Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Road Not Taken

I've been reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road.  It's not good.

It's just so damn... melodramatic.  And downright hokey.  I mean, it's a POST-apocalyptic world.  So the melodrama has already happened, you'd think.  But no, this is a world in which roving bands of cannibals are attacking anyone they can get their hands on.

Children are especially appetizing, of course. 

Everyone seems to fall into one of two categories: the eaters and the soon-to-be-eaten.  There are "the bad guys" and "the good guys."

I mean that literally.  That's what McCarthy has his main characters call them, in order to capture the beauty and innocence and goodness of the father and his son.

His son cries when they can't save people or dogs, even though he and his father are starving themselves.

McCarthy has done no research into the behavior of starving children, I think.  They can be more mercenary than adults, because moral goodness and the propensity for self-sacrifice are typically learned moral codes, not innate human behaviors.

As you can see from the roving bands of cannibals that people the rest of the novel, actually.

The most self-absorbed character is Mom.  After accusing her husband of being a total wuss for not putting an end to them all, she has apparently wandered off to kill herself so that she won't be raped and then eaten for dinner.

The boy, meanwhile, wants constant reassurance from his dad that they will never become one of "the bad guys" and resort to eating human flesh.

He also constantly wants to know if they're dying.  (That's his equivalent of the "Are we there yet?" road-trip question.)

Meanwhile, people are "burned" from the unmentioned apocalypse, and everything is "black" and "gray."

For the record, it seems to me to be a matter of principle that, if you have an apocalypse in your novel, you have to tell us what happened.  Vague references to "ash" are a major cop-out.

I also can't help but keep thinking, "But what about kuru and other prion-based brain diseases?"  Obviously, some people must be diseased, especially if they're "burned."

Humans eating other diseased humans is a potential set up for mad-human disease, so how can cannibalism have continued in this world for an unstated number of years?

So, I'm currently reading that novel at the pace of about 100 pages per hour.  No kidding.  This bothers me as well.  The prose is so simplistic and so cliched, that I get flat-out annoyed by it.  Incomplete sentences abound.  Just like that.  And then there's another one.  Like that.  Usually followed by some tender, wifty claims about human goodness.  Here's a sample:
"No lists of things to be done.  The day providential to itself.  The hour.  There is no later.  This is later.  All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain.  Their birth in grief and ashes.  So, he whispered to the sleeping boy, I have you."
At this point, I actually found myself rolling my eyes and saying, "Oh give me a freakin' BREAK..." out loud.  And I was only on page 54.  If I read a student's paper and it did this, I'd make a huge bracket around the paragraph and write, "Don't do this." (I have since tried to parse the "All things of grace and beauty" sentence and have concluded that if you do, it makes no sense whatsoever.)

This has not happened since I read the novel Monkey Bridge on the plane to California and figured out on page 5 that the girl's grandfather was VietCong, only to slog through another hundred or so pages and realize that this in fact was the grand realization that the main character would tearfully and shockingly come to somewhere around page 200.

At that point I also said, "Oh, you've got to be KIDDING me!," only to look up and remember that I was actually on a plane.  So basically, I was out in public, where people don't know me, making my usual good impression...

Sometimes, I worry about the simplicity and predictability of so much contemporary literature and art.  Film is perhaps the worst culprit.  Maybe it's just me, but I don't think they'd even make a movie like "The Big Chill" today, because it actually has more than 3 main characters.

I'm serious.  Watch a movie.  There are usually no more than 2 or 3 characters in it.  And they're always pleasant to look at, unless they go through hours and hours of special makeup in order to be distinctly unpleasant to look at. 

I'm excluding films with hundreds of troops of warriors, of course.  Or films about the devastating poverty in India that revolve around winning a million dollars in a game show, enduring brutal torture and eventually celebrating your win by joining the love of your life (who has escaped being pimped out by your brother) in a final dance sequence.

People often say that they have trouble following a plot, if it gets at all complicated.  I think fewer and fewer people enjoy reading.  It seems like they opt for more immediate visual or auditory input, instead of patiently waiting for the gray cells to fire and the wheels to turn as a result of a series of cumulative effects over time. 

Neuroscience shows that the brain is a use-it-or-lose-it organ, so if we rarely fix our attention on anything other than an Ipad, Iphone or other electronic device, I think we basically begin to lose the capacity to do so.

Sherry Turkle's studies have shown that today's teens, for example, typically do their homework with email, AOL and Facebook open, the cell phone on (and thus receiving regular texts and tweets),  the TV on and sometimes the Ipod on as well.

I have a small panic attack just writing that description.  Forget bombarding me with heavy metal music: I'd give up state secrets for sure, under those conditions.

When I finish The Road, I'm going to switch back to non-fiction and read Mississippi Mud by Edward Humes and Coyotes by Ted Conover.

I'll keep you posted...

The Conservative Libertine: the thinker: Being A Skeptic

The Conservative Libertine: the thinker: Being A Skeptic

I've enjoyed this chance to exchange ideas and perspectives and share common ground. I really wish there could be more of this kind of thing and less focus on the verbal divisiveness in the world--on a daily basis.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Little Things

One of the things I love about having my own home is that there's always something to do.

I know to a lot of people, that's exactly what's so annoying about home-ownership, but for me, it's kinda fun.

I think some of it stems from my darker life-experiences.  Trust me, after you've kept a death-bed vigil not once, but twice, needing to get a repair-guy in to fix something and having bills to pay is nothing.

At least it's something you can repair, and at least it's only a bill.

Really, it's only a bill. You're not watching someone you care about die.

I think one of the results of this kind of experience is that you notice--and savor--a lot of very small things, and the small things end up adding up.

I think that's also why the only thing that really gets me down anymore is when people are rude or unkind to other people.

Life's so short.  It shouldn't be spent making other people unhappy for your own betterment or to salve your own ego.  And even if you do it unintentionally, that's no excuse at all, in my book.

I say, get a clue.  Life's too short to spend it being oblivious of other people's feelings.  It's no way to live.

So anyway, I've spent the past two weeks or so getting the house and the yard ship-shape for spring.  I've planted begonias, dahlias, peonies, dianthus, columbine, nasturtiums, portulacas and poppies.  My seeds are coming up, so it looks like, if all goes well, I'll have a garden with tomatoes, peppers, basil and rosemary, plus I'm going to plant dill, thyme, and cilantro.

Next weekend, I'm going to pick up and install my rain barrels.  I'm excited about this: I'm hoping they'll be full so I can use them instead of the hose when I need to water my plants this summer.

I'm also going to join a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture), now that I have a C of my very own.  I think it'll be fun to stretch my cooking skills by having to roll with whatever the week's produce brings in.  Plus, I can supplement from my own garden--that's the plan anyway.

I also bought an electric composter.  I know electric means it's not "green," technically, but apparently this uses the equivalent of about 50 cents worth of electricity a month.  Given that I'm barely on the grid as it is (no TV, no stereo, never use the dishwasher, never use the dryer), I think I can let it slide.

It would probably work a lot faster if I stopped opening it to look at what's happening.  I think it's working.  I never thought I'd be so excited about decomposing garbage, but if you had seen me this morning, I was marveling about how, "it doesn't even smell!" and "you can't even tell it was garbage, in some spots!"

I also found a way to make my own compost pail (following advice found on fivecentnickel.com), instead of buying one, so that made me happy.

Like I said, little things.

I will resist the temptation to take a picture of the compost-in-process and post it here on my blog.

But I may take a picture of the blankets I've been working on this winter to donate to Project Linus.  They're having a big blanket-drive for the national headquarters, so I think that's going to be one of my summer projects. 

I love to knit, but oddly enough, except on rare occasions, I tend to give things away after I've made them.  Obviously, I already have a ton of stuff of my own, so it seems silly to keep more things for myself. 

I'm also writing up my NEH grant proposal, finishing up classes, getting ready to visit my best friend in South Carolina, all kinds of stuff.

I do enjoy spring.  Enjoy it too, everyone!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday

Today has been a perfect day.  And it's not even over yet.

Kudos to Mother Nature on the weather.  Very nicely done, Madame.

I spent a decent chunk of time cleaning out the shed in my backyard.  On the off-chance that the mouse who took up residence there over the winter is actually Stuart Little with a wireless connection and a bookmark to my blog, I would like to say several things:

First, if you're going to snack on acorns all the time, you really should clean up after yourself.  I have left a broom and dustpan near the doorway.

Secondly, the nest looked very cozy.  Very spacious, and very cozy.  You have a knack for nest-design, clearly.

Thirdly, I don't think it's necessary to poop constantly all over my chair cushions.  They were a birthday present from me to me last year, and they're from Pottery Barn.

Finally, dude, you can NOT chew holes in said cushions, even if they are only on the bottom of the cushion.  Likewise, I do NOT like it when small creatures nibble away at the handle-grips on my bike. 

That was what caused me to suddenly shriek, "No WAY, you little rodent bastard!" so venomously.

As I've mentioned before, I live on a street with a total of four houses and I have the great good fortune of having three sets of wonderful neighbors.  One of those neighbors dropped by with homemade Easter bread and a card, and invited me to lunch.  I had plans already, but still... very kind and totally unexpected.

If I haven't said it before--but I know that I have--I'd like to say it again.  I have had very good luck with friends, for the most part.  I'm really very lucky.

I remember last fall, on my birthday, I was in a troubled friendship that ultimately didn't survive the test of time.  The person involved had ignored my birthday-party invitation, told one of my other guests he'd definitely be coming, and then simply never showed. 

He then emailed to tell me that it was my fault he hadn't showed--I hadn't made him feel welcome enough. 

He actually dropped an F-bomb on me.  On my birthday. 

I think there's a law against that, actually, but I didn't press charges because I'm just so damn gracious.

I remember looking around at the many presents and the food and the wine my various friends had brought me.  As I was contemplating a tactful response that didn't involve returning-fire on his incredible rudeness, I got an email from a friend in Taiwan.

I hadn't heard from her in a long time; I hadn't seen her since 2001.  She had remembered my birthday and wrote to tell me all the wonderful memories she had of the times we had spent together and that they still made her laugh to this day.

So, as I said, I've been lucky.  The F-Bomber is probably still feeling sorry for himself, thinking he was such a good friend, and wondering where, when, and how it all went wrong. 

Why I suddenly became so unreasonable and so unwilling to continue to entertain his... whatever that was.

I just can't imagine.

In other news, I've been thinking about the housing market and what happened to people's mortgages and property values over the last couple of years.  I was actually having a conversation with a friend and expressing a degree of sympathy for the fact that people are "sucking wind" (my words) because their houses have been reassessed for far less than they paid for them several years ago.

As I mentioned "ballooning interest rates" and ARM mortgages, my friend interrupted me to say, "I'm sorry, but if you don't know that "ballooning" means your payments will rise, you're an idiot."

I quickly intervened (because I've got this thing about people using the word "idiot" lately), and she corrected herself: "Wait, no, you're right.  If you didn't know that "ballooning" means your payments will rise and it never occurred to you to ask what that meant, exactly, then you have no one to blame but yourself."

I think it's true that there have been quite a few innocent people who got porked in the economic downturn, but more and more, I'm convinced that it isn't the innocent who are yelling the loudest.

As Eric Hoffer observed, "Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us."

I pity the people trying to provide for their families, who always lived within their means, bought a house they could afford, and then lost their jobs, their retirement savings, their resources.

Personally, though, I don't want to hear any more from people who thought they were entitled to a house they couldn't afford in the best neighborhood around, who are still leasing luxury cars, taking expensive vacations, wearing designer clothes and blaming the banks for the fact that they're upside down or underwater in their mortgages.

There were always mortgage calculators online; if you didn't know what you were buying into, you shouldn't have bought into it.

I think people just didn't want to know.  They wanted what they wanted and they didn't want to tell themselves "no, I can't afford it." 

Because everyone else around them seemed to be able to afford it: I think that's what drew people in.  Financial peer pressure.  Keeping up with the Joneses.

But what bothers me now is that there's very little self-scrutiny going on.  Banks and mortgage companies played fast and loose with the law; they preyed on customers and they should definitely be held accountable for that.  We need better oversight and tighter restrictions.

But people should also acknowledge the role that they themselves played.  Banks can only sell what you're willing to buy.  No one forced anyone to sign; if you didn't understand it, you shouldn't have signed it.

Oversee the banks, yes, absolutely--but you also have to oversee yourself.  If the banks are irresponsible, that doesn't mean you can or should be too.

If people made mistakes--whether because they naively counted on things that are inherently unreliable (like jobs, investment portfolios, and friendly bankers and mortgage underwriters) or because they pretended to have more than they had, or because they succumbed to financial peer pressure--then yes, they made mistakes. 

Everyone does.

But they should spend some time openly acknowledging that too.  Blaming the banks is easy.  Admitting you may have screwed up is hard.

In the Northeast, property value assessments were overinflated in the mid-2000's; everyone knew it.  People were riding the wave, hoping the bubble wouldn't burst before they made a profit.

I think I was lucky (again) in that I had good financial values instilled in me from an early age.  I remember my dad telling me once that when someone advertises "Pay no money down!" what that really means is, "You can't afford this, but I'm going to try to sell it to you anyway!" 

He also drove home the fact that, when you take out a loan--any loan--you are essentially admitting you can't afford what you're purchasing. 

He used to say, "Sometimes, you just have to do it.  But never forget: if you're taking out a loan, you're openly admitting that you simply can't afford what you're acquiring."

Finally, my dad used to say, "If you don't have the money today, don't count on having it tomorrow.  There's many a slip between the cup and lip.  You never know."

And in a way, it's very true.  For instance, I have my appendix today and I'd like to think I'll still have it at this time tomorrow. 

But then again, I might not.

If it's not existentially guaranteed that I'll always be able to keep my appendix, I shouldn't bank on (pun intended) being financially guaranteed a roof over my head if I spend more than I earn and borrow more than I can ultimately repay.

Finally, I found a new blog site that I like, so I've added it to my list: it's at fivecentnickel.com.  The writer has all kinds of tips for living frugally and he offers some interesting reflections on the American consumer's mindset. 

He and his wife have actually managed to pay off their mortgage, despite acquiring their home and changing jobs and raising four children during a time of economic turmoil.

For everyone out there who's doing something wrong and then blaming someone else, there's always someone out there who's just quietly doing something right. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Being A Skeptic

I found an article that helps to refine the argument I was trying to make in my earlier post, "Being An Idiot."

In his article, "Experimental Error: Forging A Head," Adam Ruben describes his experience judging a middle school science fair, at which one of the students presented a project on landfills.

In particular, she addressed the ongoing problem of the release of DHMO into the atmosphere.

In case you're unfamiliar with DHMO (or haven't yet clicked on the link to the article), it's an acronym for dihydrogen monoxide.

You might know it better by its chemical formula: H2O.

As Ruben notes, "Propaganda opposing DHMO cites the substance's presence in acid rain, use in naval warfare, and the fact that professional athletes can become dependent on its performance-enhancing abilities."

In short, it's a hoax.

What is perhaps more disturbing is that, when Ruben and his fellow-judges agreed to alert the girl to her mistake in order to spare her further embarrassment,
'the student looked at me and said, defiantly, "Well, that's what my research found, so ..."

She said "so" in a way that meant, "The Internet said one thing, and if you disagree, then I guess it's just a difference of scientific opinion, so how can I be expected to know what to believe?"'
This is what bothers me about the fact that so many people are branding each other "stupid" or "idiotic."

More times than I can count, I have witnessed someone on Facebook or YouTube or an Internet website or a blog who derides, denounces and lambastes an opponent for "stupidity" and "idiocy," and then posts a link to a website that is either 1) a scam, 2) a hoax, 3) in complete contradiction to the viewpoints that they've just espoused or, 4) highly misleading, if not generally inaccurate.

At times, I'm not sure people are even reading--much less reading critically and carefully--the information that they present and the links that they post.

That's a problem.

A case in point: I stumbled upon a blog post written by someone who attended the Tax Day Rally in Providence.  He was upset by the (inevitable) presence of various infiltrators.  One of them, he characterizes as a "pseudo intellectual earthy crunchy student from Brown University" and the others as "'we are as smart as Obama' Ivy League youngsters."

[On a side note, I would simply like to point out that, in my experience, the Brown University Republicans could show up at a pig roast at the Narragansett Gun Club, carrying Bibles and wearing mink coats, and someone would still refer to them as "those earthy crunchy Brown University students."

Not that the Brown University Republicans have ever or would ever do such a thing--I mean them no disrespect.  It's just that everyone always seems to use words like "earthy crunchy" and "liberal" and "granola" to describe Brown University students, regardless of their individual differences.] 

Anyway, the blogger comments on the fact that they confronted a girl who was carrying a sign saying, "I want to close all the libraries."  Apparently, the sign was her (admittedly quite lame) attempt to ridicule the Tea Party's position on the issue of federal spending.

According to the blogger, the girl was openly challenged with "the fact that the library system in America was invented by none other than Ben Franklin before there was an American government, and a hundred years before there was an income tax."

As the blogger notes, "When confronted with the logic that we didn't need taxes for libraries before, why do we need higher taxes now to keep them open, she just held her sign up in front of her face, turned around and walked the other way."

Indeed.

Here's the thing.  Ben Franklin totally started the first library in America.  Absolutely.  It was called The Library Company and it was established in 1731 by Franklin and several other members of a philosophical society called the Junto. 

They did this because they recognized the fact that books were expensive and therefore not generally available to people who weren't wealthy or members of the clergy.  By pooling their resources, they could amass a larger collection than they could ever obtain individually.

In 1774, the First Continental Congress relied on the use of the Library Company's resources.  So too did the Second Continental Congress in 1775.  Members of the Library Company were among the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

In 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were allowed to use the Library as well.

So while the library system was invented by Benjamin Franklin before the existence of the American government, it also played an integral part in the founding of the American government.

It was the belief of men like Benjamin Franklin and William Penn that books should be made widely available to anyone, regardless of wealth or social status, that the way to do this was by pooling collective resources, and that the library system had a fundamental role to play in American democracy.

As the Library Company's website notes, "50 subscribers invested 40 shillings each to start a library. Members also promised to invest 10 shillings more every year to buy additional books and to help maintain the library."

And the motto of the Library Company was, loosely translated, "To support the common good is divine."

For his part, after his experience at the middle school science fair, Ruben wonders, "When did skepticism become a bad thing?"

I would echo that.   For me, that's the question.

Not who's the biggest idiot (or group of idiots) in America.

I think that, when we brand others "idiots," we aren't being skeptical or thoughtful at all, even though that's what we may be telling ourselves. We're being arrogant and thoughtless.

If it's to function effectively, skepticism has to involve both questioning and humility--otherwise, it hits an epistemological wall ("how do you know for certain that anything is ever true, really?").

In short, if we're healthy, thoughtful skeptics, we try to resist the temptation to immediately succumb to our innate confirmation biases (see my post "Cynic's Cure" for a discussion of confirmation bias), and we don't automatically endorse the pressures of arrogantly assertive "authorities."

We investigate the details and the nuances behind and around the broad brushstrokes we so regularly see painted.

In short, we think.  And not just before, but also during and after, we speak.

In the end, that's what Benjamin Franklin would have wanted.  (Maybe.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Stripping My Gears

Okay, I'll fess up.  I was pretty angry about some things when I blogged last night, but I was trying not to be.  Or to at least channel my thoughts in a different direction.

I don't know whether I'm less angry this morning, or more.

I had another unexpected brush with the crazies over the past week.

This is very frustrating to me.  But I think of what the Buddha says, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

Or Winston Churchill's comment, "A man is about as big as the things that make him angry."

A Chinese proverb says, "“If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.” 

But I'm starting to feel like that needs to be seriously revised, because I've been patient in about a million moments of anger over the past year and I don't seem to have escaped much in the way of sorrow. 

It's been going on for a year now. That's why I'm frustrated.  

You want to think well of people.  It's frustrating when you simply can't.  It's even more frustrating when they simply won't leave you alone so that you don't ever have to think about them at all.    

At the end of the day, it's the incredible sneakiness of it all that really gets me down. 

Maya Angelou has said, "Bitterness is like cancer.  It eats upon the host.  But anger is like fire.  It burns it all clean."  

I've clearly had the misfortune to stumble upon some very bitter-- and ultimately very unhappy-- people.  So maybe I need the cleansing force of anger. 

Mark Twain once wrote, "When angry, count to four.  When very angry, swear."

So maybe we should add, "When very, very angry, blog?"

But I worry that it would be too much like putting my words and actions at the mercy of someone else's.  And when someone's words and actions strike me as petty and cowardly, I don't want to follow suit, no matter how good it might feel to just slash and burn.

Because even a cleansing anger still burns.  Although you might not notice the pain or the damage in the heat of the moment, you will later on.

The writer Barbara Johnson once said, "“Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.”

So when I feel like stripping my gears over this, I tell myself to imagine that I'm in a room with all of these people and that someone with no connection to any of us is simply stating the facts.  

The truth is finally being told.   

Would I be embarrassed or ashamed of what's being said?  Or would I feel like, yes, that's right?  Would I be able to nod and say, yes, that's what happened, that's what I've said, and that's the part I've played in all of this?

Would I still be able to sit up straight and look everyone else in the eye?

Right now, I can.  

I won't let anger change that.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Romeo's Tune"

In 1979, Steve Forbert sang,
"Oh, gods and years will rise and fall
And there's always something more
Lost in talk, I waste my time
And it's all been said before
While further down behind the masquerade
The tears are there..."
I've been listening to "Romeo's Tune" when I need to cheer myself up lately.  My best friend is son's still battling stage three brain cancer.

My friend was telling me today that "it's hard" to hear his little brother telling friends sadly but very matter-of-factly about what he "used to do" with his older brother: build forts, go for bike rides, play sports.

He does what he can.  He planted a garden and got his whittling badge for the Boy Scouts.  When he feels well enough, he can go to Boy Scout picnics and activities, and little by little, a boy's life can be cobbled together out of the hand fate has dealt him.

It's hard.

And then I see people, healthy people, who are angry and rude and spiteful and selfish.  They mouth off at whoever they please, say whatever they please, and think they're funny or sarcastic or cool or smart or whatever.

They clearly think they have the right, that they're doing something worthwhile, asserting or proving themselves somehow.

I don't know where they get that idea.

I think of the words of the Buddha: "The thoughtful do not die: the thoughtless are as if dead already."

I find that I don't have patience for places like Facebook anymore.  I don't like to listen to people who complain constantly about absolutely everything. 

They offer so much negativity: no one wants or needs that. 

Again, the words of the Buddha come to mind: "A generous heart, kind speech, and compassion are the things which renew humanity."

Lately, I've actually deleted emails unread.  Not from my students, obviously.  My classes and my students are a source of renewal for me, a chance to be thoughtful and generous and kind and compassionate and to see those things returned.

I love to teach. 

But it bothers me that I've actually had to opt not to read other people's words anymore.

I've never done that in my life.  I don't know whether it's a good thing or not, but I know that my life has been a lot more peaceful since I started hitting "delete." 

At first, I blocked people and set up email filters, but then I just decided, "No.  I won't live this way.  It's not right."

Life shouldn't be elaborate, it should be simple and honest.

I decided that, like Dorothy Parker, “I shall stay the way I am because I do not give a damn.”
My Ph.D. dissertation was about the power and uses of silence.  I find that, even as I continue to learn how to craft my words, I'm returning to what I learned long ago.  I try to think of myself as protected by a wall of silence that negates the negativity others choose to put out.

As the Buddha says, ""Silence is an empty space, space is the home of the awakened mind."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dispatches

"Memory print, voices and faces, stories like filament through a piece of time, so attached to the experience that nothing moved and nothing went away."
I've just finished teaching Michael Herr's Dispatches (1977) in my Literary Journalism course.  Herr co-wrote the screenplay for "Full Metal Jacket" and was a contributing writer for "Apocalypse Now."

Dispatches is a memoir of his experiences covering the war in Vietnam as a correspondent for Esquire.  It was published ten years after his return from Vietnam.

As Herr says, "I went to cover the war and the war covered me...I went there behind the crude but serious belief that you had to be able to look at anything, serious because I acted on it and went, crude because I didn't know, it took the war to teach it, that you were as responsible for everything you saw as you were for everything you did" (20)

There are a few non-fiction books that I think everyone on the planet should read.  John Hersey's Hiroshima is one and Michael Herr's Dispatches is another.

I'm not a huge fan of war books or movies--I tend to steer away from both, actually, maybe because I also think that you are as responsible for everything you see (or read) as you are for everything you do. 

At times, that thought is incredibly overwhelming.

Herr's account is different, in part because it does a lot of interesting things with narrative and language as part of its attempt to convey a sense of what exactly The Vietnam War was and what it meant to experience it firsthand.  This is one of the things I focus on in my course: the use of "literary" strategies in non-fiction and the concomitant ethical, moral and political issues that arise as a result.

As a writer who wrote about Vietnam, Herr is careful to distinguish his role from that of the soliders who fought in Vietnam, even though they obviously shared experiences.  His role as a correspondent puts him in an awkward and, in many ways, untenable position--untenable because of the enormous responsibility it places on his capacity to translate what he has seen into words.
And always, they would ask you with an emotion whose intensity would shock you to please tell it, because they really did have the feeling that it wasn't being told for them, that they were going through all of this and that somehow no one back in the World knew about it. ... There was a Marine in Hue who had come after me as I walked toward the truck that would take me to the airstrip... when he caught up with me he grabbed my sleeve so violently that I thought he was going to accuse me or, worse, try to stop me from going.  His face was all but blank with exhaustion, but he had enough feeling left to say, "Okay, man, you go on, you go on out of here you cocksucker, but I mean it, you tell it!  You tell it, man.  If you don't tell it...". (206-207)
"If you don't tell it...". It's hard to know how that statement would conclude, whether as a threat or a plea.

If you don't tell it, I'll kick your ass.  If you don't tell it, no one will. 

You have to tell it.  And then we have to read it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Being an Idiot

Can I just ask, what is with everyone running around calling everyone else "stupid"?  Or an "idiot"?  Or whatever other derogatory term they can think of to apply to other people's alleged lack of intelligence?

Here's the thing.  I have a Ph.D.  from Brown.  I got it when I was 24.  I started teaching college classes when I was 21.  I'm tenured, I've published.  I make my living using my brain.

So by all standards out there, I think most people would agree that I meet the minimum standard for "smart."  (They might not think so if they saw me aerating my lawn and talking to myself or slashing my fingers open on pieces of vinyl fencing, but we'll let that pass for now.)

I don't run around calling other people "stupid" all the time.  Why?  Because they're NOT.

I also don't walk into a room and automatically assume that I must be the smartest person there, because typically, I'm NOT.

I've read portions of Charles P. Pierce's Idiot America: How Stupidity Became A Virtue in the Land of the Free, and it bothers me.  He traces "Idiot America" to the rise of a national "war on expertise."

Regular people not only don't want to listen to the smart people anymore, according to Pierce, they also have the audacity to think that they're smart too and they end up mucking up the intellectual machinery by putting forward ideas that every smart person knows are complete nonsense.

The smart people, of course, are Pierce and everyone who agrees with him.  He's advocating the kind of "I'm-right-and-you're-wrong" mentality that drives me positively nuts.

While I know what Pierce is saying and I recognize the trend that he's describing and deploring, I think he's constructing a band-wagon that it's all too easy to hop on.

Who's going to read his book and say, "Oh, hey, wow, wait--I think I'm actually an American idiot..."?  No one, I suspect.

So even if we are idiots, this book isn't going to fix that.

It's just going to make the alleged non-idiots feel self-righteous.  Which is kind of idiotic, actually.

I think Pierce is polarizing a situation that is already quite problematic.  The American intellectual has a bad rap, no question, and is often regarded with extreme skepticism (a trend that has existed since the nation's founding, actually).

So how is the attitude of this book going to change that?

We're supposed to read Pierce's book and bask in our collective intelligence because we know we're not one of "them"--the "idiots"--out there.  "They" think "stupidity" (whatever is obviously "stupid," that is) is a "virtue," but "we" know better.

I think of Prince Myshkin in Dostoevsky's novel The Idiot and of Sancho Panza in Cervantes' Don Quixote.  And of the fact that Shakespeare routinely gave the smartest and most insightful lines in his plays to the character of "the Fool."

In literature, the "idiot" or the "fool" always states the obvious and we as readers constantly marvel at the fact that those who are ostensibly wiser can't see the inherent wisdom and value of his words.

Even if what the fool and the idiot says isn't "right" or seems to be nothing but nonsense, there is something else that is being communicated behind, beneath and through his words that is, in fact, quite interesting and complicated and, in certain ways, highly accurate.

Great geniuses have always acknowledged the fact that insight comes in all shapes, sizes and packages and arrives from many different--and often unexpected--directions.  They have regularly questioned the propensity of those in positions of power and privilege to overlook what the know-nothings in fact know.

Pierce seems to me to assume that knowledge is a stable and static thing to be acquired in certain "right" ways by those who know best.  And yes, there are certain premises that we operate upon in order to make determinations about how the world functions and how we want to function within it, but historically, even those premises have changed over time.

By labeling certain elements of American culture as prima facie "stupid" or "idiotic," Pierce risks killing the very spirit of intellectual curiosity he endorses.

Pierce argues that, for "Idiot America," "the words of an obscure biologist carry no more weight on the subject of biology than do the thunderations of some turkeyneck preacher out of Christ's Own Parking Structure in DeLand, Florida."

I find it interesting that Pierce characterizes the American "Idiot" as a person of faith and questionable physical attractiveness, living in the South.  This, in itself, is not an innocent, informed and neutral characterization.  It's a stereotype, and Pierce is using it for rhetorical purposes.

The fact that people are paying more attention to the "turkeyneck preacher" in Christ's Own Parking Structure" is not a new phenomenon in American culture, actually. 

Read Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry (1926).  And then read It Can't Happen Here [1935], a novel that depicts how an American populist political leader named "Buzz Windrip" taps into a spirit of patriotic fervor to win election, create his own armed militia, and implement a totalitarian government.

Pierce laments the fact that people are simpletons today, but to make his case, he argues for a time when America was a land of untainted intellectual curiosity, peopled with gentle thinkers and quirky curmudgeons.

Who just happened to be white.  And male.  And generally well-off.  And living in the North.

I think Pierce has bypassed any consideration of the long history of fanatical movements, pseudoscience and rising snake-oil sales that have marked Europe and America for centuries. 

In the mid-19th century, the Italian scholar Cesare Lombroso argued that criminals could be identified by certain physical features, including a flattened, upturned or "hawk-like" nose, high cheekbones, shifty eyes and--my personal favorite--baldness or the inability to grow a full beard.

Like many of the leading intellectuals of the day, Lombroso was an advocate of phrenology, the notion that physical attributes of a person's skull provide an index to their predispositions and overall personality.



This wasn't some backwoods blather preached from the stables.  Phrenology was at one time accepted and endorsed by the intellectual establishment.  Some of the leading thinkers of the day had their skulls "read."

For my part, I think most people are reasonably intelligent and well informed about something, and if you find out what it is that they love to think or talk about, you can learn something. 

And if they didn't go to college and they don't live in the Northeast and they don't drive a nice car and live in the suburbs and they don't speak the king's English all day long and they don't think exactly the things that you do, maybe there's something to be learned from that too.

About them, and about yourself.

I don't worry so much about what that "turkeyneck" "idiot" in Florida is saying, per se, but I do think about what it means that he is saying what he is and why he is saying it in the way that he is.

And why others are listening.

To me, the issue isn't whether or not the preacher is "right," what is more interesting is the fact that he is saying what he is now, at this time and in this particular place, and that it possesses resonance for so many other people.

That doesn't necessarily make everyone involved "dumb."  It may mean they are collectively looking for something that they can't find elsewhere.

If we knew what that was, I think we'd be on the way to knowing something important, something that goes beyond identifying who's "dumb" and who's "dumber."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Random Saturday Too

After shuffling around all morning, sneezing and sniffling and coughing and wondering why on earth I slept ten hours last night and still felt tired, it suddenly dawned on me that I may have a slight cold.

So, there was that, and then it's been cloudy and its supposed to be windy and rainy tonight.  I finished a huge bout of grading that began sometime over a week ago... my calendar tells me that two of my classes had papers due on the 6th, so that must have been when the maelstrom began.

Anyway, that's done.

I'm trying to finish up all the odds and ends of reading I have to do.  As Virginia Woolf once quipped, "In heaven, there will always be too much to read."  I think that's the case right here on earth, actually.

Believe it or not, I have one more mitten left to finish.  I know.  I have to stop.  I will have made three pairs of the Fiddlehead mittens.  (I gave one pair to my best friend.)

I'll admit that, for a while, I simply couldn't stop.

If you had dropped by, you might very well have found me desperately trying to hide the yarn balls rolling all over the place, needles hanging from my hands, somewhere between euphoria and obsession, babbling constantly about mittens and insisting that I was "fine."

I'm better now.  (Relatively speaking.)

I found some cool ringtones via The Center for Biological Diversity.  If you want your cell phone to sound like an endangered frog or a cheetah when it rings, this is the place to go.

I'm doing my favorite cool-and-cloudy-day thing right now: cooking.  It's one of my favorite recipes too, so it is very good to be me (or maybe to just be in my house), because I'm basking in the smells of oregano and chili and cumin and fennel and garlic.

It's Giada De Laurentis' recipe for White Bean and Chicken Chili and I like it because it's not your typical red/brown chili (which is also good).  Whip up a batch of Giada's chili, and you are SET.  (I use spinach instead of swiss chard, though.)

For the vegetarians out there... well, I'm sorry.  I think you could make it with shredded tofu instead of the meat (I've done that with regular chili and it's not bad) or you could try seitan, cut into small pieces.

Personally, I refuse to alter my favorite chili recipe in that way.  I just won't do it.  It won't taste good to me, even if it purportedly is.  One is only a virgin once.

Generally, I prefer to keep my meat dishes meat dishes and my veggie dishes veggie dishes.  I find that when veggie/vegans try to replicate meat-based recipes and insist that they "taste exactly the same-- or even better," they strike me as being in some kind of serious, sad, food-based denial.

Or else they haven't had the meat-based dish in a while, so they've forgotten what it's supposed to taste like.  (Ummmm.... yeah, not like that.)

I know, I know.  I'm here wanting Ken Salazar fired for what he's doing and I'm whipping up a batch of chili made with... animals.

Total hypocrisy alert.

But not doing dairy?  I just can't fathom it.  I look at recipes for vegan baked goods and desserts and I just think, "WHY? Why would you DO that to something as wonderful as dessert?"

If that's what you're going to do, just have a piece of fruit... but leave cream cheese frosting ALONE.  I'm begging you.

To me, life is just too damn short to forgo cheese and yogurt.  No one ever said that kind of penance was necessary.  If that's the price of sainthood, count me out.  (I was kind of out of the running anyway.)

And I'm quite certain the chickens want me to use eggs.  I asked, and they said they didn't mind.

I even asked, "Are you sure?" and they said, "Totally."

And yes, I know that if I saw what they do to the animals, I wouldn't want to eat meat.

I actually go through lengthy phases of general vegetarianism, but at the end of the day, I just can't commit. 

I'm actually more vegetarian when I identify myself as meat-eater, if that makes any sense.  I will go weeks without eating meat, but if someone says "You should be vegetarian, it's unethical to eat meat," I'll go cook a chicken, just because I really don't like being told what to do.

And then I'll end up feeling pissed off because that means I'm unethical and immature.

Anyway, my point is, there are some truly awesome vegetarian dishes out there, and vegetarians and vegans have no need to try to concoct recipes that replicate the immoral tastes of meat-eaters.

When I need to pull out all the stops, I make a Moroccan Spiced Pie.  If you're a vegetarian, that's how you'll know I love you.

Okay, now I'm feeling like I need to go start guilt-tripping some friends into visiting me.  I haven't cooked a major feast since my birthday, and there's something very wrong with that...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Random Comments for a Friday

Let's just say, I've pretty much had it with Ken Salazar at this point.  Okay, it's true that I've pretty much had it with quite a few politicians at this point, but I'll start with Ken because I'm mad about the wolves.

And the bats.  And the butterflies.  And the horses.  AND THE JAGUARS, you filthy bastard.  (I'm a cat-person.)

Does he even like animals at all?  I mean, besides cattle that are being raised for slaughter? 

Did something bite him at some point?  Given the chance, I'd do it.

If only my spit contained a fast-acting neurotoxin...   

By "land management," Salazar clearly envisions wide stretches of the American landscape devoid of all native wildlife.

I for one can't wait.  That should look just great. 

Of course, we may not be able to see it all anyway, once the polar ice caps melt.  But at least we didn't use The Endangered Species Act to address the problem: that's the important thing. 

I suppose we can always just paddle around in our canoes in the sweltering heat and imagine what used to live there.

If you've also had it with Ken, you can check out this petition:

http://www.petition2congress.com/2710/ken-salazar-secretary-blms-resignation/

In other news, I found out this week that broken pieces of vinyl fencing are quite sharp, actually.  As in, knife-like.  Thanks to Band-Aids and Neosporin, I should survive what I accidentally did to myself.

I'll let you know if gangrene sets in.

I'm reading about ten different books right now, including Newjack by Ted Conover.  It's about an immersion journalism experience: when they told him he couldn't follow a recruit through the training program at the NY Corrections Academy, Conover took the civil service exam and attended himself.

And then he decided to spend a year working as a Corrections Officer at Sing Sing, so that he could write about the experience.

My favorite comment: "Every other public building in the country was eagerly associated with the glory of a leader or, in recent years, a corporation. ... But there was no Microsoft Men's Correctional Facility, say, and no Reagan Center for Juvenile Detention.  Prisons were usually named after places; their buildings, after letters of the alphabet." (70).

The WorldCom Women's Detention Center.  It could work.

Finally, I wonder if Jeff Immelt has finished doing his taxes.  I think this AP Photo  by J. Scott Applewhite pretty much says it all:

"We do like to keep our tax rate low, don't we?"

Okay, I'll admit, the caption is my creation.  But Immelt did say it.  Here's a link to the original article and photo in the Washington Wire section of The Wall Street Journal.

Luckily, I still have plenty of lawn to aerate in my back yard this weekend.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Stop the Wolves from Harming the Wolves

You may have remembered that, in an earlier post (A Wolf at the Door), I celebrated the fact that The Center For Biological Diversity had launched a lawsuit designed to compel the federal government to live up to its obligations under the Endangered Species Act and develop a recovery plan for wolves in the lower 48 states.

About a month ago, the Center reached a legal settlement with the Department of the Interior: under the circumstances, the settlement was the best way of ensuring that the endangered wolves received some protection.

A federal judge has thrown out that settlement, however, and as part of the frickin' budget deal, a delisting rider has been attached which would remove the wolves from the endangered species list in Montana and Idaho, enabling those states to implement policies designed to protect livestock interests, at the expense of the wolf population.

If you click on this link, you can take action.

http://action.biologicaldiversity.org/o/2167/t/5243/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=6508

Monday, April 4, 2011

Neighbors

At the risk of going from "Mister Roberts" to "Mister Rogers," I wanted to say something about how wonderful my neighbors in RI are.

When I moved in, my next-door neighbors brought over a basket of fresh herbs and vegetables from their garden and left it in my sun room.  I came home one evening to an amazing surprise, and I still remember how happy the smell of that sun room made me for days afterward.

When I had a housewarming-and-birthday party last fall, everyone dropped by with food and good cheer.  Turns out, my neighbor and I have birthdays within 2 days of one another.

Next year, we're thinking "block party."

My previous next-door neighbor (who has remained a good friend) is always willing to drop by and check the door if I foolishly can't remember whether or not I locked it, and she's always willing to help me navigate the vagaries of UPS when they drop off a package minutes after I leave but weeks before I plan to return.

My neighbor who lives diagonally across from me plowed my driveway for free all winter.  And we had a LOT of snow.  When there was a mishap--he accidentally bumped the fence because the pile of snow was so huge--he stopped by to apologize profusely and offer to fix it. 

Instead, we just had a good laugh at his description of what happened.  He told me, "Here I was, plowing away, and I'm not even anywhere close to the fence, and all of a sudden I see these white pickets flying every which way and I'm like, 'Holy SHIT...".

The fence was easily fixed.  I did it myself.

After one of the major snowstorms we had last winter, the pine tree in my back yard lost a lot of branches--some of them quite big.  I figured that when the snow melted, I'd spend a couple of weekends taking care of what I could and what I couldn't, I'd hire someone to do.

Two weekends ago, I looked out my window and saw my next-door neighbor sawing them all up and hauling them away.  His wife said, "Well, he figured some of them looked pretty heavy and you couldn't burn them, and we know you're on the road all the time, so...".

I think it's all-too-easy to find the negative in life and in people.  There will always be something or someone to complain about. 

But my experience has been, good people are just spontaneously good, and there are plenty of them out there. 

They are the people who do things unasked and unadvertised.  They don't worry about getting some kind of relationship-credit for what they do for you. 

They don't keep score. 

They don't say, "Call me if you need anything."  Instead, they just quietly show up and help out when they see a need, without waiting to be asked and without expecting anything in return. 

That's an incredible form of kindness.

At the end of the day, they don't necessarily call themselves your "friends."  They just do nice things for you because they're essentially nice people and they want to let you know that they like you and they're glad to have you around.

And I like them for that.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Saturday's Beat

Okay, so I should not have gone from reading Burroughs to reading another Beatnik.

I have two positive things to say about Jack Kerouac at this point: 1) his name rhymes, and 2) he spoke joual.

I should have known.  I read The Dharma Bums years ago and my reaction was, "Yeah, right.  Bunch of misogynistic losers who don't really know all that much about the philosophies they claim to embrace."

But I thought, I need to read On the Road.  And so I am.  (Enormous sigh.)

It was okay at first.  I can see why people might like it, although I do get tired of the "I'm really cool because I'm drunk or high all the time" mentality.

(Enormous sigh.)

They just all take themselves so terribly seriously, and they act like cavemen when it comes to women.

I mean, I know it's the 1940s, but really.

For example, Kerouac describes how Neal Cassady had some "bad tea" and experienced several days' worth of hallucinations.  Cassady then gave the drug to a former girlfriend:
"And do you know that the same thing happened to that dumb little box?--the same visions, the same logic, the same final decision about everything, the view of all truths in one painful lump leading to nightmares and pain--ack!  Then I knew I loved her so much I wanted to kill her."
Fancy that.  She had the same visions you had.  "Dumb little box" though she is.  Wouldn't that make you a "dumb little box" too?

No wonder you want to kill her.  And out of love, of course.  Of course

Kerouac also spends a lot of time wishing he could be black or Mexican or "even a poor overworked Jap," anything other than a "disillusioned" white man.  Of course, when he can't cut it as a migrant worker, he ditches his Mexican girlfriend with the help of money sent to him by his poor overworked mom.

A probing sociological analysis of 1940's American society as seen through the lens of Kerouac's seemingly endless self-absorption.  Great.

I had to put the book aside when I got to the part where Kerouac and Cassady have the following exchange:
"It's not my fault!  It's not my fault!" I told him.  "Nothing in this lousy world is my fault, don't you see that?  I don't want it to be and it can't be and it won't be."
"Yes, man, yes, man.  But please harken back and believe me."
"I do believe you, I do."  This was the sad story of that afternoon.
Well, if you don't want anything to ever be your fault, then I guess it just shouldn't be, should it?  That sounds fair.

Hey, I know!  You can blame it on the women.  That always works.

Maybe I'm giving the two of us too much credit, but I swear my cat and I have had more intelligent conversations than this.

My cat is also much more responsible and mature--even when he's on catnip.

Since I couldn't take it anymore, I decided to go for a swim at the pool and then I aerated my lawn.  I used a two-pronged core aerator and did about 2/3rds of the front lawn.

I have developed a terrible fear of thatch, spawned by reading an article about--you guessed it--thatch.  Apparently, thatch is quite wonderful if you need a new roof, but less than wonderful if it consumes your lawn.  If it does, you must re-sod.  I don't want to re-sod.

So I regained my emotional equilibrium by covering the yard with holes and what appear to be small poops (they're really just clumps of dirt).

And I decided that if Jack and Neal ever dropped by to visit me, I would put on a slinky outfit, order a cheap pizza (no way I'd be cooking for those two), get halfway into a nice glass of cabernet and, when one of them inevitably called me a "gone little thing," I'd beat the living crap out of both of them with my two-pronged core aerator.

My only other thought was, aerating the lawn would be a lot more fun if someone developed a way to do it via pogo-stick.

I know there would be some safety issues, since there would have to be some form of propulsion involved to lift you up out of the soil, but at such moments, I can't help but wish that I was dating Caractacus Potts from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

He'd find a way.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Looking Glass

In "Raise Your Glass," the singly-named singer Pink identifies everyone she's willing to party with.

In addition to the "dancey," the "gangsta," the "underdogs," the "panty-snatchers," and the "nitty gritty dirty little freaks," she also includes those who are "too school for cool."

This is nice.  As someone who has a tendency to be both "dancey" and "too school for cool," I have often felt left out when the Pinks of the world announce that I should "raise my glass" because "it is so fuckin' on right now."

I've been researching Eric Hoffer.  Although much of his work seems to have fallen out of sight, Hoffer was a prominent, self-educated thinker who wrote about the psychology and philosophy of mass movements.

Unlike most intellectuals, Hoffer chose to live a life of relative poverty: after living on the road as a migrant farmer for years, he became a longshoreman.  He wrote extensively from the 1950's until his death in 1983.

In particular, it was Hoffer's first book, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951), that made him famous.  Hoffer was fascinated--and concerned--with a species of what psychologist Irving Janis would later term "Groupthink"--that is, the tendency of otherwise rational, independent individuals to allow themselves to be subsumed within a collective mentality.

Whereas Janis' concept of Groupthink looks at the phenomenon from the perspective of leadership, Hoffer is interested in the frustrated individual him- or herself, because he believes that mass movements tap into that frustration in order to achieve their own ends.

According to Hoffer, "We all have private ails. The troublemakers are they who need public cures for their private ails."

This is something I have wondered about for a while now.  I have regularly encountered people who want to "bring down Wall Street" and have listened to their (seemingly endless) rants about fiscal responsibility and excessive taxation.

Don't get me wrong.  I think GE should be jolted into the tax-paying reality that the rest of us are forced to live in, and Obama should be held accountable for appointing Jeff Immelt to chair a committee on reducing joblessness in the US.

I mean, really. Come on.

But I also thought George W. Bush should have been held accountable for the fact that there weren't any Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq and for the fact that his administration repeatedly and flagrantly violated the Endangered Species Act.

And yet, that ship sailed on by, unnoticed, while we heard all about how Cheney accidentally fired a load of buckshot into his long-time hunting-buddy--but they were still friends, and how George W. almost choked to death on a pretzel.

When someone goes on at great lengths about the economic crisis and I see that they have an overpriced suburban home (purchased during the hey-day of Bush), maxed out credit cards, designer clothes, a habit of "going out" every weekend, and a luxury car (or two), I begin to wonder whether they're really looking for--or even expecting-- a public cure for their own private ails.

As Hoffer notes, "Our quarrel with the world is an echo of the endless quarrel proceeding within us."

I often hear people referencing Thoreau and civil disobedience.

Thoreau wouldn't have been caught dead leasing a luxury car or purchasing the regular services of Lawn Doctor.

Instead, Thoreau would be the first to tell you that, if you don't want to pay taxes, you shouldn't own anything.  He would also tell you that if you really don't want to pay taxes, you shouldn't.

But he'd also tell you that when you go to jail for tax evasion, you should be okay with that too, since it's what you believe in.

He'd tell you that if you really want to "bring down Wall Street," you should immediately liquidate your 401A and K and your 403B, taking any and all losses and cheerfully accepting any and all penalties.  He'd also say that you should have never bought the big house in the suburbs in the first place, or accepted a job you don't really enjoy.

There is evidence to suggest that Thoreau may have died a virgin.

I don't quarrel so much with the ideas I hear expressed on a daily basis, but I do quarrel with the current modes of expression and the assumptions upon which they operate.

As Hoffer argues, "Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength."

When we're strong, we don't need to scream at other people.  We think, act, and do--quietly, and with integrity.  It doesn't matter if others see it or appreciate us and join in.

I think Hoffer has a point when he suggests that  "The uncompromising attitude is more indicative of an inner uncertainty than of deep conviction."

So many of the people I hear yelling strike me as lacking the courage of their own convictions.  If they had it, they wouldn't care whether the rest of us are listening to them.

I think they crave the endorsement of the group as a means of shoring up their own uncertainties and alleviating their own individual frustrations.

Raise your glass.  It's on.

Hoffer notes, "Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us."   If we know we're right, we don't necessarily need to constantly proclaim it and seek to impose it on everyone else.

We just live so that others can live with us.

According to Hoffer, "The capacity for getting along with our neighbor depends to a large extent on the capacity for getting along with ourselves."

So look in the mirror before you raise your glass.