Sunday, October 30, 2011
I went over to the Liberalism and Liberty Conference at Brown University this weekend. It was sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute Regional Faculty Seminar Series. I'd like to skip over the getting there and the getting back in the interests of space and time. Suffice it to say that I took 10 to Route 30 through Grand Gorge because I wanted to see the after effects of Hurricane Irene that had caused such tremendous flooding in Prattsville. I don't even know the name of the river there. Is it the Scoharie? I realized that without my camera there is no way to describe the devastation. Houses hung over their foundations, with wood siding with holes. One of my students had prescribed raising the town fifty feet. I don't think this is possible as the town is about a mile in length.
My old friend Brian Evenson is at Brown as the head of Creative Writing. I didn't know if I would be able to see him. I called his cell. We met at the Brown Bookstore and went to The Red Fez, a restaurant on Peck St. He had the Pouline or Poutine (I couldn't see in the dark which was lit only with a candle or two), which was gravy and cheese on french fries and a salad. I had the fish. I have no idea what kind of fish it was, or where it came from, or what its life was like. A blackfish, I think the waitress said. Brian told me he had nearly died two months before. While teaching in Lisbon, he had felt sick. Two weeks later he checked into a hospital and had an infection in his abdominal cavity that somehow spread to a lung and caused the lung to collapse. He lost a lot of weight (he looked much younger) but needs to get his strength back. At 45, he still has lots of life before him! He has a new novel coming out from Tor Books for which he got a substantial advance. I asked him how to think about the ending for my new novel: one is funny, and one is tragic, and he said I should try to think about the "internal consistency." I think instead about which one will be more powerful emotionally. Perhaps they're the same?
Brian is much smarter than I am in a kind of mathematical way. I was trying to calculate the tip on 65 and thought it should be nine, but he said ten. I compromised and left $9.50.
I stayed at a hotel called Wyndham Gardens down on the bay, and my room faced the bay. It was quiet, but they had a weak battery in the channel switcher so I had to go down to the desk when I was ready to go to sleep to get a new battery to turn the thing off. This meant that I gave them a nine on the quality sheet they asked me to fill out in the morning and for which they begged to get a ten. Nope, a nine, I said. Please? They said. I gave them a 9.5.
At the conference I parked a half block away on the street and went into the venerable brick building called the Sharpe Refectory. Free New York Times' were available in a huge stack for students. The WSJ was conspicuously absent.
The conference was in a small chancellor's room off of the main cafeteria. We introduced ourselves. There were twenty or so of us. I will keep to the highlights. Gordon Wood was there (powerful American Revolution scholar) and a man named John Tomasi, a libertarian economist from Brown. Tomasi spoke first. I think his talk was about whether Brown should have a stricter set of distribution requirements. At present, Brown seemingly has no accreditation screening mechanism so they don't have to worry about accreditation? Maybe private schools don't have to worry which is why they get such goofy things going on? Professors teach whatever they want, students take whatever they want, and only after they major in the third year are there bases that they must touch to get to home plate. Tomasi mentioned a course called African Drumming at Brown which he thought represented the kind of courses that are not rigorously academic but which are incredibly popular. I googled this morning and you can see video footage of the course. It looks like it might fulfill a Phys. Ed. credit, but he said there was also a lot of discussion of politics. Maybe a Phys. Ed. course with a left indoctrination credit or ethnic studies credit?
I went to Evergreen State -- a hilarious undergrad college in Olympia, Washington in which you could take courses in Basket Weaving and Flower Arrangement and get a degree in political science, or whatever you wanted to call it. I penciled in "Letters." Oddly, it worked. I took writing courses, and Shakespeare, and mostly literature. I never took a science or math course. There were no distribution requirements. Tomasi gave us examples of two Brown students -- a supermodel leftist, and a Gothic rightist, and how they (they were friends) had developed a course of their own in which they invited conflicting speakers on important topics like gay marriage. Whose loot, I wondered, paid for that? We couldn't afford to do this at our college, but I imagine Brown has a huge treasury. Many children of famous people go there, and it's about sixty thousand a year just for the tuition. That's peanuts for some people. Hermione of the Harry Potter films went there, and so does the daughter of Bruce Willis, and Amy Carter (daughter of the Carters) went there. Amy was apparently famous for parking just anywhere whether it was legal or not, knowing that her parents would protect her from any legal recriminations.
Before the seminar we read a very intellectual paper by Tomasi entitled Free Market Fairness, which was about how we could somehow bring together the progressive concern for the poor, with the notion of total freedom in the market. It was a brilliant paper, but he never mentioned it in his talk. I wanted to see how he would bring them together (we read only a preface to his book), but will get his forthcoming book instead (February 2012) to see how he manages this, since it seems germane to debates here at LS, where some of us are so concerned about the poor that they want to tax the rich at punishing rates and destroy the entire economy in the process.
Tomasi said there were several reasons that students went to college. To get a spouse, to get a job, to have some fun. He suggested a fourth: to become a more complete human being (he partially went to St. Johns -- a school I was admitted to but could not afford).
But let's reverse this. What are the schools' planning for the students? It was once (ca. 1830) to make "gentlemen." What is it now? I think for many colleges it consists of exactly one thing: destroy faith. If they can accomplish that, I think it's mission accomplished. The profs of course who go furthest are the most exemplary in this. They have dropped out of a faith and now proselytize twice as hard for secular humanism. To EXTERMINATE FAITH. That's the principle rationale behind almost college and university in the nation. Most kids don't enter with that in mind, but that's what administrators and faculty have in mind for them.
After lunch, Gordon Wood spoke on "The Crisis of Democracy and Liberty in 1780s America." Wood's notes (I was sitting next to him) were cursory. He had a few diagrams and some flow charts (I was about eight feet away so I could be wrong). Wood spoke volubly for an hour and a half and every sentence opened entire new worlds. This entire speech was relaxed and humorous and yet was composed of golden streams of eloquence. There were only twenty of us in the audience. Most of the audience seemed to be from a local Catholic college called Providence. A few were from elsewhere such as RISD, or Northwood College.
Wood's main idea was to trace the conflicting notions of authority on public policy in the Founders. He discussed John Adams (who wanted titles for the political elite such as they had in England, rather than to call each other Ben and Tom and George and so on he wanted to call them sir, or Your Majesty, apparently). Madison distrusted the hoi polloi and wanted to "elevate the decision making" away from the yokels down on the farms up to college-educated persons such as himself. Madison had been to Princeton. Out of 235 legislators in N. Carolina, Wood said, only about 5 had been to college. There would have been an even lower percentage in Alabama. Wood said Madison didn't want them making important decisions, and this was the main reason for the Federalism of his 1780s thinking which went into the Constitution. In the questions I asked him if this was why the Federal Courts have come to be the final arbiter for most of our decisions.
Proposition 8 against Gay Marriage went through on the vote in California but was immediately overturned by a judge for instance, I noted.
Wood said that yes, Madison wanted to "elevate the decision making" against the voters to a more progressive elite who were more "liberal-minded" and who had been to elite schools like Princeton.
Wood said that without this, we would have never had the decision of Brown Vs. Board of Education. I think he saw Brown vs. Board of Education as a decision that was beyond reproach since it integrated the schools in Topeka, and became a precedent that was used to integrate all the public schools around the nation. (It was hard to catch Wood's precise "dog in the race" if he had one, because he came off as disinterested and dispassionate, but I think on this issue he saw no downside.)
Wood received his Ph.D. from Harvard (or was it Tufts?) in 1964. Brown passed in 1957. So the decision had no effect on his life.
But in my life I was bussed into a black neighborhood in suburban DC. All kinds of strangers were thrown together, and we were supposed to get to like each other as a result and change the whole notion of the nation! In reality it meant that factions (little more than gangs) grew in the school. There were the kids of northern whites (whose parents were working in government) and I was one of these. There were only a few of us, mostly having never been in a knife fight or even a fist fight (I'd never been in any kind of fight). There were southern blacks. There were northern blacks. There were southern whites. These were subdivided again by class. These factions immediately began fighting and suffice it to say that unless you were with at least five other members of your group you could get stabbed going to the bathroom. Girls got raped or inappropriately fondled. There were reports of gang rapes on 7th grade girls. I was in eighth grade. (Note, I had been in an accelerated program at a previous school and was two grades above where I was supposed to be physically.) For two years I never went to the bathroom and "held it" sometimes for six or seven hours until I got home and could go safely in my own bathroom. Madison, Wood said, had the idea that to pit faction against faction would neutralize their political potential, so that only the elites could function, and thus they could maintain advantage.
In fact it not only neutralizes political potential but educational potential. I learned nothing for two years except how to not get stabbed. There was a school down the block and my parents could have walked me there, and we could have known everyone in the school, but were instead bussed an hour away to a school in which I knew no one. To go to a birthday party meant traveling an hour or so on the weekend, so I never met anyone in the school outside of the school. How this was good for anybody was beyond me. I suppose it served the elites as they went to private schools and could actually learn something, giving them an advantage. All I remember was stepping lightly through hallways and trying to see the bad guys before they saw me. Also, I remember all the weapons kids had: peashooters, knives, brass knuckles, which they liked to show to each other in class.
The progressives broke up Catholic neighborhoods and forced them to take in secular "thinking." It was used by the elites to destroy any kind of ethnic solidarity against the progressives, by forcing them out of their neighbors while forcing projects into the middle of their neighborhoods and then making fun of them as racists if they objected.
My dad got a different job eventually (h had been a vice-president at HEW) and we moved to a rural town in northeast PA where I also learned very little, but at least wasn't afraid (except for one knife-wielding psychotic who terrorized the whole school people were mostly civil). Senior year I had an excellent English class and decided I would study more of that in college.
When Wood spoke of how Madison wanted to neutralize the lower and middle classes by pitting them against each other I thought of To Kill a Mockingbird, in which the local hoi polloi and middle classes and religious people were written about in such a terrible way that all law and order and Christendom couldn't contain Bob Ewell, the southern "scumbag" (let's not forget he is fictional) who slept with his own daughter and had no discernible work ethic. Heck Tate the police officer files a false report to keep the son of the other elite (Boo Radley) from getting arrested for having liquidated Ewell (the rest of the novel is a rationale for liquidating the rural population and its stubborn belief systems?). Boo Radley had used vigilante justice, but violence is fine as long as it is used for the progressive elite. A completely disgraceful book it has become the justification for the progressive elite to exterminate all local thinking and Christianity (the daughter who narrates the book has to read novels and the Bible to an ostensibly Christian woman who is nothing short of an absolutely psychotic savage and who more or less deserves to be wiped out, too). TKAM reifies the notion that only the elevated secularists should be permitted to think or adjudicate policy.
To his credit, Wood seemed very fair-minded and brought up a character named William Findlay from Pittsburgh -- a self-made wealthy entrepreneur who came from Irish stock (presumably Catholic) and who argued that the Continental Congress met and kept out the likes of him because they had to be able to maintain themselves for several months without working in order to participate in the writing of the Constitution. Few had the wherewithal to achieve this except the landed nobility of the nation, and Findlay understood this.
So right away, Wood said, there was a vicious attack launched against the elites and Democratic despotism became the new fear. Wood mentioned the disappearance of Mubarak in Egypt and Hussein in Iraq. These dictators protected the Christian populations from the Democratic rabble (Islamic fundamentalists), who are now decimating the Christians with wild glee. Finally they can cut the throats of any and all opposition, especially Christians. The same thing will happen in Syria, Wood said. And it will happen everywhere in the Middle East. (Perhaps Tunisia will make a peaceful transition?)
Wood said that the Founders had never seen that the populace could go wrong. (Even Marx had apparently never seen this, let's add.) The thinkers of that time were used to the rich and the king being evil and crazy, but had never seen what would happen when the democratic rabble began to get out of hand.
Wood's talk was amazingly rich and wove a complex tapestry of competing notions. He talked about the coinage of Roosevelt and how he got Jefferson on the nickel as propaganda. Jefferson in fact was a small-government guy who had been coopted by Roosevelt. Hamilton wanted big government and ironically has become the leader for the Republicans, who want smaller government. Wood talked about the evolution of banks, about silver and gold (there isn't enough for this to work, he said), and the chaos of state-printing of money, and meanwhile all the religious groups were at each others' throats. I wish he'd said more about that. Liberal education was originally for gentlemen. No one knows what it's for now. Should there be an outcome? This brought us back to Tomasi's piquant discussion. but of course there is a rationale and of course there is an outcome: exterminate all faith. That's the outcome. People go in believing in God and come out believing they are animals, and that sex is the only thing to look forward to in life, and that anyone who believes in anything else should be laughed at.
I wanted to ask Wood if he thought there was one great lost idea in the Revolution that he wished had gotten more prominence. But I had already asked one question
(about the courts) and there were many other hands. Still, I wish I had gotten to ask. He was such an insightful man!
Wood said that 25,000 Americans had died in the American Revolution, which came to about 1% of the population.
Neither Wood nor Tomasi spoke about the Occupation of Wall St. It was Hamilton who set up Wall St. Hamilton was the only one of the Founders who knew anything about economics and banking. None of the others had any clue, Wood said. Madison wanted only hard currency but there was too little gold and silver to make this work.
After the talk and questions by Wood we broke up into a seminar and discussed questions as to how literature could be used to attach students to America. There was a gripe that many literature courses were used as a way to detach students from America, or to make them actively hate America. One political science professor named Luigi B (his name tag was blocked by a water bottle) said that he used only Shakespeare in his classes because American literature just isn't good enough to hold students' interests. Nothing in American literature is anywhere as good as Shakespeare. Shakespeare's works are complex cathedrals. We live in tin shacks by comparison, he seemed to suggest. And yet To Kill a Mockingbird is a gorgeous novel that has a complex tapestry of intersecting narratives and timelines and is richly emotional and intellectual although it is entirely from a vicious and one-sided viewpoint. But then so is Shakespeare, but perhaps it is one he felt more comfortable with. Shakespeare also has the flowering language. I'm not trying to suggest an equivalence. Everything about Shakespeare is the best.
Americans have never produced anything as good as Shakespeare, can we admit that. Or even Seneca. Much less Homer. The whole idea now is to get politically correct writing that pushes the progressive viewpoint which I think stomps out the notion that Gone With the Wind could be an important novel. But couldn't we teach against our own perceptions? Someone in the group had put Mein Kampf on their syllabus, and was nearly fired. But it had created immense discussions. We do need to stir the pot in classes. We need to open new windows for discussion. What are some other American classics that could hold up to Shakespeare? Oddly, two of our greatest books (To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone with the Wind) are one-time authors, both women.
Do we have any philosophers who can compete with Aristotle?
I think we do have powerful works, such as The Battle Hymn of the Republic, but it depends on religious faith, so my guess is that it can't be taught. The King James Version of the Bible is almost a hymn to the English language. Shakespeare packs a wallop at least in part because he's so Christian. Hamlet is such a Lutheran! But most of Shakespeare is Catholic.
After Wood and Tomasi left we spoke with one another without really knowing much about each other. I said that Foucault was all the rage and brought up p. 30 in The History of Sexuality, and its open appeal for child prostitution as a viable economic exchange. Foucault is common currency in the academic left now, and the most cited critic. I think he's a monstrous twit, but he did have intellectual power. It was just used for the leather set to legitimate their NAMBLA viewpoint. I have no idea why it's so popular in academia.
Some talked about the myth of the noble savage versus their propensity for genocide (the Iriquois destroyed the Mohicans and the Lenni Lenape of which the Mohicans were a part). Many in the group were Catholic so they discussed a film called Black Robe. One older man who said he had been to Brown fifty years before said that he had read a French writer named Charlesvois (sp?) who said that the French had an educational mission. Some of them praised the film maker who had made Black Robe (Arcan?) and talked about his other films, and said he was the only competent Canadian film maker.
It was a good discussion. Many of us it turned out were Christian. I was the only Lutheran but there were many Catholics. I love Catholics. Rhode Island has a lot of Catholics. Italian and Portuguese people seemed to predominate (the Mafia is still big in Providence it said on the Bio channel -- they are always doing bits on gangsters). RI used to have intellectual Baptists (Roger Williams was one?) but maybe they've been wiped out by the progressive elite? The Catholics have stuck together through all the terrors and campaigns to erase them.
It was raining in Providence. I knew it was snowing inland so I wanted to get going and said goodbye. I felt I had made new friends.
Driving home in a blizzard across Massachusetts I listened to an entire Mozart symphony (415B or something, it didn't have a very poetic name) while trying to stay in the tire tracks of a huge bus with the words Travel Kuz on the back. It was a 6.5 hour trip, as I was traveling 20 mph part of the time. Cars were spun out all over the place and down in ditches. Rescue teams were trying to find them. But I got home safe. I opened the door when I got home, kissed the beautiful wife, carried the boys to bed (they think there are ghosts in their bedroom so have to have an adult with them while they go to sleep), and wrote a poem about meeting Brian Evenson, and then went back up to talk with Riikka and tell her about the trip.
The house was immaculate.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Every day I'm accosted now with the remark, "Are you with the 99%?"
I'm actually not, I'm with the 1%.
I hate the way we spark scapegoating in times of trouble. The 1% remind me of the way the Jews were treated. It's never fair to go after a small minority and seize their things, while accusing them of being vermin, and tossing them into the "dustbin of history." Each person deserves to be seen as an individual with a personal history, with parents, a birthplace, a childhood, and loves and joys and sorrows. Once we start turning people into a number, the transport trains are ready to rumble.
I reject this response.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Kiplinger's has a fascinating article on fracking. They're mostly for it, and discuss how it's making many depressed people in NE PA fabulously wealthy. "A landowner with 100 acres of Marcellus Shale rights might expect (but can't count on...) 2 million dollars in royalties over 20 years -- on top of lease payments that can run six figures -- but the overall wealth is much greater. According to one study [Kiplinger's doesn't tell us who ran this study], a typical well generates about 4 million in economic benefits, including 62 jobs" (November 2011 p. 56).
Kiplinger's does have a tiny box that lists downsides, particularly in the Dimock Township PA Area where gasoline now pours out of kitchen faucets and is ignitable with a cigarette lighter (fun to YouTube that). 'The thing most people are worried about is misplaced fear,' says Tom Murphy, co-director of the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research at Penn State University. Murphy claims that better casings for the wells have managed to contain the ook a lot better, and he pooh-poohs further worry. On the other hand, he is employed by that industry, or is employed by a Center that looks like it was funded by gas companies so it looks like a conflict of interest in his statements. Kiplinger's tells you what stocks to buy if you want to cash in on the growing phenomenon. A company called Halliburton is especially important (40$ per share). Where have I heard that name before? Standard & Poor's recommends buying into Halliburton if you want to get rich. But you should do it quickly because "an energy Department subcommittee has called for steps to limit air pollution and protect water supplies" (59).
Well, that could very well cut into your profits.
The Delaware River Basin Commission is going to decide on November 21, 2011 if fracking can continue in the Delaware River watershed. There are six votes and President Obama has one of them. I'm not sure if Obama cares more about Halliburton remaining in the black, or whether he'd rather keep Pennsylvania green. Delaware River has been around for many millions of years and it'd be shame if it ran with oil and chemicals and all the fish in it died just so that one or two companies could stay in the black. To frack they have to use millions of gallons of water to flush out the oil, and then they leave this oily wash in huge lakes that puke up the horizon for generations to come and this ook seeps into the groundwater. Still, you could end up like the Beverly Hillbillies and just move away to Paris, leaving granny's sister and brother to deal with the ook and the puke while you dine on snails and frogs and organ meats such as pate. Lucky you.
Solar and wind are clean, but the latter is noisy. Coal and oil and fracking and natural gas are icky. Nuclear is a fright because of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and now the Japanese spill post-tsunami. France has banned fracking but relies on nuclear for about 80% of its energy. NY State has banned fracking, but might un-ban it.
Energy, as William Blake said, is eternal delight. Yes, true, but what about the by-products?
Monday, October 24, 2011
We finished our season on Saturday and remained undefeated after a 4-0 win over Andes. John Hultenius' goal in the third quarter ricocheted off the inside post and rocketed into the back of the net. It was a left footed shot. He pumped his fist and said, "Mr. Kirby, I hit it with my stupid foot!"
Our team was excellent, and the coaching (if I do say so) was excellent, although there was philosophical discussion that lasted throughout the season not only between the coaches but between the players and parents.
This discussion was about who played, and the rationale. One philosophy, advanced by certain parents and certain officials in the league who shall remain unnamed, uttered the belief that all players should play the same amount of time. And all the kids should constantly be rotated into different positions. How could excellence be acknowledged if this was the case? I played our best goalie most of the time because she was the best goalie in the league and I knew I could count on her. Our backup goalie was also excellent, but didn't quite have the same field sense. We also tried to work a new goalie in because our two top goalies will go to to 7th grade next year and no longer be eligible for this league.
I had 19 players and only 11 spots on the team. This meant that even if I tried it would be difficult to get kids to play the same amount of time, and thinking about equality isn't my bag. I think better about quality.
The kids went from 4th through 6th grade. Some of the kids in 6th grade had tremendously developed skills. One could single-handedly take the ball down the entire length of the field. He could dribble through opponents' legs and leave them on the ground wondering what happened. Then he could flick the ball effortlessly into the net with the outside of his foot. Then he could do it again, and again. It was a pleasure to watch, and I wanted him to be a model for all the kids. He could also make spot-on passes. His name was Jasper Millhone, and he was a soccer genius.
Other kids were very tentative and shy and unsure of what to do. I tried to make them fierce and definite, and give them a clear sense. Partially, that comes from experience.
Many think that kids should not think about winning but only play "for fun." This philosophy makes sense to the degree that kids might otherwise overdo it and think that unless they win the game was meaningless. But the game is meaningless unless it has a meaning. The meaning has to be based on winning, and on excellence, which can only be measured by the final score.
All the practices and all the play has to be based on winning. Now of course it is possible to lose. If you lose, you deal with it, and try to get better, and you acknowledge that your opponent was superior in this instance. Losing isn't something to be sought out as an end in itself, any more than death is, even if everyone has to die. Everyone has to deal with death, eventually, but it doesn't mean you should just kill yourself.
I was told that, "Losing teaches humility."
Well, not if you do it on purpose, or didn't care. You have to have tried your best or the effort will not mean anything to anyone, and it doesn't teach humility it teaches passivity and numbness toward consequences.
As a kid I don't remember passivity in games as a possibility. This meant that some sports people went wild, and thought you had to destroy your opponent. I never liked football because of that philosophy. Soccer is the most played sport now. It fights obesity. It fights the dull thinking that nothing matters. It allows us to be aggressive but within certain rules. It teaches teamwork.
But the real point is to score a goal.
If you lose sight of this, you have lost sight of the meaning of life, or at least of this game.
A similarly stupid thing would be to have a company in which the point wasn't to make a profit. Or a country in which the point wasn't to stay on budget. Or to fight a war without any real notion of what it would mean to win. Or to help a bunch of ragtag idiots win a war who then declare you persona non grata, and start to launch terror attacks at your expense.
It would be like having sex with someone without reference to children, or at least to ultimate outcomes like pulling two people closer together. "Just have fun." This kind of amoral directive makes no sense at all outside of an amusement park. But life is not an amusement park. Turning sex into an amusement park in which poor consequences can be dealt with at the abortion clinic undermines any real seriousness in life.
More and more I think America is losing its underpinnings, its definition. People get so fat now that they have lost all their definition. It's fun to eat a hundred different kinds of food, but the point of eating is not to just enjoy the food. It's to nourish oneself. (I'm not totally against fun foods like jello or Twinkies but one shouldn't take them seriously, or think of them as an alternative to the main course, which ought to be based on protein, and the portions should be relevant to remaining healthy.)
Games and activities are getting redefined so that they no longer make any sense. Marriage is no longer about creating a family and nurturing it. It's not about fun. One of the reasons I love the Christians (serious Christians, by which I don't mean those who no longer respect the Ten Commandments, or think that the entire OT can be jettisoned in favor of "love") is that they still have God's definitions (God gave us the Ten Commandments). Art's tendency is to shock other people with its moral vulgarity, as if that should be an end in itself. A lot of this shock is based on deliberately defying the Ten Commandments. "Caught in a Bad Romance," by Lady Gag Gag, is about someone who has lost her sense of what she is doing in a relationship. It's revolting in every way. Lady Gag Gag is revolting. What she's in, even if it can be called a relationship, has no relationship to what anyone with a brain could call a relationship. How did idiots like this rise to prominence? La la blah blah blah, blah blah blah, la la, blah blah blah.
I blame it on our war in the 60s with the Vietnamese, and how Buddhism crossed and made us all into vapid idiots incapable of determining right from wrong, losing from winning, love from hate, war from peace. Marriage began to fray as adultery became a new contact sport in the 70s. And divorce became more and more popular and easy to achieve. Children of just whoever came to be the norm. It left the kids to fend for themselves. Love was no longer something defined by God as a fulfillment of His commandments, but was something like fun together, whatever on earth that means. Fun is a bizarre word, whose rise to prominence has accompanied the downfall of America. Satan is constantly having fun, like certain girls that were the subject of a popular song. What was fun about Christ or the disciples? They would not have recognized the term.
One of the things I liked about Herman Cain is that he has at least attempted to offer a few clear definitions, but unfortunately even he has a sense of humor which occasionally overwhelms him and gets out of his own control. He said he wanted crocodiles along the Mexican border, and a huge electric fence that said This Will Kill You. Both of these seemed like good ideas to me (they provided a clear definition) but now he's fading on them. He said he was against abortion, but now he says it's a personal decision. He said he was for the 9-9-9 plan, but then he amended it to 9-0-9.
Why not make it 9-1-1?
This country needs help. We need to work on clarifying our ideas and our sense of outcomes. I have friends who claim America is falling apart and who cares. Or America is so far in debt what's a few trillion more?
Our choice for president will probably end up being either Obama (a complete nothing who is probably a torpedo meant to scuttle the country's economy) or else Romney (who is a professional dodger, but who will not amount to the same thing because he has at least run a business, and has some sense of definition due to his religious faith).
The far left tries to tell us it's Tweedle Dum or Tweedle Dee. Take your choice. It isn't quite that.
I had hopes for Cain because he understood a few things clearly. He tried to speak clearly. He erred on the side of clarity. He was simple, but not stupid. He tried hard to bring us toward clarity. The big Zero will probably scuttle the poor fellow, but what a wonderful thing it was to have had a chance to turn America around with Cain. For once, we all sat up. There had been a clear proposal. The 9-9-9 plan. The whole country discussed it. Then it was rejected, even by its chief proponent.
At least in my corner of the world sanity prevailed. I had a clear plan and I stuck with it (although I was nearly ready to give up). I taught a few kids how to win at soccer, and we won every game as a result. We worked hard, had fun, and the older kids got to triumph but were happy for the younger kids' successes. This is how America is supposed to be, and is how America used to be in the 1950s. There were some problems in the 1950s, but there were also some good things. One is that we still had a sense of how to live and how to behave, and that was based on the Bible. Now it's all lost in the immoral haze of French philosophy, Zen Buddhism, and the ridiculous notion that having fun is the point of life, (which is the same as to say that it hasn't got one).
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Philosopher Slavoj Zizek addressed the revolutionaries at OWS who are illegally camped at Zuccotti Park. He told them that "You can have sex with animals or whatever," so why shouldn't they be able to abolish capitalism?
Zizek is a Slovenian philosopher who came to prominence with the postmodern movement as an advocate of the theories of Jacques Lacan. Zizek gave a talk in Seattle where he came to the defense of the teacher Mary Kay Letourneau who was having an "affair" with a twelve-year-old boy. Desire is everything! This is the Lacanian notion. Foucault too felt that there should be no laws against sexual desire or its acting out. Foucault thought that the taboos regarding sex with children should be thrown out.
Zizek now implicitly argues that even taboos against sex with animals should be dispensed with.
(Will Peta say something about the lack of consent involved, or will they endorse this utopian perversion?)
The crowd at Zuccotti Square is a long way from the Garden of Eden. There is no mention of Adam or Eve having sex with monkeys. They ate an apple. This was enough to consign them to 900 years of hard labor. (Adam lived 930 years, and he wasn't very old when he ate the apple with Eve.)
Disease vectors from animal-human sexuality are possible. Lyme ticks aren't exactly having sex when they burrow in human flesh, but disease and nature are synonymous. It was once speculated that someone had sex with a monkey in the Congo and that this was the beginning of the AIDS virus. I don't know where we're at with that hypothesis.
But the very fact that Zizek seemingly condones animal brothels as a natural development of the sexual revolution (which he helped to spearhead) is interesting.
Does Obama know what he endorsed when he endorsed the OWS? I can't imagine the Tea Party chanting along to the idea that they could have sex with animals. Can you imagine Michelle Bachman saying such a thing? Does Obama condone animal-human sexuality as a new and striking way for us to "love" nature? Pelosi condones? If so, what will PETA say, much less the Sierra Club? I can understand respect (out of fear or a distant admiration) for nature, but sex? The Biblical injunction against sexuality outside of a male-female marriage (as is instanced in Leviticus) -- does it need to be revisited?
Suffice it to say that devolution lives, and that we are a long way from the Garden of Eden. What load of crap will we be asked to swallow next?
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Wall Street is basically organized gambling, but all of life is a gamble. If you write a poem, it's a gamble that it will come up a seven or an eleven, but odds are it's snake eyes. If you start a business most of them fail. The markets have to pay off if people are going to pay to play. Some guy in this town bought IBM stock in 1930 for three thousand dollars and now owns half of the town. Good for him. He supports the hospital, the local journal called Kaatskill Life, and gives money to my college. People think it's wrong for him to have so much money. Why?
The other idea is that the government owns all the money and redistributes it to each according to their need, from each according to their ability. There is no risk, and no gain. So, people do nothing. Result: inertia.
If a raccoon wants to live it has to go down to the river and bet it can catch a fish. If the gamble doesn't pay off, it dies. This is the basis of life.
When I watch the Wall St. occupiers I want to tell them that they are their own worst enemy. These are the people who voted for Obama, and he wrecked the economy by trying to take all risk out of it. He had no idea what he was doing, but people thought it would be nice if the lion would lie down with the lamb and everything was hunky dory. The lion chasing the lamb is the basis of the economy.
That's how this kingdom is. Obama forced Obamacare down the throats of the country, thinking he would make this world into heaven, and he made it into hell, and now no one wants to start new businesses or hire people because the risk is too high and the chance of gain is too small. Obama wrecked the economy, and these people are out complaining in what strikes me as a circular and incoherent manner. I wish they'd wake up and see that their president wrecked their chance to work.
There's only one way out of the problem: Herman Cain. I don't really understand his 9-9-9 plan, nor do I understand Bachman's statement that if you turn the numbers upside down you get 666. All I know is I like Herman Cain. Cain is able. He got companies going based on simple goodtime rhythms of providing a service for people at a price they like. I also like how he's managed to get his 9-9-9 plan out by repeating it over and over, like advertising. I still don't know what it means, but I'm beginning to get interested. Laffer (a Reagan economist) approved of it the other day. Basically the idea is to take the risk of payouts off of businesses so that businesses will get back into the game. He will get rid of Obamacare, and get the markets working again by lowering the risk not of workers, but of employers.
It's like we're playing a game of Monopoly and nobody is buying hotels or motels because it costs more to buy one than any possible rent you'd get out of them.
I understood the Tea Party folks. I think they got that Obamacare would drive the country out of business. I think they also didn't like Obama's bailouts because they wrecked the risk of doing business. If you put money into the wrong thing, you deserve to go bankrupt. If the government bails out bad businesses and bad housing decisions, then the government itself will go bankrupt.
The Wall Street occupiers want to make money without risk. They just want to seize the money of the rich. None of them seem to actually want to work, or realize what it means. When you take a job you are taking a risk that the company you work for will provide a decent benefit to the community which will then pay you for what the company does. This circulation of interests pays the bills. Americans are soft and don't want to work. Or don't know what it means. We've lost this sense.
It isn't clear to me if people in the Wall Street Occupation understand that you work for money, just as a raccoon takes a risk to get a fish. It seems they just feel entitled to money.
I honestly don't understand the economy in its overall sense. I have read Marx and I've read Hayek. Marx was nuts. Hayek was at least sane. I think Marx's basic insanity is that he thought that good people deserved money for being on the right side of history, as if history has an obvious progressive pattern in it (it doesn't). Hayek thought that people deserved money if they could provide a good product that others would buy at a price that seemed reasonable. At every moment, the economy and what people want might change course -- like a river. Rivers are unpredictable. They flip back and forth on maps and if they move, all the stuff downsteam dies, or has to figure out how to get back in business.
Hayek seemed reasonable, and to have a flexible notion that would work. The Tea Party people wanted to fight for that not because they could get something out of it, but because it made sense in the overall. The Wall Street occupation instead is just based on the belief that they should be given money because they're entitled to it, because they want it, because they feel entitled to it, because they want it, because they're entitled to it, because they voted for Obama. I don't know if Obama is a Bolshevik or a Maoist or some kind of idealist, or just what he is. He's a drip. He's a dried up drip. He's dried up the rivers of money that used to run through the country. If you're downstream from that guy, you have to run upstream and get him out. He's an enormous sponge. A kind of SPONGEMAN who has turned the country into a desert. It's mysterious that one man could do this. I think he did it partially by scorning the laws, and the Law. God has turned his back on America because of Obama. But the economy has also disappeared. Somehow it's all connnected.
I think the guy who can get it going again is Cain. He's able. All this is a bit over my head, to be honest, but the main thing is we have to get Obama out of the White House. He has no leadership and no business sense, and doesn't believe in God, or if he does, it's no God I recognize.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
A local publication called Kaatskill Life published an article this summer by Robert Titus. Titus is a geologist at Hartwick college. The article purported to explain a dip in the center of Main St. Main St. Delhi has two traffic lights, and the first of the two is right in front of the courthouse. Titus said there had to have been a stream running through, and argues that a stream called Falls Creek built up an alluvial fan over the millenia until it was easier for the water to go down Falls Mills into a glacial lake that existed in the Ice Age (which ended about 13,000 years ago).
I had never noticed the dip in Main St.
I'm circulating the article amidst all my Delhi friends. So far, no one cares.
I'm immensely interested in things green. The tiny creeks that flow through Delhi drift into the Delaware River, which is the 34th largest river in America, and the only major American river to never be dammed. Part of this is that it flows through four states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, so they have to agree, and have never been able to arrange an agreement. The river flows on top of the Marcellus Shale Deposits which in turn trap billions of tons of gasoline which companies wish to frack -- a procedure that frees the gas for industrial usage, but seems to cause the gasoline to leak into the water table. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network is monitoring this, as is the Delaware River Basin Commission. Some laws may be broken such as the Safe Water Drinking Act, but this law specifically exempted fracking in 2005 (Sierra Club magazine, sept/oct. 2011).
My first political intervention was in my senior year in High School when I demonstrated two hours downstream against the Tocks Island dam which was then being built across the Delaware. The water was to be used by NYC and would turn the free tree haven of the Poconos into a tourist trap for vacationing New Yorkers, and create an enormous water supply for NYC.
The dam wasn't built. An enormous coalition of vagrants, politicians, and some rare species helped to stop it (I distinctly remember a horde of Monarch butterflies chasing a major from the Army Corps of Engineers down the beach).
In the archipelago of 6000 colleges and universities across the land there is a growing environmental awareness. I'm in favor of this. We had a farmer's market today at our college. We are thinking about putting in wind towers. They kill birds, but since birds are just aerial dinosaurs I don't care much about them. Dinosaurs are supposed to be extinct.
Wind towers are 400 ft. high and contain noise pollution with their cranky parts, but what are we going to do? Solar doesn't do much at present. Gas is a problem. Coal is a problem. Burning wood is a problem. Nuclear creates immense disturbances and is difficult to store once its spent.
The University of Washington (my alma mater) is number one in ecological up-to-dateness according to the Sierra Club magazine (sept/oct 2011, p. 30) and Evergreen State (my undergrad institution) is #9 (p. 32). This is excellent. The poetry college I attended (Naropa Institute) is also listed in the journal in the dotty category. Their spokesman Nathaniel Janowitz, who chairs the Green Team at Naropa, said they were unable to rid the campus of bottled water. "The effort was met with resistance by other students who felt that calling bottled water 'bad' went against the Buddhist principle of nondualism, which rejects right-wrong distinctions" (37).
I kid you not.
In listening to the debates among the Republicans last night I wondered about their greenness. First of all, Cain is black. He's so black that people who use identity politics should rate him blacker than Obama and, if they truly use identity politics as their sole criterion for voting, should vote for him. That alone should put Cain over the top. But perhaps this is itself over the top. (Obama not really black -- or not very black -- he's culturally white, and his skin is only half-black, and his father -- who met with him only once -- was from Kenya -- and was part of the political elite in that country -- so I think Cain trumps him in terms of blackness.)
Cain could be a WMD against identity politics were he to become the nominee for the Republicans. Would it be worth it? It isn't clear to me how green he is, although he's pretty black. Both his parents were black, and it looks as if he is black. He has what appears to be a genuine southern accent. Could he get the country into the black, while remaining somewhat green? Some say he's too green, at least in political matters, to matter.
While I fiddle around with such differentation, America burns too much oil.
Africa, meanwhile, from which all humanity derived (we're all Africans), is trying desperately to build an energy grid. At present, fledgling efforts in Rwanda and other countries light up a few capital cities but in the rural areas it's still the bicycle, and walking with a basket case on your head.
Meanwhile, Romney, who has spoken in favor of his belief in climate change, has also said he is against pollution, which has made some conservatives turn red. Yet others believe he is too Mormon, and some have said this isn't Christian. And yet others say it isn't Christian to not accept the Mormons just because they have batty beliefs about Jesus living amongst the Indians after his final days in Gethsemane. Perhaps he was scalped. Otherwise, what happened to him and why isn't he still palling around with Commanches?
Geological time is at some variance with the model of the earth built in the Bible, particularly in Genesis. Following stream beds, as you can on the map of Delhi above, we can see the outline of the streams that have flooded into Delhi for something on the order of 100,000 years. As I walk through town, I try to remember that there were once Indians living here, and before them the Mastodons, and before them there were dinosaurs. Ice ages went and came, speaking of death and fame.
I spend my days thinking of the lineup of Little Soccer Teams (we are now 4-0) and my assistant coach said I should remember geological time and how brief is our passage, in order to keep it all in perspective. And yet, there is nothing like a goal that is rocketed in from the 18 by a kid with a blitzkrieg of a right leg as he takes a cross out of the air and belts it into the upper corner.
Geological time is nothing compared to that, especially when it is my own son. I will soon be a layer of geology, as will we all, but meanwhile there is a meanwhile. Black and white? That's the color of the soccer ball, flitting through the air like the mysterious atom.
Sunday, October 09, 2011
History is not something neatly evolving as the Lutheran Hegel believed in which God's rationale for History is "coming to know himself in time," so that only as The Owl of Minerva flew in the evening would we understand human history.
Against historicism, I prefer the open-ended notion of Karl Popper that we don't understand time and far less can we find in its past events a pattern that allows us to foretell the future. Marx thought that whoever owned "the means of production" would be the master of time. Marx saw history as the slow coming to power of the proletariat. Once they gained mastery of "the means of production" history would come to an end.
I don't know anyone who owns a factory or wants to produce one any longer. It's far too difficult to manage workers now because of all their rights and privileges and pensions. It's overwhelming. Most people would prefer to work for the state. You get all the privileges but aren't harassed by having to own anything. Everyone wants to sell the family farm and go to work for Uncle Sam.
In Lacan, you get the notion that speech is production, and so if we are to produce poetic speech, we are well, well. Well, well. I don't think this is enough because speech without a listener, or speech without a meaning, seems empty to me. I don't think of a shrink as being as important as God. I don't see a shrink as doing anything for anyone. Lacan, like Barthes and Foucault, was a solipsist who didn't believe in meaning.
Karl Popper was certainly against communism in which the state owns everything including the means of production. But he was for Scandinavian social democracies, and found that they incorporated the underdog workers well into the fabric of social well-being, spread education evenly, and wealth was spread evenly, too. But no one really listens to the Scandinavian social democracies. They speak in weird languages that no one outside their borders studies, or knows. Or next to no one.
Did Popper ever devote a single entire essay to the Scandinavian social democracies? Not that I know. He nods in their direction. Did he ever visit Finland or Sweden? Popper was raised as a Lutheran in Vienna but dropped out, and although his basic sense of fairness and freedom of inquiry may come out of the Lutheran ethos, he never credits Lutheranism for this, or notes that at the bottom of Scandinavian societies the central thread is Luther. While Marxism posits a rotten bourgeoisie that steals money from the poor, and an angelic proletariat that once it owns the machinery of production will behave in a soap opera fashion as the enlightened class (arugula eaters), Popper instead sees the struggle between classes as one facet of modernity but not the crucial aspect that Marx proposed to change through genocide. Genocide after genocide later we can see that all this did was terrify anyone from producing anything in communist societies. Result? Famine.
Popper argues instead that truly rapacious capitalism never existed (he sees Marxism as a soap opera or a hysterical farce that seizes on puppet-show reenactments of pure greed which never have in fact ever taken place in reality). "... today it is taught that power and money rule the world and always will. This is absolute nonsense. The exact opposite is true. You have only to look at the history of the United States, in which 800,000 people died for the freedom of Black people" (The Lesson of This Century, 39).
Popper grants that before Marx nothing like economic history existed, but he argues that history is a tissue of fictions that doesn't illuminate either the past the present or the future but forces patterns on these and discards anything that doesn't fit its Procrustean design. There are anomalies and paradoxes and perplexities that can't be cut into a clear story without making thought into a mockery. The very notion of an "avant-garde" is also a lie. It emerges after Marx as an attempt to be the driving force in the whirlwind of history. The avant-garde want to be "the invisible pilot at the eye of the storm," as Bakunin put it. The storm is neatly stacked into groups and movements, all of which mean nothing, since only individuals exist.
We posit another situation for the artist entirely. One in which the artist has no true idea of what's happening or where we are going. One in which a dialogue with God is perhaps as insane as that of Job's questions with regard to what was going on, forming into a lyrical and individual set of questions that remain close to God, and are always directed to him in a kind of prayer. Art is a personal dialogue with God.
Thursday, October 06, 2011
In the Tuesday NY Times is an editorial by David Brooks on page A20, column 1.
Brooks argues that Romney isn't exactly exciting, which is what many Republicans want. "They don't want Organization Man. They want Braveheart."
The last election was decided because people swooned over Obama. They chose him as if it was a disco event and he was suddenly on the floor and leading a chain dance.
Chris Matthews emoted, "I feel a thrill up my leg."
Brooks himself said something about the nice crease in Obama's trousers.
They fell for him as if he was a Latin dance master. This is how the late Romans chose emperors. Heliogabalus (according to Suetonius) could dance, and the Roman soldiers went wild.
But Pied Pipers are not what the country needs.
Brooks writes, "Romney can be dull. Political activists like exciting candidates. But most people, who have lower expectations from politics and politicians, just want them to provide basic order. They want government to be orderly so they can be daring in other spheres of their lives."
Brooks' argument is pretty sound. He says Romney is not charismatic and this may be the best reason to elect him.
Brooks is right. Romney is a red-state politician from a blue-state. So he knows how to talk to the arugala eaters without making them throw up. He knows "how the other party thinks," which is not something that W. or O. really knew. They therefore infuriated people and made them throw their napkins.
O. had special challenges in that he had no real background for the job, and kept picking inexperienced people, or outright inflammatory Marxist idiots like Van Jones.
Finally, Brooks writes, "The strongest case for Romney is that he's nobody's idea of a savior."
Right. We shouldn't expect the president to be the Second Coming. If he or she is, he's probably just a satanic mess, as we saw with O. O. is a neophyte and a demagogue. He's more of a criminal than a president. He's suave and he dresses well. Beyond that, he flouts the law and he has no regard for anyone's opinion beyond that of his own cult.
Romney will build a consensus. He will get things done. With America starting to function again the world economy will recover.
The question is whether the Tea Party and others will drop their flaming Warrior Woman in Bachman or the angry Southern Sheriff in Perry, or now the used car salesman in Cain. We need someone who knows what they are doing, and will remain within the realm of the possible that is politics. For too long we've had to deal with Mission Impossible who wanted to "fundamentally change" America.
Which means O. didn't mind wrecking what was already the light of the world. His wife said she had always been embarrassed by America until her husbo got the nod. It's no wonder they wanted to fundamentally change America. They wanted to make it into a more ideal country using Marxist principles of taking over the business community and running it on the idea that the poor should have increased entitlements, and businesses should be punished for their profit-making. The economy was dimmed by O but not extinguished. There is still hope that we can fix the economy. We can go back to the Constitution, we can affirm the principles of the Bill of Rights, and the idea that the business of America is business and that business should be run by the business community. Obama can go back to being a community activist, and reading Saul Alinsky, and perhaps he can finally once again attend Trinity Church in Chicago, where he felt at home for decades. Or maybe he can skip even that pretense and sign up with the Socialist Workers' Party and help them write lyrical agit-prop. Maybe he can even skip that and become, like Jimmy Carter, an unreadable poet published in exquisite editions by big city publishers. He can have a half-talented family member do illustrations.