Hawking Up Hairballs

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pity The Poets

How low we have fallen. The spirit of the age has even infected the world of poetry. This month, one Ruth Padel became the first woman ever elected to the Oxford University chair of poetry. This is a big deal. The chair has been in existence for 301 years, and is second in prestige only to the poet laureate position.

As it turns out, Padel has resigned the chair after just ten days. Her chief competitor had been Derek Walcott and, as it turned out, she had sent emails to a couple of reporters as part of a covert campaign to smear Walcott. She apparently reminded them of Walcott's age, 79, and of his alleged poor health. She also reminded them of the charge of sexual harassment that had been brought against him in the mid-'90's, a charge that was settled out of court. Padel's defense was the the information was all in the public domain, so it couldn't be said that she was really talking out of school. However, her former supporters weren't buying that, and many of them insisted that she resign.

This is yet further evidence, if it is needed, that poetry is now so beside the point that poets are scrambling for crumbs at the academic table. If it were still a truly vital art form, poets wouldn't be resorting to this sort of chicanery and they wouldn't be seeking refuge in academia. They'd be making their livings from the sales of their books and the proceeds from their readings, but poetry as an art form has been in decline for a long time. Back in the 1960's, when I was of college age, the sensitive souls among my contemporaries often looked to poets when seeking meaning and consolation. That doesn't seem to be the case today.

Padel's admission of bad behavior could be seen as a sign of a great family in decline. You see, the woman is the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin. I'll bet there are more than a few anti-evolutionists who are chuckling at that.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Socialism Vs. Capitalism

I liked this article about socialism versus capitalism, and decided to post a link to it.



I love cats. I always have. I don't really know how that came to be. Even as a very small boy, I was fascinated by them. Dogs have never held the same appeal. It's not that I dislike them. I can remember an incident from when I was three years old, where I was playing with a neighbor's black cocker spaniel. That was an awfully long time ago, and the memory may not be all that accurate, but it does indicate that I've never had an innate aversion to dogs, but there's something about them that irks me. I don't like the way they're so damned eager to please.

Some people seem to think that cats are sneaky and unlikeable, but I've alway found them to be mysterious and they seem to have a spiritual dimension, some more than others. I have no trouble whatsoever understanding why the ancient Egyptians thought that cats were household gods. Not that this is much different from our modern-day attitudes toward our pets. Just because we don't think of them as gods per se, that doesn't mean that we don't cherish them in exactly the same way as the Egyptians cherished their cats. Yeah, I know that the Egyptians mummified their cats for burial, which says something, but we have our pet cemeteries here in the twenty-first century. Hell, there are even folks who have taxidermists stuff their dead cats and dogs.

It's amazing how attached we can become to our animals. This past March, I lost two cats that I'd had for a long time. One was fifteen years old, the other seventeen. They died within a few weeks of each other. Much to my surprise, that really hit me hard. It was like losing a couple of good friends, which was what they had indeed become. I didn't wait long to get another cat though. I went to the Humane Society shelter and got one there, a year-old, black male. I was walking along this wall of cages, and the little booger reached his paw out to me. I asked the attendant if I could hold him, and she fetched him from the cage. He snuggled up close to me in my arms, then reached his head up and rubbed it against my cheek. What could I do? He had chosen me, so I took him home. His name is Maurice, and he's a real sweetheart.

There's a tradition that associates cats with the diabolical. Black cats were once thought to be the familiars of witches, and many people still consider them unlucky. It is probably for this reason that animal shelters find it harder to find homes for black cats. And what if that old superstition is true? Then, so be it and I guess I am, in the not so immortal words of that character who used to be on Saturday Night Live many years ago, as doomed as doomed can be. And wouldn't you know it. Just as I typed those words, Maurice jumped up on the table, demanding my attention. It's as good a reason as any to end a post.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Take The Purgative

Last week I had a colonoscopy at Grady Hospital, which takes the Medicaid cases here in Atlanta. The most difficult thing about the colonscopy is the purgative that you have to take the night before to clean out the colon. It's no fun at all. So anyway, there I was first thing Wednesday morning, daydreaming about alien visitations as I awaited my turn for the anal probe. During that time, I saw three people get rescheduled because they had failed to take the purgative. Now, I'm a social democrat. I'd like to see true radical democracy, but that doesn't seem possible. Social democracy seems to be the only practical left-wing alternative, at least at this particular point in history. That being the case, I'm all for universal, single-payer health care. However, the conservatives are right about one thing. The individual has to take responsibility for his own life.

Those people who failed to follow instructions regarding the purgative were getting virtually free healthcare. One would think that they would appreciate that fact and come prepared for the procedure. One might object that they were poor and uneducated. Perhaps they were illiterate or mentally impaired, since two of them were elderly. That's no excuse. One can always ask someone to explain the instructions, a family member, a neighbor, or even a fellow member of one's church congregation. The fact is that people like that are adding to the cost of affordable healthcare for the poor at a time when it is under attack by right-wing and corporate interests, and they should hold themselves responsible.

Some might say that I'm blaming the victim. Bullshit. That's one problem with political positions. They tend to drift to the extremes. Those on the left tend to view matters social and economic through the lens of historicism. For example, they might say that poverty causes crime, which is a sociological fact. But then some of them argue that individuals who are guilty of committing crimes shouldn't be punished because they come from impoverished backgrounds. That's patent nonsense. The language of the sociological is not the same as the language of personal responsibility. One cannot say anything specific about one from an impoverished background who commits a crime just because one knows that poverty causes crime. Take the Somali pirates for example. It's been said that they turned to piracy because the Europeans have fished out the waters along their shore so that they don't have a way to make a living. I don't doubt that, and I don't doubt that a lot, perhaps a majority, of those who turned to piracy might not have done it had they a way to make an honest living. However, I'm certain that there are individuals who are involved in that piracy who are stone-cold criminals, and would have become criminals under any conditions. Life isn't as simple as our ideologies.

On a related matter, the local PBS station is showing a series based on the secret relationships between Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. They portray Stalin as a tyrant who was responsible for the deaths of millions. Now that is true. It's a simple historical fact. However, I can't watch shows about Stalin because they all seem to use his atrocities as a way to smear the very notion or a workers' or peoples' state. Maybe such a state is possible, and maybe it isn't, but neither Stalin's Russia nor Mao's China are particularly relevant in the discussion. They were both Leninist states and Lenin's conception of Marxism was a gross distortion. For one thing, Marx claimed that true socialism wasn't possible until all of the countries of the world had become fully developed capitalist states. The reason for that is that true socialism requires an economic base where it is possible to produce all that is needed without finding it necessary to turn anyone into a wage slave. As Marx put it, from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs. It's a nice dream. Perhaps it will be true in the future.

Well, here I am, babbling on like a professor with incipient Alzheimer's who's forgotten the subject of his lecture. The students are getting restless and muttering among themselves. The blonde in the front row who likes to show me her legs in the hope of getting a better grade is talking on her cellphone. It's time to go, so I'll toddle off and go stare at a wall for a while.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Awkward Family Photos

I just had to share this web site. I found it to be very funny. In particular, check out the photo entitled, "Your Body is a Wonderland".


Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Danger of Drugs

I've posted before about the shenanigans pulled by the pharmaceutical industry. The article to which I link below is important in that regard. It's not long. I suggest that everyone read it. The lesson one should draw from it is that, when it comes to taking prescribed drugs, one should be very skeptical. If you are not familiar with a drug that a doctor prescribes, research it before you agree to take it.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

We're All Monkeys On This Bus

I was watching this show on TV called Gangland. Well, okay, I wasn't actually watching it in the sense of sitting there on the couch watching it. I was doing something on the computer at the same time. I do that a lot, have the TV on while I'm doing something else. It's a kind of company. This is especially true in the evenings. I rarely have the TV on during the day. It must have something to do with the remnants of my workaday schedule. Of course, it also reminds of this claim that I read somewhere a long time ago. It seems that the mental hospitals calmed down a lot when they first got TV's. The patients stopped raising so much hell in favor of watching the tube. Of course, my hellraising days are long over anyway, so I guess I really am part boob, just like all this rest of peering idiots.

Anyway, I got off track there. So, I'm watching this Gangland episode. They're profiling this supposedly notorious motorcycle gang whose name I don't recall. As part of demonstrating what bad asses these guys were, they showed the photos that they had taken of themselves, posing with their guns. One thing came to mind right away. In Ken Burns' documentary on the Civil War, he shows these soldiers, both Union and Confederate, posing with their guns for photographers. But for the more extravagant posturing of the gangbangers, they looked remarkably the same. It's interesting that you don't see such photos of soldiers in World War One or Two. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that the photographers were permitted to set up shop right in the military camps during the Civil War.

Men, especially young men, congregate together in fraternities of violence. The chimps do it and so do we humans. Militaries have always exploited this. Ex-soldiers are continually writing that they don't fight for their country or out of any sense of patriotism but for the guys in their unit. They often claim that the relationships they form in their units are the strongest they've ever experienced. Likewise, gangbangers maintain that the gang is like a family, that its members are their brothers.

It all reminds me of a photo I saw recently. It was of this chimp in a zoo somewhere. He was some kind of genetic freak in that he had no body hair. It's one thing to watch footage of hairy chimpanzees running around in an African forest. To hell with what the geneticists say, those damn apes don't look all that much like us, but that hairless chimp. He was spooky.