Monday, October 27, 2014

The New Brutalism

Fascinating article today in "Truthout" by Henry Giroux. About the "new historical conjuncture" of:
attacks on higher education as a democratic institution and on dissident public voices in general - whether journalists, whistleblowers or academics - are intensifying with sobering consequences. The attempts to punish prominent academics such as Ward Churchill, Steven Salaita and others are matched by an equally vicious assault on whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Hammond and Edward Snowden, and journalists such as James Risen. (1) Under the aegis of the national surveillance-security-secrecy state, it becomes difficult to separate the war on whistleblowers and journalists from the war on higher education - the institutions responsible for safeguarding and sustaining critical theory and engaged citizenship.
These attacks have been labeled "the new brutalism in academia."

This is far too good and lengthy piece for me to try and summarize. Suffice it to say, it's a cogent critique of what our deification of the market has done to us not only in the educational sphere but also in just about any others that matter. It's taken anti-intellectualism in America to undreamt of depths.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ebola: A Poem

No Stranger to Anyone

 My latest:


Spawned of muddy puddles and ditches
in the shady green gloom and heat of
a savage, peace-starved chunk of continent,
a thin jungle meander that switches anon to
the Mongala and miles ahead, worlds away,
arced steamy Congo, king of rivers.

Another place, another time, fates might
have been more kind. Let you be a candy
bar, well-known snack brand or healthy nut,
or designate some precious gem unearthed
near your bank, glistening pink in palest light.
You might have been a princess’s name or
whole line of royalty: Ebola IV, Castle Builder,
All-Conquering Spear. Or cloak with
glory some natural splendor: Ebolian sunsets
touching the fronds and creepers with fire,
postcards in the gritty shops of Kinshasa.

But here in this place Cain’s curse smears your winding
coils with rancid ordure, puke, and pain. And
so suffuses your soul with venom the Mantra 
of our Age is all you know: 
Kill, Kill, Kill, Kill, Kill

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The National Pastime

And no I don't mean baseball, even though we're in the midst of what might be a real interesting World Series. I mean the national pastime of pretending that college athletics is not riddled with fraud and cloaked with lies from the top of its (mostly empty) head to the soles of its $300 sneakers/cleats/whatever footwear. This is all over the news today:  
Tarred Heels: For 18 years athletes at the University of North Carolina have been guided into classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies which do not meet, have no professors, and give A's and B's to everyone, especially football and basketball players. The theory is that no one in the University's administration knew this was happening, and no one above the rank of water-boy in the Athletic department had a clue either.
OK, so a prestigious university--it was invariably described on TV news as one of the great paragons of learning in the US--has been cheating by falsifying the academic attainments of its athletes at least since 1993. So what else is new? Can you tell me with a straight face that you think the majority of college athletes are "student athletes"? As in, working for a degree while they play sports? Can you honestly believe that these coddled providers of unholy amounts of revenue for their schools are not in some privileged and special category when it comes to anything academic, such as classes, tests, grades, and GPA? You think UNC is the only place something like this is going on? And that everyone in university administration or with the least bit of connection to the athletic departments in all these schools doesn't know what's going on? [Insert audible derisive scoff here.]

The thing that gets me is, this fiction that these largely underprivileged kids are "in school" while they're playing football or basketball and probably other things too (but the big money-makers are the ones named) is embraced (I cannot believe it's believed) by millions and millions of people. Its one of the great lies that's gained national assent and it takes its dishonorable place daily among a number of other lamentable nationwide delusions.

We are a doomed people.       

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Process Theology

It is really interesting and exciting stuff, but you cannot get from here to there on it in a hundred words or less. Our little tiny congregation church of progressive Christians had fully 14 people attend the first book club discussion on a book by John Cobb and David Griffin entitled Process Theology: an Introductory Exposition. (To give you an idea of what kind of congregation this is, on a good Sunday we will have 25-30 people attend services. So that means about half the people in the church will first of all read a heavy, academic assignment, and then come out on a weeknight for a 90-minute discussion.)

 Here's the scoop in only the most general terms: it's a 20th century attempt to apply the concepts of Alfred North Whitehead's philosophy to our thinking about God. It is dense and fun stuff. Its chief progenitors are John B. Cobb, Jr. and Charles Hartshorne. And it is seminal in the thinking of progressive Christians, although most of us may not even be aware of origins, we embrace the main ideas. I'll be writing about this some more, but for now let me lay out the concepts of God that process thinking rejects. You cannot but notice that these ideas are foundational in traditional unitheistic religions. So we will not take as our starting point the following assumptions about God:
  1. God as cosmic moralist, that his fundamental concern is the development of moral attitudes. Which makes such attitudes intrinsic to the basic importance of human beings. No.
  2. God as the Unchanging and Passionless Absolute. God is not really related to the world, that his influence upon the world is "in no way conditioned by divine responsiveness to unforeseen, self-determining activities of us worldly beings." No.
  3. God as controlling power who determines every detail of the world, even down to deciding who dies in natural disasters, finding a parking place, or who wins a football game. No.
  4. God sanctions the status quo. The previous three notions set the stage for this one. Cosmic moralist = primary interest in order; unchanging absolute = God has established an unchangeable order for the world; controlling power = God wills the present to exist. Therefore obedience to God is preserving the status quo. No.
  5. God is male. He is the archetype of the "dominant, inflexible, unemotional, completely independent (read 'strong') male. No.
More on all this later. As you might imagine, if you start with the rejection of these age-old notions of the nature of God, you're definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Just for Edification

Military budget.  List of countries by military expenditures (in billions of US dollars):
Source: Here

As has been observed time and again, the U.S. outspends the next nine biggest military spenders combined. This country spends almost 37 percent of all the money spent by the entire world for military purposes. With our country coming apart and falling down, doesn't this seem like the basest stupidity? And to think: we've got idiots in Congress saying we don't spend enough.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ubiquitous Stalker

Have you checked the newspapers lately? Magazines? And most of all cable TV? Have you noticed that there's growing terror about Ebola? Some ridiculous figure like 41 percent of Americans fear a serious outbreak of the disease in the United States? You cannot escape the "continuing coverage" of this story. You may be getting to the point where you can't stand to hear the E-word any longer, but the media is salivating, masturbating over just about anything remotely connected with Ebola. Stories about "Mr. Duncan," the Liberian victim of the disease, who died in a Dallas hospital about 2 weeks ago. And stories about the couple of health care workers he had who have come down with the disease. Aren't we getting tired of seeing people in plastic space suits carrying stuff out of cheap Dallas apartments? Aren't we tired of seeing that NIH doctor talking to yet another talking head about what he talked about yesterday and five times already today?

I wonder how often I have to observe the ignorance and stupidity of the American people. Indeed, I could probably start another whole blog and organize it around that theme. Ever since 9/11 the country has been victimized by a ubiquitous stalker who's name is Fear, surname Unreasoning. I think somewhere in all this clutter I learned that you have a much better chance of being struck by lightening than you do of contracting Ebola in this country. That should be more than enough perspective for most people to apply their brains to. But it ain't.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Our Biggest Public Program

The United States’ biggest public program of the past 75 years, now outstripping the rest of the world combined, is war preparations. The routine “base” military spending, not counting spending on particular wars, is at least 10 times the war spending, or enough to totally transform the world for the better. Instead it’s used to kill huge numbers of people, to make the United States less safe, and to prepare for wars that are — without exception — lost disastrously. Since the justification of the Soviet Union vanished, U.S. militarism has only increased. Its enemies are small, yet it does its best to enlarge them. U.S. Special Operations forces are actively, if “secretly,” engaged in war or war preparations in over two-thirds of the nations on earth. U.S. troops are openly stationed in 90 percent of the nations on earth, and 100 percent of the oceans. A majority of the people in most nations on earth consider the United States the greatest threat to world peace. Source
 The cost of this madness is beyond astronomical; it's almost beyond calculation. We had a presentation in church this morning about the numbers of LGBT kids who are on the streets homeless because they have been thrown out of their homes by their parents. And how the Congress of the United States is cutting to the bone federal funds for providing housing and care for the homeless. We are now engaged in yet another war in the Middle East that's going to suck more of our fast-diminishing sustenance from us for who knows how many years? I cannot for the life of me understand what the American people are thinking about allowing their government to so misuse the citizenry of this country, who have desperate life-threatening needs being ignored so we can play emperor of the world. Take that back: I think if I try real hard, I can understand how the people have been duped into supporting our imperialism. What I cannot understand is how long it is taking the country to get wise to being consistently violated by the mad rapists in the Pentagon and their pimps in the Congress and the Executive department.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

I'm Getting Inspired

 . . . to write a poem about Ebola. I'll post it here when it's done. Yeah, yeah. A gruesome subject, but life is poetry, and something surely should be made over this killer disease which we're hearing about more and more every day. Tell you the truth, I'm finding it hard to get out of mind, which is a sure sign there's a poem in it. And the news is getting more and more horrific as befits a disease that is simply brutal on its victims. And the numbers they're talking about are really getting scarey. I'm wondering when the rest of the world is going to get serious about what's happening in West Africa. Yes, we are our brothers' keeper, and something terrible is afoot there. We--that is the rest of the world--needs to step up to this crisis, or it will arrive soon at their own door steps.
Logistics: There's a reason that armies spend a lot of time, money and attention on the little details involved in fielding troops – if you don't have solid logistical support, the mission fails. For example, the WHO is estimating that by December there will be at least 10,000 new Ebola victims a week. Never mind how many trained medical personnel, hospital beds, isolation wards and such will be needed, think about what to do with 7,000 corpses a week when there are only 50 safe-burial teams in the region. The CDC says, worst case, there will be 1,370,000 infected by mid January, which means that at current rates there will be about a million dead by mid February.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Another One

A second nurse who helped take care of Ebola victim Robert Duncan in Dallas has come down with the disease. Now, I'm not among the panic stricken here that see an outbreak occurring in the U.S. at any minute, but this news does give me pause. For I seem to recall a couple of weeks ago how one of the big wigs at the Dallas hospital was telling us that the "U.S. is not West Africa" and that everything here was in hand. You could not escape the impression that this ebola case was an aberration, and that our technology and general excellence would more than be enough for this virus. Just one question: what do you say to this now? Especially since you realize it's quite likely that the second shoe hasn't even dropped yet.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"Life is Tragic . . . " James Baldwin

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns, and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. Quoted here.
I'm not so sure it's all about the denial of death, when so much human activity, a large part of Baldwin names, seems to affirm death, not deny it. Is this just semantics?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Where Have You Been?

Don't ask. I've been around. You all know the dismal world news . . . my personal news isn't all that thrilling, but at least it should not send you into depression. A week ago I was winding a clock on my mantel and fell off a stool right onto my tail bone. Tell you what: it hurts like hell even today. I could not get to doctor till tomorrow (I was out of town Thursday and Friday--oh, the joy of riding in an airplane with a wounded tail--on yourself, not the plane.). Everybody says they will tell me there's nothing they can do. I'd settle for some pain meds that actually work. I'm wondering if I'm not getting inured to those things. I don't recall the Oxycodone I was given after my operation last February being all that effective, but maybe that's just lingering nightmare.