Overweening Generalist

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Drug Report: November 2011

[The OG had previously blogged on/about drugs HERE.]

When Dale Pendell, Andrew Weil, Ronald K. Siegel and a whole bunch of other doctors and PhDs and intelligentsia argue, at different times in different books in their own contexts, that the need to change our state of consciousness should be considered a primary "drive," it makes sense to me. I thought it so before I even read or heard anyone say it. Kids (including me) love to spin around until they get dizzy and fall down, laughing. For no good reason; it was just something we had to do. I always noticed how "special" I felt just after I went for a vigorous swim or bicycle ride. When I discovered masturbation it was like finding the Golden Ticket. As a 13 year old I stole a couple of my mom's cigarettes and smoked them in a secluded place behind our swimming pool. I felt a giddy strangeness from the tobacco, but the knowledge of what cigarette smoke could do to me outweighed the advantages.

I well remember getting very sick from food poisoning at age 16. I was hospitalized for nine days, three in the ICU. I hadn't known it, but there were a few days when the doctors told my dad I might not make it. I had been very very sick with the "flu" for four days before my dad took me to the doctor and doc said, "Get him to the hospital now!" I rebounded and was discharged at 79 pounds, looking like a concentration camp survivor. Non-stop diarrhea and only an IV drip for 13 days would leave you somewhat less than "in the pink" too. I guess I was about 5 feet 10 then. But recovering from being sick had some sort of euphoric component to it; I've never seen an adequate description of it in "the literature;" only repeated assertions that recovery from illness has mind-altering effects that are often considered quite pleasant. Maybe the knowledge I wasn't going to die affected my dopamine system? 

And then there's listening to music, being in love, doing good deeds, accomplishing a goal hard-won, winning a competition, entering an altered state and world of a movie or novel...Any one of us could list many other "natural highs." We must be hard-wired for dopamine and its analogues and accomplices, because evolutionarily we were "paid" for doing something that would further the species, or our own genes. Like orgasm...

Then there are drugs. 

Because I have blogged long enough to assume I have a pretty hip audience, I won't go into the problem of "drugs" semantically. Suffice: I will consider ANYTHING material that we take into our nervous systems, with conscious intent to alter consciousness (at first, at least) as drugs. (A caveat: I must add that it appears we also ingest something that we don't know at first to have mind-altering effects, only finding out later. This seems a relatively rare case, but an interesting one. Consider the person who consciously seeks "comfort food" when under stress as an example. Many coffee addicts started by ingesting a culturally-sanctioned and refreshing "breakfast" drink.)

Possibly every drug I mention has some upside, some a considerable downside. There seem to be some drugs that have awesome powers, when acting synergistically with a human mind. Others you just wish folks would eschew forever. And because I'm a monist when it comes to body/mind - my main model of Mind is that it needs Bodies, and therefore any drug, any pill that affects the Body affects the Mind in some sense - I will consider pharmaceuticals too, maybe not in this month's Drug Report, but surely in future ones. It's just drugs, drugs, drugs all the way down, once I get knee-deep into this schtuff...

I'll start with some that seem pretty nasty to me, although I confess I've never tried them!

For the Reptile in All of Us?: Krokodil
Have you read the latest William Gibson novel? In it there are some outcastes near the Arctic Circle, living in areas that were once part of the Gulag Archipelago, where people cook up a mixture of codeine, paint thinner, gasoline, iodine, hydrochloric acid, and the red stuff you strike a match with from a matchbook: red phosphorus. Which they then inject into what veins they can still locate. It's their ultra-cheap version of heroin, and they cook it with little stoves, using syringes and vials. You get high for about 90 minutes, then you NEED to take it again. Gibson is so marvelous with these garish inventions; he rivals one of his main influences, William S. Burroughs, in this regard. Get this next bit:

At the injection site, your skin turns green and scaly. That's why it's called krokodil. It's supposed to be something called desomorphine, but no one really cares what you call it. It's a designer drug, but the designer should've never been accepted to Design School in the first place.

There are some drawbacks. Besides the scaly green skin, your face swells up, the rest of your skin turns grey and peels away, exposing bones, literally. The muscles rot and hang in bags of skin from the body. There goes your dream of a modeling career. This stuff makes meth addiction look like a Pez addiction.

Okay, it's not really in Gibson's latest book. It's really happening in Russia, right now. From 2007-2011, roughly 30,000 people have died from this stuff, which is mostly used in rural, remote places in Russia, where there are no jobs, no hope. Death comes from stroke, internal hemorrhaging, gangrene untreated, and meningitis. The state is quite ill-equipped to act, so who takes up the slack to help those who want to kick? Pentecostal Christians!

So: if you find a detox place and you successfully kick, you're lucky. One estimate has the life expectancy of the typical krokodil user at one year. Three at the very "luckiest." A user in a detox home operated by Pentecostals, once the immediate withdrawals and sleeplessness/nausea/pain subside, is susceptible to Hepatitis C, their teeth falling out from rotten gums, disfiguring sores everywhere, a lobotomized-like vacant stare, speech impediments and herky-jerky body movements because the motor cortex is permanently damaged. 

I've given it a lot of thought, I've talked it over with my family and my zen master and I've decided to pass on this one. For the exceedingly morbid-minded, the sorts that take Halloween ultra-seriously, there's some video HERE. One final word: YIKES! I had to turn away at around 2:05.

Jeez, I remember thinking when crack cocaine arrived, that was the nadir. Nothing worse could come along that got brewed up in a batch in a shack in the Bad part of town. What's next? You mix 12 ounces of cough syrup with three ounces of gasoline, chug it, then practice fire-swallowing for the intense buzz it brings on until you literally explode in giggling, sick laughter? I figure by next April, the Cruelist Month...

There's Gotta Be A Better Way
This story is a second cousin to the krokodil story. Ever heard of suboxone? I hadn't until I read about the problem of prison smuggling of suboxone in the NYT

This one reminds me of the scene in Woody Allen's Annie Hall, when Woody goes back in time to grade school, and the little kids say who they are as an adult now, and one cute little boy, about eight years old, says, "I used to be a heroin addict, now I'm a methadone addict." Suboxone is supposed to treat opiate addiction. It's sold on the streets. Why? Yep, that's the question. Once we get into this it's sheer craziness. 

It turns out methadone can only be dispensed by a federally-licensed clinic. Okay, I've never understood how heroin is terrible and illegal, but methadone is legal and about "trying to get your act together." Methadone is addicting too! When I first tried to understand this, it was part of my overarching realization that the State has it's head up its collective ass when we're talking about drugs.

When you read the story about the ingenious ways suboxone is smuggled into prison, including drying onto paper and then having a child do a crayon drawing over it, one marvels at the lengths people will go to get high, or help others get high. Prison officials throw into the "burn barrel" anything in the incoming mail with stickers, glitter glue, crayon, "or any foreign substance." It's found in the seams of clothes, in shoes, spines of magazines, and of course, in the glue behind the stamps used to mail the letters.

Why not just let it go? The drug has a ceiling. You take it a tad too often and it doesn't work. What if your kid was sending you an honest crayon drawing, with glitter glue? You're in for five years because you got caught selling pot to make your mortgage and couldn't afford a decent attorney. When I read this kind of stuff I just want to brain some judge or lawmaker who thought it was a good idea, and when the law against suboxone passed, he went out and got wasted drunk with his rich asshole lawyer buddies. And drove home.

A final layer of idiocy here: if you're gonna smuggle opiates for your buddies, why not just go for some good heroin? Some crushed-up Vicodin or Oxycontin? Jeez...

                                                      Who knows WHAT this stuff is?

Some Vital Alcohol Studies
A study done in Denmark showed that no, you can't get drunk by standing in vodka for three hours, and please find something better to do with your time. Transcutaneous alcohol absorption is a non-starter. Mom and I thought you had so much promise! Learn some guitar licks or begin that novel you've always wanted to write. Or fer crissake, call your mother. Read the Bhagvad-Gita, something!

Here's another vodka story, even more preposterous. What is it about vodka?:
"Butt-chugging" is bunk and won't work, so please don't try it. It'll only cause you pain. I first saw this on The Colbert Report: some school cop in Arizona claimed that girls inserting vodka-soaked tampons into their vaginas to get drunk at school was an epidemic. It seems widely believed - by some adults - that this is happening all over Unistat. Kids are trying to avoid the Bowery Breath by jamming this stuff into their own sacred orifices, boys using their rectums and who knows what delivery system. HERE's a story on it. Since this story, Snopes has recently come down with the verdict: hokum. Not physically easy to do. The logistics aren't right. And a Huffington Post writer tried it herself and felt intense, unremitting pain, and almost zero buzz. This story follows the idiotic pour-alcohol-into-your-eyes and my favorite: brush your teeth so hard your gums bleed, then pour alcohol onto your gums. 

Hey kids: what's wrong with smoking a little pot? Would it kill you to just spark up a jay? 

As If Beer Wasn't Doing Fine on Its Own...
I haven't followed up on this story, but the micro brewery Brew Dog earlier this year came up with an IPA of 7.5%, which is around normal for an IPA. But this IPA - produced in very limited supply - was called Royal Virility Performance, and appears to have tried to capitalize on some sort of wedding last Spring between in-bred "royals" somewhere...the UK if I recall from reading the report. 

The thing about this brew was that it contained the alleged aphrodisiac horny goat weed, and one that's not classified as an aphrodisiac but has a proven track record of sexual enhancement: Viagra. Yes, beer laced with Viagra. Crass? I think so. But I applaud the attempt to be creative in cashing in on a wedding between filthy rich people who did nothing to deserve their riches, except to be a modern throwback to the old Neolithic Sun King game: "I am your King! I have dominion over all of you...the Sun sez so!" This game still putters on, but was played quite seriously up the beginning of the 20th century, even a bit after 1900. (Why?)

Or something like that. We are a wonderfully odd species, eh?

The thing that gets me: you had to drink three bottles of the IPA to get the equivalent of one dose of Viagra, but they would only sell you one bottle, due to its "potency." 

Sounds sorta impotent to me. Best to cruise to the city park around 2AM, pick up some suboxone to mail to Uncle Freddie, who got busted trying to smuggle krokodil back from Russia into JFK, score some street Viagra there, jam it up my butt until I get home safe to my stash of wonderful vodka...Oh hell: I think I'll just smoke a joint instead. I'm conservative that way.

Friday, November 25, 2011

More Disseminations on Paideuma

[Previous impervious periphrastic maunderings in the mire of paideuma can be found HERE and HERE, not that you'd asked. - the OG]

The Berkeley Anthropology Dept never wrote me back on the pronunciation; if the Reader thinks s/he has an authoritative source, please go ahead and chime in the comment below...

For generalists, some geeks, and many weirdo thinkers of other stripe, it seems inevitable that we will come to "see" and then ponder quizzically about some What-If notions at the root (i.e, radical) of Things: What if we weren't hung up on sex as some taboo-like Entity? What if, as I wrote about recently, we never accepted that Land could be owned by anyone? What if, instead of alcohol, sugar, caffeine and TV as our main drugs (I know I'm sounding awfully ethnocentric here, but play along?), we had no prohibitions on drugs, but our main ones were cannabis, ceremonial use of psilocybin/DMT/LSD and meditation? What if a main focus in all education for children was a constant, year-after-year study of how language and all media work in our own nervous systems, our interpersonal relationships, and society? What if our banking system was decentralized and we held fast to Aristotle's basic idea about money and economics: that trading one thing for another via the medium of money is economics, but the making of money out of money with no other goods involved in a transaction was considered debased and almost vile "Art" of chrematistics?, id est, speculation and usury? What if, after WWII, the North American countries worked hand-in-hand with the Europeans in a massive project of constant innovation into solar energy?

Pick any one of those scenarios (and any other ones you can think of) and...go ahead: just try and imagine how different our world would be.

But it's not any of those worlds. We look at what's at the end of our fork, right? It's a naked lunch. What are we gonna do about it?

                            The prolific Rushkoff, here in an old photo with Mad Ol' Uncle Timothy Leary

Douglas Rushkoff as (one of) the New (Non) Prophet(s)
Douglas Rushkoff has written one of the more important works of our time, and when it came out I read it and chatted it up to anyone that would would listen, but I couldn't find anyone who'd read it or seemed genuinely interested. It's called Life, Inc: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back. Interestingly, now I've seen it referred to as the "bible of the Occupy movement" in more than one place.   Corporations have so thoroughly colonized our modern consciousness that we probably have only the slightest idea the extent. The corporation has become deeply internalized and almost invisible in some ways. If you "ain't got the time" to read a book like this, just read pp.xxiii-xxv. (Rushkoff's book has been released in a 2nd edition with a different subtitle.)

Automation and Its Discontents
When I discussed Philippe Van Parijs's idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) in other posts on Missing Public Discussions (and this is one that remains "missing"), one of the reasons I did so was because of my lifelong fascination with the radical implications of technology on culture, and in particular for our purposes here, automation. The idea of automation, if we go back and read books from the late 1940s through the 1970s (maybe later), was usually, "How wonderful! Automation will free us from drudgery! We will have more free time to do what our creative imaginations guide us to do! Many more of us will be able to self-actualize!" Etc.

Well, yes, we now have automation like a runaway train, and yet the Ruling Class doesn't care: the given Machine, invented by the collected creativities, intelligences, and energies of perhaps a few million people, put 73,000 people out of work? Well, go get Another Job! I own this Machine! I make the rules! What are ya, one dem commies?

And we/they did. Get another job. And again. And some of us, again. And the jobs left the country due to Neo-Liberal "free trade" agreements, just like (sorry, but I have to say this 'cuz it's true) Nikolai Lenin said would happen as capitalism progressed. "It must always be need in search of new markets." Yep, including labor markets.

But what does it mean to have a job nowadays? Almost everyone will think you're insane if you ask them this question. Or the ones that don't think you're insane will give some wry line about a Dog's Life, or something along the lines of Megadeth's "If there's a new way/I'll be the first in line/But it better work this time." ("Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?") But I'm serious: Is life about having a job? How is a job different than working? What does the Protestant Work Ethic and the spirit of capitalism mean in times like this? Were we sold a bill of defective goods when we read about the marvels of automation as a kid? (Kinda like most of the people around me thought NAFTA was just great when they heard the political language from the TV?)

The "work ethic," I will assert but not argue, no longer "works." Oh, feel free to take issue with me, cite some special cases and counterfactuals. But I still say: it's now bunk. The thing is: what to do? What is value? What is today's "make-work"? How long can this last? What happens when a new Epoch seems to tap you on the shoulder and say, "Sorry we got here a bit early...the traffic was great!"?

Wittgenstein Got This Stuff, Too
"The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something - because it is always before one's eyes.) The real foundations of his inquiry do not strike a man at all. Unless that fact has at some time struck him. ---And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful."
-Philosophical Investigations, 3rd ed., fragment #129 in Part 1, translated by G.E.M. Anscombe (What is up with the $45 price tag at Amazon? Go to a used bookstore, and I bet you can get it for under $8. Or better yet, be the first person in the last nine years to check it out from your local public library? I include the Amazon links mostly due to the extra info on book and author, and reviews that diverge from my POV.)

Now, some sticklers may say the OG has gone on parole with "paideuma;" if so I confess that to the best of my knowledge the definitions - whether Frobenius's "soul of a culture" or Pound's "tangle of complex inrooted ideas of the time" (I paraphrase from memory, not seeking at this time to re-read my previous warblings from August) or something like a rhizome that runs like ivy up and down the walls of any given culture in place and time...nonetheless, you get the Idea?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

UC Davis Fascist Cop's Nonchalant Pepper-Spray: A Boon to Agit-Prop Artists

Here's a photo - you've already seen it - I copped from Time:

Here's one of my favorite uses of the image so far, Normal Rockwell-style, just in time for Turkey Day and the entire family!:
The above was done by the artist Bob Staake, who has done covers for the New Yorker. I found this at Boing Boing.

This image of the vile cop has truly gone viral, and there's no end to playful images of this embarrassment to UC Davis's administration and police authority throughout Unistat.

Here's one for Philip K. Dick fans. You know his mind-expanding paranoid and wonderfully weird novel Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said? Here's one version of the paperback art. You may even own this version:

Okay, here's a very recent update, only the title has been changed to Flow Your Tears, the Policeman Said:
Hat-tip: Ted Hand's intelligent blog Philip K. Dick and Religion.

It seems there is no end to this stuff, for example look HERE.

HERE are a few more. I like this first one (click to make larger):

Monday, November 21, 2011

George Lakoff and Metaphorical Framing for Occupy, u.s.w.

I just found out Professor Lakoff had back surgery recently, and is getting around with a cane. I hope he makes a full recovery; he's one of the most important thinkers in Unistat, maybe the world, as far as I'm concerned. He's a tremendous thinker, a sweet guy, and Noam Chomsky's bete noir.

Right now, Lakoff is concerned that the Occupy movement doesn't know how to adequately frame their desires, wants, demands. (Hint: He thinks they should frame their patriotism.) But he has very recently contributed an essay addressing this very issue, which I highly recommend for my Dear Readers.

[Any readers who want to understand Lakoff's cognitive neurolinguistics on a deep level might want to get hold of the book he co-wrote with philosopher Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By. The same approach, but with a more laser-like focus on the Unistat political scene is Lakoff's Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Also see his political-neuroscience book The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain. (That book has been reissued in paperback with a different subtitle.) For a very deep and epic heavy sled-run on the neuroscience underpinning all of this stuff, see Jerome Feldman's From Molecule To Metaphor: A Neural Theory of Language.]

Lakoff acknowledges forerunners of the thought-is-constituted-in-metaphors schema, but says only his (and Feldman's and many of their colleagues) are truly "scientific." The forerunners Lakoff has mentioned (in The Political Mind, first published in 2008) are Charles Fillmore, Erving Goffman, Ernst Cassirer and I.A. Richards (I wrote about Richards HERE); going back a bit further, Nietzsche (I wrote something as the OG HERE on Fred N). Going back the furthest, Lakoff tips his hat to Giambattista Vico (1668-1744). In earlier work, Lakoff has acknowledged the influence upon cognitive neurolinguistics such eminent thinkers as Wittgenstein, Edward Sapir, Benjamin Lee Whorf, and Lofti Zadeh.

                                  Maverick sociologist Erving Goffman, author of The Presentation of Self 
                                             in Everyday Life and many other mindblowing and readable books. His 
                                             central metaphor was All the World's A Stage. We assume roles, act our 
                                             parts, depending on the social situation, or framework we find ourselves in.

Keeping in mind Lakoff's recent essay for Occupy Writers, indulge me a bit and consider the use of language in class warfare (Marxist terminology is something Lakoff shies away from). A few blogs ago I pointed out that when budget slashing that would harm the non-rich the Republicans frame this as "reform." But when anyone suggests that the tax rates for the wealthy go back to the level they were in 1999, it is "class warfare."

Reading Lakoff and his influences my main model for why and how we are in this MESS we're in now is because the party that serves the 1% have a longer history of study and implementation of the most scientific uses of cognitive neurolinguistics...but they started to use knowledge about these largely unconscious processes far before Lakoff was studying the stuff, and it certainly wasn't called "cognitive neurolinguistics; rather is was called "advertising" or "Public Relations," or as the mandarin journalist Walter Lippmann called it, taming the Bewildered Herd.

The right-wing think tanks have been studying what amounts to Advertising and then applying it to politics; they've been doing it for a long time. Meanwhile the other parties that seek more parity? They speak in the patois of the educated, rational person. Indeed, they think like 18th century Enlightenment people, who believed in disembodied Reason, that if people could only know their self-interest they would Do The Right Thing, and that emotion has its place in life, but it really only gets in the way of Reason. They are the "egg heads" that a majority loathe, and tune out.

And now, with an explosion of neuroscientific knowledge, we know this is all wrong. Republicans speak using the patois of Reason also, but they do so with an idea that, as one of the founders of Unsitat, John Jay said, the owners of the country ought to run it. The best people have the most money. That sort of thing.

Lakoff has been at pains over the past 12-15 years trying to get the educated class to understand that most of the electorate are not primarily Rational Beings as Chomsky thinks, but bi-conceptual political beings: they are largely responsive to Strict Father frames of political language (see his book Moral Politics), or Two-Parent Co-Nurturing frames. Both frames are built on sets of metaphors that are physically instantiated in neural circuits. Probably everyone reading this, no matter what your political persuasion, can understand both frames, because we have experienced them over and over in our lives. This is a definition of Lakoff's "bi-conceptual." But one of those two frames tends to govern our political/economic/social thought more than the other, because of our life-experience, most of which was processed at unconscious levels. Lakoff has also been trying to get liberals to understand that the "conservatives" are way ahead in using this knowledge, and it's probably the main reason that so many of the so-called 99% vote for the interests of the 1%...

Lakoff thinks it's time the 99% wake up to frames, metaphors, and just generally using language and imagery to activate the neural circuits that articulate the values of equality, fairness, nurturing, and that aspect of freedom from.

If "The Empire never ended," it has largely been because those who best manipulate the symbols have been able to manipulate the land, capital, wealth, laws, rulers, etc.  So another way of framing Lakoff's "frames" is language as class warfare. Or Robert Anton Wilson's description of what Vico's linguistic theories were: "transpersonal linguistics." Or a rather blunt way to frame it: language as the tried-and-true Mind Control device?

This is, to me, the locus of the most radical aspect in our political world now. And it probably always has been. But now, as long as things are as bad as they are that people want to pitch tents in the hearts of the metropolises and get beaten by cops, it's probably about time more of them knew this stuff. Spread the word!

Anyway... Vico seemed to know all this, before the year 1750. More on that soon.

Here's Lakoff on conscious use of metaphors - framing - and how natural it is. 5 minutes:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg: Book Burner

While I seriously doubt Bloomberg consciously told his top goons to make sure their whole library was destroyed, he's still responsible for, as of this moment and according to the librarians of OWS, 2000 to 4000 missing books. The intent is not the same as the short clip at the end of this post, but seems rather ironic in a few ways nonetheless. And Bloomberg's book destruction seems more from overweening political arrogance, power, and negligence. Still: he's the one who must answer for this, and I hope he does.

But even if he does, for the OG at least, and possibly the Reader, Bloomberg will never be able to completely wash the smell of burned books out of his own name. There's no evidence that I have seen that he ordered the destruction of books, but as of this moment or until we hear he's apologized and made restitution, I see him as on the moral level of book burners. If you think that's too harsh, feel free to say so in the comments. "Mistakes were made?" "A breakdown in communication?" What?

He should have no trouble making amends. He's worth $19,500,000,000, according to Forbes. Jeez, talk about the 1%!

Here: have a look at the catalog prior-Bloomberg's default-biblioclasm, or libricide. Luxuriate in the list of texts; note the catalog dates for each item.

Eight days before the confiscation and ruin of a library - including the destruction of at least one copy of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 - Bloomberg attended a gala event for the NY Public Library.

Two days after the destruction of the library, Common Cause rallied to the defense of the OWS library and its librarians and called for billionaire Bloomberg to open his wallet and buy back those books.

Until Rich Uncle Pennybags Bloomberg makes restitution for what he's responsible for destroying, he's in the set of people which include the burners of the Library at Alexandria, the ReverendTerry Jones, Anthony Comstock, the Nazis, the US government/FDA/AMA who succeeded in having Wilhelm Reich's books burned only 11 years after the Nazis were defeated, because supposedly Americans believed in Free Speech and that book burning was anathema to a Free World.

Some other links to articles about this heinous incident are here, here (note there how many library accessories are also broken, trashed, or missing), here, and here (NB the quote from the artist who told a reporter, "I watched the stuff thrown into sanitation trucks and just crushed.")
General Wiki on burning books.
Nazis and book burning Wiki.
Some good links there...

Enjoy your books! Have you read Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street, by Herman Melville? Life, Inc by Rushkoff? Thomas Paine? How about Haig Bosmajian?

I wrote on the topic of book destruction and Baez's book on the history of that here. Skip ahead to the part after the pic of the stack of unburnt books...

The absurdity of this all! Dig this 27-second clip of Nazis burning books, etc. The person who put the clip up decided to include the tune, "Fly Me To The Moon." When I watched this clip earlier today, a pop-up ad appeared for investing in gold. Satire has been outpaced by "real life"?

Language and Class Warfare, and a Poet

Demanding that the tax rate for the richest return to 1999 levels: "class warfare."
Those working on behalf of the richest wanting to slash Medicare and Social Security: "reform."

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass (rhymes with "grass"), reading his poem "The Problem of Describing Color" (He announces it as "difficulty" but in his book Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005 it appears as "problem," page 9.) 84 seconds long. Do you have 84 seconds for poetry?:

On November 10, when UC Berkeley students peacefully protested Occupy-style, Hass, 70 years old, was holding hands with people on both sides of him and campus police jabbed him in the ribs with a baton. As far as I know, he's okay, physically.

What was that line from Orwell? Something like "When I see the police beating a man on the ground, I don't have to ask what side I'm on."

Speaking of which: video of an Iraq war vet being beaten by police in Oakland on November 2nd.

Watching Occupy-like actions from Madrid on YouTube, police rioting, beating protesters indiscriminately, a colleague noted something a commenter wrote below:

"Class warfare: the rich are now rich enough to pay half the population to kill the other half of the population."

Addendum: Hass recently published an I Was There editorial in the NYT, HERE.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Some Very Recent Forms of "The Dialectic" (?)

[I've still got a nasty cold/cough and I'm in a general(ist?) state of bile and snark, so please forgive the odd tones, I beseech thee! I'm experiencing full-on phlegmaticness! Not fun. This article is about some brief tiffs between late 2011 reality-based communitarians in Unistat vs. entrenched interests and what I might deem - in my current moment of snark-bile state - the "reality-impaired." Have fun! - the OG]

There are many definitions of "dialectic." Plato thought only educated men talking to each other about ideas can reach an ever-higher level of understanding of True Being. More specifically for Plato and his followers, it was the process of defining terms and ideas and how they interrelate and have to do with One ultimate idea, which emanates from an Ideal World of Perfect Forms. Dialectic was spotted being used in English in the 14th century, in a sense that we would now call "logic." It had migrated rather scholastically into the art of discussion and debate, or argument...among school-churchmen who assumed Aristotle and the Bible were the ultimate wellsprings of Truth. <cough>

                                        Plato, looking stoned, from file photos. This was obviously after a night on the town. The wine 
                                        those guys drank was ultra-strong, and who knows what drugs were used for 
                                        the Eleusinian Mysteries. Man, I've heard of bloodshot eyes, but whiteshot eyes?
Sometime around the early 18th century, in or near present-day Germany, the term dialectic began to be discussed in terms of contradictions and disputes not only in discussions but in "reality." I will not go into an excursion of the term in Kant, Hegel, and Marx. I am using the term in this particular blog post in a rather grandiose way that persnickety scholars might call debased, but aside from that I mean something like: clashes of political ideas in late 2011 Unistat between what I consider people in what one George W. Bush official told journalist Ronald Suskind was the "reality-based community,"(Suskind's) and...whatever the Birthers and right wing billionaires/Americans For Prosperity and Heritage Foundation and Tea Party rank-and-file and John Birch Society, et.al call their "reality."

(I'm guessing they'd call their "reality" the One True Reality, but that's only a guess, and I am being unfair in lumping all those people together, as no doubt we will find at times substantial differences among all those who'd self-identify with one of more of those groups. They all seem to hate Obama, though.)

First up: A wonderful post from earlier today by a Maryland-based blogger-colleague of mine, Annabel Lee, denizen of the reality-based community, who tells us of her surprising experience at a Tea Party rally in Durham, North Carolina very recently. There's also something not-very-surprising. In the context of dialectic this speaks to a down-and-dirty overall story about the current state of beastly mundane and debased political discourse in Unistat, late 2011:
When a Liberal Visits a Tea Party Rally,What Happens? from Annabel Lee's razor-sharp blog Double Dip Politics. Of all the dialectical clashes in this OG post, this one from DDP contains a kernel of hope for something truly revolutionary: Occupyers and Tea Partiers (and those cheering for either group, from the sidelines) making common cause. (Note I said a "kernel.")

                            Co-Founder of the Yippies, self-described Investigative Satirist Paul Krassner.
                                     He did LSD with, among others and at different times, Groucho Marx and 
                                     Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme. Read his books!

Next up: Somehow Playboy got Paul Krassner and Andrew Breitbart into a conversation. It seems to me the more one knows about Breitbart and Krassner the more fascinating this exchange seems, but all I'm perhaps biased because I know Krassner's books, his biography, his history so well, and I love him. Krassner's one of my favorite Unistatians of the 20th century, born in 1931, if memory serves, and the founder of The Realist, and by dint of that, often introduced as "The Father of the Counterculture,"or "Father of the Underground press," for which he'd always yell out, "I demand a paternity test!" All I know of Breitbart is his appearances on TV, and he just seems like another Angry White Male with deep emotional issues. There's my bias. At any rate: primo dialectico!...but are the two of them really trying to get to the truth? Or uncover a new layer of truth? Your call...

Third - these things come in threes, as Pythagoras and Plato and Jeanne Dixon always asserted - comes what appears to be an editorial by Keith Olbermann, heaping vitriol on Michael Bloomberg while interspersing the castigation with ironic gratitude. There is a basic strong rhetorical style - immanent critique, comparisons, use of a thesaurus, clipped rhythms, about Olbermann. He's witty and angry and righteous and seems a justified heir to his broadcasting hero Murrow. (And Olbermann has a voice and seasoned telegenic mannerisms that shapes his rhetoric in a way that shouldn't be underestimated.) But within the context of dialectic please take Olbermann here and consider almost everything you see and hear tonally from the mainstream corporate electronic media about WHO the Occupiers are and what they want, and how the laws and Constitution comes into play. I invite you to consider this special comment-rant as a dialectic with, say, what Fox News is saying about the same situation:

Sooooo...how is this all playing from the vantage point of dialectic? Where are the misunderstandings? How can we model these chasms of understandings about, oh...I don't know...."facts"? What's The Reader's favorite way to model this...errr..."problem"?

I'm sure everything will work its way onward and upward, towards some Golden Mean of grace and empathic understanding and then we will All realize our common humanity and there will be no hungry, no homeless, no jobless, no health-insurance-less and everyone has access to World of Warcraft. Just as Plato and his dialectic said it would.

 <bittersarcasm-mode OFF>

Monday, November 14, 2011

On Revolutionary Rhetoric and "Progress"

"The past is never dead. It's not even past." - William Faulkner, c.1951

"The empire never ended." Philip K. Dick, c.1975

Speaking for myself, epigrammatic statements about history tend to have an arresting effect; they can seem to be saying momentous weighty things in few words. One must stop and think about them. I give two examples above. I've found at times that some of these terse and profound statements, when sifted through the mind, dwindle and melt into thin air. Other ones stay with me and contribute to my fixed stock of what is supposed to wisely guide me through my own life paths. Other sticky epigrams about history stay with me like a battle scar that never quite heals.

You will have your own little pithy statements about History and Time and Memory that you picked up and kept, because they resonated with you in some way...maybe something about the only thing we learn from history is that we don't learn from it? I find that one haunting.

Another one you've all heard, the one about History being written by the winners? That one has stood me in good stead; ever since I read (or heard) that one and then sifted it, I've kept it in my pocket. Reading history from the non-winners' side has been enlightening for me, so far...

Over the last few years I've started to look at these mini-poems as a kind of rhetoric, and it's instructive to try and see what makes them work. What metaphors are being used? What was it that initially got its hooks in me? Are there aspects of rhythm or sound that hypnotize me in some way? Can I identify a prior disposition towards the sentiment of the epigram? Do I only like it because it seems profound on the surface? Do I really think that Time, Memory, or History works that way? Or do I think it's argumentative, and something to be mentally filed away for some future debate moment?

All of this was actuated by my readings of the 18th century Neapolitan philosopher of History Giambattista Vico, current U.C. Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff, and by a gigantic Encyclopedia of Rhetoric, edited by Thomas Sloane, that I received two Christmases ago, and - geeky generalist me - I love to read for fun.

                                       Lakoff made me realize metaphors aren't merely poetic devices;
                                                    they are the social atoms our worlds are made of, and they 
                                                    operate in their most profound ways unconsciously.

I have found a drug-like effect when looking at things this way. Do you know that feeling of meditating on words or phrases so much that their very wordiness starts to come into stark clarity? I do. I'm suddenly realizing this word is being conveyed via a very abstract series of 26 "letters," which combined, are supposed to say something about "reality." Then...a figuratively audible POP!, and they disappear in the luminiferous ether.

What happens soon after: I realize someone intended something when they chose those words. I also know words are not the things they represent. I find myself in what the phenomenological sociologist Alfred Schutz called a "finite province of meaning": In looking at language in this way, I enter a sort of zen-like state that is not my "ordinary reality." For some few seconds, I inhabit a pre-verbal world. It doesn't last. I haven't practiced enough to stay there long. The monkey-chatter of words reasserts itself.

There is often an abyss, in which I'm once again reminded, almost all of my worlds are made largely of language. And we have forgotten this. But words are not things, and there are words at play in our everyday interactions with others - our taken-for-granted worlds - that are so abstract I doubt there are two people who understand these Big Important Words in the same way. Liberty. Freedom. Fairness. Democracy. Love. Wealth. Good. The Mind...

Oh these words that can make us so unhappy!

At the same time, I now see some dramatic, game-like element in some of the language... games, and realize there seem to be a subset of those language games (and what they supposedly represent) which need to be taken "seriously," if only because many people I love are playing it seriously. I can't help but see things ironically, if only because of the built-in doubt, this Copenhagen-ness at the social level.

I have presented but one quasi-phenomenological/Wittgensteinian/Korzybskian/Lakoffian snapshot of one way of looking at language and "reality;" there are many more versions. Yours, for example. But how many of the 7 billion have some sort of, for lack of a better term, relatively sophisticated understanding of the basic concept Words are not Things? Are we getting better or worse or staying roughly the same as to a canniness about WOIDS? (Yes, we are doing at least one of those three.)

Have we made any progress in this? Does My Dear Reader think the mass mind, summed over, has gotten hold of how powerful language can be? (And what, in the previous two sentences, does "we" "progress""mass mind" "gotten hold" and "powerful" mean?)

I ask this rhetorically, of course, Of course!

Guess the year:

All laws are directed against the working people...Even the school serves only the purpose of furnishing the offspring of the wealthy with those qualities necessary to uphold their class domination. The children of the poor get scarcely a formal elementary training, and this, too, is mainly directed to such branches as tend to producing prejudices, arrogance and servility; in short, want of sense. The Church finally seeks to make complete idiots out of the mass and to make them forgo the paradise on earth by promising a fictitious heaven. The capitalist press, on the other hand, takes care of the confusion of spirits in public life...The workers can therefore expect no help from any capitalist party in their struggle against the existing system. They must achieve their liberation by their own efforts. As in former times, a privileged class never surrenders its tyranny, neither can it be expected that the capitalists of this age will give up their rulership without being forced to do it...

This was from an anarchist manifesto drawn up in 1883, when anarchists congregated in Pittsburgh. The language reflects a literate readership, but it seems accessible to most. Some of the phrases, such as "capitalist press" and a few others, feel quaint. There is a strong worldview, well articulated. How much have things changed?

We know things have changed, maybe even "progressed" since 1883. What does this excerpted anarchist broadside/manifesto from 128 years ago uncover about the nature of social progress?

I ask this rhetorically.

Friday, November 11, 2011

11-11-11: Worldwide Heavy Metal Day!

Here's a cultural trend: simply pull a day or month out of your butt and proclaim it's National What I'm Interested In Day! Or note well that a pulchritudinous and brainy babe named Cara Santa Maria over at Huffington Post has proclaimed November "Sexuality Month." Apparently by fiat. Note: I'm not complaining, just observing.

You go ahead and try it: do you own a business that's hurting in this endless recession? Hey! Get out the word that December is not only Christmas and Hanukkah and any number of originally pagan Winter Solstice post-harvest days of celebration...but it's Change Your Automobile Oil Day too! Other lube experts will nod in agreement, and you never know, it might go viral. Next March 10th is Used and Antique Furniture Appreciation Day, so go out to your local shops, folks! Make a night of it! Numerology reigns supreme on 11-11-11, and I've read of one small business owner who plans to open his store at 11:11AM today. Other couples chose the day to get married. Lest we forget: the Great War's armistice was at 11AM on 11-11-1918...

Some people at Viacom-owned TV channel VH-1 a few months ago decided that the upcoming 11-11-11 would be Heavy Metal Day. Nothing but metal today, folks!

Sure, it's a crass corporate promotional ploy dreamed up by marketing guys, but I like metal, and if you think I'll let this go well man you've got another thing comin'. The end of Daylight Savings Time arrived earlier this week, so now it starts to get dark at 5PM here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The weather has been cold, more rain is coming, baseball is over...now is the time I usually play a lot of baroque music: Vivaldi, Handel, Scarlatti, Corelli, Tartini, Telemann, Zelenka, Couperin, but especially the deity Johann Sebastian Bach. I've long associated the shorter, colder winter months with baroque music. I listen to all kinds of music, but since my early twenties I've associated Bach and the 17th century boys with what we call "winter" in California. But for 11-11-11 it's all screaming metal for me. By the end of today I will have listened to my favorite Megadeth. I think I'll pull out UFO's seminal Strangers In The Night CD. Where's that Voivod? Hell, maybe even Black Sabbath's first record...I will probably not be listening to a band that sounds like the singer is a cross between Cookie Monster and Sam Kinison, but that's just me. I'm more about the firebreathing virtuoso guitarists. C'est la vie and de gustibus non est disputandum. Or however that stuff goes.

                                         Paul Gilbert, one of the great virtuosos of metal. He has a geek's sense of
                                         humor and is a teacher of great renown. He painted those f-holes on, I'm
                                         pretty sure of it.

A Few Words on Metal Books for Geeks 
Apparently to some, it's sounds odd when I assert that a good chunk of metal has been heavily influenced by baroque music, but if you want exhaustive proof see Professor Robert Walser's book Running With the Devil: Power, Gender and Madness in Heavy Metal. Walser - a PhD in Musicology - shows elaborate comparisons between solos by Ozzy Osbourne's fiery guitarist Randy Rhoads and the innovative Edward Van Halen and arpeggiated progressions from the likes of Vivaldi and Bach. Walser's book is probably the geekiest book on metal I've seen, but there are a few more books on metal for geeks I'd like to mention.

Sound of the Beast: A Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal by Ian Christe gives a pretty good survey of the history of metal, and does a terrific job of showing how, starting in the 1980s, the metal universe went supernova, with genres splintering off like chaotic flying shrapnel all over the place: thrash metal, speed metal, death metal, black metal, progressive metal, Nu-Metal, shred metal. The book is copyright 2003 and metal is still evolving, mutating, and experimenting and cross-pollinating with other forms of music, so we must always see the word "complete" in a title as a bit of premature gesticulation. Nonetheless, Christe is one of the best writers on metal. His scope is encyclopedic, he writes well, he's not afraid to be opinionated, and he's a terrific, incurable list-maker, which is fun.

Deena Weinstein, Professor of Sociology at DePaul University in Chicago, has gone into nth printings of her Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture, which rivals Walser's book in its intellectual approach, which is deeply sociological, steeped in her Simmel, and she draws on postmodern texts such as Dick Hebdige's influential Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Weinstein appreciates metal deeply, at one time wore a black leather jacket to her lectures (maybe still does), and has given a reading of the music and cultural style of metal an analytical depth that will be a challenge to any subsequent writers coming at it from this angle. Not an easy read, but a delight to metal intellectuals.

Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal, by Jeff Wagner, arrived earlier this year and was the best book on music in any style that I've read during calendar 2011. Wagner had been listening and writing about metal for a dedicated small following in Metal Maniacs magazine for a long time; he got out of the magazine biz and holed up in a rural house in the American south, and wrote this engrossing book. Wagner is the sort of writer who knows and loves his subject so well that it's infectious. I could see Musicology professors enjoying this book, if only to get a clue about this rich and deep and odd area of music. The supernovae of different metal genres I noted in Christe's book? Wagner amplifies greatly on much of Christe; these two books seem wonderfully complementary. Wagner is most interested in the metal bands that continued to "progress" and try new things. I was enchanted reading about bands I hadn't known anything about, like Opeth or Celtic Frost, and how they evolved. Often the players just practiced so much that 13 months after their last record, suddenly they sound like a different band: odd time signatures, a faster and more melodic lead guitarist, abrupt tempo changes, etc. Or suddenly the band fell in love with old Pink Floyd records and now the music reflects their influence. One learns not only who the Big Four of Thrash are, but who are the Big Three of Prog-Rock? A: Dream Theater, Fate's Warning, and Queensryche. Which I did not know until I read Wagner.

For the ultimate conversation starter among metal heads, you must see Joel McIver's The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists. McIver, the most prolific writer in metal - and a high-quality writer he is too, a real digger-ant who does his research and wears out lots of shoe leather in getting interviews - knows how to get metal heads arguing about who's the best. He knows that "best" is subjective, so he says at the beginning of the book what his criteria is. It still seemed too arbitrary to me why Rhoads, Van Halen and Malmsteen were "hard rock" and not metal, but nevermind all that. As the book - copiously illustrated - counts down from 100 to numero uno, the articles on each player get longer. I have not met one metal head who agrees with McIver's selection for #1, but I have complete respect for McIver's metal esthetics. This is a fun, well-informed book.

Will 11-11 "Stick"As Metal Day?
Maybe. Did Secretary's Day stick? I don't know, but probably in the world of secretaries it did, somewhat. Corporations have a lot of power, but I tend to think these holidays/memorials that "stick" come from something indigenous; they are in the soil and bread where the folk live and eat and breathe. I'm glad that a cartoonist's idea of Sadie Hawkins caught on, or my first date would've happened much later. I'll go off here and speculate that a new holiday/memorial that sticks only does so because of the software of the day's idea runs compatibly on the hardware of the culture's paideumaMy guess is that 11-11 will probably live on, at least for a few years, as Metal Day. After all, there are a LOT of metal heads, from 15 year old girls who listen to Motley Crue to 55 year olds in Dockers who imagine they are world-class shredder John Petrucci in some other world.

The Ironists among the metaloids have re-named the day Nigel Tufnel Day, after the Christopher Guest character from the immortal Spinal Tap, who had an amp made that will go up to 11, one better than his rivals' ten. Others think the late metal god Ronnie James Dio was the embodiment of the sign of 11, with his index and pinky fingers-raised "devil's horns" sign, which Dio once explained he got from his Italian grandmother, who imported it from the old country: it was the malocchio, or Evil Eye, that was being thwarted by such a gesture. Apparently the Evil Eye goes back to classical Greece. There is a funny dissenter towards this Day of Metal, John Serba of the Grand Rapids Press.

My friend Brian Shields is a metal head par excellence, and his avant leanings are on display HERE.

Shields is also an adept punster and wordsmith, and he never told about this piece (that I remember), but I found it accidentally. I end this blogspew for Metal Day with Shields's "Less Successful Heavy Metal Wedding-Tribute Bands" HERE.

Here's the Kronos Quartet playing Hendrix's "Purple Haze."

Paul Gilbert (metal) playing JS Bach, the Prelude in D, from The Well-Tempered Clavier:

Megadeth: Dave Mustaine on vocals and lead guitar; Marty Friedman (flannel shirt), the master of odd intervals and exotic scales in metal, doing most of the lead breaks. He's incredibly articulate, operatic, firebreathing, and has an impeccable vibrato. Friedman shreds in Hungarian minor, with diminished 7th arpeggios flying by, and the Phrygian major scale adds to the esoteric theme of the song, about the famous Hangar 18 of conspiracy theory lore. Unadulterated metal from Megadeth's best lineup:

#OWS and Origins, My Delusion, Taking Pulse of Zeitgeist

I've known possibly too much about the problems Unistat has fallen into for, oh, about 23 years now. And in a consciously unrelated event, after reading about the practical purposes of having a blog from fellow writers, I started one on May 6 of this year. At the time, what I saw in national politics was utterly dismal, and if anything, politicians were talking about making things worse (in their special language). If they were talking about solving problems at all.

I never thought I'd write about the all-but-hopeless political situation on this blog, but events led me to feel compelled to. It seemed only left-ish online magazines and blogs were talking about the same political problems I'd seen and cared about, and they were addressing possible solutions in a way that made sense to me, or at least seemed legitimate. There was virtually nothing in the corporate media.

So I wrote for awhile about what a sham I thought the Economics game was. (See here, and there, and over there, up on that branch, down here in this bog.) I could do another 15 like that, easily, but then the Intergalactic Committee for Legitimate Generalists might revoke my license, and you really don't want that, do you? I know I don't want that.

I'll have to space out my Potshots from here on in.

Along those lines - of politics and economics and money and slander and vituperation and Who Gets What (which reminds me of a funny line from Timothy Leary, who said the only honest way to talk about politics with someone else is when you're both down on all fours) - I started writing about what I thought were Missing Public Discussions. The ideas were, as I saw them, being discussed only in far-flung hamlets of Internet, and not on, say, the Six O'Clock Newshour with Pretty Blonde and Good Hair. (See here, here, here, here, and a few other places, for example.)

Now here's the funny thing: I did most - if not all of those - before Occupy Wall Street hit the news. Suddenly, most of those discussions started to show up in "public."

Naturally, I thought I caused it all. I was the Tipping Point or something. Maybe the groundswell was building, people were angry, desperate, scared, at wit's end...then the Overweening Generalist showed up and straw/camel's back...BLAMMO!: We had ourselves a Movement, buckaroo.

                                          The Great Canadians at AdBusters came up with this one

Now, I really didn't believe I had anything to do with it. It was a felicitous delusion. I had simply tapped into the zeitgeist. Those ideas were in the air. Part of the basic job description of the relatively unattached, free-floating intellectual is to articulate what's not being said yet.

But there was a primitive part of my brain that I think we all have which has to do with causality, observing that first this happens, then that happens, so this first must have "caused" that. It's a very primitive circuit and it no doubt did well by us for at least a million years. Which made me laff. My primate brain at work! There were millions of others articulating those ideas. And I'm glad we're talking about them. Very glad. (The discussions about automation replacing many jobs forever, what does work "mean" now?, what are alternate ways we can exchange value now?...these discussions still seem in the remote vanguard. But they will appear, as things accelerate toward some sort of - hopefully benign - eschaton.) The real work can finally begin, at any rate.

Now I've seen a few Origin stories about OWS, and I'll link to two of them here and here. These timelines/narrative of origin help sober me up...

49 million in poverty in Unistat, the richest country in the world...and we only have a little over 300 million. I find that disgusting and shameful. This should lead the Six O'Clock News every night in a sane society. But we do not have a sane society. We currently have something like a kleptocratic-plutocratic oligarchy that likes to call itself a democratic republic. We have to change that. And as long as money is in politics in the way it is now, not much will change. So we have to change that.

I was planning a long Missing Public Discussion on Ending Corporate Personhood, and one on Publicly Financed Elections, but then the Occupy movement started, I went down to the ones in Oakland and Berkeley, and those ideas were on the minds of most.

(This blog and its writer are overweening in their chauvinism. They seem to only care about Unistat's economic worries. Yes, it's true, the OG is ethnocentric and self-centered. But we DO care about England, and follow what's going on there. We DO care about the Euro and Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, and Spain. And we're trying to imagine the mindset of the Germans right now. We are greatly concerned about our cousins to the Great White North. All of us want to end the War on Certain People Who Use Certain Drugs, if only to stop the headless corpses on playgrounds in Mexico. We care about South American, Malaysia, Indonesia, and maybe especially Japan. I'm sorry to all our brothers and sisters in countries I haven't named. Believe it or not, we do care! But even an overweening generalist has his limitations, if only of space.)

A recent poll of 1005 people (not a very large sample, granted) had Occupy at a 35% favorable rating, with Wall Street and corporations at 16%. The Tea Party was at 16%, too. There are polls galore out there to Google or Bing or Yahoo. Things are moving fast. Things are exciting. Maybe at times a bit too exciting, but hey, you go with what brung ya. (<-----what the hell does that even mean?)

There was my delusional episode. There are timelines of origins in the links I provided above. But I think the second President of Unistat had the better perspective on these moments in history.

John Adams, long out of office, in 1815 received a letter from Dr. J. Morse asking for information about the American Revolution, its origins, causes and course. This information was to be used for a history of that period. And Adams wrote back:

A history of military operations...is not a history of the American Revolution, any more than the Marquis  of Quincy's military history of Louis XIV...is a history of the reign of that monarch. The revolution was in the minds and the hearts of the people, and in the union of the colonies; both of which were substantially effected before hostilities commenced.

In subsequent years Adams uttered variations of this. The Revolution took place in the minds and hearts of the people 15 years before a shot was fired.

Let us hope for a relatively peaceful adjustment. The revolution is now borderless. I fear for what hopes and dreams we were allowed to legitimately carry within us until December of 2000, September of 2001, March of 2003, August of 2008...whenever my Dear Reader thinks we truly began to be loose our tether.  But let's not give up hope; we need to preserve capitalism for its tremendous dynamic, creative force, but we need rules in place, and those rules enforced. We need a safety net...or what are our values? The values of Las Vegas?

I personally don't know anyone who wants that. Carry on!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Short Mull on Obama's Misreading of Lincoln

Ever since the BarackStar got in, I have watched him closely on his ideas about listening to people who disagree with him. What a depressing, maddening road it's been for me. Obama kept citing Lincoln, said he was reading Lincoln, admired Abe, compared his situation with Abe's. The two competing Presidential influences were FDR (obviously), and Reagan (ironically, surprisingly, rhetorically).

What has bothered me increasingly about Obama is his failure to read Lincoln accurately, in my view.

                                                          Lincoln had one year of formal school, making him one 
                                                          of the great autodidacts in history.

Yes, Lincoln said he didn't know everything and surrounded himself with people who disagreed with him. He really did want to hear other ideas. He welcomed them. He compromised (<-----this is the key word here, folks) when he felt it was the right thing to do, but he did not compromise on his core principles.

Meanwhile, history has saddled Obama with an opposition party whose sole stated purposed is to make him a one-term President  - no compromises! - at the expense of the suffering of the people of Unistat, and on behalf of the 1% who own the country. The historical situation now is not the same as 1861-1865. I'm still trying to figure out how Obama has mentally negotiated this. But that's not the main issue here...

Lincoln was long against slavery, but never agitated like an abolitionist. He was pragmatic. He admired many people who had slaves but who also seemed to think it was wrong. Such as Thomas Jefferson.

When the "Civil" War (as Professor George Carlin might have said, "If it's so civil...then what's all the fighting about?") broke, it forced the issue. Lincoln was forced to tackle the Problem. During the war, the Emancipation Proclamation. Before that, Lincoln's Generals coming to him and saying, "We have fugitive slaves here, and we don't want to return them to their owners." Lincoln nodded in agreement.

Near the end of the war, some big-time monied interests and similar people that Lincoln had listened to, wanted him to rescind the Emancipation, and Lincoln, on personal principle, said no way in hell (my words, not his; he was a touch more eloquent than I). You can't give people freedom then take it back! You can't have warriors fighting on your side who are black, then return them to slavery! (We don't torture or hold people without charges or a trial...oh, I guess we do. For some reason. BarackStar? Hello?)

Obama hasn't had anything as dramatic as slavery to fight against, but he has never seemed to take a principled stance on any major issue. He SAID time again that certain things are a done deal, non-negotiable, then caved. He doesn't seem to understand: there are the 1% who bought his election (largely), but his young, idealistic constituency was where his (supposed) principles would have had their backing. Our BarackStar has flubbed some golden opportunities to alter history and be truly great.

In this, Obama has made a massive error. And when his own constituency has criticized him, he's - again depressingly, for this constituent - shown he has thin skin. He's mad we're mad. Sure, he's the smartest in the room. But as smart as he is, he has not shown he has given an adequate reading of Lincoln.

As for the Overweening Generalist, I give Obama's reading and use of Lincoln a C minus. But he can improve on this grade "next semester," if he's accepted. He still has work in finishing this semester.

I hope he gets another 1000 days to prove he can learn. Intelligence on the stage of world history has at times been coupled with hubris and a thin skin. This seems to me a lack of a different type of intelligence in Obama's case, if not in other historical instantiations: Obama may lack some emotional intelligence. This view would seem to mitigate my opinion that Obama has misread Lincoln, for perhaps he just doesn't have it in him? I fervently hope he proves me wrong...

Along with this musing, I think certain people get caught up in the Curse of the Oval Room which re-routs their priorities, for reasons I won't mull about here. If there are reasons. Heck, how reasonable is a curse?

Further video links: (2):

NYT from August 2011 3 and a half minutes: Obama vis a vis Lincoln and Reagan and the trickiness of compromise

Here's some sheer gold if you have the time. Historian Eric Foner: 54 mins. I finally saw a mind far more brilliant than mine articulate what I've been thinking for three years.

                                           Rarely has so much political capital been so mismanaged. So far....

Niels Bohr's Copenhagen Interpretation: A Brief

Bohr (1885-1962, Nobel Prize Physics 1922), the Great Dane, one the main constructors of the most successful physical theory mankind has ever come up with, the quantum theory, was an enigmatic personality, and anyone wishing to delve deeply into how physics, psychology, language, philosophy, and "reality" all commingle will be repaid by reading in the numerous well-written versions of Bohr's life upon the 20th century scientific stage. In the past year I've at times mired joyfully in Manjit Kumar's Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality; a challenging graphic novelization of Bohr called Suspended In Language; and a few others, but most fruitfully, Niels Bohr's Times: In Physics, Philosophy, and Politics by Bohr's physicist friend Abraham Pais, which may be the ultimate biography of Bohr so far.

Ever since Bohr could remember he was interested in philosophy, "to dream of interconnections." Soon after, still as a boy, he found himself dizzy from contemplating the nature of language and the problem of making communication free of ambiguity. This would inform his interpretation of quantum mechanics, an interpretation which stymied his friend Einstein over and over. Einstein, as most of you know, did not like the indeterminate, statistical nature of physical reality at its atomic and subatomic levels. There must be something wrong with quantum mechanics, it must be incomplete, there must be something "solid" at the bottom of reality. But Bohr's Copenhagen Interpretation held sway.

                                        Bohr chose the Taoist Yin/Yang symbol for his coat of arms. 

Starting in the late 1920s, at every conference in which Bohr and Einstein met, Einstein had concocted an ingenious gedankenexperiment (thought experiment) that would baffle Bohr and force him to admit the quantum theory was incomplete. Bohr would listen to Einstein and become vexed. While others went off and mingled, joked and carried on conversations over drinks, Bohr would retire to his hotel room to try and deal with Einstein's latest thought experiment...and he always succeeded in answering Einstein's objections! (Except for maybe that one EPR thingy....)

In 1927, Bohr thought his interpretation - which included Heisenberg's famous Uncertainty Principle - was right. His basic idea was the principle of complementarity. Physicists had been troubled by the fact that, when they tried to find out if the nature of light was particular or wave-like, they found that it was both! It depended on the way the experiment was set up. Most physicists thought they needed to find the one best way to set up an experiment to see, once and for all, if light was "really" a wave or if it "really" came in particles. (A few creative types posited that light was a "wavicle," but few in the physics community were satisfied with this.)

Bohr said: no matter what you do, you will never come to a proof that it's waves or particles. He was convinced that waves and particles were complementary phenomena. And so was almost everything else.

Here's Bohr, giving a thumbnail version of the Copenhagen Interpretation of the quantum world of nature:

"There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature."

When I first read this, my mind went in seven directions at once. To this day, I still marvel at this conception, which is still probably the most "conservative" interpretation of quantum physics, and the one most commonly held by physicists, probably...That is, if those physicists working on solving problems involving the quantum level think at all about the implications about what the equations imply about Nature; at least one generation of Unistatian physicists were trained and encouraged to NOT think about the philosophical implications, as I touched on HERE.

What Bohr seems to be saying is that we can't know about Nature. Or rather, what we say about our findings using our best instruments and minds only says what we can say about how we've decided to model nature, not what it "really" is. We can only describe what our instruments and nervous systems and mathematics register about our conceptualizations about nature. We are inextricably one-remove from any sort of "ultimate physical reality," and indeed, we cannot know if even that exists. We either made that notion up at some point, or it was a holdover from our thinking as evolved apes. When we use our best conceptualizations, and no matter how indeterminate the equations were, the experiments "work" the way we think they should work, and things don't fall apart suddenly: it's as good as we can get. And it's been pretty damned good. Best physical theory EVER! But: undergirding it all is statistical probabilities. We don't know how Nature operates for "sure." (Yet? No. Bohr is saying we can't know. And he's okay with that. Are you? Why does it "matter"?)

Every notion that we have about anything is a map, and there are relief maps, political maps, Mercator projections, globes, population-diffusion maps, agricultural maps, weather maps...you can think of many, many more. We all inherit versions of map-models about "reality" from our local culture. Some of us extend knowledge and create new maps, to help us think about some small corner of "reality" in a new way. Maps are always in flux in space/time/quantum "reality."

Looking at things, observing them, changes them. At least at the atomic and subatomic levels. Maybe it works on macro-levels too...

Bohr continued to write and talk about complementarity throughout his life, both in physics and in other domains of life, such as biology, anthropology, language, and psychology. In 1957 he gave a series of lectures at M.I.T, and the first one was titled "The Philosophical Lessons of Atomic Physics." He stressed the complementary principle, and his friend and biographer Abe Pais thinks Bohr might have gotten the notion from the American pragmatist philosopher William James, who had used the term "complementary" in a similar way in 1891, many years before Bohr had started to use it, and Bohr is on record as admiring James: "I thought he was most wonderful." Bohr also admired Lao Tzu and Buddha, but not most Western philosophers. He admired fellow Dane Kierkegaard's language, but not the thought so much.

Many academic philosophers commented unfavorably about Bohr's "complementarity" and Bohr said they didn't understand it.

Some physical and more everyday examples of complementarity:

  • -subject/object
  • -spectators/actors
  • -figure/ground
  • -mechanical/statistical
  • -faith/doubt

In a similar way that pragmatism has been called an "anti-philosophy," Bohr's "complementarism" (Pais's term for Bohr's philosophy writ large) also strikes me as being at-odds with the Western tradition of philosophy. Pais quotes Pascal, saying he thinks Bohr would agree: "To ridicule philosophy is truly philosophical." (Pensees, Part VIII, #35)

I like this passage from Pais's biography of Bohr:

"Bohr's own definition of a philosopher, not found in the OED, goes as follows. What is the difference between an expert and a philosopher? An expert is someone who starts out knowing something about some things, goes on to know more and more about less and less, and ends up knowing everything about nothing. Whereas a philosopher is someone who starts out knowing something about some things, goes on to know less and less about more and more, and ends up knowing nothing about everything."(Pais, 421)

Many people were baffled by Bohr's complementarisms, and he acknowledged this and said that they were "seeds for thought." Here's one of Bohr's favorite story-jokes:

"Once upon a time a rabbinical student went to hear three lectures by a famous rabbi. Afterwards he told his friends, 'The first talk was brilliant, clear and simple. I understood every word. The second was even better, deep and subtle. I didn't understand much, but the rabbi understood all of it. The third was by far the finest, a great and unforgettable experience. I understood nothing and the rabbi didn't understand much either.'" (Pais, 439)

However Niels Bohr fits into the history of thought, his predecessors and especially those who were influenced by him, have greatly influenced my quasi-stances on just about everything, leading, for better or worse, towards some state of overweening generalism.

For 6 and a half minutes, here's some viddy on how the Bohr model of the atom got going, etc: