousand laws already in place, even before Bush left office, with regard to the insurance industry. If those laws were all gone, one thing you'd see TO.MORROW. would be insurance companies selling insurance targeted to you at about 90% cheaper than you can now get it. If there were no laws, I would start an insurance company for people who are 31-years old and who have no pre-existing conditions. I could probably sign up a hundred thousand of them eventually, and because they'd have a damn good chance of not needing my company's money that year, I could insure them for about six dollars a month.

But that's illegal right now. As are a gazillion practices like that. It's all in the name of justice. And maybe there is some ideal principle floating in the ether (hey wait, I thought all of you people were postmodern anti-Platonists?) that describes equal access to healthcare regardless of current condition or age or whatever. But I doubt it.

Same goes for housing. Right now there are dozens of extra-market indicators that destroy the ability of the average prospective homebuyer: you get $6,500 through April to buy a house if you already own a house, and $8,000 if you don't already own a house... unless they extend, expand, or raise (or lower) the incentive. Want to buy a house in May? We can't tell you yet how to budget for that. So Obama wants to give incentives to banks who increase credit. That's just textbook bubble creation. Textbook.

But if all the laws concerning houses were destroyed, you could get houses for HUD-auction prices tomorrow, if not cheaper.

Obama said he knows that business is the engine of America's economy last night--then went on to say he'd repay all of your college loans twenty years after graduation. But ten years if you get a "public service" (i.e., Government, not business) job after graduation! What ever happened to equal justice under the law? Who ain't a special interest these days?***

These are facts. This isn't even an argument. The argument only comes after acknowledging all of this. The question is, when does our fear of something-bad become less significant than our desire for anything-but-this?

If anyone has the impression that I think Obama's been unnecessarily controlling of a particular segment of the population, sorry I've been unclear. Neither is it Obama more than any other president for the past fifty years. I know that I'm not a very persuasive blogger, so persuade yourself: only ask: who has a vested interest in your remaining fearful of some nebulous economic disaster? How much do you really have to lose? Who has more to lose? This is the voice of populism speaking. What Obama's appealing to right now isn't populism; he appeals only to subjects.

***The whole concept of "special interest," which we take so for granted, is evidence of how corrupt our government has become.

1.27.2010

With Apologies...

Both because it's interesting as a study in how authentic artistic forms degenerate into commonplaces and because it's a fair education if you've only got 8 minutes:

Further Thoughts on Law

My mysterious lawyer-friend recommended an article that defends Natural Law. In the article, the author says,
The common good of any human society demands that governments be established and maintained to make and enforce laws. Law and government are necessary not merely because human beings sometimes treat one another unjustly and even behave in a predatory manner towards each other, but more fundamentally because human activity often must be coordinated by authoritative stipulations and other exercises of authority to secure common goals. Consider the simple case of regulating highway traffic. Even in a society of perfect saints, law and government would be necessary to establish and maintain a system of traffic regulation for the sake of the common good of motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, and everyone who benefits from the safe and efficient transportation of goods and persons on the highways. Because often it is the case that there is no uniquely reasonable or desirable scheme of regulation, only different possible schemes with different benefits and costs, governmental authority must be employed to choose by stipulating one from among the possible schemes. Authority in such a case is necessary because unanimity is impossible.
And I say...



...Really?--or is Authority just such a fun and attractive idea?

Against Even the Un-Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for the Cause of Conscience (a new candidate for best post ever!)

(Ugly?) FACT: In the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, I caught myself wanting to wait a while before pledging a charitable donation, to see how much President Obama would legally appropriate on my behalf. ***
I woke up with a really intriguing thought, but I'm not sure it can carry water--you know how it is with these revelations.

My idea has to do with efforts to legislate people where morality seems to fall short. For instance, when we wish people would be more charitable to their neighbors or fellow-citizens, we might tax them extra and redistribute those funds among the less fortunate.

My guiding question is derived from an old tract that I read in graduate school by Roger Williams called, simply, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for the Cause of Conscience, Discussed in a Conference Between Truth and Peace. Williams' essay, linked here, essentially opposes legal persecution of ideas. Williams summarizes his own work as briefly as it is possible to do, so I'll quote him at length:
First, that the blood of so many hundred thousand souls of Protestants and Papists, spilt in the wars of present and former ages, for their respective consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace.

Secondly, pregnant scriptures and arguments are throughout the work proposed against the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Thirdly, satisfactory answers are given to scriptures, and objections produced by Mr. Calvin, Beza, Mr. Cotton, and the ministers of the New English churches and others former and later, tending to prove the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Fourthly, the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience is proved guilty of all the blood of the souls crying for vengeance under the altar.

Fifthly, all civil states with their officers of justice in their respective constitutions and administrations are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the spiritual or Christian state and worship.

Sixthly, it is the will and command of God that (since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus) a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or antichristian consciences and worships, be granted to all men in all nations and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only (in soul matters) able to conquer, to wit, the sword of God's Spirit, the Word of God.

Seventhly, the state of the Land of Israel, the kings and people thereof in peace and war, is proved figurative and ceremonial, and no pattern nor president for any kingdom or civil state in the world to follow.

Eighthly, God requireth not a uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state; which enforced uniformity (sooner or later) is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls.

Ninthly, in holding an enforced uniformity of religion in a civil state, we must necessarily disclaim our desires and hopes of the Jew's conversion to Christ.

Tenthly, an enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.

Eleventhly, the permission of other consciences and worships than a state professeth only can (according to God) procure a firm and lasting peace (good assurance being taken according to the wisdom of the civil state for uniformity of civil obedience from all forts).

Twelfthly, lastly, true civility and Christianity may both flourish in a state or kingdom, notwithstanding the permission of divers and contrary consciences, either of Jew or Gentile....
So! It's important to keep in mind that Williams did not seek freedom of conscience in the interests of an incipient modern-liberal-secular way. Williams advocated a separation of church and state not so that public life wouldn't be infected with superstition, but so that the church would not be infected with state institutions. The result, it's true, is a kind of libertarian attitude--but if we miss the strongly moral undergirding, we miss the whole point.

One of the civil laws that perturbed Williams was derived from the medieval concept of the "Just Price." That ideology stated that merchants were no less accountable to G-d than any other citizens, and so to charge too much for a given good or service was to be sinful. Now, again, to be clear: Williams wouldn't have argued against the idea that there is a Just Price--only he didn't trust the state to know better than the individual conscience what the Just Price was in any given case. This was especially interesting when it came to the Just Price of labor: how much do you pay a laborer? Incredibly, Williams lived in a time when labor was so scarce that manual labor was incredibly lucrative--even threatening to transfer wealth from the higher educated class to the unskilled lower class. Governor Winthrop complained in 1633, "The scarcity of workmen had caused them to raise their wages to an excessive rate." It's certainly an odd phrase--"excessive rates." How would the governor have recognized the wages as excessive? The colonies tried imposing maximum wage laws. Williams opposed the laws, and would have opposed mimimum wage laws on the same grounds.

When the state is in the business of legislating moral finance in each of its citizens, the question is not "is there a Just Price," but, as Williams says in the Bloody Tenent, "By whom are these admonitions to be given?"

So here's my question, and it's a crazy one: in collecting taxes and using tax-money to moralistic ends (say, helping Haiti), is the state overstepping its bounds? To frame it more directly: are the increasingly controlling tax laws creating a situation in which individuals are not free to obey their consciences? What is the essential difference, if not merely a difference of degree, between a witch-hunt and arresting a conscientious objector who refuses to pay taxes to support a cause (now forget Haiti and say, two wars!) that he or she does not support? Is it not a moral judgment? By what right does the state impinge on the right of an individual to act according to his own conscience?

Williams understood conscience in categorical terms:
To molest any person, Jew or Gentile, for either professing doctrine, or practicing worship meerly religious or spirituall, it is to persecute him, and such a person (whatever his doctrine or practice be true or false) suffereth persecution for cause of conscience.
But he spoke in generalities as a shorthand--he would not have been averse, I think, to identifying the cultural differences between "Jew or Gentile," and would have admitted that the distinction should be important to the legislator only insofar as it signals a divergence with regard to customs and behavior.

Question: is the U.S. government in the business of persecuting for the cause of conscience?

-----

***Worth noting: Sandra Bullock has donated more than most countries, though she gets five points deducted for not doing it anonymously.

1.26.2010

A Look Back

In three different incarnations as a blogger (at the destroyed & defunct A Voyage Thither, then Q-Majin, and now at Both Wearing Black Masks) I have published more than 700 posts. In almost five years! So I decided to review them recently and publish a list of my favorite ten posts of all-time. Most of my favorites, I've discovered, use very concrete examples (like video games or drawings) to make an abstract point. Here's the list:
  1. The Collapsing Bridge of Ontotheology
  2. It Shadows Forth
  3. Heresy as Sophomoric Attempt at Blasphemy
  4. A Sick Philosopher is Incurable
  5. Parmenides for Stoners
  6. Taking G-d out of the Dictionary
  7. Dwelling in It
  8. I Had Not Power to Tell
  9. Literature as Religion
  10. The Most Boring Post of All-Time
And because my first blog was inaccessible via link (I have it saved in .doc-form), I will republish here my favorite post from my first blog, A Voyage Thither. Enjoy:
Imagism
Friday, March 2, 2007


When I was a kid--in about 5th grade--I received an assignment to "do a report on Saturn." I asked my mom what that meant. She told me I would have to write down some notes on a notecard and "we'll get a big piece of posterboard for you to make a poster." Before getting the poster, Mom stopped at the library and checked out 2 books on Saturn. Those books had pictures in them (that's all I remember). Eventually, my poster had a royal blue background with a drawing I had drawn with markers. I remember that I struggled to draw what appeared to be Saturn's yellow rings--my yellow marker turned into green the moment it hit the royal blue background. By the time I turned it in, there was also a little 8-inch by 4-inch piece of paper with some words on it (thanks, Mom).

This first picture is a picture of Saturn that reminds me of the pictures I saw in the 2 Saturn books that I read when I was 10:

See the yellow rings? The background is black, but Mom bought royal blue--no big deal. Isn't Saturn pretty? It looks like one of those Gobstoppers after you've sucked off the top layer and a half. And then those rings. To this day, I cannot imagine anything more mystical than this image. I looked at those pictures of Saturn for days--perhaps 8 or 9 hours in total!--and then I never really looked at pictures of Saturn again. In those 8 or 9 hours I formed a very serious and, I think, permanent bond with Saturn. I identify with Saturn's glowing orange--it looks "lit-from-within," doesn't it? And those rings. If there was ever anything ideal made real, it was those rings. And do you see the shadow-on-the-rings over Saturn's left shoulder?

I don't have those books anymore, and don't have access to them. But I would bet my entire personal book-library that the ideal curving lines of the "rings" were somehow unbroken (unshadowed, unshaded). Saturn's rings were not broken when I was a child. This image is interesting--but it is not the Saturn I used to know (the one I identified with).

Then: a recent article released by NASA included photographs--new photographs--of "Saturn." Here's one of the new pictures:

This is the new picture of Saturn. One of a series of new images of Saturn taken from a different point of view. New pictures of "Saturn" taken from a different perspective.

Any questions? Anyone want to ask me what I think? I have some opinions about Saturn, you might remember.

The Saturn I know will always be two sunsets rolled onto their sides and then backed up against each other. The rings disappear into the distance, but are never fragmented like this. There is no evil black line across Saturn's face like there is in this photograph. Saturn is not a digitized arch-modernist with plans to conquer.

I reject this image of Saturn. We will need to discuss our terms. My favorite color is royal blue.

Tomorrow's topic: Universal Sympathy.

*THIS* is what wobbling looks like...

Whoa, I've just had a surge of ideas. Somebody pushed my mind-primer button lately.

When I was in college and read Emerson for the first time, I was 100% behind him. I was so behind him that I imagined all people of good sense would readily agree... indeed the only question with regard to Emerson was how fired-up you got about him. People who "get it" are like "rah, rah!," while the men of desperation are like, "Yeah he's right, but I've got errands to run."

Then I started teaching college students. My first semester, I had these two great students in class. Identical twins. Bible-thumpers. They read Emerson closely and, with enthusiasm, opposed his views on the grounds that he was a "false prophet" (they actually said that!). This was a stunner for me. I had always thought that Bible-Thumpers figured the voice of the false prophet would be "Hail Satan," but here was Emerson saying "In self-trust all the virtues are comprehended," and these girls were saying he was the false prophet!

Look at what this meant to me: either I and my instincts were entirely wrong, or else these girls were totally wrong. There's no middle-ground here.

In a recent email exchange with one of my best friends, we were considering an excerpt from Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" essay. Here's the excerpt:
...a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?--in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said, that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.
My friend, a lawyer (!!!), said at one point, "Wow I disagree with him on just about everything;" and with that, I was once again put in that situation where either I and my instincts are 100% wrong or he is. And frankly, his email was convincing!

In Emerson's essay "Self-Reliance," he says, "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string." And I know totally what he's talking about!--I absolutely feel my heart vibrate to that iron string... but is it possible that the iron string is on the wrong side of things? Is the voice of false prophecy especially alluring, for some reason, to me? Are all of those wrong who say, in the spirit of the inscription on the Temple of Delphi, "If you do not find within yourself that which you seek, neither will you be able to find it without...?"

Because almost nobody seems to agree with me anymore. The Bible-thumpers, the lawyers, the leftist-progressives--a strange gathering!--but all of them look to external institutions to improve the life of human beings. What is going on here?

Is my tuner out of whack? Can it really be that the highest Good & Right is to be found in the Southern Baptist church, the tax code, universal healthcare?

I need some affirmation here. Or else a serious course-correction.

Ignoring the Doltish Stares, even when They have the Majority

This week I'm writing a proposal for a summer research program that will pair me with an undergraduate English major. The student and I will do related research and produce 25-page papers and get paid pretty well.

The topic I'm circling around is Melville's anti-democratic... something. Mind, maybe.

It's always difficult to think beyond the present circumstance; we think in particulars even when we are asked to think in generalities. The particular instance most representative right now is Obama's effort to pass healthcare reform including a public option and/or a mandate against public approval. Obviously, if you happen to be in the minority and support Obama's efforts, you'll want him to be anti-democratic in this case. And just as likely, if you oppose Obama's efforts on this specific bill, you'll want him to be a populist in this case.

But what about that question if we take it out of a particular context? Do we want our presidents, our leaders, bosses, etc., to be thoroughgoing (little-d) democrats generally? Or do we want them to sometimes be anti-democratic? And of course that's maybe, to coin a term, a malphemism. A more appropriate word for anti-democratic might be "principled."

The labels we use will obviously be contingent on our opinion regarding a specific case: few would call George W. Bush "principled" for continuing the wars abroad even after support for the wars dwindled... most would call him an anti-democratic tyrant.

-----

But with regard to Melville in particular, I see a lot of this in his work. Starting with the fact that he had a very strained relationship with the reading public ("What I feel most moved to write, that is banned, - it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches."). There is an undercurrent in all of Melville's work that suggests an anti-democratic spirit--hints that there are those who "get it" and those who don't, or can't.

So this is in the "guiding question" phase, but it seems interesting to me as a project. Maybe it comes from a lingering Calvinism, which saw individuals chosen by G-d rather than choosing G-d themselves. Or maybe Melville foresaw the need for anti-democratic leadership to prevent the dissolution of the Union (Lincoln ignored democratic rule in the South for the sake of principles). And that's where I'm going with all of this: can the anti-democrat ever be the good guy? If MLK, Jr. had waited for democracy to catch up with his principles, we might all still be waiting.

Hm. Just thinkin' aloud. To borrow from Ahab, "Truth hath no confines. Take off thine eye! more intolerable than fiends' glarings is a doltish stare!"

1.25.2010

Name a Baby Sweepstakes

In Good News:

I'm now accepting submissions for baby names. I tend to like names of physical/natural things used as personal names, and names that are off the currently-trendy list. Girl names. Honestly, submit a winner. We don't have a name yet. I've been calling her Fayaway, after Melville's beautiful topless island-babe in Typee. That's not going to win, I'm afraid.

[Yawn...] Really?--Another Snipey Amateurish Critique of Obama's Economics? Really?

Speakin' of stuff I'm sick of... [herein follows another rant on economics]:

Obama's wildly unscientific and hyperbolic claim to have "saved or created" as many as three million jobs (this weekend I heard 1.5 million from Gibbs and 2 million from Axelrod) turns out to be insane even if we grant them that huge overestimate. If they saved 3 million jobs that comes out to around $300,000/per job-saved-or-created. Which is terribly inefficient. Just awful. And that article doesn't even take into account the questionable problem of counting government bureaucracy jobs as "jobs." I might count government jobs as 3/5 of a job.

So one year into the Obama administration, we've seen unemployment balloon way over the 8% they predicted would be the highwater mark a year ago. We've seen housing markets continue to collapse. We've seen banks bailed out and propped up. Meanwhile, how's New Orleans doing? Anyone? Chirp, chirp, chirp...

Even Ross Douthat's crazy-conservative op-ed piece in the New York Times today understates my complaint. Look, you people, you liberal, soft-hearted, socialist-sympathizers: if economics can be effectively controlled from the commanding heights (as Lenin called it) downward, let's fuckin' go! Get it together. Hand out jobs. Make poor people more equal with rich people. Seriously. Poop or get off the toilet.

Anyone who's not entirely dumb knows that we're stuck in a situation very similar to the one Reagan took on in 1980. Reagan cut taxes dramatically, and cut subsidies. Things went horrible for 16 months and then recovered smoothly for twenty years. Now Obama is doing all of the exact opposite things to recover from a similar stagnation-like economic situation.

If the economy eventually recovers under Obama's plan, I'll be completely miffed. Indeed, I'll shuttup about it. It'll boggle my mind, and I will defy anyone to then explain to my why Reagan's economy turned around... but I'll accept it as reality.

But it's looking more and more exactly as I should've known it would look. A big bureaucratic disaster full of special-interest deals and unpredictable handouts ($8,000 for a house until Dec. 30th, 2009 April 30th, 2010 December 30th, 2010...) and so on. Only an ideological academic leftist like Obama could make Ayn Rand look like a prophet.

Science Needs a Martin Luther

I wonder how long it'll be before liberal arts academics will start disillusioning brainwashed undergraduates with regard to the Global Warming hoax. All four of my readers have heard me howl on this topic before, but there's more embarrassing evidence in recently proving that the "Science" behind global warming was in fact politics. Seriously, when will people who teach in high school and college start saying to students, "Climate change is a perennial feature of Nature, and is wholly unpredictable so far as we can tell." Because unless we start saying this, these zombie children will give up material progress altogether in the name of stopping a crisis that isn't real.

It pisses me off. I used to have a real high regard for science. I thought of it as a noble pursuit, having to do with Truth. But it has become so infected by money, as I have argued before, that we genuinely do need a Scientific Reformation -- the institution needs to be purged of its corruption. Starting with this guy, the head of the IPCC:

No, hell with him -- how about we start with the IPCC itself. What a joke. Here's another annoying article about it.

What's at Stake

"God willing, our attacks against you will continue as long as you maintain your support to Israel." --Osama bin Laden [source]

Well, at least we know now what we're fighting for. I remember being a naive and undereducated 23-year old when 9/11 happened; my very first reaction was, "What do they want?" It was a question that would turn out to get right to the point--and one I couldn't get a straight answer for. George W. Bush tried to tell me "They just hate freedom," but that seemed suspicious. My liberal friends tried to tell me it had to do with poverty and oppression and cultural imperialism. That also seemed suspicious.

I wonder how widely this point is understood. Do Americans who oppose the wars understand that they must also advocate the withdrawal of support of Israel if they wish to see the "War on Terror" ended from the perspective of the Terrorists? Do those who support the wars do so on a principled basis, or do they treat Israel as a special case--and if so, is that because of its supposed spiritual significance?

I am continually perplexed by how inexplicit most of this goes in media coverage. The war seems presumed inevitable, as if the terrorists oppose our essence... and maybe the war is inevitable. But if it is, I'd like to hear more about it.

1.23.2010

Black Men Can't Bounce-Pass?*

In a very racist (but oddly interesting) move, some schmo recently announced the formation of an all-white basketball league in Augusta, Georgia. Listen: this is straight-up racist, and I wouldn't join or endorse such a league.

But to pretend as if there aren't two styles of playing basketball is to admit you don't know the sport very well. It would be like claiming to be unable to hear a difference between rap and rock n' roll. Needless to say, there are crossovers into every genre: Eminem and Lenny Kravitz, Donald Williams and Jason Williams. I don't think the league should be restricted by racial inheritance, obviously; but I do think it's fair to acknowledge a difference in playing styles. On the other hand, maybe these d-bags in Augusta shouldn't act as if Bob Cousy didn't invent the "street ball" style they seem to abhor sixty years ago:



It's getting interesting around here. African American food is a comfortably recognized style and category; why not white basketball?

*My title is meant to be a twist on the cult classic White Men Can't Jump, starring Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes.

1.22.2010

Recommended Reading

Poet Gretchen Steele Pratt is blowing up in 2009-2010. Links to her poetry online here, here, here, here. And information about her forthcoming book, One Island, here.

I've interviewed the author on more than one occasion. Absurdly, she has no notion that even the title of that book (not to speak of the poems themselves) aspires to the highest peak of allegorical/metaphorical Truth. Imagine: a poet who doesn't even have a clue how good she is.

I'd rather be Beatrice than Dante any day.

1.21.2010

Quote

I believe that the State will soon be able to take all my work of this sort out of my hands, and then I shall be no better a patriot than my fellow-countrymen. Seen from a lower point of view, the Constitution, with all its faults, is very good; the law and the courts are very respectable; even this State and this American government are, in many respects, very admirable and rare things, to be thankful for, such as a great many have described them; but seen from a point of view a little higher, they are what I have described them; seen from a higher still, and the highest, who shall say what they are, or that they are worth looking at or thinking of at all?
  • Henry David Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience"

The Way of Love

My hopes have become private. I have learned to communicate, but can no longer persuade. My opinions, where I have them, would be considered absurd--perhaps even offensive or inane--in so-called polite company. And my manner and carriage keep me outside of impolite society; there I am mistrusted. The company I keep does not belong to the present, nor to the past. It is only the eternal that draws me along. I embarrass myself and aggravate others when I try to keep company with the present, and I recognize the impotence of the past. Neither polemic nor treatise nor confession nor even parable serves my purpose. I have walked right into this trap (ha!--oh, if you could see me as I see me, we would share a laugh!).

It seems to me I am forced to choose between practicing silence and muttering agreeable talk about the weather. My sincere voice has become outlandish and would be deemed tactless or inauthentic; it sounds like: "How long, oh Lord...?"

But I have not known despair. I listen to the talking and read the histories and know that all of it comes from a kind of good intention. I can no longer take sports seriously--and politics seem even more a phantom. I am drawn now to the phases of the moon, the wisdom of Solomon; I take a certain impure pleasure in noticing--noticing my body change, begin its long project of dismantling; noticing the way others eat, or walk, or fail to ask questions.

I am sitting beside a deep well--it seems bottomless. I have a handle on the bucket, its tether. I have been seated here for an age. Until recently, I spent whole days lowering the bucket deep, deep into the well, dragging it up, spilling it as widely as I could, haplessly throwing water from the bucket at anyone who came near. I hope now to be through with that effort. I resolve to wait here beside my deep well, happy to give water to those who thirst, if any should come by.

Oh, it's a short hard sweet day we are living! Are you all well, friends?

1.19.2010

Pwnership: A New Bourgeois Notion?

I've finally noticed a new word enough to look it up: pwn, an apparent "corruption" (eh...) of the word "own," is used to express humiliation of an opponent: "Oooh, you got pwned, bitch."

It's especially prevalent in video-game circles, which is where I've seen it too-frequently of late. Here's a link to the wikipedia page, for starters, Wishydig.

You know about this one, Wrangler? You game.

1.17.2010

Imperialism as the Moral Outcome

A little sentence or two at a friend's page has me thinking: I wonder if imperialism is ever the humane thing to do?

Should America "take over" in Haiti -- plant a flag, declare it a colony, make it our orphan?

Speaking of Enlightenment...

It's my view that what was lost in Education, what needs to be rediscovered, is the aim of it--its final purpose. I believe that thinkers like Spinoza and Leibniz and Descartes and even Kant understood that Education could be a kind of springboard to realization. And I mean that in very nearly a spiritual sense.

On the other hand, I'm convinced that the problem with Religion is that people think they know what the end of it is (its final purpose) when the vast majority of people have no reason to think they know that kind of thing. Great mystics in every religious tradition have recognized that the purpose of Religion cannot be given at second-hand, that the aim of Religion cannot be disclosed in words or through the understanding. Instead, only experience will do. So I like what I read tonight on this website:
Later I understood the meaning of spirituality and came to the conclusion that it is as discardable as dishwater. Therefore I am in no way concerned with spirituality.
So here's my solution: Education needs to reunify under a single, "higher" aim: no amount of formal degrees can guarantee that an educator has undergone the liberating, transformative experience that ought to be the purpose and final aim of education. And Religion needs to forget about things like "salvation," "awakening," "enlightenment," and so on. Religion needs to reclaim mystery as its final phase: or at least, Religion needs to stop speaking of what comes at the "end."

Ho hum. Just typing aloud here.

1.16.2010

Todorov on Enlightenment Values

Interesting interview in which Tzvetan Todorov defends Enlightenment values, with an emphasis on individual autonomy, choice, freedom, liberty, responsibility, and all the other things we're currently throwing out with the bathwater in America. Check it out, Wrangler.

1.14.2010

A New "Low" in Photojournalism?

I'm taking a risk here, hoping that my complaint won't make me look like the bad guy. I've been sick for the last two days, so I've watched way too much coverage of the Haiti earthquake. Tonight I noticed that I've seen one photograph in almost every photo montage on almost every channel. Here's your winner:


The picture is by Jorge Cruz, and was published by the Associated Press on 1/12/10. My complaint is... well... the boobs. I just don't think this is excellent photojournalism in the middle of an awful tragedy. And my instincts are confirmed by the newsmedia's completely opposing judgment that this is the one image that must be shown. Anyway, thumbing through this gallery I can find at least two-dozen photos that I think better represent the horror of the scene, and do so in a less titillating way.

Now I feel bad about even posting this... maybe I'll take it down. I feel like I sunovabitch just sitting on my couch commenting on the coverage of the tragedy. The thing really is historic, isn't it? I hope the U.N. gets down there in huge numbers, and fast. Water. Food. Shelter. Let's go, team.

1.13.2010

Warming the Planet on Purpose

I'm surprised it took so long for the Russians, crafty as they usually are, to figure this equation out: if global warming is said to be a problem for most countries, it's not for Russia. Global warming might turn Russia into a pleasant and mild place. If anything, Global Cooling is their concern. I hope Putin and the Russian leadership push this really hard; it might eventually force the moment to its crisis: what would Americans do if, while they were losing jobs and saving the planet, the Russians threw together a dynamic smoke-stack economy employing millions and overtaking the U.S. as chief economic power in the world? [unlikely, I suppose; but neat!]

How do you fix Global Cooling? Well, obviously: you build lots of very productive and dirty factories to produce cheap goods for export. The same would go for the Scandinavian states, and Greenland, and so on.

1.12.2010

Language and Offense

The non-story about Harry Reid saying "Negro" has me wondering about language and power and stuff. I can't find a good source tracing how/why/when the word "nigger" became an offensive term. Wikipedia suggests it wasn't always so -- if it was always an offensive word, I can't figure out why. What I'm wondering is if I might discover that the word "nigger" became an offense not because of how it denoted, but because it denoted at all... in other words, I wonder if those who were offended by the term were offended by being identified by skin color as such.

In any case, I'm wondering how, once the offense became embedded in the word, the resistance to the word mounted a successful counter-campaign.

Same probably goes for a word like "retarded," which I understand was a neutral, descriptive term in its beginning. How did it become offensive? In this case (or others) could it be that the language becomes offensive by its attachment to the thing itself? -- not that people called "nigger" or "retarded" are offensive, obviously, but only that some people perceive(d) them that way.

Are there labels given to me that I might refuse? Could I declare that I find the label "White" to be an offense... and if I did, what would have to happen for the movement I'm trying to start to find legs? Of course, I wouldn't be objecting to "White" because it has always been a negative term, but only because I (first among men) find it to be offensive now. Was that the case with the term "nigger?" And if my paragraph above about the causative process of the word being attached to the thing is right, isn't it possible to begin thinking about whiteness as an offensive "thing-itself?" Avatar certainly framed it that way.

Linguists? Racial-history pundits?

Religious objections? I have lots of those...

This is bullcrap.

1.11.2010

One Man's Schizotypal Disorder is...

An interesting article appeared today in The New York Times about the American exportation of psychiatric diagnoses. It's long, but worth reading. Here's a link. And here's an excerpt:
Mental illnesses, it was suggested, should be treated like “brain diseases” over which the patient has little choice or responsibility. This was promoted both as a scientific fact and as a social narrative that would reap great benefits. The logic seemed unassailable: Once people believed that the onset of mental illnesses did not spring from supernatural forces, character flaws, semen loss or some other prescientific notion, the sufferer would be protected from blame and stigma. This idea has been promoted by mental-health providers, drug companies and patient-advocacy groups like the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in the United States and SANE in Britain. In a sometimes fractious field, everyone seemed to agree that this modern way of thinking about mental illness would reduce the social isolation and stigma often experienced by those with mental illness. Trampling on indigenous prescientific superstitions about the cause of mental illness seemed a small price to pay to relieve some of the social suffering of the mentally ill.

But does the “brain disease” belief actually reduce stigma?
Anyway, this is some provocative stuff in my judgment. Having discovered that Muslims in Zanzibar with little or no advanced medicine are better at preventing relapses of schizophrenic behavior, and other stuff like this, I'm glad to see The New York Times (long a devotee of modern psychiatry) giving so much space to this report. The article says, "The course of a metastasizing cancer is unlikely to be changed by how we talk about it. With schizophrenia, however, symptoms are inevitably entangled in a person’s complex interactions with those around him or her." Including, obviously, the psychiatrist himself.

1.07.2010

In high school I sometimes pretended to be cheating on a test so that I could look at some cleavage: "Oh, I was just copying your answers, Sarah."

The latest piece of the puzzle in my conservative revolution is to wonder whether education might be more effective if it were once again segregated by sex. I have no evidence (although, I'm almost to the point that I don't trust any "evidence" anymore, so politicized it all always seems) other than my own experience... which was incredibly distracted by the presence of flirty pheremones through high school and college. How can a person become motivated to know Truth when the possibility of getting laid looms so large and near?

Public school. De-co-educationalized. Whadda think?

Arresting Prophecy

Interesting: man arrested for claiming to be God. Listen to the first minute of the report: arrested "under the welfare code," he could've been placed under protective custody for 72 hours:


Look, I know: the guy was probably crazy and possibly dangerous; it's likely that he wasn't really God. But this welfare code seems shady to me. It's like we've extended "the Bush doctrine" into everyday legal affairs -- now if you "act erratically" you can be arrested even before committing a crime? Anyone remember Minority Report? Come on, America.

Very Cautious Evangelizing

I can't remember if I've shared a link to my church on here. Click here for a link to podcasts of the sermons. It's a Unitarian Universalist church, which means it's laughable from the perspective of most of conventional/Trinitarian Christianity, but it's just precisely right for me.

I recommend the 12/13/09 podcast on "God" as a starter clip.

Totally Screwing Over Tibet Aside...

Listen from about 9:50 - 10:25.


The man being interviewed -- blurred out so that Chinese enforcers don't sentence him to prison like they did the creator of this film -- says that he is working so that all Tibetans can be as one big family. He says it's important that they are all educated in their own culture and their own language.

Is it? My linguist friend [...herein misrepresented...] has tried to convince me that there's no reason for Americans to try to stick to one language. I'm skeptical, and believe that a culture/civilization will fall apart in the absence of a shared linguistic tradition.

1.06.2010

A Timely Summary

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Earth's Holocaust," a bunch of people get so sick of the world as they have known it that they decide to set it aflame. They pile on "yesterday's newspapers, last month's magazines, and last year's withered leaves." Once the flame is going, they pile on other combustibles: "all the rubbish of the Herald's Office; the blazonry of coat-armor; the crests and devices of illustrious families; pedigrees that extended back... into the mist of the dark ages."

Then arrives a "gray-haired man, of stately presence, wearing a coat from the breast of which some star, or other padge of rank, seemed to have been forcibly wrenched away." Hawthorne reports that the man had the demeanor "of one who had been born to the idea of his own social superiority, and had never felt it questioned, till that moment."

As the smoke rises, Hawthorne reports, "the multitude of plebeian spectators set up a joyous shout, and clapt their hands with an emphasis that made the welkin echo. That was their moment of triumph, achieved after long ages, over creatures of the same clay and same spiritual infirmities, who had dared to assume the privileges due only to Heaven's better workmanship."

Then the gray man steps forward:

"People," cried he, gazing at the ruin of what was dearest in his eyes, with grief and wonder, but, nevertheless, with a degree of stateliness--"people, what have you done! This fire is consuming all that marked your advance from barbarism, or that could have prevented your relapse thither."

The old man says more in this direction before he is interrupted by the masses: "Let him thank his stars that we have not flung him into the same fire!"

And so it goes...

1.05.2010

Ranking Religions

I saw this live the other day while I was watching "news," flipping back and forth between two or three ridiculous channels. I found it stunningly ignorant. Then again, a person can only speak honestly and from experience. Just so weird.


But then I saw a clip on MSNBC, also live, which was intended to be one of those moral-superiority puff pieces, a genre perfected by Olbermann.



Here's the text I'm interested in; it comes around 3:55 in the video above:
General Boykin who was one of the generals in charge of the invasion of Iraq gave a speech where he said our God is bigger than their god. And we've got to stop, we’ve got to de-escalate this rhetoric and the rhetorical war pitting one religion against another religion, particularly as inoffensive a religion as Buddhism.
That was Dan Savage's response to Olbermann's mocking rhetorical question, "Is this sort of Peter Pan quality here? If we all just think hard enough, our god can beat up their god?" Anyway, did you hear that? Didn't Dan Savage just rank religions in terms of offensiveness?: "Particularly as inoffensive a religion as Buddhism...?" What is that, relative to offensive religions like Islam?

Anyway, Olbermann laughed in response, sarcastically suggesting he hadn't heard of any recent threats to America from radical Buddhists.

1.04.2010

Happy New Year

"Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither." -- Ben Franklin

I basically agree with Rush Limbaugh these days. Or at least with Max Weber. It is a fact of history that American culture was born out of Christian Puritan culture, and then more broadly the Protestant culture that immigrated from Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Now, education has taught me to see objectively: that Protestant culture cannot be said, objectively, to be a superior cultural model to any other culture. Nevertheless, a culture that was has become a culture that is no longer, and the change (gradual as it has been) very well might be ascribed to immigration from cultures other than Protestant Europe. Whatever, tho' -- the question of cause doesn't interest me so much.

My interest is in the result: the result of the gradual disintegration of that Protestant culture that Weber identified as the foundation of American culture more than 100 years ago is now a major problem. Not "objectively," mind you, but seen from within that culture -- it is a problem.

See, my thesis (derived from Weber's) is that capitalism is a system that works only given a particular set of moral circumstances. Like a car's engine won't run on olive-oil, but requires petrol, this country's economy is/was tied to the moral culture of Anglo-Protestantism.

Now, that sounds rough -- might even sound racist or xenophobic to an uncareful ear. But if we keep in mind that culture is "transferable," and not intrinsic or biological, then it shouldn't be such a delicate issue. For example, African American culture, which has been present within American culture since near the beginning, is not inherited and may be learned by people of other cultures. So... the point is: somewhere around the 1960s (finally) and the 1850s (maybe initially?), America stopped "exporting" that culture and started "importing" cultures from elsewhere.

The problem is: other cultures don't make this car's engine run. Now that may not be a transcendentally negative fact: there are other sorts of engines, and other means of "going somewhere" than engines, and hey, maybe there's nothing wrong with just sitting there (there's gotta be a really laid back culture that makes that work?). But the point is: America's "system," lumbering and tottering as it is, was designed to work in conjunction with that Protestant ethic that Weber described.

There's lots of sources for this: Weber, as I mentioned, and Perry Miller, and Cotton Mather himself, and Toqueville, and so on. But none of them lived in the post-Protestant America... whether Elvis ended it, or MTV, or jazz music, or whatever... it's over.

Any thoughts about all of this? I admit, as a person with at least some identity rooted in that disintegrated culture, I feel a little disappointed to see that culture go away... I am disappointed when I hear about airport security and corporate bailouts and trying to save homeowners from underwater mortgages and other things that my Protestant forefathers would've found repulsive. So I do have "a stake" in this, but I also think I can see rather plainly that there's no possibility now of going back in that direction.