Saturday, March 26, 2005

Been Looking For This Poem For Weeks

Stumble between two stars, by César Vallejo

There are people so wretched, they don't even
have a body; their hair quantitative,
their wise grief, low, in inches;
their manner, high;
don't look for me, the oblivion molar
they seem to come out of the air, to add up sighs mentally, to hear
bright smacks on their palates!

They leave their skin, scratching the sarcophagus in which they are born
and climb through their death hour after hour
and fall, the length of their frozen alphabet, to the ground.

Pity for so much! pity for so little! pity for them!
Pity in my room, hearing them with glasses on!
Pity in my thorax, when they are buying suits!
Pity for my white filth, in its combined scum!

Beloved be the sanchez ears,
beloved the people who sit down,
beloved the unknown man and his wife,
my fellow man with sleeves, neck and eyes!

Beloved be the one with bedbugs,
the one who wears a torn shoe in the rain,
the one who keeps vigil over the corpse of bread with two matches,
the one who catches a finger in a door,
the one who has no birthdays,
the one who lost his shadow in the fire,
the animal, the one who looks like a parrot,
the one who likes like a man, the rich poor man,
the extremely miserable man, the poorest poor man!

Beloved be
the one who is hungry or thirsty, but has no
hunger with which to satiate all his thirst,
nor thirst with which to satiate all his hungers!

Beloved be the one who works by the day, by the month, by the hour,
the one who sweats out of pain or out of shame,
the person who goes, at the order of his hands, to the movies,
the one who pays with what he does not have,
the one who sleeps on his back,
the one who no longer remembers his childhood; beloved be
the bald man without hat,
the just man without thorns,
the thief without roses,
the one who wears a watch and has seen God,
the one who has one honor and does not fail!

Beloved be the child, who falls and still cries
and the man who has fallen and no longer cries!

Pity for so much! Pity for so little! Pity for them!


I'm beginning to suspect that, no matter what the polls say about the American public being statistically against the politicization of Terri Schiavo, it is a win-win situation for Bush and his pro-life base.

For those who are against said politicization, Bush's role will likely be forgotten. If there is any long-term distaste toward the situation, it will be directed toward 'Congress' -- albeit, probably not 'the Republican-led Congress'. No matter how much Democrats hope to stay above the fray on this one by being basically quiet, it won't matter. The scales, as is customary, will be balanced, and they will be held as culpable for the madness as the Republicans. More importantly, though, Bush effectively gets new ammunition for his pseudo-struggle to get his judges approved, and perhaps all the warrant he needs to green light that so-called 'nuclear option' re: filibusters and judicial appointments. Classy.

Now, for those who support the politicization, namely the pro-life activists who are hourly attempting to storm the Bastille and feed Mrs. Schiavo, Bush's role will not be forgotten. On the contrary, his taking leave from Crawford to sign legislation will likely go down in their collective folklore. Indeed, they are the rhetorical base for whatever justification he needs for his judicial-appointment fight; although, let's not kid ourselves into thinking they will benefit more than corporate interests. Even if none of this is the case, though, even if Bush and the modern Republican party end up vilified by the pro-life movement for their false promises (again, not likely), the pro-life movement gains. They get to, once again, (a) lash themselves in masturbatory pleasure for their cultural victimization at the hands of the American 'culture of death', and (b) get the raise a lot of money for their cause.

In other words, the wheels of the bus go round and round.... round and round ....

A Little Housecleaning

As you may or may not have noticed, Silentio is now sporting a new commenting system. What with this being something of a hotbed of commenting activity, I thought something a bit more reliable than Enetation was necessary. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A Thought At Work

Is it just me, or is it just flat out odd that a a Floridian governor, not to mention a Republican president, who has consistently shown his willingness to execute criminals, some of whom are but a few IQ points above vegetative states, even in the face of obvious procedural problems that render the sentence's finality a little premature, is now convinced that the most circumspect possibility of the tiniest sliver of consciousness is sufficient warrant to keep someone alive? Alanis Morrisette might even call it a bit ironic .... um, if it was not just so expected, par for the course, etc.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Just Sad

So, as you probably know, the NCAA tournament started today. For all my bluster, and my tendency to refer to collegiate athletes as slave labor -- servant-monkeys to me, for my entertainment -- I've always really got into college sports. I don't know why. One of the reasons, I guess, is that so many of the closest college games come down to split-second decisions, rather than simply split-second displays of their awesome athleticism. More importantly though is probably the fact that I get to watch a lot of typically arrogant jocks cry like little bitches (a repeat link, I know) when their split-second decisions don't work out. My interest in collegiate athletics remains as sadistic as my keen interest in watching people's faces when they miss a bus or a train -- so long as that person is not me, and I'm not provided with a mirror or reflection so that I might see my facial expression in such a sad, though unacceptably common, circumstance.

So, yeah, I've been watching some basketball today. I can admit this because my academic advisors back in Scotland do not read this blog, and hopefully do not even know of its existence, and thus cannot be chastised by them for frivolously whiling away my days when the pursuit of academic excellence awaits.

No such excellence, however, when it comes to my ability to fill out an otherwise blank tournament bracket sheet. On a day in which, of sixteen games played, there were only two mild upsets (one #12 seed, and one #11), I could only manage a record of 12-4; and in a single region alone, I could, by virtue of my wishful thinking (i.e., my singularly unrealistic faith in Pennsylvania and LSU), have only Illinois and St. Mary's remaining as possible participants in the Sweetness of being one of the Sixteen. And, of course, even if St. Mary's does beat S. Illinois tomorrow, they almost assuredly will not beat Oklahoma State -- who I can but assume will beat SE Louisiana, though, with my bracket going the way it has thus far, probably will not.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

An Abstract To a Paper That Will Likely Go Unwritten

If his autobiography is to be believed, George W. Bush, Jr. is a leader "called by God." Even while governor of Texas, he cited the second verse of Charles Wesley's hymn "A Charge to Keep" as his life's mission: "To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill; O may it all my powers engage to do my Master's will." Such is perhaps one the most powerful of evangelical Christian sentiments, that one is imbued with the divine mandate and capacity to enact the will of God on earth. Since becoming president in 2000, but most starkly revealed to the world after 9/11, Bush's sense of calling has encompassed the responsibility of the United States to bestow and/or protect freedom, which he deemed "God's gift to humanity." Indeed, upon declaring victory in Iraq in 2003, the U.S. military was credited as a material Messiah: "Wherever you go, you carry a message of hope, a message that is ancient and ever new. In the words of the prophet Isaiah: to the captives, 'go forth,' to those who are in darkness, 'be free'" (Isaiah 49:9). However, inasmuch as Bush declares, "Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, are in a permanent state of war," or that America's ideal of freedom is sustained by moral "ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today and forever," the freedom to which such a call directs attention and investment is an impossible, static ideal of time wherein nothing happens except the forestalling of its end. With regard to the War on Terror, as with the Cold War, the neo-conservative mythmakers who frame the conflict have a speculative interest in maintaining the conflict: there is always another regime, another threat, etc. With regard to Bush's domestic policy, the economic independence of the proposed "ownership society," and its attendant Social Security and tax code reform, effectively render more people debtors without the recourse of bankruptcy – which, significantly, effectively coincides with the spiritual affirmation of his evangelical constituency's being "poor in spirit." As such, following the philosophical inquiry of Philip Goodchild's Capitalism and Religion, and the political critique of Giorgio Agamben's State of Exception, I will examine the nature of Bush's calling, namely the degree to which it co-opts the precedents of the Abrahamic and Davidic callings in a purely speculative, exceptional maneuver, i.e. unconcerned with the subsistence level of reality, to heighten the creation of political capital.
UPDATE: Well ... strike that post title. Guess I'll have to write a paper after all. It got accepted.

No Apologies Accepted

Kos offers a very reasonable, albeit half-hearted, defense of House Democrats who will almost certainly vote for the bankruptcy bill that will soon head their way.

Vote against a bankruptcy bill destined to pass anyway (remember, the GOP has its majorities) and you get very little political benefit while losing one of your main sources of election cash. The less cash-on-hand you have heading into the election season, the more likely you are to face a well-funded opponent. So why would a House Democrat vote against the bill? They won't. And while some of you may blame them anyway, that won't jibe with the reality on the ground.

He is, though, wrong for both political and philosophical reasons.

It is, first, politically myopic. As Atrios points out -- and let me point out, I think he's slowly coming out of his post-election stupor -- any appearance of bipartisanship on such a bill effectively negates the potential to use it as a battering ram against the majority party in the 2006 congressional elections. Any benefit an individual Representative gains is, in the end, nullified by the fact that the minority party loses a key national issue; and, as Atrios says, 'if we don't nationalize the congressional race in 2006 we will lose once again.' Exactly.

Second, its utilitarianism is philosophically languid. Although he is not addressing this issue at all, Adam Kotsko's comments about the 'wimpiness' of Democrats in the face of electoral / rhetorical failure is especially pertinent here:

Democrats simply become conservative in the best sense of the word here, trying to prevent the Republicans from undoing the basic structure of society -- Social Security, but more especially the basic democratic structure that will allow the people to come to their senses if they have in fact taken leave of their senses. I tend to think that Al Gore's acceptance of the fraudulent election results stems from a conservative impulse like I've just described: better to let Bush take office in somewhat shady circumstances than to undermine people's trust in the system altogether.

[. . .]

The problem I see here is that calling the status quo a democracy -- in the face of an inadequately educated electorate, a lazy and corrupt mainstream press corps, massive lack of participation in the political process, as well as concrete instances of voter intimidation and outright fraud -- as though we have already arrived at the ideal of popular sovereignty, is dishonest. I don't doubt that Bush is the legitimate president, that he came to power through legal means (even in the first election -- since the Supreme Court decides what is legal in the final instance). But I just think that the fact that Bush came to power through the legal means of the electoral system speaks poorly of that system. We can do better.

Similarly, in the end, Kos is far too conciliatory to the system that rewards votes with financial remuneration and the increase of political capital, inasmuch as it practically serves only (a) to maintain the status quo (i.e., keeping the House under GOP control), and (b) to belie the (moderate) liberal illusion of not playing the same game as conservatives. Taken together, it is a recipe for political disaster. The fact that this has become all the more evident (to me, anyway) by way of bankruptcy legislation, is only too fitting.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

K. and I finally saw Hotel Rwanda tonight. I'm not ashamed to say, I wept like a little bitch. People were walking out talking about bravery and courage and hope, though I think they must've been watching a different movie. Because I saw a movie about hatred, destruction, and worldwide apathy -- I saw me watching the news while munching away on cookies, and changing the channel to something 'less depressing' -- I saw a movie about saving anything you can get your hands on, and expecting nothing else -- I saw nothing less than the debilitated struggle survival in the face of the insane circuit of war and economics -- I saw time ticking away, resources depleting, hatred growing -- I saw me again pissing away what time and resources I have available -- I saw the future sinking into the present into the past.

They Call Me Eloquent

Fuck you, Democratic Party. Fuck you all.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Killing With Kindness

While I'm on the topic of GOP duplicity, I would be remiss if I gave Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum a free pass. Santorum is leading the ostensibly noble cause of increasing the minimum wage by $1.10. Huzzah, right? Eh ... maybe not.

While a $1.10 per hour minimum wage increase by itself would help 1.8 million workers, Santorum includes a poison bill exempting any business with revenues of $1 million or less from regulation -- raising the exemption from the current $500,000 level.

The upshot: while 1.2 million workers could qualify for a minimum wage increase, another 6.8 million workers, who work in companies with revenues between $500,000 and $1,000,000 per year, would lose their current minimum wage protection.

And an even larger number of businesses, those with revenues under $7 million, would be exempt from fines under a range of other safety, health, pension and other labor laws. Essentially, the realm of unregulated sweatshops would be expanded and legalized under Santorum's bill.

[. . .]

Santorum's bill would ban states from requiring employers to pay tipped workers with a guaranteed wage. Employers could pay tipped workers nothing and force them to live off tips, while states would be preempted from creating a higher wage standard for tipped workers.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act specifically guarantees states the right to impose higher wage standards than the federal law. One area where many states have a higher standard than federal law is for tipped workers, who are guaranteed only $2.13 per hour in wages under federal law and can be forced to credit their tips against the required federal wage level. Many states have a higher minimum wage for tipped workers or have abolished the so-called "tip credit" altogether and let workers keep their tips, without allowing employers to reduce their salary below the regular minimum wage level.

With Santorum's bill as law, you would end up with a situation where small and even medium size restaurants and other businesses with tipped employees would be exempt from the federal minimum wage, and state governments would be barred from requiring employers to pay actual wages to tipped workers. Essentially, those workers could be hired for zero dollars and told they had to live only off tips, however little those were.

The whole thing is worth reading ... do so.

The U.S. Congress & Credit: We Created the Monster, and Now We Have to Pay For It

I cannot help but be a little torn by the new debate on bankruptcy prompted by the anti-bankruptcy legislation headed to a Senate vote later this week. On one level, I would hope that it might spur more people to cut up their credit cards, and stop living their lives made of disposable goods. On another level, the one with family and friends who have been eaten up from the inside by the debt they wantonly created and/or had thrust upon them by emergencies, my reaction is one of outright anger. It boils down to a simple question of fairness: no matter my hatred for the credit-culture of America, the same one in which I admittedly participate, the debate hinges on whether bankruptcy really poses the threat to credit card companies that they claim. The fact that their profits have remained on par with the rise of bankruptcy, and that bankruptcy is apparently most often caused not by a person's debt itself but the myriad fees that are often arbitrarily imposed, would seem to imply that it is not (registration may be required, not sure -- email me for my password, if so and you don't care to register).

The morale: as with most GOP-led crises, don't believe the hype on this one. Think they're looking out for your best interests? Sure ... everybody's against bankruptcy abuse and consumer fraud, right -- the good ol' GOP is leading the good fight, just like with Social Security reform and the War on Terror? Think again (for a more detailed analysis, click here).

P.S. For more perspective, there is a pretty nice 'Bankruptcy Bill Edition' developing over on Talking Points Memo.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Old-Time Religion

The Door has finally published online the astonishingly good article about its CEO, Ole Anthony, which I originally read in the December 6, 2004 edition of The New Yorker. It is a flat-out great. I knew nothing at all about Anthony prior to reading it, but by the end I had decided he was the spawn of the unholy miscegenation of evangelical Christianity and the fictional worlds of Cormac McCarthy.

In the summer of 1958, Anthony was sent to the Marshall Islands, in the South Pacific, to calibrate his sensors against a newly designed hydrogen bomb. The Air Force had estimated that the explosion would be equivalent to 3.5 megatons of TNT, but it was equal to 9.3 megatons instead.

Standing on the shore of an island thirty miles away, Anthony watched the target island disintegrate in a blinding flash. A few seconds later, the blowback hit him—a shock wave of wind and sound so powerful that it knocked him into the water. Anthony's body still bears traces of the explosion.

His blood is so marked by radiation that a doctor once told him he should be dead. His flesh is pocked with more than four hundred lipomas—hard, fatty tumors, strung under his skin like knots in a clothesline.

[. . .]

For early Christians, he came to believe, after poring over religious calendars, their faith had a kind of stereophonic depth. Every major event in the Gospels seemed to fall on or near a Jewish holy day: Christ's birth on Rosh Hashanah, his baptism on Yom Kippur, his crucifixion on Passover.

Eventually, Anthony organized a Bible study along the same lines: a small group of believers, around the size of a minyan (no fewer than ten), who are dedicated to parsing Scripture, verse by verse, according to the Jewish calendar.

"He thought it could be a businessmen's breakfast," Anthony's friend John Bloom told me. "He was a big Republican, and he thought he would get all those guys. But that wasn't who showed up. Who showed up were the scum of the earth, as Ole used to call them. All these hippies and people who had never worn a suit in their lives. And of course they all had problems." Anthony would try to keep the discussion scholarly. He would open the Talmud or the Torah, turn to some cryptic line, and start to tease out its meaning with his Greek and Hebrew dictionaries. Then things would fall apart.

"It's a strange fact, but when you study the Scripture seriously it brings out all this stuff in people," Bloom says. "You'd think you were going to read the Book of Ephesians and suddenly someone was saying, 'Oh, my crack-addicted sister came over last night and slapped my daughter.' And that's what you ended up dealing with."

Bloom calls this the "fistfight stage of Trinity Foundation." He was working as a writer for Texas Monthly at the time, in an office across the hall in the same strip mall, and became fascinated by Anthony—his bizarre life style and utter lack of concern about it, his foul mouth and fervent theology. "He was relentless," Bloom later wrote in a Dallas magazine.

"He was a charging Brahma bull breathing Scripture out of both nostrils." Late at night, when Bloom was writing on deadline, he'd sometimes hear shouting and the sound of furniture being thrown around across the hall, followed by slamming doors and squealing tires.

Later, at some local dive, he'd ask Anthony what all the ruckus was about. "Romans. We're still studying the Book of Romans," Anthony would tell him.

"What specific aspect of Romans is causing this level of interest?"

"Well, we were talking about your place in the body of Christ. And I told one guy his place was to be a pimple on the ass of the body of Christ. I just said it. It just came out."

"And he didn't agree?"

"A lot of these people are clinging to their miserable little self-images. They don't understand that it's about God. It's about them, but only the part of them that contains God. They still think they're special."

Anthony's crankiness was oddly consistent with his theology. In the first century, his studies suggested, new believers were ritually rebuffed three times before they were allowed to join Christian communities, so he strove for the same effect.

[. . .]

Anthony was sitting at the far end of the room, feet propped on a chair, a wooden cane within arm's reach. Mornings are his best time—his only good time, really—but even then his face is often haggard with pain. Twenty-five years ago, he sat down in a steam room at his health club, tucked his legs under the bench, and touched his left heel to a live wire that a workman had left hanging from the wall. The shock threw his head back so hard that he cracked a joint in his jaw, and seared the nerve endings on his left side, from ankle to ear. Heavy doses of relaxants and various misguided therapies have only exacerbated the condition over the years, so that Anthony now spends much of the day in his bedroom, racked with muscle spasms.

"Peace is really what we're searching for," he said, swivelling his fierce gaze around the room. "But a life without suffering is meaningless. We are like hunks of quartz, and our real identity is a vein of gold inside it. Whenever we prefer someone's interest over our own, whenever we lay down our lives for someone, we knock off some of the quartz and reveal the gold."

Anthony has never expected his preaching to become popular. "It costs you your hopes and dreams," he says. But he believes that if just a few more people in every community shared his values they could transform society. There are some three hundred thousand churches in the United States and, on any given night, some six hundred thousand homeless people. If every church could adopt just one or two of the homeless, he says, a seemingly intractable problem might be solved.

Ole Anthony and I are probably miles apart when it comes to religious conviction and political persuasion, and we'd almost undoubtedly dislike one another, but I'll be damned if he's not an interesting son of a bitch.

Autobiographical Post Because I've Nothing More Interesting To Say

I've gone from being a bad blogger to a downright horrible one, haven't I? I know February is a short month, but five posts in an entire month. Yeesh.

After many aborted attempts, I've finally returned to my thesis in earnest. While I'm really very happy with the progress made, and remain confident that I will finish this summer, the frustration at the degree to which I have to change everything I wrote during my first and second years abroad grows. I'm not talking about mild editing either, which is a given, but wholesale changes because I can no longer stand by positions made. I like to tell people I'm now saying the exact opposite of what I was saying in 2001. Most frustrating, then, that my academic advisors have not paid much attention to the difference, and end up offering critiques based on what I was saying back then. I've somehow not effectively communicated the difference in focus.

Sometime this week also I really need to decide if I'm going to propose a paper at this year's American Academy of Religion National Conference. The deadline is the 7th or 8th, I think, and I've not even bothered to so much as look at the call for papers. The AAR, with its journal and its conference, has rejected me in so many times and ways, I'm not entirely sure I'm up for it this year.