Lost my seat

September 30, 2005 at 8:19 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off

September is almost over, and somehow the month feels like a leftover plate of regrets.

Buried up to my neck in various tasks and obligations and thoroughly marinated in my own inefficiencies and incompetences, I feel like I’ve gotten nothing done. The other day I had this “brilliant” idea about an essay dealing with need and competition, and how these two are essentially connected, Janus-faced, and how they play their role in writing. In blogging, for example. (Think of Manfredo Tafuri describing the infant de Sade, screaming out his need; think of competing for satisfaction; think of the Buddha teaching that desire — the ball of wax that is need and competition bunged together — is…? What? Not really one thing, but two? Peeled apart, it loses its hold and no longer is The One Thing but a compound…?) But for two days it was impossible to sit down to work on this, and then — poof! — the brilliance tarnished. Or the dust-bunnies made off with it. Or the dog ate it for breakfast. What.ever. There’s a German word (one of those double-barrelled things, a compound word), Sitzfleisch, “sitting-on meat,” which is what you need to have if you’re going to write. “Sitting on one’s bum,” staying at the desk, the adult version of the educational administrator’s “bums in seats” mantra when totting up the annual school budget. Constant interruptions and demands do nothing for the cultivation of Sitzfleisch, which at any rate being such an ugly word is gratefully ignored at every provocation. And there are always provocations, just as wax melts and drips when the candle burns.

Another idea that’s not going to go anywhere is a comparison of two places I have never seen, and perhaps will never get to see. Both places were carved out of a kind of wilderness by two apparently highly willful and difficult personalities. One manifests as a remarkable house (rescued from damp ruin by a foundation), the other as a garden (the unremarkable house is a damp ruin, but the garden thrives). One was built by a bachelor man, the other was cultivated by an oft-married woman whose many children ran away as soon as they could. The man is Curzio Malaparte, born in 1898 as Kurt Erich Suckert in Prato Italy to a German father and an Italian mother, his house is the famous Casa Malaparte on the Punta Massullo on the eastern end of the island of Capri. The woman is Cougar Annie, born in 1888 as Ada Annie Jordan in Sacramento California to a father so cruel and domineering, he tied Annie’s pet dog to the back leg of a horse, which then kicked the dog to death. This was the father’s way of punishing Annie for some misdeed. Her garden is Cougar Annie’s Garden on the Clayoquot Sound in the nearly inaccessible Hesquiat Harbour on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The two environments are obviously remarkably different, consisting of almost categorical oppositions: dry-wet, hot-cold, clear-obscure, male-female, stone house-earth garden, sterile-fecund. At the same time, the people responsible for the artifacts (house and garden) seem imbued with an almost mythical violence, and the places they chose count among the most inhospitable by bourgeois standards of comfort. It occured to me that studying Malaparte and Cougar Annie in tandem would be tremendously rewarding. Then I learned that Cougar Annie’s Garden is accessible only by float plane or boat, and isn’t open to the casual visitor dropping in on a whim; and I don’t think I’ll see Capri any time soon, either. Thinking about the herculean effort necessary to rely only on imagining these places — albeit entirely possible, especially given the resources of the library and the internet — made me so depressed that I came down with a severe case of writer’s block. (Michael McDonough‘s marvellous book on Malaparte notwithstanding…)

So there went another idea….

I did however watch Jean-Luc Godard’s film Contempt, which stars (at the end of the film) the Casa Malaparte, along with Brigitte Bardot, Jack Palance, and Fritz Lang. It’s a terrible film, by the way, but it occured to me that Bernardo Bertolucci must have really liked it because it suddenly seemed clear that Last Tango in Paris takes off from Contempt. The underlying theme of Contempt is Man leaving the confines of Home (Ulysses in the Odyssey, leaving Penelope behind), and the Nagging Question of said Man, “does she still love me?, and if she stopped loving me, when and why exactly?” That’s a question that seems at the heart of Last Tango in Paris, too. And somewhere in the equation is the taboo, that stepping over the line, when the Woman “irrationally” (from the Man’s limited perspective — he thinks it’s universal, but it’s not) rejects the Man and instead feels contempt for him. Very tiresome stuff.

McDonough’s book contains an essay by Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi, “Politics, Aesthetics and Fascism in the World of Malaparte,” which has some of the smartest commentary on fascist aesthetics and the body that I’ve read in a while (her book presumably expands on much of what she writes in the essay):

Fascism followed one strand of modern art that wanted to reduce the sensual and impose form, and that proclaimed the avant-garde artist’s independence from nature — the fable of autogenesis. Mussolini’s aspiration to create a new and supposedly more spiritual Italy was based on the fantasy of a god-like artist-creator who treats the masses as a senseless object, dead matter, a block of marble to be shaped, a deindividualized body-politic. (…)

Fascism’s aesthetic pursuit of a new Italian man and a beautiful, spiritual Italy was envisioned within a violent understanding of existence and social relations. The realization of a political masterpiece depended on the brutal cutting and sculpting technique of the artist-politician’s secure hand. Fully entrenched in the modernist dilemma of creation/ destruction, fascism offered its own ambiguous response to the contradictions of cultural modernity by resorting to a peculiar conception of art that turned hopes of political and cultural renewal into a totalitarian nightmare. Art, fascism ultimately proved, could not be divorced from politics. And politics, in Mussolini’s Italy, was perniciously entangled with art: “That politics is an art there is no doubt. Certainly it is not a science, nor is it empiricism. It is thus art. Also because in politics there is a lot of intuition. Political like artistic creation is a slow elaboration and a sudden divination. At a certain moment the artist creates with inspiration, the politician with decision. Both work the material and the spirit. …In order to give wise laws to a people it is also necessary to become something of an artist.” (Benito Mussolini, 1926)
[From Falasca-Zamponi's essay, in Michael McDonough's book on Malaparte, pp.45-46.]

Today the “artist” is called a spin-meister, which is a sort of bastardisation of one of those double-barrelled German words (such as Sitzfleisch)…

And I’m waiting for someone to do for Cougar Annie what Lawrence Russell did for Malaparte.

Permaculture and vegetarianism

September 27, 2005 at 2:24 pm | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

I’ve had my nose in and out of a book by Bill Mollison — his third, Permaculture; A Designer’s Manual. The book is due at the library again in a few days; it seems to be one of those massively circulating tomes, with mulitple “holds” on it at any given moment. Luckily, however, there’s plenty to learn about permaculture on the web, too. It’s defined as follows on this webpage: “Permaculture – from permanent and agriculture – is an integrated design philosophy that encompasses gardening, architecture, horticulture, ecology, even money management and community design. The basic approach is to create sustainable systems that provide for their own needs and recycle their waste.” And it’s elaborated as follows here:

… is a practical concept applicable from a balcony to the farm, from the city to the wilderness, enabling us to establish productive environments providing our food, energy, shelter, material and non-material needs, as well as the social and economic infrastructures that will support them.
… is a synthesis of ecology, geography, observation & design.
Permaculture encompasses all aspects of human environments and culture, urban and rural, and their local and global impact.
It involves ethics of earth care because the sustainable use of land cannot be separated from lifestyle and philosophical issues.
… encourages the restoration of balance to our environments through the practical application of ecological principles.
In the broadest sense, Permaculture refers to land-use systems and lifestyle options which utilise resources in a sustainable way.

I was really very intrigued to read Bill Mollison’s commentary, on pp.28-30 of Permaculture; A Designer’s Manual, on the question of “Pyramids, Food Webs, Growth, and Vegetarianism.” Mollison begins by dismantling the naive understanding of the trophic pyramid, which is often used to illustrate that carnivorous man, sitting at the top of the pyramid, requires huge amounts of “lesser” animals and plants to produce for his consumption a kilogram of meat. This pyramid is then used to bolster the argument that it is therefore ethically and environmentally desirable to become vegetarian. In the pyramid that illustrates p.29 of the book, we see that 10000 kg of herbage feeds 1000 kg of grasshoppers which feeds 100 kg of frog which feeds 10 kg of fish which feeds 1 kg of human. In a direct “herbage to human” path, however, it takes only 1000 kg (vs 10000 kg) to feed one kg of human. This is then used to argue that we should use the direct path and eat herbage (vegetarian diet) vs feeding herbage to other eaters who in turn are eaten by bigger animals who in turn are eaten by us.

But Mollison asks us to consider the following other factors:

1. Because we are enmeshed in complex interactions, nature is much more complex than the pyramid would suggest. There are complex interactions between same species, for example, “governed not by food habits, but by pasture management practices.” (Here he is referring to the complex web of species interaction literally on the ground — between insects, for example, or between amphibians.) It’s preferable to use a food web to explain this, not a pyramid.

His second point really caught my attention:

2. “Pyramids ignore feedback.” Because the earth on which we’re all planted (or stand) literally “eats” us up again (in the form of our continuous waste as well as our eventual waste when we die), and because we exist over time (vs. as a “still” or “snapshot” in time), feedback isn’t taken into account in the pyramid model: “…as an animal grows, it returns nutrients to the soil via excreted, moulted, or discarded body wastes, and even if the frog eats 10 kg of grasshoppers to make one kilo of frog, it doesn’t (obviously) keep the 10 kg in a bag, but excretes 9 kg or more back to earth as manures. This causes more vegetation to grow, thus producing more grasshoppers. (…) …the real position is that waste recycling to herbage is the main producer of that herbage.”

The third point is equally thought-provoking:

3. “What of maturity?” Consider that some animals below the level of “man” at the top of the pyramid grow to be very old. Mollison uses the example of a carp, which may grow to be 80 or more years old, yet that same carp is already fully grown at age two. Mollison writes:

So now, the carp (at 80 years old and 10 kg weight) has eaten 100 x 10 kg = 1000 kg of frogs and insects, and has returned 990 kg of digested material per year to the pond, to grow more herbage. Thus, in order to keep the system in growth, we must be able to efficiently crop any level just before maturity is reached. We can see that old or mature systems no longer use food for growth, but for maintenance. So it is with mature fish, frogs, forests, and people.

Old organisms thus become constant recyclers (food in, waste out) and cease to grow, or they even begin to lose weight. This is why we try to use only young and growing plants and animals for food, if food is scarce. An exception is a fruit or nut tree, where we consume seed or fruit (seed is an immature tree).

4. Next, he asks “Are food chains so simple?” The “man” at the top of the trophic pyramids eats lots of other things (including vegetation) besides the carp (or fish — or cow) immediately “below” him.

Mollison points out that the argument that we should become vegetarians to ameliorate food shortage is suspect: “Only in home gardens is most of the vegetation edible for people; much of the earth is occupied by inedible vegetation. Deer, rabbits, sheep, and herbivorous fish are very useful to us, in that they convert this otherwise unusable herbage to acceptable human food. Animals represent a valid method of storing inedible vegetation as food. If we convert all vegetation to edible species, we assume a human priority that is unsustainable, and must destroy other plants and animals to do so.”

Even if you bristle at the suggestion that animals are there “for” you, it’s not so easy to dismiss the argument that most of the vegetation covering the earth is inedible for us. So, what should we do? Convert everything to soybeans? No, because then we’d be depriving the rest of the animal world that depends on the vegetation which we can’t eat from getting nourished. As Mollison points out, soybeans in particular are a scourge if held up as an alternative to eating meat:

“Even to cook these foods [grains and grain legumes like soya], we need to use up very large quantities of wood and fossil fuels. Worse, soya beans are one of the foods owned (100% of patent rights) by a few multinationals. They are grown on rich bottomland soils, in large monocultural operations, and in 1980-82 caused more deforestation in the USA and Brazil than any other crop. (…) …grains and grain legumes account for most of the erosion of soils in every agricultural region, and moreover, very few home gardeners in the developed world ever grow grains or grain legumes, so that much of what is eaten in the West is grown in areas where real famine threatens (mung beans from India, chick peas from Ethiopia, soya beans from Africa and India).”

Ok, if you’re concerned about supporting sustainable natural systems, what sort of diet should you, an urbanised Westerner, eat? According to Mollison, vegetarian diets are only efficient if they provide for the following conditions:

1. if they’re based on easily cooked or easily processed crops from home gardens (or the local farmer’s market, I wonder?)
2. if wastes, especially body wastes, are returned to the soil of that garden. (…Hmmm, now that’s an argument for the composting toilet, right? I know that some friends of mine (in jurisdiction of City of Victoria) tried to get one of these, but were turned down by the plumbing department — of course, the City of Victoria still sends its raw sewage straight into the ocean, so …are we supposed to eat more fish?? Not likely, given all the toxic chemicals that also got flushed and found their way into the flesh of the fish… (In fairness, Victoria is slowly getting a process in place — forced on us, finally — to address the sewage scandal, and there’s talk of looking at bioponds and other bioneered solutions; waste recycling back to soil should be at least part of the equation…)
3. at the same time, nearly exclusively meat-dependent diets have a place in very cold climates that don’t allow for home gardens — think Arctic: fish, seal, blubber.
4. And finally: “We should always do our energy budgets,” says Mollison. Regardless of what we eat, if we don’t grow our own food and send our sewage into the ocean, we’re losing “the essential soil and nutrients needed for a sustainable life cycle.” As for city people who use flush toilets, we “would be better advised to adopt a free-range meat diet than to eat grain and grain legumes.” No more tofu burgers. (Never liked them anyway.)

Unless you have a solar powered freezer and can stock up with direct-from-the-farmer quantities of meats, it’s still way too expensive to buy free-range meat in meal-sized portions at the store. It’s especially impossible if you’re feeding growing teenagers who tend to inhale alimentation the way the rest of us inhale air. The home garden, on the other hand, is more achievable (and plenty more work). When we still lived in Greater Boston, one of my neighbours got into Square Foot Gardening and actually grew corn on the cob along with other delicious veggies… (he was originally from the mid-west…).

He also went hunting. Which reminds me of the closing paragraph from Richard Manning’s amazing 2004 Harper’s Magazine article, The Oil We Eat; Following the food chain back to Iraq: disgusted by our industrial method of agriculture’s dependence on petrochemicals and what this implies for supermarket food choices and politics, Manning concludes:

Food is politics. That being the case, I voted twice in 2002. The day after Election Day, in a truly dismal mood, I climbed the mountain behind my house and found a small herd of elk grazing native grasses in the morning sunlight. My respect for these creatures over the years has become great enough that on that morning I did not hesitate but went straight to my job, which was to rack a shell and drop one cow elk, my household’s annual protein supply. I voted with my weapon of choice—an act not all that uncommon in this world, largely, I think, as a result of the way we grow food. I can see why it is catching on. Such a vote has a certain satisfying heft and finality about it. My particular bit of violence, though, is more satisfying, I think, than the rest of the globe’s ordinary political mayhem. I used a rifle to opt out of an insane system. I killed, but then so did you when you bought that package of burger, even when you bought that package of tofu burger. I killed, then the rest of those elk went on, as did the grasses, the birds, the trees, the coyotes, mountain lions, and bugs, the fundamental productivity of an intact natural system, all of it went on. [complete article here...]

That said, I once again this summer let my garden go to hell. But at least I managed to shop at farms a couple of times…


September 23, 2005 at 5:35 pm | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

Well, this is a new one: I can’t post comments on my own blog…

I get a message back saying FORBIDDEN and “access denied.”

I’ll write to the webmasters later, for now I’m too …bushed.

Meter Maid Dominant

September 22, 2005 at 10:38 am | In yulelogStories | Comments Off

According to news reports from all ends of the political spectrum, Hurricane Rita is set to have a huge impact on US oil production. Global Public Media notes that on Wednesday night,

…Hurricane Rita was on course to make landfall south of the island city of Galveston on Saturday morning. By that time, wind shear and passage over relatively cooler pockets of the Gulf, may push the hurricane back to Category 4. But all that means is that cities near and on the Central Texas coast, which are home to about 25% of U.S. oil refining capacity, will be hit with a storm similar in power to Katrina.

Bill Greehey, Chairman and CEO of Valero Energy Group, the largest refiner in the US, noted that there are still four refineries shut down in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s passage. He called Rita’s potential impact on US refineries “a national disaster.” [More...]

Greehey said in the interview that gas prices could well go above $3 per gallon in the US, adding this: “You’ve got refineries that will start shutting down in anticipation of the hurricane, and then if any of them have permanent damage, we’re going to be dependent on imports. Following Katrina, this is really serious.”

Bloomberg‘s reports are equally grim, noting that Rita threatens “the nation’s biggest concentration of refineries.” The US has 144 refineries, and 25 are located in Texas. All but seven of these are located in coastal towns, which means that all the people involved in operating and tending the refineries have evacuated, and may be facing destroyed homes when they return. That will add to the difficulties of getting refineries back on track, providing that Rita doesn’t take them out.

Since the Texas refineries have battened down and shut down in preparation for Rita, Latest Futures News notes that right now, pre-Rita, 14% of the US’s refining capacity is offline when you add the Texas facilities to the Louisiana facilities still closed in the wake of Katrina. The markets and financial massage therapists are cautious:

Analysts predicted the biggest impact would be on products, as lost refining capacity aggravates a shortage of refined fuels, while overall crude stocks are comfortable. [More...]

Canada’s National Post is sounding an equally strong warning note:

Martin King, commodities analyst with FirstEnergy Capital Corp. in Calgary, said Hurricane Rita will probably compound an already-worrisome tightness between supply and demand in the North American natural gas market heading into the colder months. “We are short on supply and there was a real worry out there we wouldn’t be able to fill gas storage adequately before the heating season. That fear was heightened and magnified by Katrina and now it’s sort of doubled in terms of what Rita could or could not do.” [More...]

None of the above reports mention that fuel shortages could have an impact on the upcoming harvest, too. It’s not just the price at the pump and what it will cost to drive to work or to the mall: our entire industrial agricultural complex is dependent on petroleum, from soup to nuts. On the more radical left, however, the effect of diesel shortages on agriculture is a topic; see InfoShop News:

Fully 30% of all US refining capacity is in the target zone. Perhaps most importantly, almost every refinery capable of producing diesel fuel is in immediate danger. This promises (especially in the wake of Katrina) a devastating and irreplaceable shortage of the diesel fuel needed to power America’s harvest of grain and food crops this month and next. Without diesel fuel to power the harvesters and combines, crops may be left to rot in the ground presenting a double whammy: food shortages (with prices that may treble or quadruple) and export defaults negatively impacting the financial markets and trade deficit. [More...]

This article also mentions the South Texas Nuclear Project nuclear power plant near Bay City, reported to be in Rita’s direct line of fire. It was through my search for information about Rita’s potential effect on the nuclear power plant — which has two reactors — that I found all of these other articles that mainly address the economics of oil prices. But let’s not forget that there are nuclear power plants, too, and that these will also be offline, temporarily or …not so temporarily. Note that officials promise that the South Texas Nuclear Project is built to “withstand” a Category 5 hurricane, but of course that has never been tested in the field, so to speak. The nuclear power plant needs electricity to keep the fuel and the spent fuel storage cool, and if its own power is disrupted, it gets power from the grid, and that, if the grid is disrupted, it will rely on diesel fuel generators to keep the cooling going. Hmmm, back to diesel… And what if all those backups fail? Let’s hope they don’t, but you have to wonder whose stupid idea it was to build a nuclear power plant in hurricane country. Probably the same people who site nuclear power plants on earthquake fault lines…

But really, now, if that wasn’t enough for you and you’re still happy-happy-happy, consider this, too, and consider that human stupidity seemingly has few bounds:

Officials at facilities that handle sensitive biological and nuclear materials began preparing Tuesday for Hurricane Rita’s projected hit on the Texas Gulf Coast.

One of the few certified U.S. labs handling the world’s most infectious, lethal viruses is at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, which is less than a mile from the Galveston seawall. [emphasis added]

Lab director Michael R. Holbrook said workers destroyed lab cultures in which viruses were growing on Tuesday and will begin packing the lab up on Wednesday.

The remaining viruses will be sealed and locked in freezers. Then, if Rita still threatens the Galveston coast on Thursday, the lab will be fumigated with formaldehyde. [More...]

I’m not able to second the closing statement made by the author of the InfoShop News article I cited above — a taste of that statement is conveyed by the article’s title: Storm May Be the Coup de Grace for the American Economy — but one really does wonder how much more foolishness we can absorb…

It’s almost grotesque that the name “Rita” is probably best known, at least to a certain generation, as the “lovely meter maid” from the Beatles song. If Rita does its worst to the oil industry and our dependence on cheap energy, we might all sing that song while we ponder our parked cars.

Math Online, and a Math Blog, too

September 20, 2005 at 11:51 am | In yulelogStories | 6 Comments

Rooting around on e-learning blogs, I found out about two math sites, at least one of which is a gem: Interactive Math. It’s an excellent resource for anyone studying or teaching math topics from algebra to higher calculus. Another site that was mentioned is HeyMath, recently advocated by Thomas Friedman in this editorial in the New York Times. I checked the site out and confess that my first impression was, “pffft.” That is, I didn’t like it.

Thanks to Interactive Math, I could read a review that articulated both my problem with visiting HeyMath, and that touched on some of my many problems with Friedman. There’s a link to a blog, SquareCircleZ, specifically its math category archives, which includes the following review:

Thomas Friedman was in Singapore recently to deliver a talk (read ‘book promotion’) on his theory that “The Earth is Flat”. The talk was okay, but I found Friedman somewhat condescending in tone. While I agree that technology can help to level the playing field and help poorer nations have a better competitive edge, I felt some of his notions were rather simplistic. I guess it all depends on whether you regard globalisation as a good thing or not.

Anyway, having been here for a short time, Friedman becomes an expert on the Singapore education system. He wrote an article for the New York Times, Still Eating Our Lunch. In it, he waxes lyrical about the high standard of mathematics and science in Singapore and how it is comfortably beating the US in international standard tests. (The article was published today in the Straits Times rebranded as “Singapore’s Racing US to the top”.)

He also promotes (HeyMath) in the article. HeyMath is a consortium of British, Singapore and Indian mathematics educators that has apparently put together a good math site. But it seems that Friedman didn’t even check out the site. There is nothing to see (except a summary and some Flash promotional animations) and no indication how you get (buy?) a password to login. [from SquareCircleZ]

Exactly: it’s user-unfriendly, there’s nothing to tell a first-time user how to access the supposed golden goodies available here. Plus, it needs “the latest Flash Player to use the HeyMath site,” but even that doesn’t tell you what else you might need. Registration? Payment? What? Maybe HeyMath is as good as Friedman claims, but its current welcome page doesn’t seem very inviting.

As for the mysterious (no ‘about’ link) SquareCircleZ, he (I’m guessing) also has an excellent article, How to Survive the Math Blues, which I am putting on my kids’s “must-read” list. We’ll probably be visiting this blog and the Interactive Math site on a regular basis from now on.

Cataloguing books online

September 19, 2005 at 9:53 pm | In social_networking, yulelogStories | 8 Comments

Have any of my one or three readers checked out either Library Thing or the Delicious Library and are you willing to offer your feedback or thoughts on same?

Cataloguing my library is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I have to say that doing it electronically, with all the options of tagging each title, thereby cross-referencing each one, is very very tempting. I’m not so sure about giving over all that data about my reading preferences, though. Nor am I clear about where the data actually resides.

But it’s tempting. It has an appeal to vanity, too, of course, which, I suspect, all these new emerging applications have to build in, if they wish to succeed. Appeal to vanity, as in: my “tag clouds” (via Library Thing) could sprinkle on another user’s tags, and I’m sure the site could be a total time sink in terms of vanity searches for other users whose book titles match my own.

~~~~~ ** ~~~~~

PS: ok, maybe it’s an unlucky fluke, but I have to state that loading Delicious Library has now twice frozen my browser (Firefox) to the point where I had to go into “terminal” and “kill -9″ it. I did have 6 or 7 other tags open, but I don’t like going to sites that seem to make my browser freeze or crash or turn to toast.

Bush’s “female” speech

September 16, 2005 at 6:25 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

Via Crooks and Liars, here’s a pointer I found thoroughly depressing….

Dick Morris on Bush: “Man, is he fortunate!” (both QT & Windows video available, go see). Crooks and Liars introduces the content thus:

Dick Morris just loved President Bush’s speech last night. It had the most important component he likes. Morris calls it a “female” speech.


Morris:..he believes that they should fight wars and that was the first term, and they believe they should recover from disasters and that’s the second term. Man, is this guy fortunate.

Stunned Hannity: Fortunate to have a disaster?

He does try to recovers [sic], but he had a little too much glee in his eyes. Politically speaking, Morris thinks it’s just so great that Bush has all these disasters to attend to so he can look like a hero trying to fix them. Did it ever dawn on Dick that the President might bear some culpability in the overall response and or protection from these disasters to begin with? [More & see the video....]

Good question. But seriously depressing is seeing Dick Morris talk about how Bush is going to skyrocket in the polls now. This is exactly what I’ve been worrying about, and here’s this former Clintonite gloating about it. Makes a person wonder. Nothing succeeds like success, eh?

But what’s with calling this speech “female”? What is that? Oooh, must be the “caring” and “nurturing” thing…

What’s more depressing? That the pundits are predicting a rise in Bush’s popularity, or that “female” is the latest “tag” in doubleplusgood-speak? Man, we are in trouble.


September 15, 2005 at 9:23 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off

I defy anyone to try to read Bill Moyers’s incredible essay, Soul Freedom while simultaneously listening (in a second tab) to DJ Sujinho – I love Baile Funk. It’s impossible. The sound of explosions and the driving martial beat, juxtaposed to Moyers’s words of both compassion and critique: they make you choose. With lurid fascination, I let “I love Baile Funk” come one third of the way to its conclusion, and then I clicked outta there. The DJ Sujinho mp3 was via Boom Selection, which was via Aurgasm: I love these music sites, they bring great stuff to my attention, but there are times when I’m not cool with martial tones.

And I don’t care if the beat is meant “ironically” or anything else — instead I find myself strangely in tune with the most crotchety side of Adorno, who claimed that syncopated rhythms replicated the erasure of individuality one finds in the factory or the military machine, except that the rhythms make that loss of individuality feel like fun …or something to that effect.

Syncope refers to fainting, probably because it comes from the Greek “syn” (meaning “with”) and “koptein” (meaning “cut”), hence the doctors thought it would be cool to have it mean “loss of consciousness” (think: “with cutting of consciousness,” “with cutting” being somewhat like “loss of”). But it also has meanings in music and in language. In language, it’s cutting out a middle sound (“ne’er” for “never,” eg.). In music, I guess it’s sort of the opposite, in a way: stressing the normally unstressed beat in a bar, although I gather that’s only one meaning. It can be like a syncopation in language, too, insofar as it’s the failure to sound a tone on an accented beat (see this Wikipedia entry).

But let’s not get too technical. Basically, I guess that in his more ideological moments, Adorno tried to argue that the syncopated rhythms of some modern music (and yes, he was referring to one of my favourite musical forms, jazz — although apologists have tried to cut him some slack by saying that he only heard “dixieland” kitsch, not John Coltrane; I doubt it: Coltrane was available for Adorno to hear, and he probably did) suggested a cutting out of consciousness by dint of a martial (or at best: synchronised, typical of machine-made mass production) pounding that homogenised everything to the same common denominator. While the masses were boogeying and messin’ around, Adorno sat back and said they were undifferentiated and bereft of true individuality.

I’ve always resented that, but just now, hoping to multitask (or escape vicariously in multiple ways, take your terminally unconscious, undifferentiated pick), I had to admit that maybe he had a point.

Moyers is trying to make some fairly subtle points in his essay, and you’re not likely to grasp them if your ears are assaulted in Dolby Stereo by sonic booms in rhythms syncopated to deny beginning, middle, end. Just constant rupture. Boom, boom, boom: explosion upon explosion.

Soul Freedom argues for connections. Moyers talks about the Baptists, and their search for freedom of religion way back in the 17th century American colonies. He talks about how these ideas made their way into the American Constitution, which sought to assure freedom of religion:

Unlike the Old World that had been wracked with religious wars and persecution, the government of America would take no sides in the religious free-for-all that liberty would make possible and politics would make inevitable. The First Amendment neither inculcates religion nor inoculates against it. Americans could be loyal to the Constitution without being hostile to God, or they could pay no heed to God without fear of being mugged by an official God Squad.[More...]

And, being written on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of 9/11, it talks about the new God Squads who take their power from the Koran. As Moyers points out, “Yes, the Koran speaks of mercy and compassion and calls for ethical living. But such passages are no match for the ferocity of instruction found there for waging war for God’s sake.” But the mission of all God Squads isn’t just to deal with life & death in a cut-and-dried manner (killing “infidels”); it also revolves around controlling the minds of the living. Through fear, for example. If you can fill people’s hearts with fear, then “people will give up the risks of democracy for the assurances of security; fill that heart with fear and you can shake the house to its foundations.”

But it’s not just the Koran that’s full of blood lust. The Bible is just about the same:

Yes, I know: the early church fathers, trying to cover up the blood-soaked trail of God’s sport, decreed that anything that disagrees with Christian dogma about the perfection of God is to be interpreted spiritually. Yes, I know: Edward Gibbon himself acknowledged that the literal Biblical sense of God “is repugnant to every principle of faith as well as reason” and that we must therefore read the scriptures through a veil of allegory. Yes, I know: we can go through the Bible and construct a God more pleasing to the better angels of our nature (as I have done.) Yes, I know: Christians claim the Old Testament God of wrath was supplanted by the Gospel’s God of love [See The God of Evil, Allan Hawkins, Exlibris.]

I know these things; all of us know these things. But we also know that the “violence-of-God” tradition remains embedded deep in the DNA of monotheistic faith. We also know that fundamentalists the world over and at home consider the “sacred texts” to be literally God’s word on all matters.

Inside that logic you cannot read part of the Bible allegorically and the rest of it literally; if you believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection, and the depiction of the Great Judgment at the end times you must also believe that God is sadistic, brutal, vengeful, callow, cruel, and savage — that God slaughters. Millions believe it.[More...]

Which brings us back to the pesky Baptists and their demand for religious freedom. What we have now, with Generals (Boykin, eg.) waging war in the name of the Christian God and evangelists calling for political murder, is loss of what Moyers calls “soul freedom.”

Our democratic values are imperiled because too many people of reason are willing to appease irrational people just because they are pious. Republican moderates tried appeasement and survive today only in gulags set aside for them by the Karl Roves, Bill Frists and Tom DeLays.

Democrats are divided and paralyzed, afraid that if they take on the organized radical right they will lose what little power they have. Trying to learn to talk about God as Republicans do, they’re talking gobbledygook, compromising the strongest thing going for them — the case for a moral economy and the moral argument for the secular checks and balances that have made America “a safe haven for the cause of conscience.” [More...]

You gotta read this essay, for Moyers’s adumbration of the soul includes the political-economic belly, too. Just don’t syncopate your conscious understanding…


September 15, 2005 at 8:33 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off

Pressed for time lately, I have tried writing blog posts directly in MarsEdit vs writing them in TextEdit first. Consequently, I just deleted a second post, not because it was incendiary and I thought better of it, but because I hit ‘send to weblog’ by mistake…

Memo to self: write in TextEdit first. Then copy & paste to MarsEdit. Then post. Sheesh.

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