Archive for the ‘ Mores / Customs / Society ’ Category

Not a new year to celebrate

For many years I have used this last day of the year to tell stories about year ends or cyclic time reckonings, involving, for example, the Puritans, Imperial Rome, Edwardian England, and so forth. This year I had on tap the story of America’s first war hero, who died 241 years ago today on the Plains of Abrahams before the British fort at Quebec. He was General Richard Montgomery, one of Washington’s most able (and one of the few trained) leaders and led American forces in an attempt to take Canada, either for its own sake (the Continental Congress burned with desire to liberate, and thus possess, all of North America) or to bring Britain to the table by a dramatic offensive action. He died a half a year before the Declaration of Independence. The story is interesting as a study in leadership (and the hagiography of George Washington) because it represented an impetuous decision by Washington, something he was known for in his early career but learned (largely from this mistake) to adopt strategy to his resources and thus became the military leader Napoleon honored on his death in 1799 (a military leader unlike Napoleon in every way except his startling success). It also is interesting because it involved the heroics of two figures not thought of as American heroes anymore: Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr. The two,.together with a band of unschooled patriots, trudged through the Maine wilderness in winter, in a march that became so desperate that men boiled their leather belts for something to eat. And it ended, as all memorable war stories do, with luck balanced on a razor’s edge and eventually teetering off one side. As an added advantage, the story can be told in intimate detail since many of the participants (including common soldiers) kept journals of their trials.

And then November 8 happened. The idea of sitting up on the ground and telling sad stories on the death of American heroes seems an empty exercise. We are about to be ruled by a group who are so outside any reasonable conception of an American tradition or ideals (however untethered to our actual history) that it is staggering. This group of grasping, self-interested, anti-intellectual authoritarians is so cynical that their spokesperson, the reactionary tool Kellyanne Conway has just the other day used their preferred tool of the diktat, Twitter, to give a lecture to George Washington University on what history it should be teaching. As a famous baseball catcher should have said if he didn’t: their knowledge of history is enough to drive a truck through. It’s been nearly two months and my head is still spinning.

Yes, we have had presidents who were unqualified (Calvin Coolidge jumps to mind) and ones who were dangerously hateful and uneducated (for example, Andrew Jackson) and ones who were duplicitous and used lying as a tactic (Richard Nixon, although he is an amateur compared to our soon-to-be leader). But not one of these has not only combined all these traits but actually publicly and proudly displayed them as the very essence of his campaign. We will soon have a president who appealed to the very worst impulses of his supporters and still persuaded nearly a plurality of voters to give him the job. Add to that the fact that at this juncture in history having a preening, blow-hard, narcissist as the executive may represent an existentially disastrous decision, and we have reason to think this turn of the calendar may be the most epically portentous in our history.

You can think of year ends as melancholy: 1777, 1861, 1862, 1929, 1941, even 2008. There were certainly times during the cold war that The End was foreseeable by clear thinking people. But in none of those times (except, perhaps, for the two economic collapses of 1929 and 2008) did we actually consciously, with a decision that was based on fully disclosed fact, bring about the calamity upon ourselves.

Nor in any other of those times were we faced with a disaster whose only solution was for people to reject what they deliberately decided to do in the face of all the evidence.

I have no idea how we can save ourselves (and the planet). It may be too late. But since I did spend a great deal of time before November 8 trying to persuade voters not to go down this road (my GOTV effort was concentrated on Wisconsin voters), I have some observations that might interest graduate students specializing in pre-catastrophe America several centuries from now.

Social media is not social activism. In fact, it probably is the reverse. What ails this country is not having too few outlets for stating one’s opinion. It’s having too few forums for having reasoned discussions. Twitter is not the New England Town Meeting despite what Internet entrepreneurs believe.

Snark, satire, ridicule do not promote social justice or progress, motivate people to engage in public affairs or develop faith in self-government.

The right wing has done a spectacular job at destroying patriotism and belief in civic responsibility. Since the Age of Reagan when “greed is good” was the motto, the right has slowly but surely gnawed away at civic virtues to the point that common decency is considered “PC” and subject to scorn.

America, which has always had a virulent streak of anti-intellectualism, has never been as deeply co-opted by the forces of ignorance as it is today. Reactionaries, with well-financed lackeys, have convinced Americans that identifying a problem that requires the smallest bit of sacrifice on a citizen’s part is a lie dreamed up by a conspiracy of “experts” who have never done a days honest work (such as by selling subprime loans as securities). It is as though the PVC, cyanide, lead, agricultural runoff, hydraulic liquid that has invaded our water supply have softened all of our minds. How does a country regain its trust in experts once hoaxsters have taught them to disregard evidence?

And everything that ails America right now is what the Founders (or at least the authors of the Federalist Papers) warned about. They argued that the Constitution was designed to prevent this catastrophe. But yet here we are.

Is there a solution at hand? At one time there was a party that had stumbled onto a way to use democracy to produce social justice, economic opportunity, general welfare and the expansion and spread of useful knowledge. Since the Great Depression national Democrats  (or at least many leading ones) had relied on university experts to guide and inform public policy. The party struggled with moral questions and often made political sacrifices to do the right thing. Unions were part of this coalition (in fact the New Deal created the national union movement), and they helped educate their members in the purposes and benefits of polices that were broadly beneficial and warned them against those designed to promote individual greed. Some time around the end of the 1980s the party made a serious turn. Political experts replaced policy experts. Wall Street replaced universities as the source of advice. Self-interest replaced common interest as the benchmark of political promises. And not to pull any punches, that change was pushed by and benefitted the Democratic Leadership Council and its poster boy Bill Clinton. The glib over-achiever from the right-to-work state, who would say anything to charm interest groups is probably more responsible for our current dilemma than even the buffoon who was elected president in November, because he gutted the one organization that worked for (however fitfully and slowly) social and civic progress. I could go into how deeply his cynical approach to both politics and policy, but he is now ancient history.

The question is what to do now. I wish I saw an answer. But it is something I will be contemplating as this year expires. There will be great damage done by those who soon will hold the branches of the federal government in their hands. Before that can be undone, we will have to figure out how to prevent them from permanently solidifying that power before it is too late. But the task is daunting given our disorganization, loss of core beliefs and entrenched recent history of poor political instincts. We must first forget the idea that either money, social media or demographics are going to save us. In fact, nothing is going to save us until we prove ourselves worthy of saving. And that is going to be a long, painful process.

Google Reviews

Chartres Cathedral

3 of 5 stars
It’s A huge Building, special in Glasses Art ,amazing location, many Restaurants around and a view for city.

British Library

1 of 5 stars
Building itself is lovely but library disappointing. No access to see books without a card. Punk rock exhibition very disappointing. 99 per cent of people using laptops , only 1 using a book. Surely that’s the whole point of going to a library.

Grand Canyon

1 of 5 stars
I haven’t even gotten to the Grand Canyon yet from central California. BUT I can guarantee we will never be back. And, Arizona highway department is to blame! Hwy 40 is the recommended highway if you want to go to the south rim, and are coming from the west/southwest areas of California. In the 500,000+ miles of travel have I experienced on the road, I have never seen a highway in as poor of shape as this. There were so many detours because of roadwork, making the trip at least 2-2.5 hours longer than it should have been.

The Parthenon

3 of 5 stars
The buildings and ruins are great and really give you a glimpse into the past civilization. The signs (at least the English ones) seem to be written by a high school history student who tried to cream as much esoteric info as possible with each phrase. As someone unfamiliar with Greek culture, I was able to understand exactly 0℅ of what the buildings were for, who built them, and why.

Auchwitz-Birkenau

1 of 5 stars
No organisation at all. I went to Aushwitz Birkenau museum and I was told to go to Aushwitz 1 which is about 3 km away to buy a tour tickets. I had to pay 7zl for parking. For no reason. When we went to Aushwitz 1 we were asked for the tickets (where there was no sing at all saying that I need to have tickets ready in English or either Polish) I was told to go back to where I came from (3km away) or wait for 4 hours to enter. Very disappointed wont reccomend…

The Taj Mahal

2 of 5 stars
Amazing monument but very poor customer experience.No digital books/Audio/Video shops to know the history of the monument.Nothing invested on amenities for seating and food. The government is ought to invest more when it comes to overall tourist satisfaction.

Prado Museum

3 of 5 stars
Great museum, terrible attitudes. Nobody speaks English, you need to pay for everything separately and the staff start ushering you out well before the closing time. Great art though!

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

3 of 5 stars
Didn’t really do it for me. I’m not a big war buff, and the crying visitors and the gruesome displays kinda made me feel uneasy (moreso than historical museums should do)

Nairobi National Museum

1 of 5 stars
It sucks

The Great Wall of China

3 of 5 stars
Crowded and incredibly dirty handrails.
Loud voices seem to be shouting directly in your ears

Hermitage Museum

3 of 5 stars
Not the best of famous museums, organized very poor…

Machu Picchu

jacopo ricca
1 of 5 stars
Nothing to complain about the place that is amazing, but the staff is terrible and rude they don’t speak English at all!how is possible in a park where they get people from all over the planet?

Once again

Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, the same make and model of gun used in the Sandy Hook School shooting, displayed by Connecticut State Police officer in 2013.

Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, the same make and model of gun used in the Sandy Hook School shooting, displayed by Connecticut State Police officer in 2013.

In 2004 the Federal Assault Rifle Ban (part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994) was allowed to expire. (Its original enactment in 1994, supported by Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan among others, included a sunset provision effective in 10 years.) The bill was in response, at least in part, to the shooting of 34 children in Stockton, California, in 1989.

When in 2004  a bill to shield gun manufacturers from liability was amended to allow the assault rifle ban to be reimposed, the bill was defeated in the Senate 90-8. The vote came after a direct order texted by Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, to the Senators he had bought and paid for. (Many Senators needed the instruction being unaware which their masters wanted more: limitation of liability or ability to sell military weapons on the open market.) He chortled about his victory to the Times; you can easily imagine him snorting with delight as he detailed the DNC chair’s defeat on the issue. See Stolberg, Sheryl Gay, “Senate Leaders Scuttle Gun Bill Over Changes,” New York Times, March 3, 2004, p. A1, A20. The arms makers got their special immunity from liability claims the next year in the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. But the assault rifle ban has never been re-enacted.

In the meanwhile, the following massacres have been among those in which a AR-15 style rifle was employed:

The Aurora, Colorado movie shooting: 12 killed; 58 wounded.

The shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2013: 26 killed; 2 injured.

And again, yesterday in Orlando: 50 killed; 53 wounded.

According to Christopher Ingraham in today’s Boston Globe: “In the past 10 years, assault-style rifles have been used in 14 public mass shootings. Half of those shootings have occurred since last June.”

Why does the NRA (and its full time employees who moonlight as representatives in Congress) so vigorously defend the assault rifle? Not because it’s needed in quail hunting. Nor is it particularly useful (because hard to handle in close quarters) in defending against a burglar. The only use for a weapon designed for military assaults is military assaults. So why are civilians allowed to buy them with nary a question asked? The fact is: it is the largest and fastest growing segment of gun sales. In other words, Death Makes a Profit. And Profits Buy our Congress.

Unless Congress is capable of prohibiting military weapons from being part of normal commerce in this country (indeed, as it now stands, with less regulation than automobile or home ownership), then this country is no longer a rational, representative democracy. It will be nothing more than a cynical, naked plutocracy. And our public servants will have as their only function to express their prayers and thoughts for the victims’ families, because they are too craven to do a simple thing, one that had been done before, to prevent the carnage.

R.I.P., Butterfly

A gentle man in a brutal sport, a peaceful soul in a country at endless war, Muhammad Ali has finally moved on.

Those who did not watch his career as it played out against the worst of all of possible circumstances will have missed experiencing one of the great performances of modern times. If I had limited that statement strictly to his prize-fighting career, it would have been accurate enough. But I mean it in the broadest sense possible. His “career,” the thing that made his life significant in the grandest sense possible and indelibly recorded his character on the permanent memory of a generation, was to show that a man with enough moral center can prevail without having to kick against the pricks. In fact, in boxing and life, he showed the importance, and grace, to be achieved in bobbing, weaving and as he put it “floating like a butterfly.” (It was perhaps his most memorable line. He called his second autobiography Soul of a Butterfly.)

It is one of the ironies of our time that one of the truly significant moral figures of my time, perhaps the only great soul I followed closely (albeit afar), came up through boxing. A sport redolent of oppression and racism, where specimens of America’s underclass were routinely displayed in events designed to inflict disabling and often permanent injury (especially cumulatively) on all the participants, in front of crowds fueled on by bloodlust and not a little racism, proved his springboard. And he was magnificent at it. It is a shame on this sad occasion that I cannot raise a glass in sad memory to the pure artistry with Bert Sugar, with whom in my pubbing days I used to hoist a few at Annie Moore’s, but alas both Burt and Annie Moore’s are gone. And now Mohammad Ali.

Ali from the very start had the ability to make every event he was part of seem the most significant event in the world. He drew attention to himself by caustic, and bluntly humorous, mockery of his foes. It drew people to the sport who otherwise knew nothing about it. And many of those new viewers came hoping to see him get his comeuppance. But for almost all his career, it was he who prevailed, with brilliant display of footwork and jabbing that would mercilessly work on an open wound, punctuated with devastating blows that often sent opponents reeling. At 22, after upsetting champion Sonny Liston, he was both the “greatest” and “prettiest” boxer of all time, as he himself pointed out. A decade later in the 1970s, past the prime of most boxers, Ali staged several of the most memorable fights of all time, particularly with George Foreman and Joe Frazier. During the bout that allowed Ali to regain his crown, titled by Ali the “Rumble in the Jungle” because it took place in Zaire,after a merciless flurry to the champs head he delivered a blow to Foreman’s jaw so brutally on target and with such force that I, as a TV spectator, saw stars.

It was his journey between the Liston fight and those of Frazier and Foreman, however, that charted his course in history. A genius at self-promotion, his oversized personality became a lightning rod for racial focus. But he used humor, satirical braggadocio and doggerel to deflect the worst of the scorn. Instead of backing down, he doubled down, joining the Nation of Islam in 1964 and discarding his “slave name.” And then, to the amazement of all, he announced he would refuse to be inducted into the armed services when his draft status was re-classified in 1966, at a time when the maw of America’s war fury no longer cared who it swallowed, the demand being so great. “No Viet Cong ever called me a nigger,” he memorably said, a witticism that brilliantly uncovered the connection between the country’s two great moral failures in a way that most student radicals of the time had not yet connected. Ali was arrested, of course. A country does not send it’s youth to possible death by the hundreds of thousands without also using the criminal system to suppress opposition. The Supreme Court, however, reversed his conviction on procedural grounds.By that time, in 1971, Ali had become one of the great heroes of the New Left. The state, however, had nonetheless taken its revenge, having stripped Ali of his right to fight during the most productive part of his career.

Ali became a symbol, a speaker, and in his way an agitator, for civil rights, Black Power, anti-imperialism and Third World solidarity. It was in the late 1970s that I had my own, brief (meaningless) encounter with him. He had a brief stay in Cambridge to sign copies of his first autobiography, The Greatest. While I had never been to such an event, or event sought out a celebrity autograph, how could I not see Ali up close. So I joined a line that snaked around the block. I do not know how long it took, but when I got to the stairs to the stage, I realized I would have to say something to him. There was really nothing, however, that could be composed on the spot to say to a master of witty epigrams, so I am afraid that I fumbled the moment, only acknowledging that he was truly “the Greatest.” The book, with autograph, however, made the “greatest” Christmas gift I ever gave my brother.

It would take the world another decade or so before it turned Ali into a cuddly figure of universal adoration. It is perhaps the final ploy of the pricks to convert effective foes into conventional clichés, pretending that there was no dispute all along. Ali would occasionally play along, accepting the accolades of the sports and celebrity world, graciously, even in an addled state brought on by years of battering that the human skull was not intended to take in a “sport” that was only a thinly disguised version human sacrifice as entertainment. As far as I know, he never voiced a regret or resentment that this was his only avenue to self-fulfillment or self-expression in a society that had been designed to channel humans into different futures based on their “race” or class or ancestry. I think I will avoid the news for a day or two; it is more than likely that the current representatives of the forces that oppose the human spirit will undoubtedly express their great admiration for him. It’s best to simply meditate on what it must have been like to be able to both float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

 

 

Back to No Future: Daze of Rage

One doesn’t have to be particularly observant to notice that we have entered dangerous territory in our public realm. The fact that the Republican Party will nominate a man who makes openly racist appeals, attacks by name and ethnic background a judge presiding over a case in which his business is a party (in a money case, not even a matter of judicial philosophy), insists that as President he will cut back press protections and “have people sue you like you never get sued before,” refuses to rule out first strike use of nuclear weapons, flirts with authoritarians and dictators, ridicules the disabled, women, protestors, “the Hispanics,” etc., etc., really should be enough to prove the point. It’s as though Donald Trump has amped up and spliced together the civil rights “acumen” of Barry Goldwater, the bristling, aggrieved temperament of Richard Nixon, the policy knowledge of Ronald Reagan, and the civil liberties disregard of Woodrow Wilson to make something no one could ever have envisioned, not even Mary Shelley. Could things be worse? Well, the fact that his only opposition will be a lackluster candidate with a history of personal corruption, whose campaign seems to be based on a notion of the cult of her personality (“I’m a Hillary voter!”) and who has a track record of underperforming expectations is a bracing reality. And really, is there anyone who actually looks forward with relish to the Presidency of Hillary Clinton?

But not everything is about Presidential elections. After all, we have survived Nixon, Reagan and W. Could a megalomaniac, authoritarian, know-nothing be so much worse? Well, I suppose, much as one hates to consider it.

The real trap we find ourselves in is that the Overton Window has moved so far to the right over the last half century that returning to the center seems beyond possibility. (I’m not even talking utopia, or revolution, or socialism. I’m only saying returning to the status quo ante Richard Nixon is not even within reach.) And there is really no organizing going on that gives a glimmer of hope. Unions have been gutted, left-leaning groups are pretty much ineffective or MIA. Traditional liberal allies (civil rights groups, public sector unions, liberal professional “activists”) have settled for a neoliberal economic policy and neoconservative military policy personified by Hillary Clinton, a candidate so far out of step with 20th century, mainstream Democratic policy that she doesn’t even see how the repeal of Glass-Steagall, a cornerstone of New Deal economic protection and modernization of U.S. capitalism, a repeal that was approved by her own husband, by the way, was a mistake to be remedied. The Great Man theory of history may be bunk. But it seems that without FDR, Stevenson, Humphrey, JFK, LBJ, McGovern or Mondale, the Democratic Party has reverted to the conservative national organization, dependent on local machines or ad hoc interest groups, that it was in the late 19th century.

All of this is of course so obvious that it probably does not need repeating. But I bring it up because in the past several weeks two trips to libraries show how far we are from being able to dig ourselves out of our hole. The first was a trip to the FDR Library in Hyde Park, New York. I was looking at the papers of James Rowe, an early brain truster who became something of a political “pro”, advising Truman on how to deal with a recalcitrant Congress (see the famous so-called Clark Clifford memo), opposed both the Japanese internment (quitting the administration and volunteering for the navy) and Vietnam war, became a campaign advisor to Humphrey (in 1960 and 1968); in short, he lived politics not for power, but to advance principle. Have we seen that in the era of Jody Powell, Susan Estrich, James Carville, Dick Morris, Rahm Emanuel, Patti Solis Doyle and Mark Penn? In fact, just being in the Library-Museum was a reminder that the idea that government could be an agent for significant progressive change affecting the lives of ordinary people in the U.S. and around the world is a concept regarded as so quaint these days that we see it only in museums.

The second shock to my system was in the Columbia Rare Books-Manuscript library yesterday. I happened to be looking through the “University Protest and Activism Collection, 1958-1999” collection, which put in perspective the quantum difference between the student, civil-rights, anti-war and militant movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s and the ad hoc, poorly organized and loosely ideological “movement” of Bernie Sanders followers. (Yes, I voted for Bernie, but I did so without illusions.) Mark Rudd now makes a point of saying that attention to organizing is more important than obtaining publicity for a cause no matter how noble. But we are flat out empty of Malcolm Xs, Huey Newtons, Tom Haydens, Mark Rudds, Cesar Chavezes, Thurgood Marshalls, John Lewises, Daniel Berrigans, etc. The closest there is to organized thought leadership these days is late night “leftish” snark and click-bait internet e-zines. (Of course, there are also the disconnected cry-from-the-wilderness bloggers; but we, by definition, are not organizers; in fact, we make Simeon Stylites look downright gregarious.)

All of this is depressing enough. But then before leaving the Columbia library yesterday I went to a computer to check my email and (of course) the home page was the Columbia University default page. And there was a startling (to me) news item: This year Columbia not only graduated its first ROTC student in nearly half a century but also allowed him to be commissioned in Low Rotunda! (Those who remember the Columbia occupation might recall that the spark that ignited the strike was the discipline of six students who protested inside of Low Rotunda the university’s shadowy contracts with the military state, including the CIA, through an organization called the Institute for Defense Analyses.) If there was ever something that had become incorporated into my deepest core beliefs it was that Columbia, after 1967-1972, would never allow ROTC recruiting on campus again. (Although the occupation of Columbia had many, many consequences, good and bad, the administrators who imposed the discipline were ousted, Columbia’s connection with IDA was ended and eventually ROTC recruitment was banned as well.) And yet, last month the Dean of Columbia College offered this insipid send off to a new naval officer birthed by the campus that once symbolized anti-war militancy: “Your Columbia College road goes on forever.” This must be considered lyricism in the new education-military-entertainment complex. Welcome to the reality that Trump-Clinton is only a symbol for.

 

Is the Renaissance experiment over?

For over a year now I have been working on an essay about the early twentieth century English modernist T.E Hulme and his pernicious influence on the English poets of the time, particularly T.S. Eliot. Hulme flirted with dangerous reactionary thoughts, but died in the Great War before he could have influenced anyone to take up fascism full bore. That blame has to fall full square on the shoulders of Eliot, Pound, Lewis, Lawrence and their followers. But Hulme had a large part in setting the boulder rolling.

There is one thing that causes me to hold back on finishing this essay (which is already well beyond what blog readers  will tolerate, much like most of what appears here). It’s that I can’t disagree with one big thought he had: The era that began with the Renaissance is over, he argued. Humanism, and all that “man is the measure of all things,” the business about inevitable progress, the belief that rationality can solve all problems, all of that is over and has been for a century.  For myself, an old leftish sort, who pulls for the little guy and believes (despite the evidence) that human dignity is worth fighting for and we are better off together than alone—for my part, I say, I don’t subscribe to this concept. But, and here’s what bothers me, I think I am in a very small minority.

This is not just a political question, but politics are a bit of the evidence. Any one who has watched any of the Republican debates must, if he is honest with himself, despair for this republic (which, when founded, might have been the supreme political expression of Renaissance values). But we have seen this show coming for decades. Europe is probably a more accurate bellwether. Unfortunately, they seem to be heading down the reactionary, nationalistic rathole even faster than we are. And then there’s the West’s last great political creation—Israel. Do I need to explain despair? It’s not just that the policies of that nation are repellant, it’s that it has found a way to make this country sponsor it, no matter what medieval course it decides to follow.

Let’s forget politics. What about culture? I have to say that recently I have been close-reading Shakespeare (the quintessential representative of Renaissance humanism in English) and Homer. Homer was barely out of the Bronze Age when he wrote the Iliad. Is it significant that I, even I, am more comfortable with the values and style of Homer than Shakespeare?

Please believe that I am a humanist in the strictest sense of the word. And in fact I’ve been learning that I’m probably a sloppy Romantic (much as I would never have guessed) these days. I recently have been reading Franco Moretti’s analysis of Western literature (particularly the novel. Moretti is a representative of the New Left. This is far to the left of me, evidently, because it seems to have left behind all human qualities. Moretti uses something like quantitative analysis to evaluate literature. Maybe Leonardo would have been happy to have the power of computers to aid his fancies, but would he have used big data to critique his art?

I must say that I have listened to the worries of Stephen Hawking and others about the dangers of artificial intelligence. And I have even spent far more time than I should (given how much I have left and how this will unlikely be my problem) on Roko’s basilisk. But I have always thought that that if computers and big data ever tried to take over, we humans, awakened by Renaissance dignity, would fight back much like the USS Enterprise did against the Borg. Even though such a fight would more likely be much as the people of good will rallied to the defense of the Republic of Spain against the guardia civil and the Moroccans. But even in that scenario I always thought we’d all be on our side. Reading Moretti, I am not sure. And when I think about it, given that we all depend on “the grid,” but more essentially on the interconnected set of networks, for electricity, cash supply, groceries, heat, air conditioning, energy, etc., it seems to me we have already built Roko’s basilisk (and that is only the barest minimal way we have packaged ourselves for a computer takeover). Now with Moretti it has its own literary apologist.

Or maybe all of this is just the musings of an aged citizen past having a useful thought. A curator of a museum of the imagination, where Haydn is more important than Beyoncé and where one believes there is a qualitative difference between Joyce and graphic novels. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe “liking” on Facebook (and WordPress!) is really just a more efficient way to express what Petrarch did in 14 lines or Edmund Wilson in several pages.

All I know is that I will (deo volente) soon finish the Hulme essay, and condemn his thought that we have outlived the myth of the dignity of mankind. Whether or not big  data agrees.

By the way, for those who really worry about Roko’s basilisk, here’s my take: We no longer care about our own common  good, that we are likely to shortly make the planet uninhabitable for both humans and computers. So rest easy.

Then let us meet them like necessities

Peace now reigns at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, an uneasy one to be sure. Even the wildlife are cowed now that jackbooted authority again bars cattle and loggers from the land. If we are not free to have our livestock consume the land cover or to fell the timber that blocks the sky, then how can we call ourselves freemen? All true lovers of the human spirit know that vistas of land scarred by strip mining, land denuded of forest and herds of cattle destroying the ecosystem only means one thing: Libertas!

But it was not to be, Yesterday the final four Catos surrendered to doleful tyrrany. Yes, unlike Cato they decided that living without freedom was still bettr than not living at all, but still we can see the integrity, the moral clarity and the resolve of Cato in each one of them.

Now that it i over we have nothing to do but sit upon the ground and tell sad stories on the death of freedom. And perhaps the brief (five weeks) glimmer of things that could be might inspire us to gird up our loins again to again engage in apocalyptic warfare with the infernal powers which snuff out the human spirit. But first, we should take stalk to see what lessons we can learn from this latest, noble undertaking to preserve freedom and dignity for our children and grandchildren.

1. Carefully pick the site of the contemplated coup de main

Over the past quarter of millennium, since the Third Estate proclaimed itself the National Assembly on that famed tennis court, the examples of uprising, coup, revolt, putsch, golpe de estado, pronunciamiento, general strike, political hostage taking and other demonstrations of force for political means have been countless—because those loving freedom must constantly innovate. But in all that great annal, never before had the revolutionaries chosen to begin their action by taking over a bird sanctuary. In the twentieth century the sites targeted generally were either a strategic target (a military barracks or arms cache) or the communications system (a radio station or command-and-control center).

The cynic scoffed, as he always does, and in the end may have been proven right. But why was this so? The sanctuary was the living symbol of the contradictions at the heart of the beast which is the modern state. Claiming to protect the animals, the state erected fences around the place. But that was mere pretense. Animals don’t need fences for safety; they are more freedom-loving than we are. As for men, didn’t Robert Frost say:

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.

That something is the human yearning to be free, something the Progressive thug Theodore Roosevelt well knew when he seized the land from the loggers and ranchers and strip miners who could have denuded it and moved on leaving freedom in its wake.

But alas the symbolism was not enough. It was too remote. The freedom fighters throughout the world who clamored to join them were too far away to lend a hand. Horses, the natural transport of those yearning to be free, could not assemble a critical mass of fighters in the five weeks the ocupiers were able to hold out, depending as they did on the U.S. Postal Service to supply them with their necessities, including French vanilla creamer and Marlboro Lights 100. But even under these circumstances, circumstances that tried men’s souls, they were asked to make even more sacrifices. As Sean Anderson explained to the world on the internet stream of the phone call with state assemblywoman Michele Fiore, he was required for several days (at least one) to sleep outside and go without showering. This heartfelt cry makes Valley Forge seem like a child’s summer camp.

In the end, the deprivations proved too much and our three cowboy and one cowgirl heroes were forced to give up.

2. Don’t publicly announce your movements

This lesson is a bitter one to learn because freedom fighters know that the world is looking to them for hope, inspiration and guidance. And it is hard to blame the leaders of the movement for falling into the clever trap laid for them by the tyrannous federal government. The federal guardia civil had lulled the occupiers into a false sense of security by allowing them to go to and fro the bird sanctuary and to receive French vanilla creamer and Marlboro Light 100s without impediment. Who would have thought that when the leaders announced that they would travel the 1-1/2 hours (by car; by horse it takes longer) to a community meeting in John Day, Oregon, the devious forces of human degradation would arrest them? But so it happened. And the head was cut off of the incipient revolution, and, like that, another blow was taken by the human spirit.

Not satisfied with this duplicity, the fiends from Washington, D.C., had another blow up their sleeves. This blow landed on  Cliven Bundy, famed for his principled stand in taking up arms to avoid having to pay $1 million he owed by grzing his catle on land not technically owned by him, and father of two of the Malheur leaders. When it became clear that the FBI intended to move on the four remaining freedom fighters, Cliven Bravely chose to fly to Oregon from Nevada (horses being too slow for the purpose) to prevent the inevitable loss of life that would result from his absence. And like any free man, he let the world know it. But craven cowards that they are, the Feds arrested him at Portland airport, just as he deplaned. The Feds knew that he would be without his trusted rifle because he was not permitted to board with it (under the tyrannical rules of the same Federal authority) and so he was forced to submit like a lamb rather than the lion he surely is.

But Cliven is not done by a long shot. He is going to fight. And the first step has already been taken: he has requested the Federal Government to supply him with an attorney. Surely the inherent contradictions in the Federal “system” will be its undoing. Or perhaps not. After all, didn’t William Blake say: “Prisons are built with stones of Law, brothels with bricks of Religion”?

3. Don’t trust the media or the ACLU

The entire string of events, ending in this bitter failure, was the fault, not of the freedom fighters, but of others, or perhaps the stars. The first amendment failed the Bundys when it was most crucial. After all, as was pointed out by one of the fighters on the live stream with Fiore, the Bundys had come to Oregon to protest the jailing of Dwight and Steve Hammond who were imprisoned for the supposed “crime” of setting fire to federal lands. The protest was so clearly right, that anyone would have expected the media to cover it, perhaps make it leading news, perhaps have a nightly show, something like Night Line, until the two were freed. For, after all, if the federal government can jail the Hammond for torching federal land, what next? Perhaps, you my friend, for dumping toxins into a river or selling meat tainted with E. coli! But the media did nothing, except show the protest and comment on it across the country. Such inaction compelled the Bundys to occupy the bird sanctuary.

But that’s not all. As one of the fighters pointed out during the stream “If this were Black Lives Matter the ACLU would be here.” And who among us was able to disagree? After all, when protestors against police killings are threatened with militarized police action, the ACLU is there. When white cowboys with an ill-thought-out agenda take over a bird sanctuary and are allowed undisturbed ingress and egress, where is the ACLU? The double standard beggars the mind.

4. God’s ways are mysterious

That final night, the freedom cowboys sought out the Lord for succor. They had summoned state assembly Michele Fiore from Nevada, a woman so renowned for both her commitment to freedom and the Lord that she forced her extended family to carry firearms for the picture on her family Christmas card (no Seasons Greetings for her). This godly wise woman led them in prayer and understood their deeply held grievances. Like Sean Anderson’s heart-felt jeremiad against the President’s action to require background checks for mental illness as part of a gun sale. He rightly said during the stream that this would allow the government, through Obamacare, to take away guns from depressed people. Oh, if only trenchant grievances like this been allowed to be heard, there would have been a groundswell in support of our heroes.

But this was not their only holy support. Franklin Graham phoned in his support and prayer. Franklin, as you know, is the son of Billy, but unlike his bipartisan father, Franklin has the courage of the Lord to reject all the defilers of righteousness, those insufficiently against homosexuality and Islam, the twin abominations in the eyes of the Lord responsible for all manner of evil from attempts to keep guns out of the schools to subsidized healthcare for the poor. So wisely he left the Republican Party, so that his righteousness could not be questioned.

But even with these twin pillars of holiness, our heroes did what they claimed they never would. Sean Anderson, clearly the brightest of this luminous crew, told Fiore that he would go out like Braveheart. But though she assured him that she was not asking him to give up, after much more discussion, they all finally did. Now, those of little faith might say that she and Franklin were taking the part of the beast, that they were quislilngs who sold out the last freedom lovers willing to ride out the crisis so long as they had French vanilla creamer and Marlboro Light 100s. But those scoffers would be wrong. For we cannot question either the liberty love or the Lord love of either Michele Fiore or Franlkin Graham. No, the answer is simpler: The ways of God are mysterious.

*  *   *

It has been a bad time for freedom. The Confederate flag has been hauled down from the South Carolina statehouse, colleges have been engaged in discussions of sensitivity, the armed forces are installing breast-feeding stations in their bases, and cowboys smoke Marlboro Light 100s rather than the original stick, the one that killed the Marlboro Man. Have we gotten too soft for freedom? Are we unwilling to die to advance an ill-defined set of grievances, without the support of even a small fraction of the country, expressed by semi-literates barely understanding the phrases they use? If that is so, we are all in trouble. The next time, let’s hope it will be different. Let us all stock up on French vanilla creamer and Marlboro Lights 100 so that when we hear the call of the Lord again we can go forth to the next bird sanctuary where we will stay to the end, knowing that if we must die, at least we befoul a bit of the environment for the birds. Just like Braveheart. And there is recompense for this. For although uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, country rubes will be allowed to sleep under the stars the night before they are taken to prison.