Tuesday, January 26, 2016

PV Reads

I'm going to start chronicling the books I read again.  I had gotten away from that activity because I was busy trying to write my own books and I have also been spending some time taking care of Franny's kids.  So I guess you could say the main reason I haven't been writing about books is because I haven't read very many lately.

I'm ashamed to admit to being childish and petulant, but since literary agents haven't been beating a path to my door trying to sign me up I've had a hard time reading any fiction at all.  That's a pretty startling admission for a retired literature teacher.  The thing is, if the piece of fiction is great, I just get depressed because I evidently can't write anything that would compete.  If the piece is mediocre and filled with pedestrian sentences, I get mad because my stuff is better and the stupid agents of the world are just too blind to see that.  Maybe I'll grow up some day, but I doubt it.

So I've been reading non-fiction instead and as long as I stay away from partisan political rants, I'm a happier man for it.  I read three such works in the week we were in Puerto Vallarta.

Between The World And Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates

I love this writer.  He writes more powerful stuff than Baldwin at his best.  This book is a novella sized letter to his son that serves as the story of a young black man trying to survive in America and a brilliant analysis of the current state of race relations in our country.  As such, it is not your typical beach read.  I had to stop every five or ten minutes either to force Katherine to listen to me read a powerful passage out loud, or to wipe away my tears over the sheer beauty of his prose.

There isn't much more to say.  At the risk of sounding like a pompous ass, I didn't really learn anything new here.  Instead, I was reminded on every page of the injustices that occur daily in this "exceptional" country of ours.  I particularly like Coates' take on the idea of being exceptional.  He says that if people who insist on self-identifying themselves as White continue to stand by their claim of Exceptionalism, then they need to also hold their precious country to an EXCEPTIONAL moral standard, a moral view that doesn't systematically ignore some of our more disgraceful historical moments.  Until we can do that--and we never have--we will never be EXCEPTIONAL.  Bill O'Reilly take note.

David And Goliath - Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell dispels the myth of the underdog.  In point of fact, underdogs emerge victorious about 50% of the time.  When the underdog defies accepted practices, he wins 67% of the time.  One need go no further than the war in Viet Nam or the current wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc. to see the truth of that.

Of course, the story of David and Goliath serves as a controlling metaphor for the entire work.  When you examine the terrain, the history of warfare at that time, and the arrogance of the Philistine giant, you discover that poor Goliath never had a chance.  David possessed the better technology and anyone who witnessed the "fight" knew that David was going to kill the clumsy oaf the minute he took out his sling.  Slingers, it turns out, were accurate within a hair's width at distances of over 100 yards!  A slung stone had a velocity of about 180 mph and the stones in the valley of the battle were particularly dense (don't ask me why).  One of those stones flung at that speed would certainly penetrate a giant's exposed forehead.  Death would be the only result.  Even Jack in INTO THE WOODS knew that.

The book does make an inescapable political point.  All those folks yelling about launching a full-scale attack on ISIS, ISIL, or whatever other acronym we're using these days, clearly don't understand history.  Of course, they don't understand the constitution either, but that's another story.

The Boys In The Boat - Daniel James Brown

This is one of those books I was talking about earlier that made me mad.  It tells the fascinating story of nine relatively poor guys from the Northwest who tried out for crew at the University of Washington and ended up winning the 1936 Olympics right in front of a chastened Adolph Hitler.

The problem with the book is that it contains one awful sentence after another and the transitions from one scene to the next sound like something out of a travel book.  I got pissed every other page.  BUT the story of Joe Rantz and the rest of the crew told under the backdrop of the lead up to WWII was impossible to put out of my mind.  I read it in one day at the pool and the plane ride home.

It has the same feel as SEABISCUIT or CINDERELLA MAN in that it uses the story of a small group of individuals to illustrate an entire historical era.  If  you can get by the dreary sentences, it is well worth the read.

Monday, January 4, 2016

I Love My Cowboy Boots



This is Katherine.  I have a ton of things I need to do before we leave for Mexico the day after tomorrow.  I don't know why I am doing this.  I don't know why I do a lot of things.

I needed to get some medical papers together for Franny while we were going to be out of town.  Mom has had a couple of emergency trips of late and my brother has moved to Tennessee.  Handing them to her was a confirmation of what I already know--the girl has a great heart and always has.  I admire and respect her.  She does not, however, really understand cowboy boots.  I am a failure as a mother here.

When I was younger, the fact that my kids did not admire and adapt my taste was not a big deal.  They were, after all, entitled to their taste and privacy and secrets and all sorts of things that a reasonable young parent thought was well, reasonable.

Now, however,I wished they emulated me more.  I would like Franny, for instance, to  like cowboy boots.  It's a weird sort of immortality.  I could see myself in her when she wore cowboy boots.  I realize this is stupid, but it would be nice if more than my hair color went her way (she doesn't like that either).

Also, I have really cool cowboy boots that I will need to pass on and Franny just doesn't go for them and her feet are the wrong size and Brooklyn is not into cowboy stuff at all and Sammi's orthopedic devices are apt to be limiting and Christine and Ashley don't fit either because they have small feet which I definitely do not have.  That leaves Willa and Jaydee.  They are are my last chances for some cowboy boot enthusiasm and a place to send my really good boots when the time comes.

I bought Willa pink sparkly cowboy boots for Christmas.    We will see if Willa likes boots.  Surely there is a cowboy boot gene in the family somewhere.

Anyway,  if you ask a regular cowboy boot devotee about their boots,  that person can tell you the story of the boots or personal stories that simply wouldn't have happened without the boots.  For whatever reason, with packing and errands and laundry that needs doing at the moment, I feel the need to catalog the stories of my cowboy boots.  What can I say?

1.  The Baker's Brown Boots.  I came home from CSU for Thanksgiving and my dad, uncharacteristically, asked me if I wanted anything before I went back to school.  I asked for cowboy boots so I could hide a pint of liquor in the shaft of the boot.  He thought it was hilarious and took me to a mall type store (Baker's) and bought me some imitation cowboy boots that I wore for years.  It was the only gift my dad bought directly for me.

2.  The Nine West Series.  My years as a young teacher were spent in leggings and flashy Nine West imitation boots.  There was an all white pair with fringe and silver covered heels, a red and black pair, and a green and tan pair with cool engraving.  I lived in them.

3.  The Steamboat Boots.  Franny was going to Dustan and playing competitive softball.  She had a cool tournament in Steamboat and I wandered the stores during a lull between games.  In the back part of a main street store I found a pair of black and white Larry Mahan boots that were the softest calf leather I have ever known.  These were my first real boots.  These were the first I had fitted by a pro.  The boots were the only pair left and in my size.  They were $500 boots (years and years ago) for $85.  It was my first Gold Medal in Olympic Shopping.  It also meant I could never buy imitation cowboy boots again.  Walking in the Larry Mahan boots was different.  I was in love.

4.  The Judy Boots.   These boots were the first in a series of boots bought in Jackson, Wyoming and the name is just what they were called by the boot designer--I've always figured he had a wonderfully romantic vision of a girl named Judy in mind when he designed them.

For years and years Jackson felt the need to put cowboy boots on sale when I was there and whenever our finances could accommodate some boots, I took advantage and went boot shopping although I didn't find anything in my size for years.  I bought my first Jackson boots from a store that no longer exists.  The boots are brown and white and hand-stitched and scuplted and were my everyday shoes for the last ten years of my teaching career.  They are in my closet.  They are pretty tight.  I won't part with these.

5.  The Jackson Lucchese Series.  
A.  Emma's boots.  When I've bought boots in Jackson it was because we were staying in the Tetons nearby at Jenny Lake Lodge.  We were friends with the manager at Jenny and one year her daughter (Emma) was getting married in a field up there.  Emma accented her wedding dress with some pre-Uggs style boots that I was tracking down at The Bootlegger in Jackson.   I missed the Emma-style boots, but found my first pair of Lucchese boots and scored my second Gold Medal in Olympic Shopping.  There, in the stack of boots in my size, was a pair meant for me.   They were a style that was two years old and about $1,000 off and well, what could I do?

My first Lucchese Boots were the best fitting boots I had ever worn up until that point.  I have more Lucchese's now so I have several pair that feel this way.  This first pair has a sky blue vamp made of ostrich and a shaft is a lime green goat.   They are soft and comfy and have my favorite heel--it slants back.  These are Emma's boots because her wedding led me to Lucchese.

A cool side effect of Emma's boots is that the night I bought them,  I walked across the dining room at Jenny in an outfit selected to show off the boots and a man came over and to talk about them and I had the first of many Lucchese conversations I've had in my life.  Jim and I have been friends with Joe and his wife Carol ever since that moment.   Carol just sent a photo of her grey suede boots--Lucchese's.

B.  The Red and Black Boots.  These were the last of the Jackson boots.  Lucchese's again.  The red pair came first about five years after Emma's boots.  They are patterned with red leather over black and heavy because of that.  They are my first choice on a winter's day when there is no snow.  I don't know how real cowboys wore the suckers in the snow--they are slippery.

The black boots are my everyday pair now.  These are the shoes my teachers would identify as mine if they notice at all.  They are just comfy and basic and I don't know how I would go through the world without them.

Both of these were on sale and the cheapest of any of my boots because of the sale and my luck--my size was sitting in the stacks of boots.  Jackson doesn't have big July sales anymore.   The Bootlegger has a back room, but the wonderful boots don't go back there anymore.  I figured out I bought the black boots the first year I started coaching teachers through Metro State eleven years ago.  I haven't bought any boots up there since then.   The Jackson period is done.

6.  The Sante Fe Boots.  These are the dream boots.  I suspect they will be the last pair of boots I buy.

I always wanted a pair of boots that were appropriate for animal rights and were made of snake or lizard or something like that.  I wanted rattlesnake mostly.  There was a time that was okay and Lucchese had them on their website.   Then they stopped.    For a while they had manta ray boots, but they were stiff and had a weird sheen I didn't like.  I don't think anyone liked the manta ray boots.  I stopped looking.

Then I discovered Santa Fe.  Several years ago we started going to the Santa Fe Opera in August.  I found a Lucchese store on the Plaza.  I found a real live store devoted to my brand of boots and only my brand of boots.  This is the promised land for a girl like me.

I looked many times at this store over a number of years.  I saved my money.  I looked at the store many more times.  I saved more money.  Last spring when we met Joe and Carol for dinner in Santa Fe, I found my dream boots.  Cayman and available in three colors for an outrageous amount of money.  I had saved money.  I was close.  We were going back in August for the opera.  The chances were good the boots would still be there in August.  All I had to do was pick my color.  Red, black tan.  I think I wore out the Lucchese website looking at them and trying to decide.

We went to the opera and the day we arrived, Jim went with me and I bought my dream boots and we walked over to the rooftop at the Coyote Cafe and celebrated with margaritas.  The next evening  I wore them to Rigoletto.  After the performance I went into the shop to buy Brooklyn a birthday gift and the tenor who sang Rigoletto stopped to talk about my boots in between signing autographs.  It made my day and I still feel badly I didn't buy a CD and have him sign it.  It was the first of the boots stories.  They are amazing boots.  I love them.  I look forward to all the stories they will create.

One last thing and I am done.  There are rules about boots that I follow and must share.
1.  Take good care of cowboy boots and they will last forever.  Re-heel them yearly.  Re-do the whole bottom as needed.  Maintenance is everything with cowboy boots.  If my feet don't grow anymore, my boots will last as long as I do.

2.  If you are a real cowboy or a real cowgirl, wear as much cow-gear as your heart desires.  But if you are just in love with how the gear looks or feels, then limit yourself to one thing at a time.  If you wear a cowboy shirt, then wear only that.  If you wear your boots, limit yourself to the boots.  You just can't pull off too much cowboy gear if you don't ride a horse or rope a cow now and then.

3.  Get a good fitting.  They need to pull up a bit at the heel.  It's impossible to explain.

4.  Let the boots bring you stories and people.  For whatever reason, people like to talk about boots.  Let them talk and then talk back.  Friendships, no matter how brief they are or how they are devised, are to be enjoyed and cherished.  Just like Pete the Cat loves his white, then red, then blue, then brown, then wet shoes,  I love my cowboy boots.  Love makes them magic.




Sunday, January 3, 2016

THE SIXTH EXTINCTION

Elizabeth Kolbert

Elizabeth Kolbert is a NEW YORKER writer on the environmental beat who manages to write about the impending end of civilization as we know it with wit and, yes, lightness.  This latest work is a case in point.

I haven't written much about the things I've been reading because I have been too busy with my own writing, my grandparenting, my husbanding, and all the rest.  Plus, I'm leaving for Puerto Vallarta in a few days.  The point is that I've had other things on my mind.  However, this book is compelling enough to force me down here to the computer instead of listening to Marshall Faulk explain why the Broncos are not going to the Super Bowl.

Kolbert takes us through the five great extinctions that have occurred on Earth and anticipates the sixth extinction, the one that we are going through even as I type this.  Each of these extinctions were caused by some factor--climate change, stellar collision, violent eruptions--that changed the living condition of our planet.  Those species who could not make the adjustment became extinct.  During the Pleistocene epoch, for instance, the planet teeter-tottered through periods of glaciation followed by warming reactions to the falling temperatures.  This wreaked havoc on the plants and animals of the age who either died out, or moved to different climes.

Now we are in the Anthropocene epoch and the agent of extinction is man.  Kolbert takes us on a depressing tour of places where we can see extinction in the works.  She visits a cave in New England, once the home of seemingly millions of bats, now virtually empty.  The ripple effect of such an extinction is frightening.

In her final chapters, she directs our attention to the gradual disappearance of the large apes that typifies the sixth extinction.  Homo sapiens will at once be the only large ape to survive and the reason why all the others die out.

In Kolbert's view, man was ultimately the cause of many relatively recent extinctions.  There are lots of theories about how Mastodons, for example, became extinct.  Glaciation.  Orbital changes.  Volcanic eruption like the Yellowstone caldera.  But ultimately it was man's arrival on the scene.  The mastodon's gestation period is so slow that even if a group of hunters managed to kill only one or two a year, eventually the species would die out.  The pattern is clear.  Wherever man migrates, the flora and the fauna of that area begins to change and in many cases disappear.

She ends her book with a fascinating comparison of man to the other great apes, especially Neanderthal man.  When homo sapiens made its way from the bowels of Africa to Western Europe, it met the Neanderthal, a species that was not wide ranging, but rather stayed put.  Homo sapiens did two things to Neanderthals:  killed them and mated with them.  If you have European origins, you are approximately 4% Neanderthal.  But why did Neanderthals stay put and our ancestors roam?  Ancient homo sapiens' DNA has been found in New Zealand, but none from the Neanderthal.  That means that man must have gotten up the courage to set out on the ocean on a ridiculously little boat  just to see what he could find.  Imagine how many of those boats didn't make it anywhere, but man kept persisting.

We still persist.  We send rockets to space in the hopes of finding something, anything.  If man had never migrated to Europe, Neanderthals would still be hunting giant creatures with hand axes in the forests of France.

Kolbert suggests that the homo sapiens genome must have mutated to create a "madness" gene.  We're the only species that seems to have one.  She follows some spelunkers into a cave that seems to go on forever.  They all have to crawl to get to the interior and they all carry lights.  Once inside, the cave drawings abound.  Neanderthals would never have made those drawings because they never would have been "mad" enough to crawl into the cave, to explore.  And the thing is, once you start depicting the natural world with pictures and words and ideas, you can start changing that world.  And that is exactly what man does.  He can't help it.

"If you want to think about why humans are so dangerous to other species, you can picture a poacher in Africa carrying an AK-47 or a logger in the Amazon gripping an ax, or, better still, you can picture yourself, holding a book on your lap."

That's the quote I keep coming back to.  It appears in her last chapter where she tries to offer a little hope by listing some advances and some hopeful experiments that bode well for the future.  It is small comfort.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

It Is Really Hard To Be Creative. Really. I Mean it.



THIS IS KATHERINE TODAY.


I was at a work retirement party for my boss at his favorite Mexican place the other day and a colleague noticed I ordered pozole.  I like pozole.  She asked me what was in it and why I liked it and then she made a comment about my hair and then I braced myself for her next comment.

Sure enough, the financial leader of our educational department, drew back a little and said, "Katherine--you are just so creative."  At work it's a comment that often comes up when I share an idea that isn't a normal approach to the current educational trauma facing us.  Sometimes someone will smile and tell me that I think outside the box.  My ideas are generally not taken seriously.

There was a time comments about my creativity made me proud or happy or something different than they make me feel now.  The comments make me nervous now.  They make me worry that I am not working at being creative enough.  

There is a perception problem here.  From my side ordering pozole and having a noticeable haircut have nothing to do with my creativity.  I like pozole.  I think the financial leader of our department might like pozole if she tasted it too.  I like my haircut--obviously.  It doesn't mean I am creative though.  It just means that I am lazy.

The thing is--I am creative.  And it has nothing to do with my taste in food or what my haircut looks like.    I like that I am creative.  I spent years in graduate school learning to define creativity and to teach it and to nurture it in myself.  It was and it is hard work to be creative.  Part of being creative is having task commitment.  Task commitment is hard.  You have to keep trying to do stuff you suck at.  You have to create rituals for your creative outlets so they don't get sucked into the day-to-day vacuum of your life.  You have to learn content and skills and aim for production and try processes that scare you to death and take risks that people might decide you are creative.   It's just as hard, or maybe even harder, than filling an Excel spreadsheet.  Really.

That's the problem.  Others often see creativity differently.   Some see creativity as this little gift from the gods.   They think there are lucky creative souls who just go around creating stuff.  They think creativity is rather foolish and inefficient.  Being creative isn't cost effective.  Being creative is great if you create the company, but not so much if you are at the bottom of the heap.

Though I expend a huge amount of creative thought and energy coaching my teachers (I love that part of my job), most of my creative energy is devoted to knitting and these odd little drawings I do.  Both are mentally challenging, physically demanding, and spirtually mediative.  They keep me off the streets and a certain part of my soul sings better if I stick to my creative rituals.

Right now I am knitting happily and designing my next project.  Unless you know me pretty well, you might not realize that my knitting isn't the ugly Christmas sweater type.  Right now I am trying to "paint" by knitting lace.  I created a shawl meant to be an impressionistic painting of the opera house in Santa Fe that looked exactly what I imagined.  I'm pretty proud of that sucker.  It was hard work and took months of learning, and thinking, and knitting intricate stuff with intricate and tedious beading.  I did not just "whip it up."

Next up in the knitting world will be a Teton shawl filled with thunder and lightning.  It is my reaction to all the rain and storms we faced at Jenny Lake last summer.  I keep changing my mind about it's shape and lace design.  I wake up at night thinking about this.  There are hundreds of dollars in the yarn and beads.  There will be months and months of work.  I can't wait.

On the other hand, my little drawings are stalled right now.  They are simply ballpoint pen on small pieces of brochure weight matte paper.  Nothing fancy.  They are small haikus of my life or geometric efforts to settle my head.  They are what I do in the morning to become me again.

My little drawings are in the stuck stage.  I have spent close to two years with purposes in mind--an alphabet, numbers, the names of Samantha and Brooklyn--these drawings were for others and were going to be gifts someday.  For my soul, there were some drawings of Wyoming based on memories or photos.  For two years, for most mornings, I got up, drank coffee and drew for as long as my focus and time would allow.  And then, one day,  the alphabet and the numbers and the names were done.  And then there were no new purposes.  I stopped drawing.  I have been looking for new purposes ever since.

I am close to a new idea.  Jim helped by pointing me to a perfect poem.  We will see.  I have tried to draw this week.  That's a start.  I'm feeling a window opening.  It's just so hard to look for something to look at when I'm living in a visual world.  It is really hard to be creative.  Really.  I mean it.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Mithridates, He Died Old

"There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
--I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old."

(The last stanza of "Terence This Is Stupid Stuff" by A.E. Housman)

This poem, like so many other things in my life, was introduced to me by Katherine when she gave me her copy of Sound and Sense to help me prepare for a poetry class.  It is still a little amazing my professors at Regis didn't introduce me to it as well.  I'm sure it would have made all the difference.

In a nutshell, Housman's poem gives us two speakers.  One is the title character who evidently writes downer poems.  The other is his bon vivant friend who asks him why, since he is obviously a good drinker and loves to eat and otherwise enjoy life, he insists on writing such depressing stuff.

Terence answers the guy in the second stanza (sorry I'm sounding like an English teacher) by suggesting that if it's fun and entertainment he's seeking there are better routes than poetry.  Terence himself has led a wild and crazy life as a youth.  He's looked "into the pewter pot/To see the world as the world's not."  And through all the drunken revelry of youth he details, he discovers that when sober the world "was the old world yet,/I was I, my things were wet. . ."  (one of my all time favorite lines of poetry).  Terence learned, as his questioner will no doubt learn, that the world basically sucks and the wise path is to prepare for it.  Thus the parable of Mithridates.

Let me explain.  You have to understand that I am a major worrier.  My worrying will probably end up being the most significant legacy I leave my three children.  Whenever I return home after some absence long like a vacation or short like a trip to the store, I can never turn the corner or crest the hill to my neighborhood without looking to see if my house has burned down or exploded in the interim.

If Kathie is late getting home from a day mentoring teachers in Castle Rock or some faraway place like that, I always panic and reconcile myself to the fact that her Infiniti has been hit by a truck somewhere on 85 (or whatever the number of that highway is).  I figure, like Mithridates, it pays to be prepared.

It follows that I would be something of a hypochondriac and I am.  I'm a lot like Yossarian who liked to make lists of diseases so he could worry about them.  My current focus is on Hodgkins Lymphoma.  The week before I was pretty convinced that this mole that is only visible when my hair is short was a sure sign that I had a brain tumor.  When my ears started ringing about a hundred years ago, I was afraid to tell anybody.  I figured if I didn't say anything about it the certain cancerous growth would just go away.

All this brings me to the point.  I had a physical two days ago.  Like always, I had to build up a little courage to make the appointment.  You know, when you're 67 you don't feel as good as you did when you were 30.  At least that's been my experience.  And the thing that's worrisome is that it's probably going to get worse rather than better.  I mean if things keep going at their current rate of decline,  I shudder to think how many times I will have to pee in a night.

Anyway, I made the appointment and showed up.  I was happy to note that Kaiser doesn't charge co-pays for Wellness appointments like physicals.  I sat in an almost deserted waiting room (I don't think Kaiser patients have discovered the office in Ken Caryl) and I didn't even have time to check Facebook before a nice nurse took my vitals and led me to the examination room.  Dr. Arroyo performed all the necessary tests (I'm especially happy to note that they no longer waste your time by giving you those awful prostrate tests) and assured me that I was the picture of health.  Go figure.  I've been paying through the nose for health insurance for almost fifty years and, just my luck, nothing has ever happened to me.

You know that scene in Hannah and Her Sisters where Woody Allen, convinced he has a brain tumor, goes to a doctor, takes all kinds of tests and finally hears that there is nothing wrong with him.  Where at first he slouched into the doctor's office, he now strides out joyfully, a smile on his face with "What a day this has been/What a rare mood I'm in. . ." lilting away in the background?  That was me walking out of Kaiser.  The sun was shining.  The temp was an invigorating 64.  I jumped in the car, put my elbow out the window and cruised home.

The problem is, I had this little cough when I woke up this morning.




Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Platonic Refrain

Given the depressing nature of the comments trashing the very idea of democracy that I reacted to yesterday in this space, I decided to go back a few years to a post I made about PLATO AT THE GOOGLEPLEX, a terrific book expanding on the conceit that Plato is on a book tour for his latest,THE REPUBLIC, and in the course of the tour speaks to many iconic figures of our current culture.  The  great thing about the book is that, since it is Platonic as all get out, it does a beautiful job of explaining democracy.  I wish some of those sad thirty somethings who have despaired over the state of the world would consider the following thoughts I posted a couple of years ago:

But I want to talk mostly about laws and justice here.  Plato proposes a fascinating thought experiment.  Imagine you had in your possession a ring that would render you invisible whenever you wore it, reminiscent of Perseus’ helmet in CLASH OF THE TITANS (“I’m invisible.  Can’t you see that.”).  When invisible you could do anything you felt like with no fear of getting caught, no fear of retribution.  You could walk into a house and take whatever you wanted.  You could rifle money out of cash drawers.  Lurk around girls’ or boys’ locker rooms.  Steal cars.  Take free rides on airplanes.  Anything.  Would you take advantage of that situation?  Regardless of your answer, what percentage of the rest of us would?  Most everyone would answer, “Of course not.  Of course I wouldn’t take advantage.”  But do you think that’s an honest response?  If you had the ring long enough, wouldn’t you be tempted to use it for little stuff?  You’re short of cash and you’ve left your bank card at home.  Wouldn’t you slip on the ring and score that Twinkie, or that $100,000 bar?  Who’s it gonna hurt?  And wouldn’t that make the next transgression a little easier?  I mean, that’d just be human, right?

Plato goes off from that experiment to suggest that at the extreme end of the range of human desires lies the ring.  If heaven or hell were not hanging over our heads, we would all ultimately agree that being able to do anything we would like to do and get away with it would be ideal.  Of course, we would also agree that the worse that could happen to us is if someone else who was getting away with everything did anything to hurt us.  The space between those two conflicting desires is the realm of law and justice.  Since we have no choice but to live in a community (Plato thought that anyone who lived outside of society was by definition either a god or a monster), we have to cooperate to survive.  We have to have a social contract.  And to do that we would have consider questions like “What is the good life?” “What makes life matter?”

Even more than that, the good of the polis, the city-state, outweighs the good of the individual.  Anything else equals chaos.  Sparta honored collective glory.  Individual glory—a life that matters—was secondary to the glory of the state.  Athens gloried in the individual, but a life that mattered for the individual was still one that furthered the state.  The braid of beauty, truth, and goodness held this magical society together.  The pursuit of any part of this trilogy was the purest endeavor and one that could not help but further the good of the state.  All politicians in Plato’s utopia would be the poorest people in the state and forbade extravagance so as to guard against the inevitable corruption that comes from the combination of power and wealth.

In the ultimately unsatisfying chapter where Plato is interviewed by the Bill O’Reilly character (It is unsatisfying because you finally see that it is not possible to win an argument with a prating knave.), Plato asks Roy McCoy if he would rather refute someone, or be refuted?  Would he rather hurt another, or himself be hurt?  McCoy treats it like a trick question.  Of course, he would rather refute, would rather hurt than be hurt.  What kind of idiot wouldn’t?  Plato is just that kind of idiot.  He is the kind of idiot any polis needs to hold it together.  The USA of the first part of the twenty-first century is in short supply of such idiots and if we had them they would just queue up to be demolished by the pundits, the cable news hosts, the bought and paid for politicians.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Hillary doesn't know the meaning of FUBAR

House Republicans Do

There were these two incidents on Facebook recently that I need to sort out.  Let me quickly bring you up to speed on the first.  I posted Trey Gowdy's comment after his panel of angry, old males unsuccessfully attempted to scold Hillary for not agreeing with their narrative.  He said that there was nothing in her testimony that was new information.  I commented that the Republican response to this would be to start a new committee and then I wondered "how can anyone align themselves with this collection of vindictive nut cases?"  In other words, it was a typical political post for me.  It was a rhetorical question, but one of my friends replied "how can people align themselves with a lying dirt bag" like Hillary, or words to that effect.

My response read something like ". . . your comment is at once pedantic, groundless, and idiotic.  That's why I like having you as a Facebook friend, next to you I seem smart."

Okay, okay.  I admit that my remark was mean spirited, especially the part about him making me seem smart.  But there is a difference between his comment that Hillary is a "lying dirtbag" and my initial post wondering how people can align themselves with "vindictive nutcases."  If, for example, I walked into any gathering of people in the country and announced that I was getting sick and tired of all those "vindictive nutcases" on the Benghazi Committee, everyone in the room would know exactly what I was talking about.  They would have read the accounts of politicians pandering to their base, speaking for the microphones, looking for sound bites for next year's campaign.  The word nutcase and right wing Republican go together like milk and cookies, raw tuna and wasabi.  There is ample recorded evidence of their vindictiveness.

But to say that Secretary Clinton is a lying dirtbag is a different proposition.  It is, as I replied, groundless.  God knows there have been committees, eager journalists, and political rivals galore trying to pin something on her for as long as she has been in public life.  What?  Thirty plus years?  These inquiries, all of them, have been successful only at innuendo and weird conspiracy theories.  What did the latest batch of emails turn up?  The startling piece of information that Hillary didn't know the meaning of FUBAR.  I'll bet House Republicans do.  

I promised myself long ago that I would never let someone get away with a bullshit comment.  To say that Hillary Clinton is a lying dirtbag without a single shred of objective proof is bullshit, so I let the guy know it was bullshit and promptly unfriended him.  I'm  67 years old.  I don't need to waste my time with delusional people.  

The other incident is much more disturbing.  One of my Facebook friends made the following post:  "Please don't make comparisons of Obama to Stalin or Hitler or whatever.  Give it a rest."  Now there was a sentiment I could agree with, but then I regretfully read through the comments.  Let me share a few.

-"Why not?  They're all Rothschild's puppets." 
This one gave me pause.  I can only assume the writer is referring to the Jewish banking family and is therefore implying that all these politicians were bought and paid for, but I'm having a hard time seeing the Rothschilds giving Hitler much support, or vice versa.  Maybe the writer is being metaphorical.  Let's hope.

-"I have 0 interest in a system that says my rights don't exist simply because I'm outnumbered."
My first reaction is that this guy must have studied with some of the more right wing members of Green Mountain's Social Studies department.  Does this person have even an inkling of how our government works?  Last time I checked, the founding fathers went to great lengths enumerating that commenter's rights.  

-"I don't care what religion you follow or believe in, if anything.  These people in power are evil and not worth being considered leaders."
Words fail me.

-"I personally don't need a leader."
Maybe.  But you do need someone to teach you (personally) how to write.

-"Democracy is a joke.  3 wolves and one sheep vote on what is for dinner.  The sheep must die because it is for the greater good?"
This person must also be the product of a questionable social studies curriculum.  Someone should tell him that wolves and sheep can't vote.  

Let's get serious.  Don't these comments make you overwhelmingly sad?  I have smart Facebook friends.  Successful.  Family people.  Well-educated.  But the cynicism is oppressive isn't it?  

I wish I could end on a nicer note.