Tuesday, July 18, 2006

To Paul S1mone

Some of us are addicted to conversation. It just occurred to me that: Phosphoresence my old friend I've come to talk to you again. While JPGs are slowly loading The urge to chat is just exploding And the bitmap, implanted in my brain Just can't explain Conversing in the sounds of silence. One restless night I typed alone. I didn't use the telephone. The angle brackets would make sure that, What I wrote retained its format. When my ego's pierced by someone else's mordant wit, I felt like shit, Tapping keys in the sounds of silence. And in the flat screen's light I saw Ten million people, maybe more People talking without speaking People hearing without listening People writing songs that voices never shared And no one cared To break the sound of silence. "Fools" I thought, "You do not know The Web just like a cancer grows. Read my email that I might teach you, VOIP that I might reach you." But my words like spam was filtered out, IN CAPS I SHOUT A discard in the null of silence. And on Table Talk we try To believe that time won't fly. What does an hour really matter Compared to witty useless chatter And to writers whose desire to satirize Still clouds their eyes. Leaving novels on the shelves of silence.

More Amelia

There's no such thing as too much Amelia.


Awe, according to the great rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, is a sense of the ineffable, a feeling that what one is feeling can not be adequately encompassed by words. Like him, some people associate the word with God, although I suspect that they use the word without understanding its depths and heights as he does. For some, awe is a catch-all for things they don't want to bother describing. Some people associate awe with the stunning effects of height, depth, massiveness or vastness. For me, awe is the sensation of seeing a dandelion in full bloom in the middle of an asphalt parking lot.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The chaos of order

I have been reading one of my favorite authors, Henry Petroski, and one of his essays in 'The Evolution of Useful Things' seems to speak to my vision of modern life. Petroski talks about tableware and specifically about forks. He refers to the fact that in 1898 one company produced a single silverware pattern that consisted of 131 discrete specialized pieces for serving or eating. There were separate forks for oysters, berries, terrapin, lettuce, salad, lobster, mango, pastry, fish, pie, and that didn't even include the dinner fork. Additionally some of the utensils were developed specifically for right handed use only. With so much attention needed to match the silverware to the appropriate use, who would have time to enjoy the meal. We've reduced this complexity over time but it persists in places. For me, when I reach in to the silverware drawer to pull out a fork, it doesn't matter to me if it is a salad fork or a dinner fork. The complexity has moved from the dinner table to the kitchen. At one point I remember having found more than 20 different devices for peeling, crushing, and mincing garlic. In the time it takes someone to find their garlic preparer in the doohickey drawer, I will have done the entire operation with the same Chinese cleaver that I use for the meat the vegetables and the herbs. It's tempting to ask why we are so in love with complexity and simultaneously so fearful of it that we build walls and borders to protect ourselves from it. But that's misinterpreting the situation. The complexity that so many love is the complexity of order. It is the farmer brain rampant; memorizing uses and abuses, developing specialized tools for specialized jobs, creating categories and rules. We hunters squat by the woods on the outskirts of town and gaze in wonder at all the bright shiny things. We squat there and trim branches for arrows with our knives, we cut feathers for fletching with our knives, we cut our food with our knives, we stick it in our mouths with our knives. Then we go out into the chaos that is forest and watch for interesting disturbances. As a hunter I worry that the complete imposition of order, no matter how complex, will eventually destroy us. Our objective should not be the subjugation of chaos or the destruction of order it should be to achieve 'life in balance'. To have hunters and farmers not just co-existing but valuing and understanding others' capabilities and needs to the point of mutual respect.


In a previous post I talked of Amelia Earhart. For those who are interested ... and even those who aren't, here is her namesake, my granddaughter

Salt in the wound

I'm thinking of writing an epic trilogy to be set in the period of the Old Testament. It's the story of an ordinary woman trying to make the best of life in extraordinary times. Vol. 1 (Her youthful adventures and joys before marriage) 'Not A Lot!' Vol. 2 (Her challenging married years. Her life torn between her husband's virtue and her friends' decadent lifestyle.) 'Don't Look Back' Vol. 3 (Her stoic, silent acceptance of her irresolution, verging on catatonia, frozen in the wasteland between family and friends) 'Salt Of The Earth'

Rational violence

Two of my heroes were sharp observers and commentators on the human condition/comedy, Robert Burton who wrote the Anatomy of Melancholy, and G.K. Chesterton. Some quotes from GKC should explain my infatuation:
'The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog.' 'Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity.' 'Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.' 'Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it.'
What Chesterton is talking about in this last quote is that true violence occurs in the fanatic adherence to rationalizing everything, that reason itself is a blunt instrument, that the force of imposing ideas is more violent than mere physical subjugation. In the full quote, which follows, he explains that the more significant violence of the Puritanical movement in England was not physical.
... it is seldom remembered that the Puritans were in their day emphatically intellectual bullies, that they relied swaggeringly on the logical necessity of Calvinism, that they bound omnipotence itself in the chains of syllogism. The Puritans fell, through the damning fact that they had a complete theory of life, through the eternal paradox that a satisfactory explanation can never satisfy. Like Brutus and the logical Romans, like the logical French Jacobins, like the logical English utilitarians, they taught the lesson that men's wants have always been right and their arguments always wrong. Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it. The tyranny of the Puritans over the bodies of men was comparatively a trifle; pikes, bullets, and conflagrations are comparatively a trifle. Their real tyranny was the tyranny of aggressive reason over the cowed and demoralised human spirit. Their brooding and raving can be forgiven, can in truth be loved and reverenced, for it is humanity on fire; hatred can be genial, madness can be homely. The Puritans fell, not because they were fanatics, but because they were rationalists.
I read that paragraph and I think about the articles of faith that we have today. Standardized testing, types of learning, categorization, naming every quirk so that it can be diminished or eradicated. Rationalism today is the most insidious and vile form of tyranny. How easy it is to medicate people into a bland porridge of humanity. We have pills to lift us up if we're low, pills to bring us down when we're high, pills to make us act just like everyone else. It reminds me of one of the most horrifying visions in the text of Handel's Messiah. It was drawn from Isaiah 40:4
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain.
Imagine a world that really looked like that. Flat, level, featureless, a world that only a corporate farmer could love. Yet that's what I see as the goal of those people who aggressively medicate or discipline or shame our kids out of developing their uniqueness. ... and that is what Chesterton is describing. It is a tyranny of mind that is epidemic. We can see it in the fires of Islamic and in the fury of Christian fundamentalism. We see it in politicians and governments. Worst of all we see it in our schools. "It is not rational that what is a challenge for the rest of the kids is easy for this one," they say, followed by:
  • "He's not bored, he's innattentive."
  • "I can't understand what he's doing so it is wrong."
  • "It is not rational to enjoy being ADD, take this Ritalin."
  • "Don't be different."
Where, dear God, did this passion for homogenization come from? Who or what decided that it was wrong to be an individual, to be irrational. The Puritans, like the Taliban, like the Christian right, (yes dammit I know I'm generalizing) wanted a predictable logical society based on their own logic. Any idea counter to that world-view had to be suppressed. Think of it as a Whack-a-Mole game where ideas are pounded down to keep the board smooth. I need some coffee.

A song about cell phones

Okay, before I start I need to make a disclaimer. I have nothing against Samsung as opposed to other wireless phone manufacturers. It's just that their name fits so neatly. Samsung phone Everybody needs one Samsung phone Marketing's the seed son Me and you are subject to the advertisers' push So when you take your money out to buy You make yourself a tush Don't beat around the bush. Samsung phone Got it in your pocket For that phone If you had a soul you'd hock it. Funny thing, but every ring tone costs you lotsa bucks Your bank account is empty, mortgage overdue And your credit sucks Samsung phone Everybody needs one Samsung phone Now we know that greed's won