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Friday, December 28, 2007

The Continuing Saga of Next in the Series

Although, some months ago, I had to admit to myself that I couldn't make Next in the Series work as a radio show (mainly because it's too difficult to convince the guys with the money to take a chance on it), I haven't been able to give up the dream entirely. I really like many of the scripts I wrote and think they work best as audio plays. And I like the medium. There are things that can be done in audio that no other medium can achieve.

And so, I've started to think about it again, only, this time, I plan to concentrate on the world of audio publishing rather than radio.

I'm still faced with some of the old problems: lack of money and actors. However, I could approach the whole series differently, more piecemeal. It would cost less to get started, far less. And I could put my toe in the water by producing (or publishing, if you will) just one to start with and follow up with others if there is any sign of a demand.

I doubt that anything will come of this soon. It's all very back burner kind of stuff. However, after a period of thinking it dead, it's fun to be thinking about pursuing it again.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What to Do

Earlier today, I loaded the samples from Next in the Series onto my iPod and listened to them to see whether they would make serviceable podcasts. They are short and decently produced and perhaps of a better quality than most podcasts currently available. The result was mixed. There was something missing from the pieces, and it seemed to me to be something missing mostly in the writing.

None of it really worked.

Now, part of that might be the medium. It is possible that they were just bad scripts for audio and might work in some other format. It's possible, but I don't think so.

I think the problem is that I have to stop trying to be funny. That's not to say that I should eschew humor entirely, but that I should just let it slip out whenever it comes to me naturally. I should avoid doing what one must do when writing professional-type comedy: Go for big laughs several times a minute.

As I've been working on Drayton these last almost three years, I've had to learn how to cut the jokes and to write differently--more subtly and seriously. I think this is a lesson that I have to take to my other writing endeavors. Even though I'm a funny writer, I'm not a comedy writer. Even though I'm capable of writing jokes--sometimes damn good jokes, too--I shouldn't.

I think that, at the end of the day, the problem with those pieces wasn't that they were bad, it's that they weren't as good as I could make them. And the reason for that was that I was always writing jokes.

At least, that's what it looks like from Parnassus today.

Monday, September 10, 2007


As I've looked back over my previous post, I've come to realize that there could be some confusion as to my intent. When I said that I was dropping out, I meant simply dropping out of the news cycle, not running away from blogging.

The problem with being immersed in the news cycle is partially explained by this article in Vanity Fair that shows how badly the media porked Al Gore in the 2000 election. I was particularly struck by one thing that I had either forgotten or never knew because wasn't reported by the dreaded MSM: As of the first debate in 2000, George W. Bush didn't know that Social Security was a federal program. Any news organization that overlooked that to focus on Al Gore sighing should be run out of business. Of course, that would include roughly all of them, and running them out of business would save numberless trees and free up many hours of valuable TV time for sitcoms and idiotic reality shows.

The fact is that these news services did the nation a huge disservice by promoting the 24 Lies About Al Gore. How much deadly farce would we have avoided in the past six years had Gore's margin of victory in Florida been large enough to be tamperproof? It's hard to tell, but we would probably be living in a much saner, safer, and freer society than we currently do.

And we have to wonder, which boob will they give us this next time? (I'm assuming that only a boob can win since the lesson of 2000 is that competence for the job is not a criterion.) And, personally, I have begun to wonder what effect my watching this mess day-in-and-day-out will have on anything. And the answer is: None. The only effect that will come from my nonparticpation in the news cycle will be a mild stabilizing of my blood pressure, something, as shown in the pie chart in USA Today, that I am completely in favor of.

Back in the early '90s, I dropped out of the news cycle. I stopped reading the paper and stopped watching the news. And lo and behold, I was none the worse for it. My life didn't fall apart. My thoughts could drift to larger, more meaningful things than just whatever the scandal of the moment was, and when a friend of mine would come to me and say, "Did you hear about...?" I could answer, "No," and then give him an entirely different perspective than whatever was current in the media. This usually led to really interesting discussions that gave both of us a refreshed outlook. Both he (nominally a conservative) and I (allegedly a liberal) found that we agreed on much more than we disagreed on or than the media would have led us to believe. People having rational discussions and finding common ground doesn't make a good story.

And so, I will still be blogging when a thought occurs to me. The only difference will be that the ideas might be a little bigger or subtler and not needlessly weighted by the flickering show of current events.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Dropping Out

I have just finished deleting all the news feeds from both my My Yahoo! and iGoogle homepages. I have also unsubscribed to The New York Times Select service and will no longer be getting emails from The Atlanta Journal and Constitution.

In other words, I'm done.

Keeping abreast of current events is widely held to be wise and good. My mother's favorite pastime was pouring over the day's newspaper from stem-to-stern. She'd also make sure she watched both the local and national news programs at 6pm, and the local again at 11pm. She got these habits from her father, and there is no way of knowing how far back the tradition goes.

But not any more.

My readings of the Taoist sages Lao Tse and Chuang Tse have long since taught me the futility of keeping up with current events, and I have to say that keeping up with the news has done nothing to make me happier or wiser. Writing politically minded essays has done nothing for me or the world. It's all bombast and word games.

The simple truth is that people's minds can't be changed. They are going to believe what they are going to believe. Arguments and rationality do nothing.

The only hope lies in art. A decent piece of art aims not at the head, but at the gut and the heart. A good work of art can change a person not by changing their politics, whatever that really means, but by opening their heart in compassion and engaging their sympathy and their humanity.

And so I go forth as an artist, avoiding the temporal and trying to understand the eternal. I have no idea what effect this might have on this blog. Maybe it will improve it. I have no plans to kill it quite yet, though.

I'll see you on the other side.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I didn't want to write this, but I've seen too many articles in which the points I'm about to make apply in the last weeks, days, and hours, that I cannot avoid writing about it. Then maybe I can shut the hell up like I'd like to.

In the last few weeks, the fundamental flaw in modern American conservative philosophy has made itself plain to me.

It really hit me when I was thinking about the limitations of Libertarianism. Now, there are issues on which I actually agree with the Libertarians, more so, actually, than I do with the Neocons, so their basic assumptions were easier to examine. I understood and sympathized with their point of view in certain areas, therefore, it was relatively simple to apply that viewpoint to other subjects to see how they turned out.

And that's what revealed the flaw.

The fundamental problem with conservative thought is its reliance on simplistic economic notions, such as, "The Wisdom of the Marketplace," and "Greed is good." This is an attitude that leads them to social Darwinism (despite a pronounced distaste in well-known conservatives for biological Darwinism) and other notions that stress competition above all other qualities. They live in a fantasy world in which the race is always to the swift and the laurels to the just. Those of us who live in the real world know just how wrong those ideas can be.

What further struck me about this line of thought was that it encouraged an unending attack on the idea of community. To the conservative mindset, we are never a community, but merely an assemblage of individuals, all out to best the others, striving for survival in a lonely, existential struggle. This is not only a cynical and bleak worldview, but it fails to take into account a very basic aspect of human nature.

That is that we are a herd animal.

One of the most primal instincts in humans is the instinct to belong. We create tribes with social structures and rudimentary governments whenever we form groups and always have. We are, by our very nature, social and cooperative, not solitary and competitive.

Now, the people who rail against government misunderstand what government is, especially government in a representative democracy. They see it as being an oppressive force that exists somehow outside of society. It is a demon and must be fought so that the marketplace can properly be preserved. The truth, of course, is that government exists, in modern democracies, to work the will of The People. We are the government, and when we war against it, we war against ourselves. This is the point of elections and participation. Ronald Reagan was wrong. Government isn't the problem. People who think that government's the problem are the problem because government is the most outward expression of our community.

We can see this attack on the idea of community in several issues and events of recent years. The first, of course, was in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. When Mr Bush made his speech and asked us to go shopping instead of asking us to sacrifice and to fight on the home front, he was refuting the idea of America as a community. And when, other than in those shocked and hollow days following the attacks, was America more of a community? Never in my lifetime, and never since World War II. We came together as the tribe America and that solidarity was wasted by indifference to its power and grandeur and importance.

The response to the devastation of the Gulf Coast region by Hurricane Katrina only two years ago last week also demonstrated a profound indifference to the concept of community. The slow response, the preferential treatment given insiders like Trent Lott, and the disdain practiced and witnessed (by Barbara Bush, most famously) toward the refugees (which is what they were if we want to use plain English) all show an inability to recognize that a part of our community, our tribe, was endangered. Compare the response to Katrina with the response to the earthquake and fire in San Francisco in 1906. San Francisco was rebuilt and hosting a Wold's Fair in 10 years. Can we hold out the same sort of hope for New Orleans?

According to Paul Krugman in his column, "Katrina All the Time" that appeared in The New York Times on Friday, August 31, 2007,

"Less than half the federal money set aside for rebuilding, as opposed to emergency relief, has actually been spent, in part because the Bush administration refused to waive the requirement that local governments put up matching funds for recovery projects — an impossible burden for communities whose tax bases have literally been washed away."

Is this how we treat our fellow citizens, fellow members of our community?

Mr Krugman goes on, in that column, to refer to the crisis we are suffering in the area of health insurance. The basic problem that we face in regards to health care is that we approach this most fundamental of communal concerns as a commodity. It is not. Although, to the shallow person, it may seem that another's illness is his own problem and not the concern of the community, one must only look slightly below the surface in order to see the fallacy of that outlook. Illnesses untreated are illnesses that are allowed, nay, encouraged to spread. Illnesses reduce productivity and efficiency of the society as a whole, and using emergency rooms (as Mr Bush so famously offers) as ersatz clinics reduces their efficiency in dealing with the desperately injured that they are designed to care for.

Of course, Mr Bush, the alleged Christian, needs to learn a lesson from Jesus: "What you do to the least of them, you do to me."

Jesus, of course, understood the concept of community, and the early church that rose after his death existed as a collection of communes, that is, social organizations that survived through cooperation and mutual concern. There is nothing in the four Gospels, that I am aware of, that advocates ignoring the sick, attacking the poor, or forsaking the downtrodden. There is quite a bit, on the other hand, about opening one's heart in compassion and treating others as we would have them treat us.

A previous Krugman column, one entitled, "A Socialist Plot," (NYT 8/27/07) compared providing universal health care with providing public education, and public education is another area in which people show a shortsighted disregard for community. Quite often one will hear someone fulminate over having to pay property taxes that support schools to which they have no children to go. This is blinkered and miserly. We should, all of us, be happily supporting our schools. If looked at communally, it is easy to see that every member of a community benefits from good schools, regardless of whether they have children to go there or not. Well educated children will end up contributing far more back into a society than they ever took out. Also, students who are well educated and who have a variety of extra-curricular activities will be less likely to become involved in drinking, drugs, sex, and crimes, all activities that people who foam at the mouth over their property taxes also tend to complain about.

Of course, I am in favor of nationalizing elementary and secondary education and rolling back the property taxes now collected for their support in favor of another tax scheme, possibly a national sales tax (and, yes, I know that's regressive, but a regressive tax might actually work to give the poor and middle class bigger voices in education). Public education funded and administered on a local level has resulted in poor schools that function with widely divergent criteria, curricula, texts, and approaches. Education is, for the nation as a community, too important to pursue in such a patchwork, haphazard, and unequal fashion. By not approaching education as a national concern, we undermine ourselves intellectually and competitively and renounce our obligations to ourselves as a community.

But enough. I could go on for many paragraphs, many more than I have already erected, without changing a single mind on this. It is too easy for us to see ourselves as eternally separate and isolated. It is far too easy to look at our neighbor as being "the other" or the guy down the street or the person in another city. We can stand apart in a series of toggled positions and identifications: liberal, conservative, religious, irreligious, pro-this, anti-that. And it will all get us nowhere.

Monday, September 03, 2007

My Response to the Latest Stanley Fish Blog Post

Stanley Fish has written on the inability he perceives liberalism to have in having tolerance for religious faith. My meager response follows:

There is actually an older source than either Milton or Mill for the notion of separation of church and state: Jesus of Nazareth. He said, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and render unto God what is God's." (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26)

2000 years before Stanley Fish, Jesus was able to point out the fallacy of Professor Fish's argument. Professor Fish assumes that religious inquiry and political action are activities that exist in the same sphere: public. However, the realm of the spirit is inherently private and personal, and while it will undoubtedly influence the political and public outlook of an individual, it is not and should not be a public expression in and of itself.

Jesus is also the best source for wisdom on what to make of those who would move their spiritual quests from the private realm to the public: "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:5-6) The meaning here, to me, is clear. The TV preachers, the Ayatollahs, the President who sees his administration as being ordained of God are all hypocrites. By making their spirituality (if true spirituality it be) so needlessly public, they subvert it.

For it is possible to be spiritual and political and to keep both in their proper place. In that case, spirituality and even adherence to a set of particular religious dogmas can be a helpful and healthy thing. The private informs and illuminates the public. Unfortunately, the reverse is quite often the result of mixing the two, and the public political ideas come to dominate the personal and spiritual.

Professor Fish does, though, discuss a difficult sticking point for many who would identify themselves as "liberal." As tempting as it is to sometimes wish to deny others free speech because we believe their religious and political beliefs intolerable, we cannot. For when we do, we are the hypocrites praying on the street corners. Even those who understand religion to be a sword rather than a balm must be allowed to speak, and we must try to engage them with rationality, regardless of the frustrations involved in doing so. It's not easy, but that's how it is.

Finally, if Professor Fish does not think that George W. Bush is a religious extremist, he is living in a fantasy world. His entire description of the balancing act he claims that American politicians have to walk is absurd and indicates that he must have been either unconscious or sequestered during both General Elections in 2000 and 2004.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Two Quick Things

First, I'm working on a long piece that I couldn't stop myself from writing. Unfortunately, it is a complex subject and more than I could get done this afternoon. I will get it posted as soon as possible.

Second, I just have to take a moment and talk about Sen. Larry Craig.

I have read a number of items concerning this nearly nonscandal (had this come out a month from now, he probably would have been able to get a way with it), and there is one point that I would like to put a slightly different spin on. It seems to be generally assumed that Sen Craig must be a closet homosexual in order for him to go poncing about men's restrooms looking for a bit of anonymous fun, however, I think that current researches into sexual habits and the attitudes toward sex exhibited by many of our citizens shows this assumption to be outdated.

When Sen. Craig says that he is not gay, he should be believed. (I'm not, by the way, excusing his abysmal record in the area of gay rights. His opinions there are as foolish and thoughtless as his habit of reaching under men's room stalls looking for whatever might find him.) To people of this ilk, the gender of their "partner" (and I use the term loosely, because the idea of two people being partners hits an existential wall when you're talking about a glory hole) is meaningless. The experience is the whole point.

People like Sen. Craig are, to my mind, simply obsessed with trying to drown the pain of their lives in the pursuit of an orgasm. The other participants in the act are more object than subject, a means to an end, if you'll pardon the expression. Love and humanity and compassion are irrelevant and almost quaint. They get caught up in the fantasies of pornography and become convinced that what they do is reasonable and not immoral. They are the great rationalizers, people who convince themselves that it is not adultery if intercourse never occurs or if they pay for it. They are sad and deluded people. But not necessarily gay.

I'm Sorry

Lately I haven't felt much like blogging. There doesn't seem to be much point.

In fact, this morning, I had intended to write one of my lengthy political essays, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it once I was faced with the blank screen. It's not the thoughts involved; I think I have some interesting points to make. It is simply that I've begun to question the value of spending hours--and my best posts take me all day--writing essays that few will read and fewer care about.

The situation is not really as bathetic as that last sentence might indicate. In terms of mood, I'm doing better than I can ever remember, thanks mostly to this great mood elevator called a multi-vitamin. Apparently my lifelong struggle with depression was a vitamin deficiency. Go figure.

In fact, it has been in the time that my mood has improved that my blog productivity has slacked off. I now find that I'd rather spend my writing time working on the novel or writing something that might be published someplace for--I don't know--money than I would in pontificating on social questions that my bloviating will never affect.

Were my platform more elevated, had I an audience big enough to bring my opinions to the ears of those who control us, perhaps blogging would be worth the time and trouble.

I will not be deleting this blog, and I don't know that I won't pop off from time-to-time. What I am describing is the situation at this moment, and moments have a way of morphing on us. Today's truth is tomorrow's delusion and tomorrow's delusion is next week's pleasant memory.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Michael Drayton, Detective Guy Blog Redux

I have revived the Drayton novel blog in a cynical attempt at increasing its marketability. And just the fact that I used the word "marketability" makes me want to go take a shower.

Anyway, in the future, for all your Michael Drayton, Detective guy news, head back to the Michael Drayton, Detective Guy blog. It's free, and, who knows, it might even increase your marketability.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Just in Case You Miss the Sopranos

This is my favorite piece from the demo for the Next in the Series radio show.

It's All Thanks to Tidiness

I found the following cartoon I had drawn while clearing off my desk this morning:

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You just never know what you'll find.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Back in My Day

And, from At Last the 1948 Show:

Everything You Know Is Wrong

More Firesign Theatre courtesy of Youtube. It's stealing, but at least I'm stealing from somebody I like.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Debating Debating

As the number of preprimary presidential debates has risen into the low hundreds, I've been thinking about the utility of this fairly recent and television friendly institution.

The problem with the debates is this: They are stupid. And pointless. And not debates. They are joint press conferences, and uninformative ones at that. The candidates easily sidestep saying anything that means anything and instead stick to the fricking talking points that dominate current American politics. This goes for all debates involving candidates from either party or both together.

The format is such that, even when a candidate slips up and says something that might give a glimmer of what they actually think, the other candidates and the moderators are so focused on their scripts that they can't do anything to explore the implications of the slip up. For example, in the second debate between Mr Bush and Mr Kerry in the last general election, the town hall-style one, Mr Bush was asked what Supreme Court decisions he thought had been decided correctly. Well, this question fell clearly outside what he had rehearsed, and, since he knows nothing of history or law, he was left grasping for the name of a case. The one he came up with was Dred Scott.

Now, for those who have forgotten their junior high school history class, Dred Scott v. Sandford was an important Supreme Court decision that occurred just before the Civil War. Dred Scott was a slave who sued to obtain his freedom based on tenures spent living in free states. The Supreme Court found that black people had no rights to citizenship according to the Constitution and found that Scott was not a man with standing to sue, but a piece of property without it.

This is the decision that Mr Bush thought was well-decided.

The amazing thing to me was that no one called him on it. Kerry, instead of jumping on that like a hamster on a pellet, ignored it. Bob Schieffer ignored it. The papers ignored. Everyone ignored it. Here he was, saying, by extension, that he thought slavery was a good thing and no one said anything. How could they? It wasn't in the script.

What I would rather see is a series of discussions. Match up candidates in a round robin of discussions. Make them sit across a table from one another and make them say things. Instead of asking questions, which can be phrased in prejudicial and misleading ways, offer topics. Iraq. Healthcare. The budget. Trade policy. Cuba. Whatever. Make 'em slug it out.

(Just for the record, true debates do not feature questions being asked of individuals. They start with resolutions, such as "Resolved: The national speed limit should be lowered to 55," not "What would you think of the death penalty if your wife was brutally raped and murdered?" These things aren't really debates.)

In order to have a discussion, you have to have an exchange of ideas. One person has to listen to the other. Since you can never tell what direction a conversation is going to go in, the answers can't be prepared in advance and memorized. And when the other person says that he thinks that Dred Scott was a good decision, you can take his measure, look him in the eye, and say, "Do you really?"

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Coffee, Coffee Everywhere

Again I've commented on a post of Stanley Fish's--a critique of Starbuck's and other such emporia--in The New York Times Select pages. It came out so good that I couldn't help but post it here. Sorry.

As I've let this controversy sit for a couple of days, I've had to modify my initial support for this column (#12). The fallacy of Mr Fish's argument is that he forgets that, even during the good old days, the consumer was always responsible for his own cream and sugar. (Except, of course, at Dunkin Donuts. In Rhode Island, for example, ordering a "coffee regular" gets one a cup that has already had a few splashes of cream and several shovelsful of sugar added. That's livin'.)

The legitimate point he raises concerns the shifting of labor in many venues of the American economy from the vendor ("May I help you?") to the consumer ("It's on aisle five.").

I'm no fan of the modern coffee shop. (My wife vehemently disagrees with me on this.) I agree with Professor Fish concerning the waiting--no matter how simple the beverage--with no comfortable area in which to wait. It would be a fascinating experiment to set up a camera in a Starbucks and document the intricate fandangoes people go through while waiting for their brew. It usually begins somewhere near the ill-defined slot in the counter where the drinks are delivered and ends somewhere near the Mens Room door.

He's also correct when it comes to the tiny counter with the myriad of substances with which one is supposed improve a drink a team of baristas has already labored on with an effort that would have done Sisyphus proud. For anyone with any manners or any sense that other beings exist in the world, it can be a test of patience. For anyone else, it must be like digging for the puck in the corner at a hockey game.

The ultimate thing that I have against Starbucks and many other such outlets has to do with the coffee itself. It's bitter. So bitter that it needs all these other ministrations just to make it drinkable. When all's said and done, give me Dunkin Donuts's coffee every time.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Drayton Update

I should have posted this about a week ago, but I've finished revising Chapter 13.

In other news, the university I work at is sponsoring a novel writing contest, and I think I'm going to submit. It's not a big deal, and the deadline isn't for months yet, so I should be able to revise the remaining chapters in the meantime.

In regards to that, I am brushing up the first several chapters quickly since the opening salvo in the contest is a 30-to-50 page chunk. I think I'm improving it, making it less jokey and more in Drayton's true voice.

Of course, the rewriting never stops, not until some publisher makes you.

After I finish this brush-up, I'll start on Chapter 14.

I might actually end up adding a chapter. I'm not 100 percent sure yet, but I had an interesting idea. It's just a question of whether or not it really belongs or if it's something I'm trying to force. We'll see.

Ain't It the Truth?

While watching Malcolm in the Middle over the weekend, we were treated to the episode ("Reese Joins the Army, Part 2") in which Hal gets put on trial for conspiracy to commit fraud at the company he had been employed by for many years. He is, of course, only a patsy, framed because he was unwilling to frame others.

He is saved from prison when Malcolm, who is a mathematics prodigy, realizes that every date that the prosecution has given for some allegedly nefarious incident engineered by Hal falls on a Friday. It turns out that Hal hadn't been to work on a Friday in 15 years.

And now to the point of this post. Once on the stand, as Hal starts to give his testimony, he says the following:

You know those nature shows where a wasp paralyzes a caterpillar, then injects it full of larvae? It stays alive for weeks, completely aware, feeling every little bite as the larvae devour it from the inside. I sat in a cubicle every day envying that caterpillar--'cause at least he got to be on TV. I hated that job. I was a crappy employee.

This is at once, to me, one of the funniest and truest things ever said on TV. I know I've lived it, to varying degrees, in the many jobs I've had over the years.

Some people are lucky. They make their living in ways that they love. I've found this to be almost unerringly true of engineers, for example. These are people who do what they do because they love it. If they don't like their job, it's the employer's fault, not theirs.

Most of us, however, make do. We get what jobs we can in order to make some money, no more, no less. As we've turned our colleges and universities and grad schools increasingly into trade schools, this has become more and more true for the so-called professions, as well. Most lawyers and, sadly, doctors today got in those lines of work simply because they were ways of making a comfortable living, not out of a desire to serve the community or a feeling of being called to it. If you take a quick gander at our current legal and medical industries, you can see how helpful that is.

I was lucky in feeling my call. However, I wasted many opportunities I had to pursue that calling through my own foolishness and pride and by putting earning a dollar too much ahead of following my own path. I've also envied the caterpillar.

Now, I'm not quitting my job or advocating that anyone else do so without the proper preparation. I am trying to get back on the path, one I diverged from many decades ago, and trying to do it in such a way that I do not ruin my family and bring more misery than peace. I don't know whether I'll ever make it. I just know that it is worth the trying.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Wholeflaffer Curve

I was reading the post on The Social Atom today, and he presented the following graph, which was taken from The Wall Street Journal:

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This is a representation of the Laffer Curve, sacred idea to every supply-side economist. Their idea is that taxes after some mystical point become a drag on the economy and actually inhibit the collection of tax revenue by limiting growth. As you can see on the above example, plotting points on this curve is more of an art form--somewhat akin to seeing an archer in the nighttime sky--than it is a science.

After reading Mark Buchanan's post and agreeing with him on it, and having artistic proclivities, I have taken the liberty of reconnecting the dots. I have named the result The Wholeflaffer Curve after Art Wholeflaffer, a character from The Firesign Theatre's Everything You Know Is Wrong, and renowned for being the best damned nudist trailer park manager in the Southwest.

It actually looks more like the Outer Banks of North Carolina than a curve to me, but let's see what you think:

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Conspiracy Undone!

One of my many comments--posted as Len C--the one I posted here as "Cassamas v. Cavett," has been added to the comments on The New York Times website. On the one hand, I'm disappointed. I kind of enjoy being the rebel and outsider, but that's okay. I can deal with acceptance in my own skewed way.

Monday, July 30, 2007

One Last Post on Fat

I've tried commenting on the Dick Cavett blog again, this time using an alias and sending it from an email address that does not have my name on it. If that one goes through, but the other three get blocked, we can begin to believe that I got myself blackballed on the Dick Cavett blog. And how hysterical is that? I'm almost honored.

Anyway, here is the post:

Fat is a cultural issue. It is a social issue. It is an economic issue, and it is a class issue.

The well-to-do, people like our host, tend to be thinner than the poor these days. This is a complete flip of historic reality in which girth was a sign of wealth, and gout was strictly a rich man's disease. We can still see this in so-called Third World countries. Obesity is unknown among the poor and is the special property of the ruling classes.

Here in the United States and the other industrialized nations, the equation has gotten reversed thanks to the economics of food. The poor in America eat diets that are rich in fat and soaked in high fructose corn syrup because those foods are cheaper than fresh local produce and range-fed meats.

The poor are also more likely to partake of fast food, which is extremely cheap and almost completely lacking in nutritive value. It is, however, fatty and likely to be drenched in high fructose corn syrup.

Check out the current attempts to get a decent food bill out of the Congress as we speak for more information on these subjects.

Finally, to draw conclusions about any person's character based on a physical quality, whether it is height, skin color, hair style, or weight is, by definition, prejudice. It is not some noble cause to be applauded.

Weight is not a moral issue. It is a health issue and a personal issue. It is a subtle and complex issue that cannot be easily reduced to simple answers. However, if you really would like to see a slimmer America, I suggest that, rather than tossing insults at your fat fellow citizens, you urge your Senators and Representatives to reform the Food Bill now pending in both houses.

Cavett Watch 2007

Judging from the tenor of an additional 126 comments posted on Dick's Cavett's blog on the NYT this morning, the comments I tried to post were most likely lost in the great gaping maw of technology. I have tried again with both the item I posted here last Friday and with a smaller contribution. It posits my theory that those who commented (like Dick himself) that they do not remember there being fat people in America in some unspecified earlier time were suffering from having the opposite of photographic memory, a condition I call having a photogenic memory.

There have always been fat people. If you don't believe me, just take a gander at the paintings of Peter Paul Reubens.

At any rate, I'm just waiting on the next round of comments to be posted before I start seeing the rancid tangles of conspiracy in this. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Cassamas v. Cavett

Yesterday, in his Times Select column, Dick Cavett wrote a piece about the fattening of America. There have been a number of comments posted so far--almost 200 of them. The two comments I submitted, however, are not among them. (I don't normally post links to these "columns" because Times Select is a subscription service. You can, however, get a two-week free trial fi you would like to see the entire blog post I am referring to.)

The following is my third attempt at posting a censor-friendly comment. I will update later to let everyone know whether I passed muster or not.

First, let us not be too quick to applaud Mr Cavett's courage and bravery. Writing a series of fat jokes is hardly akin to being a Freedom Rider. It took neither courage nor cowardice to pen his post. It merely took some sort of writing instrument (perhaps even a pen if he has a secretary to do his word processing) and Internet access. Let's keep at least that much perspective on this, shall we?

Next, let's look at some elements of the post itself.

First, Mr Cavett, ever the joke writer, cannot help himself from using such phrases as "heavily larded," "gross poundage," "all but literally fill the screen," "a herd of heifers," "someone the size of the Hindenburg," and others, and while the use of these phrases may or may not have been predicated by some inherent bias on his part, they do not indicate any sort of sympathy or genuine human interest in those he derides. In fact, it would be easy enough to take his post and change every occurrence of the word "fat" with "short" and the other phrases with such replacements as "shrimp," "squirt," "midget," and "strictly from Munchkinland" and arrive at a diatribe that is just as hurtful, just in another direction.

Were Mr Cavett's object really the promotion of public health, this litany of jabs and jibes would be unnecessary.

When he discusses the alleged preponderance of fat people on such shows as Judge Judy and (God help us) The Jerry Springer Show, he seems to take this as proof of some kind of fat guy conspiracy. He does not consider the fact that these shows only exist so that the average viewer can jeer at the participants and feel themselves to be their social superiors. That fat people appear on these shows isn't the confirmation of their acceptance, but is evidence of the clear-cut bias that American society has against this segment of its population.

The same can be said of the comedians (and are obese comedians really that plentiful?) who are all just looking for a hook for their acts and none of whom has had the wit to find something different. And, oh yes, there have long been fat comedians. Oliver Hardy, Fatty Arbuckle, Jackie Gleason,and "Fat" Jack Leonard are four who pop effortlessly to mind. Let us put to rest the notion that fat people never existed until after the Vietnam War.

Now, the assumption that all people who are overweight got that way from sloth and gluttony is a canard. The causes are many and various and the cures, therefore, cannot be a simplistic as "turn off the TV" or "get some will power." As has been pointed out quite eloquently before in these comments, contributing factors involve the manner in which we live, the manner in which we eat, the frenetic pace of society, the poor quality of the food most readily available, as well as genetics, thyroid health, and--apparently--who your friends are. Let us not attempt to apply simplistic solutions to complex problems. That's never worked in the past and it won't work now.

It should also be noted that there is often a correspondence between poverty and weight. Poor people eat the cheapest (which also happens to be the worst in terms of nutrition) food. Well-to-do people can afford organic whole-grain high fiber zero trans fat everything, but poor people can't. They also can't afford health club memberships and personal trainers. They cannot take long lunches that include a workout because not being on the job means not getting paid.

And meanwhile, the food bill is being twisted into the usual fistful of government handouts to the wealthiest farmers. Maybe Mr Cavett should try writing about that sometime.

And just for the record, I am 5'9" and 235 lbs. According to the official charts, I am 60 lbs overweight, although I always thought that I looked best and felt best at around 190. In my adult life, I have weighed as little as 125 and as much as 250. I would've made a good extra on The Sopranos, but, unfortunately, that ship has sailed.

There is a tendency in this country of ours to equate thinness with virtue and wealth with wisdom. Neither is true. President Bush is both thin and wealthy, but neither virtuous nor wise.

My point, at the end of the day, is this: If obesity in America is the problem that it has become the commonplace to suppose, we need to put away the insults and the bias and the easy answers. Although there is a level of personal responsibility involved, fat, as a phenomenon, will not go away until we have reformed how we raise and process our food and how we live our lives.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Go-Go Gonzalez

After his performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee the other day, it has become painfully obvious that Presidential Stooge and Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez, needs to be impeached. He should then be indicted, tried, convicted, and forced to go door-to-door across the nation so that each and every voter has the chance to slap him across the face. That's just what kind of a worm this guy has turned out to be.

Impeaching Gonzalez should be an achievable goal. He's ticked off almost as many Republicans as Democrats, and he has clearly broken any number of laws in his toadistic obedience to his Emper--I mean--President. He could be presented as a sacrificial lamb, a whipping boy to punish in the stead of Bad King George and his minion, Evil Dick. One impeachment might scare the rest of them straight, although it probably won't. Still, it's worth a try and couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.

Of course, I still don't understand why no Democratic candidate for President hasn't made the eventual investigation, indictment, and imprisonment of the current administration as a major plank in their platform. I mean, at least Mike Gravel or Dennis Kucinich should sign on to this notion, especially since neither has as good a chance of getting elected as I do. The candidates with a snowball's proverbial chance of nomination ought to buy into this plan, but they won't. Maybe if I could get the endorsement of enough focus groups they might.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

President Dick

President Bush transferred the powers of the presidency to Vice President Dick Cheney on Saturday just before being sedated for a screening to detect colon cancer--Associated Press, 7/21/07

Okay. We only have a couple of hours here, and that's not much of a window. There's things that we need to get done and done fast. First, of course, is the imposition of martial law. I want that proclamation on my desk in ten minutes for signing. Then I want the Constitution. One of the originals. I'm going to switch the descriptions of the President and Vice President by making one of those doubleheaded arrow things. Or should I just scratch out "Vice" in one and add it in the other? I'll make a classified decision on that by the time you bring it to me. And get me a Sharpie or some kind of indelible pen. I don't want some terrorist doing the same thing to me later on.

We need to send a few brigades over to Capitol Hill to arrest all the Democrats and Independents up there. Except Lieberman. He'll do what he's told. If the Army won't do it, send the CIA. They know how to play ball, but they won't tell you because it's classified.

When they're through probing the President, send him off on a bike ride or down to his ranch in Texas. He'll never know the difference. Give him a microrecorder or a banana or something and tell him that all he has to do is talk into that and everything he wants done will be so. That'll keep him happy and out-of-the-way.

Let's drop some nuclear bombs while we have the chance. The targets are all marked with big red Xs on this globe. Iran, of course, and France. The United Nations, Micronesia, the Isle of Wight. All of your terrorist hotbeds. Let Putin know after our boys are in the air. He might want to knock off a couple of places, too.

Now, let's go. I've got two-and-a-half hours and whole world to remake. But first things first. Somebody go find me an undisclosed location.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Life in the Fast Lane

Apparently, his time was more valuable than mine. And also more valuable than the time of the dozens of other drivers he swerved and swooped around and cut off in an attempt to get someplace quicker than obeying the traffic laws and simple decorum would allow. He was in a Jeep, and he was in a rush.

This was this morning, but it could have been any morning. There is always the risk, especially during the morning commute, that some dimwit will speed along the turn-only lane just so that he can merge in at the intersection, preferably at a high rate of speed. These are the proud, the few, the impatient. More likely to cause and participate in accidents, they live life on the edge, and force the rest of us to as well.

However, as I gave him the finger while he waited to cut through a parking lot so as to avoid the inconvenience of a turn lane, I realized that I should not have blamed him. I, the one giving the finger to a total stranger based on a minute amount of information, was just as culpable as he. And we are both victims. Victims of the triumph of the horseless carriage.

According to Marshall McLuhan (and I seem to recall that he was quoting someone else), "We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us." Although it is now popular to nod our heads sagaciously and and furrow our brows over the pollution caused by cars, we rarely think about the other effects that driving cars have on our lives.

I think I'll start from the macro and work my way down to the micro level.

The War in Iraq would not have happened if not for our dependence on our cars. Although the desire to assure permanent access to the world's second largest oil fields may not have been the only catalyst of the cataclysm, it cannot be denied as a contributing factor. Dependence on oil, as was demonstrated by the oil embargoes of the '70s, makes us economically vulnerable to the whims of other nations, the ones where all the dinosaurs went to die.

Dependence on oil also encourages other sorts of environmental depredation, such as the attempts to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. The demand at the pumps fuels the need for further exploration, which feeds demand at the pumps, which causes more exploration.

And then, of course, there's the smog, a gift that we share with all, even ourselves.

There are subtler effects, though. Cars change the ambit of our lives and the structure and designs of our cities and towns. They encourage development that is spread out and a concept of distances that is measured in minutes rather than miles. Supermarkets and megamarts depend on people driving to them and shopping less frequently, but for more items. Our merchants become big and faceless corporations rather than local businesses. WalMart could not exist without the automobile.

As a result, our country is less wooded than it might be because trees eat up valuable real estate that can be turned into shopping centers and business parks and housing developments and parking lots and parking decks and cul-de-sacs and turn-only lanes. Flora and fauna become little more than decorations or pests, things to be controlled or eradicated, all of which has its own cascade of consequences.

On a more personal level, driving leads to an existential separation between us. The person in the other car becomes a part of that object rather than another person with a life and hopes and disappointments. He (or she, although gender really ceases to exist in this context) is just the thing you are giving the finger to or the object you are cutting around because it has become an obstacle to your pursuit of nowhere. A pedestrian lifestyle works differently and allows us a chance to see each other as human. Annoying maybe, but human.

The availability of speed that comes from driving gets addictive. The goal becomes making time rather than experiencing life. We dive in a headlong rush from activity to activity and wonder where a day went, a week went, a year went, a life went. Doing things quickly becomes more important than doing them well. Savoring, whether it is a meal, a face, or a moment, becomes too slow an activity. We rush from home to work, from work to lunch, from lunch to work, from work to store, from store to home so that we can zonk out in front of the TV. We live the life of a light switch, either on or off, existing rather than living.

I'm as caught up in it as anyone else. I'd love to do away with at least one car, but there's the boy to get from school and the meal to buy at the store and the errand to run before something closes. There is the convenience of being able to get places in hours that once would have taken days.

I don't expect things to change much. Perhaps we'll figure out cleaner ways of running our cars, but I doubt that, as a society, we will abandon them. There are no signs that civic planning is moving in any sort of direction to encourage walking over driving, and it is not in the interests of corporate America to having you do otherwise. It's just something to be aware of. Especially when you're giving some stranger the finger.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Comment allez-vous

First, after having taken a hiatus from the notion, I have turned on the comments function again. I turned it off originally because of the drive-by commenter, the kind of moron who stops by various blogs and leaves idiotic comments as a way of stirring things up. It's a kind of practical joke, I suppose, but I've never been too fond of practical jokes. They are usually just an excuse for acting cruelly and irresponsibly.

I was also looking at the blog as being the new form of the newspaper column, and I wanted to see how I would approach such a task. Being my own biggest fan, I was relatively pleased.

On top of that, I had gotten burned by commenting on a couple of other blogs, and I had reached a point in which I just didn't need it any more. Thanks to the dopes on talk radio, there is a class of conservative who will argue mostly through invective rather than logic. They start out by classifying you as some stereotype, such as "tree-hugger" or "peacenik," and then assume that you've been brainwashed by some Central Committee. The possibility that someone could hold opinions other than theirs and have arrived at those opinions through some sort of logical process is horrifying to them, since the notion that there might be valid opinions that they do not subscribe to implies that they may be wrong. Since error is weakness, any who disagree must be attacked, preferably on the most personal level possible.

The White House is currently infested with any number of these creatures, as the statements made daily by and in behalf of the President show.

Democracy is a discussion. It is an ongoing argument between reasoned adults as to how best to provide for the community. It is not a contest between competing tantrums. Unfortunately, the tantrum-throwers currently seem to be in the ascendant.

Civility is a central problem that our society current wrestles with. True civility has been lost in a dung heap of partisanism awash in meaningless labels, such as "liberal" and "conservative." We'll shoot for civility here, but you never know who is going to pass by.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Senate

Can I say, and I'm sure many other people agree with me, I wish the Senate Democrats would stop trying to force votes that are going to fail and try, instead, working with the moderate Republicans to figure out just what can be done? If they really wanted to try something new, they would reach across the aisle and try negotiating and cooperating with the folks on the other side. They won't get everything they want, but they shouldn't have to give up everything either.

If just once, just one person in the House, Senate, or White House made any kind of realistic effort to forge bipartisan policy, this country might have a chance of getting somewhere. As it is, all they give us is stagnation.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Racing to Assimilation

This post is yet another example of me thinking out loud. I'm concerning myself with a rather difficult subject to handle here in the United States, and that is race.

One of the many decisions handed down by the Supreme Court in the waning moments of the most recent term was one concerning school desegregation plans in Washington State and Kentucky. The court ruled--by a 5-to-4 vote, a margin that has become the rule in the John "I'll Try to Build Consensus" Roberts court--that the two plans were unconstitutional because they took race into account in deciding what students were going to attend which school.

The plans were well-intended and the idea underlying them is noble. However, I'm not sure that they take into consideration the realities of modern American life.

The problem addressed in Brown v. Board of Education was that of Jim Crow. We tend to forget now how that system worked. Blacks had separate schools by law. They also had separate restaurants, hotels, lavatories, and drinking fountains. They were required, by law, to give up their seats on the bus if a white person needed one. They had their own cabs and entrances to public buildings. As a co-worker once informed me after the black supervisor of the mail room flirted with me, "Fun is fun, but separate is separate."

The country that the Warren Court addressed in Brown was a far different one from the one we live in today. This is not to say that everything is right and holy or that we have come anywhere near accompanying Dr. King on a trek to the mountaintop. Not at all. Prejudice is ubiquitous. It lays like swamp water at our feet, and sometimes at our knees, elbows, or chins depending on where we are. Race is the great unresolved question of the American Experiment, and Dr. King's dream of a colorblind society is still a mirage on a distant hill.

We have, however, made some progress, even if it is small and hesitant. People of all races and backgrounds shop at the same stores, eat at the same restaurants, and drink from the same fountains. Although we do not sit side-by-side as often as we ought, we often occupy the same rooms and not only in a master/servant relationship. This is progress, and it must be recognized.

It seems to me that Black America had never been allowed to begin the assimilation process--a process that all immigrant groups have had to endure--until about a generation ago. They were the permanent aliens, the outsiders whose life in the ocean of the Republic resembled the travels of the Flying Dutchman, endless travail suspended between true life and true death. It is only within my lifetime, through the efforts of the civil rights movement, that assimilation has become possible. Blacks have only recently begun to be absorbed by the society at large.

One of the first steps toward assimilation is one that actually seems, on its face, contradictory. The group in question explores its history and celebrates its unique culture as a means of establishing its own identity. Over the course of several generations, this identity carries on but fades. Eventually, intermarriage with other groups happens more and more until all you're left with is a mutt like me.

African Americans are still in the early stages of this process, and given how screwed up their commute to America was and the centuries of hardship they have had to endure, this sorting out of who and what it means to be African American may take awhile. On the other hand, given the growth and robust power of the Black middle class, they seem to be proceeding at an admirable clip.

As far as the Supreme Court opinion goes, I'm not sure that it will matter in either direction before too long. I will say this, however: Although the idea that Justice Roberts and his cohorts hold is an attractive one--the idea that the society cannot be colorblind until the law is--it is naive. Unfortunately, the law can never be colorblind until individuals are, and we are still far too race-conscious to be exonerated on that score. And even though they distrust the notion that the law can be used to correct social inequities, it must try. After all, civil law exists for no other purpose than to correct inequities.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Word about Executive Privilege

In the current hoo-ha over the Bush Administration's preference for Stalinist tactics in regards to the Justice Department, the White House has tried to justify mooning the Congress of the United States by invoking executive privilege. This legal theory, it seems, exists because "he [Bush] needed to protect the flow of advice he receives from close advisers." (House panel: Miers wrong to miss hearing, AP 7/12/07) The idea is that the President can only get candid advice from his advisers if that advice will be kept perpetually secret.

I think this whole idea is, in short, a crock.

Secrecy should not be the prerequisite for candor. Honesty should. Anyone who requires secrecy in order to give the best advice possible to the President or anyone else should be fired. Immediately and peremptorily. Their advice should be suitable for printing on billboards. If someone does not feel that would be possible, that person is undoubtedly a liar and a scoundrel.

The White House is counting on having a Supreme Court that is bought and paid for in order to uphold this one, but it won't wash even then. Oh, sure, they will get the votes of those political cronies Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas, but I suspect that this utter disregard for the Congress and therefore the people of the United States will be too much for Kennedy. There comes a point when even a toady has to say "No."

I have to give this administration credit for one thing, though. Every time I think my cynicism has reached its bottom, they come up with some knew way to make it sink ever deeper.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Partnership for a Dufus-Filled America

At least once per day, as I click on a story from The New York Times and wait for it to load, an ad comes up. Now, I don't mind sitting through the ad--I want to The Times to make a buck. I want to encourage their foray into cyberspace. If it takes sitting through an occasional ad, so be it. I don't click on "Skip This Ad"; I let them sell me.

A fair amount of the time, these ads are pieces of propaganda from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, a group that takes lots of money from drug companies. Anyway, as the ad rolled today, I was struck by the thought that what these ads really sell isn't abstinence from that great kitchen-midden called "drugs." What it really sells is the idea that parents should look at their children as being worthless little evil factories who cannot--and must not--be trusted.

Now, I was a teenager once--for a period of years, as I recall--and it was the '70s and drinking and smoking dope were quite popular activities. And I had periods in which I indulged and others in which I steered clear. My parents even found me passed out on the bathroom floor one Saturday night. But they never stopped trusting me, and they never acted in any way resembling the tactics put forward by the Partnership for a Dys-Functional America. My mother just stopped talking to me for three days, behavior that was so out of the norm that I straightened up immediately.

A year later, faced with the prospect of my first cast party, she instructed me on drinking responsibly and gave me tips on how adults drink. I was fifteen, and I think I may have had one beer that night.

Now, I am a parent, and while my son is still only 8, I know that one day he is going to be faced with the same temptations that I was, and even more with the easy availability of porn on the Internet. It's frightening, but, at the same time, I have faith in him. He's a good boy, and I can already see the good young man emerging. However, I also know that he's human, and I know that he will do stupid things. We all do. And I'll never find out about all of them, but a few will fall through the cracks. And when they do, my wife and I will both be there for him, not as thought police, but as parents. We'll make our share of mistakes, too, but we will not turn him into a criminal.

The real point here is that these situations are complex and subtle and must be approached in such a manner. Teenagers are trying to figure out who they are and how to survive in the world without Mom and Dad, and you have to be engaged with that entire process, not just in the messy parts that you disapprove of.

Oh, yes, and what will I tell my son about my own history with drugs and alcohol? The truth. The unvarnished, idiotic truth. And when he asks me about marijuana or coke or Boone's Farm Apple wine, I'll tell him the truth, not some slogan. It's a very complicated subject, and he deserves to have me respect him enough to tell him the truth.

We'll see in a few short years. Wish me luck.

Monday, July 09, 2007

School of Fish

Well, Stanley Fish is at it again over at The New York Times website. I'd provide a link, but it's a members-only kind of thing, and I'd hate for anyone to feel coerced into signing up in order to read Professor Fish's drivel. That just wouldn't be right. Anyway, the post concerned his agreement with Justice Clarence Thomas's concurring opinion in the case in which the Supreme Court decided that the right to free speech did not apply to some snot-nosed kid who was holding a banner that read "BONG HiTS for JESUS" as the Olympic torch passed his high school.

The following is the text of a comment I wrote and submitted. Maybe it will pass comment moderation, maybe it won't. Either way, it will be preserved here for the Ages, a family of four who lives somewhere outside of Canton, Ohio:

Again Professor Fish offers specious bushwa as a means of provoking responses and garnering himself some small measures of attention.

There is almost no aspect of this essay that is neither wrong nor specious. To attend to every error would take many paragraphs and ask Professor Fish's long-suffering readership to withstand a recapitulation of each boneheaded remark and misstatement of fact. I shall attempt to limit myself only to a few examples.

First, he conveniently omits the fact that the student wasn't on school property at the time and was in no material way acting as a student. He was a citizen holding a banner on a public sidewalk during a public event. Can we really call the passing of the Olympic torch a "school-sponsored event"? Wouldn't the torch have passed by with or without the school's participation? Ever the sophist, Professor Fish merrily skips over this fact since it doesn't allow him to wallow in the "spare the rod and spoil the child" twaddle he has in mind as his real thematic objective.

It is not surprising that he believes that education is essentially totalitarian. If one looks at the experiment he records in his well-known essay, "How to Recognize a Poem When You See One," he is not above coercing students--through the power of his relation to them as instructor--to act in ways that justify the philosophical positions he has already decided are correct. If students in his world were accorded the right of free speech, they would be able to decry such "experiments" as poppycock and the experimenter as a fraud. However, my view is that if the shoe fits, the fraud should have to lace it up.

At base, however, I see an attitude toward education in America that is pervasive, especially among the privileged. That attitude looks at education as being the process by which workers are made. The emphasis is on obedience and learning how to get along in the system prevailing. Professor Fish clearly stands on this side of the equation.

My view, however, is that education, in a democracy, exists to make citizens, not drones, and citizens have a duty to question their masters and their assumptions and judgments. And one of the ways of doing that is to be able to make jokes, even sophomoric ones like "BONG HiTs for JESUS," freely and openly.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The In-Between

I wish I could let the commuting of Scooter Libby's sentence just pass quietly into the night, but I can't. However, my thoughts are few, and, I think, nonpartisan.

First, I find it humorous that Mr Bush, who happily had the mentally retarded put to death when he was governor of Texas, thinks that 30 months of easy time for Scooter is too harsh. What of the people who--by the administration's own admission--are completely innocent of anything except being in the wrong place at the wrong time and are being held indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay? Shouldn't they share a small bit of the President's new-found compassion? Just a smidgen?

Of course, the interesting thing is that the sentence was commuted rather than a pardon being given. This is a matter of distancing. Giving a pardon would have been an admission of guilt, as well, and this is not an administration that likes to admit to its own wrongdoing no matter how gross or trivial. Those who hoped for a pardon were fools.

Since there is still a hefty fine and disbarment left, it will be interesting to see whether Scooter sees the light and flips on his erstwhile benefactors. I make the odds even.

Finally, I would like to say that I think that were one of the Democratic candidates for President savvy about this stuff at all, they would put a plank on their platform that promised Justice Department investigations of all the wrongdoing by the current crowd of reprobates. That could mean jail terms for a whole bunch of these vultures, and no on-the-payroll president to pardon them. Justice just might be served after all.

I'm making the odds on that happening about a million-to-one.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The One That Got Away

Well, here I sit, disappointed by Stanley Fish again.

After three weeks of essays about atheism, none of which was convincing on its own, and the sum total of which amounted to very little, he has, today, posted an essay about country music. Now, since I had predicted in a couple of places, including in a comment on Professor Fish's blog, that he would follow up on the three atheism posts with one that would have allowed them to--I don't know--make sense, I'm stuck here with egg on my face.

This is the final proof to me that this man is not a thinker, but is rather an old sophist who tries to make himself feel smarter than everybody else by piling up mounds of words, great mudpiles of sentences that exist only to bury, not enlighten. That is not, in my opinion, a fit occupation for a man.

The path through this life is difficult enough to negotiate without overage adolescents screwing with the street signs just so that they can build their fragile egos.

Adieu, Fish! My disappointment is almost as high as your mudpiles.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Firesign Theatre

This will give you some idea of what I like about The Firesign Theatre. And let's just note that they came up with "UTV: For You, The Viewer" at least 30 years before those YouTube punks who make this clip possible here in the Future:

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Back in the '70s, the great debate that developed was between those who preferred rock and those who preferred the upstart disco. (This will give you an idea of the general intellectual achievement of the time.) Being someone who neither danced nor had a girlfriend to dance with, I preferred rock. As time has passed, however, I have come to think that if asked to weigh in on this question today, my answer just might be "Swing."

Ah, swing music. It captivated the country from the late '30s to the mid-'40s, and I am currently under its thrall. Benny Goodman and his orchestra, who was to Swing what the Ramones were to New Wave, just get my toes a-tappin'. My current fixation comes courtesy of the channel on XM called The Forties on 4, but my interest has been alive for some time. (You can try out XM for free online for a three-day trial period.)

I've really loved jazz for some years, stretching back into the distant mists of my memory. I really got hooked when I was in college. I heard some of Scott Joplin's rags being played in the classroom next door to the costume shop and signed up immediately after for Jazz History. We followed the development of jazz from its origins in New Orleans and up the Mississippi to Chicago. We listen to Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory. (I even went to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band during this time. Fantastic.)

We listened to Bix soloing with creative abandon only to have Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra cut in after the number of measures indicated in the score. I discovered the glories of Fletcher Henderson and enlarged and enlivened my acquaintance with Duke Ellington and the aforementioned Mr Goodman. We listened to the great Big Bands and then Bop, with its patron saints of Bird, Diz, and Monk.

I stuck with it pretty well up through Modern Jazz and the Cool School, but found myself less interested in Free Jazz and the experiments of Coltrane. As jazz went from hot to cool, so did my interest.

Of course, I still like rock 'n' roll and its many variants, but there is something about swing that really steals me. I guess I'm just a hepcat at heart.

Swing out high and gutbucket and peace out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Call Me Myth-ter

Well, the number comments on Stanley Fish's most recent blog post is up to 268, which is not only a mighty number of comments, but also an address my wife and I used to live at. Only one of the 268 comments is mine, a comment I adapted from my post here yesterday. I have another one pending now, one in which I speculate that Professor Fish is preparing to drop the hammer in his next post.

At any rate, since I believe that he's getting ready to give a literary/mythological approach to this argument, it gives me the opportunity to wax self-indulgent about my understanding of myth in my own drab little life.

Today, I'm going to mention another Indian mound here in Georgia, but not the Etowah mounds. Instead, I'm going to talk about the Ocmulgee Indian mounds in Macon. Now there is also a pyramidal mound there, but the most interesting structure is a smaller mound that had a room built inside it.

The posted signs tried to interpret the room as having been made for political use, however, anyone with any sort of grounding in mythology would see it for what it really was: This was the place where boys were taken to be initiated. This was the place where boys were turned into men.

The building is a low one, and one enters via a long, low, narrow tube. This opens into a round room with a round ceiling. Places for people to sit have been dug out of the ground, with one set around the perimeter on one side and a smaller number of seats by the entrance. The symbolism is obvious: This is an outsized womb, and boys would be taken here so that they could be "born again" as men.

The entrance is the birth canal, and boys would be kidnapped, probably in the dead of night, from their mothers (who would be in on the whole deal) and dragged kicking and screaming down this passageway and into the main chamber. Once there, a number of ritual would have been enacted which may have been physical (in some cultures, the boys are scarred or circumscized or knocked about). After enduring some hours of ordeals (all of which would have been easily survivable), they would have reemerged down the birth canal, stepping out into the sun as men.

It's a ritual we no longer have, and we pay for that lack. This is why boys band themselves into gangs, gangs that invariably have rituals of initiation. they are trying to become men in a society that has no prescribed way of helping them do that. And that is a far harder trip than one down a mock birth canal, both for the boy and the society he inhabits.

Monday, June 25, 2007

And Now for Something Actually Worth Posting

Thanks to a friend on Phil Austin's blog of the Unknown, I came across a couple of things on youtube concerning a truly great magician, Tony Slydini.

This is what magic is really all about. I hope you enjoy them.


Well, Stanley Fish is on about his three favorite Atheists again (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens), and this time he's taken the interesting tack of changing his perspective on the argument in order to further confuse his potential commenters. He's really an old sophist, at heart, but his aim seems to be provocative. He'd like people to try looking at reality in different terms than they had previously, and so he constantly inverts expectations and makes arguments based on a perspective that he neither defines nor identifies.

At base, I think he's trying to show that the assumptions that religious people adhering to so-called Western Religions (none of which developed in the West) and those of atheists are essentially the same. They both concern themselves with white-bearded old men who sit on golden thrones and dispense their patronage to whichever courtier flatters them most. I think that he's saying that, by even writing their books,the atheists are positing the existence of such a being just so that they can deny it. They have to believe in such a deity at some level in order to think it worth not believing in.

In his current essay, Professor Fish argues that God, should such a being exist, is beyond our comprehension and that its existence or nonexistence is therefore beyond proof. And, of course, the denunciations have already started piling up, some 29 by the time I took a look at eight this morning.

His trick, of course, is in his use of the word "God." He is using it in place of other terms, such as "the eternal" or "the divine," simply in order to provoke argument. By using the word "God," he automatically conjures images of a beard-o in flowing robes who chooses his favorites capriciously. This is where the sophistry comes in.

He's edging up to a pool in which God cannot be known with the mind, but only experienced in rare moments of altered perception, but has refused to dive in. He's very good at playing coy and prefers confounding to illuminating, but he's reaching an interesting point. I think he might be getting ready to assert that the problem with these religions isn't the existence or nonexistence of God, but the refusal to see these traditions as symbol systems that aren't meant to be taken as literally as is done by either their adherents or their detractors. He's trying to get to the point of saying that religion is myth.

A few years ago, we started attending church for the same reason that so many people do: We were having a child, and we thought it would be "good" for him to to get some kind of religious background.

I had been raised Catholic, and so I kind of insisted on going the Catholic route. This was not just because it was what I knew, but because I had some sense of how to use it in order to get to deeper levels of consciousness. I am not someone who can believe in this stuff as fact, so I used my small acquaintance with myth in order to be able to participate fully and with an open heart.

For example, I find the concept of the Trinity--when presented as gross fact--to be absurd and nothing but a bunch of rationalizing. However, by thinking of it in terms of symbol and myth, I was able to understand it in a way that made sense, at least to me. I took God the Father as being the equivalent of the Chinese conception of the Tao, that which is beyond time and space. God the Son symbolized this eternal principle active in space and time. God the Holy Spirit was that principle active in the hearts of men.

None of this had anything to do with old guys dispensing boons.

The problem then presented is not one one of temporal concerns such as morality, but becomes a problem of setting oneself in accord with the eternal. The sacraments and the ritual called The Mass are there to perform this function, to aid the seeker in trying to put oneself in accord with that which is beyond space and time.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Miscellaneous Friday

It's been a while since I've done a Miscellaneous Friday post, such as this one, however, a number of things have occurred to me that I needed to comment on in my own infantile way, so I have revived the concept from its slumber.

First, there is this story about our unbeloved Vice President, the most powerful Dick in the world. This man needs to be stopped. Again, I would like to suggest that we start by impeaching this bastard rather than going after the handpuppet he calls "Mr. President." The first step would probably be to indict him--there's a whole list of things to choose from to accomplish this--and then impeach him. With any luck, the trial on whatever he was indicted on wouldn't begin until after January 20, 2009, so that the handpuppet would be unable to pardon the jerk.

In my ideal world, he would then get taken to as many town squares as possible and placed in stocks so that people could pelt him with rotten fruit provided at the taxpayer's expense. A jail term is probably the best we could hope for. He needs to be humilated, though, and taught the lesson that no one--and I mean no one--is above the law in this country. In fact, were I running for President, I would make putting Mr. Cheney in jail for the duration of his worthless life a plank on my campaign platform.

Next, today's Times features a review of the new movie A Mighty Heart, which happens to star Angelina Jolie. My comment is not about the movie, which I have not seen and probably won't just because who needs it. I mean, it's easy enough to get depressed without paying $9.50 a ticket for the privilege.

No, what interests me is this phrase that appears in the review: "Mr. Pearl was a casualty of Islamist hatred of Western civilization." I'll come right out and say it. That notion is plain wrong. First, who is Manohla Dargis to decide that every adherent of Islam hates Western Civilization? That can't possibly true and is, in fact, merely prejudice dressing itself up as received wisdom.

Second, the Muslims who thought up the attacks on 9/11 weren't driven by hate, I think, as much as fear. And it's not so much Western civilization that irks them, as it is American pop culture. They might have disdain for Bach or Socrates, but it's Michael Jackson and Desperate Housewives that get their panties in a knot. They fear the same things that our homegrown religious fundamentalists do: TV, short skirts, and the rock 'n' roll music. If Footloose taught us anything, it is that rock music leads to dancing, which leads to premarital sex and other kinds of fun. As religous fanatics, they fear secularism. They revere the past and loath the future. They prefer a universe in which man is the whole point of the existence of the planet Earth, a planet that sits serenely at the center of the seven spheres.

So, let's stop talking about them hating Western civilization or our freedoms. This is an enemy who must be understood in order to be defeated. We can't do that with platitudes.

There was something else that I wanted to spout off about, but it is gone. It's probably just as well.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Mything Link

Okay, a little more on Joseph Campbell and how his interpretations of myth have led me to think differently in other areas of endeavor.

Recently, we visited the Etowah Indian Mounds in North Georgia. The archaeologists who have excavated the sites over the past decades have done an admirable job in preserving the mounds, but the signs set next to each one showed no real insight into what each mound was for. A background in myth makes some of these things plainly obvious.

For example, the first thing that struck me about these mounds was that they were pyramids on the American model, similar to the pyramids one might see in Mexico or Central America. This, in itself, is interesting, because it suggests some kind of relationship between this culture and those found south and west of it.

The sign next to the largest mound had the general function right. This would be the place for the celebration of holy days, the equivalent of a cathedral. The idea here is that the structure represents the central mountain of the world, the still center around which everything else rotates. That still point represents the eternal, which is why your most sacred moments are supposed to happen there.

The second, smaller mound was described as probably having some kind of governmental function, but that doesn't wash with me. I suspect that it had something to do with the every day rituals, the ones having to do with marriage and birth. It would have been similar to a modern church.

The third and smallest mound has been identified as having something to do with death. Bones have been found there, and the official line is that this is where state funerals were held and that the bones kept in the ossuary were those of the leading citizens of the town. Although this is fundamentally correct, I suspect that this is where everybody's funeral was held. Without having a great deal more information, it's hard to say whose bones were interred there or for what purpose. However, I think that the mound itself would have been the counterpart of the modern chapel in a funeral home.

I think I'm going to continue this as a series, and tomorrow will post about the Ocmulgee Indians mounds in Macon. That's a whole different kettle of fish.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Now, I'm a fan of neither Hillary Clinton nor The Sopranos, so it was particularly surreal to find out about and then watch the video of Hillary and Bill aping the final scene in Tony Soprano's fictional life on You Tube. My review of it is that it is lame. Politicians with no discernible sense of humor of their own shouldn't try to yuk it up on You Tube.

I'm not a fan of The Sopranos for several reasons, none of which necessarily apply to anyone else on the planet. First of all, I almost never watch dramas. I've got enough problems of my own without adding those of some fictional idiots on top. And drama on television, no matter how celebrated, tends toward melodrama rather than tragedy, soap opera instead of Death of a Salesman. And, at the end of the day, can we really say that The Sopranos is anything other than Dallas or Dynasty with violence, nudity, and profanity?

Finally, I grew up in a state that was still entangled with the Mob into my youth and early adulthood. I knew people who were connected, restaurateurs mainly. I knew a guy who found out that he could get somebody beaten up for a small fee. I did dinner theater at one restaurant where we couldn't rehearse on Wednesdays because of private "card parties" and where the remains of two guys who had been missing for some years turned up when the place was torn down.

I even knew somebody who got whacked. He was the cousin of a friend and he stole cars for a living and he turned state's evidence and "they" found out about it and "they" blew his brains out in a stolen car in Lincoln Woods.

I could go on and on.

I didn't watch The Sopranos for the same reason my father wouldn't watch war movies. I've had my fill of it for real.

As for Hillary, I'm not a fan because she blows with the prevailing wind and seems to have no convictions other than an overwhelming desire to slake her thirst for power and prestige. I have no problem with a woman being President. Such a turn of affairs might be just what we need. But not this lady. And not another Clinton or Bush. Enough with the dynasties. We need fresh blood and new ideas, and I don't know who to recommend for that. In fact, I'm not even going to try to decide for another six months because it's too soon to care.

And don't get me started on Celine Dion!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I Got Nothin'

After posting almost daily for a couple of weeks, I'm finding that I'm quite tired of the sound of my own voice. This is not any kind of an announcement. I'm not retiring from blogging or learning to keep my big mouth shut. I might feel differently tomorrow or even later today. It's just that right now, right at this moment, I wish I'd just shut the hell up.

And I will. Right after this sentence.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Friday Excuse

This Friday, like last, I have a class. That means no long, meandering, blithering post today because I will be in a classroom trying to make myself into a better workerbot. If I have a chance to post tomorrow, I will, as I still have some thoughts about how Joseph Campbell's study of mythology has come into play in my own life and how I have used his thoughts to clarify things I have encountered in my life.

Nothing about atheists, Christopher Hitchens, or Stanley Fish.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Even though there is a delightful article on Reuters concerning a think tank report that shows that extremists of The Three Great Religions (The Triumph of Monotheism!) all have similar world views and values, I've decided to write a little more about that blog post that upscale God-defender, Stanley Fish, wrote about Christopher Hitchens and friends, hereinafter known as The Holy Warriors of Atheism.

While my thoughts yesterday were inspired by Professor Fish's citations of the Abrahamic myth of creation, today's is inspired by the following passage:

Hitchens asks, “Why, if God is the creator of all things, were we supposed to ‘praise’ him incessantly for doing what comes naturally?” The usual answer (again given by theologians and religious poets) is, what else could we do in the face of his omnipotence and omnipresence? God is the epitome of the rich relative who has everything; thanks and gratitude are the only coin we can tender.

Or can we? The poet George Herbert reasons (and that is the word) that if it is only by the infusion of grace that we do anything admirable, praising God is an action for which we cannot take credit; for even that act is His. “Who hath praise enough?”, he asks, but then immediately (in the same line) corrects himself: “Nay, who hath any?” (“Providence”) Even something so minimal as praising God becomes a sin if it is done pridefully . Where does that leave us, Herbert implicitly asks, a question more severe and daunting than any posed by the three atheists.

This time, I'm going to mix my mythology with a smidgen of history and try to put the whole notion of the praising of deities in the proper context and make the practice understandable without resorting to either rationalizations (such as the above) or attacks (such as those made by Mr Hitchens).

In order to do this, we have to go back in history, through the mists of time, and before the Triumph of Monotheism. Let's go back to neolithic Europe, the time and place made popular by Jean Auel's laughable novels, such as The Clan of the Cave Bear.

(N.B.: I owe a debt of gratitude for yesterday's post and today's to someone I never met: Joseph Campbell. There was a lot more to the old guy than "Follow Your Bliss," and in these matters of understanding ritual and myth he is a wonderful resource. Thanks, Joe, wherever you are.)

The remnants of altars to bear gods have been found in the mountain caves of Europe. The altar would center around the skull and some other bones of a bear. Rituals would be held in which freshly killed and cooked bear meat would be offered to the bear god in the hope of ensuring a continuing supply of bears in the future. And this is the basis of prayer and worship, neolithic peoples hoping to influence nature in order to ensure a continuing supply of bears or bison or corn or whatever their main staple was. Similar rituals and altars to the ones performed in the bear caves can be found in hunter-gatherer societies around the world.

As people started living in towns and villages and as each person's function in the care and feeding of that society became more specialized, the rituals evolved. In some cases, a family of gods sprang up in which each individual god was identified with particular natural phenomena, such as the Greek system. (This influence can still be seen in the Roman Catholic tradition of canonizing saints who are identified with particular groups.) In the Near East, several sheepherding tribes developed a fairly abstract notion of deities, the chief of whom was known as Yahweh. Over time, devotion to Yahweh eclipsed devotion to any of the other gods worshiped at the time. ("[Y]ou shall have no other gods before me.")

Since these were people who herded sheep for a living, they sacrificed sheep to their god. The echo of this is still heard in Christian ritual where Christ is The Lamb of God who was sacrificed in propitiation. The idea is still the same, and when Christian business men pray before a meeting for a successful negotiation, they are unknowingly echoing their neolithic forebears who were trying to make sense of life in the Alpine forests.

My thing is this: Neither the atheists nor the theists seem to have any true understanding of the subject they tire the rest of us out by discussing ad nauseum. Both are mired in abstractions and childish simplifications of very difficult and profound matters. Perhaps if more people took the time to consider the mythic and metaphorical implications of these matters, there would be less disagreement.

I'm not holding my breath, though.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


A couple of days ago, Stanley Fish, famous academic bigwig, wrote a post on his New York Times blog concerning books written in the last few years by the prominent atheists, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. Normally, I would link to an article such as this one, but since it falls under the "Times Select" banner, such a link would be useless for anyone who doesn't subscribe. Those who do should be able to find it fairly easily.

Now, Professor Fish takes arguments he finds commonly presented in these three books and tries refuting them by going to the Johns, Milton and Bunyon, among others. This post has garnered 213 comments so far, which is an enviable number of comments and shows how dearly people hold their opinions on these matters. Now, I had considered responding there, but would have had to write a very long comment to match his very long post. Instead, I thought I'd just note a couple of observations here, both of Professor Fish's post and the attendant comments and of the subject that those writings led me to.

First of all, I found it interesting that both Professor Fish and the Three Atheists (as well as the vast majority of commenters) limited their discussion to what my junior high textbooks called The Three Major Religions ("The Triumph of Monotheism" was the actual title of one of the information boxes in a history text book. This was in a public school. So much for the separation of church and state! Also, in terms of monotheism, I find Christianity to be the best buy: Three Gods for the price of one.) No one gave the time of day to any other outlook on divinity, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Shinto, any of a variety of nature religions, or Satanism. Can any discussion of the concept of God be considered valid if it limits itself to only the Abrahamic religions? Isn't that a tad parochial in the now-a-go-go, Information Superhighway, One World we now live in?

This is part of why I didn't jump into the fray. The ambit of the discussion was too circumscribed. And, at the end of the day, isn't such a discussion just the kind of thing that college sophomores indulge in on sombre evenings, only with fewer big words and arcane references?

One of the commenters, a William Theo, pointed out that atheism is itself a belief system and a fundamentalist one at that. I thought that a very interesting insight, and one that points me to what I consider to be the shallowness (however gussied up in language or quotation) of both sides of this argument. Neither side takes into account that the stories that constitute the sacred writings for The Three Great Religions are myths, that is, symbol systems designed to open one's being to a different way of perceiving reality. Both sides assume that the stories they are dealing with are facts instead of metaphors, perhaps no one more fiercely than the atheists.

Professor Fish spends some time expounding on the tale of Eve eating the apple, which he presents throughout as a historic event. He and the early modern cohorts he brings with him into battle present this tale as one of corruption and sin and the exercise of free will. However, when looked at as myth, it becomes a tale about epistemology and how our ability to acquire and use knowledge separates us from the reality that surrounds us. Eve eats of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and her consciousness moves from an experience of the unitary and the eternal to one that is fragmentary and rooted in time. Her world becomes binary, and she becomes aware not only of good and evil, but naked and clothed, dark and light, and death and life, among a myriad of others. Sin, then is not a matter of behavior, but one of awareness. Sin is being lost in fragmentation and time and being unable to experience the divine, which is unitary and eternal.

I say this all merely as one sinner to another.

In Buddhist terms, Eve (and then Adam) went from Nirvana to Samsarra, just to bring an idea or two formulated somewhere besides the Near East.

I will go on about this, particularly the symbolism inherent in the Near East religions tomorrow. Unless I don't. Only time, fragmentary time, will tell.