April 18, 2018

Horribly, Desperately Ill

I'm terribly sorry about my prolonged absence from this space. As many of you have undoubtedly surmised (sadly, correctly), I've been very, very sick. It has been genuinely ghastly, and considerably more than a little scary on several occasions. But! The worst appears to be over for the moment. I don't feel "good" in any physical sense, but I also don't feel as if I've been mauled by a pack of rabid animals and left so weak that I don't care ever to move even a finger again. These days, I measure progress by how many terrible symptoms lessen or even, miraculously, go away.

So I'm very slowly beginning to put myself back together. Very slowly. But I am thinking about pieces I'd like to write again, and I will try to do some writing in the next several days.

I am also almost completely broke. It's a measure of how poor I am that I'm about to run out of cat food for Sasha. In another four or five days, it will all be gone. Oh, I have other cat food -- but Sasha won't eat it. She'll only eat two wet foods, and one dry food. The supply of those three items is almost gone. I've never let this happen in connection with my cats, ever. Not once ever in my lifetime, until now. Yes, things are that bad.

My food is almost gone, too. And there is still one bill to be paid for this month, which won't be paid in current circumstances. Then, in two weeks, it's the first of the month again. Damn. (It reminds me of a terrible old joke. Hysterical Man: "Doctor, do you realize there's a woman having a baby in New York City every two minutes?!?!" Doctor: "Well, for God's sake, find her and STOP HER!!" Ba-da-boom. Somebody needs to find whoever keeps dragging these firsts of the month around, and STOP THE BASTARD!)

Donations in any amount will be received with tremendous gratitude. And we shall make certain that the beauty and splendor of your soul are sung unto the oceans and the mountains -- nay, unto the heavens themselves! -- into the far reaches of time. Too much? Well, I'll put in a lot of good words for you wherever it might count.

Many thanks to those who wrote to me about the Reading Circle idea. I deeply regret that I haven't been able to respond to those emails yet. I'm still mulling over the idea, and I haven't decided how to proceed with it. It's entirely possible that I will simply publish Reading Circle posts as I publish anything else -- but perhaps with a heads-up in advance about what I'm reading, so you can read along with me if you wish. That reminds me. I was thrilled to see recently that a new collection of Hannah Arendt essays has been published. Here's a NYT review. It's the first paragraph of that review that has made me so curious to read the collection:
What is the relationship between thinking, acting and historical consciousness? How do we preserve a spirited intellectual autonomy that yet includes enough sense of the past to contextualize and resist those power-grabbers who would bamboozle the public with their own fun house versions of truth? Hannah Arendt, the philosopher and political theorist, was always acutely concerned with questions of how to make thought and knowledge matter in the struggle against injustice, never more so than in the last two decades of her life, when the rich medley of the material collected in “Thinking Without a Banister” was created. “What really makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other kind of dictatorship to rule is that the people are not informed,” she remarked in a 1973 interview. “If everyone always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but that no one believes anything at all anymore — and rightly so, because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, to be ‘re-lied,’ so to speak.” A lying government pursuing shifting goals has to ceaselessly rewrite its own history, leaving people not only dispossessed of their ability to act, “but also of their capacity to think and to judge,” she declared. “And with such a people you can then do what you please.”
Although I've see passages in Arendt that hint at the ideas in the passage I highlighted, I don't recall seeing Arendt express them this clearly in other contexts. And despite my profound respect for Arendt (as well as gratitude to her, for all I have learned from her), I am compelled to say that I think these particular ideas are completely wrong.

If we assume that this brief excerpt accurately conveys Arendt's view, then it would seem that Arendt conceives of the rise of a dictatorship or totalitarian state as a problem of lack of information: "that the people are not informed." I reject this as an explanation, for at least two reasons. First -- and here, we are the beneficiaries of research into Nazi Germany performed after Arendt's death -- we now know that the inhabitants of the Third Reich were remarkably well-informed about what the Nazis were doing, and why. This was true from the beginning, and continued through all the critical stages of the Nazis' consolidation of power. For many details about this subject, please see this essay of mine from 2012. Gellately's book (Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany) is a treasure trove of information, and it should scare you to death. Second, there is this formulation in the NYT review:
A lying government pursuing shifting goals has to ceaselessly rewrite its own history, leaving people not only dispossessed of their ability to act, “but also of their capacity to think and to judge,” she declared.
I admit that I'm very puzzled that Arendt should say this, which makes me extremely curious to read this new book. (Since I have no funds to buy it myself at the moment, I would suggest that someone might purchase it as a gift. In the past, though, I've sometimes ended up with two or three copies of something when I did that. I only need one! It's safer for me to buy it myself, assuming I have enough from donations once more basic needs are addressed.) When people are confronted with a "lying government pursuing shifting goals" and "ceaselessly rewrit[ing] its own history," they are not dispossessed "of their capacity to think and to judge." One makes a judgment about that fact. We are dispossessed of our capacity to think and to judge only when we are dead (or at least brain dead), and not a moment before. And surely, we are not unfamiliar ourselves in our own time with a "lying government pursuing shifting goals," etc., are we? Indeed, that was one of my central points in that essay from 2012. And despite the incessant lying, and despite the fact that we live in an era when all news (excepting a few genuinely alternative, radical sites) is "fake news," we still have more than sufficient information to make numerous judgments, none of them good.

I have a lot more to say on this, but it should wait until I have the book in hand and can give this thorny subject the time and attention it requires. One of the key issues is, not to sound grandiose about it, how one conceives of evil. It now seems to me that Arendt and I come down in very different places on this question.

For now, thank you, thank you, and thank you once again, for your patience and understanding, and for your immense kindness. Sasha is sleeping at my feet as I write this. She raised her head for a moment, and mewed her thanks as well. This is actually a fact. I would never lie about the divinity that graces my life with her beloved presence.

March 05, 2018

THIS IS SERIOUS, and a Proposal

Deep breath. Okay. It's now the fifth of the month, and I still can't pay the rent. Many thanks to the (few, sadly) people who made donations in response to my last post on this subject. As always, I am deeply grateful.

But I'm $400 short of where I need to be. So my rent will be officially late, and if it's later than Wednesday or Thursday, I will be staring the beginning of the eviction process in the face. I keep reading about people starting GoFundMe campaigns to raise funds to make, as just one example out of many such, a documentary about the heroic and eventful life of their pet eel -- and raking in $15,000 in three days. I could post pictures of my ingrown toenail. What's that worth, do you think?

Seriously, I mean seriously, $400 -- or eviction. As I've said before, and not to be melodramatic but simply to state the truth of the matter, eviction would be the beginning of the end for me. I have nowhere to go, and I could not possibly survive on the street. So I will greet donations in any amount with unbridled glee. And $400 isn't that much in the great scheme of things, even though it's everything to me at this particular moment.

Meanwhile, I have a proposal for the future. (I assume there will be one for these purposes.) I put up a new post yesterday, largely because I felt a desperate need to publish something that didn't concern my dire personal situation. And I did find the two articles that I excerpted to offer several points of interest. I'm still working on a discussion of Steven Pinker, and then I will take up Trump, Russia and related matters.

The proposal: over the past few years, I've toyed with the following idea. I'd like to do a series of "Reading Circle" posts, where a group of us read a book together. My first candidate would be Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. I select that for the reason that it is among the most widely misunderstood and misrepresented books in the canon. Everyone uses the famous comment about the "banality of evil" far too often, and most people have no idea what Arendt herself intended the phrase the communicate. And most people can't tell you anything else about Arendt's analysis, primarily because most people haven't read it.

I was reminded of all this when I came across one of the better articles I've read about Arendt's Eichmann just a few days ago. (I was also astounded to discover a huge wealth of reading and audio material available in the Hannah Arendt Archives. You could happily lose yourself for months in there, at least I certainly could.) This paragraph, which comes toward the end of the commentary, will give you a sense of the perspective:
Perhaps Arendt has been so violently misunderstood because her thinking is both provocative and demanding. Her blessing, and her curse, was a facility for quotable aphorisms that, like Nietzsche’s, require whole books to reveal their unconventional meaning. It is easy to cite the “banality of evil.” It is much more difficult to make sense of what Arendt actually meant.
In recent years, I've reread Eichmann in Jerusalem, but only in bits and pieces. I'd like to reread the entire book again (it's not that long), and it would be nice to have some company. My thought is that we'd read a chapter a week, and then I'd publish my thoughts about that chapter on, say, Friday (obviously, all the details can be worked out later). Those readers who are in the Reading Circle can then offer their thoughts, and we can try to hash out differences in our reactions and answer any questions that might arise. I might even try opening up comments for those posts. My only concern would be the concern that caused me to abandon comments some years ago (my blog did have comments at one time): I had to spend an inordinate amount of time policing the comments, and it was finally too wearying and time-wasting. So I might encourage other readers to write up their own comments (if any), and then I would publish those on the blog as well (with or without the readers' names, as they prefer). As I say, we can work out the details later and, if we proceed, we can make adjustments as seems advisable.

For the moment, I'd like to know if anyone is interested in doing this. If you are, please write me at arthur4801 at yahoodotcom, and put "Reading Circle" in the subject line. If 10 or 15 people are interested, we can start putting it in motion. (And if 100 people are interested, hooray!) I must add that I like this idea for some entirely selfish reasons. I think it would be excellent for me to have a project like this to help structure my time, and even force me to keep reading and writing when my body would prefer to simply collapse into comatose-like sleep. A project like this might be just what the doctor ordered.

The nice thing about the Reading Circle idea is that it could continue as long as there's interest. There are a lot more candidates for reading in the political arena, of course, but we could broaden it to include fiction, too. I'd include "popular" fiction as well, and perhaps I can encourage some folks to read, for example, Ruth Rendell (an unusually skillful and provocative writer, whose work truly gets under your skin).

To do this (and hopefully more!), I need to get past the first of the month bills. I had understood that everyone was promised a pet billionaire. So where's mine? Until I find her or him, $400 would be a godsend. A little bit more, and I can eat for another week.

Many, many thanks. Write to me about the Reading Circle! Oh, and feel free to offer suggestions of your own for books we can read.

March 04, 2018

No More Hoorays for Hollywood

There was a time long ago, when I worked in the theater in the 1970s, when I cared about the Oscars a lot. After I moved to Los Angeles in 1978, I worked in the movie industry for several years. So I still cared about the Oscars a lot. Over the last 30 years, my interest in the Oscars, and in Hollywood in general, has declined dramatically. Hollywood and its associated displays of self-congratulation primarily draw my attention in terms of why and how its product connects to broader cultural trends and issues. (My essays about The Americanization of Emily are perhaps the best examples of articles in this category. In the second half of this essay, I analyze the film with regard to certain issues raised by the Chelsea Manning case. I wrote the essay just before Ms. Manning made her comments about her sexual identity and told us of her name change. I've considered changing her name in my post, but finally decided to leave the post as I originally published it.)

In terms of its presentation in the post-Harvey Weinstein atmosphere, this year's Oscars might provide some intriguing moments. But I suspect those in charge of the Oscars, as well as many of those in the movie business, would strongly prefer that the Oscars imitate the bland gruel of comfort food rather than the stinging tanginess of exotic dishes. There is comparative safety in boredom, or at least so go the calculations in the oh-so-cautious mush brains of Hollywood types.

Yet I suppose some people might genuinely believe that, "Everything is different now!" I'm not entirely certain how a person could sincerely believe that and still have five or six functioning brain cells. I do know that to believe "everything is different now," you would have to be largely ignorant of the dynamics and speed of major cultural change, and of how deeply entrenched institutions manage to cling to accumulated power despite threats to their rule. On that point, Maureen Dowd agrees:
Time’s Up, after all, was born at C.A.A., the agency dominated by white men who, their despoiled clients charge, served as a conveyor belt to the Weinstein hotel suites.

This moment, with women feeling triumphant about finally shaking up the network of old, white men who run Hollywood in a sexist way, is a bit of an illusion, since the entertainment industry has been taken over by an even more impenetrable group of younger, white men from the tech universe, which has an even more virulent bro culture. It’s like gasping with relief as you climb up to the mountain peak, only to discover that it’s actually a much bigger mountain. ...

Yet many women here fear that the reckoning is merely a therapy session, or that “it’s just Kabuki,” as Min said. “When people talk about who will take over for Bob Iger when he eventually retires, no woman is ever in the mix. And so shouldn’t we be questioning why that is and how do you start grooming women for those jobs?” Even when a woman gets to be a studio chief, there’s a man above her helping make the final decisions for the biggest budgets. ...

“All the stuff that allowed these guys to be protected is so subtle and baked into the cake, it’s really hard to unravel it,” one top woman at a major studio told me. “Men are doing a head fake, saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, of course we want to fix it,’ while what they’re really thinking is, ‘How do we get out of this looking like we do something without doing anything?’ Men like to say, ‘We choose the best people,’ but the best people are always white men. The only place they think that they need women is as babes in films. As long as men have power over women, they’re going to try to have sex with them.”
Dowd's own conclusion in her final paragraph is odd, and confusing:
But I’m sanguine for this reason: Men only give up their grip on power when an institution is no longer as relevant, like when they finally let women anchor the network evening news. And Hollywood, as we knew it, is over.
So women will be permitted to take power in Hollywood, now that it's "no longer as relevant"? How many people care about the network evening news these days? Not very many. Now that Hollywood "as we knew it" is on life support, women can take over the unpleasant task of caring for it. This is good news? And as Dowd herself points out, the ascendant "even more impenetrable group of younger, white men from the tech universe, which has an even more virulent bro culture," may be worse. None of this would appear to be a cause for celebration.

But we can be certain that at the Oscars, Hollywood will celebrate itself and its inspiring courage in speaking truth to power. As concerns this ludicrously, dishonestly wrong-headed view, Jim Bovard offers a useful corrective: "Hollywood hoopla ignores media's history of servility." Bovard writes:
Spielberg’s movie [The Post] portrays Post editor Ben Bradlee denouncing dishonest government officials to publisher Katharine Graham: “The way they lied — those days have to be over." Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who deluged the media with falsehoods about battlefront progress, did more than anyone else (except perhaps President Lyndon Johnson) to vastly increase the bloodbath for Americans and Vietnamese. McNamara’s disastrous deceits did not deter the Washington Post from appointing him to its Board of Directors. As author Norman Solomon recently observed, “The Washington Post was instrumental in avidly promoting the lies that made the Vietnam War possible in the first place.” ...

Most of the media had embedded themselves for the Iraq war long before that dinner [at which Bush "good-naturedly" made fun of his administration's search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq]. The Post buried pre-war articles questioning the Bush team’s shams on Iraq; their award-winning Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks complained, “There was an attitude among editors: ‘Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?’” Instead, before the war started, the Post ran 27 editorials in favor of invasion and 140 front-page articles supporting the Bush administration’s case for attacking Saddam. ...

Despite the Iraq fiasco, the media happily resumed cheerleading when the Obama administration launched assaults in Libya and Syria. Even in the Trump era — when the press is openly clashing with a president — bombing still provides push button presidential redemption. Trump’s finest hour, according to much of the media, occurred last April when he attacked the Assad regime with 59 cruise missiles, raising hopes that the U.S. military would topple the Syrian government.

When Trump announced he was sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, the Washington Post editorial page hailed what Trump calls his “principled realism” — regardless of the futility of perpetuating that quagmire. At a time when Trump is saber-rattling against Iran and North Korea, the media should be vigorously challenging official claims before U.S. bombs begin falling. Instead, much of the coverage of rising tensions with foreign regimes could have been written by Pentagon flacks.
Well, the Oscars, a few more wars, untold and usually ignored suffering, destruction and death ... anything for a good show, right?

Everybody loves a good show.

March 02, 2018

Help, Please

The good news: I have been writing this week. I've been reading about Steven Pinker and his latest book. I became so deeply disgusted by Pinker and his disturbingly popular views that I decided I needed to discuss his work. So I'm working on that, in addition to doing some work on a few of the other topics I've mentioned.

The bad news: Because of all my physical ailments, the work is going very, very slowly. I try to speed it up, but there are severe limits on what I can do now. I'm doing the best I can, but I'm afraid it still moves at a glacial pace.

My deep thanks to those who have donated recently. I now have about 2/3 of what I need for the rent; I also have an internet bill and an electric bill that need to be paid next week. The rent must be paid by Monday, if it is not to be considered late. So as of today, I officially have Eviction Anxiety. I can get a few days beyond Monday if I have to, but it would not be pleasant (or advisable, with regard to establishing that kind of payment record). Eviction Anxiety is the reason I'm putting up this post before publishing at least one or two new substantive articles. I'd fervently wanted to offer some new posts before asking for donations again, but it was not to be.

So once again, I would be profoundly grateful for any help readers might be able to provide. I cannot thank you sufficiently or properly -- but I do promise to try to wrestle Pinker to the ground this weekend and dispose of him properly. (I was dumbfounded to see that Pinker had offered still another book on the same theme as his previous book, and I wondered why this loathsome individual will not shut the hell up. I think I know why he won't shut up now. Here's the NY Times review of his new book, if you want to get a headstart.)

Many, many thanks for your time and attention. Bless you for your kindness.

Watch out, Pinker!

February 22, 2018

A Kind of Report

The past three weeks have been ghastly with regard to my health. I'm deeply sorry about the lack of posting, but I honestly have been unable to do much of anything, except for feeding Sasha and getting to the bathroom a few times a day. On many days, I ate almost nothing, since I didn't even have the strength (or interest, for that matter) to prepare anything.

I've also been terribly discouraged and depressed whenever I think about the writing I still very much want to do. Given how I feel most days, I simply don't see how I can write essays of the kind I prefer -- that is, essays which, at least in part, present a cogent argument, offer evidence in support of that argument, and address major objections that might be anticipated. But in the last week, I've dragged myself to the computer to read some articles about "Russia-gate" and related matters, and, well ...

There is an utterly astonishing amount of drivel and idiocy spread across the internet. Huge piles of stupidity tower all around us. Someday, perhaps very soon, those piles will collapse and bury us all. It will be Death by Dumb.

So I'm going to proceed with putting together some thoughts on matters that appear to be of concern at the moment. At least I have some self-awareness of my limitations, which is much more than can be said of 99.9% of today's commentators. Most of them seem to revel in their distortions and misrepresentations, viewing them as a form of higher enlightenment. Pompous pretension and stupidity do not constitute a winning or attractive combination.

Since my health has slowed me down a great deal, it may take me several days to get an article ready for publication, even one that doesn't measure up to my preferred standards. Yet I can assure you that, given my diminished capacities at the moment, whatever I publish still will not threaten you with destruction by metaphysical foolishness.

In the meantime, and while I am at work trying to untangle the story we're being force-fed (Spoiler Alert! There is something, actually several things, that are fundamentally "off" with the basic storyline for Russia-gate. The phrase which keeps bubbling up during my cogitations, in various iterations, is: "This just doesn't make sense."), circumstances compel me to ask for donations once again. I am flat, stone, dead-broke right now. Aside from a few dollars in change, I have no cash on hand. My credit card (used most importantly for groceries) is completely maxed out (again). In a few days, I will have no food left to eat. (Sasha is fine on the food front. The last purchase of food that I was able to make was for her.) I have a couple of bills that need to be paid in the next week, and I have absolutely nothing with which to pay them. And then, of course and damnably, the first of the month arrives still another time next week.

All of which means that any and all donations will be received with enormous demonstrations of gratitude. There is no way to properly thank those who have donated to keep me going during these difficult times. To be blunt, without my wonderful donors, I'd be dead, or very close to it. No, I'd be dead, and I'd most likely have been dead for some time.

So, thank you once more, a very profound thank you, for all your kindness, understanding, and patience. Now, to work, as best I'm able ...

February 01, 2018

Still Struggling

My sincere and profound thanks to those who made donations in response to my post. I will be able to manage the rent ... just. Unfortunately, I remain about $300 short of what is needed for the "must pay" bills due early in the month (internet, payment on the one credit card I must have since I use it to pay for groceries, phone, and I'm including a little bit for food since ... well ... you know, eating).

Sasha and I would be tremendously grateful for any and all further donations. Not so by the way, Sasha seems to be pretty much okay now -- but there are a couple of things I would very much like a vet to check out, just to be on the safe side. But I would need at least another $200 or so to make that happen; it doesn't appear likely that will come to pass any time soon. So Sasha and I will both muddle on without medical attention. Sad, but there it is, and a lot of people face far worse circumstances, to be sure.

I continue to try to get some writing done for the blog. This week has been very tough physically, though. But I'll still do my best to publish some new posts in several days, hopefully by the early part of next week.

Many, many thanks once more, for your patience and understanding. I'm truly more thankful than I can say.

January 28, 2018

Struggling Through

I'd very much hoped to have published at least a few new posts before I had to ask for donations again. Very sadly, my health has continued to be utterly rotten and debilitating; I have notes for a bunch of posts (with lots o' links), but I haven't been able to summon the energy and focus to complete them.

And now I'm overtaken by anxiety as another first of the month rushes in upon us. I am well and truly broke, with nothing for rent, the internet, or food. The food will run out in a few days. At this point, I can't even afford to buy aspirin, and my supply of aspirin will also run out by midweek. Since aspirin is the only "medication" I take for my bad heart at the moment, going without it could be seriously bad news.

Donations would be enormously welcome, to understate the matter considerably. Bless all of you who have been so kind and generous, and I'm desperately sorry to have to ask for your help yet another time. I will do my utmost to complete some posts during this coming week. I begin each day determined to do some writing, even if only for an hour or two. And each day, my physical weakness and a variety of pains and discomforts undo me.

But I'll continue to try to work through it. One of these days, very, very soon I hope, I'll succeed.

My very deep thanks for your consideration, and for your remarkable kindness.