The Pagan

The Muse has returned.

You are a shameless pagan.

Whatever works.

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Published in: on September 30, 2004 at 9:40 am  Leave a Comment  

A Dialogue About Godel

Aphrodite: Tell me about Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems.

Athena: It’s technical. It could take a long time.

Aphrodite: No, give me the short version. Something I will understand.

Athena: Ok, he proved that there are some truths that cannot be proved.

Aphrodite: And?

Athena: He proved a language and a theory cannot prove its own consistency.

Aphrodite: And?

Athena: That’s it.

Aphrodite: I would have thought it obvious.

Published in: on September 30, 2004 at 9:12 am  Leave a Comment  

The Moon’s Personae

How many personae does

The moon possess?

As many as the countless souls.

Published in: on September 30, 2004 at 8:43 am  Leave a Comment  

Patrol Guard

A Chicago Police Officer stands

patrol guard for the school children at

the busy intersection on State Street.

The sky is clear and sun washed.

The world is ordered, at peace,

except for the incessant pounding

of the jackhammers below.

Published in: on September 30, 2004 at 8:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Roads

You read, think, and write. The sky remains blue and the air temperate as it has each day for many weeks. You know these are the best days of your life even though you live them almost entirely alone. You’ve always lived a silent life alone in your idiosyncratic way. You don’t mind.

You started your week by reading Isaiah Berlin’s essay “The Originality of Machiavelli”. It put you in mind of a different way of life. You recall the ancient books of the Greeks and Romans you once read. Philosophy is a way of life. Before the discourse, there is the way of life.

There is no a priori philosophy that disposes a person to a gloomy life. Happiness might be a psychological state or it might be Aristotle’s a life well lived or it might be a yearning for god, but there is nothing a priori that should infect you with gloom. The great fortune and joy of blue skies each day is as real as a long succession of rainy days.

You have not come so far as you think in your philosophy. Machiavelli may have as much to say about politics this year as he did about the politics of his time. Christian virtues may ultimately be in conflict with secular classical virtues, but metaphors, the way you and others think, are shared and have been around for a long time. The idea of the new and modern is always tainted by forgetfulness and illusion.

You have imagination despite all that. You create new metaphors and new ways to apply them in your life. So, there is a never ending building upon the old to create the new via the imagination and metaphor. It is difficult to draw the line between the old and the new. You must discover metaphors to know. And you must create metaphors to live.

You feel a turn toward both a forgotten way of life and a new way of life.

It makes you happy to think so.

Published in: on September 29, 2004 at 1:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Shortly Before the Election

The President sat alone in the Oval Office. He’d been reading some routine reports, Congressional Bills, and most importantly the latest poll numbers.

His reelection was all but assured with less than a week to go in the campaign.

He’d done it his way. Even his closest election advisors did not fully comprehend how he’d done it.

The President knew the power of image and he knew what a powerful motive revenge can be. Vengeance transcended rational thought. And that was good.

All he’d had to do was keep the image in the public mind of that terrible day when America was ruthlessly attacked.

The brilliant stroke had been to start a conventional war. America had suffered losses, but they paled in comparison to the losses of the country he’d invaded. It did not matter that most of those losses had been civilian casualties.

The public wanted vengeance and he’d given it to them. There were many people who did not care to distinguish between guilty or innocent. The public demanded verisimilitude to the evil ones who had attacked America. The victims wore the same dress and appeared to have the same religion as the terrorists. That was good enough.

He’d lost everyone who had seriously and soberly assessed the war as a war that could not be won. Even those in his own party who had seriously assessed the war had switched to the opposition side.

That did not matter. They had no image or idea to sway the public imagination from their extreme desire for vengeance.

In fact, the opposition had played into his hands. They had talked about the reality on the ground instead of playing to the vagaries of the mind.

He’d start the next phase of the war after the election—peace with honor.

Published in: on September 28, 2004 at 10:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Love Story

They went out drinking together. They’d done that before. The result of the their latest adventure was the same. They slept together.

He sits alone in the dark several days later watching the baseball game. The only light is the glow of the TV. He thinks of her. He loves her. That does not matter, for he will not call her.

She lives nearby. She talks to a good friend on the telephone. She does not mention him even though he is all she’s thought about the past several days. She wanted him to call, but he didn’t. She wanted to call him, but felt she couldn’t.

There are as many mistakes in love as there are people on earth.

Published in: on September 27, 2004 at 8:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Driving Iowa

Lance drives across Iowa at the end of July. Laura, his friend, sits in the passenger seat beside him. She waxes rhapsodically about the lush green countryside filled with corn and bean fields and prosaic farm houses and barns.

“Isn’t it marvelous going through God’s country and seeing what he has created for our enjoyment,” she says.

Lance feels her words like fingernails scraping along blackboard.

He wants to tell her this was all prairie before the white man came and made farm country from it.

Fires periodically burnt wildly through the tall prairie grass and burnt all the sapling trees except those whose good fortune it was to inhabit a moist river bank which periodically flooded. He wants to mention the buffalo that no longer roam here.

He bites his tongue. He’s insensitive, but he is not gratuitous.

Lance has grown tired of well educated people such as Laura who blindly say anything about God and his ways. They blaspheme and they are too ignorant to understand that is exactly what they are doing.

Lance thinks about the vast amount of incoherent and inconsistent gibberish that Laura has spoken about God the past couple of years.

Lance drives without saying a word to Laura. He wonders if the real argument against the existence of God is the large number of people walking the face of the earth who say stupid shit about Him.

Published in: on September 26, 2004 at 1:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Metaphors and Politics 2004

The Republican Party holds the high ground when it comes to communicating their agenda and ideas to Americans. It is actually more accurate to say that a small sub-species of Conservative Republicans hold the high ground. They captured this high ground by carefully crafting their message over the past forty years—not because of the truth of their propositions.

That makes it tough going for the millions of Progressives who by and large are Democrats. Progressive Democrats have not done nearly as well crafting a consistent message that typifies their ideas and agenda and plays well to Americans. The best they have achieved in over two decades is the tactical victories of President Clinton.

Story, metaphor, and framing have now taken their rightful place in the discussion of strategies required to capture share of political mind and win elections.

Mr. Kerry’s campaign has been ineffective because they do not understand those strategies. They, consequently, do not know how to frame an agenda in a manner agreeable to the American public. They have even been ineffective in discussing simple concepts such as the difference between means and ends. At this late date in the campaign they have just come around to making the distinction between agreed upon goals and poor management and execution toward those goals.

Mr. Cheney pushed the illogic and emotion of the campaign to its ultimate and extreme conclusion several weeks ago. Mr. Cheney stated that if America elected Mr. Kerry, then America would be visited by acts of terrorism more terrible than 9/11. How many people deduced from his proposition its logical conclusion contained in the following syllogism?

Presidents are accountable and responsible for the acts of terrorism that occur on their watch.

9/11 occurred on Mr. Bush’s watch.

Therefore, Mr. Bush is accountable and responsible for 9/11.

Some folks in the Kerry campaign may have noticed it, but since they are not well schooled in helping people sort through logical subtleties, they were unable to capitalize on it.

Informal logic and rhetoric are ancient and stodgy kinds of studies although highly worthy of our use and admiration. Researchers studying how the human brain works have, however, moved beyond traditional logic in understanding how people reason. Metaphor plays a significant role in our reasoning.

This is something Conservative ideologues have intuitively known for several decades. They have crafted a message that plays strongly in many American’s imaginations.

The interesting thing that is happening during this election is that there is a growing split amongst Conservatives. The people who worked hard for several decades to frame the Conservative metaphors so that they are strongly entrenched in many American’s psyches, now see that message being eroded by Mr. Bush’s Administration.

Americans have historically taken a business like and pragmatic view of their politics. They scratch where it itches. It is not surprising that people of all political persuasions are becoming rapidly frustrated with the Bush Administration’s disregard for success as significant measure of the effectiveness of their policies. The veneer of moral certitude by hypocrites as the only overarching measure of the success of a policy or an idea is rapidly wearing thin.

The Constitution creates and nourishes a great amount of pluralism in the United States. Slowly, but surely, Progressives will be forced to face their failures in doing the hard work needed to tap into this pluralism by effectively framing and communicating their ideas to Americans. But Progressives are starting to get it if only because they are getting slaughtered at election time. Traditional Conservatives now see that a new onslaught will be made against their most cherished ideas and messages.

Mr. Bush will be reelected. It is not surprising though. Mr. Bush has crafted a message on top of the traditional Conservative message that is highly successful at the moment. That message would not exist if it had not been for the 9/11 attack.

Mr. Bush’s message will prove to be an alien message to Americans and quickly be repudiated after the election. There is nothing in his message that does not pander to the emotions of the time and does not have its goal his reelection.

Four years from now it will be hard to find those folks who shrilly advocated his reelection. The Bush message is an anomaly that holds no permanent place in the American psyche where business, pluralism, and pragmatism are seen as the way to progress.

Published in: on September 26, 2004 at 12:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Few Pints

You have been writing all day. Your mind wanders from the page. You realize that you have always been a stupid and insensitive person.

You have known it at an emotional level all your life.

This is the first time it has emerged as a true proposition. Irrefutable.

Published in: on September 24, 2004 at 12:53 pm  Comments (2)  

His Highness Dog at Kew

You watch the Cat Stevens brouhaha on TV.

His songs are from the time when you were young. You remember those years as ones of war and rebellion. His songs of peace and serenity seem oddly juxtaposed against the era.

His “Where Do the Children Play?” is still one of your favorites.

All night long a poem by Alexander Pope plays across your mind. The poem goes like this.

Inscribed On the Collar Of His Highness Dog At Kew

I am His Highness dog at Kew.

Pray tell me, Sir, whose dog are you?

You vow to eschew grand historical schemes of any stripe. The Imagination always shreds them.

Published in: on September 22, 2004 at 7:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Late at Night

You have been watching too many reruns of The West Wing and X-Files late at night.

You have a strong desire to run for President of the United States. You think you were abducted by aliens, but you don’t remember when or how.

You think about free will and rationality before drifting into a deep sleep.

Published in: on September 21, 2004 at 12:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Receiving Room

You returned from Vietnam a couple of months ago. You are working the graveyard shift at the Brig. You are sitting at your desk in the deserted receiving room. You have been working one shift on and one shift off for two weeks. You’re tired and miserable.

A Marine Corporal chaser brings in a new prisoner. How they manage to show up in the middle of the night you do not know.

The chaser hands you the prisoner’s paperwork. The new prisoner stands sloppily in front of your desk.

“This is another one who’s been over the hill for awhile, Sergeant,” the chaser says.

“The mess hall’s open if you want some chow,” you tell the chaser.

“Thanks, that’s where I plan on going,” he says.

The chaser leaves.

You glare at the prisoner standing sloppily in front of you.

You get up from your desk and walk to the prisoner.

“You are at goddamned fucking attention when in you’re in here. An you better fucking call me sir, shit maggot,” you yell in the prisoner’s ear.

The prisoner stands at sloppy attention as you type his paperwork.

Little does the prisoner know. Enjoying a few moments with you is the best it’s going to be for awhile.

All you have to do is endure another dreary night.

Published in: on September 20, 2004 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment  

The Performance Appraisal

It’s getting late. You sit alone in the office working on employee performance appraisals. You are working on Skippy’s performance appraisal. His is the last one, the one you have been avoiding.

Your mind wanders.

You see it frequently in the workplace. You have an employee who is smart and well educated, but he exhibits poor work habits.

He is often confused and frustrated by ambiguity.

He avoids working on complex problems with no straight forward answers.

He does not understand why his co-workers and bosses are often frustrated by his low productivity.

He assumes criticism is essentially unfair and a burden.

He stakes out his opinions on the basis of personal moral certainty rather than organizational concerns for effectiveness and efficiency.

He rarely resorts to listening, negotiation, and empathy as problem solving skills.

He isolates himself from co-workers when things are not going his way.

He often confuses efforts to help him as agreement with his opinions.

He often resorts to emotion as a strategy to win arguments.

Those kinds of employees often move on to jobs where the work is not as hard as it is here. They take new jobs where the answers are given before the appropriate questions are asked. They achieve a certain psychological happiness once they make this transition.

You suspect you know how Skippy arrived at this current state of affairs, but that is irrelevant. It’s his performance that counts.

Your mind returns to the task at hand, Skippy. You think of the long line of folks who have stopped by to complain about Skippy’s work. Everybody is working long hours under tight deadlines. Stress fills the air like fog. Everyone is tired of doing his work for him.

You check the box that says, “Provisional. Does not meet most or all expectations.”

Skippy will be happier in his next job. And your team will enjoy an incremental, yet noticeable improvement in productivity.

Published in: on September 19, 2004 at 9:32 am  Leave a Comment  

No Mercy

She sits beside the window in her efficiency apartment. She reads the newspaper in the dying summer light. A fan, turned on high, several feet away, battles the hot summer air where she sits. The air conditioner broke several weeks ago. She does not have the money to fix or replace it.

She reads the newspaper story about the President’s past substance abuse. She thinks about Jefferson, her dead son. Gone many years now.

She tried to raise him well. She did all a mother could do. He was born retarded and that made it all the more difficult in this bad neighborhood.

The neighborhood was all bad boys angry at life. Jefferson had been a good boy. The bad boys had tricked him.

They told him to stand by the door and keep watch. The bad boys then robbed and killed the store owner and his wife. Jefferson had no idea what they were going to do when he went for the ride with them and walked into the store.

They all, of course, got caught.

Jefferson was sentenced to death along with the others even though Jefferson had never been in trouble before. Lord, he was retarded too. That meant nothing.

She appealed right up until the day the Governor decided he would not grant Jefferson clemency. Then they killed him.

The Governor had become President. And she had become old and alone.

She wonders what drugs the President had taken that day, the day he let her boy die.

She sees his smirk and glee as he faces the television cameras after the execution.

“We will show no mercy to brutal murderers,” he said.

Published in: on September 17, 2004 at 2:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

An Angel of Death Arrives

He teaches law at a large state university. He wanted the war when it started. He was all for it. He knew all the abstract arguments for it and was not afraid to repeat them to all who would listen. A lot of folks listened.

It is five years later. His oldest son has grown to be a man. His son won the war lottery. He’s in uniform and fighting in the war.

The professor of law sits in his study at home. The doorbell rings. He answers the door. A young Marine in Dress Blues stands on his doorstep. An angel of death has arrived to deliver the tragic news.

Later, that night, he sits alone in his study. A gentle Autumn rain patters on the leaves. He watches the leaves fall from the trees.

What were those arguments he found so clever so many years ago?

Published in: on September 17, 2004 at 12:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Immortality

You are typing on your manual typewriter. You pause to look out the window. It is another stunning day, nothing but blue skies.

You feel odd. You feel detached from yourself. Your soul drifts through the world. You know other people’s minds.

It’s as if you died and do not yet realize it.

You’ve been spending too much time alone. You’ll start hallucinating soon.

You’ll start believing in the immortal soul.

Published in: on September 17, 2004 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Intelligence Report

He sits at his desk. He reads the latest intelligence report on the war.

Executive Summary: Situation all fucked up and getting worse. No hope for victory or success.

He recalls the good old days. A few lines of coke, some good smoking dope, and cold beer to wash it down.

Fuck it. Time to get reelected.

He’d find someone to clean up the mess afterwards.

Published in: on September 17, 2004 at 12:06 am  Leave a Comment  

The War Begins

You recall the night the second Iraq war started.

You sit in your local bar drinking Buds and shots of Maker’s Mark whiskey.

The folks at the bar celebrate the start of the war. Patriotic songs play continuously on the jukebox.

You’ve had your doubts about the war.

Jimmy, the bartender, serves you another Bud and a shot. He’s an ex-Marine like you.

“You know, it’s going to be real easy getting in there, but it is going to be Hell getting out. Fighting in those narrow streets is going to be a fucking nightmare,” Jimmy says.

“Amen, brother,” you say.

You are drunk and stupid.

The rest of the night you think about your 384 days at Camp Book in Vietnam.

Jimmy was right. You were right. The sober and smart people running the war were wrong.

Published in: on September 16, 2004 at 8:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

A New Blog

You have been writing a blog the past several weeks. You don’t have any problem finding things and people to write about. What you don’t have though is a product that will capture share of mind.

You decide to start a new blog with a focus and a mission. You decide to use your real name on this one. That’s scary.

The question remains. What’s your blog about? It’s like the problem you have when you write a novel. You finish the first draft and then you have to decide what your novel is about. Anne Lamotte wrote something about that in her book Bird by Bird.

You decide to write about your prejudices. You have thousands of pages you’ve written just lying about your apartment that amply display your prejudices.

It’ll be real easy.

And after you develop a voice and some style, it’ll be a good blog.

Published in: on September 16, 2004 at 8:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Saturn and Philosophy

It was the summer of 1998 and you were not working. The English translation of W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn had just been published. You read about it in a book review and buy the book.

You read the first sentence.

In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work.

You read all his works published in English after that.

You remember the cold winter day you read the news of his untimely death in a car accident. You recall the bright summer day you read that first sentence.

You remember early 1999 when you read the first sentences of Philosophy in the Flesh by Lakoff and Johnson.

The mind is inherently embodied.

Thought is mostly unconscious.

Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical.

These are three major findings of cognitive science. More than two millennia of a priori philosophical speculation about these aspects of reason are over. Because of

these discoveries, philosophy can never be the same again.

You think about metaphors as you wander about the world.

Published in: on September 13, 2004 at 1:14 pm  Leave a Comment