26 March 2007

Rotten Domestic Apples

I see that David Stockman has been indicted on charges “that he covered up the dire financial state of his company as it headed into bankruptcy.” That is a quote from the Jeremy Peters article in The New York Times. How the apples do fall! This is the very same David Stockman who engineered the Reagan economic policy referred to as ‘supply side economics.” My limited understanding of economics tells me that what the Reagan administration sought was the reduction of what they termed ‘the welfare state.” That would be those people least able to care for themselves and for whom the government would assume some degree of responsibility. Pe’ah 1:1 says that there are no limits to the size of corners of the field which may be left to the poor. But Stockman and his cronies set severe limits to the size, sometimes eliminating the corners altogether. As there Republicans are all clichés, let me end this with a cliché: the apple just doesn’t fall very far from the tree, does it? It lands on the ground, and gets ground into cider.

There has been this talk of late that Ronald Reagan was one of our great Presidents. There is even some talk that his ideas can be traced to the Transcendentalists and particularly, Ralph Waldo Emerson. The latter would be appalled to be linked with the former.

Check out the more recent issue of The New York Review of Books, and Russell Baker’s essay discussing some recent books on Ronald Reagan, and particularly John Patrick Diggins’ new adulatory book on the Great Communicator.

Let the trees fall. He may have grayed, but David Stockman still looks mean.

20 March 2007

Where is the Justice Here? Or There?

Where is the justice here? Last week I sent the copy edited manuscript for my new book back to the copy editor. It should be out in September. It’s a lovely book, more than an academic tome and less than a work of fiction. It is a type of memoir with no kiss and telling. Its original title was Melting Apace—Walden is melting apace . . . Walden was dead and is alive again. But the publisher needed a title which would pop up easily in searches on Amazon.com, and so it is now named Religion, Pedagogy and Practice: Reflections on Teaching and Ethics. It should now appear on almost any random search! Who cares? Press run far less than 1000 copies. Far less.

I heard this evening that the first run of the seventh and final volume of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, is 12,000,000. That's twelve million! Go figure!

Where is the justice here? My new transmission will cost $2,000.00. I don’t have that kind of spare cash. I can afford it, but barely. Because I can’t really afford a new car.

I see where the CEO for Blockbuster, John Antico, has settled his dispute with the company, and will step down as the company’s head by the end of the year. He will receive a $3.1 million bonus for 2006 and a severance package of about $5 million dollars. That’s million! Last year my raise amounted to almost several thousand dollars. That’s thousand! Go figure!

Where is the justice here? We acknowledge the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War. George asks the country to be patient. Is he kidding? In order to have patience, one has to expect something to finally occur. No one expects George to end the war. I’m not sure George knows exactly how to get out of the White House bathroom. He and his administration have been lying for years. Now he says that Rove and Miers (my word, she was almost a Supreme Court Justice!) may testify before Congressional committees but not under oath. And there shouldn’t be any transcript of their testimony. Just an eighteen minute gap in the conversation, huh? Go figure!

Still listening to Dylan’s Modern Times. “Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes.”

18 March 2007

Beam me up, Henry!

How strange today seems now. The transmission in my car died today. Or at least, that is what I think happened. I really don’t know. But last week the transmission in Beth’s car died and by all reports my car was not responding in the same way as her car was not responding. Except that my Grand Caravan was also leaking very ugly bodily fluids. So I called the AAA, and they towed my vehicle all the way home—where it was deposited at my local garage where I hope it will be found by the mechanic in the morning. So, whereas this morning I was trying to wonder how to pay for my new lenses, now I am wondering how to pay for a much more expensive transmission. And the lenses seem in comparison like an easy purchase. And, besides, I suppose I’ll need them to see the check I’ll have to write for the transmission!

Dealing with the transmission—or the ex-transmission, as the case may be—and the tow truck, consumed several hours while younger daughter attended a Bar Mitzvah party. Older daughter suffered through the tow. So, rather than spend a leisurely morning reading and studying and writing, I paced about outdoors wondering about transmissions and bank accounts and tow trucks. Now, I really don’t have the patience for serious work—should be reading Spinoza or dealing with course work which begins again after tomorrow, Spring break, alas, now over.

I have recently finished two new books about Concord, Massachusetts during the early to mid 1800’s. One was by Susan Cheever, entitled American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work, and the other by Samuel Schreiner, entitled The Concord Quartet: Alcott, Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau and the Friendship That Freed the American Mind. I don’t think I’ll deal with the books right now—not in the mood to do that work here.

And perhaps there is nothing substantive in my perception, but it strikes me that the appearance of these two books right now in our history suggests a psychic need to call up this incredible intellectual center of American life. I mean, we need so much to be reminded that we actually have an intellectual history in this age of George W. Bush. Perhaps both authors seek some haven from the nightmare of the present in the seeming remarkable paradisiacal presence of the most incredible population in American culture in a tiny sleepy Massachusetts town 20 miles from Boston. And I know there have been other intellectual havens in our history—the New York intellectuals in the 20th century, for example. But imagine walking out of your door at any time and come upon Bronson Alcott, Ellery Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and the myriad more that came to Concord to be with these minds. And bodies, too, as Cheever suggests. John Brown came to Concord to speak and raise monies for his raid on Harper’s Ferry. Alcott and Thoreau went to jail rather than pay their taxes to a government they believed were acting immorally! He got some. Where can we go today to be in such midst except some universities? Okay, I’ll rescind that last statement; we know that the politics of the university is so bitter because the stakes are so small! We can’t look where I am presently employed. Nor am I enamored of any other campus about which I have heard or read. Dylan writes, “The world of research has gone berserk/Too much paperwork.” How does he always know?

But in Concord, Massachusetts the stakes were enormous: they were creating the intellectual America. And these books, perhaps, are pursuing that world with great desire and hope. And what exactly is the difference between hope and desire, after all?

A scattered post for a scattered day. There is the hope that I only blew a head gasket (what is that?), and didn’t burn out the transmission. Is that hope and desire?

13 March 2007

Spring 2007

I see that my last blog appeared after the big snow fall in early March. I speak today from the midst of Spring and daylight savings time. Walden is, indeed, melting apace.

How the word doth turn!

Thoreau speaks gloriously of the thawing of the earth in the Spring. He notes the myriad rivulets formed in the hillside from the melting snows running to their sources, and from the oozings of the frost from the earth. Thoreau acknowledges that this phenomenon is “somewhat excrementitious . . . and there is no end to the heaps of liver lights and bowels . . . but this suggests that Nature at least has some bowels.” In New York I did all that I could to avoid stepping into the product of the bowels which littered the streets, but somehow here I celebrate the muck. I have wonderful boots which transport me clean footed and dry between office and home. Walden is melting apace . . . Walden was dead and is alive again.

By the way, I think Thoreau made up that word, excrementitious. Or at least, I hope he did. I love when he does that.

No doubt, it will get cold again, but I think we have once again survived winter. We are stronger.

02 March 2007

Let it snow!

Today is the second snow day in a row for the schools here. Snow days are the quintessential school holiday: unplanned, spontaneous, and absolute. Homeworks for yesterday’s no-school snow day were completed, and so today there is no incomplete assignments; since yesterday was canceled, no new homework assignments were made. There are no school obligations to muddle the freedom of the day; there is nothing to obstruct that freedom after the walks are shoveled. And though teachers carry their work home, for a moment they can breathe—and as they say, catch up. And for many teachers who have left their work in school, well, they can’t do it, dammit (they might say) and hooray (they might feel)! My children are sledding right now. It is quiet out here. Peaceful as the snow rises to my window sills.

There is a lot of snow on the ground, and it is March 2. There is less than three weeks until Spring. This past winter, that is, since December 21, the lack of snow and the relatively mild weather made Spring a possibility. Here in Wisconsin, Spring is a rare event. Spring usually comes in late and leaves early. Sometimes Spring’s duration lasts several hours. But this year, I almost thought we might experience Spring. Until last week, the dormant brown grass was visible.

But now I know that this year on March 21 the snow will still be on the ground. Nature once again asserts its power, and we humans remain subject to its inscrutable laws. In a sense, it’s a relief to recognize our limits.