Friday, December 29, 2006

Then again, maybe W was actually in one of the Jackass movies

I am in the process of waiting for notification from iTunes that they have accepted the feed of “The View from Tab” for syndication. This means a number of things. First, that I have written correct XML for the feed. Second, that I have updated my podcast page. And third, that I have recorded “The Postmodern Condition.” I like this lecture. It attempts to explain what it means to be an artist, or an architect, or perhaps most importantly, a philosopher, in an age of postmodernism. It frames everything within the concept of dialectics, and the failure of history as a dialectic. The death of architectural modernism is explained as the birth process of the actual concept of something that would be known thereafter as post modern, and it shows how all artists, and probably all thinkers, must confront the breakdown of the historical dialectic, i.e., the postmodern condition. Needless to say, it includes no quotations from Adam Sandler, George Bush or any members of the casts of any Jackass movie. It is meant as a standalone piece, a short general introduction to the idea of postmodernity as compared to the detailed explanations of Caveman.

It’s amazing what someone can do with a little free time on their hands. The point of creating “View” as a feed is so that I can post future installments to a waiting public, snicker, snicker. I have an idea for a show with me and Faux’C; more on that as it develops in my mind.

Next on the day’s agenda: making some Disney World dinner reservations. I don't know if I can keep up this amazingly hectic pace...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A little of this, a little of that...

I swore to myself that I’d be at the computer this morning by 9:00. Missed it only by about an hour. Not bad for a holiday.

In the most important piece of news, Liz has gotten a clean bill of health, and we go into 2007 a lot happier than we exited 2006. Whew.

So now we can get back to business. First up, sorting through all the invoices from the NFL and getting that check out before there’s a late fee. For some reason Safari is giving me Yahoo mail issues, but Firefox seems to be kechy peen, so the fault lies not in our account but in our software. Kate insists that I’m some sort of troglodyte for my use of Safari, but as I pointed out, the fact that at the office Firefox prints words before I type them sort of mitigates against my reliance on it. I guess that feature would be very useful if I were daunted by the blank page, but I seriously doubt if that’s going to happen any time soon.

Then there’s the discussion of our Red Light District status with the district schools. I’ve been putting off sending out a note to the schools mostly because there isn’t much to say other than file all your points, and honestly, most of them either do or don’t. I’ve been feverishly doing so lately. For instance,every time NoShow judges, there’s 4 more points in the bag. Come to think of it, I'm thinking of changing his nickname to HeWhoShowsUpEveryWeek. Woot, woot!

[Time passes.]

So, with all of business conducted, after 2 hours the mailbox is clear! The next item on the agenda, aside from getting up and running upstairs every time the phone rings, is warming up the leftover lasagna for lunch. Tuesday we had the Rubin Era alums over for dinner, and a swell time was had by all, I think. They are a rather remarkable bunch. Josh is at Harvard Law, and Katie’s at Georgetown Law; she’s thinking litigator, which means that I’ll finally have someone to defend me when the gendarmes catch up. Alexandra is drumming up business for White Plains hospital; she does PR, which I gather means going out and making people sick. I could do that. Wedro is trading stocks, and has managed to lose hardly any money at all despite the incredible bull market. Jared just got back from Argentina, having given up the literary agent trade, and he’s living in Brooklyn on the chichi side of Prospect Park (my Kate is on the Real People side). CLG is still thinking of more school, and the general consensus was that she should go to California to see how the other half lives. As I say, what a group. Although it is strange to offer them wine and beer. I used to have to worry that they might be drinking wine and beer behind my back (although I never got the feeling that they were too dicey behavior-wise back in the day, although occasionally CLG has begun to explain what was really going on and I’ve had to ask her to stop because I just don’t want to know) and now I merely have to make sure they can drive home legally. How times change.

This afternoon, with any luck, I’ll begin catching up on Nostrums. Plus, I’ve got preliminary notes on an intro to Pomo that I have to work on. And, oh yeah, I have to go out and buy a chicken for dinner.

Life is good.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Things to do:


More Christmas shopping. With things being what they are, I fell way behind, which is unusual for me, as normally I’m done by the first frost.

Buy prosecco. It goes with everything, and it’s marginally festive. Trust me on this. Make bellinis for the doubters in the crowd,

Buy groceries. I’ll do most of the cooking, as always. Today I pick up the last minute items, including enough eggs to open a hen house.

Watch a movie. I can’t remember the last movie I watched. Something soothing tonight, but I’m not sure what.


Clean the house. While Liz is recuperating, I have to do all the heavy lifting by myself. If I were her, I’d stretch this recuperating business as long as possible.

Start cooking. The more I can do early, the better. I should be able to knock off a few eggplants, for instance (no relation to the eggs, mentioned above).

Go to the Big Apple circus. I’ll see you there if you’re at tomorrow’s 4:30 show. Go, Grandma!

Go out to dinner. We’re thinking ribs, which are very holiday-ish, somewhere, I’m sure. Hush puppies. Dark southern beer. Hmmmm.


Christmas eve breakfast. This is a new wrinkle, as the rels will already be installed on various cots, couches and beds of nails around the house and will need nourishment.

Cooking. Mostly final prep for D-Day. Soak a bean or two, study the menu closely and prrioritize, that sort of thing.

Go out to traditional Christmas Eve movie. We’re thinking Happy Feet as the perfect crowd pleaser, as it has tap dancing and penguins and high praise from all and sundry critics.

Baking. This is different from cooking. There’s nothing like the scent of chocolate wafting through the house after a traditional Christmas Eve movie.

Traditional Christmas Eve dinner. Which, curiously enough, is all new this year, because my cousin who’s staying with us doesn’t eat nuts. Her father used to live on nuts. Who knew? Think beet carpaccio, scampi, risotto with squash. Nice.


Presents, cooking, eating, presents, cooking, eating, digesting, traditional Christmas movie at the chez home theater (last year it was Shaun of the Dead, which has gone down in family history as the best Christmas movie ever), eating. This no doubt is what the entire VCA will be doing Monday. Deck us all with Boston Charlie.

And so, Merry Christmas to all—as Bill O’Reilly would insist on our saying—and to all a good night. I’ll see you on Tuesday or Wednesday. (Given that last night I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and stumbled into the living room where Pip TW and I read a piece on postmodern dance by the light of the Christmas tree before re-retiring, I’m sure I’ll have something to say when the time comes.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A <> A+2

I’m always thinking about novices. Virtually all of what is called by some progressive in LD—and note that the word progressive is taking on the cloud of connotations nowadays that the word liberal used to have in the mouths of Reagan conservatives—is antithetical to working with high school freshmen if for no other reason than that they’re not ready for the material. That is, even if so-called progressive—and I just can’t write the word progressive straight for fear that you might think that I mean that somehow this material is, in fact, progressive—LD is superior, or right, or true, or best, or however you want to portray it against traditional approaches, it is nonetheless none of those for 14-year-olds. The reason is simple. They’re not old enough. They haven’t been around to learn enough yet to synthesize this sort of material. I mean, you can’t read critiques of Kant until you’ve read Kant. You can’t understand the futility of post-historical narrative until you understand the gist of the historical narrative in the first place, and then have a sense of all the factors that mitigate against it in contemporary society. Bebop makes no sense without swing. And youth per se has nothing to do with achieving these understandings except insofar as the younger you are, the less time you’ve had to get your initial grounding. It’s not a question of maturity (or at least it doesn’t have to be a question of maturity): it’s not the quality of one’s time on earth but the quantity.

Last night we had a chez attended primarily by the Plebes, and I was struck by the difference between that session and the one the night before with the upperclassfolk. Primarily the ucf never shut their yaps, while the Plebes hardly ever open theirs. To a great extent this is a factor of their unfamiliarity with me (we haven’t spent that much time together yet), and they’re unsure of how much I really want to hear from them, versus how much I want to tell them what to think. But also they don’t have that much to say yet. I mean, if we’re sitting around discussing Enron, WalMart, Apple and Nike, in the space of about two minutes, what exactly do they know about the nature of these corporations, and the impacts these corporations have on the world. We did manage to determine that LPW owns no Nikes and that Richard’s size fourteens are awe-inspiring, however. One of the Plebes, having discovered (albeit not read) Rousseau, has already worked out an affirmative position based on some random quote from good old Jean-Jacques (which was pronounced anything but Jean-Jacques), eliciting from me a momentary blast on general will and some misgivings about the effect of civilization on the poor noble plebian savage, after which I suggested that all resolutional pegs cannot be hammered into the hole of social contraction.

As I said, they’re young…

Anyhow, going forward, I’m thinking that, for brainstorming purposes, it’s probably not a good idea to isolate young and old. Granted the old will do all the talking, but a good stew needs seasoning. And the young ‘uns will learn at the knees of the elders. I hope. In any case, young and old will now go forward and research Jan-Feb over the break. Again, I hope. May God have mercy on their heathen souls.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Waiter, bring me shad roe

What a group. Yeah, the "i" in idea is the kicker. I wasn’t even thinking of that. Alec Wilder could learn a few things from the VCA. It’s nice to know that American popular song lives on.

(And “Scrambled Eggs,” of course, was the working title of “Yesterday” before the words were written. Everyone my age either knows this, or, well, they don’t get to sit with the cool people. Try it out on parents of your own if you’re willing to subject them to the acid test of hip. There’s nothing worse that finding out your parents actually are, or aren’t, hip. Either scenario just isn’t…right. Parents should be ahip, which is like amoral applied to coolness. It’s the best solution all-around, definitely.)

Last night we assembled an upperclass chez, and kicked around a few topic ideas concentrating purely on conceptualizations of corporations. I wanted to get away from the initial pure morality issues that I had brought to the original brainstorming session (although I did shoot out my notes from that session to the Sailors on the listserver, itemizing the various pure morals arguments that were theoretically possible). The more you discuss this topic, the more you realize that it will be hard to argue anything meaningful regarding corporate ethics, although we are zeroing in on some basic concepts. No doubt everyone else is zeroing in on the exact same concepts (or so far off base that they’ll never be heard from again). Tonight there’s a session just for the plebes; obviously I’ll steal all the good ideas from last night and act as if they were always my own, and plant them in the virgin brains of the newbies, but mostly I’ll be browbeating them to research and work over the holiday. No sitting around playing Gears of War. No watching all the Star Wars movies from beginning to end. No going to grandma’s house. No sleeping.

My plans for the break? Well, there’s that pomo View from Tab that I’m still cogitating over, there’s the morality and justice units for the Hillary Duff, and I did start playing RCT3 finally while I was hanging around the hospital (there’s a bright side to everything) and it’s every bit as mind-sucking as the earlier PC versions I played back in the dark ages. On the other hand, the Wikipedia timeline of Back to the Future that’s circulating over the blogosphere has set me to thinking I’m due for that particular trilogy again. And I need to catch up on my sleep. Which means I’ll be doing what the Sailors better not be doing.

It is nice being the grownup. And not a particularly hip one. Except for Scrambled Eggs. And, oh yeah, the dirty words to “You’re the Top” written by CP himself. Some day, when you’re grown up yourself, I might share them with you…

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

How many points for understanding the eggs reference?

It should come as no surprise that I am a bit overzealous about the American Songbook. So the idea that “I Get a Kick Out of You” is a Frank Sinatra song, mentioned in a recent comment, is not exactly wrong, given that it is one of his signature tunes, but first and foremost it is a Cole Porter song. The analogy here might be, when you get on an elevator, the 1001 Strings version of “Yesterday” (which at one point, and this may still be true, was the most recorded song ever) is indeed a signature tune of Muzak, but first and foremost it is a Paul McCartney song (or, arguably, a Beatles song, but that’s neither here nor there to anyone who knows their Beatles at this point—scrambled eggs, anyone?).

Porter is one of those amazing people who did lyrics and music both. These are two rather different skills, and it is unusual to find anyone who can do both well, although in rock music it is not unusual to find people who can do both adequately. As a rule, though, one will be excellent, the other rote. Dylan, for instance, didn’t break much ground in harmonics but knocked off the odd memorable phrase now and then. I mention rock because the 60s were the dawning age of the creative performer, and if a rock group or single expected serious consideration, original self-generated material was a must, so the idea of mastery of music and words isn’t as staggering today as it was in the golden age of American song when the Porters and Gershwins and such were doing their thing. Porter, knowing language and music, and singing, which is important if you want people to be able to successfully put your music across, and these folks were always writing for other people, phrases things in a most amazing way:

I get no kick [beat] from champagne

That is, in fact, 8 beats. I love that implied pause.

Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all

Note the internal rhyme, alcohol with all.

So tell me why should it be true
That I get a kick out of you

Then on to the lovely

Some get their kicks from cocaine

which is bowdlerized by Sinatra into

Some like the perfume from Spain

which just isn’t the same. Ask any smelly crackhead. But the next section is the top:

I know that if / I took even one sniff
It would bore me terriff / ic’ly too

This is the sort of phrasing that I think absolutely requires the lyrics and music to come from the same brain. And it’s fun for a performer to sing. Then, of course, speaking of merging performance with the words and the music there’s the rising notes to accompany the flying words of

I get no kick on a plane
Riding too high with some guy in the sky [three internals, four if you count the I in riding]
Is my idea of nothing to do
But I get a kick out of you.

I have nothing against Sinatra, witnessed by my ownership of, I guess, almost every album he ever recorded. But he’s no friend of the composers: he makes all songs into Sinatra songs, which is his great strength as a singer. If you want the music distilled, the way the writers wrote it, there are other singers you should visit. Fred Astaire is one of the best for direct interpretations of songs as written. Ella. Feinstein. These are orthodoxies. But my absolutely favorite singer, other than Sinatra? No contest. Louis Armstrong. If Sinatra is pop’s God, Louis is God’s pop.

Monday, December 18, 2006


It's going to take a little while to get back to speed. Liz was eating chicken when I left the hospital today, which I take as an excellent sign. And she's coming home tomorrow. I've asked Tik (pronounced tik) to pick up a few of the Christmas decorations he's been grabbing off the tree while no one is looking, but so far he acts as if it's my job to clean up after him rather than him cleaning up after himself. The noive! Pip the Wondercat, on the other hand, looks forward to another lap to purr in when we are all together again. Never underestimate the therapeutic value of cuddling cats. Come to think of it, someone was on the hospital floor today with a therapy dog, a hound of some sort that couldn't get any purchase on the polished floor, which made him look like Bambi on the ice. Very entertaining. Never underestimate the therapeutic value of any entertainment, especially stupid pet tricks.

So, getting back to the old stand... I did begin recording the epistles of St. Jules to the forensicians last week. I had thought they began with number 33, but in fact it was number 32, so I put out a special edition with just some of the old email, including kudos from the legendary Soddy, one of the original fans of the lads’ work. I may or may not get any more episodes out before Christmas, what with everything else going on, but I should put a few in the can immediately following 12/25. I did create a new general introduction telling any yabbo who stumbles across this stuff that they should start at the beginning if they wanted to make any sense out of it. Speaking of which, now that I have a gargantuan ancillary hard drive semi-permanently attached to Little E’s firewire slot, I’ve been thinking of acquiring the latest iLife suite, which allows the ability to create podcasts in GarageBand (although, come to think of it, if I wait a couple of months I can get the next latest iLife suite, but then again, that might be Leopard-only and I am loath to upgrade operating systems, being from the school that if you want to cause damage to your computing life, start with an OS upgrade). Little E’s only inherent problem is his small hard disk. Put an OS and a couple of apps, plus Virtual PC, and 30 gigs disappears in a puff of computing smoke. Make this a rule: when you buy any sort of storage, either separate or a part of something, go for the max. You’ll never regret it.

One of the joys of insomnia is reading at three in the morning, and I've been doing some pomo work that is encouraging me to do a new View from Tab, yet another entry hook into the whole shebang. Again, maybe next week. Tomorrow and the day after the Sailors are in for a couple of chezzes on corporate ethics. Oh, the humanity.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


I've been out of commission for a while, and will be for a little while longer. Short reason: my wife has just had an operation. The good news is that everything went well, she is doing fine, and the prognosis is excellent. Curiously enough, there is a computer in the solarium of the hospital, although there is no sun, so I had a minute to log on and write this. She should be going home either Monday or Tuesday, and normalcy should set in roughly by the end of the week.

By the way, driving home last night I heard Garrison Keillor rhyme hiatus with potatoes (pronounced pa-tay-tas). I could use him the next time I go into my Dr. Seuss mode.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I get no kick from sham pain

I have always found it curious that much of what I don’t like about debate is totally ass backwards. The article on performative college debate referenced on ROTC points out that this style of competition arose from the need for undersized teams to level the playing field against the big combines. Usually these funky new teams were less well-endowed financially than the old, established teams. The running of kritiks in high school policy has a comparable history: small teams unable to compete with big teams’ research-cutting abilities resorted to different tactics that would eliminate the size differential. But here’s the rub: in LD, there is no reliance on quantity of evidence. With some minor demurral, you’d have to admit that in LD a small team has exactly the same access to physical resources as a big team. Add to this the curious twist that it tends to be the $ircuit teams that more often gravitate to theory and critical debate than regional teams. That is, the teams with more money—which not only translates into more ability to travel but also a greater likelihood of assistant coaches, who in my mind are often akin to the Miltonian minor demons—are using the tactics devised by the teams with less money, substituting parlor tricks for resolutional analysis despite the fact that they have equal access to resolutional material insofar as there is no quantitative advantage to having “more” material in LD, as compared to having more research in the tubs in Policy. It’s a bizarre situation. Thank goodness it’s better to have a handful of clever upperclassmen win rounds by whatever means available than to ground a dozen novices in elementary ideas concerning morality and ethics and the various issues of the resolutions! At least I know where my priorities ought to lie.

Last night we did a demo round, and while I like doing these, I’m a little wary of the vulture mentality that seems to strike afterwards, where everyone in the room wants to have at the poor demonstrators with their own unique criticisms. “Hey, Menick, I didn’t get to tell them yet which particular idiots I think they are in my own special fashion.” While the upperclassmen bring experience and good advice, the underclassmen—I hate to say it—don’t know their patoots from their bezoots, otherwise they’d already all be qualified for States, TOC and early admission to at least 3 Ivy League universities. So I do try to limit critiques to the captains and the novice coordinators, who have earned the right to give their opinions. Oh, yeah, and me. Although mostly the others do the job well enough before me, and I just bat cleanup.

Anyhow, all this thinking about morality arising from the next topic is pointing me to adding a good unit on the subject to the Hillary Duff. Ditto the previous topics’ pointers at justice, another gap in the Duff. One must evolve with the times, although how I left these out in the first place is beyond me. At some point I should also port over the Foucault from Caveman, but as I was saying to OC over the weekend, what I need to do is decide what book to recommend to the Sailors as their Foucault intro (fooko intrault?). Ah, the joys of reading Frenchmen for pleasure! Absent Flaubert, Gide, Zola and, I’ll admit it, Robbe-Grillet, I hardly ever do that. I mean I read them, but I get no pleasure from it. Oh, well…

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

F Lit, Humpty Chomsky, Lost Luggage, Awakenings, Sleep

So, enough about politics, new and old. I don’t think we said anything conclusive, but it was interesting for me to rattle the mental cages in which I keep my Founders info. I’ve been a major devourer of Founder Lit for years, because there is something intrinsically intriguing to me about these people and their creation. For those of us who, in theory, sit around designing the best societies, it is educational to study those who sat around and attempted it for real.

I did give a lecture on the new topic last week. Or, more to the point, I gave a lecture on absolutism v relativism, pointing out all the hooks for a pure morality argument. Obviously, I don’t like these approaches, otherwise I wouldn’t resort to my Dr. Seuss mode to critique them. I do not like them, Sam I am: throw in one more iamb and you’ve got pentameter and I’d be burlesquing Shakespeare. (Life is tough, you know, but at least now you’ll never forget that the difference between Geisel and the Bard is a mere two syllables.) Tonight some of the plebes will do a practice round, then next week we’ll have a couple of chezzes to discuss corporate ethics before heading into vacation. Either people will debate corporate ethics, or they’ll debate pure morality. Honestly, for once I can’t say that the latter is non-resolutional. Whoever does the wording for these resolutions needs a few years in the box with some of my day-job copy-editors. Words do not mean what you want them to mean… (I have this sudden vision of Chomsky and Lyotard in fierce debate with Humpty Dumpty. Great Googly Moogly!)

Last weekend was Ridge. The ever amusing O’C arrived with fewer than 3000 novices, and wasn’t even the last to show up. His definition of punctuality, of course, is not that he arrives on time, but that someone else arrives even later. This has always been the Bronx definition of punctuality, and I wonder if O’C was always this way or merely acquired it when he started teaching at good old Scientology. In any case, he managed to arrive without having any case, i.e., his suitcase went back to the Bronx on the bus without him. This rendered him, at the very least, less than sartorially resplendent for the weekend. Fortunately he did bathe Friday night, which helped a little. Those of you who have watched O’C at a tournament know that he spends most of the time typing away, reporting every hiccup to WTF. Every time he moved away from the computer in tab to check on whether the Scientologists were still in the tournament, Dario or I would go on his machine and type something seditious. O’C swears that there is a vast audience of mooks out there glued to their computers, following from afar every batting of the forensic eye, but somehow I doubt this. If there are such mooks, their need of a life is profound. I mean, haven’t they ever heard of Gears of War? Or Saved by the Bell reruns? Or maybe even reading a book? Jeesh!

I got to tab Pffft, which was not hard. Aside from a little smoke and mirrors on one round where I went from double to single flights, plus some minor pilfering of judges from LD, it was all according to Hoyle. There’s this thing at Ridge where, at exactly ten o’clock at night, the computers shut down and eat all your data. Fortunately Dario was ready for this Cinderella moment, flashdrive in hand, after having suffered absolute meltdown last year. It’s a curious phenomenon, with shades of Oliver Sacks and selective memory, where everything is new again the next day. Weird. But at least once you know about it, you’re okay.

I won’t be at Regis this weekend—I’ll explain why soon—so for me the debate calendar year is about over, absent these couple of meetings. I could use a break. A little sleep never hurt anybody.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Final entry on politics in our time

So the conclusion I draw is that it was not the times that made the Founders out of whatever raw human material was at hand, but that the Founders themselves, who made an extraordinary contribution that defined self-government on the planet, did so on the basis of their inherent, unique talents,. One could extrapolate from this that today’s politicians, for some reason, lack those talents, and that the people today who do have those talents are not politicians. There are exceptions of course (there were some dull politicos in Philadelphia in 1775, and there are some crackerjacks in DC in 2006), but few would argue the basic premise that today’s best and brightest are not in public service. The question is, why not?

There’s an easy answer going into it. The 18th century citizen of wealth and power was, to some extent, a member of a clearly defined aristocracy for whom public service was expected as a matter of noblesse oblige. In fact, a lot of what these guys were debating about was the concept of aristocracy in a democratic republic, including either maintaining a clear-cut upper class or eliminating it, but whatever their thoughts on the subject, they had been raised to expect as aristos to contribute to governing, and so they did. Combine to this the meritocratic concepts explained by John Adams, the Yankee belief that there should be an earned rather than an inherited aristocracy, and you get to include the Ben Franklins into the mix. This aristocracy was its day’s best and brightest, the most educated, the most capable. And those who were not members of this aristocracy accepted that the aristos would go about the business they were born to. Class didn’t die on 7/4/76, not by any means.

But the world has changed. While we may field the odd dynasty once in a while, we don’t expect to do so. Joe Kennedy may have been breeding his kids for politics, and Prescott Bush may have managed to find a generation or two of his progeny odd jobs in the company business, but they are exceptions. There is not a sense that rich and/or powerful people have a duty to go into government service. It is not in the air that they breathe, as it was for the Founders. Nor is it in the air that we commonfolk should be thankfully supporting the power of these aristos. None of us, rich or poor, have true aristocracy in our genetic fiber, as the 18th century people did, regardless of which side they were on, or whether or not they supported it. It was part and parcel of their culture. It is not part and parcel of ours. My guess is that more people voted against JFK for being Joe’s son than the other way around. Come to think of it, JQA wasn’t the world’s greatest vote getter either. Maybe we’ve always been okay with aristocrats but not with inherited monarchs…

In today’s world, because there’s no other expectation, the best and the brightest get to pick and choose what they want to do, and the idea of becoming a statesman doesn’t seem to make the grade. There are very bright people in politics, but they are not necessarily the politicians. Do you believe that the smartest people in DC today were the ones who were elected? Far from it. Electability requires a number of things, and quite honestly, smarts is not only not one of those requirements, but intelligence is often seen as a negative. Adlai Stevenson was perceived as too smart. Bill Clinton was smart but played it down in the feeling of others’ pain, and given his lack of personal control in the oval office, he wasn’t so smart after all. Gore was seen as a stiff and a brain, and lost (so to speak) to plain-speaking, heartfelt good-old-boy-ism. Hillary may be seen by some as a vicious pol willing to do anything, but she’s also seen as an intellectual calculating vicious pol willing to do anything, and it’s the calculating intellectualism that could be the worst part of it. And everybody else? Average. Not stupid, probably, and maybe clever, but not special. Not excitingly inventive. Not capable of creating a new country from the raw material of disparate colonies.

Why not? If those sort of people exist, why have they mostly gone to ground insofar as politics is concerned? Well, the public scrutiny, for one thing. It’s not that your life is no longer private so much as not one single second of your life is private anymore. You don’t have to have something to hide to want at least some measure of privacy for yourself and your family. And there’s the sense of futility to political life: who’s made a difference lately in a good way? Even if you have something to say and something you want to do, you know you’ll never get elected without a smear campaign, and you’ll never get results of your ideas without selling your soul. You’ll never even get noticed by the electorate unless you can field a fairly large fortune in the first place: where’s our last US president who wasn’t already, shall we say, well-to-do? Hillary spent more money than anyone ever, in the history of the US, to win her senate seat this year, against an opponent no one had ever heard of, who never had a chance. That money has to come from somewhere, either one’s own pocket or the pockets of others to whom you become immediately beholden.

So the best and the brightest, seeing that the most they can hope for in politics is no personal life, little chance of making a difference, and a hole to throw their money into if they have any, look elsewhere. The Founders, unfortunately, quickly found in their own day that they lost personal lives (which is why we know today still of all the dirt on Sally Fairfax and Sally Hemings and such), much of it to an unbridled press that printed what was not necessarily true: hence the Alien & Sedition Acts. But, still, the Founders felt that they had a duty to government, and a belief that they could govern effectually. It was not a frustrating job that inherently went nowhere; you could fail, but you could also succeed. Without that possibility today (how would you like to be the next president of the US cleaning up the Bush mess?), the b & the b go into science and the arts and business and stay there, where they can indeed make a difference. And they do.

It’s too bad, but that’s the way it is. And as far as I can tell, no one knows any way of changing it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

FFs Forever

Remarkably enough, there's internet access in the Ridge tab room. O'C is sitting in the corner posting pictures of the schematics. All they need to do is throw in some champagne and lobsters and my day will be made.

You'll recall--or you won't recall, depending on a combination of the quality of your memory and the depth of your interest in things Coachean--that we were talking about the uniqueness of the Founders. Of the US, not of LD. I've decided not to say much about Madison and Hamilton, because I'm not particularly expert on them. They were both certainly instrumental in getting the Constitution ratified, and given that we still consult and quote the Federalist Papers is almost comment enough on these two gents. But I will point out that Al, who was GW's protege during the War, later wrote a visionary paper, the Report on Manufactures, that is remarkably eloquent still and explains as well as anything I've ever seen how to turn a backwater nation hanging on by a thread into the United States of America. It's worth your time to read it.

So are the Founders essential and unique? Or merely honed by the times? The more you know about them, you've got to think of them as special. But let's look at my personal favorite FF, Mr. Jefferson. I have read more books about, and by, TJ than any other prexy. I admit I worship at the altar of his complexity.

TJ is the most complicated bundle of contradictions you can imagine. If GW was a rock, TJ was a mosaic. Mercurial. Full of ideas. A true visionary, in a way much like Hamilton, but with radically opposite visions: compare Jeffersonian agrarian democracy to Hamiltonian big business. TJ comes up to Philadelphia to the Continental Congress as a young hotshot Virginia lawyer/landowner who's done some good writing back home, and he gets assigned to write the Declaration, with Franklin and Adams as his editors. What was passed by the Congress isn't much different than what TJ wrote, although it is interesting to compare his draft to the final. Pauline Maier's book American Scripture makes a good case explaining that this particular document, intended to be exactly what it calls itself, became the soul of the United States, the Value statement of the place, if you want to look at it in a debaterly fashion. (This is thanks to Lincoln; to find out why, read the book.) TJ was a Romantic in the poetic sense, and tended to get carried away by ideas like revolution, making the comment, for instance, that the tree of liberty needed to be watered occasionally with the blood of patriots, a quote that makes for great copy but rather dubious practice. I mean, try that one on GW Bush! This romanticism enamored him to the French and their revolution when he was ambassador, and when Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite went south into head-chopping, later enemies of TJ were quick to remind him of his support of the Gallic Repubilc. Oops...

TJ was a scholar, an inventor like Franklin, and like Franklin, an amateur scientist in the golden age of amateur scientists, when they are virtually undifferentiated from the pros. He was an architect, an oenophile and a musician: my favorite of his letters is when he is trying to import four Italian laborers to so some vineyard building for him, and adds to the request that they also play string instruments so that at night when they're not digging and constructing, they can act as a quartet and hammer out some Mozart to entertain in their spare time. Talk about killing many birds with one stone! Among his achievements he was especially proud of founding the University of Virginia, which since its inception has been nationally acclaimed as the party school in the US.

Of course, if you mention TJ in front of a group like the Sailors, their utterance of the name Sally Hemings isn't far behind. The idea of Sally goes back to TJ's own day, and biographers have all had to deal with it since. Most, for hagiographic reasons, discounted it. Dumas, the definitive biographer, absolutely refused to accept it and blamed a Randolph cousin for the red heads and Jeffersonian features in the Hemings clan. But DNA talks, and the controversy has been settled, and no one seriously believes otherwise anymore. Which does not leave a good taste in the mind of those who practically worship the man. How can someone so committed to human dignity commit such an act of human indignation as to, to our minds, not only own slaves but to rape them? His writings about his slaves are not happily modern: he did not believe that blacks were the equals of whites. He probably couldn't believe that and still enslave them. But at the same time, how does he not believe it and then sleep with a black woman? And have children by her? It boggles the mind. It is, in a word, incomprehensible, at least to me. I simply don't understand it. I wish I could do better than that, but I can't.

Anyhow, the original question. Were the times such that your average batch of yahoos was elevated to become special, or were we just lucky to have a special batch of people when the times needed them? For my money, these people would have been special no matter where or when. Jefferson and Franklin would have been just as famous, although probably in the arts or sciences and not in politics. Adams and Madison would have been the richest lawyers or the most famous judges. Hamilton would be a CEO or a Nobel economist. GW probably would be totally unknown, and very happy. Put them all together, they are SO the right people in their times. Think if those times were now? Would the equivalent folks be likewise Founders who would change the world?

Read the paper today. Look at the leaders.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Short hiatus

I've been up to here with stuff, with no time for blogging at the moment. I shall return shortly; maybe I'll get a chance to pontificate a bit down at Ridge over the weekend.

Keep the aspidistra flying!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

In the immortal words of Popeye, iamb what iamb

I am a corp, and so you see
I can be what I want to be.

If I decide that you can’t live
It’s cause my Ms are relative.

My actions are protected by
A legal fiction, my oh my,

That since I am incorporate
I’ll kill and get away with it.

One man can’t kill: you’d tan his hide.
But two men? They can genocide!

A corp can sell you tainted veal,
Use child labor, lie and steal,

Stick its hand inside your pocket,
Pander on the open market,

Act like WorldCom, or like Enron,
Profit, e’en, from Armageddon,

And come out smelling like hydrang’
Because it’s on the Stock Exchange.

I’m afraid that I don’t buy it,
But henceforth I will be quiet.

I’ll go back to Founding Daddies,
LD rules, the VB laddies,

I won't say another word
About this rez, which is a [insert word here that rhymes with “word” that indicates something less than desirable that would have destroyed the magic of my poetry if I had done it myself.]

Monday, December 04, 2006

Predictable rant: flatfish souffle served with root veggies on a bed of bile

Let me see if I get this straight.

Actions are either moral or not moral, depending on two possibilities (unless of course you want to discount the idea of morality altogether).
1: Actions are either moral or not moral in and of themselves
2: Actions are moral based on who performs the actions.

Now, I might have missed a few pages of the last couple of thousand years of philosophical writing, but I’m pretty sure the gist of things as they stand today is, excluding an exception discussed below, tending toward the first choice of the above. The generally accepted idea is that an action isn’t moral because it’s performed by a moral person, but because the action itself is moral. There’s a number of ways of evaluating an action’s morality, but none of them include interviewing the actor to find out if, underneath it all, he’s a really nice guy.

If an action is moral or immoral absent the actor, there can be little meaningful, or interesting, argument about the actor in measuring the morality of actions.

There is an important exception to this. The morality of one culture may not equal the morality of another culture. This does not disprove that actions are moral or not moral in and of themselves, but it does require one to either accept or dismiss relativism. We might even get in interesting discussion going, if you wish to defend the acts of a given culture as somehow acceptable because they are a part of that culture while I might find them inherently “barbaric” (for example, the rather uncivilized albeit internally accepted practice of capital punishment in the United States). The real argument here would be moral relativism versus moral absolutism. There’s plenty of ammunition for the moral relativist, up to and including the idea that each individual may acceptably have a different moral compass. Which, unfortunately, would mean that there is no moral standard on either side. Which I guess you could argue, but please do so while I’m somewhere else.

The real problem with a manageable approach to moral relativism, i.e., multiculturalism, would be that, in the resolution, the corporation and the individual are, presumably, in the same culture and performing the same action. I don’t think we want to argue that Unilever should be held to the standards of the Oogabooga tribesmen, even if the action takes place in Oogaboogaland. How cockamamie is that? So the relativism we must apply, and we must apply relativism in order to be resolutional, states that a corporation is different from an individual, and therefore different rules apply to the same action. Sure. You don’t believe that any more than I do. Given that a corporation can be as few as one individual, how does being one individual in a corporation differ from being one individual not in a corporation? Because you have the burden of a shareholder, your actions, which would be wrong if you performed them as an individual, are now right? Sure. Again, you don’t believe that any more than I do. I can’t cheat you but Enron can? Or vice versa? Unquestionably my priorities in conducting business may change in view of my ownership, as well as plenty of other conditions, but there is no license to a new morality that arises simply from filing some incorporation papers.

So it seems that the resolution forces the negative to take a position of moral relativism. What fun! And how wonderfully appropriate for high school debate. I never should have ripped up my Legion of Doom membership card. Damn!

To be honest, the real bottom line in this resolution, as with many that do not find general favor with the hoi and the polloi like me, is that I have never once sat around bloviating about the difference between the moralities of individuals and corporations. It is an issue of no moment in the real world. Corporate malfeasance is fascinating; the responsibilities of global corporations are intriguing; the nuances of cross-cultural business and the problems that can ensue can keep you up late at night and make your hair stand on end. Unfortunately, none of them are this topic. At the point when we’re not arguing meaningful resolutions, or meaningful moral dilemmas, we are in the business of treading water. As always, we’ll try to cover meaningful subjects in the topic research, and people will learn a bunch of things, this time out on corporate ethics. But when they go to tournaments won’t be arguing anything meaningful. You can’t get turnip juice out of a turbot.

Trust me on this.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Note: No mention of Amos the mouse. How can that be?

Corporations? Jeez, Louise. I really should switch over to Pffft. At least there, no matter how idiotic the resolution, it only lasts a month. I mean, what’s the alternative to the aff? Higher moral standard, in which case for all practical purposes both sides are arguing the affirmative? Or lower moral standard, where the neg gets to stand for child labor in developing nations, or maybe that Enron isn’t all that bad after all? Or, of course, the perennially annoying kritik, in this case that corporations are not moral entities?

Sigh. And sigh again.

Anyhow, back to the business at hand. I’m no Benjamin Franklin scholar, but perhaps of all the Founders he’s the easiest to understand, then and now. Ambitious, witty, imaginative, wise, charming, earthy—pulling himself up from poor beginnings by his bootstraps and becoming a pillar of every community he happened to be in. I see him as the ultimate Yankee, out there inventing stoves and bifocals and practically getting himself fried in order to demonstrate that lightning is electrical in nature. (Electricity, at the time, did not come out of wall sockets, and was quite the lively object of curiosity.) Aside from T. A. Edison, Ben is about the inventingest person you’ve ever heard of.

There’s an interesting fact of those times: a person who was interested in science could, for all practical purposes, know all there was to know about it. You can say this was a Golden Age of amateur science, or maybe you can say that there was no great line between amateur and professional scientist. Today, if you can vaguely understand genetics and string theory and organic chemistry, you’re something of a novelty, and you’re a dabbler of the first order with knowledge as thin as mist. Then, you were a renaissance man, and really could know your stuff in detail. Of the Founders, both Ben and TJ were of this ilk, devoted scientists among their other interests, which evidenced a curiosity about the world in general and as a whole: there was nothing in creation that wasn’t worthy of study. Which means that among the primary of the Founders, we had not one but two of these polymaths.

Ben provides to the Founding mix the wisdom of age. He was already an old-timer in ’76. (In fact, he had already signed up as a stamp issuer a few years previously, until the response to the Stamp Act put the kibosh on that.) He famously put his imprimatur on the Constitution by saying it was the best possible, even if one couldn’t agree with all of it. His representation of the US in Europe was remarkable, and he became something of a rock star in France: his picture was on all the tee shirts and he sported a coonskin cap as did all Americans at the time (yeah, right—he was no stranger to public relations). I think maybe it was his practicality that made him a key figure in the establishment of the US, especially when contrasted against the thorough lack of practicality in his visionary compatriot Mr. Jefferson. And he was a warm, friendly sort as compared to the gruff Mr. Adams or the fairly unapproachable General Washington. Every organization needs its eminence grise, for private and public purposes, and that was BF’s role for a couple of decades. It still is, to some degree. Take a trip to Philadelphia. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a BF statue, memorial, diorama or souvenir cart. You can still buy the tee shirt, in other words. Which is as it should be.

(And going back just a bit, Ewok offers in a comment to yesterday’s post that the Aliens were really screwed by the A&S Acts, and I wasn’t saying that the acts were good, simply that their effect on the times wasn’t great. Keep in mind the outcome of the election of 1800, and the workings of the electoral college. How much of the immigrant vote are we really talking about? Not that much has changed. Look at the recent dirty political tactic of telling recent Latino citizens that they couldn’t vote… Oh, yeah, we’ve come a long way. Say what you will about Adams, you couldn’t call him devious. He didn’t have the ability to believe he was wrong, or the modesty not to declare his rightness from the rooftops, however wrong it was.)