Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Joni from Saskatoon



A lot of folks, especially on the right, are upset at Joni Mitchell for recently comparing Saskatoon to the US Deep South (i.e., in the early Sixties). For my part, I give artists special license. They live in the imagination, and are not sensitive to the jostling politics of everyday life. They are politically naive. This is, ultimately, to their credit: they are “in the world, but not of it,” just as a Christian is supposed to be. They are prepared to sacrifice everything to truth and beauty, and that is what we all should do.

There is no mistaking a general tendency to egotism among artists—at least, among highly successful artists. Such perhaps are the hazards of becoming rich and famous, and perhaps they are not entirely to blame for succumbing to temptations the rest of us have never had to face. The true and the beautiful—two out of three ain't so bad.

Besides, Joni Mitchell is one of the co-creators of Canada as a culture. She is part of a striking artistic movement that began in the early Sixties and transformed all art, world wide: the chanteur-chanteuse tradition that emerged from the “folk renaissance,” independent from but concurrent with rock and roll. Before these performers, songs and popular music were pure entertainment, a commodity, a craft. They transformed them into true art, but art of a uniquely popular nature—an art of the people, not of the elites. They changed what music was, and what singing meant.

I can identify ten major Canadian figures in this movement. Almost all are within a few years of the same age, all emerged at the same time, and all were, necessarily strikingly versatile. They had to be. The nature of the art required them to be proficient singers, composers, and poets, in addition to usually playing at least one musical instrument extremely well. Not surprisingly, most of them were also visual artists.

The ten, moving across the country from west to east, are: BC and Alberta's Ian Tyson; Saskatchewan's Joni Mitchell and Buffy Sainte-Marie; Manitoba's Neil Young; Ontario's Gordon Lightfoot and Robbie Robertson; Quebec's Leonard Cohen, Gilles Vigneault, and Robert Charlebois; and the East Coast's Stan Rogers.

Together, I think they surpass any other nation's artistic output in this particular genre, although one has to credit Bob Dylan with blazing the path that made it possible for the rest of them. Together, they even represent a great flowering of Canadian culture, comparable to the English Romantics. They are all getting to an age at which they will soon be gone—but for Rogers, who is gone already—and we will not soon see their like again.

For my money, and I suspect most people's, Leonard Cohen stands above the rest; but each one of them has touched the sublime many more times than once. And many of their songs have become part of Canada's sense of itself.

You run down Joni Mitchell, and, in the end, you are running down my country.

Besides, she has always looked and sounded eerily like my grandmother.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Only Words I Want to Write about the Weiner Scandal


"Publish, and be damned."

I am sorry to be writing about the Anthony Weiner scandal. I do not think that the private lives of politicians are any of our business, any more than your private life or mine is the public's business. I do not want to know the details of Anthony Weiner's sexual interests, and I do not want to hear the details of Weiner's relationship with his wife Huma.

This is all gossip, or in moral terms, the sin of calumny. 

Regardless of whether Weiner is guilty of personal sin, the press and the public are guilty of sin for writing and eagerly reading about this. Accordingly, they--we--are in no position to cast stones. In any case, the argument that someone's personal morality is an important issue for their performance of a public office defies the historical record.
And, given the current state of public morals, it is a pretty ugly display of hypocrisy.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Descartes vs. Gautama


Je pense, donc je suis-- Descartes.

Cogito ergo sum
-- “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes found the existence of the self to be the one self-evident, undeniable truth. From this, he constructed the Enlightenment cosmology that we live by today.

Je pense, donc, je ne suis pas--Gautama.
Yet in around 500 BC, the Buddha Gautama seems to have come to the very opposite conclusion: the key to his own cosmology is “anatta”--”no self.” His personal revelation was that the self did not exist. From this, for him, all else followed.

I believe both are right. Descartes is right that we cannot deny the existence of the self as a perceiving subject; to do so would be an immediate contradiction. Then who is denying?

But beyond that, what can we say about this self? What are the properties that make it what it is? The instant we try to assign any property to it, we are again involved in a contradiction—because the instant it can perceive a property, that property is, ipso facto, not an aspect of the perceiver, but a thing perceived. Anything ascribed to the self therefore appears to be, in Aquinas's terminology, an accident, rather than a real quality. I am not fat or thin; were I the one instead of the other, I would still be the same self. I am not male or female; were I the one instead of the other, I would still be the same self. I am not old or young, Jew or Greek, or anything else in particular.

It's all an accident - Aquinas.

So the self is nothing in particular. In this real sense, it is nothing: “not this, not that,” in the formulation of the Upanishads. From this insight, it seems to me the Buddha is correct that cravings for one thing or another are nonsensical, like a dog chasing its own tail. Nothing can be acquired by the self.

One can see all things, then, as a movie playing before us in a darkened theatre. Nothing touches the self.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Black Gettysburg


The Spirit of Detroit. Oddly like King Kong, no?

African Americans, despite the common claim that they are discriminated against, have in fact enjoyed great prestige for at least the past half century. What was it that Leonard Cohen wrote in Beautiful Losers (1966)? “In the Twentieth century, everyone wants to be black.” It would be blasphemy in polite company to say anything against Muhammed Ali, or Nelson Mandela, or Martin Luther King.

I think we may notice this now, because I think black prestige may have reached its high water mark this summer, and be starting on a downward slope. Due to a combination of events, the social capital blacks have been happily spending may now have finally been run through.

First, the Obama presidency. Remember that African-Americans are, in the end, a small minority of the US population—8.8%. Yet they have gotten one of their number elected president. That is a significant sign of popular approval. The Italians haven't done it yet. The Jews haven't. The Poles haven't. The Germans haven't. The Mormons haven't. Even the Catholics, a quarter of the population or more, have managed only one so far.

One can forgive the average non-black if, having voted for Obama twice, he or she feels the tally sheet is wiped clean. No more may he be inclined to feel some personal guilt for slavery—an absurd notion in the first place. African-Americans are now demonstrably on the inside, and may now be expected to act that way. No more claims of special grievance, no more claims of special moral high ground.

Second, against that backdrop, we have the Zimmerman—Martin trial, which has nevertheless demonstrated a continuing and extreme split between how blacks and non-blacks look at American politics and the American experience. In the aftermath of the jury verdict, an ABC News poll found that almost 90% of African Americans called the shooting unjustified; but only to 33% of whites (Wikipedia). And this difference in perception has been underlined by Obama's personal involvement in the controversy. Non-black Americans can be forgiven if they begin to wonder, in the end, whether African Americans are really on the same team. Despite a half century of real white sacrifices in the name of “integration,” blacks remain a community apart, and indeed a community with a continuing hostile view of their American compatriots. I think there is a real possibility that a lot of non-blacks are going to conclude that blacks are just being unreasonable. If not this, there is at least a possibility that many will give up any hope of satisfying them, and begin to worry about blacks being in effect a permanent Fifth Column in American society. I feel I begin to see this in some of the current commentary.

Worse, the black community has been seen publicly lynching George Zimmerman, a Hispanic (at least, if Zimmerman is not Hispanic, Obama is not black). And the president has joined in. This tends to undermine the notion that in the matter of racism, blacks are only victims; the more so since it follows years of high-profile, openly expressed black hostility to Jews and Koreans. Sooner or later, this is going to matter. In the end, blacks and Hispanics are competing for the same jobs. Will they continue forever to vote together? I can see blacks becoming, as a group, themselves politically incorrect, voted off the island by the other special interest groups in the leftist coalition. Just as they were in the early twentieth century.

Third, there is Detroit. Detroit is and was for forty years held up as a proud model of black self-government. Since Coleman Young became mayor in 1974, blacks have been in charge politically in Detroit.

This is just not a good advertisement for African American culture. Blacks in Detroit are probably worse off than anywhere else in the US. And in Detroit, there are no white men left to blame.

I just hope the end of "reverse racism" (sic) does not lead us straight back into anti-black racism.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Overpopulation Is Causing the World to Run Out of Food

Makes You Wonder Why We Are Putting Any Money in Public Schools

With public school students at the 50th percentile, home schoolers were at the 89th percentile in reading, the 86th percentile in science, the 84th percentile in language, math, and social studies.

more.

Smart People Do Not Become Bureaucrats.

This piece on a letter sent by the federal government to the University of Montana demanding a stricter policy on sexual harassment is worthy of Orwell, Swift or Kafka.

But it's all true.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Friday, July 19, 2013

City of the Damned


Potemkin would be proud.
Across the river from where I sit rise the impressive towers of downtown Detroit. Looks good, since from this viewpoint you cannot see the open fields and scrapyards beyond.

Detroit has just applied for bankruptcy. What happened?

Point 1: half of Detroit's debt is pension costs.

Point 2: Detroit's municipal government has only 9,700 workers, but there are 21,000 municipal retirees drawing benefits.

The cost of these pensions, underfunded by successive governments, eventually and necessarily pushed Detroit tax rates up and services down. Why did it happen? Because it costs a government nothing politically to hold the budget line yet keep government workers happy by raising pensions. After all, when the pensions come up for payment, that particular government will be long gone.

But eventually, this is the result. And in a free country, as services deteriorate yet taxes rise to cover the pensions, working people, those who pay taxes, naturally flee to the suburbs or beyond for a better life. Those who are left, if any, will be those on some form of social assistance. Setting up a death spiral—revenues going down each year while liabilities rise.

Is there a solution?

Sure. Bankruptcy. Or, failing that, evacuation.

Barack Obama: "I Am Trayvon Martin."


President Obama made a surprise appearance at a White House press briefing to say some more about the Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case. His intent seemed to be to explain and justify his own earlier comments about Trayvon Martin looking like his own son, which have appeared to some like an unwarranted interference in a case at law.

He argued that the rest of us must understand that blacks are “looking at it through a lens and a history.” “There are few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience [of being watched] when they're shopping at a department store, and that includes me.”

The problem with all such appeals to the special experience of any group—including feminist claims that men “just don't get it”--is that it necessarily works both ways. If non-blacks cannot possibly understand how things appear to blacks, it follows that blacks cannot possibly understand how things appear to non-blacks. If men cannot possibly understand what it is like to be a woman, then women cannot possibly understand what it is like to be a man.

As it happens, I too have had the experience of being watched while I was shopping. Many times. I was at least once confronted and asked by a store clerk to open my bag to prove I had not shoplifted.

I doubt my experience is that different from others. I doubt I look much more like a criminal than average.

Obviously, Obama is totally unaware of this. If I were black, then, like Obama, I might blame it on racism. Not being black, I just shrug it off.

The moral: it is therefore impossible to appeal to any such “special experience” to justify what otherwise seems irrational or unjustifiable. The same rules must apply to blacks, Irish, Catholics, men and women. Nobody can claim special treatment because of supposed “special experience,” because nobody can really know whether their, or anyone else's, experience is special.

The Cage


Life as we know it.


A friend writes that nearly all his co-workers at a Japanese school are on sick leave for stress or, if still on the job, in psychiatric care.

What he writes bears out my own belief that depression is not an illness, but a rational response to an impossible situation. It comes from being aware of oppression, that is, a set of rules by which you cannot win, a “double bind,” and therefore, quite correctly, feeling trapped. I suspect the same is true of bipolar, certainly anxiety “disorders,” maybe schizophrenia as well.

Of course, not everyone reacts the same way to the same situation. This is because there is a second factor involved, or perhaps two: intelligence, and spiritual awareness. The more aware you are, the sooner you will perceive that the very socially accepted “reality” and social rules of engagement we inherit are themselves a double bind. This is true in all societies. “Dukkha,” as the Buddha called it, in the original Pali; while the gospel calls the Devil “the lord of this world.” Depression is the rational response to this fact. Anybody who has not been depressed is just not in the game.

So the obvious first step for anyone who is depressed is to analyse their current situation and see if there is a specific double-bind they can get out of: by leaving that job, leaving that family, leaving that town or that country. But there often remains the existential problem.

How to escape this fundamental, existential double bind? That is what religion is all about. The initial depression, the “dark night of the soul,” as St. John of the Cross called it, whether prompted by a specific trap one has experienced, or by raw spiritual awareness, should be the first step on the spiritual path. Unfortunately, secular society has been working hard, increasingly in recent years, to shut and bar those doors of escape—policed, indeed, by our “mental health professionals.” Hence the rapid rise in mental illness, especially since the 60s. At least as striking is the fact that, in the past, most if not all mental illnesses were understood to be temporary; now they are essentially all considered incurable and lifelong.

My friend in Japan imagines that the rate of mental illness must be skyrocketing in places like Syria and Egypt, because of the civil strife there. I think he is exactly wrong. Not all stress leads to breakdown; good stress galvanizes instead. If there is a rise in the incidence of mental illness in the Middle East, it is the cause, not the effect, of the rebellions there.

When the London blitz began, British psychiatry braced itself for an expected influx of anxiety patients. They expected the depressed to collapse in large numbers. Instead, the opposite happened. The mental hospitals started to clear out, and admissions dropped off dramatically.

If life is a trap, or the particular life situation you are in is intolerable, the thought that you could die at any time is profoundly liberating. A time of general chaos is profoundly liberating.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Uppity Rednecks

A view of the Zimmerman-Martin case from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

According to my sources, in order to reach one million readers, I am still supposed to be writing about the Zimmerman trial. Okay, so here goes:

The line that has been pushed in the media from the beginning is that Trayvon Martin was killed because he was black: that it was all about race. This is certainly incorrect, according to the facts. Who is pushing this lie so aggressively, and why?

The real truth seems to be that George Zimmerman's prosecution is all about class. He has been demonized in the media, and prosecuted beyond reason, not because of his race, which is completely unclear, but because he is working class--technically, lower-middle class. Worse, he is lower-middle class trying to get ahead. The ordinary working stiff was acting “uppity.” To read the comments and commentaries, those who want to see him hanging from the nearest tree are most enraged because he supposedly acted as if he were a figure of authority, watching and following Martin as a suspicious character.

Of course, this is more or less what the police would do; and it is obviously not a hanging offence when they do it. The problem is that Zimmerman, though in fact legally entitled to do this, was not formally qualified. He was acting above his station, in the minds of the professional elite, including “professional” journalists.

One can see how this would ring all kinds of bells, if subconsciously, in the typical newsroom. What professional group is more threatened by citizen volunteerism these days than the media? Zimmerman and those like him are to them an existential threat. It was in their vital interests to take him down by whatever means necessary.

“Racism” is a preferred and time-honoured stratagem in this regard. According to the professional elite, the Pharisiate, the working class is racist by nature. That's why they must be kept in their place. The black mobs now raging through Oakland, et al, and the “low-information voters” generally, are useful idiots for these purposes. “Low-information voters,” pretty much by definition, are people who want to be taken care of, and are happy to have a ruling elite do their politics for them.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

George Zimmerman for Prime Minister

According to a piece I just read, if I want to push my blog to a million readers, I must comment promptly on the top issue of the day. I just checked. Right now, that means the Zimmerman trial.


I also have to say something controversial. Hence the headline.

Okay, in my opinion, justice was definitely served. It would have been a travesty if Zimmerman had been convicted of either murder or manslaughter. All the evidence corroborated his story.

Even if it had not, even if Zimmerman had followed Martin with a chip on his shoulder, and even if he had started the fight, it looks as though his actions, though foolish, would not have amounted to manslaughter. Perhaps at worst felony assault.

Igor Gouzenko can head the Welcome Wagon.
And even with his acquittal, and with the real likelihood that Zimmerman is guilty of nothing more than being an unusually good citizen trying to protect his neighbourhood, he has already suffered much more than he would deserve to for felony assault. First, one should not minimize the stress of being charged with murder and facing a possible life sentence, not to mention possible bankruptcy from legal fees even if acquitted. Second, he has been demonized as a racist and a murderer in the media. His name, face, home address, and even social security number have been reported in the newspapers and on TV. He is not wealthy; he cannot afford the protection he now needs from hotheads who have been stirred up by all the bad publicity and seek the sort of vigilante justice of which he was falsely accused.

Given all this, I think if political asylum means anything in real terms, George Zimmerman has a case for being given political asylum in some other country. Canada would probably be the most amenable country for an expatriate American.

Then, upstanding citizen that he appears to be, he might well go into politics.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Why the Vote Was Once Restricted to Men

It wasn't just arbitrary discrimination.

The Globe's editorializing rationalizations for why women are less interested than men in politics and current affairs are laughable. Why are men less interested in babies?

The sexes are different. Why does this even need to be pointed out? Has nobody here ever had a girlfriend, wife, sister, or mother?

Monday, July 08, 2013

How to Teach Stuff

Spot on. And completely contrary to what is taught in Ed Schools.

Here is what the Ed schools teach:

Point 1: you're not supposed to be up there on the stage.

Point 2: you're not supposed to talk.

Point 3: it's always the students' fault.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Brian Jones and the Day the Music Died

I was never a special fan of the Rolling Stones back in the 60's or 70's. I liked the Stones; everyone I hung out with did. But they were not really my cup of tea. I was a folkie.

Now, they fascinate me. I do not think this is only because they are a still-surviving, seemingly timeless, part of my youth. Though this is certainly part of it. I read a piece recently that suggested they should retire, fergodsake, that they looked ridiculous strutting and rocking at their age. I thought, good God, no, their age is an important part of their coolness. It is part of their rebellion that they still refuse to "act grown up." They refuse to get over simple rock and roll.

And they are right. I have come to believe that there is something timeless about rock and roll. The thing about a good rock song is that once it gets going, it sounds like it could go forever. And it never really wears thin.

The Stones have become the emblem of that.

And there is something else. I discover I have never really gotten over the death of Brian Jones. The death of Brian Jones may have been what really killed the Sixties. If it wasn't Altamont, five months later, in which the Stones were also, literally, at centre stage.

It seems obvious to me that Brian Jones had what we call "manic depression," or "bipolar disorder." Undiagnosed and, of course, untreated.

So what? Well, besides anguishing over what Jones must have gone through, good as the Stones are, I still feel that somehow Jones made them much better. His musical inventiveness on a wide variety of instruments was really something special.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Happy Canada Day

The problem between French and English in Canada is that English Canadians traditionally see French Canadians as lower class, while French Canadians see English Canadians as Philistines.

Unfortunately, both are right.