Monday, December 31, 2012

Loose Ends for 2012

Here is a rundown on a bunch of stuff I am following as we enter 2013.  It is all rather random, but it gives you a snapshot of my various interests; a diverse grouping to be sure.

The United States population will surpass 315.1 million people in January 2013.  I like maps of all kinds.  Here is one with a dot for every person in the US, showing the dense pockets of people throughout the fruited plain.

A woman died recently from being brutally gang-raped in India.  Apparently, one of the rapists was the woman's would-be husband.  How twisted is that?  This is a national tragedy for that country.  There are many cultural reasons why women are so abused in India.  I recall frequent stories of wife burning and other horrific acts against Indian women almost daily when I lived in India in the mid-1980's.

Stock markets in the US are heavily leveraged and in a fragile condition.  The situation is similar to that which existed in 2008 before the Great Recession.  A recent Gallup Poll indicates that half of democrats and a quarter of republicans are, in fact, "socialist." Government welfare programs might be one reason that many Americans have lost their drive to earn a wage.

Want to see what $315 billion of gold looks like? My portfolio continues to be heavily weighted toward gold.  I actually added more silver than gold this year.  Gold had an off-year by rising "only" 5.7% in 2012 - that makes a dozen consecutive years of positive growth for gold.  Meanwhile, the US stock markets have yet to regain their 2007 peaks.  About three-quarters of Americans nearing retirement age currently have less that $30,000 in their retirement accounts.  That ain't gonna cut it and actually makes the case for some degree of socialism almost inevitable.   

The top ten searches on Wikipedia for 2012 included three movies and Fifty Shades of Grey, an erotic BDSM novel which was voted "book of the year" by the reading public.  This made me think of a new shoe design I just saw online. I've never really been a "heels" man when it comes to women.  2012 produced the weirdest heel design I've ever seen.  Seems almost tortuous to walk in them.  Equally strange but far less sadistic is a new fabric that literally makes the wearer invisible.

The Voyager One space probe is nearing the very edge of our solar system.  It is at present some 18 billion kilometers from Earth. Sometime in the next few weeks or years (no one really knows how long) it will become the first human-made object to pass into interstellar space.  Meanwhile, NASA has put out this really cool free app featuring some pretty artsy looking satellite images taken over the last couple of decades.

In the past 200 years human longevity has increased 150%, a remarkable evolutionary accomplishment over a very short period of time.  Here is a simple test you can perform based on recent research to gauge your likelihood of a long life.  Here are one physician's six signs that you will live to be 100.  Living in the present moment apparently contributes to longevity.  My personal approach remains a combination of nutrition, supplementation, exercise, yoga, and sex.

Here is an inspiring article dealing with how humanism seeks to be meaningful even in the worst of times - instead of, like most people,  finding comfort in religion.  As I have mentioned before, this blog reflects a spiritual journey although I am anything but religious.

At the other end of the journalistic spectrum there is this piece on why Obama should be executed by firing squad because the US sent F-16's to Egypt.  As ridiculous as this sounds to me, it is not a joke.  No wonder the "conservative press" is having such a tough time.  These wackos make the liberals look totally mainstream.  Meanwhile, this conservative (I think) piece wants us to know 25 facts the "mainstream media" apparently does not want us to know

In last year's loose ends I mentioned that the Syrian Civil War had caused 5,000 deaths in that country.  This year the death toll is over 40,000.  Estimates are that as many as 100,000 more Syrians will die in this horrible war in 2013.   The Christian Syrian minority is affected by the brutality.  There is a story today of a Christian being beheaded by Syrian rebels and his body fed to dogs; indicative of the nature of the violence - an almost unbelievable saturation of killing with no end in sight, as the world watches with its hands largely in its pockets.   Meanwhile, the same holds true for the continuing war in Congo.  The violence in that African nation (currently the bloodiest war on the planet) is facilitated by militia gangs from neighboring countries.

Long-time readers know of my love for nature and my devotion to my pastoral surroundings. Recent research has determined that communing with nature can recharge your creativity - as if I needed a study to tell me that. My experience is that living in nature is great for your quality of life on numerous levels. It is for this reason, among others, that I am so concerned with the fact that the world's largest trees are dying at an accelerating rate.
My Nietzsche blog remains paused as I focus on other things while researching Nietzsche's later life and philosophy.  In the meantime, Nietzsche remains lively and relevant on the internet.  Nietzsche quotes are perfect for the character limitations of Twitter and I follow some of his feeds.  A scholarly book was just published on the central themes of Nietzsche's thought which looks interesting to me.  One blogger wrote this informed post on Nietzsche's relationship to the Greek skeptical tradition.  For me, studying Nietzsche remains as timeless and as relevant as listening to Beethoven.

Other current books - to which I am devoting most of my reading time - include: Monsieur Proust's Library, As They See 'Em, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, and a re-reading of Milan Kundera's brilliant classic The Unbearable Lightness of Being

I don't always make New Year resolutions.  A few years back I pledged to "drink more champagne."  So far, I have held up to that resolution.  I find it impossible to be sad or melancholy or angry while enjoying a good brut champagne.  Give it a try.  For 2013 my resolve is to eat more raw vegetables.  Nothing earth-shattering there.  Just a basic, healthy fine-tuning of things.  Cheers.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

My Year of Reading The Wall Street Journal

Select sections from my year-long subscription to The Wall Street Journal.  I will hang on to this pile of papers for awhile, being a collector of sorts.  Does this make me a hoarder?  Should I seek treatment?
I recently let my year-long subscription to The Wall Street Journal expire. They were running a very special rate last year that put the historic daily newspaper in the same class with a subscription to The Economist.  I was also very much into following WSJ reporter Kelly Evans at the time and wanted to read her daily columns.  So, I spent the bucks in order to have an aesthetic experience that is fading fast in our digital age.

To sit in my reading chair and peruse a quality newspaper, opening it up with arms wide, head cocked back slightly, or while lounging on the floor, the paper unfolded like a small rug, crawling around reading various sections.  I wanted to experience folding the paper into un-neat quarters and reading a particular article of interest.  The smell of ink.  The feel of the pages as they partially rubbed off on my fingers.  The gorgeous printed double-page spreads expertly displayed as no digital medium can yet match.  For all these reasons I decided to reacquaint myself with the art of reading a newspaper, soon to be relegated to history or at least novelty.

Of course, I could have selected another paper.  My good friends Mark and Eileen take The New York Times, certainly a paper usually closer to my thinking in its editorial pages.  But, from what little research I did before my decision, there isn't that much difference between WSJ and NYT in terms of quality of reporting.  In fact, WSJ reporters might be a tad superior in what they do.  I certainly was not disappointed with the writing of the news stories featured in WSJ.  First-rate stuff.

Still, it was obvious over the course of the year that WSJ had a conservative agenda.  Toward the end of my subscription the Obama administration's Benghazi debacle was being played up as the biggest news of the day, perhaps an attempt to influence the election.  You could tell the paper was a Mitt Romney supporter from the way it covered the Republican primaries, the resulting general election, and from the editorials it carried, one even written by Romney himself.  Regular Op-Ed pieces by Karl Rove made me want to gag.  I often felt reading the WSJ editorial stuff was more like conducting covert research into the neocon mind.  In truth, I enjoyed almost every aspect of the paper except for its general editorials.

But, to be fair, there were other guest editorialists.  Al Gore even published a long piece on the "green economy" in the December 14, 2011 issue.  He wasn't the only infrequent and token liberal offered throughout the year.  The bottom line is that if you have a cause or a position, you haven't fully made the rounds in the media until you get published in The Wall Street Journal.  It is the only newspaper I know of that, in all capital letters, features a full-stop period at the end of its masthead.  A touch of subtle arrogance there perhaps.

Come election time in November, I don't know of another paper on the planet that devoted its entire editorial page to the personal by-lines of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as each candidate presented his closing arguments to the readership. Obama's was on the left side of the page, Romney's the right, fittingly enough.  A mark of journalistic distinction in my book.  Sitting presidents don't write for every newspaper do they?  Romney's headline read: "A New Direction for America."  Obama's: "Real Progress, But We're Not Done Yet."  Accurate briefs for both campaign messages, I think.

WSJ offered superb coverage of the government's polarizing deficit reduction efforts and the evolving euro crisis during the course of the year.  David Wessel was one of several staff reporters of note.  He corrected the rest of the journalistic community on how much credit/money the Federal Reserve had actually dumbed into the economy.  It was widely reported that the number was $7.7 trillion.  According the Wessel's research the actual number was about one-third that sensational and inflated total.  A journalistic coup.

Excellent featured articles included "The New American Divide", "Religion for Everyone", "The Top-Selling Living Artist", a informative front page series on the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, "The Trust Molecule", "Under Attack", the launch and subsequent debacle of Facebook stock, "Bionic Brains and Beyond", "Peacekeepers at War", "The Crushing Cost of Care", some really excellent coverage of the 2012 summer Olympics, a nice review of Neil Young's "Waging Heavy Peace", "Newsweek Quits Print" (a sign of things to come), and, of course, in-depth coverage of Hurricane Sandy as it slammed into Wall Street itself.

Once a month, the weekend edition came with WSJ Magazine, a very high-end publication filled with articles on fashion and art and lifestyle written for the very rich.  Definitely an elite periodical for the 1%.  Not something I could relate to personally, but certainly something I was interested in from the perspective of being exposed to the tastes of haute-taute snobs of the world.  I gave those issues to my daughter, who is very much into fashion.  I told her to look through the magazine and especially notice the ads.  Her creativity might want to aim for these types of people as she prepares to enter college...that's where the most money would be for her artistic talents and interests.

All-in-all I found my year of reading WSJ to be aesthetically satisfying and certainly informative.  I feel I have a better understanding of the orthodox conservative perspective and why I agree with it on some matters while differing from it on so many other issues.  My collection of choice sections from various issues will remain with me for awhile.  These editions represent for me a type of art form.  A high quality printed internationally recognized newspaper.  I'm sure newspapers will be around in 20 years, but they will most likely be delivered only in a digital format.  The word "paper" will become nostalgic.

So this is a piece of history, a means of experiencing information that is fading away with the growing popularity of computer tablets and the like.  Readers today want portability, information at their finger-tips, regardless of where they are, without the mess of ink and paper.  The new normal years from now in my old age will not include a relic like my stack of WSJ editions.  The printed word in books is slowly being overwhelmed by the tide of eBooks.  I will probably continue to purchase printed books, but I really see no need for a printed newspaper in my life.  I have been there and thoroughly done that.  Time to move on.  (Even though I receive The Economist and The Atlantic in printed form I usually read them in my iPad editions.)

As a side note epilogue, I am about to choke on the sickeningly stupid phrase "the liberal media." Sure there are plenty of liberal media outlets but the Media (big M) ain't totally liberal.  There is an extremely powerful "conservative media" as well.  The Wall Street Journal is no light-weight media source.  Fox News is the number one television news networkRush Limbaugh is the top radio talk show host in the world.  There are plenty of other examples.  Red StateDrudge ReportThe Weekly  There is a conservative media living large in America.  So, shut-up with all the crap of how "the liberal media" is somehow controlling or slanting the news.  Seems conservatives want freedom and competition in everything but news outlets.  Then they all turn out to be a bunch a whining pansies.  Grow up neocons.  Journalism is a dynamic field reflecting a multitude of perspectives.  To whine that one perspective outweighs and out-influences all the others available is simply naive.

An interesting map and stories from the front page of the November 8, 2012 edition.
A traditional style article from The Wall Street Journal.  For years the newspaper offered no color photographs and rather famously featured nice sketches of faces dealt with in various articles.  The original Talking Heads if you like.  I found this particular recent article fascinating because I myself have been guilty of mis-quoting Jefferson.  I did so in this very early blog post, to which a reader kindly corrected me.  I have since been much more careful about verifying quotes before blogging them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Talking Guns in McGee Mississippi

Last Friday I was nearing the end of a three-day business trip to southern Mississippi. A big corporate meeting was scheduled for 1:30 that afternoon. I was traveling with our corporate accounts manager. We had called on several prospects the day before, working our way from Meridian to Hattiesburg then over to the thriving metropolis of McGee. We spent the night there on Thursday and enjoyed a wonderful all-you-can-eat catfish buffet, only it featured much more than catfish. I feasted on quail, a rare meat to find on any menu. It is also my favorite meat on which to dine. I was fully satiated afterwards.

All you do on the road is drive, talk on the cell, and eat. Now and then you stop and talk to people, but those moments of punctuation are usually very brief if you are cold calling and don’t have an appointment. At any rate, we met up with two of the partners of the company that employs me for lunch before the corporate meeting.

That morning I had read about the tragic shooting at Newtown, Connecticut during my daily iPad reading routine. 20 school children dead. Six adult educators dead. A mother dead. Her son, the killer, dead. A dreadful reminder of our violent American culture. Checking out of my hotel room I met up with our corporate sales guy in his room for some final prep before the meeting. He is an extremely conservative guy and naturally had Fox News on the TV like almost every other staunch knee-jerk conservative usually does. The sound was turned down but there was live coverage of the shootings. I mentioned how terrible it was to learn of the event. The sales guy said nothing.

At lunch, we hooked up with the two partners who had stayed on an extra day in Meridian to work on contracts and conduct some web demos out of the hotel. They informed us that they had spent part of the day before at a shooting range outside Meridian. They went on and on about all the gun choices available at the range. They were partial to the semi-automatic 9mm ones. There was a detailed discussion regarding the DP-51 they had both tried out.

There was also a lot of discussion about the various 50-calibre weapons that they either shot or would have shot if they had wanted to blow more money at the range. The ability to fire hundreds of shells in a minute seemed to be a big deal with these guys, who chomped on their food while grinning and laughing in the child-like giddiness of all those firearms the previous day. The guy that owned the range was a former police officer and very knowledgeable about the dozens of gun choices. The conversation drifted on to hollow-point shells, semi-automatic rifles, the thrill of shooting, target patterns, and how all the really cool weapons were also featured in the Halo 4 video game, so the partners could talk about the guns with their sons and nephews who were big-time gamers and envious of them actually to be able to fire the various weapons they game with.

I sat and ate a baked potato stuffed with blackened chicken, chopped green onions, and various cheeses. Newtown, Connecticut was never mentioned. Neither did it come up in the chit-chat in the board room of the corporate meeting afterwards. There was no mention of it on our seven-hour drive home. To everyone I associated myself with last Friday, it was as if the massacre never happened at all and the topic of guns, so thoroughly discussed by the others, did not connect with the news in any way, shape, or form.

Now, these other guys I was traveling with all have families and children. They are all decent human beings for the most part. They probably would have talked about how unfortunate the event was if it had come up in conversation. But, they were not going to bring it up. It was not until the next morning (I got in after midnight) when I was back with Jennifer that the shootings became the topic of regular conversation for me.

So, here’s my take-away as witness to all these events, both personally and via the various news outlets. President Obama couldn’t be further from the truth we he says – as he must say in this particular situation – "Newtown, you are not alone."  The fact is much of the country does not feel any pain about these shootings whatsoever. Many can discuss guns and their interest in the minutia of gunmanship without any association to the real world. The gun reality is a culture unto itself. To these guys there is no connection between their interest and the shootings. They may not represent the majority of Americans, but they do represent an influential segment our culture.

My boss carries a registered 9mm everywhere he goes including on his business trips. It sat in the console of the absurdly huge rented Suburban we drove all the way to Mississippi. He would not think of leaving home without his gun. I have an employee who is the same way. Her thing is Glocks. She has a custom car license tag that reflects her love to that particular weapon of choice.

In this emotional time it is important to consider some facts. Fact number one is, obviously, there are many Americans who feel more connected to guns than they do to tragedies like Newtown. This fact alone makes meaningful liberal-influenced gun control very unlikely. It is, in fact, impossible to regulate the 300 million plus guns already available in our society, though we could try to tax the shit out of them and use the funds to better prepare our society against itself.

Despite the sensational news, gun violence has been declining in the US since the early 1990’s and guns are responsible for far more suicides than homicides. America is an unusually violent culture but it isn't as violent as it used to be. Gun ownership is declining in the US.

Still, Americans own half the guns on the planet with 5% of the population. Most Americans want some form of gun control, generally registration and background checks. There is less support for the banning of particular types of weapons.
There is less support for a ban on handguns than at any other time in the US since 1959.

What is our culture’s response to the Newtown murders?  There is a surge of weapon purchases across this great nation.  Particularly of the type of weapons used on the school children.

"In 1992, for instance, the violent crime rate per 100,000 residents was 758. In 2012, it was 386. Between 2000 and 2009 (the latest year for which I could easily find data) use of firearms in violent crime had decreased from a rate of 2.4 per 1,000 to 1.4 per 1,000.

"So gun violence overall is down significantly from where it was about 20 or more years ago. At the same time, comfort with guns, which are present in about 45 percent of households, has been increasing. Gallup reports that in January of this year, only 25 percent of Americans wanted to see gun laws be made more strict. Two-thirds either wanted laws to stay the same or be less strict, while 8 percent had no opinion. It's likely that those percentages will shift somewhat over the coming weeks or even months, but the long-term trend lines - that include the years of Columbine, Virginia Tech, and other gun-related massacres - will make it difficult for gun control proponents to gain large majorities." - Reason Magazine

Take two fundamental numbers from all of the above links. 310 million legally owned firearms. 61 mass murders in the US since 1981. Of course, each of the incidents was horrible, excusable, and criminal. But, apparently the contention by some is that all guns must now be controlled in some way so we can prevent an average of two mass homicides per year in the US. 

Sorry, not trying to sound insensitive, but that is pretty wimpish. First off, you cannot regulate all these guns in a constitutional manner. Secondly, the amount of freedom (yes, guns are a part of American Freedom and individual liberty that's why they are especially mentioned in the Bill of Rights) expressed by these hundreds of millions of guns is, in fact, something just as worthy of protecting as is the public from the mass homicides that happen somewhere in this country about every six months. The American culture of violence is not going to change (or will only change slowly through generations) with or without guns.

Murders of this sort are part of the American fabric. President Obama may sound high and mighty declaring that "we can't accept events like this as routine." I understand the strength of that simple phrasing is comforting to many. But, the fact is that, yeah, this sort of thing is fairly routine as the evidence I mentioned just pointed out. 

I realize this is not a very compassionate perspective, it might seem outrageously cynical. President Obama must respond politically to the Newtown murders in some way. It is impossible for him not to. But, you cannot change an entire culture very quickly or significantly with some fast, trendy legislation. Not when you have three common guys discussing guns so intensely over lunch in McGee, Mississippi without ever mentioning the gruesome murder of children at school, each of whom received multiple gunshot wounds, that very morning.

Still, there is something different about this particular incident.  The National Rifle Association, the temple of worship for every god-fearing gun-owner, has gone completely silent since the murders.  It took down its Facebook page and has not issued an official response to something the rest of the nation is talking about.  Maybe there’s a connection between this silence and the neglect of my fellow business travelers through Mississippi.
Whatever the course of the gun debate over the next few weeks the result will be a band aid. It might infuriate gun rights advocates. It might not go far enough for those who want an outright ban certain weapons. But whatever Washington comes up with it will not really change anything. Mass murders will continue as long as our violent culture continues. And America has been one of the most violent places on earth for a very very long time.  But, as I said, overall gun ownership is declining, so perhaps over time there is hope for our violent cultural ways.

So this band aid legislation will be a memorial to one tragedy too much, but it will not reflect leadership. In every sense of the word Obama is following the tragedy, it is leading him, treading the path already well-worn with so much bloodshed. The public demands something be done. The public is sharply divided over what that something exactly is. No one is leading this charge. It is all being dialed-in from prior agendas and mass polling data. That may be the mark of gauging the most expeditious way beyond this tragedy but it most certainly is not the sign of someone, anyone in a leadership capacity, standing up and saying "This way. Now and forever."

For the record, I do not now nor have I ever owned a gun of any kind. So, this isn't the apologetics of another Second Amendment wacko. It is someone who is looking beyond this moment of pain and grief and rage to the conditions ever-present in this so-called greatest nation on earth.

Late Note:  In further reading late tonight, I came across this interesting article in The Daily Beast.  It makes a valid point that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed" is only the second half of the amendment's wording.  What everyone seems to forget, and to what I certainly was not attentive enough, is the first part of the wording: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..."  The article contends that individual citizens only have the right to arms within the context of a well-regulated militia.  The word "regulated" is, in fact, part of the amendment itself.  I'm not sure this by itself overturns the individual freedom to bear arms but it certainly is an interesting and powerful perspective in the overall debate.

Later Note:  The National Rifle Association reports a surge in membership of about 8,000 new members per day in the wake of the Newtown massacre.  American gun lovers are fanatical.  Regulating them and their interests will be difficult.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Surviving Ulysses

After several attempts through the years, I finished Ulysses last weekend. It took me several months to meander through the novel, considered one of the greatest in Western literature. Previous attempts had gotten me about 300 pages into it before I gave up. I have on previous occasions scanned the latter sections of the novel for the controversial and supposedly "obscene" parts (like a little kid looking for dirty words), but never managed to read it all the way through.

So, now that I made the compete journey I can honestly say I found James Joyce's masterwork to be clever and interesting in parts, especially when one considers it was written between 1918-1920. The bountiful parodies on religion, culture, famous writers of the past, and the often funny play on words is interesting but the narrative itself remains unappealing to me. I doubt I will make the effort again.

I know being a person who enjoys classic literature I am supposed to find Ulysses brilliant. Joyce's wordplay is sophisticated with a multiplicity of styles and perspectives presented to the reader. All that is worthy I suppose. But, the novel as a whole was a burden to me. I did not care about what happened to any character in the work. I did not truly connect or empathize with Bloom or Stephen or anyone else in the long prose journey through a single ordinary day in Dublin, June 16, 1904. Sorry, Joyce lovers. This just isn't my taste though I appreciate the great mind behind it all. Joyce would be one helluva scrabble player...just make sure he isn't making up words.

Ulysses abounds with invented words like "howsomever" and "nameinedamine". Joyce uses lots of obscure words like "metempsychosis". He makes fun of the German language's penchant for long, extended words with an invented English word that takes up two complete lines to spell out in the book. These little tidbits are interesting even if they don't create any investment on my part in the characters or the story. Joyce strikes me as more clever than anything else. I prefer to care about the characters or at least be interested by the story. Alas, Ulysses provided me with neither.

The novel is about everything and certainly interesting from a 40,000 foot meta-narrative perspective. It is about the mundane aspects of being human, the passions and needs, the anxieties, the city of Dublin, the stars and universe, existentialism, technology and medicine of that day, the eons of geologic time, moments of walking, moments of sitting, moments in a bar, the dynamics of man and woman both married and not, poverty and social injustice, Greek tragedy mixed with Shakespeare, shaving, bathing, fireworks, Hinduism (less so) and Catholicism (more so), everything.

It approaches weighty topics that punctuate long pages of rambling daily occurrences. But, the novel itself is generally light and frivolous; full of clever wordplay and a plethora of sarcastic humor. Part of what got me through the whole thing this time was realizing the hilarity of it all. Joyce may have approached the serious but he certainly danced giddily around it more than he dwelt upon it. Not taking the novel seriously is the key to enjoying, I suspect. In my case it was the key to surviving it.

It is also a sexy novel. Sex, or sexual tension, and heavy foreplay figure rather directly into the narrative in a handful of somewhat infamous passages. It seems mild by today's standards, of course, but it made for charges of obscenity back when the novel was first published. Some samples...

"To hell with the pope! Nothing new under the sun. I am the Virag who disclosed the sex secrets of monks and maidens. Why I left the Church of Rome. Read the Priest, the Woman and the Confessional. Penrose. Flipperty Jippert. (He wriggles.) women undoing with sweet pudor her belt of rushrope, offers her yoni to man's Lingala. Short time after man presents woman with pieces of jungle meat. Woman shows joy and covers herself with pieces of jungle meat. Woman shows joy and covers herself with featherskins. Man loves her yoni fiercely with big lingam, the stiff one. (He cries.). Coactus volui. The giddy woman will run about. Strong man grasps woman's wrists. Woman squeals, bites, spucks. Man, now fierce angry, strikes woman's fat yadgana." (pp. 519-520)

Telling the pope to go the hell was probably bad enough without equating priesthood with sexuality as well. Joyce was certainly bold for his time. But no bolder than Marcel Proust was in his massive novel of the time or than D.H. Lawrence was with Lady Chatterley's Lover. Sex was coming out of the closet into mainstream classic literature in the European post-World War One period.

"An approximate erection: a solicitous aversion; a gradual elevation: a tentative revelation; a silent contemplation. Then? He kissed her plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative oscillation. The visible signs of postsatisfaction? A silent contemplation: a tentative vexation: a gradual abatement: a solicitous aversion: a proximate erection. What followed this silent action? Somnolent invocation, less somnolent recognition, incipient excitation, catechetical interrogation." (pp. 734 - 735)

Molly Bloom reflects on showing off her breasts for a lover: "...they're supposed to represent beauty placed up there like those statues in the museum one of them pretending to bide it with her hand are they so beautiful of course compared with what a man looks with his two bags full and his other thing hanging down out of him or sticking up at you like a hatrack no wonder they hide it with a cabbageleaf the woman is beauty of course..." (page 753)

Finally, the novel is filled with words that are, in fact, just sounds. Very funny if you attempt to read it aloud, which might have been part of Joyce's intent. Speech acts of tongue and lips are meant sound like farts among other noises. It is a rather silly and often funny occurrence. "Iiiiiiiiiaaaaaaach" is a yawn, for example. "Piffpaff! Popo!" "Prrrrht!"

My previous attempts at reading the novel ended at page 291 of my Vintage paperback edition. It is self-evident why I felt this was a proper stopping point for a difficult work I never connected with after so many pages...

"Seabloom, greaseabloom viewed last words. Softly. When my country takes her place among. Prrprr. Must be the bur. Fff. Oo. Rrpr. Nations of the earth. No-one left behind. She's passed. Then and not until then. Tram. Kran, kran, kran. Good oppor. Coming. Krandlkrankran. I'm sure it's the burgund. Yes. One, two. Let my epitaph be. Karaaaaaaa. Written. I have. Pprrpffrrppfff. Done."

Yes. Done. Made it. Heidi-ho! Made it through and through. Through tangles and brambles of nonsense. Through interior thoughts of multiple characters perceiving the same mundane moments from different perspectives. Through pontifications of random significance, about weighty things expressed with lightness and yet also with a depth deserving to be called life. This and that and everywhichaway. Completely and totally and utterly. Through. And onward. Ttthhhhhht!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Watching Lincoln

I took my In-Laws to see Steven Spielberg's Lincoln Sunday afternoon. The film is extremely well acted.  Daniel Day-Lewis, my favorite living actor, gives another strong performance as Abraham Lincoln, conveying an astonishing degree of compassion, folk sensitivity, intelligence, humor, and political iron will that is probably the best and most historically accurate portrayal of the American icon ever presented on the big screen.  Day-Lewis manages to produce one powerful performance right after another in his superb career and he will undoubtedly receive an Academy Award nomination and is the front-runner of Best Actor.

Like the character he portrays did for the entire nation, Day-Lewis carries the weight of the entire film on his shoulders with noteworthy support from Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens.  Other performances of note from minor characters include Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant and Jackie Earle Haley as Alexander StephensHal Holbrook is splendid as the plain-spoken Preston Blair as is David Strathairn as William Seward.

With a strong cast, Lincoln is a traditional dramatic film without any flash (explosions, car chases, etc.) other than superb costumes.  It is a series of set-piece scenes that could just as well be an extravagant stage play for the theater.  Unfortunately for the film, it often feels too staged, several of the scenes are too forced.  While many of the splendid cast manage to give some depth to their characters, they are all in isolation, only rarely does any dramatic tension between them or within them emerge.

The film comes off as a rather one-dimensional depiction of a complex myriad of political events.  In attempting to craft this sophisticated historical narrative into a dramatic story, director Spielberg loses connection between his characters and his audience.  The film tries to do too much with events of the time and squanders whatever dramatic energy Day-Lewis and others are able to muster in order to get on to the next scene or to tell aspects of the story that should have been cut out altogether for the sake of delving deeper into the characters.

Why show Robert E. Lee mounting Traveler after his surrender at Appomattox without so much as a grunt?  Why attempt to establish tension between Lincoln and his oldest son over whether or not the boy should serve in the war?  These and several other scattered scenes are but exhibits of historical fact with absolutely no connection to the primary narrative itself.  They drain the film of its potential power.

The film gets away with using the word "nigger" a lot.  Under other circumstances this might provoke outrage.  But, since the primary focus is on the intense debate surrounding the passage of the 13th Amendment by the United States House of Representatives in January 1865, I suppose it is considered noble to authentically reflect the deep prejudices among northern politicians even as this war for "freedom" is winding down to victory.  To its credit, the film makes it clear that not everyone in the north felt freedom was the main event.  Anyone not using the N-word was considered a "radical" which reveals the nature of bigotry in the country at the time, thus making Lincoln's steadfast, passionate, and skillfully ruthless political maneuvering all the more glorious.

It is clear that the House was as polarized on this particular issue as the entire country is politically polarized on other issues today.  It is equally clear that at least half of the united north was fighting the war for the preservation of the Union, not for the freedom of slaves.  Perhaps only a minority of the country truly wanted the latter.  Lincoln skillfully navigated these troubled waters.  No easy task; an act of political brilliance, in fact.  The Washington DC of today could learn much from this film in that strict regard.

I give Lincoln a 7 for the terrific performances.  Otherwise, the film is a bit of a muddle as it goes off in all ten directions without sharp focus and, most importantly, without personal depth of character.  Day-Lewis' Lincoln is a wonderful portrayal but only scratches the surface of things as Spielberg wobbles between a story of the astute, very human politician and a story of how the amendment that the president ultimately died for passed the House, each robbing dramatic energy from the other.  It is a tragic story not told as well as it could have been leaving me somewhat touched by Lincoln the man but otherwise uninspired by the rather routinely dispatched factual depiction of these great and mighty depths of human experience. It left me wanting more...and less at the same time.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Comparing Psychedelic Pills

Last night, Jennifer and I had the house to ourselves.  Our daughter was out with a bunch of friends to watch a big local high school game.  Earlier in the week I got a shipment from Amazon containing Jennifer's dad's Christmas gift.  At the time I ordered it I also ordered the Blu-ray presentation of Neil Young and Crazy Horse's Psychedelic Pill.  I listened to the Blu-ray on my Bose headset upstairs and it sounded really good.

But, only on Friday did I have time and available space (I would torture my daughter making her listen to Neil cranked up to about 36 on my hefty Pioneer amp, which the only way to really experience this great neo-classic rock music.) to let the Blu-ray loose in my house.  I was very curious if there really would be a noticeable difference in that sound and the original CD that I bought earlier.  The Blu-ray was released about three weeks after the CD and I didn't want to wait that long to hear the new music.  So, now I have the album in two audio formats.

Jennifer was drinking some beers and having a bit of Crown Royal.  I was enjoying a 15-year bottle of The Glenlivet given to me by my employees as an early Christmas gift.  I was appreciating its smoothness all evening.  So, we were both properly warmed up, ready and desiring to listen to Neil on our stereo.

To start the experiment, I chose the alternate mix of the title track on the double-CD set.  The song absolutely rocks for a little under 4 minutes.  So it makes a good comparison.  The whole experiment would only last about 8 minutes from start to finish.  The band rocks in driving Crazy Horse fashion.  The song sounds so good and strong.  We were both into the music.

Next, I put in the Blu-ray.  I'm in a video menuing system now and there is assorted video chosen by Neil for the Blu-ray.  But, forget all that.  Psychedelic Pill came on again.  Very loud.  It took me about 15 seconds to start smiling.  Now, it isn't exactly something that will knock you on your butt, astonished.  But, there is a distinct difference.

Let me sidetrack to say that both songs were played on my PS3.  I have long been impressed with the PS3's superior audio capabilities compared with any other DVD / Blu-ray player I have heard.  There is no question the PS3 makes the stereo system better.  My oversized Fisher speakers and Jennifer's tall Marantz speakers still sound clear and wonderful, even though we both bought our separate pair of speakers years before we ever married.  Like Neil, I like a lot of the old equipment.

Anyway, the best way I can describe it is that the Blu-ray sounds more distinct.  Without hearing the Blu-ray sound for comparison you wouldn't notice that each instrument and the vocals on the CD actually are slightly fuzzy around the edges of where one sound ends and another begins.  In other words, the vocals are more distinct, the two guitars are more distinguishable, the bass more vibrant, the drums sharp.  The whole song sounds noticeably crisper in Blu-ray.  We went on to listen to most of the rest of the album in the new format.  It all sounds incredible.  Neil's accompanying video choices are always interesting.

There is a bonus track on the Blu-ray.  It is a 37 minute jam session.  It goes on for a long time with Neil on Old Black and the Horse just rambling around and sounding really awesome.  No vocals, just jamming.  Trying random things.  Ultimately, this morphs into a hot fresh version of Cortez the Killer.  The song shifts up a gear in places and really rocking drives.  The bonus track is simply entitled "Horse Back" on the menu.  Very cool stuff. 

So, at least in this case but I suspect in most cases, the extra few dollars for Blu-ray gives you not only a higher quality image compared with DVD but a higher quality sound compared to CD as well.  Supposedly, even this is not the level of really hearing the music that Neil's bold Pono system promises to provide the public.  Until that is available, though, all I can say is Neil has never sounded so good on my stereo system as he does on that Blu-ray of new music.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Two Tickets to Mars, Baby!

Jennifer and I have decided that the world is way too complicated, one big burden after another.  So we are going to leave it all behind.  We are leaving our elderly parents, our daughter, the rest of our families, our land and gardens, our dogs, our citizenship, and, best of all, our difficult and overly demanding careers. Good-bye to all that.  Good-bye global warming, good-bye wars, good-bye fiscal cliff, we are going to be independent and blissfully ever-parted from the lot of you problems.  Good-bye most especially to evangelical Christians and Islamic jihadists.  They won't be going with us because the act itself is immoral before God.

Very good-bye to all that.

Instead, Jennifer and I will live out the rest of our lives on Mars.  We each paid $500,000 out of our retirement savings for a one-way ticket on a "Phase Three" launch deployment.  We will leave Earth sometime between 2019 - 2023, either from a launch facility in the United States or from one currently under construction in Brazil.  Between now and then she and I will be spending some of our remaining retirement money in preparation.

Now we are on a strict regimen of exercise and nutrition.  Periodic tests and training will be conducted on regular trips to California.  We are both active, healthy people.  Jennifer has always played a lot of competitive tennis.  I have always been a distance runner.  Neither of us have serious pulmonary reasons for not making the trip and we have both already passed the stress test to qualify.  We can survive the G-forces of lift-off and landing - as long as there is no mechanical malfunction, of course.

Hundreds of other spacecraft will have either proceeded us or blast off during our launch window.  Many other craft will come in the years after we arrive.  We will travel in a capsule for 7 months in space with about 60 other people.  All floating in weightlessness.  Feeding ourselves and exercising regularly to minimize physical atrophy.  Some atrophy is to be expected but we want to retain as much of our physical potency as possible.

We will feel about two and a half times stronger on Mars due to the difference of gravity.  I will be able to pick up 150 pounds with one arm and toss it, albeit gruntingly, about 20 feet.  My body will feel great, walking with a lighter spring in my steps.  I suppose at some point we will all stop thinking in traditional terms of weight and move to some Martian metric.  I haven't thought to ask about all that yet.

Jennifer and I are both looking forward to the possibilities of this life choice.  We feel like the Vikings or Magellan on a voyage of discovery to new lands for living.  Isn't that what humans have always done to their utmost ability?  I am inspired, my life has new meaning and possibility.  I am going to Mars, if I don't blowup or crash in the rocket vehicle that will take me there.  That's a 3 percent chance of that happening.  Probably as many 2,000 people will perish in the journey due to various causes, mostly vehicular failure.  A bit iffy I admit, but we are rolling the dice on that.

We will live out the rest of our lives being productive, building a basic workable colony with about 50-60,000 fellow colonists.  Most of them will be younger than Jennifer and me.  But we are by no means the oldest.  Others over 50 make up about 28 per cent of everyone there.  Our arrival in the latter phases of the mission means most of the atmospheric domes for work, housing, services, and recreation will already be constructed.  Jennifer has a position nailed down as an administrator in the healthcare field.  I will work either as a communications assistant, writing articles or editing videos, or fall back onto my previous experience in banking at the retail/operational level.

Everything is very well thought out.  We were impressed with the SpaceX representative who met with us a few weeks ago.  I thought perhaps we would be too old for a spot in the 80,000 places that will ultimately be made available to the public for the trip.  But, there are many intermediate and low-level positions to be filled in the colony's organizational charts.  Since we can afford the tickets and are in good physical condition and possess certain basic skill-sets they need, our rep told us the company would rather have older, more experienced individuals fill support role positions than younger people.  It would be better for the first 10 or 15 years of the colony's existence according to a study our rep handed to us.

If someone had told me a decade ago that human beings by the tens of thousands would fly to Mars and settle there in my lifetime I would have thought they were nuts.  It just wouldn't seem possible in the post-9/11 malaise of deficits and cultural polarization and the all-too-evident limitations of human achievement.  But, I would have been wrong.  This is now a legitimate possibility, not at all science-fiction.  It is happening in my lifetime.  How exciting!

It is all the brainchild of Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of SpaceX.  He has worked out much of the logistics to send 80,000 of us to Mars for a half million dollars per traveler - one way.  Every bit of technology to pull off this grand human endeavor either exists or is in advanced development.  Most of it is surprisingly common.  Well, that is not entirely correct.  The actual craft that will transport humans, and that will serve as the base from which they live as colonization begins still has to be invented.

Judging by NASA's announced future timetable for Mars, Musk might be considered overly optimistic.  But, for the sake of this post, let's just assume this is another case where government pokes along at a snail's pace while innovative free-enterprise "boldly goes where no man has gone before."

Eventually, we will reach the capacity to send that many humans to the Red Planet every year.  Large domed centers will be equipped to transfer the CO2 content in the Martian atmosphere into fertile grounds for growing rich and nourishing foods.  This is another area where further research and development is on-going.  But, this is all within our grasp, if we are but courageous enough and focused enough to reach out and claim it.

Everything I have written above is true and fairly well documented.  Even though there are a few major hurdles still to overcome, this will in all likelihood happen within the next couple of decades.  The only part that is pure fiction is the stuff about Jennifer and I going or ever talking to anyone at SpaceX.  But, hey a fellow can dream can't he? 

I envy them, those first colonists, in so many ways.  Their sense of adventure and ultimate expression of true freedom exemplifies what Milan Kundera called "the Lightness of Being."  My life is too weighty for all that.  I am a creature of this good Earth but I wish my future Martian cousins nothing but the best in that brave new world that will surely transform how human beings view themselves as a species.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

My iPad Is Changing My Reading Habits

It occurs to me that I read fewer books in 2012 than in previous years. I have been aware of this since I picked up Ulysses months ago and started to stumble through it again.  More on that in a future post. The point here is that it is not that I am reading less nor is it that, for whatever reasons, I decided to tackle some “weighty” novels in 2012 (The Magus and Dhalgren in addition to Joyce's work). The issue is that I am in fact reading more than ever before. It is just that most of my reading - probably a couple of hours a day on average - is on my iPad.

A sidebar: I purchased an iPad4 (or whatever the hell Apple decided to call this rendition of Steve Jobs' brilliant design – maybe the Newer New iPad) just before Thanksgiving. The screen resolution is noticeably more vivid and sharp, the processor is much faster, and the RAM (or whatever they call memory in Apple lingo) is about double the iPad2. I gave my iPad2 to my daughter as a surprise Thanksgiving Day. She was elated. I haven't seen her since. (Just kidding.) She was very appreciative.

Anyway, having purchased a number of PC's in my day, usually with each new Microsoft operating system (although I didn’t do Vista nor do I plan to buy in to Windows 8), I approached the new iPad with a certain amount of fear and trepidation. Having to reload and update everything in the PC world has been a pain in the ass since the 1980's. But, as a testament to the fact that Microsoft is more marketing company than software company, our culture somehow has ritualized the hassle. It is the walking barefoot on hot coals of our time. Or something. So, I had this anxiety thing happening because my iPad2 was set up just perfectly for me. Everything was customized just to my tastes and carefully constructed over the course of many weeks of downloads and organization. Did I have to start all over again?

Are you kidding me? This is an iPad. Steve Jobs knew how to do this stuff right. With absolutely no instruction manual to guide me, I intuitively plugged my iPad4 into my PC and told the new device to go find the stuff I had backed-up to iCloud. It did so then it automatically started restoring every aspect of my iPad2 setup onto my iPad4. When it completed that about 20 minutes later it asked me "Do you have other stuff you want to restore?" I said, "Why yes I do, thank you for asking." I logged into my iTunes account to finish syncing the new device. That was a lot more stuff and it took about an hour but when it told me it was finished I opened it up to discover everything - the icon placements and groupings, the downloaded material and apps, even the wallpaper background - everything was there where it was supposed to be. I was on familiar terrain with more capacity, a crisper image, and a faster processor.

It was amazing. Is there anything more beautiful than simplicity? (Actually, a couple of apps didn't transfer but it wasn't that big of a deal to download them again.  I didn't even notice they were missing until after several hours of use.)  I am more than pleased with my purchase and look forward to the day I can become completely PC free. It is coming.

But, back to my reading habits. I am not reading books on my iPad though I have downloaded some freebie classics by H.G. Wells, Edward Gibbon’s massive Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, etc. I am mostly reading news; a lot of news. I subscribe to The Economist and The Atlantic on my iPad. But, primarily I read freely available content from two very impressive apps - Flipboard and Zite. I spend about 45 minutes every morning before work and another hour and a half or so in the evening mostly with these two apps.

Flipboard offers a lot of general news content from hundreds of sources in categories such as News, US Politics, Business, History, The Art World, Museums, Film, Culture, Sports, Health, and Science among others. Those are the ones I picked and arranged in careful order (and transferred perfectly when I upgraded to my iPad4). Then there are specific news sources I have selected in an attempt to get a balanced view on the crazy world. These are The Daily Beast, Time, Salon, Huffington Post, The New York Times, The New Republic, The Nation, The New Yorker (complete with cartoons), Fox News, Red State, The Drudge Report, Bloomberg News, Politico, Reason Magazine, and Rolling Stone. That is a fairly eclectic assortment of sources.

Obviously, it is impossible to read everything. But Flipboard's wonderful newspaper style allows me to scan three to five headlines and then flip the page. I can read the first paragraph of most articles and if I want more I simply tap and there the entire article is for me to flip the pages on. It is incredible how much information you can expose yourself to in a comparatively brief amount of time. If I see something of particular interest, something with video content for example, I usually don't take time to absorb it immediately. I email it to myself to read/watch during my lunch hour or I work it in at some point during my workday.

Zite is a different sort of app but no less comprehensive. It deals a lot more with the blogosphere although most of the major news sources mentioned above are in there too. The cool thing about Zite is that it allows you give feedback to the app as to how much more of a particular type of story you want to see. You choose from categories it provides for each article which are essentially keywords. An article about unemployment in Spain, for example, contains keywords for Spain, Labor Market, and Eurozone. You can select any, none, or all of these and Zite stores the choices in your user profile in order to find more articles containing those keywords in the future. Gradually, over a period of weeks the reader customizes the news that interests them most.  Your user profile is portable.  You can log into it on any device containing the Zite app.  Pretty cool.

Zite comes in a standard, pleasing newspaper style. There are default sections for World News, Business, Psychology, Film, Music, Politics, etc. You pick which sections you want to read or create your own. I have created sections on matters of personal interest such as Gold, Meditation, Longevity, and Sex. Zite dutifully goes out and finds articles from hundreds of professional blogs and major news outlets and allows me to teach it what I want to read in these sections through the category keyword selection process. Over time, you find you have to tell Zite less and less about what interests you because most everything it fetches for you is interesting.

There is a danger in all of this, of course. The danger is that I create my own little perspective of the world and I close off everything else that is news. But, the app also allows you to select sources (or even writers) you prefer as well. So if I tag The New York Times, I also try to tag The Wall Street Journal to provide balance.  I tag The Weekly Standard and Fox News in addition to Mother Jones and Salon; all in an attempt to expose myself to multiple perspectives within my specific interests. Zite is a lot of fun that way.

Of course, there are many other apps on my iPad for news as well. I have apps for all the major television networks, for CNN, BBC, CNBC, USA Today, Slate, and good old Google News. I have live streaming television feeds for Bloomberg TV and even for Al Jazeera (with British journalists).  All for free. This freebie part is rather impressive. How is it these content outlets can provide me with so much for absolutely nothing more than an occasionally ad that I complete ignore? That paradigm might shift one day. Somebody has to get paid to report all this stuff. 

So, my iPad is gradually changing my reading habits. I am reading (or at least being exposed to) more information than ever before. With this I naturally have less mental energy for other reading sources such as magazines and books. I'm not sure how far I should go with this. I feel kind of maxed-out on the whole thing already. Maybe I am at my limit. I am aware that Internet addiction and prolonged time spent doing everything I just described in this post is considered by many to be a growing "problem" that might need "treatment." I'll try to be vigilant on the personal effects of all that.

Nevertheless, this is my reading experience in the Now. I think it is more of a positive thing than a negative one. Still, it makes it even more important for me to make time to quiet all that neural activity; to walk in my woods, to do some yoga, to exercise, and listen to music. I need that too. In fact, my reading from my customized mediation section of Zite is inspiring me to get back into that path, to start practicing again, at least in some capacity. This one-minute meditation technique seems a workable place to start.  It is good to empty the mind even if all you do is fill it back up again. That would happen anyway, the world being what it is, but with my iPad the fill-up is somehow enriching in and of itself. There's a world out there; a complex, conflicted and beautiful world. My iPad helps me extend my adventurous attitude toward it, even as my capacity for books eases.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Y'all Got A Problem

John A. Elder's classic painting The Battle of the Crater
Some folks just can’t let it go.  They nag.  Nagging is one of the least productive human behaviors and it is even more irritating when exhibited in an entire cultural style.  That is the case with many of my fellow progressively minded naggers.

Mitt Romney’s performance in the southern states, contextualized with
the historical success of conservatism throughout the South, has been the subject of critique in the inevitable post-election hubris.  Progressives ponder why they preform so badly in the South.

If you read this blog regularly you know I never supported Romney, not even back in 2008.  I voted for Obama then. You also know I share many progressive ideas on issues like human rights, environmental protection, and a liberal supreme court.  Nevertheless, being southern born and bred, I maintain a healthy interest in southern culture in general, in its customs, arts, and literature, and in particular the history of the Southern Confederacy, its honest rebellion against modernity.

I am not a secessionist.  Recent talk of secession, even by someone I respect like Ron Paul, has not changed my opinion.  Secession means war.  That is what history teaches.  I try to learn from history.  Secession, while certainly a continuous thread through much of 19th century America in the northeast and southern states, is pretty much useless as a viable, peaceful political concept.

But, the problem progressives have with the South has little to do with secession.  All 50 states have individually signed up for that.  Politically speaking, secession is Passé. Rather, the problem lies with progressives themselves who, much like their polar opposites - evangelical Christians (many of whom are white southern males), want to force their ideas about the future course of American policy upon those who dissent from such social ideas.

It is the eternal problem of any political perspective attempting to attain as much Power as possible over its opposition.  It is the problem of not seeing that there is nothing inherently wrong with the South.  Instead it is the progressives who have a problem with the South.  Progressivism itself is the issue, not southern conservatism which has existed since before the beginning of this nation.  By any definition this is collective cultural nagging.

The problem is arrogance on all sides, which is natural.  Human cultural behavior is neither inherently progressive nor is it conservative.  It is dynamic and highly competitive and almost completely self-centered. There are many trends and influences in human culture.  The conservative and the progressive political forces have their roots in the singular political thread of this nation - the conflict between the forces of Consolidated Government and the States.

The War Between the States settled two matters.  First, the abolitionists were right, slavery was morally wrong.  Secondly, secession meant bloody war and mass destruction.  We should pay attention to history with all this highfalutin talk of secession.  It is idealistically interesting but has little practical value.  Secession does not solve the burdens of society.  It makes them worse and leads to nothing fundamentally positive.  I am, in the main, a States' Rights man.  But I also believe there are many important reasons why our sovereign States should remain united.

But all that is mere preface.  The actions of that war are still an integral part of who I am as a southern white male.  What I want to make abundantly clear, within the context of the above, is that progressives tend to want to deconstruct the grandiose failure of the Southern Confederacy into a mere cultural exercise in bigotry.  That is unacceptable to me.  There is so much more to why secession took place with the election of Lincoln.  Just as there are a multitude of reasons why all 50 States now have petitions for secession.  Sure the most signatures have come from the old Confederacy, with Texas and Florida leading the way.  But, greater percentages of the population are represented from states like Montana, outside the Old South.

To chain and isolate the demise of Antebellum Southern Culture completely to racism is nothing more than a progressive prejudice.  It dismisses out of hand the nature of southern honor, romanticism, and agrarian livelihood.  It ignores the existential validity that the industrial revolution was seen as a threat to the Southern way of life.  I find its overly simplistic approach to historical fact (by turning history itself into social critique) to be naively reprehensible.  I tolerate its ilk as I do all things but that prejudice strains my southern patience just as it did my Confederate ancestor who fought at Fort Sumter in 1863 and Petersburg in 1864. That such a prejudice has become so widespread as to ban even public representations of the Confederate military is surely the mark of a rigidly restrictive perspective.  How unprogressive.

So, yeah, y'all progressives have a problem.  You ridicule and misapprehend the southern white male in your quaint self-righteousness more than you know.  And that, more than any alleged moral or intellectual defect in white southern culture, pisses off everyone in my culture, it triggers deeply rooted sadness and anger - which now transcends into a diaspora of southern culture all across this nation.  Montana ain't genetically southern, but it sure has the southern cultural spirit where the matter of State Sovereignty is concerned.

So you progressives piss us off down here.  I vote we stay in the union.  I, myself, am in many ways a social progressive in the spirit of Martin Luther King and even George McGovern.  I am equally conservative in fiscal matters and regarding most foreign policy.  I am libertarian where individual rights are concerned.  I consider myself almost unique in my political thought - being a rare liberal, libertarian southerner.  But, I also point out it is not so much the validity of secession that is the question here as it is the underlying currents that secession reflects.  This talk of secession is like a huge poll sampling of a specific demographic throughout the US.  The States seriously question the power and legitimacy of the Federal Authority.  As Ron Paul points out, this is a fundamental part of Americana.  Particularly in southern culture.

While progressives can point to great and meaningful victories in overcoming discrimination, environmental protection, space exploration, general welfare, among other areas of public concern, it is simultaneously evident that the Federal Authority is dramatically shrinking.  The southern penchant for individual responsibility and freedom is strong in areas of deregulation and the enhancement of private communication.

50 years ago you could not own a phone, the Federal Authority controlled it and, by law, forced you to rent your phone. You could not own (physical) gold, the Federal Authority prohibited it.  All air flights were federally controlled, along with all railways and transportation trucks.  The Federal Authority today has a fundamentally more deregulated approach to all our daily lives.  The top tax rate in 1962 was 91 percent.  Conservatives may whine about the re-election of "socialist" Barack Obama but, in truth, they have been holding their own quite well over the past few decades - led in no small part by white southern males.

My point is that many aspects of southern culture such as power shifted to the States from a limited Federal Authority, or a passionate and romantic intimacy toward a peculiar sense of prideful honor, have not only become more deeply rooted in the white geographic south but they have filtered through the vast, entangled transmigration of US peoples to other regions.  This is not a racial thing, though perhaps, as with the War Between the States, race is a factor somewhere.

The true basis of the Southern Confederacy is growing throughout the United States.  As of this post, States have rights to govern marijuana,
to grant gay marriage, to control guns or not control guns, to authorize the teaching of creationism as part of the elementary curriculum, and to restrict late-term abortions.

These are all examples of the rights of the States - a vast and dynamic reflection of Americana.  I may agree or disagree with any of the above but the freedom does not only lie with my free experience, it also and equally lies with those free experiences expressed with which I do not agree.  That is the proper measure of human freedom.

And while some of the above are progressive and some are conservative achievements, in the main the States remain sovereign and unique.  This is the best basis for democracy because it fundamentally protects the rights of the minority opinion, the rights of the white southern minority have always been the basis for their actions even unto the war that began in 1861.  Though the war was lost, today white southern males are far better off in terms of their freedom and wealth than they were 50 years ago; a naïveté if you participant in the myth of postmodern progress.

So, if progressives want to make inroads with southern white males, stop nagging about our "peculiar institution" between the 1600's until 1865.  Start treating us as equals to your political and cultural philosophy.  Because that is what we are.  We are competing with you for the future course of the Federal Authority vs. State Sovereignty debate and, in many respects, we are winning.

Note: I am aware of the apparent contradiction between this piece and my previous praise for George McGovern as a political prophet.  As I see it, both the Consolidated and the State governments have transformed the political landscape in America for the past several decades.  I do not see one as dominating the other, rather I see both as a dynamic flow of competitive ideas that are shaping America in ways neither side fully controls.

Note II:  On Sunday morning I read this piece which provides an interesting perspective on the dynamic of State sovereignty.