Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Crying Race at the drop of a hat

William F. Buckley once said that he'd rather be ruled by the first 2000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard University. After the events of this last week, I'm inclined to agree with him.
Remember the incident? A black university professor was returning to his home, had a hard time with the door, and because of a neighbor's 911 call, the cops came and confronted him. The professor wouldn't give them boo. And, he was within his rights. In your house, you don't have to have anything to do with cops unless they have probably cause or a warrant. And they had neither. Trouble was, the cops didn't know it.
So the professor ranted, and he yelled, and he called people racist, and finally they cuffed him.
The irony here is that the police were there specifically to protect the home of the professor. They didn't cuff him because he was a n***** but because they thought he was a burglar.
Now, while the professor had the right of it legally, he did two things wrong: First, he lost his cool and started shouting. Second, he called "Race, Race." Think about it for a minute. Here's a clear case of mistaken identity. Wouldn't it have been better for this supposedly smart person to simply say, "I live here. Here's my ID"? But nooooo, he had to thrash around like a schoolboy caught with a cigarette out behind the gym.
The cops don't come away much better, of course. What they should have done is leave the house, stake it out, and wait for developments.
From the things I read, however, I'm beginning to think it's cops 1, professor 0, President Obama -1.

Of things past

I have been thinking and writing about my visit to the Anasazi last week. I sat in the Great Kiva at Aztec Ruins (wrong name) listening to how the kiva was dated and what happened to the inhabitants thereof. It was a cool perpetual twilight in the kiva, which represents the underworld. Four strong pillars supported the roof, and there were benches around the circular walls for people to sit on.
And it's all gone. Piles of ordered stone stand where the people lived, and piles of rubble mark where nature has taken most of it back. As Tennyson said, the clock beats out the little lives of men. So, since it's Wednesday, I wrote a poem.

Ancestral Puebloans

One tick of the cosmic clock,
Two ticks, the Anasazi came
Waxed fat on the land then
Faded into a dusty puzzle,
Their works rounded and hooded
By eight centuries of
Sand, wind, tumbleweed.

Now I sit in a shadowed kiva
Surrounded by men in shorts
And sunburned knees, women in
Floral polyester wearing fanny packs
That say "Lost in Margaritaville."

Our guide quietly and surely strips
Any mystery from their going.
They outgrew the land,
Stripped it bare, raked it clean, then
Starved themselves into emigration.

For a moment we sit, pondering
The fate off these our cousins,
Our selves, and how fragile
The spiderweb of life is.
Then we remember --
There's an art sale in Taos.
We can make it if we hurry.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On left and right

When I first set up this blog, I assumed that political stances were a spectrum, with Liberal on one side and Conservative on the other. I had further assumed that I tended to slide back and forth on this spectrum, now little pink, now baby blue, now and then no color at all.
I've come to question this. It is, after all, a very one-dimensional way of looking at things.
There's a classic treatise called Flatland, that discusses, among other things, how the world must look to two-dimensional beings. They can see left and right, but not over. Wonderful discussion, and I think it might apply to political thought.
How, for instance, can I be at the same time an environmentalist and a hunter? A conservative who wants universal health care? A man who understands why fundamentalists do the things they do but would waste the whole tribe anyway?
I have a friend who believes the earth is 6000 years old. We go outside and see clearly, the striations in the landscape, the buckling of the earth, the eons-old erosion patterns, the seashells at 7000 feet. What about them? A cosmic quiz; God did it to test our faith.
If I'm liberal, I see things as a liberal sees them, in one dimension (ditto conservative, of course).
I think in order to see things straight, we need to see them widely, rather than narrowly.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Harmony in Nature

I had a mind-boggling experience today. I visited an Anasazi site in Aztec New Mexico (google Aztec Ruins New Mexico). It was mistakenly thought that the pueblo was Aztec, but it ain't. It was inhabited 1000-1200 by people that are called 'ancestral pueblo' by the Park Service, since Anasazi is a Navajo term that can be translated as "invaders."
Anyway, the question always comes up, 'Why did they leave?" And the answer can be found in Jared Diamond's book Collapse. They outbred and outpopulated their ability to sustain themselves, stripping the land for miles around them.
I mention this because of my belief that the Anasazi were pretty much the way we are. People are people, in all times and all places. If we wonder why such and such a society did something, we need only ask, "What would we do in a similar situation?"
I mention this because there are people who simply will not accept the explanation that the Anasazi ruined their environment, because they were a non-industrial people, and, living in harmony with Mother nature, couldn't possibly have done bad things to Mom. I have news for those people: They could have and did. Living in harmony with nature means being hungry, diseased, and probably eaten. The "Harmony with nature" philosophy that you hear from Native Americans is probably a modern romanticism about their ancestors, who only wanted to live a little while longer, and probably paid as much attention to their religion as we do to ours. Which is to say, almost none.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Poetry today

It's poetry day today. Relax. I'm not going to give you one of mine, but one of the great ones of the English (or any other) language. I believe in rationality. I'm not always rational, but I believe in it. Further, I believe that our future, if any, depends on us finally becoming rational beings. I think that our Linnean name, homo sapiens, is a little presumptuous at present. So, here's the poem:

The Last Word
by Matthew Arnold

Creep into thy narrow bed
Creep, and let no more be said!
Vain thy onset! All stands fast.
Thou thyself must break at last.

Let the long contention cease!
Geese are swans, and swans are geese.
Let them have it how they will!
Thou art tired; best be still.

They out-talked thee, hissed thee, tore thee?
Better men fared thus before thee;
Fired their ringing shot and passed,
Hotly charged -- and sank at last.

Charge once more, then, and be dumb!
Let the victors, when they come,
When the forts of folly fall,
Find thy body by the wall.

Other than a slight overuse of the exclamation point, this is a wonderful poem and expresses exactly how I feel about my fellow beings.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why do people go to Hell?

I believe it was Andre Gide who said, "Hell is other people." I like that a lot. On the other hand, one must consider the flip side, "Heaven is other people," which Andre Gide did most emphatically not say.
Let's suppose there is a Hell, and let's stipulate that it's not a nice place. Dante made the lowest level of Hell a lake of ice, into which traitors were frozen.
Actually, Dante had a lot going for him. He realized that you can't just have one Hell. You've got to have several. One doesn't want to put a regular garden-variety adulterer in with biggies like Hitler and Saddam.
But I digress. The question is not where but why. And I'm going to take my clue from Gide. It's what we do to people, or rather, how we perceive ourselves in relation to other people. If you think that you are more important than a handicapped person, and deserve to park in their slot, then you are going to Hell. If you think that red lights are for other people, then you are going to Hell. If you think that you automatically belong at the front of a line, then you are going to Hell.
If you think that your waitress should ignore all the other customers, if you think that the person at the bank window has time to solve your addition problems, if you think that the store clerk should drop everyone else and help you decide between mauve and puce, if you think that it's important to shout into a cell phone in a restaurant, theater, or church, then you are most definitely going to hell.
I mean, how many of us commit really serious crimes? Among my acquaintance there are very few murderers, traitors, thieves, and the lot. It's the small things that are going to get us.