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Showing posts from April 6, 2014

the decline of big rock candy mountain

I grew up in a folksinging family. Consequently, my idea of the hobo was very romantic – he was an IWW angel. Big Rock Candy Mountain sounded like a lot more pleasant utopia than the Dictatorship of the Proletariat – and it still does. In folk songs, he was always a canny step ahead of the bulls, all in order to be free.   However, I’ve noticed something about hobos in the last decade or so: there’s been a political sea change. When you see a bum with a political sign, it is invariably Limbaughdian. I saw, for instance, a man with a white beard a couple of hours ago, with two signs, one the usually begging one (“Help me I’m hungry” or something like that) and the other one, on poster board, a long denunciation of Obama for bringing Naziism to the United States. Santa Monica is, I think, progressive territory, or it once was, which is why the city council is still fairly liberal about letting street people be. I’d be surprised if Obama didn’t rule here during the last elections. Thus

a guess at the riddle

I ponder sometimes the fact that Adam, this complex being whose proto-language is so sweet to my ear, whose tricks I laugh at, whose humors I deal with, whose steps I marvel at, will forget all of this. We all emerge from amnesia - it is as if we awaken speaking, walking, eating properly and excreting privately, as though these were things we'd always done. Of course, we have stray memories of what went before, motes of dust in the mind's eye - an image of the shoestring we  puzzled over, the feeling of crusty snow on the cheek, a confused vision of trailing down a dark hall. But these memories form no collective whole, no sense of our existence. There are many theories about the human origin of belief in the gods; I wonder if anyone has traced the line between belief in an agent with supernatural powers and the natural history of our awakening with powers that we cannot account for?An awakening that leaves such a large mark on our subsequent life that it is too large to rememb

the Magic Mountain in Clarkston, Georgia

I’ve been reading the Magic Mountain for much longer than the seven years it took Hans Castorp to climb it and climb down from it. Way back in high school I even finished it – in the now discredited Lowe-Porter translation. I picked it up because I read a high recommendation in a book by the wonderful Will and Ariel Durant, blessed be their names. They were members of the socialist humanism generation of American intellectuals, and their middle brow guides to Western culture were and still are excellent things for high school students, to be supplemented of course by the vast trove of lit and art that we know now was produced by the oppressed – the Atlantic culture of the African diaspora, women, gays, all those edged aside. Although I no longer remember what the couple wrote about Mann, I do remember the experience of reading it. I was sitting in a pew in the Clarkston Baptist church. No doubt it was another Sunday of Reverend Vincent’s endless non-sequitor sermons – the man lacked t

some liberal reforms on the inequality front

The annual thumbsuckers inequality ball is going on in the press. The right, of course, is all at the battlements, decrying envy.  Greed is one of those virtuous sins for the rich, while envy is one of the damned sins that shouldn’t enter the New Jerusalem. Myself, I’ve always been a big fan of the evil eye. And I don’t even have the liberal disdain for greed. But I do have the liberal-left desire to finish the incomplete task of the French revolution. Equality is up there with liberty on the roster. Instead of kicking around abstractions, however, I think we should start kicking around ratios. How much more income and wealth than that earned and accrued by the top 20 percentile of income is allowable under the ideal of egalitarianism? My sense is that if we take 250,000 dollars as our base (I am of course speaking of the US), something like 10 times that is as far aw we can go with inequality of income. Wealth is a trickier subject, but if we put a cap on 25 million dollars p