Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Bad parents...or bad government

Leila sent me a scary story on the Satanic ritual abuse scare in Great Britain. I had never heard about this before, but it basically parallels the daycare worker child-abuse hysteria in the U.S. in the same period (80's and 90's) that was so excellently covered by Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal.

It's a classic witch-hunt story...only in this case they really did think they were pursuing witches. I don't take much comfort in the fact that this kind of behavior seems to be built into our psyches, since it occurs at somewhat regular intervals in various different countries and cultures.

I guess the scariest part is that I don't really know where I stand on the whole government versus parents power struggle. As a parent, my instinct is always to say, "Stay the hell out of my parenting decisions." On the other hand, you only need a few horrific tales of children abused to death to swing the pendulum the other way. That fact is, there are a lot of horrific parents out there, as well as horrific government officials. Either you opt for a lot of innocent parents to ruthlessly prosecuted, or you opt for a lot of innocent children to be destroyed by abuse. And the point of optimization between these two extremes is not easily found.

In such impossible cases, my philosophy would default to interfering the least. "First do no harm" should be the adage of government as well as doctors. And while I find myself constantly saying, "Some people just shouldn't be allowed to have kids," I don't feel like giving anyone the power to decide such things for others.

Friday, January 20, 2006

So, who's winning?

Politics don't get interesting until you have some idea of who's winning. It used to be fairly easy to see that the Republicans had everything locked down, especially after the last presidential election. Dems flogged themselves for having lost to W in spite of the most visceral zeal the party had felt in ages. Republicans gloated, smug in their solidly-built position statements, philosophy and grass-roots powerhouse.

Now . . . it's hard to tell. W is getting less and less traction these days, and not just because of the war. After continued spending, the Katrina fiasco, the Harriet Myers nomination, even generally sympathetic conservatives like yours truly were starting to think that this guy really is as dumb as his detractors make him out to be. And the alleged ethical lapses of the Republicans aren't helping either.

But wait! Alito comes in, the Democratic senators all dive for him at once and knock their heads together, and suddenly the Republicans are smirking again and the Dems are back into gut-checking mode again. The only thing that has changed, and God I hope it's true, is that both sides are going back into their corners and really, really trying to get their act together in time for the next election.

Interesting times . . .

Thursday, January 19, 2006

87 Weeks Overdue

Once upon a time, I made lists of all the things I needed to do in Outlook Tasks. And, fool that I was, I put Due Dates on many of those things, even the things that did not have real-and-true due dates. I had heard it said in some self-help thing or other that "You can't feel good about what you're doing until you can feel good about what you're not doing." That is to say, you need to list all the things that you need to do, so that when you evaluate your priorities you can recognize what you're not getting to, and be sure that you are at least doing the most important things first.

I stopped using Outlook for this purpose some time ago -- I use a different program instead. But there are still items in Outlook that I haven't gotten rid of . . . tasks that live on in some kind of undead, zombified state, neither completed nor completely dismissed. Every day or every week or so, a little window pops up to remind me of my non-priorities:

-- Order photos of Malcolm (87 weeks overdue)
-- Type up list of Internet account information to file (72 weeks overdue)
-- Send copy of Symposium articles to Leila (74 weeks overdue)

These items have been popping up for approximately a year and a fucking half, and I have kept hitting snooze. Somewhere in my brain I know that the likelihood of these things getting real priority attention are slim, and at the same time I can't bring myself to admit I will never do them. I mean, surely some day I will get prints of those digital photos, right?

I put this out as a testiment to the nearly infinite power of human self-deception. Kierkegaard is right: we all tell lies, and the lies we tell others don't hold a candle to the lies that we tell ourselves.

-- Start living your life's purpose (36 years overdue)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A full day's supply of vitamin Guilt

So I went to a parents meeting at my kids' school . . . the topic was nutrition. One of the mothers had a background in public health, and makes a living editing federal nutrition manuals, and also has struggled for many years to make sense of her own son's food allergies. She gave a presentation on the research of Weston Price, a mid-twentieth century dentist who studied the deleterious impact of Western processed foods on indiginous cultures. The upshot was: processed food Bad, raw and cultured foods Good.

Now, I had come across such thinking before, but this was probably the first time that the reasoning behind that conclusion made an scientific sense. This was not merely a naturalistic fallacy, i.e. Natural = Good, Man-made = Bad, though I think many people in the audience had that general trend in their thinking. They made a pretty good case for how naturally occurring enzymes in food that contribute to digestion are destroyed by pasteurization and other food processing, which ultimately leads to greater food allergies, digestive problems, etc.

Now, what I found most interesting about the whole discussion was not the nutritional information itself, but the vastness of the degrees of effort people put into the whole question. I heard about mothers who soak their grains and nuts overnight to leach out natural preservatives to improce digestibility, who drive hours to buy raw milk from now-illegal sources, who endure horrifically restrictive regimes in efforts to track down allergens, who struggle to create a counter-cultural diet for their families. How much thought or energy do I devote to the topic? Approximately zero percent.

It seems that almost anything worth doing is worth doing to unthinkable extremes. You can't study nutrition for even a little bit without thinking that you are a million miles from right. You can't study ecology without feeling like you are killing the planet. Likewise, you can study philosophy or religion, even a little bit, without getting the sneaking suspicion that you are wasting your life, that you should devote vastly more time and energy to it. The only thing that can save you from complete despair is, as Rose would say, a "backing away from untruth." You eat slightly better, waste a little less, pray a little more . . . just keep moving in the right direction.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

King Me

Ok, a Diet Coke and a game of Scrabble to get my blood pressure back up, and now I'm ready to really write something . . .

- - -

I heard on the news, as most folks probably did, that the children of MLK were squabbling over the potential sale of the King Center to the federal government. Almost all the news wires carried the press conference statements of Bernice King and Martin King III with no additional comment. The general upshot of their comments was: "Don't sell out to the Man."

Somehow I smelled a larger story in all this, and found a New York Times article that gave a little more background. It turns out that the King brothers have been drawing six-figure saleries from King foundation while they neglected the maintenance of the center and allowed it to fall into disrepair. The center receives millions of dollars from the federal government in grants to host programs and develop curricula, and yet almost all the programs at the center have ceased and and it only plays a minor role in Atlanta's MLK Day celebrations. Investigations from the Atlanta press and federal departments have looked into shady dealings with Dexter King's for-profit company and and incestuous board made almost entirely of King family members.

The feds, who already run many other nearby historic sites related to MLK and his legacy, are dying to get their hands on the center so they can (gasp) actually use it, instead of keeping its chapel locked, its archive restricted, and its auditorium empty. And somehow, Bernice and Martin think this is "selling out." To hear them talk, you'd think the Department of the Interior was getting ready to bulldoze the place.

Unfortunately, the "independent voice" that Bernice and Martin want to preserve has apparently never really existed. Rather than use the center, they hoard it, taking from their father's legacy without continuing it.

So who is it, exactly, that sold out?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Emergency Blog Post

I had committed to posting every day, and here it is ten minutes to midnight. I fell asleep in my hotel around 7 pm, and only just woke up.

So, here's the puzzler: does it matter that I'm squeeking in a tiny post a few minutes before pumpkin time, just so I can live by the letter of my committement? Or does it undermine the committment to live by the letter and not the spirit?

My experience with the SKS says, Yes, you should live by the letter, because living by the letter is one (but not the only) way to live the spirit of the committement.

So, this one is for the letter . . . stayed tuned for the Spirit, but shortly after midnight . . . .

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Santa God

In the recent holidays, my wife and I were confronted with one of our first challenges in the religious upbringing of our kids:
On the other hand, Santa is fun, and not all that different from other fictional stories that children engage and enjoy. The key element, it seems, is to make sure that children come to an understanding that Santa is a story, and to be enjoyed as such. My five-year-old has no trouble talking about dragons, and getting into detailed discussions about the habits of dragons. Eventually, he asked me: "Are dragons real?" "No, they're just in stories." "Oh . . . So, tell me more about Smaug."
One story I thought did an excellent job of gently communicating this position comes from a very old Richard Scarry book of Christmas stories. It tells of barnyard where a bunch of little chicks are getting excited at the prospect of Santa coming to visit on Christmas. Now, the grown-up animals know that Santa doesn't visit barnyards, and there are some who want to tell the chicks that they shouldn't get their hopes up. Others decide that it would be fun for the chicks and everyone else if one of them dress up like Santa and bring them presents. All the animals go to great lengths to find presents for the chicks and to assemble all the props for a good Santa appearance, and it obviously brings everyone together, and even leads to the pretend Santa (a goat) bringing presents for the other adults.
What I like about it is that it never explicitly debunks Santa. It doesn't say that he's not real. But it shows the child all the reasons why parents would pretend Santa is real, and all the good things that come out of the game. So, if the child should find out that Santa wasn't real, he wouldn't immediately perceive it as a nefarious plot.