Monday, May 31, 2010
I was talking with my sons about the war we lost in Vietnam, and how we lost 50,000 soldiers. My elder son said, "We should have used robots."
We have robots now, I said, referring to drones.
But we didn't have those then.
"What exactly is a robot?" My kindergartner asked. "How do you define it?"
"Two things: it has to be man-made, but also has to move by itself."
"Then the fan is a robot?" Julian asked. The fan in the middle of the room swiveled on an axis.
It seemed too easy to call it a robot, but I guessed that according to my definition, it was.
"People are also robots," he said. "They are man-made, and they move."
"Well, they have to be mechanical, too," I said.
"Then, that's three things, right dad?" He said.
"Right," I admitted.
"That was the most fun I had all day," Julian said, as he prepared to go to sleep.
He held up three fingers to indicate his victory, and then closed his eyes, and with a smile he went to sleep.
Bested by a kindergartner.
One of the real downsides of the invasion of Iraq has been the destruction of many of its most important artists, as well as the looting of its museums, and the relative poverty of those artists who survived.
Iraq had a small but important painting community. Hafiz Droubi was a Cubist who lived in Baghdad and made wonderful paintings. He died in 1991 during the first invasion of Iraq. One of Iraq's very few prominent female artists, a woman named Suad Attar, was killed in a bombing raid in 1993 when her house was hit by an American bomb. Attar had been a student and a professor in California before returning to her native Baghdad.
If anything good is to come out of our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan a big part of it will be about the liberation of the women painters.
Iraq was of course more liberal than Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, the morning's paper said (Binghamton Press Sun & Bulletin, p. 11A):
"Before the 2001 US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban, virtually no girls were enrolled in school. Today, a record 2.5 million girls are enrolled in first through 12th grades, according to UNICEF, the United Nations' children's fund. That's up from 839,000 in 2002."
It is no wonder that Attar had studied in the US, or that Iraqi painter Hafiz Droubi had spent time in Paris.
What is wonderful is that their paintings provide a bridge between the avant-gardes of the west with an insight into Middle Eastern culture.
But the bridges are being burned. Many paintings were looted from the Baghdad Museum, and Droubi's best work is now missing, as is much of Attar's work.
In Afghanistan, girls' schools are bombed by the Taliban, and sneak attacks using poison are common.
"In 2007, two schoolgirls were gunned down as they walked home from school in eastern Afghanistan's Logar province. In 2008, assailants squirted acid on 15 schoolgirls in Kandahar, disfiguring some of them."
Enormous inequities exist between men and women in the Muslim world. Should America help to narrow the gender gap? Many women in Afghanistan look to the US and Europe as their best hope. But mothers push their girls to get an education so they won't be dependent on a man. And increasingly, remote areas ask for girls' educational centers, and even "Afghan nomads who never sent their girls to school, they ask me to build a school for their girls" says a provincial governor.
If something good is to come out of the invasions of the Middle East, it will have to do with education for women. If Attar's death is followed up by four Iraqi women who can paint half as well as she, then maybe the invasion will be worth it.
It's hard to calculate, but through their arts we can see this supposedly enemy civilization as sharing our own aspirations toward beauty and poetry.
I have been contacted through my blog by several Iraqi scholars and poets who wanted to thank me for my book on Gregory Corso -- considered one of the greatest American poets in the bohemian milieu of Iraq. It's odd that such a world exists. May it prosper, and may heaven grant Iraq many more women painters with the talent of Suad Attar.
Had Gregory Corso lived to see Attar's paintings, I think he would have liked them.
The flying horse above is something I've seen in Assyrian bas reliefs, I think. What does it mean? Corso liked The Epic of Gilgamesh (the first epic in world history) and gave a course about it, claiming that Gilgamesh and Enkidu were like Jack Keraouc and Neal Cassady (civilized and uncivilized, and the friendship between them).
Sumerian, Assyrian, Akkadian, and all that: who were these people? All I know is that the Sumerians were said to be non-Semitic, whatever that means. I see their stuff in the Metropolitan on my way to more contemporary work. I like it, but never exactly oriented myself with regard to it. I have no idea what any of it means. The center of the flying horse appears to have a television in it.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
I've watched as the left has slowly consolidated the notion that race, gender and class are the structural problems behind every issue of concern.
Their prescription: get people from the oppressed races, genders, and classes into prominent positions, and poverty will erase itself.
Thus, Barack Obama gets the presidency on a platform of sweeping change, which is code for: I will be the prescription that the left has sought for forty years.
Result: black unemployment soars toward 25%. For those closer to twenty years of age, it's nearly 50%.
Hillary Clinton had also implied that she was the answer for women. If she got the job, women would move forward, and their structural problems (the glass ceiling) would disappear.
I beg to differ on this point. Although there is a growing consensus that race and gender are the great problems of our era, there are anomalies that need to be addressed. First of all, the distress felt by some within these categories is not as uniform as the left might like in order to guarantee this as truth.
For instance, black basketball and football players are enormously wealthy. There are also some other black tycoons. Hermain Cain (a black Republican) is a self-made millionaire.
Condoleeza Rice is well-off.
Of course, there are also enormous numbers of blacks in the inner cities who are still poor by American standards (and yet wealthy by the standards of most African-Africans).
The idea that if the blacks were to rise up and seize control of the means of production, that they would then become wealthy has in fact been tried. In Zimbabwe, for instance, that is exactly what happened. White farmers were dispossessed of their lands, which were turned over to black farmers. The result has been a catastrophic rise in inflation that is well over a million percent per year. While Zimbabwe had been a lopsided nation before, there were enough sandwiches to go around. Now, there aren't. A loaf bread is worth millions and millions in their currency.
Something similar is happening in South Africa, albeit not as quickly.
Simply seizing the means of production is not the answer.
And yet, we have a left that believes that if they get enough of their airheads into positions of power, the structural problems wrt the poverty of blacks and women will disappear. Thus, Sotomayor, a fat buffoon who believes she is superior to others on account of her Latina background, is now on the Supreme Court. Soon, another fat buffoon named Elena Kagan will be on the Supreme Court. Will this help women and minorities?
Will it help America?
Did Mugabe help Zimbabwe? Did Pol Pot help Cambodia? Did Kim Jong-Il help North Korea? Did Idi Amin resolve the problems of Uganda?
There are peculiar anomalies that the left cannot look at because they are blinded by their paradigm. The Amish, for instance, have not updated their means of production since the 1700s. And yet, they are far more prosperous than many of the people in Philadelophia less than a hundred miles away.
What is the reason for this discrepancy?
If you took the entire gangsta culture, and gave each person in that community a million dollars, and said, ok, invest, and get your personal economy going and raise a sound and functional family. Would it result in a structurally solvent and happy community?
I do not think this would be the case. You have only to listen to rap music to discover the values that are celebrated. These are not Biblical values.
The problems have to do with a lack of respect for law and order. The extra money would go into guns and drugs, and would be catastrophic. Whores, pimps, gun battles, are often celebrated in rap music. Can this ever lead to a sound community?
If you put a similar amount of money into the hands of Asian Americans (who are largely Protestant) you would find that their community on the other hand WOULD prosper enormously, but then, they are already ahead of everyone else in spite of having come here with nothing but a proper understanding of the role of the family, and an appreciation for law and order.
Obama is a law professor, and so you would think that he would have a good understanding of law and order. That he would respect it. But he doesn't. He's a slyboots. He's moving money all over the place: redistributing it via his changeover and control of organizations. It isn't just Acorn. He's money laundering via enormous handouts to historically black colleges. He's hiring enormous numbers of Czars, who in turn will hand out money. He's trying to get whole new communities of illegal immigrants (some twenty million) on to the welfare and social security rolls.
Meanwhile, he seems to have no understanding of the billowing problems in the Gulf spill, so he ignores it, or uses it as a Johnny-Come-Lately photo opportunity. Some in his community of idiots are starting to wake up. James Carville sang out the other day (Carville is a kind of canary in the coal mine, being an unusually intelligent Democrat in that he had the sense to marry a Republican).
The Democratic steamroller will continue to push its race, gender, class theories on an unsuspecting America until they are voted out. But their thinking cannot bear any weight. This is why they scream when someone questions the IQ of their constituency, or when someone brings up the problem of work ethic, or when divorce rates are mentioned. The correct answers would be to reveal on a reasonable basis why these beliefs are not true, and to show (without sarcasm) some truth that others, too, (outside of their horde) might believe.
Meanwhile, in the gender camp huge numbers of women are joining the Tea Party. Among women, there is an enormous gap in wealth. Some, like Paris Hilton, or Lindsay Lohan, are fantastically wealthy. But they do not understand the law, and I predict that their lives will be poor as a result. Protestant women living in the mid-west have almost nothing in common with minority women living in the inner cities, or with tramps like Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears or Winona Ryder.
Some, in the Biblical tradition, have argued that on account of Eve, women do not understand the Law and should not be leaders in that domain. While I myself have to wonder about this (some feminist scholars believe that women are always partial in distributing justice, which might mean that they are incapable of the impartiality that the law requires). On the other hand, the symbol of a blindfolded woman, does fully represent the law.
Suffice it to say that this remains a concern. Can women be fair? I think that in some cases they can. I think that Condoleeza Rice, for instance, is fair and is largely color-blind, and I would trust her to be as fair as any man.
One thing I can say for certain: women are not necessarily more fair than men. Imagine Lindsay Lohan as our president.
Imagine Paris Hilton.
Think of Chairman's Mao's wife after she got power. The Cultural Revolution went completely berserk.
The black leader of South Africa's wife was a murdering nut case.
Even Hillary Clinton looks the other way when the culprit is her own husband.
Imagine Valerie Solanas as president.
I, personally, do not think that race, gender, and class will help anyone, but will bring the country to its knees. It's a fiasco. It is respect and understanding of law that makes for a solid community.
But the left will not allow us to question their demographic explanation, any more than the Catholic church would allow its paradigms to be questioned when Galileo surfaced.
The Soviet Union put its dissidents into asylums.
Cambodia under Pol Pot put them into Killing Fields.
They disappear nightly in North Korea. Millions of people are in North Korean prisons: their only crime being to question the psychotic leader. In Vietnam, too, there is no criticism of the government allowed. In China, as well, there is a tight control on the flow of information. In American academia, a similar control of ideas is coming into play. The president of Harvard was fired for questioning whether women can excel at mathematics and science. The right way to deal with this would be to show that women can and have excelled at math and science. That Madame Curie, for instance, was able to do it. But, the left always simply destroys its intellectual opponents, because they fear they are unable to compete.
In America, it's simply difficult for anyone who is not a leftist to get academic positions, and harder still to hold on to them, and virtually impossible to publish in their closed-to-outsiders publications.
It's very difficult to question the PC left. But they are wrong on every issue, and unless we do this, America is headed for an abyss of unreason like that experienced in every Marxist country.
Lutheran Surrealism alone can stop this, but only if we have millions of allies, millions of readers. At present, we have only a few thousand a day. Tomorrow, perhaps we will have the millions required.
And then, of course, we will be just as dangerous as those we seek to replace.
Meanwhile, we must question every shibboleth of the left. Let's even question evolution, and those who angrily argue that it should never be questioned, partially because they are afraid that their explanation cannot compete with the argument by design. (Actually, I'm not myself certain that the argument for design will bear any weight. But why not question at least why this is such a shibboleth. I think it's because they want to use it to destroy the churches' credibility, and with it, usher in a reign of fantastic Marxist nonsense that brooks no rivals.)
We went up to Crossgates Mall in Albany yesterday, and my three older kids and I went to see a film called Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The price was $32.50. Children paid 7.50 and I paid 10.00. We snuck in oat bars, and apple juice, while my smallest child and wife went shopping.
The film wasn't too bad. There were lots of visceral action sequences in which a young rogue named Dastan (in French, it sounds like Destin, the word for Destiny) leaped from roof to roof as a boy, and then later becomes the charmed adopted son of the emperor. He leads armies, is disgraced after he is framed for murder, and ends up in love with the victimized queen of an empire that has been wrongly attacked for having (and yet not-having) weapons of mass destruction. A dagger with a glass handle is found in her city, and she is its protectress. It turns out that a wicked brother of the emperor wants this glass dagger because it controls time. The parallels to Cheney and Iraq have been apparent to all but the most meager reviewers. As usual, the most intellectually satisfying review is from Fox:
I rarely see movies on the big screen. This one was PG-13, and I worried that the six-year old would be scarred for life by the violence. He said the movie never scared him, but his eyes were big as silver dollars, and he would lean in close when the daggers and swords were flying.
Afterward, I asked my ten-year old daughter what she thought. She said, "It was a good movie to see, but not as good as Avatar. Avatar was like a dream, dad. You have to see it."
I asked my six-year old. He said, "It was good. It was all about a dagger, right?"
My nine-year old had fallen asleep in the car, so didn't participate in the follow-up discussion. We had been up the night before watching the Celtics' demolition of the Orlando Magic, with the lackluster performances of Dwight Howard and the others, as Paul Pierce again poured it on, making three-pointers, grabbing offensive rebounds, and forcing his team to the finals.
We are now looking forward to other action sequences between Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce. Which one will want it more? I predict it will be Paul Pierce as long as his sidekick Kevin Garnett remains healthy.
The Soviet Cultural Commissar Andrei Gromyko once said that America lives for action sequences, and just wants physical thrills in its rock music and movies and in its love for sports. He contrasted this pejoratively with the deep thoughtfulness of the Soviet chess tradition, and their philosophical novels along the lines of Dostoevsky and the deep emotionality of Tolstoy. (But our lone wolf Bobby Fischer beat their finest players, and Dostoevsky and Tolstoy emerged before the Soviet system came into play and started murdering their writers. Their finest writers -- such as Solzhenitsyn, and Nabokov, were forced out of the USSR, and spent some of their best years in the US. One of the better chessmasters of the former USSR is Garry Kasparov, who is a critic of Russian corruption, and wants to put in place in Russia some of the checks and balances that distinguish the American system based on James Madison.)
The most American part of Prince of Persia was the sheik in the desert who wanted to keep his ostrich races free of the empire's criminally exorbitant taxation. In this way, the Fox Reviewer said, the movie, while pretending to be a critique of Bush & Cheney, was actually an endorsement of the American free enterprise system.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Trying to lose ten pounds this summer I stepped on the scale the other morning and had gained 15 pounds. Was it the sub sandwich I had eaten two days before? But I had exercised for an hour! Had it caught up with me?
I fretted for two days, and stepped on the scale again. And then I weighed 25 pounds more, up in the low 190s.
I changed the batteries on the bottom of the scale, and in fact was now 167 pounds.
Eight more pounds to go.
While Obama frets over the spill (and the ways in which he's being perceived as fiddling while the Gulf burns), and while people the world over are getting shot at or are worried about where their next meal is coming from, I am happy. I am about a third of the way toward my goal of 159.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
It's hot here today. Going past a company called Crossroads Cafe on the Main Street of Delhi, I saw this dog drinking from a tupperware bowl.
I went inside and got a vegetarian oatmeal cookie.
Lots of women were inside talking about a pile of books they had brought.
They were eating breakfast.
What is the difference between a COMPANY and a CORPORATION?
The people who work at Crossroads Cafe are nice: mostly youthful local women. They serve a variety of sandwiches and drinks. The oatmeal cookie is enormous. It costs 2dollars which after taxes amounts to $2.16.
I have a fond feeling toward this company, and, although I do not like dogs (Shakespeare didn't either), this dog seems quite pleasant. I actually had an inclination to pet it, but resisted, unsure as to whether it had Lyme's Disease, or whether it might bite. Its tail wagged in enthusiasm, but I didn't trust its intention. It might have been trying to trick me to get closer, so as to rip my hand off. I didn't know this particular dog.
I wanted to throw it part of my cookie, but didn't know if the owner would appreciate that. You can't see its face, but I think it's a bloodhound.
Monday, May 24, 2010
New poetry contest: anything touching upon the life of corporations. Less than twenty-one lines, written specifically for the contest.
Inspiration: "[Wallace] Stevens' question lies near the heart of the ontological problem of 'the corporation' -- one reason why, as we shall see, the representation of the corporation in poetry becomes a central problem in the Modernist epic" from Money and Modernity: Pound, Williams and the Spirit of Jefferson, by Alec Marsh (Tuscaloosa: U. of Alabama Press, 1998): 159.
Deadline, Saturday the 29th of May, midnight. Any number of poems can be contributed, but only one vote per commenter. Votes collected on Sunday the 30th of May from 12:04 AM to 11:57 PM.
THE CORPORATION IS FARMING THE MOON
The tractors' wheels like Roosevelt dimes
Roll over the rills
The Rolls Royces in the craters
Undiscover the reels
In the suburbs toward the core
The stores are open 24/7 (except for Mother's Day)
And at the heart of the moon
Sits the corporation:
A city of darkened glass
Where the magistrate passes
Legislation that streamlines the administration.
I don't think you can be Marxist and Christian.
Marxists resent their place, and want to improve their fate, and the fate of all others.
Christians accept their place, and the place of all others.
Marxists are secularists, and see religious life as opium.
Christians believe in the other world, and see the pleasures of this life as distractions.
Marxists don't believe there should be a separation of belief and the state. They are one-kingdom thinkers.
Christians believe in a separation of church and state, and are two-kingdom thinkers.
Marxists put the Party at the center of life.
Christians put the Family at the center of life.
Can one be a Christian and a Marxist?
Can one really serve two masters?
Satan resented his position and fate, and wanted to be equal to Christ.
Christ accepted his position and fate, including the Crucifixion.
Marxist thought traces back 150 years to Germany. Marx himself hated many other classes, and said that his rival Ferdinand La Salle had "the dirty blood of a Negro Jew."
Jesus was a Jew, and said that there was such a thing as a Good Samaritan. He never denounced anyone on the basis of their bloodline. Christianity traces back 2000 years to the Gospels and to the life that is recorded in them.
On the cultural level, Marxists believe that art should illustrate and support the theories of the Party, or else the artist should be banished or killed.
In Christian circles, art is considered adiaphora, and is a realm in which the freedom of inquiry granted to all believers is paramount.
Marxism is based on hatred of worldly inequality, while Christianity accepts worldly inequality, but posits an otherworldly equality in which the coinage is the soul.
If one were to make a Venn diagram, I don't see where the two overlap at all except in the ELCA's Bishop Hanson where they are more or less identical and the calendar never changes past the year 1968 AD.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Apparently one of
the driving problems in the Rand Paul nomination is that he is a libertarian. This means that he doesn't think that government should have the overwhelming regulatory powers that it says it does.
On the stump, Paul often cites a case called Wickard vs. Filburn, in which the SCOTUS decided (in 1937, under Roosevelt's administration, although the case didn't reach SCOTUS until years later) that Filburn, a farmer in Ohio, couldn't grow wheat on his own farm unless he did so according to the specifications of the government. Filburn was told he could only grow 20 acres of wheat. He grew 23 acres, which meant that the amount of wheat on the market was too high, which would drive down prices. Filburn was going to use the wheat to feed his own livestock, and wouldn't put it on the market, but SCOTUS decided that this would itself drive down the price of wheat if too many people were doing the same thing.
Here's the opening paragraph at Wikipedia:
"Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 (1942), was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that dramatically increased the power of the federal government to regulate economic activity. A farmer, Roscoe Filburn, was growing wheat to feed his chickens. The U.S. government had imposed limits on wheat production based on acreage owned by a farmer, in order to drive up wheat prices during the Great Depression, and Filburn was growing more than the limits permitted. Filburn was ordered to destroy his crops and pay a fine, even though he was producing the excess wheat for his own use and had no intention of selling it."
Does government have the power to regulate wheat? Yes. Should it also regulate the number of books coming out, or would the market itself take care of that? So far as I know, the government has never regulated the number of books.
Should it regulate what can and cannot be said in a college?
Should it regulate poetry contests that use federal money and yet openly discriminate against white males?
Should it regulate college admissions that openly discriminate against white males?
Should it regulate restaurants that are open sewers?
Should it regulate who can call themselves an opthalmologist?
Should it regulate whether or not a woman can wear a burqua?
Should it regulate pesticide use in crop growth?
Should it regulate obscenity in books?
Should it regulate who can say what in the television news?
Should it regulate who can grow marijuana in California? (Can it be grown for home use?)
Should it regulate what can be called cheese, and what has to be called a cheese food?
Should it regulate who can live in America and call themselves an American?
Thursday, May 20, 2010
You'd think that with the huge explosion of interest in Tea Parties and Arizona that the iced tea called Arizona would explode in sales. But Arizona Tea company was based in Queens, and still is. Their web page is now trying to separate themselves from the whole immigration issue and distance their brand from the controversial law.
You'd think they would make millions and millions if they capitalized in the other direction, but it might be a short-term windfall. The company seems to market itself to the people who like Asian Buddhism, and think of tolerance as a good idea. So what kind of tea do they actually serve at tea parties?
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
In the Great Depression there were many people who were willing to work for food. Philippe Soupault writes in his memoir Memoires de l'Oubli (1927-33) that he saw such signs as he went around America.
Classical economics would argue that if everyone is always willing to work for less, then there is always a job to be found.
But willingness to work for food is pretty much the bottom of that paradigm. You could potentially make a sign that said, "Will work for LESS food!," but I don't know how many times you could undercut that sign, and remain alive.
The other side has solidarity as the basis of work. That there is a guaranteed income below which no worker will go. This will mean that some will not be employable at all, and will have to have their sandwiches delivered by the state. At a certain point, having a sandwich delivered might be preferable to working for the sandwich, and so, unemployment might be preferable to employment.
Many people are at or near that point right now. What's the government to do to get everybody back to work again, and yet, balance their budget?
If the number of people drops, that would help. Mexico thus sends its poor north, with kits. That relieves some of the tension in Mexico. But where will displaced Americans go? North to Canada? Due to the very stringent immigration rules up there, it's very hard to get in or find a decent job. And we can't go south to Mexico, because the immigration rules are extremely fierce there. A first offense will result in two years' incarceration in a Mexican prison.
America is pretty much the end of the line. When this place can hold no more, starvation will begin, as Malthus predicted, and then we will die off as do rabbits when they overbreed, and after the population is boiled down to a tenth, start all over again?
I don't understand the symbol that the man in the picture is making with his hand. Is it a gang sign? Why doesn't his printed sign advertise what he's good at doing? How about Can wash dishes, Can cook omelettes, Can sew, Can type, for starters, so that potential buyers have some sense of the services on offer? And also, why not suggest whether he's omnivorous or will require a vegetarian waffle with light cream (dieting)?
I think the man is miscommunicating. I don't know what the hand sign means, and his other sign is bereft of information. People who were trying to help him get started should begin there. I also think the placement of his head so that a tree appears to be growing out makes the man appear to be a deity from a play about Gaia. Maybe he's her husband. A little coiffing, and better signage, and I think he'd be back in business in a jiffy.
It might also be intelligent to list a denomination (he appears to be Christian) and to lose the beard (it's scruffy and makes him look like a layabout).
Other than that, he appears to be in good shape. I just don't have any sense of his practical capabilities.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Walking home from the boy's soccer game yesterday we cut up through the woods. I saw a small plot (maybe thirty feet long) of very pretty blue flowers in a wet area down by the road. I plucked one and photographed it next to a floss carton so that one could see the scale. It has a blue flower with a yellow inner area, and I think four pistils sticking up. All the flowers seemed to have four petals. The green part that is next to it looks somewhat like grass. I couldn't figure out what it was using my flower identification booklet. Anyone got an idea? (Click twice on the picture and it gets much bigger.)
The closest I could come again was a violet, or a marsh violet. Am I getting warm?
The ridge is fairly high. Looking down, it looks like this. I'm on an old path that slopes up another hundred yards for about another thirty feet of height, and then you zigzag back up the hill to gain another thirty feet of height. This side of the hill is too steep to build on so there are no houses in this area.
When you reach the road it looks like this. The flowers are near the set of boards that someone has placed as a bridge across the culvert. They are just behind it, in the clump of grass. The ones in the sun are a very dark blue. Just behind it, the same flowers are much more pale, almost a kind of lavender.
I took two close-ups, again, putting my watch next to them for scale. I'm not sure that the leaves will show up. The leaves are a dark green, with a kind of rounded edge -- maybe thirty on each side. Unfortunately, I took the pictures before I got George's request for a clear shot of the leaves. But I was thinking more or less the same thing to get a shot of the whole plant. The ones at the bottom are my attempt to achieve this. The first one is better than the second because you can clearly see to which plant the flowers are attached. This is a moist area because the entire hill drains right down to this point, and it's usually extremely wet. The leaves that you see in the underbrush create a thick padding that holds the moisture underneath. As you go even thirty feet past this spot, there are no more flowers like these.
If you can see the one entire plant in this photo, in the foreground right in front you can see some of the globular leaves, but the flowers at the top of that particular plant appear to be cut off in the photo. However, they are not cut off, but actually attached to the plant. I pulled away the grass and weeds in front of the plant to get a clearer shot. I'm an amateur photographer (I've taken less than five hundred shots) as well as a very amateur flower identifier (this is about the fifth flower I've attempted to identify). But I think you can see the whole plant. And if you click again once you've blown up the picture by clicking on it twice, you can then zoom in once more to see the leaves. The leaves toward the bottom of the plant are more directly facing us than the ones toward the top.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
There is a conservative British philosopher named Roger Scruton (he likes fox hunting and celebrates it as something important in his life) who says that "negotiation and consent" are the hallmarks of civilization. If you think about it, it's something that is quite bothersome, in general, in its absence.
Scruton argues in his book Animal Rights and Wrongs (London: Demos, 2000) that animals are "humourless and unmusical" (18), and that they are incapable of "moral thinking" (48), because they are incapable of "self-consciousness and moral dialogue" (53).
Scruton has particular disdain for the utilitarian left (Singer & Co.) who insist that animals should have rights based on their ability to feel pain (an argument that derives from utilitarian Jeremy Bentham). Scruton says that if you can't pass moral judgement on Pol Pot because what he did is wrong, then your philosophy is a "sick joke" (59).
Scruton says that Lenin was a "fanatical utilitarian" (84), who thought that the end justifies the means.
Scruton says we're the only animal capable of negotiation and consent (explicitly denied by Marxism, which abrogates those rights for anyone who isn't part of their hierarchy). Humans are all capable of it, he says, and it is the basis of any true justice (a justice always already denied by Marxists). Of course animals are incapable of it, and so other animals cannot belong to the "rights community."
To some extent he's utilitarian with regard to animals. Among humans, who are the only animals that can discuss principles, he believes that we can share a sense of the sacred that rises above mere utility. Whoever heard, for instance, of a true friendship that is merely utility?
One of the things that bothers me about real goofups like the Taliban or like Saddam Hussein or even like Kim Jong-Il or all these Mexican invaders coming over the border is that they don't seem to care about either negotiation or consent. Taliban deny it to women (even denying them the right to read or write), or to any men that differ from their fundamentalist take. S Hussein denied it to his population. Kim Jong-Il denies it. Many bullying leftists deny it. It's bad.
What do you do with them? I rather liked Bush's response. But the problem is that then he is himself accused of denying "negotiation and consent."
But if you can't negotiate with someone, or if when you do, they are always playing you falsely (Kim Jong-Il will enter into negotiations, as Hitler or Stalin did, but he never honors his agreements or commitments, or does so only so long as it gets him somewhere, and immediately cancels those commitments the moment he has something better).
At that point, I get a little mad, and start thinking about capital punishment for a whole society.
I do think that when child molesters go after a child (who by nature is incapable of negotiation with an adult, and not fully formed enough for consent) the only answer is the graveyard.
I would apply the same response to governments (like the Nazis) who act like this.
Of course, if tolerance is the key term, then you have to be endlessly tolerant. But how tolerant can you be of child molesters? To my mind, they should just be killed.
If they can't negotiate, fine. If they aren't capable of being human, fine. If they can't leave children alone, then the state should kill them like animals.
It's a kind of rough mode, but I don't know what else can be done with wild animals in human form who return others' willingness to negotiate with a kind of cold sociopathological disdain.
I think this is a dilemma. It's where I hope a discussion will enable me to think better on this topic. Luther tried it with the Pope. It didn't work, so he went to war with the Pope, and established his own faith, that had freedom of inquiry as a central plank.
Most totalitarian states deny freedom of inquiry. Endless patience with N. Korea, for instance, just seems to be bad for everyone but Kim Jong-Il.
Scruton says that Brave New World of Huxley "violates our pious sense of human freedom" (92). Pornography that turns a subject into an object also violates our sense of human freedom, and human dignity. As does abortion.
Babies may not be capable of negotiation, but they are potential members of that community.
Scruton argues that "Persons who do not respect others' rights forfeit their own" (70).
There are lots of pesky issues that Scruton goes after. I rather liked this book, though. It had good sense in it of a kind that one never sees anymore among the left.
Friday, May 14, 2010
The notion that someone is "good," as in, an enlightened and perfect being, belongs to Buddhism, perhaps. In the Protestant west, the very notion of an enlightened being (aside from Jesus) is laughable. But because of the Marxism sugar-coated with Buddhism that passes for progressivism these days, the notion of goodness is back in all its spangled glory. Bad of course doesn't really exist, because you have to be tolerant, and see everyone as simply coming from a different place. Except Nazis. Nazis are just plain bad. They are the one thing that the progressives agree is bad. Why are progressives so stupid? What is it about them that makes their understanding of evil so shallow? I think it's that they trace everything back to race, gender, and class, which I don't think matter at all in terms of moral formation.
Forget about Stalin, or Pol Pot. No one on the left mentions those guys. Because they weren't RACISTS, what they did is ok. Forget about Idi Amin. He's black, therefore, if you mention that he's bad, then you're bad. Forget about Papa Doc Duvalier. Ok, maybe he was bad, sort of, but he was black, so don't mention him, or else you're a racist, which makes you bad. Don't talk about Kim Jong-Il. Maybe he's bad, but he's also Asian, and if you say he's bad, then you must be a racist, which makes you bad. Forget about Chairman Mao. So what if he killed 80 million people? He is Asian, so shut up.
Don't talk about bad women, either, because that would be sexist. There are no bad women. Countess Bathory of Hungary liked to bathe in the blood of virgins, because she thought it would keep her young. Is that so bad? No, because she was a woman, and was just doing her thing. Mrs. Marcos? She was a centipede which is why she had so many shoes, but don't bring that up. She's Asian, you racist, so shut up.
Now Margaret Thatcher, that's a bad person, right? I mean, she stood up for British Sovereignty in the Falklands, and blew the crap out of the Argentinian navy. Bad, right? No, not bad, just confusing, because she is a woman, or maybe she's not really a woman, maybe she's a man, or so male-identified, that she might as well be a man. So, yes, she's bad. Because she's actually a man. Besides, she's conservative, so she must be a Nazi, which means that she's bad.
Such categories trap the person thinking in them into almost mindless stupidity.
I remember talking with the painter Robert Colescott. Colescott was quite an important painter in his day. He was on the cover of giant art magazines. There aren't many famous black painters. A very small coterie. Colescott's signature paintings took famous American paintings like George W. Crossing the Delaware and turned them black. Washington was black, and he had a black soldier on the front of the boat, fishing. He painted in acrylic paint, which is difficult to make look nice. Acrylic is a kind of plastic, and plastic looks fakey, because it's artificial (he liked it because it looked fakey -- it was part of his strategy for distinguishing the fake from the real).
One thing Colescott said to me that struck me, and continues to come to my mind, is that he said he himself (black) doesn't trust other blacks. He said this is why there are few black painters of any note. He said you can't get collectors to trust that their work really has any merit. He said that he himself suffers from this perception. He said if he were to go to a doctor, and the doctor was black, he wouldn't put much trust in what the doctor said.
He gave me a hypothetical, "Ask yourself. If you were wheeled into heart surgery, and you found out you could have one of two doctors, one was white and one black, and they showed you the pictures of these doctors, which one would you honestly choose?"
I think I would probably look at the pictures and see which one was thinner. I trust thin people over fat people. But maybe the color would come into play if all other things were equal. Thin people eat conservatively, and are therefore better than people who supply themselves with overly liberal portions. I don't think I would go toward the black/white question without addressing other factors. I would also probably prefer a doctor with glasses to one who didn't have glasses.
What about you? Colescott thought he would take the white doctor.
I was somewhat flummoxed by this casual observation he made while intently watching my face.
I was a liberal at the time, working for a liberal art magazine, and had never heard anything before like this.
If Colescott didn't trust black doctors, why was this so? What was wrong? The Bell Curve Theory said that blacks had lower IQs, and therefore couldn't be trusted with more complex jobs such as heart surgeon. I think this is poppycock.
Because there are certainly very intelligent black people. Condoleeza Rice is about as smart as a human being can get. Thomas Sowell is obviously a brilliant man. Colin Powell is no dummy. There are lots of smart black people.
I think it has to do with the kind of family you were brought up in. A good family makes a good person. A bad or broken family makes a bad or broken person.
Robert Colescott had a father. He worked as a porter on trains out of New Orleans. Colescott spoke of his father and mother and had nothing but respect for both of them. He clearly loved them and even revered them. Talking to him, I felt pretty much as I'd feel talking to any intelligent white man. I trusted him. I think it was BECAUSE HE HAD A FATHER AND MOTHER THAT HE LOVED!
Why should this be so crucial? What is so crucial about having had a dad (especially) that you loved and admired?
I was watching a program about rogue elephants, and perhaps it gives us a clue. The program was about elephants whose dads had been shot by poachers. The baby elephants growing up without a dad became rogues. They are seemingly unable to control their tempers, or to focus their feelings. They suddenly go berserk.
To fix the issue, they were bringing in male adults who had calm temperaments, and this was calming the rogue elephants down, and giving them a handle, allowing them to deal with themselves rationally. It's kind of like the Big Brother program the inner cities were trying to get going a few decades back (are they still going?).
Apparently, good dads show male children how to behave. How to hold their tempers, and deal with themselves. It's something most of us take for granted. But in the black community Cosby has said that the fatherless rate is about 80%.
In Asian-American communities the fatherless rate is about 2%.
So maybe the whole problem comes down to fathers. Is that what's needed?
Perhaps this isn't an IQ problem, but a fatherlessness problem. IQ is correlated some say with having an intact family. Losing one parent is correlated with an IQ drop of about ten points, which is about what the Bell Curve said was the case with African Americans. Perhaps therefore it's not the color of their skin, but the lack of a father that determines the IQ. Perhaps not having a dad makes you unable to focus. Being a good father is more important than most of us think. It might be the most important thing a man will ever do. Because it creates trustworthy and calm children.
I certainly trusted Robert Colescott. I think that he could have done anything.
The benefits of having a dad may not even be primarily economic, but emotional, and intellectual.
Instead of thinking about racism, and other stupid stuff, why not think instead what's really going on. Perhaps what we consider racism is really just a stance toward people who didn't have good fathering? Would that have been the case with Hitler, Stalin, Paul Pot, Kim Jong-Il, Mao, and the others? Would that allow us to find a deeper pattern underlying the illness of the sociopaths among us, and to have a deeper understanding of "evil," as not about race, gender, and class, but about fatherlessness?
Thursday, May 13, 2010
I have been surprised to see the Boston Celtics go up 3-2 in their series with the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James is an extraordinary athletic talent. He's big, but can hit three-pointers, and float through the key and make nice running hops to the basket. He's an athletic miracle. So why doesn't he win a championship?
Paul Pierce on the other hand is not very athletic in spite of his huge talent. He looks terrible, and almost never makes any play that the mind retains as something beautiful in its execution. But somehow he just keeps coming.
In sports, as in life, there is something to be said for what the sports people call mental toughness. I don't know quite what this is. Paul Pierce has plenty of it, and it makes up for what LeBron James has under the moniker of natural talent. While LeBron James has whirlwind dunks, twirling dunks, incredible fade-away three-point floaters that hit all net, Pierce just keeps making pedestrian point after pedestrian point, and could care less about how he looks.
Cleveland also has the huge monster Shaquille O'Neal, who is not an athlete so much as he is a human oak tree. His ankles are bigger than my thighs. His feet are so big that they don't even have a number for them. He alone has feet that are that big. But does he have a brain? Sure, he can feed himself, but does he have the quality of mental toughness?
What is that by the way?
Rondo, a player with whom I'm just getting acquainted, is a relatively slightly built player for the Celtics. I think he's a tad over six feet tall. But he is apparently a math genius, and never stops asking questions. On the bench you see his eyes darting around, calculating and figuring. He is bright.
Will brains beat brawn?
I think that in life, like in sports, mental toughness is what matters. I remember in Seattle when Shawn Kemp was supposed to take the Supersonics to the finals. It was a joke. Kemp had hundreds of the most visceral whirlwind dunks in NBA history (you can still catch them on YouTube), but in the finals he would often foul out in the first three minutes of a playoff game. Once, the Supersonics were ahead by 25 points going into the fourth quarter, and the Lakers with Kobe crawled back to win by two points. Kobe is probably a rapist and a thug, deep down, but you can't fault him for a lack of mental toughness. He has that quality.
Shawn Kemp on the other hand had all this God-given talent, but he squandered it, going dancing on game nights, reportedly taking illegal drugs, and enjoying life with thousands of young women. And what did he achieve? Highlight films, yes, but did he ever win a championship? Did he ever even come close? He was apparently a sweet nice guy, and he could dance, but why couldn't he win a championship?
It has something to do with mental toughness. The top generals have it. CEOs have it. Masterminds of various kinds have it. Chess masters, and even ballerinas have it. Shawn Kemp didn't have it. I'm beginning to think that LeBron James is another kind of Shawn Kemp. He lacks a mysterious quality called mental toughness.
In rock stars you see it from time to time. Jim Morrison had it. David Bowie had it. But Jagger had ten times as much, even if he didn't have any of Morrison's talent, or any of Bowie's intelligence.
I know it when I see it, but I don't know what it is. What is it?
Monday, May 10, 2010
Saturday, May 08, 2010
The New Deal Comes to Brown County, by Benjamin William Douglass. Doubleday, 1936.
Yesterday I had to get the root canal finished but was a half hour early. I went into Hartwick College library (Hartwick was once Lutheran -- until 1968 when the state offered them 400 dollars per head to graduate secularized students, and they took the gambit). Some of the books from before 1968 still reflect a Lutheran or at least conservative outlook.
There is a whole section on the Great Depression and the Public Works Administration. This book, by Mr. Douglass, is a slim green volume of less than 100 pages which first appeared as several articles in the Saturday Evening Post. It hadn't been checked out since 1941.
The opening chapter describes how the New Deal men closed down his orchard and canning company with tiny rules and ridiculous oversight measures that had him corresponding with men he had never met in Washington over checks of thirty cents. The correspondence is included, and is delightful.
The second chapter is about how the New Deal men tried to turn Brown County into a National Forest. I don't know if this happened. They started closing down some towns, and opening up others, trying to centralize people into one location so that they would be easier to monitor.
What I have enjoyed so far is how closely FDR sounds like BO. FDR would come on the radio often (as BO comes on the TV). And it sounded like FDR was saying something. But when you tried to find specifics, there weren't any.
"During the campaign we followed his [FDR's] speeches carefully, listening to the way he said things quite as much as to what he said. The radio listener has an advantage over the personal, face-to-face listening in that he can judge an utterance in a detached way, uninfluenced by the personality of the speaker. Roosevelt, however, through some strange quirk of personality was and is able to project over the air more than his mere voice. All through the campaign he repeatedly made striking statements that appealed to the popular mind, and yet, when those statements were stripped to their bare bones, there was nothing there. It was a campaign of wisecracking and evasion" (27).
I thought this description paralleled almost exactly my sense of BO.
I often listen spellbound to BO only to ask myself so what did he say? I have read his autobiographies with the same rapture, and then asked myself, so what did the man say?
And the thing is: he doesn't really say anything!
There seems to be drama afoot of some kind, but when you ask what exactly it is that he's on about, you can't find anything at all.
Douglass therefore asked what exactly was happening in Brown County that he could put his finger on. It's that the land was being bought up by the government and turned over to National Forests, and to monitoring by the Conservation Department.
But there were apparently two different branches of government. Another branch was the Forest Service "a branch of the Department of Agriculture -- and they insisted that they had no connection with politics, but served under the civil-service rules. They wore forest-green uniforms with Sam Browne belts and were inclined to strut just a trifle, as became the real aristocrats of the woods which they insisted they were" (38).
The Forest Service held a meeting in the Courthouse, but when they were whistled at and jeered, they disappeared, and began to conduct their meetings with the public by mail.
They wanted to take over the county, but the reasons behind this are difficult to discern. They wanted to get rid of all the wealthier people and move in people from the cities who would then take over the farms, but who would then be sure to vote Democratic because of all that had been done for them by the Democrats. Meanwhile, they would ruin the Republicans, and shatter them economically, using the government to redistribute income from a group that voted against them to a group that voted for them.
The idea, ultimately, Douglass argued, was to turn all of America into a plantation run by the Democrats, and in which every person was utterly dependent on and grateful to the Democrats, so that the voting would remain Democratic. Meanwhile, the American people would be reduced to slaves.
Douglass argues that Social Security was an idea borrowed from the USSR.
"It is said that no one in Russia goes naked or hungry and everyone has a roof over his head. If you think any common man in Russia has more than that, talk to someone who has been there. The Russian 'social security' is slavery, just as certainly as the 'social security' in the Old South was slavery, and just as surely as the Roosevelt 'social security' will be slavery when and if we get it. For the present it is mere bait for the votes of fools. If it ever comes in actual fact, it will bring with it a collection of chains which our forefathers fought against a thousand years ago. If we accept the New Deal and the social security it promises, we must accept the things that have always gone with slavery. We must expect to be fed, clothed, housed -- and directed" (86).
The arguments could be on Fox News today only they are somewhat more colorful, and downhome with local tints and personal experience.
I looked up the author in Amazon.com and there is only one book on growing fruit trees.
His basic argument is against central planning that destroys liberty in the name of equality. I hear this same argument on Fox News all the time, but it's not as well put, and not quite as locally evocative.
At any rate, this is what I was reading as I sat in the dentist's chair yesterday with several hands in my mouth attempting to perform a root canal. They ultimately gave up, and referred me to a specialist in Utica.
Thursday, May 06, 2010
Of course, the car bomb could have gone off. The fact that it fizzled is not necessarily a testament to the fizzling nature of the human refuse that goes into such attacks.
Why is it that all the energy that goes into such attacks isn't put into art work, or into developing an economic, industrial and educational infrastructure within Islamic societies? All the hatred, all the jealousy, is pushed into a violent war with the west, instead. And when it's not with the west, it's intra-Islamic war, as in the Iran-Iraq war that cost an estimated twenty million lives.
One wonders about executive ability. People like Bill Gates can put together a company that gives an entire region such as the Northwest an identity, and a powerful economic engine. Imagine if Bill Gates instead tried to wage war on some beknighted country. He could just as easily level a country as he could make it bloom.
The Unibomber was successful in terms of planning and executing his attacks. But the Unibomber was not a failure generally. He was a top university professor with a strong record of achievement. Kazinsky's brother also has a record of achievement.
One has to be wary of people with a strong record of achievement, who get insane ideas, because they can plan and execute their wishes. Generally, other people fail to follow through.
Bin Laden came from a family with strong executive ability.
Mohamed Atta was able to complete a Ph.D. and he has two siblings. One of them is a professor, the other is a medical doctor. It was Atta who held 9/11 together. He had the ferocious cunning which if put into a more productive context could have built something from which thousands could have prospered.
People like this, with strong executive ability, can not only see a goal, but plan every detail along the way, and finish with a bang. Watch out for them if they go bad.
Fortunately, Islam does not in general nourish such talent. It's part of why so many in their ranks are furious. There is no place to put such talent except into jihad.
People wonder how Israel has managed to hold out against the entire Islamic world. It's because Islam, like communism, gives too much leeway to mediocre executive talent. An idiot like Saddam Hussein would never have lasted in Israel. He would have been managing a run-down falafel joint while abusing the help.
Stalin shot all his top generals and most of the officer class in the 1930s. When he then went against Finland in 1939, the Russian military got its ass kicked. The tiny Finnish nation (total population of 3 million at the time?) sent home 1.5 million Russian soldiers in boxes in one month. They had one powerful general: Mannerheim. Google his face. He is a man with executive ability.
Don't get me wrong: Stalin was not a stupid man. His poems are apparently classics of Georgian literature. But he didn't brook rivals. He was afraid of anyone who came close to him, and had his top rivals killed. His top rival, Trotsky, also a man with tremendous executive ability, met his end in Mexico after one of Stalin's assassins put a pickaxe through his eyebone. Stalin killed all his rivals.
The Russian soldiers had no officer class. So the men were told to just run at Finnish machine gun nests. They were slaughtered in wave after wave after wave.
A bit of strategic thinking helps, but to have this you need to promote the best. After Zhukov became military chief of the Soviet Union the fortunes of that country turned completely around. Zhukov could see an entire battle forming, and plan it in its most minute stages, holding back his Katyuska rockets until he had surrounded the Nazis, and then pounding them, following up with a tank blitzkrieg that smashed the German lines, cutting them off, destroying an army of a million men in the space of nine months. Zhukov wasted no time getting to Berlin and destroying Hitler, and taking over much of Eastern Europe in the process.
When we think of failures, it is often those without strong executive ability. They come from families in which everyone has failed. They are losers. Hitler was a loser in art, and in his family life. He could not have lasted long. He did have oratorical ability, but he arose in a period in which Germany floundered, and his whole movement was founded on mediocrity. People without executive ability who could just say, "Ja volt," do not last long. Germany lasted at most six years from the outbreak of World War II (if you begin with Poland).
Meanwhile, many Germans with talent and ability came to the US or worked against their own government (Rommel, Bonhoeffer, etc.).
Within art movements, too, it is those with a strong executive ability who last. Within surrealism, there are two lasting talents: Breton and Soupault. They masterminded the movement. Soupault is the less well-known, but he was able to run the French petroleum fleet in the twenties. In the forties, he set up a radio station in Tunis. In his sixties, he was an executive for UNESCO. He also wrote and published some forty books.
Who was this Faisal Shahzad? He had lost his job, and slowly fizzled. He was made into a human bomb by Al Qaeda. He had no follow through. This of course is fortunate, but it is perhaps indicative of the failure of societies who do not promote talent, but instead promote the half-baked who simply follow the reigning ideology.
Islam denies any education to half of its citizens and since about the year 1200 has not fostered intellectual independence on the part of its citizens. Their institutions are failures.
The countries under Catholicism and the furious Counter-Reformation followed a similar route. Result: Spain and Portugal became intellectual deserts, contributing almost nothing to scientific progress.
What could North Korea possibly contribute to the world at this point except horror stories?
Israel, with its many universities, and its powerful record of achievement, should be admired. They promote talent, and encourage it.
Until recently, America has done so as well. Now we have a president who comes from a family with a record of failure. His father was a leader, but of a failed and largely retrograde movement, and his mother was a flibbertigibbet. Of such stuff nothing can come but nonsense. Let's just hope the next three years move quickly, so that we can get someone into the White House with a brain who can think clearly, and not just use the credit card to sink our nation further into colossal debt, and further our mercantile bondage to Red China.
We need someone with a strong record of executive ability. McCain had that, to some degree, even if he was the weakest link in the line of admirals that make up his family lineage. Romney has it. Giuliani has it. We desperately need a president who can think clearly and make strong and accurate decisions.
At present, we are floundering under a president who not only has no connection with most of America, but who can't make up his mind on any topic. Even in small decisions, he reveals his inadequacy as a thinker. His decision to rail against Officer Crowley instead of finding out all the facts cost him an entire month. whenever he speaks off script we find out what an idiot he is.
Obama is a good-looking man, and he looks ok in a suit. But, he's a weak leader with a weak mind. Therefore, whatever he achieves will easily be undone when someone with an actual brain gets into the White House.
Meanwhile, there's a meanwhile. All we can do is wish him the best and be patient. 2012 will come. If America is still here, we will be able to turn this rig around and get someone with a record of performance.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
I rather enjoy writing, but don't necessarily enjoy the background work. For instance, contacting editors is a pain. You have to write to about a hundred of them to find one that wants to read your mss.
I have a novel about twins in Seattle who are involved in an art theft ring. There are murders and love affairs and suicides and anorexia and some jokes about art. A discussion of the graven image forms a theme.
I have a pile of poems that need to be put in envelopes.
I have finished two chapters on Marianne Moore, and have at least sent them out as articles.
This kind of thing takes all day. Stalking an editor, making a neat little note, popping it into the postal box, and then you wait, and wait. 6 months or two years later, a book comes back, or a journal with my poem in it.
And generally nothing happens.
It reminds me of the great utopian theorist Charles Fourier whose work the New World of Love was a founding document for the surrealists. He wrote and published his book, then rented an office, and waited for the world to come to him. After ten years, no one had visited his office, so he closed it.
Blogging on the other hand is pretty immediate. But of course it isn't the same as sitting in an office. Still, people come from all over the world, and from places no one has ever heard about, places like Michigan City, Indiana.
Aside from Stu Kurtz, who may be joking, no one has ever heard of Michigan City, Indiana, and no one has been there. It may or may not exist.
If it does exist, its existence has never been either necessary or sufficient for the founding of my cause. It neither maintains nor threatens the basics of my cause.
I should fix the drip in the downstairs shower. I should recaulk the moulding around the upstairs bathtub.
I did get the tennis ball out of the gutter last week. I thought about it for six months. Finally, in a micro-burst of maintenance fervor, I got out the ladder, climbed it, and stuck my hand into the gutter pipe. Something feathery, and leathery, like a bird, was stuck there. I gasped. That took about three minutes. Then I plucked it out. It was a blackened tennis ball. It was wonderful when all the water in the gutter whooshed down and out: fifty gallons or more. It took 13 minutes to drain.
I should get the flat tire on my bike fixed. I don't believe there is a single bike shop in this whole county. There is a guy down the street who knows bikes, but I would have to charm him for up to an hour, and regale him with stories, and questions, while he worked on the bike. That would take some strategizing of up to six months to think out.
I should join up with Wikipedia and edit some of their articles: especially the ones on Seattle, Andrei Codrescu, Finland, and Temporary Work.
I want to read:
Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations, esp.)
A Frolic of His Own, by Gaddis
Three books by Roger Scruton (he's boring at times, but then suddenly isn't, and illumines a whole area of thinking)
Several Finnish primers
Consilience, by Edward O. Wilson
Two or three books about Marianne Moore (lit crit often has only one good sentence in an entire book, but what a sentence!).
Several books on medieval economics are on my list. I also want to do more explorations of Protestantism and ecology.
The Story of the Plant Kingdom, by Ditmars.
Manhattan up until 1900, by Burroughs, and New York City in 1789, by --?
Those are a few off the top of my head.
Some things I'm looking forward to doing: getting my soccer playing son to kick better with his left foot. He has only one good foot at present. With two, he'd have twice the scoring opportunities. Perhaps four times more because at present if you keep him from using his right foot, he's pretty much helpless.
These are just a few of the pressing issues.
I should read Proust, and I should find out more about Michigan City, Indiana.
I assume they have a beautiful park, and people sunbathe in it, others throw frisbees, and police go through on chesnut mounts, checking for people who are up to no good.
Monday, May 03, 2010
Life of Crime: Documents in the San Francisco Poetry Wars, containing the Complete Life of Crime Newsletter: the Black Bart Poetry Society, edited by Steve Lavoie and Pat Nolan. Poltroon Press, 2010. $19.95.
A few months ago, LANGUAGE poet Ron Silliman wrote briefly about the book I'm about to review, and expressed reservations about the republication of the counter-insurgency of the anarchic journal Life of Crime. I decided to investigate, and ordered a copy. On p. 54, a letter in the book is from Silliman himself, which ends, "I can't say that I'd want to be party to what feels like a monument to self-pity."
What had happened is that in the sixties flower-power and anarchic poets were lauded, and had all the sex and power they could stand. By the mid-1970s, that had ended.
"The threat of LANGUAGE POETRY appeared overnight. They coopted Reading Series such as New Langton Street and Small Press Traffic, promoting a united front. It was a blatant piece of Junior High bullying and led to a strong reaction from those who refused to join cliques" (from the back cover).
I remember this time well, even though I was in Seattle, and the explosion was far more muted. There were never more than three or four Language poets in Seattle, but it was clear that something new was afoot.
What few Lang-Po poets that did exist in Seattle had an incredible energy and fervor. But the takeover in the Bay Area was much more fervent (there was much more to take over).
"They had a Stalinist view of the bourgeoisie and wanted to eradicate the personality from poetry. Yet they yearned for acceptance from the elders, quoting Zukofsky while tearing down their mentors like Ted Berrigan" (back cover).
What happened in poetry mirrors to some extent what happened to the left during the collapse of the seventies and eighties. It was decided in the 60s that peace & love were simply an alternative that had only to be announced and the result would be utopia. By the end of the sixties many had realized that peace was not going to come. The Beatles and the others who had led the sixties revolt gave way to sex and power through money and new bands were simply more honest about that and reveled in evil such as Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult. Led Zeppelin was anomic, and the Who began to smash guitars in a display of nihilistic power, a revival of potlatch.
Peace and love vanished from view, and money and power (as represented through sex) became the new markers of success. Some went inside and turned to the Far East, and mad gurus exploited them, for sex and money and power. Charles Manson formed the Family, based on sex and power, and they killed people who were better off, jealous of their money.
Black Panthers split off and began shooting the police and each other. Sex and money and power were at stake. Feminists became separatist and denounced heterosexual women. All heterosexual sex became rape. Sex and money and power were at stake.
Peace and love became a violent war of rhetoric and bombs of all against all: what was really at stake were sex, and money and power.
Life of Crime and other surrealist journals such as Exquisite Corpse (which began in 1981) began to celebrate crime itself as joy. This was the triumph of the ID over any kind of superego, and any form of Thou Shalt. Sex and power and money were at stake.
Language itself collapsed. People began to use "fuck" in every sentence, sometimes several times.
"Fuck, man, like, fuck that."
That was an ordinary sentence, and it was usually about sex and money and power.
Into this generally depraved atmosphere in which sex and money and power were the only contacts remaining with reality in a generation that was represented by Richard Brautigan (killed himself in 1984 when he had realized all the sex and money and power that could be got through writing, and still felt empty), there was a general spirit of communal collapse. In the place of peace and love had come venereal diseases (AIDS was one, but you could also get crabs, herpes, hepatitus C, and others), and a general feeling that nothing and no one -- especially in the poetry world -- was fulfilled.
Through the academy, deconstruction prevailed. Roger Scruton writes of deconstruction, "this fashionable philosophy ... tells us that, because we cannot use language to think outside language, we can never guarantee the meaning of our words. Hence there is no such thing as meaning, and the decision to attach a particular meaning to a text is always in some sense arbitrary, dictated by politics or power and not by the text itself" (An Intelligent Person's Guide to Philosophy, 38).
The collapse of meaning itself that was ushered in by LANGUAGE coincided with a Maoist push to generate new meaningful categories: race, and gender, in addition to class. What was at stake were sex, money, and power. Because contact with reality never completely collapsed, the Life of Crime crew meanwhile found solace in drink and drugs and satire against those who had attained sex, power, and recognition, (and always already) major university positions. The LANGUAGE crew found power and a rationale by dissolving all bourgeois language (of which poetry was one) while also adopting race, gender, and class, as the new constants.
Life of Crime sought a counterattack by recalling its readers to the early surrealists, particularly the more anomian or less cultic members, such as Philippe Soupault, Max Jacob, and to anarchists such as Peter Kropotkin, Herbert Read and Josiah Warren, and to outlaws such as Black Bart (pictured above). They didn't stand a chance, any more than Mayakovsky stood a chance against the more organized members of the Politburo, or the anarchists in Barcelona stood a chance against the more organized Stalinists, but they had enormous fun in creating their brouhaha. The Life of Crime is an end in itself.
It makes for fun reading in parts, as there is a lot of frothing surface.
What is the lesson? Anarchism gave way to Marxism, not once, but twice, in the twentieth century. The second time as farce.
And what did Marxism give way to? To Christianity. In Russia, it was Solzhenitsyn that announced the end of Stalinism. In Romania, it was the revival of Christian poetry on the night of December 24, 1989, that toppled Ceausescu. "God Exists," the crowds sang, as tanks rolled through the streets, as they tried to remind people that all that exists is power. Power comes from the end of a gun, as Mao put it. The crowds knew this wasn't so. It was Christmas Eve, and they had remembered God.
In America, too, it is Christian life that will persevere. The collapse of the sixties left was partially pushed by the new secularisms such as anarchism and Marxism, with their vague contacts with reality through literature and sex in the case of anarchism, and even vaguer contact with reality with race and gender on the part of the Marxists. Power was the only constant.
A deeper and more fulfilling engagement came of course through Christianity -- as the songs of faithful congregations held out in the suburbs and rural areas. Easter bonnets were still worn. People continued to garden. Just because many people dyed their hair green and had sex with strangers on a train didn't mean that western civilization had come to an end. It just meant that western civilization had come to an end for those people.
Outside of the avant-garde, a deeper contact with reality was sustained through marriage and the raising of children, taking kids to baseball and soccer games, ballet classes, backyard barbecues, going to church and singing hymns, taking the communion wafer with head bowed, kneeling at night and saying prayers, visiting relatives in the cemeteries, shopping, watching Oprah, Boy and Girl Scouts, petitioning for better sidewalks, summer car trips to the National Parks, planting bluebells in the windowbox.
What happened after The Life of Crime? The Poetry of Christian Law and Order: the ten commandments, the psalms, the beauty of self-discipline and acceptance of limitations, the return of the superego, and Christian civilization without its leftist disconnects.