Thursday, September 29, 2005


On Blogging

My first week and a half of blogging has been a blast. I realize my approach of writing a long-form essay each day, along with a brief globetrotting news sampling, differs from what most blogs do, but the're's got to be room for more in the blogosphere than just the lightening fast world of opinion and controversy on the issues of the day. So I will stick with my more ponderous, pondering reflections, which is what I find most satisfying anyway.

I've discovered that the links to my first set of daily essays, listed on the left, do not work, and do not have time to correct them before a weekend trip to the mountains (blogging will be light till Monday). But the list does summarize the subjects I've posted on, and the posts are available by scrolling down or by checking the September archives.


Vessel and Spirit

This article in the American Thinker, which I picked up on from Bookwormroom, details the Anglican Church's descent, alas, into anti-semitism.

Part of my cultural or even my American awakening, which I will date from 1978/9, just in time to vote for Reagan, thank goodness, included the realization that the health of Christianity is important to the safety of Jews, since we've never been safer than we are here and now, in this broadly Christian nation.

I began to see that if Christians didn't renew their faith, they'd go into default mode and become the thing humans become when they're not religious – pagan. Nazism was such a pagan anti-Christian rising in Europe that we thought was a one-off. We can now see that it was no such thing.

It never occurred to me that the problem that had earlier attacked Christianity would infest itself into (some) Christian institutions. If a number of high church Protestants were comfortably anti-semitic through the 50's and 60's and beyond, that was just the echoing of an ancient prejudice through their families, a childhood virus. It wasn't by any means their ministers who were exhorting them to it.

But now the Anglican Church, behind the fig leaf of an academic boycott, is essentially characterizing Israel as an illegitimate state. They don't say outright what should be done about this illegitimate state. That's left to the imagination.

I'm not the first to notice this slow-motion putsch that's been going on, this infiltration of the institutions that at one time presented themselves to the public as the repositories of our moral traditions. One by one they've either been hobbled or at least taken an eight-count. Academe, the Judiciary, to some extent the Catholic Church (though I foresee a great 15th round comeback following a season of spiritual upheaval and renewal), even Major League Baseball for heaven's sake (and there with no comeback in sight), and now the Anglicans.

Now does all of this give us reason to wring our hands? Not at all.

Ronald Reagan often told the extremely Jewish-sounding story of a boy whose mean father, after promising him a pony for his birthday, gives him a shoebox full of horseshit.

"Oh, great," the boy exclaims, "there must be a pony around here somewhere!"

"There must be," I will exclaim, "keepers of our moral traditions around here somewhere!"

A door closes, and a window opens, as the Yiddish proverb goes. Not only are there plenty of such moral leaders still in pulpits, quietly seething at the power grab occurring over their heads, but I sense their existence also in our companies (which are almost surrogate societies and where a lot of the true action is), and in our military, and in our better, front-line charities and NGOs, and elsewhere. There may even be a few on the net. (My own candidate for net-based moral guru is Hugh Hewitt).

If these moral leaders among men and women aren't populating the institutions they used to populate, it may be because there is now so much more scope for action in the world, indeed for moral action in the world. So we shouldn't be surprised if our moral leadership is a bit more spread out on the ground.

Let a few radicals grab the reins at this church or that college in an act of moral piracy. Nobody's going to follow them anywhere. We're not the gullible rubes we used to be. We've got each other now, and at the flick of a wrist.


Today's Globe Trot

Oh. Islamic terrorists are walking up to army regulars and surrendering in India. These are Jammu and Kashmir islamic terrorists but terrorists none the less. Well, no good news is news.

Sanyo is restructuring, shutting down factories and focussing its business. Why does a relentlessly sunny blogger list this? Because the preservation of "Zombie" companies has been Japan's biggest problem for fifteen years. Banks, to hide their bad loans, would just keep doubling down with the governmetn's tacit approval. So in nothing-is-what-it-seems Japan this is good news. Hopping on the capitalist creative destruction bandwagon.

The Polish right won big in an election that, if they had lost, would have made the news in the US, I'll wager, with the papers and news shows calling it a repudiation of Poland's stalwart support of America in Iraq. In fact this looks more like an endorsement.

Enough politics and economics. The Taiwanese wonder, um, wonderingly at the willingness of Japanese to wait in line. An example of how manners as well as peace and economic growth can spread in and between open socieities.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


The Pen Briefly Mightier

In 1975, President Ford felt he was facing a dilemma when Alexander Solzhenitsyn was booted out of Soviet Russia for writing novels exposing the horrors of the Soviet prisons, which were primarily political prisons, which he had resided in for many years. The international community meant at least a little something in those days, and moreover Scoop Jackson, a democrat cold warrior (there used to be such people – remember Kennedy?) in Congress, had been championing Solzhenitsyn. But Ford somehow felt he had to kiss up to the commies, even though Nixon had gone to China, not Russia, and so Ford declined to meet with the exiled writer.

A media brouhaha followed. The American people wanted to see this man honored. There was a great outpouring of a freedom loving people to a man who had suffered greatly in freedom's cause. But Washington couldn't even arrange to have him address a joint session of Congress. Weirdly, the democrats were championing freedom (in a way they would never again do when governing, however) and the republicans were fulfilling their stereotype of stability uber alles.

My how things have changed, and a stark reminder of how they might change back without an avid electorate holding our officeholders' feet to the fire.

In the interest of recalling what all the fuss was about, let's look at an inspiring portion of the speech that Solzhenitsyn (and do you know how long it takes me to type that name each time?) gave upon receiving his Nobel Prize. Oh, and remember when the Nobel itself was not a discredited institution, when it wasn't given out to any fraudulent scribbler who hated the same things (usually freedom, quality writing and Jews) that the Nobel committee hated? Old times!

Anyway, here's Solzhenitsyn:

"We shall be told: what can literature possibly do against the ruthless onslaught of open violence? But let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood. Between them lies the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose falsehood as his PRINCIPLE. At its birth violence acts openly and even with pride.

But no sooner does it become strong, firmly established, than it senses the rarefaction of the air around it and it cannot continue to exist without descending into a fog of lies, clothing them in sweet talk. It does not always, not necessarily, openly throttle the throat, more often it demands from its subjects only an oath of allegiance to falsehood, only complicity in falsehood.And the simple step of a simple courageous man is not to partake in falsehood, not to support false actions! Let THAT enter the world, let it even reign in the world - but not with my help.

But writers and artists can achieve more: they can CONQUER FALSEHOOD! In the struggle with falsehood art always did win and it always does win! Openly, irrefutably for everyone! Falsehood can hold out against much in this world, but not against art.And no sooner will falsehood be dispersed than the nakedness of violence will be revealed in all its ugliness - and violence, decrepit, will fall."

The above is all the more inspiring if you substitute the "blog" or "internet" for the "literature." As an aside, I actually had the opportunity to teach his Nobel Prize speech to my students during my high school teaching stint. Thought I'd share it here too.



What can the citizens of Afghanistan read in their free newspapers? They can read about how American academics are urging them to "consider the views of Al Qaida." The article goes on to list and quote a number of stalwart tenured Americans with indoor plumbing and long life spans on how the Afghans are blowing their future by opposing the terrorists who have devastated their land for over a decade.

Meanwhile in Prague an editorial explains how, even though many franchises are foreign licensed, they remain locally owned and a boon to Czech businesspeople and workers. A photo of a sassy Czech beside a McDonald's accompanies the article. There is no sign of any angry Frenchmen with tractors.

Enough politics. A play now sweeping South Korea takes one of the dwarves in Snow White, who the playwright names Bandal, or Half-Moon, as its main character. The audiences thrill to his valour and heroism:

"The youngest of the seven dwarves, Bandal, who is born mute, loves Snow White from the first time they meet. Every time Snow White fell into the evil trap, Bandal throws himself in to rescue her. And each time she kisses him lightly to thank you it makes him the happiest.

"Now no one seems to blame Kwon for the role, but she sheds tears almost everyday, whenever she becomes the dwarf on the stage, so emotionally connected with the role. 'In a sense, Bandal represents the outcasts of society,' Kwon said."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005



A family friend comes over for tea and reports on a Korean movie she saw in Tokyo last week. The movie, whose title I will translate as "Spring Blossoms and Snowfall," is wildly popular in Japan and represents something of a love letter, or at least a big-hearted missive of conciliation, from Korea to Japan. Indeed, the actor who plays the male lead offered assistance following a Japanese flood faster than any Japanese thought to do. Oh and by Korea I mean the South of course. The North is a concentration camp, not something that can be called a country.

The movie is a clear rip-off of a Harrison Ford movie about a plane crash. No, not Six Days and Seven Nights, or Seven Days and Six Nights, the other one, where his wife is on the plane with her lover when it crashes and kills them both. Random Hearts.

But in this version of Randon Asian Hearts the plot has been cleverly changed to suit an Asian audience – an audience our friend tells us was entirely middle-aged and female except for her six-foot tall American husband, who was in the theater as part of his first trip to Japan and I can just imagine his sense of wonder and bewilderment. Apparently he also could not get past the ubiquitous vending machines and the fact that those machines sold beer and a cheap form of sake.

The Korean version still starts with an affair between His wife and Her husband, and a plane crash affecting their lovers' plane. But on that side of the globe the lovers very inconveniently survive. So we are in the hospital, where He retrieves and checks out his injured wife's cell phone and She retrieves her husband's cell phone (Asian high tech and lack of privacy!). That's how they each discover the affair! And the reason He traces Her down is to ask her not to tell his father-in-law about their spouses' affair (Asian sense of duty, obligation and self-sacrifice!).

Yes, they go to bed (not Asian; decadent western influence!), but in the end her husband dies and – stroke of bad luck – his wife does not. He takes his wife home and politely informs her that "he died," referring to her lover. His wife weeps extravagantly and right in front him and he hides how grievously wounded he is by this (Asian stoicism!). He meets Her one last time, in a garden where they engage in one last round of their customarily spare and oblique dialogue:

"What do you like?"
"I like spring blossoms. What do you like?"
"I like snowfall."

The theater is filled with muted sobbing as it becomes clear that there love is not to be, and the viewers confront the impossibility of finally achieving one's heart's desire and the necessity of finally, fatalistically embracing one's, well, one's fate.

But is that specifically Asian or just a part of the human condition? Though over there they do make it into an art form.


How we look from there

The Australian news media not only notices but is willing to criticize the overblown and inaccurate coverage that American news media gave to Katrina. The 10,000 death estimate, the incorrect reports of wide-scale murder and rape in the superdome (sixdeaths - four natural causes, one suicide and one overdose; no rapes). Want an accurate picture of America? Read an Australian newspaper.

Did you know that 1600 leftover Vietnamese boat people living in the Phillippines, but never granted permanent residence there, are on there way to permanent settlement in the US? No, you'd have to read a Taiwanese newspaper to learn that about your own country (my apologies to non-US readers - I'm complaining about US news media here, as you can see).

You can walk into a showroom in Budapest and buy a cadillac or a corvette now, and apparently so can some well-enough heeled Hungarians. "As American as apple pie," says the car dealer. Read much coverage on sales of US goods overseas lately, especially in newly free and increasingly prosperous nations?


Paglia's Big Book

One of the books that woke me out of my mental slumber 15 years ago (though I've slept again often and well since then) was Camille Paglia's magnum opus, Sexual Personae. It remains challenging and stimulating and I recently revisited it. She starts out big, by rewriting the opening to the Bible:

"In the beginning," she corrects, "was nature."

I see her point. It's not G-d's point, of course, but it is a point, which she fleshes out by writing that nature is the "background against which our ideas of God were formed, nature remains the supreme moral problem." Well, sure, I'll drink to that.

The way I'd put it is: While in the beginning of the West was the word (since we had a word and built what we have by following it), everybody else's beginnings began with nature. And in human terms nature translates into Paganism, which every other civilization except ours is still based on. But let's return to how Paglia puts it, as she traces our pagan, pre-biblical, pre-Western pre-beginnings:

"Human life began in flight and fear. Religion rose from rituals of propitiation, spells to lull the punishing elements….Sexuality and eroticism are the intricate intersection of nature and culture….Feminists grossly oversimplify the problem of sex:...purify sex roles {they say} and harmony will reign."

So far so good. Sexuality, pleasurable as it is, remains our true original sin, a raw and volatile connection with nature, tangled at its root with violence, and requiring control if civilization is to emerge and endure. I will take a moment to note that in Judaism, sin originates "from youth," (i.e., from adolescence) not from birth, somewhat in line with these ideas.

Paglia next announces her preference for both Christianity's "pessimistic view of man born unclean" which she links to – wait for it – the equally pessimistic vision of the Marquis de Sade, who is "the most unread major writer in western literature." Hm.

Well, at least she's not an idiotarian. But I could as easily describe (Judeo-) Christianity's optimistic view of man as worthy of a relationship with G-d and of redemption, a view not linked at all to Sade's essential championing of degradation. Paglia goes on to identify western civilization's attempt to integrate man's body and mind as a kind of literary project, which she spends her next 700 brilliant pages describing.

Personally I'd identify it a religious project.

Paglia's book was a seminal reading experience for me, the first time I experienced in criticism what I had previously experienced from literature. I began to see that there are times to enjoy the banquet of cultural expression (the eras of your Romantic poets, your Dutch painters, your Impressionists, your Shakespeare), and there are other eras best spent sitting back in your armchair and digesting the great waves of art that have come before, while waiting patiently for the next great wave by developing your sensibilities so that you will recognize it when it comes.

Every couple generations someone from the West's cold north rediscovers the sources of its culture in the pulsating south. Byron goes to Italy, Kenneth Clark goes to Italy. Edward de Vere, if he wrote those plays commonly attributed to an actor named Shakespeare (Warning! Pet Theory!) goes to Italy, Paglia goes to Italy. They all come back a little too besotted, forgetting that there wouldn't be much of a West at all if it were all and always Italian, Mediterranean, lush. The sort of place that's great, basically, for a vacation.

Monday, September 26, 2005


Progress and the Comics to Prove It

England, from India's perspective, may be looking a little insecure, based on this article in the Times of India, reporting on a Gordon Brown speech that exhorted Britain to create more home-grown college graduates because "China and India are producing 4 million graduates a year." The rest of his speech marked a turn in policy, defending Thatcherite reforms and presenting a Blair-like vision of the Labour party. Had you heard that elsewhere about Brown, Blair's until-now reliably leftist heir-apparent? I hadn't.

And from Japan, here is Koizumi's first big speech following his triumphant election landslide. He's pledging to "boldly scale down government, and not just in the postal savings service that he ran on. It's good to know there are people out there who take these free-market reform ideas seriously, rather than just running on them and forgetting once in office.

Enough politics. Here's an innocent manga story whose drawings of urban Tokyo make me feel I'm back living there. Not that urban Tokyo is very pretty. All the more reason to applaud this drawn-from-life artistry.


Dopamine Country

This is simply too interesting to pass up. To summarize, a Dr. Whybrow notes an odd side-effect of a Parkinson's medication. It causes some of the patients to begin obsessively gambling. The medicine's chemical effect is to increase dopamine, and Whybrow goes on (and on - since he's written a book on the subject) to speculate that America is a dopamine-based nation, exhibiting all the behaviors associated with dopamined-up people. Gambling, risk-taking, manic excess, need for stimulation. Going back again and again to that corner of the cage where the stimulus button is. Well, but are we risk taking because of the dopamine or are we full of dopamine because of our risk-taking?

Whichever. The good doctor also notes that in experiments, dopamine-doped subjects respond even more when the outcome is random. I can't resist pointing out how well blogging seems to fit in here, and in particular blog reading. The more randomly spaced the posts, this research suggests, the more stimulated will dopamined readers be to click for new ones.

This blog's stately, 19th century, one long-form essay per evening style doesn't seem to be taking advantage of this syndrome, but then, I do present it as a sort of blogger's respite from blogging.


Not Averse to Verse

I don't always have the heart for politics and social commentary, and I don't know if the past is a nightmare from which I'm trying to awaken or if the present is. But there is always poetry, and tonight I've chosen a great sonnet from a writer I will introduce later, for reasons that will become clear.

My only preliminary comment is that staunch means stop up as in applying pressure to a wound, that sheath means a wrapping, though here it means skin or even the membrane of one's soul, assuming souls have membranes. And as a corollary sheathe means to wrap (duh). You begin to see the effects of my having taught high school English for two years before getting into legal editing - taught it at a private school, which hired me without credentials, a privilege and stroke of good luck for someone with a corporate background. Anyway, enjoy:

A Virginal

No, no! Go from me. I have left her lately.
I will not spoil my sheath with lesser brightness,
For my surrounding air hath a new lightness;
Slight are her arms, yet they have bound me straitly
And left me cloaked as with a gauze of æther;
As with sweet leaves; as with subtle clearness.
Oh, I have picked up magic in her nearness
To sheathe me half in half the things that sheathe her.
No, no! Go from me. I have still the flavour,
Soft as spring wind that's come from birchen bowers.
Green come the shoots, aye April in the branches,
As winter's wound with her sleight hand she staunches,
Hath of the trees a likeness of the savour:
As white as their bark, so white this lady's hours.

"No, no! Go from me."

So he starts out brushing off another woman who approaches him after he has been with the woman he's writing about. A little louche, that and in that sense a man's poem. Other women now are lesser brightness, spoiling his membrane.

"For my surrounding air…" That line needs nothing more than reference and admiration.

"Slight are her arms, yet they have bound me straitly,"

Like a strait jacket, though it doesn't look like he's complaining. The magic of a civilization, ours, where a woman's non-physical strength is acknowledged as equal or greater than a man's mere muscle.

"And left me cloaked as with a gauze of ether;"

Which they were actually using back then in surgery, the poem dating from 1912. They also had nitrous oxide rooms, laughing gas rooms, dating even further back, and attended by Victorians in formal wear all busy laughing their butts off. Digression.

"Oh, I have picked up magic in her nearness
To sheathe me half in half the things that sheathe her."

Again, nothing to do but admire and take pleasure in the words, far more erotic than explicit language ever could be. Next come images of spring with the suggestion that it is she herself who is staunching the wound of winter.

"Hath of the trees a likeness of the savour:
As white as their bark, so white this lady's hours."

He ends by finding a similarity between the lady and birch tree bark – which his lady's hours are as white as, and I'll take hours to mean the way she spends her hours, what goes on in her head during her hours, during all her hours, which he sees as innocent, unblemished and pure.

Well, sorry now to inform you that the writer was Ezra Pound, a fine poet though not by any means a fine human. His descent into an allegiance with Mussolini's fascist regime (whoops - looks like he was a little too possessed with ideas of purity) has cast him rightly into the shadows over the last few decades, indeed near-century, and unfortunately along with some amazing poetry.

Hope you enjoyed.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Life in the Free World

In Poland, they're fighting over whether to institute a 15% flat income tax for everyone, or have two brackets, 18% and 28%. True, this is on top of a 15% value added tax paid before retail sale, but either way, nobody seems to be screaming to soak the rich only.

In Ireland, another country that took the bracing plunge into cold capitalist waters, growth next year is expected to come in at 6.5%. That's a lot of opportunity, a lot of scope for people's commercial dreams to come true. Oh and gee, the murderous IRA have just turned in their weapons. Now that the country they have been trying to terrorize is growing and expanding, who has time for such adolescent acting out?

Indeed, a broad if not complete survey of the entire world shows that its "economic freedom" score, calculated by averaging each country's score and dividing, rose from 5.2 to 6.4 from 1985 to now. This is for the 109 countries that were measured in 1985, with only seven such countries going backwards. But again, how many newspapers is that information going to sell?

Freedom. Feeding, clothing and enabling the better part of a planet for the better part of a decade, with only more to come.


Livin' Large

The houses and cars and jewels have been getting bigger again, and I know that's supposed to herald something about the stock market, though I can never remember if it means it will be going up or down. Plus as big as they get, you can't begin to tell when a temporary panic will set in to deflate the square footage, the horsepower (it's got a hemi!) or the karats, or if the biggification will just continue to persist beyond imagining. In the States, the road of excess leads to the palace of greater excess.

Still, I don't oppose conspicuous consumption since, short of crime, people must be left free even to make bad decisions and I can't quite see criminalizing oversized houses and private jets. But I am willing to condemn conspicuous consumption, or rather I condemn a certain form of it, even as the too-high life usually condemns itself, such as in that embarrassment of garishness that Donald Trump has created in his marital bachelor pad, or in David Geffen's $80 million dollar fort-like complex.

What's the difference between condemning and opposing? One involves wagging your finger. The other involves passing a law.

The spending isn't the problem, let me point out, or it isn't unless the spender is out preaching conservation while running up a montrous monthly energy bill. No, I will only squak if I sense that the reason the tycoon got her huge house or private island was to distance herself from the rest of us. And not distance herself physically but distance as in lording it over – what Camille Paglia has called hierarchical assertion. That's when I will grow a little saddened and disappointed (to quote ex-Senator Daschle) with the asserter.

I make an exception for Mae West's fabled apartment in LA with all its rumored toys, for the Lennons' apartment in Manhattan, and even for Hugh Hefner's Grotto; these realized visions lend wit, conversational fodder and vicarious pleasure to us all. Because you can tell when a penthouse or mansion has been done up out of pure private glee. And that is something to be admired, or at least appreciated. That is the sort of effort that inspires, that builds morale among the rest of us, whereby the investment of resources, the electricity used in construction, the gold leaf, the crystal, the marble, all come to serve at least some kind of a communal purpose.

But Barbra Streisand's leaden coastline-sucking mansion, where cool-whip-on-ice-cream-sandwiches are served for dessert? Are we lifted up, even for a moment? Or do we see someone using their money to place some sort of a hedge around themselves?

The only good hedge is the ones the rabbis speak of when they speak of building a hedge around the Torah, meaning that we assume extra obligations to make sure we don't violate essential ones. But you do that to get closer to G-d, not farther away from each other. Not that I personally do very much Torah hedging – heck, I'll pluck the whiskers off a catfish and call it kosher. Hm. Digression.

Anyway, so long as you're completing the circle, one way or another, in the human community, I won't care how much oil, steel and concrete you use to do it (since the market will always find more). And living out a dream in a way that inspires others to pursue theirs is absolutely one way, one very pleasant way, to put your shoulder to the commonweal.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Quiet Progress

Oh. The IMF predicts higher growth here for Chile of 5.8 and 5.9 percent over the next two years. That's jobs and businesses, realized ambitions, upward mobility and a feeling of hope, and tax revenue to support the least among them. The quiet rewards of capitalism.

The Tel Aviv stock market will be up 15% by the end of the year according to this report. In the midst of an undeclared war, well, actually a declared war in Arabic. More quiet rewards of capitalism, free movement of capital and labor (well, labor that doesn't have bombs strapped on it).

And in Singapore, where the number of cars allowed on the cramped roads is limited, so that taxis are run 24 hours a day (not by the same driver, of course), they're lowering the license fee and wising up to the value of used cars, as described here. More quiet progress.

Much of the world is not going to hell in a handbasket. It's emulating heaven through faith and steady hard work. And all of that effort worldwide, slow, hard won and easily lost, is worthy of protection from what would threaten it.


Invisible Aristocracy of Mind

When I'm not here expressing my true self, I summarize appellate judicial opinions for a professional journal. They come in on Wednesday and are due back on Monday. I usually print them out and take them to MacD's or the Starbucks in our local Barnes and Ignoble, where I read them and mark them up. My gratitude to the internet for allowing me such a career is part of why I started a blog.

These are insurance cases. The appellate judges who write them are concerned with legal issues like jurisdiction and statutory authority and contract interpretation, but even so, each opinion usually starts out by reciting the facts of the case. The car insurance cases are horrific. Normal lives crushed without a moment's notice. Then there are heart attacks after you applied for insurance but before your policy was issued. Bungled arson attempts, successful bank fraud, leftover cases from the California earthquake and oncoming cases from the World Trade Center. All the world's chaos played out from the standpoint of the question: Who'll be left holding the bag? No point asking the corollary: Who will raise their hand and offer to be a glutton for responsibility? In these cases, nobody. That's why they're in court.

One theme besides horror is attorney malpractice. Tiem and again the appeals judge will run through the arguments, identify the legal path that should have been followed, and then note with rueful regret that because Party X's lawyer neglected to follow that path in front of the trial court, Party X's lawyer is barred from raising it on appeal.

Of course, we see plenty of bungling by the trial court judges as well. I'll say that one third get it right, one third try but get it wrong, and one third don't even bother to state their reasons, forcing the appeals court to search a reason that would have been sufficient to support the taciturn lower court judge's opinion, and fill it in for him like a parent retying their child's shoes the right way.

I know about the hot button issue of judicial appointments, the Roe v. Wade idiotarianism whereby we are all goaded into arguing about the substance of a case whose real error was jurisdictional. And I am happy to take a moment to contend that even principled pro-choice proponents should oppose Roe because every educated citizen of our republic knows that was a decision for a legislature, not a court. But my separate point is that appeals court judges really are smarter and better and way more diligent than trial court judges. Yes, I know that could change with the wrong people in office appointing the wrong judges but I'm interested in making a different point.

My point is that somehow, up until now at least, ability has been silently rewarded. And I think in any healthy society, which in my view ours still is, there is an unseen pyramid of ability, an always present if not always acknowledged invisible aristocracy of mind. By this I do not mean a King-Of-The-Hill type of mound, formed when a group of men with guns takes the physical high ground. But something formed freely among free people of good will (not just good intention by the way, but good will), through spontaneous generation.

The blogosphere is one such free and open ground on which such a pyramid will naturally form, is naturally forming. And America is another.

Friday, September 23, 2005


Onward to Scotland!

My sister-in-law is enthusiastic about our planned trip to Scotland. "But don't, whatever you do," she advises, "talk to them about politics." Well, I'll do my best, but along with a bagpipe lesson for my wife, some obligatory castle inspecting, much-looked-forward-to landscape enjoyment and a pair of sweaters to take home, the remaining box to check off is going to be whisky drinking, indeed Scotch drinking, which is done in bars, or pubs, where an obviously not Scottish gentleman and his Asian-featured wife will not easily shrink into the woodwork.

"Where ye be from, matey?" I may be hailed.
"The United States of America," I will reply.
"Ay, that world-devouring anti-cultural maw, be it so?"
"Well, sir, our own perspective on our country is not quite that -"
"Honey," my wife here will interject, "you promised."

So we'll see. Already I see that our currency, like our relative cultural level, is a bit lower than theirs. The barriers to fortress Europe are high, and that disruptive thing called growth is held firmly in check by interest rates that, if they do not choke, certainly bind Euorpeans as tightly as the church collars they no longer wear. I know we Americans spend like drunken sailors, and that our money is looking a little down at heel as a result, but then we don't believe in money. We believe in growth.

True, this can mean that savers get punished and borrowers rewarded, as inflation melts away the real value of what those borrowers have to repay. But the solution isn't higher interest rates, certainly not now that we have such a mountain of debt, because higher rates would plunge us into deflation as debtors sell everything (and stop investing anything) in order to meet their payments.

Besides, lowering rates remains the democratic and American thing to do, letting everyone have money to invest or spend or just flash around as they like. Unfortunately it also reduces the value of our money for our vacationers to Scotland, not to mention our importers of foreign oil. By contrast, raising rates is the European and anti-democratic thing to do - it's what you do in order to preserve the value of the money that's already in the hands of the aristocratic finger-kissing elites, productivity and jobs be damned!

You'd think the side I'd be on would be clear. Shovel the coal in the engine room and full speed ahead! But no, I'm on the side of an approach that's not currently on the menu. The gold standard.

There still is a silent gold standard, sitting quietly alongside the world's overheating money economy. There's about 1.3 trillion dollars in gold sitting above ground. It used to be that dollar bills were actually gold certificates. You could trade the paper in for its face value in gold in America. Why? Because before that, any and many states and plenty of private banks issued currency that tended to rapidly devalue. In some prairie states people were reduced to using nails as money, and laws were passed to stop people who were planning on moving from burning down their barns for the nails.

So once things got a little unified and uniform we went to a gold standard. Prices were stable for over fifty years.

What happened to change all that? Europe (Yes! Back on track in my argument!) tried to commit suicide and we spent so much blood and treasure over two world wars in wresting the revolver away from its collective temple that once it was all over we could no longer afford to back our money with real money - precious metals. The rest is recent history.

And that all begins to explain why our money is weak and our "culture" is relatively low. That is, why aren't our people proficient in languages, chess and the piano, instead of merely software, business productivity and management. Three world wars (going on four) prosecuted at our expense has set back our language study and appreciation of the arts. Frankly, that's one more thing I blame Europe for, one more thing they cost us over the last 90 years.

Not that I plan sharing any of these sentiments ("Shsh! Honey, you promised") on my upcoming trip.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Learning How to Shag

The Shag, Austin Power movie references aside, is a dance with a long history in the Carolinas. It's a six-step that is danced to 4/4 music, and yes that means it doesn't come out even, but somehow it seems to work out all right. Another peculiarity of the Shag is that the man's left hand and the woman's right are the only things that touch, usually. At two-month, once-a-week shag class you will learn three basic female turns and three turns for the man. You will graduate to the belly roll and the sugar foot and the eight-step pivot. Yes they throw in one eight-step move in a dance full of six-step moves, all played to 4/4 music. It still works out.

My wife and I are novice dancers, our first flailing attempts dating to our wedding preparations and an ordered video. We learned a box-step and a waltz and were able to perform a simalacrum of a wedding dance. Even now, with courses in cha cha, rumba, waltz and shag behind us, our feet get tangled and there are occasional sudden squabbles like summer squalls over who's leading and what comes next.

But the shag is the first dance that really took. It's so laid back and forgiving, you can add as many moves or forget as many as you want. The leads are simple and clear, if I can come up with one to offer before we finish whatever the last move was, and there's spinning, twirling, closed and open positions, and all with the slightest little alterations. Suddenly two people with their own separate paces in life find a meeting ground in a third pace that belongs to neither one separately but only both together. Like those twin stars whose orbits, whatever they were originally, have now come to depend on each other.

The Richard Gere dance movie was hoaky, and he's a loon anyway, if a harmless one. The Vanessa Williams dance movie was charming if implausible. There's an Australian one where the male lead seems to wince each time he's required to hold a woman in his arms. And you'll never dance the way they do in any of those movies.

But let me say that making a little room for dance will do its part in working some of the cogs out of the marital wheel (after creating a few new ones, initially). Working so closely together on something that's intended to be beautiful, with the risk of getting tangled up at any moment, and the promise of making something that is admirable and that improves over time, well -

Isn't that what the two of you have been doing anyway?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


On Mozart

If my wife weren't sleeping right behind me after her night shift, I'd probably have Mozart on. either a string quartet or one of the piano concertos. Plaese note that I'd be more willing to write "concerti" if Europe would be more willing to share our sacrifice in advancing the cause of peace and democracy in the Middle East. So concertos it is. I will say thanks alot to Europe for that legacy of high culture (including Worlfgang), but given what you've become, I think, you know, that we can take it from here.

I usually don't know the numbers of which concerto or quartet or other piece I may be listening to, and nothing is more intimidating to me than reading a writer who does. I just recognize the CD covers through long use. But I have read a couple biographies. And even without them I can tell a bit by listening that the first 25 piano concertos were sunnier, and the remainder more introspective. They were written without patrons, as an entrepreneurial venture among his aristocratic audience. Mozart's concertos in particular were looked forward to, and his performances of them were usually sold out.

Well, that was true for the first 25. And since he was always scrounging for money, you'd think he would've stayed on the sunny side. Seats started going empty for the later concertos, which included chords considered dissonant for their time. It's not like he disdained to please his audience, though. I don't think he saw a conflict between art and entertainment in that way. He was comfortably upwardly mobile in intention, even if he wasn't always moving up. I think he just outgrew his audience, and was impatient for a better and more serious one. He couldn't wait for us, or for the audience we could be if we developed ourselves.

Plus all he really wanted to do was write operas, but he could seldom get a patron for one. And them when he did, his great operas would fizzle out in Vienna. Interestingly, they would drive another city completely wild with delight - Prague. Like Jerry Lewis in Paris. Well, sort of.

If you've tried Mozart and didn't like him, I understand. At first those little classical frills, especially at the end of phrases ("Dum duh dum Dum dum, Dum duh dum Dum") make all classical pieces sound alike. A few centuries in the future, pop music may leave a similar impression on our wildly advanced descendants. But if you keep listening, Mozart starts to stand out from the pack. He's not trying to sell you on anything, least of all that he's this really bright composer and that you're not. Everything is as simple as possible. Each phrase if you look at it looks like nothing at all - a ditty a child could come up with, humming on the way home from school. But of course each piece includes a bunch of these phrases, and some harmony, and they have all been chosen for the way they relate to each other. As melodic as he is, melody doesn't dominate, they way it dominates pop music. The ideas are longer, and if you listen longer, you hear more. And more.

And afterward you don't want to march somewhere and bring down a government or social structure, the way you do with Beethoven or Woodie Guthrie. You just feel this response within yourself to beauty expressed for the love of beauty. Not a bad thing, in polarized times, to have available.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Dear Higon

I want to thank Higon for sending my blog its first comment. Higon is Japanese and those readers who read his comment (the first one on my Koizumi post) will meet with opinions about Yasukuni that are broadly shared by many Japanese, though not all. I would like to answer Higon here.

Higon, I agree with your broad point that the Japanese people have the right and the emotional need to honor their dead, including their war dead. However, I disagree with this statement of yours:

"I strongly think I wouldn't live like I do now, I wouldn't have this much freedom as a member of international community I belong now, and I wouldn't be as wealthy as I am now *IF* my grandfathers and grandmothers didn't have their action."

Let me start with "their action." Was it entirely theirs? The Japan of that time was a military dictatorship. The Bushido and Shinto traditions were used by the non-elected government to instill a mindless love of the emperor into the Japanese people. And with no free press or free flow of information, the people had no alternative ideas available to them. Under this total situation, the Japanese army did act aggressively against its neighbors and did perform terrible and inhuman actions.

You can honor your ancestors without honoring or agreeing with their rulers, the wrongheaded men who sent them on this destructive path.

You say that Japan's actions in the 1930's and 1940's led to your current wealth and participation in the international community. Well, I see your point, but the road from there to here was not a straight one. It involved the deaths of millions of both Japanese and non-Japanese, Japan's total defeat, the collapse of its industry and economy and then occupation and reconstruction by America. Wasn't there an easier way?

In the Taisho era of the 1920's - and very similar to the Weimar era in Germany at the same time - there was an opening to new ideas and an attempt at democracy, which failed. May I suggest that the better path to wealth and international membership would have been for that opening of Taisho to have continued? Was war, mass death, defeat, occupation and reconstruction a better path or a necessary path?

Now, I agree with you that China, South and North Korea, and many other Asian nations today are using this war history to embarrass and manipulate Japan. Also, today, it is Japan that is among the most democratic of Asian nations, and among the most sincere. Today's Japan deeply wishes to contribute to the world in a positive way.

But that is today, when the people of Japan can guide the actions of its government. Yesterday was different, and while it is proper to honor your ancestors, you need not and should not honor the government of the 1930's and 1940's that sent them to their deaths, and ordered them to kill civilians throughout Asia.

Democracy is the key. Imagine that the people of Japan, in the 1930's and 1940's, could have voted each year on whether to continue or stop the war. How would they have voted? (Especially if they had been raised in an environment of free information). I think the answer is clear that they would have called it off early. So if you honor what the government did, I think you do not honor what the people would have done.

Thanks so much for your comment. I hope our exchange is as valuable for you as it is for me.


Monday, September 19, 2005


Cute Koizumi-kun

I used to see Koizumi bobble-head dolls in the stores. Even so, beyond his cuteness and lionesque hair, people had their doubts about him. He was divorced. As finance minister he wore a green velvet suit to a trade meeting with his US counterpart. Come to think of it, that may have given a hint to the strain of incipient nationalism we now see in him, with his annual visits to the Yasukuni shrine. Though I intend to write in praise of Koizumi, I'm not blind.

By the way, Yasukuni (Warning - Digression!) is a favorite cherry blossom viewing place in the city, and in my first year with my Japanese company, 1989, I was sent in the morning with a big blue plastic tarp to reserve a space for our department's after-work annual drinking and cherry viewing.

Once the veteran workers showed up, we drank heavily and looked at the blossoms, valued as much for their evanescence as for their beauty. That kind of transitory ripeness is a part of the Japanese aesthetic, lending poignancy and causing some Japanese men to be just a bit hung up on very inappropriately young women. A young male worker prankishly sang an old war song he'd learned from his grandfather to the near-embarrassment of my supervisor. A department head and I went looking for the bathroom and discovered that its condition had long since come to rival the superdome a week after Katrina. We followed the crowds to a group of trees that had been enlisted for the purpose, finding as we approached that our shoes were rapidly being sucked into the increasingly sodden soil.

So I'm familiar with Yasukuni, having peed on it. The interesting thing about the shrine, though (I will ultimately get back to Koizumi) is that those controversial war dead, or their enshrined spirits, were moved into the shrine from another shrine in the early 1970's by a bunch of monks with little clear authority to do so. Buddhist monks in Japan are extremely inconsequential people, it should be noted. Japan's Buddhism is merely formal, not like the living, breathing Buddhism of for example Thailand.

So whenever the subject of the shrine came up I would ask my Japanese friends why they didn't just move those war criminals' souls on out of there and fix the problem, so that the other two million soldiers who gave their lives to their country, even if at the behest of a brutal and brutalizing militaristic regime, could be honored without embarrassment by their countrymen. Nobody ever answered me. Politics wasn't something there was ever much point in talking about in Japan.

But that just may be changing. (Ah, a segue back to Koizumi! This is working out!) With this last election, for the first time I feel the Japanese people selecting a set of ideas and a direction for their future, and Koizumi is to be commended for offering them the choice. Through every election I saw over 17 years, people voted primarily for faction. Komeito was the party of a large Buddhistic sect, Jiminto (the LDP, the major Lib Dem Party) was the party of farmers and a certain set of entrenched interests, with other parties representing other interests.

Only the commies, truth be told, represented a clear set of ideas, and since they were also the only party cut completely out of graft-sharing and unlikely ever to take national power, the occasional municipality would put them in to provide temporary clean government.

Well, they won't have to vote for commies to get good government now. Koizumi stood on a platform, which was a novelty, and even sponsored his so-called "assassins," special candidates designed to take on and take out the 27 members of his own party who had voted against his reform program.

Democracies mature. More to my point, in Japan, democracy seems to have coaxed the Japanese themselves to mature. ">


Springtime for Hopkins

When in doubt, anti-Fisk a poem, if the term anti-Fisk (a neologism! My own!) can be used to mean analyze for the purpose of praise.

So here's a Gerard Manley Hopkins sonnet, praised in pieces:

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee, but sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners' ways prosper? And why must
Disappointment all I endeavor end?

"If I contend with thee." I have to think poets would never come up with phrases like that if they didn't have to satisfy strict poetic forms, which force them to think of attractive and novel phrases that will fit. But then should I write in the past perfect when talking about poets.? Poets would never have come up with...if they hadn't had to....? Sigh.

"So what I plead is just." I know it just means, "so is what I am pleading." But somehow, his way is thrilling.

"Why do sinners' ways prosper?" Good question. And now that I've heard it expressed this way, I can't imagine it better expressed any other way. Though I suspect the original (the first stanza is a translation of, I believe, a Latin excerpt of Jeremiah) gives Hopkins a run for his money.

"And why...end?" When will we get to move our verbs to the end again? Continuing...

Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How woulds't thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart, me. O the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
sir, life, upon thy cause....

Well, Hopkins is never better than when he's complaining, but what a complaint! You couldn't hurt me more if you were trying. I gotta start suspecting your motives. As Catholic a writer as he is, I respond to this part not only as a reader but also as a Jew. And I think anyone identifying with senseless and imcommensurate suffering would have to as well.

"The sots and thralls of lust." Now that phrase almost makes you pause, put down the slim volume, and go wash you hands before continuing. Luthor Vandross eat your heart out!

Sir, life, upon thy cause. See banks and brakes
Now leaved how thick! Laced they are again
with fretty chervil. Look, and fresh wind shakes
them. Birds build. but not I build, no, but strain,
Time's eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes
Mine., O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

I can't think of a better plea for inspiration, and one that starts with nature's inspiration - spring.

Imagine if we had been taught poems like this, with this attitude toward springtime and renewal (while still acknowledging deeply the sources of despair). Instead of, you know, "April is the cruelest month."

April is no such thing. And no connected person has ever thought so.


Toe in the Water

Actually, there is no reason for you to read this. Would you check the serial number of one of those dollar bills posted on the wall at restaurants, that are the first custom received by their proud proprieters? Nothing to see here. Yet. Though I myself can't help enjoying this unearned achievement of a first blog post.

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?