Jumble sales are organized and pamphlets have been posted

28 06 2012

Did not expect that.

No, I didn’t know what the Supreme Court would do, but as a Professional Pessimist, it is my sworn duty to think the worst. And the worst did not come to pass.

Should I note here my pinko preference for a socialistic universal socialistic single-payer socialistic public socialistic health care socialistic plan? Okay, why not: I’da preferred a single-payer, Medicare-for-all, what have you, plan, but the Affordable Care Act seems to (only recently re-insured) me an improvement over the (former) status quo, a movement toward justice, and thus worthy of support on its own merits.

As to the politics, well, a win from the Supremes helps those who I want to win in November: it doesn’t wipe out all of the effort of the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats, and amongst the great majority of voters who are not yet paying attention to the election this decision sends the sorta-subliminal message of Obama as a winner.

Americans like winners.

In any case, I have nothing to offer on details of the constitutional interpretation or of the long-term consequences of the apparent limitations on the commerce clause, but I want to plant my flag on a particular patch of political pedantry: I am relieved that the Court upheld the law not just or even primarily because I like the law, but because I believe—strongly—that the Congress ought to be able to legislate. The Court is supreme over all other courts, but it is not and should not be supreme over the other two branches.

Now, insofar as I believe the Court ought vigorously defend the Constitution and believe it has a particular role in upholding the rights of minorities against encroachment by majorities, this seems an untenable position for me to take. Ah, hell, perhaps it is: how else can the Court defend the Constitution and minority rights without asserting its powers over and above those of the Congress and the executive branch? It would be suspiciously convenient for me to say that in case where the Court rules in favor of Guantanamo detainees, say, that they are merely preventing the other two branches from elevating themselves above the Constitution.

Yeah, way too convenient.

I guess I mean to say: Legislators should be free to legislate, political questions should be decided in the political arena, and those who pass the laws should not be able either to hide behind the Court or use the courts to accomplish in the judicial branch what they could not accomplish in the legislative.

Again, damned difficult balancing act, but I think the more we (citizens, legislators) rely on the courts to settle political disagreements, the less responsibility we require from those legislators. I think we ought to live with the consequences of who we elect to public office, and using the courts to buffer us from those consequences distorts the political process.

For similar reasons, I’m foursquare in favor of filibuster reform or even elimination: if we elect idiots and bullies to office, then we shouldn’t be surprised to see them pass idiotic and mean legislation. What’s the old line? We dance with the ones that brung us. Well, if we don’t like how they dance, maybe we’ll be a little more careful in choice of dates.

Oh, crap, this is all going off the rails, isn’t it? Let me put this another way: I believe in responsible government, in accountability, and as the justices of the Supreme Court are not accountable to us, then I choose to concentrate on the members of those institutions which are.

So: Yay for the Affordable Care Act! Yay for Obama! And yay for politics!





Onward, Christian soldiers

27 06 2012

Done with Calvin and on to the Thirty Years War.

Yes, the project on modernity rumbles on, as I dart back and forth between the 16th and 20th centuries (with occasional forays into the 15th and 14th centuries), jumbling up the wars of religion and emperors and kings and popes and princes and reformers and Reformers and . . . everything everything everything.

May I pause just to note what pleasure, what pure pleasure it gives me to see shapes and movement arise from what had once been a white, blank field of the past?

Consider this line from CV Wedgewood: “Pursuing the shadow of a universal power the German rulers forfeited the chance of a national one.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates has remarked on the beauty of her Wedgewood—and yes, she has a way with words—but her facility with the language reveals a nimbleness of thought, and this one, elegantly expressed, conveys the tragic risk of greatness: Go big and you lose the small, and in losing the small, you lose it all.

Only Pursuing the shadow of a universal power the German rulers forfeited the chance of a national one in its specificity is far more breathtaking and heartbreaking than my pallid generalization.

And it is the specificity itself which provides that pleasure: there was nothing, and now there is something.

Now, before I repeat that last line to end the post, I do want to interject with one observation about Calvin’s Reformed thought, specifically, his doctrine of double predestination (God elects both who goes to heaven and who goes to hell): why would anyone believe this?

Calvin argued that only a few of the professing Christians would be saved and most lost, that there was absolutely nothing the individual (an utterly depraved being) could do to save herself—so why would anyone cleave to a belief system which gave you rotten odds and no way to change them?

One possibility is that most Reformers didn’t believe in predestination, double or otherwise; another is that Reformers did believe in double predestination, but also believed that they were the elect. So, yeah, sucks to be you, o depraved man, but I am so filled with the spirit that there is no way God hasn’t picked me for His team.

There is no rational reason* to believe this; since people believed nonetheless, then it is clear that something other than reason is required to explain the spread of the Reformed faith.

(*Reason in terms of: why pick this religion over that one, not: why pick any religion at all. Context, people, context.)

Anyway, Calvin was much more impressed with himself than I was with him—although it must be noted he had a few more followers than the 19 who follow me (in this blog, anyway).

Oh, man, it’s getting late and I’m getting frantic for sleep so yes, let’s return to pleasure and knowledge and movement where before there was stillness and lines where before there was blankness and etchings across the smooth surface  and something, something rather than nothing.





All things weird and wonderful, 21

25 06 2012

I am not a visually-oriented person—or, at least, I’ve gotten into the habit of describing myself as a not-visually-oriented person—but there are some images which cannot be contained by words:

That little boy in the red shorts. . . !

(Photo by Thomas L. Kelly; ripped out of an old, old Harper’s magazine.)





Because she cut off all my clothes

20 06 2012

Ninety-something degrees today, near a hundred tomorrow.

I hate hot weather.

I hate summer.

Summer of love? Fuck that. By July I’ll be cutting off my hair in despair, and by August, I’ll hate. . . everything.

That’s how it is.





The needle and the damage done

18 06 2012

MI5 hates me.

The show, that is, not the actual service. And I don’t take it personally, because I think MI5 hates everyone.

I’ve previously discussed my weakness for caper flicks and police procedurals, so it should come as no surprise that I like spy stuff. (I mean, I even watch Covert Affairs, which is a really lousy show. Really.) I turned off 24 after the first season, as it was less clever than angry, and CONSTANT SHOUTY ANGER bores and CONSTANT SHOUTY ANGER justifying torture offends, but if you can get past that low bar (i.e., not constantly shouting angrily in favor of torture) in making a show, I’ll watch it.

There’s shouting in MI5 (known in the UK as Spooks), and torture, but the truly interesting dialogue tended to be quiet, and the torture damaged both victim and perpetrator alike.

And I guess it’s that damage that leads me to think that MI5 hates everyone (SPOILER ALERT!!): All of its characters are damaged, but with the exception of only a handful of it many characters, only a few of them live long enough to have to come to terms with the damage done, both to and by them.

In other words, just as you get attached to Danny or Fiona or Jo or Ros, they’re shot or blown up or shot or, er, blow up. And just as I was starting to warm to Adam (who replaced Tom, one of the few who was ushered out of the service rather than sacrificed to it), he gets, yes, blown up.

Huh, now that I think about it, I stopped watching MI5 after Adam took over the lead, but I picked the show back up again (skipping episodes and perhaps even a season or two) this weekend. Hermione Norris (who I liked in Wire in the Blood, even though I ended up truly not liking that creepfest) was cast as Ros against Adam’s lead, then took over after Adam went boom, only to go boom herself a season or so later.

(Huh, I should put a spoiler alert somewhere near the top of this post, shouldn’t I? Okay, done.)

I mean, for crying out loud, they even killed off Ruth—Ruth! And you knew as soon as Sasha picked up that bit of broken glass that she was going to get it, because no way would MI5 let anyone (well, okay, Zoe got a happy ending—but only after she went to prison and then was smuggled to South America, and Malcolm got to retire) walk away whole from the Grid.

Harry survives. He’s got nothing else in his life than Section D, nothing to live for beyond the job—hell, maybe that’s why he gets to live: With the exception of Ros, everyone else has something else, or the hopes of something else, off the Grid.

Maybe that’s why Ros’s death hit Harry so hard: She was him, and she was dead and he was alive.

MI5 flayed its characters and it flayed us for watching its characters. There were no redshirts in MI5, which from a plot point of view was good, but killing off everyone is, in its own way, equally predictable, and even more cynical.

Followed Danny through his credit and impulse-control problems and grown to admire his decency? Shot in the head.

Like how Ben Caplan reacted to almost getting (yup) blown up and deciding to abandon journalism for intelligence work? Then turn away as Connie slices through his throat.

Colin and Tariq, the tech guys—tech guys!—hanged and poisoned, respectively.

And Jo, Jesus, Jo and Ros. Jo so much like Danny, so decent in her need to hold the line against the consequentialism of spy-trade in lives, signalling to Ros to shoot Finn as she stands clutched behind him, trying to prevent him from (oh, man, this is getting ridiculous) blowing up the room.

Forcing Ros to shoot Finn, which means she shoots Jo.

That’s just some fucking hateful writing.

So I’m pissed for having dipped back into the show, for forgetting how pissed I was last time I watched at the sheer cussedness of getting rid of the people we, the audience, have the gall to care about, and pissed about the laziness of the constant killing itself.

It’s not so much the brutality—if you kept watching after the second episode, you knew the show wouldn’t skimp on the brutal—but the repetition of it, the leaching away of cleverness in favor of killing that ultimately turned me off.

I’m open to the idea of a morality of brutality (any Game of Thrones fans here to chip in a thought or two?), but as a mere dramatic device, it cannot exist unto itself if it is to retain its power. And a brutality which bores is a waste, in every way.





Vagina

18 06 2012

Vagina.

Vagina vagina vagina.

Vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina.

Vagina.

It is a word for a female body part. Using it signals neither a lack of decorum nor a temper tantrum.

h/t: Think Progress, stories by Amanda Peterson Beadle (and another) and Annie-Rose Strasser





What are words for?

14 06 2012

Orthogonal.

Been seein’ that word a lot lately. Orthogonal.

But what does it mean?!

Given the context in which it tends to be used (“this may be orthogonal to the conversation. . .”) my sense was:

  • indirectly related
  • related in some obscenely complicated manner in which it at first doesn’t appear to be related but with in time will be reveled to be directly related
  • perpendicular
  • coming out of nowhere but in fact crossing into the realm of whatever’s being discussed
  • origamically folded in geometric shapes
  • related in some origamically folded & geometrically shaped way

And then I remembered: dictionary! And thus I checked the very large third edition (1971) of Webster’s International Dictionary on top of a file cabinet at my day job (had to stand on a stool to be able to peer down and not just across) and discovered:

1orthogonal adj: lying or intersecting at right angels: RECTANGULAR, RIGHT-ANGLED. . . 2a: mutually perpendicular. . . b: completely independent

2orthogonal n: an imaginary line at right angles to wave crests in oceanography

So there it is! Some of my [more sober] guesses were correct, which is nice, but I also like that I now have the image of origamically-folded geometric shapes bobbing on the waves.

Anyway, I’m not quite sure from where this little wave (!) of usage of the term comes.  What is it that leads an obscure phrase of bit of academic jargon—and, again, I’m not against jargon!—off of the bench and on to the field?

Paradigm, peripatetic—I’ve talked about this before—why do some words or phrases bob up? Why do they sink? (An answer to the latter question would be particularly helpful, as I would like to term “meme” to sink lifeless to the ocean floor. I fuckin’ hate that word.)

“Metrics” also gets tossed about, as does “deploy”, and there was this one other academic concept which I thought of earlier but have since forgotten, and there are far too many people who toss around the word “genetic” as if it were interchangeable with “biology” and/or “fixity”. It is not.

Then there are the terms which arise from one corner of the culture and soon colonize the entire petri dish: clutching at pearls, get off my lawn, batshit crazy, and, perhaps, Overton window. There was one gent on Rod Dreher’s old BeliefNet blog who was fond of the phrase “bar-the-door-Katie”—which, I agree, is a fine phrase, but one best used sparingly. He did not.

I have regretfully (!!) given up the phrase “batshit crazy” because it has, in its ubiquity, lost its bite. Perhaps I’ll be able to resurrect it one day as a conscious bit of retro-retrieval (dandy! peachy! groovy!), but, in the meantime, I’ll have to content myself by watching these odd lexical bits float up from the depths and try to barnacle themselves to the good ship Pop Culture.





Je regrette rien

11 06 2012

I do not regret quitting the part-time admin position.

You know, the one that stressed me, that C. urged me to leave, the one for which it was a terrible time to leave, the one for which I gave a month’s notice of my leaving, the one, finally, I left?

That one.

I was still feeling a little bad as the job petered out by the end of May, and didn’t much think of it the beginning of June (starting summer research position, starting teaching), but this past weekend, I thought, Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh.

It was just. . . nice not to have to worry about the job, to feel that space in my head and my chest and just be able to breathe.

It’s not that there’s no stress in my current two jobs (well, okay, the research position is damn well near stress-free: the only tough part of that job is hauling my ass outta bed at 7:20 am, or whenever Soterios Johnson chimes in with the local headlines and weather), but it’s just regular.

No drama, no nooses, no vice grips: just the ordinary mix of crap and boredom and inquiry and provocation and restlessness and swearing and laughs.

Given my initial trepidation over leaving what could have been a long-term job, I’da thought I might just rethink my ducking out after having ducked out. Nope.

I may finally be learning to own up to my regrets—but this ain’t one of ’em.





But oh, well, I chose my way

10 06 2012

I try to regret nothing, I used to say. What’s the point of regrets, what’s done is done, you do what you can. . . .

Stop laughing.

I know, coming from me, the whole no-regrets things sounds laughable, but I really meant it. I might take hot pincers to my memories, but hey, that’s not the same as regret, is it? No, I was far more interested in tormenting myself over my bad choices than in wringing my hands over good choices foregone.

I’ve eased up on the self-torment somewhat (that habit is too longstanding to give up entirely: it’s my emergency pack of smokes, if you will), but—or perhaps, and as a result—I’ve noticed regret has crept into my repertoire.

This is not an entirely bad thing.

One of my go-to concepts of the past few years has been “consequences”, as in, there are consequences for every (in)action, consequences which can only be dealt with, not wished away. But I haven’t always dealt, truly, with these consequences, at least not in terms of tracing back the actions and coming to terms with the original decision.

No, that’s what the torment was for. And that was why the torment was so exquisitely irresistible.

Exquisite, because it so perfectly allowed me not to interrogate the decision, and irresistible because it allowed me to ‘take responsibility’—a.k.a. punishment—for my mis-deeds. A beautiful distraction.

I’m old enough now, I think, to take these regrets, to understand that to have done this instead of that—to have gone to Northwestern instead of UW-Madison, to have majored in theatre or journalism instead of political science, to have not backed away from D., to have told G. how I felt before it was too late, to have gone to New York instead of Albuquerque, . . . —-would not necessarily have led me to a better life, merely a different one, one with its own set of what-ifs and why-didn’t-Is.

I’m old enough, finally, to know there’s no escaping these questions, that the regret will come, regardless.

And now that I’m old enough to know to let the regret come, perhaps I can be wise enough to let it go. Perhaps one way to wisdom is through that reckoning with what was done and not done, and living with it all.





There is thunder in our hearts

7 06 2012

Saw that printed on a tote bag the other day: there is thunder in our hearts.

My first thought: Cool, in sturm-und-drag kinda way. (And yeah, okay, cool and sturm-und-drag don’t really go together, but you get what I mean, right?)

Second thought: I know that line, I’ve heard it somewhere.

Poem? Speech? Hmm. No. Song lyric.

Thunder. Thunder thunder thunder. Springsteen coulda written this, but no, that ain’t Springsteen.

I kept repeating the lyric, trying to call up the sound. No dice.

Then, this morning, the sound came. There is THUNder in our haahrts.

I know that, I thought, I know I know it. But from where?

Why not just run on a search on the lyric—easy-peezy, you’ll get the answer.

I did not want to run the search. I wanted to remember.

I then thought of asking a co-worker if she could remember, which seems like cheating but it’s not: I wanted SOMEone to remember, someone to have this info in her noggin and be able to pull it out.

But then I didn’t ask, because I wanted to be the someone who remembered.

And then I went back to work and the melody went underground and then, and then, it bubbled up.

Kate Bush! Yes!

Running up that hill! Yes!

There is thunder in our haah-ahrts/. . . /You and meeEEEEeee/ . . . / I’d make a deal with God/And get him to swap our places.

I was going to write a whole bit about how I want to be able to recall things that can be looked up, that maybe exercising this recall is like exercising one’s body (e.g., even if pushing around weights isn’t useful in and of itself, that I push around weights equips me to do other, useful, things); alternatively, that while there may be a good to being able to free one’s mind of trivialities in order to create room for more important matters, the process of amassing and sorting and remembering those trivialities may be—quite unlike pushing around weights—pleasurable in and of themselves; and, finally, that it used to be really super important for me to memorize song lyrics and be able to recite them on command and that while I no longer go out of my way to do so I still sometimes wish I went out of my way to do so and thus when I can remember a song lyric I’m raptured up shoeless to a place when a song could fill my whole heart. With thunder.

But then I decided not to write about all of that, and instead note that I was oddly giddy for having remembered, a giddiness which may have been due to having Kate Bush in my head for the day.

She can be trouble, but she’s my kind of trouble.