Monday, September 29, 2003
(10:30 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Report from the Zizek lecture
Tonight I attended the Zizek lecture at the Oriental Institute in Chicago. He was brilliant and challenging, but at the same time very accessible and honest. He mocked Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler, and also, at times, himself -- for instance, he was very frank about his habit of repeating the same illustrations over and over. In the end, he said that leftists arrogantly presume to know what's going on in the world and what the solutions are and believe that their only task is to get their message to the people. In Zizek's view, we don't know what's going on, and we have a long, arduous task of figuring out what that is. That, it seems to me, is one of his most succinct formulations of the goal of his philosophy.
Of particular interest to Kotsko fans was the fact that Zizek made reference to Donald Rumsfeld's "known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns" in almost the exact same way that I did almost six weeks ago on this blog. I am not a plagiarist (though I suppose it is certainly possible that he is in this case), but in any case, being there and hearing him develop the same point that I developed, based on my study of his philosophy and its forebears, seemed almost like a sign from God, telling me that I actually do understand what Zizek is doing, at least in part.
Sunday, September 28, 2003
(1:47 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Left-Handed Agenda
[Note: Don't waste your time reading this! Read my latest full-length essay instead!]
Left-handedness is one of the primary scourges of our society today. Universally reviled by every society up to our present depraved generation, the unnatural practice of left-handedness is an affront to our most cherished values. Yet the shift toward social acceptance of left-handedness in recent years has been overwhelming. Many of our teachers, our doctors, our politicians, our priests, and even our Scout leaders are unrepentant practicioners of left-handedness, using their positions of influence to teach children that left-handedness is not only acceptable but normal. Even worse are those who seek to cloud the boundaries between the perversion of left-handedness and the truth of right-handedness, writing with their right hand, pitching with their left, and basically allowing their passions to direct their hands to ever greater confusion of the categories that God gave us.
How many children, themselves wondering whether they might be left-handed, have been cast into this pit by witnessing an admired authority figure unashamedly writing, pitching, batting, or playing paddleball with his left hand? Many of our professional baseball players even go so far as to openly advertise their left-handedness, touting it as a supposed benefit to their team! In addition, left-handedness is actively promoted even on children's cartoons, a clear attempt on the part of the left-handed agenda to circumvent the efforts of parents to train their children in right-handed ways. The best known example of a left-handed cartoon character is Ned Flanders, who goes so far as to open a left-handed-oriented store in the effort to shove his left-handedness in the face of everyone he meets. The most shameful part of this particular example is that Flanders is supposedly a Christian, but this wolf in sheep's clothing should not fool the attentive believer. In one of the first episodes in which he plays a prominent role, he shows himself to be a raging alcoholic and encourages Homer Simpson's own habit. He has also had extra-marital sexual relations and has been portrayed as questioning his faith and as being a huge fan of the Beatles. Thus Flanders' left-handedness is just one more example of the ways that the producers of The Simpsons are attempting to subvert true Christian morals.
Some of these left-handed advocates have even gone so far as to twist Scripture in order to advance their divisive agenda. Ehud, a character who appears in the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Judges, is portrayed as being left-handed, and in the context of the story, his left-handedness is supposedly (according to these interpreters) what allows him to sneak his knife into the inner sanctum of a pagan king and murder him, thus "saving" the Israelites. What these left-handites fail to recognize is that the book of Judges portrays a wide variety of negative behaviors to illustrate what happens when there is not a strong central government that spends all its resources enforcing moral commandments. One of the supposed "heroes," Samson, even hires a prostitute, another behavior that has been universally condemned throughout history in every nation except the Netherlands (that perfidious nation is a topic for another scathing blog-based critique). Clearly we need to be more sophistocated interpreters of Scripture than those who allow their left-handed agenda to obscure right reason.
Sadly, many Christian parents, wanting to be "understanding" and "tolerant of difference," actually encourage left-handed practices from a very early age, based simply on their children's perceived proclivity for them. Their children's graphite-smeared hands speak of the depravity of such laxity -- surely the discomfort of writing left-handed shows that God intended us to write with our right hands. Yet fathers are fed the insidious lie that trying to "force" a "naturally" left-handed child into the appropriate right-handedness will actually keep the child from reaching his full potential as an athlete! As if we have the right to transgress the boundaries that God has mercifully revealed to us, simply for our own pleasure!
Surely we believers should be merciful and understanding toward those who have long been trained to regard left-handedness as a normal or even desirable condition. We must be gentle, but firm. Left-handed people can change, albeit through a long process, fraught with dangers. The conversion process has been most successful among those who identify themselves as right-handed or as "ambidexterous" and simply occasionally flirt with left-handedness. The easiest method of conversion is usually to encourage them to avoid those behaviors that most tempt them to indulge in left-handed practice (pitching, catching, javelin-throwing, etc.). But for those who seem to be congenitally left-handed, for whom no degree of counselling or therapy can train to walk in the way God has set out for us, there is only one possible solution: these people simply must renounce writing altogether. If they need to produce a printed message, they can simply type it. If they cannot get used to using the mouse right-handed, the Lord has provided us with keyboard shortcuts. If they feel they cannot live without playing baseball in some form, churches have the sacred duty to form kickball leagues.
This problem, though deeply entrenched in our society and in our churches, can be overcome. Let us pray that our Christian leaders will be able to keep their priorities in order as we wage this front of the ongoing culture wars.
(12:00 AM) | Robb Schuneman:
Because the World is Round, it Turns Me On
Dang..I wish I knew exactly which words are allowed to be capitalized and which are not. For instance, "me" seems to be a pretty borderline term, as well as "on"..if anyone could specify there...
Okay, I'm going to do a much more typical blog post here because I rarely, if ever, have.
- I went to a movie tonight downtown at the OKC museum of art and could not find a parking place for the life of me. This was strange as there is vast parking on the blocks surrounding the OKCMOA and I normally find one on my first circle. After the movie (Northfork) I looked up on the web to try and find what the heck was going on, as, the theater was more packed out than usual, but not nearly that much. The cause of all my strife tonight was a lecherous duo indeed!
Together at last folks, Carrot Top and Yo Yo Ma. Okay, they were seperate, Carrot Top was at the Myriad and Yo Yo Ma was at the Civic Center..but by their powers combined they were Captain Suck-it tonight. Still, one can dream what an actual combined tour of those two great artists of our times might be like...
I must say that it was extremely awkward to watch the south-side (word that is nicer than hicks) marching towards their destiny of bad comedy while meshing with those in formal wear going to get their Ma on.
As far as I know, no one reported a Swamp Creature sighting at the Carrot Top show.
- Also, on the way down I listened to The Beatles' Abbey Road album. Does anyone else think that the boys were just showing off with the big medleys at the end? I mean, seriously, those 8-9 songs could have easily been expanded into number 1 hits rather than the small glimpses we were given. Were they just laying it down and saying, "Look, we're easily the best band of all time and could have had many more number one hits from this stuff, but..any more would push One into a 2 disc album..and that would just shoot the whole play on words straight to heck, so we're just gonna give you 30 to 90 second clips of genius all in a row and mesh them together in the end. Sound cheeky? good.
Seriously, what the heck?
- And finally, a friend recently pointed out to me how whatever Run, Lola, Run did had essentially been done by the end of Clue: The Movie before it. The undeniable truth of this statement simply makes the pretentious movie snob in me want to cry.
Also, be sure to read Adam's article. It is one of the more incredible things I've read this year. It's the feel good hit of the nuclear winter.
Saturday, September 27, 2003
(5:45 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
This essay is, in part, a follow-up to a previous post entitled Adam Kotsko: Enemy of Truth. Although my position at that point was halfway between frustration and bemusement, I now realize that the situation is somewhat more serious. In response to some information I have received about motivations behind the recent gutting of Olivet's religion department and about some future plans to carry through the program of that gutting, I have written a new essay entitled Education with a Christian Purpose: A Polemic. For those of you who are not acquainted with Olivet Nazarene University, "Education with a Christian Purpose" is one of its main slogans, but my essay is not satirical, nor is it solely or even mainly concerned with the situation at Olivet. Rather, it represents the crystalization of certain trains of thought that I have been dealing with for the last several years.
I would appreciate it if my readers would pass it along to other potential sympathetic readers. I believe it to be one of the best things I have ever written on my web page, and I naturally want it to have as wide and various a readership as possible.
(12:58 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Best Part of Waking Up
... is the following quotation from Michael Schaefer, an occasional contributor to this blog:
schaefer84: i think any females outside a relationship by the age of 20 are summarily deported from the Kankakee-Bourbonnais metro area.
schaefer84: in 5 years, you've given me little evidence to refute this theory.
Truer words have never been spoken. That's why I live in the Kankakee-Bourbonnais metro area: to escape temptation.
(10:26 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
I decided that with Robb giving up the song lyric thing, I'd "stand in the gap," so to speak. Here is a link to a Paul Krugman essay about economic inequality. Slacktivist posted this link a few days ago, but I just got around to reading it, so I'm only linking it now (this makes me wonder whether other bloggers read everything they link to... hmm). In any case, the specific reason I link to this article is the following quote:
And that is no surprise. After all, the success of free-market conservatives in seizing the mantle of populism in America, despite the growing gap between the broad public and a small minority possessing astonishing wealth, is inherently vulnerable. It took a combination of brilliant political leadership on the right and an awesome mixture of political ineptitude, personal arrogance, and cultural elitism on the part of liberals to give Armey and their allies their current position of power.
Maybe caustic liberal talk radio wouldn't be such a bad thing. If a populist approach can be so successful in selling policies that are directly opposed to the interests of people, maybe it can do something for policies that genuinely help most people, too.
(2:42 AM) | Robb Schuneman:
What to Make of a Diminished Thing?
(I am sorry to break the string of song lyrics-as-headlines I had going. But this is still a line from a poem, so it's at least still lyrical. I live for technicalities.)
It's sad that I've gotten out of the habit of re-reading books. I used to do it all the time. I tried to follow a rule that I'd re-read a book before reading each new one back in high school. I think now I pretty much look at the vast quantity of knowledge I haven't even found out about yet, including whole FIELDS of scholarly academia that I haven't read page 1 of, and it just seems like there's no time.
But the thing about re-reading a book is that a lot of things that were unclear the first time can be revealed the second and nineteenth times through. For example, I've recently been forced to re-read Catch 22 for a class. It has been completely revealing.
Don't get me wrong, I've loved the book from the first time I saw the awkward dancing man on the front. (Dangit, I'll say it: "It was love at first sight" HA HA INSIDE JOKE) However, the first thing I realized that I never understood was the chronology, I couldn't find any sort of pattern to how the story is being told. A lot of authors use time or symbolism or certain phrases to provide an outlying structure to a book. Heller gives us none of that. Or at least so I thought.
On second reading, the structure of the book seems to be psychological. Instead of going from what happened when, it seems rather to be a constant struggle. It is someone telling a story while trying desperately to avoid the crucial element to that story. Namely, the narrator is trying to tell the human story without having to reveal the awfulness of Snowden's secret...the secret he spilled all over the back of Yossarian's plane.
That's right...this one:
"It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowden's secret. Drop him out a window and he'll fall. Set fire to him and he'll burn. Bury him and he'll rot, like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden's secret. Ripeness was all."
It's the same dark secret which is avoided at all costs in Heart of Darkness, or basically any other work of important fiction. In spite of every structure we've set up to maintain our sanity, this mere matter remains and burns them all to the ground if it is acknowledged as such.
Every system we have set up will fail to make us any more than matter. The communist manifesto will fail you, the words of the bible will fail you, the state of the union address will fail you, the latest Bill O'Reilley book will fail you, and the latest Michael Moore book (which is (un)comically set beside the O'Reilly one in EVERY bookstore both online and physical I've visited in the last month...) will fail you.. There is nothing you can do to avoid the fact that we are matter, we are going to die, and what's worse, people are trying to kill us. Of course they aren't aiming specifically for us with their terrible policies, their stupid retributions and their anti-everything biases, but as Yossarian knows, that doesn't matter.
Now we're all horribly depressed. That's if we're lucky, if not, we're insane, or soon to be. That's why the painfully obvious fact that we are all going to die is so well hidden by society and everyone else today. We're given a million ways to prolong that life. We can achieve wealth and reign supreme, thus prolonging our life through pleasure. Or we can somehow establish a legacy where we will live vicariously on through those who take up the idea after us. Or, there's always the option that Dunbar took in the book, of trying to make life go as slow as possible in order to live forever.
This is where covering up the secret gets dangerous. People strive so hard to live forever, whether individually or collectively in a company or a State, that they are willing to do untold harm to others to ensure their life goes on as long as they can see. People will kill, literally kill for anything they see as a ticket to a few more years of "life." Countries have fought to extend their lifetime as a power through meaningless and frivolous wars that have killed millions, people have killed and done every other wretched terror to their friends and especially their enemies to extend their life, whether it be in actual years, in fame, or in wealth. Perhaps it's best symbolized by the pursuit of the actual fountain of youth in the real world, but folks, every war ever fought was over the fountain of youth. (I AM KING OF SOUNDBYTE.)
The secret, if revealed, runs the risk of making us go insane. A life less the standard structures is perilous at best. But only the oldest structure survives: to simply keep breathing, and to help others keep breathing. I know it isn't the most glorified thing to base one's life around. It certainly lacks the luster of accumulating a mega-million dollar empire, but it is the only structure which can lead to a healthy life within and with others. It seems strange to derail the attempt to live forever in one paragraph, and then tell people simply to keep breathing in the next. It certainly sounds contrary. But, It is the spirit which gives life meaning at all, (remember: the spirit gone, man is garbage). The life of the spirit is maintained in this simple gesture of breathing, and helping other breathe. To keep breathing is to love. If we can't handle the raw openness of this structure, which I'm not sure anyone can with sanity, I don't know, it's probably okay to lay down some simple guidelines, but no standard can be admitted which puts first extending this breath forever. All things must realize their own end, this life will one day be over, the very hands I am using to type this will one day be nothing but bone for someone like Mike Carlisle to break apart and analyze.
Shout out to Mike.
Friday, September 26, 2003
(8:40 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Adam Kotsko: Enemy of Truth
During a heated theological discussion on Olivet's dialog listserv, my conversation partner grew frustrated and said:
I despair especially of having any discourse with you. As far as I understand your views, I cannot refer to them as Christian.
Today, during a heated discussion of the interpretation of Genesis, my conversation partner said:
Seems like your are trying to make a point ignoring the whole Bible.... Why would you restrict what was given to help us understand truth? Unless, of course, you have a different agenda.
I'll admit that the second one is more artful in that it doesn't come right out and say that I don't qualify as a Christian. Still, the personal attack is there.
I wonder: is this just par for the course in the Christian tradition? Even granting that disproving the classical heresies was a really important thing, the advocates of orthodoxy were mainly assholes (for instance, Athanasius calls Arius a forerunner of the Antichrist and refers to the doctrine Arius has "vomited forth"). Is the personal attack simply part of what it means to debate as a Christian?
Another question: If calling myself a Christian means associating myself with jackasses who won't accept that I even am a Christian, is it worth the trouble?
Thursday, September 25, 2003
(11:29 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
A Miracle Has Occurred
After two years of incoherent Bush apologies, Thomas Friedman has written a good, insightful column. I can't find anything glaringly wrong or short-sighted about it, and it doesn't even contain any horribly strained metaphors or idiotic anecdotes that begin "while talking with a female med student in an Internet cafe in Islamabad...." Maybe, just maybe, the Times is on its way to having two good columnists again.
(10:40 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Something really cool
You know what's really cool? Unsolicited, vague advice. For instance, someone might authoritatively proclaim this: "Oh, you guys are first-year students? Well, you're going to need to learn how to cite sources and write clearly. Otherwise, you're just never going to make it in this program." Then she acts like she's sharing some hidden wisdom with you, like you've just been inititated into the Holy Order of the Hidden Gnosis of Orestes.
The only possible response is: Thanks! I had no idea that in a masters program, I'd be required to know stuff that they teach you in freshman English! I'll keep that really banal, patronizing, dreadfully obvious advice in mind. Here's a free tip for you: consider enrolling in a couple shut-the-hell-up lessons, because if you don't know how to shut the hell up when you have nothing worthwhile to say, you're never going to succeed at conversation.
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
(1:35 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Heaven and Slavery
Slacktivist has an interesting theory on how American Christianity became so excessively focussed on the "sweet by and by." Although this theory may very well hold in the American case, I'd be interested to see if the mainstream in Christianity has ever been more about social justice than about heavenly reward.
Perhaps our modern goggles, fogged over with visions of heaven, prevent us from seeing (through the goggles) the focus on social justice in early Christianity, preferring instead to emphasize those parts of the historical record that match our theory and practice. To extend this metaphor further, perhaps as we swim in the great swimming pool of history, holding our breath as we attempt to get to the bottom of the essence of Christianity (which is the bottom of the pool), our diving mask (not goggles, but the kind that is just a big oblong window that fits over both eyes and the nose) is becoming fogged up by the breath we're exhaling through our nostrils, which in this case corresponds to our modern view of religion as a way of getting into heaven rather than of making a better earth. Were we to pull away the diving mask, we would find that the waters of history would rush in, burning our eyes with the chlorine.
I just know Thomas Friedman is going to rip off this metaphor for his next column.
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
(11:47 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Today at the UN
During my drive to Chicago, I heard a wonderful speech on NPR by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. Addressing the UN General Assembly, he touched on the obvious issues of international terrorism and American preemptive attacks, but then he shifted focus in a way I found very valuable:
"Global poverty and underdevelopment are the principal problems that face the United Nations. Billions across the globe expect that this General Assembly will address this challenge in a meaningful manner," President Mbeki said. "For us, collectively, to meet these expectations will require that each and everyone of us, both rich and poor, both the powerful and the disempowered, commit ourselves practically to act in all circumstances in a manner that recognizes and respects the fact that none of us is an island, sufficient unto ourselves."
Although the UN's website sites Mbeki's speech as one of several examples of the importance of multilateralism, I disagree -- he talked about the current political conflicts, to be sure, but his main point was to get below the present rhetoric into the core problem of the world, which is economic inequality. Terrorism is a problem, and 9-11 was a devestating loss, but the real problem in the world today is global poverty.
Global poverty is clearly not a problem that the right wing is prepared to address. With the Republicans in charge of virtually every aspect of government today, the greatest economy in the world, the economy of a nation so prosperous and so bursting with wealth that you'd almost have to try to mess it up, is faltering, increasingly unable to provide work for its citizens, with no upturn in sight. Although the consequences of our little Republican adventure will be long-term, hopefully we can extract at least one lesson from this: all those talking points from right-wing radio, all those policies thought up by the think tanks, all the counterintuitive "logic" of achieving a goal (for instance, higher government revenue) by doing exactly the opposite of the common-sense way of achieving that goal (for instance, cutting taxes), all of it was bullshit. Twenty years of non-stop propaganda have now produced policies that clearly do not work, at all. There is no conceivable excuse for this failure. They won. They face no substantial obstacles, either in the form of domestic liberal opposition or meaningful foreign enemies. They have gotten everything they've wanted, from the stupid tax cuts to the stupid war. It just does not work. It's all bullshit, all smoke and mirrors.
So to all the radical Republicans, I say: You tried your best, and you failed. Now please shut up and go away, because your constant whining and grandstanding is drowning out the voice of the poor.
Yesterday, a dear friend told me that he's not angry enough to contribute to my web page. I don't know what he's talking about.
(4:05 AM) | Robb Schuneman:
I'm not a child. No, I am much younger than that..
Tonight I finally decided to stop being a poser, and actually watch Citizen Kane. I don't know why I waited so long..I've seen The Third Man, Touch Of Evil, Othello..I mean..I've even read The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Klay which basically revolves around the movie, yet had never seen it. I always have trouble bringing myself to see/read/listen to something I should have seen/read/listened to a long time ago, which is sad because I am far behind on many things.
Anyway, I could go on and on about the brilliance of the movie..the direction was revolutionary, moreso than anything else ever done in film, in my unknowledgable opinion. With all other movies I've seen from that time, there's nothing like it, with all I've seen since, there's definite "rip offs." I'm not sure I can say that for any other movie.
As I've been in the fancy of doing lately, I've introduced this only to say I don't want to talk about it. I'm sorry.
After the movie was done I re-started it with the commentary from Peter Bogdonavich. He wasn't himself all that satisfying, but I don't know what I was expecting from the guy who made that Mask movie about the kid with the 3 foot head.
But, in rewatching it, I did grow curious about one thing, and through much rewinding and slow motion-ing, finally satiated this need to know. There's the beautiful romantic scene at the beginning where Kane is sledding around on Rosebud, before being taken away for good. This is where he hits Thatcher with the sled and what not. The scene then goes to what is, I guess, the following Christmas where Kane is given a new sled. It's on screen for less than a second, but the name of the new sled is "The Crusador."
I'm not just trying to give you all idle trivia knowledge here. From everything I know about Orson Welles, nothing was unintentional. Rosebud would seem to represent the giving of love which Kane struggles against the whole movie. It's said several times that all he wants is love, but he wants it on his terms - without having to give any actual care back. He sees the people's love as something he can rule, and demand by his working hard for them against the slumlords, political bosses, et. al, but doesn't see that the only way to truly "find" love is to let go of all conditions and accept love on love's terms.
The only person Kane ever loved besides himself was his mother. Thus, when he is taken from her we see the sled being buried under mounds of snow - growing cold. When his love for her is apparently unreturned, as she chooses his potential wealth over his potential to be loved, he is given a new sled: The Crusader. And he epitomizes the attitude of a crusader from that day forth. The crusades were an attempt to bring about love for God through force, to acquire love, as if it was something to be grasped, without giving love. Thus, with his dying words, Kane hearkens back to that one time in his life where he gave love and received love in return, without setting any conditions or limits upon it.
There are many attempts to force this love - from the people/voters by becoming their "savior", from his best friend Jed, with the 25,000 dollar check, from Susan, by building "her" the opera house - all of whom eventually reject him. When he first encounters Susan, he is on his way towards re-discovering the love of his childhood, he's heading to the warehouse where he sent all his mother's belongings, and Rosebud. But, he is distracted by Susan's toothache, and his ability to make her feel better and the apparent love she gives to him for this ability. He thus is plunged again into the meaningless pursuit of the desire to make love in his own image, by his own rules. Only to find once again that it is impossible to create love, because love refuses any part of man's guidelines.
I was reminded of Romans (thanks again Bible Quizzing) where it says "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us." To be a conqueror is to forcefully put another in subserviance to you. To, once again, attempt to make love happen on your terms. To be more than a conqueror is to finally open oneself through loving others, demanding no love in return. This is impossibly hard, except through Him that loved us.
I remember being frustrated by this verse in quizzing. It made no sense. What's it mean to be more than a conqueror? If you've conquered, you're the champion, no time for losers and all that. I think a lot of people struggle with this same question, because it seems that when most people explain this verse, it always breaks down into "For we are better conquerers," as in, with Christ now we've eaten the flashing star and have become invincible and can now defeat everyone in the world. Or, basically, we're better at conquering than those without Christ.
I think that's powerfully sad, as it's exactly that thought that leads to the love-less life of Citizen Kane, and which leads to the crusades, and away from the call of Christ.
(As a postscript, go back and re-read my summary of that scene of Kane with his slad and instead of picture Orson Welles, picture the "Big Red Machine" Kane from WWE. It's great fun. If you need help, here's an image.)
Monday, September 22, 2003
(8:03 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
I am considering changing the name of "The Weblog," because I am tired of having stupidly plain names for my web page (i.e., "The Homepage"). My leading candidate, which is not entirely satisfactory, is "Memoirs of My Mental Illness," a "clever" reference to a book of the same title by Daniel Paul Schreber that was very influential in psychoanalytic circles. Since it occurred to me to do so and since no one could possibly stop me from doing so, I will now attempt to make a list of possible alternate choices off the top of my head:
- The Official Blog of NASCAR
- Frodo Lives!
- New York City?!
- Of Blogology
- The George W. Bush Fanclub
- Love is a Verb
- Crumbs, Crikey, Carrots
- Awkwardness, awkwardness...
- Armed Resistance
- The Blogosphere's Best-Kept Secret
- Great Chowder Recipes
- Highly-paid Mercenaries
- San Narciso Community Blog
- The Gloaming
- Human, All Too Human
- Whither Oedipus?
- With Alacrity and Zeal
- Since I Gave Up Hope, I've Felt a Lot Better
- Ara vos prec
- The Idiot
That's probably enough for now. Although I probably took all the ones you were thinking of, now it's your turn! Simply let me know what name you think I should use, and I'll do whatever I end up deciding to do. As an added bonus, I challenge anyone to come up with the reference I intended to make with each possibility. Some of them, like the Bush Fan Club one, don't really have a reference -- most do.
Sunday, September 21, 2003
(6:24 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Internet Addiction, part 2
After a weekend given mainly to dissipation -- long IM conversations, an abortive trip to see the Bonhoeffer film in Chicago which turned into a two-hour tour of the city with an alarmingly small amount of gas, sleep, etc. -- I made a firm resolution this morning. First of all, I would go without coffee today as part of my periodic detox periods that help me to convince myself I'm not addicted. Second, I determined that I would go as long as possible without touching the computer. That lasted from 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM, at which point I needed to e-mail Richard to tell him how much I had spent on groceries. Now, clearly, my resolve has declined somewhat ever since that first "hit" of computer time, as evidenced by the fact that I'm even posting this. However, when I saw to my dismay that my two fellow bloggers, one of whom is currently unemployed, haven't written anything for the whole weekend, I thought I needed to keep this moving, if only to keep a technical discussion of Zizek from being the top post on here forever.
While I was not using the Internet, I read Exodus and Numbers, in their entirety, several parallel texts from the ancient world, articles in the Women's Bible Commentary on those two books (they had a little trouble digging up women's issues in these two), one brief snippet each from Gregory of Nyssa and Athanasius, and roughly a third of the first volume of Justo Gonzalez's History of Christian Thought. I don't know if that sounds like a lot to you, but it actually came out to be less than what I thought it would be -- that's why I try to avoid "buckling down" and "putting my nose to the grindstone" and "taking the bull by the horns," because I prefer to fantasize about superlative results rather than achieve merely good results.
Reading Exodus and Numbers, I was amazed by just how casually they threw around the death penalty back then. I was also retroactively appalled by the argument that if we had only practiced slavery like the ancient Hebrews did, it would somehow have been "okay." Yes, there was a predetermined release date, but if the slave got married during his mandatory six years of service, he had to choose between perpetual slavery or abandoning his family to perpetual slavery. That strikes me as slightly morally problematic and as obviously open to abuse. Also, if the master strikes the slave and he dies immediately, then the master is guilty of murder, but if he clings to life for a day or so, then the master is let off -- after all, the slave is his property. As my professor says: sometimes we just need to admit that we don't share the values of the biblical writers. This means that it will require (shiver) more thought to come up with the reasons that scripture is to be preserved and proclaimed in the contemporary world, but I think we'll all be better people for it.
I did find one teaching in Numbers that I thought the US could learn from (especially in the light of this previous post). Here it is, in the good old King James:
And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the passover unto the LORD; according to the ordinance of the passover, and according to the manner thereof, so shall he do: ye shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land. (Numbers 9:14)
This is a fairly persistent theme: you are to have one law that covers both the native and the resident alien. Here it is proclaimed in the context of one of the very holiest of Israel's feasts, so I take that to mean that they took the idea pretty seriously. Of course, one has to balance this against the requirement that they utterly destroy everything in the land that they are to occupy, but I would argue that this can be understood (though not excused) as a way of clearing the space for a new kind of nation where this kind of radical hospitality can take place. Perhaps -- and this is only a theory, because I am constantly told by people who know more than I do that Jesus absolutely did not constitute any kind of break with or criticism of Israel's religion at all -- Jesus Christ might provide us with an example of how to practice the radical hospitality without clearing the way by mass murder and genocide. It would appear that even for Christians, the example of ancient Israel has usually been much more tempting than that of Christ, and understandably so.
In the light of this argument, though, the Hebrew Bible could (should?) be read as an account of the many ways in which the path clearing, never fully accomplished, eventually ends up completely distracting Israel from the noble goal of radical hospitality -- so much so that sometimes the only way to learn the lesson is for everyone to be deported from the Promised Land so that the next generation will once again know what it means to be an alien. Between the first entry to the Promised Land and the deportation, there's a hell of a lot of bloodshed and betrayal.
Friday, September 19, 2003
(11:13 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Adam Smith gave me a link to this recent article by Slavoj Zizek, entitled "Bring Me My Phillips Full Mental Jacket." Like most of Zizek's writings, it is inconsistent: at times really brilliant and invigorating, and at times appearing to wallow in the most obvious banalities. I am beginning to think that Zizek is a true theorist in the classic continental tradition. Like Foucault, he has shown that he has considerable erudition and can do the scholarly heavy lifting with the best of them -- for instance, The Indivisible Remainder (available in paperback only in Canada, for reasons I can't quite ascertain) was a genuinely good critical introduction to Schelling, even if it did got bogged down in way too much Lacan, and Tarrying with the Negative certainly helped me to understand Kant and Hegel beyond the textbook cliches. Now, however, he seems to have decided that the best way to go is to make sweeping, very interesting assertions -- for instance, "Yes, Christianity is at the root of Marxism, and the two need to work together," as in The Fragile Absolute -- and then write a very bizarre book full of good passages, interesting analyses, and a variety of materials that aren't related in any obvious ways to the deeply subversive thesis. After two or three times through, as I have mentioned before, I did figure out what he was doing in The Fragile Absolute, and it is deeply satisfying, but three times through one short book, just to see the freaking point, seems like a little bit much to ask from non-fanatical readers.
The difference in this article is that the "money quote" comes at the end of an argument that up to this point has seemed to be a rather pedestrian analysis of the ethical dilemmas posed by scientific advances (albeit with hints toward something more subversive):
Reducing my being to the genome forces me to traverse the phantasmal stuff of which my ego is made, and only in this way can my subjectivity properly emerge.
The point is familiar to readers of Zizek, but, to quote the White Stripes, "it bears repeating." There is always a pure determinism at work, primarily (in Lacan) the rules of the symbolic order of language. Bringing this determinism down to the level of brain chemistry doesn't change anything, especially when deep down, we all pretty much knew that there was determinism at that level anyway -- those who advocate an entirely law-governed physical universe cannot possibly fail to see that our bodies, including our brains, are part of that physical universe. There is, however, always an excess produced by this very lockstep determinism, the "indivisible remainder" which is the pure negativity of the subject, that "something else" that we can't account for. We can, and do, ignore that "something else," but that always implies a certain loss of nerve. Even if we argue that our genetic code predisposes us to lose our nerve, we can't escape from the empty space of subjectivity -- after all, where were we standing when we said that our genetic code predisposes us... except in the place of the free subject?
One question to be considered (perhaps Jared Woodward or Anthony Smith could weigh in on this one): for Zizek, is there any way to get at subjectivity except psychoanalysis? Parallel to the familiar C. S. Lewis argument according to which salvation comes only through Christ, even if the saved person does not know Christ is doing the saving, is it the case that every path toward true subjectivity is analysis by other means, whether the subject recognizes it as such or not? Is there an ethical obligation to undergo psychoanalysis, by whatever means necessary?
(9:33 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Want to become angry?
This first link, courtesy of Atrios (as are virtually all the links that any leftist/liberal blogger ever posts), should go a long way toward making you angry. Judging from the account given therein, the government is luring immigrants to what seem like routine appointments, then deporting them for no apparent reason -- instantly. That is not the kind of country I want to be living in.
This second link, from the usually very good but sometimes rather obscure Sullywatch, rounds up a variety of articles on tax issues. The bottom line: conservatives need to stop acting like the federal income tax is the only tax in this country. The lowest 20% of the population, income speaking, pays about 20% of their income in taxes, some of which are actually regressive in structure. Only the top 20% earners pay a higher percentage. Here's a nice paragraph from TAPped that I think sums it up well:
What's most disheartening is that this lie [that the poor don't pay any taxes] isn't necessary in order to explain the supposed goals of conservatism. The fact that the average American, rich or poor, pays roughly the same percentage of his or her income in taxes does not contradict the belief that the government spends too much, or that taxes in general are too high. So an obsession with this idea that the poor "don't pay taxes" seems to indicate that for many conservatives, shifting the tax burden to lower-income Americans ranks higher on the list of priorities than, say, reducing the size of government. Guess who's practicing class warfare now?
Thursday, September 18, 2003
(11:11 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Ralph Nader Thing
Many on the left apparently hate Ralph Nader for handing the election to Bush. I'd like to see the stats on this. Are there any states where Gore would have won if he had had Nader's votes? Are there any figures to indicate how many Nader voters were dissatisfied Republicans going for a "screw you" vote? Would all the Nader votes in Florida have tipped the scales? In short: is there any factual basis to the claim that Ralph Nader cost Gore the election, given that Gore still managed to win a clear majority of the popular vote? Maybe the figures do indicate that Nader cost Gore the election -- maybe someone could, you know, actually do the math in order to back up this frequently made claim. The best answer to what cost Gore the election is Bush's ruthlessness, plain and simple.
It would be nice if everyone could remember who the enemy is here -- chances are, it's not Ralph Nader. His platform seems like it was just too far outside of the mainstream for him to be a real spoiler, unlike, say, Ross Perot, who spoke to some very real concerns about the deficit and made that front-and-center of the national agenda. Maybe I'm wrong here -- maybe the figures will turn out to support the knee-jerk Democratic talking point. I'm skeptical, though.
(9:04 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
I am an idiot
Whenever I do something stupid, I feel like I need to tell it as soon as possible to as many people as possible, so as to deflect attention from the raw fact of my stupidity. So here goes: I got called tonight to substitute at Kankakee High School. I turned it down, out of a sense of loyalty to my current job. Here are the facts, however:
- I would work only until 2:30 or so at the high school, with ample opportunity to read during the school day, including a guaranteed conference hour and lunch period. Contrast this with working until 6:00 at the damn chiropractor, where I will likely have plenty of idle time, but where I can't so much as read radical left-wing propaganda on the Internet and am instead forced to come up with lame wallpapers using Windows paint. I enjoyed that for a while, but I am running out of ideas.
- I would be paid slightly more by Kankakee schools -- $5 more, but considering the greater freedom involved, that is almost the feather that broke the camel's back, and as we all know, if your back is actually broken, a chiropractor can't help you.
- Just today my manager at work shared with me her anxiety about keeping me on staff. Part of the tacit agreement of my working there has always been a supreme flexibility about time considerations: for instance, it has never been mentioned that I come in late almost every day, both in the morning and at lunch time, while I often show a considerable legalism when it comes to leaving on time. Also, it is almost unheard of for me to go more than two weeks without calling in for a day off, not because I'm sick, not because I have anything important to do, but just for the sheer, unadultured hell of it. Apparently my incredible job performance (when I'm there) more than compensates for my unreliability, given that they have kept me on staff for over a year! Also, they just recently trained me to analyze X-rays, which is a much-needed skill due to the shortage of doctors currently and will likely continue to be. So they probably won't fire me for calling in tomorrow.
In summary, I must repeat: I am an idiot, especially in light of my earlier post in which I firmly resolved not to work at the chiropractor's this year. But given that I've only gotten called to sub three times this year, I think it would be pretty stupid to take the plunge right this second. Of course, I don't have to: I can just ask for days off as I need them, since that is part of the structure of this particular job I have. There's really no redeeming this one.
I guess I've learned a valuable lesson....
Okay, my conscience won't allow me to end with just trailing off. Bye.
(11:52 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Zizek Appearance in Hyde Park
The following is reproduced from the page of the Seminary Co-op Bookstore that Anthony Smith keeps hearing about:
Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet & The Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity
Monday, September 29th, 2003 at 7 pm at The Oriental Institute, 1155 E. 58th Street
Slovenian professor and activist Slavoj Zizek is the author of such original and engaging works of cultural criticism as Art of the Ridiculous Sublime: On David Lynch's Lost Highway, "Kant as a Theoretician of Vampirism," Enjoy Your Symptom, and Nato as the Left Hand of God. Lately, he has turned his attention to religion, and his latest book, The Puppet and the Dwarf, critiques major versions of contemporary spirituality, specifiically, New Age gnosticism and deconstructionist-Levinasian Judaism, and then tries to redeem the "materialist" kernel of Chirstianity, except with less jargon. Zizek is professor of philosophy and psychoanalysis at the Institute for Sociology, Ljubljana.
The Oriental Institute is right across the street from Chicago Theological Seminary. I have never entered the building personally, but I drive by it every time I'm up there during my twenty-minute search for a parking place. The next day, Hans Kung is coming to town. I'd be interested to see a conversation between Kung and Zizek.
Wednesday, September 17, 2003
(10:54 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Paul Krugman Interview
This is an interview with Paul Krugman by CalPundit. I might have to make CalPundit one of my regulars at this point, because his comment section is seriously amazing in itself -- people who apparently actually know stuff get into debates with each other. The contrast with the comments at Atrios is striking, both in tone and content. I suppose all the repressed liberals out there need a place to vent their fiery rhetoric, but sometimes it starts to make very tedious reading (i.e. "I think Ann Coulter is really a man"; "Look at that Adam's apple!"; "Looks more like a horse to me"; "Conservatives masturbate while they think about her because she looks like a Nazi, and they're Nazis").
Cutting down one of the biggest names in blogging: a sure-fire way to increase my readership.
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
(8:28 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
My enrollment at CTS has corresponded with a horrible relapse into outright internet addiction. Between the blogosphere, various discussion boards, checking my website every five minutes or so for comments, talking on instant messenger for hours, and checking my bank balance (but not reconciling it with my checkbook), I have clearly turned back into my Olivet self. Thankfully, though, I do have some hope -- now that I've finally gotten my radio antenna back, I can once again listen to NPR constantly, which will hopefully satisfy my desire for radical left-wing propaganda and deeply slanted "news." I also just got a new Harper's, so maybe I'll be so eager to read it that the Internet will seem lacking by comparison.
Or maybe I'll continue, in my charmingly neurotic way, to set up artificial obstacles to keep me from achieving my "official" goals, so that later I can have the pleasure of complaining about not achieving them or fantasizing about how great it would be to achieve them.
Monday, September 15, 2003
(9:47 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
That One Guy
I mainly post political things here, but I really don't think that Marx or Lacan or Zizek or whatever theorist I like most on a given day is the final horizon of my political thought: whether I like it or not, Jesus of Nazareth is. Whatever value I emphasize at a given time, somehow he turns out to be the best example of it. If I value speaking out forcefully against people who abuse their own religious traditions for petty power games, it turns out that I have a lot to learn from Jesus of Nazareth. If I value calling into question the power structures of a given society, again, I probably need to begin and end my studies with Jesus of Nazareth. If I value extracting the most liberating elements out of a socio-religious milieu and making them serve the people, instead of vice-versa, once again I keep running into Jesus of Nazareth.
I don't have this big emotional attachment to the guy; I don't sit and pray in front of a crucifix and cry crocadile tears; I don't passionately thank him every day for buying me my ticket to heaven (which I otherwise would never have been able to afford on my own modest means). I was introduced to him much against my will, in an environment that, unsurprisingly and unnotably, often seemed to be the exact opposite of an environment inspired by his life and teachings. For all my misgivings, though, I can't help but think that he was the most radical, the most consistent, the most demanding, the most giving, the most miraculous person ever to walk the face of the earth. He is, in a word, terrifying.
Sunday, September 14, 2003
(10:36 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
I am an "America-hating historian"
I periodically type my own name into Google, to watch with frustration as The Weblog utterly fails to be the top search result, indeed even to be on the first page of results. In any event, today I found this page, which contains the following sentence in the comment section (responding to what I assume is a published print article):
I suppose you'd suggest I read some Noam Chomsky, Adam Kotsko, Paul Krugman or some other such America-hating historians work in order that I may become as obsessively bitter as all of you.
Run a search within Internet Explorer to find the whole insightful comment. Further down the page, the same person quotes, in full, my Amazon list entitled "So you'd like to... Hate America" with no attribution, introducing it with this insightful comment:
Here's a little lesson plan for all you liberals that oh so love hating America. you can find YOUR history lessons. Don't bother watching sill [sic] John Wayne movies or reading comic books [earlier, someone had accused him of getting his history from these sources]. You won't find America-hating subject matter there. This synopsis was written by a leftist, for a leftist
He concludes as is appropriate:
Sad, isn't it? People devote such time to such utter ridiculousness.
I'm honestly not sure how seriously to take this person, or how seriously he is taking my list. I'm honored to be listed in between Chomsky and Krugman in any case. For review, here is one of the recommendations from my "Hate America" list:
'Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace' by Gore Vidal is also essential to all America-haters. Punning off the title of the neoconservative philosopher Immanuel Kant's essay "Perpetual Peace," Gore Vidal (a distant relative of Al Gore and a high-culture "novelist") instructs us in the many evils of American imperialism. His simplistic polemical "arguments" remind one of the question-begging of "gay rights" activists and those who favor legalized discrimination (i.e., affirmative action). In short, Gore Vidal is a classic Clintonian hack writing an uninformed, semi-Pelagian piece of yellow journalism.
Looking over my list, I now realize that it is very possible that he chose Noam Chomsky and Paul Krugman because both appear on my list and they were the only names he recognized. Overall, this is even better than the time that one of my commentaries was posted on Free Republic.
(5:45 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Coming Plague
As of this writing, the following is the last comment on this very depressing post from CalPundit, entitled "Why Paul Krugman is Depressing":
Does anyone know how you go about opening a foreign currency savings account? Do you just ask for a Euro-denominated account at the bank? Serious question.
Among the possibilities considered in this discussion thread: immanent fiscal collapse, ever-increasing deficits, loss of confidence in the financial markets and/or the American political process by the majority of citizens, and even, yes, the break-up of the United States into several smaller countries. I think I might be in favor of the last option, in the abstract, because I figure Illinois and Michigan would wind up in a "Northwest Territories" country, made up of the Great Lakes region essentially, and this is a decently liberal area. If I lived in Alabama or Wyoming, I could see that being a very bad thing. Anyway, go ahead and read it.
(12:18 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Can there be a decent left?
I just found this article from the last anniversary of 9/11 in Dissent. In it, Michael Walzer, the co-editor of the magazine, makes some very serious accusations against "the left" in this nation, but a crucial factor is missing in this analysis: pointing out who the hell he's talking about. The closest I can get to a direct citation is "last fall's antiwar demonstrators" or "a few left academics." He's eager to cite the names of patriotic leftists from days of yore (George Orwell) or of French leftists who became alienated from their nation's policies (Jean-Paul Sartre), but he can't so much as bring himself to drop the name of one contemporary American leftist. Should it just be obvious to his readers? Are the names of Chomsky and Sontag too loathsome to type out?
Identifying himself as a leftist, he admits:
[L]eftists have no power in the United States, and most of us don't expect to exercise power, ever. Many left intellectuals live in America like internal aliens, refusing to identify with their fellow citizens, regarding any hint of patriotic feeling as a surrender to jingoism.
Is it really strange or inexcusable for a (relatively small) group of intellectuals to feel deeply alienated from a nation that clearly has no use for their fervent beliefs, arrived at after thousands of hours of research and study? And given the fact that these leftists have very little power and influence, is it really that good a use of time to criticize them for their "irrelevant" views?
I suppose that one can defend his general argument, despite the utter lack of citations, on the basis of the idea that a significant group of gifted intellectuals are expending their intellectual energy on useless theorizing that doesn't help anyone. But isn't it something of an indictment of our nation's intellectual life that those who advocate an economic system that is not exploitative of either laborers or nature, that makes a direct effort to meet everyone's basic needs, that does not ostracize people on the basis of race, gender, or consensual sexual practices are considered irrelevant? That people who advocate overturning a system that ruins countless lives every day are considered to be wasting their efforts and to be little more than snobs?
(2:29 AM) | Robb Schuneman:
Vigor, Vim, Vitality, And Punch
I have a memory in my head. I have a memory of when I was dead.
Sorry, I was going to start this here..but as I was typing those "ultimate band lyrics" took over my fingers. I'll try again.
I'm curious. I had a memory the other day, as I was toting my backpack around, of a little satan inspired miracle that occured in my life around the 2nd or 4th but certainly not yet the 6th grade. What's this? What's this I speak of? Well, I'm not sure if it was a Carman Ainsworth only, or a Flint only, or a Michigan only, or a nation-wide only plot to ruin everyone's lives, but I'm speaking of the PEP Program.
You see, I was a young 2nd grader (for the duration of the article, we're going with 2nd grade, in case you need me to hold your hand.). My life was perfect. I played Mega Man 2 every day upon getting home, until eventually I'd go play baseball until it got dark. Then I'd come home and wait for mom to get home from work, and then we'd have dinner. And then I'd shower if it was tuesday thursday or saturday. And THEN, THEN I'd go to bed, to restore my juice and do it all again tomorrow.
It was the pleasant life, it was the simple life Gwen Stephani sings about with a straight face while wearing ridiculously pinked off and non-simple hair. It was EVERYTHING LIFE SHOULD BE AND IT WAS STOLEN FROM ME EARLY. Stolen by the god-awful state budgeted program, the PEP program. Dirty liberals.
The PEP program was initiated to help kids do homework. Moreso, it was initiated to help the parents do homework. The State, prompted by years of kids not wanting to do homework, ever, decided that it was the parents fault. And so they prepared them.
Yes, I was sitting in the midst of kindergarten, and it was a glorious time. The teacher, Ms. Kirby, had just said the magic words, "Heads down, thumbs up, time for another round of 7-Up!" when the freaking PA system went off and signaled us down to the gym.
The Gym. Nothing good ever happens in the gym except at gym time. Whether it's scoliosis checks, spaghetti dinners, or eating cancerous ill-gotten meat from the lunch line, if it didn't involve sports, and it was held in the gym, we knew we were in for a rollicking good suckstravaganza.
This particular time we came in and were given the spiel about a fantastic new program. They told us it was cool, fun, and would get us ready for pre-school. THEY LIED. They lied like the lying dogs with brown foxes jumping over them that they were. They carted us all in and tested out these yellow bookbags on us. We, each of us, tried on about 200 of the yellow monstrosities trying to find just the right fit. See, we were as yet uninitiated into the world of strapping heavy burdens onto your back, a world we would enter metaphysically for the rest of our life from that day forth. We were young and fragile, and apparently the crayons and 25 page workbook we were about to carry had every potentiality of snapping our feeble spines in two. I remember some of the kids being really geeked about finally getting to wear backpacks like the elders in the school. I remember them because I marked them in my meta-list of who to kick in the fibula one day.
Jamie Topolinski, I'm coming for you.
(If you do a google search and this comes up, not really. You were just the first name I could remember from Randalls due to its stunning 3 syllables. Okay, first I remembered Mitch Mallard, but I have other antecdotes about him, and what's the fun of picking on just 1 person you didn't really know to well. But yeah, I'm not still upset about that time you beat me in Tetherball in Randalls own minutae "battle of the sexes" with you being Billy Jean King and me being the guy. Except that the agony of it all still burns within my adnoids, on a constant basis, making any and all spittle I cough up taste like sweet, pure, fury. One day, Topolinski, you shall be brought off your mighty tetherball throne.)
Anyways, we all got assigned books and crayons and pencils, which was all in all not unlike an episode of Bill Cosby's "Picture Pages", minus the smiling red permanant marker that made cool humming noises as you drew. And my principal, Bartholomew Zacharich, was there in place of Bill Cosby. Ha ha ha...Bart.
Anyways, the gist of the program was two-fold: To help students learn how to do homework before having to do homework on the real. And..to help parents learn how to help (do) their kids homework (for them) without getting enraged at their sprouts extreme stupidity. It's third and perhaps more understated purpose was to give me something to spew rage at 2 score and 1 year later.
The thing was, it was homework with no purpose. And with no purpose, there is no end in sight. It wasn't like "do this simple math, moron." It was like "Here is some paper - trace your family tree. When you get to where you don't know, ask dad. When you get to where dad is tired of telling you stuff, call Grandma. Her number is 918-342-4020. She is old and loves to talk about people older than her." It was endless stupidity that took hours on end when all I wanted to do was use the cool new tracing thing I had gotten for my birthday to draw racecars.
(This tracing thing probably sounds stupid, but I think it was my most awe-inspiring gift..mostly because I didn't know how to use it. But after about 300 tries I did manage to get one professional looking race car out of it. Professional minus the sucky rainbow colored, all up and outside the line "paint job" I gave it. I've gotta find out what that thing was. It allowed me to do the impossible.)
However, the PEP program met up against the intolerable force that is a young child not wanting to do anything. I think we were like, 3, when the PEP program went into place at my school. Anyways, I eventually broke my dad down. I whined everynight about having to do the homework until eventually he'd just sign the sheet saying I'd done it to not have to work all night to get me to sit still anymore. I employed this same strategy for countless band "practice sheets", homework assignments and parole slips.
So, I guess for all my hatred and unrequited tempestuous hatred (yeah..after all that build up I couldn't really think of anything else.) PEP did finally achieve it's goal and help me learn how to deal with homework for years to come. Thanks to PEP, I learned that if I whine and stomp and refuse to "do the work" for long enough, someone will get frustrated and want to go to bed and give me their blessed, freeing, signature.
OH WAIT NO THEY DON'T. I FAIL AND DON'T GET ANY JOB AND END UP WORKING AT MEATS 'R' YOU UNTIL I DIE OF HEAT EXHAUSTION WHEN I THROW MY HEAD INTO THE VAT OF STEAMING HOT GREASE. Thank you very much PEP PROGRAM, for RUINING MY LIFE.
Dang, I need to employ the weblog as a way of abrogating all my long lost hatreds more often. I am free, I am glorious, I'm every woman.
Now that's PEP.
Saturday, September 13, 2003
(6:53 PM) | Robb Schuneman:
I'm Just A Teenage Dirtbag, Baby
I meant to post this a week ago, but I am the whore of babylon and left Adam all alone here in the "blogosphere" (is the the right term?) for an entire week. I apologize to Adam, I apologize to you the reader, and I apologize to brave samurai Musashi for the dishoner I have brought upon our house.
All the same, last week I went to see a showing of The Deathray Davies, Steve Burns and The Starlight Mints. I went only having heard one cd from The Deathray Davies, and not even being overly impressed by that. However, I kept hearing how good the Starlight Mints were, and I was longing for a non-Pigmy Love Circus tainted concert.
But, than, I don't really want to talk about that.
I went all by myself, but as I was walking up to the club I saw this kid from my math class. We hung out for a majority of the night, and one of his friends turned out to be Wayne of The Flaming Lips cousin, who also happened to be there. So that made for some interesting times. But, than, I don't really want to talk about that either.
After that I saw a couple guys from church who I never would have taken to be fans of this kind of music and now feel a closer bond and a greater emphasis to actually go to church. But I don't want to talk about what in the heck that's all about either.
What I want to talk about is Steve Burns. We all know Steve Burns, right? Sure we do. We may know him better simply as "Steve." You know..he hangs out with a little bitch named Blue (And I use "bitch" in it's actual sense there..so I don't think I get swearing points on that one.) He's always writing things in a "handy-dandy notebook." Come on now people, I'm talking, of course, about Steve Burns, former host of Nickelodeon's Blues Clues. Apparently, he left the show a while ago to go out and become an all out rock godlet.
I didn't know he had left because I only watch the show with my cousins (yeah..right), and the new guy "Joe" (whose actual name is Donovan) has been molded to look like Steve.
But, I must say that Mr. Burns put on one fascinating show. He had a full multimedia extravaganza going the whole night with this screen in the background which featured an on-going story. The story was about this Domo-Kun doll (you know..the little monster from the "everytime you masturbate...God kills a kitten" photoshop). At one point, the Domo Kun sprouted angel wings and took off, so Steve had to go find it. He searched the whole city, eventually winding up at a non-descript house which belonged to Wayne from The Flaming Lips. So, Steve and the 3 members of The Lips, complete with their bunny suits so often seen since Yoshimi came out, went gallavanting all over everywhere looking for young Domo-Kun, until eventually they were reunited. It was brilliant, hillarious, and fit in perfect with the songs.
Besides this there were at times some awesome videos of random people "wigging out" to the music in the background and all sorts of other stuff. Brilliant. It was a circus.
The music itself is something like the Flaming Lips, but with a children's educator twist. I didn't realize just who this Steve was until he introduced the songs. It was the exact same motions, exact same inflection as used on Blue's Clues.
All in all it was an amazing show and I highly reccomend all of you go and buy/"obtain" his album "Songs For Dustmites"
I really should have posted this a week ago, I feel the week has sucked out a lot of the giddy energy I radiated the first 3-4 days after the concert. Oh well, I'm on good terms with failure.
(3:10 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
New "Get Your War On"
Man, it took him long enough.
(10:53 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Something decent from the Wall Street Journal
Although the publication mentioned in the title has a reputation for being a fascist propaganda center, this article (which is linked on the comments for this Pandagon post) is very interesting. It asserts what most of us probably unconsciously already knew:
In the same situation, the vocal right in Congress would have blamed Sept. 11 on the "weakness" of the Clinton-Gore policies. Jesse Helms would be ranting about the crippling of the CIA that began with Jimmy Carter and accelerated under Bill Clinton. (Somehow the Ronald Reagan, Bill Casey and George H.W. Bush years don't count.) The critics would go on to assert that capitulating to the Chinese with a semiapology when they downed a U.S. plane only encouraged Osama bin Laden.
The article goes on along this same line for a while, then concludes:
There is a need for legitimate argument and disagreement over economic policy and the criminal-justice approach, and certainly over sending young American men and women into harm's way. Such a debate will escalate in the coming weeks and months [this article was written in December of 2001], just as it did during previous conflicts.
But if Al Gore had been president, the narrow right would have turned that desirable debate into a vindictive, petty one.
Of course, he's right factually, but I think the article in general is insidious: it moves politics up from the level of concrete policy into the realm of infighting (which is usually the means to the end of getting particular policies passed, but is all too often an end-in-itself). For instance, after reading these paragraphs, who could possibly argue that we're better off with Bush?
The Bush foreign-policy team gets exceptionally high marks. But a Gore foreign-policy team--Dick Holbrooke at State, Sam Nunn at Defense, Leon Fuerth as national security adviser and George Mitchell as a roving troubleshooter--would be equal in experience, expertise and resolve. They also would be bolder.
The elements of today's basic policy formulation--state-building, a strong reliance on the United Nations, and multilateralism--all were articulated during the 2000 campaign by the Democratic candidate. "Bush has bought into the Clinton/Gore policy," notes Democratic Rep. Barney Frank.
A Gore economic team--Larry Summers, former Fannie Mae CEO Jim Johnson and Wall Street whiz Steven Rattner--would be vastly superior to Mr. Bush's team, as would their policies. Certainly, a Gore administration would have pushed a more coherent and comprehensive homeland security initiative.
A President Gore would micromanage the terrorist crisis but would be more knowledgeable. The imponderable would be whether Mr. Gore, in a time of crisis, would be inspiring and constructively challenging, or unctuous and pedantic.
And because the right wing would go insane over everything Gore does, we're supposed to be glad that a competent, bold foreign policy team and (much more importantly, in my opinion) an economic team with actual coherent policies similar to those that led to actual economic growth in the late 1990s did not gain power in 2000? I have news for everyone: political discourse is not the only thing that matters. A spirit of cooperation and comeraderie among politicians is no more likely to produce desirable policies than is vigorous, even heated debate. In fact, the long-standing trend of shifting all political commentary to the level of infighting rather than the level of the actual effects of proposed policies is a big part of the reason that most people feel so alienated from politics today -- why should I get my ass out of bed to go vote, so that I can stroke some politician's ego or give some party ammunition to screw over the other party?
So as accurate as this article undoubtedly is, it is still part of the problem. It ignores the fact that politics actually effect people's lives, that the goal of politics is to produce policy that can, to a considerable extent, be judged on objective grounds as to its effectiveness -- not, finally, whether it is "liberal" or "conservative." (Another post shall come some day about the insidious effects of flattening all political discourse into those two categories.)
The abstraction of politics, as illustrated in this article (which, I must emphasize, is very good and insightful in its own way), ultimately ends up reinforcing the right-wing ascendancy in this country. I think that if the American people all attended some kind of all-day economic seminar on the likely ramifications of the policies of each party, they would be led to conclude that the current Republican policies just do not work -- they do not improve the quality of life of much of anyone. They make the rich richer, certainly, but the rich are already rich -- the whole thing with being rich is that you don't need more money, so that having more money is probably going to have only marginal effects on a rich person's life. By abstracting the debate to the level of the comparative power of two teams, each of whom have an absolutely equal claim to power, and each of whom "succeeds" or "fails" based solely on the way they "play the game" (the political game that only occasionally slouches down to the level of actual policy), the media does a great disservice to the nation. Policy does still matter, and by pretending it doesn't, the media encourages the American people to give up any claim to control their own destiny.
Friday, September 12, 2003
(9:07 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
A quote from the lovely and talented Ann Coulter:
On the basis of their recent pronouncements, the position of the Democratic Party seems to be that Saddam Hussein did not hit us on 9-11, but Halliburton did.
I stole this from Atrios, but it seemed good enough to propagate. I guess that if a lie is repeated often enough, it travels back in time, alters history, and becomes true. It's this kind of godlike power that the Democrats need to be watching out for in the 2004 election.
Thursday, September 11, 2003
(10:28 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Fall of the Roman Republic
This wonderful and illuminating article (complete with footnotes) outlines the shift from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire, suggesting how the militarism of our own nation might lead to a similar collapse eventually. Here are a couple sneak previews:
After Augustus, not much recommends the Roman Empire as an example of enlightened government despite the enthusiasm for it of such neoconservative promoters of the George W. Bush administration as the Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer, the Wall Street Journal's Max Boot, and the Weekly Standard's William Kristol.
Given the course of the postwar situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, it may not be too hard to defeat George Bush in the election of 2004. But whoever replaces him will have to deal with the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, our empire of bases, and a fifty-year-old tradition of not telling the public what our military establishment costs and the devastation it can inflict. History teaches us that the capacity for things to get worse is limitless. Roman history suggests that the short, happy life of the American republic is in serious trouble -- and that conversion to a military empire is, to say the least, not the best answer.
The actual history stuff is really interesting, too. Overall, I give it four stars.
(9:06 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
I have a couple of links for you. First there's Fred Kaplan's article in Slate (featuring one of the best/worst Bush photos ever). This is a much-linked piece here in the blogosphere, so I felt I might as well join in. Also very illuminating is Josh Marshall's post this morning. Here are a few high points:
Watching [a documentary on 9-11] brought me back to the newness and rawness of those first hours and days. I recalled the images of the president getting the first word from Andy Card about the attacks, the later ones of his touring ground-zero and talking to the assembled search and rescue crews. I found him an inspiring leader in those moments. And not simply because it was such a traumatic event. I never thought much of the criticism that President Bush didn't get back to Washington till late that evening. I thought he served admirably in those first days.
As the documentary moved toward the aftermath, I wondered whether those thoughts of mine would seep into the present to color what's happening today.
What I felt wasn't continuity but the jarring contrast, the cheap, obvious lies, the hubris, the tough-talk for low ends, not so much the mistakes as the tawdriness of so much of what's happened, especially over the last eighteen months. Fred Kaplan has an excellent piece in Slate this week about the missed opportunity of September 12th. "By the summer of 2003," writes Kaplan, "it could fairly be said that most of the world hated the United States, or at least feared the current U.S. government." That sounds like such an extreme, over-the-top statement. "Hate" is a pretty subjective word. But it's hard to read the papers regularly and not realize that what Kaplan says is true. It's sickening.
Now, normally Josh Marshall is very mild-mannered, so I think that last paragraph means a lot more coming from him than from other commentators. I think that the task for the next year will be to really remember those attacks and then become sickened at all the wasted opportunities: perhaps with the strong international support that was spontaneously offered after those attacks, we could be making actual progress toward dismantling terrorist organizations; perhaps the jarring image of the fragility of life could have seeped into other areas of politics, making us reluctant to burden future generations with massive debt, so that we wouldn't completely throw away the chance to get the national debt under control; but more importantly, perhaps the image of our own fellow-citizens dying senseless deaths would have transferred over to actual other people so that we wouldn't be so disgustingly eager to "bomb Iraq."
And why is it always "bomb"? Why is it that our model of a just, well-done war is dropping bombs from the sky? Perhaps when we saw our own massive civilian casualties, we could have decided to declare a moratorium on massive bombing runs, which might further increase our reluctance to go to war. Maybe that seems unrealistic, and maybe that seems like it could absolutely never happen -- but I don't think that anyone in the year 2000 would have ever believed that we could have such a warmongering, deceitful president with such a callous disregard for the poor and oppressed. That seemed pretty unrealistic, too. But in this post-Bush world, we have to realize that things can get a lot worse than we previously thought, even here, even today.
Oh, by the way, I notice that absolutely no one is posting comments. Do they not work? Is absolutely no one reading? Is what I'm saying so absolutely brilliant or so hopelessly wrongheaded that responding to it seems like wasted effort? All these questions circulate in my mind as I scroll through post after post ending with "[Add a comment]".
ALMOST IMMEDIATE UPDATE: Check out Neal Pollack's non-satirical post today.
Tuesday, September 09, 2003
(11:45 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Revolution was televised
Today during my off time between classes, I spent a great deal of time looking around the Seminary Co-op Bookstore. I glanced at a few of Zizek's works from the early 1990s that I hadn't read yet, and though I did consider purchasing them, I finally decided to get something completely different (Derrida's Politics of Friendship). While some understandable Zizek fatigue did play a role, the main problem I had was that it all already seemed so out of date. The book descriptions kept mentioning the rise of nationalism and racism after the collapse of Cold War stabilities, particularly in Zizek's native Yugoslavia. Certainly back then, when all this was first going down, those issues seemed very urgent, but now, I thought, things have changed.
On my drive back to Bourbonnais, however, I realized exactly how things have changed: now nationalism and racism are on the rise here. Although our stable democratic institutions have cushioned the blow somewhat, let's look at the record of the last ten years or so. A vast right-wing propaganda machine has arisen, which has used its considerable power and money to silence what was previously a broadly liberal media. This propaganda machine relies on overly simplified half-truths that any reasonable person wouldn't even bother going to the trouble of disproving, yet a vast segment of the population finds these ridiculous arguments deeply compelling. Christians and rich people have now effectively become (often strongly allied) interest groups in the postmodern game of identity politics. And again, although our stable democratic institutions made it seem not so bad, we could fairly say that the conduct of the Bush administration in 2000 was tantamount to seizing power (the question of whether they were entitled to that power is not really relevant, because they behaved in a way that clearly indicated they would use whatever means necessary to gain power). Under this administration, we have policies that are often aggressively opposed to addressing the public interest, we have constant attempts to narrow the range of possible opinions, and we have racist policies under which resident aliens are secretly detained at the caprice of the government.
We basically have baby fascism. Since the broadly liberal tradition in America is so strong, I think it would be a huge exaggeration to say that we're in immediate danger of an outright takeover, although the Republican party's transparent attempts to dominate every institution might have the effect of rendering most of our governmental structure irrelevant -- if everyone, on every level, is a Republican, you're going to get basically the same policies everywhere, no matter what. I think that Al Gore's relative wimpiness in 2000 might have some symbolic value: the "radical center" position cannot stand up to right-wing aggression once the left wing has been completely evacuated. While Clinton was able to hold things together for 8 years, he could only survive by adopting progressively more right wing policies. (We can see this also in Tony Blair, the former "Bill Clinton, Jr." who has now become the Republican party's bitch).
The only change that has taken place since Zizek's early-1990s writings is that things have gotten worse because the sickness has spread more aggressively to the US. This might account for the difference between that Zizek and the current Zizek -- whereas formerly, he seemed to believe that the bland liberal democratic option was the least bad option politically, now he seems to realize that that position is a compromise formation that cannot stand up to real aggression from the right. Thus his desire to disrupt the liberal democratic concensus. The message seems to be: "We're screwed either way. We're going to lose our comfortable liberal democratic lives either way. We owe it to ourselves to give socialism another solid try."
Monday, September 08, 2003
(10:04 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Donald Rumsfeld is absolutely right
In this article in the New York Times, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld strikes out against critics of the war in Iraq:
"To the extent that terrorists are given reason to believe [Bush] might [back down], or, if he is not going to, that the opponents might prevail in some way, and they take heart in that, and that leads to more money going into these activities, or that leads to more recruits, or that leads to more encouragement, or that leads to more staying power, obviously that does make our task more difficult."
He uses the example of Somalia, where a relatively small number of casualties led us to withdraw our troops. Admittedly, this may have represented some wimpiness on our part, but I'm not sure the comparison is very apt. First, Somalia admittedly represented no vital national interests of the US aside from humanitarian concern (at least as far as I understand; correct me if I'm wrong here). Second, given our continued engagement in Kosovo, years after the fact, it doesn't seem to be uniformly the case that we will automatically withdraw -- it would seem to depend partly on the public's mood (which was clearly soured by the "Black Hawk Down" incident) and on the degree to which our national interests are at stake. The Iraq war was presented as a war of national interest, and no matter whether that was true in the beginning, it is clearly true now. To abandon Iraq in its present state, especially after the ruin to which our sanctions subjected the Iraqi people, would be both cowardly and immoral. We're just plain stuck, and I don't think that any Democratic candidate is seriously considering an absolute, immediately withdrawal (again, correct me if I'm wrong). In any case, if a Democrat did advocate that, it would take a massive, almost miraculous change in public opinion for that Democrat to win.
So assuming, as Rumsfeld appears to do, that Osama bin Laden and his advisors are subscribers to Harper's, The Nation, and Dissent, it seems like a bit of a stretch to think that the terrorists are waiting for a member of the party that voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Iraq war to win the presidency. Now that we're actually on the ground in Iraq, this isn't a partisan issue; again, we're stuck, and if anything, the Democrats have shown themselves to be very adept at handling the messes that Republicans hand them (for instance, the deficits inherited from the Reagan years that were finally eliminated under Clinton). Insisting on making this at all a partisan issue is both misleading and petty, but that is exactly what Rumsfeld does:
He had not previously suggested that the administration's critics might unwittingly be aiding the terrorist cause. He made that point in response to a question about criticism from Democratic presidential candidates and others, which Mr. Rumsfeld described as the "hits" that the administration was taking over issues related to costs and casualties, and whether the United States had enough troops in Iraq.
Although undoubtedly there is some personal animus against the president among some of his opponents, that is not uniformly the case, and dismissing all criticism as malicious is counterproductive. Presumably, Rumsfeld recognizes this:
"There should be a debate and discussion on these things," he said. "We can live with that. We can live with a healthy debate as long as it is as elevated as possible, and as civil as possible."
What, though, is "uncivil" about suggesting that we find ways to reduce casualties or send more troops? More to the point, how could the proposal that we send more troops possibly represent a failure of will on the part of opponents? Except for some fringe critics (so fringe that I cannot even cite one right now), it certainly appears that everyone is now concerned with how to do the job right in Iraq, and it seems like the normal, human response to constructive criticism, after the initial defensiveness, might be to take seriously the arguments of other concerned parties -- like the Democrats and our European allies. The Democratic party and the UN both have a strong interest in the continued prestige and strength of the United States, and even if they turn out to be wrong in the specifics, excluding, via an a priori assumption, the possibility of their acting as good-faith partners in an important debate is simply stupid.
This preemptive dismissal of ideas not originating in their circle is one of the most unappealling aspects of the Bush administration, and it is certainly unbecoming of world leaders to behave in such a manner. I recognize the necessity of saving face for everyone involved, and I understand that it's not entirely fair to expect the administration to hold a press conference repenting of their every mistake when they decide it's time to change course. Still, some humility would be a welcome change. From Rumsfeld's tone, one gets the impression that the administration is being gracious in even allowing potentially disruptive criticism of their position, when in fact it is the duty of all political leaders to point out potential mistakes and problems when they see them. No one party or administration has all the answers, and to pretend that this administration does is to cast aside one of the primary benefits of a pluralistic, democratic society.
One might even claim that such behavior is un-American, but since I've made such an effort to be non-snarky in this post, I'll resist that temptation.
Sunday, September 07, 2003
(7:33 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
States are facing huge budget gaps and are being "forced" to cut services. Here's an idea: raise taxes, dumbass.
The federal government is facing record deficits as the costs of war in Iraq mount, and a new prescription drug entitlement has no obvious source of funding. Here's an idea: raise taxes, moron.
I don't especially want to pay more taxes, but I'd be willing to do so if that's what it took. More to the point, those who have benefitted most extravagantly from our nation's great prosperity (commonly called "the rich") should be willing to pay much higher taxes than they already pay. They would still have plenty of money left over for their mansions or their fancy dinners or just to store in the good ol' money bin.
But won't raising taxes hurt the economy? Oh, I don't know. I know that cutting taxes doesn't appear to have helped a whole lot, so it seems like we have nothing to lose by putting them back up to pre-Bush-Jr. levels. In fact, since cutting taxes only led to an ambiguous "jobless recovery," maybe we could actually raise them even higher, so that the government could hire people. Then more people would have jobs, and they'd buy stuff, and on and on.
Life would be so much better if those politicians would grow some balls and just raise taxes! I mean, come on!
But honestly, why is it that we can't even talk about raising taxes lately? Why is that not even a possibility? I mean, you're considered a Stalinist if you don't actively support cutting taxes. When the government doesn't have enough money to do what it needs to do, the obvious, common sense approach to remedying that problem should be to raise taxes.
As for the idea that cutting taxes increases revenue: just shut the hell up if you believe that. You should just never talk again if you bought that lie. Seriously. Either that, or start buying stock in my web site.
(10:49 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
As a follow-up to last night's post, I note that the Art Institute of Chicago's Gene Siskel Theatre is playing the film Bonhoeffer fairly soon. Scroll down for information on their encore presentation of the Derrida film, which I missed last year. If anyone would like to attend either of these films with me, let me know either by e-mail or in the comments.
Saturday, September 06, 2003
(11:22 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Ministry of Holding One's Tongue
My title is one of the section headings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together,* a reading for my class on Bonhoeffer and a new addition to the informal "Kotsko's List of Recommended Books." Throughout, he insists that the community he is describing is not some high ideal to strive for, but a living reality -- a reality that takes work to maintain, but something God has for believers in the here and now. It is an imposing discipline, setting up the Christian household as a kind of self-contained monastery preparing its members for life out in the world. A regular discipline of communal prayer, structured and lengthy Scripture readings, singing of hymns (only in unison), and private spiritual meditations equip one for a day of hard labor, punctuated and concluded by prayer.
In my own private life, I somehow managed to fall into patterns that are similar to those outlined by Bonhoeffer, mainly through following the simplified layman's version of the Catholic Church's Liturgy of Hours. The imposing thing is the idea of following this discipline with other people, which would also be known as The Entire Point. No more compressed versions if I decided I was in a hurry or if I got up late; no more dispensing with it at inconvenient times; no more speed-reading disguised as prayer. The burden of really living in community is considerable. There's all this overhead that a life alone just does not carry with it.
My only problem with this is that, taken in isolation, the spiritual disciplines contained herein might fulfill Weber's critique of Protestantism vis-a-vis capitalism (repeated in our day with Zizek's criticism of the explosion of interest in Eastern religions) -- the prayers help one to be a good worker (without any real reference to the content of that work), and the work helps one to pray. One can see here the seeds of big corporations whose members participate in morning Bible studies, up to and including the rather farcical White House Bible study sessions before the day's business of Keeping America Great. Admittedly, I have not finished the whole book as of yet, and admittedly, Bonhoeffer did suffer martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis due to the character of his "work," but this seems to be a possible pitfall of all heavily Reformation-oriented spiritual disciplines -- a modern formalism that I think is tied to an individualism that does not take seriously enough the doctrine of the Trinity. That is material for a future post. Now I have to actually finish the book. Hopefully there is someone out there in comment-land who knows more of Bonhoeffer than I, or who has access to this book and will read it at my prompting -- it is actually very short, and you could probably read it reasonably well in an afternoon.
* Note: It is no wonder that Amazon is one of the few companies to come out of the dot-com boom and begin turning actual profits: virtually everyone with a web page, at one point or another, provides them with free advertising.