Thursday, November 29, 2007

I Got Uh Ri--THUmb

So there is something to be said for standing around, Lebowski-like, trying to figure out which rug will really bring your Shaker room together, and, more especially, will make it livable, given that you don't plan to pay for heat this winter. Did this with Dawn yesterday. Reassuringly domestic, once I stopped being irked by it.

I do actually find the rhythms of life interesting. Like in a real concrete way, the way I find that I walk faster than most people seem to through the hallways at college here. So people think I'm real busy, or think I think I'm real important. But then I am more still (stiller?) than others when I get where I'm going and it's time to discuss whatever it is. And people think it's weird. To me, steady movement in the morning seems appropriate, along with sitting quietly just staring out into the middle distance does in the evening. Dawn's more or less the reverse.

It's no surprise, I'm sure, that I feel like my rhythm is almost always out of synch with everybody else's rhythm. Doubtless that's partly because I'm an INTJ, and a morning person.

In AmbitionNotes, the new occasional DeMarkAtion blog feature describing things I probably won't (get to, or get around to trying to) do, I shall endeavor, a la PigPen, to clean up my blog space by New Year's: it's a New Year's p/resolution. Maybe get a photo or two if Beth will help, maybe figure some other aspect of it out and have more excitement pour vous. Probably not, though. We'll see.

Going into Advent, my music: The Strayaway Child, by the Chieftains; edifying reading, Eugene Peterson's Subversive Spirituality; hope, making progress on 25th anniversary plans (shhhh, don't tell Dawn, she doesn't know. I mean really: she doesn't.); favorite blog, dooce, as it's almost the only one I read; favorite website, none, but I'm having to visit a lot for work...

First wish for 2008: no more Shrubbery, as Molly Ivins would put it...
Second: the end of credit card debt.

Monday, November 26, 2007


So at your friendly neighborhood camping store (REI or Whole Earth Provision will do nicely), the slightly ironic, mildly vulgar backpacker culture has generated another piece of gear in the tradition of the "bite-me" hydration valves. The new entrant in skewed names for niche camping gear is the "IPood," a collapsible, lightweight, aluminum shovel for digging catholes (i.e., one-person latrines).

So, to cash in on this bonanza of sinking one's teeth into Apple's coattails (an image upon which one should not tarry), I want to copyright the term" iMe." This would be a useful domain name for a personal website. The logo certainly suggests itself readily enough: any photo of moi will do. Can it be the name for an electronic device, bound to fly off the shelves at BestBuy in 09? Sure, simplicity itself; all you need is a mirror with a little running screen below it, a la CNN, that can be programmed to tell you things about yourself. This device could help insecure teens, business execs experiencing "senior moments," people in recovery needing positive thinking therapy, and probably midlife trophy-hunters obsessed with their gorgeous boomer selves. As for applications in the geek sense, i.e., software, iMe would be a great name for an app that sends all your relevant info to someone else. So you could multiple-y configure it to have your resume on it, your and eharmony access info, or your personal medical records needed in case of an emergency. There could even be an intentionally misleading section called "My Personal Data" that would trick identity thieves into downloading it, but it would really be a program that would feed *their* info to the police. Am I the Mark Haitian of innovative marketing ideas or what! I mean Cuban.

The Spanish version would be YoMe, and the German IchMich. The possibilities are endless.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fort Knight

So sorry about the two weeks off.


We just got back from three days camping on a lake north of Denton. We took Mom and Dixie. Each had a tent, although Dixie preferred to stay in Mom's. Mom's was new, a gigunda cabin type tent with two rooms and walk-in doors. Someone also realized that with mattress sets starting at $400 and up, there was bound to be a sellable price point below that where a super-high quality inflatable mattress would compete. And...sure enough, now in addition to the $5 or $10 things you float on in a pool, or had for slumber parties, there are $50 to $200 inflatables with motorized pumps and actual sheet-set sizes. Weird. So anyway we got Mom one of those, so there was sleeping in style, despite the fact that...

Winter abruptly arrived. 80 degrees on Tuesday and--woops! 38 on Wednesday night. So much arcticness, but we all (a couple of other households cam out with us) did okay.

Seeing my winter wardrobe emerge, friend Curran observed that I was embracing my inner squire. Well, I'm English, so wool, tweed, leather, herringbone--it's all in the heritage, baby.

I decided not to teach the winter term, which is three of the four weeks of Christmas break. We could use the moolah, but it's Beth's last Christmas before high school graduation, and Jonathan will be home for most of it. So we're going to do family and stuff, and I'll get a break. The chance that I'll be a humane human in the spring will go way up, I suspect. It's been too long without a real break this fall. Like my jeans, I fray a bit at the edges when I haven't taken real breaks. So in a neat combination of self-interest and care for others in my targe--er, around me, I promise to do better next term.

I'm reading slowly through Augustine's "The City of God" for the first time. I am amazed at the detail in which he deals with sort of all the other views on offer in his day. He obviously knows pagan religion, and interacts with everything from popular superstitions to the leading pagan theologian, Marcus Varro, for pages and pages. He also knows the philosophies and worldviews of the day, and gives them hundreds of pages.

I really wonder what it would take to do such a thing today. Marxism's no issue any more, but national chauvinism masquerading as patriotism is many people's functional religion; consumerism is another, and Darwinian humanism another. But now you have to really deal with Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and Confucianism, at least, of the world religions, and maybe stuff like Mormonism and Scientology depending on your circle of care. Of course "City of God" is 600 small-print pages for a reason; what would a similar work take now?

I'm reading Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" for fun, as I've never seen or read it. I'm also still working on David Sloane Wilson's "Evolution for Everyone," which advocates Darwinism as a basis for a secular religion.

Well, camping gear to clean and put away, and lovely friend Amber dropping by this afternoon, so shall go. And blog more things for Advent.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dennis Miller is doing sports, so I'll rant for him...

I understand Charles Schumer's point, in saying he'd vote for Mukasey for attorney general, that better to have an honest guy, who hates hiding and corruption, running a justice department assigned to defend torture and the suspension of basic human rights, than guys who think lying and corruption are just part of the game. But Judge Mukasey disappointed me hugely when he refused to denounce torture without footnotes and asterisks.

I suppose that richly entitles him to serve in an administration much of whose efforts for six years were devoted to saying (1) that the law did not apply to them, and now whose main goal seems to be to (2) avoid prosecution for their unswerving devotion to cause (1). But of course, (2) is just (1) continued, in a defensive rather than an offensive mode--although both are pretty offensive to law-abiding people.

Once again Chesterton is proved right. As he said in "The Man Who Was Thursday," "...the poor object to being governed badly. The rich object to being governed at all." That was hyperbole, of course--Warren Buffett is wildly wealthy and eminently law-abiding. But Chesterton was giving us a billboard-sized shout-out reminding us who the real anarchists, the real threat to an orderly society are. It is deeply disturbing to me that we have this debate going on as to whether the guys at the top really are law and order toughies or lawless gunslingers. The latter are never so dangerous as when they successfully sell themselves as the former.

I mean seriously. Does anyone not think Mr. Cheney and his chief of legal staff, and Mr. Gonzalez, *don't* have a deep contempt for the Constitution and for the law applying to them?

After all, parliamentary government was invented by the British precisely to keep rulers from starting and continuing wars that cost all the rest of us money and blood just because they have a snit with some other ruler, or just because they want to invade somebody. Hello, Runnymede? Magna Carta?

The USA was partly started because we colonials colossally resented it when the English crown treated its agents in the colonies as above the law. It has been a great accomplishment of this administration to find attorneys who do not believe that the law applies to everyone, nor to everyone equally.

Jefferson and Madison and those guys developed and hammered out our constitutional system of government not only to facilitate freedom to do what one could, but also to guarantee freedom by setting things up so that no one could amass uncheckable, extra-legal power. Including and especially the president. There is a reason George Washington, when first confronted with protocol issues after his election, chose to be called "Mr. President" rather than "Your Excellency," which was what had been suggested. From George I to George II to George III is not exactly an encouraging trajectory.

You understand that the court system was created anew as a branch of government not only to maintain general justice, but specifically to serve as the guardian of the rule of law, the national character, and the authority of our founding documents. It has been another important accomplishment of this administration and of Reagan's (and even George II's) to find self-respecting judges who do not believe that keeping faithfulness to the Constitution and the rule of law is what the courts are for.

Of course, not only do we not have the court we had in the mid-70s that put a stop to Nixon, we don't have the Congress, either. This image-obsessed, fear-consumed, petty Congress has managed to utterly fail to rise to dispute in any significant way the cavalier ignoring by this administration of our basic American principles of government. The Cheneyites should be easy targets. They clearly are unimpressed by parts at least of the Declaration of Independence ("it is incumbent to give an account..."), the Constitution, judicial review, and stare decisis, never mind Magna Carta. But the Congress does nothing uncalculated for 2008.

(And, alas, why it's so hard for me to be a Christian here: the mid-70s court that took down Nixon, and so is my hero, is also the court that helped sweep aside the public standards of what is okay which I advocate, from abortion on down the line. Sigh. Left and right politically do not in any consistent way ever align with godly / ungodly.)

It makes one wonder where law-abiding, Constitution-respecting, democracy-believing citizens can take refuge. These guys are going to make patriotic, law-and-order conservatives out of the most liberal of us...but not the way they thought they would...

It's true, of course, that there is still political accountability every 2-4 years, at elections. Some seem to say that that is enough: if you don't like them/us, elect someone else next time. In the meantime, this is our time.

Of course, the world wasn't invented yesterday. We have seen this sort of argument before. The Romans, no less, actually *elected* what they called "dictators" from time to time. Of course, to them, "dictator" didn't mean "bad guy who impales babies on spikes," it meant "one whose word is law"--as in "dictation." The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes actually argued for something like this as a standing mode of government around the time of the English settlement of North America. He said that without an authoritarian ruler, there would be chaos. It's not exactly a huge surprise that authoritarians and upper-class people in power who did not want to have to be accountable to anyone else have been strongly tempted by this Roman "ideal" and by Hobbes's justification of it ever since.

But political accountability by means of elections does not mean we don't get to have any input in between elections. They're called "representatives," right?

Moreover, political accountability is not legal accountability. It gives us Putin's Russia, not George Washington's America. As for dictatorship, even though the Romans had the sense, early on, to only elect them for six month terms, we have seen over time to what it almost always leads: maximum government and minimum law. Frank Hague, I think it was, while mayor of some place like Jersey City or Philadelphia back in the 20th century earlier, famously said "I am the law." And Louis XIV or XV said, "L'etat c'est moi"--"I am the state." But we Jeffersonians have long since chosen instead the line of maximum law and minimal government. As for Hobbes, yes, it's true that Abraham Lincoln did suspend habeas corpus. First, he was wrong, and second, he was fighting the Civil War, which threatened the country's existence and killed over a million Americans on American soil by the noteworthy method of having us shoot each other. A creepy terrorist network, might threaten our peace of mind, and this or that object, but doesn't threaten our country or way of life. As for third-rate countries, they don't threaten anything but small men's large and misdirected egos. We don't have any emergency going on: we're fighting one punitive and one colonial war with an all-volunteer military, for Pete's sake. In World War II, all the men between the ages of 18 and 38 were just gone, not here. In the Civil War, 25% of all Southerners served in Southern armies at one time or another. That's half of all males of any age. Iraq is a vanity war.

I guess Bush and them want to live in exciting times. Of course, that one might live in interesting times is supposedly a Chinese curse.

But ya know, maybe we just don't live in exciting times. What if we live in do-our-jobs, make-a-profit, pay-our-bills, raise-our-kids, work-on-the-house, keep-folks-healthy, spread-the-wealth-a-bit, educate-people times? Why would that be so bad? Because it bores privileged people with a swashbuckler fantasy?

For Mr. Cheney's fantasy, young Hispanic men are routinely dying, our world prestige is at zero, and our economy is finally coming at risk--from overspending (on nonrenewable assets like tanks), underregulating (energy utilities and mortgage bankers), fostering a sense of insecurity (a compliment nicely returned by currency speculators as a falling dollar), and rising oil prices (because of *real* threats to mideast oil supplies our bungling has caused).

We will be ten years digging out of this whole, if we elect people who like to dig.

If we had put 150,000 troops into Afghanistan instead of 20,000, and instead of putting them into Iraq, here's what would be different. Saddam Hussein would be still probably be grumping around insulting us and others. We'd have some of his oil coming out, like we do now. He would not have wmds, or any ability or wiggle room for attacking any of his neighbors, especially Israel. And 3000 Americans--about the same number as killed at 9-11--would be alive who now aren't.

What else would be different? The Taliban would be gone gone, instead of gone and back. Mullah Omar would be in jail or dead. Osama bin Laden would be dead. Violent Pashtun tribalism would be as futile as that of Sioux 125 years ago(--even if the end of that kind of tribalism might have been accomplished just as unpleasantly, and maybe in some sense as unjustly, as the liquidation of native Americans was done). Pakistan's leadership would be secure, except from their own stupidities. Al-Qaeda would be history. Al-Jazeera would be running film shorts making fun of Arab despots, instead of Osama's latest YouTube video, and airing American product ads. As a bonus, there would be a huge decline in the world heroin supply.

Instead, Afghanistan, which we had every right to formally declare war against (we didn't) and invade (we did), is a dry, mountainous, drug-ridden, violent, unstable quagmire. Iraq, in which we have few if any real national interests that can't be met other ways, and which we invaded without the thinnest shred of legality, is a dry, flat, prejudice-ridden, violent, unstable quagmire. There is no end in sight to terrorism. And creeps who pass for national leaders all over the world have loyally followed our lead and now loudly use national security and terrorism as an excuse to suppress human rights and trample human liberties.

No *conservative* American should stand for such nonsense. Electing people who will uphold the Constitution, getting a Supreme Court which will uphold it, prosecuting those, whether red necks or terrorist or rich guys, who make themselves exceptions to the law, using our powerful and professional military for actually worthwhile endeavors, and regaining our role as the paradigm of a law-abiding democracy are the first tasks I'll be thinking about as I look over candidates for 2008.

And Viva Jon Stewart.

Dennis, I've done your work for you.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ron/Pat Paul/sen

Whew. Just recovered from celebrating Guy Fawkes Day with Ron Paul...(Hunh?! he wants to blow up Congress? Queen Elizabeth II? he likes Hugo Weaving *a lot*? he needs money really really badly? what?).

Stone Soup Storytelling was good this year. About 45 parents and kids Friday, and some *very focused* kids at that. Then 50 or so adults on Saturday night, with much more in the way of personal anecdotes, although friend Jenny sent an original story, Gary had poems, and there was quite a bit of music.

Many thanks to everybody who made it happen.

I'm deeply submerged in work right now. In the social and political philosophy course I'm in the typically absurd position that instructors get into, of trying to condense an entire complex movement or world of ideas and actions into "which one article will we read on that?"

So sorry Stephen Colbert is dropping out of the race. Comedian Pat Paulsen, of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, ran in 1968, and got like 3rd place in the Democratic primary in New Hampshire. (He ran on the Straight-Talking American Government, or STAG Party, platform...) And I think Robin Williams's movie "Man of the Year" was unjustly panned; I thought the points it made about a society getting to where what gets thrown up as leadership is so shot through with venality and mediocrity that people are eager to vote for comedians. There's savage criticism of the system in that kind of desperation, of course, but it's also something only people who still earnestly wish the system were good do. You can taste the yearning on the air. The world may not be changing, as Galadriel thought, but were it possible for it to change in a different direction from what worried her, then a lot of us wish it would...