Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Doings

What is it about blogs? There are things that I wouldn't tell in confession that I send out to anyone who will read.
I have a secret Memorial Day ritual. I buy a bunch of flowers and separate it into four smaller bunches. Then I drive to a local cemetery.
Okay, first some backstory. My mother had two sons before she had me. Both died in infancy. One is buried in a cemetery in Seligman, Arizona. The location of the grave has been lost. The second is buried in a cemetery in a ghost town called Las Palomas in New Mexico. No family live anywhere nearby. So, neither grave ever gets visited.
Back to Memorial Day. I drive to a local cemetery. Then, I walk around until I find a grave with no flowers on it, one that looks a little seedy.I place one bunch of flowers on the grave and say, "This is for you," Then I place the second bunch and say, "This is for James Walk Shook."
After that, I drive to a second cemetery, 'cause the boys were buried in different places. I do the same thing, except as I place the final bunch of flowers, I say, "This is for Walter Canby Shook."
I don't try to match up dates or anything (I'm eccentric, not crazy), nor do I believe that any one of the four dead people is around to appreciate what I've done. But for some reason, I feel a small, sad, satisfaction when I am done.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Born again liberal

Steven Pinker (whom I greatly admire) indicates in his book How the Mind Works that many of our mental stances are inborn, including whether one is liberal or conservative.
Let's for a moment accept this as a working hypothesis. Now, it's clear that one isn't born with genes for liberalism, so it has to be something else, something that is not liberal or conservative but which leads in one direction or the other. I'd think it is a way of looking at the world. I've long since decided that the fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives is their attitude toward the present. The conservatives like things the way they are (or were), and the liberals think we need to change things.
If this is so, then the whole reason for the vicious fighting between the two thought patterns comes down to the fact that liberals are born to view the world as imperfect and conservatives are born to view the world as fine the way it is.
Now, as with all things genetic, mental, and what have you, there is a caveat necessary. What our genes give is, in many cases, is not an absolute, overwhelming mandate (You must be a conservative), but a tendency. So, we could say that some people are born to tend toward liberalism, others are born to tend toward conservatism.
Since I am somewhat of a biological determinist, this makes lots of sense to me. It also makes it easier to forgive my liberal friends, and gives me reason to doubt both ends of the spectrum.
And, darn it, the half full/half empty glass metaphor is so after all.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An Apology

Earlier today I wrote some alternate lines for the movie Angels and Demons in which I suggested that a specific religion could have been responsible for more misery than any other single organization. I now realize how wrong I was. No one, save possibly all religions together, can come close to Communism for causing death, famine, and misery. The Guinness Book of World Records lists the deaths attributable to Mao and Stalin alone at close to 60,000,000. Fold in all the kindly folks in Viet Nam, Laos, Cuba, and Berkley, and you have a huge misery index. And, when you factor in the fact that Communism has, in a variety of formulas, in a variety of places, and in a variety of contexts, proven a dismal, profound, catastrophic economic failure, the total rises even higher. So, sorry religion. Got to try harder

It's Wednesday, so let's read poetry

There's a gentle, lovely blog site that features poetry every Wednesday. It's at Go there and read some good poetry.

Including, maybe, this one


In a dream
I hold you in my arms
Under a tree in a garden

I feel the slide, flex, knot and relax
Of muscles under the smooth skin,
The patient rise and fall of rib cage,
The soft sweet breath on my cheek.

A breeze comes up,
Light as a dandelion sphere,
Moves carefully over your skin,
And eiderdown cleverly
Sublimes it away to nothing.
Muscles, bones, tissue soft and hard
Vanish -- you are gone.

Yet I feel you still,
The gentle pulse in your throat,
The spring of hair on my own.
You are you, complete and fleshed,
The steady heart beating with paced

It is the heart that is the person.

Movie Logic

The problem with movies is that everything has to advance the plot. I went to see Angels and Demons last night, and was reminded again how artificial everything is in theater. That's not a criticism -- just an observation. Theater is filled with interesting people, life isn't.
In one spot, a good? bad? guy says to Tom Hanks, "My church feeds starving people. What does yours do? Oh, yes, you don't have one." (quote approximate)
Now, no one speaks to Tom Hanks like that. The appropriate response would be, oh, something in the order of, "Your church is the single largest cause of pain, misery, death, ignorance, war, and sickness in the history of the world." But because of the plot, Tom could only look faintly abashed. This movie is supposed, I think, to be a movie of ideas, of tradition versus progress, of good and evil (Angels and Demons, get it), but can't be, because if you stop to really debate ideas (think of the long digressions in Atlas Shrugged), the plot simply stops and the bad guys get away.
I have to remind myself of that and remember that it's just a movie. Nevertheless, I want to stand, fling my popcorn (never the Jujubes) at the screen and shout, "Eat rocks, idiot" or some other equally subtle riposte.
That's one reason I don't go to many "thought provoking" or "deep" movies. If they're thought provoking, it's on a visceral level, and that can't be, can it? If they're deep, they're stupefyingly dull. If I want depth I'll read. In movies, it's visual spectacle (the cinematography and landscapes in Dances With Wolves). And of course, car chases.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


A number of items in the news have caught my attention. I remember that I vowed to be less cynical in '09. After reading the news, my feeling is: fat chance.
See, a number of things have been happening, in the middle east, naturally, because that's where you want to go for high irony (Africa is the place for political farce and plain unadorned tragedy -- see South Africa). So, what set me off this time? A number of articles about that collective nutbasket, the Taliban. It seems that in their effort to root out the Taliban, Pakistan had some collateral damage (dead civilians). The news account showed, not dead soldiers, not Taliban atrocities, but an injured child. A new high in journalistic lows. Pictures are powerful; pictures of children are very powerful; pictures of hurt children kick in the parental impulses and drive logic right out of the discussion. The upshot of the whole thing is that Pakistan (can an entire government be a jerk?) comes out looking like an insensitive, cruel, devil-worshipping band of cutthroat jackals, when for once in its shoddy existence Pakistan is doing the right thing.
The other news item, one that prompted the title to this piece, is a small item that the Taliban was being mildly criticized for flogging a teen-aged girl in public. No pictures were provided.