The End of Experience

July 25, 2016

Experience1

 Prior to our entry into WWI, the sentiments of the general citizenry were quite isolationist.  Here’s what Mark Crispin Miller says regarding the work of Edward Bernays (among many others) to change that:

“… it was not until 1915 that governments first systematically deployed the entire range of modern media to rouse their populations to fanatical assent.  Here was an extraordinary state accomplishment: mass enthusiasm at the prospect of a global brawl that otherwise would mystify those very masses, and that shattered most of those who actually took part in it.”

As Bernays was to say later, “We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

One of the strategies employed by the Federal Government to deflect opposition to the draft in WWI  was to enforce its implementation at the local level.  This insulated the Federal Government from criticism of its policies.   Supporting the draft took on personal approbation.  Patriotic citizenry could question and bedevil the holdouts, the slackers, even root out the traitorous.  The Federal Government, in essence, released the mob.  (My grandmother’s defense of my grandfather’s German roots nearly got him jailed.)   This same strategy continues today.

In political circles there is a concept called the Overton Window, which “also known as the window of discourse, is the range of ideas the public will accept.” (Wikipedia).   What enlarges or shrinks this window are the intellectual and/or political players at the national level.  But what enforces this window of debate are the citizenry all around us.

In sales, when the prospect you have chosen to speak with is not moved by an argument whose advantages are overwhelming , it’s fairly certain that either you are not talking to the ‘decision-maker’, or that, for some reason, they do not find what you are saying credible.  Either way, you have fallen outside of that person’s Overton Window, and are left peering at the Overton Wall (my phrase).

You may have experienced this same level of mystification when discussing political issues either in person or as it more commonly happens today on social media.  Only experts need apply.  The powers that be have ruled personal experience inadmissible and most probably suspect.  Personal experience or anecdote will place you right outside the Overton Window alongside the rustics.  Common sense need not apply either.  It is outside the Overton Window too.  We’re all experts nowadays, or nothing.  And this applies to both sides of the issues.

Web links – those things which grant us immediate expertise – are the puppet strings.  More and more we move by them.  We think by them.  We exercise our freedom of expression through them.   Or, perhaps, for a less paranoid view, try this which is taken from an article by Nathan Heller in a recent issue of The New Yorker:

“The stories you encounter through your smart phone are stories, basically, asking to be found.

Getting outside of the museum is hard.”

“Encounter thinking” (real experience), “our response to the exceptional, saves us from the errors of consensus and the expectations of smooth process that, like the myths of consolation, leave us ill-equipped to deal with changes when they come.”

Unfortunately, personal experience, more and more, is useful only as a private curio or baubles to be traded in psychoanalysis.  It may rule our stars, but it has little impact socially.  Or worse, it could have a hazardous impact socially and even legally.  You can pass on a link with much less worry of being branded by the content.  You are merely passing on ‘what is out there’.  Whereas, you are personally liable for your personal views.

But what if there is nothing out there that you want to say – which can be copied and pasted?  And a lot that isn’t?

Well, here in our new America, you’re stuck with your own very private experience and your own common sense.  Whether or not you grin and bear what little traction your personal experience gets, looking at the world through your own eyes nowadays has gotten more and more isolating.

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Our Current Home

June 29, 2016

Belpre May 2015

I like this place better than my wife does.

“That’s true.”  She frowned one day.  “There’s a reason I left.”

The people here look different and think different.

“Yeah.  And that’s because they are ignorant as hell and stubborn as mules.”

My wife is a salesperson, which in the world of commerce is something like a missionary.  So, now and then, she gets tossed into the native’s supper pot and stirred along with the peas and carrots, and it makes her grumpy.

But I’m a writer.  And I’m living where stories have flourished unmolested among generations of hill sheltered Irish, Scotch and German immigrants.  Life still flourishes in little clannish pockets of rustic growth scattered throughout these hills and hollers like so many petri dishes which have been left open to the air along the culture lab countertops.  There’s nothing quite like it in the Seattle metropolitan area from where I came.

It is said by the author, John Alexander Williams, in “Appalachia / A History”, that historians who have tried to identify this territory as a single entity concluded “instead that it is a territory only of the mind, an id’ee des savants, a place that has been invented, not discovered, an “alternative America” projected onto the mountains and mountain people by reformers whose real purpose is to critique or change things in the nation at large.”  Progressives break their picks on this place – file for exhaustion under a Federal Program, I’d suppose – and move away.  So that in many ways, (including to ‘my’ way of thinking), it’s bliss.  “Almost heaven.”

The brick buildings and infrastructure crumble.   When driving through a town hereabouts and  you see a large sign declaring their place in history, you can pretty well bet that is because there is nothing much going on currently.   Heritage is big, partly because although there was much happening then, there is not much happening now – and partly because so many of the people are related.  We’re talking family, here.

The State of West Virginia has lost population.  The coal mines are shuttering.  Oil prices have dropped.  For some reason, I have yet to plumb, their greatest pride in historical photos is of record floods.  You’ll see old photo after old photo, in the larger of the small towns, of ancestors poling around in boats down main street past the hotel and the mercantile.

We live just across the river from Parkersburg, West Virginia.  A lot of what once gave our town character and hometown beauty was bulldozed when the automobile bridge went through.   (The railroad bridge dates back to the Civil War.)  But to enjoy this place – and many others like it – you need to pan for the small pockets of gold.  For example, a lovely riverside residence sits behind a curved drive, in back of an empty row of store fronts along the treeless main strip which boasts a Hardee’s.  Another hidden mansion sits down a dead end street behind a sign designating it as a historical structure.  A yard sized graveyard hosts “Mrs. Armstrong and 3 children / Killed by Indians / in 1795.”  It’s surrounded by a non-descript, waist high hurricane fence with a gate on a low rent residential block.  Down the way is a house trailer perched high on the Ohio riverbank with a small garden trailing off below it, rowed with corn.  Also buried inside is “Israel Stone Jr. / March 24,1778 / April25, 1791 / Drowned in the Ohio River”.  You’ll find a lot of this puttering around on a bicycle.

The new construction and well maintained real estate appear to be hospitals, rest homes, mortuaries, government facilities and chemical plants up and down the river.  Billboards advertising “our nationally ranked cardiac surgery center” and personal injury lawyers are frequent sights.  It’s oddly easy to find a church and very hard to find a tavern, though the counties crawl with alcoholics and opium deaths are currently epidemic.   You can drive along a road in West Virginia which will gradually peter away into something like a pot-holed driveway, and then continue on to find the road improved and yourself in another small town.  The towns are so small and unremarkable that most of the rural folks identify themselves by the county they come from.

So what is there to like about this place?  Well, we have warm summer days punctuated by thunderstorms.  If you close your eyes summer times, what with the birds talking and the breeze blowing, it reminds me of Mexico.  Quiet stretches of forest full of broad leafs abound.  We have excellent produce.  People talk sports and hunting instead of politics.  The houses have porches which people use.  It rains enough, you needn’t water.  And although we’re a large percentage Caucasian, the minorities get along peaceably.  If you just turn off the national TV, you’re not going to hear a conversation about race, though each seems to stick with its own, as seems natural.

Our neighborhood is quite safe.  No intimidation.  No break-ins.  No burglar bars.  Neighbors wave and nod.   Which is kind of puzzling, since there was a crack house a block and a half north of us, a hooker who lived just up the street, and a trailer court of a half dozen older boxes a block kiddy corner in the opposite direction, and pickup trucks driven by grizzled  guys (and gals) rumble past.   The hooker was the undoing of my contractor.  And I think she got some of my money, too.  But otherwise, kids are respectful and walk past or ride by on bikes and play in the street.  I can’t say I understand it.  In the big city you had to buy your way out of these problems by moving to a development in the suburbs.  Here, it is very heterogeneous.  Lovely old mansions sit a half block from a trailer court.  A tumbledown is right next door to a nice foursquare.    Along the Ohio stately homes are recessed back of lawns sloping down towards the river, with here and there a small bungalow, or a cottage surrounded in junk with a blue-tarped roof.  Churches abound.  It seems every clan which has a member with a bent for religion starts another.  On a short drive to get the ‘best biscuits and gravy’ about thirty miles to the  south, we averaged one church per mile, and I can’t recall seeing a tavern.  In the small town of Carnation, outside of Seattle near where we once lived, there were three bars within a block’s radius.

Our son is busy with innumerable activities, very few of which involve a lot of money as there aren’t many attractions to spend it on.  He attends all the sports events, does pickup basketball,  organizes camping and pontoon boat excursions, goes mudding, cave exploring,  stays up late with his friends around bonfires and is the go-to school photographer.  And he has a steady girlfriend.

The teachers at his school are excellent.  Which puzzled me until my wife suggested that teaching is one of the better jobs to have around here.  The trades and service professions tend to fill up with individuals who in the larger metropolises would have graduated to more lucrative professions.  Families go back generations.  And you have to be careful who you squabble with as there are all sorts of filial ramifications.

So.  About being “ignorant as hell”.  Well, that’s the glass half empty.  The glass half full is that they are well schooled in experience – going back centuries.  And “stubborn as mules”.  Again, that’s the glass half empty.  The glass half full is that what has worked is honored, and they are a profound bulwark against the next incursion by those smarty pants, who are so finely educated that they know better even before their tuition has been fully paid, and are off preaching to “change the world”  with a vision offered from the moral high ground of their immaculate lives .   These damnable progressives, who constantly devalue our traditions… while carping, carping, carping about what a mess the modern world is – a world more and more of their making…  well, don’t get me started.

Like I say, those sorts either move away, or break their pick and go back to where they came from.  And it’s real restful.

Two Problems with Socialism

June 26, 2016

Bernie4

Last night I watched a biopic of Jimmie Hendrix in which one commentator remarked that trying to become famous can be more fun than the actual ‘being’ famous.

I would make the same case for making a living.  Endeavoring to insure oneself a roof over one’s head and food in one’s mouth is wholly more involving than the simple consumption of it.  People who must earn a living become resourceful, capable, industrious and persistent.  People who just consume often become just the opposite.  It would seem humans are made to strive, not arrive.  We are designed to be problem solvers, not consumers.

Take your average consumer.  For the most part, even they are out to purchase the answer to a problem they have.  The housewife needs to dress her children and feed her family and to create a well appointed and comfortable home.  Even the indulgent consumer is either out to create a mood through a hedonistic purchase or a prized look through the purchase of fashion.  I would hazard that even the Socialist has more fun and finds more purpose in life trying to bend the world to their will and moralizing from their soapbox – than when lying back and enjoying the benefits of the free lunch themselves.  I’d guess that they have little envy for what they are striving for, and only envy for what they testify against.  Otherwise, they would move.

Another problem with socialism is that people enjoy doing business.  They love it, even when done for pennies, such as at a flea market.  As Francesca Aran Murphy so succinctly states in her piece, “Is Liberalism a Heresy?”  (and in a former post I’ve made)

“A mixture of rule of law and respect for personal freedom enabled market economies to emerge.  People readily took to the roles of buyer and sellers of goods, because buying and selling involves the kind of role-play in which human beings flourish…..  Buying and selling became a driving force and expressive feature of modern societies, because the clever play of concealment and exposure through language and gesture it entails fits our social, dramatic  natures like a glove.”

Socialism saps the fun from life.  I believe it was Susan Sontag who said, “The problem with socialism is that it is too boring.  And the problem with fascism is that it’s too exciting.”  Have I talked you into becoming a Babbitt yet?

Currently the next conversation due upon the political horizon is of creating a basic national income.  This is being seen as necessary to many, who foretell that the coming jobs available for a large percentage of our citizens will simply not pay enough for them to live successfully.  What is to be done?

I don’t know.  I don’t know if what is foreseen will actually occur.  Nobody does.  But if it does, proponents say that a sample of  studies undertaken seem to show that people given the money do not waste it, but utilize it to create better lives for themselves.

It sounds promising.  But would this be true if everyone got free money?  And if everyone gets free money, wouldn’t this cause a counterproductive inflation of the prices of basic items?

As is usual, the studies seem to indicate one thing, but experience the other.  So the ‘smart’ people tend to line up on one side of the issue and the experienced people on the other.  The record for trust babies doesn’t look good.

How will having more money cause people to find meaningful work?  Or will it?   And if not, what then?  Idle hands are the devil’s helpers, they say.

(To read more of Carl Nelson’s work, go to: http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/home.html  )

Where have all the reporters gone?

June 25, 2016

reporter

What with the closing and consolidation of so many newspapers and news outlets around the country, I hadn’t given much thought to where the reporters had gone.

Then I noticed that the attendance to my magazine of contemporary culture had trebled.  Also that the articles I had been reading in these professorial type journals with their college and think tank affiliated authors – also had the contemporary feel of a journalist’s beat.  Have the reporters found shelter in the coves of academic publications and non-profit think tanks?

I don’t know.  And I haven’t been able to find out anything.

I’m not much of a reporter.

(To read more of Carl Nelson’s work, go to: http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/home.html  )

Hating Business

June 23, 2016

 

Business hatred4

Portrait of male deli owner leaning on counter

Business Hatred1

Why all this hatred of normal life?

For Conservatives one of the World’s Great Cultural Wonders is, Why Do So Many People Profess to Hate Business and Normal Life?

Business creates wealth.  Business creates and adds value.  Businesses employee people and pay them money.  Business is voluntary both in terms of using labor and in dispensing products.  You don’t have to work where you don’t want.  And you don’t have to buy what you don’t want.  (Unless the government demands this.)  And on top of all of this, the entry requirements are fantastic.  You simply start doing it.  No credentials are necessary.

Moreover, business is the flow of life.  As Francesca Aran Murphy so succinctly states in her piece, “Is Liberalism a Heresy?”

“A mixture of rule of law and respect for personal freedom enabled market economies to emerge.  People readily took to the roles of buyer and sellers of goods, because buying and selling involves the kind of role-play in which human beings flourish…..  Buying and selling became a driving force and expressive feature of modern societies, because the clever play of concealment and exposure through language and gesture it entails fits our social, dramatic  natures like a glove.”

 On the other hand, government takes our money.  It is compulsory.  It demands obedience by force.  And in some matters, even what the government offers is compulsory e.g. “free” education.

The government enslaves citizens, sends them to wars, and requires onerous tasks e.g. filling out and filing tax forms.  The governments of this world are responsible for and uncountable number of wars and millions upon millions of deaths.  Government decides upon wrong-headed policies from which its citizens are allowed no escape.  To be frank, the list of governmental sins is too long for a modestly realized piece such as this.  And then there is the nature of control.

A citizen’s control over their government’s actions is beyond laughable.  We are allowed to vote several times a year (usually 2 or 3).  Our vote is only one of millions cast.  Our decisions are on perhaps 10 -30 key topics with the results being A,B,C,or D.  From these decisions hundreds of thousands of employees are directed and trillions of dollars allocated, and yards high stacks of laws and regulations enacted.  We really have no more than a general idea of what the laws surrounding anything we might do might be.  This is why the sight of the police creates the slight frisson of fear in even the most honest citizens.  You do not want the law turning its eye upon you.  God knows what it is you could be doing wrong.

Business Hatred3

A citizen’s control over a company, however, is quite direct.  We can decide individually – and as many times as we like – whether or not to buy a product.   If we buy the product and it doesn’t perform, we can decide to not buy the product again.  If the product does perform and we like it, we have sustained a beneficial enterprise.  And the benefits of the enterprise extend well beyond the business product itself.  The ebb and flow of customers adds to the community’s vitality.  A business establishment is a place to meet, a place to talk, a safe and clean place to rest a bit.  The traffic of honest citizens deters the criminal element.   People get things they need, and the employees make money.  A successful business anchors a neighborhood, both financially and socially.  A successful business even disciplines a neighborhood.  If you don’t behave, you are made to leave.  If you can’t frequent the business, it is hard to the join the neighborhood.  Business has a civilizing effect upon the daily life of citizens, which is a consideration obtained with few laws ennacted.  Business accomplishes very much with very little encroachment upon the citizen’s liberties.  All business demands are the day to day courtesies – which, in any event, are a balm to the spirit.

Business Hatred5      business hatred2

Why then, this animus towards business?

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What’s Happening in Obscurity?

May 30, 2016

Middle School Girls

(Deeper Into the Woods – And Out the Other Side)

In the rural area where I live, high school is often the high point of society.  School popularity and status are hard fought attainments.  They color a large part of the rest of your life if you remain.  And sports events comprise the predominant community activity.  The arc of a life is often to begin playing sports as a youngster; realize the height of your success in high school; marry, have kids and start them in sports; attend all their games and argue with the other parents about coaches and playing times in order to help your child reach the arc of their lives.  (What with Title IX, this occurs rather frequently now among both sexes.)  Then it’s grandchildren, a proud family tradition, and finally history.

Sports events are the engine which both runs community activity and provides social transportation.  The high school alumni vie very hard to having winning seasons.  Like pro clubs, they recruit promising athletes from outside their districts.  Move them in with local relatives – or sometimes an entire family will uproot themselves to help the athletic advancement of a particular promising member.  Fathers (and mothers) lose sleep over mistakes made during middle school football or basketball, or wrestling…

Suffice to say, star high school athletes take on a celebrity status – whether they will it or not.

Recently, at a family get together, a current high school star’s girlfriend was complaining about a swarm of stalking middle school girls, and particularly one who would not quit texting her boyfriend.  These middle school girls will often try to get their pictures taken with the athletes at games, (often with the help of their mothers).  They assume familiarity.  They build a web of salacious rumors.  They create drama.  They fuel one another.  This particular “psycho”, (as the star’s girlfriend referred to the 14 year old), had texted her athlete boyfriend.  The boy pleaded with her to stop texting.  “Can’t we just talk?” she texted.

The young athlete has tried blocking her calls, but through some app she is able to assume another phone number.  So that now he has seven or eight blocked numbers on his phone all labeled “stalker”.  Given the age differences, any physical proximity would be legally perilous.  So he’s shelved notions of dropping by to talk to her parents.  Going to the police is an escalation, perhaps to be avoided.  Recently the girl visited his girlfriend at her worksite, then phoned in a withering customer performance review.  His girlfriend investigated the number on the complaint, tracing it back to the young “psycho”.  After much back and forth texting, with the girlfriend asking her repeatedly to just go away – the girl texted, “Can’t we just talk?”

The scenario brings to mind Hollywood and the celebrities who are stalked by the tabloids, which are constantly vying to give their readers some association with fame and glamour.

On a darker note this tale brings to mind “The Crucible”, playwright Arthur Miller’s recreation of the terrors a group of dissembling young girls was able to visit upon the Puritan colony of Salem.

Photo taken from Google Images

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Schn00dles Finds a Publisher

May 22, 2016

Schn00dles now has a publisher.  Magic Bean Books is now stocking some of the collected work found on this blog, and also that of other fine authors.  Drop by for a look (and a read).  They’d love to see you.

Magic Bean Books

http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/home.html

April 7, 2016

Ducks

Our Illusory Fears and My Case for Optimism

 

Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine is a huge book of 2016 pages plus an index of 78 pages and some additional ‘plates’ of illustrative photos.  (Which you wouldn’t want placed by your evening meal.)  A joke has it that a medical student fell asleep while reading this thing in bed and broke her nose.  And it would be a nasty thing, heavy as some chunk of earthen conglomerate, to break your nose on, as it is chockfull of infections, afflictions and diseases … many too awful to describe.   On late evenings, studying this huge work myself, I often wondered how it was I stayed alive?  Every sort of organism both large and infinitesimal is out there bent on doing us in, or at least sucking our vital energies and/or gumming up the works – assuming that our own genes and inherent lunacy doesn’t sink us.

Often, I’ve imagined how fortunate it is that I’ve managed to travel the miles and do the plethora of tasks I do every day – meeting with the unforeseen, the unpredictable, dealing with the marginally employed and the intensely volatile – and stay alive.

I still marvel that I’ve been able to stay out of jail, as virtually nobody – even lawyers – fully or often partly understand the reams of city, county, state and federal laws and regulations we labor under.  In Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent by Harvard lawyer Harvey Silverglate – “The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day.”  Imagine that.  Our over-reaching laws and regulations seem vast as an ocean and as hazardous nowadays as going to sea ever was.

It’s a wonder I’ve been able to maintain some standing in a society which doesn’t allow much margin for error.  Say the wrong thing, or even burp or laugh at the wrong time and you lose that sale, that career opportunity, that sexual opportunity, that social opportunity…  I remember an article in the Seattle Times some years ago which was advising single women on handling home repairs.  A general contractor advised that they could find a plentiful supply of cheap handyman labor, by utilizing those whose personalities had proved too volatile for steady employment.

I’ve wondered how the average person avoids bankruptcy.  Monthly bills and direct withdrawals attach themselves like leeches.  Insistent invitations to buy fill the media.  Credit card prospects flood the mail.  Contracts and guarantees are a minefield of fine print.  The wife and kids always maneuver for another purchase.  And when you go broke, as my brother advised me:  “You don’t just run out of money.  They gut you like a fish.”

I’ve wondered – in places beyond my grasp – how in the world the technology we depend upon doesn’t fail us?  Each day I fear the Y2K equivalent of cyber crime, or cyber terrorism, or a simple identity theft.  Or will some preteen hacker take control of my ‘smart’ car and run me into a tree?

As the years pass the devices we use pass beyond our ability to comprehend.  I no longer fiddle with the car.  My computer does things…  I can’t say what they are.  I can’t figure out the Apple TV buffering.  Even the remote baffles.  And the thermostat has become like Hal in 2001.  If you happen to stumble and brace your hand against it in the night on the way to pee, the Lord knows when your next heating cycle will occur.

I worry about how us average Joes will stay employed.   Statistically, we’re expected to retrain ourselves several times throughout our careers, while surviving to land that next job.  We’re expected to rope up through networking, maintaining contacts, and staying on top of our fields through continual re-schooling by controlling our mindset and maintaining a positive outlook.  What is going to happen to me when I get tired?!  (Author’s note: I’m tired.)

I’m puzzled how the average person raises ‘survives’ more than one child.  There is barely time to listen to all their demands!  They have activities, destinations.  They have medical, dental, and therapies.  They either want lots of your complete attention and right now – or they can’t hear you!  Their school work is a haystack of handouts, online links, and hop scotching through a textbook of printed and written assignments whose directions are far harder to understand than the assignment itself – and written as if for a fellow PhD in Educational Theory.  They don’t attend every school day, nor always for a full day, nor do they always begin or end consistently.  They need shots and permission forms and fees for anything detachable, plus lunch monies.  And lately a community activity has been added to the required electives, plus a dollop of “zero tolerance” up to and including felony time, for an ala carte of adolescent transgressions.  And, they’re up for anything their ‘in’ crowd peers might want to do, including jumping off a cliff, I would hazard.

How do we survive?

Well, in my optimism, I think of that weekend in my youth when my brother organized a trip down the Deschutes River in Western Oregon.   Being the youngest member of the entourage and in a straggler position, I got the small two person life raft with these cute little oars.  The river rushed past as I stood on the bank.  I had to use the outhouse twice before embarking.  But once I pushed off and gained river speed the travelling was quite pleasant.  There were emerging rocks and downed trees and whirlpools and rapids with tall standing waves.  There were lots of dangers to thwart by wiggling my two cute little oars.  And looking back, this looks a bit like the situation of our lives.

I did well enough until I drifted into a whirlpool and started sinking.  The raft filled.  I went down, down… until the river was just under my arms.  What a perspective.  Again, just about as our lives as I’ve described.   When, with a big whoosh! the inflatable sprung to the surface and further down the river we glided.

In retrospect we’re forced to say – in face of the evidence – that many of our fears and dangers are illusory.  Though it certainly doesn’t seem so.  But the evidence is – that we’re still here!

Which forms the wellspring of some real optimism.

And as long as we are alive, this evasion of all of these certain dangers keeps happening!  There is no doubt about any of this!  And surely this is the cause from some credible optimism.

Now I haven’t suffered the misfortunes of many, many people.  Disease, tragic death, terrible accidents, war, famine, poverty and strife have stayed their distance.  But even those for whom it hasn’t… as long as we are alive, it is hard not to make the case for optimism.  Our lifeboat is still working.

So let’s have a smile, people, and thank our Creator, or as the atheists would have it,  Mindless Happenstance.  After we’re dead, it might be easier to build that case for pessimism.

Or, we might just be dead.

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March 29, 2016

Black Lives Matter2

“Black Lives Matter”

There is very little news, but an awful lot of politics.

 Most people, when they are looking for a safe neighborhood to live, don’t visit the local police station.  They do not check out the operational state of the police motor fleet or their effective fire power, nor even research the level of officer training, minority representation, nor their level of community representation, nor the sheer number of officers on the street.  They do not travel to city hall for a run down on the applicable laws in place so that the neighborhoods behave and whether Federal Law might come into play.  If they inquire, it’s about tax and sewer rates, and proximity to good schools and medical aid.  When normal people judge the safety and desirability of a neighborhood, they do so by going there and looking around.  The laws in Ferguson are pretty much the same laws as in Pocatello or in Buffalo.  And if you see a lot of police activity or bars on the window or pit bulls inside of cyclone fences, you don’t want to be there.  And if you don’t see an active police presence and the homes and the lawns are kept with pride, the fences are picket, and a lot of idle groups of young males aren’t giving you the eyeball, it’s more than likely a good spot.

However, when there is a ‘newsworthy’ problem, reporters generally do just the opposite.  They interview the police, city hall, victims and onlookers, and sometimes either the victim or the perpetrator’s neighbors.  Then they interview the experts.  Until finally we get to the talking heads and the national pundits, if the level of interest should climb so high.  Eventually the politicians chime in.  Because in the final analysis the news is showing us the politics of what is going on: claim and counter-claim, heading into to the jury trial.

In short, a lot of the news is not the news of what it purports to be.  The average Joe, given a brief glimpse of the situation, could often deduce that there is no news here, that things are pretty much as they would expect and move along.  They could resolve the issue just about as quickly as they could decide whether to move to the neighborhood.  And that would probably be a big, “No”.

It would seem that nowadays most of the news is politics.  The facts themselves are shared, only in so much as they would affect the public temper.  And depending upon the particular tenor of the media source, these facts are revealed either sooner or later – or not at all.

So herein lies the disconnect.

The signs say, “Black Lives Matter”, but the visuals say, not so much to us (the majority) – “what with the way they dress, the way they act, the way they talk and the arguments they pitch”. Angry  pundits say the police are “out of control”.  But the more complacent visuals say, “I’d hate to patrol this place” and moreover, “How can they find people to do it?”

Best move along.

What is interesting about the ‘news’ nowadays is that with the advent of the internet search engines, we can actually see how the ‘news’ is assembled.  There has been talk in the media of how the internet has fractured the ‘news’ into slivers of self-referential fiefdoms with each audience ‘bubble’ opting to hear what is most comfortable.  What is also interesting, I would say, is that we can now see what the ‘news’ is and how the narrative has been assembled.

Many years ago I added some Adobe movie software.  Afterwards I found that some other Adobe software wouldn’t work, though I hadn’t connected the two issues.  So I went to the Adobe help link to find why my software had these problems.  The offered help was not helpful.  But Adobe said on the link that if the offered help was not sufficient, that for a certain price/hour you could talk to a technician for further assistance.  This seemed like buying a pig in a poke.  So instead I Googled my problem using a quotation technique offered me by a friend.  Soon, the nasty underbelly of the software industry was revealed!  Here I found that the very problem Adobe was going to charge me to help fix, was a problem the new addition of their software program had caused and that they very well knew this, but weren’t saying.  I was astonished!

Flash forward to our current conversation:

A narrative is created in one prejudiced ‘news’ agency, which is countered by facts from another prejudiced ‘news’ agency, so that these later facts must now be incorporated into the narrative of the first.  We can see the ongoing battle for narrative that occurs throughout the life of a news ‘story’ displayed on the internet right before our eyes.

We can now witness what the ‘news’ is, and how it is assembled from a meticulously controlled release and spin of information.  But, we are forced to do at least twice the research and reading to discern some truth.

There are other complications.  As the news entities become more polarized so do they attract more prejudicial, polarized readers.  This in turn allows these more advocating journals leeway to spin and to slant their information – all the way to downright fabrication and lying.  This leaves the discerning reader in a quandary.  As the poles of advocacy journalism and their chosen audiences separate further, it can happen that the polarities become so estranged as to ignore one another.  And a discerning reader can wonder whether they aren’t reading a story published in two separate parallel universes.  There is less and less of the common tale to compare!  What to do?

Keeping up on the news has gotten a lot harder than opening the newspaper over coffee in the morning with June Cleaver.

Another complication ensues within the competition for audience i.e. market share.  “Life is not fair,” Jimmy Carter re-iterated famously.  Life is rarely balanced.  There is usually a winner and a loser.  Such is the case with the media.  Currently the liberal sources dominate.  Studies of the political bent of journalists shows that the liberal majority of them vastly outnumber the conservative.  A liberal slant controls the news, which in turn controls the narrative.

This, in turn, has created oppositional sources such as Fox News, Rush Limbaugh etc. which are not sources in themselves, but doppelgangers to the dominant established media.  That is, they exist as an oppositional slate of faux conservatism which respond like zombies to the established liberal narrative.  (And to my mind, perform about as graciously also.)  These faux sources have no ‘being’ in themselves other than opposition.  (“Only a head shot will take them down.”)  They are exactly such ‘obstructionists’ as the liberal media intended.  In a sense, the prejudices of the dominant media create ‘hate-groups’, of which Donald Trump is the most recent conjuration.

The authentic conservative sources currently fight as an insurgency.  Their position is described in weekly periodicals, such as “Commentary”, “First Things”, “The New Criterion”, “The National Review”, books, and think tank publications such as “Cato” and “The Discovery Institute”.  But fighting from these rag tag positions, it is almost impossible for them to influence the narrative.

So.  Sadly…

With this current election cycle we are determining which side of the progressive/liberal narrative we chose to follow.  Their direction, however, is the same.  This election is like a dysfunctional family.  You can chose to align yourself with either the mom or the dad.  But it’s still the same screwed-up clan.

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March 23, 2016

John Ashbery1

The Confusion of Poetry / John Ashbery

 

Americans like things which are clear and make sense.  I share this proclivity.  But poetry is the source of many problems in this area.  Some poets are provocatively vague, others are sophomorically vague, still others are vague because this aspect of reality speaks to them, others just can’t manage a coherent thought, and then there is one who is scrupulously confusing as he believes reality is an experience rather than a description, and that his crafted perplexity can stimulate a ‘visitation’.  Such is John Ashbery.

‘That’s all very well,’ many Americans are wont to think, ‘but I have no time for that.’  Like the American philosopher, William James , they are very much interested in the “cash value” of an idea.  They feel the experience of it can wait for later but generally do not have a slot free in their day timer.  “Call me back in a few months.”  Or, they have tabled all conversation about mystical value, and suffer a sort of hay fever around poetry of any sort and must immediately leave the area.

Enter the translation.

As Google defines it, to translate means to “express the sense of (words or text) in another language”.  And right away, we can see the differences in the mission statements between “translating” and “poetry”.   Which is, as Google defines it, “the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative or elevated thought.”

I’ve often wondered if the wonderful simplicity and clarity of Chinese poetry were due to its nature or because I have only read it in translation.  Perhaps it’s a bit of both.  But with it came the notion that people who object to the confusion of modern poetry – might try reading it in translation.

You don’t understand Chinese; can’t make heads or tails of poetry?  Try this poem by Meng Jiao Tr. Graham:

“The thread in the hand of a kind mother
Is the coat on the wanderer’s back.
Before he left she stitched it close
In secret fear that he would be slow to return.
Who will say that the inch of grass in his heart
Is gratitude enough for all the sunshine of spring?”

Easy enough, huh.  Now try this Rilke from the German:

“His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.”

Clear enough, and enjoyable!  Don’t you think?

But…  it’s probably plain that we can’t tell if the poem in its original language is confusing or not.- since we don’t know the language.  Perhaps the translation is no clearer than the original,  or even worse!  So what I’ve done here is to write us all down a rabbit hole where I am searching in the dark for a turn around where to re-direct this poetry tour bus of mine.

Still, it was an interesting notion and remunerative in that by following this line of thought I fortuitously bumped into what amounts to a good primer about “How to Read John Ashbery” :  http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_highbrow/2005/03/the_instruction_manual.html  In which we find that one of the strategies you might take with poetry is to just scan for those portions which clarify the mind.  It’s like snitching the pepperoni off a pizza.  No one’s watching and wouldn’t mind if you do.  Here’s some entertaining lines popping from the clutter of  John Ashbery’s  Houseboat Days taken from “Daffy Duck in Holly wood”:

 

…“Where Pistachio Avenue rams the 2300 block of Highland

Fling Terrace.  He promised he’d get me out of this one,

That mean old cartoonist, but just look what he’s

Done to me now!  I scarce dare approach me mug’s

attenuated

Reflection in yon hubcap, so jaundiced, so de’confit

Are its lineaments – fun, no doubt, for some quack

phrenologist’s

Fern-clogged waiting room, but hardly what you’d call

Companionable. …”

 

And here’s a truth widely witnessed everyday:

 

…”Enough vague people on this emerald traffic-island, no,

Not people, comings and goings, more:  mutterings,

splatterings,

The bizarrely but effectively equipped infantries of happy-

go-nutty”…

 

Ashbery can get hilarious.  But also serious.  Again, from Houseboat Days:

 

“… he

Said, that insincerity of reasoning on behalf of one’s

Sincere convictions, true or false in themselves…”

 

Who says we have to understand everything we read?  I certainly don’t understand everything about a beautiful spring day, or a woman (for sure).  Nevertheless there are these moments.  So perhaps it’s best to think of poetry as a woman, and enjoy the confusion.

Take her out for just the evening.  Enjoy the evening.  Glance at her now and then.  Go ahead, high-grade the pepperoni.

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