Yesterday I learned … II


1) Yesterday, I learned that some love to hug, and they hug so long that it starts to feel weird. We can feel the message they want to convey. We know that they want to tell us that they’re fond of us, that they miss us, and that they want to strengthen the bond we once had, but in the midst of trying to create that moment, some overdo it. ‘Why are we still doing this?’ we ask ourselves while in the embrace. ‘Is this becoming more meaningful to them, or did they lose themselves in the moment? Would it be impolite if I started patting their shoulder here to signify that this is over for me? Why are we still hugging? They didn’t fall asleep did they?’

Today, I learned that a hug is not just a hug. For a greater portion of my life, the hug was largely indigenous to the female gender. We knew males who hugged. We called them “huggers”, as in, “Watch out for that one, he’s a hugger.” At some point, a shift started to happen. Suddenly, men were hugging each other to say hello, to celebrate their favorite team’s touchdown, and to say goodbye. No one knows when this shift started, but I blame the NBA. We teenagers could distance ourselves and mock the huggers we knew, but NBA stars were the essence of cool in the late 80’s-early 90’s. When they hugged, it took an arrow out of our quiver. For these NBA players, a hug was nothing more than a physical form of saying hello. It was a step above a wave or a handshake, but to us, it was a deep and meaningful physical embrace. We didn’t have anything deep and meaningful to convey to our friends. Others did, and they appreciated the NBA influence. They took these “hello” hugs to another level. “We’re cousins,” huggers would say. “Cousins don’t shake hands. Cousins hug. Get in here bro.” Some of them even embraced us when it hadn’t been that long since our last hug. Their hugs were so deep and meaningful that they thwarted our attempts to break free. Their hugs bordered on combative. “I think the world of you bra.” We non-emotional, non-huggers learned to adapt to the need others have to hug, but we never fully embraced it, and they could feel it. They adapted to our adaptation. “All right, I won’t hug ya’,” they would say, and they stopped, and we sighed in relief, until we were the only ones they didn’t hug. We never wanted back in, but we recognized the strange way abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.

2) Yesterday I learned that “a little after three” can mean 3:23. In what world is 3:23 a little after three? When I hear a little after three, I think 3:01-3:10. Anything after that should be a little more vague, such as “after three”. The next time block, the 3:23 time block, should list at “around three-thirty”. Today, I learned that we become more aware of time constraints and the relative definition of time blocks with a six-year-old is tugging at our sleeve.    

3) Yesterday, I learned that pop culture defines deviancy upward by defining any actions a criminal uses to evade law enforcement as those of a criminal mastermind. True crime authors characterize actions such as wiping fingerprints off door handles as brilliant. When compared to most impulsive, criminal acts, perhaps it’s worth noting when a criminal puts some thought into their criminal activity, but I’m not sure if I would call them brilliant criminal masterminds. If we take a step back from our desire to view them as brilliant, we might see that their methods are relatively mundane, based on information available to anyone with a TV and access to the internet. Today, I learned that criminals don’t want to get caught. They want to be free, and they want to be free to continue to hurt, maim, and kill as many people as they can. The Unabomber, for example, enjoyed the characterization of a secluded genius with a cause, but court documents of his trial reveal that he was “often unconcerned” with his targets. They reveal that he was meticulous about the construction of his bombs, and he went to great lengths to avoid capture, but he didn’t really care who the victim was as long as he maimed or killed someone, anything would be nothing more than a fireworks show.    

4) Yesterday, I learned that criminal masterminds need a cause to justify their actions. They might not be able to justify their actions to anyone but themselves, but they do seek the satisfaction they a cause provides. No self-respecting criminal mastermind would say that they did it, because they enjoy hurting, maiming, and killing people. That would diminish their value, their self-esteem, and their historic value. Today I learned that criminal psychologists say that we learn more from their initial crimes than those that follow, because impulses drive those initial crimes. If this is true, we find that most criminal masterminds are petty people who resolve internal and external, disputes in a violent manner. They also have a bloodlust, and as this bloodlust escalates the need for a cause escalates, until they slap a sticker on their actions to satisfy those questions we have about why they did it. It strikes me that everything these criminal masterminds say is window dressing to conceal their simple, primal bloodlust. They want to put a cause on it, because we want the cause. It wouldn’t be very satisfying, or entertaining, if a mass murderer, or serial killer said, “I just had some basic psychological, primal need to hear people scream.” No matter how many causes we assign to people hurting people, the simple truth is that some of us enjoy hurting people, and the rest of us enjoy learning everything we can about it.

5) Yesterday, I learned that bad boys fascinate us. Some of us want to know more about them than otherwise peaceful, normal individuals who accomplish great things. On a corresponding scale, too many of us want to know about the minutiae of the Unabomber’s actions, the motivations, and the aftermath of his terror, and too few of us, by comparison, are as fascinated by the actions and motivations behind Leonardo da Vinci’s artistic output. We label them both brilliant in their own, decidedly different ways, but the Unabomber fascinates us more. Today, I learned that I’m no different. Most of the people that fascinated me in my youth had violent tendencies. Some of my friends in high school, and some of my parents’ friends had violent tendencies on a much lower scale of course, but they fascinated me. I found their ways hilarious and engaging. Is this human nature, or do some elements of our culture encourage this mindset? Most of our favorite critically acclaimed movies have something to do with some low life committing violent acts. When someone found out that I listed the simple, feel good movie Forrest Gump among my favorite movies, they asked, “Why?” with a look of disdain. When I told her that I thought it was a great story, that didn’t help my cause. When I told her all of the others I had one my list that mollified her, but she still couldn’t understand why I would list a feel good movie like Gump among them. Today, I learned that the fascination with violence is universal and cool. 

6) Yesterday, I learned that I’m no longer interested in writing about politics. Today, I realized that I am far more interested in the psychology behind why every day citizens decide to become so political that they’re willing to create a divide between those who think like them and those who don’t.

7) Yesterday, I learned that psychologists state that we have a “God spot” in our brain. Today, I realized that this spot is inherently sensitive to the belief in something, if the rational brain accepts the rationale for doing so. This view suggests that the brain needs belief in a manner similar to the stomach needing food. We seek explanations and answers to that which surround us. Some of us find our answers in God and religion and others believe answers lie in a more secular philosophy, and the politicians who align themselves with our philosophy. They seek a passionate pursuit of all things political, until it becomes their passion, because they need something to believe in.   

8) Yesterday, I learned that there were as many differing opinions about Calvin Coolidge, in his day, as there are our current presidents. Today, I realized that no one cares about the opinions opinion makers had 100 years ago, and few will care about what our current opinion makers write 100 years from now. Some of those writers passionately disagreed with some of Coolidge’s successes, and history exposed some of their ideas as foolish. The historical perspective also makes those who passionately agreed with Coolidge seem boring and redundant. Once a truth emerges, in other words, it doesn’t matter what an opinion maker thought of the legislation at the time. Most opinion writers are less concerned with whether legislation proves effective or not, and more concerned with whether their philosophical views win out. In one hundred years, few will remember if our political, philosophical, or cultural views were correct or not, and even fewer will care. Yet, some of us believe in politics, because politics gives us something to believe in.

9) Yesterday, I learned that Tim Cook is an incredible, conventional CEO of Apple. Former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, was the company’s incredible, unconventional leader, and he helped build the company from scratch. Steve Jobs was a brilliant orator, a showman, a marketer, and a great motivator of talent. If we went to an It’s a Wonderful Life timeline, in which Steve Jobs never existed, Apple wouldn’t exist. I had a 200-word list of superlatives describing Steve Jobs, but I decided to delete it, because it didn’t add any new information we know about the man and what he did. I decided to leave it at those two sentences. Better, superlative descriptions of the man, and what he did, are all over the internet. Walter Isaacson’s book might be the best of them. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created and oversaw a team of talent that created the most innovative company of our most innovative era of America, but Tim Cook has proven to be an incredible steward of that technology. If we flipped the timeline around, and Tim Cook was the first CEO, Apple wouldn’t be the innovator it is today, but I wonder if the less conventional and more mercurial measures Jobs employed would translate to the same levels of growth of Apple we see today under Cook.    

10) Yesterday, I learned that Apple’s stock was ready to fall. Anyone who reads independent analyses from stock market analysts thinks that not only is the smartphone market capped out, but Apple’s position atop this industry is also nearing an end. Reading through some of the analysis of Apple’s projections for their various quarterly reports through the years, we arrive at some common themes. “There’s no way the iPhone (insert number here) can deliver on the projected sales figures Apple is promising,” they write. “Everyone who wants an iPhone already owns one, and numbers show they’re not going to upgrade. Those who don’t want an iPhone are loyal to another brand. The market is saturated, and Apple’s reign is about to end.” Today, I learned these analysts began making such predictions years after Apple began controlling the market between 2008 and 2012. Some of the times they were right, in the sense that Apple missed some quarterly projections, but most of the time they were wrong. Some think that there might be an anti-Apple bias, and there might be, but I think it’s human nature to cheer on the little guy and despise the big guy. I also think analysts/writers want us to read their articles, and the best way they’ve found to do so is to feed into our love of doom and gloom. These stories have a natural appeal to anyone who owns Apple products, Apple shareholders, and everyone else in between, because we love the prospect of the leaning tower. Apple will fall too, for what goes up must come down, particularly in the stock market, but the question of when should apply here. After it falls, one of the doomsayers will say, “I’ve been predicting this would happen for years.”

https://macdailynews.com/2018/05/11/the-worst-apple-predictions-of-all-time/

“Fair enough, but how many times did you make this prediction? How many times were you wrong? How many times did a reader act on your assessment and miss some gains? Nobody asks the doomsayer analysts these questions, because most of us don’t call doomsayers out when they’re wrong. The answer to this question was that on 2/3/2010, Apple stock closed at 28.60 a share, adjusted for dividends and stock splits, per Yahoo Finance. If one of the doomsayer analyst’s customers purchased 35 shares for a total investment of $1001.00 that investment would be worth $11,170.60 on 2/4/2020. Anyone who invests in the stock market relies on expert analysis to know when to buy and when to sell. We consider the positive assessments and the negative, and some of the times, it takes an iron stomach to read the negative and ignore it. These negative stock analysts had all the information the others had, and yet they consistently predicted Apple would fall, because they knew a negative headline would generate a lot more hits than a positive one.

In our scenario, Apple experiences a significant fall in stock price, and the analyst finally proved prophetic. How many times was he wrong in the interim? It doesn’t matter, because a doomsayer need only be right once, for he can then become the subject of email blasts that state, “The man who correctly predicted Apple’s downfall, now predicts the fall of another behemoth.” The penalties for incorrectly predicting doom and gloom are far less severe than incorrectly predicting good times ahead. The former doesn’t cost you anything except potential gains, which most people inherently blame on themselves, regardless what anyone says. There’s the key, the nut of it all, an analyst can predict doom and gloom all day long, and no one will blame them for trying to warn us, but a positive analysis that is incorrect could cost us money.

The prospect of investing our hard-earned money in something as mercurial as the stock market is frightening. We’ve all heard tales of the various crashes that occur, and we know it will occur again. Most of us need Sherpas to guide us through this dangerous, dark, and wild terrain, and most of them are quite knowledgeable and capable. There are a few who will tell you that it’s so dangerous that you should get out now, and some might even tell us that it’s so dangerous that we shouldn’t even consider making the journey. Those with an iron stomach will tell us that we can get rich working for money, but we can get filthy, stinking rich when our money is working for us.  

Camille Paglia: The Radical Libertarian


Reading through Camille Paglia’s criticisms of the culture, one cannot help but think that most other social critics of our generation either feed a confirmation bias or speak about things for which most of us have no interest. As evidence of their lack of confidence, they scratch and claw their way through the competition to achieve an unprecedented depth in the sewer. On those occasions when Ms. Paglia does use overly provocative words, she backs it up with objectivity and a display of knowledge that is so vast that the adjective “informed” seems incomplete.

Camille Paglia is not a conservative, or liberal, and her politics have been described as “radical libertarian”, but she is a life-long Democrat. The “difficult to define” nature of her politics is something that most partisans pine for, but few of these “all over the map” thinkers could finish one paragraph of Camille Paglia’s thoughts without acknowledging that there is a comparative consistency to the overview of their thinking that could only be called limited to a certain ideology. Most diverse thinkers would also shrink at the evidence of inconsistencies in their beliefs system that suggests that they’ve either never been challenged, or that they’ve never truly given opposing views any consideration. From what I’ve read of Ms. Paglia’s work, when she is confronted by inconsistencies she confronts them head-on, and in a manner that contains no obfuscation or spin.

She is in favor of pornography, abortion, prostitution, drug-use, and assisted suicide. She is a proud lesbian, an atheist that respects religion, and a self-described dissident feminist, or as some feminist critics have called her an “anti-feminist feminist”.

1412025458115_Image_galleryImage_Mandatory_Credit_Photo_byIf you have strong views on a specific topic, she’ll probably offend you in some manner, but her methodology does not consist of the quick to the throat one-liners that one has come expect from a provocateur. Those that worship at the altar of provocateurs may not even recognize what Camille’s methodology for what it is, as her criticisms dig deep and leave a lasting wound.

The average and ubiquitous provocateur will say something along the line of: “I don’t want some guy (Ted Cruz) that purportedly memorized the constitution at twelve years-old to be my president. If I would’ve been in his grade, at twelve years old, I would’ve put my knee into his throat until he changed … I want the guy I vote for to smoke pot, have premarital and post-marital affairs … and yes … I’m talking about in the White House, and I want my guy to snort coke off their partner’s backside. I want my politician to be a real man or woman that has lived a real life.”

Those of us that worship at the altar of provocateurs are temporarily put in a jam by such comments, because they’re directed at “our guys”, but it’s not that, and we find ourselves in a sand hole trying to defend our disinterest. It’s that that type of ridicule is lacking in ingenuity and depth, and originality. It’s something George Carlin was saying forty years ago, it’s Lenny Bruce, it’s retread. Those of us that pine for something different want that cutting-the-edge-of-the-throat type of originality from our social critics that is informed and appears to have no influence, and we also want the kind of critiques that have staying power in the manner Camille Paglia’s criticism does:

“(Ted) Cruz gives me the willies. The guy is a fanatic! He’s very smart, clever and strategic, and he has a fine education from Princeton, so people have to watch out for him. But I think he is self-absorbed and narcissistic to a maniacal degree. I will never forgive him for his insulting arrogance to Dianne Feinstein when the Judiciary Committee was debating gun control two years ago. There’s a two-minute clip on YouTube which I urge people to look at it. Cruz is smirkily condescending and ultimately juvenile. He peppers Feinstein with a long list of rat-a-tat questions, as if he’s playing Perry Mason grilling a witness on the stand. He was trying to embarrass her but only embarrassed himself. A president must be a statesman, not a smart-alecky horse’s ass.”

There is no substance to the insight of most provocateurs. Listen to the most caustic crowd long enough, usually found on satellite radio, or on podcasts, and you’ll hear that their analysis of even the most important subjects devolve to 5th grade potty humor and fart jokes. Provocative jokes like those have their place, but they don’t have the kind of staying power that a Camille Paglia statement does, as her most recent interview with Salon.com, part II, and part III proves.

On Bill Clinton:

“Bill Clinton was a serial abuser of working-class women –he had exploited that power differential even in Arkansas. And then in the case of Monica Lewinsky– I mean, the failure on the part of (iconic feminist leader) Gloria Steinem and company to protect her was an absolute disgrace in feminist history! What bigger power differential could there be than between the president of the United States and this poor innocent girl? Not only an intern but clearly a girl who had a kind of pleading, open look to her–somebody who was looking for a father figure.

“I was enraged! My publicly stated opinion at the time was that I don’t care what public figures do in their private life. It’s a very sophisticated style among the French, and generally in Europe, where the heads of state tend to have mistresses on the side. So what? That doesn’t bother me at all! But the point is, they are sophisticated affairs that the European politicians have, while the Clinton episode was a disgrace.”

Camille preceded this observation with a slight correlation between Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton:

“Right from the start, when the Bill Cosby scandal surfaced, I knew it was not going to bode well for Hillary’s campaign, because young women today have a much lower threshold for tolerance of these matters. The horrible truth is that the feminist establishment in the U.S., led by Gloria Steinem, did in fact apply a double standard to Bill Clinton’s behavior because he was a Democrat. The Democrat president and administration supported abortion rights, and therefore it didn’t matter what his personal behavior was.

“But we’re living in a different time right now, and young women have absolutely no memory of Bill Clinton. It’s like ancient history for them; there’s no reservoir of accumulated good will.”

Salon.com Interviewer David Daley: “A cigar and the intern is certainly the opposite of sophisticated.”

“Absolutely! It was frat house stuff! And Monica got nothing out of it. Bill Clinton used her. Hillary was away or inattentive, and he used Monica in the White House–and in the suite of the Oval Office, of all places. He couldn’t have taken her on some fancy trip? She never got the perks of being a mistress; she was there solely to service him. And her life was completely destroyed by the publicity that followed. The Clinton’s are responsible for the destruction of Monica Lewinsky! They probably hoped that she would just go on and have a job, get married, have children, and disappear, but instead she’s like this walking ghoul.”

Salon.com Interviewer David Daley: “Fifteen years later, that’s still the sad role left for her to play.”

“Yes, it’s like something out of “Wuthering Heights” or “Great Expectations”–some Victorian novel, where a woman turns into this mourning widow who mopes on and on over a man who abused or abandoned her. Hillary has a lot to answer for, because she took an antagonistic and demeaning position toward her husband’s accusers. So it’s hard for me to understand how the generation of Lena Dunham would or could tolerate the actual facts of Hillary’s history.”

Salon.com Interviewer David Daley: “So have the times and standards changed enough that Clinton would be seen as Cosby, if he was president today.”

“Oh, yes! There’s absolutely no doubt, especially in this age of instant social media. In most of these cases, like the Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby stories, there’s been a complete neglect of psychology. We’re in a period right now where nobody asks any questions about psychology.  No one has any feeling for human motivation. No one talks about sexuality in terms of emotional needs and symbolism and the legacy of childhood. Sexuality has been politicized–“Don’t ask any questions!” “No discussion!” “Gay is exactly equivalent to straight!” And thus in this period of psychological blindness or inertness, our art has become dull. There’s nothing interesting being written–in fiction or plays or movies.Everything is boring because of our failure to ask psychological questions.

“So I say there is a big parallel between Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton–aside from their initials! Young feminists need to understand that this abusive behavior by powerful men signifies their sense that female power is much bigger than they are! These two people, Clinton and Cosby, are emotionally infantile–they’re engaged in a war with female power. It has something to do with their early sense of being smothered by female power–and this pathetic, abusive and criminal behavior is the result of their sense of inadequacy.

“Now, in order to understand that, people would have to read my first book, “Sexual Personae”–which of course is far too complex for the ordinary feminist or academic mind! It’s too complex because it requires a sense of the ambivalence of human life. Everything is not black and white, for heaven’s sake! We are formed by all kinds of strange or vague memories from childhood. That kind of understanding is needed to see that Cosby was involved in a symbiotic, push-pull thing with his wife, where he went out and did these awful things to assert his own independence. But for that, he required the women to be inert. He needed them to be dead! Cosby is actually a necrophiliac–a style that was popular in the late Victorian period in the nineteenth-century.

“It’s hard to believe now, but you had men digging up corpses from graveyards, stealing the bodies, hiding them under their beds, and then having sex with them. So that’s exactly what’s happening here: to give a woman a drug, to make her inert, to make her dead is the man saying that I need her to be dead for me to function. She’s too powerful for me as a living woman. And this is what is also going on in those barbaric fraternity orgies, where women are sexually assaulted while lying unconscious. And women don’t understand this! They have no idea why any men would find it arousing to have sex with a young woman who’s passed out at a fraternity house. But it’s necrophilia–this fear and envy of a woman’s power.

“And it’s the same thing with Bill Clinton: to find the answer, you have to look at his relationship to his flamboyant mother. He felt smothered by her in some way. But let’s be clear–I’m not trying to blame the mother!  What I’m saying is that male sexuality is extremely complicated, and the formation of male identity is very tentative and sensitive–but feminist rhetoric doesn’t allow for it. This is why women are having so much trouble dealing with men in the feminist era.  They don’t understand men, and they demonize men. They accord to men far more power than men actually have in sex. Women control the sexual world in ways that most feminists simply don’t understand.

“My explanation is that second-wave feminism dispensed with motherhood. The ideal woman was the career woman–and I do support that. To me, the mission of feminism is to remove all barriers to women’s advancement in the social and political realm–to give women equal opportunities with men. However, what I kept saying in “Sexual Personae” is that equality in the workplace is not going to solve the problems between men and women which are occurring in the private, emotional realm, where every man is subordinate to women, because he emerged as a tiny helpless thing from a woman’s body. Professional women today don’t want to think about this or deal with it.

“The erasure of motherhood from feminist rhetoric has led us to this current politicization of sex talk, which doesn’t allow women to recognize their immense power vis-à-vis men. When motherhood was more at the center of culture, you had mothers who understood the fragility of boys and the boy’s need for nurturance and for confidence to overcome his weaknesses. The old-style country women–the Italian matriarchs and Jewish mothers–they all understood the fragility of men. The mothers ruled their own world and didn’t take men that seriously. They understood how to nurture men and encourage them to be strong–whereas current feminism simply doesn’t perceive the power of women vis-a-vis men.  But when you talk like this with most men, it really resonates with them, and they say “Yes, yes! That’s it!”

“Currently, feminists lack sympathy and compassion for men and for the difficulties that men face in the formation of their identities. I’m not talking in terms of the men’s rights movement, which got infected by p.c.  The heterosexual professional woman, emerging with her shiny Ivy League degree, wants to communicate with her husband exactly the way she communicates with her friends–as in “Sex and the City.” That show really caught the animated way that women actually talk with each other.  But that’s not a style that straight men can do!  Gay men can do it, sure–but not straight men!  Guess what–women are different than men! When will feminism wake up to this basic reality? Women relate differently to each other than they do to men. And straight men do not have the same communication skills or values as women–their brains are different!”

On Atheists that sneer at Religion:

“I regard (those that sneer at religion) as adolescents. I say in the introduction to my last book, “Glittering Images”, that “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination.”  It exposes a state of perpetual adolescence that has something to do with their parents– they’re still sneering at dad in some way.  Richard Dawkins was the only high-profile atheist out there when I began publicly saying “I am an atheist,” on my book tours in the early 1990s. I started the fad for it in the U.S, because all of a sudden people, including leftist journalists, started coming out of the closet to publicly claim their atheist identities, which they weren’t bold enough to do before. But the point is that I felt it was perfectly legitimate for me to do that because of my great respect for religion in general–from the iconography to the sacred architecture and so forth. I was arguing that religion should be put at the center of any kind of multicultural curriculum.

“I’m speaking here as an atheist. I don’t believe there is a God, but I respect every religion deeply. All the great world religions contain a complex system of beliefs regarding the nature of the universe and human life that is far more profound than anything that liberalism has produced. We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system. They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny. Politics applies only to society. There is a huge metaphysical realm out there that involves the eternal principles of life and death. The great tragic texts, including the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, no longer have the central status they once had in education, because we have steadily moved away from the heritage of western civilization.

“The real problem is a lack of knowledge of religion as well as a lack of respect for religion. I find it completely hypocritical for people in academe or the media to demand understanding of Muslim beliefs and yet be so derisive and dismissive of the devout Christian beliefs of Southern conservatives.

“But yes, the sneering is ridiculous!  Exactly what are these people offering in place of religion? In my system, I offer art–and the whole history of spiritual commentary on the universe. There’s a tremendous body of nondenominational insight into human life that used to be called cosmic consciousness.  It has to be remembered that my generation in college during the 1960s was suffused with Buddhism, which came from the 1950s beatniks. Hinduism was in the air from every direction–you had the Beatles and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Ravi Shankar at Monterey, and there were sitars everywhere in rock music. So I really thought we were entering this great period of religious syncretism, where the religions of the world were going to merge. But all of a sudden, it disappeared!  The Asian religions vanished–and I really feel sorry for young people growing up in this very shallow environment where they’re peppered with images from mass media at a particularly debased stage.

“There are no truly major stars left, and I don’t think there’s much profound work being done in pop culture right now.  Young people have nothing to enlighten them, which is why they’re clinging so much to politicized concepts, which give them a sense of meaning and direction.

“But this sneering thing!  I despise snark.  Snark is a disease that started with David Letterman and jumped to Jon Stewart and has proliferated since. I think it’s horrible for young people!   And this kind of snark atheism–let’s just invent that term right now–is stupid, and people who act like that are stupid. Christopher Hitchens’ book “God is Not Great” was a travesty. He sold that book on the basis of the brilliant chapter titles. If he had actually done the research and the work, where each chapter had the substance of those wonderful chapter titles, then that would have been a permanent book. Instead, he sold the book and then didn’t write one–he talked it. It was an appalling performance, demonstrating that that man was an absolute fraud to be talking about religion.  He appears to have done very little scholarly study.  Hitchens didn’t even know Judeo-Christianity well, much less the other world religions.  He had that glib Oxbridge debater style in person, but you’re remembered by your written work, and Hitchens’ written work was weak and won’t last.

“Dawkins also seems to be an obsessive on some sort of personal vendetta, and again, he’s someone who has never taken the time to do the necessary research into religion. Now my entire career has been based on the pre-Christian religions.  My first book, “Sexual Personae,” was about the pagan cults that still influence us, and it began with the earliest religious artifacts, like the Venus of Willendorf in 35,000 B.C. In the last few years, I’ve been studying Native American culture, in particular the Paleo-Indian period at the close of the Ice Age.  In the early 1990s, when I first arrived on the scene, I got several letters from Native Americans saying my view of religion, women, and sexuality resembled the traditional Native American view. I’m not surprised, because my orientation is so fixed in the pre-Christian era.”

On Jon Stewart, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the liberal media:

“I think Stewart’s show demonstrated the decline and vacuity of contemporary comedy. I cannot stand that smug, snarky, superior tone. I hated the fact that young people were getting their news through that filter of sophomoric snark.  Comedy, to me, is one of the major modern genres, and the big influences on my generation were Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl. Then Joan Rivers had an enormous impact on me–she’s one of my major role models.  It’s the old caustic, confrontational style of Jewish comedy. It was Jewish comedians who turned stand-up from the old gag-meister shtick of vaudeville into a biting analysis of current social issues, and they really pushed the envelope. Lenny Bruce used stand-up to produce gasps and silence from the audience. And that’s my standard–a comedy of personal risk.  And by that standard, I’m sorry, but Jon Stewart is not a major figure. He’s certainly a highly successful T.V. personality, but I think he has debased political discourse. I find nothing incisive in his work. As for his influence, if he helped produce the hackneyed polarization of moral liberals versus evil conservatives, then he’s partly at fault for the political stalemate in the United States.

“I don’t demonize Fox News. At what point will liberals wake up to realize the stranglehold that they had on the media for so long? They controlled the major newspapers and weekly newsmagazines and T.V. networks. It’s no coincidence that all of the great liberal forums have been slowly fading. They once had such incredible power. Since the rise of the Web, the nightly network newscasts have become peripheral, and the New York Times and the Washington Post have been slowly fading and are struggling to survive.

“Historically, talk radio arose via Rush Limbaugh in the early 1990s precisely because of this stranglehold by liberal discourse. For heaven’s sake, I was a Democrat who had just voted for Jesse Jackson in the 1988 primary, but I had to fight like mad in the early 1990s to get my views heard. The resistance of liberals in the media to new ideas was enormous. Liberals think of themselves as very open-minded, but that’s simply not true! Liberalism has sadly become a knee-jerk ideology, with people barricaded in their comfortable little cells. They think that their views are the only rational ones, and everyone else is not only evil but financed by the Koch brothers.  It’s so simplistic!

“Now let me give you a recent example of the persisting insularity of liberal thought in the media. When the first secret Planned Parenthood video was released in mid-July, anyone who looks only at liberal media was kept totally in the dark about it, even after the second video was released.  But the videos were being run nonstop all over conservative talk shows on radio and television.  It was a huge and disturbing story, but there was total silence in the liberal media.  That kind of censorship was shockingly unprofessional.  The liberal major media were trying to bury the story by ignoring it.  Now I am a former member of Planned Parenthood and a strong supporter of unconstrained reproductive rights.  But I was horrified and disgusted by those videos and immediately felt there were serious breaches of medical ethics in the conduct of Planned Parenthood officials.  But here’s my point:  it is everyone’s obligation, whatever your political views, to look at both liberal and conservative news sources every single day.  You need a full range of viewpoints to understand what is going on in the world.”

The Big Lebowski and Philosophy II


[Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part review of the subject matter discussed in The Dude and The Zen Master. Part one can be found here.]

All wars, all conflict, can be resolved, and redefined, through interconnectedness—

“You might think it would be wonderful if we could go in and extract all the evil people out of this world, like we extract cancer out of a body,”  Jeff Bridges says in the collection of philosophical anecdotes The Dude and the Zen Master he made with Zen master Bernie Glassman. “But as Solzhenitsyn says, evil runs through all our hearts, and who wants to cut a piece of her own heart? We are part of nature and nature uses violence and war to make its blade sharper and sharper.”

The-Dude-and-The-Zen-Master-Gear-Patrol-FullBridges expands upon this theme by describing cells and magnification, and how the magnification of a cell reveals that every cell involves two parties fighting for survival, and that those parties are both essential components of the same cell. “They are,” in his words, “an interconnected whole fighting for the same thing.” Bridges states that there is order within the perceived disorder of that cell, and if we were able to disrupt that order to such a degree that we were able to kill all of the germs, viruses, and bacteria in our body, we would cease to live. Germs have a right to live too, he concludes, –which when taken to Bridges’ extended analogy between the internal skirmishes that occur within a cell and the wars of human history– reminds one of Rosie O’Donnell’s line: “Terrorists have children too.”

Bridges then speaks about how the fight that occurs within a cell is equivalent to the fights between good and evil that have occurred throughout human history. Within a cell there is the constant division process that occurs in which the organisms fight, and who is right and who is wrong is less important than the fight for survival. When you alter the magnification even more, he says, you could equate that cell to the Earth, in which humans are fighting in the same manner, and each parties believes he is right, and when you alter the magnification even more, you have Space, where the simplistic differences between right and wrong are negligible in the grand scheme of things.

Taking such a philosophical overview of humanity is a wonderful notion, and if everyone agreed to debate the topic in that forum, planet earth would be a wonderful place to live in. Humans have to live on the sphere we call Earth, as opposed to the theoretical one that is a speck in the universe, and doing so requires that we accept the realities of the place where we live in, and it also requires us to do everything possible to maintain livable conditions.

Bridges states that setting that forum to make planet earth a more wonderful place to live in should be the whole idea. He says that we don’t have to accept the realities of the place we live in, and that we can alter it. “Anyone that questions this,” says Bridges, “should look at how President John F. Kennedy set the course for landing a man on the moon.  He said that at one point in our nation’s history, sending the man to the moon seemed a far-fetched idea, until the president changed the conversation by informing the nation that it would be done. After he did this, the conversation centered around how it was going to be done, not if it was going to happen. ”

Bridges general approach to war, conflict, and his specific approach to the attacks on 9/11/01, is that we should try doing nothing to see how that works. On the subject of 9/11/01, Bridges states that he was all for doing something to those responsible for that act, but that he didn’t agree that that something should involve such a global war on terror. He says that we should’ve spent more time examining our role in 9/11/01, and that we should’ve apologized for our role in making them angry. As anyone that has read the history of terrorism vs. America knows, we did try the tactic of holding those responsible in criminal courts, after the first World Trade Center attack, and al Qaeda saw that as a sign of weakness. They called us a “paper tiger” and decided to explore the idea of doing something more. We have tried apology tours to quell the animosity the world is purported have for America, and humanity has also tried appeasing the evil intentions of those that plan to do us harm. These procedures have not worked. We should, of course, continue to try every method at our disposal for maintaining peace on our planet, and just because one measure did not work, with one lunatic, doesn’t mean that it won’t with another, but there is a point where Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity comes into play, and Bridges fails to incorporate that definition into his line of reason.

A philosophical inconsistency later arises when Bridges begins speaking on the subject of slavery. He states that when we were forming our Constitution, it was a difficult chore for our Founders to find unity on the many subjects before them, but the issue of slavery proved to be so divisive that it threatened to end the proceedings, so they decided to shelve it for a later date. They decided that all of the other aspects of our founding were so important that they couldn’t be derailed.  This, of course, came back to bite the nation in the butt, and Bridges believes that if the Founders had tackled this issue at the time, there may not have been the sense of disenfranchisement among blacks that lives on to this day. By the same token, it could be said that if we initiated a more global war on terror after the first World Trade Center attack, the incident that occurred on 9/11/01, may never have happened. The fact that we followed what Bridges still believes is the desired course of action, after the first World Trade Center attack came back to bite us in the butt.  

If peace could be attained in a manner where all the good guys had to do was view the human characteristics of their opponent as nothing more than an organism that wants to survive, and that that opponent would then appreciate that acknowledgement so much that they sat down at a peace accords table to engage in a serious and genuine discussion of their grievances, the Earth would be a more wonderful place to live on. Everyone wants to live in that world. Viewing this world through that lens, however, neglects the irrational component of evil people. Why would anyone want to set out hurt another person? They do. It’s irrational, but they do. Yet, it appears that ridding the world of evil, in this manner, would be like cutting out a piece of our heart out.

The danger of viewing evil people through such a simplistic lens occurs when we believe those humans, that happen to be evil, are evil. The thoughtful approach suggests that we view these people as people too when they enter into a Munich Agreement. It’s simplistic to view the individual that just wants Poland and Czechoslovakia as evil, and it’s much more thoughtful to pare back our forces and draw down our defenses with the knowledge that peace is the solution. The danger occurs when that evil person leaves that peace accord, and joins their generals at the planning boards with the knowledge that they acted their part so well that we’re now a little more vulnerable to their forceful persuasion. 

In a certain magnification of the historical lens, everything Adolf Hitler did may have been evil, but in another setting, say his, they could be viewed in another manner. Did Hitler wake up in the morning and think, I’m going to do something evil today, or was he eating apple fritters and drinking cocoa with his wife and dog? Hitler was a person too, and he had a quest for survival that was similar to the quest of germs, viruses, and bacteria. They don’t invade our body’s cells with evil intentions. They just do what they do. If we happen to get cancer, as a result of their victory over our white blood cells, we may consider that a bad thing, but if we alter the magnification, and attempt to view it from their perspective, we could view it as their victory.

Modern day evil people may go home at the end of the day to watch Happy Days reruns, and laugh with their kids bouncing on their knees, but that doesn’t change the fact that the actions they engaged in that day left their streets littered with dead people, homeless people, and a greater portion of their population starving than there were the day before. If we view that from a different magnification, an objective view that accounts for their definition of these actions, we could see the mass slaughter of civilians as a victory for their cause.  It’s all relative. 

If you’re one that lives with the relative notion that murdering an estimated eleven million people is a bad thing, or that a leader’s policies led to the mass starvation of his people, then you have to be willing to set a course of actions in motion that will, in a temporary fashion at least, set aside the fact that these evil people are just human, with kids, for at least as long as it takes to either contain their evil, or to set a precedent in the minds of evil men that their evil acts will no longer be tolerated. 

Some peacenik did not abide by the methods of achieving peace that The Dude did. His method alluded to the idea that the best way of achieving peace was through strength, and his record proved to be more successful than The Dude’s, Neville Chamberlain’s, or any other theoretical attempts at achieving peace in our time. We won’t talk about that person though, because he was icky, and his actions portend that there are icky, evil people that require alternative methods.  

Abraham Lincoln is No Longer The Great Emancipator?


Some no longer view Abraham Lincoln as The Great Emancipator, because they’ve read some quotes, and learned some facts about the man that suggest the man he was a bit more equivocal about ending slavery than originally believed. Yet, anyone that has read a book on Lincoln, perused his letters, or listened to documentarians speak on him, know that ending slavery was one of the primary drivers of his life.

As a kid, Abraham Lincoln used to watch slaves parade past his backyard, and he wrote of the inhumanity he saw in their treatment.

“That sight was a continued torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio (River), or any other slave-border.”

The great Abraham Lincoln

The Great Abraham Lincoln

The fact that we now learn that Lincoln exhibited some restraint in his beliefs on slavery has many of us believing that he was not as adamant about ending slavery as we all believed.

“You know I dislike slavery. I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils; but I bite my lip and keep quiet.”{1}

“Why would he keep quiet?” we ask. “Why would he bite his lip? He was the President of the United States. He could’ve used his bully pulpit to bring about more immediate change, and if he felt more passionate about the topic he would’ve.” First of all, a review of the history of America in the 1860’s reveals that the states weren’t exactly a united front in this regard. Second, he viewed The Constitution, and its limits on his power, with more reverence than modern presidents do today, and he also, as described below, wanted to persuade the nation to his point of view. The best way to change minds on a substantial subject, so that the change survives in a manner an executive order might not, is to methodically persuade the public, so they call upon their state legislators, congressman, mayors, governors, et al. to change the way they vote. An executive order will work in the short term, but if the voters disagree, they can just vote in another president to nullify the prior executive order.    

There was also an event that occurred six weeks after Abraham Lincoln became as president. This event is historically called The Civil War in which half of the country disagreed with Abraham Lincoln’s personal opinions on slavery. Between his election and his first day in office those who presumably assumed Lincoln would abolish slavery left the Union. The reason that Lincoln used restraint, and bit his lip, and kept quiet is that he wanted to try to do whatever he could to preserve this Union that we call the United States today, and in doing so he believed slavery would eventually end.

Abraham Lincoln hated slavery. He claimed in an 1858 speech at Chicago to hate it “as much as any Abolitionist.”{2}

Yet Lincoln was no abolitionist. He wanted slavery to end, but that was never his first priority. Here’s how he explained his position in an 1864 letter to Albert G. Hodges, a Kentucky newspaper editor:

“I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It was in the oath I took that I would, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Lincoln, in essence, was torn between ending the bondage of the institution of slavery and abiding by the Constitution, and saving the nation. With the latter, we repeat, eventually bringing about the end of the horrible institution. 

“Lincoln said during the Civil War that he had always seen slavery as unjust. He said he couldn’t remember when he didn’t think that way,” explains historian Eric Foner. “The problem arises with the next question: What do you do with slavery, given that it’s unjust? Lincoln took a very long time to try to figure out exactly what steps ought to be taken.”

In a letter to the editor of the New York Tribune, Abraham Lincoln responded to the editor’s charge that Lincoln’s administration lacked direction and resolve. 

“If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them,” wrote Lincoln. “If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views. I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.”

Prior to taking office, Lincoln switched from the political party called The Whigs to the Republican Party, and this move was based on the fact that that Whig party sought a softer stance on slavery so as to win elections in an otherwise volatile nation with volatile passions on both sides of the fence. Lincoln chose to align himself with those people in the Republican Party, who weren’t afraid to lose elections based on the fact that they had a volatile passion for ending slavery. Based on this fact, it should not enter the discussion that Lincoln did not lead the North’s fight in The Civil War against the South, and continue to fight against overwhelming forces, for the sole purpose of ending slavery.

We can continue to list Lincoln quotes, and we can find some that reveal his thoughts on the African-American. The latter do not paint him in a favorable light historically. We can argue over the merits and demerits of his character in this light, but what we cannot do is place ourselves in Lincoln’s time period, and in his time period some Southern states decided to secede from the Union after Lincoln’s election and the Civil War broke out six weeks after he assumed office. At the very least, we could say that the South’s actions, should suggest to all parties involved what Abraham Lincoln represented to those who elected him to office. 

Another complaint specifies that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not call for an immediate end to all slavery in the South, but only to those who had already escaped the South. Again, we must say he was focused on preserving the Union of the North and the South, and he didn’t want to further the anger the South felt in losing the Civil War by bringing an abrupt end to slavery, but he believed that the individualistic nature of the country would bring about the eventuality of freedom of all men. And again, The South saw this eventuality as well, or they wouldn’t have seceded in the first place. In other words, Lincoln saw it as his duty to preserve the nation first and foremost, and put his personal views on matters such as slavery on the back burner, until the former was achieved.

Another myth perpetuated against Republicans of the day in general, and Abraham Lincoln in particular, was that Republicans wanted slaves counted as 3/5ths a person in the Three Fifths Compromise. This charge is levied to counterpoint everything Republicans of the day did to free the slaves. The counterpoint suggests that if Republicans wanted to free the slaves, they wanted to do so in a manner that left African-American slaves as partial human beings forever more. First of all, Lincoln and the Republicans of the era, did not enact this compromise. This compromise was achieved during the 1787 Philadelphia convention, seventy-four years before Lincoln took office. Second, the compromise was reached with the long-term goal of lessening the power of the pro-slavery Democrats in the South in the House of Representatives and in the Electoral College. If the Northern Republicans lost this compromise, and the slaves were counted as full people, the Southern Democrats would’ve have had overwhelming representation in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. Gouverner Morris also believed that counting slaves as full people might further encourage slave trade by the Southern states to increase their representation on Congress. Some could say that the Three Fifths Compromise was a cynical ploy by the Northern states to level the playing field of representation, but it could also be said that if they had not achieved victory in this cynical ploy, slavery would not have been ended as early as it did.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was an immediate abolitionist. To attribute a modern adage to Frederick Douglass’ motivations, he wanted slavery to end yesterday. As a result, Douglass despised President Abraham Lincoln in the beginning. As a former slave, Douglass considered Lincoln approach to ending slavery too methodical. He said slavery, “Was simply evil, an offense against God and all decency.” 

Frederick Douglass’ feelings about Abraham Lincoln did not waver in the beginning, as he declared Lincoln’s refusal to mount a full and furious campaign against human bondage was “nothing less than craven capitulation to the slave states for the sake of trying to hold them in the Union.” These early Douglass writings, and the many others linked to in the page below, likely propel the modern characterizations Lincoln’s actions as something less than a warrior in this fight, and many of Lincoln’s letters, interviews, and statements admittedly suggest that he was not the single-minded warrior Douglass was. Yet, that is only half of the story. 

The other half occurred 12 years after the assassination of Lincoln, at the unveiling of The Freedmen’s Monument in Washington, D. C. on April 14, 1876, Douglass gave a speech that writer Ronald E Franklin characterizes as, “celebrating Lincoln as the perfect, God-appointed man for a task that, had the abolition of slavery been his first priority, he could not have accomplished.”

“[Lincoln’s] great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and, second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible.”

My more modern translation: If Lincoln wasn’t able to save the Union, slavery in the North and South of this land may have continued unimpeded. Lincoln had to do what he did to keep his approval ratings up, so that he had a mandate from the people to encourage lawmakers to follow suit. If he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, his approval ratings would’ve allowed lawmakers to avoid Lincoln’s attempts to set the agenda for this country, and they would’ve felt free to continue to ignore abolitionists. 

Douglass continued: “Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined…

“Taking him for all in all, measuring the tremendous magnitude of the work before him, considering the necessary means to ends, and surveying the end from the beginning, infinite wisdom has seldom sent any man into the world better fitted for his mission than Abraham Lincoln.”

Writer Ronald E Franklin concludes a piece he wrote Why Frederick Douglas Despised, then Loved Abraham Lincoln writing:

“In the end, the impatient firebrand who would settle for nothing less than “abolition now!” realized that had Abraham Lincoln been the anti-slavery zealot activists wanted him to be, he would have failed in his mission. Frederick Douglass came to value the wisdom, skill, and necessary caution that allowed Abraham Lincoln to deftly navigate through extremely turbulent political waters to both save the Union and end slavery.

“Like Frederick Douglass, I believe no other man of that time, or perhaps of any time, could have done better.”

Imagine for a second if Lincoln ceded to Douglass’ request that he use a heavy hand in a manner that history now requires. Imagine, as I wrote, how many powerful people he would’ve lost. Slavery, we can only guess would’ve eventually imploded, but slaves and the African-American community in general, might have viewed Abraham Lincoln as their last, best hope. Violence and mayhem would’ve surely followed and perhaps a second Civil War pitting African-Americans, freemen and slaves, against The South. The incidents and conflict are unimaginable, and they were avoided by the strategies and persuasions put forth by Republicans, the Lincoln administration, and Abraham Lincoln. So quibble with the mindset and the attitudes of the era, but recognize in the end what these people accomplished.  

If you do extensive research on Lincoln, and his views on slavery, you will find some letters and statements made by Lincoln that suggest he wasn’t as hard-lined on slavery as others, and that he sought to save the Union above all else. You will find that Lincoln wanted to compensate slave owners for their loss of product (slaves), and you may find that Lincoln treated African-Americans as pawn pieces in legislation, commands to his generals, and in personal letters to friends, but you will also find an overarching theme that suggests that Lincoln thought that preservation of the Union meant that the abolition of slavery would eventually occur under the weight of the individualism banner of the Constitution, and the will of the people in the United States of the day.

You may also find writings that suggest that Lincoln believed white men to be superior to black men, and that he wasn’t an advocate for black voting rights, or blacks abilities to sit on juries, and that Lincoln believed that the freed black men should be forced out of America to colonize a different colony based on the fact that blacks and whites could not live in harmony in those post-Civil War United States. This has been listed by historians as controversial, based on a limited amount of personal writings in Lincoln’s second term as president. Regardless the finer points found in Lincoln’s positions, the theme remains that Lincoln did not think that a civil union could be maintained with the worm of slavery eating away at her core.

Abraham Lincoln was a politician, a president, and a man who dealt with some of the most combustible forces any president has. He had Constitutional limits on his power, and an overwhelming desire to save the union we now call The United States of America. As such, there were moments in his presidency when he had to capitulate to opponents and soften the blow of the The Civil victory over The South to welcome them back to the union without the harsh feelings that might have led to something like a Civil War II, or some other horrible inevitability. 

When we look at the actions of Lincoln, and the Republicans of the day, we do so from the vantage point of hindsight.  We know that the North won The Civil War, and we wonder why Lincoln didn’t pursue the spoils of victory more. We think that if Lincoln was the crusader against slavery that history tells us he was, he would’ve gone hard line with the South, but again Lincoln wanted to preserve the Union, and he believed that welcoming the South back into the Union was more conducive to maintaining the Union long-term than forcing them to immediately comply 100% to the North’s ways. We believe Lincoln should’ve backhanded the South at the conclusion of the Civil War for committing such a sin against humanity, but we do so without realizing the rage the South had at the conclusion of the Civil War. We don’t celebrate Lincoln’s restraint and patience in this regard, based on our own rage over the horrors that occurred in our beloved country. We live in an immediate satisfaction society that lists those who might slightly disagree with our current views on race and our current ways of dealing with matters as haters, but those of us who criticize the manner in which Lincoln achieved victory over the South, preserved the Union, and abolished the institution of slavery haven’t achieved 1/100th of what Lincoln did over the course of four years. It took a very steady hand, and a man who was willing to patiently accept the fact that he couldn’t exert his own opinion and will on a people immediately to accomplish what he did. As Ronald E Franklin writes of Lincoln, “No other man of that time, or perhaps of any time, could have done better.” If Lincoln was too firm, or too weak, in regards to his actions to save the union, follow the Constitution, and eventually end slavery, there would’ve been grave ramifications to his actions. To those who want more immediate statements from Lincoln about race, and a firmer hand in regards to the abhorrent institution that was slavery, the question that we should ask ourselves how many countries have they saved?

Consider the Lobster: A Review


This book starts out the way most brilliant, pop psychology books do from an angle you may have never considered before. Since this book is a collection of divergent essays, it should be reviewed chapter by chapter and essay by essay. The first essay “Big Red Son” involves comedic talk of the porn industry. To be fair to the author, David Foster Wallace, this essay was first written in 1998, and some may conclude it unfair to declare it dated, but I didn’t read this until 2012, so I am forced to say that this material has been mined for all its worth at the time of my reading. (See Chuck Palahniuk’s Snuff.) The second chapter “Some Remarks on Kafka’s funniness…” whets the appetite. The general idea behind this chapter “that humor is not very sophisticated today” has been mined by those of us obsessed with pop culture, but Wallace does get some points for listing the specific problems with the current sense of humor that doesn’t understand the sophisticated and subtle humor of author Franz Kafka. He says: “Kafka’s humor has almost none of the particular forms and codes of contemporary US amusement.” This launches the Wallace into a detailed list of complaints about contemporary humor brought to the homes of TV watchers.

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace

“Kafka’s humor has almost none of the particular forms and codes of contemporary U.S. amusement. There’s no recursive wordplay or verbal stunt-pilotry, little in the way of wisecracks or mordant lampoon. There is no body-function humor, nor sexual entendre, nor stylized attempts to rebel by offending convention. No slapstick with banana peels or rogue adenoids. There are none of the ba-bing ba-bang reversals of modern sitcoms; nor are there precocious children or profane grandparents or cynically insurgent coworkers. Perhaps most alien of all, Kafka’s authority figures are never just hollow buffoons to be ridiculed, but they are always absurd and scary and sad all at once.”

The point that Wallace attempts to make is that his students don’t understand Kafka’s absurdist wit, because they are more accustomed to being spoon-fed their entertainment. They’re not used to having to think through something as complex as Kafka’s central joke:

“That the horrific struggle to establish a human self-results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.”

The chapter is worth reading not for its “When I was a kid, we had to walk ten miles to school” style of complaining about the youth of the day, but the illustrative manner in which Wallace complains about humor in general. A complaint this author laments may not be generational.

The fourth chapter may be the selling point for this book. In it, Wallace describes a war that has been occurring in the English language for a couple generations now. Wallace calls it a Usage War. The Usage War describes how one side, the more traditional side, AKA the prescriptive side, pleads for a return to traditional English. He talks of the other side, the more modern side that describes itself as a more scientific study of the language, updating our usage on a more inclusive plane. The latter, called the descriptive side, calls for more political correctness in its language. It calls for a more comprehensive list of words and usage that incorporates styles of language such as Ebonics and words that are more commonly used, such as “irregardless”. Previous to this reading, I heard that tired phrase “everything is political”, but I had no idea that that phrase could be extended to dictionaries. The author’s reporting on this subject is excellent. It is informative without being biased, and it is subjective with enough objectivity to present both viewpoints in a manner that allows you to decide which side is more conducive to progress in our language.

Wallace is not as unbiased in his John McCain chapter however. He makes sure, in the opening portions of an article –that was paid for by the unabashedly liberal periodical Rolling Stone— that his colleagues know that he is not a political animal (i.e. he is stridently liberal). He lets them know he voted for Bill Bradley. Other than the requisite need a writer of a Rolling Stone article feels to display their liberal bona fides, it’s not clear why Wallace would include his opinion in a piece that purports to cover an election campaign. If I were granted the honor of being paid to cover a Nancy Pelosi campaign, for example, I would not begin this piece with a couple of paragraphs describing how I feel about her politics, but such is the state of journalism in America today…particularly in the halls of the unabashedly liberal Rolling Stone.

To have such an article begin with a political screed that is different than mine, would normally turn me off, but I’ve grown used to it. (I know, I know, there is no bias.) The real turn off occurs after the reader wades through the partisan name-calling, to the languid dissertation on the minutiae involved on a campaign bus. If you’re ever aching to know what goes on in a political campaign, I mean really aching to know, this is the chapter for you. I would say that most are curious about the machinations that occur behind the scenes, but I would say that most of those same people would have their curiosity tested by Wallace’s treatment here. He says that the editors at Rolling Stone edited the piece. He says that he always wanted to provide his loyal readers a director’s cut. After reading through the first twenty pages of this chapter, I was mentally screaming for that editor to step in and assist me through the piece. It’s not that it’s poor writing, nor that it’s entirely without merit, but you REALLY have to be one who aching to know the inner workings of a campaign. You have to want to know bathroom difficulties —such as keeping a bathroom door closed on a tour bus— you have to want to know what reporters eat, why they eat it, and when. You have to want your minutiae wrapped in minutiae, until your eyes bleed with detail. It’s a cardinal rule of mine to never skip passages. I live with the notion that I can learn something from just about everything an author I deem worthy writes, and I deem Wallace to be a quality writer with an adept and varying intellect, but I had to break my cardinal rule with this chapter. It was too painful a slog.

As for the chapter on Tracy Austin, Wallace laments the fact that championship level athletes aren’t capable of achieving a degree of articulation that he wants when he purchases one of their autobiographies. Tracy Austin, for those who don’t know, was a championship level tennis player. Wallace purchased her autobiography hoping that, as an adult long since removed from the game of tennis, Austin would be able to elucidate the heart of a champion. He hoped that Austin would be able to describe for us what went through her mind at the moment when she achieved the pinnacle of her career, and he wanted to know what she thought about the accident that led to her premature retirement. He wasn’t just disappointed, he writes, in the manner that he is disappointed with sideline interviews that are loaded with “we give it 110%, one game at a time, and we rise and fall as a team” style clichés. He sums up his disappointment with the following:

“It may well be that we spectators, who are not divinely gifted as athletes, are the only ones able truly to see, articulate, and animate the experience of the gift we are denied. And that those who receive and act out the gift of athletic genius must (out of necessity) be blind and dumb about it—and not because blindness and dumbness are the price of the gift, but because they are its essence.”

imagesCAY91IXCIn other words, we are able to express these ideas based on the fact that we concentrate on the arena of the mind, and their concentration lies in physical prowess. We, non-athlete types, think about the things they do, we fantasize about them, and they do them. We think about how glorious it would be to sink a championship winning basket over Bryon Russell, Michael Jordan just does it. We think about, and write about, that incredibly perfect and physically impossible baseline shot of a Tracy Austin, Tracy just does it. We see the replays of their exploits endlessly repeated on Sportscenter, and we hear almost as many different analyses of them. We then think about these plays from all these varied angles that are provided, and we project ourselves onto that platform. We don’t think about all the rigorous hours a Michael Jordan spent in gyms preparing for that moment, we simply think about that moment, and what it would mean to us to have conquered such a moment. So, when one of these athletes steps away from that stage to offer us a few words about that moment and those few words center around the “I just did it” meme we are profoundly disappointed. To paraphrase Yoda, “They don’t think, they do, or they do not.” They use the force granted to them though spending a greater percentage of their lives in gyms, on tennis courts, and in weight rooms. They concentrate on muscle memory to prevent the mind from interfering with their eventual completion of the act. If we, non-athlete types, were in a similar situation, we would think about the significance of the history of the game, the profundity of the moment, how this moment may affect the rest of our lives, how many people are watching us, if Bryon is a better athlete than we are, and if he will block our shot, what the fellas are going to say about this play after the game, and we become so immersed in the enormity of the moment that we probably think too much to make the shot. The point is that they’ve made that shot so many times, in so many different ways and games, that they simply rely on muscle memory to make the championship shot. They may think about that shot, as long as it takes them to project it, but once they step on the court, they go on auto-pilot and complete the mission. They would love to give Hemingway-esque descriptions of their game, that satisfied us all, and lands them in a weekly spot on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, but for all the reasons described here they are simply not capable of it.

I used to wonder what announcers were talking about when they said, “He’s too young to understand what this means.” This kid, as you call him, has been playing this game his whole life, and he’s lived the life of the championship level athlete, which means sacrificing the norms of daily life that his peers knew, and he’s done all that for “this” moment. What do you mean he doesn’t know what it means? It dawned on me, after a couple struggles with it, that “this kid” doesn’t know what this moment would mean to that announcer … or those of us at home watching. In that post-game interview, then, we’re looking for something, some little nugget that we can identify with. When we get phrases from the cliché vault, we’re so disappointed that they didn’t put more effort into identifying with our sense of their glory. We’re frustrated that they couldn’t reach us on our level. Yet, as Wallace states, it is the essence of a championship level athlete to be “blind and dumb” during the moments that define them, and we all know this to one degree or another. We’ve all seen these championship level athletes being interviewed about their individual moments thousands of times, so why do we continue to be so frustrated with them, and does this continued sense of frustration begin to say more about them or us?

How to Succeed in Writing III: Are you Intelligent Enough to Write a Novel?


I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of (poor fiction),” –Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934. “I try to put the (poor fiction) in the wastebasket.”

The key to writing great fiction is streamlining your story. Cut the fat! Some of the greatest authors of all time have admitted that the best additions they made to their novel were the parts they deleted. Somewhere along the line, in their writing career, they achieved objectivity. Somewhere along the line, they arrived at the idea that not all of their words were golden. Somewhere along the line, they realized that some of their words, sentences, paragraphs, and even some of their chapters were quite simply self-indulgent, wastebasket material. These self-indulgent portions, or the “ninety-one pages of (poor fiction),” of any novel are usually found in the asides.

But asides are what we enjoy in a novel you say. Asides can provide setting, pace, and drama. Asides can also build suspense and fortify the characteristics of a character, but they can also kill your novel. Most asides are unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. As anyone who has read a novel can attest, most novels could be written in forty pages, but that’s a short story, and short stories don’t sell as well as novels. They don’t sell as well, because readers want involvement. Readers don’t usually want snapshot stories. They want a world. They not only want to know the humans that they are reading about, they want to be involved with them. They want to see them breathe, they want to hear them talk to an employee at a Kwik Shop, and they want to feel the steps these characters take from place to place. They want to know these people, so when something happens to them, they can care about them.  They want to know the minutiae of the human they’re reading about, but they don’t want to get so caught up in the minutiae that they’re taken off pace, and they don’t want to read a self-absorbed writer that thinks it’s all about them.  Cut the fat!  Get to the point already!

“I’ve met a number of intelligent people throughout my life, and I’ve met a number of people I consider brilliant. I’ve met very few that were able to combine the two.” –Unknown.

This desire to be perceived as intelligent is a strong, driving force in all of us. How many stupid and overly analytical things do we say in one day to try to get one person to think that we’re not a total idiot? This desire to prove intelligence is right up there with the drive to be perceived as beautiful and likeable. It’s right up there with the desire to be seen as strong, athletic, independent, and mechanically inclined. We spend our whole lives trying to impress people. Even those that say that they don’t care what others think are trying to impress us with the fact that they don’t care.

In my first era of writing, I wrote a lot of these self-indulgent asides that contributed little to the story. I was a new student to the world of politics, and I was anxious to prove to the world that I was one smart cookie. I also wanted to show that half of the world that disagreed with my politics how wrong they were. So, I put my main character through an incident, and they came out of it enlightened by a political philosophy that agreed with mine. In various other pieces, I wanted to inform the world of all of this great underground music I was experiencing. My thought process at the time was: “Hey, if Stephen King can get away with telling us about tired rockers that we’ve all heard a thousand times. Why can’t I tell a few readers about a group they’ve never heard before?” Copy the masters right?  I wanted the world to know both sides of my brain in the same artistic piece. After taking a step back, and rereading these novels, I achieved enough objectivity to realize that it was all a big ball of mess.

If I was going to clean this mess up and start writing decent stories, I was going to have to divide my desires up.  I was going to have to cut the fat.  I was going to have to discipline myself to the creed that should be recited nightly by all aspiring storytellers: Story is sacred. I was going to have to learn to channel my desire to be perceived as smart into political and philosophical blogs. I was going to have to channel my desires to have people listen to my “discovered” music into Amazon.com reviews, and my stories, my novels, and my short stories would be left pure, untarnished stories with no agendas.  By dividing these desires up, I would be able to proselytize on the role of the Puggle in our society today, and the absolute beauty of Mr. Bungle’s music, without damaging my stories or boring the readers of my stories. I learned the principle the esteemed rock band Offspring tried to teach the world when they sang: “You gotta keep ‘em separated.”

There’s one writer, he-who-must-not-be-named, that never learned this principle. This author presumably got tired of being seen as just a storyteller. This author knew he was intelligent, and all of his friends and family knew he was intelligent, but the world didn’t know. The world only knew that he was a gifted storyteller, and they proved this by purchasing his books by the millions, but they didn’t know that he was so much more. This author achieved as much in the industry, if not more, as any other writer alive or dead (It’s Not King!), but he remained unsatisfied with that status. He needed the world to know that he wasn’t just a master of fiction. He needed the world to know he was as intelligent as he was brilliant, and he wrote the book that he hoped would prove it. It resulted in him ticking off 50% of his audience. 50% of his audience disagreed with him, and his politics, and they (we!) vowed to never read another one of his novels again. This is the risk you run when you seek to be perceived as intelligent and brilliant in the same work.

thomas-mannBut politics makes for such great filler, and to quote the great Thomas Mann: “Everything is political.” Well, there’s politics, and then there’s politics. If you’re one of those that doesn’t know the difference, and you don’t think your politics is politics, you should probably be writing something political. If you’re one of those who wants to write politics into your novel simply because it makes for such great filler, however, then you should try to avoid the self-indulgent conceit that ticks off that half of the population that disagrees with your politics. You’ll anger some with this, you’ll bore others, and the rest of us won’t care that you think it’s vital that your main character expresses something in some way that validates your way of thinking. We will just think it’s boring proselytizing from an insecure writer who needs validation from their peers. Stick to the story, we will scream, as we skip those passages or put your book down to never read anything you’ve ever written again.

You will need to be somewhat intelligent though. You’ll need enough to know your punctuation and grammar rules, you will need to know when and where to make paragraph breaks, and you will need to know how to edit your story for pace, but these aspects of storytelling can be learned.

“I am not adept at using punctuation and/or grammar in general…” A caller to a radio show once informed author Clive Barker. She said that she enjoyed writing, but it was the mechanics of writing that prevented her from delving into it whole hog. “Are you a clever story teller?” Clive asked her. “Do you enjoy telling stories, and do you entertain your friends with your tales?” The woman said yes to all of the above. “Well, you can learn the mechanics, and I encourage you to do so, but you cannot learn the art of storytelling. This ability to tell a story is, largely, a gift. Either you have it or you don’t.”

Be brilliant first, in other words, and if you can achieve brilliance, you can learn the rest. You can gain the intelligence necessary to get a thumbs up from a publisher, an agent, and eventually a reader, but you cannot learn brilliance. You cannot gain artistic creativity, and it’s hard enough to prove artistic brilliance. Why would you want to further burden yourself by going overboard in trying to also prove intelligence, and thus be everything to all people?

Let the people see how brilliant you are first! Gain a following. Once you have achieved that pied piper Wildeplateau, you can then attempt to display your intelligence. The preferred method of achieving all of your goals is to ‘keep ‘em separated’, but there are always going to be some who need to prove their intelligence and brilliance in the same Great American Novel. Those people are going to say Stephen King is a much better example to follow to the best-seller list than I am, and he achieved his plateau with a little bit of this and a little bit of that sprinkled in his prose. The question you have to ask yourself is, is he the rule or the exception to the rule? If Stephen King’s model is your preferred model, and these political and music parts are so germane, so golden, and so uniquely special to your story, keep them in.  As Oscar Wilde says, “You might as well be yourself, everyone else is taken.”

The Invention of Lying: A Review


The gist of this movie is that the greatest lie ever told to man is the existence of God. The fictional movie also exists in a world where everyone always tells the truth, no matter how bold or harsh. No one, in this movie, even knows what a lie is–hence the name of the movie. The Gervais’ character discovers the idea of lying in another scene, and he realizes that it makes life much easier for him in some ways. In another scene, his mother is dying, and she is fearful and desperate. She believes that she will face an eternity of nothingness following her death. In a desperate attempt to soothe her, Gervais’ character invents a place of mansions and happiness (heaven). The doctor and nurses overhear this, and they are intrigued. Word gets out that Gervais’ character has received information about an after-life. He is pursued for this information, and he invents a man in the sky (God). The people are irrationally soothed by Gervais’ character’s ideas. There are no counterpoints to Gervais’ character’s claims in the movie, and there is no counterpoint of enlightenment. The character merely claims at the end that he invented the whole thing.

I feel it’s my duty to inform you that this is not a chick flick, and it’s average. It is not as good as Gervais’ other movie Ghost Town, and it’s not as good as his shows Extras and The Office. The aspect about the ‘lie of God’s existence’ is not listed on the back jacket of the movie, and it’s not in any of the promos I saw. It caught me off guard. Now that you know, feel free to rent, buy, or download if this is your thing.

As to the counterpoint, it would’ve been nice to see some commentary about the other side. Example: While some believe in the existence of a man in the sky, others believe the sky is falling (i.e. Global Warming). While some believe that a bum on the streets is always a victim of circumstance, others believe most of them are there as a result of some form of self-indulgence. While some believe in the mythical assistance men in the leadership roles of government can provide to humanity, others believe that the key to success and happiness in life is through self-sufficiency.

It may have been difficult to fit such counterpoints into the plot, without being too preachy, but the writers of this movie could’ve done it.  They wouldn’t have had to devote huge chunks of dialogue to it, or numerous exchanges, to satisfy the other side.  They could’ve had one scene, or one simple piece of dialogue that questioned the other side.   They could’ve said something along the lines of “a man in Washington spear-headed a movement to attempt to curtail human indulgence, so he got together with his other buddies, and they invented something called Global Warming/Climate Change/Climate Disruption.”  They could’ve written that this attempt to shame human indulgence is equivalent to the definitions employed by individuals of Biblical times that believed that indulging in pursuits that God didn’t approve of, would result in a damaged harvest for the year.  They could’ve written some form of dialogue that suggested that shaming people into acting a particular way is as endemic to the human being as indulging is, and in this particular case (in the movie) the man in Washington was so upset by his unsuccessful bid to become president that he decided that he needed a legacy, so he latched onto an idea that stated that our Capitalism-run-amok form of   indulgence is causing a catastrophe of epic proportions.  They could’ve then concluded that this man’s legacy is now one of self-indulgence based on attempting to curtail indulgence, until he built an ostentatious, and indulgent home, and lavished in the riches his principled stand afforded him, until, like King Midas, everything he touched turned into gold, and his vain sermons on self-indulgence become a method to feed his own need for further indulgences.

This writers of this movie could’ve then had the people of the world irrationally worship the man in Washington, until a Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to him, and the writers could’ve had this man avoid any dissent and debate with some wild declaration along the lines of “all the science is in.  This catastrophe is happening.”  The writers could’ve had irrational exuberance occurring on both sides, but I’m sure they didn’t want to offend anyone.