Monday, December 31, 2007
Why is there something, rather than nothing?
That there is anything at all, much less ourselves...
The Book of Genesis describes Elohim calling things into being and over six days the basics of the world were made. Hard work. He had to take the Seventh Day off.
Now our scientists tell us that in fact the universe is about 15 billion years old and that it exploded into being from a speck of "infinitely" dense something smaller than an atom. Thus were space and time born.
Of course, I want to know what was going on 15 billion and 1 years ago. How did that speck get there?
And the implication of this theory is that what makes me up, and you, matter and energy wise, was also present somehow in that speck.
It was Pliny, I believe, who used the phrase "senescente mundo homines et senescunt", "the world having grown old, men grow old as well." I'm sure he had no idea how.
Happy New Year.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
The Orwellian nannyism of the British state reaches new depths, with its uberVictorian passion for surveillance and control for the sake of safety and protection: spy cameras --of which Britain is full-- will catch drivers who use cell phones, eat or smoke! in their vehicles. Sanctions start with fines but could get you two years in prison. Do these people have no pride left at all?
And in Canada, my second country, the same corrupting drive shows up in the "Human Rights Commissions", with unelected lefty bureaucrats eating away at free speech under highminded motives of protecting the
Saturday, December 29, 2007
With thanks to Kevin Slaughter of Scapegoat Press ("Blame Us.), who posted a form of this review from The Weekly Standard at the Fraternal Order of Androphiles. What a tangled web. My intemperate "reflections" follow it.
The Write Stuff
The hunger for literature among student officers.
by Mark Bauerlein
12/24/2007, Volume 013, Issue 15
Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point
by Elizabeth D. Samet
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 272 pp., $23
In Patton, the 1970 film, one of the intriguing traits of the general as played by George C. Scott unfolds not in front of that mammoth American flag, or at a party with a lumpish Red Army general, but on a quiet grassy lane in the hills of Tunisia. On a somber afternoon during the North Africa campaign, Patton directs his jeep onto a knoll dotted with ruins, then steps down to resurrect an ancient scene to Omar Bradley (played by Karl Malden) as trumpets echo in the distance.
"It was here," Patton says. "The battlefield was here." He means the Battle of Zama, where in 202 B.C. Roman legions under Scipio routed Hannibal's Carthaginians and ended the Second Punic War.
"I was there," Patton mutters before reciting lines of his own creation on "the pomp and toils of war . . . the age-old strife . . . when I fought in many guises and many names."
The scene borders on kitsch, but Patton's historical sense and literary voice save it. They signify, too, a larger point. In the midst of a major military action, Patton still feels the presence of the past and resorts to poetry to express it. For him, the finer arts complement the martial arts, the general and the humanist are one.
In Soldier's Heart, Elizabeth Samet's memoir of 10 years teaching English at West Point, Patton is, she remarks, a favorite of the cadets, and the same combination happens over and over. She arrived in 1997, a fresh Ph.D. from Yale (Harvard B.A., an all-girls prep school in Boston before that), uncertain how she might fit in. Straight off she saw that "a West Point class is not the gung-ho, red-state monolith an outsider might expect." Cadets come from all regions, income groups, and ideologies--some carrying on a family tradition of service, some whose parents protested the Vietnam war. Most of all, belying the Rambo stereotype, they like novels and poems and plays. In class they read The Iliad, Beowulf, War and Peace, World War I poetry, and also Pope's Essay on Man, Dickens's Bleak House, Matthew Arnold's "Literature and Science," the curious lyrics of Wallace Stevens, Diderot's plan for the Encyclopédie.
Out of class, they keep at it. Lieutenants in Iraq who took her course three years earlier write back to ask about her current syllabus. Another stationed in Korea tells her, "Someone once told me that 'the most important book you will ever read is the first one after your graduation.' I wish I could remember what it was--I have done more reading since graduation than I would have ever thought possible." Still another writes from Mosul, "I have been rolling through books here at a pretty steady clip," and when he returns to the States, he reports, guiltily, that his reading has slipped.
Samet attributes these young people's literary fervor precisely to their combat future. While freshmen down in Manhattan at Columbia and NYU think about jobs and paychecks they'll secure after graduation, and hook-ups they make before it, cadets have a rigorous regimented existence in class and out, and they know they will assume command of 30 men and women when it's over, probably in a hot zone. The prospect throws them into hard questions of life and death, duty and sacrifice, courage and leadership, and they probe great works to figure them out. Samet's chapters ramble from episode to episode, sprinkling reflections on the war on terror, Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, and her own frequent place as "the Only Woman in the Room" (a chapter title), but the plebe readers are what hold the book together.
All of them, Samet included, "feel a palpable pressure to consider every moment's practical and moral weight." The pressure magnifies the import of Macbeth contemplating the murder of Duncan, Penelope waiting for her husband, Stevens's "Oh! Blessed rage for order"--Samet doesn't have to convince them to respect Shakespeare, Homer, and the rest. The war has done that already.
To anyone who teaches English elsewhere, the enthusiasm is wondrous. One semester, a trio of plebes won't let her alone: "Around whatever corner we met, we would immediately resume discussion about a point left unfinished in class, about the books they were reading." Compare them to students in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), a massive annual study of college kids. Asked in 2006 how often they talk to their professors outside of class, fully 43 percent of first-year students answered "Never," while 39 percent gave a middling "Sometimes." While Samet's students beg her to recommend books, when NSSE asked freshmen how many books they had read on their own in the previous year, 24 percent answered "None" while 55 percent opened a measly one-to-four.
So much for the anti-intellectualism of military cadets. Many other myths about them, too, explode in Samet's portraits. When she gets the job at West Point, a Yale professor informs her, "You'll humanize them." But when she thinks back upon her Harvard/Yale years, she finds them an induction into "doubt and disenchantment," whereas "West Point won me back to a kind of idealism." She finds little sexism in the place, either: "Being a woman is immaterial to many of my colleagues." And while the 1960s counterculture "helped to make the American soldier come to seem a rather strange and exotic creature to many civilians: an anachronistic conformist," Samet encounters "outrageous, uncompromising individuals" and "arch-rebels," and alumni remain "concerned that cadets' minds be exercised with sufficient vigor."
How far the literary virtues of West Pointers extend through the armed forces is an open question, but the institutional commitment to books runs deep. During World War II, for instance, the Army distributed more than 100 million volumes to the troops. Samet's father remembers the Armed Services Editions, pocket-sized paperbacks of classics and potboilers ranging from Zane Grey to Edna St. Vincent Millay. Today, the Army Library Program maintains kiosks in Iraq, Bosnia, and Afghanistan, along with more than 125 libraries on bases around the world.
The commitment goes back to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who authorized the founding of the United States Military Academy in 1802. Samet quotes Adams on one rationale: "I was too well informed that most of the officers [in the Army] were deficient in reading: and I wished to turn the Minds of such as were capable of it, to that great Source of Information." Jefferson thought the officers of the time inclined to aristocracy, and he hoped the curriculum would instruct them in republican principles. Both of them would agree with the British general William Francis Butler, whose summary opinion about the education of soldiers Samet quotes approvingly:
The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.
This explains why the West Point years have affected Samet so deeply. She pledges to cross that line of demarcation, and while her colleagues at Ivies and state universities ponder at length their role as teachers in a post-9/11 world (always an adversarial role), Samet and West Point have had to act on that question daily from September 12 onward, and they've produced an ironic outcome. Literature, history, and philosophy matter, and they do so less to students and teachers in the cozy quads of the college campus, ensconced in libraries and symposia, than they do to bedraggled, bored, and anxious officers sweating it out in the desert.
Mark Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory, is the author, most recently, of Negrophobia: A Race Riot in Atlanta, 1906.
USMaleSF, profesor of nothing in particular, is author of a lot of this and that, most recently this followup rant:
This book intrigues me. I have read some other reviews, mostly from typical mainstream media, most of whom are looking for ways to ignore her deep respect for these guys and turn her into one more schoolmarm for the "mission civiliatrice" amongst the violent, testosterone-infected thugs of the army. Not sure if I wanna shell out the cash to buy it yet. But this does provide an excuse for a rant! So all is not lost.
Although the all-volunteer military strikes me as a great stroke of genius, one of its downsides is that it allows the Boomer elite...my own people, unfortunately...to live lives in which they have never met a single soldier and don't know anyone who knows one. Consequently, with the pacifist hippy bilge which killed off so many of their braincells in the sixties, along with all the dope, they are free to indulge in contemptible fantasies and rank class snobbery about the American military. They know jack.
Part of my re-education as a righty was to inform myself about the state of the US soldier, sailor, etc. Not only, did I discover, that the military is the most thoroughly and successfully racially integrated sector of our country, but that, contrary to some dipwad bookstore clerk's opinion (not to mention Jean de Kerry), they can actually read and write and think. And the number of graduate degrees among the officers is amazing. To say nothing of the brains and skill and uncommon integrity and initiative among the grunts.
I will plead guilty to some idealization, for reasons obvious both to me and my shrink. But the post-Vietnam stereotype of the soldier as either a war criminal or a pathetic victim is just bullshit. Pure bullshit.
I know two military guys only. Both gay men, emphasis on the last syllable. One's dealing with the catastrophic effects of an IED; he's a writer who can range from raunch to philosophical speculation to an ambush passage combining wonder and attention that takes your breath away. The other's been out of the Corp for years, but he'll always be a Marine. He is edgy and thoroughly intimidating to most people just on first sighting. (One of the reasons he likes me is that he yelled at me when we first met and I didn't run). But this guy could give you a course on classical music, modern literature, as well as guns, motorcycles and proper knifing technique. When he got jailed for taking on a meth-freak who was beating a dog, he whiled away the time in the tank by recounting "Of Mice and Men" to his fellow inmates.
I recently wrote him about some man trouble I'm having. What came back was a combination of profanity and humor, Gerard Manley Hopkins' poetry, some theological reflections on love and awe, and a promise to keep watch with me "however it fooken plays out".
Part of what burns my aging ass about the contempt in which soldiers are held by the high-minded keepers of our kulchur is that it is of a piece with their contempt for men. Regardless of gender, so many of the soon-to-be-decrepit Flower Children hate manhood in all its classical forms while they congratulate their whiny privileged selves about their higher consciousness and evolved whateverthefuck, when they spend most of their lives living in a cartoon.
Most of them don't have the right to breathe, compared to my two friends: men, real men, who, omigod, can read.
Monday, December 24, 2007
In my post the other day, I noted that part of being a man was recognizing that there are better men than you, recognizing and honoring them, and taking your proper place in regard to them.
And it is Christmas, which I love...along with the now-ending weeks of Advent, which I like even more.
And it was recently pointed out to me by a new friend that beneath my wit and brain, I have a sentimental streak.
Christmas usually emphasizes the Mother and the Son. Perhaps it is the season of my own soul, with my own father's life so visibly diminishing, that makes this Christmas story more about the Father and the Son. St. Joseph, the foster-father, usually in the background, stands out for me today.
So, combining the above items, at Christmas, I offer a link to a story about a man who is far and away my superior, and one which brought tears to my eyes.
Friday, December 21, 2007
James Roday (above left), as Shawn Spencer on Psych. I love this guy. I wish I WERE this guy. Not really, but kinda. He makes me laugh. I like guys who make me laugh.
Man I've been seeing, an English prof. Wrote me an email that sounded sort of old-fashioned to me. I reply: "I bet you're the kind of man who would still use the subjunctive mood to describe conditions contrary to fact." His comeback: "If I were that kind of man, I would use the subjunctive with you!"I find this very erotic.
Tried a private vintage bottle of red wine given me as a gift by a colleague. The soles of my feet got all tingly and then I fell asleep for two hours.
Thanks to the Discovery Channel, I know know that in addition to ancient Egypt and Babylon, there was a great Hittite Empire in Anatolia, peopled by IndoEuropeans. At the height of its power, it dissolved in an instant due to...civil strife. How many civilizations commit suicide?
Because Islam is a religion, and a Third World religion, it gets a pass from the Left, both the religious and the irreligious Left. What if Marxism, instead of being atheistic, had been a form of theism, with Marx as its prophet. Would that have made it less evil, less lethal?
Part of being a man is recognizing that there are better men than you, honoring them for it, and taking your proper place in relation to them.
An unexpected pleasure of my middle...ok, late middle...years is flirting. It can be quite intense...there's a shower-at-the-gym story there...or ad hoc and one-time. But it's very playful. Lots of laughing and smiling. Something people may not imagine among gay men.
I have a friend, a fine man whose friendship honors me, who hates the bitter dogmatists.
When he talks about them, he becomes bitter and dogmatic.
I wish I had a dog. His name would be Billy.
I like the pleasure of my own company of an evening, a cigar, a glass of vino or brandy, the comfort of my living room couch, a couple of good TV programs, and no one to bother me.
I find myself missing human company more than I used to and enjoying it more when I have it.
I live in a city where a whole range of natural and common human reactions are considered beyond the pale. Progressives are so repressed.
A friend told me about the Christmas gifts for his partner: a full CD set of the songs of Noel Coward...and a new set of leather stirrups for their sling. How gay is that?!
I have changed quite a lot, much for the better, in the last few years. Folks who know me tell me this. But some of my deepest character flaws remain and grow even more intractable.
I didn't eat enough avocados this year.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
I just discovered, some months late, that he married his boyfriend Aaron last September in Massachusetts. I can say this, at least, for Andrew, that he has most excellent taste in men. I wish them both the best.
PS (Andrew is the shorter one).
The Discovery Channel has a series, Last One Standing, where a group of Western athletes participate in the fights and ordeals of various tribal cultures.
Today, as part of an Andean Indian event where they have to race up a mountain and carry down chunks of ice, each participant must get ass-whipped three times as an offering to the mountain god before heading up there. Most of the guys went thru it. Two refused.
One of them is an American black guy who could not get over the associations with slavery. I'm not in his skin, but it seems to me that the very fact that he was an unquestioned and valued part of this project and that everyone undergoes it as a religious rite makes it very different, indeed, the opposite of subjugation. One of the other white guys, who'd already been whipped, even offered to engage in a (second) mutual whipping with him, both of them standing up, just so he could remain part of the group. But he couldn't get past it.
And the Indian shaman or coach or whatever, in a stunning display of ethnic arrogance and total lack of respect for or sympathy with other peoples' cultural meanings, simply said, No whipping, no participation, no exceptions. You're out.
The other is a white guy who is a vegan...and who refused to participate because, get this, he refused to participate in "violence". This whole series is a celebration of tribal forms of institutionalized male violence!
Both these guys will get a kind of a pass. The black guy for sure. And the vegan, well, people told him that he had to stick with his convictions, no matter what.
I just wonder what would have been the response if one of the Western athletes were a Jew or a Christian who took seriously their religions' proscription against worshipping false gods and refused the whipping because it was an offering to an idol. I bet that they would be criticized for their lack of multicultural respect.
And no one dared to critique the ethnocentric and fundamentalist Indian official who excluded the two Westerners.
All this in the midst of a project which appears to be an unabashed celebration of testosterone.
PS. I note, too, that the title of this all-male show is not "Last Man Standing", but "Last One Standing."
Sometimes images and narratives come along which encapsulate too much.
Due to complaints by the women soldiers in the squad, a traditional Swedish marker for one of Europe's supposedly elite military groups...this is sounding funny already!...the rampant lion, had his leonine willy removed. Says volumes about Europe and what it has come to represent.
As one blogger opined, he's amazed they even allowed them to keep the sword.
Friday, December 07, 2007
It is one of the oddities of current culture that religion is both so sacred that it cannot be debated in public and so irrelevant that it need not be debated in public. If you ask about the particular tenets of faith, you are accused of descending into theological niceties. So most people ascend into generalized vacuities. All in all, it shows that for the cultural elite, religion is actually a private vice or mind-fetish which ought to be kept behind closed doors and not spoken about in polite company. I think that pretty well defines the meaning of secularism.
PS. I would certainly vote for a Romney over a Clinton; my beef is with the limits of the discussion, not with Mitt's Mormonism. He apparently managed to govern Massachusetts without turning it into Little Zion.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Well, the English Do-Gooder who insulted the Prophet via teddybear is back home in formerly Great Britain. She is all apologies. Can you spell dhimmi?
And such luminaries as Whoopi Goldberg and her fellow feministas chide her for her cultural insensitivity. Yeah, Whoopi, those lynched black boys shoulda known not to look a white woman in the eye down there in Dixie.
Yes, we are all one happy global community, no? Deep down, we are all the same.
Well, maybe deep down we are all the same. Makes sense; same species and all.
But we don't live "deep down". We live on the surface of the planet.
And here, we are very very different. They don't call The Other "Other" for nothin'.
I have an acquaintance who has some Muslim friends. He says they are "embarassed".
Too bad. Unless they are out in force in the streets denouncing the insane barbarity
of their Ummah-mates in Sudan (those wonderful folks who brought you Darfur), then
their private embarassment is as pathetic as their whole religion.
And where are the Brits who will stand up on their hind legs and teach the Sudan
Ummah a lesson? But Britain has evaporated.
What a disappointing lot.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Unfortunately, my TeddyBear Muhammad is out of town this week at a solidarity rally for Gillian Gibbons and my Dog Muhammad is sleeping, so I brought out my KoranReadingPig Muhammad to say hello to the Ummah.
Are your feelings hurt, Ummah?
If I were a Muslim and not a barbarian, I would be mortified beyond speech.