Tuesday, March 31, 2009

French workers seize company HQ, take execs hostage

Every time the French get a little irked, they shout "To The Barricades!" and do stuff like this, while we get whipped and snivel "Oh please sir, might I have just a bit more gruel?" And that, my friends, is why the frenchies have a 38-hour work week and get to spend the whole month of August lying on the Med beaches, while we have whatever the heck it is we have ....


Hundreds of French workers, angry about proposed layoffs at a Caterpillar office, were holding executives of the company hostage Tuesday, a spokesman for the workers said.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

3 million hit the streets to protest the economy

Sorry to say, those 3 million people are in France, not the US. Why is it that the French hit the streets while we Americans don't? Like the writer of the piece says, "France is France." I wish Americans hit the streets more often. It might not fix anything in the long run (though it just might), but it sure beats huddling in front of our teevees and just "taking it," which is what we’re all doing now. If the AIG bonus nonsense was happening over in France, I guarantee there would be about 1.5 bazillion pissed off frenchies outside the corporate HQ setting up Madame Guillotine. As to why we Americans don't get out there like the French do, I suspect it's a side effect (a planned side effect?) of the whole "rugged individualism" myth, that toxic, retrograde aspect of the American character that says: I got mine, screw everybody else, and anyway "solidarity" starts with a "s" and so does that there "socialism", so it's gotta be bad fer ya.


Why is it only in France that such demonstrations are taking place?

After all, it is people the world over who are bearing the brunt of the recession. But they are not on the street.

The answer is simple. France is France. It has its own political and social codes, forged in the Revolution and over the course of two turbulent centuries.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Meditation on Succetus

I propose we rename March 17th "Saint Baldrick's Day". Instead of getting
hammered on “Saint Patrick’s Day” (and waking up disheveled, disoriented, and obscurely ashamed for reasons you pray you will never remember), do something nice instead and contribute a few pence at www.stbaldricks.org . Then go get hammered.

That is the only warm-fuzzy sentiment you will find in this piece, so enjoy it. On to the meditation ...

“Patrick” (real name, Magonus Succetus) was the worst thing that ever happened to Ireland and the Irish. Succetus was a cultural imperialist and bitter revanchist, an angry man who took a perfectly fine, vibrant culture and befouled the place with a weird, groveling, guilt-obsessed, master/slave middle-eastern death cult.

First let’s be clear. Succetus wasn’t Irish, he was a Romanize Briton. He came from privilege, but his life changed forever when, as a teen, he was captured by Irish raiders and dragged off to Ireland as a human slave. We can’t imagine the kind of life he would have led as a shepherd out in the hills. Often cold, usually wet, months at a time seeing not a single human being, no decent clothing to wear, very little food, and subject to random beatings and the hundred and one daily abuses and degradations to which human slaves have been subject throughout history. What did Succetus think about during those endless cold nights alone out on the pastures? The stories claim he thought about how, if he could just escape, he could bring these poor pagan Irish to The One True Faith. This is nonsense: it presumes a model of human behavior that has never been in evidence, especially among those known as “saints.” What Succetus thought about for those years in slavery was the same thing we would all think about in identical circumstances: revenge. Eventually making his way to the coast and from there back to home, he found the perfect weapon for his revenge: Christianity. This middle-eastern religion made it easy for Succetus, and when he returned to Ireland to “convert the heathens,” his quiver was full. The Celtic Triskellion? Why, that’s a representation of The Trinity! The god Lugh, born of a divine father and a human mother? Well, that’s none other than a pointer to Our Lord And Savior! Tir Na Nog, the blessed isles where the dead go to rest and refresh themselves? What else could that be but Heaven! My ancestors – very brave but perhaps not as intellectually gifted as one might like – fell for Succetus’ bullshit hook, line and sinker. And so the culture and the soul of Ireland were changed utterly.

Let me tell you about a place out in the west of Ireland, a place that shows exactly what Succetus did to the Irish.

Croach Aigle (now called “Mount Patrick”) is a small mountain or a big hill, depending on who you ask. In pre-Christian times, the people would dance and amble up the slopes singing their old songs. Once they reached the top, the pilgrims would have revels and celebrations in honor of Lugh (and before him, in honor of Crom Cruach). As one of his main orders of business, Succetus climbed the mountain and “exorcized” the “demons,” turning it into a Christian pilgrimage site. However, the Christians do not dance their way joyously to the top: they trudge up, flagellating themselves (verbally and physically), riddled with sin and guilt and terror of eternity in a lake of fire. Even today, many Christian pilgrims walk to the top barefoot; every now and then, one of them will crawl all the way to the top on hands and knees. All in the interests of degrading themselves before their god, who apparently is pleased by such behavior. If any single thing brings into sharp relief the difference between the old, indigenous faith and the new middle-eastern faith that Patrick brought to Ireland, the difference in attitude as the faithful climbed the holy mountain to meet their respective gods is it.

I plan to visit Ireland and walk up that hill before I die. There will be no flagellation or wails of guilt and cries for salvation to some alien middle-eastern sky god, I assure you.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Elf-spotting in Iceland

Don't mess with The Folk, or they'll delay your construction project.
Happens all the time in Iceland, apparently. Place seems
to be crawling with The Other Crowd. I wondered where they'd
relocated to after they got sick of dealing with the Irish.

An article on Iceland's de facto bankruptcy in the April issue of
Vanity Fair notes that a "large number of Icelanders"
believe in elves or "hidden people." This widespread folklore
occasionally disrupts business in the sparsely populated
North Atlantic country. Before the aluminum company Alcoa could erect
a smelting factory, "it had to defer to a government
expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were
on or under it." How do you find an elf?

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Inflection Is Near

Every time I see Tom Friedman's weasely, supercilious face on the TeeVee I have to quickly change the chanel before I succumb to the urge to start screaming "SHUT UP! SHUUUT UUUPPPP!" at the top of my voice. (it scares the cats ...) Imagine my shock to see this NYT op-ed that is right on the money. The only point on which I disagree is with the bone he throws us at the end, where he claims that we'll all do the right thing, gird our loins, and fix this problem. The West's track record in loins-girding hasn't been real good the past half century. We''ve forgotten how.


What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Friedrich Nietzsche Saved My Soul

At the age of 14, I sat in the cavernous balcony of the Stanley Theatre in Jersey City, waiting for the science fiction movie with the odd title to begin. The house lights went down and I settled deeper into my seat, ready to begin the familiar, beloved ritual.

The screen was completely dark. Slowly I became aware of a strange, deep bass rumble coming from the enormous Dolby speakers on the walls. The floor itself, the seats, were vibrating. On the screen, the camera was panning up over the dark side of the moon. Three brass notes sounded, rising; the music suggested infinite distance and enormous possibility. On the screen, Earth broke above the curve of the moon, and an enormous orchestral outburst slammed me back into my seat. As the fanfare continued, I experienced something I’ve never experienced since: the hair on the back of my neck and my arms stood up. I had to know what this music was, what it meant. The subject was not open for discussion. It was an obsession, you understand.

My investigations took me to the King Kullen record store in one of the sleazier neighborhoods of midtown Manhattan, where I bought the sound track for 2001: A Space Odyssey. I played that LP until it became unplayable, its uneven grooves reamed smooth by the needle. The liner notes told me that the piece that possessed me had an odd title, in a language I didn’t recognize: Also Sprach Zarathustra. The liner notes explained that it was composed by Richard Strauss as homage to a book with the same strange, incomprehensible title, written by some man with an equally comprehensible name. How exactly should I pronounce that name? Nye-chy? Nitch-key? Nysh?

Another (warning: bad pun ahead) odyssey to Manhattan secured me a copy of The Portable Nietzsche, which contained Zarathustra and several other works. And so I started reading.

Let me be clear: had it not been for Nietzsche, I would have wound up just another dead junkie in the low, dangerous, feral neighborhood where I grew up. I damn near wound up that way anyway, which is a whole other story. I have a t-shirt that reads, “Friedrich Nietzsche Saved My Soul.” People tell me how witty and totally post-modern it is. I tell them I'm dead serious.

Miraculously, I escaped to a small Jesuit college, where I majored in Philosophy and went head-to-head with the priests, full of the sort of tedious, humorless sincerity that only Humanities undergrads can muster. Nietzsche led me and my college peers to Camus and Sartre, and we all styled ourselves as engaged, indignant Existentialists, determined to change the world or at least change a few lives. You were either a Camusien or a Sartrean, and your life wasn’t worth a plugged franc if you got caught after dark on the Sartre gang’s turf with a copy of L’Etranger in your back pocket. We all wrote boatloads of philosophy, but in the spirit of our heroes we also wrote novels and plays and short stories. All of what we wrote was completely awful, of course, full of trite, portentous bathos and strident poseur bravado. What the hell; we put our hearts and souls into it, and we lived and wrote like we meant it.

You know the next chapter: life got in the way, as it always does, and I got waylaid, sidetracked, stopped ... for 30 years. And then one day five years ago, I found myself working on a software development project far from home, driving hours to and from work in the dark. With nothing in front of me but the cone of headlight, and no radio stations that far out, my quotidian mind slowed down and finally became quiet for the first time in decades. And that’s when I heard the little voice. Lethargically at first, as if struggling to wake from a long, drugged sleep, and then with increasing urgency, the small still voice said: Become who you are! At that moment, I felt something slip. It was a sensation, an actual physical sensation of a deep slippage inside my head. Something broke free, some great inner dam gave way and ideas poured through the breach and into my mind. An enormous flood of ideas, each demanding not only that I pay attention to it, but that I help it on its way out into the world.

And so, this blog. A place in the world for those ideas that are unlikely to grow into full-fledged essays, or books. I write constantly now, and am having some modest success in placing my work. But this place here, this is the place for the runts of my litter, my beloved runts.

So I found my way back, at the end, to Philosophy, to all of it, and when I’m grinding out the miles on the treadmill at my gym I wear my t-shirt proudly. And in March 2007, I made an important pilgrimage, and stood at the head of the “Nietzsche Trail” in the mountaintop Hobbit village of Eze, the trail he walked up and down every day when he was writing Zarathustra. Standing there, I finally understood Nietzsche’s poetry of the great heights, his poetry of over-coming and under-going.