Friday, June 15, 2012


"The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable."  The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another.  In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides.  It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it:  consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.  Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way.  That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different."

"Politics and the English Language" (1945)
George Orwell

Thursday, June 14, 2012

William James was a wise man.

Once upon a time there was an America where prominent people spoke and wrote of ideas like this:

"Among us English-speaking peoples especially do the praises of poverty need once more to be boldly sung.  We have grown literally afraid to be poor.  We despise anyone who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life.  If he does not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition.  We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient idealization of poverty could have meant:  the liberation from material attachments, the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference, the paying our way by what we are or do and not by what we have, the right to fling away our life at any moment irresponsibly, - the more athletic trim, in short, the moral fighting shape.  When we of the so-called better classes are scared as men were never scared in history at material ugliness and hardship;  when we put off marriage until our house can be artistic, and quake at the thought of having a child without a bank-account and doomed to manual labor, it is time for thinking men to protest against so unmanly and irreligious a state of opinion.
It is true that so far as wealth gives time for ideal ends and exercise to ideal energies, wealth is better than poverty and ought to  be chosen.  But wealth does this in only a portion of the actual cases.  Elsewhere the desire to gain wealth and the fear to lose it are our chief breeders of cowardice and propagators of corruption.  There are thousands of conjunctures in which a wealth-bound man must be a slave, whilst a man for whom poverty has no terrors becomes a freeman.  Think of the strength which personal indifference to poverty would give us if we were devoted to unpopular causes.  We need no longer hold our tongues or fear to vote the revolutionary or reformatory ticket.   Our stocks might fall, our hopes of promotion vanish, our salaries stop, our club doors close in our faces;  yet, while we lived, we would imperturbably bear witness to the spirit, and our example would help us to set free our generation.  The cause would need its funds, but we its servants would be potent in proportion as we personally were contented with our poverty.
I recommend this matter to your serious pondering, for it is certain that the prevalent fear of poverty among the educated classes is the worst moral disease from which our civilization suffers."

From The Varieties Of Religious Experience", by the American philosopher William James.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Old Gold

I'm thankful for Whistleblowers

Unauthorized leaks from the White House have the war lovers in a tizzy. The objections to these leaks are that they 'endanger national security' and that they were made intentionally in order to make the President appear to be a tough leader defending the American people.  Heretofore this quality was something that only Republican Presidents had enjoyed, the Democrats being too soft to protect the USA from its enemies.
What were these leaks?
1.  President Obama 'personally' reviews a 'kill list' to 'authorize' drone strikes to kill citizens of another country who have been 'deemed' to be terrorists.
2.  The United States has conducted cyberwar against the nation of Iran.

 These leaks are not news to Pakistanis or Afghans.  They are the ones being killed by our drones.
These leaks are not news to the Iranians.  They know that computer viruses have affected their nuclear program and they have a pretty good idea who is responsible.
So why the big noise?  The American people don't care.  They  only get mad when  foreigners retaliate and cause destruction here, in our country.  When foreigners kill Americans here, in our country.  Very few Americans get upset over the killing that takes place in our name wherever in the world we decide to do it.
Both leaks describe unauthorized Acts of War by the United States.  And (get this) our President is supposed to be a constitutional scholar.
But I find another image even more ludicrous and sad.  I picture President Obama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, sitting in the oval office perusing a "kill list" and authorizing drone strikes against individuals deemed (without trial) to be terrorists.  That these strikes often kill innocents and children is unfortunate but won't interrupt his sit-down dinner smiling with the troops.

God bless the whistleblowers, whatever their motives.  They bring us the truth.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Lord Byron sounds contemporary

I enjoy re-reading the classics.  Lately I have been reading Keats, Wordsworth and Byron.  I found this excerpt in Lord Byron's "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers." It would be at home in almost any current literary publication.

Truth!  rouse some genuine Bard, and guide his hand
To drive this pestilence from the land.
E'en I - least thinking of a thoughtless throng,
Just skilled to know the right and choose the wrong,
Freed at that age when Reason's shield is lost,
To fight my course through Passion's countless host,
Whom every path of Pleasure's flow'ry way
Has lured in turn, and all have led astray -
E'en I must raise my voice, e'en I must feel
Such scenes, such men, destroy the public weal:
Altho' some kind, censorious friend will say
"What art thou better, meddling fool, than they?"
And every Brother Rake will smile to see
That miracle, a Moralist in me.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

June 7th

The Peace of Wild Things
   by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the daytime stars
waiting with their light.  For a time
I rest in the grave of the world, and am free.