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A Frayed Knot

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Published: Mon, 19 Feb 2018 14:31:50 +0000

Last Build Date: Mon, 19 Feb 2018 14:31:50 +0000

Copyright: Copyright 2005 - Steal what you want

Planning for Global Warming and Pascal's Wager

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 12:31:21 +0000

I’m out of it, and this is going to be digressive even by my standards (but with the hidden theme and other literary junk I can’t help). I spent 24 hr without electricity, which is nothing, only to then have the Internet go out, which is nothing, only to. . . well. See. . .I live in a small house that I refer to as “The Crack Shack.” It’s 24’ x 27’, pacing the outer walls. Next door is a larger house with five gentlemen from Mexico (really; this is not Yanqui stupidity on my part). Our houses were built around 1941, and they were wired for electricity through the backyard to a large house belonging (then) to a wealthy (then) woman who had a primary connection. The storm knocked three trees down onto the two electric lines from that (long dead) lady’s house to our houses. Both lines were/are on the wet ground, but both kept giving us electricity. (Wealthy lady became old lady. “Crabbed” and “unpleasant” became “crazy mean” (chasing her husband through the yard, in her wheelchair, with a stick). She died. Her granddaughter now lives in the house with her husband. These are the Two Least Aware Persons in the World. They fight a lot. They get off work at 3:20 AM and go out onto their ‘porch’ (our backyard) and have their friends over for loud, drunken conversations until 6:45 AM. I know these times well. So do the guys next door because it just doesn’t occur to them that other people might be asleep. 50/50 whether they realize other people exist.) At 7:45 AM, the least aware people in the world had subcontractors over to clean up their yard. The subs disturbed the fallen trees. The wire going to the Crack Shack sparked. I smelled ozone, then burning PVC, and then. . . . I don’t want to talk about the storm, though. After all, I have a workhouse to go to, and my dog has short hair, and the water comes into the house when called only. No. I want to talk about listening to NPR. I hate doing that. My Roadie (TM) XM radio, which I have had for over a decade, fell down one time too many and began refusing to come on or turn off. Timing being what it is this would happen just when XM is about to charge me for my annual fee, too. Anyway, before the power went out, I was stuck with “All Things Considered” on terrestrial radio this morning, as I refuse to watch television in the morning. (It’s not an option now that the power is out, and I have cable that doesn’t offer MSNBC — just loads of Foxen Fiends and local broadcast of “This Morning Today, AM Edition Coastal Georgia.” There is only so much of watching the local con-man car seller affecting a southern accent he does not possess or another storm story like the last story that is possible on an empty stomach, or a full one.) NPR has garnered complaints for its “bothsiderism” and its fascination with “Trump voters are still loyal” stories, and for good reason. In general, NPR seems to be trying to feed the alligator, again, to try to keep it from biting. I suppose, if I were a contented or wealthy or stupid person, hearing that “both sides” do it would be consoling, as it would give me a way to feel better about being on the sidelines, apathetic, or uneducated, and it would give me peace with my vote for the Republican congressman or governor. If I were a stupid person, it might make me confused into bafflement and inactivity. In either case, the true pay-off for “both sides do it” and “Trump voters are still loyal” is not as much “Trump feels good about NPR” as it is “wealthy and stupid people don’t get involved in opposing conservative actions.” What got me, though, was this morning, when they wondered whether the massive flooding in Houston might ‘start a conversation’ among ‘ruling politicians’ there over “climate change.” First, “climate change” is an especially odious term in this context, because we’re talking about warming, not “maybe a little cooler, little warming. . . who knows. . . just. . . you know. . . changes, like weather.” Second, that “ruling politician[...]

How did we become Kruger's hat? (Why were economic progressives subject to working class wrath?)

Mon, 07 Aug 2017 11:01:02 +0000

I recently read G. K. Chesterton for the first time, but not the Chesterton that I’m supposed to read, the Chesterton that inspired generations (you know: the religious stalwart, the liberal-conservative, or the hideous anti-Semite). Instead, I’ve been reading a collection of essays from around 1900 before he became a monument called Tremendous Trifles. In it, he has an essay called “In the Place de la Bastille.” You can read it for yourself here, public domain, from the good people at Project Gutenberg. It’s a reminder of the art of the essay — well shaped, clever thesis, planned digression, gorgeous style — all the things a reader could want. (His “The Twelve Men” is maybe the best little gem of an essay I have seen in a long time, too.) His occasion is the Bastille itself as well as the art and necessity of destroying buildings: As a matter of mere material fact, the Bastille when it was taken was not a horrible prison; it was hardly a prison at all. But it was a symbol, and the people always go by a sure instinct for symbols; for the Chinaman, for instance, at the last General Election, or for President Kruger’s hat in the election before; their poetic sense is perfect. The Chinaman with his pigtail is not an idle flippancy. He does typify with a compact precision exactly the thing the people resent in African policy, the alien and grotesque nature of the power of wealth, the fact that money has no roots, that it is not a natural and familiar power, but a sort of airy and evil magic calling monsters from the ends of the earth. The people hate the mine owner who can bring a Chinaman flying across the sea, exactly as the people hated the wizard who could fetch a flying dragon through the air. It was the same with Mr. Kruger’s hat. Mr. Kruger is Paul Kruger, whom we know from the Krugerrand. As for his hat, it was quite a hat. After the second Boer War, he and his hat were a symbol for voters of all that was loathsome and tiresome and commercial, the “steady on” rule by bankers and international commerce that infuriated the voters. Chesterton was suggesting that popular resentment at absurd symbols, and popular hatred vented at minority groups, was an accurate reaction, but a completely inaccurate response. It is like a body suffering from cholera: the cause is the bacterial disease, but the body’s reaction is purgation — a violent, deadly effort to eject everything from the digestive tract. If the problem were bad chicken or bread, the body’s reaction would be an efficacious response as well, but it is mortal in the case of dysentery. Chesterton says, of the Bastille, The people saw the building like a giant looking at them with a score of eyes, and they struck at it as at a carved fact. For of all the shapes in which that immense illusion called materialism can terrify the soul, perhaps the most oppressive are big buildings. Man feels like a fly, an accident, in the thing he has himself made. It requires a violent effort of the spirit to remember that man made this confounding thing and man could unmake it. Therefore the mere act of the ragged people in the street taking and destroying a huge public building has a spiritual, a ritual meaning far beyond its immediate political results. It is a religious service. It’s inarguable, I think, that we live in a similar time, or perhaps a worse one, to Chesterton’s angry voters, where a few can call “monsters from the ends of the earth” (and they can summon dragons, too) to replace workers. As the ultimate indignity, today’s materialism and wealth can not only snap its fingers and make an army of foreign workers appear, but it can make the workplace itself disappear and fly across the globe to the “pigtailed Chinaman” (in Chesterton’s language). No longer can it merely hire off-duty police to break strikes. It can have the full efforts of the FBI flying private, unmarked aircraft over labor protests, operating Stingrays and cell-tower spoofs. The textile mill, the factory, the distributio[...]

What Has Trump Shamed? Not THAT, Surely

Sat, 04 Feb 2017 20:00:38 +0000

A question has burned ever since the allegations poured forth that Putin’s pressure on Trump is a video of Donald Trump watching Russian prostitutes urinate on a bed that Barack and Michelle Obama slept in. That question is, “How is the star of USA’s Shameless, non-stop ratings-machine Donald J. Trump, cowed by a video of two women urinating on a bed?” How could a man who survived saying, “Do anything. Grab them by the pussy, and they let you get away with it” be controlled by the prospect of a video or film featuring two women demeaning themselves? Well, we’re left to imagine, right? First, some writers have pointed out that Donald Trump has a long history of being publicly revolted by women’s urination. It seems to be a taboo/fetish object for him. He is particularly, from his casual comments, viscerally concerned about pudenda, attracted to mammaries, but he goes absolutely nuts when it comes to female micturation. His famous Freudian slip over menstruation aside, Trump is consistent about urine. Ok, so that’s a theory, but it seems weak. Second, we presume that the video shows Donald J. Trump himself. Trump’s obsession over the normality of his hands was always the thinnest of veils for an obsession for phallic compensation. At 6’1” (he claims to be taller, but all photos of him next to men of his reported height show him, like Trump Tower, having fewer floors than the label promises (Trump Tower is 10 storeys shorter than Donald claims)), his genital development should be fine. Barring some abnormality, there really should be “no problem” there, but problems in phallic compensation are as unrelated to the body size as anorexia is. That Donald J. Trump suffers from some phallic compensation should be obvious. To paraphrase Christopher Wren’s plaque, “If you seek a monument to my phallic compensation, look around you.” However, the anxiety broke cover altogether and spoke its name aloud during the Republican primaries, when Marco Rubio took a playground shot. “You know what they say about men with small hands,” Rubio said, “You can’t trust them!” Trump filled in the blank and hysterically provided the insult Rubio had only implied: He said that Rubio had said that he had small genitalia, but, “I guarantee you. There’s no problem.” So, does the film/video, if it exists, show an unflattering truth about POTUS’s most sensitive subject? Perhaps. One doubts that even this, sans elaborate commentary from Trump on the soundtrack that is particularly horrific about himself, would be sufficient to control him. This is a man who ignores being found guilty of discrimination, who doesn’t pay bills, who denies the evidence of his senses to declare 250,000 “a million and a half.” This is a man who shrugs off being in a Playboy After Dark video. He’s a man who puts his ignorance of history on display. He’s also, and I use the word carefully, phallocentric. We know something today about Trump that we didn’t know before. We know some of the medications he takes. In particular, we know that he takes Propecia. In the Washington Post today, Daniel Marchalik, an urologist wrote an article trying to alert the public about some of the side effects of this highly profitable drug, “Potential Side Effects of the Drug Trump Reportedly Takes for Hair Loss.” Donald J. Trump, non-stop ratings machine, is seventy years old. Even at fifty or sixty, he might expect impotence, but being seventy and taking Propecia, he has more than a doubled chance of it. He also has an increased chance of anorgasmia, lowered libido, and depression. I really don’t care about a septuagenarian’s sexual activity. The Bible promises us three score and ten. Past that, and we’re in the bonus rounds, and Donald has already replaced himself and one two of his wives in the population. What does worry me is the combination of a loss of sexual potency and a man whose life and self-image are defined by an hysterical fear of inadequacy, where ad[...]

R > I > Trump

Fri, 27 Jan 2017 12:01:27 +0000

"We hang the petty thieves and elect the great ones." -- Aesop So, what now? It’s the biggest question, and the most chilling one. You and I, as we march or huddle, as we scream or whimper, as we gather or disperse, may say wise things to one another, and we may state facts that are borne out by empirical reality and the common tradition of humanity, but all seems irrelevant to those who see reality as a plastic extension of will, tradition as personal biography, and humanity as only the subjective self’s appetites. We may say, “No president can declare a wall. That takes Congress,” and we may say, “No president can just ‘order’ a review of all votes for imaginary illegalities; that takes the states,” but the television acts as if the president’s will is already law, Congress acts as if this president’s words are reality, and this president’s party is ready to act in illegal ways — unconstitutional ways — and stack the courts after the fact to make that which is unconscionable permissible. Once upon a time, Wag the Dog was a satirical movie occasioned by the invasion of Panama that presaged an intervention with Albania (Kosovo). In it, a cynical White House fixer stages a fake war with the help of a Hollywood producer and media team. He further makes the point that what’s on TV is far more real, politically, than anything happening in the physical world. Everybody sees what’s on TV, but only intelligence professionals see satellite data. He threatens a CIA director’s funding by saying that he had seen his manufactured war on television, and any CIA that couldn’t find a war that was on television was no good to anyone. Funny, right? Well, the reality on television is that Mr. Trump is declaring walls, torture, jobs, taxes, crime waves, drugs, urban collapse, and all sorts of things, like an inverted Kubla Khan who a torture dome decrees. The American public at the best of times has a hard time understanding that presidents don’t create and pass budgets, much less declare wars and peace, but Trump, who was certainly one of those ignoranti a year ago, is now acting like the creature people believe the president is: a dictator. Greenpeace has hung a large RESIST banner above the White House Thursday morning. It might be a brilliant thing, because President Baby Huey will certainly react. “Resist” is also the slogan promoted by ThinkProgress. (One can purchase a t-shirt (in black, of course), with the simple message on it here.) While Democratic members of the Senate have largely failed to act on their own words, average Americans of all opposition flavors have been joining Indivisible and making their own grassroots organizations. (The Indivisible Guide is great, but the main site is cool, too. It points out that “government” is not a bad word.) Scientists are beginning to run for office. 2001 was very like today in many ways. Back then, our Democratic representatives and senators made brave speeches and cast meek votes. They swore to work with the new administration to make what progress they could. These wise gray heads of conventional wisdom have since had to explain away their support for USA PATRIOT Act, the Iraq invasion, No Child Left Behind, and other horrors, but we who were infuriated, stunned, and swearing defiance were told by our professional leaders that it was better this way. 2017 is different. Even more than in 2001, Trump’s martinet show has inspired the people, and, even more than in 2001, the placating and mollifying voices of professional Democrats are infuriating the voters. When I first saw the “Resist” shirt, I thought of Ohm’s Law. V/I/R is pretty easy to remember (especially if you know any Latin), although folks don’t use it very much anymore. Perhaps if you’re wiring stereo speakers, and you see that the power is rated at 1000 watts “at 8 ohms,” you might want to calculate the impedance of the wire you’re using, but, to be honest, if you’re un[...]

Sonny Perdue for Agriculture? Go Fish!

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 16:09:46 +0000

Donald Trump is reportedly nominating Sonny Perdue to head the US Department of Agriculture. Both Politico and AP are reporting the story, along with Talking Points Memo.

According to Politico:

Perdue, who served two terms as governor of Georgia (2003-11), brings agriculture credentials: He grew up on a row farm in Central Georgia and currently owns several agriculture-related businesses. However, his friendlier views on trade and immigration do not seem entirely in line with those of the president-elect, and he’s no stranger to controversy in office.

Well, that’s one way of putting it. You see, Perdue “grew up on a farm,” so he understands federal farm policy the same way that a person who drives a car understands running General Motors. Perdue’s “friendlier” views on trade are that he likes it. As governor, he shilled for it desperately, like all southern governors, and all governors in general. His position on immigration is that he opposed the more rabid “self-deportation” measures that swept through the assembly in 2011 as being bad for farm labor.

However, Perdue’s owning of “agriculture-related business” is the story, here. Sonny fits in very, very well with the Trump administration — little things like immigration notwithstanding — because he has been dogged with allegations of too close a relationship between personal and public business.

If you would like to see a monument to Perdue, go to his home town of Perry, Georgia. You can there go to Go Fish! the fishing museum. The state of Georgia pays $1,600,000 a year to subsidize this tourist attraction in the vital, centrally located town of Perry. As the New York Times reported in 2011, “local school groups come by the busload for tours of aquariums.” Every visitor is guaranteed to be given a fish.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, whose home turf this is, has been even more brutal about Go Fish. As of 2015, the state was still in the hole $15,000,000 for building Sonny’s home town fishing folly. I’m sure there will be more, especially as state skeletons begin to rattle more loudly, but Mr. Perdue’s terms were marked by generally pro-business and pro-dealing governance.

There are worse people to pick for the agency that oversees food stamps, but the one thing Sonny Perdue cannot be accused of being is an outsider.

Punish the Propagandists (well, one, anyway)

Sat, 10 Dec 2016 20:18:25 +0000

We know that it takes virtually no time at all to write fake news. In fact, it’s easier and quicker to write fake news than to write fiction. The template is already provided by real journalism, and parody has made the “beats” of a fake story even easier to mimic. The Moldovian teens didn’t have much trouble, even working in a second language, fooling tens of thousands, so imagine what professional “writers” can do at The National Enquirer. On the same day that Washington Post had a dynamite leak (the sourcing is blind, so let’s be honest about it) about CIA concluding that Russia didn’t merely try to destabilize US elections, but specifically elect Donald Trump and that David Sanger and Scott Shane at New York Times have a similar story exposing the same agency conclusions, The National Enquirer is blaring from every grocery store checkout line, “MUSLIM SPIES in Obama CIA.” Donald Trump has, in the words of Washington Post, a “very cozy relationship” with The National Enquirer. After all, it was the only news outlet in the universe to uncover the shocking story of Rafael Cruz being involved in JFK’s assassination, and only when Ted Cruz was Donald Trump’s only substantial competition for the Republican nomination. It’s amazing, isn’t it, that the evidence they had was uncovered at that particular time. Well, the head of The National Enquirer flies on Trump’s private jet and has been in line for favors, apparently. He’s still paying it forward, because this story. . . of “Muslim spies in Obama’s CIA” and “FBI admits Trump was right,” can only be called one thing: propaganda. Manipulation of the press and official information with an aim of distorting facts in favor of government policy or position is, pretty much, the definition of propaganda. Now that Trump is the President Select, Enquirer quackery is no longer blather, no longer a hilarious parasite scrabbling for money: it’s falsification of truth to further the incoming government’s goals. Th- th- th- that’s propaganda, folks. Now, it’s not worth debunking the story. The headline is self-negating. A “spy” is a person who collects information surreptitiously on behalf of an opposing government or competing organization. There is no nation of “Muslimia.” “Muslim” is not a nationality. It is a religion, and we should all hope there are Muslims in CIA. (Imagine Egypt's al Sissi being advised on evangelicals in the USA by Sunni salafists. That would not be wise, would it?) Nevertheless, we know that the people who do not read, watch, or listen to news at all also do not read the articles they forward to one another on Facebook. It seems that they are trafficking in headlines only. Therefore, we have two excellent articles in two of the nation’s finest newspapers competing with blasted headlines at every grocery store. I said “punish the propagandist,” and I meant it. We clever, sophisticated Kos readers aren’t going to boycott The National Enquirer. It would be as meaningless as “The Daily Stormer” boycotting Hamilton on Broadway. However, we can hurt it. Those of you who shop at grocery stores, and especially those of you with “loyalty cards” at grocery stores, simply go to your store. . . your individual store. . . and tell them that, if they don’t stop carrying The National Enquirer, you will never shop there again. Then back it up! Your store will tell you that the decision is made by the regional manager, that it’s corporate, that it’s. . . whatever. That doesn’t matter. Your purchases are being tracked regardless. If you are at Costco or Wal-Mart or Publix, your purchasing is noticed. If you tell them that your patronage disappears so long as The National Enquirer stays, then they will calculate the tiny amount they make on rack space for the propaganda vs. the large amount they make from loyal customers. What’s more, I think the h[...]

Trump Vows to Kill the Johnson Amendment

Mon, 18 Jul 2016 18:36:42 +0000

When Donald Trump introduced Mike Pence as his Vice Presidential nominee to-be, the speech was noted by the press in general as incoherent, narcissistic, and confused. In other words, as nothing special. However, I kept hearing that it was an extra special layer of crazy sauce. When James Fallows wrote, I think this event rivals and even surpasses his “I hate mosquitos!” speech, described here, in raising concerns about Trump’s basic fitness to govern, at the temperamental and emotional level. I thought I should check it out. Most of the coverage of the speech has been about how Trump couldn’t keep a single thought together, how he kept playing “Psych!” with the news media by pretending to introduce Pence, only to go back to rambling about some glory of Trumpian genius or demon of Trumpian nightmare or flight of e-mail. All of that is accurate. However, while I read other things, I put on the speech, and I heard Donald Trump praising LBJ. “Huh?” I thought. Why was he praising the second most liberal president of the 20th century? Well, that was a set up. 1. Here is the whole speech on C-Span. Experience it in IMAX. 2. The bit we’re concerned about today and here is at 13:36 ff. the Johnson amendment, where he took away from the evangelicals... Ok. . . he took away from the evangelicals what, Donald? 3. 14:19: And I said -- and I said for the evangelicals, that we're going to do something that nobody's even tried to do. You have the Johnson amendment passed by Lyndon Johnson and his group. And he was a powerful president. He knew how by Lyndon Johnson and his group. And he was a powerful president. He knew how to get things done. And we call it the Johnson amendment, where you are just absolutely shunned if you're evangelical, if you want to talk religion, you lose your tax-exempt status. We put into the platform, we're going to get rid of that horrible Johnson amendment. And we're going to let evangelicals, we're going to let Christians and Jews and people of religion talk without being afraid to talk. And they said, it started because of Lyndon Johnson. And he actually had a problem in Texas with a certain religious leader. And he did this, and he got it done. And we're going to undo it, so that religious leaders in this country, and those unbelievable people, and not because they backed me in such large numbers, but so that religion can again have a voice, because religion's voice has been taken away. And we're going to change that. OK? All right. Ummm, no, not alright. Did you guys catch all of that? The Johnson amendment is to the tax code. It is the amendment that simply says that any religious institution that tells people how to vote loses its tax exemption. That’s all. No one goes to jail. No one is pressed between two doors until they die. No one has a cord wrapped around his head and has it twisted until death. You just lose your tax exemption. The Donald is a little confused about the subject, though. Go to 15:56: And I looked out the window. I was in Trump Tower, and I pointed to people walking down the street. I said, well, they have the right to speak, but you don't. That means they're more powerful than you are. We have to do something about it. How did it start? How did it start? That’s right: religious people do not have first amendment rights, in the narrative scramble Trump offered America. According to him, religious people are being persecuted because of the Johnson amendment. Donald J. Trump has made the abolition of the Johnson amendment part of the GOP platform this year. It’s a core principle that he claims he personally inserted. Now, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but what’s going on here is something pretty scary. Who, exactly, has made this a priority? Well, our good theocratic friends at the ADF have. Here is one of their bloggers on the subject. So, who is this [...]


Fri, 01 Jul 2016 11:30:52 +0000

I am the least memorable person, in person, you have ever forgotten that you met. I combine the pot belly and bland unattractiveness of a farm supply agent with the incongruous egoism of an autodidact’s vocabulary, although I lack the breeding of the first and the confidence of the second. I abound in Beta male pheromones as well. This is something that mattered and annoyed a lot during breeding season, but I am aware of the self I inhabit now and am resigned to my inability to show my beautiful soul and iron-shod masculinity through the veil of flesh and senses. Forgettable, that’s what I am. On the other hand, what is memorable, what sticks out in memory, is mysterious. Oh, there are obvious things. The momentous is memorable. The affecting is, by definition (“definition,” mind you), imprinted on a person and worn in the memory of a person’s emotions, body, or intellect. However, there are these other things that become so memorable that they stand out like rocks in a plowed field, incongruous and inexplicable. Some odd snatches of childhood detritus, some filings from culture, and some accidents of conversation or slips of the parental tongue can immediately claim the child’s memory, the young adult’s attention. They grow mythic and organize experience and knowledge around themselves. They stand like maypoles at the center of a dance of irrational pattern-making, and there is no way, seemingly, to tell why one phrase or image flings itself to the center of the mind or when it will happen. For one person, a first cousin’s inappropriate leering is an embarrassing joke. For another person, it is a trauma that makes sexuality frightening. The stimulus/provocation is the same, but the place and shape in memory is completely different. For one Sunday School camper, the story of Balaam’s Ass was just a construction paper cut-outs poster they did, where each kid got a little donkey and a little angel and drew the road. For another camper, the exact words of the Bible go into long term memory, and an enchanted donkey who can see angels becomes the kernel of a lifelong belief that animals see the divine. It’s the same stimulus. I remember, when I was fifteen or sixteen, watching, and then reading, Peter Shaffer’s Equus. We had HBO, and I was at the perfect age for the perfect timing to find the full frontal nudity of Jenny Agutter (playing Jill Mason) the most amazing thing ever, especially as she had won me with the imperfect aristocratic beauty. (I apologize, but I was fifteen. At that age, a man will latch onto a visible hemline at a funeral. We are, as Sophocles is supposed to have said, victims of “a strange and frenzied master.” The slavery does not end for decades.) Shaffer’s play is concerned with this very enigma: why do people, and especially psychotics, grab this detail to seed their delusions? Why does this experience get the power to reorganize the world into a myth? (The play doesn’t really recognize the difference between a paranoid schizophrenic and a merely weird or eccentric individual, but that’s because it was chasing an Idea, or a few of them.) Why, in one young woman’s paranoid delusions, does a fantasy world begun in romantic heroes and heroines get to gather up all the details of everyday life and recast them as a part of a malignant plot? When a paranoid schizophrenic featured on a “Frontline” episode spoke of how the voices did not want him to reveal, “That I am the father of the most high God and the devil has three means to punish us: the needle, the feather, and the rope,” why did those three objects get magnetized and placed at the center of a dialectic of sin? When did those images gain such power for him, and why those? I’m sure that we can answer the question mechanistically, with neutrotransmitters and gene expression — particular genes being switched on [...]

I Am Undecided, Maybe

Mon, 15 Feb 2016 18:38:29 +0000

I would like to think I’m very well informed about both of the leading candidates on the Democratic side who are running for president. However, I have been a Martin O’Malley supporter. With his suspending his campaign, I have been unable to decide on which of the remaining candidates I can support. I’d like to invite supporters to make an affirmative case for their candidate. I, at least, will not be swayed by hearing how awful the other candidate is, or how stupid the other candidate’s supporters are. To me, no one is elevated by the tu quoque strategy. I’ll explain my disquiet with both candidates below. Be aware that I have discomfort with both, so don’t expect me to just bash Hillary (yes, I’m left wing) or Bernie (yes, I voted for her husband enthusiastically once and reluctantly the second time). I do not mean to persuade anyone with what follows. I mean to be persuaded, instead. Hesitation with Hillary Clinton Many youngish voters feel disappointed by the incredible enthusiasm and hope they felt in 2008 and then the reality of 2010 — present. For me, that same feeling of disillusionment came with 1992 and then 1994 — 2000. However, the periods differ in many ways. Bill Clinton faced an incredible army of opposition, and a tidal wave of vicious, cruel, and insane hatred went toward Hillary Clinton herself, but Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton herself, vocally made a change in their policies. President Obama has changed his policies in some important areas, but not audibly. By 1996, it was hard — very hard — for those of us who had voted for the liberal Bill Clinton of 1992 to vote for the man who signed the acts that made federal programs into block grants, that put time limits on aid to families, and that pushed for NAFTA. In her stump speech, Hillary Clinton makes competing claims. This reawakens the feelings of treachery and insincerity for those of us who were hopeful in the 1990’s. Sanders didn’t “cherry pick” the quote where Hillary Clinton said, with pride, that she was a moderate. “Moderate” resonates with the voters of 1992 and reminds us of “triangulation” and the “third way” that would eventually lead to Democrats wanting to cut entitlement programs (to be “realistic”). While a senator, Hillary Clinton favored approaches to Wall Street that rejected regulation of the commodities market, and she has consistently opposed Glass-Steagall. While that one act isn’t panacea, and it’s true that reinstating it won’t stop corruption, it’s also true that the removal of the act led to an orgy of bank acquisition and capital flow into “investment” that led to sharps conning other sharps (“investment bankers” becoming the suckers in bets made with bank wealth). Both as a senator and currently on the stump, she has spoken of the need for greater “national security.” She wants to see personal data encryption broken, according to one statement at a debate. Instead of opposing NSA spying on US citizens, she has taken a “moderate” position on the matter. She has not taken, to my knowledge, a current stand on repeal of USA PATRIOT Act. In the debates, and on the stump, she talks about her liberal credentials and the things she “has done.” These things are true, but they are true of the pre-1994 Hillary Clinton. She was a tireless worker for women and the poor and minorities, and no one can deny it. The question that keeps bothering me is whether she has changed from her post-1994 positions on globalization, capital growth, and privacy and what liberal activism she’s done since 2000. (There’s no crime in serving on advisory boards and working with the Clinton Foundation. That’s appropriate for someone of her position and power, but it doesn’t square with the stump speech.) Mind you, there was an argument made for globa[...]

The Terror Strategy

Sat, 02 Jan 2016 14:01:15 +0000

Sometimes it is good to remember all the blessings we have. For example, thanks to voting Republican, there aren’t death panels euthanizing everyone over 65. Also, thanks to giving the GOP a majority in the House, the United States has not made Christianity illegal, while gay marriage and abortion continue to be illegal. Because we gave the GOP a majority in the senate, President Obama’s plan to overthrow the U.S. constitution and institute sharia law has been foiled. Also, we are all safe from Ebola, which has been cured, thanks to the GOP majority in the Senate. Now, you might protest that there never were “death panels,” that no elected Democrat has wanted to make any religion illegal, nor the practice of any religion*, that gay marriage was and remains something that Congress has nothing to do with, that no one has wanted “sharia law” in the United States**, and Ebola hasn’t been cured and wasn’t a national threat as much as a humanitarian catastrophe, but then you might as well say that you never voted for the Republican House and Senate! Next, you’ll be telling me that you don’t watch cable news. "Ignorance is the mother of admiration." -- George Chapman (1612) The 2014 by-elections were a disaster. Democrats should not have lost as badly as they did, but Republicans won with a nihilistic and self-destructive 21st century strategy that we don’t generally recognize as an electoral strategy. They won by waging a War with Terror. In the last four decades, Democratic Party thinkers have all, practically from their first votes, known about Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.” We talk about it around these parts quite often, in fact. It explains the Republican Party’s flirtation (Nixon era), engagement (Reagan’s victory), and consummation (post-H.W. Bush) with racist politics. The only real argument anymore is whether or not we should stop calling it “Southern,” because, after H.W. Bush tried to back away from race baiting tactics only to succumb with “Willie Horton,” appealing to racism became a winning strategy all across the U.S. for the GOP. What I’d like to point out is that manufacturing a fictional fear in order to campaign on it is now a real and peculiar second strategy only made possible by the consolidation of media and the artificial ratings panics in cable news. I don’t suppose anyone remembers “the summer of the shark” in 2001? One reason people didn’t know much about Afghanistan, George Bush meeting with Taliban, or al Qaeda killing Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance, 36 hr before the 9/11 attacks is that the news was on a shark bubble all summer. It was a case of, as the Chinese proverb has it, “One dog barks at a shadow, and seven bark at the noise.” I don’t need to explain news bubbles, I’m sure. Our free press is a free market press. Newspapers have been disappearing since the 1990’s, and television and radio stations have been “consolidating” at a ferocious clip. Since advertising depends upon ratings, and ratings come from people flipping through or scanning by, the most successful formula is spectacle (CNN’s helicopter hovering over a place where they expect the hearse containing Michael Jackson to show up, “live!”) followed by basic, base emotions. People talk about “The Jerry Springer Effect,” but they miss the lesson when they do. (I just saw that there are “free download grade saver papers” on The Jerry Springer effect. O misericordia! What did I do to suffer for this?) People think that the outstanding effect of that show was the elevation of “trailer trash” and “ghetto stars.” Sure. That happened, but the real lesson of the show was refined, pure displays of rage, lust, and despair draw viewers. It was professional wrestling with adultery, and “The Glen Beck [...]

Not Conservative: Reactionary

Sat, 19 Dec 2015 13:01:17 +0000

“Two errors: 1. To take everything literally. 2. To take everything spiritually.” — Blaise Pascal, Pensees Because the nature of Donald Trump is hyperbole, whatever we say of the Trumpery going on these days it is an automatic litotes. Therefore, it is best to look at him as an exaggeration and not as a person or campaign in his own right. Whenever we focus on Donald J. Trump, we get a man who is nothing like a successful candidate, and whenever we focus on any speech of Trump’s, we come away with a handful of hair and empty clothes. If we just say, “Demagogue!” we underestimate the threats of demagoguery, which always lie in the ground that produces it, and if we say, “People are stupid,” we misunderstand the particular way that they are stupid. One thing is clear: either because Trump is leading, or, more likely, because Trump is parroting and garbling as he follows, what Trump says and does is merely a funhouse mirror version of what Ted Cruz says. What Ted Cruz says is close to what Michele Bachmann said. It is what Rick Santorum said as he ran a close second in the Republican primaries in 2012. However, Trump has added a spice. He has insisted that everything that proves him wrong is “political correctness,” whether that is human morality (“taking out” the families of “these terrorists”), Christian piety (the above, plus protesters who “deserved to be roughed up”), the U.S. constitution (a religious test on people entering the country), the separation of powers (his purported power as president to order treaties abridged), or physics (the 100’ tall border wall). Let’s save the substance of his words for another time. It’s obvious that Trump doesn’t mean political correctness when he uses the words “political correctness” any more than the rest of the Republican candidates do. Instead, I’d like to point out the function of the concept for Trump. It exonerates all proposals by being a thing against which he can react. It is an invisible, invulnerable, omnipresent bully whose destruction validates all acts. The Republican Party has spent eight years convincing itself that it is the minority party. It has spent those eight years invoking a genuinely religious faith that it must vote against any proposal made by the current executive, may not cooperate with any member of the other party, and must destroy every piece of legislation or regulation ever authored by any member of that party. It has, in short, invoked jihad. The content of the other party’s membership, and the policies proposed, has been irrelevant. To be brief, the GOP has defined itself as a reactionary party. It has almost said that its goals are solely to react to the Democratic Party and those who support it in open warfare. Its ideology — ostensibly “conservatism” — was never well defined, but it is now entirely without definition. To digress with an analogy, the same devil has been at work in the substratum of political “conservatism”: the “religious right.” I began with Blaise Pascal. Let me go on with Jonathan Swift, from the same century. It was highly worth observing the singular effects of that aversion or antipathy which Jack and his brother Peter seemed, even to affectation, to bear towards each other.  Yet, after all this, it was their perpetual fortune to meet, the reason of which is easy enough to apprehend, for the frenzy and the spleen of both having the same foundation, we may look upon them as two pair of compasses equally extended, and the fixed foot of each remaining in the same centre, which, though moving contrary ways at first, will be sure to encounter somewhere or other in the circumference.  Besides, it was among the great misfortunes of Jack to bear a huge personal resemblance with h[...]

The Quality of Mercy is not Strained: Or: I fought the civil code, and the civil code won

Wed, 15 Jul 2015 12:30:04 +0000

PORTIA [as Balthazar] The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. ’Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The thronèd monarch better than his crown. His scepter shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptered sway. It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings; It is an attribute to God Himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God’s When mercy seasons justice. -- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice IV i 190-203 I apologize for such a long epigram, but Shakespeare is its own excuse, and this particular bit of Shakespeare is very often misunderstood. Portia, the cause of Shylock's hatred for Antonio, represents him (well. . . sort of) by going breeches in court. "Strained," I'm sure you know, means "constrained" -- forced. I.e. "mercy is not part of the law or any regulation; it is a mark of divinity that shows superiority to law." (See below, incidentally, because Shylock's legalism is not just "Jewish.") I was reminded of this discussion because of my birthday a few months ago. In the Sovereign State of Georgia, citizens have reason to dread such anniversaries. Wise Georgia children who get cards from Grandma and Grandpa with $5 bills tucked into them put the gifts aside, because, once they become adults, they start getting a different sort of birthday card: state ad valorum taxes. Now, for poor folks like me, there isn't much to tax. The Crack Shack (my home) is rented, and my brother took all I could have inherited, so there is only the antique (because it's a Pontiac) car. This last April, I went to pay my tag, but I had run out of money for the month by the 20th, so I had a couple of weeks of going hungry. I also would be driving with an expired tag until the next payday. Payday happened just as final exams did, as it turned out. On May 1, as workers in other nations celebrated, I was driving to get my car tag renewed on the first day that it displayed "expired" status. I was pulled over and given a ticket. It seems that police follow cars that go the speed limit and don't tailgate, around here, and they follow old, beat up cars. It "fits a profile." The police woman followed me for a mile and a half before she hit the lights and pulled me over for the tag. Since I was looking forward to being able to eat lunch again, I put this misfortune in context with the others. It didn't rate very highly. I proceeded to get my tag renewed (only now I figured that I would wait a couple of days), and I made a note of my court date in June. That's what I want to write about: going to court. The police woman's zeal at catching me on day one had set off an alarm bell, but going to court set off klaxons. Dockets were called alphabetically, so with a last name beyond the middle point of the alphabet, I had to wait a while, and that meant getting to watch the judge dispense justice. The court was preliminary. Defendants could only plead guilty and face their sentencing, or "not guilty." If they claimed "not guilty," they could ask for a trial before the judge in a few weeks' time or ask for a jury trial, in the county seat. They could also then ask for a lawyer to be provided, if they could not afford one. Certain crimes were automatically scheduled for trial in any case. I watched as defendant after defendant went before this charming, affable judge and pleaded guilty and accepted a sentence. A few sought trial, and I learned that only one local attorney was responsible for all indigent cases in the city, as well as his private practice. One case stood out as an example of ignorance of the law. A [...]

Dear Rick Allen (A Constituent's Reply to Your Letter)

Wed, 25 Feb 2015 13:00:07 +0000

"Money well timed, and properly applied, will do anything." – John Gay, The Beggar's Opera, II xii
My e-mail queue is like a little grocery store parking lot -- filled with card tables holding petitions to sign -- but it's a good grocery (maybe a co-op), because I want to sign. I just have to ensure that sign only once. If I sign the People for the American Way petition on fracking, I can't sign the DailyKos one or the Credo petitions on the same House bill. If I sign the Credo petition for an increase in minimum wage, I can't sign the same petition from one of the others. For Net Neutrality, I signed the Daily Kos petition, and I personalized my message.

You see, I'm in Georgia. Personalizing the petition is mandatory.

John Barrow, who was a reliable Republican vote, was replaced by a three dimensional camo swatch named Rick Allen. My senators are Johnny Isakson and David Perdue (R-Dollar General). The first of these senators has the remarkable achievement of not being noticed within or without the senate by anybody in a score of years, and the second of them is remarkable for saying that as CEO of Dollar General he outsourced "only" a few thousand jobs. As for Rick Allen, he was known for getting rich with government contracts while screaming about how evil gummunt is.

You can imagine that I had low hopes for sending the petitions. I personalized them, therefore, with,

"Sir, equal access on the Internet is vital for free expression for conservatives as well as progressives, for education as well as invention. Whether the website is Red State or Daily Kos, and whether the site manager is publishing poetry or novel ideas on agriculture, the future of innovation and the health of our national discussion and democracy depends upon equal access to Internet visitors. Do not sell the public's resources to corporations and silence the voices of America."
It was a flowery bullet, and I expected it to have about as much force as one. I was surprised, therefore, when I got an envelope in the mail from Rick Allen containing his response. Follow me below for what he said, and for my reply.

Certainty is the Enemy

Sun, 15 Feb 2015 13:42:26 +0000

"Skepticism (is) the virtuous mean between two vices: absolute knowledge and absolute ignorance." -- Odo Marquard, "Skeptics: A Speech of Thanks," in In Defense of the Accidental
I think Aristotle's reputation is strong enough even these days that I don't need to defend it. He was a smart guy, and we have to use his terminology to criticize his failings anyway. The problems came when people began to use Aristotle's rationalism as a sort of natural Bible -- a set of principles capable of describing the true regulation of an orderly universe from first causes. "Ipse dixit" became a fallacy because of the strength and the allure of his reasoning, sure, but the real problem there was not Mr. Aristotle. The problem was the natural tendency of porridge to unceasingly migrate into the nearest human cranium, until the headpiece is completely full, or fulsome, if you will, and the noggin is infinitely dense.

Once people get just a little bit of porridge up in their brain pans, they begin to exhibit symptoms of Mythical Childhood. They feel comfortable, certain, and at home in any environment. However, as the porridge begins to agglutinate (or acquiesce, if you will), it slowly occludes the retinas from the inside, muffles the ear drum from above, and causes periodic eructation of the olfactory nerve. Late stage victims of porridge see through their porridge, hear through their porridge, and walk about wearing the expression of one worried by a stink of unknown origin.

Porridge thinking is not liberal or conservative, capitalist or socialist. Porridge comes in many flavors, from apple pie to schnapps. Porridge is really just sure, certain, in complete mastery of the unknown, and comfortable with its methods.

It's porridge, for example, that says that medieval man was oafish and superstitious. The porridge says, "Everyone back then took everything on faith and ignored sense data, but then the Great Ensmartening came, when Science was developed by brave martyrs who taught us to rely upon experimentation."

No one should have to refute this gruel. Like all just-so stories, and especially the ones that make "us" the heroes, it's obvious foolishness with a political agenda. After all, the real history of the change toward today's science is a tale of learning to prefer inductive reasoning over deductive reasoning when dealing with unknowns, but the lesson was slow, Europe was a difficult student, and its enemies were those who liked their porridge. The enlightenment was about accepting uncertainty in a way that most of us today cannot.

Below, I'll take a look at Christiaan Huygens and David Hume and show why the enemy of progress is neither knowledge nor ignorance, but certainty. I'll also have a personal application.

Guantanamo Bay Lawyers Invoke Hobby Lobby

Sun, 06 Jul 2014 13:17:29 +0000

I've never done a "breaking" story, but this one comes almost wholly from Al Jazeera.

The detainees' lawyers said courts have previously concluded that Guantanamo detainees do not have "religious free exercise rights" because they are not “persons within the scope of the RFRA.”
But the detainees’ lawyers say the Hobby Lobby decision changes that.
The news writers at Al Jazeera America stand clear of editorial opinion. We do not. Every dissenting voice to Hobby Lobby said that it would be used and used and used. Justice Ginsberg concluded that it was a decision of sweeping breadth, and so it has seemed to everyone else: corporate persons with only close holding (51% family holding) getting religious exercise, such exercise being defined in novel ways to exempt from practically any properly formed legislation?

Alito assured the world that it simply couldn't lead to unintended consequences, like exempting blood transfusions, but there was nothing in that "couldn't."

Here, we asked "What if a corporation used it for Sharia?" Barring someone attempting to encode outright religious discrimination, this is the world Hobby Lobby created -- a pre-1920 world.

Thanks to johnny wurster in the comments, here is an excellent analysis of the motion, with an explanation of how the new case is a way of getting at the courts' prior definition of "person" to exclude detainees and the effect of Hobby Lobby's glib expansion.

Books That Changed My Life - How lust, Steppenwolf, and hunger got me into college

Fri, 20 Jun 2014 12:00:17 +0000

"He was wont to say that if he had read as much as other men, he should have known no more than other men." -- John Aubrey (for once not being plagiarised by Anthony "a" Wood) on Thomas Hobbes. Note: I link book titles to copyrighted works in translation and to Project Gutenberg when works are public domain. For copyright restricted works, I link to only independent bookstores (Powell's and Politics & Prose) and, a consortium of used bookstores. I am not aware of any conflicts with Alibris. I was fourteen years old -- the age when boys turn into frenzied creatures half monster and half angel -- innocent in deed, perhaps, but not in thought -- the age that Vonnegut described as the most dangerous force on earth -- and I was in Boney's Rexall in Claxton, Georgia. It was 1976. Claxton, Georgia, incidentally, is where those rectangular fruitcakes come from, and they are not a joke. In 1978 I would go to Europe as a "high school ambassador," and every Stuckey's I would see would have the Claxton Fruitcake product. Boney's drug store was on the same block as the bakery, and it had cool toys, and it had spinner racks of comic books and spinner racks of paperback books. There, I saw THIS Pretty hot, right? the Bantam edition of Steppenwolf, by Herman Hesse. The cover has a woman with her dress coming off as she demurely turns from the viewer! I turned the paper sideways to see if I could get a better view. (If you haven't been a fourteen year old boy, don't judge. At that age, the male gaze is like deep water on a diver, always present, always pressing, pretty nearly always unpleasant.) Now, I knew that the band that had the hit with "Born to be Wild" didn't write a book. I knew the book was old (maybe 1940's, I guessed). Later on, I would see Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis and think that the band Aerosmith had punned off it (but there is also Robert Arrowsmith). However, I figured, "The book must be pretty good, if a band named itself in honor of it," and, more importantly, I wanted to see what inspired that cover painting, so I bought it and became a Philosophy major and then an English major and then on to graduate school. Of course. If you have read Herman Hesse's 1928 novel, you will know that it's not exactly a sex, guns, drugs, and sex guns sort of thriller. It isn't even trippy by the standards of the mid-70's. When I finally re-read it as a professional jade (i.e. English professor), I marveled that I had read it as a teenager. Like a few European novels of the 1920's, one has to pay admission in the first one hundred pages by being bored to death. How did I manage it? Well, when I was fourteen, I was hungry. In fact, as hungry for the lady on the cover as I might have been, I was starving for the anti-middle class perspectives inside the cover. I grew up with the vain and vapid culture of a corporate suburb, where grown men hectored McDonald's counter workers for not having a hot hamburger, because they knew how to run a business, and here was a non-stop criticism of the bourgeoisie. My craving for sophisticated dinner parties with intellectuals (where the cover model might be) and my starvation for any attempt at discussing the instability of the self, which is what adolescence is all about, performed a strange alchemy. They made me wolf down the book and then begin hunting down Hesse's allusions. Hesse mentioned Nietzsche. Right! Back home in Atlanta, I was off to the book stores to get The Portable Nietzsche. Hesse mentioned Kant. You betcha! Critique of Pure Reason looked pretty good, and the all black cover (can't find an example to show you) was really enticing. Most of all, Hesse goes on and o[...]

Why I will miss "The Colbert Report"

Sat, 24 May 2014 13:03:40 +0000

Stephen Colbert has had the best career a comedian could hope for, but for good reason. He is a monumental talent, has a serious work ethic, and happens to have good looks. He has gone from voice talent to "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," to his own show, and now he will go to "The Late Show" on CBS. For fans, we should remember that he is gaining, and we're not losing.

However, "The Colbert Report" is a special achievement in comedy. It is a rare, nearly magical act of performance, and I will miss it immeasurably when it is gone. Larry Wilmore's "The Minority Report" will be great, as Larry Wiltmore is himself superb at another particularly difficult type of humor, but I think it is alright if I now say why "The Colbert Report" will be, for a generation, a defining moment in political satire that cannot replicated.

For those of us who remember them, the first two seasons of "Saturday Night, Live" were revolutionary. It is impossible to tell a young person how unexpected Chevy Chase was as the local news anchor "caught" on a commercial break talking on the phone with his girlfriend, how brave it was that he played Gerald Ford falling down and petting a stuffed dog. In just such a way, though, it will be impossible later to explain why "The Colbert Report" was a perfect moment and a perfect performance -- lightning in a bottle that struck continuously for more than 1,300 episodes and nine years.

"The Daily Show" frequently employs parody and parodic satire. In particular, Jon Stewart's correspondents will pretend to be venial political hacks or dull witted "professional journalists," and they will report with exaggerated gravitas. Jon then offers questions to provide the satiric vision the audience needs. He, as the host, will stand in for the viewer to provide the set of normative values missing in Washington or network television, and the correspondents will act out the villainous point of view, but with a commitment to being overt rather than sly.

If you need an example of "The Daily Show"'s version of parody, consider this one.

Jason Jones speaks for Harry Reid's flexible point of view on Koches vs. Adelsteins, while Jon speaks for "us." He, therefore, acts as our spokesperson and hero. This is one reason why, when Jon Stewart interviews a rightwing guest and fails to hit hard or actually concedes ground, viewers get a bit upset. "Their" voice has been taken.

"The Colbert Report" is all the way different. Follow me below for a generic discussion of what the show has done, and why it is such a rare jewel.

Dear Construction Guys: Why I got up and moved away from your table at lunch

Thu, 10 Apr 2014 13:49:34 +0000

First, construction guys, I apologize for assuming that you are construction guys. You might be plumbing guys, electrical guys, tree guys, or a bowling league organized around weekday meetings. All I know is that there were four of you in blue Dickie's work shirts and work pants, with your names embroidered on the flaps of the shirt pockets and a patch on the rear of your shirts with the name of a business. It is hasty for me to jump to a conclusion that you were construction. You might have been the princess rescue league for all I know.

However, you sat across from me at the local ambience-free dining facility and began talking. That's good! In fact, I was the weird one -- reading The Tempest and eating alone. I'm glad you didn't sit there and look at telephones across from one another. But your conversation showed that you had an hierarchy: there was The One Who Speaks, the One Who Agrees and Extends, and the two Young Guys who agree or keep quiet and learn.

Y'all began to talk about the issues of the day, and, obviously, there is only one issue of the day, and that's how "this Affordable Healthcare Act" "has his name on it now" and "it's going to drag them down," and I was very obvious in grabbing my food, my check, my drink, and my book and going into another room.

I know y'all don't read

DailyKos, but I wanted to explain in pixels what I was too livid to explain in person. As y'all know, a gentleman does not cause a scene or "talk politics" in public. As I know, saying whatever Rush Limbo or Neil Borscht said on the radio power hour is "not political," but disagreeing is. You seemed shocked, and I understand, since you obviously hadn't talked politics. It's only politics to disagree with the radio. The other is "common sense" and "normal stuff" and "knowing how the world is." I'll explain, since I probably don't live in that real world of real people with real problems and real jobs, after the bimp.

Babel, Babelfish, and Googlefish

Wed, 12 Mar 2014 12:00:14 +0000

One of the most potent stories about language is the Tower of Babel. It occurs in Genesis 11. In the account, all humanity began by speaking a single language, even after exile from the Garden of Eden, and the tower is not exactly a mark of pride, nor is the curse of multiple languages exactly a scourge. Instead, the Tower is the natural consequence of the migrating people settling into a city, and "And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do" (Gen. 11:6). The confusion of the languages is to keep humans frustrated and wandering, to keep them from achieving their goal of "(making) a name for ourselves." Pieter Breugel the Elder's "Little Tower of Babel" Babel came to be seen as a second Fall, or at least a second exile, when man's fundamental punishment -- being denied communion with God -- was amplified through being denied communion in society. However, until the twentieth century linguists (excepting people like Ludovico Vico) believed that words derived from things, or things were manifestations of ideas (and so were words), and the division of languages and loss of the original language meant loss of magical and spiritual power. I recommend Umberto Eco's The Search for the Perfect Language for the medieval to enlightenment European invention of linguistics as a side effect of the quest for the pre-Babel tongue. For every person mounting Pegasus to overtop Babel, there have been five standing on the plains below having a giggle at our human noise and ten, at least, offering to translate for a fee. John Gay has a very funny letter to Mrs. Howard complaining about how he only knew French poetry; thus, to say that they went hunting, he would have to write that they had declared war against the feathered inhabitants of the air. Americans have been accused of monoglot ignorance for a very long time, but American humorists have avenged themselves by making fun of the affectation of other languages. Even better, American authors have wondered at translations of idiomatic Americanisms. The new nation generated new environments, and the adaptations immigrants made to each other and the land made for colorful habits of voice. Mark Twain's "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" was originally published in 1867, and it was a hit. In 1875, Twain published "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," which is one of the funnier things you can read. It is an account of Twain reading his own story translated into French and then translating the French back into English. Click this link and enjoy. "'Rev. Leonidas W. H'm, Reverend Le--well, there was a feller here, once by the name of Jim Smiley, in the winter of '49 --or maybe it was the spring of '50--I don't recollect exactly, somehow, though what makes me think it was one or the other is because I remember the big flume warn't finished when he first come to the camp; but anyway, he was the curiousest man about always betting on anything that turned up you ever see, if he could get anybody to bet on the other side; and if he couldn't he'd change sides.'" Becomes "It there was one time here an individual known under the name of Jim Smiley; it was in the winter of '89, possibly well at the spring of '50, I no me recollect not exactly. This which me makes to believe that it was the one or the other, it is that I shall remember that the grand flume is not achieved when he arrives at the camp for the first time, but of all sides he was the man the mo[...]

Bray Gouty, a Poem

Thu, 13 Feb 2014 16:39:17 +0000

Trey Gowdy, R, South Carolina, is one of many making a bold move to be the dumbest man in Congress. He had been in the running for "least self-aware," when he commented that $174,000 a year was too little money for him to live on, but he has since tried to claim the glittering prize of "most offensive comment."

There is money to be had in shouting "You lie!" during a State of the Union address, after all. Joe Wilson, also of South Carolina, has absolutely no legislative accomplishments, but he has good fund raising. He does not have much of a record of constituent services. So, if he isn't able to please corporate donors with legislation or constituents, how does he have money? By being offensive, of course, when President Obama said that undocumented immigrants would not be covered by the A.C.A.

. . . By the way, where are all those examples of the President "lying?" Right.

Well, Trey Gowdy wants to get that golden halo of "Biggest Nut in the Can," it seems.

Here is Trey Gowdy saying that the A.C.A. is giving people the "choice between" writing poetry or "working." As Charlie Pierce points out, Trey Gowdy worked one out of three days a year and got $174,000+ for it. Previously, Trey had complained that his salary was too low, by the way. Yesterday, Charlie Pierce followed up with a poet's response to Trey Gowdy.

Now me, I'm of an antiquarian mindset. I thought that "Trey Gowdy" is already a metrical unit. I thought, "What poem does his name belong in?"

Then I realized that that wouldn't work, because it would lead me to one of those poems with a trisyllabic foot, and I'm no good, and they're hard to read. Then I thought, "What poem would Trey Gowdy be able to read?" It had to rhyme, of course. Couplets would be good. Keep the lines short to match the length of thought. . . .

This brought to mind only two things: Namby Pamby by Henry Carey and John Arbuthnot's "Petition" by the funeral directors of London against the new apothecary reform law. The second one is not well known. Dr. Arbuthnot wrote a satire modeled on Samuel Garth's "The Dispensary" pretending to represent all of the undertakers in a union protesting that regulating apothecaries would be bad for business and therefore ought not to be a law.

Arbuthnot's satire lays bare a point that we should all consider. When we ask, "What's good for private industry" when we consider public policy, the answer will always be, "Pass no law," because somebody will profit from everything -- even if it's just the funeral homes.

Below, I do not promise that it's good, but it rhymes: "Bray Gouty."

A Very Modest Proposal for the Benign N.S.A.

Sun, 26 Jan 2014 14:28:07 +0000

Look, it appears now that power suffers the fate today that it has always suffered: those who have it believe that it is, and they are, indispensable. They know their own souls, and they know their intentions, and they know their colleagues and friends, and they understand their competency, and they alone "stand on that wall" between us, in our overstuffed recliners, and the rampaging darkness of savages bent upon our destruction, and they know that secretly we want them to have power. We need them to have power. Civilization itself depends upon it.

Oh, sure, the speech in Wheeling might have been an exaggeration. Perhaps it wasn't necessary to hunt down Communists inside the U.S. Army, but those were silly mistakes made by people back then. Today's threats are existential -- not like the Soviet Union or the international menace of Communism. After all, any shopping bag could be a bomb, and that's sufficient to justify every shopping purchase being a spy-bot.

I get it.

Our guy isn't like their guy. Our guy is smart, and their guy was dumb. Our guy wouldn't freak out unless the threats were really freaky, while their guy was easily spooked.

Fine. It doesn't matter, anyway, because the courts won't listen, and elections appear to have little capacity to move the debate. Therefore, I have a suggestion for making this all to the good. Follow me below for a proposal for making all the data acquisition an unequivocally good thing.

Galatea is "Her": She is always Galatea

Sat, 18 Jan 2014 19:00:55 +0000

Confession: I live in the middle of radish fields, and the only movie theater plays nothing but "Smash and Boom III" and "Tyler Perry Presents Loud and Noisy." Consequently, I will sound like a moron if I talk about Spike Jonze's film, "Her." I will, therefore, instead, talk about reviews of the film and the premise of the film and hope that I don't so mangle things that it invalidates my commentary.

Tentatively, therefore, I want to propose the following: "Her" plays upon the Classical myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, and yet it does so in such an attenuated and developed way that reviewers either miss the model or do not bring it up. This mythic structure has a great deal to offer us, both in terms of a contemplation of art and the powers of humanity, chaos, love, creativity, and, indirectly, politics. In its Classical form, it's a perfect love, but for us it is a story of the power of art and obsession.

The story occurs in Ovid's Metamorphoses X, in one of the Orphic songs. You can read a translation here. The song is very, very short, and the tale is very evocative. Pygmalion is a sculptor who is, in some versions, very ugly. In all versions he is very skilled. He makes a sculpture of a woman whom he could love -- the perfect girl. In Orpheus's version, she is chaste by virtue of her marble-whiteness ("whiteness" is code rather than the assumed skin color of women). He loves the sculpture so much that he wants no real woman for a bride. At one point or another, Venus/Aphrodite turns the statue -- Galatea -- into a real woman.

The Victorians inherited the story from the later Romantics -- in particular Rousseau -- and they loved the story. W. S. Gilbert did a version, and G. B. Shaw (yes, yes, a Modern in . . . and yet not) did the famously class-based satire Pygmalion that became the rather denatured My Fair Lady. Of course Rousseau's reflected the later-Romantic fascination with the limitations of creativity, and this would show up in pictorial treatments by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

For the artists of the turn of the 19th - 20th century, the theme seemed to be the power of imagination, and the dangers of fascination. "The Lady of Shalott" is, in some ways, a mirror of Pygmalion: that which can be imagined can be beautiful, but realizing it brings danger. Their versions of Galatea, like other products of artistic imagination, inevitably transferred human stains or impossibility when they crossed into reality. Either the human malleability of the lover or the demands of perfection would, like Frankenstein or Mr. Hyde, show the impossibility of the perfect more than they would affirm the value of the real.

The Fearful Ambiguity of "Christian Education"

Tue, 07 Jan 2014 13:00:17 +0000

I sometimes write arcane stuff that will have a specialized audience, and what follows may be an example. However, before anyone goes confirming stereotypes, I'll explain why I am writing on this subject.

I never set out to teach in religiously affiliated schools specifically, but, at this point, I have been teaching in them for more than twelve years. I have taught in schools aligned with the Roman Catholic Church and now with the largest Protestant denomination. While I have been a practicing Christian since eighteen, I am the product of public education. I went to public primary and secondary schools, and I went to state universities for my graduate work. I certainly noticed sneering from other intellectuals, but I never saw anything in public education that impeded my spiritual expression.

The problem is that, despite being a practicing Christian and a believer, people who advocate "Christian education" scare me. I am terrified today, because each school, each head master, each board of trustees, that enunciates a clear commitment to "Christian education" either has such an amorphous definition of the term that it amounts to "professional conduct" or one with such idiosyncratic terminology that the phrase seems to be no more than a way to fire faculty -- a language trap rather than a pedagogy.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has more registered aliases than any other online journal, apparently. There is a reason: teaching at the collegiate level is tenuous, and "academic freedom" exists only in stories we tell about the 1970's. For those working at religiously affiliated schools, the sand beneath us is even weaker, because there is always a new purge in the offing, a new awakening, a new movement that begins with the assumption that all of the present faculty are part of the problem.

Five or six years ago, my former college president assigned each faculty the job of writing up how we were pursuing "Christian education" in our courses. We were to submit these reports to him. Fortunately, he was easily distracted and never followed up, but, when he issued that order, I heard a fire alarm. I knew what I would say, but I also knew that any answer could be attacked by interested parties.

Now, my college has a new, extremely controversial president, and I am scared. I do not know what will happen, but I wanted to take a look at "Christian education" as a phrase and try to start with what most of us not inside the evangelical and home school movement would assume it meant and then discuss what the term can mean in the mouths of those who use it as a battle cry.

How to talk to an Anecdote

Fri, 20 Dec 2013 14:00:21 +0000

I've long (I guess) noted that our most effective opponent is the slushy, porridge thought process of those who know what's what and support their eternal verities with anecdotal evidence. Decrying "ivory tower" and "book" learning as from "elitists," they think it's time to hear from regular people (and regular people must, ipso facto have no college or book education). I've tried to be sympathetic to the impulses that drive these enemies, even as I less than secretly want to subject them to a potato masher (1).

Steve King of the sainted cantaloupe calf and Louie "Gomer" Gohmert, along with Ted Cruz and Michele Bachmann, are masters of the personal observation. Each has offered up a first hand, eye witness account of extraordinary piquancy, whereby they have learned the Secret Truth that Big Government wishes to suppress and we liberals want to achieve. During the next get together you have with Crazy Uncle Wally, you might hear a recycled e-mail, but you also might hear a personal anecdote that proves "it" (2).

Below, I'll detail the above mentioned right wing stars' shiners, and I'll offer up a way to answer the anecdote. I can't promise that it will lead to peace, but it might lead to quiet. I think most of us would settle for that.

1 $17 for a potato masher? Can you believe that? It's just a wavy doodad, and that's the Mal*Wart price.
2 "It" is that "the government" is out to get "us," except the military, which is a divine force of good, and "we" need to "take our country back," even though it was never ours or it has never not been.

Zombie's Choice: Why Naturalism Matters

Sun, 08 Dec 2013 19:58:49 +0000

The number of things that occur in the early years of high school without reason or forethought is long, but the readings I had, in the late 1970's ("the summer of drugs" as Victoria Williams named the ten year anniversary of the Summer of Love) in English class were more mysterious than most because they seemed to be dumb. Most irrational stuff had the flavor of medicine or aggression, but reading thirty pages of the five hundred page Don Quixote made no sense at all.

I once said that I became a teacher of private high schools (yeah, that's not what I am, but don't interrupt) because I wanted to make sure no one ever suffered through my 10th grade English class again. The year was summed up by that dip into Cervantes. On the first day of the week dedicated to it, I said "maybe he (the Don) isn't mad." The answer I got was, "Shh!" On day five, the teacher returned to the question and revealed that, perhaps, maybe, the Don isn't insane -- that he is a sane man in a mad world. I snapped a pencil in frustration (1).

No reading got me angrier, though, than Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape. We had a unit, at least, on Naturalism, and it made me think that people in the 19th century and turn of the 20th were morons.

In truth, I had a very good curriculum by today's standards, although it was mostly ruined. We read Kafka, O'Neill, Dreiser (yech), as well as Hardy, Shaw, and Flaubert. Today's students are lucky to get 20:1 scale excerpts of any of these authors.

I grumbled a lot as a kid, and I'd like to apologize, but it wasn't entirely my fault. Reading plays in high school is dubious (2). Naturalism, though, seemed dumb and obvious to me in 1977-8 because it was 1977-8, and I doubt it would have seemed so any other time. Of course, the presentation I received also helped kill the appeal of the work.

A Critique of the Evangelical Movement

Tue, 26 Nov 2013 18:31:50 +0000

This is a somewhat homeless essay. I am writing it on a morning when someone turned the crank on the world wrong, after a night when I made two important discoveries: First, I discovered that the finest music in the world is horrible when it is woofed through one's walls from down the street at bed time. Second, I realized that, whatever my other problems with contemporary "hit" music, it makes me nostalgic for chords -- five or more notes played polyphonically. Heck, even a triad would bring a lump to my throat at this point. (I already knew that beer cannot act as a remote "mute" button for the uninvited street party down the block. (Life on the bottom rung is grand.))

What follows may be too church-y, and yet I promise to suppress most of the Bible citations. It may also be too historical. It belongs neither here nor there, but I hope, in the end, there is a valuable contribution to our collective understanding of why the contemporary "evangelical" movement is so prone to rotation, so given to cults of personality, and why it can move to dangerous conclusions from safe assumptions.

Above the below, let me start off by saying that testimony is and has been an essential part of Christianity from its earliest moments. In essence, standing up and saying, "This is what God has done for me" is a personal testimony -- an individual offering personal credibility to a story of the mysterious. Since the tale that is told is one of miracle and mystery, and since there is no way to affirm the truth of the tale except "Come and see," the personal testimony is vital. I would never deny the place that testimony has, even though I would argue that believing in testimony as a vehicle of grace distorts and corrupts religious practice.

In the bellows below, I will argue that the modern evangelical movement, which takes its cue from John Knox's solution to Calvin's theological problem of knowing the "elect" via a necessary conversion experience,
1. holds that testimony as an efficacious and sufficient means of grace,
2. dooms the practice its churches to pastoral or personal cult,
3. introduces an inescapable element of theatricality to religious creed,
and 4. is contrary to Christian practice or church function.

Meeting Uncle Ned: A Congressional Town Hall as Dadaism

Mon, 28 Oct 2013 11:30:12 +0000

"Frankly, I'd like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry." -- Milo Minderbinder in Joseph Heller's Catch-22.
Y'all might remember a while ago, when I met a lady who was deeply confused about the Affordable Care Act. If you're not a speaker of southern, then perhaps you might remember it. I talked to a woman on edge who was inclined to suspect "government," and, with some kindness and simple logic, laid out for her what the A.C.A. is. However, she called Uncle Ned to check out my story, and he set her straight.

She then saw me walking along a sidewalk and came to yell at me that I was all wrong. Her tone said that I was worse than wrong, that I was a Deceiver (which is one of the lowest orders of devil -- worse than a manes but not quite to demon -- which means that you can't eat any of the food they bring to the church picnic).

I believe that I have just met Uncle Ned, and I have to apologize to everyone who read my original diary. There, I argued that we must understand and sympathize with the motivations of those who choose unreason. I see that I was mistaken, because, with whatever wit I have, native or bottled, I simply can't account for Uncle Ned at all. In fact, I think, like a lussus naturae, he is a thing that we must behold with horror and protect ourselves from with prophylaxis.

"Parturient montes nascetur ridiculus mus" -- Horace, Ars Poetica
Beautiful things can appear suddenly, but that doesn't mean you should swallow them.

Humpty Dumpty in a bad mood

Fri, 18 Oct 2013 20:27:53 +0000

In Chapter 6 of Through the Looking Glass, (a source) Humpty Dumpty explains the very difficult "The Jabberwocky" to Alice. He knows every word's meaning because, “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ ’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.” At Esquire Politics, (the great) Charlie Pierce had a mini-entry that he got from (the great) Digby: The TEA Party Chastening generator Click on it. Please click on it. You'll enjoy it. These are insults taken from John Boehner's MyFace wall. The TEA Cozy are very unhappy with him, and they are launching truly righteous insults, like: "Fascist Commie" and "Establishment-loving Traitor." A friend of mine wrote wondering what such self-consuming phrases mean. The answer is one of two things: either they mean exactly what their speakers want them to mean, or they mean what another great commentator on language suggested they would mean: 'The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. . . . . Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.' (bold emphasis added) I could link you many places for this, but George Orwell's 1946 "Politics and the English Language" is such a cornerstone of true thinking and writing that it is available in several countries and places. I'll link to it from Mount Holyoke College. Orwell's totalitarian took hold of language to reduce the possibilities of meaning via Newspeak, where "Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought." The Newspeak totalitarian would be perfectly conformative. On the other hand, the citizen would have no meanings at all. If an intention did not fit into the words, the words were just floating about. Obviously, we have had no totalitarians . . . or not many. . . in America. The truth that emerged in the post-Cold War is that whatever the Court and the Party need, the people outside of the palaces and boiler rooms need to know little of and understand less. Confusion is good. A language with no definitions, where Nazi Communists and Atheist Pagans coexist with conservative revolutions and religious freedom for corporations make for smooth sailing at the ALEC meeting and the fund raiser's idea session. The meanings of the words, whatev[...]

Your facts are no match for . . . UNCLE NED!

Sat, 05 Oct 2013 19:06:44 +0000

"The majority of mankind is lazy-minded, incurious, absorbed in vanities, and tepid in emotion, and is therefore incapable of either much doubt or much faith." -- T. S. Eliot "I am never better than when I am mad.  Then methinks I am a brave fellow; then I do wonders.  But reason abuseth me, and there's the torment, there's the hell." -- Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy I went shopping today to cure a melancholy. Yes, I have melancholies. I sometimes have vapors, too. What's it to you, Mack? Anyway, I decided to walk through shops that I had little interest in to find things that I had no need for to purchase with money I cannot spare -- its being early in the month. Thus, I went to a store that calls itself a "Teenager Store." I was not looking to purchase a teenager, but they hadn't any in stock anyway. (A beloved former student's family owns the shop, and I hoped she might be there that I might find out how she has fared.) I live in a crimson portion of a district. The actual population breaks about even, Democrat/Republican, with an advantage to the party of unreason, but the white folks. . . the white folks are strawberry red in face and kept that way by daily radio, weekly pulpit injections, and a strict code of politeness. It is polite to say, "Obama's taking over," but it is impolite to say, "The Republicans are crazy." It is polite to say, "That Obama is a socialist," but it is not polite to say, "The TEA Party is in the pay of corporations." Among the white folks here, politeness means not "mentioning politics," and "politics" means Democratic Party thoughts. What comes from "the radio" is not political. I am well aware of this. I am very, very, very careful to remain polite. Anyone who is impolite will find him or herself facing purpled faces, raised voices, and, on several occasions, violence.(1) Pelham Bay, New York City, 2000 Right: So, in the teenager store, a doughy lady spoke with the proprietress while her daughter shopped. She spoke of how frightened she was that The Government was going to tell her what medicine she could take. She had heard that The Government was now going to be making all the decisions, and she was scared. Plus, she said, there was a big plot to make the young people sign up, and, if they didn't, then the whole Government would go bankrupt. We can't afford it. Meekly, pleasantly, and kindly, with all my training as a southern gentleman and teacher(2), I said, "I don't think that's right." I told her that I knew something about the subject, and the decisions were up to the insurance company. "But my mother had someone telling her what she could have done this Summer, and that never was before!" I pointed out that the "someone" was her insurance company and the health care law wasn't involved. "But it was due to Obamacare," she said. That's what she had been told. "Been told," hark ye. It took some time, but I explained the ACA to her. I explained that single payer, which she thought was the law, was not the law. I explained that the price for health insurance could never be crippling to the individual. I told her to go to She left. I went later to another shop, and she saw me and confronted me, full of fury and purple. She had spent a "long time" on the phone since speaking to me. Her brother-in-law owns [...]

Better Know a Fallacy: Argument by (false) Analogy

Mon, 02 Sep 2013 23:44:36 +0000

I wrote another diary -- all about how it's very human to be anti-Rationalist and how there is one form of anti-Rationalism that is actually healthful -- but that was so boring that even I decided that I'd rather grade papers than read it. I then thought that I could return to the "know a fallacy" series and do one of the hardest ones of all, "Begging the question," but, unfortunately, I have seen a great deal of arguing by analogy lately, and I think -- if only to avoid seeming to insult people -- I might help the community more by explaining this common but elusive tool/weapon.

First, I need to establish that analogy is not wrong.

We've all got to look like something.
Drawing an analogy is normal, necessary, and potentially useful, both for building language and concepts and for furthering propositions. John Locke, in chapter XI of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, explains the fundamental nature of "fancy""imagination""wit." Nearly every philosopher after would agree that humans know by using one innate ability to spot similarities and one to spot differences.

What's more, analogy is fundamental to language. Truly novel experiences are incommunicable. I'm sure you know Wittgenstein's famous, "That which we have no words for we must pass over in silence." How we get those words is by expanding and linking sounds and ideas by analogy and negation. In fact, humans might well be homo analogous for the quickness at spotting similarities.

Fellow bolo fur Wie it's a Fall lassie, two.

Shh! I'm Vandal Hunting!

Sun, 18 Aug 2013 17:28:09 +0000

I would not presume to tell anyone at DailyKos what is or is not important in the meta field. I will, however, tell you something I saw at Wikipedia. I'll be very, very brief, too.

1. As you seek, so you shall find.
2. First amendment rights do not exist on privately published websites.
3. "They" are indeed infiltrating us.
4. The real danger comes from the weakness of democracy, not the power of the state.

This is my first "meta," and it's a summary of all I know, so I think it's my last, too.

Below, I'll expand.

Confessio: Time's Capsules

Sat, 17 Aug 2013 19:08:43 +0000

"I live in a constant endeavour to fence against the infirmities of ill health, and other evils of life, by mirth; being firmly persuaded that every time a man smiles, --but much more so, when he laughs, that it adds something to this Fragment of Life." -- Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy
"Motion and time are illusions." -- Parmenides
Look, I don't like to talk about myself, as I find the subject boring. When I write fiction, I set out to make characters unlike me. I figure that my biography is useful as a set of examples and illustrations, but, if the movie were made, I'd be a supporting character in it.

What's more, I'm fine with this dispensation. With notice comes attention, and with power comes responsibility, and there is something blissful in thinking that, at the end of one's walk, she or he might look back and see no footprints. Why, after all, would anyone want to mess with other people?

Anyway, believe me or not, but it's true. I have been blessed with a spectacular lack of charisma, so I'm no danger of being a guru or tycoon. My outside doesn't resemble my inside, so people don't spot me in crowds, and those who see the outsized "me" of the Internet can't believe the pathetic figure of the actual. (I got a coupon for "actual life," but I should have read it more closely.)

"as the moon leaves, memory by memory, the mind"
However, I have had interesting things happen around me, even if I have not had them rub off on me. I have survived a terrorist attack, been through two hurricanes, walked through the entire Bronx, been laid off in the great Baltimore teacher fiasco, and I was one of the earliest pediatric patients for open heart surgery valve repair.

Because I was born clubfooted, cross-eyed, and with my pulmonary valve pinched nearly closed, I had an unspoken but expected reduced life span. The surgery in 1969 was rough, leaving me in a three week coma that lifted on a Sunday as the churches of South Georgia prayed for me, and I kept having this awareness of the silent clock. In 1986, I had a sudden change. Doctors don't like sudden changes. They wanted to rule out some things. They did. However, I was left with six months of believing that I had had my reservation called in, that the time was up.

If it can do any good for any one, I'll share how that happened and what it taught me.

Don't have a cantaloupe: Why Steve King requires no refutation

Sun, 04 Aug 2013 12:49:58 +0000

If the eyes are the window to the soul, then this man needs caulk. Steve King. . . aren't there several of them? There's a Colorado politician as well as the man Stephen Colbert called a "corn packer." For a democratically elected Congress, there sure seem to be people named "king" there. Anyway, Corn Packer King has a history of rhapsodic explanations for his positions. Quite a few Republicans, when asked why they wish to cut food aid to children, will, instead of answering directly, misdirect the questioner and start talking about national budgets, deficits, credit ratings, comparing a national government to a household, comparing this nation to Greece or Spain, or simply speaking in a grandly vacuous manner about virtues -- responsibility, working, honesty. (Listen to Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, who has averaged $267,692 a year in Ag. subsidies, say that SNAP should not get funded because, "Those who do not work shall not eat" and that the money for it is "stolen in Washington." You can read about it at ThinkProgress from May 21, 2013.) Ask a Republican representative why she is against reducing overcrowding in prisons, and, instead of a direct answer, you will hear about how the bad must pay for crimes, how coddling criminals is bad. And, of course, ask why a representative opposes even the niggardly and Byzantine Senate immigration reform bill, and you will hear about "law breakers" and "criminals" who should not get "amnesty" for their "crimes." What makes Steve King so much fun for journalists is that he, like Michelle Bachmann, does not simply fail to answer or insult those who feel differently from him, but that his misdirections are poorly organized tales of madness and fantasy. A few days ago, for example, King explained that the President was "lowering America's values" by doing things "not related to his core job." These things were "getting involved in" SB 1070 in Arizona (and since that was a case of a state claiming the right to designate and patrol and set law for the borders of the U.S., it seems a mite federal to me), congratulating a gay athlete, and "things" that he takes sides on, like racial issues. Now, you and I are already degraded. We expect the GOP politicians to lie about their reasons in the first place. We shouldn't. We accept it. We shouldn't. We write about their tales only when they are as exotically nuts, as lavishly splattered with nonsense and ignorance as Steve King's discussion of opposing the Senate Immigration Reform bill because, as Jad Lewison reported the comments already here, "For every valedictorian" DREAMer, "there are a hundred out there that they weigh 130 pounds, and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert." Follow below, and I will show you how King's fantasy novel setting requires no study, no statistics, and not much intelligence to know that it is an overflowing basket of meadow muffins, a full casino of cow chips. [...]

Choosing an Anthology, the philosophy

Thu, 01 Aug 2013 18:56:35 +0000

"It is tiresome to hear education discussed, tiresome to educate, and tiresome to be educated."  -- attributed to William Lamb
I ain't going to lie to you (yet): the following essay is going to be la-tee-dah in the extreme. It will address issues that don't matter one whit to saving whales (well, maybe the Welsh). In fact, what I'm going to write about may be too precious to even be called for book lovers. I am going to address a dilemma I face as an English. . . teacher. . . in choosing a literature anthology, and it's not the dilemma you might suspect.

You see, there are various problems with history as a discipline. This does not mean that history is bunk, as Mr. Ford said, but it does mean that no choice about an historical approach is scientific or pure or righteous.

Anthologies are collections -- "little flowers," if you're an ancient Greek -- of literary pieces. The king of anthologies at present is the Norton Anthology of __ Literature. However, the "Norton" in that title simply means the publisher. Other publishers make their own anthologies. For a good kick, look at The Brand X Anthology of Poetry, which is a parody of the "Nortie."

Anthologies have guiding philosophies in their selections. In addition to the much vexed and cursed "canon," each series editor brings a philosophy of selection to bear, and this is what I wish to speak to today. When I choose an anthology, I have to choose a philosophy that supports my goals.

"Both the contraceptive pill and legalized abortion": Busting up a priggish lie

Tue, 23 Jul 2013 18:38:14 +0000

"First, we have to acknowledge that the legalization of abortion in 1973 and the birth control pill broke the long historical and cultural linkage between sex and procreation. For the first time, it was possible to have sex for the sake of something other than procreation" -- Nameless rightwing hack brought onto BBC's "World Have Your Say" to represent American conservatives, July 23, 2013
Ok, BBC World Service programmers, I tune away whenever the cheapo programs like "have your say" come on. They're the radio equivalent of CNN reading tweets to themselves, except that you start it with Rolodex journalism by grabbing two names to represent "sides" of the debate. So, today you have someone from No Labels up against a nose-talking patrician accented female creature espousing repressive points of view that a caricature librarian soaked in alum wouldn't endorse. Yeah, great stuff.
A Cato Institute troll proves that wood is softer than a righteous idea.
The main problem is that this line. . . tossed out by Pat and Bay Buchanan, by Catholic League and idiots by the score . . . is not merely wrong, but it is so obviously wrong that the people who say it are either very, very foolish or liars.

The Declaration of Independence in Rhetorical Context

Sat, 06 Jul 2013 03:40:46 +0000

"How is it that we here the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of negroes?" -- Samuel Johnson (in answer to Thomas Jefferson and the American Colonists).
Americans in general, and uneducated ones in particular, have a nasty habit of looking at their founding documents in isolation, as if these marbled monuments, with their words engraved, were simply "discovered" or "written." They "were not written": they had writers, and they had thinkers. In addition, they had an audience, too. When Americans think of their own founding moments without any grounding in seventeenth and eighteenth century English political thought, they mistake everything. They come away amazed at the genius of Thomas Jefferson, silently blot out parts of his document, and put a piece of polemic through an apotheosis.

What I'd like to do, with my background, is try to look at the "Declaration of Independence" as a letter, which is the form it partially emulates, and a polemic, which it emphatically is. The document is an argument that is attempting to be persuasive.

For Thomas Jefferson, the ultimate goal of his Declaration is that Parliament would vote to let the colonies go without a fight. Follow me below for some detail.

"The Government" as alien and a new nihilism

Mon, 27 May 2013 20:17:28 +0000

"All seems infected that th'infected spy,
As all looks yellow to the jaundic'd eye." – Alexander Pope, Essay on Criticism I, l. 557-8.
I could subtitle this, "Further explorations of my brother's pathology." My version of The Brother is not to be mistaken for Myles na gCopaleen's, who is charmingly retrograde. Mine listens to rage radio, owns a construction firm, employs anecdotal evidence, and uses his ample intelligence to rationalize from irrational premises. The last time I wrote about My Brother, I was appalled by his vision of self-reliance.

I have since heard from him on the subject of banks.

"Never write a check for money you don't have," he said. "It's that simple." I pointed out the infamous order-of-payments scam, and he said, "You have to expect that." Then I pointed out the hidden fees, where banks can deduct fees directly from account holders without permission or notice, and, again, "They're going to make a profit." I said that what they were doing was wrong, and he said, as a total explanation:

"People are flawed, evil. You need to expect them to be that way and not look for Government to bail you out."

I answered, "Flawed doesn't mean evil, and, even if it did, wouldn't it be compulsory for us to then structure laws to mitigate that evil?" He said he needed to go. That's ok. I don't want to hold a one-sided argument or triumph over anyone, but I do want to show the consequences of metaphors and how a seed planted in 1981 has grown into a mighty Triffid.

Credit this: I'm Incredible say Creditable Sources

Mon, 13 May 2013 18:29:42 +0000

"the Fifth Lateran Council (1515) defines usury as follows:
'For that is the real meaning of usury: when, from its use, a thing which produces nothing is applied to the acquiring of gain and profit without any work, any expense or any risk' (Session X). (A very, very, very apologetic Roman Catholic page).
Ah, our banks. Not enough has been written about them, has it? I jest, of course, because, between "systemic risk" and "moral hazard" and "banksters" and "vampire squids" and "derivatives" and "bespoke documentation," it seems as if it is possible to know exactly what is wrong with "banks" and have no idea whatsoever what to do with them. Furthermore, with hoarse throats more common than sniffles in allergy season, that problem (singular, mind you) is one thing for what we're told is the left and another for what tells us is the right.

The clotted wits of the Cato Institute (why don't they remember what Cato did when he lost a campaign?) assure us that a) Dodd-Frank won't work (because the crisis was caused by lending to too many people for housing (you know who), and not because those loans were turned into traded instruments for derivatives), and National Review adds that it b) will destroy all that is good and holy in money (Michael Barone is an absolute treasure and should have his own exhibit in the Museum of Bathos) (the problem for Barone is Friends of Obama).

I can refer you to our own pages for why our version of "the" problem is unmoved. I agree with us, of course, that the problem is that a capital class has emerged that is insulated by layers of power and lobbying from any consequences of any action, no matter how dire. Nevertheless, I want to point at another problem, one that is anterior to the crashes, one that Elizabeth Warren was warning about in Maxed Out, and that is the poisoned well of usury: the incipient interest each and every crediting agent has in seeing all borrowers have poor credit.

When a bank gets a profit on late payments, then it is in that bank's interests to see that payments are late. If a bank gets to charge higher interest for a person with poor credit, then it is in that bank's interests for all persons to have poor credit. Thanks to the miraculous invention of write down accounting, the credit-worthiness and repayment are irrelevant.*

The Weaponized Lie of Self-Reliance

Wed, 24 Apr 2013 18:15:07 +0000

"Averagely wise a man ought to be,
never too wise;
for a wise man's heart is seldom cheerful,
if he who owns it is too wise." -- "Sayings of the High One" 55, Poetic Edda
I had a very, very nasty shock the other day as I talked to my brother. He does not know me, as the last time he did I was twenty, and now I'm in my fifties, but the truth is that I do not know him, either. We are forced together by my mother's death, and it is predictably nightmarish. He delivered an opinion in cold calm that I could not imagine from the hottest rage.

I came to live with my mother eight years ago, partly to take care of her as her emphysema worsened. Initially, she was looking after me, as I made it past suicidal tendencies after losing my job, but I got past those pretty quickly. I passed up job searches and . . . ambition during that time. My brother said that he thought I shouldn't have. As for her health, "I believe actions have consequences. She was an adult. She knew that smoking was going to kill her."

His first principle (consequences) was greater than family, too, so I told him that my religion, if nothing else, forbade such thoughts. I wasn't going to argue, partly because I was too startled, but his statement struck me as so quintessentially the product of a self-deception and a lie (which are different) that I thought it worth exploring. After all, the GOP primary debates had the crowd cheering "Let him die!" While Republican politicians won't quite say "Let the uninsured die," their pundits have said so.

These "actions have consequences" of the "self-reliant" fallacies need destruction. After the break, I'll volunteer my efforts.

Stealing a Gift

Thu, 18 Apr 2013 15:23:55 +0000

"When you deal with your brother, be pleasant, but get a witness." -- Hesiod, Works and Days
Nearly two decades ago, I decided that I was done with anger. I mean it. I was overtopped with injustice, as I saw it.

The occasion was a girlfriend going out on a date with a new guy while I was in fury. I could not sleep for rage, could not think. I was blistering under the heat of my own indignation and righteousness, and then a thought occurred to me. I thought, as every man in my situation (or woman, probably), that as I suffered, she was laughing and enjoying herself and having great sex, and my misery was farthest from her mind. Like everyone before me and since, that sent my rage up a notch, and then. . . it led me to quit.

What I was feeling was not hurting her. All that I could dream up, all that I could plan, all that I could wish, was doing absolutely nothing to her, but it was killing me. I was the one who was getting ill, hastening to my grave, and ruining my work. I was suffering for her bad actions, and I was the one doing it.

That was it. I decided from then on that I wasn't going to get like that again. It didn't do anything, after all. Why would I want to do my enemies a favor and hurt myself?

Strangers and Saints - the problem of puritains

Sun, 07 Apr 2013 14:40:57 +0000

Last week, as my mother died in hospice, I was following a Cadillac Escallade. Its windows were tinted dark, and its back window had a message for the poor fool following. It said,

Not of this world
I did not know that my mother was dying at that moment, but it would not have mattered for the bitterness, nor the irony. After all, my mother loved her Cadillac Sedan De Ville cars, back when they were made of steel and absurdity. This person's entry into the competition for curb crushing weight and sky obliterating volume was just another harlequin at the fair.

What stood out was the message. The owner of the car took the time to brand it in such a way that it advertised and advocated an other worldly point of view -- one that troubled me immensely.

The lost conservative (really)

Wed, 20 Mar 2013 19:42:02 +0000

I had students ask me, just last week, to define "liberal" and "conservative," "left" and "right," and "fascist." A student said that she had heard the labels for a long time, and she got them, sort of, but what would be a real definition? Since the place I teach is politically conservative and Christian conservative, I hesitated.

I said, "Historically and literally, conservatives wish to conserve the establishment or, by extension, bring back a lost norm. Liberals, historically, have believed that human happiness can be increased and improved, and human liberty improved, by change. As for the fascists, they were a party in Italy who placed power at the center of their ideology and the concept of the revival of a Roman Republican ideal of virtue. The Nazi Party in Germany was fascist in some ways, but it added in social Darwinism."

I'm always on notice, in a way, since I'm a Suspected Liberal, so I keep that in mind. I wanted them to understand that it's a reasonable toughie: is the best to come through changing things, or is the best already on earth and found by preserving or recreating a past? A couple of faces looked suspicious, but most accepted that my definitions were probably right, if squirmy.

Today's conservatives are not usually conservative at all. They do not seek to conserve or preserve existing laws, but rather to recreate a mythical period of nuclear families and ethnic certainty and prosperity. Today's conservatives are, generally, radicals. When someone stands forth and proclaims an effort to go back to a hypothetical period of free markets without laws that is presumed, on the basis of Locke, to have existed, that person is just as much of a radical as a Marxist proposing to tear up the government to go back to "primitive communism" that is presumed to exist based on observations of American Indians reported in the German periodicals of the 19th century. In other words, there is absolutely nothing "conservative" about Paul Ryan that isn't conservative about Huey Long, and that includes fundamental outlook (more of that after the split).

What's more striking, though, is that we have lost a real conservative type since the "Reagan revolution" in 1980: we have lost the skeptical conservative. I did not bring up to my students the question of outlook on human benevolence, but it's one of the defining elements of the conservative/liberal split. Are humans, by nature, rotten little vermin who will bite the hand that feeds them and the teat that nurses them, or are they essentially benign and only vicious when under duress? Do we need to police against humanity or do we need to liberate it?

The Lure of Night

Wed, 13 Feb 2013 14:18:24 +0000

"The common soldier shall here fight for gold, and pay himself, instead of pence, with plates of half a foot broad, whereas he breaketh his bones in other wars for provant and penury. Those commanders and chieftains that shoot at honor and abundance shall find there more sepulchers filled with treasure, than either Cortez found in Mexico, or Pizarro in Peru. . . " -- Walter Ralegh, "The discovery of the large, rich, and beautiful Empire of Guiana"
We have no night as our ancestors understood and feared it. In both the literal and the many figurative senses of the word, we are without the dark. Astronomers backyard and professional bemoan the lightened skies, but it's worse than that. Our air is being strummed by radio signals along all spectra. All sorts of things are peeping through our bodies, ourselves in search of the single devices tuned to receive them and decode them. Our maps are filled in with more detail than we can usually understand, and geographers report that the average person (that poor, mythical beast) cannot even follow the deep red lines or locate the compass rose without a rhomboid box on a car dash or a cell phone given a paternal or maternal "turn left."
No matter how incapable a person gets when stripped clean of devices, the mind of that average person is without darkness, without night. This is almost all to the good. After all, what have we done -- from fire at the camp to fire extending from an Atlas rocket -- except designed a progression of extensions of our eyes and our light to banish the darkness? It is almost all to the good, though, because we cannot lose even our primal enemies without diminishing.

What did the dark promise us? How did the unknown keep us huddled in our families? More importantly, what dreams came from it? I would like to link some of the maladaptive features of today -- Belle Isle crazytown and millinerian militias -- to a consequence of our closed off unknown.

A True Revolution: Loyalty Oaths

Thu, 03 Jan 2013 15:40:54 +0000

My mind, when it works.
Oh so many things that get through the radiation shields and penetrate my skull, that I am customarily interested in something, and educated slightly in it, but not actually qualified to really speak above a barber shop level upon. If I were as self-deluded as my neighbors, or as arrogant as my detractors maintain, this would be no impediment, but, in truth, I tend to look for areas where, at least if I don't have an encyclopedic or penetrative knowledge, I can feel safe that no one else does, either.

The topic of the loyalty oath came up in a Teacherken diary. He spoke about our seventy year history of loyalty oaths as weapons against citizen activism. Our children and the young need to know about that history. However, I want to write about the loyalty oath as an ongoing event, both the function of the thing and the practice of it. After all, such a laughable, hated thing must have a use.

A Philippic

Fri, 28 Dec 2012 13:23:14 +0000

This diary should be unpopular. It might render me unpopular, too, but the end of the year is a good time for this.

If we take stock, we go to our time as merchants, looking through our lives and actions, or as pioneers braving isolation. We can count our goods in missed chances and our taken umbrage and given offense. We have failed at the good and succeeded at the evil under an array of titles, as a nation, but it amounts to the same. Our stockade has within it grinning devils wearing pious vestments.

Exigency -- ever the excuse of the slave driver and blessing of the torturer -- has made the lesser evil hold out for eternal imprisonment without charge as a precondition of the military budget. Amelioration -- a title worn by the amputating doctor -- glosses the armed drone that ignores borders and red crescents. Security -- the most transparent film ever donned by power -- has investigators and dissidents quietly murmuring that the evidence for a kill list must be tinged in holy awe and terror too great for vulgar eyes and that the apocrypha of such things may be trusted only to eyes with votes.

(If you've had enough, that's fine. If you're in the mood for more, there is more, and it gets more personal.)

Just dirt

Tue, 18 Dec 2012 14:39:57 +0000

"Washy, washy, washy queen
Get that dirty shirty clean." -- Anonymous marketeer
Folks complain about dirtiness, and dirtiness is synonymous with both unhealthiness and depravity. One watches a "dirty" movie in the browser tab alternate and hides it when the boss walks by. One avoids "dirty old men." The old shut-in was certain to die of disease, as it was dirty in there. Conversely, she was tidy and "it didn't have a speck of dirt" on it.

For all of our industrialized taboo toward dirt, I'd like to see anyone go out and make some.

The stuff we plant in is "soil," even though "soiling" is even more shameful than being dirty. You won't find any gardening center selling 5 lbs. of "top dirt." Farmers seek out "rich" dirt, and we say that a person without natural aristocracy is "common as dirt," probably because they are "dirt poor."

Ken Burns's The Dust Bowl surprised viewers with just how severe that particular disaster was, and I have met people who realized for the very first time that regulations on farming came about because of the cock-up of the Dust Bowl. It's funny, though, that southerners, in particular, should be educated by the documentary, because the evidence of the Dust Bowl, and soil erosion in particular, is all around us.

Two Faces of Holiday Sadness

Sun, 25 Nov 2012 13:02:04 +0000

I wanted to let Thanksgiving pass, and the Chamber of Commerce's holy days go by as well, before speaking of holiday burdens. I'm not one to write a diary about emotions in any case, and I beg pardon now.

Holidays, though, can make those of us who are alone or depressive feel as if we are pregnant with a void. This weight of nothingness in our stomachs grows and grows as radio, television, and shop windows chant the days left until it's delivered -- just as they do to gravid women (whose bellies become community property by virtue of "Awww, cute"). Each B-roll crammed television ad, every news story about traditions and shopping stampedes makes the birth ever more implosive.

Lousy metaphor, but it fits the feeling. All that really arrives at a holiday is expectation, but expectations make for long and painful labor.

I don't believe "seasonal affective disorder" is worth much outside of a clinical setting. If it's a disorder, then it refers to inappropriate emotions, and it's not inappropriate for unmarried, childless people to feel melancholy, nor for those suffering financially or medically. If it's a sickness to feel sad about being alone or poor or sick, then America's industrial efficiency at building whole-life experiences called "holidays" is a public health menace.

So I'm not going to talk about seasonal blues. I'm going to talk about Thanksgiving day, Christmas day, and New Year's Eve.

I know, as the fellow said, that "I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me. I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious; with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in." What most depresses me about the holidays is how darned whining I can be about them, and I get like that because of two fundamental mistakes: looking at others, and looking at what I have given back. If you follow below, I'll use two poems -- Gerard Manley Hopkins's "Thou art indeed just Lord if I contend" and John Berryman's "Dream Song 385" -- to show how these two fundamental habits of looking at others and looking at one's worth lead to that ethereal, ghostly feeling that often makes the holidays wretched.

The Short and Long Memory: To Understand Red Rage

Wed, 21 Nov 2012 19:34:22 +0000

I will not, as I can not, explain or mitigate the professionally annoyed and annoying creatures of this world whose allegiance to party or hatred of party is such that reason is a mere hostage in their daily dramas. For most of them, the market explains them, or personal pathologies do, but logic is of no use as an analytical tool. Rage radio gets more listeners by making anger, and the speakers may believe what they say or not -- it's irrelevant -- and logic is simply a tether that marks how far they may go before alienating their market and becoming the middle of the night conspiracy guy. The dedicated omphalus of rage -- a Hannity or the like -- may have some genuine psychological deviation in maturation or some trauma or some bit of malign experience magnetized to some center of joy, but logic will not pry such things loose from any distance.

However, the passing man, and it usually is a man, or the staid woman who is certain beyond discussion of the secret truth that is contrary to what you and I trade in can be understood, at least in impulse. Such a person is not bad, but there is a reason for the unreason. Part of it, I will argue below our cornice of orange, is due to the two phases of memory among Republicans -- the legendary and the oblivious -- and part of it is due to a simple frustration with logic itself.

If you don't know yet, I hate to be the one to bear the brunt of the argument, but logic is insufficient for human experience. See below, if you wish.

Our Quiesent Conscience with the "Lethal Presidency"

Wed, 24 Oct 2012 13:38:06 +0000

Since it is impossible to count on enough moral goodwill among those who possess irresponsible power to sacrifice it for the good of the whole, it must be destroyed by coercive methods and these will always run the peril of introducing new forms of injustice in place of those abolished. -- Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man in an Immoral Society
I worry. I also have an expertise at feeling guilty. I suspect that I'm somehow to blame for "American Idol" and clamshell packaging. I used to be outraged all the time (even when I was asleep, as I could snore with an expression of horror and angst), but now I'm filled with dread. The good have taken up the tools of the wicked.

Tom Junod has an inescapable article at Esquire Politics. I recommend it highly, but bring an oxygen mask, because he leaves the reader a bit abraded and breathless. I do not want to tread the same ground that he does, but I suppose we need to pick up the cudgels anyway.

Junod uses the phrase "the lethal presidency" to refer to the executive who commands drones and, in a black mirror of Santa Claus, looks over a list and checks it twice. However, Junod was looking from the point of view of legal and political theory. Fire Dog Lake looked from a political point of view. The questions there are fearful. I want to ask, instead, about our silence.

I noted, first, on the day after we heard about the shooting of Osama bin Laden, and I ask again: how unearthly quiet is our moral philosophy! How dead is our religious dialog! I am no great matter, but I'll explain why I think this quietism is not just a twee little fit after our cross-tie of dedication.

How the GOP can make us Jobs

Wed, 03 Oct 2012 23:32:12 +0000

"Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? 10 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. 11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face." -- Job 1:9 - 11 Once upon a time, university trained individuals believed that the relationship between the signifier (sound/letters/look of a sign) and the signified (concept/object of a sign) was not arbitrary. It is one of those "human" truths that words that rhyme share qualities, despite the randomness of speech, because, with or without education, human society seems to churn up a belief in the innate magic of words. A similarity of sound could denote a metaphysical sameness or relatedness, and we have all heard about the ancient practice of witchcraft that entailed little more than writing a name down. Either way, the coincidence of "job" and Job is more or less dormant, but it occurs to me that the Republicans have told the truth: they are Job creators. Like Satan, they are certain that the only reason they're not winning is that there is some cheating going on. It starts with assuming that their view is "natural," that "the American people" is a phrase that is exactly synonymous with "I" -- a phenomenon John Boehner demonstrates weekly. (Will someone just count the times he has spoken that phrase into the Congressional Record?) The key to an assumption is that one is unaware of its existence. Whatever seems normal, natural, and "of course" is most in danger of being an assumption. Once a person, or a party, takes this assumption -- that the nation agrees with their position -- then delusions follow. A person begins believing his radio show has gultrillbions of listeners, that his Op/Ed hour on television is the most watched commercial in history, and that 2,000 attending a rally is greater than Martin Luther King ever drew. It could be that narcissism is involved. I can't say. It could be a failure of ego differentiation. However, GOP speakers are now certain, and have been for some time, that Democrats only ever win when they have dead voters or organized negroes. There can be no other explanation, once the assumption of "normal," "everyone knows," "97% of Fox viewers agree" is in place. That's when polls must be biased for not biasing reality toward wishful thinking, when the people are "fooled" by the president because stupid, etc. (This sounds like Festinger's "cognitive dissonance" to me: having invested all they are in the myth of the right wing past, the right wing as "Americanism," any America that rejects conservativism cannot be real.) [...]