Archives for category: Meditations

People just don’t talk like this anymore.


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Charles Blow, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times has written a rather intriguing column (and one among perhaps hundreds published in someone’s newspaper or blog or magazine each week) on America’s increasing impoverishment. It’s greatest asset, in my opinion: a salvaged James Baldwin quote:

Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.

Baldwin is apart of a slowly expanding cemetery of dead prophets whose relevance and clarity is revealed in inverse proportion to our national decline.

Last night, while in Walgreens, a pint of sherbet, an oversized bag of tortillas and a jar of salsa in hand, heading towards the checkout, anticipating a retreat into a few randomly chosen YouTube documentaries and lots of munching (and losing myself in general inside of my laptop’s nocturnal, liquid crystal glow) – after a threateningly loud clap in the atmosphere, a bright blue light, which flickered with the finality of a burst bulb – the store went dark. Then what was before a drizzle became a seamless sheet of water. Some minutes. Breaks and horns clashed. Some minutes. Sirens broke out. And another timpanic, brief blue light came and went for good measure.

Although I was starving when I came over here, the storm had all of a sudden relinquished my appetite. I was standing confusedly in the candy aisle, looking intermittently at the halted line at the checkout, which resembled a modernist bas relief (the people would be interpreted in the museum caption as being frozen in their primal, postmodern state as consumers) and the exit. There was a group of rowdy, electrified teenagers standing at the sliding doors, transfixed by the storm’s suddenness. They were mostly black. And I remember sort of abstractly (and rather crudely) conceptualizing the implications and potentialities of this – a group of rowdy, anxious black youth in a temporarily decommissioned store powerless to police itself, reduced to a white guy (I assumed to be the manager) frantically shining a flashlight and ordering me and anyone else holding merchandise to return it to the shelves immediately.

My stomach growled with annoyance. I then gently asked the guy if it was okay for me to leave the store. He said yes, rather politely. I ran into the wall of rain, not even conscious enough to castigate myself for such a show of timidity. I simply ran, like a gazelle, without thinking. I passed a McDonalds, a gas station, a Burger King – they were all black – before crossing the bridge to my apartment. Even the traffic lights and street lamps were mere silhouettes. If it weren’t for the persevering headlights and the anticipation that things, as we know them to be – cheap pints of sherbet, solitary movie nights, suspended dystopian realities with microwavable popcorn thrown in, drive-thru pharmacies, incessantly lit streets, controlled air and heat, the comforting thought of the comfort of the so-called real – were bound to resume, I would have thought that this was it. The blackout before the plunge…

I used to think I was poor. Then they told me I wasn’t poor, I was needy. Then they told me it was self-defeating to think of myself as needy. I was deprived. (Oh not deprived but rather underprivileged.) Then they told me that underprivileged was overused. I was disadvantaged. I still don’t have a dime. But I have a great vocabulary.

– Jules Feiffer

Roger Cohen’s New York Times Op-Ed piece on Greece’s fiscal fiasco, published yesterday, is worthy reading if only for introducing me to a new, perhaps era-defining, term. While I’ll admit that the word doesn’t have quite the effluence or verbal flourish or catchall potential or ease of pronunciation of other words deployed in various class-wars of the past to describe the people getting fucked (see proletariat, for instance), it does have a certain ring to it, the specific qualification of which I’m not entirely certain:

I’ve never seen Europe in such dire straits. Greece is full of the aganaktismenoi, or the outraged, who resent the sharp cuts and sales of state industries made necessary because there is no drachma to devalue in order to regain competitiveness.

Like protesters in Spain, they feel the poor and unemployed are paying for the errors of politicians, the evasions of the rich, and the whole globalized system that rewards the tech-savvy initiated while punishing those left behind.

Of course, categorizing is always problematic. History seems replete with one side (the fuckers) inventing names to describe the other (the fucked), and vice versa (from bon sauvage to robber baron; from welfare queen to yuppie); but I don’t frequently come across words or terms that go past the merely nominative and attempt to describe what the nominal group is actually feeling. This would require some empathy on the part of those creating the name. With that said, I wonder which side came up with “outraged” – the fuckers, the fucked, or (here’s a party I didn’t consider) the cognoscenti.

A son cannot judge his father, – least of all such a father who, like you, has never dampened my liberty in anything.

For those who want a respite from the ‘getting and spending’ this Father’s Day and wouldn’t mind a take on fatherhood – particularly the relationship between father and son – that goes a little deeper than the celebratory, Hallmark variety, I’d recommend reading at least a few chapters of this Ivan Turgenev classic: a modern, realistic meditation on Wordsworth’s freighted truism: ‘The child is father of the man.’

“Work destroys your soul by stealthily invading your brain during the hours not officially spent working; be selective about professions.”

– Nassim Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical                                    Aphorisms 

Ken Lay, Ex-CEO of Enron (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis, AP)


David Walker, Jared Bernstein, Paul Krugman and Kenneth Rogoff were on Charlie Rose recently to discuss the state of the economy and the government’s efforts at recovery. While personally, I’d rather watch a bunch of calculators speed date, the discussion was revealing in what it betrayed about experts (particularly those with academic bents) – they are not only boring, but dangerously myopic.

Here’s a warning: If you run into an economist or politician or policy wonk who thinks economics is about the economy; or the federal deficit is about money; or dealing with the budget amounts to either cutting back or spending more; or who talks about ‘recovery’ in the language of percentages, run away.

What will be the physiognomy of painting, of poetry, of music in a hundred years? No one can tell. As after the fall of Athens, of Rome, a long pause will intervene, caused by the exhaustion of the means of expression, as well as by the exhaustion of consciousness itself. Humanity, to rejoin the past, must invent a second naivete, without which the arts can never begin again.

– E.M. Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born

William Faulkner’s Nobel acceptance speech in Stockholm, Sweden on December 10, 1950 was, if you go by the audio, not very grand.  His address, entitled “I Decline to Accept the End of Man,” is actually rather rocky.  He sounds like somebody’s garage mechanic Mississippi uncle reading William Faulkner, instead of William Faulkner reading William Faulkner.  Of course, anyone with at least a cursory knowledge of the man is familiar with his earthen upbringing; how he wrote “Sanctuary” while working in a boiler room and once said, “The tools I need for my work are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.”  He was no Gore Vidal.

But what came out of his mouth that December day should be piped into every high school and college commencement ceremony in the world:

“Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it.  There are no longer problems of the spirit.  There is only one question: When will I be blown up?”

Consider, for a moment, a young person’s natural reaction to American Idol; an author’s titillation from the prospect of becoming an Oprah’s Book Club Selection; a herd of young Ivy Leaguers trekking to Wall Street; computer engineers trekking towards the goal of becoming the  next Mark Zuckerberg; Lebron James’s billionaire, global-icon aspirations as articulated in Forbes.

We are all, it seems, scurrying to be blown up, to be bigger, to be better, to be stronger, to richer.  Yet, we rarely slow our stampede to smithereens to contemplate where these aspirations might eventually take us.  And where they’ve gotten us so far.  The philosopher and mathematician Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote that “an idea starts to get interesting when you get scared of taking it to its logical conclusion”.  On that note, here’s an interesting video clip to ponder.

Growth isn’t worth much if it doesn’t bring you closer to balance.  One way of getting there: If you see a fly buzzing over your head this summer, resist the temptation to swat it.  Resist the temptation to poison it.  Adapt yourself to the buzzing.  Either learn more about the fly or let it be.