Florida Week 1 (12/7 - 12/13)
We had dinner and swapped lies with Marge, while Rodger attended a meeting at his Michelin workplace. When about 4/5s of the previous Rodger arrived (down 40 pounds) the trip-worn Linda retired but I wanted to learn more about the Presbyterian Church that has come to be a big part of their lives just as I am becoming even more angry at all religions for their poisonous intolerance toward each other and the way that they get us up in arms and killing each other in warfare, fear, and hostility. I could never say enough about how much I admire Rodger and Marge for the qualities they have developed in their three children and I have always known that their faith had a lot to do with that success. I am no longer seeking such a "faith" but I continue to be fascinated by how the concept continues to have relevance now that Darwin, Newton, Einstein etc have so effectively eliminated the curtains behind which it was formed. I had a basic idea of Presbyterian theology as emphasizing the sovereignty of the deity, the authority of the much translated materials in the old and new testaments, and the necessity of grace through faith in the child born long ago of that famous Jewish virgin. I am freshly armed with the well organized rebuttals of Christopher Hitchens from "Hitch-22" and "God Is Not Great" but I am not wanting to debate, just to understand more about how faith is maintained against such arguments. Marge is a wonderfully skilled swordswoman for her faith.
On Wednesday 12/8 Rodger helped me to replace a defective LED tail light on the towing dolly and we also purchased and installed a ratcheted strap to better hold the kayak on the top of Rocinante. We then celebrated our success with dinner at the Sassafras Restaurant in Greenville. Next morning the Becketts went back to work and we continued down I-85 through Atlanta to Valdosta, GA where we rested overnight at the KOA before continuing on to LazyDays outside of Tampa. Unable to schedule an appointment at LazyDays, we had our DirecTV receiver installed at Camping World before traveling on to Pine Island for a sunset arrival.
12/11/10 - Shamed by being thicker than Rodger, Diesel and I began our daily 2 mile walk discipline with a walk to and from the post office one mile south of the Pine Island Resort. Then I reassembled our bicycles, pumped up the tires, removed the kayak from the roof, spread the porch carpet, lowered the awning, blah, blah, blah, before driving north to Matlacha for dinner at Bert's.
12/12/10 - Undid many of yesterday's tasks as we battened down the hatches for fierce wind and rain in the afternoon before settling in to watch the Eagles beating the hated Cowboys on tube.
12/13/10 - Short walk in the cold for Diesel then a shopping trip to the Cape Coral Wally World for necessities and larder restoration. Water pressure has been fluctuating so we purchased a pressure regulator for our connection hose. Watched the Ravens win a scary OT over the Texans and then caught a quick look at the Geminids while walking Diesel before going to sleep.
Florida Week 2 (12/14 - 12/20)
12/14/10 - Temperature down to 34 so its another short walk for the overdemanding Diesel who then refused to return inside and had to be carried against his will. I'm hoping it will warm up soon and my only compensation is seeing that the rest of the country is suffering more than I am. Today's big task will be raising our support jacks and moving forward a few feet so the TV dish has a better angle on the sky for clearing a nearby palm tree so that we can contact the satellite carrying the Baltimore stations. Linda is homesick for the WBAL InfoBabes and her beloved weathercaster, Tom Tasselmyer.
Most of the week is spent in a vain effort to resolve our satellite problem. We first learn from DIRECTV that we will not be able to observe the sufferings of our friends and neighbors in the Baltimore area and must learn to get along with the Florida InfoBabes. For whatever tactical or technical reasons Baltimore stations cannot be bounced down here to our dish. Next we learn that our rooftop dish can acquire each of three satellites (101 - 110 -119) individually but can acquire only 101 in multi-satellite mode and therefore we cannot receive our full complement of DIRECTV stations.. We had the dish and its interface unit installed by Lazydays at the time of our purchase of the unit in May of this year. Unfortunately,we had not yet purchased the DIRECTV HD Receiver at the time so the Lazydays installer could not complete all of his interface testing at that time. We made a short stop at Lazydays on 12/8 in the hope of having the new receiver installed and integration tested by Lazydays. All the Lazydays technical people were backed up with customer requests and recalls so that they could not achieve that goal at the time. In desperate need of watching playoff football in HD, we arranged with Camping World to have the integration done by their technician. After attaching the HDMI connection to the monitor and the coaxial cable to the antennae, the Camping World technician was only able to acquire one satellite (101) and noted that the Winegard unit was taking more than 20 minutes in the vain attempt. He tested with due diligence but was unable to get ay further in subsequent attempts. His conclusion at the moment was that we probably could achieve satisfactory usage of the unit until it could be brought in for service by Lazydays.so we drove on to Pine Island where we continued to investigate the matter with DIRECTV and Winegard.
On Friday (12/17) I was helped very extensively and competently by a technician at Winegard's customer support as he carefully directed me through a lengthy series of steps concluding with an examination of the arm and the dish itself for any visible anomalies or distortions. Finding none, he directed me to email him with the necessary Date of Purchase and Serial Number information that would enable him to engage the local Camping World for replacing the interface unit or the dish itself. Over the weekend we watched the miraculous defeat of the Giants by the Eagles and the Ravens tarnishing the halo of the Saints but we have become spoiled from watching
High Definition at home.
Early on the morning of 12/21 I got up to watch the heavens celebrate the anniversary of my youngest sister's birth. It was the first time that I had been able to see a lunar eclipse in real time without interruption to run inside to get warm. We had a perfectly clear sky and it is awesome the way that the other stars like the Pleiades appear as the moon's light slowly diminishes, and the moon looks like an amazing cue ball in full three dimensions.
2011 - We have been so busy having fun that I have not had time to talk about the fun, but night after night I wake up giggling over what is happening and trying to find words for putting this experience into some kind of framework. I am not sure whether anybody knows how to write about the behavior of post-reproductive pre-baby-boomers but we really are quite outrageous. From what I can see, these people parent and grandparent well but they still abhor boredom and legitimacy as much as they did when they were dodging the temptations of ordinariness during the 1960s and 1970s. I think it was the Sundance Kid who turned to Butch Cassidy and asked "Who are those people?" They are really too precious to expose to public scrutiny, so I won't rat them out with specifics and will speak only in generalities.
First of all, to the extent that we can keep up the pace, we are descending into the behavior patterns of "groupies" for the resort's resident band of talented musicians called "The Last Resort". While the band tries in every way to eliminate Huey "Piano" Smith's Don't You Just Know It from their playlist, they usually must respond to howls of demand and then the night resounds with Ha, Ha, Ha, Has; Eh-ohs; and Goobah, Goobah, Goobah, Goobahs. Bodies gyrate like the calf-booted cage dancers on Hullabaloo and Shindig and for hours we occupy the dream space of a Mike Myers movie set. A few beers and you begin to anticipate the arrival of "Mini-Me". Quite early the next morning they are in the Zumba class while I am still trying to re-assemble my component parts.
1/7/11 - For my birthday we rode the resort's "Big Red Bus" to the Fleamasters Fleamarket in Ft. Myers where we were greeted like royalty and provided with some market spendable "Flea Bucks" to stimulate our interest in making purchases. We reluctantly passed up an opportunity to buy a Martin guitar for a song but could not resist the enticement of a watch purchasing venue where Linda bought me a new birthday watch for a mere snatch of song. Then after we wandered through 900 other stores we gobbled some dogs before returning to the great bus for the ride home. After an afternoon at the pool, I shared a shot of Jack Daniels Single Barrel with my buddy Ed Winchell before returning to the resort clubhouse for some more rounds of celebratory heartiness.
1/8/11 - We returned to the Fleamasters Fleamarket to exchange my watch for one that actually kept time.
1/9/11 - On the way from Burlington, IA to Sugarloaf Key our excellent friends Kristine and Craig Sink got an orbital sling from Orlando and landed in our front yard with their high spirited new dog named Nakita. Kristine has a sort of mountain-moving femininity that if left unshielded would disrupt communities of any age in any corner of the world. To her amazing credit, she manages to package all this highly fissionable material with such grace, laughter, and bee charming skill that she is defended as a national resource by men and women alike. Her husband Craig completely deserves his position in the center of her life by being so confident of himself that he can let her become herself and be liked by everyone. If Marilyn Monroe had a husband like Craig or a friend like Kris, she would still be with us and would still be beautiful. As soon as these two have satisfied the age requirement, I will be nominating them for my Human Hall of Fame. After much carrying on and commiserating on our patio we ventured out to the Ragged Ass Saloon to restore our strength.
1/10/11 - After acting the fool (I believe it was an act) for the day we headed for Miceli's Restaurant where we had hopes of representing ourselves well. Alas, it was not to be, but we eventually achieved our culinary goals and returned without hurting ourselves. It was the best that we could do.
1/11/11 - With all the other "Last Resort" groupies we headed for Froggy's where we tried to maintain an ironic distance for a time but were soon drawn into the fray. There was said to be an agreement to pay $100 to the first woman who could lure me onto the dance floor but no payment was made to Jean who actually accomplished the goal. Let it be said that a good time was enjoyed by all.
1/12/11 - Reluctant goodbyes to Kris and Craig as they depart for the Everglades where they park next to a twelve foot alligator while they attempt to pay for their trip with their winnings at the Indian casino.
1/19/11 - Another great day in Paradise as free food and cheap drinks draws a big crowd to the 50's theme "Welcome Back" party.
1/22/11 - We rose early to complete fitting Diesel with his costume for the "Annual Pet Parade." In recognition of some of his earlier camping escapades we tried to fit him with a diagonal sash in police line yellow and black reading "CAUTION". He immediately vetoed that idea and only reluctantly accepted the sash around his loins in the manner of championship wrestling belts. When the parade finally began, he absolutely refused to take his place in the line of march so that, much to the amusement of the community, I was required to carry him. When I tired of this humiliating exercise he would still not move until I removed his undignified sash and carried it for the remainder of his parading. When the parade reached our site, he planted himself with full authority and would not continue. We were very much relieved when the judging panel agreed to provide a certificate to him without his having completed the required circuit.
1/28/11 - Finally another regular day in paradise after being soaked, blustered, and chilled for most of the week. We drove our "home" to the Ft. Myers Camping World at 8:30 AM on Monday morning (1/24) where all of the components of our Winegard Trav'ler Model SK-3005 were replaced under warranty so that now we are full high definition Dudes. On Tuesday (1/25) we celebrated the ninth anniversary of my bride acquisition with a bike ride to the Ragged Ass Saloon for a major breakfast, then napped to aid the digestive process before dressing elegantly to have a romantic dinner of calamari and oysters at Reds. On Wednesday (1/26) I watched my next door neighbors, Ed and Sandi, celebrate their 28th anniversary at Reds, but reluctantly did not join them as they were celebrated by their many resort friends who joined them at Woodys for another debauched evening of listening and dancing to "The Last Resort". Tonight we will again join "The Last Resort" groupies at the American Legion Post 136 munching on chicken, fish, and shrimp washed down with miraculously inexpensive beers that must be subsidized by the grateful tax payers.
2/4/11 - Congratulations to Don and Deleana who concluded a 32 year courtship by sharing their wedding and reception with all of the residents of the Pine Island Resort community.
2/5/11 - We tried out our anniversary present Tomtom by navigating to the beautiful Lovers Key State Park near Bonita Shores where we met Wayne and Donna Wilson for a day at the beach and dinner at Sneaky Pete's. The pristine beauty of the park is preserved by using an external parking lot from which visitors are driven to the beach by a quiet beachtram without disturbing or injuring the wildlife on the way. The tram crosses several estuaries crowded with birds before arriving at the beach picnic pavilion. After a beer or two I swim offshore far enough so that I get some perspective on the contours of the shoreline and then I walk a couple of miles along the sparsely populated beach to where I have seen some bald cypress trunks with osprey nests on there tips. I am able to get a good view of three ospreys including one who was about to dine on a fish that he had captured with his talons. I then found myself on a stretch of beach covered with the wave worn roots of cypress trees covered with seashells placed by tides and children. A pelican landed in the water nearby and a white ibis ran in and out of the roots looking for whatever an ibis requires for lunch.
2/10/11 - We spent most of Superbowl Sunday night crying over our decision to have Diesel euthanized. Then after further tears on Monday (2/7) I found a veterinary on the island, gave Diesel his final walk and put him in the car for his "Green Mile". Then I tearfully and unsuccessfully looked for my wallet which I deduced that Diesel had eaten as a way of deferring his demise until my credit card could pass through his digestive tract. Finally I persuaded Linda to bring her credit card and accompany me to the Killing Field. She felt that she was too distraught to participate in any way, but I told her that she could stay in the car and I would go in and make the arrangements so that I could pay the 30 pieces of silver with her credit card and then bring the receipt to her in the car for her signature.
I waited in a line of people seeking to enhance and prolong the lives of their pets until I could sort of whisper "I need to end the life of my dog; do you offer that service here?" The greeter then responded that she needed to talk to someone before she could give me an answer to that question and then directed me to sit until the question could be procedurally processed. When the directing veterinary arrived on the scene she explained that "Florida law doesn't permit pet euthanasia without authorization from an agency called Animal Control." She then provided me with the appropriate telephone number while I stuttered some complaint about how denial of the ability to end the life of one's own much loved pet seemed to border on inhumanity, but she gave me a look that indicated that I should not be informing a member of the Humane Society as to what or was not "inhuman behavior".
After trying to translate my newfound knowledge into a form that would be comprehensible to the still grieving Linda, I called Animal Control and they informed me that, like human abortion, individual veterinaries could decide for themselves whether they wished to "murder" animals. Animal Control then directed me to the number of a veterinary who would perform the service. I called, left a message indicating my interest, and waited several hours to receive the message that they were sorry but they would not perform that service. I then "Googled" another vet on the mainland and was told that they could perform the service but only after an interview with the veterinary at a fixed charge of $47. I agreed and established an appointment for 4:30 PM on Thursday, February 10.
So now it is the morning of D-Day and I have just finished "Deathrow Tull's last walk. During the last three days he has, of course, exhibited his full "Eddie Haskell" behavior as the word has gotten out in the resort where he is much loved. Linda has a "last ditch" hope that the vet may supply selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors as a way of reducing Diesel's "Unpredictable Behavior."
At the appointed hour in the afternoon, we appeared at the Del Prado and Pine Island Pet Vet where Diesel presented himself as a perfect gentledog so that he could not in any way be considered as a candidate for euthanasia unless his parents were the most brutish of selfish people wanting to get rid of an aging dog so that they could make room in their RV for a wiggly new puppy who would be less of a social challenge to them. He quickly won the hearts of the entire staff before being officially interviewed by the veterinary who could note no termination worthy deficiency except for the animal equivalent of "Asperger's Syndrome", an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction. He determined this by noting that Diesel is very reluctant to make eye contact with people who are talking to him. He seems also to have trouble using facial expressions and gestures, and understanding body language. He also tends to have problems understanding language in its normal context. In other words the perfect candidate for a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. So with Diesel dressed in his complementary scarf, we drove away to the CVS to order his "happy pills". Arriving back at the resort, we take a "He is risen!" walk to report to Diesel's friends that he has received an executive pardon.
By the end of Diesel's first week of "happy pills" the results indicate some promise. We haven't yet subjected him to what will be his "Final Jeopardy" scenario which will be our neighbor Fred knocking at our door wrapped completely in bubble wrap and carrying a rifle. We figure that if Diesel can pass this test without barking or lunging at Fred it will earn him the remainder of his natural earthly days. While this critical phase of his life has been passing, the residents of our little "ex-patriot" community were enjoying their exile on Pine Island by celebrating Valentine's Day at the clubhouse with all of the traditional excesses.
2/15/11 - We drove to the airport very early so that we could park the car and have plenty of time to meet my wonderful sister Linda when she arrived at the airport only to discover that we had gone to the wrong airport. Quickly we recovered ourselves and drove ten more miles to the correct airport where we arrived in time to collect her and drive her to Bert's for a celebratory lunch before continuing on to our humble home in Pine Island. First I led her on an introductory bike ride around the resort so that she could meet some of the other "trailer trash" in the community. More afternoon sun goofing then dinner of ham and baked potatoes before turning in early to prepare for the next day.
2/16/11 - After the Lindas have gone to Zumba class, I walked the dog and then prepared a ham and eggs breakfast to fuel us for a bike ride to the kayak launching beach to scout things out for a future kayak adventure. In the afternoon we are entertained by Bessie, a one year old Redtailed Hawk owned by the camper across the street from us. In the evening Linda kindly treated us to dinner at Miceli's Restaurant in Matlacha.
2/17/11 - The Lindas attend "walking" class at the clubhouse while I take care of all the boring household tasks and then we drove through Cape Coral and the eastern corner of Ft. Myers to cross the causeway to Sanibel Island where we had breakfast at the Lighthouse Cafe. Next we examined several cute little outfits at a lovely shopping collective before driving north to Captiva to rehydrate at the Mucky Duck. Then as we started the drive home, it took us an hour and a half of of inching traffic to get back to the causeway for returning home.
2/18/11 - At the end of Zumba class we boarded the resort's "Big Red Bus" to ride to the Fleamasters Fleamarket to shop for some cute little sixties era paraphernalia. I had also hoped to introduce the Lindas to "Alligator Bits" but they would have none of it. After scoring a tie-dyed t-shirt, a head band, and a daring little tie-dyed dress for my sister, we returned to poolside for the afternoon and then began grooming ourselves for a bygone era. At the clubhouse we were greeted by black-light posters, pretended (I think) joint passing, brownies filled with green coconut, peace signs, and various other indications of generalized grooviness.
2/22/11 - Time flies while we are having fun riding our bikes to breakfast at the Ragged Ass Saloon and for a grand tour of St. James City. My sister provides me with excellent instructions for proper tanning and for being less annoying to my wife. We meet and enjoy the good company of Dominique and her dog Brutus from Vermont during our regular 4:30 PM forays in the "Field of Dreams" where Diesel dramatically presents his ball fetching skills to a forest of admirers.
Yesterday we abandoned our land legs to squeeze them into kayaks and paddle our way out into the bay on the East side of the island. My sister had been speaking of her winter weakened arm muscles but Ed Winchell and I had to struggle to avoid the rooster tail thrown up by her speeding craft. After the now traditional "Field of Dreams" ceremony and under cover of darkness I made a surreptitious trip to the good Dr. Watson's Liquor Store to acquire tequila for this evening's taco dinner with the Winchells. With a Linda guarding each of my flanks, I should be safe from any excessive behavior.
2/24/11 - It has been a glorious 10 days with my lovely sister, but today we must send her back to others who love and need her. We celebrated our last evening with her by going to dinner at Reds and then joined our resort mates at Woody's for a final review of "The Last Resort". Of course, the Lindas had to be back home at 8:00 PM to watch American Idol. After a final "walk" at the clubhouse we will leave for the airport at 10:30 AM and then return for an afternoon at the vets to determine whether Diesel has earned another stay of execution.
3/2/11 - Just as a brief summary of the previous month; Diesel approached death's door, Peg's mother had abdominal surgery, my brother became engaged, Niece Kelly posted first pictures of Baby Reynolds, Niece Ashley is sporting a new "half sleeve" tattoo, several people have aged, Cassie and TJ scored a house, Don and Deleana achieved nuptuals, Sandi danced holes in her shoes, Lin was distressed by cultural deterioration and bad political decision making so that he was not supportive of Judy's need for a new swimsuit, Lyle and Sandy lifted themselves above the level of common "Trailer Trash" by purchasing and moving into a "Park Model", Linda and Dick degraded into "Trailer Trash" by purchasing a motorhome in South Carolina.
3/6/11 - Now all of the immigrant stock has departed from Pine Island and we are left only with Smiths, Boones, Steeles, Winchells, Scotts, Whites, Reynolds, and Tebbs. Whenever these tribes assemble they mostly suggest dropping the "Big One" on all of the other tribes out there who are the source of most of the problems on the planet. We drove with the Winchells this morning to have breakfast at The Perfect Cup in Matlacha, the quiet little drinking village with a fishing problem.
3/11/11 - The past few days have been dominated by bouquets of conversation centering upon the unexpected purchase by the Scotts of a previously owned "Park Model". For the uninformed, park models are recreational vehicles primarily designed as temporary living quarters for recreation, camping or seasonal use. They are built on a single chassis, mounted on wheels and have a gross trailer area not exceeding 400 square feet in the set-up mode. In the past, the Scotts had voiced a very jaundiced view of these units so the sudden turnaround required much discussion and hours of rationalization effort before the communal aftershocks were completely resolved.
3/12/11 - For some reason or other we had a "luau" and many of us did not know how to properly prepare for it. About all I could figure was that people would consume the flesh of human beings and "poi" which is some kind of mush made from taro root and that we would possibly dance a hula like Hale Loki on the old Arthur Godfrey show. Instead we ate some "pulled pork" and joined others in a dance intended to simulate the movements of waves and palm trees before surrendering ourselves to a thunderous round of African drumming.
3/16/11 - With four fine companions we drove to Jug Creek Marina on the north end of Pine Island to climb aboard the good ship "Tropic Star". Leaving the dock our captain explained that Jug Creek was named for the jugs of moonshine whiskey that were once tidally floated out of the creek to be picked up by boats for delivery to prohibition parched throats. Emerging from Jug Creek we entered Charlotte Harbor, a semi-enclosed body of water open to the Gulf of Mexico through several tidal inlets. The harbor is America's 17th largest estuary and Florida's 2nd largest open-water estuary, with an open-water surface area of about 270 square miles and an average depth of seven feet. The harbor and its adjacent estuaries make up one of the most pristine and productive coastal ecosystems in the state of Florida. The harbor, which comprises Lemon Bay, Charlotte Harbor Proper, and Pine Island Sound, receives fresh water from three major rivers (Peace, Myakka, and Caloosahatchee) and several smaller streams that mix with the marine waters of the Gulf. Depending on the season, location, and depth in the harbor, salinity can range from zero to full-strength seawater. Many dolphins play in the wake of the Tropic Star to the delight of a young photographer.
We turn due west toward the line of barrier islands aiming toward the southern tip of Gasparilla Island whose first known inhabitants were the Calusa Indians. They were living on nearby Useppa Island by 1,500 B.C. and on Gasparilla Island by 800 or 900 A.D. Charlotte Harbor was the center of the Calusa Empire, which numbered thousands of people and hundreds of fishing villages. The Calusa were a politically powerful people, dominating Southwest Florida during their "golden age." Since the Calusa had no written language, the only record we have of their lifestyle and ceremonies comes from the oral history of the (much later) Seminoles, from written accounts of Spanish explorers, and from the archaeological record. The first recorded contact between the Calusa and Europeans was in 1513, when Juan Ponce de León landed on the west coast of Florida in May, probably at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River, after his earlier discovery of Florida in April. The Calusa knew of the Spanish before this landing, however, as they had taken in refugees from the Spanish subjugation of Cuba. Shortly thereafter twenty war canoes attacked the Spanish, who drove off the Calusa, killing or capturing several of them. The next day 80 "shielded" canoes attacked the Spanish ships, but the battle was inconclusive. The Spanish departed and returned to Puerto Rico. In 1517 Francisco Hernández de Córdoba landed in southwest Florida on his return voyage from discovering the Yucatán. He was attacked by the Calusa. In 1521 Ponce de León returned to southwest Florida to plant a colony, but the Calusas drove the Spanish out, mortally wounding Ponce de León. By the mid 18th century the Calusa had all but disappeared, the victims of European diseases, slavery and warfare.
Turning south after rounding Little Bokeelia Island we motored gracefully around the northern tip of Useppa Island. In 1911, Barron Gift Collier visited Useppa Island and was immediately captivated by the region's subtropical landscapes, warm climate and golden sunshine so he purchased the island for $100,000. Over the next decade Collier accumulated over 1.3 million acres of land in southwest Florida, making him the largest landowner in the state. His holdings stretched from the Ten Thousand Islands coastal area northward to Useppa Island and inland from what is now Naples into the Everglades. He brought the first telephone service, first railroad, first newspapers, and first bus company to this area. And, he constructed the Tamiami Trail through the Everglades from the Lee County to the Dade County line. For this last feat, connecting the two coasts of Florida, a county was named in his honor.
We dock for lunch at Cabbage Key, a true "Old Florida" island hideaway. The main house which is now the inn and restaurant, was built in 1938 by playwright and novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart. The wallpaper is made of autographed dollar bills that are taped to the wall and ceilings. After a "Cheeseburger in Paradise" we returned to the Tropical Star for a short ride across the channel to Cayo Costa State Park where we boarded a beachtram for a ride across the island to the gulf side beach.
3/17/11 - In the morning sunshine I watched a snail emerge from a shell that Linda had collected on the previous day and begin to make his way across our patio. At midday we gathered in the clubhouse to celebrate Irish people, drink enormous quantities of green beer, eat potato salad and grilled reubens, and to be serenaded by young Hannah Morgan.
3/21/11 - In the evening we again gathered in the clubhouse to celebrate ourselves, drink enormous quantities of beer, eat stuff, and to be serenaded by Beans and Seeds.
3/25/11 - Having laid low for a few days to allow our pension checks to be deposited in our checking accounts, we agreed to participate in a joint eating venture with the Smiths and the Winchells at Rum Runners in Cape Coral Harbor. With the good luck traditionally enjoyed by people from Illinois, the Smiths quickly found a parking space for themselves and their passengers while Linda and I were left to circle in vain until Mike was able to wigwag us into a tiny but safe parking spot. Then we wandered around in the manner of chickens with severed heads while attempting to determine the protocols for being seated at a table for six facing the water. Nervous from this wandering, we ordered strong drinks to calm our individual and collective nerves. When our server introduced himself as "my name is Mike and I will be your server", Mike Smith introduced himself with " my name is also Mike and I will be your eater". With that we were off to another night of laughter with our new waiter friend from Rhode Island and his "Uncle Mike". We began with Warm Macadamia Nut Crusted Brie served with mixed greens and wild berry compote plus flash fried squid rings, drizzled with Key Lime Aioli and served with side Fra Diablo dipping sauce. With taste buds fully wakened we went on to crispy roasted chicken glazed with sweet Thai chili sauce served over a bed of stir-fried vegetables; country style meatloaf with ground veal, pork, beef, diced ham, carrot, onion & fresh herbs, served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and rich veal ‘gravy’; sautéed jumbo shrimp, scallops, mussels, garlic and shallots, simmered in light seafood broth, tossed with crushed tomatoes, torn basil and angel hair pasta; and a crunchy tilapia sandwich. Just another day wallowing in "food pornography".
4/18/11 - I avoided paying my taxes for as long as possible before finally filing my Maryland tax return yesterday as well as a filing for an extension on my federal return so that I can try to find the money to pay my federal taxes due by October. The previous weeks have been filled with heated dialog as Lin and Judy have lured me out of the protective custody of my political closet with direct questioning as to my political and religious belief structures. When Judy asked if I believed in God, I said "No, I believe in life because you see, God--whatever anyone chooses to call God--ends up being one's highest conception of the highest possible. And whoever places his highest conception above his own possibility thinks very little of himself and his life. Perhaps I have a curse, you know, but I feel a kind of reverence for my own life and I want the best, the greatest, the highest possible, here, now, for my very own." When I further revealed that I regard the planet's current collection of nation states as merely the latest stage of human babyhood development with the inhabitants of each little national crib throwing their toys at the inhabitants of all the others; Lin began to pity me for my lack of patriotism and was somewhat disturbed at my failure to properly honor his efforts as a Marine in the WW II Pacific. When Judy learned of my disbelief in the anti-Christ and my skepticism about some of the beliefs surrounding Christ himself, she was outraged into praying for me. I have discovered that people are more comfortable wrapped in the warm blanket of their own biases and prefer to be completely independent of objective truth.
As I rode away from my friends on my bicycle, I began to review the stages of my life to determine where mistakes had been made which had led me to be pitied and prayed for at the age of 68. I was born in rural north central Pennsylvania of parents who did not finish high school and didn't have time or inclination to read books. My mother was familiar with the basic explanations of the King James interpretation of the original Hebrew Old Testament through early church attendance. When I would voice questions concerning the origins of humankind, she provided me with answers from this body of information and belief. When I reached the age of six, my parents responded compliantly to my nation state's ruling on compulsory education by enabling me to attend public school. Is it possible that these law abiding parents erred in following the directive of their nation state or was the nation state in error when attempting to educate its citizens to intelligently perform their voting duties in a democracy?
In elementary school I learned to read the ideas of others who shared my knowledge of our Indo-European derived language, to use the Latin symbolic script of that language to express my ideas, and to use the ideas of Greek mathematicians and Arabic numeric symbols to add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers. I also learned the names and locations of other nation states on the planet and of the existence of other planets also in orbit around a heat and light providing sun. As far as I can remember, my biblical creation myth had not yet been challenged by evolutionary theory nor had my comprehension of matter gone beyond the visual observations of its immediate and formal appearances. Was there yet an inclusion in this elementary school curriculum which might have led me to later errors of belief?
We didn't yet have the concept of middle school in northern Pennsylvania so in the high schools of Troy and then Canton I studied Latin, learned in biology class that one celled plants and animals evolved into an entire taxonomy of complex creatures and I looked through the microscope to observe the mitosis that underlay this evolution. I also observed male sperm swimming their way to collisions with a female ovum where they attempted to race their way through the mucus barriers to be the first to plant their complement of genes. I added algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and simple calculus to my mathematics skills, learned of the beautiful symmetries within the periodic table of elements, and developed a simple deterministic understanding of the way that atoms could exchange energy levels with orbital shifts. In history class I learned of how our democratic forebears in Greece, Rome, and England had managed to steer fragile political institutions through extremist interests from the left and right. I was the leader of the Young Republican party and received a thank you note from Richard and Pat Nixon for my help in their failed 1960 election campaign. I had the first of many years of using what is called the " Scientific Method" to examine the credibility of alternative theories and belief structures.
After graduating from high school, I joined the U.S. Army, rejected an opportunity to attend Officer Candidate School, and at about the same age that Lin was preparing to die for his country while performing his duty of torching Japanese infantrymen with a flame thrower, I was sleeping with my machine gun during the Cuban missile crisis and preparing to die for my country if things did not go well with the blockade and we were run over by a vastly superior (16x) body of Soviet tanks a few hundred yards away on the Czechoslovakian border. After reading "The Conscience of a Conservative" I was much smitten by Barry Goldwater and the conservative movement. Other important books during this time were Nevil Shute's "On the Beach" and "The Ugly American" and "A Nation of Sheep" by Burdick/Lederer. When my Commander in Chief was killed on November 22, 1963 I observed both the tears of the German people who had lost a hope for a better world; and by the toasts and cheers of fellow GIs who were unhappy because of the President's efforts in support of southern integration and felt that "His chickens had come home to roost".
I was a Political Science Major in college and voiced my opposition to the war in Southeast Asia. I wrote a well regarded paper on the "Ratification of Relativity" documenting the steps of how Einstein's very difficult 1905 Special Theory of Relativity rose from its initial support base of perhaps four people on the entire planet through multiple proofs and on to full acceptance by the time of the solar eclipse observations in 1919. I achieved a reasonable understanding of DNA, the nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms. I extensively studied the language, economics, politics, literature, and geography of the USSR in the hope of being wise enough to help my country steer around a nuclear exchange with that ill fated nation. I studied law and acquired a lay understanding of the Human Genome Project, sub atomic particles and nucleic forces, and almost enough understanding of stem cell research to be able to vote intelligently on the subject. I pushed the darkness of my personal unknowns well out of my daily life and into the area of speculation about a post life continuation of awareness.
I am trying to determine why we are up in arms with one another over our differing belief collections. We send our children out to acquire such bodies of knowledge and pride them for their success, but we then become generationally alienated from them, curse their spokespersons and their highest achievers, and dig in our heels as they try to steer us toward a better and safer world. Without this body of global knowledge we have no possibility of escaping this planet once we have laid waste to it. We would have no cell phones or computers without the quantum mechanics and relativisms that enable them. Without metallurgy and its atomic underpinnings we won't have any planes, tanks, guns or nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. Without selective breeding we have no beasts of burden and the slimmest of food supplies. We don't even have fire or the means to light it. We will sit shivering in the dark, hoping against hope that what we have done during the day has somehow appeased the vengeful deity who occupies all of the vast unknown out there in the darkness so that the horrible teeth and claws will not descend upon us as we sleep.
4/19/11 - Here in the United States, once you step away from a handful of neighborhoods on the east and west coasts, you encounter the Christians -- real Christians. They celebrate Christmas, and some of them really mean it. Easter too with all of its threatening bloody resonances. And then, as you go farther afield into the countryside of Florida you encounter even stranger forms of ferment, exotic Christian belief brought here from the hinterlands of Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and other north central locations. In a certain way these Christians have a dark alliance with the Jewish community on the other side of the peninsula who support the standard historical narrative that the Israel born from the Holocaust, should exist as a gathering point for Jews before their fiery extermination in the coming apocalypse. On the one hand you have Jews who know little about Israel; on the other hand, Christians who know little about Jews. But they have overlapping visions of the end times and overlapping reasons for Jews to go to Israel and for wanting wars in the Middle East. These Christians have an intense, aggressive, civic egalitarianism that the Constitution imposes and that is repeatedly drummed into them as part of what it means to be American. I grew up in a rural area of Pennsylvania where a sort of watered down Christiianity was the default condition of life, right up to its union with the established institutions of state including school prayer just before the pledge of allegiance (under God) each school day. I am pretty well informed in the matter of the New Testament, Psalms, hymns, catechisms, and rituals of Protestant and Catholic denominations. This visceral co-mingling of church and state continued through the years of my military service so that had I not had the exposure of higher education and travel I would probably fit in better. This intensive identification with the state in the church-state division allows a level of ignorance that is unimaginable for most of the people in my grown-up life. It permits war to be seen in the same light as the latest incursion/excursion of our favorite football team.
4/22/11 - While walking Diesel last night, I spotted an RV from Michigan with a front vanity plate stating Einstein's famous equation for energy. I told the owner that while I had seen hundreds, if not thousands of homages to the Christian deity, this was the first humanistic homage to physics that I had come upon. She replied "Welcome to Florida, Honey, you're in the South". I took a picture to show Lin the mathematical underpinnings of "The Big One". A few days ago I went on and on about my belief system and how I acquired it. I am not going to give full equal time to the formation of Lindsay Scott's belief system but three days after our first meeting last December, I thanked him for his efforts as an enlisted man in the First Marine Amphibious Division fighting in the WW II Pacific. One month before I was born, Lin enlisted in the Marines at the age of 17. When I was not yet one year old, he boarded a troopship in San Diego which zigzagged him to Espirito Santo in the New Hebrides island group now known as Vanuatu. With heavy casualties being incurred by the First Marine Division in the fighting at Bouganville, Lin was sent into the center of the offensive near the Torokino River on December 30, 1943.
After leaving Bouganville, Lin and the other remaining members of the First Marine Amphibious Division were sent to New Caledonia for a bit of R & R in the hinterlands, well away from the bars and tenderloins of Nouméa which served as the headquarters of the United States military in the South Pacific. When called upon to serve as a guard for Marines suffering from shell shock or other disabling mental conditions, Lin demanded a transfer, saying that he had not come to the Pacific to perform such duties, but to fight for his country. He was granted a transfer to serve as a tail gunner for an SBD "Dauntless" dive bomber operating from a Navy carrier. That plane and its crew were then transferred to Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands group where they were assigned to bombing runs on the Truk Lagoon which until February 17, 1944 had served as the forward anchorage for the Japanese Imperial Fleet. Some have described Truk as the Japanese equivalent of the US Navy's Pearl Harbor. The atoll was the only major Japanese airbase within range of the Marshall Islands and was a significant source of support for Japanese garrisons located on islands and atolls throughout the central and south Pacific. After the February 17, 1944 demolition of Truk, the lagoon was isolated by U.S. forces as they continued their advance towards Japan by invading other Pacific islands such as Guam, Saipan, Palau, and Iwo Jima. Cut off, the Japanese forces on Truk, like on other central Pacific islands, ran low on food and faced starvation before Japan surrendered in August 1945. During that time Lin's missions were the continuous destruction of the air strips on Truk so that they could not again be used by the Japanese to launch an attack. Today Chuuk — formerly Truk, Ruk, Hogoleu, Torres, Ugulat, and Lugulus — is an island group comprising one of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia, along with Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap.
By the summer of 1944, victories in the Southwest and Central Pacific had brought the war closer to Japan, with American bombers able to strike at the Japanese main islands. Lin's 1st Marine Division had been chosen to make an assault on the Palau Islands, specifically Peleliu and Angaur, which were to be neutralized to protect MacArthur's right flank as he returned to the Philippines. Unbeknownst to Lin and the rest of the 1st Marine Division, the 11,000 Japanese troops on Peliliu had abandoned the early beach-based perimeter defense tactics and reckless banzai attacks. The new strategy was only to disrupt the landings, to form a "honeycomb" system of fortified positions inland, replace the fruitless banzai attacks with coordinated counterattacks, and draw the Americans into a bloody war of attrition to wear them down and force them to commit ever more resources to the attack. The Japanese commander, Colonel Nakagawa, concentrated his defenses inland. Using the rough terrain to his advantage, he constructed a system of heavily fortified bunkers, caves, and underground positions. These fortifications were centered on Umurbrogol Mountain, a collection of hills and steep ridges located at the center of Peleliu overlooking a large portion of the island, including the crucial airfield.
The Navy's Underwater Demolition Team went in first to clear the beaches of obstacles, while U.S. Navy warships began their pre-invasion bombardment of Peleliu on September 12, 1944. The bombardment managed only to destroy Japan's aircraft on the island, as well as the buildings surrounding the airfield. The Japanese remained in their fortified positions, ready to attack the troops soon to be landing. At 8:32 AM on September 15th, Lin's combat unit landed on "White Beach" on the northern end of the beaches intending to push north into the Umurbrogol. As the landing craft approached the beaches, they were caught in a crossfire when the Japanese opened the steel doors guarding their positions and let loose with heavy artillery fire. The positions on the coral promontories guarding each flank attacked the Marines with 47 mm guns and 20 mm auto cannon. By 09:30, the Japanese destroyed 60 LVT's and DUKW's and the remaining members of the 1st Marine Division were bogged down by heavy firing from a coral promontory known to the Americans simply as "The Point". At the end of D-Day, the Americans held their 2 mi stretch of landing beaches, but little else. The 1st Marines to the north made very little progress because of the relentless attacks from The Point. The Marines had suffered 1,100 casualties on D-Day, with about 200 dead, and 900 wounded. The 30 hours following the capture of The Point by K Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, saw four major counterattacks against a sole company, critically low on supplies and out of water. The Marines soon had to resort to hand-to-hand combat to fend off the Japanese attackers. By the time reinforcements arrived, the company had been reduced to 18 men, suffering 157 casualties during the battle for The Point.
After capturing The Point, the 1st Marines moved north into the Umurbrogol pocket, named "Bloody Nose Ridge" by the Marines. They made numerous assaults, but every attack was quickly neutralized by the Japanese. The 1st Marines were trapped within the narrow paths between the ridges, with each ridge fortification supporting the other with deadly crossfire. The Marines took increasingly high casualties as they slowly advanced through the ridges. The Japanese again showed unusual fire discipline, striking only when they could inflict maximum casualties. As casualties mounted, Japanese snipers began to take aim at stretcher bearers, knowing that if two stretcher bearers were injured or killed, more would have to return to replace them, and the snipers could steadily pick off more and more Marines. In place of their banzai attacks, the Japanese would infiltrate the American lines at night to attack the Marines in their foxholes. The Marines built two-man foxholes, so one could sleep while the other kept watch for infiltrators. The Japanese eventually inflicted 60% casualties on the1st Marines, who lost 1,749 out of approximately 3,000 men. The reduction of the Japanese pocket around Umurbrogol mountain is considered to be the most difficult fight that the U.S. military encountered in the entire Second World War. The 1st Marine Division was severely mauled and it remained out of action until the invasion of Okinawa on 1 April 1945.
Lin returned to Chicago on furlough in August of 1945 where he learned that Einstein's equation for energy had been proven in the skies over Japan by Little Boy and Fat Man. On August 6, 1945 over Hiroshima, Little Boy converted approximately 600 to 860 milligrams of uranium into the active energy of heat and radiation equivalent to between 13 and 18 kilotons of TNT. It has been estimated that 130,000 to 150,000 persons died. On August 9, 1945 at about 1,800 ft. over Nagasaki, Fat Boy converted a 3.62 inch ball of plutonium into the equivalent of 21 kilotons of TNT. Because of poor visibility due to cloud cover, the bomb missed its intended detonation point, and damage was somewhat less extensive than that in Hiroshima. An estimated 39,000 people were killed outright by the bombing at Nagasaki, and a further 25,000 were injured. On August 15, Lin celebrated the end of the war in Chicago, flew on search and rescue missions from North Carolina, and then returned to Indianapolis, Indiana to marry and raise two daughters. He kept his wits about him, maintained many of the teachings of his forbears, and has many beliefs that are quite different from mine but we peacefully drink coffee and beer together.
My struggle has been that over the ages, belief systems have served to organize mankind into groups that are not only internally cohesive, but sometimes intensely competitive with one another, often to the point of conflict or persecution, sometimes accompanied by massive violence. One need look no further than 9/11/01 for evidence. But competing beliefs are just one basis on which people divide themselves into groups that fail to get along with one another. Any label will do. (A label, to quote from the comic strip B.C., is "something you put on [people] so you can hate them without getting to know them first".) Many large scale atrocities (and individual cruelties) have been perpetrated along ethnic or other lines, often with no particular connection to beliefs.
Alongside the devastating effects of systems of belief, their positive achievements stand out as well. Most of my travels have occurred because I was seeking out the glorious music, architecture, literature, sculpture, painting and dance that have been inspired by particular mythologies. Greek black figure vases alone would suffice to bear witness to the creative energies released by myth. But we need to re-examine the significance of false regularities. In addition to exerting a powerful influence on human intellect and emotions and leading to the creation of magnificent art, mythical beliefs clearly have a further significance that transcends their literal falsity and their connection with superstition. They encapsulate experience gained through centuries and millennia of interaction with nature and with human culture. They contain not only lessons but also, at least by implication, prescriptions for behavior. They are vital parts of the cultural schemata of societies functioning as complex adaptive systems.
Conclusion - I am headed home to Easton in the first week of May with a stop in Greenville, SC if I am welcomed. I hear what everyone is saying and I understand, and even pay homage, to the framework of beliefs from which these words derive. I am just bone-tired weary of our self-denied, atavistic, undercurrent of racism; our shameful pride in our ignorance; our xenophobic fear and loathing of tribal outsiders; our longing for a street-smart, jut-jawed, iron-fisted, neo-fascist Duce to lead us to economic salvation; our acceptance of ethnic cleansing, slavery, sexism, and indiscriminate massacre because we are bound to it by ancient books; and by our demagogues fanning the hell-fire of these curses upon humanity. Twenty-first-century America is in a state of decline. When I re-read the final volume of Gibbon I find that the fate of the Roman Empire seems to be an outline that the imperial presidency of George W. Bush retraced and that continues even now. Their facade, like many others, lacked the universal and elastic element which alone allows for growth; it soon shackled the human mind, and was obliged either to kill or be killed.We have approached bankruptcy, fought wars we cannot pay for, and defrauded our urban and rural poor. Our troops include felons, and mercenaries of many nations are among our "contractors," fighting on their own rules or none at all. Dark influences from the American past congregate among us still. If we are a democracy, what are we to make of the palpable elements of plutocracy, oligarchy, and mounting theocracy that rule our state. How do we address the self-inflicted catastrophes that devastate our natural environment? We don't have great poets like Emerson and Thoreau among us. An institutionalized counterculture condemns individuality as archaic and deprecates intellectual values, even in our universities. Life has been defined as purposeful motion but we have chained ourselves to the archetypes of the past. Now I must figure out how to free myself from outmoded thinking in the hope of serving as a Socratic "midwife for ideas" to help others learn to breath and to see all the magnificence of possibilities that we still have the capability of reaching.
As I read a newspaper or turn on the television and see what the parties of God are doing to Iraq, in their attempt to reduce a once-advanced society to the level of Afghanistan or Somalia (the last two countries where the parties of god had things all there way). I observe the menacing developments in neighboring Iran, where the believers in the imminent return of a tooth fairy known as the Twelfth Imam are reinforcing their apocalyptic talk by the acquisition of doomsday weaponry. Or I shift my gaze to the western bank of the Jordan River, where messianic settlers hope , by stealing the land of others in accordance with biblical directives, to bring on Armageddon in their own way. The chief international backers of these religious colonists, the American evangelical fundamentalists, are simultaneously trying to teach stultifying pseudo-science in schools, criminalize homosexuality, forbid stem-cell research, and display Mosaic law in courtrooms. In Rome, the Holy Father is doing his part to remedy the decaying situation by restoring the historically anti-Semitic "Tridentine" form of the Mass, preaching crusading rhetoric on one hand while capitulating to Islamism on the other and maintaining that condoms are worse than AIDS. In most of the industrialized world, nearly everyone has health care and hardly anyone doubts evolution -- our dimwittedness is really starting to reduce the quality of our lives. It's why America isn't going to be the country that gets the inevitable patents in stem cell cures, because Jesus thinks that it is too close to cloning.
5/16/11 - On 5/13/11 my brother and I met my niece and nephew at the Joint Expeditionary Base in Little Creek, VA near Norfolk where we boarded buses for a ride south on US 17 past the Dismal Swamp, across Abermarle Sound at Edenton, then through Williamston and New Bern, NC before turning south on US 70 to meet the USS Carter Hall at Morehead City just west of Beaufort, NC. The Carter Hall (LSD-50) is a Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship just returned from a nine month deployment. The mission of the Landing Ship Dock (LSD) is to transport and launch amphibious craft, vehicles, crews and embarked personnel in an amphibious assault. An LSD can also render limited docking and repair service to small ships and craft, and act as the Primary Control Ship (PCS) during amphibious assaults. She was the second Navy ship to be named for Carter Hall, an estate near Winchester, Virginia, built in the 1790s.
On August 27, 2010 the Carter Hall had departed Little Creek for a scheduled Middle East deployment. On 10/3/2010 the ship arrived in Manama, Bahrain for a five day port call and then departed on 10/8 to participate in an amphibious training exercise off the coast of the Republic of Djibouti at the southern end of the Red Sea on the northern tip of the Gulf of Aden. On April 13, the Carter Hall completed its U.S. 5th Fleet tasking and entered the U.S. 6th Fleet to support the NATO-led Operation Unified Protector off the coast of Libya. In early May the ship docked in Rota, Spain before encountering some rough seas on its return across the Atlantic.
Before arriving in Morehead City, the Carter Hall had offloaded a portion of the well disciplined 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and its equipment via landing craft air cushion (LCAC) in Camp Lejeune, N.C. so the vacated spaces could now be taken over by the relatively undisciplined friends and family of the Carter Hall crew for what is called a "Tiger Cruise". Operation Tiger Cruise is the name of a public relations program started to increase community awareness of the Navy and the jobs that are performed. The cruises are set aside so that friends and relatives can ride home with the ship at the end of a long deployment.
I was at first hopeful that the lifting cranes could convey my heavy bag on to the Carter Hall but instead I had to lug the thing up a long diagonal ramp up the side of the ship to the flight deck, one floor above the well deck. The Hall's well deck is 180 feet to hold two Landing Craft Air Cushions (LCAC) plus a U-shaped space of two 40 ft. wide lanes under the foredeck to provide for sequencing a variety of landing craft and tracked amphibious assault vehicles. Her two-spot flight deck can land and service any helicopter in the Navy and Marine Corps inventory. After a momentary breath, we continued our climb from the flight deck up five sets of slightly unvertical stairs to our four man stateroom that will be home for the next four days and three nights. After a closed circuit TV welcome from the ship's executive officer we were ushered by our host to the Officer's Dining Room where we were able to restore the strength that we had lost in climbing all the ladders by eating pizza and wings.
After a good night's sleep at the port in Morehead City, we were tugged and piloted out of the harbor past Beaufort to sail south past Bogue Sound to a point off the New River Inlet where we waited to receive the LCACs on their return from Camp Lejeune. After the LCACs were safely ensconced in the well deck of the mother ship we received additional passengers and cargo via a helicopter landing. On the next morning the Carter Hall and the Kearsarge were refueled in tandem by an oiler and many of the Tigers took advantage of an opportunity to fire the ship's 50 caliber machine guns and her M-16 automatic rifles. In the afternoon we gorged ourselves at a "steel beach party" on the flight deck.
Early on Monday (5/16) we loaded our gear and our bodies aboard an LCAC for a ten mile "flight" to a rendezvous point midway between Cape "Chuck" and Cape "Hank" at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. There we waited until all of the five LCACs from the USS Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group were assembled in a tight line for approaching and landing ashore at the Joint Expeditionary Base in Little Creek.
Writing About Not Doing Anything
5/30/11 - I missed attending the 50th anniversary of my Canton High School graduation but added the group picture to end my slide show at the top of this page.
8/8/11 - I have punctuated most of the summer with weekly visits to my library as a means of making proper use of my solitude, that solitude whose final form is my confrontation with my own mortality. I am trying to accelerate my race toward self-awareness in the hope of finding the peace of knowing that my life may make a difference. Since my return from Florida I have continued to be plagued by the American malaise which was pounded into my consciousness over the winter. My summer's quest is to try and avoid distractions while I search for some kind of values that transcend the particular prejudices and needs of our current society. When I was talking to a neighbor in Pine Island he implied that the melancholy that I was feeling might emanate from my learning and curiosity (you think too much) and I tried to make the argument that thinking is all that distinguishes us conscious beings from cows, weeds, and asparagus. Now I am reading three books by Harold Bloom who, I believe, writes to cure his own learnedness. Bloom's 2011 book, The Anatomy of Influence, is probably his swan song and is an illustration of the fact that us old farts find words only for "what is already dead in our hearts, so that there is a kind of contempt in the act of writing". (Nietzsche)
With Bloom's 1994 book "The Western Canon; The Books and School of the Ages" I hope to quickly inject a steroidal dose of Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes, Montaigne, Moliere, Milton, Johnson, Goethe, Wordsworth, Whitman, and fifteen others in an attempt to atone for my shameful neglect of the great poets, playwrights, and authors in my hasty assembly of learnedness. Bloom's most wonderful disclosure so far has been that in Shakespeare's soliloquies he provided me and the rest of mankind with a vocabulary for introspective consciousness, free to contemplate ourselves we need not seek in vain for high quality conversation. As asserted by Julian Jaynes back in 1977, consciousness did not arise far back in human evolution, but is a learned process based on metaphorical language.
I am re-reading "Book of J" from 1990 which identifies the probable writer of Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers as Bathsheba the Hittite queen mother taken by David after he conveniently arranged for her husband Uriah to die in battle. Bathsheba's Yahweh is human--all too human; he eats and drinks, frequently loses his temper, delights in his own mischief, is jealous and vindictive, proclaims his justness while constantly playing favorites, and develops a considerable case of neurotic anxiety when he allows himself to transfer his blessing from an elite to the entire Israelite host. By the time he leads that crazed and suffering babblement through the Sinai wilderness, he has become so insane and dangerous, to himself and to others, that the J writer deserves to be called the most blasphemous of all authors ever.
The ultimate shock implicit in the Book of J is when you realize that the Western worship of God--by Jews, Christians, and Moslems--is the worship of a literary character, J's Yahweh, however adulterated by pious revisionists. I guess the only comparable shock comes when we realize that the Jesus loved by Christians is a literary character largely invented by the writer of the Gospel of Mark, and when we read the Koran and hear one voice only, the voice of Allah, recorded in detail and at some length by the audacity of his prophet Mohammed. And then, of course, there is the literary creationism of Joseph Smith. My friend Paul Ryan has also noted the chronological relationship of this writing with the recent loss of my dog Diesel; and suspects that like the dyslexic, insomniac, agnostic: I am staying up all night questioning the existence of dog.
8/9/11 - Today brings me to Bloom's exposure of Dante who he introduces as a secular author who is absolutely convinced that his own work is the truth, or all of the truth that matters most. As I said in my Florida Conclusion, I have become weary of pundits who have the same conviction of their own infallibility without the supreme cognitive skills that Dante brought to his effort. I have been a non-judgmental non-determinist all of my life and I have really tried hard to understand how other people seem to be able to mount their Olympian high-horses. I can't deny that Dante is a super naturalist, a Christian, and a theologian and that many of his predecessors drew upon those same roots for their surety; but he still startles me with his originality, his inventiveness, and the enigmatic otherness of Beatrice, the object of his sublimated desire who existed infinitely for Dante, who in turn existed very little if at all for Beatrice. Dante celebrates his own power of representation by creating Beatrice as the most beautiful woman in literature or history. Dante did not come as a gleaner in order to praise his famous predecessors. He distributes them, according to his own judgment, in Limbo, Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, because he is the true prophet and expects to be vindicated in his own time. His judgments are absolute, ruthless, and sometimes morally unacceptable, at least to me. He has given himself the last word, and while you are reading him, you don't want to argue with him, mostly because you want to listen and visualize what he has seen for you.
8/10/11 - I am going to seek in Geoffrey Chaucer some sort of image of life as a pilgrimage to my final jeopardy question and the companions that have somehow been selected for me. Like me, Chaucer tends to be acutely unaware of what he sees, no matter how sharply he sees it, while unlike me he is fierce, judgmental, frequently consumed by hatred, and really a kind of apocalyptic moralist. Dante was convinced that truth had been revealed to him and Chaucer seems to be ironically mocking the whole idea of truth as if the tale that each of his companions told could somehow tell a tale about the teller; readers are compelled to discover for themselves exactly what has been invented for them. Dante loved only his own creation, Beatrice, while Chaucer loves the entire comedy of creation. He gives us characters subject to "quantum accidents".
The "Wife of Bath" among my pilgrimage companions was named Irene and I met her shortly after going to work for Prudential in 1970. The first word of Chaucer's Wife of Bath is "experience," which she cites as her authority. To be the widow of five successive husbands, gives a woman a certain aura, as the Wife is well aware; but she boisterously declares herself eager for a sixth, while envying the wise King Solomon his thousand bed partners. What was awesome about Irene/Wife is her endless zest and vitality: sexual, verbal, polemical. And the highest tribute that we her friends can pay her, brushing aside all the moralizers: she has only life in her, the perpetual blessing of more life.
My "Pardoner" is a synthesis of me and many of my fellow pilgrims. His gifts are formidable and I am still compelled to wonder about his long foreground of which I yet know nothing. He is a knowing religious hypocrite, daring to traffic in the redemption open through Jesus, but nevertheless an authentic spiritual consciousness with a powerful religious imagination. Pardoner rivals Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness as a kind of problematic abyss, depraved yet imaginative in the highest degree. He sells himself, his act, every day in his profession; but, to judge from the pattern of his obsessions, he knows because he regrets that he cannot buy himself back. What he knows is that his performances, however astonishing, cannot redeem him, and we begin to suspect, as we ponder the words of his tale, that something beyond greed and the pride of preaching with power has driven him to his life's work as a professional deceiver. Are you there, say a prayer for the pretender, who started out so young and strong, only to surrender.
8/11/11 - I have arrived at Cervantes this morning and look forward to rediscovering his representation of ordinary reality as a universal and multi-layered, non-critical and non-problematical gaiety; or perhaps a madness coming from a faith in indestructibility. I first read of the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance in 2006 when I was about to spend some weeks climbing in the mountains of Andalucia. I had very much loved the Don's quest against "reality testing," or the reality principle. I was doubly saddened when Don Quixote makes friends with the necessity of dying, because I have a vision problem which causes ophthalmologists to be amazed that I'm able to see. I always felt that if I lost the delusion of being able to see, I would no longer be able to read. I joked with my retinologist that I don't like half of what I see and he once pointed me to a poem by Emily Dickenson:
In my relative boyhood whenever I would meet a practitioner of paranoia or a stringent cautioner, I would say that life seems to me to be a big sandbox in which we play. To me Don Quixote is neither a madman nor a fool, but someone who plays at being a knight-errant. Play is a voluntary activity, unlike madness and foolishness. Play has four principle characteristics: freedom, disinterestedness, excluded ness, or limitedness, and order. The Don lifts himself into ideal space and time and is faithful to his own freedom, to its disinterestedness and seclusion, and to its limits, until at last he is defeated, abandons the game, returns to Christian "sanity," and dies.
8/12/11 - I have come to the two French representatives in the Western Canon with a certain amount of prejudice and trepidation. In my mind's eye (coined in Hamlet) I had cartoonised Moliere as writing plays for an audience of one, the Sun King. Since I was not Louis the XIV, I couldn't figure out what he had to say to an unwashed me. God, for Moliere, pragmatically meant his benignly glorious monarch, without whose sympathy and frequent sponsorship Moliere could not have survived his enemies, the bigots of Paris. Bloom has given me a hope that by reading The Misanthrope I might rediscover how to achieve a certain detachment or serenity in my thinking although he does warn that he "cannot read Moliiere or attend a performance of Tartuffe or The Misanthrope without reflecting on my own worst qualities, as well as the dreadful qualities of my enemies. The plays show that everyone's life is a romance, a farce, a disgrace" so that the spectator "is led into a state of bad faith to avoid doubting himself." I do an injustice to Moliere by displacing the names of his alienated real characters in the following "cut and paste" but I hope that you can still see his quality:
Whenever I try like this to elevate myself to the size of a literary character I find that my egotism causes me to see myself as a victim of the moral enervation of my times. I long to be a person of honor--simple, magnanimous, passionate, decisive, and true. I am fully aware of the ideal and I can fitfully embody it but I confuse myself with the ideal and end up distorting the world for my own self-deception and histrionic purposes. Oddly enough such an advocate of true feeling and honest conversation becomes the most artificial, most out-of-touch, most in danger of that nonentity and solitude which all in the chattery, birdsong world are fleeing. I grow fearful that, like Don Quixote, I must play act continually in order to believe in my own existence. As I attempt to bare my soul in my TWD writing, I find myself admonished by one of Moliere's characters who says : "that gentleman should rigorously control that itch to write which often afflicts the soul; that one should curb the heady inclination to publicize his little avocation; because in showing off one's works of art one often plays a very clownish part."
Bloom says of Montaigne that "he changes as he rereads and revises his own book; more perhaps than any other instance, the book is the man is the book." I find myself regularly rewriting sections of TWD in an ongoing process of shape-shifting into becoming myself through the miracle of mutability. Montaigne set out to represent his own being, only to uncover the truth that the self is passage or transition, a crossing. If self is motion, then the chronicler of the self cannot always remember what he "had wanted to say." Wisdom is not knowledge, because knowledge, illusory in itself, falls into the "had wanted to say." To be wise is to speak the passing, self is always passing into self, as tone leads to tone. We must learn to endure what we cannot avoid. Our life is composed, like the harmony in music, of contrary things, also of different tones, sweet and harsh, sharp and flat, soft and loud. If a musician liked only one kind, what would he have to say? He must know how to use them together and blend them. And so must he do with good and evil, which are consubstantial, with our life. Our existence is impossible without this mixture, and one element is no less necessary for it than the other. Ebony and ivory Dude.
My brother Carl, who embraced the pleasures of life so assiduously and so particularly, had the Kansas song Dust in the Wind played for his memorial service along with Louis Armstrong's incomparable What a Wonderful World. We are all wind, but even the wind, more surely than we, loves to make a noise, move about, occasionally blow my trees down, and is content with its own functions, without wishing for stability and solidity, qualities that do not belong to it. The shorter his possession of life, the deeper and fuller Carl made of it. My brother lived and that was not only the most fundamental but the most illustrious of his occupations. To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battles and provinces, but order and tranquility in our conduct. Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately.
8/13/11 - All of us who spent any of our breadwinning days in "The Office" ring with resonance as we read Milton's Paradise Lost. At a Friday "stand up" meeting we might be informed of the following promotion:
Everybody's eyes turn toward the missing Lucifer who was on every short list until the favorite son has his little baby bunting thrown into the ring. The boss man better dismiss us early today because little more work will be accomplished.. The "Man" is threatening us for potential disobedience long before any of us ever even thought of disobeying so we are beginning to think he is somewhat obsessed with power and more than a little nervous about being overthrown. Was there a time before we were hired when the "Man" had to enter the ring with other godling contenders and duke it out for the big job or has he recently read the best selling management book called The Rhetoric of Tyranny? As we gather our coats to leave I hear someone whisper:
8/14/11 - I was always interested in Goethe but I was never able to get more than a few lines into reading the English translations of Faust. While writing the home page for TWD I almost called myself an "anti-Philistine" but I wasn't really sure what a Philistine really was until I read that Goethe had said that "The Philistine not only ignores all conditions of life which are not his own but also demands that the rest of mankind should fashion its mode of existence after his own." I often bore my friends by saying that the American middle class people are Philistines because they are materialistic, they favor conventional social values unthinkingly, and also favor forms of art that have a cheap and easy appeal. From many readings of Robert Pirsig and watching films based on Mephistopheles I am aware that Mephistopheles enters into a bargain with God for the soul
of Faust. Poor Faust has struggled long for enlightenment, has studied deeply, and
thirsts after knowledge and understanding like many of us. God indicates that Faust serves His
plan uncomprehendingly and that he will eventually be led towards the light, but
He grants Mephistopheles the freedom to lead Faust astray.
Part Two begins with Faust recovering through the power of Nature from the
emotional buffeting he has undergone in the disastrous episode with Gretchen.
With his constant companion Mephistopheles, Faust attends the Emperor's court.
The empire is in financial ruin through the extravagance of the court, but Mephistopheles and Faust offer a solution to these problems. Till now the currency of
the empire has been gold, but there is not enough to support the extravagant
spending. Mephistopheles suggests an easy answer - since there is undoubtedly much
gold as yet undiscovered beneath the land, which belongs to the Emperor, then
surely a promissory note can be made for the value of such gold. He showers the
court with the new paper money. The foundation of the empire has been moved
through Mephistopheles' cunning from the solidity of metallic gold to insubstantial
promises on paper.
The second act takes place in Faust's old laboratory, where his pupil, Wagner,
following up his master's studies, has just completed the alchemical work and
produced an homunculus, a little man living in a flask. Wagner has produced
this homunculus outside of the normal natural means of conception. This little
man in the flask lies outside of the domain of Nature, a soul and spirit without
a proper material body. Homunculus takes Mephistopheles and the still unconscious
Faust to the classical world of Ancient Greece, where he seeks to become a full
human being. Homunculus is a being of fire, his flask
glows with a strange light, and through a discussion with two ancient
philosophers he decides he must seek union with the water element in order to
attain to a full birth, and become a real being outside the enclosed world of
his flask. He meets Proteus, the shape-shifting God of metamorphosis who
constantly transforms himself from one form to another, and they approach the
ocean. With the encouragement of Proteus, Homunculus enters the waves in his
flask and seeks to unite with Galatea, the sea-nymph, or Goddess of the Ocean.
The light of his flask first illumines the waves but beneath the feet of Galatea his
flask breaks and his fiery essence enters the water. The four elements are
brought into a new harmony through this kind of mystic sexual union. This
voluntary submission of Homunculus to the Ocean, here pictured as the feminine
element, is contrasted later in the play with Faust's own attempt in Act IV to
contain and bind up the Ocean's elemental forces, a kind of act of rape
committed against the natural order that directly leads to his
It took Goethe sixty years to write Faust, it has taken me hours to just paraphrase it, and a complete performance of Faust, both parts would presumably take twenty-one or twenty-two hours. I really don't want to see it. Bloom says "Of all the strongest Western writers Goethe now seems the least available to our sensibility. His wisdom abides, but it seems to come from some other solar system." But I suspect that most of us "sensitive, new age men" owe some sort of debt or perhaps a curse to Goethe as we struggle to accommodate our feminine side. Peter Jennings, Brian Williams, Matt Lauer, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Barack Obama and every modern male TV or movie star including Clint Eastwood has struggled to suppress his floods of destructive testosterone to mold himself of some softer material and learn to collaborate because "no idea is a bad idea" even among members of the US Congress. To quote Bill Maher "Republicans have no brains, and Democrats have no balls." I saw a throwback to pre-Faustian behavior a couple weeks ago when Bill Maher listened respectfully to the cadenced Bryn Mawr educated phrases emerging from the lovely Sigma Phi Epsilon sweetheart face of the great-granddaughter of former President Herbert Hoover and pronounced the content to be "bullshit".
8/15/11 - I have given up on The Western Canon after struggling to get some grasp of Walt Whitman. Perhaps I am not drawn to his autoerotocism. There is very little evidence that Whitman ever had sexual relations with anyone but himself, and on the basis of Bloom's scholarship of both his life and his poetry, there was only one abortive attempt at a relationship, presumably homosexual, in the winter of 1859-60. After all my anti-nationalistic railings with Lin back in 4/18/11, I had wanted to discover the poet who Harold Bloom regards as being at the center of the American Canon but alas I could not. I join Bloom in acknowledging that American achievements in music, painting, sculpture, and architecture "tend to be dwarfed by those of Europe" but disagree with him when he says that our one exception has been literature where no one in the last century and a half has overshadowed Walt Whitman. Bloom cites Whitman's mythological inventiveness and mastery of figurative language. He maintains that Whitman's metaphors and meter-making arguments break a new road even more effectively than his innovations in metrics and presents the following illustration:
I will part ways with Harold Bloom by substituting T.S. Eliot as my own most influential American muse even though he moved to London when he was 25 and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at the age of 39. He wrote of his sparse offerings including Gerontion, The Waste Lands, The Hollow Men, Ash Wednesday, and Four Quartets that the "only thing that matters is that these should be perfect in their kind, so that each should be an event". The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was the first poem that really sang for me and whose phrases stuck in my mind like velcro. Only the brilliant cadences of Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address were more mentally entrenched.
8/16/11 - I have abandoned Harold Bloom because of his unconvincing arguments about including Walt Whitman in The Western Canon and I have added a new page called "Diesel's Canon" which can be accessed using the My Books navigation button. But before I leave this momentary obsession with Dead White European Males I decided to read Vladimir Nabokov's Lectures on Russian Literature in an attempt to re-experience the writers I had initially discovered in college and to help prepare myself for what Bloom postulates as a ricorso or return to a second Theocratic Age which may be dawning with the election (or perhaps crowning) of Texas Governor Rick Perry as the next President of the United States.
In college I couldn't get why just one century, the nineteenth, had been sufficient for Russia, a country with practically no literary tradition of its own, to create a literature which in artistic worth, in widespread influence, in everything except bulk, equals the glorious output of England or France, although their production of permanent masterpieces had begun so much earlier. In negative contrast, the United States where writers suffer only the minor indignity of editors who exert certain financial pressures on them to encourage them to meet the needs of the so-called reading public,-- has attained so little even with the jump start of a flood of European immigrants. It is like the Harry Lime line in Graham Greene's The Third Man "In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed--they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."
Nabokov credits gifted readers, transcending national borders and not subject to spatial or temporal laws, who have saved artists again and again from being destroyed by emperors, dictators, priests, puritans, philistines, political moralists, policemen, postmasters, and prigs. He further defines this reader as not belonging to any specific nation or class. No director of conscience and no book club can manage her soul. His approach to a work of fiction is not governed by those juvenile emotions that make the mediocre reader identify himself with this or that character and "skip descriptions." The good, admirable reader identifies himself not with the boy or the girl in the book, but with the mind that conceived and composed that book. The admirable reader does not seek information about Russia in a Russian novel, for she knows that the Russia of Tolstoy or Dostoevski is not the average Russia of history but a specific world imagined and created by individual genius. The admirable reader is not concerned with general ideas; he is interested in the particular vision. He likes the novel not just to get long with a group; he likes the novel because he imbibes and understands every detail of the text, enjoys what the author meant for him to be enjoyed, beams inwardly and all over, is thrilled by the magic imageries of the master forger, the fancy-forger, the conjuror, the artist. Indeed, of all the characters that the great artist creates, his readers are the best.
8/25/11 - In confirming my 30 choices for the most influential books of my life I re-read portions of Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to re-determine its relevance. In 1977 when I first read the book, I was seven years into designing computing systems and clerical procedures for the jobs of the future postindustrial economy where white-collar professions would be subjected to the same routinization and degradation that assembly line blue-collar workers had been subjected to by Frederick W. Taylor one hundred years before. The cognitive elements of a job were to be appropriated from professionals, instantiated in a system or process, and then handed back to a new class of workers--clerks--who replaced the professionals. Extraordinary human ingenuity was being used to eliminate the need for human ingenuity. My early work was based on my being able to win the trust of a living expert so that I could watch her work on a sample problem and ask the right questions to determine what factors the expert considered in making her apparently intuitive decisions. Eventually hundreds of thousands of these rules of thumb could be coded into "if then, else" statements of computer programs. The result is a program that can "make decisions" or "draw conclusions" heuristically instead of merely calculating with equations. Like a real expert, a sophisticated expert system should be able to draw inference from "iffy" or incomplete data that seems to suggest or rule out. In other words it uses or replaces judgment.
Before reading Pirsig's book I was capable of persuading myself and my human experts that I was enabling progress by multiplying and immortalizing them, but after the book I had an uneasy feeling that what I was really doing was centralizing expertise so that future employees in the advice and human service business would be employed as disseminators, rather than originators, of this advice. I had always been plagued by more guilt than was good for me but forevermore as I tried to improve my craft as a systems consultant, I was conscious that my Call Center Support Systems, Help Desks, Healthcare Utilization Management, Human Resource, and Financial Planning Systems were enabling the rising sea of clerkdom as we stratify cognition. As occasions for the exercise of judgment are diminished, the moral-cognitive virtue of attentiveness has atrophied. It has introduced an institutionalized carelessness of Taylorized work, from the assembly line to the office sweatshop, and has reformed us all into the image of Pirsig's idiot mechanic. We have to wonder whether degraded work entails not just dumbing down but also a certain unintended moral reeducation. It makes it hard for me to complain when my doctor consults a laptop Utilization Management System as she ponders my diagnosis.
So now when I have the relatively rare opportunity to talk to a young person about preparation for future job happiness I am very wishy-washy. I say something like: if you have a natural bent for scholarship; if you are attracted to the most difficult books out of an urgent need, and can spare four years to devote yourself to them, go to college. In fact, approach college in the spirit of craftsmanship, going deep into liberal arts and sciences. But if this is not the case, if the thought of four more years sitting in the classroom makes your skin crawl, the good news is that you don't have to go through the motions and jump through the hoops for the sake of making a decent living. Your likely to be less damaged, and quite possibly better paid, as an independent tradesman than a cubicle-dwelling tender of information or low-level "creative." To heed such advice would require a certain contrarian streak, as it entails rejecting a life course mapped out by others as obligatory and inevitable.
As I wrote the phrase "approach college in the spirit of craftsmanship", I thought that it had the "ring" of truth but I wanted to explain it further with an example of music where I have no skill but love its crafting. It seems to have an authoritative structure which commands our respect. The task seems difficult and the goal is distant and perhaps never entirely attainable. Approaching music always seems to be a revelation of something which exists totally independently of the player. Attention is rewarded by a knowledge of reality. Love of music leads us away from ourselves and toward something alien to us, something which my consciousness cannot take over, swallow up, deny or make unreal.
Pirsig wrote about how counter cultural people on the Left and the Right alike complain about "the problem of technology." The complaint usually centers on our alleged obsession with control, as though the problem was the objectification of everything by a subject who is intoxicated with power, leading to the triumph of 'instrumental rationality" defined as a tendency to focus on the 'hows' of an action, rather than its 'whys'. If these thinkers are right, then the problem of technology is almost the opposite of how it is usually posed: the problem is not "instrumental rationality," it is rather that we have come to live in a world that precisely does not elicit our instrumentality, the embodied kind that is original to us conscious beings. As I look at the smooth, oneness of an iPad computer, or raise the hood of my car to reveal the shimmering, featureless contents of the engine compartment, I am struck by how rarely we now have occasions to do anything because of a certain predetermination of things from afar. It is very much like a long ago episode of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone in which a hang-over plagued couple wake to find themselves kidnapped to live as self propelled dolls in the model train set of a giant laughing child.
The nice thing about great books is that they keep on teaching us as we return to them. Back on Independence Day weekend I had much animated conversation with my friend Ed Austin about how different kinds of work attract different human types and how lucky people are when they find usefulness or fittingness. We had much talk about the US Department of Education which attempts to deal with this need for "diversity" in education, but not much accommodation to the diversity of human dispositions. Our historic silos of collected data cause us to be preoccupied with demographic variables, on the one hand, and sorting into cognitive classes, on the other. Both collapse the human qualities into a narrow set of categories, the better to be represented on a checklist or a set of test scores. This simplification serves various institutional purposes. Fitting ourselves to these categories, we come to understand ourselves in light of the available metrics, and forget that the institutional purposes are not our own. If the gatekeeper at a prestigious institution has opened a gate in front of us, we can't not walk through it. But when a young person surveys the various ways of being useful, and how they might be a part of a life well lived, the pertinent question for him might be not what IQ he has, but whether he is careful or commanding. If he is to find work that is fitting, he would do well to pause amid the general rush to the institutional gates for some very smart people are ill suited for higher education and to the kind of work you're supposed to do once you have a degree. Further, funneling everyone into college creates certain perversities in the labor market.
One of these perversities is an almost comical inflation of credentials that seems to go on endlessly so that eventually a janitor will require a Ph.D and a babysitter will be required to hold an advanced degree in child care. The escalating demand for academic credentials gives the impression of an ever more knowledgeable society, whose members perform cognitive feats their unschooled parents could scarcely conceive of. What's up? Is this our society as a whole, buying more education from highly marketed institutions only to scale new heights of stupidity. If much corporate knowledge work is not terribly demanding on the brain, or even requires the active suppression of intelligence, then we would expect academic accomplishments to be a poor basis on which to make hiring decisions. And in fact, most corporate recruiters care little about a student's grades. The university itself is trusted to have done enough cognitive sorting on the day it admitted a student.
8/27/11 - Today I am being prepared by television meteorologists for the "consumption" of Hurricane Irene. Earlier in the week I was able to experience an earthquake without being properly prepared for consuming it. The result was apparently frightening for many people so now I am being somewhat over-indulged in preparation for hurricane consumption. In the post-modern world we need to be prepared for the consumption of nature because otherwise we might be fundamentally insecure with its fatalism and exhibit some of the behaviors that accompanied Katrina in New Orleans. With many days of classroom review of mental constructions of hurricanes on our television sets, we should be able to sleep through the actual consumption of the real hurricane. The mental renderings of hurricanes are masterfully accompanied by a menu of commonly used terms like punishing winds, crushing surges, massive damage expectations, and 100 year flooding levels delivered by wind blustered InfoBabes whose hearts are going out to us so that we come to know nature in the form of a more mentally tractable model than material reality, and perhaps more amenable to mathematical representation. So what we have at the end of the consumption preparation is the misconceived idea that we have constructed the storm in the way that it will entertain us without getting loose and doing us harm. Like a house built from a good blueprint every element of this storm is fully within our view, and subject to deliberate placement. The world is interesting and intelligible again because we have mathematically reproduced it in ideal form, as a projection from ourselves. We no longer need to be attentive and are now fully prepared for the post-storm cocktail party assertions.
9/6/11 - We have decided that tomorrow I will start driving down to Pine Island to pick up the RV and bring it home, but today I finished rereading "A I Lay Dying" so I will depart with a quote from it:
9/7/11 - Only a Coen brother's movie could do justice to the Bill brothers as they journeyed to Pine Island for the RV retrieval. We are not, from any angle, mirror images of each other but sometimes we are a complementary pair. We arrived at the resort at about 5:00 PM in the evening after about twelve hours on the 697 mile road. Imagining a cool, well lighted reception we instead found a hot, dark dead zone that we attempted to remedy by starting the generator only to learn that the dreaded ethanol had struck again by gumming up the carburetor during the four months of its dormancy. Continuing our creative debugging efforts we discovered that a departing neighbor had flipped our circuit breaker when he departed from the adjacent site. While the RV air conditioner struggled to restore a tolerable environment, we headed to the Ragged Ass Saloon to partake of their bill of fare. After several Yuenglings and a few innings of a Phillies game later we drove in vain to a local pharmacy in search of brown liquor. We then settled on a low shelf cabernet to settle our nerves for sleeping.
9/8/11 - Officially designated as a rest day, we breakfasted at the Perfect Cup and then filled the coolest hours of the morning by disassembling the storage shed, hoisting the kayak to the top of the RV, assembling and strapping bicycles to the RV ladder, and loading the disassembled storage shed into the Chevy-Woo. In the afternoon I lolled at the pool before rejoining Bill to restore our strength with a Domino's pizza.
9/9/11 - Rising before dawn's rosy fingers made their way across the sky, we unhooked the last two umbilicals, raised the RV leveling jacks, and pulled out into the roadway to load the Chevy-Woo onto the towing dolly and pack the final items into the driver's compartment of the towed car. We then carefully inched our way across the narrow Pine Island bridge and headed north on I-75 to a Cracker Barrel where we ate Uncle Hershel's breakfast, filled ourselves with morning stimulant, and high fived the beginning of the end. A blue note interrupted our symphonic progression at a rest stop east of Orlando when we returned from the bathroom to find that someone had driven too close to our RV and clipped off our right side mirror, leaving its shattered pieces strewn across the parking lot. After checking to see whether there were any security cameras that might have captured the offence, we continued our drive with much muted joy. I first called LazyDays to see if they had a listing for a repair facility on our route home through Savannah and was referenced to a Camping World about three miles from the Savannah KOA. While making the reservation for an evening stopover at the KOA, I found myself talking to an old friend Judy Thigpin from Pine Island so the day ended with a dip in the KOA pool and beers with Judy and her husband Jody.
9/10/11 - Departed Savannah KOA and proceeded without incident missing both a warning gong and a low fuel warning so that we were mildly taken aback when the engine eventually starved on US 378 about 1/2 mile north of Turbeville, SC. I first thought to walk back to Turbeville in the hope of borrowing a fuel container and some gasoline but Bill instructed me in the use of AAA services and after about an hour we were refueled with $70 worth of gasoline and on out way again. It seemed hardly long enough for the blink of an eye before the low fuel warning sounded again but we found a station and refilled the tank for $230. Gasoline really burns when you are having fun. We arrived at the now "Legendary" Myrtle Beach at about 5:00 PM where we rinsed off our road dirt and celebrated ourselves with slabs of Texas cow.
9/11/11 - I like a good memorial service as much as anyone does but perhaps enough sometimes becomes enough. I have watched the towers pierced by those fiery harpoons at least one hundred times and every time it happens they slowly crumble into dust a few minutes later. I am always reminded of a documentary on BBC called "Root of All Evil?" The opening shot was a picture of the Manhattan skyline with John Lennon's 'Imagine" as the soundtrack and the caption 'Imagine a world without religion." What was the connection? The twin towers of the World Trade Center were conspicuously present. As stated by my guru Robert Pirsig in 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,' "When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion." I don't mean to blame religion for this sustained transgenerational vendetta. I am just pointing out that religion is often the 'label' of in-group/out-group enmity, not necessarily worse than other labels such as skin color, language or preferred football team, but often available when other labels are not. The Christian Bible is a blueprint of in-group morality, complete with instructions for genocide, enslavement of out-groups, and world domination. But the Bible is not evil by virtue of its objectives or even in glorification of murder, cruelty, and rape. Many ancient works do that--The Iliad, the Icelandic Sagas, the tales of the ancient Syrians and the inscriptions of the ancient Mayans, for example. But no one is selling the Illiad as a foundation for morality. There lies the problem. The Bible is sold, and bought, as a guide to how people should live their lives. and it is, by far, the world's all-time best seller.
In places where the Bible is not a best-seller, young people are of an opinion that the 9/11 attacks came from Americans inside America. They are pleased that America has had to face pain, because the rest of the world has tasted its pain. And the view of Americans generally? "They are unbelievers and do not like to befriend Muslims, and they want to dominate the world with their power." The guidelines of these young people for living their lives teach them that "The faithful shall enter paradise and the unbelievers shall be condemned to eternal hellfire." They come to that belief in any one of tens of thousands of madrasah classrooms with signs in English hanging high on the wall declaring that this classroom was "a gift of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia." With our energy purchases from Saudi Arabia we are helping to strengthen the pre modern, purest Wahabi 'desert Islam" supposedly practiced in the time of the Prophet Muhammed, the most intolerant, antimodern, anti-Western, anti-women's rights, and antipluralistic strain of Islam. With only 1 percent of the world Muslim population, Saudi Arabia now supports 90 percent of the expenses of the entire faith, totally overriding other traditions of Islam. We are financing the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Homeland Security with our tax dollars, and we are indirectly financing, with our energy purchases, al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad.
For most of my life have had wonderful Irish friends who have helped me to understand that the troubles in Northern Ireland are political. There really has been economic and political oppression of one group by another, and it goes back centuries. There really are genuine grievances and injustices, and these seem to have little to do with religion; except that--and this is important and widely overlooked--without religion there would be no labels by which to decide whom to oppress and whom to avenge. And the real problem in Northern Ireland is that the labels are inherited down many generations. Catholics, whose parents, grandparents and great-grandparents went to Catholic schools, send their children to Catholic schools. Protestants, whose parents, grandparents and great-grandparents went to Protestant schools, send their children to Protestant schools. The two sets of people have the same skin color, they speak the same language, they enjoy the same things, but they might as well belong to different species, so deep is the historic divide. And without religion, and religiously segregated education, the divide simply would not be there. From Kosovo to Palestine, from Iraq to Sudan, from Ulster to the Indian sub-continent, look carefully at any region of the world where you find intractable enmity and violence between rival gangs. I cannot guarantee that you will find religions as the dominant labels for in-groups and out-groups but I would carefully examine the circumstances before placing a substantial bet.
As I watched many admonitions to "Never Forget", many playings of "Taps" with quivering lips, many reaction cutaways to the tearful faces of children, wives, siblings, and parents, and many flag unfurlings; I felt again that I was being somewhat over-indulged in memorial 'consumption' and began to speculate on the possibility of grouping all of humankind's need for endless wound picking into a single Global Airing of Grievances (GAG) day. The consumption of the day would require massive preparations by all the nations, religious sects, and ethnic sub-groupings on the planet but Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld have already supplied us with a prototype in their "Festivest for the Restofus." Of highest importance is getting at the unhealed wounds incurred at Pearl Harbor, the Alamo, the Battle of Britain, the Holocaust, the beaches of Normandy, the siege of Constantinople, the fire bombings of Dresden and Berlin, the fall of Rome, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the battle of Kosovo, the Gunpowder plot, the burning of Persepolis, the Crusades, the partition of India, the burning of Troy, the Inquisition, et cetera ad nauseam. The positive repercussions of GAG Day could be spreadsheets of underlying causalities that we could begin to approach with international agreements for future avoidance. For even more fun and in the spirit of reconciliation, nations could exchange throwaway members of their population groups such as death row residents. Saudi Arabia could send 19 of its citizens to America as a down payment for a debt of 3000 souls owed so that they could be publically stoned or have their skin flailed. Germany could send a yearly allotment to Israel until the date in the remote future when the debt of 6,000,000 is repaid. We can have an annual clearing house of our convicted malcontents until we have paid off Japan for Hiroshima and Nagasaki adjusted by whatever they owe us for Pearl Harbor.
9/12/11 - With 500 miles of road to drive on my return to Easton and the previous day's memorial in mind, I couldn't think of anything but "atonement" as my musing for the day. The only real handle that I have on this word (satisfaction, reparation, or expiation given for an injury or wrong) is the New Testament presentation that the omniscient God incarnated himself as a man, Jesus, in order that he should be tortured and executed in atonement for the hereditary sin of Adam. which I bloged about back on 8/29. Ever since Paul amplified this somewhat repellant doctrine, Jesus has been worshipped as the redeemer of all our sins. Not just the past sins of Adam; future sins as well, whether future people should decide to commit them or not. Even before the recent translation of the Gospel of Judas, I was under the impression that Judas Iscariot had gotten a raw deal from history, given that his 'betrayal' was a necessary part of the cosmic plan. The same could be said of Jesus' alleged murderers. If Jesus wanted to be betrayed and then murdered, in order that He could redeem us all, isn't it rather unfair of those who consider themselves to be redeemed to take it out on Judas and the Jews down through the ages? Judas betrayed Jesus only because Jesus asked him to play that role. It was all part of the plan to get Jesus crucified so that He could redeem mankind. If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them, without having Himself tortured and executed in payment--thereby, incidentally, condemning remote future generations of Jews to pogroms and persecutions as 'Christ-killers': did that hereditary sin pass down in Adam's semen too?
Paul was steeped in the old Jewish theological principle that without blood there is no atonement. Today people find it hard to defend any kind of retributive theory of punishment, let alone the scapegoat theory--executing an innocent to pay for the sins of the guilty. Who was God trying to impress? Presumably Himself--judge and jury as well as execution victim. And get this, Adam, the supposed perpetrator of the original sin, never existed in the first place: an awkward fact--excusably unknown to Paul but presumably known to the omniscient God who inspired the original literary creation. But let me parse this out: the story of Adam and Eve was only symbolic, right? So, in order to impress Himself, Jesus had Himself tortured and executed, in vicarious punishment for a symbolic sin committed by a non-existent individual? It is a lot easier for me to see this messiah as a totally secularized figure, a man called Jesus of Nazareth with a brilliant gift for metaphor, for creating a personal mythology, and for acting on his beliefs.
Sometime after Paul's historical revisionism, the fourth gospel (John 8) throws a new monkey-wrench into my understanding of Abraham by having Jesus state to a group of Jewish scribes and sectarians that Abraham "rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad." Suddenly Abraham seems to have known of this divine incarnation thousands of years before Jesus was born. Understandably responding with outrage, the Jews say "You are not fifty years, and have you seen Abraham. Jesus then pulls off a Bill Clinton rhetorical spin by declaring: "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am." This is considered the clearest indication of His divinity in the gospels and the Jews immediately pick up stones and begin to hurl them at Him. Jesus is now godlike in his ability to exist across time and space, and He expresses this by saying that He lived before Abraham. Jesus further suggests that He told Abraham who he was and that Abraham accepted. Jesus is not the seed of Abraham; Abraham is the seed of Christ.
9/21/11 - I reread Tom Friedman's "The World Is Flat" and "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" while waiting for my library to get its copy of "That Used to Be Us: How America Lost Its Way in the World It Invented and How We Come Back." On NPR I heard Friedman briefly describing the new book and I started thinking about Henry Wallace who had been FDR's Vice President and Truman's Secretary of Commerce. Following World War II, with the Holocaust and the dropping of the first atomic bomb fresh in their minds, American war planners clashed over what course to take against the Soviet Union. From the perspective of Wallace, whose openly spiritual trek through a dozen of the world's religions from Christianity to Judaism to Zoroastrianism to Islam had been dedicated to creating a new world order, the opportunity to forge a progressive alliance with the Soviets by abolishing poverty, war, and human suffering (spiritual and physical) would have been the fulfillment of a dream.
Instead the Democratic Party renounced its pro-Soviet policies of the war years; consulted the "blueprint of in-group morality, complete with instructions for genocide, enslavement of out-groups, and world domination"; and turned to Paul Henry Nitze to draft the long secret National Security Directive 68. Urged on by Dean Acheson to 'scare the daylights' out of President Truman, Nitze wrote NSC 68 warning of the 'Kremlin's design for world domination' and arguing forcefully that since Russia was inescapably militant, the Kremlin's goal would be the 'ultimate elimination of any effective opposition.' The document also warned that 'Soviet domination of this potential power of Eurasia, whether achieved by armed aggression or by political and subversive means, would be strategically and politically unacceptable to the United States'. Years later in his memoir, Acheson admitted that the document exaggerated the threat but revealed he'd wanted it that way in order "to so bludgeon the mass mind of 'top government' that not only could the President make the decision but that the decision could be carried out.' Thus the "Cold War" was prepared for my "consumption"as I cowered beneath my school desk. While I was still in high school, Paul Nitze first hounded President Eisenhower to advance the use of nuclear weapons and play 'catch-up' with the imagined Soviet threat in the now infamous 'missile gap.' The fear that this non-existent gap generated helped to put JFK in the White House and returned Nitze
By the time that the tall ships were sailing in celebration of the 1976 bicentennial, the debate was raging in Washington over the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), with Watergate, the Arab oil embargo, and the American defeat in Vietnam shattering the morale of the defense establishment to the core. Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) and its corollary assumption that force could accomplish peace had turned out to be an abstraction without value as a guide to action. Paul Nitze places himself in the reins of Richard Pipes's 'Team-B' which then announced in their top secret 1976 report that the Soviets were preparing for a 'third world war' and were nakedly expansionist. Given military superiority and the will to use it, they reasoned, at some point in the near future the Russians would make a strategic move that the United States would be militarily unable to stop. "The intensity and scope of the current Soviet military effort in peacetime is without parallel in twentieth century history," they wrote that December, "its only counterpart being Nazi remilitarization of the 1930s."
When the Russians invaded Afghanistan, Richard Pipes of Team-B announced in his interview on PBS News that "detente is dead," and then went on to announce the dawning of a new era where a secret war conducted by US armed warriors would magically erase the memory of Vietnam while bringing an evil empire of atheist, Bolshevik, heretics to their knees--and President Carter was listening. In his State of the Union message, Carter announced a host of programs designed to punish the Soviets for their Afghan indiscretion while simultaneously fulfilling the mandate of Team-B for a greatly expanded military. With almost religious zealotry, the President repeatedly called the Soviet invasion "The greatest threat to peace since the second world war," canceling trade agreements, boycotting the summer Olympics, and demanding that the Soviets withdraw their forces while waging a covert war to draw them into their own destructive Vietnam. Soon came Presidential Directives 58 and 59 in which, for the very first time, the United States deliberately sought for itself the "capability to fight and win a nuclear war that would last for months, not an hour or a day." In the words of MIT president Jerome Weisner, "The public is now being exposed to terrifying exaggerations of military dangers not for the second time but at least for the fifth time. So far this season we have had the following pro-war initiatives all in the name of securing peace. Presidential Directive 59, binary nerve gas, the side tracking of the strategic arms treaty, the neutron bomb, a call for re-establishing strategic nuclear superiority, and added support for the MX-missile-system."
During the Reagan years we continued our arms race against the Soviet bogeyman by inventing a weapon, then inventing a defense against it before the Soviets could build it. At first the bogeyman was a dark messiah that would wipe the world clean of modernity by destroying the institutions that supported it with a nuclear missile stored in some deep silo in the hear of the Urals. Then, in Afghanistan, the bogeyman would emerge in the mountains in human form that would require the US to serve as quartermaster for the massive arming of heroin trafficking, mujahaden 'freedom fighters' who would later turn their weapons on us. As the French had done in Indo-China during the colonial period, and theVietcong had done to Americans during their war there, the CIA used a cover-up intermediary called the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) to "sting" the Russians by stimulating the narcotics trade near their bases. Derided as the "Bank of Crooks and Criminals" BCCI was so successful at brokering the CIA's off-the-books operation in Afghanistan that it created an entire new class of privatized international terrorists, capable of striking around the world.
At the end of 1991 our Soviet bogeyman said "no mas" and quietly left the ring. The Cold War had provided a meaning for our country's financial commitment to a range of defense industries that slowly seeped into the American subconscious as wholly natural to a civilian economy. During the 1950s , electronics, computers, superhighways, commercial aviation, nuclear energy, high-speed telecommunications, and a multitude of related industries sprang, fully armored, from the forehead of defense research. One estimate saw 66 percent of all federal research and development and almost 77 percent of the Energy Department's budget going directly to the military. The forty-five-year Cold War exacted an evermore burdensome toll in debts incurred and investments not made. In less than a decade, the United States went from being the world's leading creditor nation to its greatest debtor. Suddenly, for the first time since Munich in 1938, the world could look to a future without war as the main driving force and look to the past to keep it from happening again. Yet in the United States it didn't happen. The illusion makers of the perpetual war machine, at work over and over again, each time with the same result.The iron triangle of corporations, Congress, and the Pentagon moved along to the next enemy without a hitch, as if living in its own reality where empirical observation and criticism mattered for nothing. We come out even more firmly committed to the notion of U.S. military supremacy. Not because there was an enemy--in 1992, '93, '94, there's no enemy- -but because we've come to see military supremacy and global hegemony as good in and of themselves. That the U.S. behaved as it did because of 'them', because of external threats was in the end the result of some deep-seated defects in the way we see ourselves and see the world. Please reference the March 8, 1992 Defense Planning Guidance also known as the Wolfowitz Doctrine.
In the spring of 1993, radical Islamists led by an Egyptian cleric nearly brought down the World Trade Towers with a gigantic truck bomb. In the July 26, 1993 Washington Post Thomas W. Lippman wrote "The roundup of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and other militants in the New York area is writing a sour last chapter to one of the great United States success stories of the 1980s: U.S. support for the Islamic insurgency that drove Soviet troops out of Afghanistan. Many current and former government officials are now saying that Washington 'created a monster' by encouraging a rebellion based on religious zealotry without stopping to analyze what would happen if the zealots triumphed." The war in Afghanistan had awakened a dark messiah in the guise of Osama bin Laden. His minions--the Taliban--would bring on the end of the civilized world, and the more the United States did to stop them, the better it fit the plan. Bin Ladn wanted the U.S. to attack and he chose Afghanistan as the place. In October 2000, three Al Quada financed jihadists nearly sank a billion-dollar symbol of American technological infallibility with nothing more than barrel of explosives and a motorboat in Aden harbor. Bin Laden "complained frequently that the United States had not yet retaliated for the attack, and if it did not he would launch something bigger."
As outlined in the 9/11 Commission Report President Bush's secretary of state, Colin Powell, next engaged Taliban leaders on the issue of illicit narcotics--offering $25 million to cease opium production in the lands under their control. By summer the project seemed to be paying off, but Powell's success was deceiving. Enriched by a bumper crop of opium the previous year, Taliban growers had seen profits decline, a cheap opium flooded the markets. Accepting a subsidy to work down inventory and drive up prices was good business. Perhaps made insecure by the constitutional crisis caused by the hung election, Mr. Bush spurns the global effort going back to the first Bush presidency, to reduce global warming. He calls off talks with North Korea about its missiles, casting doubt on the whole attempt to ease relations between North and South. He proposes to rethink U.S. aid programs to help dismantle former Soviet nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Contempt for public opinion as well as for science is evident. The 9/11 Commission Report goes on to report how Mahmoud Ahmad ordered Ahmad Umar Sheikh (later arrested for the 2002 murder of Daniel Pearl) to place $100,000 into the Florida bank account of September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta. On the morning of September 11, 2001 Mahmoud Ahmad then sat down for breakfast with Republican congressman Porter Gross and Democratic senator Bob Graham in Washington. Neither Mahmoud Ahmad nor Ahmad Umar Sheikh would be held accountable for what was about to happen.
I always hated the expression about 'chickens coming home to roost' since I first heard it used by fellow GIs in Germany when they used it too describe how the bullet that killed JFK in Dallas was their idea of divine retribution for his efforts at integration in the South. With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it now seemed that the same religiously inspired defense department coalition that had created the Cold War, kept it alive, and then brought it back from the dead following the debacle of Vietnam; had now reclaimed their reputations by building an army of holy warriors to defeat, in President Reagan's terms, "the Evil Empire." Now with the destruction of the World Trade Towers, America was told that those same, ungrateful holy warriors had become "evildoers" themselves. Like a perpetual-motion machine that generated both cause and effect, Afghanistan had managed to transform the process of action and reaction into a permanent war-making machine.
10/15/11 - As most of you already know, I became obsessed with my close encounter with near-terminal Philistinism during my stay in Florida last winter. For Friedrich Nietzsche, Philistinism was the bane of modern life and as such was a denial of the heroic, the denial of all greatness, and the depreciation of all striving. I have grown old and smug, I follow machine-like listings of conventional dos and don'ts, and I very rarely leave the safe boat to look for tigers, but I overdosed on complacency and am now trying to rebalance myself with an injection of Nietzschean passion for greatness in a world without gods. Nietzsche felt like mankind's progress toward greatness had been skyjacked by the plodding, rational anti-heroism of Socrates and Christianity. Man's grandeur, wrote Nietzsche, could no longer be seen as the reflection of his divine origin. For here an ape stoops, staring back blankly and grinning. Heroes if they were to exist, could no longer be the epigones of gods. Nietzsche presented a new kind of archetype for modern times, one who would prove capable of establishing a golden age of order and growth, if not within society at large, then within the ranks of higher man. This "overman" is proposed as the hero of the "Philistinistic Age". Like his forerunners, he bears his own standards of morality and reason and attempts to vanquish the hitherto reigning traditions and values. Unlike his forerunners, the overman makes no claim to divine sanction for his deeds. He refuses to be armed by the gods, as was the boon claimed by the greatest of the ancient poets.
The overman is the hero of an atheistic and morally destitute world, he presents the paradox of the avid pursuit of greatness when no transcendental standards exist. He must embody his own justification. He desires his friend to be his fiercest opponent. He bears a "spiritualized enmity" toward himself, a soul "rich in contradictions" that "does not relax, does not long for peace." Strife is not merely tolerated, it is welcomed. He is an individual, a mortal plagued by the limitations of the self who nevertheless continually attempts to transgress them. For an individual to rise out of squandering his life as a mere pseudo-cultural weed depleting the planetary resources, he must turn his attention to creating and maintaining true culture, which is defined as the favorable environment for for the propagation and maintenance of great men. Live your life for the good of our most rare and valuable exemplars. With a hundred such men--raised in this unmodern way, that is to say become mature and accustomed to the heroic--the whole noisy sham-culture of our age could be silenced forever. Unlike coarser labors, this job is never done because the victories are self-overcomings. Release from the task can be found only in the release from consciousness as consciousness is always awareness of limitations. Nietzsche's heroes are "adventurers and circumnavigators of that inner world called 'man.'" The battlefield is within the self, and the corpus of knowledge supplies all the mysteries and intrigues of uncharted waters.
Post-Nietzschean physics has soundly validated that man's limited capacity for knowledge does not determine the boundaries of reality, but the boundaries of man--a particular species on a particular planet in a particular universe. He said "We are figures in the dream of God who are guessing how he dreams." Man may speculate about his dreamy existence, but he must acknowledge that it may not be the only dream being dreamt. The discovery of universal laws that rule his world does not preclude the existence of other laws or other worlds. Each of us is locked into a world of our own. "The habits of our senses have woven us into lies and deception of sensation: these again are the basis of all our judgments and 'knowledge'--there is absolutely no escape, no back way or bypath into the real world!. We sit within our net, like spiders, and whatever we may catch in it, we can catch nothing at all except that which allows itself to be caught in precisely our net." All knowledge is experience, and all experience is individual. We may compare our experiences, but not exchange them or equate them. The individual remains the ultimate interpreter of his cultural and social inheritance, including the meanings of words. That people agree to call similar experiences by the same name and, by and large, succeed in communicating according to such schemes does not retrieve the individual from his isolation. It simply demonstrates the ingenuity of the species.
On the TWD Home page I spoke of how I missed ever watching a one dimensional strand of DNA flowering into a three dimensional person. Information on a one-way street to becoming protein using the energy of the sun. The history of life written like a biblical commandment for negative entropy. Make thy information larger. The original idea comes from a book called "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins. Nietzsche also rejected the assumption that there was something called "the individual" which had a certain fixity, continuity, and duration. The individual was conceived as a multiplicity. If one may speak of the uniqueness of the individual, it is because of the unique composition of drives, the individual's particular yet pluralistic internal regime. The self-enclosure of the individual is counteracted by the multiple perspectives each individual is capable of maintaining. In terms of physics, we are each a huge set of quantum accidents about to happen. Objectivity is understood to be nothing more than a multiplication of the personal: "There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective 'knowing'; and the more affects we allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes, we can use to observe one thing, the more complete will our 'concept' of this thing, our 'objectivity,' be." Objectivity is nothing but an extension of subjectivity. We cannot escape our own web, but we may establish numerous viewpoints within it.
In Nietzsche I found insight into a discord this last spring in Florida with Judy and Lin on the subject of beliefs. Good old Friedrich says that "Convictions or beliefs are the prisons one builds to escape from thinking. Everything that confronts man can be comprehended only from the point of view of his intellectual endowment. Thus everything for man actually is only appearance; naturally truth must be something; the knowledge of it is for us only probability." Skepticism is an acknowledgement of the limitations of human knowledge and perception, a suspicion that nothing can be known with certainty. The skeptic suspects man of an unscrupulous hunger for truth and its accompanying infections of self-delusion. The skeptic is an ascetic who prefers to preserve his strength and integrity by doing without the opiate of belief. Better to hunger, Nietzsche admonished, than to eat what is impure. But the skeptic's passion is engaged not only in the task of preserving his intellectual purity. He ardently seeks to undress beliefs that masquerade as truth.
Just before we leave this crusty old German theologian he reminds us that one must laugh, and in particular laugh at ourselves, if the task of self-perfection is not to become a means of taking revenge on life. The hero must continually demonstrate that struggle is his greatest joy, that his self-despising is only part of a greater self-love, that his destruction and no-saying are the pre-requisites for creation and yes-saying--in short, that his desire for change is an affirmation of the state of becoming. He must also prove himself not only beyond good and evil, but also above his self-created higher morality. The presence of laughter in wisdom and dancing in struggle is made necessary by the essentially tragic nature of existence. It is a sort of whistling in the dark, except that the thrill of danger and the pleasures of willing, of overcoming one's fears, brings the whistler to the point of truly enjoying his predicament. He feels that it is an adventure to live.
10/20/11 - By God I think I've got it. It is always so difficult to escape one's own historical narrative, intellectual endowment, education, and uniqueness in order to try and understand the way "things are." I always think of the Age of Enlightenment as being part of mankind's history but it clearly and very understandably is not common to all modern men. It was not even a part of my personal history when at the age of twelve, I attended a "Revival Meeting" being held in a big tent in Elmira, NY. I had recently moved to the small (pop. 100) town of Alba in northern Pennsylvania and had become conscious that all of the other members of my church choir were free to take communion on Sundays, but I had to go through the embarrassment of refusing the symbolic blood and flesh because I had not yet been baptized. The new pastor of the church was eager to enroll me in full flock membership so he gathered me and several other chemically unbalanced adolescents for a trip to Elmira where we could receive the charismatic orations of an itinerant godspeller. After a presentation complete with dramatic gestures and emphatic lunges, the enthralled audience sat weeping in a sort of catatonic state as "sinners" were invited backstage where they could be "saved." Under the gentle encouragement of my pastor's eyes, I was escorted behind the stage where I joined a line of other people approaching the "Marjoe" as he laid hands on each new initiate. These cathartic phenomena are now both anthropologically and psychologically understood by a certain subset of literate humanity, but certainly not by all. In 1955, long after Darwin, Linnaeus, Nietsche, Newton, Bohr, and Planck had raised the consciousness of mankind, I did not live among philosophers and artists so that I was easy to work upon and had grown up in the hard soil of an irrational and tradition-bound society. Today I might say that I was momentarily mesmerized by the strange rituals, the richly metaphorical language, and the imaginative use of music and dancing, but that is my "now;" then I thought that I had received the light and responded accordingly.
Now, I totally hate modern evangelism, with its spurious Madison Avenue techniques and general loathsome conservatism in politics. It seems almost always unerringly based on the worst, most backward side of Christianity, an insidious supporter of whatever is retrograde in contemporary thought; and therefore denies the very essence of Jesus himself. Nor do I think any better of this same trait in the Islamic religion. Once, however, brave men and women broke out of the straitjacket of their traditions with energy and strength of conviction to a new emotional enlightenment and I regard those heroes as the overmen of the past whose shoulders we of the future must stand upon. We must share with them an aspiration, a determination to escape mere science, mere reason, convention, established belief and religion, into the one thing that excuses an escape from such powerful social gods, the founding of a more humane society. Our universal greed, our search for more money, for more personal wealth and possessions, now rules the planet and threatens its destruction. We are deaf to the need of sanity and self-control, we are subject to media manipulation and cultural hegemony. The biological or evolutionary mechanism that enabled an earlier enlightenment was not something that was needed once, merely to meet the chance of an earlier society, when religious belief was the conforming matrix for many things beside religion. It is needed always, and in our own age more than ever. Or is it possible that we have now grown too clever to change, too selfish and too multiple, too dominated by our egos, too self-tyrannized, too pledged to our own convenience, too tired, too indifferent to others, too frightened.
10/24/11 - Back on 9/2/11, I unshelfed my copy of the Holy Qur'an to compare the Muslim view of the dhabib (near slaying of Abraham's son) with that presented in the Torah. The Qur'an is approximately 120,000 words long, about the same length of the four Christian Gospels together. Each time I have attempted to read it in translation it seems less narrative than the Hebrew Bible and even more obscure and repetitive, more contradictory. Faced with an apparent inconsistency or a statement that appears to run against science or scholarship, the devout Muslim may seek further interpretation, textual reconciliation, or total abrogation through other sources but those other sources are currently denied to me as a non-Arabic speaker. Like Christian fundamentalists, ultimately the Qur'an reader has only two choices, either he or she has faith that the words are divine and acknowledges that it is the reader who has yet to understand, or he or she ceases to be a Muslim. This bare and inescapable certainty in the Word of God lies at the heart of Islam and at the core of many misunderstandings between Muslims and non-Muslims. This "divide" coincides generally between the rich world and the poor. Western democracy, political freedom, transparency and the secular state appear to lead to worldly societies with high levels of personal consumption. In the Muslim view, however, the West pays the price for these advances in the form of several negative intangibles: declining 'family values', increasing rates of divorce and births out of wedlock, drug and alcohol abuse, drunk driving, high crime statistics and loss of community. Oddly enough these are the very defects that the Christian right-wing perennially promises to repair, and values that are very much alive and well in most Islamic countries.
In the alternate Muslim version of some of the familiar Bible stories, Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise by Allah for yielding to the temptation of Shaytan, disobeying God and eating of the forbidden fruit. They then fall down to earth a long way apart, finding each other again on the bare rocky plain of Arafat, a few miles from the site of the future city of Mecca. After one hundred years of remedial toil for his sin, Adam is granted forgiveness by Allah, and builds a House of Rest, which is the Ka'bah in Mecca, a location that is directly under Big's throne in the celestial firmament. From there Adam ad Eve's progeny populate the earth. Later the Flood washes the House of Rest away, but, the foundations of the structure are subsequently uncovered by Abraham, an immigrant from Chaldees on the banks of the Euphrates. Abraham rebuilds the structure which, subject to some damage and renovation over the millennia, is essentially the Ka'bah of today. Abraham, after the construction had been completed, undertakes the first pilgrimage to the Ka'bah as the precursor to the present-day haj. The haj in final form, as prescribed by Mohammed, enacts in advance the Day of Judgment, which Muslims believe will take place on the same plain of Arafat where Adam and Eve met at the beginning of the world. This belief seeks to tie the origins of the sin of the world to the cleansing 'pre-death' experience of the haj, in a way that is similar to the Christian ritual celebrating Christ's atonement, through his death, of Adam's original sin.
To be somewhat redundant, the Qur'an indicates that Adam has truly regretted his sin, is forgiven by Big, and becomes His Vice-Regent on earth. Man's original sin has already been expunged and no equivalent of the Christian Redeemer is necessary. Man is assured of happiness in this life and paradise in the next if he follows the path presented in the Qur'an. Jesus appears in the Qur'an as the Messenger Isa whose mission is to restate and enlarge upon previous revelations, and to prepare the world for the final word yet to come. The story of the virgin birth is repeated, but Mary has no Joseph, giving birth on her own under a palm tree, while in the care of angels. Mary is then accused of being unchaste, but the baby speaks from the cradle, exonerating her and announcing his divine message. Jesus is given special powers with which to convince the population of the truth of his teaching. He cures leprosy, he makes birds out of clay and breathes life into them. Jesus is not crucified, rather Judas Iscariot is transformed to look like Jesus and dies in his place, and Jesus is later taken up into heaven. The Christian Trinity is specifically denied and Jesus addresses Christians from the Qur'an, asking them to stop associating him with the One God. The theme of Big being above having a son, is returned to frequently throughout the text.
As to the details of Muhammed's life he seems to have been very different from the Hebrew-warrior prophets in that he never initiated hostilities or led his people in the name of God to live in an ethically cleansed land. He was a conciliator and law-giver, establishing unprecedented unity between tribes who had been mortal enemies. Muhammad sought a peaceful solution wherever possible and displayed almost faultless magnanimity in victory. He was persecuted himself and on a number of occasions only narrowly escaped assassination. Many of his contemporary followers were tortured and murdered for their beliefs. Even for those who avoid the extremes of devotion to Muhammad's person, a central mystery remains as a man he was illiterate, certainly until close to the end of his life, yet over a period of twenty-three years he accumulated a work of profound religious significance, in an Arabic of transcendental beauty, unmatched before or since. The mysteries of "Who wrote Shakespeare?" and 'How did those four boys from Liverpool write such excellent songs' pale in significance.
10/25/11 - Today I will summon Samuel Langhorne Clemens to rhetorically come to the aid of my wife who is suffering from a plague of fruit flies:
10/29/11 - Just one week ago I thought that I had scored some sort of breakthrough in understanding when I deduced that the Age of Enlightenment had not come equally to all humankind. Today I have had my confidence reduced by discovering that something like 7 billion of us must supplement our Enlightenment degree with post-graduate work in modernism and an Advanced Placement course in postmodernism. I never could exactly figure out where enlightenment petered out and modernism began but it seems to have happened somewhere near the end of the nineteenth century with the decline in the sense of what philosophers call "Ontological Continuity"; that is a stable mental state derived from a sense of continuity in regard to the events in one's life. Modern thought gave up the stubborn old belief that 'things' could be seen 'steadily and whole' from some privileged viewpoint at a particular moment. At the same time the belief in objectivity crumbled so that phenomenology and solipsism began to take over not only philosophy, but literature, politics, psychology, and finally physics. Self analysis now only produces the sensation of consciousness and sets an axe to the roots of formal logic leaving it impossible to know even the simplest things that the nineteenth century took for granted. When ontological continuity toppled, it initiated an avalanche sweeping away statistics, multiple perspective, subjectivity, and self-reference. Severally that led to the non logical, nonobjective, and essentially causeless mental universe that we (with the exception of few historians) enjoy so much today. My suggested content for a Making of a Modernist (Shattering Illusion) course is designed to complete the preparation of our age of enlightenment parents for voting for Franklin D. Roosevelt as they come of voting age.
11/3/11 - Graduates of the Making of a Modernist course may wish to continue their preparation for voting in the twenty-first century elections by taking a Making of a Postmodernist (Beyond Illusion) course designed to resolve the five related Ideas of Modernism developed in the first quarter of the twentieth century. With this information, graduates will be able to vote reasonably for candidates supporting stem cell research, climate change, and humane approaches to population control as our planet approaches a population of 7 billion.