Saturday, November 03, 2007

An Autumn Day Just for You

Children love hearing the same story told in exactly the same words time after time. I often get chided for not proofreading my own copy, and I don't do so because I'm not so enthralled by it that I can stand reading it twice, let alone in one and the same day. But, for no good reason I can think of I love reading the same poems over and over. Here's one of them, translated into English from German.

Rainer Maria Rilke - Autumn Day

Lord, it is time. The summer was so great.
Impose upon the sundials now your shadows
and round the meadows let the winds rotate.

Command the last fruits to incarnadine;
vouchsafe, to urge them on into completeness,
yet two more south-like days; and that last sweetness,
inveigle it into the heavy vine.

He'll not build now, who has no house awaiting.
Who's now alone, for long will so remain:
sit late, read, write long letters, and again
return to restlessly perambulating
the avenues of parks when leaves downrain.

Lovely. And all the moreso if you ever spent time reading
Soviet prose or worse, so-called Workers'poetry.


In these Modern Times in the West I can go for months, sometimes even years without encountering a dead person. Often it seems that death is something alien to our kind, something that does happen, but something so rare that it bears no thinking on. Yes, death happens, and no, we usually don't like it much. It's there but we don't give it any real thought. Why would we? Aristotle sums it up nicely: he writes that hedonists want the good in life, and they want lots of it. One thing they don't want any of is death; therefore, if those who want the good don't want death, then death is a bad thing. Good point, huh. Death? Shhh.

We in the Modern West avoid death as much as we can; or if we do attend to it we transform it into entertainment of a sort-- if we feel the need to examine death at all. It's not even funny the things we do to disguise death as other than it is; but it is, and we need it. Sometimes we need a lot of it, and sometimes we need a lot of it urgently. Sometimes death just can't wait.

Death? Look, let's face it: Death is not the end of the world. Some will argue that it's the end of ones personal existence; others will argue that it's a portal to another kind of beingness; and some will be completely oblivious to the question, not caring at all, what is death.It is those latter we might care to question if we are to find some sense of our worldly experience and the further telos of Humanity. Ask those who just don't care.

What if they are us? What if we have an attitude toward death that we assign it a neutral value? "Is/Is not." It's like this, see: "Was not, was, was not." I forget who is the Roman who coined that phrase. suffice it to say he is no longer with us. He cares not, and we care less. Care or not, we do what we do, we die when we die, and life goes on regardless. But the hue and cry one hears when a body dies! One would think the good of the world had passed. That attitude, and it is nothing more than attitude, is a serious sickness of the mind of our Modern Times.

Death is sometimes a good thing, and a very good thing when it happens to ones enemies. When it happens to ones own, not such a good thing. But even then, lie goes on. (Sometimes we should-- death-- grasp it.)

The writer following is a favorite of mine, though he's a bit strange in the spelling and punctuation department; aside from that he's not a bad writer.

"Death Be Not Proud"

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

John Donne, (1572-1631)

We in the Modern West, especially in the past 50 years or so, we seem cut off from the everyday ordinariness of death. We seem often to react to death with a maudlin hysteria, an unrestrained grief so far beyond proportion that one might be surprised to find the witness to death didn't himself expire from the shock and distress of the witnessing. Of course only the slightest few actually die form witnessing the death of others, most getting over it pretty damned quick and no mistake. Theory aside, in practice most people just keep on living like they've always done, though the expressions of horror get bandied about like shuttle-cocks till one or the other tires or attention wanders and life intrudes, like lunch-time or a toilet break.

Death. Most people make too much of it.

Death. It's something we should make more of.

Personally speaking, of course, I'm not ready just yet for death, (thanks for asking) and were anyone determined to make me so it's an occasion I'd rise to resist. And then I'd live with the outcome, all else being equal and mutatis mutandis.

Death. It's not an encounter many of us are in a hurry to experience, but hey, shifts happen.

Not being enthused about having death for ourselves, perhaps we wouldn't wish a lot of it on others. But wait. But wait a minute. But what? What do we think we think if we think we shouldn't wish death on those who would rather we die? Ah, some folk want to kill us. Yes they do. There are those who want us dead. They are those we cannot be satisfied with if they merely leave us alone. There are those who do us no particular harm at all, and still would we, if only could we, hunt them down and kill them dead. Who? Our gratuitous enemies. Folk like us but different: they ain't ours, they be the enemy. It would be the right thing to kill 'em. It's nothing personal, and we'll all get over it. And it's the right thing too that in the process of killing our enemies we might-- God preserve us-- we might die too. such is life. Life makes me smile.

Life is good, but it has an end, which might be known as purpose. Death? It's easy, though the dying can be a bit hard on some. Death is not the end of the world as we know it. Death is a good thing, a needed thing, a thing we must give aplenty to our enemies.

What? Is this all? But this is so abrupt. It's not done yet. There should be more....

Friday, November 02, 2007

"Can't we talk this over?" We can talk about this.

"De Schreeuw" by Jeroen Henneman, Oosterpark (Amsterdam, Netherlands). Memorial for murdered Dutch film director Theo van Gogh.

De Schreeuw ( The Scream) Memorial commemorating Theo van Gogh and a symbol of the freedom of speech

De Schreeuw

On March 18, 2007, a sculpture in memory of Theo van Gogh was unveiled in Amsterdam, De Schreeuw (The Scream). It is located in the Oosterpark, just a short distance from where van Gogh was murdered.

In August 2005 Amsterdam's East and Watergraafsmeer district council appealed along with friends and relatives of Theo van Gogh for artists to design an artwork to commemorate the murdered filmmaker. Early in 2006 The Scream by Jeroen Henneman (b. 1942, Haarlem) was selected. It features the profile of a face, leaning back and screaming. Receding layers culminate in a profile with a closed mouth. This is in the shape of Van Gogh's own profile.

Voting in the Darkness

"There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.You unlock this door with the key of imagination. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. You've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone."

Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone, Compilation of opening monologues, s. 1-4.

Rod Serling would stand facing the camera, dressed in a suit, cigarette between his fingers, smoke curling upward beside him like a genie, and he'd deliver his monologue, pausing for the final words, "You've just crossed over into ... the Twilight Zone."

When I began writing this blog a few years ago one of the first posts I entered here was of speculations of a civil war in America. I trembled at the thought, dismissing it soon afterward, discouraged that I would think such a thing, nervous that I had. These few years later the twilight deepens. I hear and read of those who mumble that the government doesn't represent the people, that the nation is flooded with those who are non-American, those born here, raised as American, those who hate our nation and wish to destroy it. Ten years ago I would not have imagined it. Today I argue with others that we still have a democracy in our land and not a reason at all to resist the government by force, being bound by our own laws to obey and accept our laws as good citizens. I feel like an alien in my own homeland.

We can look at our situation and see that so long as we can effectively vote and win or lose legitimately in public elections open to all majoritarian citizens that ours is a legitimate nation. If we don't like it, we can vote the bastards out. But we must accept that there aare 50 states in our nation, and that there are regions in our homeland, that not all of us are the same in culture and values, that those of us from one part of America might feel differently and strongly about the state of things from those living elsewhere in the nation. We might elect people of totally different natures and beliefs, a Muslim in Minnesota, a Republican in Colorado. We have a right to vote for whomever we choose, Muslims or Republicans. We can't claim that others elsewhere violate our nation and our rights by voting for those we wouldn't vote for. So long as neither breaks the law, either is as legitimate as the other.

And if there is a majority of voters in a state who change our laws into something unrecognizable? If the courts rule in favor of laws we cannot accept as American? If there is sharia law in Michigan? If there is sharia only in Detroit? If only in one neighborhood in the city? If the majority in a state vote for sharia, what do we do? It happens in cities and areas in Europe, in Sweden, The Netherlands, Britain. Ancient laws are overturned and replaced by edicts of social engineering brought in by legitimately elected leaders.

What happens to us when our nations are transformed before our living eyes into something we cannot recognize? What do we do when our lives are transformed into scenarios from the Twilight Zone?

Below is a bit from a London paper, the Daily Mail, on a report from government favored think-tank, so-called:

The report by the Institute for Public Policy Research was commissioned when Nick Pearce, now head of public policy at Downing Street, was its director.

IPPR has shaped many Labour policies, including ID cards, bin taxes and road pricing.

The report robustly defends multiculturalism - the idea that different communities should not be forced to integrate but should be allowed to maintain their own culture and identities.

And it says immigrants should be required to acquire some proficiency in English and other aspects of British culture "if - but only if - the settled population is willing to open up national institutions and practices to newcomers and give a more inclusive cast to national narratives and symbols".

It adds: "Even-handedness dictates that we provide public recognition to minority cultures and traditions.

"If we are going to continue as a nation to mark Christmas - and it would be very hard to expunge it from our national life even if we wanted to - then public organisations should mark other religious festivals too.

"We can no longer define ourselves as a Christian nation, nor an especially religious one in any sense.

"The empire is gone, church attendance is at historically low levels, and the Second World War is inexorably slipping from memory."

The report, written by IPPR advisers Ben Rogers and Rick Muir, calls on Ministers to launch an "urgent and upfront campaign" promoting a "multicultural understanding of Britishness".

"Multiculturalism can be shown to provide for a fairer and more liberal society and does not necessarily lead to social division and community conflict, as its critics have claimed," it says.

Councils must act to "ensure children mix and are able to form friendships with pupils from different backgrounds".

The report adds: "Any liberal state should recast the civic oaths and national ceremonies, or institutions like Parliament and the monarchy, in a more multi-religious or secular form and make religious education less sectarian."


I spend my life traveling around the world, and I have been to a number of desperately dangerous places, England not being one of those. But what is it? It's no more the nation of my youth than is anti-American America. Things change over the course of a long life-time, and to rue is to waste. I don't live in the late 50s or the early 60s, and none of us can. We live with what we have and make it our own as we are able. We adjust, we adapt, we accommodate. If the majority around us agree with things unfamiliar to us, alien to us, strange and unsettling, who are we to complain? We can always move elsewhere, somewhere between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. But I have a feeling the twilight will follow. I might even guess, were I to allow my imagination freedom, the coming of darkness.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Route 66 to Damascus

There comes a time when "looking for a better life" is what life is. There comes that time when it pays to admit that what one does is what ones life is all about, and there is no different life in the wings after all. The theater's stage is set and the play is already scripted. The actor simply goes through his lines and hits his marks as they come. The acts progress through the genre set out, and the finale is the final curtain of death.

"Tod, I hope you live a long life and never know the blistering forces which sear and destroy, turn men into enemies and sweep past the last frontiers of compassion."

And then, one fine day, everything changes.

The life you thought you were living is suddenly not the same at all. It's like someone changed the channel on the television and you are in a whole different story.

It's the nature of things that life is difficult and that everything and everyone dies. Often in our time and in our Modern West people lose sight of such obvious realities. Often people weren't looking for a better life, not having been blown off the land in the dust bowl years, not traveling Okies on the road to California, no unsettled life to flee from. Just folk. Life is easy and life is good. Till one day it isn't anymore.

But then the dust settles, and life returns to its regular routines and no one's really the worse for wear. The dust settles, the ash is swept away, and the rears dry. Life goes on. And on and on and on, and you never know the blistering forces which sear and destroy, turn men into enemies and sweep past the last frontiers of compassion.

Mmmm, I like to travel the world, going here and there at will, doing as I like and living without anything more than the next adventure tomorrow to excite me and today to thrill me, maybe kill me. So there is no end till the end and the time is now. Others, I don't know them well, just see them in passing, blurry and past.

"Once you've seen that dark, unceasing tide of faces... of the victims... the last spark of dignity so obliterated that not one face is lifted to heaven, not one voice is raised in protest even as they died..."

Most folk in the Modern West have no idea how different they are from everyone else around them and those of our Human past. We are revolutionaries, unique in the world's Human experience. We live lives of quite satisfaction, smiling and occasionally stupid. But you might someday on the road by chance come across a man who'll wish you a long and pleasant life while he goes about some other thing different from what you do. He'll be ordinary, unlike you. You, friend, are genuinely different from all others in Human history. You stay, you live a long and happy life, and that's the whole of the story. All your going is a staying, and all you worries are a calm, and nothing is different from anything in your whole life, just a more of you. And if by horrible chance there's change, then wait till it settles and you go back to you as you were and will always be. You are blessed. You are very different from all the others. No need to look further, you have it all right now.

Except for that one day when everything changed....

The lines quoted above from Stirling Silliphant, Route 66, "The Man on the Monkey Board," episode #4.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Marx: Pain in the Arse.

Poor Marx. No, this is not about my academic career. This story is about Karl Marx and his rear end. He is not the butt of jokes here. This is the skinny on Marx's backside. Had I known this in time I might well have gotten my doctorate from the homosexual Marxist thesis advisor I told: "If you have the Marx, I have the Engels." Enough of that. This story is boiling over. Let's open it up and see what Marx is all about:

Nigel Hawkes, Health Editor, "Disease made Karl Marx boil with anger." The Times. October 31, 2007

Karl Marx suffered from a skin disease that can cause severe psychological effects such as self-loathing and alienation, according to a British dermatologist.

The father of communism’s life and attitudes were shaped by hidradenitis suppurativa, said Sam Shuster in the British Journal of Dermatology. One of its symptoms is alienation – a concept that Marx, a martyr to boils and carbuncles, put into words as he wrote Das Kapital.

The condition was described as early as 1839 by a French physician, Alfred Velpeau. But, Professor Shuster says, ideas crossed the Channel less readily than wine and Marx’s true condition was never diagnosed.

Hidradenitis suppurativa is a disease of the apocrine sweat glands, found in the armpits and the groins. The skin in the affected areas shows a mixture of blackheads, lumps that look like boils, spots and areas that leak pus. Doctors and Marx, who was born in Germany but lived most of his life in London, called them “furuncles, boils and carbuncles”, but Professor Shuster says that they were too persistent and recurrent for that. He searched Marx’s letters and found that he had started complaining of carbuncles in 1864, when he was 46, though it is possible that he had them earlier.

In 1867 he wrote to Friedrich Engels of the boils “on my posterior and near the penis” – areas characteristic of the condition. Marx was often unable to work because of the pain. He wrote to Ludwig Kugelmann in 1867: “I still have a carbuncle on the left loin not far from the centre of propagation, as well as numerous furuncles.”

The evidence that he suffered hidradenitis suppurativa is strong, says Professor Shuster. Marx was treated with arsenic, poultices and lancing, but with little effect. His only consolation, he told Engels, was that carbuncles were “a truly proletarian disease”.

The illness also contributed to Marx’s poverty, Professor Shuster says. “This new diagnosis is not just important in terms of historical accuracy,” he said. “The skin is an organ of communication, which is why its disorders produce so much psychological distress, with depression of self-image, mood and wellbeing, and with self-loathing and disgust.

“In addition to reducing his ability to work, which contributed to his depressing poverty, hidradenitis greatly reduced his self-esteem. This explains his self-loathing and alienation, a response reflected by the alienation Marx developed in his writing.”

Gotta love it.