Saturday, April 04, 2009

We're Moving!

We're moving to WordPress. I have reposted Aaron's last post at our new location.

Eventually I'd like to move our best content to the new site, delete the rest, at start fresh - anew.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Party of Doh!

Just Friday, I heard David Brooks, conservative New York Times columnist, call the Republican budget a "...well, to be frank, a joke..." Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell says he smells victory. In the next elections, it will the Republicans who march back to power. And what exactly are the Republicans triumphantly offering us?

Here's Sen. Judd Gregg: "We believe you create prosperity by having an affordable government that pursues its responsibilities without excessive costs, taxes or debt..."

For 30 years, and in the last decade especially, Republicans got their way. Did they reduce government? No. They expanded it. Not only that, they poured hundreds of billions of dollars into nation building. Costs? Skyrocketed. Taxes? They went up. By cynically passing off federal taxation to the state and municipal level they forced local taxes to increase nationwide. By defunding the country's infrastructure, we now have a critical mess to clean up.

Our tax money is being poured into Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, AIG, Swiss UBS, England's Barclay's, rentention bonuses, executive bonuses, etc... This is the Republican legacy, and we're paying for and will be paying for it for years to come.

And now, to hear Republicans, like a bunch of chicken littles, running around crying socialism, big-government, socialism, taxes, debt, socialism, big-government, socialism, taxes, debt, socialism, big-government, socialism, taxes, debt...

It's more than the back can bear...

Health Care - Every member of Congress recieves government-run, socialized health-care paid for by our taxes. Good enough for them, but not good enough for us?

Gregg says: "We also believe you improve everyone's health care not by nationalizing the health care system and putting the government between you and your doctor, but by assuring that every American has access to quality health insurance and choices in health care."

Really? And that would be why Gregg is covered by government health care, at tax payer expense? He seems to like it...

Big Government - If the government doesn't assume the role of governing, then somebody else will. Enron, AIG, Bear Stearns, etc... and didn't they do a good job?

Gregg: "It is the individual American who creates prosperity and good jobs, not the government."

Government is of the people, by the people, for the people, but then the Gregg probably isn't familiar with that document.

Taxes - The Republican borrow & spend strategy of governing only passes on debt to the next administration - raising taxes on all of us. It's much cheaper to maintain a bridge, than to rebuild it. It's much cheaper to educate your children than imprison them.

Taxes educate our children. Taxes keep us out of debt. Taxes maintain the health of our infrastructure.

Under Republican governance, our children are undereducated, our country's debt is owned by the Chinese and our infrastructure is collapsing.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thought of the Day

"I believe banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all properties until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."

-Thomas Jefferson 1842

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Frederick Douglass on American Christianity

I have always been fascinated by the life of Frederick Douglass. I am reading his first biography (I believe he wound up writing 3) written around the age of 27 (he never knew for sure how old he was because slaves were often separated from their mothers early on and never told). 

I flipped to the appendix of this book and read a most glorious rant that should have been included in Christopher Hitchens' "The Portable Atheist", though Douglass was not technically an atheist. 

"....between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference--so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of "stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in." I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me. He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families,--sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers,--leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth desolate. We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the POOR HEATHEN! ALL FOR THE GLORY OF GOD AND THE GOOD OF SOULS! The slave auctioneer's bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his in fernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other --devils dressed in angels' robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.

"...Dark and terrible as is this picture, I hold it to be strictly true of the overwhelming mass of professed Christians in America".......

And little has changed. Slavery has ended, and the Christians take credit for it, of course. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Reader

A couple of people recommended "The Reader", including my chicken shit friend in New Jersey. 

I read the book by Bernard Schlink and watched the movie this evening. 

The emotional power of the book was overwhelming and the emotional power of watching the movie the day after finishing the book was debilitating. 

The second quickest way to a man's heart is his stomach. But Bernard Schlink realized that the very quickest way to a man's heart is his penis. Thus he wrote a book centered around holocaust issues published in 1995  (which is now required reading in college level courses) implementing the ingenious device of youthful eroticism as a bridge to empathic understanding. 

The mixture of eroticism with a philosophical inquiry into the nature of guilt was like getting my metaphorical G-spot hammered by double penetration. Schlink uses the most powerful device imaginable to capture a sense of understanding for those caught in the middle of the holocaust and faced with overwhelming dilemmas. Dilemmas between - being a hero.... being killed for your heroics...... being killed for not being heroic... or worse maybe.... neither. 

 According to Schlink, criticism of his book comes mostly from the second and third generations after the holocaust who can't allow a moment's hesitation before condemning anyone remotely associated, often including their own parents. But from the generation who actually were there, very little criticism. 

If I had to choose a book to make a movie from it would be this. A book of 218 short pages, where the lead character "Hanna" receives extraordinarily few lines and leaves the director open to flesh out the story in ways unobtainable by the author. Unlike most movies from books, I found it to be perfectly complementary and edifying to the story. The director captured the spirit of the writing and Kate Winslet's best actress oscar was well deserved for capturing the spirit of a character with incredibly little to say. 

I feel embarrassed by the critics who gave the story bad reviews. Maybe this is a story where the book is really mandatory to capture the meaning of the movie. Maybe without the book it would not have been so good, I'll never know. But I do know that it is a testament to the movie that the book only makes it better, not worse. And also, maybe it is a story where heterosexual males who still remember what it is like to be young are most unevenly affected. 

Monday, March 09, 2009

Making Progress

% of Americans who said they have no religion:

1990- 8.2%
2001- 14.2%
2008- 15%

% Americans who call themselves Christians:

1990- 86%
2001- 77%
2008- 76%

Kind of plateaus in recent years, but huge shift from 1990.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Strange similarities

The same people who buy into this shit....

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Rachel Maddow Gets It

Having been an evangelical Christian before, I know exactly what it is like to really believe the world is ending soon. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that many non-Christians don't really understand that these people really believe this stuff or have any idea how popular this thinking is. Let us remember that 68% of Republicans do not believe in evolution AT ALL according to the recent Gallup poll. Nothing can be done to persuade these people of things they refuse to acknowledge. It is easy to be a Republican when you think everything happens due to God's will. The same mindset is prevalent in the new age community where any event can be rationalized as a planned lesson from on high, and nobody should get all up in arms over gross inequality because karma irons everything out. When you believe that Father God is watching and controlling everything, and that the world is ending soon, of course global warming doesn't matter. Of course health care isn't a great issue. And a Democrat like Obama speeds up the coming of the one world government which will be ruled by the antichrist, whereas making America an outcast to the rest of the world (and as different as possible from Europe) merely means to these people that we are bucking Satan's grand plan. If you think these thoughts do not go through the heads of tens of millions of Americans before they enter the poll booths, think again. I was once one of them.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Red States Consume More Porn- New Scientist

Yep, looks like all we need is a little more Jesus in our lives to cure the social degradation spearheaded by the blue state liberals. Lol!

"According to a new Harvard Business School study, eight of the top ten states in terms of online porn consumption were ones where McCain won in the presidential election. Professor Benjamin Edelman analyzed anonymised credit cards receipts from a large online porn company. Based on their limited data, the largest consumer is Utah. "

Church-goers bought less online porn on Sundays – a 1% increase in a postal code's religious attendance was associated with a 0.1% drop in subscriptions that day. However, expenditures on other days of the week brought them in line with the rest of the country, Edelman finds. 

Residents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don't explicitly restrict gay marriage. 

To get a better handle on other associations between social attitudes and pornography consumption, Edelman melded his data with a previous study on public attitudes toward religion. 

States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage," bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed. A similar difference emerged for the statement "AIDS might be God's punishment for immoral sexual behaviour." 

"One natural hypothesis is something like repression: if you're told you can't have this, then you want it more," Edelman says."

(a) My immediate thought was echoed in the comments section of the blog I found this article from-

"The study just shows that red staters are too dumb to know how to get their porn for free."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Update on Bach Prelude

Awhile ago I posted tablature to Bach prelude 1007 by Li Jie. I have now sent it to 10 requesters and it is hitting searches. Someone sent me some comparable internet transcriptions they found but they were mostly horrible. I feel sorry for anyone wasting their time trying to learn from them. I learn time and time again to transcribe it yourself if you want it right, and if you get it wrong you have only yourself to blame. Even the best transcribers have some glaring errors.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Best Evolution Video Ever

I found this on today and I had to add it here because it is simply the best, most concise explanation of evolution I have ever seen.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Robert Gibbs vs. Talk Radio

If you haven't noticed lately, con talk radio has tried to quietly sneak past the problem of finding a solution for the economic crisis. Their main tactic has been to continue denying that there is a major crisis. You can listen to it for hours on end and hear no serious solution or plan of action, but plenty of frothing at the mouth over spending and bailouts. They are terrified that some irresponsible home"owner"s will receive what they don't deserve. 

Press secretary Gibbs offers a great refutation to these arguments. There is no doubt in my mind that *some* irresponsible people will be bailed out no matter how great a plan might be to avoid it. But consider that letting people foreclose not only lowers the average price of the houses on that block 9% ($20,000 on average) but sends us even further away from solving this mess since nothing can recover until housing recovers. The naysayers will be paying for it one way or another. Therefore, I don't see any reason for so much bluster from the right other than to demonize the Democrats.  If they had some sort of viable solution it would be another matter, but all they do is complain and bury their heads in the sand. It's as if they don't mind going into a great depression as long as not a single person is unfairly bailed out. I don't buy it at all. I think the Santelli thing was scripted and rigged as a distraction from reality- something the Obama haters are really good at. It would trouble them deeply if the Obama plan were to succeed. And unless we are all walking on air in two months they will consider the plan to have failed. 

I guess I missed this. Sure looks like Obama picked the right guy. Love it!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Movie Intro is Complete

Click title and click watch in HD

A few things happened in D.C. I wanted to share (and no not *that* unfortunately). I watched the entire series by Dawkins called "The Genius of Charles Darwin" on the long flight. Great series. 

This put me into the frame of mind that led to the making of this video. As I mentioned in a message, the museums really are just a chronicle of killing, whether it be the ICBMS in the aerospace museum, the natural history museum with its obvious display of nature's violent and random evolutionary bridge to nowhere, or the art museums where every character painted was either involved in a war themselves or directly influenced by one. Maybe we can credit the contemporary art section for having very little killing on display despite scarcely deserving to even be in the museum (which is why it is tucked away in the rafters). 

The other thing that happened was I saw an extraordinary HBO special on Ted Haggard and what he is doing after his fall from grace. You all must watch it. The man actually manages to get me feeling sorry for him... to an extent.  I see Ted Haggard as an extremely simple mind, almost juvenile, with an amazingly and profoundly naive sincerity. He was banned from Colorado, could not find a job, ran out of money, was shuffling his family around from place to place always somewhere between that dopey euphoric smile and a nervous breakdown. The film was made by the same person who did a documentary on the man in the height of church glory. She gains access to his trust and she pulls no punches. 

I am curious to see what my dad will think of this movie. I think that my development from encouraging  believer to atheist has troubled him. He knows that I don't believe, but he doesn't grasp that I can't believe. He is a "god used evolution to create all this" person, which makes sense as long as you don't grasp evolution. The trouble with the belief lies mainly in neuroscience. If you can somehow square that the human brain was "designed" for self-deception, and that its one great criterion for selection apart from basic survival were all those qualities that get 17 year olds to spread their legs the fastest, then the belief stands. I've found no way to reconcile an intentional force driving the process. 

Monday, February 16, 2009

Back from D.C.

Just got back from my trip to D.C.

I have about 2 hours of high def video that I will edit into a "pretentious" (thanks Gail) movie. I will share a small part of the highlights here eventually. I am going to get imovie 09 first because it has added effects and image stabilization which effectively adds much value to my little pocket camcorder. I love this thing. Everywhere I went people had no idea what it was. I was yelled at twice by security guards who were convinced I was going to snap a flash picture or something, but there is no flash. 

My favorite part of the trip was seeing the National Art Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Natural History Museum. Time just evaporates in places like these. I kept catching myself completely bug eyed, and hoping that my contacts didn't fall out. I was awestruck by seeing the real paintings and sculptures I'd only seen in books. I still don't understand how they let someone stand a breath's distance away from a painting from the 12th century. What is to prevent some tourist from taking a permanent marker and painting a mustache on the christ child or George Washington? I found it funny that the sole Leonardo DaVinci painting in America is set behind glass. A gorgeous painting. I swear I was going to draw a mustache on it until I saw it was behind glass. I guess all the other ones like the Gilbert Stuart presidential portraits are are just not important enough to hide behind glass, and people can freely mark on them if they want to trade a little prison time. 

And if you can get through the Natural history museum and you STILL don't believe in evolution... you've got some *serious* problems.

A thank you to Gail for her advice, directions (I saw one tiny little grocery store in Georgetown but not Safeway) and allowing me to spill my guts out about the insanity of the human condition one night after spending several consecutive days visually examining death after death after killing after killing after war after war, otherwise known as "world history". 

I tried to update but the wifi wouldn't let my messages go through.

Monday, February 09, 2009

I rest my case

My man, Drew Westen, on Obama's naivity and mishandling of the stimulus package.

"...a failure to distinguish alternative meanings of bipartisanship, an apparent miscalculation about the political and ideological extremism of the Republicans left in Washington in the wake of the Democratic landslides of the last two electoral cycles, and an unwillingness to fight back when attacked led the Obama administration unwittingly to participate in a setback to both change and bipartisanship, as they urged Democratic lawmakers to cut and paste elements of the conservative ideology that has unhinged our economy into a package designed to resuscitate it and emboldened the Republican leadership in a way that has sown the seeds of renewed partisan polarization."

Click on the Image to read more.

One thing Obama is good at is counter-punching. So... he may pull through this. But the one thing Obama must learn is how to throw the first punch and how to avoid getting bitch-slapped in the first place. And when Republicans bitch-slap him, he can't wait for weeks on end to respond, as though he were above it all. He's not. He's the President of the United States and he needs get his act together. We're all, most of us, rooting for him.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

44% Believe in Young Earth Instant Creationism

This new Pew research report shows that 42% believe everything on earth was created as is. The Gallup poll shows 44%. I am not making fun of those who think God guided evolution, just the astounding mass of Americans who think it all arrived as is. 

Most of these people walk through a supermarket and stand amazed at the extraordinary bounty of God's natural harvest. Most don't realize that virtually none of the stuff they see has much resemblance to the way it existed in nature before it was selectively bred to our liking. Apples were tiny and difficult to eat, Almonds were bitter and poisonous, and the precursors of our bananas had nothing in common with Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort's inconceivably idiotic video. Produce of today was grotesquely (and deliciously) warped from the natural state humans found it in. 

A recent Gallup poll stated that 2/3 republicans do not believe in evolution. About 1/3 democrats. I don't know how specifically the question was asked. Somewhere around 1:30,000 people with a biology degree do not believe in evolution. There is an information gap here, and it is not closing the way you think it would. The same phenomenon can be found with things like homeopathy, where despite further research showing that it does nothing beyond the placebo effect, its popularity is ever on the rise. The same phenomenon of denialism in the face of overwhelming evidence seems to be a common trait of the far right (talk radio fans) and far left. In fact, the more evidence against their dogma, the more stridently they will defend it.

Have fun for a week. I am going to the Washington D.C. to nerd out for awhile.

There is probably no God

Can't resist posting a link to this article (click on the image). Dawkins decided to proselytize atheism. The Christians, apparently, are deeply and profoundly offended that anyone should behave like, well, Christians - what with proselytizing and all.

They are in the process of buying add time. The Russian Orthodox Church, for example, will be responding with the devastating riposte: "There is a God, believe. Don't worry and enjoy your life."

Note, by the way, the absence of the qualifier "probably".

P.S. Anyone know if those damned atheists are selling stickers yet?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Obama's Naivety

My worst fears, concerning Obama, remain a possibility. He just doesn't understand how the Republicans obtained power, held power and how the Democrats' phenomenal incompetence contributed. Once again the Democrats, and Obama especially, were outspun, outmaneuvered and generally made to look like fools (and maybe they are).

Rarely before has this country been in such need for change - a change from the last 8 years especially. And yet, in a not so deft turn-about, the Republicans have managed to make the Democrat's stimulus plan look irresponsible while they themselves spout precisely the same "remedies" that have gotten us in this mess.

Now that takes incompetence. When Obama stated that he screwed up it should have been in reference to his handling of the stimulus plan, not Daschle.

Obama needs to understand that the Republicans' priorities are not his. They never will be.

He also needs to understand that the Democrats in Congress aren't necessarily going to act in his best interest. He isn't a member of the club anymore. He's the President. It's time he start acting like it.

Right now.

  • We’re happy to see President Obama getting tough with Congressional Republicans who are trying to sabotage the stimulus and recovery bill and bring even greater ruin on the economy...

NY Times Editorial: Getting Tough in Washington

  • A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to economic recovery. Over the last two weeks, what should have been a deadly serious debate about how to save an economy in desperate straits turned, instead, into hackneyed political theater, with Republicans spouting all the old clichés about wasteful government spending and the wonders of tax cuts...

Krugman: On the Edge

  • The irony of President Obama's Blue Tuesday is that the wall-to-wall television interviews he granted were designed not to apologize for Tom Daschle's fall from grace but to fight back against the Republicans' success in tarnishing his stimulus package...

E.J. Dionne: Time to Play Hardball

  • ...At the top of the myth list is the Republican faith in tax cuts, particularly those designed to benefit wealthy investors. Anyone who has been paying attention knows that for every problem, conservatives have a consistent solution that involves reducing corporate or capital-gains taxes, or lowering the top rate, or instituting a regressive flat tax or consumption tax. (They like spending, too, on certain favored contractors, notably in the defense sector, that donate generously to Republican and right-wing causes.)...

Joe Conason: Stimulus Skeptics Wrong (Again)

  • ...President Obama's $825 billion plan is a very good first step to contain the damage. Much of the package would go directly toward maintaining state and local services. The package also would help those hardest hit by the downturn with increased funding for unemployment benefits....

Dean Baker: Pass the stimulus - then help shorten the work week

Monday, February 02, 2009

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dipshit

These guys floor me with their hypocrisy. They are absolutely terrified that Obama might succeed as president. Terrified. They are outraged that he is popular. Every element of criticism they dole out in their hate radio shows they exemplify themselves 10 fold. 

And the following is Limbaugh's description of how talk radio works. I could not have said it better myself, especially the last part where he says, "people call in and say do you really believe the stuff you say? I dunno thats for you to figure out". He truly doesn't know if he believes it, but just enjoys feeding half his audience conservative crack and outraging the other half so they keep listening. 

Sunday, February 01, 2009

No Comment

Richard Reeves:

"It is not that the nay-saying Republicans have a plan of their own; they agree on nothing except cutting taxes. Their leader, Rush Limbaugh, the entertainer, has told them that their job is to make sure that Obama fails.

In an American context, Republicans have been called America's stupid party for much of their history, but that title clearly passed to the Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s, and perhaps for most of '90s and on into the 21st century. Now, led by wacko pundits like Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and a bunch of less-prosperous firebugs, the Republicans have lost all sense of what is happening in the country."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Recommended Reading for President Obama

I was in Montpelier, Vermont, our state capital, when Obama was inaugurated. I was watching the event on a big screen with about 200 or 300 other Vermonters (the only state George Bush did not visit as President). When Obama gave his inauguration speech, a cheer went up among many of us with his reference to nonbelievers.

That was a historic first. Only Lincoln, to my knowledge, came this close to a public statement accepting, if not atheism, a kind of agnostic theism. However, President Obama, I encourage you to refer to us as Free Thinkers rather than non-believers. We are all, after all, believers in one thing or another, but we are not all Free Thinkers.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Scalpel and the Soul - Part II

A while back I wrote a post reviewing The Scalpel and the Soul by Allan Hamilton.

Here's what I wrote"

In the final chapter of the book, he recalls the experience of a woman who underwent hypothermic arrest to remove a basilar tip aneurysm after a nearly lethal intracerebral hemorrhage. "I was not the only one asking to see [the patients records]. Other doctors, researchers, and experts on concsciousness were making similar requests as word of the case spread through the local medical community. Few of us, as doctors, suspected we might encounter something altogether new or unique.... We came with the purpose of explaining it away."

What they were investigating was the woman's memory of the surgury during hypothermic arrest. She could remember conversations as well as the the appearance and jewelry of the attending staff, along with OR procedures.
After this I added.

By the way, this patient wasn't Pam Reynolds. This patient was killed a year later in a traffic accident.
As it turns out, the patient was Pam Reynolds with amalgamations of other patients. This information comes from Gaia. com. While it's not a tremendous disappointment (Hamilton states at the outset that he changed names and identities) there is something more than a little disingenuous about it.

First, Pam Reynolds' case was public knowledge. As far as I know, Reynolds herself made no effort to conceal her identity. On this basis alone, there was no acceptable reason why Hamilton should have concealed the case he was discussing.

The reason he did so is obvious. Reynolds' case was already well-known and controversial. Hamilton wanted a knock-out punch for his final chapter - a real clincher. Reynolds' episode, already under the hot light of scrutiny, was no longer the knock-out punch he needed. So he fabricated another case, like Reynolds'. He called the new patient Sarah Gideon. Just to be certain the case would be differentiated from Reynolds', he claimed the this Sarah Gideon was killed in a car accident sometime after surgery.

Now, to me, this smacks of dishonesty. He cannot, on the one hand, claim that he's neutrally presenting his experiences and on the other fabricate a story with the sole purpose of manipulating readers. Remember, there was no reason for him to conceal Reynolds' identity. There was no one to protect. Hamilton was only protecting himself and the agenda of his book. His manipulation of Reynolds' case was entirely self-serving.

What I find particularly distasteful is that this sort of deception undercuts the very real experiences of real people. It teaches all of us who have had experiences like these (and I am one of them) that we should keep them to ourselves.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Elizabeth Alexander's Inaugural Poem

inauguration-picDon't read this post if you're looking for an explanation of this poem's meaning. Daniel Klotz has written a top-notch and favorable analysis of the poem's meaning. I debated analyzing Alexander's Poem since this isn't normally the kind of poetry that interests me - not that I think free verse isn't capable of great poetry. But being a poet, and having an interest in the art, my own perspective is that of a poet who prefers form and meter to none at all.

Here's Alexander's poem as lineated by the New York Times. I've seen lots of "versions" on the net, but Newsweek and the New York Times both seem to agree on this lineation. The fact that no one (except, presumably, those who have recieved a copy of the poem) can agree on a lineation tells us that there's no difference between this and a paragraph of prose. (There's no formal reason to lineate free verse poetry - it more or less serves as a sign that a given piece of writing should be read and treated like a poem written in a meter or a form.)
Praise Song for the Day

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

An article in the Guardian wrote about her: "She is smart, deeply educated in the traditions of poetry..." She may be deeply educated in the traditions of poetry, but none of that education is on display in her inaugural poem. Not knowing who wrote the poem, I would have considered it the work of a dilettante. I still do. One can be deeply educated in the traditions of poetry and still write amateurish poetry.

Her reading of the poems sounded affected to my ears - school-marmish. There was no sense of drama, content or development. Each section was read with same enunciated intonation. So many poets, nowadays, read like this. I don't know where they learn it (except each other), but it seems to be a free-verse affectation. If any0ne were to buy a book on tape, with reading like this, I suspect they wouldn't make it past page 2.

The skill of the poem itself was woefully dilettantish. 33 of her lines are end-stopped. The poem consists of 43 lines. That means that 76% of her lines are end-stopped. If she were writing using meter, such a ratio would be immediately considered amateurish - even among amateurs. It shows a lack of imagination even in free verse poetry. 400 years ago, poets like Shakespeare, Johnson and Donne left such inflexible verse far behind.

This perhaps only reflects my philosophy, but a poem is more than its subject matter. A paragraph in any given book can be poetic but that doesn't make it poetry. Likewise, Alexander's poem is little more than a lineated paragraph - poetic but not poetry.

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

The poems begins with quotidian language and imagery. The phrase "catching each other's/eyes" is shopworn - evoking nothing beyond the familiarity of the phrase itself.
All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

The images are clichéd at best - trite at worst. Bramble is mildly more evocative than thorn, but the use of thorn in this context is clichéd - hardly worthy of an inaugural poem. The mirroring syntax (noise<---bramble) (thorn--->din) is meant to be rhetorical but is vacuous. The counterpoised nouns, adding nothing in the way of insight to each other, sound pretentious rather than elegant. The phrase "ancestors on our tongues" might turn out to be the poem's most memorable image.

patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

This is mere rhetorical padding. If the 'things' weren't "in need of repair", then they wouldn't be "repairing the things". The repetition of the phrase sounds satisfying and 'poetic' but it's redundant. We always repair the things in need of repair, otherwise we wouldn't be repairing them. Alexander's rhetorical gloss conceals a vacuity of thought.
make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box...

The fact that one doesn't "make music" with a boom-box has already been mentioned at other blogs. The missing articles are a poetic affectation - a mannerism that has itself become clichéd. Besides that, the lines evoke nothing. There is no sense of sound despite the reference to music. Alexander creates a sort of bland poem of enumeration - a watered down Praise Song. Interestingly, a Praise-Song is an African poetic form. Brittanica states: the form consists of "a series of laudatory epithets applied to gods, men, animals, plants, and towns that capture the essence of the object being praised." This partly explains the feeling that the poem is a poem-of-enumeration, but Alexander's use of the form is unimaginative.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

Again, there is no poetry in these lines. No color. No smell. No touch. No taste. The only sense, arguably, is that of sight. Changing evokes nothing. It's hard to even call this "poetic". The enumeration begun in the stanza before is continued and the tone verges on the pedantic - only reinforced by the unfortunate reference to teachers and the taking out of pencils.
We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth,

Spiny is one of the only glimmers of poetry in the entirety of the piece.

From this point on, between the lines beginning "Say it plain..." and ending with "pre-empt grievance", there is not a single evocative image. There is no sense of touch, taste, smell, etc... The images are all nominative. The only descriptor that hints at something poetic is in "glittering edifices " - but even this image verges on cliché. This isn't poetry. It's prose and flavorless prose at that. It might be suitable, as others have said, for an essay.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

"Sharp sparkle" is another stab at poetry but barely rises above the mundane. She falls back into cliché with brink, brim and cusp - offering us nothing novel but another asyndetic list. Referencing back to Brittanica, the Encyclopedia offers the following example of an African Praise Song.

He is Shaka the unshakeable,
Thunderer-while-sitting, son of Menzi.
He is the bird that preys on other birds,
The battle-axe that excels over other
He is the long-strided pursuer, son of Ndaba,
Who pursued the sun and the moon.
He is the great hubbub like the rocks of
Where elephants take shelter
When the heavens frown. . . .
(trans. by Ezekiel Mphahlele)
Even in translation, and as an extract, there is more poetry in this praise song than in Alexander's.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This is what I see

This is what I see, everyday, up in Vermont.

Pictures never do justice to actually being there. Nonetheless, this is a pseudo panorama scanning from left to right. The first picture faces due north, looking into the north country. It's hard to tell, since blogger has reduced this image to a thumbnail, but one can see about 60 miles to the North.

The next picture is one turn to the right (or Eastward). The thin line of white on the horizon are distant mountains. They're almost a hundred miles to the North and East.

Another small turn to the right and East. The snow capped mountains in the center of the picture are some of the Presidentials and if the resolution were better, you could see Mount Washington - the most dangerous Mountain Top, weather-wise, in the world. The highest wind speeds on the surface of the Earth have been recorded on Mount Washington - well over 200 miles per hour. The top of Mount Washing literally brushes against the Jet Stream. Also, the tops of the mountains are bare. Trees can't grow there, conditions on the top of the White Mountains being equivalent to the arctic tundra. It's possible to ski atop Washington even into July.

The last picture, another turn to the right and facing East, is of Moosilauke. This picture simply doesn't do justice to the mountain. The top spends most of its time in or above the clouds. Moosilauke is a massive mountain by East Coast standards. I'm about 20 miles, as the crow flies, from the Mountain (I think) in this picture. It's a great climb in the summer but the mountain, as with the Presidentials, is deceptively dangerous in the Winter.

This is what I see, everyday, up in Vermont.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Crawlspace Flooded Again

It flooded once, shame on the weather. It flooded twice, shame on me. My sump pump failed... kind of. I was totally unprepared. I thought the first flooding was due to the broken pipe alone. The fire department said two years ago that snow melt and rain would not be enought to flood the space, it was all due to the broken pipe. I believed it. But after two days of virtually non-stop Noah's ark downpouring like I don't recall ever seeing before in my life, it flooded due only to the rain and filled yet again after the first pumping.

Someone said it was the worst since 1917 but I don't know how they come up with that number. Something like 40,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes who lived near rivers. I called the fire department and they could not come to my house because all their rigs were out and there was nobody left to come. They said to call back later. I was soaked to the bone and got 2 hours of sleep that night then worked the next day and came home and continued pumping after work. I am exhausted. Got the remaining water out today, but my furnace is not going to be turned on until I have it inspected. So it is in the 40's inside my house right now. I am staying with my parents.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Out and About

Here is my second home movie made with the Kodak Zi6 and apple imovie '08. Youtube now supports 720p HD, but there are some special tricks to get it to upload correctly that took me awhile to figure out. This is from a pocket camcorder. Yes, pocket camcorder are now in HD. I got mine for $160 and there are comparable ones I saw today for only $120. they work amazingly well in good outdoor light, run on 2 AA batteries and require only a cheap SD memory chip. imovie '08 came with my imac but I didn't expect to ever use it until I realized I could get a cheap camcorder. The downside of the pocket camcorders are pretty serious if you are looking for quality video making. The high def doesn't work well indoors unless you use a ton of lighting. There is no image stabalizer built in so you can't really even walk while filming unless you want it to bounce all over the place. But for what it is, this is amazing. 

You can't watch it in HD from this website (there is a way to embed it but I don't know how yet). Double click the image and go to youtube. Click "watch in HD" in the bottom right of the movie.