Archive | August, 2013

Poetry Review, Albert Goldbarth “The Theory of Absolute Forms”

5 Aug

I’ve been in a Goldbarth phase, so I see no reason but to continue him for our little readings.  This time a short one from a man who so loves long poems.

For those  not in the know, Plato’s theory of absolute forms is that ideas exist independently of matter, that all matter is just an imperfect expression of a perfect idea.   Whether you think it’s true or not is immaterial (HAH!  Philosophy jokes, gotta love em!)   I know very few people who completely believe in Plato’s idea, however it’s surprisingly difficult to argue against.     His most interesting expansion of his Absolute Forms is that any form of pain (whether physical or emotional) comes from an awareness that a temporary form is losing its definition.  In other words pain is not a thing, it is the loss of a thing.

Goldbarth’s poetry starts with the line “it isn’t easy to picture an infinite  universe/a star that’s travelling through infinite universe” Goldbarth starts from a very un-Platonic idea, that our ideas are not based on some ideal proto-ideas, but on comparisons.  The reason it isn’t easy to picture infinite space or travel in it, is the lack of boundaries, our minds know no places that have no boundaries so it’s difficult to picture.  However it’s not impossible to imagine.

“…but think of how far pain can go into your bone,/–forever I think.”  What’s surprising here is Goldbarth comparing infinite space to pain in our bodies–such an intimate small thing, but aren’t there pains that seem to go forever, even when they don’t really?  So does a star move through space like pain does through a bone?  Perhaps so, in a purely subjective way.

“When Plato/clutched his side and moaned, he knew that this world’s/hurt is only light from the star Generic Hurt.”   I sense a little sarcasm here, for if Plato had pain, he would experience the pain the same as us and all the philosophizing in the world would not make it a jot less.

Then we get the counter argument–“Say I have a wound like a flamenco beauty’s horrible/red camelia set in my flesh. I think the doctor’s/ whole career has been for this moment.”   An interesting idea–first the vividness of the wound (how would one get that?  A gunshot?)  and how the doctor would have lived for that moment.  Of course he did not set his career on this specific wound, he studied general wounds and so knows what to do with this one.  How can we study the generic in order to know what to do with the specific?  The very idea seems to jive with Platonic thought.  Also, subjectively for the patient, the doctor is there exclusively for their problem, nothing else.

“The wound,/my wound it’s only been with me for an hour./ His hands are exact.  They lift it and dance./ He’s been intimate with this wound for years.”

So for the patient the wound is a once in a lifetime event, original for him, but for the Doctor, this is a familiar thing, and in being objective is able to interact with it.  Goldbarth seems to be dealing with a Platonic contradiction, for subjectively the wound is an event that starts specifically in that situation, however for the doctor wounds are all expressions of one universal “wound” which allows her to heal.  How does this work?  That’s Goldbarth’s question, though subjectivity seems to be part of the answer.  Experience is specific while facts are general.

An interesting little puzzle poem that just opens up more questions, and provides few answers.  A very impressive feat.


Presidential Review: Ulysses S. Grant

4 Aug

U.S. Grant was a great general, no doubt about that, but his presidency was quite problematic.  While he didn’t have the problems that Johnson and Buchanan did in terms of capability, he has one of the most scandal-prone administrations ever in U.S. History, only Nixon could possibly beat him, and Nixon had one HUGE scandal, while Grant had a never-ending chain of pretty major ones.

There’s two kinds of scandals for presidents:  the ones that are scandals because of public opinion, and the ones that seriously endanger the United States and usually involve somebody breaking the law to some degree.  Grant’s were uniformly the second.

The thing is, Grant didn’t actively participate in most of the scandals during his administration–they were mostly performed by members of his cabinet, and so what kind of culpability should he have considering he didn’t personally do anything wrong?  I think quite a bit.  First, he put people completely unsuited for their jobs in government posts, and second, he seemed to lack a significant amount of follow-through to catch these guys at the act before disaster struck.

The first one was the Gold Panic of 1869.  The short version of this scandal was that Grant’s brother-in-law was involved with some bankers that wanted to have the US government hold on to their gold so that the gold prices would climb, thus they would make money off of it.  At the same time, Grant’s secretary of treasury was selling gold on the side without proper notification.  When Grant found out about all this, he flooded the market with gold, the stock market crash, money lost value, and Americans suffered a particularly bleak depression.   Unlike most recessionary periods, this one was completely started because of government intervention.

The New York Customs house Ring–two of Grant’s customs collectors allowed people to bring unclaimed goods into the country if they used certain warehouses that they owned for a very high price.  Basically they were lining their pockets.

The Star Route Scandal—Another case of federal appointees lining their pockets.  The US postal service called routes that were in hard to access places star routes, there’s no problem with that, but when the US Postal Service started putting people on payrolls for imaginary star routes, there was the rub.  There was a congressional investigation that exonerated  the Star Route scandal–after the Post Office bribed a number of Congressmen.

The Salary Hike Scandal–Congress and the President secretly signed a law giving them all a raise.  Secretly until the newspapers found out.  Nothing happened here against the law but it certainly added to the air of corruption under Grant’s watch.

The Sanborn Incident–Sanborn was an IRS collector who handled delinquent accounts.  At that time the practice was that in getting these delinquent accounts Sanford could pocket a 50% collections fee.  The IRS had started funneling all the high paying delinquencies to Sanford who shared the profits with unnamed silent partners.  Also, the IRS was labeling certain cases delinquent so the money could be skimmed, as well as keeping no paper trail regarding all this money.

The scandals just continued, I won’t list them all, but they include the Attorney General accepting bribes to not prosecute certain cases,  Framing innocent citizens that were threatening to make public different frauds, paying people to be Native American government representatives who had no connection to the tribes they represented and took the grant money offered for themselves, government officials making money off of phony land grants, extortion and embezzlement of Navy Funds, and I’m just getting started.

So the general consensus that US Grant was a good man who trusted people too much is wildly understated, he was more akin to an incompetant administrator who delegated far too much to people who have proven themselves to be untrustworthy.  On top of that besides army buddies, Grant put 40 different relatives in government positions, relatives who did not usually hold the credentials for their posts.   This run of scandals were a serious threat to people’s trust in democracy.

Beyond this, Grant has a mixed record with reconstruction (he worked very hard at equal rights at first, but threw it all away over the election deal of 1876), and his Native American policies were disastrous, coming to a head on the battle of Wounded Knee.

Grant was a great general–he won a war that seemed unwinnable at the time.  However he was a pretty bad president.  Perhaps that’s why historians tend to be apologetic over him.

Movie Review: Temple Grandin

3 Aug

Temple Grandin is about the coming of age of a autistic woman who found a way to function.    It’s really difficult to have a movie about a mental condition without it coming off as mawkish and still have it be inspiring.   Temple Grandin might be the only tv  movie I’ve ever seen that manages to do this.

A lot of the credit has to go to Claire Danes–I’ve had my eye on her for years as a potentially great actress as an adult, she has a knack for showing characters that are strong, smart, and sensitive, which is exactly how Temple Grandin needs to be portrayed.

HBO’s fresh take on Temple Grandin showed me how insulting the typical Lifetime-style of subject movie can be.   Temple is not portrayed as a helpless victim, nor is she portrayed as someone who can magically make her problems go away once she tries.   Temple is portrayed as a human being, like all, who has problems, and deals with them because she’s so honest with herself.   I think that’s why this movie succeeds where others fail–the movie does not feel sorry for Temple because she’s autistic, rather, the movie admires Temple for finding a way to overcome her challenges.

I’d recommend anyone to watch this, it’s marvelous.