Saturday, July 30, 2005

We're all in the same boat

In the last New Yorker Republican Grover Norquist is quoted describing the conservative movement this way:
"The guy who wants to be left alone to practice his faith, the guy who wants to make money, the guy who wants to spend money without paying taxes, the guy who wants to fondle his gun -- they all have a lot in common ... They all want the government to go away. That is what holds together the conservative movement."

I think he has correctly identified one of the key impulses behind many people who identify themselves as conservatives. Its mythic equivalent is expressed in the idea of rugged American individualism, its classic image is the lone cowboy or pioneer making his own destiny without either the aid of or the limits imposed by other people. Apart from the most egregious hypocrites who confess to following this philosophy -- the ranchers who "hate the government" but enjoy beef subsidies and ridiculously cheap grazing rights for their cattle, the industrialists who hate the burden of taxation and regulation but love fat government contracts -- there are a number of my fellow citizens who are, I am sure, quite sincere in believing it. They want "to be left alone." They want "government to go away." Unfortunately, they seem to forget that they will not be left alone, nor will they leave alone others. They are social animals, they live in a society and work in an economy in which no action can occur without affecting others. As much as they are "individuals," they are not alone.

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
-John Donne

John Donne was a great Christian writer and this is a great Christian sentiment. It surprises me that so many people who identify themselves as Christians and vote for the GOP because they are Christians seem to not want to be bothered with the existence of their fellow man or woman. They want to be left alone. But for Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, and everybody else, the same thing is true. Love, hate or feel indifferent to your fellow man or woman, it's the same. Your life affects him or her; his or her life affects you. We are all in the same boat.

You may want to fondle your gun, but the fact that guns are readily available make it that much more likely that I will get shot. If you don't pay taxes because of Bush's tax cuts, it's my child who will be saddled with debt. You want to make money, but if in doing so you poison the river, I'm the one who will get cancer. Also, if you do make money, there is more than one reason you are successful. Yes, you may be smart and willing to take risks, so good for you. But you also may be privileged and start off with an advantage depending on your social standing, level of education, gender and ethnic background. And no matter who you are, you make money in our society, in our economy. You do so because in this country there are workers for your company, roads for your transportation, consumers for your products, and a social infrastructure you build your success on. You are not a lone pioneer in an uninhabited land. You owe us -- at least you owe us enough to participate in a way of negotiating order in society, that is, government.

And who is the person that is not let alone to practice his faith? Perhaps the one who can't practice it without pushing it on me? I am a good practicing Catholic, and I don't need to force anyone else to make the sign of the cross.

Anyway, I think I've made my point. There is something infantile about wanting government to go away. I think of two-year-olds who want to run wherever their whim takes them and cry when stopped, but also cry when they are not fed. By all means, make government more just, transparent, honest, and efficient, but it's not going away. It's just a question of who it's working for. The whole boat, or the select few in the captain's quarters?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


New Yorkers in July.

I'm fairly tough when it comes to heat. I've enjoyed August nights in Madrid and the blaring summer sun in the deserts of Southern Utah. But there is nothing as foul as sticky New York 95 degree torture. According to the weather, the heat index today will be 110 ten degrees. At this point the weather takes on a malevolent and perverse personality. It is not around you, it is in you. Scorching in your lungs, slimy in your skin, heavy in your muscles. At first it is merely annoying. The gallons of sweat soaking your clothes, the shower rendered ineffective in the instant the freezing water is turned off, the weight of the hot wet air. Then it becomes oppressive and a sense of foreboding clutches your heart. The bright sky and blaring sun are covered with a leaden sheet that seems to press down like a milling stone, crushing every last spark of vitality you still may have. Near-psychotic grumpiness is tempered only by overwhelming inertia. Here in New York City we have already begun our time in purgatory.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Welcome to New York!

Tourists evacuated from a New York sightseeing bus after police were alerted to the presence of "suspicious" men carrying "backpacks."

I don't mean to make light of the dangers surrounding life in New York now. As a matter of fact, horrible things like the searches of innocent people in the NYC subway or the British police's shoot-to-kill policy almost seem reasonable given the threat posed by suicide bombers. But we have to shake our heads and remember that the former is unconstitutional and the latter has already resulted in the death of an innocent man. Both will affect mainly people with darker skins. Also, we should worry when we hear justifications like that spoken by a citizen interviewed on the news last night about the subway searches: "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, and anything that protects our security is good." The theme song of authoritarian regimes.

I myself have no greater fear about taking the train in NYC than before, just as 9-11 did not cause me to pause before taking an airplane. Obviously, if there are threats, the police and government should respond, and an attack resulting in one death greaves me greatly. But terrorism at this level does not make me fear for my own personal safety. Millions of people ride the subway every day, and thousands of planes fly without incident every day. The risk does not seem great to me.

So why are people so affected by this? I think terrorism at this level plays on a particular feature of our Western (and especially American) society: the feeling we are entitled to a life of absolute safety. Don't get me wrong, I do not join my voice to right-wing critics of seat-belts and air-pollution regulations. I see no reason why corporations should profit on our injuries, illnesses and deaths. We need more regulation, not less. I just want us to remember that the level of safety middle-class Americans and Europeans expect as our birthright is very much a historical anomaly. Behind this obsession with safety lies fear. In this period of what Phillipe Aries called "invisible death," instead of availing ourselves of religious/cultural methods of dealing with death (methods dismissed usually as "morbid"), we hide death and risk away. In fact, risk has become so absent from our lives that we have to create false conditions of risk in controlled situations (amusement parks, bungee-jumping, parachuting) just so our animal bodies can still feel alive.

Of course, real death and risk always lie under the surface, because we still continue to die, and we still live in a world that can surprise us. This is the weapon of terrorists. When I lived in Spain, ETA had a different strategy. They singled out individuals and aimed to provoke indignation, division, and hatred. The new style Al Quaeda terrorists (whatever they may be) are preying on something different, our exaggerated and extremely fragile sense of safety. The personal fear that results from these attacks has been exploited and exaggerated by the current administration and its allies, as well as by the press. Orange alert!

We should protect ourselves, but we should never give into manipulation. More than anything, we should always strive to know why we feel what we feel. If not, we open ourselves up to the malice of anyone who understands us better than we do ourselves.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

New York

Heading back from Queens to Manhattan on the 7 train, I was once again struck by the curious and dusty glory of living in NYC. It was dusk (not as in this photo) and the slanting light from the west was ablaze in the Manhattan skyscrapers. Struck once again at how mythic New York is, I put down my copy of Bomarzo and looked out at the city. I love Queensboro plaza. An insane conjunction of subway routes, defying the name of subway, perched on the air itself, twisting in all directions, trains flying above the ground. New York, as I had seen it in TV detective shows as a child in the 70s, and that can never be imitated. The light and the grime are unique, the blue-gray tint of everything, the absurdity of all these people and the greatest city in the world, caput mundi novi ordinis, still filthy and gloriously human.

St Expeditus, the patron saint of procrastinators. The word on the cross he's holding is "hodie," Latin for "today."

I started a post about the new supreme court nominee and then abandoned it. I'm still trying to decide what I want this blog to be. Do I want a specific voice, a constant tone? Probably not, that is nothing like what actually happens inside my head. Still, I do want to be careful. Speaking about politics could send me raging, and who cares about my rants and grunts? I promise not to use profanity. In English at any rate.

Quickly, though, this Roberts fellow is something of a mystery, mainly because he hasn't been a judge very long. The general feeling is that he does not have the ideological stubbornness of Thomas and Scalia, but he is conservative through and through. The left might well mess things up during the confirmation by only concentrating on Roe vs Wade, which admittedly is very important, but which could suck all the attention from more general questions of individual rights. One this that worries me is that James Dobson likes him. He probably knows something that we don't.

Am I too partisan? Yes. If a Republican congressman like the testa di cazzo Tom Tancredo can suggest bombing Mecca without anyone from his own party distancing themselves from his remarks, I will happily situate myself on the other side of the room.

Enough politics. I promise not to make this just another blog stuffed with bile. And least not too much.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


This is an image from a manuscript of Beato de Liebana's commentary on the Apocalypse and has nothing to do with what I am writing about.

I hit a few of my fellow bloggers' sites. Interesting collection. People writing their opinions on politics, companies informing their employees about office matters, bubbly teenage self-expression, advertising, and one blog called "Interracial Romance" that was mainly bad misogynistic erotica about large... well, you get the idea.

Who reads these things? Apart from friends and family, or followers of those blogs that "matter" and are read by journalists hoping for a scoop? Curiosity, a desire for quality, voyeurism? Each of us in our rooms madly typing into space. When I kept a journal, before I started grad school, I always did have an adolescent desire that someday my writing would be so successful that some patient editor would publish my journals after my death. Some of my best writing -- unfocused, impressionistic, undisciplined, but also lyric, lively, and true -- was in my journals. And the deeply private. I am no exhibitionist, there will be no confessions on this blog -- nothing overly salacious, at least. For that you will have to publish my old journals after I die. But maybe there will be something of the music and longing I occassionally happened upon as I scribbled into my notebooks while sitting in cafes and bars. Narcissitic? Of course. That's what it's all about. But maybe somebody will happen upon it and find it worth the few seconds they spend reading a post.

St George

Okay, now both an image and text. What fun. I could get used to this. This a wall painting from a church in Axum Ethiopia, absolutely gorgeous, with brilliant colors.

A photo of me

An Emu


By hitting "next blog" at the top of the page, you go (randomly?) to blogs of people who have nothing to do with you! And I suppose that others will come across mine as well! Be patient, I'm new at this. Do people wander through these blogs day after day, reading the thoughts of strangers. O brave new world.


Okay, so I've finally sucumbed to the depths of internet narcism. Will I even post anything, ever? We'll have to see. Will anyone ever read it? Probably not.