Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Observation

Looking back over the past eleven years and the events that have comprised the news during that time, I have come to the following conclusion:

The cream doesn't rise to the top anymore.
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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Vachel Lindsay and Johnny Appleseed

For me, Thanksgiving has become a day to give thanks for what we used to have.

The Apple-Barrel of Johnny Appleseed
   by Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)

On the mountain peak, called 'Going-To-The-Sun,'
I saw gray Johnny Appleseed at prayer
Just as the sunset made the old earth fair,
Then darkness came;  in an instant, like great smoke,
The sun fell down as though its great hoops broke
And dark rich apples, poured from the dim flame
Where the sun set, came rolling toward the peak,
A storm of fruit, a mighty cider-reek,
The perfume of the orchards of the world,
From apple-shadows:  red and russet domes
That turned to clouds of glory and strange homes
Above the mountain tops for cloud-born souls: --
Reproofs for men who build the world like moles,
Models for men, if they would build the world
As Johnny Appleseed would have it done -
Praying, and reading the books of Swedenborg
On the mountain top called 'Going-To-The-Sun.'
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Hungry Years

I began my adult working life as a construction laborer.   Over a span of several years I did many different tasks, some challenging, some not so.   Whenever my work ethic got me promoted to foreman, I still worked, instead of standing around looking boss-like.
 I enjoyed being outdoors.  I enjoyed using my muscles, my body.  I loved acquiring new skills, such as dynamiting rock ledges, rock drilling, welding, operating machinery, etc.
 In the summer of 1964, I supervised the installation of a chair lift at a local ski area.  I borrowed a transit from an engineer I knew.  From a friend  I borrowed a book  on navigation by Bowditch and, using the trig tables in that book, I set the towers in a perfect true line and at the right elevation.
Somewhere in there I got married and a son was born.  There wasn't lots of money.  We had a six year old Ford Fairlane.  We rented for a time, then purchased a small  house using two mortgages.  The furnace was the old style gravity air unit with a large grille in the living room floor as the only source of heat.
There are more tales to tell, but  I am trying to say that, like most people, I left work I loved in order  to "do better."   Taking office work in the field of construction, I wore a suit and tie.  Again I did well, and, in time, was offered the vice-presidency.  I took it.  Big mistake.  Life was never the same.  Having  made a committment, I  gave the job my best.  But I became sealed off forever from turning back, even in my imagination.
I regret it still, and  I miss the hungry years:


video


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Thursday, November 10, 2011

About Penn State

Some thoughts about the scandal at Penn State:

A man rapes a ten year old boy in a shower room.  Another man observes but walks away.
Both men had choices.  The choices they made were evil.  The choices that each man made did not concern the boy.  The rapist satisfied his need.  The coward was torn about his duty as a member of an organization that included the rapist.
One wonders: if the rapist had been a stranger, someone not associated with the university, would the observer have walked away?  We'll never know.
The most important thing to remember here is the Child.   Children have no power.  Their worth is minimal in situations like this.   I have posted about abuse of children before, here and here  That kind of crime is as old as the human race and will be with us forever or until we stupidly agree to be genetically and eugenically modified for 'the greater good.'
Homo homini lupus est, said a Roman, millenia ago.  "Man is a wolf to man."  Power is the source, and the motive.
One wonders, too, how these men, the coach, the assistant coaches, the university administration,  went about their daily business knowing what they knew.  What did they say to each other?  What feelings did they suppress?  What face, what mask did they wear?
People wonder about the institutional and personal failure to react as required by what we define as normal human behavior as well as the requirements of our laws.  How did this happen?  Why didn't the hammer of justice come down hard at the discovery of the first instance of abuse?
This is the way of the world.  Institutions protect their own.   It is the way of the world.
Now there will be lectures on the need to have or improve ethics training.  Such talk is busy work for frightened minds.  Most people know the difference between right and wrong. 

It might be more useful to consider this:
The last 60 years have seen  steroidal growth, an over-development of all institutions that are supposed to enrich, regulate and direct this society toward high aims and useful outcomes.  The field of athletics, of sports, of games, of adult play has grown into a multi-million dollar industry and  into a monstrous domain of money, zealous adulation, mis-placed power, and corruption of the soul.
Restore football to its original purpose as a college sport.  Restore the coach to his original position of teacher of rules, of training, of goals, of sportsmanship.  Restore football to the game.  It is not a religion.  College football is not for making money.

Consider this from an interview with Guy Davenport:
"The high schools are evidently teaching nothing.  I was getting students who had read nothing, knew nothing, and thought the university existed for the sake of the Kentucky Wildcats.  It's shortsighted of Disney not to have built an amusement park:  College World, with fraternities, sororities, sports, endless partying, but no classes or libraries or labs.  It would not be appreciably different."
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Monday, November 7, 2011

Too big to fail, BUT NOT too big to jail

Tonight, on CBS News,  Mr. Jack Bogle, founder and CEO of the Vanguard Mutual Trust Fund (the largest mutual fund in the country) stated that "wire tapping" and "more law enforcement" were required to correct the abuses of Wall Street.  He believes there has to be "punishment" to make people change.
If someone from OWS spoke like this, blogs and pundits by the score would be ridiculing and condemning this as class warfare, socialism, crazy, and more.
I find it heartening to learn that there are major financiers who know that greed and fraud are killing the American economy.  I wish more of them would speak out or write op-ed columns.
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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Filibuster or cowardice?

When a vote in the Senate of the United States is 51 to 49, the side with 51 votes wins and the bill is passed.
No, I'm told, that is the way it used to be.  Now the opposition uses the threat of a filibuster and the victory disappears.
This is an expression of intellectual dishonesty and abdication of duty. 
I believe that the Senate should force the opposition to filibuster rather than cave in and accept it as a foregone conclusion.  Make the opposition talk and talk and talk until the nation has had enough of it and  sees who needs to be replaced or forces the opposition to give up and accept the will of the majority who voted for the bill.
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On Reading Wallace Stevens

    Sometimes I find poetry by Wallace Stevens very challenging.  To understand his work, I write it out in prose.  This provides a perspective to understand his intention.
Recently I wrote out in prose the Stevens poem titled "The Men That Are  Falling."  When done, I was struck by how effective the writing seemed.   My understanding of the poem in this form  surpassed any pleasure I had found in its original structure.  I was reminded of the stories of Joseph Conrad.  The words seemed to have more heat.

Then I got the idea of posting the prose form to see if anyone could mis-identify the original writer.  Of course, it got ID'd rather quickly by Frank Wilson of Books, Inq.  (See comments below.)

Here is the poem in prose, followed by the poem in its original poetic form.  Please read both and see what you think.

"Gods and all  angels sing the world to sleep, now that the moon is rising in the heat and crickets are loud again in the grass.  The moon burns in the mind on last remembrances.
     He lies down and the night wind blows upon him here.  The bells grow longer.  This is not sleep.  This is desire.  Ah!  Yes, desire...this leaning on his bed, this leaning on his elbows on his bed, staring, at midnight, at the pillow that is black in the catastrophic room...beyond despair, life an intenser instinct.  What is it he desires?  But this he cannot know, the man that thinks, yet life itself, the fulfillment of desire to the grinding ric-rac, staring steadily at a head upon the pillow in the dark, more than sudarium, speaking the speech of desolates, bodiless, a head thick-lipped from riot and rebellious cries, the head of one of the men that are falling, placed upon the pillow to repose and speak, speak and say the immaculate syllables that he spoke only by doing what he did.
     God and all angels, this was his desire, whose head lies blurring here, for this he died.  Taste of the blood upon his martyred lips, O pensioners, O demagogues and pay-men!  This death was his belief though death is a stone.  This man loved earth, not heaven, enough to die.  The night wind blows upon the dreamer, bent over words that are life's voluble utterance."


The Men that Are Falling

Gods and all angels sing the world to sleep,
Now that the moon is rising in the heat

And crickets are loud again in the grass.  The moon
Burns in the mind on lost remembrances.

He lies down and the night wind blows upon him here,
The bells grow longer.  This is not sleep.  This is desire.

Ah!  Yes, desire...this leaning on his bed,
This leaning on his elbows on his bed,

Staring, at midnight, at the pillow that is black
In the catastrophic room...beyond despair,

Like an intenser instinct.  What is it he desires?
But this he cannot know, the man that thinks,

Yet life itslf,  the fulfillment of desire
In the grinding ric-rac, staring steadily

At a head upon the pillow in the dark,
More than sudarium, speaking the speech

Of absolutes,  bodiless, a head
Thick-lipped from riot and rebellious cries,

The head of one of the men that are falling,  placed
Upon the pillow to repose and speak,

Speak and say the immaculate syllables
That he spoke only by doing what he did.

God and all angels, this was his desire,
Whose head lies blurring here, for this he died.

Taste of the blood upon his martyred lips,
O pensioners, O demagogues and pay-men!

This death was his belief though death is a stone.
This man loved earth, no heaven, enough to die.

The night wind blows upon the dreamer, bent
Over words that are life's valuable utterance.


(Which form is more effective for you?)
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A Reckoning

The hated are dead.
The field is clear.
Yet pain lives on,
No answer here.
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