Monday, September 22, 2008

Argument Wish List

in no particular order.

I am looking for anyone to first state their starting moral, theological, or other axioms, then build some sort of argument that I can engage with justifying any of the following statements:

1. It is 'common sense' that George Bush be tried as a war criminal before an international court.

2. If technology allowed same-sex unions to be spontaneously fruitful, there would still be grounds to forbid them.

3. Sarah Palin is less qualified than Barack Obama to be President of the United States.

Apropos of nothing, this is not, as I feared, an unbearably pretentious blog inaccessible to the common man. Woot!
blog readability test

Friday, September 19, 2008

No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful

I was thinking some years ago of all the central, vital facts of human biology and psychology that were omitted entirely from most 19th century novels as a matter of course. I thought it would be interesting to write a novel in which something else, some other huge, central, tremendously important fact, was left out, or only alluded to with the most elliptical euphemisms. One idea I was toying with was a novel set in a world that humanity shares with another intelligent species which is taboo to mention, even though they live in the same cities, are vital for the functioning of society, etc. They wouldn’t be mentioned in the novel, so you would have to infer their existence from things in the novel that didn’t quite seem to make sense: from how the human society reported had been distorted around them.

I was vaguely thinking of having a go at this for NaNoWriMo this year, and it was in this spirit I watched Gigantic, a documentary about They Might Be Giants.

Pretty early in the documentary John and John leave their homes in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and take off for New York, where the rest of their story takes place. All the people interviewed seemed to me like New York sort of people. They sounded like New York people. They looked like New York people. Of course, I’ve never been there. The place where they were sitting to be interviewed was sitting in armchairs with water behind them, and a bit of New York skyline behind them.

There were occasional bits of footage from the time the documentary was made, showing TMBG on the Conan O’Brien show, and signing books in Lower Manhattan, and some of these had dates on the bottom ‘September 7th, 2001’; ‘Midnight, September 10th, 2001’. After they finished the book-signing in Lower Manhattan on September 10th, they went back to a bit where they were on stage; they did that song ‘Everyone’s your friend, in New York City', then they did that song ‘She’s an Angel’ with the line ‘If you’re following an angel, does that mean you have to throw your body off a building?’ Then they did some performance-arty stuff on stage talking about ‘negative space’ and taking instruments away from a song, and then notes away from the remaining guitar part, until nothing was left but the audience clicking their fingers along to it. Then, the end.

So, Gigantic is ostensibly about TMBG, but looked at another way it is really about September 11th, 2001. It is really a salute to a place, showing it at its brightest and best, as a place where people can realise their dreams, and create beautiful things, and change the world; and it has ended up being shaped around this huge, central, tremendously important event, which is never ever mentioned, but which colours the atmosphere of the whole film.

You will be assimilated

Marco's re-posting of my comments long-ago contrasting Australian and American democracy omits my conclusion, which was as follows:

From this I draw the conclusion that instead of trying to change our system with stupid constitutional referenda, we should be encouraging the US to adopt our system. We can pick Hawaii off pretty easily as state #7, and once we have taught them to play proper forms of football we can annex the West Coast as states #8,#9, #10, #11. We could get rid of the federation star and put a representation of Coma Berenices in the top right of the flag to represent the New Far Northern states. This will make more sense than building nuclear reactors in Australia, because they already have nuclear reactors in California.

I've pasted on the Ursa Major stars from the state flag of Alaska instead, conceding this is a more immediately recognisable Northern Hemisphere constellation, and can do double duty for the bear of the California Republic flag. The seven stars also replace the Federation star to symbolise the seven* states of Australia, while the five stars of the Southern Cross will also represent the five states of the Borealia part of the Federation.

* I have promoted the Northern Territory. Unfortunately, it will be necessary to relocate the Federal Capital to a more central location, such as Palmyra Atoll, so the current ACT will be resumed by New South Wales.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Shadow Cabinet Reshuffle Tip!

I reckon there would be no better way for Malcolm to shore up his knockabout Aussie larrikin credentials than to make the current opposition environment spokesman the new Shadow Minister for Aging.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bartlett pears of romance that were honey at the cores

It will give entirely the wrong impression if I *don’t* put up a Palin post of my own. For I am so very pleased, that whatever happens from one moment to the next, I can instantly cheer myself up by reminding myself who the Republican vice-presidential nominee is. I intend, of course, to keep chiming in rationally and analytically on Marco’s blog and Lexifab’s blog. But here, I am afraid I intend to give way to foolish emoting.

Since I heard the news, on one of the great motorways of south-east Queensland, I have had Vachel Lindsay’s poem ‘Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan’ running through my head. I don’t think I am the only one, either.

(If you can’t think offhand who Vachel Lindsay was, he wrote ‘The Congo’, some of the less politically-incorrect bits of which you will have heard chanted by the lads in ‘Dead Poets’ Society’ as they galumph through the forest beating a drum in the dead of night.)

I know I just posted a quote- with which I entirely agree- about the folly and evil of submerging oneself in the collective, but what I am going to do now amounts to giving voice to my tribal identity. One of my tribal identities, anyway. This is no identity as philosophically coherent as a Catholic identity or a small-government identity, but almost entirely a 'young-Western-state-of-wide-open-spaces' identity. What I am going to do is put up big slabs of the first, cheerful, triumphalist, part of Vachel Lindsay’s poem, and it will be obvious which words need to be replaced to bring it up to date. Here goes!

‘In a nation of one hundred fine, mob-hearted, relenting, repenting millions,
There are plenty of sweeping, swinging, stinging, gorgeous things to shout about,
And knock your old blue devils out.’

[Three may scan as well as one…]

‘There were truths eternal in the gab and tittle-tattle.
There were real heads broken in the fustian and the rattle.
There were real lines drawn,
Not the silver and the gold,
But Nebraska’s cry went eastward against the dour and old,
The mean and cold.’


‘Against the towns of Tubal Cain,
Ah,- sharp was their song.
Against the ways of Tubal Cain, too cunning for the young, the longhorn calf, the buffalo and wampus gave tongue.

These creatures were defending things Mark Hanna never dreamed:
The moods of airy childhood that in desert dews gleamed,
The gossamers and whimsies,
The monkeyshines and didoes
Rank and strange
Of the canyons and the range,
The ultimate fantastics
Of the far western slope,
And of prairie schooner children
Born beneath the stars,
Beneath falling snows,
Of the babies born at midnight
In the sod huts of lost hope,
With no physician there,
Except a Kansas prayer,
With the Indian raid a howling through the air.

And all these in their helpless days
By the dour East oppressed
Mean paternalism
Making their mistakes for them,
Crucifying half the West,
Till the whole Atlantic coast
Seemed a giant spiders’ nest.’

[Easy enough to replace Mark with Joe!]

‘And these children with their sons
At last rode through the cactus,
A cliff of mighty cowboys
On the lope,
With gun and rope.
And all the way to frightened Maine the old East heard them call,
And saw our Bryan by a mile lead the wall
Of men and whirling flowers and beasts,
The bard and the prophet of them all.
Prairie avenger, mountain lion,
Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan,
Gigantic troubadour, speaking like a siege gun,
Smashing Plymouth Rock with his boulders from the West,
And just a hundred miles behind, tornadoes piled across the sky,
Blotting out sun and moon,
A sign on high.

Headlong, dazed and blinking in the weird green light,
The scalawags made moan,
Afraid to fight.’

[Loud, loud is the moaning of the scalawags! I can’t think of anything for ‘mountain lion’ that scans at all well, alas, alack.]

‘Defying aristocracy,
With every bridle gone,
Ridding the world of the low down mean,
Bidding the eagles of the West fly on,
Bidding the eagles of the West fly on,’

[Bidding the eagles of the West fly on! Bidding the eagles of the West fly on!

Of course, it may still all end in tears:]

‘Defeat of the aspen groves of Colorado valleys,
The blue bells of the Rockies,
And blue bonnets of old Texas,
By the Pittsburg alleys.
Defeat of alfalfa and the Mariposa lily.
Defeat of the Pacific and the long Mississippi.
Defeat of the young by the old and silly.
Defeat of tornadoes by the poison vats supreme.
Defeat of my boyhood, defeat of my dream.’

Emoting over. Normal service resumes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

This will do for a manifesto

From 'Human Personality', by Simone Weil, translated from the French by Richard Rees:

What is sacred in science is truth.
What is sacred in art is beauty.
Truth and beauty are impersonal.
All this is too obvious.
If a child is doing a sum and is doing it wrong, the mistake bears the mistake of his personality. If he does the sum exactly right, his personality does not enter into it at all.
Perfection is impersonal.
Our personality is the part of us that belongs to error and sin. The whole effort of the mystic has always been to become such that there is no part left in his soul to say 'I'.
But the part of the soul which says 'We' is infinitely more dangerous still.
Relations between the collectivity and the person should be arranged with the sole purpose of removing whatever is detrimental to the growth and mysterious germination of the impersonal element in the soul.
This means, on the one hand, that there should be enough room, enough freedom to plan the use of one's time, the opportunity to reach ever higher levels of attention, some solitudes, some silence. At the same time the person needs warmth, lest it be driven by distress to submerge itself in the collective.
If this is the good, then modern societies, even democratic ones, seem to go about as far as it is possible to go in the direction of evil.