Monday, April 24, 2017

The Kind of Post That Requires a Centerfold

Relativity and quantum mechanics revolutionized physics and one of the problems for the casual observer is that their truths are not easily verifiable to the naked eye. In one way of another experience is deceptive. People pay lip service to the unconscious or subconscious as it’s sometimes called, but few people really believe such an entity exists. One of the jokes about the unconscious concerns its exact location. Is it a lower or higher brain activity or somewhere in between? It’s a little reminiscent of the argument concerning consciousness and whether it’s a physical property of the brain or whether, as dualists since Descartes have argued, its something separate. Though some scientists like Richard Dawkins might bridle at this, the same can be said about God, whose existence is denied by agnostics and atheists on the basis of the fact that it can’t be proven. In any case, the ultimate subject from an eschatological or teleological point of view is really what is the final nature of things. Lucretius wrote a famous poem, De rerum natura which deals with the nature of reality and of course there’s Plato’s metaphor of the cave where the ideal forms of human existence are only shadows on the wall. The theory of Dark Energy posits that space will become darker and darker as the universe continues to expand and objects drift further from each other. The more that occurs and empirical observation is pushed to the wayside, the more faith will come into play.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Joys of Embarrassment

"An Embarrassing Proposal" by Antoine Watteau
As you journey through life, you’ll undoubtedly come across numerous untoward circumstances that you wish hadn’t happened. After the initial disappointment about the fact of them occurring, you'll generally go through the stage of rationalization in which you attempt to regard them as learning experiences. You may even take the attitude that someday, your trials and tribulations will help a fellow sufferer, who's going through say a similar problem. But someday you're going to hit your head up against a brick wall. Something is going to happen for which there are no inadvertent rewards. It will be one of those sick demonic pieces of bad luck that levels you. Your house will be flattened in a tornado or you will suffer some flesh eating illness that leaves you literally less of a person. Oh sure there are all kinds of people who’ve lost everything and who you’ll hear about on some born again broadcasting network testifying about platforms for revelation. But they're them are you're you and this one will be the knockout punch that has the fighter out cold. You will be decked. You won't be able to get up. During the Great Depression there were many people who suffered this way. Some jumped out of office buildings when the stock market crashed and others who had lost businesses never regained the confidence and wherewithal to make a comeback. Not everyone who gets knocked down stands up again. You’ve seen people like this who, to quote Tennessee Williams, are dependent "on the kindness of strangers.” And despite the kudos that must go out to those with exceptional spirit, it will be nice to know that there are real live people, who are not living advertisements for exceptionality and whose names won’t be used to endorse this or that rehab, detox, ointment or program of human potentiality maximization. It will be good to see the bar lowered and know that you're not the only one who has taken a huge belly flop, that you're not the only one for whom life has become, for want of a better word, simply an embarrassment.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Counter-Reformation on Campus

You have the Reformation which might be called the state of gender politics especially as it relates to campus life and the Counter-Reformation, a movement which has been ignited by authors like Camille Paglia. Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender and Feminism and Laura Kipnis in her recent book Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Come to Campus. If the Reformation was an attempt to rid the church of hypocrisy, then the attempts to litigate sexuality have derived from excesses that genuinely infected campus life. No one doubts, for instance, that professors have had a long history of exercising their droit de seigneur with impressionable young women or men, depending on the sexual inclinations of the parties involved. Now comes the Counter-Reformation with its hopes to reform the church itself. Isn’t it comparable to those authors who don’t want to throw the baby, that is to say the biological drives which constitute human sexuality, out with the bathwater. The Reformation is represented by statutes like Affirmative Consent, which turns sex between adults on a University of California campus into a legal matter that could ultimately require the services of attorneys. Remember another trendy tome, Kate Millett's Sexual Politics? Though this might be good for expanding the purview and incomes of matrimonial lawyers, it’s not likely to have an salubrious effect on instinct, which is increasingly becoming politicized and scrutinized, as if Big Brother or Mother were indeed watching. Counter-Reformationists are a little like conservationists dealing with protected lands. Society insures that nature preserves will not be destroyed by developers, but what about the pre-conscious world of the animal known as man or woman?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Austin Journal: Two-Stepping

photograph by Hallie Cohen
Here is a saying placed above the counter at a very good Austin gelato place, Dolce Neve: "We do it in front of everyone." And here is another one decorating the porch of a charming gingerbread sized house in the parking lot in back of the Veracruz All Natural Food Truck which has great tacos: "No zealots allowed." It's not that there are city ordinances regarding the content of homilies but both reflect a liberal spirit that can be almost edgy at times. After all Austin is the home of SXSW and The University of Texas and the writing as they say is on the wall in terms of a burgeoning sensibility in which both ideas and maxims are tested. New York, LA and Boston are all liberal albeit larger university towns but there's something about Austin that places old verities in new  contexts, stretching and shifting paradigms along the way. Oh and on Saturday night if you want to do some good ole fashioned two-stepping to a live honky tonk band, hit the The White Horse in East Austin.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Austin Journal: The Texas White House

porch of LBJ's childhood home (photograph by Hallie Cohen)
Mar-A-Lago is much in the news today, but if you drive through the Texas Hill Country through which the Pedernales river runs, you will come to Johnson City, the birthplace of our 36th president, which was also the home the legendary Texas White House. The LBJ ranch which also features reconstructions of the schoolhouse he attended as a boy and his childhood home are just some of the many sites in evidence along with Air Force One-Half the jet that ferried LBJ to the cherished retreat where he regaled leaders from all over the world. There you can view the dominos table where he intentionally cheated as a way of judging character. He respected those who called him on it. There were over 70 phone lines in the house and three televisions in many of the rooms to cover the three major networks whose newscasts LBJ watched like a hawk, using those phone lines to call company executives when he didn’t like what he was hearing. "Here amidst the familiar hills and under these expansive skies and under these beautiful oak trees that he loved so much, his earthly life had come full circle ...his roots were deep, right here in this spot in the hill country,” Billy Graham eulogized soon after Johnson’s untimely death at the age of 64 in 1973. Interestingly for all the majestic quality of the ranch it turns out that Lady Bird hated cows and cowboys who trampled on her beloved wildflowers -- which are still abundantly apparent as you drive through the grounds. Lady Bird would live on at the ranch until 2006 (she died in 2007). And when you tour through the house you find this inscription embroidered on the throw pillows in her bedroom "I slept and dreamed life was beauty. I woke and found that life was duty."