Sunday, April 11, 2010

Reality is the Beginning, Not the End

"Professor Eucalyptus said, "The search
for reality is as momentous as
The search for god." It is the philosopher's search

For an interior made exterior
And the poet's search for the same exterior made
Interior: breathless things broodingly abreath

With the inhalations of original cold
And of original earliness. Yet the sense
Of cold and earliness is a daily sense,

Not the predicate of bright origin.
Creation is not renewed by images
Of lone wanderers. To re-create, to use

The cold and earliness and bright origin
Is to search. Likewise to say of the evening star,
The most ancient light in the most ancient sky,

That it is wholly an inner light, that it shines
From the sleepy bosom of the real, re-creates,
Searches for a possible for its possibleness.

-Wallace Stevens
from "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven"

How To Live. What To Do.

Last evening the moon rose above this rock
Impure upon a world unpurged.
The man and his companion stopped
To rest before the heroic height.

Coldly the wind fell upon them
In many majesties of sound:
They that had left the flame-freaked sun
To seek a sun of fuller fire.

Instead there was this tufted rock
Massively rising high and bare
Beyond all trees, the ridges thrown
Like giant arms among the clouds.

There was neither voice nor crested image,
No chorister, nor priest. There was
Only the great height of the rock
And the two of them standing still to rest.

There was the cold wind and the sound
It made, away from the muck of the land
That they had left, heroic sound
Joyous and jubilant and sure.

-Wallace Stevens

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Too Cruel for School

Diane Ravitch has an excellent piece in today's Washington Post on school reform. She calls for an end to the pernicious impotence of No Child Left Behind. She also mercifully sheds light on the complete lack of evidence to suggest the supremacy of charter schools or school choice in better quantitative academic outcomes. A sound piece all in all.

Is Translation Possible?

Edith Grossman thinks so. The dance is a difficult one no less and must be undertaken not just with scrupulous care, but also with authorial kinship with the translated work.

Montaigne, Woolf, and the Will to Live

I was reminded while walking one week ago of two reasons why I live. One reason came to me when I was reminded of a sense I had that containing myself within myself, if possible, was among the highest joys imaginable. Negotiating myself with myself has always been a difficult proposition - and an abstract one - but I have for years now turned to Montaigne to help me on my way. Montaigne, the most honest of all men, is captured in essence by Virgina Woolf in her peerless essay on the man and the writer:

For beyond the difficulty of communicating oneself, there is the supreme difficulty of being oneself. This soul, or life within us, by no means agrees with the life outside of us. If one has the courage to ask her why she thinks, she is always saying the very opposite of what other people say.

-Montaigne, 1925

Another reason why I live is to attempt to merge an unadulterated life of both sense and mind while confronting the omnipresent sad fact of mortality. Of course I reject the antiquated idea of any such dualism of mind and body. When Oscar Wilde reminds us in The Picture of Dorian Gray that one of the great secrets of life is "to cure the soul by means of the senses, the senses by means of the soul", he is reminding us that abstract notions and sensual immediacy coexist and inform each other not as opposed halves but as a seamless whole. Again, Virginia Woolf heroically captures the essence of this in describing the Greeks:

With the sound of the sea in their ears, vines, meadows, rivulets about them, they are even more aware then we are of a ruthless fate. There is a sadness at the back of life which they do not attempt to mitigate. Entirely aware of their own standing in the shadow, and yet alive to every tremor and gleam of existence, there they endure, and it is to the Greeks that we turn when we are sick of the vagueness, of the confusion, of the Christianity and its consolations, of our own age.

-On Not Knowing Greek, 1925

The Rising Threat of Christianist Terrorism in the U.S.

The New York Times reported Friday on the growing threat of potentially violent Christianist terrorist groups within the U.S. With the recent arrest of members of the Hutaree in Michigan, tensions are admittedly high. Fortunately, from what I can tell from my reading on the topic, the Michigan militia was more laughable than capable, but heavily armed and amply deluded nonetheless:

In a federal indictment unsealed on Monday, nine members of a Christian militia group were accused of plotting an uprising against the federal government. The indictment said the group, based in Michigan, was planning to kill a local law enforcement officer and use explosive devices to attack police officers from around the country who would attend the funeral.

I have no doubt the federal and/or state governments will meet these brutal and ignorant thugs with the requisite response if it must come to that. In the meantime, we as U.S. citizens now have to put up with threats to our governors and law enforcement personnel. Undoubtedly, potentially violent Christianists have no respect for civility or the rule of law, as divine law and its tenuous legitimacy in a modern secular world seem to be their only true allegiances. Yet, the group in question in the article, the so-called Guardians of the Free Republics, curiously blends libertarian, anti-corporate proclamations with totalitarian Christianist sentiments. It's a synthesis of two vantage points I heretofore thought unbridgeable (and still do), but when one mixes resentment with divine sanction, anything can happen. What makes this group even more bizarrely curious is the fact that the "revolution" they call for will be done quietly and without visible public disturbance, and they even hint at something akin to a post-Apartheid South African-style truth and reconciliation commission. If you need further evidence of this group's unique blend of weirdness and danger, please note their opaque attempt to cast themselves in lofty terms.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lewis Carroll, the Mad Tea Party, and Language

"You should say what you mean," the March Hare went on.
"I do," Alice hastily replied; "at least - at least I mean what I say - that's the same thing, you know."
"Not the same thing a bit!" said the Hatter. "Why, you might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see!'

Gundula Janowitz, after all

Of all of the great Contessas I've heard, none can compare to the dignity and sweetness of soprano Gundula Janowitz. Here, in a fine performance from 1980 at the lush and gorgeous Opera Garnier in Paris, is her "Porgi Amor," from the Marriage of Figaro. Sadly, her even more spectacular "Dove Sono", from the same performance, lacks an embed for posting. It is worth viewing as well.

Clinton and East Jerusalem

Jeffrey Goldberg has an apt post about Hillary Clinton's scolding of Netanyahu over East Jerusalem settlement building:

So Hillary has picked the right fight, and the Obama Administration has picked the right person to pick the fight: A former senator from New York who is married to one of Israel's favorite ex-presidents. I might be over-optimistic here, but maybe this scolding will help Bibi focus on what's important: Keeping Israel in America's good graces so that the two countries can together figure out a way to neutralize the Iranian threat.

She is right to use her husband's popularity in Israel as leverage in the wake of the needless, belligerent act on Israel's part. I am nearly always a supporter of Israel, as it is the only legitimate democratic and open society in the Middle and Near East - with the exception of another steadfast ally, Turkey. That is not to say that Israel has any right to occupy the West Bank for any other reason than for security purposes. Yet, as is widely known, the occupation seems to be as much about illegal expansion of territory as it is about security. But the Palestinian leadership in under Abu Mazen has shown signs recently of opening to direct peace talks with Tel Aviv. Hopefully, this is more than an admonishment of Israeli hubris. Maybe peace talks can happen because of this assertion of will by the Clinton. Netanyahu has spoken before about his dialogues with President Obama and the personal comity they engendered between the two men. Let's hope the construction in East Jerusalem is a test of American fortitude and not Netanyahu's caving to the Israeli version of our Christianist right.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


D.H. Lawrence's War

Rereading D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love, I am struck by how forcefully anti-philosophical it is. I find this refreshing of course, since too much philosophy can make the mind go limp by abstracting itself and its surroundings too much. Lawrence is a creature of exquisite and daring passion, and his critique of modern British society as largely artificial and spiritually bereft may very well have been accurate. His solution is not just a frontal assault on industrialism and over-refinement; it is a war on bourgeois culture itself. Lawrence, through the character of Rupert Birkin, makes the case for a sensualism that defies what many would likely deem to be decadent. What makes Lawrence so radical, in part, is his exaltation of sensualism as a response to the decadence of self-satisfied, impotent intellectualism, as well as bourgeois, Romantic naivete. What makes Lawrence's work profoundly anti-philosophical is its assault on such concepts as "knowledge" and the "self." Rather than wading into the murky waters of definition of these abstractions, he dismisses them in favor of self-abandonment. Through this, he casts knowledge and the self in vital rather than abstract terms by allowing their ebb and flow without detaining them for interrogation.

A Sober Point on Iraq

Real Clear Politics picks up a sober and acute response to Jonah Goldberg's ex post facto defense of the Iraq war. Of course any reasonable comment on the Iraq invasion must consider the seeming inevitability of Iraq coming undone with or without American military action. Saddam Hussein held that artificial - see British colonialism - country together by force, and I see no reason to believe either one of his sons would have been chillingly competent enough to hold the respective ethnic regions together once he inevitably passed. In all likelihood, Iran would have exerted its presence in the Shia south of the country and the Kurds would have continued their campaign for an independent Kurdistan in the north of the country, with conflict over oil-rich Kirkuk ongoing with the Sunni heartland. The point is well taken though: if the United States is going to claim credit for a nascent democracy in Iraq, it must take responsibility for the tens of thousands who have lost their lives because of the decision to invade. We really cannot have one without the other. The moral ambiguity is crushing.

Hillbilly Storm

A curious take on the grotesque carnival of Sarah Palin. Has she officially stopped differentiating between being a celebrity and being a politician? Is she crafting a new kind of hybrid form of public official as yet unknown? Or is she plainly an incurious degenerate looking to line her pockets with fistfuls of mammon her phony religion likely embraces? If you chose all of the above, good on you. Wasilla always sounded more like a skin disease than a place to be from, and I am itching incessantly just thinking about it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

There's Still Public Support for Health Care Reform

Gallup indicates the American public still trusts the Obama administration to do the right thing on health care reform. I think the Congress does need to get this done so the numbers do not erode further from where they were last summer.

Trial Run

David Frum rightly claims the use of military tribunals to try terrorist suspects is not a perfect idea, but there is not a feasibly better one. I disagree in part. Framing the question is central here: giving high-level terrorist suspects trials in civilian courts casts them as domestic criminals rather than enemy combatants guilty of the murder of thousands. This gives the paranoid right wing fringe ammunition to cast anyone who believes in showcasing the superiority of impartial American justice in the face of religious, fanatical hate as an obvious Stalinist madman bent on the liquidation of American "values" - I wish this were hyperbole.

The civilian trial would have made sense as another step in the reinstatement of the rule of law. The gesture would have been largely symbolic, but a noble gesture all the same. The problem, I figure, with this scenario is that most of the suspects up for trial have been tortured - as was policy - and, therefore, most of the evidence gathered to be used against them - i.e. coerced evidence - is tainted and cannot be used.

The favorable aspect of a trial by military tribunal is that it denies terrorist suspects a public forum to make martyrs of themselves and fulminate against their rhetorical bogeymen. Trying and executing top suspects by military tribunal is not appetizing, but it may keep them away from the publicity they so crave and is so key to their propagandizing. Either way, a trial would be practically meaningless beyond symbolism: no one believes the U.S. might have the wrong players behind 9/11. Whatever happens to the them in the long term will happen, whether it be by civilian trial or military tribunal.

Nevertheless, this is a retreat for the Obama administration. In this case, however, I acknowledge it may be an intelligent political move, since the amount of political capital required to fight this out with the right wing fringe would come at too high a cost with so much of the domestic agenda still to be legislated and implemented. Let the opposition have this one. Allow them to glory in defeating a symbolic move while health care, cap and trade, and, hopefully, a sane and not purely market-driven education reform bill make their way, with some luck, through the Congress.

Tinker Creek Redux

Having finished Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, my enthusiasm has ebbed significantly. Initially, I found the book enthralling for its simultaneous emphasis on the ecstasy and intricacy of the natural world. By capturing minute natural occurrences and massive natural upheavals, she creates a sense of the sublime by rendering the natural world as something beyond not just rational apprehension, but stable meaning all together. The boldness of this concept captured me quickly at the outset. Moreover, her idea of the reinvention of sight by undoing what we see in objects and living things and attempting to look on them in a purely dynamic, protean way was masterly developed.

Yet, with all of these ideas going for it, the book becomes tedious as it progresses. I could not help but simply wince at her labored meditations on muskrats and grasshoppers. God, who cares. When writing about the awful brilliance of the praying mantis female killing and eating the male during copulation, I was struck with awe. That was it. From there her ideas begin to become over-extended. The book should never have been more than a long essay. The latter third is so self-indulgent as to nearly ruin the preceding two thirds.

Ah well.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Against the Misappropriation of George Orwell

Yglesias has an important note on the American Right's wrong-headed adoption of Orwell for their own imperialist and theocratic purposes. Not only was Orwell a committed Socialist, he was arguably even more of an anti-Fascist and anti-Capitalist. Yes, he expressed great fears of the destructive potential of certain centralized states. Yet, mercifully, he recognized what so many in the Unites States today do not: that a centralized government acting as a vehicle of the citizenry's will is not the same as a rapacious, imperialist police state bent on total social and cultural homogeneity. Fortunately, the closest we've come to having an irrationally expansionist police state that spat on the rule of law expired in January of last year.

The Enduring Foolishness of the "Giveaway to the Health Insurance Industry" idea

Jonathan Chait rightly pounces on this silliness:

"The insurers were playing a double game -- hoping reform would die, but negotiating to limit their downside risk if it did pass. They were most friendly to reform when it looked inevitable. Now that they have a chance to kill it, they're taking their best shot. That's not something you do to legislation that's designed to give you billions in profits."

Instituting an insurance mandate is a means of spreading risk and, at least theoretically, pushing premiums down in cost by doing so. Car insurance would almost certainly be higher if insurance companies had to consider the potential risk of motorists' accidents with uninsured drivers when setting premiums. Moreover, the added bill in the House to end the anti-trust exemption for the health insurance industry I think is more devastating for them - and rightfully so - than ending their ability to discriminate against those with chronic illness or refusal to provide insurance for health - the latter, of course, being their paradoxical means to profitability.

A Modest Case for Religion

"Any religion that does not affirm that God is hidden is false."
- Pascal

A Modest Case against Religion

An Eskimo once asked a missionary priest if he would spend eternity in hell if he did not know about God or sin. "No," the priest replied, "not if you did not know." "Then why," the Eskimo asked, "did you tell me?"

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Good Teaching: Critics and Aspiring Critics

Lately I have been considering what good teaching actually entails. There is much talk among my colleagues about who is and is not a good teacher, and what strategies and inclinations he or she uses to facilitate good teaching, or how he or she fails miserably at the task. And yet, with all of this humming from the teacher commentariat, I am not convinced that teachers can adequately decide who teaches well and who does not. The students, on the other hand, seem to have the knack for judging teachers' mettle. Now, to be fair, some teachers are seen favorably by students plainly for giving very little work and grading lightly and infrequently. Those are exceptional, however. Though I do not want to overhear students' comments about fellow teachers, I usually do. The comments consistently reflect what I would naturally assume to be the style and temperament of the teacher being commented on. Students know who is a good teacher and who is not a good teacher. Why? They are the consumers after all, and consumers decide what works best for them. One hopes they will digest slowly.

Danielle de Niese - A Great Mozart Soprano

Her Susanna in Lyric Opera's Marriage of Figaro this year was superbly Mozartian: comic, lyrical, sly, humane. Her glory in the role won the day. Mozart's women, like Shakespeare's, are often strong and noble; but Susanna is the great synthesis of humor and strength: two virtues I often lack more than any others.

The Closest We May Get

"...On that cedar tree shone, however briefly, the steady, inward flames of eternity; across the mountain by the gas station raced the familiar flames of the falling sun. But on both occasions I thought, with rising exultation, this is it, this is it; praise the lord; praise the land. Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fill his cup under a waterfall."
-Annie Dillard

Saturday, February 27, 2010

An Actual Conservative

Paul Ryan (R-Wis) may be firmly ensconced in the GOP, but he must give those of us pause who clamor for health reform. This thorough critique is of the current Senate bill. It does not sway me quite away from the current proposals, but it does incline me to want a more muscular approach to pushing down premiums and making sure providers are able to provide Medicare beneficiaries service in the future.

Big Red

I may emerge, but you have seen enough to know.

Chicago Facing East

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a visionary work. That she blends such rich humility and detachment with such intensely rendered ideas of perception makes the work worth reading on its own. Yet she raises valid epistemological questions, most importantly: how do we see when we expect to see, and how do we dislocate our intended seeing? Prompted by this great book, I attempt to see the stillness in objects; the silence underscored by anarchic and destructive potential. Her casual tone is something to be commended as well, since approaching such a topic as she does without some seeming puerility would be a difficult task for anyone.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

CPAC Roundup

Rational conservative David Frum has a summary of the highs and lows of this year's GOP and Tea soul-searching and motivational speaking.

Kierkegaard, for those who dare

A penetrating essay on Kierkegaard from 1944 by W.H. Auden.

The Torture Era

James Fallows has a sober account of the Cheney torture regime and the recent report from the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility. Yglesias has a relevant reflection too.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ambient 1 - Music For Airports, fast-forwarded

Brian Eno's legendary Music for Airports condensed to six minutes.

Fear of Knowing

Michelle Malkin's HotAir picks up an old silly idea: that younger people prefer "spirituality" to "religion" because the latter consists of rules and responsibilities. That an individual would reject plainly tedious institutional regulations of any organized religion for greater introspection and exploration of what words like "self", "world", and "meaning" mean is not radically lazy. It is absolutely not easier to attempt to derive personal truth than to cowardly follow what one is told to do by an institution of dubious origin. In fact, those who claim personal truth is easier than following arbitrary rules often seem to me incapable of undertaking the very weight of what religion requires: contemplation of the most daunting questions humankind has ever faced. One does not come to know religious truths through servility. So many of these believers who criticize others for having the courage to find their own way in an inexplicably sublime and terrifying universe would be the same people who would crucify Christ again if he came back tomorrow. How can I say such a thing? Let their sanctimony point the way.

Another Unraveling in Iraq?

Tom Ricks is understandably worried over the future of Iraq after comments from a military official in the Washington Post. Meanwhile, General Odierno exposes Ahmad Chalabi as a lackey for Iran.

George Orwell contra Christianist Authortarianism

John Avlon at the Daily Beast offers an analysis of the unlikely rise of the most appallingly loathsome mountebank since Jerry Falwell. This country needs to get serious. George Orwell correctly asserts in his great essay, "Politics and the English Language", that the level of a nation's political discourse is reflected in the level and manner of the language through which it is communicated. Considering the ranting and charlatanry that pass for analysis and political commentary on our regrettable cable news outlets, we should all be greatly concerned. We may be doomed to obscurity, or, worse yet, infamy.

Orwell lists six rules for avoiding disingenuous writing and communication:

(i) Never use a metaphor or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you
can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

It's Official: Harry Reid Endorses Reconciliation for Health Care Reform

Ezra Klein gives details for the implications for the health care concession package to be pushed through the Senate. Now, finally, the Democrats will have something to run on besides the less the politically successful Recovery Act for November. The public option waits in the wings. Needlessly fetishized as it was by many progressives, I still think it deserves at least a five year trial. If it fails to effect cost and premiums in a positive way, dump it. Even with the noxious effects of vulgar cads like Glenn Beck infecting the health care debate with their ignominious disinformation and distortions, a Washington Post/ABC news poll indicates consistent public support from February through October of last year for a government run health care alternative to private insurance.

Ron Paul and the Future of Conservatism

It seems the Tea Party movement might actually be coalescing behind an ideology. Rather than being a plain corporate public relations creation, the Tea Party howled and roared for Ron Paul at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference. If Paul becomes the model for their cause, they may actually gain some legitimacy with rational conservatives and moderates. Up until recently, they seemed to be largely incoherent and raging, mostly against perceived threats against individual liberties and reckless spending: both of which were more flagrant hallmarks of the previous administration. If anything, the Obama administration has been at best tepid in its paring down of the national security state. Its health care initiative - the Baucus Bill from the Senate Finance Committee - was graded as budget neutral by the CBO, and even was projected to cut medical costs by 70 billion dollars over ten years. Yet, with all of that, the Tea Party seemed bound in its fealty to nativism and brutish authoritarian jingoism. Hopefully the enthusiastic reception of Ron Paul at CPAC will engender a strong libertarian turn for the Tea Party, if it has to be around at all. At least then there will be a legitimate political debate to be had between liberals and libertarians.

Late Beethoven

That Beethoven continued to develop as a composer after his great "heroic" middle period is one of those truly miraculous events in the history of civilization. He tends to do the impossible in these late pieces: become stricter in form while stretching its very boundaries. The most radical example of his late period - with the possible exception of the fugal finale of his Hammerklavier sonata - is his Grosse Fugue, which, especially in the first section, rattles the bars of tonality. A dissonant double fugue, the Great Fugue liberates the great visionary Beethoven in a way not even his greatly introspective and intimate late piano sonatas can. This thoroughly modern work is anguished, yes, but also triumphant over incomprehensible suffering. The late works of Beethoven are of inestimable spiritual and visionary power and - it should be noted - composed in a void of total silence.

Public Option and Republican Psychosis

The Public Option lives. Could the Senate Democrats finally have the courage to push it through with reconciliation? I think it could easily be construed as of "budgetary necessity." Oh, the good and the crazy that could result.

Talking Points Memo has the story.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Teaching as Craft or Performance?

Though I certainly see teaching in part as a craft, I am more inclined to regard it as a performative exercise. Of course one must adjust the fine points of one's instructions if he or she ever wishes to hone the small gears of the learning process for students. But the performance of the content, especially in the style of delivery and willingness to engage with students on the subject, I think is paramount. The details of planning and organization should never be eschewed in favor of overly-Romantic conceptions of teaching. Still, it seems students react to a persona more so than to a method. My thoughts on the matter are subject to continuous evolution.

Health Care Again

Yet another reason I hope the president does not falter in getting the Senate bill through the House. The working poor are the largest uninsured block and they are entitled to health care for working often more than full-time.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bombay and the War Against Jihadism

Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, sheds light on one aspect of the terror war that we in the West fail to appreciate: terrorist links to organized crime. Bombay is flooded with organized criminal activity, but the gangs are nominally split down ethnic/religious lines. The most influential Hindu-affiliated gang, Rajan Company, was formed in opposition to the most influential Muslim gang, the Dawood Company. The latter group is headed by Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian Muslim allegedly living in Pakistan, who met personally with Osama Bin Laden outside of Kabul on at least one occasion in the 90's and is seen by many to be intertwined heavily with Pakistani Intelligence Services. Moreover, the Taliban, as we are aware, are financed heavily by opium farming and smuggling and enjoy ISI protection as well. Mehta notes that the battle between Hindu and Muslim criminal gangs in Bombay is not so much about ethnic or religious differences in and of themselves. In fact, a large share of the hitmen in these outfits are mercenaries who detach their ruthless occupation from religious mores and their traditional domestic lives. Mehta insists many in the Bombay gang wars are waging a nihilistic battle against history itself. I wonder if on the most macro level that is what global Islamic terrorism sees itself as doing as well? Is it too sentimental of a claim?

Taliban #2 Captured in Pakistan

Taliban military chief, Mullah Baradar, was captued in Karachi two days ago and is said to be providing intelligence. This, after the incompetent punk Dick Cheney has the temerity to accuse Obama of not prosecuting the war on jihadism effectively or with enough conviction. Let's hope the Obama national security apparatus can nab Mullah Omar or Bin Laden himself next. If that were to happen, would the GOP be grateful to have two of the most heinously wicked thugs in recent history in custody or killed? Or would they invent a way to even downplay such a success as that?

Chicago Facing West

Health Care and Its Discontents

The Washington Post's always steady and edifying Ezra Klein gives a sound rebuttal of a couple arguments gaining steam among health care reform skeptics.

Spinoza, Freud, and God

Having recently read Spinoza's Ethics, I can safely say his concept of God is the closest I think I may ever be able to come to philosophically accepting divinity. Spinoza's God is impersonal, amoral, and devoid of any of the puerile forms of personification so common to so many God concepts. Essentially, his God merely IS, nothing more, nothing less. The idea of God as merely essence is captured perfectly in this piece from this great work:

"The light reveals both itself and the shadow."

Freud, however, maintained that the need to believe in God was the result of the human need for protection from the world and the pervasive unknown. The mistake he made was to assume that just because humans are frail creatures in need of comfort and protection does not necessarily negate the existence of divinity itself. He, like many atheists, bolsters his claims against the existence of God with the silliness and obvious petty selfishness that goes into so much conventional "religious conviction." I have great sympathy for those who criticize such vapid belief systems, but the question of divinity remains an abstract one. There it will always stay. It would be quite a prosaic issue otherwise, and so often it is.

Samuel Beckett, if only momentarily

This is Beckett's shortest dramatic work, and his most fundamentally human. Literally.

Evan Bayh Gives Me ADD

Instapundit hypes a rather silly idea from the ever unintentionally amusing Jonah Goldberg at the National Review Online. Goldberg postulates that Evan Bayh announced he will not seek reelection due to a potential desire to challenge Obama in the 2012 Democratic primary. I'm not...wait for it: Bayhing it. Couldn't help myself.

Tweet Or Not

George Packer has a good metaphor for Twitter at the end of the post. I concur.

Fly-Over State

Bookslut reviews a new book for those of us who have often rolled our eyes.

Chicago Facing South

One Hippo's Tambourine Dream - Another Idea of Animals and Imagination

Hippo’s Dream

The sun blazed over the Zambezi as the rainy season approached. Soon the river would rise to its highest levels and expand over the rims of the savannah. As the rains begin and the water levels rise, the territory of the hippos significantly expands. Many take advantage of the high water levels by seeking solitude when they can. When the river’s levels are more modest, solitude is nearly impossibly to come by. But the rains help certain hippos get away to meditate when they need to, which is often, since other hippos’ aggression often can drastically affect their well-being. Many travelers on safari who tour the Zambezi during the rainy season comment on how it resembles a lake much more than a river. Often they are taken by its placid surfaces and sense of repose. But when a hippo’s head rises up with a fixed stare as rigid as it is poised, the travelers know they must flee. Hippos have claimed many human lives on this river.

One hippo went off late one afternoon to be alone. Hip, as she was called, needed time away from the predictable chaos of others in the group. She swam for a half a mile downriver until she found a spot eight feet down. Hip, like all hippos, could stay underwater for nearly fifteen minutes at a time without coming up for air. She was feeling especially drowsy as evening approached, so she decided she would descend until she needed to come to the surface. After that, she would return to the group with the hope that none of them would be too angered by her leaving without telling anyone. As she descended she felt a spell of heavy sleep come over her. Just fifteen minutes, she thought to herself, all I need is fifteen minutes on the bottom of the river. But as she went deeper and deeper down, her sleep overwhelmed her. She began to dream.

Her dream was a normal hippo’s dream at first. She dreamed of spinning a crocodile on the tip of her nose before biting it in half. She dreamed of running down a gazelle with such efficiency that she could circle out in front of it and merely let it run into her mouth. She even dreamed of one of her favorite pastimes of all: turning over canoes with humans in them. Hip was not interested in eating the humans, however. She only loved to watch from below as their legs kicked and swayed. It gave her a strange sense of comfort that nothing else could. As Hip gazed up with glazed, weary eyes to the surface, she saw a boat propeller cut through like a comet in a transparent night sky. She thought she saw those same legs kicking and swaying above too, but she wasn’t sure. The dream deepened.

Hip suddenly dreamed of herself, yet something was different: she was no longer confined to just being a hippo. Somehow her dream enabled her to be like a human. First, she stood up on her squat hind legs. It wasn’t easy at first, but she mastered upright walking quickly by shifting all of her considerable weight from one foot to another in a kind of waddle. Next thing she knew, not only was she walking, but she had a tambourine in her hand. Little by little she began to shake it. It was a simple rhythm at first. Like all simple rhythms, though, it began to assert itself. As she continued to walk and play her tambourine, the crocodiles, swept up in the music, suddenly began to dance. All around they propped themselves up on their triangular tails and bounced to the beat of Hip’s tune. Each of their toothy mouths hung almost completely open, as if to catch the happy jingle in their jaws. The elephants also started dancing. One by one, they stepped forward and then back on their front legs. The leopards too began to dance by holding their paws up in the air and swinging their tails in a circle motion. It was a scene even the warthogs admired from afar, though they did not dance. They nodded their heads to the beat of the tambourine, however, since even they couldn’t resist. Then in a flash the river became a fire. This fire did not burn though. It warmed all the dancers with a balm of ecstasy. Fire is a natural dancer after all. As the crocodiles spun, the elephants stepped, the leopards shook, and the warthogs bobbed, Hip’s dream rollicked on.

The stars began to fall from the sky. As each star fell into the glorious flames of the river, a swirl of iridescence rose in a flourish that perfectly complemented the rhythm of Hip’s tambourine. Eventually all of the stars fell out of the sky, leaving it not black, but the deepest blue imaginable. The flames from the river reached higher to the sky and the animals ecstatically danced as if possessed. The river reached the sky. The heavens were ablaze with the triumph of Hip’s tambourine. The world was aflame with music, dancing, and joy. The heavens were the earth; the earth the heavens. Hip dreamed of the whole universe. As she looked out through outer space, she squinted to see a small dot far off in obscurity. The harder she looked, the more it came into focus. It was the planet Earth. It was a reflection in the pupil of her eye.

Back up the river the other hippos began to worry about Hip’s absence. The entire night had passed without any of them seeing or hearing from her, and worry understandably pervaded the group. The bull hippos immediately flew into a rage. They flashed their mighty tusk-like teeth and arched their necks back, as if to appeal to the open expanse above. The females swam the surface of the water. Their eyes were scanning above and beneath. The more they looked the more they sensed that looking was futile. If Hip was near, they felt, she was not to be found. Days later, at the mouth of the Zambezi, Hip’s lifeless body floated out into the Indian Ocean. She floated for a long time until land was long out of sight. Then she began to sink down into the darkness of the deep. Slowly she disappeared.

Animals and Imagination

I have long been mystified by lovers of animals. That is not to say that I don't find animals endearing and suitable temporary companions, but I never understood the intuitive bond many animal lovers claim to have with their pets. Today I visited the Lincoln Park Zoo and made a few stops to see a few of my favorite animals. The pygmy hippo and the tiger each looked a little sluggish and morose. Again, I am not sure if they were morose. Likely I impressed that upon their otherwise inscrutable animal countenances. The pygmy hippo and the tiger deeply intrigue me every time I see them, since each of them is solitary in the wild. Being solitary and having terrain to roam and claim as one's own might be affirming for an animal. But when a solitary animals are in captivity I am compelled to wonder: does their captive state bring them great distress, or does it bring them a sense of comfort? Another way to look at this question would be to imagine if a purposefully solitary person takes greater comfort fending for himself or herself in the world or being cared for in confined surroundings by another. I suppose it would vary, though I can't help but wonder if their solitary disposition trends toward a need for self-sufficiency.

Finally, I visited my favorite zoo residents: the meerkats. Meerkats are intensely loyal and familial, and have an adorable tendency to stand on their hindquarters in an alert posture. As I was the only person in the meerkat habitat today, I had a chance to really pay attention to their actions. None of them paid much attention to me as I stood there for the better part of twenty minutes; but, as I was leaving, each of them stood on their hind legs and stared fixedly at me as I walked out. I immediately conjured some idea in my own mind as to what they might have been thinking as I left. Then it occurred to me: animal lovers do just that. What creates the special bond between man and animal is not what the animal emotionally or psychologically provides. Rather, it is what the human imaginatively conjures and impresses upon the heedless animal. Now, no doubt, animals have some intuitive capacity, as they are developed, living creatures. Yet, I doubt their capacity for actual thoughts or mature feelings, as I would think most sane people would. But the bond between man and animal is not subverted by this limitation; it is validated. The bond between man and animal is an imaginative one, and that is a fundamental human need. Our only sense of freedom is imaginative, as our material circumstances bind us in every which way. And because animals are ultimately inscrutable creatures, we are left to imagine what they must really be and how they must really feel about us. It is a beautiful thing after all.

What We Can Learn from India's Lack of Fear

Since Partition, India's religious/ethnic political landscape has been one torn by clashes military, criminal, and otherwise. The threat of Pakistani terror always looms large, as was the case with the brutal attacks on the Taj hotel and other locations in Bombay over a year ago. Yet, in the face of it all, India does not, like us, wish to suspend the rule of law, wage a perpetual war for perpetual peace, or wallow in pathetic flailing over their victim status. No, instead they persevere toward their national goals of self-determination and global legitimacy. Matt Yglesias reminds me.

Balancing Politics and Policy

Jonathan Chait has an excellent post at The New Republic on the inevitable dance of winking deceit each side of the health care "debate" must maintain to come out of the "summit" in good standing. For one, Obama is in a better position to expose the GOP as willful, recalcitrant obstructionists with no values other than short term political ones. The GOP is keen to portray Obama as partisan and secretive in the drafting of healthcare legislation with his congressional cohorts. The problem with their narrative, of course, is that the Obama health care agenda has stalled due to an over-extension of bipartisan sentiment and, to a lesser extent, a progressive caucus in the House still smarting from the death of their coveted public option.