Monday, August 31, 2009

Raspberries: Needs No Punchline

Levi Johnston, Joe the Plumber, and Roland Burris walk into a bar...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

WWWtW-Watch #23: Catholic Charities?


The Legion of the Damned over at What's Wrong With the World is predictably having a field day with the death of liberal Catholic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. One of the W4 minions (I think they call him "Frankie") felt it necessary to give additional exposure to a hatchet job by a self-righteous outfit which cynically calls itself Human Life International. As the piece in question amounts to a verbal desecration of Sen. Kennedy's corpse, I will not reiterate Frankie's incredibly poor taste by providing a link to it. As it the purpose of my WWWtW-Watch feature to expose these soi disant "Christians" for the loveless crypto-fascists that they truly are, however, I will provide this link to the relevant comments section. Hold your nose and check it out.


Reflections: I, Me, Mine

Ownership is a contingent, illusory thing. Some of the stuff you "own" will outlast you; you will outlast some of the stuff you own. At any time, circumstance, the law, or a person stronger or more powerful than you can take from you that which you own. In the end, we all inevitably learn that death owns our temporal self, and that God owns the part that doesn't die. So what do you "own?" You perhaps own the anxiety that is generated by your fear of losing that over which your control is so very tenuous.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Readings: Black Swan Rising

Last night, for the first time in a long time, I took from the shelf The Gary Snyder Reader. In a prose piece about a trip to Australia, Snyder relates the following anecdote, spoken by one of his traveling companions, John Stokes, during a discussion of the disappearance of a baby from a public campground which had been big news the year before:

Stokes then reports what [poet] Robert Bly said at a talk in Adelaide. Bly was commenting on the thirteen young women who all mysteriously disappeared from a picnic at Hanging Rock in the 1890s. No one found out what happened to any of them. Bly says, “You want to know what happened to the girls at Hanging Rock? Because you Australians won’t give the aborigines their land back, your women are going to disappear. What happens then? They turn into black swans and the black swans turn into B52s. How do I know? Because that’s what happened in America.” Very useful commentary, Mr. Bly.

Indeed. I can make use of that by relating it to this quote from G.K. Chesterton’s novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, which I am also currently reading:

Like any man, [Syme] was coward enough to fear great force; but he was not quite coward enough to admire it.

Neither, one suspects, was Crazy Horse. Pray for Virginia Dare.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Reflections: Same Old-Same Old

Those among us who believe that “9/11 Changed Everything!” tend to be equally divided between the Weenies and the Pussies. All members of each of these clans belong to the tribe, Moloch-Worshipping Golems.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reflections: Conservatives Take Note

Cognitive dissonance American style: We model ourselves on the Roman Empire, the very totalitarian monstrosity that butchered our Savior.

R.I.P. - Sen. Edward M. Kennedy


It occurs to me, now that he's gone, that Teddy Kennedy may well be the Last Great Man. Certainly nobody from my generation can even pretend to have accomplished so much for so many by hard work, political know-how, human caring and other-directedness, as Ted Kennedy has accomplished with his huge volume of important legislation. We are now being led that much more exclusively by hyper-partisan, self-serving, intellectual and moral midgets.

So Caroline is the last (wo)man standing. My advice to her: Get thee to a nunnery.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

Quote du Jour: Pride, by Any Other Name

The strange mistake was that of a man not yet aware that pride has no intrinsic substance, being no more than the name given to the soul devouring itself. When that loathsome perversion of love has borne its fruit, it has another, more meaningful and weightier name. We call it hatred.
XXXX~ Georges Bernanos, The Impostor

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Riffs: Music You Maybe Missed

Where’s the great new music coming from? Maybe it’s coming out of left-field. Maybe it’s coming from the past...

If you’re like me…God help you! (rimshot) That said, if you’re like me, you like to find your own new music. When you discover some new-to-you group or artist that really does it for you, completely on your own, you tend to value that find more highly than something that has been suggested to you by somebody else. Be that as it may, I haven’t posted anything about music in a very long time. So, to put an end to my record-smashing streak of non-musical posts, I thought that what I would do is briefly introduce a few recordings that I have discovered, by one means or another, over the years and have greatly appreciated and enjoyed. Some of what follows is music by relatively obscure artists. None of it is very new. And any of it you could easily have missed.

I will begin with a recording to which I was introduced by this really good article that appeared in The New Yorker. Read the article; you’ll dig it. It chronicles the creation of Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard, featuring the Bill Evans Trio. The album is da bomb. This recording not only sent me out buying more Bill Evans, but it sent me out investigating the whole “Cool School” of jazz, including such artists as Chet Baker, June Christy, Lennie Tristano, Wayne Marsh, and Lee Konitz, among many others. But Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard is a true classic and not to be missed.

My next pick is Genius + Soul = Jazz by Ray Charles. Given the fuss raised by Jamie Foxx’s cinematic portrayal, maybe this album has had a comeback of which I’m not aware. I own it only on vinyl, so I’m not sure what tracks may be on the CD version. But this mostly instrumental album also features a couple of great vocals, one of which is a killer rendition of “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town” arranged by Quincy Jones—as is “One Mint Julep” which, as I remember, came out as a single back in the early ‘60s when instrumental singles were the thing. If you are familiar with Ray Charles only as an R&B singer, you owe it yourself to check this one out.

From this point on we get a bit more esoteric. A truly classic recording that is not as well-known as it deserves to be is In the Night, by The George Shearing Quintet with vocals by Dakota Staton. Neither of these performers seems to have withstood the test of time as well as some of their contemporaries. Bill Evans is better known today than George Shearing, I’d say. Shearing may have been too popular in his heyday for his own good, posterity-wise; too successful to stay hip. Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington are well remembered; Dakota Staton not so much. This recording includes a rendition of her signature tune “The Late, Late Show”. If you can figger out why she’s slipped into obscurity, do share it with me.

A musically erudite friend introduced me to both of my final two artists. First is Vic Chesnutt. This is a guy who really bears comparison with no other artist. He is a paraplegic, having been injured in a car accident as a teenager. He was “discovered” and brought into the studio by Michael Stipe of R.E.M. Chesnutt writes and sings his totally idiosyncratic songs with a take-it-or-leave-it delivery that immediately captured my admiration. His lyrics you must experience for yourself; I can’t describe them. I could recommend any of his first several albums: Little, West of Rome, Is the Actor Happy?—but the one I’ve chosen is Drunk. If you can’t relate to the opening tune, “The Sleeping Man” you just ain’t gonna get it, ever. Have a nice life.

My final recommendation is Nightclub, by Patricia Barber. The first cut alone—her rendition of “Bye Bye Blackbird”—was worth the price of admission to me. Like Vic Chesnutt, Patricia Barber is unique. I can listen to her hour-on-end. You might compare her to Diana Krall…but, no—you can’t—uhn-uh. Get real.

And all of that said, if you haven’t yet discovered Eva Cassidy, do it on your own. Google her or something. Sheesh! Just do it.

Readings: Danger!

From The Impostor by Georges Bernanos (this book has been kicking my lame ass all over the lot. I recommend it highly to any person who wants to believe that he knows himself pretty damned well):

Just as the wretched human race pitches its pathetic tents between hills thrown up in some terrible ancient cataclysm and scratches around in the cooling outer crust of a world that still has a raging abyss at its center, so he too had found a resting place at the very center of all his inner contradictions. He was living there in solitude, cut off from civilized life, all human contact, and his own terrible past.
At such a juncture, few men escape the double snare of either an ambiguous and nostalgic tenderness for what they have renounced for a sterile hatred, which is merely another form of remorse and completes their moral and psychological breakdown. No one is deceived by their violent behavior, and everyone sees them with spittle on their lips, begging the bread they have just thrown away and eternally hunger for. The fact that in their pride they now claim to be emancipated, unique, and alone hardly matters, for in reality they have an immense need of other people. They are merely dispossessed.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Readings: Natural Tao

I have been reading the book Five lost Classics: Tao, Huang-Lao and Yin-Yang in Han China; translated, with an Introduction and Commentary, by Robin D. S. Yates. It is an interesting study based on a cache of 2000-year-old Chinese philosophical-religious writings found in 1973.

I have also, elsewhere, become involved in an argument against the Aristotelian concept of ‘Natural Law,” as imported into Christianity, primarily via Thomism. I therefore took special interest in the following passages, found on pp. 22-23 of the volume cited above:

The Dao produces law. Law is what draws the line between gain and loss, and makes clear the curved and the straight. He who grasps the Dao, therefore, produces law and does not venture to oppose it. …is able to draw himself with the line, only then may he be not confused when he sees and knows the world. [from Dao and the Law]

R.P. Peerenboom (1993) writes that this passage contradicts Joseph Needham’s (1956) assertion, now well-accepted in the West, that China produced no theory of natural law (law derived from the divine or the processes of nature) and that for the Chinese, law was always contingent upon the whims and fancies of human lawgivers, most particularly the Chinese emperors.

A bit further down the page we read that Peerenboom’s assessment of the relationship between the ruler and the Tao (or Dao) entails that “the ruler is a kind of conduit for the Dao in practice; by legislating, he accords with the natural, normative order.”

In another of the treatises dealt with in this book (Canon Law, “Assessments”) is found the following:

Tao [Dao] is the beginning of the myriad things, the standard of right and wrong. That being so, the intelligent ruler, by holding to the beginning, knows the source of everything, and, by keeping to the standard, knows the origin of good and evil. Therefore, by virtue of resting empty and reposed, he waits for the course of nature to enforce itself so that all names will be defined of themselves and all affairs will be settled of themselves. Empty, he knows the essence of fullness; reposed, he becomes the corrector of motion. Who utters a word creates himself a name; who has an affair creates himself a form. Compare forms and names and see if they are identical. Then the ruler will find nothing to worry about as everything is reduced to its reality.

This “resting empty and reposed” seems to me to be very different from the proactive pursuit of ‘natural law’ through the tireless exercise of painstaking logical discourse and calculation which characterizes the Aristotelian-Thomistic method.

But I could be wrong.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Reflections: Stereo-typing

It is difficult to become cool if you're white. It is difficult to remain cool if you're black. The fully realized Hispanic is hot, while the paradigmatic Asian transcends all caloric imagery.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Quote du Jour: One Is the Only-est Number

Keeping in mind the Simone Weil quotation in the sidebar concerning "Oneness," consider also:

Being the One constantly, it was nothing more.
So small, it could bring smallness to completion;
So large, it could bring largeness of completion.
xx~ Dao Yuan (Dao the Origin)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Quote du Jour: Too Late Smart

It flashed upon him that the massive and profound indifference of the people around him, who had been polished like pebbles on a beach by stupidity, illusions, or lies, was insurmountable.
xxx~ Georges Bernanos

Reflections: Just Whose 'Cold, dead hand?'

Is anybody else old enough to remember what happened to the Black Panthers back in the day, when they exercised their Second Amendment rights to bear arms in public places?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Reflections: Death Before Dishonor

No single-payer? Not even any half-assed "public option?"

Okay, here's the thing: even if the senate Democrats have revealed themselves to be the gaggle of sold-out deep-throating sluts that we've always secretly feared they really were; I say, even if...!

Even if--then Mr. Obama, you need to go down to defeat, not down to your knees. You need to lose--and lose big-time; lose decisivley; lose unequivocally, and with no regrets, fighting for what you claimed to believe in.

If you lose, you win. If you fold, you're toast.

Oh, and by the way... Barry! Get the fuck out of Afghanistan, before it's too late! Don't listen to the judas military officers who are thinking only of field promotions: they're liars--and always have been!
Update: It now occurs to me that I should've titled this post: PUNK'T AGAIN?

Update.1: It also occurs to me now that there's no side to defect to: THERE'S ONLY ONE SIDE! I.e., I was right in 1968, and nothing substantial has changed.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reflections: Yang's the Thang


I just spent most of the afternoon watching the final round of the PGA Championship Tournament. This is remarkable only because I don't really give a hoot about the game of golf. It's one of the few sports that I never even made an attempt to play. I basically rank it with curling and polo as a spectator sport. Yet there I sat, riveted to the action, as a South Korean golfer named Y.E. Yang stole the lead from, and subsequently defeated, the Afro-Asian-American prodigy, Tiger Woods. Yang thus became the first Asian-born golfer to win a major tournament. It was the first time in 30-something tournaments that Tiger Woods had lost a lead to lose a championship in the final round.

I am old enough to remember when golf was a lily-white sport; lily-white and country club elite. This ground-breaking victory is one more indication that the times are changing, the globe is shrinking, and certain assumptions are falling by the wayside.

The triumph of Y.E. Yang is one more victory for a thing in the goodness of which I have developed a strong belief, and for the proliferation of which I will always work, vote, and speak out: that thing is opportunity. Tiger Woods and Y.E. Yang each exemplify the great things that can come when individuals are afforded a chance to get into the game. I congratulate them both.

And to those of my countrymen who so obviously have had a flight or fight reaction to the election of our first non-Caucasian president, I say: chill out and take pride in our collective triumph over the fear which for so long held us back.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Readings: I, Mutant

This must be the explanation of why I rise most days at 4:00 a.m. and retire most nights by 9:30 or 10:00 p.m.

"Healthy, wealthy, and wise?"

Well, two outta three ain't bad...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Readings: Urbanity and Its Discontents

The following excerpt is from the novel The Impostor by French writer, Georges Bernanos, translated into English by J.C. Whitehouse:

Through the darkness, gasping and groaning in their pleasure, cities call to us profoundly. The noise and glare of every street we cross follows us into the darkness, frightful, plaintive, becoming gradually more and more muted until we reach the edge of a new tumult which adds it own heartrending voice. Yet "voice" is not the right word, for only forests, hills, fire, and water have voices and speak their own language. We no longer really understand it, though even the coarsest of us cannot quite forget an old and hallowed harmony, a strange and wonderful affinity between things and our minds. The voice we no longer understand is still that of a tranquil friend or brother, bringing peace. The lowest of men, those devoted to carnal hedonism and the cult of the self whom our modern world has honored as gods, have foolishly believed that they have recreated that voice when all they have done is strip nature of the antiquated forest gods, dryads, and nymphs and replace them with their own barnyard sensuality.

Bernanos is describing Paris, but it might as well be Detroit. What more can I say?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Reflections: The Way of the World

It is quite often the case that people try to love the person that they need you to be. The person that you actually are is left isolated and alone, before, during, and after such people fail to find their desired love object in you.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Reflections: I Got a Million of 'Em!

In the post, Apostolic activity comes out of an abundance of contemplation (8/7/09) at Disputations, Tom explores the crucial role played by contemplation in the apostolic life of a good Dominican.

In the comment section, Disputations regular, Brandon, shares the following:

As one who is attempting to determine (discern) what role the apostolic pillar should play in my life, let me just say that I feel very much like the guy in the balloon stuck in the tree from reading this post. I suppose that makes you a good Dominican.

Tom follows with a comment that reveals to the uninitiated the punch line of the joke to which Brandon has alluded:

For those wondering, the guy in the balloon stuck in the tree asks a passerby where he is, the passerby says, "You're in a tree," and the guy says, "What you've said is true, and of no use to me at all. You must be a Dominican."

That’s funny, I thought…I’ve heard that joke before. Maybe it was told around a campfire at Camp Michi-Lu-Ca, deep in the nighttime forest of darkest Michigan back in the day?

But in the version I remember, it goes something like this:

There’s this guy dangling up in a tree. The guy’s been carried up into the clouds by this bag of hot air, see? But finally the fuel’s all gone, and the fire goes out, and the guy’s bag just collapses. Down he comes. Now he’s snagged up in this tree. Can’t go back up. Doesn’t know how to get down. But, actually, he don’t know where the hell he is, get it?
Now along comes this guy’s got both feet on the ground. So, the guy in the tree goes, “Yo, buddy! Can you tell me where I’m at?” The guy on the ground sizes up the situation for a minute. Then he says, “If you have to ask, you probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” But the dude dangling from the collapsed balloon goes, “C’mon, pal. Be a guy!” So the pedestrian fellow says, “Okay, then—you’re up a tree.”

Now the fallen aerialist looks around and he goes, “Hmm. It would seem that what you say is true, but I can’t use it. It sounds kinda protestanty to me!”

The man on the ground smiles up at the treed balloonist. “Well, then, enjoy the view,” he says. And he goes on his way.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Rants: A Redneck Renaissance?

The surprising strength of the "Birthers" movement is the most frightening manifestation of the rising fascism in this country that we've seen thus far. Despite the irrefutable evidence that Barack Obama was, indeed, born in Hawaii, rabble-rousing sheepherders like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh continue to stir their listening mobs of credulous rubes into a snowy froth over this blatant fabrication, and--most disturbingly--GOP pols continue not to speak out to squelch it.
The Birthers are not only nativist (in a land of immigrants), but given the fact that one can't plausibly actually believe Obama to be an illegal alien, the inescapable conclusion is that the actual motivation of the Birther movement is racist at its core.
In response to the dwindling caucasian majority and concomitantly weaker hold on political and economic power, the GOP is becoming a southern, racist political party--as regional as the fiction of Eudora Welty. The Birthers and their ilk will readily trade their freedoms for the promised security of maintaining the White Power tradition, when it comes to that. They are seriously freaked out by the advent of a Black POTUS who nominates wise Latinas for the SCOTUS and promotes programs which, if successful, would finally level the playing field and make this truly a land of equal opportunity for all.
The South shall rise again, folks, and again be wrapped in the Stars of Bars and all that it symbolizes for the pickup-with-gun-rack contingent. The racist liars will continue to use the conservative media outlets to infest the national consciousness with the charge that liberalism and progressive politics is about equality of outcome, rather than equality of opportunity, and the bleating merinos and pinheaded goobers in their growing numbers will continue to suck up the Kool-Aid.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Readings: A Worthy Pilgrim

I am currently reading The Canterbury Tales in Nevill Coghill’s modern English translation. I struggled through Chaucer in the original Middle English in my student days, but want to read it now for pleasure and sense, rather than for language study.

That said, while reading the famous Prologue, I was struck by how Chaucer’s characterization of The Parson, “a holy-minded man of good renown,” seemed to serve as a commentary on the Buddhist poem by “Pickup” that was the centerpiece of my previous post. I first considered presenting the excerpt below in the modern English translation. But I decided that since it’s quite short, I’d let the greater wallop of the original present the message:

This noble ensample to his sheep he yaf,
That first he wroughte, and afterward he taughte;
Out of the Gospel he tho wordes caughte;
And this figure he hadded eek therto,
That if gold ruste, what shal iren do?
For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;
And shame it is, if a preest take keep,
A shiten shepherde and a clene sheep.
Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yive,
By his clennesse, how that his sheep sholde live.

I think that even you non-English majors can get the gist of "shiten?"


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Reflections: Pickup or Shut Up

By enjoying a few most every day, I finally finished reading, several days ago, The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, translated by Red Pine. In his Translator’s Preface, Red Pine provides us with some background information on the life of this semi-hermit poet, Han Shan (Cold Mountain), and his two intermittent companions, Big Stick (Feng-kan) and Pickup (Shih-te).

Feng-kan comes first. As Red Pine informs us,

Big Stick suddenly appeared one day riding through the [Kuoching] temple’s front front gate on the back of a tiger.

An auspicious entrance, without a doubt.

The Kuoching temple was a place that Han Shan frequently visited:

Although Cold Mountain’s name was linked with [a] remote and rocky place, he often availed himself of the hospitality of Kuoching Temple at the foot of Mount Tientai, a long day’s hike to the northeast.

At some point, Pickup (Shih-te) entered the picture thusly:

One day Big Stick was walking along the trail that led between Kuoching and the nearby county seat of Tientai. Upon reaching the cinnabar-colored outcrop of rock known as Redwall, he heard someone crying. Searching in the bushes, he found a ten-year-old boy. The boy said he had been left there by his parents, but no one came forward to claim him. So Pickup, as Big Stick called him, stayed at the temple and was placed under the care of Ling-yi, the chief custodian, who put the boy to work in the main shrine hall.

Big Stick and Pickup were each poets in his own right, and Red Pine has provided us with a selection of their poems, with his commentary on most, in sections following the songs of Cold Mountain in the text.

I shall say a few words here about the song of Pickup numbered 36. This one is translated by Red Pine without commentary, allowing for a small, still voice to encourage me to believe that he has done so in order to allow me to try my own hand at it. First the poem:

Those who leave home to be free
and pity the suffering masses
they proselytize for the Buddha
telling others to choose a path
but who can they possibly save
doing whatever they please
descending with everyone else
into the same abyss

I suggest that this song can be translated from a Chinese Buddhist perspective, predating our own world by 1200 years, to deliver a comment on our contemporary Christian circumstances. It seems to me that what Pickup is criticizing here is analogous to what has been characterized as “Cheap Grace” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

In the poem’s first line the phrase “those who leave home” refers to individuals who become monks, ostensibly to “free” themselves from a life of Delusion within the “Three Worlds,” i.e., Desire, Form, and Formlessness. But Pickup sees such persons taking on a condescending attitude toward the “suffering masses,” who presumably continue to follow their delusions in the direction of spiritual disaster. These monks piously admonish the deluded masses, having donned an air of spiritual superiority, along with the saffron robe.

Where the poem says “leave home to be free” we can substitute “claim discipleship.” In place of “Buddha” we can understand “Jesus.”

And we see these types in the Gospels; they have given us the adjective “pharisaic.” We have seen them, too, on (for instance) the Fox News Channel. But, Pickup implies, by their fruits we shall know them. As for those with whom we walk today; do they tithe, and work the bake sales, and put in their shifts at the soup kitchen, feeling very good about themselves? And do they receive Holy Communion dozens of times every month, each one convinced that he therefore has the Living God in his pocket?

As we drive through our neighborhoods on our way to work do we compare our rides to our neighbors’ cars, feeling either smug, or envious? Is our workplace an arena in which we daily struggle to gain status and power, in competition and conflict, rather than in a spirit of cooperation and collegiality? Do we masturbate in the shower, fantasizing about running our soapy hands over the forbidden bodies of our neighbor’s wives, or daughters? Are our hearts’ interiors furnished with the artifacts of greed, acquisitiveness, lust , gluttony, pride, and anger? Do we hate those we see as standing in the way of our obtaining all the riches that our hearts desire? And do we rationalize this cupidity as “responsibility?” Do we therefore hate the cross of Christ—or drive it from our conscious minds altogether, in order to avoid acknowledging that hate?

Is our discipleship no more essential to our actual selves than the fashionable jacket we slip into and proudly wear to church? Does Pickup’s poem have us pinned and dried and on display?