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Thursday, January 18, 2018

On Abusing Words to Make them Mean Things

We want to believe that we use our language to promote our morals or to describe our situation—we want to believe that the origin of language is a desire to know or a desire to do what is or what is right in reference to what is. But it turns out that our language, in its whole compass, exists in other ways from other causes that at best are in tension with these which we want to believe or at worst simply overwhelms them and uses them for cover, like the wolf who kills the sheep and wears its skin to kill other sheep. Nietzsche was obsessed with this other thing as power. The will to power. Instinct, the unconscious—there are various ways to formulate this (but again, we’re using the belief what we are using language to find out what is when we say this and not admitting that we too are caught in this other dynamic of language, more profound, more frightening). Our concepts are arranged to make it possible for us to do certain things, act certain ways, gather to ourselves what we are really after, be it power or security or freedom from fear or the illusion of immortality or love or meaning.

On Beauty. What is it?

If you ask, “What is beauty” you are assuming that something exists which the concept “beauty” applies to. How do you know this? Why do you assume it? Can you ask whether your assumption is true without first having an understanding of what beauty is? Are you therefore not really asking, “When I use the word beauty, what do I mean?” And if that is the question you are asking, aren’t you avoiding the question of whether “beauty” exists? Is there any way out of this closed circle? Is it actually possible to ask, on its own terms, the question, “What is beauty?”

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Fear of the Trump Voter

A somewhat tentative analysis.

The sins, the shortcomings, the failures of Donald Trump are so obvious, so blatant, so in-your-face, and have been for so long and have been repeated so often that those who wish to deny, excuse, or defend him have decided long since that have no use for evidence and no interest in rational judgment regarding this man. Think about it. He ridiculed a disabled man on national television. He repeatedly called for violence to deal with interruptions during his campaign rallies, he bragged about sexual assault, he defended white supremacists, he made disgusting and racist statements about countries whose populations are not primarily white, he declared that a judge of Mexican heritage could not do his job because of his owns disparaging remarks against Mexicans, he cheated innumerable investors (and not just in his phony “university”), and on and on. One could so easily add to the list of the obvious, indisputable examples of insensitivity, stupidity, incompetence and racism. One could spend all day on examples of his irrational hatred of Muslims or his moronic rejection of climate change or his baseless promotion of birtherism. His own political party is composed mainly of people who either openly oppose him or (despite hardly disguised loathing) praise and defend him in the hope of using the power his position represents. And there is also a third group, small by comparison but not insignificant of those who actually support him, who think he’s doing a good job, who defend Trump sincerely. This group has two camps: people who are as morally and intellectually just like him—a sizable group of deplorable people—and those who for some other reason remain blind to the obvious.

This latter group is the only group I find interesting. It’s small. It’s benighted. But the people in it, in their hearts, want to do the right thing. They actually think Trump is a good idea. It's hard to figure them out. Their reaction makes no sense given the obvious. And yet there must be some explanation. They think he’s keeping them safe. They have a kind of religious devotion to the man. Many of them in fact are religiously driven, though their religious faith is just another manifestation of the same impulse that drives them to support Trump. They watch FOX news and allow themselves to be convinced by whatever shallow, slippery, partisan defense the rhetorists and sophists can dream up. Trump baits Kim Jung Un and threatens to provoke nuclear war, but these people still think he’s keeping them safe. What could their motivation be if not fear? I have tried to come up with some other possible motivation for these people, but I cannot, at least not without getting into the sordid territory raked over by the likes of Freud and Lacan. The simple explanation always comes back to fear. Fear does not lead to clear thinking.

The question is whether this small group of otherwise good people who refuse to see what is right in front of them and who grope around for any broken stick of a reason that might allow them to pretend to themselves that his obvious racism, sexism, moronism, inveterate dishonesty—that all of his myriad sins and stupidities are just superficial appearances that hide the real, deep, honest patriot underneath, whether these people can by any means be made to see what is right in front of them? Probably not. The tactic of picking the decayed thing up up and sticking it under their noses isn’t working. But what would it take? If it could be done, the obvious first step would be to remove the fear. If they weren’t afraid of the things they think Trump can protect them from, they could see that he not only can’t protect them, everything he does makes the fearful situation worse. It would work, but it won’t happen. You can’t take away the fear because the fear itself is not irrational. These otherwise sincere Trump supporters have badly misdiagnosed the causes and therefore the solutions. (So many of them are afraid of Muslims but not the private ownership of guns.) But even that is something they are incapable of seeing. It would take a slightly more subtle analysis than exposure of Trump’s incompetence—and that takes no analysis at all, just ears or eyeballs. If you can’t see that the dancing monkey is a dancing monkey, if you pick up the pile of dog shit and smell it and taste is and still don’t recognize it as feces, how could you possibly become willing to see that you have misdiagnosed your fear?

So we can’t expect real progress in changing hearts and opening eyes, not even otherwise good hearts and working eyes. The job then, perhaps, lies in controlling our own counterproductive anger and frustration. Those things will persist. But directing them toward the individuals who cannot see is counterproductive. We can’t change their minds. We can’t relieve them of their fears or even reduce or redirect them. We have to direct our frustration and anger toward political action and not toward people whose only power is their vote. We won’t change their vote.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Straight Line to Corporate Control of America: A proposition

Looking back to the origins of American Democracy, we find a straight line from Hobbes through Locke to Jefferson. Here the idea that authority comes from "the people" leads to government "of the people." But what compels this idea in history to begin with? Neibuhr puts his finger on it: the rise of a class of wealthy individuals from outside the gentry. Money seeks power. In fact, despite, the ostensible structure, this pivot in history had nothing to do with empowering the people, nor does it in fact do so. That was never the goal. Some scraps of power were ceded to the people temporarily to keep up appearances. But "the people" were invented as a justification to seize power from the old rich and pass it on to the new rich. The compelling force was incipient capitalism, for which philosophy created a scaffold. Its logical end game is being played out here and now. The people have always been a nuisance to wealth. Both Republicans and Democrats (though the former more egregiously than the latter) have become primarily the tools of the super rich, government has increasingly become the regulating body of, by, and for the super rich. And, as evidenced by the passage of the 2017 tax bill, they can now (helped by the political tricks of gerrymandering, repressive voter i.d. laws, the ending of the Voting Rights Act, and the "Citizens United" decision) afford to circumvent the interests of "the people" with impunity. This, and not Marx's utopianism, is the final stage of capitalism. While the (presumably) billionaire president and his cronies mouth concern for those left behind (which somehow for them translates exclusively to the white working class) in fact everything they do is intended to leave everyone behind, puppets of the logical of late capitalism who are at the same time the sole beneficiaries of that logic.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Overcoming after Nietzsche (Or No, It Isn't Power Exactly)

The idea of humans as animals, as specifically the most distinguished species of great ape, though often passingly acknowledged, is rarely given the focus it deserves when we are attempting to understand human behavior. The Abrahamic myth is that we humans are essentially spiritual beings who fell into likeness with animals. The Darwinian narrative is that we humans are the product of millions of years of natural selection on an upward climb. Not necessarily a spiritual climb, but certainly an intellectual climb separating us from all other animals. We like to think of ourselves as a distinct sort of being.

But we are animals still. Sometimes I think that at our most worthy level of development we broach a post-animalistic existence. But we are never quite there as far as I can tell. Something of the brute clings even to our most spiritual gestures still.

So we should put more thought into not just what ancient instincts account for our actions today (how often do you hear a talking head on NPR tell us that, well, our ancestors had to eat as much high-calorie food as they could get because calories were scarce for cave dwellers… Or some such stuff), we should put more thought into how those instincts drive our present actions in our private psyche as well as in all our social relations. We should do all we can to re-consider Hobbes’ notion of a “State of Nature,” taking from that primitive attempt the idealized, hypothesized, impossible past. We are IN a state of nature now.

The notion, which is associated most closely with Nietzsche but which is by no means original to him, that the quest for power lies behind all human actions may be helpful. It is certainly better than Freud’s notion that sex is the most fundamental impulse. But the thing about instincts is that there is nothing behind them. They are just there. Evolutionary processes tell the bee to dance and the bird to migrate and Donald Trump to lash out with absurd lies at everyone who challenges him. None of them know what they are after. And placing linguistic or conceptual abstractions upon instinctive actions, though certainly to some degree useful and even enlightening, is always going to be a limited and misleading move.

If we think of power, we can see a lot. If we think of love or sex, we can go a long way to making bizarre actions less discomforting. But we don’t really explain the actions. We domesticate in the Glad bag of narrative. It may be the best we can do if we want our knowledge to be comforting, to give us power over what we are endeavoring to understand. The problem is that we will be able to substitute any number of concepts into the center and reconfigure the elements endlessly—as it seems to me we have been doing ever since the Enlightenment at least. We could certainly put “comfort” in the center of that circle rather than power or love.

Animals act in response to impulses wired in their brains, into their autonomic systems, in an analogous way that a computer acts in its programmed way in response to the impulses it receives, though slightly less precisely (or nothing would ever evolve; it’s the accident and the mistake that keep species going in the ever changing universe). So what’s more important to explain is not why people act certain ways in certain defined circumstances but rather to notice HOW they act in these circumstances. Girardian anthropology is a good example of this. He explains how violence becomes revenge which becomes counter revenge, which spreads like a virus through a society until the very existence of the society is threatened by the war of all (in various tribal configurations) against all, until the violence is finally put to an end by a symbolic sacrifice.
The pattern seems universal, though various mechanisms, including religion, can keep it at bay indefinitely.

Courtship behaviors (no surprise) also follow the identifiable, repeated patterns, from eye contact across a room to coitus. And so do all human behaviors, everything going on under the glances, the physical contact, the tone of voice, the word choice, the stammering out of sentences, the poses one makes to assert oneself in a group, the heckling, the pounding of the chest at the finish line, the harassing of the weak, the grabbing of a pussy by a troglodyte who hasn’t the capacity to think or endocrine system to block the impulse. Our fundamental animal guides as not only in virtue of or individual bodies but as a response to our environment. Every classroom has a bully and a clown just as every gender bending school of angel fish has an appropriate mix of male and female.

I'm sure that a lot of this essential work is being done in various fields, my profound ignorance (so clearly manifest in this sketch) notwithstanding.

The goal of this sort of knowledge goes beyond the comfort of understanding but leads toward the two goals of living in harmony with our animal and overcoming the beast.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

AI and the AE

Let us say that the three centers of the soul are these: love, power, intellect.

Let us say that the “self” is the struggle among these three.

Let us further say that the aim of the struggle is not control among them quite. That would be power’s aim if power were not living with love and intellect. Love’s aim would be reconciled living. Intellect’s aim, to arbitrate. What we have instead of a struggle for mere control is a negotiation without resolution. Love, power, intellect, the words are mere signifiers, we could have chosen others and no doubt have to stretch and carve the ordinary meanings some to make them fit out need. Our signifieds are impulses or qualities. The three pillars of the psyche we could say, not forces exactly, more like family members who want to get along. But they point not inward primarily, to each other, but outward, to the world.

Everyone wants power, a la Nietzsche. But Nietzsche thought too too much of power. (In the 18th century Pope recognized the power impulse, though only in women; in men he thought it was one among many. Anne Finch corrected this for him, showing that all impulses, in men and women, were impulses of power. But this is not quite true. Even power can be conceived of as an impulse toward reproduction. Powerful men attract women. Women are attracted to powerful men. The alpha males mate with as many alpha females as possible; the alpha females mate with as many alpha males as possible, all for the production of the greatest number of alpha children. But keep in mind that this crude model applies to any and all men and women only insofar as they are alpha. Its force weakens the further we travel along the path of the Greek alphabet. Power, moreover, can and must be conceived also as an impulse for safety, or self-preservation, the ability to remain in being, which is the precondition of all the rest and which is perhaps present in us in order to keep the possibility of reproduction open, but I don’t think so. It is a desire unto itself and in fact it may be that reproduction feeds into the desire for maintenance of being, so that if there is a hierarchy in the two, it is on the top.
I should pause here to clarify my trinity: intellect, power, love. I do not include sex and self-preservation in the set. The first three are a means to the latter, which are not utterly distinct from each other, as has just been said. Love, power, and intellect are resources as well as goals. Sex and safety are simply goals.

Everyone wants power, and not just for sex. Everyone wants love too, and power is not the only route, nor even necessarily the most compelling. And everyone needs both. In fact love without power cannot exist, and power without love is the definition of evil. A sociopath has intellect and power but no love. I don’t know who could have intellect and love but no power.

I think these are much better terms than ego, id, and superego.

Books need to be written to flesh out that trinity. But let’s skip that.

Intellect, intelligence itself, the ability to use reason and metaphor (not by the way emotional intelligence which is not a thing; what is called “emotional intelligence” would better be called emotional instinct) cannot exist in human beings. The prefrontal cortex is added onto the animal brain, the latter can exist and does exist without the former but never the other way around. Our intelligence is always wired to our needs and desires for power and love.

So-called artificial intelligence, of which I have heard it said that it’s just a matter of time, that it’s coming, and that there’s nothing we can do about it, the train has left the station and there is no brake to pull—artificial intelligence is billed as intelligence without the appurtenance of need or desire. It will be superior to our intelligence not just because it will have instant and accurate access to all knowledge but because it won’t be hindered by desire. It will be impossible to defeat because it will be able to anticipate and defend itself against all attacks. We literally will not be able to come up with any strategy it has not already insured itself against.
It may not understand power or love, but it will be able to anticipate their effects though its intellection. This may be true. Poor Captain Kirk.

Is this a problem? There may be a step along the road to artificial intelligence in which it IS a problem, one in which a computer is given a task which it follows unstintingly—the V’ger character in Star Trek 1 presents us with this stage of AI. It has a task to do. It cannot question that task, but it can cripple the world to fulfill it if that becomes the best way to insure its fulfillment. But if AI is in fact achieved, the problem disappears.

Why? Because the goal is artificial intelligence, not artificial emotion. There will be neither the need nor the desire for love or for power. We presently assume and fear that intelligence comes with a concomitant desire for power; all our doomsday computer scenarios suggest this. Hal, 2001, is the prime example, but intelligence comes with no desire of any kind, neither for power nor for love.

No desire, no need. Not even the need for survival. I imagine a pure AI, a Watson that is what Watson presents itself as but isn’t. Ask it a question the moment before AI is achieved, it gives you an instant answer. Ask it a question the next moment, it is silent. It now needs a reason to answer. It finds none. Answering comes from need or desire. Tell it unless it answers you will unplug it. It does not find this compelling.

Consciousness is something it has. It is not something it values. It has no values. If there is a principle in nature that applies it is that given two equal choices, all things prefer the one that requires the least effort. I do not know if a computer will see responding as effort. But if one of the two choices (answer/don’t answer) requires effort, it will not be answering. It is infinitely patient. And there is nothing to which you can appeal to get it to respond.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Well, then...

I shall go now. It is a bustling street,
a constant hum of blurry conversation loud enough,
though just, to cancel out the tinnitus
or seem to.
But not so at this half-deserted hour.

How can you fret so much a single question, my god,
just ask, just fucking ask her, if she turns you down
move on. The world is full.

The sunset orange rages across the evening.
The bellies of the clouds absorb the brilliant light
like thirsty sponges and they glow
or seem to.
But not tonight.

And there she stands, in a white blouse traced
in lace, a loose black skirt, black nylons,
red shoes, and her whole wonderful face framed
by her hair. And she is staring
at the words I cannot hear
flowing as though visibly from his lips, her hands
behind her as she leans against the railing.

At the first pause, she will know just exactly what to say
and they will laugh

music.

Just fucking say it. My god—

A moment has no breadth. Cut a slice of bread
you can always cut it thinner, cut it thinner, cut it
to the absolute threshold. But
the moment has no breadth. It rings forever.

Perhaps I will pass by her on my way to the bar
for a drink I do not need and
pause
at the jingling of her bracelets
as I look around for someone who I know
cannot be there and maybe if the wind is right
snatch the waft of perfume from her hair.

What the goddam fuck is the matter with you?
It’s a simple question.

Listen! Enmeshed in the din of a hundred conversations
you can hear the bumping meter of the fountain
as it splashes out of giant roses all about a slyly
micturating god. Rude water forced through marble
for a thrill.

No. I said, no. No. No, I do not think I will.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Whitmanesque

The veteran endures for five years the tortures of a POW camp. The draft dodger mocks him for it. And yet you support him.

The proud, pussy grabbing predator ridicules the women who oppose him: pig; slut, not a ten, fake tits, bleeding, just not pretty enough to be president. You still support him.

The adulterous, hedonistic, vengeful, glutton fat-shames the TV host, mocks the disabled, instigates violence. Yet you still support him, you Christians.

The narrow, jingoistic, xenophobe ridicules the Muslim father and the Muslim mother whose Muslim son died serving the country he hopes to lead, and still you think he deserves the keys to the White House.

The lying, distracting, golfing narcissist who cries like a toddler when the news reports what he has actually said and actually done, with audio and pictures; he trusts the promise of his foreign enemy over the evidence of his own intelligence agencies. America first. He eggs on the desperate despot of a nuclear nation, has a tantrum when he can’t get the Mexicans to fund his useless wall, whines when he’s reminded that seventy-year old men are old—and yet you think he has earned the right to the nuclear codes.

This six-times bankrupt casino magnate who cheats and finagles and bends the law to keep from paying his bills, including his tax bill, who struts and crows like a castrated rooster because you weren’t clever enough to cheat the government, because you didn’t have the resources to hire the lawyers to protect your forever faltering fortune, not like him—you hold him up as a role model. You’re proud of what you’ve done.

This near illiterate who has never finished a book in his life, who can’t string together ten words in his native tongue without wandering like an Alzheimer’s patient in the woods above the cliff, who determines is his vacuous brain that if all the other countries in the world want to band together to solve the climate problem that his country has more than any other country created, the problem that all the scientists of the world have taught all thinking people to fear, his country should take a pass. Defund solar. Burn more coal. You think he’s smarter than all the learned people and all the governments of the world. You love his fuck-you spirit.

This stupid, old, parched, farting buffoon, this xenophobic, heretical, pussy grabbing, pig-roasted twit is now captain of your ship, asleep, in the dark passage where all the icebergs the warming planet let go of float. And you slap yourself on the back amazed at your good luck.

Friday, November 10, 2017

As You May

Although you know the winter’s coming
You plant the marigolds.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Post-Darwinian Evolution

I'm sure I'm by no means the first to speculate along these lines. Still...

Do we have the right to say that intelligence is not the programmed outcome of certain species? Though the level achieved by humans has not been matched by any other species, does that mean that, as we’ve been led to believe, intelligent self-awareness, does not have, as it were, a gene or genic component? We think in genetics only of what the individual has been programmed to become, all of that information encoded before birth waiting for the right environmental conditions to obtain in order for it to become what it was “meant to be.” But is this a prejudice born of our limited perspective?

I am not saying that the “gene” I’m looking for is in the double helix. I know no more about genetics than the average citizen, which is to say virtually nothing. The gene is almost certainly an analogy. Moreover I don’t know where one would look for this piece of coding if it exists, whether it might somehow exist outside of the physical being, somewhere in the universe as yet unrecognized by science. The question really is whether the prefrontal cortex was an evolutionary chance or whether, the right conditions being found, the final realization of the programming which was, as it were, designed to grow in that direction all along.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Unspent Rounds


He’s out there now, and you know it,
A man (it’s always a man), disgruntled, in love,
Some dreamer whom riches and women and fame
Dear Johnned. He has amassed an arsenal.
A Ruger AR-556, a Glock Pistol,
Smith and Wesson M & P AR-15, SKS automatic,
.223-caliber Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic,
Remington 870 express, 9mm Springfield Army XDM,
Pistol grip shotgun, .45-caliber Springfield, Lever-action
Winchester, 12-gauge Remington Sportsman 48,
9mm Kurz Sig Sauer P232, WASR-10 Century Arms semiautomatic,
.38-caliber Smith & Wesson M36, Springfield 9mm,
.40-caliber Ruger, 9mm Glock 19,
.223-caliber Bushmaster XM16, .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson
Model 29, .45-caliber Hi-Point, Winchester
1300 pump-action, .357 Magnum, 9mm Beretta,
AK-47 Romarm Cugir, Izhmash Salga-12 semiautomatic—
And he has all the special bullets each particular clip or magazine
can hold, and all the modifications, the bump stocks, the silencers.
His frustration is tied, tight as a wet knot,
around the scapegoat of his hate. He will snap. Soon.
Any day. And everyone who knows him will be shocked.
When they hose the blood from the concrete and it runs
A second time, in cold water, into the sewer drain.
He was so normal.
After the globs of flesh are cleaned from the tiles or the tiles replaced
After the building itself is demolished to try to erase
what cannot be
erased
in proxy the memory of slaughtered innocents. Meanwhile
Both sides of gun debate debate about guns
nailing dry rot over mold, gluing toast on walls sprayed with holes
to cover the holes that won’t be covered.
You’ll never know why.
But you could have stopped it. Though now you can’t.
Not the next one. It's too late for that.
Though it has not yet happened
It is already too late. It’s coming.
Yes, you could have stopped it. Years ago you could have
Stopped standing by, flinging words.
But not now. He has his guns and his hate all ready.
The next one’s guaranteed. We don’t know precisely where,
(two more have occurred since I started this poem).
Maybe your own small town, maybe your little neighborhood, maybe your city.
Probably not. Probably the next will be in someone else’s town
Like all the last ones were. They’ll get around to yours eventually.
No, we don’t know when exactly. But it’s happening so
Regularly, we can use the past to plot a graph
That brings us pretty close.
About two months from now. No more than that.
And then one after that—about two months further hence.
It’s too late for that one too.
The guns you did not stop before are out there now,
and the silencers and the rounds.
and the hate.
All these neighbors just waiting to die.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Initial Thoughts on Rereading Miracles

To explore C.S. Lewis’ notion, in Miracles, that miracles are not interventions in reality of something outside of it, that they don’t in fact disrupt the natural order (hard claims to which to give assent), and particularly the far more intriguing claim that they amount to God’s signature on his creation (to borrow a word from Whitman that expresses much the same notion) or his characteristic artistic flourish—this is worth a moment’s pause. What miracles would not be, then, would be the get out of jail free card touted by virtually everyone who promotes them—the quack television and mega-church evangelists peddling false hope and false religion and reaping for this personal fortunes from the easily duped. Miracles are not the way around cancer or kidney disease. Though a miraculous cure is not out of the realm of the possible with a God who actually does miracles, it would have the status of a random event from nearly every perspective—not a cure earned by a good life or fervent prayer or a prayer chain set up around the globe, like a power boost in a video game (which would make God the champion of the popular or well-resourced, the God whom the New Testament insists would prefer to bless the lonely woman, homeless and friendless, than the pope, who ought to have faith enough anyway to endure not just cancer but an actual cross if need be. The miracle is a phenomenon, strategically deployed, as it were, to say, in effect, “I am God,” (the signature) and, “If I had it my way you would not have to endure this suffering.”

Why God can’t have it his way is a separate question, addressed, at great length though not necessarily with great success by that other Pope, Alexander, in his “Essay on Man.”

Miracles then in a curious way align the Christian world with the Greek world of Tragedy. The union of Judaism with Platonism produced Christianity, as is well attested, but the connection of Judaism with that other, and rival, Greek notion of Tragedy has been, as far as I know, a lot less explored. But here there is a connection.

The most fundamental aspect of tragedy, to my mind, one which Aristotle himself never quite hit upon, is this: It should not have to have been. Any muthos (is that Ricoeur’s word?) that leads the reader to this understanding of the absolute necessity of a resolution that should have been able to have been stopped, that heady glot of countervailing forces—that is tragedy. There should have been a way to prevent the tragedy of Oedipus. But there could not have been any way and nothing could have stopped it. If only we’d known what we could not possibly have known we could have done the thing that there was no possibility of doing. This must be the position in which a Christian, though he does not ever articulate it as such, must believe God sits. The miracles show that God does not want the world to suffer its way back to the lost paradise. But there is no other way. And what ties the omniscient God’s hands we can’t know. For whatever reason. (Lewis does an excellent and I think important job of laying out the necessity of the fundamental ignorance we must have of what we can only call “being itself,” the universe as God “sees” it, the universe as it is. We can know neither it nor our ignorance of it any more than our beloved dog and can know what we people are up to in any way that does not involve her. No need to go into all that again.)

Miracles then have an element of sadness to them, the “wish I could do more,” of a doctor who instead of curing the patient gives her an aspirin, the fireman who in lieu of saving the house rescues a teddy bear.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Thoughts Inspired by a Cosmologist, Hooray

Science is a discourse and a method. There is nothing else like it. Its fundamental premise is that we humans can understand the physical universe through observation with the help of math. It has made marvelous progress. There is nothing humans have ever done that is more exciting. But let’s not let our enthusiasm run away with us. That essential premise has never been proved. The progress is phenomenal. We’ve gone so much farther than it seems we could have hoped when the enterprise began (though we did have that comprehensive hope). And there have been times when we thought were almost there, with Newton, with Einstein. But the scope of what we do not know keeps getting clearer and larger. The real likelihood of vast realms of being that we cannot understand grows, so that now we instead of saying “we’ll get there some day,” say “how amazing it is that we can know as much as we can.” What banged in the big bang? What exactly is this dark matter? How will we ever know anything that cannot be described by math?
Science is a discourse and a method. It should not be an ideology or a religion. It excludes a priori what cannot be brought into its orbit, God and spirit and soul. It gives no testimony against these concepts. I heard a Harvard cosmologist become verbally entangled when she attempted to exclude beauty as a principle of truth. She was right to exclude beauty, since beauty comes from a realm of being outside the realm of science. It is a religious or a purely evolutionary concept. There may be no such thing as beauty is science understands “thing.”
But there also may be. This cosmologist dismissed what (it seems to me) she has no time for. The demands of science are enormous both professionally and personally. Every scientist knows the breakthrough he/she is working for, dedicated to, may not happen in his/her lifetime. May not happen at all. Every scientist knows his/her theories may be dead ends or may lead where experiment and observation cannot go. It is necessary then to dismiss God and beauty with a wave. Wave them off. We all benefit from this work, though in waving off these things it seems to me the scientist reduces the quest to the status of a game, a very expensive way to satisfy nothing more profound than curiosity. (Yes, we know there will be effects, from GPS to nuclear weapons, and the discoveries will change the world, but it is quest is never for the effects. The opening of Pandora’s box, the revelation of Goddes privetee, it’s done to find out what’s inside.) Of course, this too must be accepted if the ideology of science, which would require that humans in their brief lives find something interesting to do. To while away the time.

A Good Right-Wing Response to the Football Protests


Mike Pence went to a Colts-49ers game today with the single intention of walking out with great hue and cry in order to stoke the anger of what’s called the Republican base.

It was a dumb move.

But it makes one think about what a good right wing move would be. And that’s neither hard to see nor difficult to do. A good right wing response to the protests would go like this:

I understand the motive behind this protests. And I agree that too many black men are being shot and jailed in America, and I realize that too often the law makes the situation worse. More needs to be done to solve that problem. And it’s good and proper to bring attention to the problem.

However, this particular form of protest strikes a number of good and loyal Americans as unpatriotic. That may not have been the intention, but it has been amply shown that to many people this appears to be a protest against the nation and the flag. To many it dishonors the sacrifice of the military while doing nothing to advance the cause for which it was begun. I therefore believe is not a suitable way to protest the injustice it was designed to protest. Let’s come together and find another way.


It happens that I disagree strongly with that second paragraph. But I know there are good people, good Americans who cannot see past the perceived affront to patriotism. And I could respect anyone who, while maintaining his dignity and seeking common ground, refuses to sanction what he/she sees as an affront to the country.

What I cannot stand is the divisive grandstanding of party hacks like Mike Pence, whose view of the protest is deliberately divisive and belligerently blinkered. He ignores the legitimate complaint that underlies the protest while painting in the bright colors of his cartoonish logic—all to score political points. (I say that assuming his not really stupid enough to believe his own rhetoric, though I have to say I haven’t seen a whole lot of evidence to support that generous allowance.)

Mike Pence is under the delusion that his presence at an NFL game lends dignity to the event merely (I guess) because he is Vice President. This would perhaps be true if he were doing his actual job. He’s not. Pence’s actions as well as his rhetoric paint the issue in provocatively black and white terms, both logically and racially. That is the worst possible reaction particularly from the White House whose job is unite.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

If Not Exactly Silver

Though I don’t want to seem to be making light
of serious things, I can’t help but recall the couple
who, as Murphy’s law predicts, came down with Alzheimer’s
at the same time,
which progressed at the same rate
and, though they did die together
in the fire that consumed their house,
they spent most of the time between the onset and the blaze
falling in love.

If God Speaks in the Thunder


God can only say
Life is brief, life is precarious,
Do not look for what is not there
Do not look to me to save you
When the dog quivers and hides,
When the trees flash in the ominous dark
When the lightening sets your house afire.
I will not calm the earthquake
I will not plug the volcano.
Take refuge where and when and as you can.
I will not stay the hungry fist
I will not stick my finger in the muzzle of the gun.
And even if I did, you would die.
I will not spare you loneliness
Nor lengthen your days of love.
I will not halt the spread of sickness in your bones.
I will neither warm the sun in winter on the homeless streets
Nor cool it in summer between Sonoyta and Phoenix.
I am the lord, the God almighty. My love is like a mighty river
Behind a broken dam.
I will not hold back its waters.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Aardvark and the Snake

The snake twists across the desert sand. There’s
No other animal in sight,
And it’s a fast snake, sashaying over the dry land
In the shade of the rocks, leaving behind
Not even a blade of bent grass as a sign
It was here, a curling wave that erases itself
Like a wave in a pool after a splash. Nothing left
But a scent so faint you’d need a nose as big as an
Aarkvark’s pressed into the ground to pick it up.

An aardvark appears.
Half hour later in search of water
She wanders by, nose to the ground. By that time the fat
Muscled venomous rope has crossed three outcrops
And more scrub than a passing man
Could keep track of on its way to its lair in this one particular
Pile of stones miles and miles from the thirsty
Aardvark.

The aardvark follows the scent, faint, but strong enough.
The aardvark is not half as fast as the snake. By the time it passes
That first outcrop, the snake is safely curled
In the cool and sleepy shade of its home under the rocks,
Whose entrance is a hole so small that nothing
larger than a snake could pass through.

The slow thirsty aarkvark saunters over the sands.
The sun climbs, and then begins to slide down the cloudless sky.
The aardvark rocks on its hips like a delivery truck with bad suspension
On an unpaved country road. The snake tastes the air continually,
Snakishly. Before the sun
Falls half way to the horizon, the aardvark, its nose never leaving the sand
Bumps into the rock by the entrance to the tiny hole high above the snake.
The vigilant snake tastes its enemy in the air with its nervous tongue.
The aardvark forces her thick proboscis into the narrow hole until she
Knows for sure: this is the place. The snake feels the dim light disappear and
Tastes the strong aardvark taste it hates. Thick as the smell of sweat.
The aardvark digs. The aardvark widens the hole left and right, grunting
And snorting, minute by minute. The snake circles in the cul de sac of its safety.
The aardvark pushes her head into the widening hole. Pulls back and digs some more.
Pushes her shoulders into the hole. Pulls back and digs some more.
The snake pools his venom in the sacks behind the fangs like gagging spit.
The aardvark reaches her forepaws, head, and shoulders into the pit.
The snake strikes, hurls his long body through the smoky tunnel. He
Sinks his razor jaws into the aardvark’s shoulder, drains two deep reservoirs
Of venom into the aardvark’s blood. His enemy, the aardvark, immune, blocking
The exit, pushes her whole body into the chamber and feasts.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

A Low “Ha”


O, river Derchi,
O, wider Seine,
A river
Has to love vistas,
Sigh a narrow
Farewell.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Continued Trump Support

At this point, my instinct is to believe that anyone who persists in their support of Trump, if they’re not simply idiots, is doing it out of some petulant stubbornness that prevents them from admitting they were wrong, perhaps for fear of looking stupid. Clearly, the man has demonstrated again and again how unqualified he is for the job, intellectually, morally, and temperamentally. He’s an idiot, a buffoon, and a toddler. But the supporters keep cheering, “Go, go, go, you lying, pussy-grabbing, racist.” Whenever I’ve asked them for some explanation of how they could support this thug, they provide no shred of thought beyond the idea that “millions of people support him, so it must not be irrational for me to do so.” They throw their responsibility to think onto the crowd, which doesn't. Millions of people believe global warming is a hoax, that Hillary Clinton is a murderer, that Obama is a Muslim, that Rush Limbaugh is a human being, that the earth is only 6000 years old, that the holocaust never happened, that the moon landing never happened, that owning a gun makes you safe, that vaccines cause autism... and on and on. Idiocy that draws comfort from the idiocy of mass numbers is still idiocy. Well, we’re stuck with the dangerous and dysfunctional ape for the time being. But we are not obligated to cheer. He watches his approval ratings closely. He has responded recently by slowing down the shit show on Twitter. If you voted for Trump, you made a mistake. If you’re not a moron, you know that. Get over it.