Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Unseeable Animal

     A long time ago Wendell Berry wrote a poem, "To The Unseeable Animal,"  which he introduces by quoting his daughter who, I am sure, inspired the poem that followed:

     My daughter:  "I hope there's an animal
          somewhere that nobody has ever seen.
          And I hope nobody ever sees it."

     I confess it as a weakness, that it occurred to me that this poses an interesting puzzle to a quantum theoretician interested in the riddle of Schroedinger's Cat.  It further occurs to me that that puzzle might contain, or be, its own solution.  Ah, physics; ah, mathematics; ah, logic -- how readily and how eagerly you intrude.  Quiet yourselves.

     Set all that aside:  Wendell writes the poem to the unseeable animal, and ends it thus:

That we do not know you
is your perfection
and our hope.  The darkness
keeps us near you.



The full poem is on p. 118 of Farming: A Hand Book, by Wendell Berry.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Wayne Dyer, RIP

     Wayne Dyer died on Saturday, August 29, in Maui, Hawaii.  He had been diagnosed with leukemia several years ago.

     They called him a "self-help guru,"  and I suppose that he was.  He wrote dozens of books, with titles like Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life, Wishes Fulfilled, and Your Erroneous Zones, which produced quite a large following.  I read several of his books, always with enjoyment.   His 2005 book, The Power of Intention, I found particularly interesting.

      I would like to have had a personal conversation with him.  I never met the man in person, but I did meet him through his books.  ( That's pretty much the reason why I read books anymore:  to meet the authors. )  He came across as a man with an adventurous mind, and so he could not be boring;  he had learned too much to be didactic; had met too many interesting people to be pumped up with himself.  He had good ideas, and a pretty good way of fitting them together.

     Dr. Dyer leaves behind a large family, numerous books, several hours of presentations on youtube, and some good quotes.  Here are a couple of them:



Thursday, August 27, 2015

Doctor Future Is Blogging !

     That's right!

     And here's the link, so you need to read no further.

*       *       *

     ( Unless you don't know who Doc Future is.  So I'll give you a quick thumbnail sketch.  Well, three thumbnails. )

     1.  I posted about him and his radio show five years ago (in November, 2010), when this Sycamore Three blog was brand new, and at that time his radio show, Future Quake, was already well into its sixth year.  (That's right, he began broadcasting from Radio Free Nashville in 2005.)  So if you want a quick introduction,  you can read my post right here, right now.

     2.  Since he stopped broadcasting in early 2012, he has been fully engaged in a research-and-book-writing project that he thought would take about a year or so, and produce a book or two.  Well, he has been busy for more than three years, and has now finished the drafts of four lengthy books and is working on at least two more.  (He keeps telling me he wants to get the complete series done before he publishes any.)  Since he has focused completely on this project, his many old friends, and quite a few new ones, have had to depend upon listening to his Future Quake radio archive, or corresponding with him by email.  That has now changed: he is blogging, and welcomes comments.

     3.  His blog-opening post is a very brief autobiographical sketch, which he has entitled "Welcome to an Experiment in Conversation."  Read it here; and take it from there.

     Good that you have an internet presence again, Doc.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Paul Craig Roberts on American Gullibility

Paul Craig Roberts came to my (only slight) attention when he was appointed by President Reagan as an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. In that capacity he served, as far as he was able, in promoting a tax-reduction and other initiatives that came to be known as “Reaganomics,” an approach to Federal government policy that was respected by some (the few) and reviled by many (the followers of the American Establishment in media and government.  Many people are unaware that the early "Reaganomics" initiatives were largely undercut and reversed in the later Reagan years by the opposition of the Republican-Democrat-Media establishment that has sought to control debate and oppose reforms for well over a century.  Yes: do your homework and study your history.)

Since the Reagan era, Paul Craig Roberts has warned us, his countrymen — and anyone else who would listen — about the perversions, economic and political, that have increasingly overwhelmed our national policy and our national discourse, from the later Reagan Administration through the Bush41-Clinton-Bush43-Obama era.

Although he is well respected in “paleo-conservative” (old-traditional conservative) and “paleo-libertarian” (old-traditional libertarian and liberal) circles both in the U.S. and abroad, he is practically unknown to the main-stream of the American public, since he is shunned by the American media on which most of us depend for our political and economic news and information.

The brief article linked below is serious in its content and stark in its conclusions. I agree with it.

I appreciate your thoughtful commentary, whether pro or con.

When you go to his site, you will have to scroll down a few lines to get to the article.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Perhaps, Now

     With certain objectives of the financial-military-industrial complex having been frustrated over the last few years; and

     With certain deep and old alliances becoming strained; and because strained, exposed; and because exposed, strained further; and

     With the sheer silliness and moral purposelessness of the American political (and religious) scene, all of it, increasingly apparent; --

     Perhaps, now,

     The coverup of the September 11 operation will continue to unravel; and the lies that have undergirded it, will become more exposed; and the truth that has been buried beneath them both will come much more to the light.

     Then again, perhaps not now -- not yet.

     But, perhaps, even now.



Thursday, June 25, 2015

"If you aren't for us you're against us"

     It may surprise you (or it may not) that I am not quoting a recent president.  Not at all.

     Rather, I am quoting from a man who wrote these words in 1969, when the Johnson Administration was giving way to the Nixon Administration in this great country of ours.  He wrote them at first privately to himself, and later published them in his well-known and well-respected book, A Continuous Harmony.  The man is Wendell Berry.  I will let him speak in his own words:

May 21
If you aren't for us you're against us, somebody is always saying.  That seems to me a sad little pair of options, insofar as to any kind of intelligence the possibilities ought to be numerous, if not infinite.  Intelligence consists in being for and against such things as political movements up to a point, which it is the task of intelligence to define.  In my judgment intelligence never goes whole hog for anything public, especially political movements.  Across the whole range of politics now (and I suppose always) you find people willing to act on the assumption that there is some simple abstraction that will explain and solve the problems of the world, and who go direct from the discovery of the abstraction to the forming of an organization to promote it.  In my opinion those people are all about equally dangerous, and I don't believe anything they say.*

     I really need to stop the quote now, because there is plenty to digest here already; and as anyone knows who has read Mr. Berry, there is an abundance of wisdom on either side of any snippet, even if that snippet is a long one; and that he put those other words there for a reason, and they really shouldn't be left out.  (You'll need to buy the book.)

     But I cannot resist the desire to add the very next sentence that follows ". . . I don't believe anything they say."  Here it is:

     What I hold out for is the possibility that a man can live decently without knowing all the answers, or believing that he does -- can live decently even in the understanding that life is unspeakably complex and unspeakably subtle in its complexity.*

     Thank you, Wendell Berry, for words that help me to take from them, and from you, more of both humility (I hope) and courage.


* Wendell Berry, A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural. (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint. 2012 edition.) p. 49.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Spiritual Charity of C. S. Lewis

     I have for a long time watched with pleasure and gratitude as many of my Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters have discovered and embraced some of the writings of C. S. Lewis -- mainly because I know how much he has meant as an imaginative Christian mentor to me since I discovered him in my very early twenties.  Misery is not the only thing that loves company -- so does Pleasure, and especially Spiritual Pleasure.

     I observe, though, that much of the evangelical embracing of Lewis has focused on his (excellent) spiritual fantasies -- the Chronicles of Narnia, which are then compared and contrasted with the (excellent) Lord of the Rings fantasies of his friend and fellow-writer J. R. R. Tolkien, and the desire (also excellent) to draw from them some useful spiritual relevance to our own individual (or cultural) lives.

     But other of Lewis's writings -- his serious studies of words, language, philosophy, and theology have been relatively neglected by evangelical readers; and I suspect that I know a part of the reason for that:  in some ways his serious (non-fantasy) writings raise some implicit challenges, or at least questions, to some evangelical assumptions or predilections.  One of those assumptions, or predilections, is that evangelical understandings are "righter" than the theological or spiritual understandings of others, and by a tempting logic, then, the "others" are "wronger;" and therefore, again by predilection or presumption, the viewpoints or experiences of "others" are seen as increasingly "inferior," or  "contemptible," or even "damnable."  And thus we have the continual stream of invective and outrage that continues to characterize too much of the evangelical sphere-of-conversation.

     I raise, as a kind of counterpoise, a bit of commentary by Lewis that is contained in one of his less-well-known books, Letters to an American Lady, which was compiled by professor Clyde Kilby of Wheaton College back in the mid-60s. (Lewis's letter which I quote here is from the early 50s).

     First, I should give a bit of background.  Mrs. ------- , the "American lady," (whom Lewis never met), has struck up a correspondence with him.  She has some family problems and some financial problems, and is about to leave the Episcopal communion in favor of the Roman Catholic communion.  Lewis is, of course Anglican (Episcopalian) himself.

     Here comes his response, in his own words.  See if you can spot the point at which modern evangelicals might register disturbance:

Magdalen College,
Nov. 10th 1952

Dear Mrs. -------

     It is a little difficult to explain how I feel that tho' you have taken a way which is not for me I nevertheless can congratulate you -- I suppose because your faith and joy are so obviously increased.  Naturally, I do not draw from that the same conclusions as you -- but there is no need for us to start a controversial correspondence!  I believe we are very near to one another, but not because I am at all on the Rome-ward frontier of my own communion.  I believe that, in the present divided state of Christendom, those who are at the heart of each division are all closer to one another than those who are at the fringes.  I would even carry this beyond the borders of Christianity:  how much more one has in common with a real Jew or Muslim than with a wretched liberalising, occidentalised specimen of the same categories.  Let us by all means pray for one another:  it is perhaps the only form of "work for re-union" which never does anything but good.  God bless you.

Yours most sincerely
C. S. Lewis*

     See the spiritual charity?  See the possible point of disturbance?

     I wish to make my own point clear:  I am not at all -- not at all -- concerned that Lewis has "gone too  far,"  has "thrown away the game,"  "doesn't get it," or has "outright apostatized."  He most certainly has not.

     I am concerned that far too many of my evangelical brothers and sisters might think that. And that in so doing, they would prove C. S. Lewis's point.


* C. S. Lewis.  Letters to an American Lady. Edited by Clyde S. Kilby  (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: 1967) p. 11.


Monday, June 22, 2015

On This Day 1941

     On this day, 22 June 1941, the war machine that was called Nazi Germany intentionally collided with the war machine that was called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

     It was not the beginning of the Second World War, but a continuation and expansion of it.  That war had begun in September 1939, according to the history books.  Or, if you take the longer view of Dean Acheson, the war was itself a continuation of the European Civil War which had begun in 1914 when the powder-keg was set off for what would be called World War I.  Or you could think back as far as the Napoleonic Wars.  Or you could take an even longer view, and say . . . you get the idea, I think.

     There were bad guys, and there were bad guys, and there were yet other bad guys.  But however bad they were in 1941, they were even worse by 1945, when the war business shuddered to a halt in the summer of 1945, four very long and very destructive years later.

     There were plenty of bad guys who survived the war.  And there were plenty of "good guys" who didn't.  (Really, they were just ordinary guys -- there were not many of them who were extraordinary saints).  I could paint the horrors in romantic terms, speaking of "maelstroms of war," the "vortex of destruction," the "tragedies of the battlefields," and so forth;  but really, the whole business is better (because more factually) described as a mathematical summation of men conscripted and wounded and killed; women conscripted and raped and killed; children scared and abandoned and killed; war equipment manufactured and perfected and destroyed;  arms factories painstakingly constructed, feverishly worked, and eventually destroyed or abandoned; farms and crops and sheep and cattle and horses devoured; villages smashed; whole cities, both ancient and modern, artilleried and firebombed into smoldering ruins; prisoner-of-war camps that would be filled, and liberated, and emptied, not necessarily in that order.

     European civilization was destroying itself, with the ready assistance of some outsiders.  They served their gods -- whether Mars or Mammon or Molech, I do not know: perhaps it was the entire Unholy Trinity -- and their gods served them up to themselves.

     It has been said that even the best of the battle plans do not survive the first five minutes of contact with the enemy.  The promise of martial glory may, to be sure, survive much longer -- Churchill, at least, seems to have been convinced that it did -- but I do not believe that even martial glory survives to the end of a war, at least not in the minds of those who have suffered through it.  The victory parades, the posthumous bravery medals, and the unctuous speeches are for the benefit of the home folks who have not had to see it:  the war widows, the Rosie Riveters, and the managers of the military-industrial complex who must justify their sacrifices, both real and imagined;  and these, the victory speeches and all the rest, are manufactured and distributed by the Establishments, the elites and their faithful servants in sprawling government offices or chaotic newsrooms.  I was going to say that they were all cynical, but that is not necessarily true -- many may have come to sincerely believe their own propaganda.

     However long the martial glory lasts -- even that martial glory that attaches to the venerable old battle flags in the war museums, and lingers long in the sacred stories of surviving veterans told with tears in the eyes that must be wiped away by the stump of an arm -- graveyards last longer, whether they are national cemeteries, or shallow graves hastily dug and left unmarked, or the Atlantic Ocean.

     But I have gotten ahead of myself.  On that bright summer solstice day in 1941,  when Operation Barbarossa began on the Eastern Front, there were millions of men, women, and children who were not yet dead, wounded, or missing.  The Siege of Leningrad had not yet happened, nor Stalingrad; nor Dresden, nor Hiroshima; nor Pearl Harbor, even.  But they would.

     On this Eastern Front Remembrance Day, it might be well to gather the family and friends around for a re-showing of the movie Enemy at the Gates, in which Jude Law, Ed Harris, Joseph Fiennes, and a large supporting cast portray a part of the Battle of Stalingrad.  You might even let the children watch it:  oh, I know it is rated R for "war violence, and some sexuality," but this:

     Plenty of children had to live (or die) through precisely this, and through much worse than this.

     And, after watching this, the next time you are tempted to glorify war, any war, the children will be primed to ask you the questions that you should have asked, and answered correctly, yourself.

     If there is some member of the Unholy Trinity you secretly worship, remember this:  the Lord of All Worlds has said of Himself, that He will make wars to cease to the ends of the earth.

     And before that good day comes, He has also said, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the sons of God."  Let us fully intend to fulfill that good and high calling.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Wendell Berry on Necessity, Mystery, and Ignorance

     I have been reading recently in the book, Wendell Berry, which was published in 1991 by Confluence Press as part of its "American Authors Series," edited by Paul Merchant.  It includes an interview with Wendell Berry.  In this book, he is asked the following question:

     "In 'The Specialization of Poetry,' you wrote of the need for writers to return to the real world in their poetry -- a world in which values are not dated by fashion and older writers live on into the present with the values that endure.  As you have done elsewhere, you mention the importance of 'necessity,' which precedes right action in the world.  But what is the 'mystery'?"

He replies:

     "In that passage I'm not using the word in a theological sense.  I mean by it simply everything that we do not know.  It is now more or less routine, I think, to fear that humans won't acquire or understand human knowledge.  But even more fearful, to me, is the human failure to understand human ignorance.  Not to know that we are ignorant, or to feel it, is to be dangerous, the danger increasing in direct proportion to whatever power an individual may have.  'A little learning is a dangerous thing,' Pope said, and our history has begun to suggest that 'a little learning' means any amount that a human may have.  From a human point of view, the difference between the mind of a human and that of a mountain goat is wonderful; from the point of view of the infinite ignorance that surrounds us, the difference is not impressive.  Indeed, from that point of view, the goat may have the better mind, for he is more congenially adapted to his place, and he would not endanger his species or his planet for the sake of an idea.  As I see it, then, the condition of mystery inescapably implies the necessity of restraint. The great events of our era may all have to do with the democratization of aristocratic vices.  We have now completed the democratization of ostentation and hedonism, and we are well advanced in the democratization of hubris.  A lot of people are now acting on the assumption that they are gods.  Industrial acts of power that seem ordinary to us would have astonished Zeus.  The Pentagon and the Kremlin have far outmoded Milton's war in Heaven.  Dabblers in atoms, genes, toxic chemicals, social, psychological, and anatomical engineering all have promoted themselves far above their intelligence.  One must hope for the democratization of a fear appropriate to the danger, and of a courage appropriate to the fear."

     It has been about a quarter of a century since those words were published, and I here suggest that the situation has not greatly improved.  We do now have the internet available to us (for the moment -- that could change), which has allowed at least a democratization of conversation, which is, in my thinking, a good thing.  I have found blogging and facebooking beneficial in this regard.

     But in a time (the present), in which our world-girdling media have greatly misled us, and in which we have greatly lied to ourselves, I find in his warning about our essential ignorance -- he calls it "the infinite ignorance that surrounds us" -- something that we must take truly to our own hearts.

     And it may be a warning that, having absorbed it ourselves, we ought to pass on -- quietly, perhaps, or firmly, but probably persistently.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Look, Look, Look! Say, Say, Say!

     A few days ago somebody posted the picture of the cover of a book -- a first grade "reader" -- that was popular in the mid-fifties, and for some years on either side of that time.  It was entitled, "Fun With Dick and Jane."  I remembered that book -- or one of its many clones -- because that is the book that was used in my own first-grade "learning experience."

     The editors of that series of books had decided that a "phonetic" approach to reading (which had characterized language-learning and pronunciation for a long, long time) needed to be replaced by the new, more scientific "look-say" method.  The theory was that if you just see the word enough times, and are made to say it, you will remember it.  If that strikes you as more of a "stimulus-response" approach to learning than acquiring knowledge by discovering phonetic rules of pronunciation and interpretation (and proceeding from there to meaning), you might be right.  Be that as it may, I have been told that they discovered, or popularized, this happy method shortly after World War II, which was a decade earlier.

     The characters who were in that book -- those books -- lived in a plain vanilla world that was somewhere between white picket fences (and I do mean white in both senses of the word) and the migration to the suburbs that figured prominently in the times in which they were published.

     Appearing in the cast of characters was Mother, of course, and Father.  Then Dick, and Jane, and little Sally.  And who could forget their beloved pets, Spot the dog and Puff the cat.  I think that Spot was vaguely male, and Puff was vaguely female. (I don't think they ever said, so I'm just going by remembered impressions.)

     At any rate, the books (which had a large and contextually appropriate picture at the top of each page, and a few lines of printing at the bottom) went like this:

     See Spot run.
     Run, Spot, run!
     Run, run, run!

     Look, Jane, look!
     Look, look, look!
     See Spot run!
     Funny, funny Spot!

     Oh! Oh! Oh!
     Stop, Spot, stop!
     Stop, stop, stop!

     As you might suppose, this new approach to reading was great for the sales of many "basic readers," as they were called, and the educational establishment registered its enthusiastic approval of this new, scientific "Look-Say Method." (Experiments had apparently been conducted, and the appropriate statistics verified and published.)  I think it had been originally called the "See-Say" method, but I am not sure about that.  Anyway, phonics were out as the basis for learning pronunciation, or as an aid to learning meaning, or discovering where words come from.  Look-Say was in.

     You will notice that the thoughtful and scientific publishers made sure that increasing "complexity" was not left out.  The exclamation point could be discussed as a point of emotional excitement (!);  and the two-syllable word, funny, was smoothly slipped in.  And there was that catchy rhythm that marched forward in common time:  left, right, left, pause, left, right, left, pause.  This educational experience went on page after page, day after day, book after book.

     If you realize that pretty much the entire baby-boom generation was nurtured on this (may I say it?) drivel, you may have some understanding why things have turned out for them the way they did.  When the Boomers took to the streets of San Francisco (and elsewhere) a few years later, they were chanting slogans like "Peace and love," and "Give peace a chance."  At least they had gotten beyond "Peace, peace, peace! Oh, oh, oh!  Love, love, love!"  Which I, at least, would call progress of a sort.

     All this does not justify writing a post, except for what caught my eye in the comments section of the post -- a joke.  No doubt it is an old joke -- joke, joke, joke! -- but I had not heard it before.  Here it goes:

     A first grade teacher gets out of her class at the end of a school day and heads for her car.  She notices that she has a flat tire.
     "Oh, oh, oh!
     "Look, look, look!
     "Damn, damn, damn!"

     Thought you'd like it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

In The Beginning

     I used to think that God was a Mathematician.  I now think that He only took it on as a serious hobby to be indulged at the end of a long and busy day.  "Good -- that's One.  Good, that's Two.  Good, that's Three," and so forth.  After getting to Six, He could see where it was going, and was tired.  "Here comes Seven, and I'm taking a rest from all that."  Maybe He delegated that whole business of Mathematics to the Archangels, at least for a while.

     After a long, restful Sabbath He aroused Himself and had other things on His mind.  Like Adam.  And a Garden with Trees.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

One Word

     So this morning, I was sitting on my porch reading a good book when the nice woman -- black, I may say, to give proper honor to her and her ethnic traditions -- who works for the U. S. Postal Service and kindly delivers our mail every day, came by on her daily rounds.

     I had been thinking about her particularly since yesterday, and felt that I had one word for her.  So, as she handed me our mail, I said:

     "One word:  Jesus."

     "Amen," she smiled.  "Amen."

     And that's the truth.

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Nation of Fantasists

     I've been reading Wendell Berry (again), and ran across this passage in his recent book, What Matters?  It is the introductory paragraph of an essay which he wrote in 2009.

     "As our economy has been showing us for the past year or so, we have become a nation of fantasists.  With a kind of abject credulity, we have come to believe in the power of money alone to bring forth goods, to believe that money itself is a good, to believe that consumption is as vital an economic activity as production.  We think that shopping is a patriotic act and a public service.  We tolerate fabulous capitalists who think a bet on a debt is an asset."

     There I went, favorably quoting a man who does not pay proper respect to the god of our civic religion, Mammon, and the capitalists his faithful priests.

     But we are a nation of fantasists -- political fantasists left and right, media believers, Hollywood afficionados, technology-addicts, militarists, ideologists, and theological speculators.

     However, reality is beginning to prod us awake.

     But awakening from our fantasies may be as troublesome, frightening, and sickening as coming out of a long-induced drug stupor, or a hang-over.  "What has been going on while I have been out-of-it?" we begin to ask ourselves.  "And worse yet, who knows what was I really doing when I was out of my senses?"

     Then, of next importance, the further questions:  "What do I do now?  What will happen next?  What should I be preparing for?"

     The good news, and the bad news, is that other people are asking the same questions, and are talking to each other.  That is good news for two reasons -- the first reason being that we are not alone, that other intelligent people are addressing the same questions; and the second reason being that some practical answers have begun to be suggested. (Although largely, but not completely, ignored.)

     The bad news is also two-fold.  First, we can no longer tell ourselves that everything is okay, and that we can continue with business as usual and things as they are, it's just human nature, inevitable, etc.  We are sick, and we know it.  Second, we can see that the people who are still caught in the left-right paradigm, or caught in the would-be world-encompassing media-narrative, or pre-occupied with American (or religious, or Christian) exceptionalism, or narcissistic selfists, are not going to be much help;  they -- as once we; perhaps still we -- are a big part of the problem.

     The world is not Disney-world, or church-world, and it is not even "western civilization."  Mammon is a false god, a demi-god.  And both God and the Devil are wide awake.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Thinking About "Personhood" in America

     I am enjoying reading through Wendell Berry's most recent essays, just published (2015) as Our Only World.  In one of his essays, entitled "On Receiving One of the Dayton Literary Peace Prizes," he begins this way:

     "When we were notified of this award my wife, Tanya Berry, uttered a sound that closely resembled laughter.  She better than anybody knows how willingly I have risked controversy, and how much I have enjoyed it, especially when I was young.  In my favor I can only say that I have never killed or physically harmed any of my enemies, or wished to do so, and that I don't carry a pistol.  The only thing I would really enjoy shooting is a drone."

     Which reminded me about drones.  Which in turn reminded me about corporations.  Which in turn reminded me of a recent decision of our All-Legal Supreme Court, which Mr. Berry also comments on elsewhere in his book (p. 86):

     "The legal definition of a person evaporated when the Supreme Court defined a corporation as a person.  If a corporation is a person, contrary to all previous usage and to common sense, then personhood can be conferred upon virtually anything merely by decree.  Issues are thus quickly carried not just into vagueness but beyond the bounds of language."

     I was further reminded of the recent increasing admiration of police dogs, who have long been militarized into a "K-9 Corps" (ha, ha, get it?  yes we all get it).  From being used as "bloodhounds" to track escapees from chain gangs (Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke), they were then given the training to attack "rioters" (in Selma, and in any number of other places and circumstances), and were further trained to "sniff for drugs," which made them proxies for violating the Bill of Rights, with its prohibitions and restrictions on searches and seizures.  Dogs work quite well without any respect for the need of a warrant issued by a judge.  And best of all, perhaps, they might even be trained to register what we could euphemistically call a "false positive" on the appropriate signal from a duly authorized "handler."  They are now increasingly thought of, with police and media and popular reverence, as noble "veterans" when they "fall in the line of duty."  How long until they are granted virtual "personhood" status?

     Personally, I am not ready to give dogs, even military-trained dogs, "personhood" status, but I must admit that I'd sooner recognize them as persons than I would any "corporation," which is, after all, a legal fiction at best, or a legal fig-leaf, or a legal grimoire at worst.  The dog is, at least, a living creature.  It shares a substantial amount of DNA with me, and by virtue of being an animal has, or has been thought to have, some kind of soul.  ( The word anima once meant "having breath, soul, current of air."  It meant the kind of creature that the Lord God thought worth saving along with humankind at the Flood. )

     I further think that the instituting of a "corporation" is almost always an imposture on the human mind, and that it is often bent on colonizing individual and social consciousness.  And more frequently than we would like to think, it intends -- by advertising and "product placement" and "corporate sponsorship" and other forms of propaganda -- to force itself upon us as an idol we are to revere or a god we must obey.  But perhaps I overstate the danger.

     Nevertheless, how long before "drones" are given agency -- even a programmably "independent" agency, by their corporate owners and their civilian and military minions -- to lethally interfere with the lives of people?

     How long?  It has already happened, to the enthusiastic bipartisan applause of "liberals" and "conservatives" alike.  And what good is a weapon, after all, if you are not ready to use it?

     I should not be surprised if, one day soon, the Supreme Court, on orders from the Pentagon, and in acknowledgement of drones' "essential role in preserving our national security interests," makes any resistance to them a federal crime, and damaging or destroying them a military offense that justifies any and all military retaliation.  And then they, and their controllers, will have greatly extended their control over you and your children, and over me and mine.

     This reminds me of another question that Wendell Berry raises in another book:  What Are People For?

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Thoughtful Man Writes About Government Duplicity

     I have a pretty complete library of Wendell Berry's books -- his essays, his poems, and his fiction -- and I am currently re-reading The Unsettling of America, which he originally wrote in 1977, nearly forty years ago.  (I must admit that I am a relative late-comer to Mr. Berry's work.  This book -- the first of his books that I ever read -- was given to me nearly twenty years after it was written.  It was a gift from a friend, Rick Koeplin, who was quite a good back-to-the-land type of man himself:  he moved his family and his work (auto mechanics) out of the city onto a small farm in Indiana.  There he and his wife designed and built their own house from timber harvested from their own property, planted their gardens, repaired farm machinery, and raised their six children.)

     Wendell Berry's influence has spread widely -- he is probably even better known around the world than he is known in his own home state of Kentucky, where he lives and farms and writes. In this book he has a chapter called "The Use of Energy," in which he talks about the cycles of life and of energy, and the past and present and future of American culture and agriculture.  But here I want to focus specifically on what he says about government duplicity; and so I will lift these words out from their context.  They are words that can stand on their own:

     "But then it must be asked if we can remove cultural value from one part of our lives without destroying it also in the other parts.  Can we justify secrecy, lying, and burglary in our so-called intelligence organizations and yet preserve openness, honesty, and devotion to principle in the rest of our government?  Can we subsidize mayhem in the military establishment and yet have peace, order, and respect for human life in the city streets?"  

     I think that the keepers of our political culture -- not just the party politicians, or the media pundits and paid experts, but ordinary people like ourselves -- have tried mightily to answer "Yes" to his questions.  But our recent history, including our unending string of wars and rumors of wars, and our financial unraveling, give an unequivocal answer, "No."

     Much food for thought, I think.  I encourage anyone reading these words to get and read his book, and any of the many other books that he has written.  His message is consistent, and consistently full of insight.  It is sobering to me to realize that the problems that we face were well understood and discussed by this man decades ago.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Tom Bombadil Option

     There is a good essay up at the Front Porch Republic.  It is one of the better ones, I think, on the subject of Tom Bombadil, and by virtue of that, I think it is one of the better essays on The Lord of the Rings.

     Some people, including me, can remember where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been killed; and some people, including me, can remember where they were when they first read The Lord of the Rings.

     It was the early summer of 1968, and I was home from my first year in college.  The Vietnam war was red hot, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were freshly dead, George Wallace was running for President, the Summer of Love was a year in the past and the summer of Woodstock was a year in the future.  For a summer job I was working in the family printing business, and I had just purchased the complete set of Tolkien's books -- paperback -- on the recommendation of a good college friend named Jay.

     This particular edition, from Ballantine Books, had psychedelic covers. (I bought the poster.)  The Hobbit was subtitled "The Enchanting Prelude to The Lord of the Rings," and that was where I began. I read the whole set at one time.  I think it took me about four days to read the four books.

     My mind was greatly, and permanently, changed.

     At that time, I knew absolutely nothing about "Tolkien lore," or C. S. Lewis and the Inklings and their place in English Literature.  And although I was living in a world that was being deeply modified by these very conscious and active men,  I also knew nothing about John Paul Sartre and his writings on existentialism, nor of Allen Dulles and his reflections on the craft of intelligence, nor of Wendell Berry and his place on earth, despite the fact that all of their writings were quite available at the time.  And although I had had real interactions in all three of those modes of thinking and living of which they wrote, I was, quite simply, unaware.  

     I liked to read well enough.  I had read some of Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo, Jack London and Jules Verne, Zane Grey and Allen Drury -- my tastes were, I guess, somewhat eclectic.  But I'll credit J.R.R. Tolkien with opening a kind of good door in my mind that has led to my discovery of some very interesting places and people.

     What was it about this story that could open a person's awareness (mine) -- not just to a "fantasy world," but also to that part of the "real" world all around him that to him (me) was still un-real?

     New as I was in those days to the world of Tolkien's understanding, I could still see that Tom Bombadil was in some ways the most interesting character.  Who was he, that he could laugh and toss the Ring with no seeming ill effect?  So I was sorry, when the otherwise very good movie trilogy was released, that Peter Jackson had left him out completely.  I had thought that Bombadil was in some sense the unmoving pivot around which the entire War of the Ring revolved.  I have never lost that sense, even if Peter Jackson seems never to have found it.

     So here is the link to Front Porch Republic, with its essay by Chris Wiley, "The Bombadil Option." I think that I have found, at least in some sense, a kindred spirit.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Permanence In Place

     I was reading today -- re-reading, actually -- in Wendell Berry's book,  A Place on Earth.  It is one of his earliest works of fiction, written about fifty years ago in the early 60s.  The book is about people who were living in a Kentucky farming community in the mid-40s, twenty years earlier, in the closing days of the Second World War.  Wendell Berry lived that life himself as an observant boy of eleven or twelve, listening to what the older folks were saying and the stories that they told about their lives.  Twenty years later, he was writing those stories.  When you read A Place on Earth, you are reading a whole lot of well-told truth.

     In one of his stories, a fifty-ish farmer named Mat Feltner is walking in one of his fields, and talking with his young daughter-in-law, Hannah, who is far along in her first pregnancy, carrying his grandchild.  They have recently received word from the government that her husband Virgil, his son, has been reported missing in action in the war, and they are coming to terms with the knowledge that this means, really, that he is dead.  He will not be coming back to his family, or the farm, or his unborn child.

     Here is a snippet of the conversation that caught my attention:  Mat is telling Hannah about a conversation he had had with Virgil a few years earlier, when Virgil had first begun farming for himself and had made a serious, destructive mistake in how he had cared for a plowed field:

     ". . . I told him that a man's life is always dealing with permanence -- that the most dangerous kind of irresponsibility is to think of your doings as temporary.  That, anyhow, is what I've tried to keep before myself.  What you do on the earth, the earth makes permanent."

     Wendell Berry, speaking in the voice of Mat Feltner, says, "What you do on the earth, the earth makes permanent."  And so it does.  But most of us do not live much on the permanent earth.  Instead we live mostly in cars, or in buildings, or in McMansions, or in front of electronic screens flickering with data and commercials and entertainment, and none of these is even remotely permanent to us -- they are simply conveyances that get us safely and comfortably from this morning to this night.  And our far horizons -- and we all have them -- are often no farther than the next season of sports, the next installment of the franchised movie, the next job, the next election, the next war, the next person we look forward to hooking up with and having an "its complicated" relationship with on social media.  For a couple of generations now we have talked easily of "starter houses"; and indeed it makes no sense for most of us to live our lives in the same place from marriage to old age.  And now we have girls and young women frankly talking about "starter husbands" -- will the next guy we plan to hook up with be the one that we have a wedding with, and then a kid or two, and then divorce for someone better?

     "The most dangerous kind of irresponsibility is to think of your doings as temporary," Mat Feltner says, and I think he is right.  And I think that there has been a lot of irresponsibility recently, and for a long time past, and I'm not seeing it getting better right now.

     I am very sorry that the ISIS murderers are proudly killing their enemies, abusing their own citizens, and executing their prisoners.  I am also sorry that these ISIS killers were recruited, armed, and trained by agencies of our own government (as well as the governments of our "allies" in NATO and the Middle East), acting under the bi-partisan oversight of our politicians, duly and democratically chosen by us in elections that are shams, orchestrated by corporate powers and brought to us by the media for our faux "approval" or our equally faux "outrage," as the case may be.

     The soldiers and civilians who have died -- "ours" and "theirs" -- are permanently DEAD.  Those who have had arms and legs blown off by IEDs are crippled for life.  The wedding parties blown up by our brave drone warrior-pilots, the children in Gaza burned by exploding shells filled with white phosphorus, or the ones in Afghanistan maimed when they picked up the exploding "toys," the depleted-uranium dust scattered around Iraq twenty-some years ago that has induced hideous birth defects, the "Gulf War syndrome" that has affected many thousands of our veterans and that our government has avoided taking care of --

     Plenty of people can always be found who will volunteer to kill people and smash things; and they need nothing more than boundless energy to fulfill their visions, so I suppose that if we can just keep the military spending at current levels (with supplemental appropriations for active wars, of course), they can do what they want, or like, or need, to do.

     And then there are plenty of people, really a whole lot of them, you know, who just like to watch!  Can we have some more shock and awe, please?  Fire?  Explosions?  With a self-serving of grief and tears and grim determination?  Some designated enemies to fulfill our need for "two minutes of hate"?  Give us sound and fury, even if it signifies nothing.  Especially if it signifies nothing.  We'll just think of our doings as only temporary.  What do you mean, "It's the irresponsible thing to do?" Hell, it's not the irresponsible thing to do, it's the right thing to do.  After all, we can endlessly reconfigure "reality," as you can see.  Praise the Lord and pass another war "resolution."

     Of course there are always some people left who get to try to pick up the pieces.  That would have been you, Mat Feltner and Hannah, in your day.  And Virgil, if he had lived.  But he didn't.  And the baby about to be born, too, I guess.

     Now its our call.  Or our calling.  Or not.  Anyway, it's our situation.  Serious, permanent damage, much of it difficult or impossible to reverse.

     Well, I was originally going to write something engagingly alliterative about place, permanence, and patience, and I didn't get to the patience bit.  I got sidetracked there, thinking about all the damage that has been done.  It will not be repaired in my lifetime.






Thursday, February 5, 2015

The President And The Prayer Breakfast

     President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, February 5.  This annual meeting is perhaps the closest thing we have to a civic expression of our individual, mutual, and collective responsibilities before the One Lord God.  It would seem that the President's remarks (which are reported in full, from the White House, here) created a stir.

     After a few jovial introductories, the President got to the point with a rhetorical question:  "So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities -- the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?"

     Well, even though it is probably unanswerable, that is a good question.  So the President addressed the problems we have faced in Europe, in America, and in India.

     "Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest we get on our high horse and think that this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.  Michelle and I returned from India -- an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity -- but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs. . . .  So it is not unique to one group or one religion. . . . There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. . . ."

     There can be no doubt of the factual truth of the President's remarks.  Any well-read history student knows this beyond reasonable doubt.  So what is the stir?

     I'd say it's that folks don't like being told any uncomfortable truth.  And they definitely don't like it when they are being called out on their American Christian Exceptional Rightness.  But they especially don't like to hear it from a man that they do not like, for whatever reason.

     Well,  there's a fair amount that the President has done that I don't like, either.  But these remarks by the President happen to be the sober truth, and it is a sober truth that American Christians need to hear.  And most of us are not hearing it in church.

     Say it, Mr. President.  Say it again, loud and clear.  Loud enough that we can hear it through the walls of our churches -- and synagogues --  and mosques.

     "So it is not unique to one group or one religion. . . . There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. . . ."


     I encourage you to read all of the President's remarks, here.  I frankly prefer them to the political posturings from the Congress, the arrant nonsense of the so-called "Christian" media, and the often goofy slogans that bounce among Christians on Facebook.