Late-Stage Social Lunacy: Half-Lunacy Is Not a Cure

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I have to say that it was nice being in a sort of “news quarantine” for five weeks while I was receiving treatment in Tijuana.  Of course, we’re never in such isolation anywhere these days—not really.  Baja California, especially, was bristling in masks and “Corona panic”.  The virus appears to have peaked a couple of months later in Mexico than in the U.S.; and with all the activity (legal and otherwise) occurring daily along the international border, infections were bound to proliferate.  Yet my wife and I, having already witnessed the hysteria months earlier, were pretty unfazed.  We wore masks, all right—on our walks to and from the Immunity Therapy Center, because the smog was so dense!  That’s another reason, by the way, why people in metropolitan centers might perceive CV-19 as the bubonic plague: because their air is so foul, and many of them already have compromised respiratory systems from daily living.

As for the two of us, though senior citizens and (in the case of one) fighting off cancer, we never felt ourselves under siege from an invisible killer.  (No, I don’t even regard cancer that way: on the contrary, my body’s healthy cells are cancer-killers.)  To return to the states, therefore, and find that panic has revisited—or even exceeded—its original levels was a shock.  What’s going on?  If you feel at risk, stay at home.  If you have to go out, wear a mask.  If you happen to know that cloth masks have zero efficacy and mass-marketed models only about fifty percent, then… first of all, good for you: you did some homework.  So take your fifty-fifty chance in the knowledge that, if you lose, you’ll probably end up with a bad cold for a few days.  And try to stay off ventilators, which earn big money for hospitals but are death traps in most cases.  Like masks, they keep healthy, oxygenated air from circulating (cancer dreads oxygen, by the way) and send back to the lungs higher levels of carbon dioxide along with whatever toxic microbes may lurk in your system.  I learned that much many decades ago as a young man hiking about in the snow.  Wearing a ski mask for hours is a surefire way to wake up with a chest cold the next morning.

Now, I’ve spoken to friends and relatives (not necessarily the same thing) who are terrified of CV-19 because they have personally watched it ravage an acquaintance.  The disease is not a hoax, even though it isn’t anthrax vapor.  Baseball star Freddie Freeman apparently thought he might die from his round with the contagion, despite being a young athlete in peak form.  Curious to me, though, is the way such cases are publicized.  Instead of delving into why somebody of Freddie’s demographic should have registered such an eccentrically, improbably severe response to COVID, broadcasters send the message, “See?  Even this professional athlete lay briefly at death’s door.  Just imagine what COVID could do to you if you don’t wear your mask and stay home!”

Same thing for the unfortunate kids who are playmates of a friend’s grandchildren: she informed me that their faces were all over the news in Florida as they fought for life on respirators.  My first question is… why?  Why are they news?  Because, of course, so very few adolescents even show symptoms when they contract the disease.  The press decided to run with these two young sufferers, I must assume, in order to purvey the mistaken notion that, yes, your little ones are also risking their lives when they cross their home’s threshold!  A genuinely inquiring mind, in contrast, would ask, “Why these two, out of so many thousands?  What in their profile has put a target on their back?”

Hospitals in the Palmetto State have been caught red-handed nudging a decimal point over to shift a 9.8 percent positive result on COVID screening tests to a 98 percent positive; and, of course, we’ve seen similar shenanigans all around the nation.  (My brother-in-law personally knows of a case where a man who was shot to death was logged as a CV-19 victim.  The bullet, you know, simply hastened along the inevitable!)  We can all speculate about the financial and political motives of such fraudsters—or we can do as my sister does, and just break off the conversation once it jeopardizes the “deadly plague” narrative (the same approach as Twitter‘s and Facebook‘s, come to think of it, if “break off” can include throttling your adversary into permanent silence).

But my greater interest here isn’t in sordid profiteering or yet more sordid propagandizing: it’s at the other end.  It’s in the population of bacchantes like my sister—people who appear to need the panic at some level, to embrace it as the filler of a great empty space in their lives.  What precisely is that space?  How did it evolve?  As a sign of late-stage social cancer, how many years does it suggest our nation has to live?

Other kinds of irrationality would imply that we’re already in our death throes.  BLM: now, there was one species of lunacy I was able to ignore entirely in Tijuana.  That it had literally ignited large swathes of our major cities therefore struck me with a smack upon my return.  One bad cop uses excessive force in one urban take-down… and, no, it’s not just black folks who have suffered the aggressions of that “one bad cop” in their municipality.  Oh, but it is!  And it’s not just one cop, but all of them; and it’s not just a municipality—it’s the whole damn country!  Take it all down!  Take everything down!  Take those statues down!  Take those street signs down!

Like millions of Americans, I had thought that I might escape the lunacy by losing myself in the faintly resuscitated baseball mini-season.  (At the very least, the quality of play in today’s game is a sure antidote to insomnia.)  But ESPN and the MLB aren’t content to pummel you with the Freddie Freeman narrative multiplied exponentially; that left jab is infallibly followed by the right hook of BLM.  Entire teams kneeling as the flag is raised, “BLM” emblazoned on the side of bases around the infield… it’s so very much like the marketing of Freeman’s misfortune.  Instead of inquiring into the specifics of abusive police practices and suggesting constructive solutions, the message is… what, exactly?  Abolish police forces?  Kill “pigs”?  Or can it be tailored infinitely to suit individual taste?  My son speaks of a case involving an athlete whose locker was defaced with the “n” word during high-school hazing incidents.  Okay… so you’re against that.  So am I—so is every sane human being.  I also assume that any competent principal would suspend the bully who slams a weaker kid into the wall and shouts “faggot” at him.  Does that mean that we should close down gymns across the nation?

Uh… what’s that, again?  What are you saying?

That you hate slavery?  That all whites, or all Southerners, should be punished for the institution’s presence in our history?  Is that why all Confederates in bronze on rearing horses need to be torn down throughout Alabama?  Is that why all streets and high schools named “Lee” or “Jackson” need to be rechristened “Marx” or “Engels”?

The so-called, self-styled Right has in fact primed us for this particular species of lunatic excess.  I have taken the estimable Glenn Beck to task many times in recent years for truculently insisting that our Civil War was fought only and completely—by all participants—over the issue of slavery.  Never mind that several Northern states allowed slave ownership, never mind that Lincoln excluded these from the censures and mandates of the Emancipation Proclamation, never mind that the vast majority of Southrons in uniform owned no slaves, never mind that some Southern slaveholders were themselves black, never mind that there were more abolitionist organizations in the South than in the North before John Brown’s murderous uprising torched the countryside, never mind that Lincoln could never have been elected had he admitted openly that he would meet secession with armed suppression, never mind that violent resistance to the war erupted in states as far flung as New York and Illinois when Lincoln’s draft was enforced… no, never mind history.  Mr. Beck—Grandpa History in his rocking chair—would have none of it.  And, to be fair, neither would a great many other Rightists who saw deploring the South as a slam-dunk manner of declaring their broad-mindedness, their distance from anything smacking of the John Birch Society.  “I may be for ending food stamps, but I’m not a racist.  I think flying a Confederate flag should be considered a hate crime.”  Yeah, thanks for that, Conservatives.  Beck’s own “defense” of Southern monuments was that we should never forget the evils of our past lest we slide back into them.  A statue of General Beauregard, in other words, should hang like a scarlet “A” around the South’s neck perpetually so that all Americans may ensure that they don’t become like that!

Such projection of evil upon the Other is precisely—and I mean *precisely*—what BLM is doing to white people everywhere (and, somewhat more implicitly, to various other non-African minorities).  It’s what Hitler (and Stalin, with much less “coverage”) did to Jews.  It’s what mask-fanatics are doing to non-maskers, often (as YouTube has not yet managed to suppress) attacking free-breathers physically, sometimes with deadly force.  The insane, homicidal self-righteousness of John Brown—and the Brownshirts—is in those attacks.

I happened to read just days ago a passage well over half a century old from Karl Popper’s Open Society and Its Enemies.  One of the keenest minds of the modern era observed that the Hegelian, historicist distortion (we would say “progressivism” today) had infected, not just our Far Left and Far Right, but also our conservative center.  We all have the inclination to view our civilization’s past as a Darwinian kind of climb up a staircase that this or that group seeks to impede.  Leftist loons are destroying everything!  No, Rightist racists want to conduct bloody purges!  Mask-resisters are going to kill us all!  Something’s very, very wrong with the world, and it’s… it’s them!  It’s him!  It’s outside of us, absolutely not us!  We need to eliminate the not us, or we risk being pushed back down the stairs.  Silence is violence!  All good people must stand beside us!

You know what?  The Left is right, the universities are right: there’s something very wrong with our society and our nation.  It’s that we created them—and then denied our creation as them.  Stalin and Mao didn’t force them upon us.  They’re our children, our brothers and sisters: we made them.  Yet we only ever point to them as what’s wrong without looking within ourselves to find what we did wrong in birthing them: the examples we failed to set, the message we failed to convey, the practice we failed to bring to what we preached.  They’re full of hate because, though we’re not “deplorables”, we did something deplorable along the way.  And penitence is not a matter of sharing half-and-half in their lunacy: of shutting down schools but not requiring masks, of taking a knee before the flag but supporting the local P.D., of melting down General Lee’s statues but safeguarding General Washington’s.  The nature of our sin isn’t that we wouldn’t let our wayward children have half the house to tear up at playtime.

We have all sinned, and not against each other, but against Him who made us.  We sin when we imagine we can make everything better than it was—that the fatal element of “what was” is not enduringly latent in us as we are.  Our faith in staircases, in “progress“, is a sure symptom of our sin.  And we give no sign from day to day—any of us—that we have diagnosed the illness.

Mayberry’s Meltdown: Whiny Males and Shrill Harridans

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The year 2020 doesn’t seem particularly apocalyptic on its surface, but I doubt that many of us who survive it will remember it as one of our best.  I was already having first-in-my-lifetime health problems when “the lockdown” slammed certain medical doors in my face… so that hasn’t gone well; and none of us who has children can be very happy about trillions of bucks more being added to the debt which they will all inherit from us.  Yet somehow we must blunder on.

One of my preferred escapes is baseball—which isn’t being played this year, thanks to the Wuhan Black Death; but then, I’m less a spectator than an excavator.  I research long-lost ways of hitting and throwing a ball, and I try to distill something that may help boys of smaller stature find a means of winning a place on the team.  I’m convinced that boys, especially, need a sense of physical achievement to develop a healthy outlook.  Call it “toxic masculinity”, if you wish; but far more toxic, to my mind, is self-defeating surrender to unopposed obstacles.  Which of us wants our son to grow into a living exemplar of that feminist construct: the unmotivated, irresponsible, adolescent, forever excuse-tendering couch-vegetable?

I’m in the process of trying to upload a second edition of a hitting manual based upon “Deadball days “ (c. 1900-1920), although the designers of Amazon’s software apparently do not conceive of anyone’s ever producing a second edition and are scarcely easing my task’s fulfillment.  I won’t even name the book here: publicity is not my aim.  I will, however, reproduce the final paragraph, unique to this latest edition:

The best of luck to you! Play hard, play smart… and play fair. No one who cheats will ever pile up enough lucre to buy self-respect, nor will he ever be able to counterfeit it from all the cheers he’s suckered from his adoring fan club. Playing this game, ultimately, is about winning respect for yourself as someone who did all he could with what he was given. Believe me, not many people ever get that trophy!

I’ll return to the sentiments contained in those few words.  Bear with me now as I shift to a different scene.  Most of us have wiled away a few minutes in lockdown by sitting through some fare on the idiot box that we ordinarily wouldn’t tolerate.  My wife and I tentatively explored Roku (never a very inviting experience before, since HughesNet can’t vanquish the tendency of shows to “buffer” for minutes at a time)… and we eventually settled on a British comedy (as it was teased) titled Doc Martin.  The serial seems to have run a full decade across the pond.  How bad could it be?

The narrative pretext is that a brilliant London surgeon, having discovered that he can no longer stare into people’s bleeding viscera without panic attacks, retreats to a vacation spot called Portwen off the Cornish coast.  Absurdly overqualified to treat runny noses and soothe upset tummies, he nonetheless longs to settle his nerves in peace and poverty.  Surprises await him, though… and this story, you know, has been told a thousand times, so my wife and I presumed that we knew what was in store for us as viewers.  The old Andy Griffith Show that our parents watched must have devoted dozens of episodes to “flatland touristers” who go half-crazy when they discover the hidden complexities of small-town life in Mayberry.  Portwen would surely be something in the same genre, with Doc Martin (who hates both ends of his popular rechristening) forced to abandon his big-city assumptions and navigate the quirks of colorful local characters.

Well… yes and no.  We laughed through three and a half episodes—kind of—until we agreed that our laughs were uncomfortable and wrongly timed.  The trouble, as we saw it, was that Doc Martin wasn’t the bookish, introverted, urbanized boy-wonder having to make adjustments to the human race, such as was clearly intended of his character.  No: the problem was that, for all his abrupt and stodgy ways, the doc was actually more sensible, civil, and mature than the nasty little islanders into whose midst he had plunged himself.  Locals ran him off the narrow, winding roads with a shrug, as if he didn’t know how to drive, and never reduced speed, moved over, or peered back to see what wreckage they had caused.  Lazy, incompetent workmen destroyed his property yet received his frowns with indignation.  Gossips and malingerers flooded his waiting room to gorge on tea and “biscuits” (cookies, we call them), then bristled when he shooed them out.  A need-burdened, impertinent teenaged receptionist (she certainly acted teenaged, anyway) virtually hired herself and wouldn’t do any part of her job efficiently; yet when her runaway sloppiness almost cost a life and stirred the Doc to dismiss her (for a day or two), the incensed townspeople immediately boycotted their one medical professional as if he’d been caught setting cats on fire.

These pastoral Arcadians, in a few words, were arrogant, self-important, indolent, “entitled” (in their minds), undependable, unaccomplished, unconscientious, intrusive, cliquish, clannish, and often downright boorish.  None of the Old School mannerliness that one expects to find out in the boondocks was detectable in them; no Old School reluctance to embrace city life in the moral fast lane restrained them.  In fact, the snapping point for me (when buffering just wouldn’t come often enough) was midway through Episode Four, when it became apparent that everybody on the island would potentially copulate with anybody else and that the good doctor, thanks to all his hang-ups, was some kind of “nun” (pronounced to rhyme with “noon”).  His wizened—but less than wise—auntie, intended to be a kind of Sibyl on his Other World Journey, iced a sleazy country cake by offering a few details of her extra-marital affair and sneering at her nephew’s prissy Puritanism.  I was reminded of many a grad-school confrontation in Austin during my own youthful transit through the corridors of Hell.

And that’s the point, really, I guess: Austin or Berkeley of the Eighties is now picturesque rural Europe of the twenty-first century.  The God-is-dead, guaranteed-minimum-income dystopia of simmering socialism has now softened the spines and brains of every yokel in the pot.  Everyone has rights, rights upon rights.  Everyone is constantly offended if he or she isn’t accorded special favors while doing nothing that might appear energetic or exceptional.  “Everyone belongs to everyone,” in the phrase piped through the cradles of Huxley’s Brave New World.  With what dismay would that extraordinarily clairvoyant prophet have viewed an “entertainment” in which his countrymen can’t perceive the grim irony of “everyone being everyone’s”, but instead milk idiot laughter from the isolation of a single resisting individualist!

I need hardly observe to anyone who labors through my paragraphs that this reformed ethos now belongs to our shores, as well.  What was His Excellency Judge Eric Moye telling Shelley Luther in a Dallas courtroom other than that “everyone belongs to everyone” and that her individual concern for feeding her children was obscene?

The irony here—one fully worthy of Huxley’s pen—is that Ms. Luther showed us a rare display of “manly fortitude” as a tinpot dictator nanny-wagged his finger at her and sent her into time-out.  It’s no accident, I think, that the fictional Portwen abounds in outspoken, aggressive, sarcastic female characters and invertebrate, whiny, directionless males.  The Brave New World we have fashioned for ourselves is an effeminate one—a place where competency is insensitive, where honesty is rude, where independence is anti-social, and where objective logic is “mansplaining”.  Doc Martin embodies all of these despicable male attributes… and, of course, he must be brought to his knees to beg forgiveness of the communal idol, the mute stone Moloch of conformity.  Just like Shelley Luther, who apparently possesses more courage than the typical American man within the age of discretion, he must confess publicly that he has been “selfish”.

Meanwhile, the rest of us shoot and post selfies of our now de-individualized faces wearing their communally supportive masks (the best of which are seldom more than half effective against microbes, by the way—and then only if they are discarded and replaced after each outing).  We are somehow saving lives… my life, your life, our own lives and other lives… if we do so, while we are no better than perpetrators of manslaughter if we refuse.  And we know this because… because it is repeated endlessly around us, in Huxleyan fashion.  We know that when medical opinion argues otherwise, it isn’t real science, because it’s rude: it doesn’t put the collective front and center.  All science must begin in the promotion of the collective, because… because people like Judge Moye (and Xi Jinping, and Mao Tse-tung, and Joseph Stalin) tell us so.

God help our boys!  Was there ever a time when a fella needed more courage of conviction, more dedication to objectives outside himself but not defined by the herd?  In a small but not insignificant way, a boy might learn such courage by turning his natural liabilities into assets—his short stature into productivity, for instance.  That’s why, in my leisure, I love to imagine some passed-over kid at batting practice elbowing the big guys aside and saying, “Watch me shoot line drives through infield!  You’ll strike out twice a game and homer once, maybe.  I’ll be on base for you all afternoon!”

Was there ever a moment when the block cast aside by the builder was more essential as a cornerstone?  God created every little thing and every person to reach up to Him in some special way—to flower in that manner darkly caricatured by Darwinian evolution, but much more accurately portrayed as resistance against the Domination of the Bully.  There is no greater bully than the herd, nor any more loathsome crystallization of herd will than those individual bullies who appoint themselves herd-interpreters.  Our mission in this world is to prevail over the great Downward Pull, a vector that perversely becomes “progress” in the grubby, squalid scramble to survive.  The florition of the unique, the surpassment of mere physical parameters through a burst of inspired intelligence—of spirit: this is why we are alive.

And this is what the dark force among us has always sought to throttle.  This is why he or she who will not bend a knee to the collectivist’s design has always become a scapegoat.  It’s why Mayberry and Portwen become Deadworld without new generations of boys who play hard, and play fair.  May God have mercy on the throngs of us who allow ourselves to be led like sheep!  We may be assured of this: He will have no mercy at all on those who lead the children to destruction.

How We Elect: A Decaying Republic’s Broken System (Part Two)

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It’s a commonplace in American politics to ascribe corruption to every elected official.  They’re all crooks, we say… and the system makes such sweeping condemnation credible.  You can’t get elected without publicizing your candidacy, you can’t publicize without advertising, you can’t advertise without campaign contributions… and you can’t elicit meaningful contributions unless a body of deep-pocketed donors has reason to believe that you favor a certain agenda.  So… there you are, bought and paid for in the eyes of the casual cynic.

As I ponder the misery of conservative Americans, forever watching their government slide farther left by promising more and more goodies to possible voters, I share in the cynic’s disgust.  We who just want to be left alone (How about a “Back Off” party, with the Yosemite Sam who used to appear on trailer mud-flaps as our mascot?) are constantly being served the challenge, “Well, look at what the other side’s offering!”  We have to be content, then, with a slower rate of drift into the national debt chasm that yawns as millions of ne’er-do-wells sell their vote to the highest bidder.  Or we don’t have to be content, of course: we can sit out elections and opt for a straight nosedive.  Maybe the more abrupt catastrophe will be more fruitful—maybe those who survive it can get about piecing something together from the rubble sooner.

I’ve grown so familiar with both sides of this Hobson’s Choice over the years that I can argue for and against either one with equal vigor… and equal despair.  I don’t know how we find and promote candidates who genuinely wish to save the republic rather than feed off her decaying carcass—or, in the unlikely event that we elect them, how we keep them from going flabby within their first term.

Lately, though (and maybe thanks to a steady water-boarding in cynicism), I’ve begun to envision a new kind of candidate.  This worthy would already have amassed a small fortune, would already have very broad “name recognition”—and, most importantly, would already have experienced mistreatment at the hands of the info-tainment industry.  For the last criterion is essential: it’s what is permanently, fatally missing in our patriotic, clean-cut saviors who turn two-faced during their freshman term.  Someone—I think it may have been Chris Putnam—explained recently on Daniel Horowitz’s Conservative Review that mere surrender to the barrage of media criticism is a major cause of our champions going Judas.  It makes sense, if you consider the following picture.  Just who is this bright young star of ours?  A pleasant man or woman who’s very used to pleasing—who has known nothing else since being class president for several years running in high school.  This person has the smile, has the wave, has the walk.  He’s always charmed everyone… until now.  Now, alarmingly, the magic is gone.  That has to be terrifying.  How to get the magic back?  What does Orpheus do when the trees no longer uproot themselves to dance to his sweet lyre?  One has to suppose that he lets the strangely unmoved audience call the tune, and the tempo.

Consider, by way of example, the current game of rope-a-dope that “wise Latina grandmother” Sonya Sotomayor is playing with Chief Justice John Roberts.  She’ll get results; she usually does.  Roberts is more concerned over his acceptance by the beltway intellectual elite than he is about preserving the Constitution.  Ironically, his new compatriot Brett Kavanaugh is cut from the same cloth, despite a take-no-prisoners confirmation hearing that duped most of us into supposing our rock-bottom values to be the stake.  Kavanaugh is another prep-school party boy, though admittedly (hopefully—please-God-surely) almost as wise now as a Latina grandmother.  Sotomayor was correct in her snarky talking out of school to this extent: we do tend to preserve bits and pieces of the prejudices in which we were raised.  For Kavanaugh, the corrosive residue upon his judgment is one of wanting to please, of expecting to be praised.  It’s what he has always known.  (For Sotomayor, it’s a default retreat to the “Latina” trump card that has always won the hand in the past, even though her confidence in that strategy utterly undermines—patently contradicts—her sworn duty to consider all human beings as individuals equally endowed with rights.)

So… so who, then, is our superhero candidate capable of leaping over such obstacles in a single bound?  What about a figure from the world of professional athletics whose gilded reputation provides a breastplate against media slings and arrows?  What about Curt Schilling, the should-have-been (perhaps soon-to-be) Hall of Fame pitcher?  What about New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick—or his protégé, quarterback Tom Brady?  Wrestling superstar Tyrus has established his political gravitas on Greg Gutfeld’s show, and enjoys the additional advantage of being black.  Does that matter?  Am I really clinging to the notion of identity politics?  Why, yes: inasmuch as the name of this new game is vanquishing the propaganda machine at work behind news desks everywhere, any contradiction of the simplistic profiles spewed over our air waves is welcome.  We’re playing a game, precisely.  Our society is in a degenerative stage which its founding fathers would have recognized as fatal.  We can no longer merely rely upon sound arguments made by honest people—for a shocking percentage of the electorate reasons by pure association, and elected representatives of routine qualifications soon lose their honesty.  Those are the game’s ground rules.

The new candidate, therefore, needs an “in your face” attitude.  And his defiance has to be such that the public credits it to his established “bad ass” persona.  He must be able to jump down Jim Acosta’s throat, come back out with a fistful of viscera, and throw them in the impudent punk’s face.

Albert Pujols: he’ll be retiring soon.  First-ballot Hall of Famer.  The most terrifying batsman of the new millennium’s opening decade, and a giant of a man (a Latin giant) who silenced questions about his possible steroids use with little more than a scowl.  What sticks in my mind about Alberto’s political inclination is a proud remark I once heard Glenn Beck make about the world’s mightiest clean-up hitter being one of his fans… and also a much more recent, very understated regret voiced by Pujols about California taxes.  He’s Latino-wise enough, I’m sure, to keep his mouth shut on more hot-button issues until the Cooperstown vote is recorded.  He doesn’t want to get “schillinged”.  Wise, very wise.

But you see how this plays, anyway.  Would an actor also meet our specifications?  Maybe.  Dean Cain has played Superman, and doesn’t appear (in truly Superman fashion) to fear the Twitter spittle drawn by his conservative views.  Our man Ronaldus Magnus seemed to have mastered the art of ignoring flights of rotten eggs and tomatoes thanks to his screen career.  One could wish that Schwarzenegger had been a little less impressed with social engineering… but he, too, serves to sustain the main point.

Which is simply this.  Our broken system is preserved in constant shambles primarily (speaking from a purely mechanical perspective) by the unremitting slanders that educational institutions and broadcast media heap upon non-progressive, “back off” candidates.  We look for new faces who have “done things”: created jobs, served in the military, fought infanticide in the courts… and these tyros keep getting themselves shot down or captured in the first sally.  (Oh, by the way… yeah, how has Martha McSally worked out?)  It’s time now to pay attention to character rather than accomplishment—and when I say “character”, I don’t mean church attendance and fidelity to one spouse.  Maybe I should have said “personality”.  We need tough guys.  We need people who will stuff the slanders in their mouth, chew them into nails, and spit them back where they came from.  We need not to put nice guys on the ballot, guys like you and me.  We need a bad-ass.

Okay, so I’ve been describing Donald Trump… I guess.  I could argue with you about that.  For my taste, Trump spends too much time tweeting intercepted missiles back where they came from and too little time actually attending to policy.  (There’s an enormous amount of matter, for instance, capable of exposing the Swamp in all its stench that he could declassify tomorrow; why, oh why, doesn’t he do so?)  Imagine Bill Belichick giving the State of the Union instead of the Donald.  No celebration of Jevonka’s “jailbreak” bill, nor even a Medal of Freedom for Rush (though I’m fine with that: hell, Barack Obama dished out 123 of the things to people like Isabel Allende, Barbra Streisand, and Bruce Springsteen).  No, I picture Bill at the rostrum quietly, almost monotonously detailing all the duties not performed by the House, the Senate, the courts, the media, the universities, the banking sector… and then he raps his thin stack of notes sharply on the mahogany, turns to leave, and leans into the microphone for one last, very dry comment.  “Just do your job.”

Will I leave to hear those words from that stage?

Polarization Can Be Good… But Not in Cases of Magnetic Fraud

My wife insists that the whippoorwill fond of cranking it up every dawn outside our window isn’t the real thing—that she recalls the song’s full range from her childhood, and that this strident alarm clock doesn’t have it down properly.  Interesting.  You can believe me or not… but cardinals no longer sound the same as they once did.  I realize that we’ve moved much farther east, and that birds have dialects; but even when we yet lived in Texas, and even for years before I was married, the cardinal’s repertoire had been much reduced from what I distinctly recall as a boy.  For some reason, I have a very good aural memory (to compensate for my poor retention of faces).

What could explain this phenomenon of the bird world—the equivalent of great-great-grandfather Feathers handing down the line, “The wind, it bloweth where it listeth,” only to have the contemporary generation produce, “Wow, breeze comin’ from everwure today!”  We humans (or those few of us who remain alert to such things) understand that cultural impoverishment occurs when a population disperses over too much area too rapidly.  I dimly recall that Ortega y Gasset wrote an essay about how badly the Latin language decayed around the Empire’s peripheries during the second and third centuries.  Is it so far-fetched to suppose that bird populations have been similarly stressed by human activity?  They’ve had to spread out rapidly and resourcefully, just to survive.  In the process, the songs that they transmitted to the next generation were truncated, simplified, and—in a word—impoverished.

This doesn’t mean that our world will end in twelve years, or that we can stabilize the avian repertoire if we will only drive hybrid cars.  Yet I find in it a measure of how risky our high-tech, progressive, ever more urbanized habits of living have become.  We’re mutilating a quality of life constantly whose former richness we don’t begin to suspect.  I used to observe to students that Edgar Allen Poe’s Monsieur Dupin (the forefather of Sherlock Holmes) could direct a friend’s gaze to the Andromeda Galaxy from the streets of Paris without drawing a cry of “foul” from Poe’s readership.  These days, you’d need a pair of binoculars to locate the same one-degree swirl of stardust out in the boondocks.  Now, Poe never actually traveled to Paris… but the point is that his claim seemed plausible a little less than two hundred years ago. Our skies were once incredibly clean.

Am I somehow being a “defector from conservatism” to volunteer such concerns?  That would be an odd association of ideas, inasmuch as I’m speaking on behalf of conserving our natural environment from tasteless, needless, often poisonous artifice.  Yet so it is, in our lunatic present.  Because the Green movement has been kidnapped by One World Order types who want a central government to peer into every facet of our daily routine, any protest against commercialist exploitation that leaves forests or plains in ruins (such as wind turbines, may I say) is a kind of closet-Marxism. At least that’s what I’m given to understand in certain quarters that consider their right-wing bona fides irreproachable.

I’ve recently been “tweeting” (in notes far less lyrical than a cardinal’s) with a veteran of the armed services about the extreme inadvisability of the Pompeo-Bolton campaign of saber-rattling in Iran’s face.  Our own border is under assault—and we’re trying to ignite a powder keg halfway around the world because… because we wish to preempt the evil influence of Islam on global peace and create a terrestrial paradise.  I thought we’d worked—or I thought the putative Right had worked—through such utopian delusions during the two terms of the junior Mr. Bush.  Yet I’m a traitor, in some eyes, for not wanting to send Xenophon into Persia with ten thousand Spartans.  Wasn’t Mr. Trump supposed to have been elected in large measure because our society had had quite enough of such adventurous meddling in foreign affairs under Bush and Obama?  (And, for that matter, isn’t a solidifying of relations with Russia, drawing her away from our real and ultimate enemy—the PRC—a much more rational path to world peace?  And how will stirring up things in Iran extend an olive branch to Russia?)

About a month ago, I posted a piece about my change of heart on capital punishment.  I initially thought it a rather boring scribble—but few things I’ve ever published have drawn more fire… or, I should correct, “spirited exception”.  I’m of the opinion that the sore spots I apparently mashed exist because those opposed to the death penalty don’t mince words about what ravenous animals their adversaries are.  The discussion on this issue, as on most other national issues, has grown so polarized that a flag of truce soliciting a conference is immediately mistaken for the battle flag of a charging phalanx.

This past week, my adoptive state of Georgia and her immediate neighbor Alabama have drawn the ire of various Hollywood ghouls and media darlings for pushing back the highly permissive limits surrounding legal abortion.  My position is pro-Tenth Amendment.  Since abortion isn’t a right guaranteed to all Americans under the Bill of Rights (and, no, there is no Abortion Amendment implied in the Fourteenth’s ban of slavery, contrary to Hollywood analysis), let individual states set the boundary where they deem it appropriate.  Similarly, why may not the marriage ceremony be purged of any civil (read “tax/insurance”) significance and returned to its pristine religious dimension?  Faiths or denominations that choose to bless the union of two men or two women—or a human and a dog—may do so.  I don’t have to subscribe to them.  I shouldn’t even be required to say pleasant things about them in public… but the law prevents me from hurling rocks through windows or delivering dead cats to doorsteps.  That’s the nature of a liberal (i.e., free) society.

How “right-extremist” is the previous paragraph, and how “left-anarchic”?  I wouldn’t say that it was any of either… but it depends upon whom you ask, doesn’t it?  Invisibly, imperceptibly, a checklist of necessary positions appears to have evolved for either “side”—and I must throw quotes around “side”, because I myself see no very coherent line separating the rows of boxes, but only an insane zigzag.  If the Left’s hyperventilating hysteria over the “Trump Phenomenon” has any degree of validity, it must center upon the abject devotion registered by the man’s followers… you know, like that pledged so often on the Left to their endless stream of Peerless Leaders, Big Brothers, and Dear Friends.  Yeah, that worries me, too: wherever I see it, it worries me.  I very much doubt that Mr. Trump himself has ever before thought deeply about some the crises suddenly confronting him (hence his being persuaded to trust people like Pompeo and Bolton).

I’m not going to finish by writing, “Maybe we can all just calm down a bit.”  I’m not calm.  I have a son living in Denver, whose space-cadet town council seems intent on legalizing every hallucinogen known to shaman or rockstar.  I wish we could be “uncalm” in a consistent manner, however.  People of principle get worked up about behaviors that shred their principles; people of uncomposed mind get worked up about anything whose appearance in their peripheral vision startles them.

Are Social Media Elevating Insanity to Ideology?

Twitter.  The name has always been an immediate turn-off to me.  After all, its initial syllable is “twit”—and I can’t say that the accident creates an inappropriate expectation.  Yet I have persisted in my “tweeting” (a verbal form scarcely more reassuring: what kind of bird-brain wastes time pecking a very constricted number of characters on a keyboard?).  My objective is, and has always been, an indirect publicity campaign: a projection of my views into the great wide world, that is, in the hope of attracting a few curious eyes to my Amazon author’s page.  I’m a perfectly lousy marketer—always have been.  Garbling or botching publicity is one of my special talents.  But on the surface, the objective seems both logical and respectable.  If you like what I say, try some of the productions where I speak at much greater length.

At the same time, I have grown aware of certain seductions in Twitter that could lead someone off the path whose aim was a little less monomaniacal than mine—and I myself don’t always resist, either.  The dozen-word bon mot is sometimes too ready-at-hand and the target too fat and stationary.  Yet sitting about an e-salon while languidly launching barbs at hippopotamus-sized news events doesn’t lead to a very productive morning.  It’s a pastime fit for twits.  Of course, people need a certain amount of amusement, perhaps these days more than ever; so the argument might be made that one lifts the spirits of one’s neighbors in making light of the fools who would rule us… and then, it’s such a great way to attract followers!

On principle, I have desisted from keeping tabs on how many e-disciples are tagging along at my winged heels.  It’s not healthy: it distracts you from speaking truth—it inclines you to probe after the popular.  I need hardly moralize about what hyper-sensitivity to polls and focus groups has done to our political system.   Don’t want the same thing happening to me personally.

There’s a much darker side to Twitter, as well.  Yesterday I noticed one of the public figures I admire most in the world dropping an f-bomb… on Twitter’s head, actually—and Facebook’s, and Instagram’s.  The occasion was a fury over how social media filter opinions not to their progressive-utopian taste and brand them “hate speech” (a phrase, speaking of words, that’s always struck me as implying a kind of caveman syntax: “Ug… me no like… make me mad… hate… hate speech!”).  How do you respond to insufferable idiots who gag and pillory you because you fail to parrot their drivel?  I can well understand the impulse to squeeze an “f” out through the gag… yet, in a way, it concedes the battle to the idiots.  Rather than clubbing the caveman back with a bigger limb, maybe you should just stay out of caves.

Probably half of all posts on Twitter are photos (invariably called “pictures” in these cavernous days), “memes”, or short videos.  A picture’s worth a thousand words—especially for a person who doesn’t know a thousand words.  So we gape at each other’s pictures, someone starts an avalanche of “opinion” cascading (“caption this” or “what’s that in her hair?”), the barbs fly, the tweaked hearts dispense “likes”… and some kind of communication, apparently, has just taken place.  What kind?  Not entirely sure; but I do know that its species defines our brave new world… our e-cave.

I’m both amused and saddened when I hear people say, “Looking back on our time, historians will write….”  No, historians will write nothing—not if no one can read, and certainly not if no coherent sense of historical connection remains (i.e., of the indissoluble complexity of human choice as opposed to “memes” and “pics”).  What I see in Twitter—illustrated helpfully, if unwittingly—is the progress of cultural and intellectual collapse favored by all electronic media, more or less.  The compression of judgment into a few words, the subservience of those words to cliché and jibe, the equivalency of word to image, the instantaneity of word and image alike… it’s all making us dumber by the year.  Look at our dumbed-down college grads, who believe that currencies can be resuscitated by running Xerox machines, that human evil is produced by deficient melanin in the epidermis, that Nature bestows either one set of sex organs or the other upon individuals (including squash plants), that nations must never have borders yet that momentary residents must enjoy the full rights of citizenship…. Where did these analytical featherweights come from who nourish a cultic conviction that less than half of one one-hundredth of one percent of the atmosphere will suffocate life on earth in about a decade—while the same gaseous substance, before our eyes, is feeding a revival of green vegetation….

How is it that we can transform bright young minds into generators of imbecility and lunacy?  What force is driving this incredible degeneration?  It would have to be something that causes views to be embraced because they seem flashy in their extravagance… something that shoulders aside patient reflection… something that awards points for immediate effect rather than for enduring substance.  It would have to enlist its users in a veritable competition to one-up each his predecessor, as in exchanges like this: “The capitalist market is racist.  Oh, yeah?  Well, the entertainment media are [“is” in current parlance] also racist!  Oh, yeah?  Well, grocery stores are also racist!  Oh, yeah?  Well, door knobs are also racist!”

Now, what do you see on the current scene that would elicit such a degree of abject idiocy—unique in the history of the human race, and likely unknown even to the very practical caveman—from millions of young people fresh from college?  What in our society could possibly inspire such unnatural and self-destructive behavior?  An oldtimer like me can gather plenty of clues by visiting Twitter… but study your preferred medium.  Where do you see anything approaching cautionary care and recourse to principle rather than applause in our means of communication?

Of the wide array of drugs killing our society from within, the one that “brings people together” is ravaging us with inestimably more ferocity than all the others combined.

Fire: The Rude, Wild Friend

The affect of a blazing fire on body and mind always amazes me.  You’ve seen campfires a million times on television—always very faked campfires; for a flame chewing through wood is a living animal, a carnivore at its meat.  On the first day of Spring this past week, we performed our third or fourth burn of brushwood since moving to 25 acres of wilderness last July.  The hilltop had been cleared years earlier for a domicile that was never built; and the result was that, robust trees having been bulldozed and piled into various remote corners, briar and vine and gnarly trees more akin to shrubs took over around the “compound”.  The piles of deadwood (for none was carted off) also became a breeding ground for unwholesome things.  Cedars are strangely dying hither and yon in the forest, and I have to wonder if one cause might be an imbalance in the ecosystem that unleashed some kind of boring beetle upon them.

I certainly can’t put all of that straight by slashing and burning my way through vines and wild blackberry… but I can protect, perhaps, the substantial parts of the old forest that remain.  I can also ensure that, in the catastrophic event of a local brushfire, my property isn’t a tenderbox just waiting to pass along the wall of flame in a grim relay race.

Just standing over the maw of the fire pit, however, you’re unaware of any long-term endeavor.  The effect of the sheet of warmth that comes flapping against your chest and face is hypnotic.  Sometimes, if the breeze abruptly shifts (as it’s wont to do around an open fire), a wreath of acrid smoke sends you running away in a crouch, your eyes wincing in tears.  Probably it was at one such time that my sweatshirt got singed by an ember.  I never noticed: my wife pointed the hole out to me when she was washing clothes.  When you try to make a pet of a big puma whose nature is to tear passing shoulders apart, you discover claw marks all over your hands and forearms after every “playtime”.

We had plenty of brush and deadwood to sunder and shift into the pit; but even without that activity, standing before the flames proves to be oddly exhausting.  You come away parched and worn out, as wrung of vital energy as a fruit of its juice after some gorilla hand has fingered it.  How firefighters work for days on end, sleeping a couple of hours here and there, during a major forest fire is a mystery I’ll never solve.

The trick with this or any controlled fire is to concentrate the flames.  A piece of paper or some pine needles will catch fire at once, but the flame will not endure.  The temperature must rise high enough to eat into the heart of a solid block of wood… and then you have a fire that won’t burn itself out for days, as long as new blocks are pressed into the coals.  On the day after a burn, if it hasn’t rained, you can toss a forgotten limb into the ashes—and within minutes you see an orange tongue lapping and a string of white smoke rising.  Even two days—even three days—after the burn, you can get the whole show started again by stirring a few fresh blocks and chips into the ashes.  The pit doesn’t go completely cold for perhaps five days.

I elected not to have a wood-burning fireplace in our house, merely because the scent of burnt wood often troubles my sinuses.  Now I feel that I blundered somewhat into a very wise decision.  The power of a genuine wood-fed fire is fearful.  If our slightly fraudulent gas-fed fire is ever hooked up, it will be immensely easier to tame and control.  Even if some sort of calamity cuts off all gas and electricity indefinitely, the fire pit forty feet from the house will be a rude, wild friend quite close enough for my taste.  We might want a large watchdog at some point, too—but we won’t keep him indoors.  Shuttling forty feet to and from the ashes with supper would not be an agonizing hardship; and ashes, by the way, are a fine stove.  Anything you shove well into them for five minutes, wrapped tightly in foil, is cooked through and through.

Everyone who hasn’t grown up in a cave is well aware in this nineteenth year of the new millennium that exhalations from human settlements into the atmosphere may give cause for concern.  When you’ve actually lived side by side with one of these “existential threats” as it snoozes in its lair, however, you acquire a less theatrical respect for it that more resembles a working relationship.  We can’t rid ourselves of carbon emissions any more than we can of solar radiation—and we don’t want to, if we intend to stay alive.  Plants need carbon dioxide; and my fire pit’s ash, finally cool, goes on the yard to give nourishing carbon in another form to my garden.  Amputation of any appendage is cultic lunacy.  You don’t eliminate threatening realities: you learn to live with them, and indeed through them.

Adapt and adjust—don’t eradicate.  The crematoria of Auschwitz were built by “visionaries” to purge with fire one of the human race’s “blemishes”.  All they did was char an entire civilization for as long as collective memory will endure.

Use fire, admire fire… but keep your distance from it, as from everything excessive by nature.

Panic Attacks: The Canary Stops Singing

Panic attacks, by definition, are irrational.  They tend to have a specific cause, at least at the beginning; but the element of panic becomes fully, painfully discernible when the merest mental movement in the direction of the “raw” area instantly elevates heart rate and sends up blood pressure.  Veins pound in the head, ears ring, breathing becomes almost as difficult as if one were suffocating… and perhaps the worst is the fear that lingers after the event passes; for, since the attack appeared from nowhere, it might reappear at any moment without notice.

These observations are not simply the fruit of browsing the Internet: they describe my own experience of attacks.  The odd thing is that I hadn’t suffered them for years… until the past couple of weeks.  They used to be almost crippling when, as an academic, I held tenure-track jobs and would grow aware (as I inevitably did, it seemed) that I was doomed to be turned out of house and home for causes over which I had no control.  (On two such occasions, for instance, I had rendered myself persona non grata unwittingly by publishing scholarly articles: small schools nourish large egos, and I had stolen a little sunlight from people who craved every beam.)

Why I should be revisiting this hellish terrain in retirement is somewhat mysterious to me.  I suppose the closest thing to a specific cause was my reflecting that I might be invited to jury duty one fine day—and then I would have to enter into elaborate and humiliating explanation of my inability to sit still for hours on end, thanks to a shrunken bladder.  (Yeah, I know: this is a natural part of aging—but I also tend to trace it to a period of overexposure to an ancient generation of computers that featured cathode ray tubes.  Those months catalyzed other nagging problems, as well, at which “medical professionals” sneered and scoffed… part of the reason why I stay away from doctors and treat myself with homeopathy.)

I don’t like being under the power of other people, for the very real reason that my experience of such relationships has taught me that they veer to the abusive, sooner or later.  I certainly see nothing in the world of politics that inclines me to reconsider my “problem with authority”.  Very nearly being saddled with a socialist governor last fall just after moving to the state of Georgia did nothing to calm my nerves; watching the movement to enfranchise masses of people who have entered the country illegally hasn’t pacified me; and trying in my own paltry way to assist a man serving three life sentences for crimes he didn’t commit has opened up a whole new vista of abused authority to me.

Add to that my ongoing battles to have FedEx, UPS, and the USPS deliver packages all the way to the end of my half-mile driveway… then the ever-present knowledge that my son now lives a thousand miles away in a city that wants to fund the heroin habit of its drug addicts… and, well, retirement hasn’t exactly been a bed of roses.  True, we can always find things to worry about; but when I was working, at least I had to ignore the horizon’s clouds for hours on end and address the tasks at hand.

I still have such tasks—and working on my garden or in my nascent orchard is, indeed, just what this doctor ordered.  As I lowered my shovel from an innovative type of raised garden bed yesterday, attracted by what I had long supposed to be turkey calls, I discovered a V of cranes making straight north… and then another.  The peace I felt at that moment utterly annihilated whatever serpentine shadows were coiling within me.  And even indoors, I can write, as I am doing now.

What I cannot do is, in a moment of foolish confidence, revisit the origins of the panic with a view to unraveling them rationally.  After every sequence of calm explanation and reasonable solution, a voice howls back, “But people are not reasonable!  Your behavioral autopsies have no relevance, no bite—people will do whatever their black hearts urge them to do!  Their hunger for power upon more power is insatiable, even to the point of self-destruction!”  And then another tailspin and another nosedive… all thanks to the attempt to be rational.

I understand why some sufferers cling to crosses.  I’ve tried that.  It may work a little bit for a while.  One really does have the sensation, you know, of fighting with the devil—with an assertive force of lunacy that wraps every effort at dispassionate analysis into an obscene adornment for his tail.  The Cross: “See this!  Stand back!”  It works better for hearts not so dominated by the mind as is mine.

At some point, my mind asked, “What does it work at all, even for a little?  What does the Cross represent that frightens this devil away?”  My son counseled me to live in the present moment and not allow questions about the invisible future to torment me.  He is all aglow with Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now (at least for now).  I began reading the book and, I confess, found myself immediately challenged to overcome the man’s aura of millenarian charism, his ecstatic “my light would transform the world if only the world could rend the veil before it”… his egotism.  At last, in a Tolle-like revelation, I toyed with the notion that living in the Now is precisely the wrong way to beat the devil—that the devil, in fact, enjoys the suffocating confines of Now and can cut the soul’s mooring very adroitly within them.  Or to say it from another angle: the true Now is Always.  The Cross is that Now, that Always within which a lifetime of struggles is but one moment.  To continue in the struggle, to insist upon the struggle’s purpose and ultimate success, to understand its victory as already secure merely by virtue of a struggle’s being made….  We win when we refuse to slide easily downstream.  We ride a rising tide that absorbs all streams into the great wide ocean.

Does Tolle reject that Now Is Always in his Always Now?  I’ll have to read the book through.  But the fact that my son has been able to allay his own devils with Mr. Tolle’s help advises me that young people in our aging and ailing society stand in grave need of a guru—a doctor who doesn’t simply laugh at their anguish and tell them that it’s imaginary.  To be sure, many gurus are false prophets: perhaps most.  Having such power over impressionable hearts is a heady drought, and few can resist its intoxicating effects.  None of that neutralizes the evidence that we were not made to lead the highly artificial lives that progressive technology has imposed upon us.  Though only two people in a hundred (according to Wikipedia) suffer panic attacks such as mine, I find it more than a little likely that our current political nuttiness is symptomatic of a collective panic.  What is the unhinged, hysterical insistence upon the planet’s impending meltdown if not the distorted cry of a generation cut off from its natural roots?

I wish these children of the iPod and iPhone were not so trusting of the very types whose lust for power could indeed render our lives unlivable—therein lies a major component of my own disposition to panic.  But I do understand the refrain of, “The sky is falling.”  Individually, we must strive to live in that completed moment when the sky has already fallen rather than, collectively, trying to build artificial staircases to the zenith.

 

On the Extreme Lightness of E-Being

I missed my Sunday post because my Mac Pro, which is possibly ten years old (no, I’m not sure right off the bat), locked up during an “update” sequence.  The Mac doctor informed me yesterday that the old girl will be released from intensive care later today.  Apparently this was not the death spiral that I had long anticipated—though I’m still holding my breath; two or three times a month for the past half-year now, I have had to reboot the machine because no cursor was activated in the morning’s first attempt.

All such uncertainty suggests several cautionary lessons to me.  Obviously, one is our very high degree of dependency upon technology which few of us understand.  Virtually every species of communication is now surrendered to some electronic means of conveyance or other.  Without healthy hardware, updated software, electrical service, and functional Internet, we’re plunged into an oubliette of solitude.  That’s a fearful degree of abject vulnerability to forces entirely beyond our control.

Naturally, wicked people who might wish to exploit this degree of exposure could readily do so from certain corridors of power.  I was alerted in a little box on my screen’s upper right that an update awaited me.  I really had no idea just what this update might contain or affect; I almost never have the slightest inkling.  The day might come when I’m providing NSA complete access to every word I’ve ever written.  Actually, I believe that day came and went about six or eight years ago.

And when people in the know tell me, “Well, at ten years, your Mac has had a good innings,” something in me remains disturbed.  Really… just ten years?  That is now spoken of as fifty would have been when I was a child.  Things are not made to last even a decade.  If they do so, we marvel.  All of our gizmoes live on a canine rather than a human scale now, apparently.  I’ll name my next model “Lassie”… or maybe “Spike, the Goldfish”.

Of course, for many “users” (sounds a little like the world of contraband drugs, doesn’t it?), the mention of a decade is painful not because it implies system failure, but simply because it implies falling out of fashion.  Assuming that your present device continues to function in, say, 2025, just think of all the cool new things which you will not be able to do at that point.  I possess a PC whose full age is pushing twenty rather than ten, and I genuinely prefer it for word processing since MS Word was designed for its system.  The problem is that I can’t take the product of any such work directly to the Internet any longer.  Well over ten years ago, the unit’s dial-up connection was already running too slowly to handle the “cool new stuff” of our Cool New World.  In fact, as I logged into WordPress using this finicky iPad to write the lines before you, I was asked if I would like an “ap” to open WP.  Most cool-new-things are of this variety: they don’t actually improve our work—they simply speed us through the process… which degrades our work at some point, I sincerely maintain, because we grow impatient with careful thought and painful revision.

Yet onward we surge, embracing every generation of shortcuts (bred faster than rabbits on fertility drugs) and spending thousands of dollars with each change.  (A new Mac Pro would literally cost me around $2,000).  I don’t believe this process to be illustrative even of the notorious “planned obsolescence”: most people, as I say, would have discarded “Lassie” before she collapsed and fixed her sad eyes on me.  And when I say “most people”, I mean younger people, primarily.  The educated young lead a very costly lifestyle thanks to this dependency upon the latest and coolest… and “conservative” luminaries among us, ironically, approve of such giddy habits, because the economy thrives upon them.  Drug-pushers like “users” to become addicts, too, as long as they can pay the bill.

Next time (whenever that is: we’ll see this afternoon if Lassie is up to wagging her tail again), I’d like to pursue the spiritual consequences of a young person’s living in this world defined by flux—by overnight outdatedness.  They are many and devastating, in my opinion.  Especially after the good long talk I had with my son during one of his (now rare) visits home this past weekend, I feel that I am peering through a window upon a prospect of wealth, abundance, opportunity… and also extreme transience, feather-weightedness, and feverish activity without ultimate objective.  The disease I’m seeing may essentially be the one that’s rotting our society and our culture from the inside out.

Twitter: A Great Squawk Here, A Thousand Bat-Squeaks There

I was at first excited about Twitter… well, “at first” after I had surmounted my initial prejudice about its just being an occasion for people to sling epithets over the airwaves.  I decided that it might have several benefits, if properly used.  I could announce my publications through it.  I could run a flag up the masthead and see if anyone saluted; and if the response was good, I might actually make contact with other “like-minded people” (though don’t ask me to parse that phrase).  In some cases, I could also receive genuine news scoops from sources I trusted or be directed to articles of special interest to me.

That said—and Twitter does indeed possess all of the benefits that I just rambled off, in its better moments—I’ve also begun to grow very disappointed in the whole operation.  I suppose I understand now that I was looking for something like the growth of an intellectual community.  Yes, I’m back to “like-minded”.  It seems to me that I’ve been looking high and low for that community all my life.  In practice, here is what I find on the “tweeting” platform.

  • Nationally recognized authors and columnists use the platform to announce their latest post or publication, just as I do—except that they enjoy followings well into the thousands, and mine… a little over a dozen.
  • Seeking out a “community of interest” is an almost haphazard undertaking. Now, one may theoretically reach more than my faithful dozen, thanks to the notorious hashtag… but I rarely seem to be able to find two or three words for squeezing in after the # that attract a feeding frenzy.  This is the familiar pattern I noticed decades ago when people were hailing satellite-delivered TV as à la carte channel service. A phenomenon that I call “mainstreaming” occurs even on shopping or rerun or sports channels.  Within the given “specialized” market, everybody is making the same pitch, doing the same thing.  I have tried several times to start or enter a discussion on Twitter of our unprotected power grid.  Ironically, we might as well already have been struck by an EMP: no hashtag banner draws any attention, though the issue in question could involve the greatest cataclysm in our national history.
  • The “celebrity dressing room” effect seems very visible.  That is, one finds names to conjure with sharing intimate moments (sometimes far too intimates) or off-the-cuff comments (sometimes far too off-the-cuff) with their adoring thousands.  I suppose it’s a little like touching the hem of the Messiah as he passes… for them.  Not really what the word “community” signifies to me.
  • Links to YouTube videos abound that show a goldfish riding a bike… or whatever.  My wife seems to see more of this kind of thing on Facebook, but it has obviously carried over into the other platform.
  • And, yes, there’s a lot of the, “You stupid—ing dirtbag —hole!” species of meditation.  And perhaps the most depressing thing about these is the 3.5K “likes” that they attract.  So we’re back to the left-field bleachers in the eighth inning, from which empty beer bottles are starting to rain upon the visitors’ bull pen.

For a while, I would draw as many as twelve or fifteen “likes” for a comment that I had mulled over carefully and compressed with a skill that would have stirred La Rochefoucauld’s envy.  (Now there was a guy who knew all about envy!) Yet none of this effort translated into “followers”, so the next day I was back at Square One.  I was once again entrusting messages to bottles (speaking of empty bottles) that I cast into the wide gray sea from my desert island.  No one really knew I was there, and I hadn’t found anyone else who was “transmitting” steadily.  On a certain day and on a certain issue, I just happened to have collected a certain two dozen words that a certain dozen people thought were well chosen (and they weren’t, sometimes; my most thoughtful comments would usually pass unnoticed).  To the extent that loneliness in a crowd is harder to bear than loneliness on a mountain peak, I had magnified the frustrations of the castaway.

I’m sure there must be some “hack” or two that one may use to build the snowball.  Comment only on Tweets that are mere minutes old, my son advises (who never uses Twitter).  But if I start chasing after posts with a view to directing notice my own way, then I undermine the purpose for which I originally decided to give a few minutes a day to the thing.  And it’s alarming, frankly, to catch oneself choosing a particular post or tailoring a comment in a particular way because one thinks it may turn out to be a lightning rod for attention.  We get all over our politicians for playing the popularity game before their bags are even unpacked in DC… but the temptation is universal.  You tell yourself, “I’ll work on my following with this one: then I’ll have more eyes on my next genuinely profound gem.”  To hell with that.

Indeed, it’s happened to me a couple of times that I am “followed” for declaring an opinion that somebody liked and then “unfollowed” within days for declaring another that he doesn’t like.  It’s a strange feeling to older people like me who spent their lives dealing with warm bodies.  In that world of yore, you didn’t just befriend a person for displaying values you endorsed and then refuse to speak to him the next day for contradicting your opinion about marijuana or health care.  Welcome to e-Society.

I’ll continue on Twitter, I think, in a reduced capacity.  I feel very gratified about possibly having steered a woman to someone who can effectively work toward getting her wrongfully convicted husband released: at that instant, I was in the right place at the right time.  But I have too few years left to spend half an hour (or more) every day micro-editing a thought that poses a target for a snarky drive-by sniper… or, much more likely, that suffers the fate of a pebble cast into the ocean.  The bottles with messages at least float.  There are new platforms, I hear, where one may pre-select a cozy little fishing hole organized around a topic or set of principles.  I’ve had enough of trying to bait hashtags over the Mariana Trench.

Christmas: Engineered Nostalgia or Orientation to the Future?

Certain things can be done best on those days when the sun rises over a heavy frost—like today.  This would be a good morning to tug on my high boots and wade into the briars and vines around my garden’s perimeter with a shovel.  If I embarked upon the same mission at warmer times of year, I would either have to gear up like a beekeeper or else risk blundering upon a bed of yellow jackets (not vestes jaunes angry about Macron’s gas tax, but the really angry insect whose sting is worse than a flying stone).  This wicked undergrowth is dangerous throughout most of the year both for the poisonous snakes it might conceal and for the tenderbox it creates around our house, should a tossed cigarette far down the road start a forest fire.  I used to hack at it with a swing-blade. Now I prefer the shovel.  Its shaft is twice as long as the serrated blade’s, so I get more acceleration into my strokes.  I also don’t have to bend as far into spots where the spines are especially prickly.  A shovel’s blade, if you angle it properly, can cut as fine as a saber.

Yet I may not go a-hacking today.  Yesterday was the fourth in a row of very drizzly December days (the French word brumeux keeps rattling through my brain).  I exploited the opportunity to sally forth—again with my trusty shovel—to level a field in the far back where I hope to plant grass and have a playing surface for young visitors someday.  The builders of our new home, in their hit-and-run, time-is-money fashion, took a run at the space with a bulldozer.  In my opinion, their efforts were more harm than help.  The “leveling” was extremely erratic, and the weight of the dozer compacted broken stone and red clay into a sheet almost as impenetrable as concrete.  Only when the surface has been thoroughly soaked can one strip away an inch or two of it with relative ease.  Yesterday I transported four wheelbarrows of the stony muck from the high side of my “field” (a sculpture in progress) to the low side.  Despite the cold temperature and the drizzle, I grew heated with the work and shucked off my cap.  Eventually, even my coat went by the board.  Later that evening, I felt a head-cold coming on.  Mother Nature always gives me a little slap-in-the-face of this sort when I become presumptuous.  Today may therefore simply be a time of rest and repentance.  Sorry, Mother!

My cleared space has paid some surprising dividends in terms of my making friends with the neighbors.  Last week I was shocked to see “the field” arrayed with what looked like two dozen tree stumps suddenly sprouted from its razed surface.  On closer inspection, I found that the “stumps” were turkeys picking through the recently shifted dirt.  I managed to get a shot of them—with a camera—just as they were starting to flutter off (see above).  My moving the upstairs curtain may have spooked them.

Similarly, I also blundered into a couple of yearling deer last week while hanging a sheet over my orange tree in anticipation of a frost.  Both sides were surprised… but I decided to “act normal” and go about my business.  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that the deer, too, were going about theirs, casually and helpfully grazing my weeds away.  Always before, they had bolted away at the least sign of a human.  Of course, the bolting is a very healthy strategy around any primate, and I would be distressed to think that I was weakening their defenses by inspiring a false confidence.  Maybe they’re capable of distinguishing my wife and me from the rest of the species.

Whatever I get done during the winter months will determine what I get done over the rest of the coming year.  Hesiod says I should be mending the plow by a fire… but I have neither.  (We decided against a wood-burning fireplace because smoke torments my finicky sinuses.)  What I plant and where I plant it, however, will depend upon where I can adequately clear space—and some needs are more pressing than others.  My drainage ditches, too, require extension.  Those that I built last summer have been a resounding success; but the top of our hill, where the builder decided simply to dump massive amounts of large stone to give traction to his eighteen-wheel haulers, erupts into puddles every time a good rain falls.  While the job isn’t urgent, it also won’t grow any easier once the temperature starts rising again.

With all of this on my mind, I found myself explaining to my son in detail why I don’t feel free to take the long, long trip to Denver for Christmas.  I hate such trips, anyway: being confined in a tight space for three or four hours gives me a migraine.  I also hate large cities.  Yet if we were still in our previous home, we would surely hit the road for Parts West. The task of managing the new place has introduced a special complexity into the calculation.

My son, on the other hand, is beginning a “real job” (as opposed to the series of menial gigs that his college degree prepared him for), and December 24 is considered a work day; so his catching a flight to our part of the world is out of the question.  It’s the first Christmas he will ever have passed away from his parents, in his 23 years on earth.

No one is more distressed about that than I… but I’m convinced that my son understands my objectives for the property I’m trying to develop.  If we have a field of peanuts (protein), several thriving nut trees (more protein), pomegranates and gojis and prickly pear (antioxidants—and, yes, I have prickly pear cactus), apples and apricots (vitamins), and kiwi vines (latest addition—really strong in Vitamin C), then we will have created what I think of as a “survival farm”.  Water doesn’t seem to be a problem here.  Heat: I could convert my fireplace to burn wood in a crisis.  Electricity: do without… but may look into solar batteries next year.

If my son eventually has a family, he may one day very much need a place like this.  Nobody likes to talk about the several imminent catastrophes with which we are on a collision course—and, no, “climate change” isn’t one of them.  Just to give you an idea… our national power grid remains about 90% unsecured, making us unique in that regard among major industrialized nations; an Electro-Magnetic Pulse would cause most of us to perish within a year; such an EMP could occur at any time, not necessarily due to terrorism but simply because of solar flare activity; a solar event of this kind is overdue, as well as astronomers can tell; and our national conversation is consumed by… whether or not President Trump paid off a hooker to stay quiet.

I have relatives—no, I have a certain close relative who has reviled me for putting my property before my son.  She’s quite the typical over-educated, secularized, pampered, career-bureaucrat progressive, and she has decided that my sense of urgency about the future is all balderdash—though, of course, erecting windmills everywhere and impeaching Trump are among her top priorities.  I think of her now when I look at the lid of a tin of Planter’s Nuts that I bought off the discount rack at Walmart.  Across the festively decorated top are scrawled the words and phrases, “Family Traditions”, “Joy”, “Warm Wishes”, “Winter Happiness”, “Sweet Memories”, “Winter Wonders”, and—remarkable for both for its particular inanity and for its inconcinnity with the string of nouns—“Enjoy Love”.  There you have it.  Planter’s has captured in about a dozen words the new meaning of the “holidays” (and why “Happy Holidays” didn’t make the cut, I have no idea).  My relative is obviously of the persuasion that this secular caricature is the real deal.  I should therefore, cost what it may, be arranging those “winter wonders” and “sweet memories” out of respect for “family traditions”.  The only reason she wouldn’t say that I have a holy obligation to do so is that the word “holy” veers, for her, away from reality and into nothingness.

Ironically, I suppose, the love for my son that transcends Facebook-ready photos is precisely what keeps me preoccupied with my spring preparations.  My “winter happiness” includes busting my ass on a bed of rock and clay because I don’t want my child and his children to face certain agonizing starvation in the world being created by people like my oh-so-wise relative.  The irony would lurk in my being excessively immersed in the here-and-now, if one wished to deconstruct my practice; because if I claim a belief in higher realities, why not simply let this life’s chips fall where they may?

If you require a full answer to that question, then I won’t be able to supply it in the space I have left.  Try this thumbnail version: a person who lives for here and now does not sacrifice our very finite opening for self-gratification to the service of others.  A person who lives for an eternity where his fusion with God’s will may grow complete becomes very busy during his few terrestrial moments with giving others a little “extra time” to figure out the path.  I know that I may one day have to shoot those turkeys with something other than a camera.  In the meantime, I want them to settle in and peck my spaces to their avian heart’s content.  That’s why I don’t rent another bulldozer and raise hell pounding and crashing all over my premises: that’s why everything I do is with a shovel, a hoe, an axe, a rake, or a pick.  I want to raise as few seams as possible between “now” and “later”. In my view, the here-and-now should not be at war with the durable: it should unlock the enduring, if not the eternal.  As for those who scoff at undying truth and higher reality, I think they often abuse what we have now and may just carry us to the brink of existential calamity with their obsession over “warm moments”.

I’ve sent my son the photo of those turkeys as a Christmas card.  He gets it.  We’re not about huddling over “warm winter memories”, he and I.  We’re about adjusting our egocentric impulses to the requirements of a future that accommodates someone more than ourselves.