Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Over the summer of 2009 and 2010, we were treated to "town hall" protests with people asserting "second amendment rights" to go to see elected officials with loaded pistols and assault weapons. Apparently, part of having a militia is now intimidating the choice of the popular majority. Part of answering the call of the government to defense of the nation is to menace the duly elected officials of the government.
Anyway, the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords must not be tied to any of this, we're told. I agree, even, that the shooter is unconnected, more or less. He's a paranoid, and paranoids are not programmed by anyone.
The people with this talk are unhealthy. They are all sick. They are, in fact, petting the gun but not shooting the bullets. They are displaying, threatening, muttering, growling, and hating as hard as they can, but they're not releasing anything, doing anything, or achieving anything.
William Blake's "A Poison Tree" is a bit of a high school cliche, I'm afraid. It talks about the power of anger to breed, to amplify, and finally to overwhelm. It begins by saying that expressing one's anger ends the anger and contrasts that with a hidden anger that ends in murder. Perhaps it's a good poem for the politics of the day. However, I was thinking that there is a change that I would make to the poem. Instead of the foe being dead in the garden, I think the poet/speaker would be dead.
Unspoken anger is an interesting beast. If your horrible girlfriend dumps you -- for no damn reason -- and is off at dinner with some guy -- a complete jerk, of course -- and faithless, with no concern for all that you've done, then you will, naturally, be stung by the injustice of her wicked character. You will spend that night writhing in hate. You won't sleep. Every time you calm yourself down, your brain will remember the day, and even a thought like, "I'm glad I'm not still upset" will lead to remembering it again. Your blood pressure will go up, cortisol levels will soar, muscles will ache, concentration will wane, digestion be ruined, and sleep flee. Meanwhile, that unspeakable cow at dinner will not notice a thing, will not feel the ugly thoughts, will not be pierced by the sharp comments. She will enjoy the dinner and the company, and she might even spend the night with the company, and, if she does, her experience of the night will be unaffected by your experiences.
The misery you have will make more misery for you, but it simply does nothing at all to the one you hate.
And so, if you think that coming up with an Obama joke or reverting to 1960's racist talk will "show them," it won't. I know that it won't. I spent eight years, and it seems like a lot longer, in protest at an administration that violated US law, international law, and divine law. In comparison to that, people showing off guns because they don't like the income tax are pikers.
Oh, go ahead, folks. Say it.
Don't shout about "Taxed Enough Already." Say, "I refuse to accept democracy! It's not fair that my side lost!"
Don't say, "We want America back." Say, "Black people can't be president."
The longer you bottle it up, the worse it will get. I know it hurts that you lost. I know that you're in pain, even though you don't actually have anything to disagree with about the president's policies (just the who, not the what (unless by "what" we mean "race")). Don't forget, swearing helps relieve pain.
Next time, you can vote Yosemite Sam or Phyllis Schlaffey.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
(Who knew? It's a chain! This one is in Virginia.)
That's right: Star Nails. I see now that "Star Nails" is a thing that one can get a franchise for, that it is a company that sells kits and licenses, rather than an actual company that staffs. I do not know if being Vietnamese and female is required for getting the franchise, but, given the uniformity of operators, it seems like it could be. (The mini-icon for the franchise company looks like a lotus flower.)
I have nothing particularly against immigrants, myself. About half of you, I understand, are "very concerned" by those immigrants and want them to "go back where they came from." It's easy to feel that way -- harder to think that way. According to a recent study, most of the folks taking the hard "conservative" stance these days are, in fact, not thinking, but feeling, to start with, and they have enlarged amygdalas. (Some time I mean to write about that study, because I'd say that it's not conservativism that appeals to the reptilian brain.) It's lovely to think in big, gelatinous lumps, to feel secure that the problems are "those people" and that they "need to" do something simple like "go back." It feels wonderful to have an answer.
Unfortunately for me, my family arrived on these shores in the 1630's, so I have had to give up on anti-immigrant feeling. Ever since those nasty Scots started showing up in the teens (1810's, I mean), things have been going down hill. The Germans, Jews, Irish, Slavs.... If we're going to complain, then can't I complain that they're all filthy immigrants coming in to take jobs that belong to the colonials like me? The only ones who have any right to complain -- aside from the Indians, of course -- are the descendants of the enslaved Africans. They've been here as long as the planter families and colonists and frigid Puritans. Curiously, when I see anti-immigration protests in Arizona or Texas, I don't see Black people or Colonial families.
It could be, of course, that the Colonials never did protest immigration, that the "Know Nothings" and the like were always a product of immigrants themselves turning on immigration. In The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson is listing all the violations of divine law and common rights that George III had made, and he lists:
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.You see, we of the Colonies wanted immigration. We even went to war to allow it. Now, yabbos want to arm themselves to prevent it, and one Great Tit demands the use of Predator drones to blow up economic migrants.
Vietnamese tend to face less of the hatred than "messicans." Nevertheless, the Americans who hate immigrants hate them, too. They say the immigrants stick together, that they talk their foreign language to each other, that they use only their own family members, etc. (They say the same about Indians, of course.)
I want to know what the heck a star nail is.
Is it a nail made of flaming gas? Is it what a person uses to tack a star in place so that it doesn't slide down the wall? Obviously, if the salon were offering fingernails and toe nails that look the same as Hollywood and Broadway stars, it would be called "Stellar Nails" or "Starring Nails." If it offered nails that shone as if stars in the sky (would anyone want that? it would require them to be 6,000 degrees C), then they'd call the place "Sparkling Nails" or "Twinkling Nails" or "Fusion Powered Nails" or "H-bomb Nails," since I doubt they have the secret of sustained fusion chain reactions (and, if they did, would they not be Topamak Nails?).
We know the place is owned and operated by immigrants, but what if their sign means exactly what it says? What if they really are selling star nails? What if the ladies (and always one boy) working in the place are not from an indistinct far eastern nation believed to be Vietnam but some place... farther away?
Think about it, man.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
I have, though, wondered at the birds and fishes dying in unexplainable numbers for mysterious causes. There is no reason I can imagine for the apocalypse starting or finishing in Arkansas, any more than I can think of anything to prove that Louisiana hasn't already been visited by the apocalypse, but the prettiest blackbirds dropping from the skies all at once? Fish all at once bobbing to the surface? Both on the same day? If it's not a sign, one wonders.
When I was young, I read up on the end of days and the end of the world. These are separate things. The end of the world is a question of nuclear weapons. The end of days is when time ceases because of the lack of calendars because God made days and their ending. Some people, in the 1970's, were preparing for the one, some for the other, some for both. As a teen, I was secretly eager for either, I think.
It is not quite thanatopsis, this urge. It is not the inborn swim to the spawning grounds to die, the voice that urges us to the wilderness. Instead, especially as the young love the End, it is a seeking out, I think, of heroism. You see, no one could think of the end as the end. The narrative of the end was always a narrative. The gravest silliness going about now is the "Rapture Rangers" of the Left Behind series. While you might think the end of the world, the judgment of the dead, and the second coming would be fully and adequately described in the Bible -- that it would be, after all, the end of things temporal -- they get sixteen "novels" out of the "end." Nuclear war offered us my favorite, Alas, Babylon (the same author's Stop Time is one of the better things a body can read) as well as the nugget-licious On the Beach and Fail Safe. Since those heady days, nuclear war has given us dozens and dozens of films, novels, and genres of fiction and film -- the nuclear zombie, the nuclear mutant, the nuclear survivor, the nuclear nomad.
Both the end times and the end of the world offer the young believer an opportunity at random heroism. This is important. I could not be a super hero. I would never be bitten by a radioactive spider or bombarded by gamma rays or come from Krypton. However, if The Bomb fell, my innate cleverness might make me a hero, and if the end times came, my virtues could make me a "rapture ranger."
For me, scriptures were too serious for any trivializing with fantasy. God is too ineffable for the horrors of a novel about gaming judgment. God's will is too mysterious and magnificent for anyone to put it into a plot. God's mercy is too divine and superior for any author to create lists for the inferno. Therefore, I never got into a pleasure at the thought of the end, but I did get interested in the signs.
Finding signs and omens is like a Bingo game for the faithful that never ends, but we get to call our own cards.
So... suppose one or the other were to happen. By the time I was sixteen, I realized that, in the event of nuclear war I would be a puff of smoke and that, if I weren't, I would wish I had been. By the time I was thirty, I began to wonder whether that genre of nuclear survival fiction was a sign of national denial and trauma or a sneaky way of getting us all to believe that such wars could be survived by the virtuous, that they might be a good way of getting rid of the undesirables and that they might therefore be a militarist's best friend.
Now, though, I think that either of them is not as described by men. End means end. End means, from the point of view of flesh and time and motion in time, end. There is no tricking of God, no mocking of life, and no restitution one might make to oneself for an end. (Does a person with a week to live who goes to get drunk with a prostitute and a wad of heroin 'make up' for a boring life? Of course not.)
So, if you think there's an apocalypse of any nature coming, I have some advice. You won't be too shocked, I hope, if it echoes what one finds in the Gospels.
1. Don't pay any attention to it.
2. Pay attention to being a good, loving person.
3. Live each day ready for the last, morally.
Climbing on the roof with a bucket or barrel is not required. Buying gold is not helpful. Getting juicy over the prospect of your neighbors dying is almost certainly not to your advantage.
Sunday, January 09, 2011
THAT is some darned fine writing, and it's not fair that I should get nothing for it.
Secondly, as we have an attack by an insane person on a politician in the midst of horrid speech acts and violent implications, the subject of crazy people versus evil people comes up ... again. While the New York Times talks about how this violence shines a light on hate speech... sorry, I mean "hateful" speech... there is a very important nut to be pried lose from the conversation, and that's the attacker.
Congresswoman Giffords's opponent held fun and wholesome events for the whole family, like an M-16 shooting contest. Sarah Palin seemed to need, desperately, for true patriots to "take aim" at Giffords and had a picture of her in the crosshairs, but we now learn that... heck!... they didn't mean it! (You see, in art, we would say that the author does not get to determine the meaning of the message, that the message is produced by author, medium, and audience together, and this only in the act of reading. For Sarah Palin, though, the things mean what she wants them to mean, to the degree she wants them to mean them, and change.) And Republican senators are saying that the crosshairs thing is the fault of anyone who questions it. Lamar Alexander says that people simply shouldn't talk about Sarah Palin's bounty on Giffords.
Now, lets look at all of these weasels and agree that they are vicious, spineless, unAmerican, and undeserving of a place in a polite society. Any person who advocates, or allows advocacy, of violence to settle what cannot be settled democratically in a nation of laws is a criminal, and that includes Palin and the rest.
There is no innocent way to flirt with "second amendment remedies," in Sharron Angle's term. (She was referring to what would happen if she didn't get elected senator: someone would "remedy" the problem by means of arms.)
However, the person who pulled the trigger in this instance does not appear to be a political assassin. He does not seem to be a Leon Czolgosz or even a Sacco and Vanzetti. His Face Book and MySpace pages -- now aired for everyone to ridicule and speculate on -- show that his favorite books "were"... everything a high school kid reads, with the addition of Ayn Rand and Hitler. On political blogs, the right wing trolls are trying to say that he is a leftist because someone remembered him in high school being left wing and because he read Animal Farm and Brave New World. He rants extensively on YouTube about "grammar thought control." He looks for love, begging for attention, and shouts out how angry he is.
That combination of hostility and loneliness is the very definition of the floundering teen. It's why I was dateless for a long time, and why you were -- if you were. It's why adolescent males are toxic substances. We can't help it, of course.
It's the other element, though, that we need to look at. Ignore the fact that the young man dropped out of high school, couldn't stay in community college, and had a trivial reading list for now. Ignore, for now, the "Im cool" gestures. Look at the "thought control by grammar" and the use of past tense. Notice the YouTube conspiracy videos. Kurt Vonnegut said that 14 year old boys make the best soldiers, because they are filled with hormones and have no conscience. Seventeen year old boys are not much better, except that they're angrier. Take that anger and offer it an outlet, give it a target, and you can man your phone bank, fill your lines, and field an army. You can't, though, get a killer, usually.
Paranoid schizophrenics kill. The reason they're not out there being manipulated and used more often is that they almost always insist on a private mythology for their delusions. If Glenn Beck's personal mythology has George Soros pulling the strings of the world, a paranoid schizophrenic listening to him will reject it. Instead, his or her illness will make some other thing, some private signifier, blend in. The angry boy will go off and beat an immigrant for you, and a paranoid schizophrenic will kill, but not for you. The paranoid will take something from school, like grammar lessons, and then inflate that into something huge, and then that will combine with the next thing he hears, and, like a myna bird, he will create a phrase of objects for a master myth.
I actually know something about this, as I probably had a thing akin to it when I was young. I can't say that I was paranoid, nor even schizophrenic, but I know the delusional web. My psychological response to having endless profusions of tubes running into my arm and groin, keeping me alive, was to believe that they were, instead, draining away my soul, and then that such 'tubes' were contained in any touch between any two people, and thus that any touch with any person meant a vampiric draining.
I got over it.
The point is that no one wove that for me. I did it myself, with emotion plus random objects.
The shooter, here, seems, and seeming is all there will be, to be a paranoid schizophrenic. If there was a white male in his 50's who brought the shooter to the rally and launched him at the dais, then that is a killer. That is the difference between the insane and the evil.
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Stranger passing by, consider, for a moment, the plague rat. In the hold of a ship, gnawing on grain or bounding out onto a dock – weaving through odor rich streets or spinning a nest of fabric, straw, string, and dirt for its young – the plague rat carries death along with it wherever it goes. We curse the creature, calling it by its ancient name of 'vermin' and 'pestilence.' The bird masks of the physicians in the seventeenth century that astonish people today might well have been matched by rat masks for the undertakers.
My thoughts have turned to this animal for natural reasons. On the Monday after Christmas, I was at a fine restaurant to have a fine sandwich of meat and dairy and a beverage of sugar and emolument. As I went into the Splash Mountain-style switch back of the line (queue, for our stranger strangers), a family came in behind me. Pa, for that, I feel certain, was his name, wore a Metallica tour t-shirt emblazoned with “Kill 'Em All” on it. Ma was wearing a plain jeans and shirt combo. Jr. was sporting black hair dye, wallet chain, an open jacket, and a weight problem, while his younger brother, Trip, was fitter, more appropriately rock 'n roll. Sister had very effective makeup and bangles and t-shirt and showed her figure to great advantage while obscuring her features in an unmistakeable announcement that she was not 'pretty.' She was made up in the way that they call 'emo' – which is to say the thing that happened when punk cosmetics were stolen by the heavy metal kids and then stolen by the goth kids and then stolen by the heavy metal kids again. Junior is the focus of this story, though. Junior was a plague rat.
Pa may have had the t-shirt, but Junior had the power. Although he spoke with perfect politeness and effeminacy, Junior accomplished his goal by coughing at a rate of five to seven times a minute without ever once bringing a hand or arm up to block. He did not cover his mouth or even show a twitch of a muscle as if any part of his brain had any motor impulse toward covering the cough. He did not turn his face toward the ground, or away from people. He simply coughed, straight ahead, constantly, from his doughy face toward whatever surface was unlucky enough to be within three meters of him.
I pulled up the hood to my jacket. I turned away. I went to a different cashier. I sat away from them. I did what I could, even if it meant not getting to stare at Sis's body. I fell ill.
The next morning, I had a sore throat. The next day, I was coughing, and that night I nearly died. When I went to the doctor, he assumed, I think, that it was a boo-hoo cold, but, in fact, I had pneumonia. I had a good fever, and my breathing sounded like a hookah convention. (Hey! I'm Aqualung!)
Anyway, the word I used to describe Junior in my mind was “plague rat.” All during my illness (I'm a bit better, but I'm not healthy yet) the word stuck in my mind. It kept clicking, like a rock stuck in the tread of a sneaker, everywhere I went. I don't know how it is with you, Stranger, but when that happens to me, it usually means that I'm not done with the concept.
Oh, and it often means that Jungian synchronicity is going to happen.
Sure enough, the book I've been reading at lunch, At Home, by Bill Bryson, talked about the plague after I had fixated on my term. He made the point that the plague killed the rats right along with the people, and so it isn't as if the plague rats were getting out of the deal unscathed. Indeed, we think of the plague rat as a creature maliciously spreading a disease, but, in fact, it is an animal that spreads a disease by bumbling.
The two-legged sort of plague rat – our bulbous friend at the Burger King – is a fool. He is sick, knows that he is sick, and thinks of no consequences. The world stops outside of his flesh, apparently, or outside of the present moment. Thus, he wants to go, and so he goes, but covering a cough is not an active thought. Or he could be a malicious animal of a different sort than we usually think by just being as selfish as a toddler. It might be that he feels that his suffering is the only suffering of any note, that the rest should suffer with him, or that his hunger is more important than another's safety. Any one of these three would be wicked, but stupidly wicked, bestially wicked.
I think most plague rats, though, are fools, not egomaniacs. Consider the rat itself. If we want to find a wise rat, a rat with complicity, we need to look at the ship's rat that knows that the ship is sinking and manages to jump just in time. That's the clever rat. Odds are that the ship is out at sea and it won't make any difference, but at least the rat has escaped a certain death. The plague rat, on the other hand, has no foreknowledge, cannot read the weather, cannot see the fireships sailing alongside, cannot feel the creak in the wood, doesn't know the bilge is backing up, doesn't realize that the last flea bite was worse than the one before, doesn't notice that there are extra bumps on its arm pit and neck. The plague rat just gets sick and dies.
You see, that other rat – the swimmer – is incomprehensible to me. I feel less sympathy for it.
I moved to Manhattan in August, 2001. In a month, terrorists attacked. At the end of the year, my boss left her position to take another, sealing my doom in the job. The next year, as I prepared to leave, the power went out to the entire northeast of the U.S. I moved down to Baltimore that year and began working in a public school. The pay was good, but I started in August and, by October, there were whispers of crisis. By December, it was clear that the school system had a budget of -$130,000,000. The prior year's administration had written one hundred and five million dollars of bad checks. By January, all persons hired that year were laid off, which meant me. Private grants kept me employed through the term. At the start of the next school year, the principle, vice principle, and eighty percent of the administration had left, and I was unemployed. I moved down to where I am now, and things seemed alright. Last year, they eliminated 20% of the faculty.
The plague rat is leading a doomed existence, and its illness makes it seek a nest all the more. It thus nestles close to people most urgently, and its corpse's passengers flee. The ship's rat leaves just before the disaster strikes. I have never understood the ship's rat, and I'm beginning to feel more and more sympathy for the other fellow.
Saturday, January 01, 2011
"Axiome: la haine du bourgeois est le commencement de la vertu." -- Gustave Flaubert, The Dictionary of Received OpinionWhen I first read Flaubert's dictum that "hatred of the bourgeoisie is the beginning of wisdom," I wasn't sure how to take it. I encountered it while there were still punks roaming the earth and when I still was one. Surely I had thought the same thing, after all, that no man could achieve anything without first starting from hating the bourgeois. In fact, I spent the years from age fourteen to nineteen in a seething rage against all things middle class, especially the mall, the high school, the pretty, the glad handing, the cologned, the puffed dudes and fringed girls, the top forty radio, the best seller lists, and Gene Shallot.
I also knew, though, because, like a good many punks, I had gone into academics, that Flaubert might mean something more literal, given his era. He might mean a class with borders, and might in fact be snobbish as much as scornful. One never knows. Then there is the worry of irony, as Flaubert's irony is not always obvious. Hesse, after all, would bawl and blast the bourgeoisie as the worst of all things. Dostoyevski would. Lawrence would. In fact, pretty much all the good authors did. Therefore, it might be irony... but that trend wasn't by a trend by Flaubert's day....
Never mind. I put my disgust at the middle sorts into the background as I tried to calm my narcissism. There is a period of two decades or thereabouts when both sexes find themselves fascinating, both for beauty and revulsion. Either way -- as objects of admiration or poking with a stick -- they think that their own selves are very worthy of exploration; and then they think that their biographies are necessary for understanding themselves; and then they place their biographies, if they make it this far, in a perspective that stretches to their individual horizons. For me, that meant that I had my long stretch of thinking my awfulness needed a witness. Then I needed to think about how it happened to be that way, which meant biography. Then a decade followed where the importance of my biography gradually took its proper place in the context of history and ceased to be the star of the show. During this process, I explained away that five year misery of hating the middle classes as just normal rebellion and achievement of individual identity. Ho-hum. It was ever thus. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Recently, though, I've begun to wonder if that's true.
- First, the authors I named above share a quality, aside from their scorn: they, like perhaps 80% of the punks, are the children of middle class parents.
- Second, I realized that the things that I set out in endless manifestos in 1978 of "Things I Hate about Them" are things I still hate. In other words, it wasn't a phase. I may not have much paisley print, but I still have the pit of the stomach gagging when "Top Video of the Day" comes on.
- Third, I began to see that there was something about the middle classes themselves that separates them from the upper and lower classes, aside from money.
Working class children may adopt a middle class speech, but the language itself will be retained, while middle class children are eager to climb or descend, whichever way they may, in language. Upper class children may affect lower dialects to "pass" in society without embarrassment, but they are not abandoning their speech, grammar, and syntax.
The children of the middle class, though, seem to have perhaps fifty percent satisfaction at any moment. The rest of the time, there is a strong kick against the pricks. The reason children of the middle class tend to remain in the middle class -- or they did before the current generation -- but they change their approach and focus, and, most importantly, they change what the middle class is.
You see, the upper and working classes tend to be defined by one another, by relations of power and capital. The former tends to spin "culture" off from itself as an armor or a set of shibboleths. The latter creates contrary, counter and resistant culture, or such culture develops synthetically from the accretion of economic migration and mixed assimilation of populations. Only the middle class has a self-aware culture.
The middle class tends to come from the middle class and from the working class. Rarely do the uppers fall, but the lowers have risen from time to time in the US, UK, Germany, and Netherlands. Thus, in these cases, the middle class is a sort of consensus of averaging. No view gets to be reflected, as all views are taken down to their most palatable features. The middle class is known not by its money -- especially not in the U.S., where Americans stupidly call themselves "middle class" whether they make $20,000 a year or $200,000 a year -- but in culture. It has no title as its entry point. Its entryway is a set of views, a set of speech habits, a set of values. In other words, it is a voluntary matter more than the other classes.
You want to be middle class? Act middle class and do not have a physical identity that causes rejection by the myopic eye of the middle class itself. The eye is myopic because of its nature: "normal," "middle," "average."
The values, the culture, is how the middle class is middle. Smart? Not too! Crass? Not too! Tolerant? Some! Generous? Realistically! Art? Understandable!
No child can love that if the child wants to have an identity. Early adulthood is the time of making oneself a self, and there is no way to be a self without having something outstanding. All of that must be pruned off for the middle. The only people who may excel in the middle are the ones who do so with physical attributes of beauty or health or service or strength. They cannot be too artsy, too fartsy, in other words, and any child who does not accept physical extremes must perforce reject the middle's standards.
At the same time, none of us ever escapes. As Flaubert, Hardy, and others would show, they could hate the middle classes, but they could write about nothing else, and their own values were resolutely bedded in the soil of the bourgeois system. This is, too, normal and natural. You see, if I stick out and have to hate the vacuity of the pop-driven, unreflected, ignorant art in the middle class, I actually remain with them in, say, my views of serving on juries and paying taxes. If I reject their ovine capacity for self-deception and political insensibility, I probably share their views on funding public schools.
Thus, we -- we haters of the bourgeoisie -- become the components of the next one. Our exaggerations and corrections give slight shifts to the lumpy Jell-o. "Suddenly" it seems that "average Americans" are tolerant of gays in the military, for example. Well, it wasn't sudden, unless you believe that everyone cringing in shame in the 1970's growing up to be those people in the 2000's is sudden.
Anyway, it was just a thought I had.