Wednesday, December 12, 2007




More later.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Counsel of the Emperor

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was born in 121 CE and became the Emperor of Rome in 161 CE. He was afforded the best education available to an upper class Roman, and followed the Stoic tradition. He spent the majority of his time as Emperor with his legions on the marches of the Empire, putting down revolts and repelling incursions by what today are referred to as "non-state actors." He contracted an infection and died in camp on the Danube in 180 CE.

While on campaign he wrote—in Greek—what have been passed down to us as his "Meditations." In essence, he was keeping a journal in which he collected his thoughts, took notes, wrote down quotes, and so on—today perhaps he would blogging his 'meditations'—or, like me, he would keep a private stash of scribbles, stored, in my case, in a tottering and still growing stack of well-thumbed Moleskine memorandum books.

The Greek title of the Emperor's memorandum book, translated, is "To Himself." In our excitable age Marcus Aurelius is not fashionable reading. He is not flashy. He is not witty, or even funny. He is not the slightest bit interested in irony. Nor in paradox. His insights are not brilliant. There are no epiphanies such as are retailed in the modern genres of the personal spiritual journal, or the solipsistic journalism of the blogosphere. He has no interest in aggrandizing "Himself," after all, he is the Emperor. The odd fact is, in spite of his exalted position, he is a humble man, and often seems to be nagging himself.

All in all, the Emperor sounds like a great, crashing, gloomy bore, doesn't he? The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius was popular, a generation or two ago, as a shelf filler at least, snuggled among the other "Harvard Classics" in a classy uniform binding. It's a short, slim book of no particular theme divided into easily digestible bits—A middlebrow's feast. Hannibal Lector, no middlebrow, quotes the Emperor to Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, so we know the creator of Dr. Lector, Thomas Harris, has read the book.

At this point, the question glistening on your slightly parted lips should be: "Why are you bothering me with this Emperor guy?" I find, like Dr. Lector, that it is well to take counsel of the Emperor. Particularly in these latter days of the American Empire. The truth is, George W. Bush is the man who has driven me to take mental shelter in the yellowed pages of my dog-eared Penguin Classics translation of the Meditations.

Marcus Aurelius was a man who knew something about running an empire in troubled times. He knew every victory was temporary, and that every triumph was hollow. He knew the futility of being the most powerful man alive, and was not unhinged by it. The Emperor says (to himself, as it were),

Begin the morning by saying to yourself, "Today I'm going to meet busy-bodies, the ungrateful, and people who are arrogant, deceitful, envious, and antisocial."

I have seen the nature of the good which is beautiful, and of the bad which is ugly. And realizing that the nature of those who do wrong, that it is within me also, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it shares the same intelligence and the same portion of the sacred—then I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can determine what is ugly within me, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him.

The vices of humanity? Remember the doctrine that all beings are created for one another; that toleration is a part of justice; and that men are not intentional evildoers. Think of the myriad enmities, suspicions, animosities, and conflicts that are now vanished with the dust and ashes of the men who made them and knew them.

If the inward power that rules us be true to Nature, it will always adjust itself readily to the possibilities and opportunities offered by circumstance. It asks for no predeterminate material; in the pursuance of its aims it is willing to compromise; hindrances to its progress are merely converted into matter for its own use. It is like a bonfire mastering a heap of rubbish, assimilating and consuming the fuel, and flaming the higher for it.

Take no enterprise in hand at haphazard, or without regard to the principles of its proper execution.

To pursue the unattainable is insanity, yet the thoughtless can never refrain from doing so.
How is it that souls of no proficiency nor learning are able to confound the adept and the sage? But what soul is truly both adept and sage?

For a human soul, the greatest of self-inflicted wrongs is to make oneself a kind of abscess on the Cosmos; for to be at war with circumstances is always a rebellion against Nature.

Whenever you are outraged by some one's impudence, ask yourself at once, 'Can the world exist with without impudent people?' It cannot; so do not ask for impossibilities. That man is simply one of the shameless whose existence is necessary to the universe. Keep the same thought in mind whenever you meet with the treacherous, the deceitful, or with those who willing to commit any sort of evil act. Remind yourself that the existence of these people is indispensable, and you will become more kindly disposed towards every one individually.

What is wrong, after all, in a boor behaving boorishly? You should blame yourself if you did not expect him to behave that way. You had every reason to suppose that he would do so, and yet you are amazed when he does. When you blame the shameless for having no shame, or the ingrate for being ungrateful, look to yourself, because the error is clearly your own, if you put any faith in the good faith of a man of such dubious disposition.

Once you have given service, what more do you want? Isn't it enough to have obeyed the laws of your own nature, without expecting to be paid for it? That is like the eyes demanding to be paid for seeing, or the feet for walking. For that purpose they exist, and they have their due in doing what they were created to do.

Where life is possible at all, a life of right conduct is possible; life in a palace is possible; therefore even in a palace right conduct is possible.

Every time you feel that harm has been done you, apply the rule, 'If the city (polis, or citystate) is not harmed, I am not harmed.' But if the city is indeed harmed, never rage at the culprit: rather, find out where his vision failed him.

To refrain from doing wrong in imitation of the wrongdoer, is the best revenge.

In a pivotal scene in Thomas Harris' novel, Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling comes to ask the caged Hannibal Lector about the serial killer 'Buffalo Bill.' Dr. Lector tells her that she already has all the information she needs to solve the case, if she is paying attention. He further intimates that if she understood Marcus Aurelius, she might solve the case. She replies,

"Tell me how."

"When you show the odd flash of contextual intelligence, I forget your generation can't read, Clarice. The Emperor counsels simplicity. First Principles. Of each particular thing, ask: What is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its causal nature?"

"That doesn't mean anything to me."

"What does he do, this man you want?"

"He kills—"

"That's incidental. What is the first and principle thing he does, what need does he serve by killing?"

"Anger, social resentment, sexual frus—"


"What, then?"

"He covets. In fact, he covets being the very thing that you are. It's his nature to covet. How do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet?

"No. We just—"

"No. Precisely so. We begin by coveting what we see every day."

Covet is an old fashioned word not much in use these days; it's one of the shalt-nots in the Ten Commandments, in the King James version, at least. To covet means to harbor a powerful desire for something that doesn't belong to you, to want all of it, every bit of that something, for yourself. So let us return to First Principles: What does he do, this man, this party, that rules? He, and they, like the serial killer Buffalo Bill, covet. They want it all, until it's all used up. That is their nature. Bush and his minions are what Dr. Lector refers to as the 'free-range rude.' He might relish a nice little Filet Minion. To the extent that we share that nature, as well as the 'same portion of the sacred,' we cannot blame them, but, as the Emperor advises, if we are true to our inward power and innate reason, like a bonfire, we can master a pile of rubbish.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Cold Moons

Like a fiddle bow
on a flexed saw
my bones twang.

I rise from the bed
of the woman
of my dearest nightmares

and wake up
beside my wife.
My father walks

out of the cracked mirror
and without a word,
kisses me on the left shoulder:

I wake again,
beside, again , my wife.
How many wakings left to go?

I am no longer a young man.
Seven times seven
are the winters I have seen.

No longer the chosen lamb,
I still dream dreams
but I am not the son of these cold moons.

I never rode with coven
or Joan of Arc
and I never was a fickle one

tho’ all cats are grey
in the dark,
and a coat of many colors

is all black
in the Great House
of Mother Night.

A mercenary not for hire,
an assassin who does not kill,
worth no one's salt,

I take my pay in sand,
sands of sleep and time,
and spend it all

in the precinct of harlots
in the temple of the Crone.
She lays me down to sleep,

drapes me with her cloak
of many daughters,
so that I may be stabbed with sickles of light,

sore afflicted
with a pox of moons,
so that I may walk in other worlds,

in new wrinkles
of laminate verse,
and this is not a sin.

Dana Pattillo, 2007

Devil Goin' Down

Not Even Wrong

Wolfgang Pauli, Nobel Prize winning physicist, the Pauli in the Pauli Exclusion Principle, as the tale is told, once succinctly reviewed a young physicist's paper, saying sadly, "That's not right; it's not even wrong." I heard a soundbyte of Bush on the Beeb yesterday, and those three words said themselves to me with my own mouth. Not even wrong. Almost every statement that comes out of Howdy Dubya is so dumb and delusional that his assertions (pre-programed or otherwise) do not even rise to the level of being wrong. Not falsifiable, as Karl Popper put it; not susceptible to proof, because the proposition has no testable hypothesis. The Decider doesn't have a plan or a goal, much less a strategy, he has articles of faith so slippery that they can explain any fact and elude any test.

People speak of framing the debate on the war; that we must change the frame, that is to say, we must alter the rhetoric and metaphors of political discourse in our favor, ala George Lakoff. We must substitute, insinuate, and impose our memes such that we replace the Republican frame with a Democratic frame. That's OK as far as it goes. We are all soldiers on the field of memes. But a frame is just a frame; it may largely and elaborately distract from, subtly direct attention to a particular aspect of, or complement the essence of the picture; but the picture is still the same picture no matter what the frame. It's the same picture if it has no frame at all. And the picture we're looking at is ugly. It's so ugly people can't bear it. We can't face our shame. No one is putting a frame on this picture, we're all putting a good coat of whitewash on the picture so we don't have to look at it. We don't want to look in the mirror and see ourselves as we truly are. Dubya, like Tom Sawyer, is standing by and collecting our treasures one by one, as we each take our turn with the sopping brush.

Every day I listen to NPR and the BBC World Service. I read the blogs, sometimes even WaPo or other MSM. If I pinched myself every time I thought, "I can't believe that Bush is President, it just can't be this bad," I'd be covered with so many welts I could get a job exhibiting myself at a freakshow as "The Pincher." I feel like I am living in some alternate reality, but that hypothesis is not testable.

Another soundbyte that has got a lot of play is John Boehner's tearful
"After 3,000 of our fellow citizens died at the hands of these terrorists, when are we going to stand up and take them on? When are we going to defeat 'em?"
That is not the pertinent question. Rather ask, "When are we going to stand down from these people?"

We already got us right where they want us. Some Republican or other, I can't recall who, had the absolute, fatuous arrogance to assert that we will see the light at the end of the tunnel, come September. The conventional riposte is, "Yeah, and it's the headlight of an oncoming train." There is no light. We're groping in black void, hoping to find a wall, and to feel our way to the opening of a tunnel. The tunnel has already left the station.

Follow the tropes.

We have our ass in a crack in Iraq, and Dead Eye Dick is offering Iran the other cheek. The longer we stay, the bigger chunk we leave behind. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda has the Enemas-R-Us franchise. In all seriousness, folks, what we are facing away from is the Crack of Doom. It is too late to do our duty and get off the pot. The situation calls for a crowbar, not a plunger. Congress has handed the Plumber-in-Chief a new plunger; he's already got a fan.

Open a frame shop, invest in Sherwin Williams, pray to the murderous God of Love, if conscience permits; we, as individuals, as a people, as a nation, will not make this right because we can't even make it to wrong.

Well, it's a long, long time
From May to December
But the days grow short,
When you reach September.
And the autumn weather
Turns the leaves to gray
And I haven't got time
For the waiting game.

Music by Kurt Weill,
lyrics by Berthold Brecht,
translated by Maxwell Anderson,
and best sung by Lotte Lenya.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Burning in Heaven

Oscar Wilde said, on hearing of the demise of his nemesis Lord Douglas, "I have no doubt that he is burning in heaven."

Jerry Falwell is dead since the day before yesterday, and he will be dead a long time. That is some consolation. Some. Not much.

A co-worker me told that his wife knew Falwell personally, and when she got the news of his death by cell phone while driving on the expressway, she was so upset she almost had a wreck and had to pull over.

I can't find it in my black heart to feel the slightest bit of sympathy for the bereaved. I couldn't squeeze out even a single crocodile tear if you tied me to a chair and made me watch the PTL Club until I was as mad as Jose Padilla.

On the other hand, I'm not singing and dancing like a Munchkin after Dorothy drops in on the Wicked Witch without leaving the house. Falwell was well past his "pull by" date, but the damage is already done. The man did a truly monumental amount of harm to our country and the planet in the three score and 13 years allotted to him by Fate. I do mourn. I mourn what he did in this life--I mourn that he ever lived.

I have no call to judge him or any other mortal soul, but in all honesty I think the world would be a better place if Jerry Falwell had never been born.

Without Falwell, perhaps, there be no Bush Regime; no Iraq war. There might not be a Supreme Court poised to reverse Roe v. Wade; no Justice Dept. wiping its collective arse with the Bill of Rights. There might not have been long eight years of Reagan.

Falwell was present at the creation, so to speak, of the Christianist movement that has brought us to our present pass. He was one of the first mullahs of the American Taliban. One of the first dominoes to drop. At the very least, there would be no "Moral Majority" and no Liberty U. madrassa training the next gen prayer warriors and lawyers.

The Fascists wouldn't be calling themselves Republicans, the Republicans wouldn't be calling themselves Democrats, and "Liberal" would not be a synonym for "Pariah." I'm not saying that we all would be living in some ecologically balanced people's paradise, absent Falwell--but all by himself he made he made the world a worse place to live in--a much, much worse place.

Now, I believe, Falwell is beyond all reward and punishment. I am glad he's gone. But my--joy--is tempered by my suspicion he is beyond all suffering. I don't believe in an afterlife, heaven, or hell. I wish there was a heaven for him to burn in. I kind of like imagining Rev. Falwell's entry into heaven and his turn before the Judgement Seat in the style of a Jack Chick cartoon tract--in the last panel he'd be makin' like bacon in the skillet of righteousness.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

AHA!—The Diabolical Canadian Death Poppy

U.S Army "Contractors" travelling in Canada earlier this year filed confidential reports that lead to a Defense Department espionage warning about mysterious coin-like objects with RFDs—radio frequency devices.

According to the Associated Press,

The worried contractors described...the coin-like objects, each marked with a sinister red "anomalous" and "filled with something man-made that looked like nanotechnology," according to once-classified U.S. government reports and e-mails obtained by the AP.

The mysterious coin-like object
"...did not appear to be electronic [analog] in nature or have a power source," wrote one U.S. contractor, who discovered the coin in the cup holder of a rental car. "Under high power microscope, it (the red dot) appeared to be complex consisting of several layers of clear, but different material, with a wire-like mesh suspended on top."

The confidential accounts led to a sensational warning from the Defense Security Service, an agency of the Defense Department, that
mysterious coin-like objects with radio frequency transmitters were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.

One contractor believed someone had placed two of the
mysterious coin-like objects in an outer coat pocket after the contractor had emptied the pocket hours earlier. "Coat pockets were empty that morning and I was keeping all of my coins in a plastic bag in my inner coat pocket," the contractor wrote.

But the Defense Department subsequently acknowledged that it could never substantiate the espionage alarm that it had put out and launched the internal review that turned up the true nature of the
mysterious coin-like object.

The true nature of the mysterious coin-like object? It was a 2004 Canadian Quarter adorned with the image of a red poppy, Canada's flower of remembrance, inlaid over a maple leaf. The 25 cent piece commemorated Canada's 117,000 war dead. Approximately 30 million of these coins imprinted with the dread Canadian Death Poppy were struck by the Royal Canadian Mint. The supposed RFD nanotechnology was the coating applied by the mint to keep the coins from losing their scarlet, so to speak.

Numismatist Dennis Pike of Canadian Coin & Currency near Toronto, Ontario, quickly matched a grainy image and physical descriptions of the suspect coins in the contractors' confidential accounts to the 25-cent poppy piece."

It's not uncommon at all," Pike said. He added that the coin's protective coating glows peculiarly under ultraviolet light. "That may have been a little bit suspicious," he said
(...after he stopped laughing).

Meanwhile, senior Canadian intelligence officials expressed annoyance (between bouts of hysterical giggling) with the complete lack of intelligence in U.S. intelligence agencies.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

WHAT I DID WHILE I WAS AWAY (1) the wedding of friends Barbara and Randy.
Papal vesture (full pope drag) was requested by the bride.