My Charitable Org Signs Off

(Below is the approximate text of the notice that I intend to send out for the final edition of an online journal that began seventeen years ago.)

The final issue of Praesidium has now been published. After seventeen years of struggle, the journal has failed, and more generally my vision for the Center for Literate Values has evaporated into pixie dust. The reasons for the collapse are detailed in my opening article for 17.4, and many have to do with my personal ineptitude as a Webmaster; but the ultimate and decisive reason is that our society is significantly, perhaps terminally post-literate, and that no amount of expertise could have salvaged the project. As I view the contemporary landscape, I see staggering evidence of a people that has taken progressive leave of reality.

Item: The Commanders in Chief who presided over the first sixteen years of the new millennium (almost precisely overlapping the lifespan of the Center) did nothing whatever to secure the nation’s power grid, thus neglecting their primary constitutional duty as they went merrily courting new venues of patronage and popularity. Their gross incompetence (and, in my mind, criminal negligence) is surely a prime reason why we cannot face down North Korea, any one of whose satellites drifting over our air space could be the platform for launching an Electro-Magnetic Pulse that would leave as many as ninety percent of us dead within a year.

Item: In the face of such crisis, our elected representatives continue to escalate our levels of debt to the point that national suicide of an economic variety is virtually inevitable.

Item: In the face of these accumulating crises, the base of one major party nominated a wooden sociopath to run for the nation’s highest office—a person constantly forced to imitate the reactions of her trusted entourage in the absence of any natural human affections and whose tone-deafness to the anguish and danger incurred by her fellows is directly implicated in the deaths of some under her authority. Meanwhile, the base of the other major party attempted to out-under-perform this selection by elevating a man who never reads and whose vocabulary consists only of hyperbolic clichés, his lifetime of exploiting legal loopholes and greasing the pumps of local political machines taken—incredibly—as proof of his “outsider” bona fides. As one after another of his bombastic promises crumples under the pressures of hard fact, we are now treated to the unsavory spectacle of these same boosters trying to fashion their Stump King into Charlemagne with feats of imagination reminiscent of children shaping castles out of clouds.

Item: Young people populating supposed institutions of higher learning are expensively protesting the free speech of those who might make them rethink their rigid programming, noisily insisting that they receive the fetal protections which they scorn to extend to genuine fetuses, and aggressively insulting everyone in whose casual utterances they can ferret out the unintended tinder of a faint slight.

Item: Descendants of slaves (but which of us is not one such, if only we knew our entire pre-history?) are defacing public property that may or may not commemorate men who actually owned slaves a century and a half ago, all on behalf of a political ideology that aspires to mire them—and the rest of us—in cradle-to-grave dependency.

Item: Among college students, probably a ninety percent majority (in my personal experience) is convinced to a pitch of quasi-cultic fervor that manmade climate change imminently threatens the survival of terrestrial life. An essential tenet of the cult is that only big government can save us, this despite the distinct possibility that the world’s most affluent governing elites have been playing at the manipulation of global weather systems for strategic purposes since the late twentieth century—a highly risky set of exercises about which our young bright things know absolutely nothing, but which might in fact be responsible for major damage to the natural weather cycle.

Item: University programs in the liberal arts continue at an accelerating rate to ascribe all the miseries implicit in the human condition to a) maleness and b) white racism. We have surpassed the kindergartner’s “Billy made me do it” defense, inasmuch as the charges now grow savagely vindictive and their consequences increasingly punitive. The Western literary canon, along the way, has become hopelessly shattered and scattered, its contents lost to the next generation and the entire spiritual discipline of speculating within reasonably objective boundaries forgotten for the duration.

Item: Meanwhile, the Christian Church (including all of its denominations) has likewise slipped its moorings and gone adrift. The notion of tolerance was once understood as an acknowledgment that we are all impeded from realizing our identity in God by subjugation to various circumstantial factors: wealth, praise, fleshly pleasures, fear of physical pain or privation, and all the rest. Now those very chains are accepted from the pulpit as defining us (a specific race, an anomalous sexual preference, an eating disorder), and the utopian’s blueprint for the perfect society—built according to the aspirations of an elite few—is an overlay forced upon every Gospel passage. We are no longer kept from our true self in God by worldly interference; immersion in the world, rather, is the only path to this new god (who is at least as manmade as “climate change”).

So the Center for Literate Values failed. Of course it did. How do you make an omelet out of mud?

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The Point of No Return Lands Us Right Back Where We Started

The History Channel began airing a special titled Two Degrees: The Point of No Return on Friday night, September 15. I survived about five minutes before my own temperature started to rise alarmingly. Here are some reactions based upon that minimal exposure.

The documentary appears to be somewhat more credible than Mermaids.

The two fatal degrees actually refer to the Celsius system, meaning that they equate to nearly four degrees in the Fahrenheit system more familiar to us laymen. No attempt to dramatize there, I’m sure.

The footage of Arctic icebergs releasing sheets of ice into the ocean has been so widely circulated among the documentary community that I quite literally saw it fifteen minutes later on another station where the Ice Age was being discussed.

Juxtaposing footage of melting icebergs, ambulances on a tear, hurricane-flooded streets, and high-rises in conflagration is a very sorry substitute for rational argument.

Similarly, footage of smokestacks belching out pillars of fumes is evidence of nothing whatever. Most of the billowing effluvient may be water vapor (i.e., steam); and the videos themselves may have been taken in 1968 or 1975, or at any point over the past fifty years when pollution controls were lax to non-existent. The documentary’s argument, of course, would not be served by acknowledging that we’ve gotten much, much better—not in China, but in the West—about filtering out toxic particles.

Is it entirely arch, by the way, to observe in passing how much this kind of fear-mongering serves the imperialist ends of Communist China, its objective being to curb our own industrial production rather than to point the finger at immensely more zealous offenders? Might full disclosure reveal some modest involvement of the PRC in this production, I wonder… wonder… wonder?

The opening assertion that, in the century and a half since weather records have been kept, eight of the hottest ten years have occurred in the last decade is a prima facie absurdity. You cannot take the planet’s temperature the way you take a sick child’s. In 1880, a great many reaches of the planet were not even fully explored. Today as then, furthermore, many areas where temperature readings may be harvested in abundance are, naturally, urbanized—and we can indeed say confidently that urbanization has both increased over the past century and that urban construction heats things up. But…

But the manmade activity in the crosshairs isn’t hyper-reflective, headache-inducing steel and concrete, all of which god-awful mess I detest as much as anyone on earth; the culprit is supposed to be CO2, which alone (for some reason) must take the rap for nudging up the mercury. But…

But plants love CO2. They eat the stuff up. I’ve never seen the desert Southwest so green as it was this past summer. Is that bad? Does that spell the end for us all?

Well, yes… because mosquitoes will descend upon New York and Boston just as they currently do upon, say, Brazil. Bet you didn’t know that there actually aren’t any human beings still alive in Brazil. The mosquitoes got ’em all.

I could go on. I could question, for instance, why the same people who want to shut down our industries (but not the PRC’s) also want our southern border flung wide open so that millions of blue-collar workers driving uninspected, high-emission smoke-bombs can take their place in our twice-a-day rush-hour traffic. But…

But my temperature is starting to rise again. Yeah, I hate car culture and the contemporary American city. Hate it more than the ambassadors of Green who fly innumerable jets to endless conferences in Seattle. But kindly stop insulting my intelligence with the Halloween panoply of skeletons and ghouls held together by paperclips and Elmer’s glue. Come back after you’ve done your homework, and try to talk like an adult.

Denver: Infernal Paradise

My trip to Colorado already seems a distant memory. I thought I could probably write about it for weeks on end… but did it ever even happen? I keep drifting through my “new old” life saying to myself, “Two weeks ago, we were at the foot of Saint Mary’s Glacier—my son, my wife, and I…”—and the next day, “Two weeks ago, I was watching my boy’s shoulders merge with the night as he left us in the parking lot to return to his apartment….” I hate how life slips away like that, at least the good parts. The bad parts just don’t want to go away.

But I feel that I have to attempt some kind of wrap-up, some general verdict on what I saw. It would be this. Denver, like so many of our other major cities, is too “wide open”. I realize that that’s an attraction for young people, especially those who have grown up in small cities and towns. The situation has been repeated so often that it has become a rhythm characteristic of our national life: the young leave the farm for the city lights, jobs flourish in the city because so many people are pouring in, the cost of living also shoots up because the demand for everything has skyrocketed, public amenities are strained and local taxes soar through the ceiling, crimes related to vice and violent invasion surge because so much loot is lying about and so few neighbors know each other, the streets grow unbelievably congested… it’s a bonanza for some, and a descent into Hell for others. And here I’m talking about any large American city.

In Denver, this paradoxically “infernal paradise” phenomenon has been magnified by the legalization of marijuana. People have transplanted themselves to Colorado for no better reason than that here they may smoke their weed unmolested. The streets grow even more congested, the apartment complexes even more prolific, and the taxes even more onerous. The catastrophic failure of state economies to the west (California, Oregon, and increasingly Washington) has also generated a flood of “white-collar refugees” who want respite from ruthless taxation yet have not divested themselves of the political opinions that created the mess they left behind. In fact, I find Denver to harbor an unusually high density of contradictions rooted in “pampered white professional” fantasies.

Just consider. Denverites want the traffic, the pollution, and the unsightly and cheaply constructed apartment complexes to go away, yet they declare their burg a sanctuary city.

They view themselves proudly as defenders of the natural environment, yet they pour into the Rockies whenever they have a few hours of free time with bikes attached to vehicles and smother Mother Nature beneath their collective human mass.

They cheerfully accept being designated as health nuts and surrender substantial chunks of their paychecks at upscale grocery stores that grossly overcharge for cashew butter and bison steak; yet their appetite for kinky sex, socially lubricative beverages, and—yes—the inhaled smoke of certain incinerated leaves rivals any city’s anywhere in the country.

Half the population seems to possess racing bikes or mountain bikes, complete with skimpy biking clothes that cling like duct tape, streamlined water bottles, saddlebags of trail mix, etc.; yet the city sprawls too much for anyone to bike to work, and it’s so overrun with traffic that no one could actually get much exercise waiting for all the lights to change while biking a few dozen blocks.

Denver has no sense, over all. Like its horde of young residents, it hasn’t thought anything through. It likes to flash images of what it wants others to think about it and wants to think about itself; but these surfaces can no more resist profound realities than a grand vista can soften the threat of the daily afternoon thunderstorms that rage down from the mountains.

I have to believe that the pockets of surviving Denverites from generations back are no happier than long-time residents of Austin, Santa Fe, or Phoenix. You sometimes see evidence of a few of them: a pasture where horses graze boxed in by humming highways. How they afford the tax on their property is more than I can answer. Perhaps they’re holding out for someone to offer them a million bucks per acre… but at some point, you have to sell up and move on.

And then the sharks gather, like the faceless conglomerate that owns my son’s former apartment complex and tried to stick him with a $3,000 bill for undocumented damages months after his departure. That was my final impression of Denver this trip. Know what? You can have it.

Colorado, Where the Sublime Becomes an Amusement Park

A connoisseur of words and ideas would not say that the Rocky Mountains are beautiful; they are (in that useful but forgotten term of the eighteenth century) sublime. Beauty attaches to things that manifest an intricate, mysteriously harmonized order; sublimity belongs to things too vast to be appreciated by the human eye. The Milky Way, an ocean that fills the horizon, a cloudbanks whose muscular swells obscure each other as they obliterate the sky… these are natural objects that (according to yesteryear’s philosophers) cause a person to understand his puniness and to cringe in awe before the majesty of cosmic forces. Sublime sights may well reveal a dominating order to the theoretical analyst in his laboratory—but merely mortal eyes cannot behold them directly and grasp their logic from so shrunken, ant-like a perspective.

That’s an important idea to hold in reserve if you want to follow along as I try to explain how I feel about Denverites. I’m completely willing to grant that they appreciate natural beauty… but I don’t think they begin to understand sublimity. You treat a sublime object with trepidation and respect: you don’t go dance on it or throw a party beneath it.

My son led my wife and me up to Saint Mary’s Glacier during our brief visit. Having just come from a city about 500 feet above sea level, I think we two old folks acquitted ourselves well on the trek up to 11,000 feet. The climb was the more challenging in that the only way up was through a dry wash strewn with stones of every size from pebble to boulder. But a still greater challenge, we found, was the steady stream of local hikers who poured past us on their way both up and down. There were more than hundreds. Late that Saturday morning, as we began the ascent, I would place the figure at a couple of thousand up and down the two-mile arroyo. It wasn’t as bad as waiting to reach the ticket window of a Colorado Rockies game… but it was worse than negotiating the aisles of a typical grocery store on a typical weekday.

For these people, most of them young (since Denver is definitely a young person’s town), the jaunt was something like a weekly jog along an unusually scenic track. Believe it or not, a few even brought skis. They would continue their hike around the glacier’s lake and up to the top of its immobilized white blanket, then shoot down to its base. We saw a few actually doing so as we arrived (suffering from just a touch of altitude sickness) at the lake’s chilly but sunlit, placid waters. Others had galavanted all the way up to the highest ridges. I thought of the Lilliputians dancing and prancing on Gulliver’s recumbent form.

The whole thing seemed just a little bit insane to me. Do Colorado’s gorges not spill down torrents after sudden afternoon thunderstorms, as happens dangerously in the mountains of West Texas and New Mexico? Considering how quickly the weather changes in this area, I kept hearing a little voice repeat, “We can’t be here in mid-afternoon. Too risky.” Yet the trail of pilgrims showed signs only of thickening as we finally reemerged from the arroyo’s bottom and the sun increasingly ducked behind dark clouds. I recalled my feelings during last spring’s visit about seeing a huge open-air theater constructed directly beneath the titanic sandstone walls of Red Rocks—fissure-riddled cliffs that could release thousands of tons of rock at any moment. But, hey… marijuana is legal in Colorado. Chill out!

Among the young, supposedly educated demographic that claims to worship the environment and always votes for more state control of it, I’ve often been shocked at the absence of rudimentary scientific knowledge. The love affair that young Denverites have with their Rockies seems to me to be of a, “Hey, let’s play!” variety: somewhat infantile and disturbingly void of a healthy fear for nature’s raw power. I think of joggers in this same demographic who’ve gone running or hiking along Southwestern trails outside of LA or Phoenix and been attacked by mountain lions—sometimes fatally. More distance, please! If you really must live so close to this caged beast, then don’t lean up against the bars!

But the young citizens of Denver just keep right on hiking, biking, skiing, and sledding up or down any slope that looks fun to cuddle with. They certainly show no sign of suspecting that their sheer numbers are smothering the grand spectacle… and one can only hope that the gods of the mountains do not exact a terrible vengeance one day when they awaken.

The Decline and Fall of Christianity in Denver (I)

I love my son, I love (in a different way) the Christian faith, and I appreciate the efforts of the minister at an upscale, buzzing non-denominational church in Denver to draw one closer to the other. But from what I witnessed during a recent visit, I have to wonder if that’s happening.

The media-manufactured national crisis in Charlottesville was on everyone’s mind, or at least on this particular minister’s mind; so he jettisoned most of his notes on Saturday night (he said) and decided to let the Lord guide his words on Sunday morning. Now, I confess to being somewhat skeptical of the “give it to God” approach when dissecting moral or spiritual issues before a large audience. God gave us a rational intelligence, and He has also embedded in our mature nature an understanding of the distinction between self and other. A lot of times, when you really want to burst out with something, you don’t do so because you know a) that you haven’t thought it through on its own merits, and b) that you may be indulging a self-centered sentiment without adequately weighing how it’s likely to strike others. Belting out an opinion after announcing that you’ve given God the rein of your tongue usually doesn’t end well, in my experience.

And the violence that erupted at the KKK demonstration in Charlottesville actually begs for careful analysis. I myself, as a Southerner, am highly annoyed that the KKK presumed to come anywhere near General Lee’s statue. Lee freed his own slaves before the war began and was not in favor of secession—but felt honor-bound to fight on behalf of his country when it was invaded. By the way, Virginia was that country: it was an independent state which had surrendered some small part of its sovereignty to a central government, mostly for reasons of defense and over such commercial necessities as a common currency. A majority of Southerners who resisted the Union invasion also held this view. The slaveholders among them were a not-insignificant minority—but only a very small minority of these possessed more than five slaves.

That’s a history lesson for another day—and my intent is certainly not to defend the institution of slavery (although I might add that Lincoln’s parents had owned slaves in Pennsylvania, and that his Emancipation Proclamation in fact declined to free slaves held in Northern states). My point here is just this: the situation was represented in the broadcast media as a simple case of American racism rearing its ugly head over the issue of demolishing Confederate statues wherever they might be found. Extremely suspicious circumstances about this particular incident soon emerged, as well: e.g., the presence of a strong Obama supporter as an agent provocateur among the KKK ranks and an inaction bordering on incitement displayed by the Charlottesville police. Evidently, people in high places knew that the whole thing could be exploited for political gain. I wonder what gave them that idea?

Well, sure enough, our amiable man of God allowed the Holy Spirit to spring right off his tongue without attempting to secure any further facts about the case. I sat through a tirade about the evils of racism that, frankly, I found both demeaning and self-aggrandizing for all of us present. It was if we were being lectured on the wickedness of swerving out of your lane to run over a little child. White racists may compose about .002% of American society (unless you’re an academic who has ingenious ways of measuring these things, such as whether or not you’ve had an affair with a person of color). Naturally, everybody present in our church condemned and deplored racism: hence the self-aggrandizement. We could congratulate ourselves and each other because we were not among the wicked.

But not so fast. Our preacher foresaw this response and chastened it. We white folks—and he emphasized that the congregation was overwhelmingly white, as if pointing out that we hadn’t cleaned our plates after dinner—couldn’t just murmur, “Well, I sure don’t condone racism.” No; the fact that others of our race did condone it sufficed to implicate us. We must therefore make a point of seeking out the dark-skinned in our midst today and making them especially welcome. (“Oh, I didn’t notice that you were dark in the dim lights… I mean… hey, can I give you a hug? Well, or maybe a handshake and a big hound-dog howdy… I mean, because you’re… you know. And I really, really love you because you’re that way. I mean, more than I would if you weren’t. I mean….” Awkward, awkward, awkward, awkward!)

A young Hispanic couple that had squeezed into the row ahead of ours exchanged wry smiles in the dusky twilight. I had been trying to keep my eyes off the woman, because (speaking of “squeezed”) she was damn good-looking and wasn’t exactly dressed in loose sack cloth. Did the obvious fact that the surrounding Caucasian girls weren’t giving her any competition mean that, no, I really wasn’t a racist? Or did it just mean that I was a sexist pig?

But seriously, Reverend… you’re wrong. You’re just plain, flat, dead wrong. I am not responsible for the sins of Nordic people, or blond people, or even dark Celtic people like myself. I am responsible for nobody’s acts but my own. There is such a moral reality as communal responsibility, which involves multiple individuals allowing a dominant opinion to deafen them to their duty; hence even this is truly a lapse of individual responsibility. There is no such spiritual reality as communal sin, however. And as for congratulating strangers after the service for having dark skin… I’ll pass. It may just be that they attended your church thinking they might find a place at last where “content of character”, in Dr. King’s words, mattered infinitely more than tincture of epidermis. The way to welcome people into God’s house is to draw their souls into the transcending peace of the All Good—not to target them for special handshakes because they are black, or disabled, or dressed in sarongs.

The former welcome is that of a spiritual bridge-builder: the latter is that of a social engineer determined to create a secular utopia.

Inexplicable Realities vs. Sensationalized Claptrap: TV Takes the Wrong Side Again

I was watching something on TV the other night (okay, okay: it was Ancient Aliens) that reviewed a really astonishing kind of psychic phenomenon… and then proceeded to handle it in a wholly whimsical, even childish manner. I believe the first time I was ever exposed to the idea that people can remember scenes and events from a life prior to their own was in Blackwood’s Magazine (praised be its memory), the oldest literary monthly of them all. I learned style and taste by combing through those pages, and I rue to this day the inevitable demise of “Maga” (which came, I think, in 1976).

Anyway, as I recall the story, it involved the case of an Australian who remembered a Scots castle down to the last detail. This young person was visiting the British Isles for the first time, and was staggered to find the very structures he had dreamed about, though in a somewhat dilapidated form. The author, who chanced to encounter this unique tourist, was enough of a local historian to realize that the recalled differences were indeed accurate images from earlier centuries. By the way, the piece was presented as entirely non-fictional.

The phenomenon was called a “racial memory” in that presentation, and the suggestion was made that memories may somehow be passed down through our DNA (since the Australian visitor was actually a descendant of the castle’s one-time inhabitants). The incidents highlighted on the TV show, in contrast, did not seem to involve cases of shared genetic material (or they may have, and the producers chose to suppress that “minor detail” in order to spin a more spectacular theory). Let it stand, for the sake of argument, that you or I might somehow be born with clear memories of the Battle of Waterloo even though we had no progenitors there. That’s a really fascinating condition that we cannot presently explain… but what in the world does it have to do with reincarnation?

The reincarnation of A in B would require B to recall every detail of A’s life, not just a castle or a battlefield; or if most memories have been washed away in the River Lethe, then why did any at all remain? Why, in fact, does a small handful of images covering a very brief period typically haunt the “receiver”?

And if this is the universal fate of all souls—to hop from a dying body into one just getting born—then what happens in generations that have more bodies than their predecessors did? Or fewer? Do some bodies not have any soul at all—or do some souls shuttle between a dozen bodies and earn overtime? Do excess souls chat quietly in a cosmic waiting room, hoping that abortion doesn’t catch on?

If you have a metaphysical belief in the reality of the soul, then each individual must have a single, unique soul. This is a moral necessity, if you also believe that the ultimate end of human life is to serve the cause of goodness. The murdering tyrant must answer for his atrocities in another dimension that won’t let him off scot-free, as likely happened in this world. The tyrant’s martyred victim who died protecting innocent children must also have his snapped thread caught up in the weave of a greater reality. If belief in an immortal soul is not subordinated to a conviction in the triumph of goodness, then it’s mere, pathetic paganism that ascribes understanding to cows and makes the life-extending favors of demons worth cultivating. Such debased belief is worse than none at all.

I often talk and write about Boy That Cried Wolf Syndrome. If you air out an idea in a context which ends up trivializing or infantilizing it, then no sensible person will ever hear the idea mentioned again without laughing it off. There’s a heck of a lot we don’t understand about ultimate reality; but thanks to the way popular culture keeps sensationalizing the troublesome corners that don’t fit under contemporary science’s umbrella, thoughtful people are not going to take a serious look at those corners for a very long time.

Hands Off YOUR WHAT?

We’ve bought a nice little piece of land in the Appalachian foothills where I plan to grow almonds and apples, just to name the two that begin my list alphabetically. I have cans and canisters of seeds saved from years and years ago which I intend to plant. We’ll see what actually comes up. Thanks to genetic modification, very few of the fruits and vegetables I would have bought at the grocery store over the past six or eight years will ever produce anything from their seeds. That’s a frightening thought, and one of the reasons I want my own land with my own food growing on it. Some day, Big Brother is going to be deciding who gets viable seeds and who doesn’t, because nothing in our commercially purchased food will reproduce. I’m sure the basis of selection will be “first come, first served”… just as I’m sure that the single year my tax-exempt charity was hounded by the IRS had nothing to do with Lois Lerner’s reign.

At the entrance to my property sit two rusty old gates. They won’t keep out any hunters who really want in, but they might be a mild deterrent to teenagers looking for some place to drive into the woods and smoke weed or run anatomy experiments. The previous owners don’t seem to care about the gates sufficiently to take them down, and we’re glad enough to have them since we are not yet in situ. It might be said that the gates are now ours: the property is ours, and the gates were a free gift. Kind of.

But what happens if, after we’re moved in and well settled, the previous owners show up and want their gates back? They say, “You know, leaving them didn’t seem like a problem before… but now we’re running really short of cash. We need another pair of gates on our farm but can’t afford to buy them—so, naturally, we thought of these two. Sorry that you got used to them, or that we let you get used to them… but they weren’t ever part of the original sale. You realize that, don’t you? You didn’t pay a penny for them. They were a freebee, given on the assumption that we had unlimited money in the bank. Turns out that we don’t, so… now we need them back.”

At this point, I rear back and scream at the top of my lungs, “Hands off my gates! Do you want me to die—do you want robbers to break in and kill us? Everyone has a right to protection in this world. Hands off my gates!

I would look pretty stupid, wouldn’t I?