Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Which Political Persuasion Fits You?

Take a "World's Smallest Political Quiz" to find your political identity! I got an 80 Personal & 50 Economic score-- straddling awkwardly, cusped cornered on a Centrist cube precisely where it meets angles of Libertarian and Left-Liberal. Bordering Libs and Libbies, but hanging on the edgy Centrist frontier. I do not reside in three jurisdictions. I'm pinpointed right where three meet, but I do not cross over. (That red dot's for explanatory purposes at the site; I rest above it at the north-west triple junction.)

But make sure you follow directions on how to chart your score on the diagram. I read this wrong, typically, the first time when I found myself somewhat to my (if not those who know me) bewilderment pegged smack in right-conservative regimentation collared quite a bit away from centrist wishy-washy asylum, drifting towards the Iron Curtain of an authoritarian satrapy! So, on re-examination if not re-education from any Politically Correct Thinking Cadre, I confess after mathematical rehabilitation and verbal discipline to allegiances swinging more lefty than I'd have predicted, but neatly as close to libertarian as well as liberal-land. Must be my lifelong residency on the Left Coast, in my native city of fruits and nuts. But, I refuse to respect Ayn Rand despite my last blog post's affection for massively bound, closely printed prose.

Interesting to guess where you think you will define yourself before you take the quiz. Compare your estimation with its findings afterwards. It's only ten questions. Does this prove me a moral degenerate but still safely far from a crypto-fascist?

Here are the "Slightly Right" website's helpful definitions for all five varieties of political philosophies. Go on, label yourself. I'd wear three stickers one on top of the other, or all, or none. It figures I'd still be as unpredictable and unclassifiable as when a quiz years ago put me closest in my economic preference and political philosophy to the unlikely confab of Ralph Nader & Pat Buchanan.

Libertarians are self-governors in both personal and economic matters. They believe government's only purpose is to protect people from coercion and violence. They value individual responsibility, and tolerate economic and social diversity. They are strong constitutionalists.


Left-Liberals prefer self-government in personal matters and central decision-making on economics. They want government to serve the disadvantaged in the name of fairness. Leftists tolerate social diversity, but work for economic equality.


Centrists favor selective government intervention and emphasize practical solutions to current problems. They tend to keep an open mind on new issues. Many centrists feel that government serves as a check on excessive liberty.

Right-conservatives prefer self-government on economic issues, but want official standards in personal matters. They want the government to defend the community from threats to its moral fiber.

Authoritarians want government to advance society and individuals through expert central planning. They often doubt whether self-government is practical. Left-authoritarians are also called socialists, while fascists are right-authoritarians.

Credit: I found this quiz via the comments reacting to the call (which I heartily support if the party's not Cynthia McKinney's Greens or the Libertarian-as-a-Party-cum-Objectivist posse) for a viable third party from "Liberal Rapture," where an unpredictable cabal of generally left-leaning but like me iconoclastic malcontents lurk and rant. Thanks to J-SOM and Lynne there for adding me to their Blog Heaven roll! I have done the same since I began reading LR, alerted by a fellow traveller who gravitates towards dissent-- just prior to the last presidential election.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Physics of Reading Big, Long, Thick Novels

D.T. Max's essay "The Unfinished," on the late David Foster Wallace, engaged me intermittently. More for Wallace's Penguin editor's comments on "the physics of reading" than for his fiction; the magazine excerpt from his unfinished "The Pale King" bored me even over its short span from a long, if half-constructed, heavily buttressed, solidly suspended bridge to-- nowhere?

I've been asked by more than one fellow booklover if I'd picked up "Infinite Jest." No, and I explain that as I get older, my leisure time for "fun" reading seems too brief for so many paeans to prolixity. I have finished Wallace's two essay collections; I reviewed "Consider the Lobster" on Amazon years ago. However, his fiction, much as I admire maximalist heirs to Joyce, Cervantes, or Sterne, simply does not appeal to me. I never made it through any big work by Pynchon except "Vineland," and that I recall more for a couple of scenes-- the journey in Californian hills on a dreamlike superhighway, a San Diegan campus riot-- than its plot. Which may be that reclusive man's point.

Same goes for my recollections of most of DeLillo's "Underworld," even though I only reviewed that last year. As for William Vollman, yes, I contributed a very long response to "Europe Central" on Amazon too, but again that work worked better for its integration of historical set pieces like the tank battle of Kursk or its evocation of a Russian winter as the Nazis were surrounded than for its strong characterization or emotional resonance. Like myself, these fact-hoarding writers tend to thrive in their book-lined lairs, introverts and-- if Wallace proves fatal examplar-- probably severe depressants too. They can't wait to pack their prose with incidents gleaned from chroniclers, and can't learn to stop packing and, well, stop.

Why? Listen to Wallace as Gerald Howard at Penguin edited his first novel, "The Broom of the System." The hallmarks in the late '80s were already polished: snarky wit, endless references, relentless cleverness, even if Wallace's moral compassion and frustrated flailings towards social meaning and spiritual fulfillment would, for author and content, filter in only with later publications and more heartache before the depression consumed him and killed him off, born a year younger than I am.

In a letter to Howard, Wallace had promised to be “neurotic and obsessive” but “not too intransigent or defensive.” But they disagreed on how “Broom” should end. Howard felt that the text called for some sort of resolution; Wallace did not think so. Howard urged him to keep in mind “the physics of reading”—- or, as Wallace came to understand the phrase, “a whole set of readers’ values and tolerances and capacities and patience-levels to take into account when the gritty business of writing stuff for others to read is undertaken.” In other words, a reader who got through a long novel like “Broom” deserved a satisfying ending. Wallace was not so confident a writer as to simply ignore Howard’s suggestion; as he wrote to Howard, he didn’t want his novel to be like “Kafka’s ‘Investigations of a Dog’ . . . Ayn Rand or late Günter Grass, or Pynchon at his rare worst”—- books that gave pleasure only to their authors. Yet when he tried to write a proper conclusion, “in which geriatrics emerge, revelations revelationize, things are cleared up,” the words felt wrong to him. “I am young and confused and obsessed with certain problems that I think right now distill the experience of being human,” he wrote to Howard. Reality was fragmented, and so his book must be, too. In the end, he broke the novel off midsentence: “I’m a man of my”

Endings can prove surprising. I recall Michel Faber's marvelously engrossing triple-decker homage to the Victorians, "The Crimson Petal and the White," with its sudden stop; "Laura Warholic" for all its heft too halted rather preciptiously. I'm re-reading another massive novel now by the author of "Laura," Alexander Theroux's "Darconville's Cat." It's one that Wallace might have enjoyed or been irritated by as a 1981 predecessor. Theroux has acknowledged his younger peer as another heir to the prolix tradition in a March 2008 interview in "Bookslut" with Sean P. Carroll.

Theroux also was interviewed by Anthony Miller for the now-defunct L.A. City Beat ("The Satirical Intellectual") when "Laura" appeared. Theroux defends this genre well, and while his 1987 "An Adultery" followed successfully (I think-- I have since then re-read this along with "Darconville's Cat," two decades later!) a slightly more straightforward path, "Laura Warholic, or the Sexual Intellectual" which appeared in late 2007 and which I reviewed (and I recommend it as one of my better critiques!) on Amazon and linked right here for you, certainly veers with a vengeance to the vitriolic vamping of all things 'Murican and dumbed down. Colin Marshall provides his radio interview with this dauntingly learned author from this same period, by way of Linguistic Revenge"-- a primer on the man and his works. Theroux laments his neglect.

Satire's where less popular critics of our popular culture thrive. In these margins, perhaps unless promoted and feted enough, jeremiads may be doomed like Theroux to languish. Few buy Alexander, many pluck brother Paul, which probably irks rival sibling. I think in "LW" there's a glancing aside (blow?) to a PT bestseller! Still, when you get to rank ahead of "Henry David" let alone "Paul" in the catalogue, this may be a bit of alphabetical consolation.

For Wallace, down there at the end of the shelf of contemporary fiction's heavy hitters, he may be remembered more for his giant tomes than his suppler essays. (Although those recondite footnotes became a quirk and a tic that may have hobbled him. I asked an expert on T.S. Eliot the semester I arrived at UCLA if the endnotes to "The Waste Land" were part of the poem proper, or separate. He could not answer me.)

Even if I have no desire to read Wallace, I do acknowledge his attempt to find meaning in the boredom, the accumulation of data, the overload of information. If I could insert a Wallacian footnote, it'd be now. Max notes: "On another draft sheet, Wallace typed a possible epigraph for the book from “Borges and I,” a prose poem by Frank Bidart: “We fill pre-existing forms and when we fill them we change them and are changed.”" I can relate, facing a future of courses in a can that I will "facilitate" rather than teach, their content as freeze-dried and pre-fab as any fast-food fare. Am I worthy of my occupation if I heat Campbell's and by adding salt and pepper call myself a sous-chef as I set the bowl in front of the customer?

Back to lit-crit, the calling for which I was trained, alas, if not now truly employed at. For me, "The Pale King" set at the IRS has promise; yet, predictably, even the snippet I perused in "The New Yorker" turned dull before its few pages ended. Talk about the risks of a truly realistic novel. How do you dramatize the dull?

Ask those writers who've tried themselves. Spending years or decades on their novels. We read them, and we share their creation. Lifelike because, as with "Eumaeus" and "Oxen in the Sun" and especially "Ithaca," those rhetorical deliveries in "Ulysses" replicate our own daily existence. It's not all fireworks and rants and palaver every Bloomsday.

It's irritating to listen to Theroux lament his need for a genius grant, but Joyce did the same in scurrying after patrons who'd relieve him of Berlitz tutoring. Or, Freshman Comp today. Any autodidactic talent, neglected or at least semi-published on an irregular basis, tapping away hours a day nights on end shares Joyce and Theroux's frustration. Alexander whines that for his last novel he made less than if he'd flipped at Burger King. Joyce registered similar vexation; his brother, on the other hand, helped him out! Anyway, as an academic technically who finds my own criticisms little discussed at least in earshot or eyecheck, I understand Theroux breaking into another outburst of "the ever-popular tortured artist syndrome." (As one who lists among unpublished mss. "A Grammar of Rock," he'd recognize this citation.)

Authors of these novels that gobble up decades of labor-- less rewarded than Wallace with his dream-job at a college I longed to attend in a town I loved where he hanged himself-- elicit our patience. They may reward us intermittently; we may feel locked in a lab cage under their fluorescent-lit experiment, their calorie-byte diet. Yet, we may ingest intellectual nourishment that may be released like a slow-timed pill as we plod through the closely-printed pages, wisdom trickling into our bloodstream and rising into our consciousness gradually, even indetectably.

Theroux, Joyce, Georges Perec (yeah, I need to try "Life: A User's Manual" again; I did like "W" a lot, although that was but a nibble to devour; I also should trip up with Julio Cortázar's "Hopscotch"), DeLillo, Pynchon: these authors dare to take on the world in all its enormity and try to stuff it between eight or nine hundred densely arranged pages. When people look for airline or beach reading, isn't it curious how they may grab a book just as long, but far less weighty? Why not take on the long, big, thick novel that has at least at last high fiber, something to chew on? They may take so long to finish that when you do, you're ready to start all over. They refresh your appetite by feeding it. In our quick-fix, short attention span consumption of data, we need to return to slow food, slow reading, and slow wit.

Photo: And this is a far shorter text! What would Harvard philosophy doctoral dropout Wallace have footnoted here? Still stuck in a brown paper cave? Reading Plato's "Symposium" and "Phaedrus." The drinking, I hope, follows, unless the bag's a sign of imbibing pre-seminar.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ag Lorg ar an Leabhar na h-Aghaidhe

Bhí mé ag casadh leis duine eile ar an Leabhar na h-Aghaidhe le déanaí. Bhuail mé leis cairdeas i sean-rangannaí ann. Feicim ár aghaidheannaí aríst. Ach ní raibh mé ag feicthe siad níos mó tríocha bliain go ham seo.

D'fhoghlaim mé scéaltaí sonas. Mar shampla, chuir mé a chara go raibh ag freastail ina h-ollscoil na Califoirnea i gCathair na hÁingeal fadó liom. Is áit is mo ann. Go hiontach, ní bhfuair mé fior-cairdeas de mo dha ollscoileannaí eile níos luath fós.

Ar ndóigh, chuala mé scéaltaí bronach i dtólamh. Cheana féin, fuair an t-aos óg chomh maith leis sean-duine bás. Chaill oibreachaí go leor. Bhris póstaí go minic.

Ar scor ar bith, léigh mé faoi duine go raibh ag déanamh maith anois. Gheobhaidh "Seán M." eile chomh mise céim doctúra seisean féin ina tamall gairid. Chonaic mé faoi fír níos mo go mbeidh múinteoirí fosta.

Tá an sagart ansin freisin. Is Críos é. Is cuimhne liom sé nuair go raibh muid ag obairthe le cheile ina scoil ag scríofa aiste ar ár rang Beárla.

Bhí sé ag gáire i gcónaí. Feicim a ghriangraf inniu. Tá sé ag déanamh mionghaire go fóill ansiud!

Searching on Facebook.

I have come across other people on Facebook recently. I met up with friends from old classes there. I see our faces again. But I didn't find them before, since more than thirty years ago.

I learned happy stories. For instance, I found a friend that was once attending with me the University of California at Los Angeles. It's the largest place there. Surprisingly, I did not find true friends from my two other universities earlier yet.

Naturally, I heard sad stories frequently. Already, death has found young as well as old folks. Many jobs were lost. Marriages were broken often.

However, I've read about people who were doing well now. Another "John M." than me will get his own doctoral degree in a short while. I saw more men who will be teachers too.

There's a priest there also. He's Chris. I remember him when we were working together in school writing essays for our English class.

He always was laughing. I see his photo today. He's still over there making a smile.

Image/íomhá: Cartún/Cartoon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Talk Irish: “Labhair Gaeilge”

Tá suíomh nua faoi ag labhairt Gaeilge ann. Mar sin é, go bhfuil “Labhair Gaeilge” seisean féin ann. Gheobhaidh tú ag fáil áiteannaí éagsúlaí ann. Tá clachtaí ag léamh leis laomcartaí, focal an lae, agus foclóir ansin, mar shampla.

Cruinníonn sé is maith freisin. Measaim go mbeadh ionad go luach. Feicfidh tú naisc go leor.

Éist leis Liam Ó Maonlaí ag muintir ortsa féin. Gáire leis Deis Mac an Easpaig ag mágadh faoi gaeilgoirí chomh muidsa! Ceap leis Fearghal Mac Uiginn ó “Gíota Beag” agus “Beag eile” triu an BBC-NI. Clois leis “Raidio Fáilte” i mBéal Feirste Thiar.

Is blog é fós. Is féidir leat scríobh post a sciar roinn leis duine eile. Tá scéim níos éasca a úsaid ansin.

Is maith liom an dearaigh seo anseo. Déanann sé ag cabhair foghlaimeoirí fásta chomh mise féin. Ar scor ar bith, b’fhéidir mac leinn níos óg go mbíonn cur cuairt ansiud go minic níos coitanta.

Is acmhainn é úr agus geal. Smaoinim go raibh “Labhair Gaeilge” go mbeidh ag fás níos mo go luath. Gan dabht, tíocfaidh mé ar ais anseo aríst.

D’inis mo chara orm faoi “Labhair Gaelige” inne. Bhí mé ag marcáidh an tionscail seo cheana féin. Fillfidh mé ar an cúil sin go rialta.

Bheul, ar teacht isteach liom arsean féin? Tabhair sracfhéachaint tusa feín air anois. Creidim go fail stór focal agus taisce fuaim ar ball beag.

Talk Irish: “Labhair Gaeilge.”

There’s a new site for speaking Irish. That is, there’s “Talk Irish” itself. You’ll find various places there. There’s lessons for reading with flashcards there, a word of the day, and a dictionary, for example.

It’s designed well too. I reckon that it may be a valuable location. You will see links galore.

Listen with Liam Ó Maonlaí teaching you yourself. Laugh with Des Bishop mocking about Gaeilgoirí like ourselves! Think with Fearghal Mac Uiginn from “A Wee Bit” and “Another Bit” through BBC-NI. Hear Radio Welcome” in West Belfast.

There’s a blog also. It’s simple to write a post to share with other people. It’s a very easy set-up to use there.

I’m pleased with this design here. It’s made for helping adult learners like myself. However, perhaps younger students may visit over there often more habitually.

It’s a resource fresh and bright. I think that “Talk Irish” may be growing more soon. Without a doubt, I will come back here again.

A friend told me about “Talk Irish” yesterday. I’ve marked this project already. I will return to that nook regularly.

Well, would you be agreeing with me on this? Give it a glance yourself now. I believe that you may find a storehouse of words and a treasure of sounds in but a short while.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Memories of Ireland from mid-century

I share here fresh maternal memories received. My wife blogged last week how her mother's 1979 notebook in shorthand keeps a mystery. Less enigmatic may be these from my side, roots for my Irish branch.

My birth-mother wrote me a couple of letters the past few days. I'd been discussing the travails and triumphs, modest as both may be, of our boys. She responded with her own musings, silently edited by me here: they're the first real details I've heard from her about her childhood (she's the exact counterpart in age with Tony!), preceded only by these two paragraphs sent earlier this month:

My friend Jeanne, former roommate, sent me a great piece from an English paper about the decline of the Celtic Tiger, that they now say is reduced to pussycat. I found it especially interesting because of the subject of the article, Tony O’Reilly as I was certainly aware of his history. He was the same age as I although regrettably did not know him personally. He was our Rugby hero during our teen-age years and every young woman’s idol. He was of course very tall, he had a head of beautiful auburn hair, and brilliant green eyes. He also dated our next-door neighbor, Maureen Connelly.

When I lived at 64 Rathgar Road, my friends used to like to come to my house where we would adjourn to the bedroom which Mary and I shared. We kept an eagle eye out the front window and eventually on many days, he would stop his car outside our houses to pick up Maureen. Brigit, Vi, Jan and I, would screech like the teenagers we were and inventing all sorts of romantic moments between the two of them. A few minutes later, they would come out, get into his car, and drive off to some romantic place together. I will send you the story, under separate cover, because it is not all about this, but the fact that he rose up to be one of Ireland's most successful men. First becoming chair of the Heinz Company, and then buying up various newspapers, marrying a Greek Heiress and now his awful downfall with the failure of two more of his acquisitions, Waterford Glass and Wedgwood China. Somehow, knowing Tony, this will not stop him, even though he is 72.

This from a later letter, in which I related the latest about my sons' ups and downs:

I can really relate to the awful years they are going through right now. The teenage years are horrible, probably even worse for a boy than a girl. Jerry and my worlds were easier as least the times were better. I clearly remember, however, the latter days of World War II especially when we were living in Belfast. The only job my father could get was in construction. He and mother and moved to the North in the hope that he could get a job at the Ship Yards but of course, this was impossible due to his religion. This was true of any of the better paying jobs. These “Micks” were not welcome and were regularly beaten up if they got too “uppity.”

I also remember the flat we lived in and the many evenings we sat around the meager fire handing around a milk bottle, which my mother had filled with sour milk and we all took turns moving the bottle the milk from side to side, trying to get it to churn and give us some resemblance to butter. The flat was lit with gas and each room had a sort of fixture with a small extremely flimsy mantel that fell into smithereens by the slightest touch. Except for one room, the others were heated by gas fires which worked by putting coins into the meter.

My God, I am sounding like an ancient old hag. Now when I put this down on paper these things keep flooding my mind. I have not even talked to Jerry about any of these memories. It was just too difficult. I was only in Belfast from about the age of five to eight. I have never gone back to that city.

It wasn't a great deal better when we moved to Dublin. My father has a fondness for gambling and was sure that he was going to make a fortune one day, on either the Irish Sweepstakes or the ponies. I am afraid that visits to the racetracks in Dublin when he took me along gave me a taste too. I loved the racing. It was nothing like it here. People got all dressed up and the women wore hats and gloves. Of course, we were not able to afford the expensive seats but standing on sidelines was fine. The races were usually three miles long and steeplechases with horses gracefully jumping over small hedges and stiles.

This in follow-up to my request for any more recollections from Belfast:

I have a vague recollection that we lived on Clifton Street in Belfast but I may be completely wrong. Next time I talk to Mary, I will ask her if she remembers. I think that I mentioned to you one time that her recollection of our growing is completely different than mine. She remembers that everything was peachy cream and that her childhood was perfect. However, I know that my recollections are not dreams. I could not have invented such details.

When were living in Galway {this would have been probably early in WWII}, I was shipped up to Belfast to stay with Auntie Molly and her daughter Dorothy, who was a WREN and looked absolutely smashing in her uniform. She was at least 5'10" or more and was really beautiful. I am sure that Uncle Jack named his Dorothy (later changed to Dorrie by her), Molly was my father and Jack's oldest sister. They lived near Queens University {University Avenue}. I lived with them on a previous trip but they had moved to a place outside Belfast City. {Finaghy in her postscript.}

Photo: A bedsit for 350 euro monthly was for rent by Daft.ie 28 Jan, now the site has been leased and was removed from the cached listing. "This is a small studio bedsit suitable for one person only. It contains a livingroom, bedroom kitchen and is in fair condition and has new carpets and has been newly painted. The bedroom and livingroom are separate but both are small and the property will only suit one person. Please email niall.clarke@lowe.ie for viewing times. This property is viewing tomorrow afternoon, Tuesday 27th January at 1.30pm for 10 mins. The full address is 64 Rathgar road and you are welcome to attend. * Parking * Central Heating * Cable Television * Washing Machine * Microwave."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Can Facebook Cause Cancer?

I knew that'd get your attention. It's about health risks from reduced face-to-face contact as we log in. Posted by my student to our on-line course discussion-- about technological substitution for a personal touch! I joined FB a month ago, my wife blogged yesterday et alia on FB banality/burnout among her F/friends, so here's my thoughts.

I'd been thinking about this domain even before she had! I'd read in the NY Times about the 35-65 demographic-- divided in two, and I trudge inexorably if unwillingly towards its cusp, alas-- adding about seven million users to FB the past January. Apparently, freed of its yearbook origins, the social network now appeals to those of us not "digital natives" but, if born pre-'80, "immigrants," media nomads settling among a realm where our children speak a language we "stumble upon" and click in-- and it's sometimes as challenging as the click-language of the !Xhosa.

"How using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer," from the London Daily Mail. Allowing for that paper's reputation for the dubious headline hook, it summarizes Dr. Aric Sigman's findings:
"Increased isolation could alter the way genes work and upset immune responses, hormone levels and the function of arteries. It could also impair mental performance. This could increase the risk of problems as serious as cancer, strokes, heart disease and dementia, Dr Sigman says in Biologist, the journal of the Institute of Biology."

So collates the underpaid "Daily Mail Reporter"-- another sign of the Net's impact on the decline of conventional journalism, outsourced to interns, freelancers, and drudges. Another symptom of our reliance on electronic networks hit five out of fifteen of us in my Technology, Culture & Society course I teach, a beleaguered token Humanities outlier among the technical and business majors who comprise in total my every roster. One student's T-Mobile service was hit; her classmate explained how AT&T had taken over Singular who in turn piggybacked on T-M and somehow these mergers and "embedded legacy systems" (i.e., the crap wiring we inherit in America when we have to jerryrig new routes, while the Third World at least starts with shiny new hi-tech as they lay out shimmering Bangalore and Lagos information highways).

Classmate Two shared my own predicament. Both of us had our school e-mail systems down on St. Patrick's Day. No mail could go in or out for anyone surnamed "H" through "R." Classmate Three posted to our threaded discussion-- the mandated on-line component added to all "hybrid" courses I must teach-- and his posts vanished. I can relate. If I don't refresh the browser every few minutes, my worksite e-mails as I compose them, and my efforts in the "shell" of the online teaching module, evaporate without warning-- somehow this prevents hacking, but it also prevents working and learning. (And, no, dear wife, I cannot somehow do all my composition separately in Word and then cut-and-paste. Trust me.)

Classmate Four had no Time Warner cable or Net access. I took this as an omen as Layne switched us to what I hope she was not baited with as a supposedly more economical and more generous package of whatever "embedded legacy systems" we're paying lots of moolah for each month. The one element most people cut in a recession, we expand. Drinking from the plasma firehose.

Firehoses also spray those of us teaching where I do with a lot of blowback. What my wife termed "comically dystopian" certainly captures the George Saunders-like story I find myself a hapless character within, trapped as much as any creation by an omniscient narrator as distanced from my occupational plight as any clockmaker Deity. One reason-- despite the thrill of finding out a part-time, young English instructor enrolled in the teacher training with me is also a medievalist, a lover of Malory and the Scots, and with an M.Sc. from Edinburgh in palaeology and codicology far closer to the actual subject than I am after fourteen years' removed from my dissertation's completion-- that I do not share my name here or promote my blog to colleagues at the unnamed institution of higher learning. It calls itself a University. It also requires my increasingly dispirited submission to the Combine.

What Ken Kesey's McMurphy called the Combine, others may track back to Bentham's Panopticon. No Nurse, no electro-shock, no Indian. Its centrally-placed warden can peek through the blinds at his prisoners arrayed in cells all around him. Those immured never know when or where he spins his telescopic scrutiny. Similarly, an electronic system for the past year has required all of our courses to be taught in eight weeks, compressed and accelerating the time taken to advance in supposedly three years towards graduation and the hi-tech careers that my employer advertises as the carrot after the stick of the B.S.

Now, the surveillance facility's been remodeled. We're lined up for transfer into a "blended" model wherein all the course material has been standardized by those far above our ranks. An instructor (I hesitate to grace myself and my colleagues as "professors"-- we're told we are now "facilitators" of andragogical methods empowering the students to teach each other) who at least at present can modify the course according to his or her strengths, the student's predilections, or the subject's variety, will now be reduced to a shackled pace, the on-line discussions and a few announcements or documents we share as if by samidzat attesting to accreditors-- or visitors from Amnesty International-- the purview of "academic freedom" still allowed us.

The boss of my boss corrected me recently. Apparently I teach in what's "already a prestigious institution." I had heard before how we were but aspiring to such an august designation. I asked in the teacher-training modules I am now taking if any "prestigious" college had used the "blended" model in which we were being schooled so as to school others-- once all of our courses had been converted to this top-down, McDonaldized format. I found out that, no, while universities had used hybrid systems similar to ours, that no, none had combined this blended approach with a standardized course implementation.

Blame my dissenting nature. I play my role with spirit, but also with a sense of being cast by a director in a part that portends my own breaking on the wheel, my capitulation on this peda-technological rack. I glance at the technical faculty. They reveal in their comments that they were not hired for their English skills. One's unable to capitalize titles for master's and doctoral degrees that he earned from on-line universities; another's unable to use "doctoral" as an adjective for the on-line degree he's been granted. The techies also show no signs of rebellion.

We humanists did, backs watched by one business lecturer. Now, joined by trusties, week two of our work-service non-furlough, my spirits ebb as the routine that we will soon ourselves oversee surges. We upload humdrum homework and log-on regularly as we punch the clock and tote that bail, albeit by tapping at a mouse. Power, conveyed by electricity, by networking, by the substitution of the byte for the blab, the post for the chat: we borrow the same words, while our networking flows through remotely altered channels now that our evolution has never anticipated.

We're all where I work and teach being shown where we will do our time. We share therefore the same cells my students will, if on a different wing. If riots break out and take down this network, I am not sure how we will work, teach, eat, or survive. Those who could arguably benefit from holding the carceral system hostage themselves occupy cells down the row from ourselves. They'd have no gain in blowing up the watchtowers. Any subversives or anarchists would be fouling their own nest.

Out of some desert or Darfur outpost, one day in a century wracked by global warming, refugee revolts, and globalized backlash, who will storm the Bastille? Who may find us cowering behind dead laptops and dying BlackBerries? Meanwhile, since we digital inhabitants earnestly believe that by staying indoors and off the roads, we hole up at Starbucks or on the beach, if we believe the ads. We work and teach and telecommute and gossip. We must now progress by keystrokes. Perhaps we truly ease the burden on our planet while avoiding confrontation; maybe we find the upside of fewer face-to-face encounters? After all, my time on bus and train weekly does not inexorably enhance my love for my fellow man and woman in this smoggy megapolis.

So, I retreat to my lair, surrounded by books and plugged into music. I'm testing out for the weekend a headphone-iPod amp with a vintage tube, the remnants of a military technology of last century meant to either blow us up or stop such, harnessed by one of my techie grads for entertainment and adaptation. I wire myself willingly for some tasks, and perhaps obediently for others, just as my students do.

On Facebook I can send Little Green Patches to help save rainforests, and virtual karma that may who knows restore good deeds for past lapses among classmates once tormented and friends once lost and now found. I wonder if a Buddhist emanation into the biosphere via the blogosphere can elevate us to a less harried, more nuanced, way of understanding? Or, am I a typically cocooned, risibly oblivious, citizen of a blinkered society as trapped as an inmate in the Panopticon under a hostile or indifferent, absent or present, transcendent or heartless gaze I will never verify? An Eloi basking amidst the fin-de-siecle as the Morlocks growl below me still unseen? On my blog, I write to you, and a few of you may respond. Here, if not in person, you and I seek each other, and I hope we still can heal ourselves and learn as we connect. We don't have to always occupy our cells during our life sentence.

"A building circular... The prisoners in their cells, occupying the circumference-- The officers in the centre. By blinds and other contrivances, the Inspectors concealed... from the observation of the prisoners: hence the sentiment of a sort of omnipresence—The whole circuit reviewable with little, or... without any, change of place. One station in the inspection part affording the most perfect view of every cell." Jeremy Bentham. "Proposal for a New and Less Expensive mode of Employing and Reforming Convicts" (London, 1798). Illustration: "Design of the Panopticon."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ten Books that Matter?

Neither identical to my ten favorites nor my twenty desert island picks (see my blog sidebar), here's my stack for classroom or couch to spark debate among a downsized, Twittered, yet savvy symposium; I'm responding to "Liberal Rapture: Nine Books."

My tomes follow below, after "Jonathan Livingston Seagull," "Fried Green Tomatoes," and "The Celestine Prophecy" were nominated by earlier commenters. These choices aside-- please-- LB does attract an irascible crowd, but arguably smarter than the average bear. Call me a snob. After all, "Tamerlane," the author of the initial post, asked LB readers for "contributions to civilization." Sorry, but I learned to count all the way to ten using all my fingers.

Me: "Contributions to civilization doesn't usually equal bestsellers remaindered two years hence! For the long haul to pass on, teach, and argue over via dead males/females (white men predominate, but that's what I've read most of), nine keepers. Do you crave nourishment, or fast-food?"

1. The Bible with a decent commentary.
2. Shakespeare with lots of the same.
3. Communist Manifesto.
4. Iliad & Odyssey made readable.
5. The Qur'an with notes and context.
6. The Second Sex (Simone de Beauvoir).
7. John Muir, Nature Writings (Library of America).
8. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe).
9. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald).
10. Ulysses (Joyce).

Cartoon: I may add there's a real book title worth packing: "How to Survive on a Desert Island." That or an ornithological guide?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ní raibh ceilí areir anseo!

Ní cheiliúr muid ag bhaile againn inné. Cén fáth? Bhuel, níor iarr lucht teaghlach eile a ceiliúradh Lá le Naomh Pádraig-- ní féidir.

Chuaigh ár bhuachaillín a cleachtadh ar feadh an tráthnóna sin. D'imigh siad a freastail a dream drámata i gChoill Cuilleain Thoir. Ní raibh súim go leor acusan a chur ar rudaí Éireannach go fírinne anois. Tá siad gnóthach ina éadan an drámaíocht.

Níor chaith Leo dath uaine. Níor chaith Niall sin fós. Chaith Léna, ar scor ar bith. Bhí maith leis blús aici.

Ach, tá tinneas fiacaile aicisean féin le déanaí. Níor rinne bia ar léith orainn. Bhácail sí dhá aran sóide. Nigh mé na gréithe cócaireachtaí.

Bhí sí tuirseach faoi deireanach ann. Tá bron orm mar a feiceáil tinneas aici. Cuirfidh sí ar an fiaclóir amárach.

There was no celebration last night here!

We did not celebrate at home ourselves yesterday. What happened? Well, other family did not want to celebrate St. Patrick's Day-- not really.

Our boyos went to practice during that last evening. They took off to attend the dramatic group in East Hollywood. There's not a lot of interest in Irish things truly for them now. They are busy doing the play.

Leo did not wear the color green. Niall did not wear that also. Layne wore it, however. Her blouse pleased me.

But, there's pain from a tooth on her lately. There was no special meal made for us. She baked two soda breads. I washed the dishes for cooking.

There is weariness on her recently. There is sadness on me to see pain on her. She will go to the dentist tomorrow.

Image/íomhá: Tá sé deacair ag fáil cárta frith-Phádraig ar fud!/ It's difficult to find an anti-Pat[r!]ick card out there!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tana French's "The Likeness": Book Review

This Dublin-based sequel to "In the Woods" fulfills French's earlier promise. She hones her protagonist, sharpens her style, and narrows her perspective. The result, in the final third, kept me up well past bedtime. For me, a sure sign of success.

I liked it better than ITW. That novel, reviewed recently by me here and on Amazon US, introduced Detective Cassie Maddox's former partner, Rob Ryan, as he told of their investigation. Characters and dialogue often proved intriguing, but the plot seemed too ambitious and its details too many. The sequel turns to Cassie's next major case, and turns on a premise even more daring than Rob's own predicament in ITW. Cassie must take on "the likeness" of Lexie Madison, who she resembles strongly, so as to find her killer.

Both novels turn most eloquent when considering death.
"But if you've seen a dead body, you know how they change the air; that huge silence, the absence strong as a black hole, time stopped and molecules frozen around the still thing that's learned the final secret, the one he can never tell. Most dead people are the only thing in the room. Murder victims are different; they don't come alone. The silence rises up to a deafening shout and the air is streaked and hand-printed, the body smokes with the brand of that other person grabbing you just as hard: the killer." (17)

A bit later, Cassie describes her skill, and also alludes to her previous case that comprises ITW.
"I had one, at least, of the things that make a great detective: the instinct for truth, the inner magnet whose pull tells you beyond any doubt what's dross, what's alloy and what's the pure, uncut metal. I dug out the nuggets without caring when they cut my fingers and brought them in my cupped hands to lay on graves, until I found out-- Operation Vestal again-- how slippery they were, how easily they crumbled, how deep they sliced and, in the end, how very little they were worth." (78-79)

French's prose carries a forceful, yet often poetic, delivery. Read these passages aloud and you can recognize a personality behind Cassie's printed voice. Both Rob and Cassie emerge as full-fledged characters, and where "The Likeness" arguably betters ITW is French's concentration on a more restricted, Big House-Gothic type of setting that allows fewer figures to prowl about under her scrutiny as she seeks to solve Lexie's mystery.

A "local yokel," interrogated, speaks convincingly as a rural Irish young man about what the Big House in question, Whitethorn, represents to villagers left out of the boom; an airheaded yuppie speculator, by contrast, sounds like a stoned sophomore off some MTV "reality show" about a college spring break. The continued homogenization of Ireland under the globalized media and inrushing capital gain their own eloquent critique from a resident of the Whitethorn that sets in motion the final third of the book that kept me reading past last midnight. French, as with ITW, places her detectives into an exurban Dublin that dispiritingly shows the loss of place, the destruction of heritage, and the long memories of what for the Irish it means to be dispossessed of both tradition and family, roots and comfort.

While not without welcome bits of humor especially early on, it's a serious entry into a vanishing past under a SUV, executive-driven, and cluelessly profiteering present. Neither book revels in stereotype; religion and pubs, gregarious barflies and menacing priests are as absent as any sustained evocation of Dublin's charm or Wicklow's peace. The future of French's Ireland appears as desolate and cheapened as much of the rest of the "advanced" world. In it, as Rob learned, so does Cassie how desperately those who resist such "progress" may be twisted in their desire for escape.

(Posted to Amazon US 3/16/09.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tana French's "In the Woods": Book Review

Sprawling, dense, and intricate, this début by an Irish author marks an ambitious entry. Award-winning and popular, "In the Woods" touches upon the ancient Celtic heritage threatened by a motorway's completion. Sadly, this mirrors a real threat to the Tara valley that's met with visceral opposition-- as with Knocknaree's fictional counterpart.

Dublin detective Rob Ryan investigates the murder of a child of one of the motorway's foes. That's all I will reveal about the case itself. Readers seem to be all over the map about their pleasure or anger with the resolution. Whodunits aren't my usual fare, so I'll remain neutral.

His links to an earlier pair of child murders at that very same site in the woods, from which he alone of the trio escaped as a youngster, make this tale perhaps-- like its rough sequel "The Likeness" (see my review on Amazon US or on this blog as the next entry)-- rather implausible. I think she botched one flashback scene halfway on by Rob, but I'll stay open to its inclusion. Rob's desperate to solve the case on his own home turf, and he has his own form of going undercover to do so.

For both books, they take a premise so unlikely you must dive in to convince yourself it can be pulled off. Still, French delights in a clever conceit. Like Ryan's irascible supervisor O'Kelly, I was morbidly skeptical but curious to see how the young Garda and his eager partner Cassie would weather the storms they entered and stirred up even more.

However, it's with characterization that French best shows her talent. Her narrative voice remains steady throughout as she evokes Rob's perspective. It may be too much information, but it does create a scenario that's recognizably harried and half-patched up. This storyteller's control of getting into somebody's mind to uncover hidden truth similarly fascinates Rob, his partner, and others they'll meet.

French has a smart way with phrasing. A "guileless teacher-nightmare" face on an archeology student captures her neatly. The jittery caffeinated coffee culture of today's Irish capital's contrasted well with the older tea and scones pace of old Mrs Fitzgerald. A minor shortcoming remains that too few people among the many we hear sound like distinctively Irish folks. The linguistic twists of that elderly lady's speech seem rare compared to the duller demotic of Ryan's yuppified and homogenized generation. Cassie and her mates do get off some great one-liners, but they sound like any Anglo-American mid-atlantic speaker. This may be intentional on French's part, but it does dampen down what might have been more "local flavor," and I don't mean blarney-laden begorrahs. However, as a register of a blander and commodified suburban Dublin today, this book appeared accurate, if dispiriting.

The panoramic mapping of mundane Irish suburbia does take a long time to unfold. It's opposite in style and location from Ken Bruen's Galway noir with ex-Garda Jack Taylor. Compared to Benjamin Black, John Banville's nom de plume, French's attention given savagery underneath civility in Dublin emerges more graphically, and not only at the morgue. (I've reviewed "The Silver Swan" & "Christine Falls;" also all of Bruen's harrowingly sharp, stripped-lean series.)

French's municipal and forensic depth may please readers. I never did not enjoy it and looked forward to staying up with it at night, but I perhaps a quarter to third of detail might have been edited out. There's so many conversations and characters that may ultimately enrich the setting, but like a director's cut for a feature film, perhaps paring down the presentation might have resulted in a snappier tone. The extras and establishing shots take too much time.

Still, the last scene with its evocative and ambiguous symbol does linger long for me. It may be too subtle for those not informed about the context from which it's resurrected. Yet, for me, a clever choice.

What's intriguing about the novel's broader impact- even if blurred by so much in the way of subplots and banter-- is how it reminds us about the horror of sudden, inexplicable death. French in both of her novels to date rises to the grim occasion when she confronts a corpse. She's learned not to flinch, but, like her detectives on the Murder Squad, knows how to balance compassion with detachment. The amount of research and procedure involved here I found impressive. Again, it may overwhelm the story as a whole, but it does immerse you all the same.

The novel sums up the poignant impact of loss. It follows shock convincingly. There's vivid writing amidst deliberately if wearying distraction. Ryan reflects:
"To my mind the defining characteristic of our era is spin, everything tailored to vanishing point by market research, brands and bands manufactured to precise specifications; we are so used to things transmuting into whatever we would like them to be that it comes as a profound outrage to encounter death, stubbornly unspinnable, only and immutably itself." (41)

(Posted to Amazon US 4/9/08. P.S. For more about the Tara-Skryne Valley's struggle against the M3 motorway:TaraWatch.org)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Michael Parker's "Northern Irish Literature 1956-2006": Book Review.

Here's my in-depth review of Professor Parker's two-volume literary history, with emphasis on both terms, for "Estudios Irlandeses" 4 (2009): 139-42. Link: "Issue 4".

Go to the Issues Tab, select #4, open David Pierce's fine overview "The Year in Irish Studies," and eventually scrolling down through reviews, you'll find mine. It's two-thousand words, but Parker's paired volumes deserve every one of the maximum that I was allotted. They comprise a valuable contribution to scholarship, aspire to a wider audience than critics or scholars, and merit a place on your shelf if you share my interest in Irish reactions to the Troubles, in their recent manifestations. (I pasted my entire review here on Amazon US & my other blog, "Not the L.A. Times Book Review," if that's easier, but I still want you to visit ES 4!)

Need I add that last week's murders represent atavistic, futile reversions to past brutality? You think that 2006 marks a neat closure to the Troubles, ten years away, but the news calls your bluff. As my Irish friend directed me, I append to today's entry an epitaph on the return to violence from Kate Carroll, the widow of the first officer to be slain since the formation of the PSNI. He was gunned down in a republican stronghold in Craigavon by members of the Continuity IRA.

Constable Stephen Carroll, a veteran nearing retirement from the force, living in Banbridge, was about my age-- he would have witnessed the sectarian strife, and he would have watched its ebb. Pc. Carroll chose what earlier in his life nearly all Northern nationalists would have condemned as traitorous: to join those perceived his denominational side's natural enemies.

What I find intriguing: Carroll was an English-born Catholic who served for twenty-four years, so most of his stint was within the RUC, those clannish predecessors who hired or tolerated few who were not Protestant. He must have had his reasons for entering the force at the height of the violence, donning the badge of a Royal Ulster Constabulary accustomed to arrest so many of his "own." One of "them" in faith yet English, living a long time in the Republic but working across its border. He may have made many enemies. He was shot in the back of the head as he sat in his patrol car. Two are in custody as gunmen: a 37-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy.

For all its faults (republicans eagerly tripped up their first steps in 2001), the PSNI tries to keep peace in the Six Counties. Both republicans and unionists have had to adjust to this new balance of negotiated power. Sinn Féin will for the first time appear at the funeral of a NI police officer. Neither side may yet be entirely at ease, but for the past few years, nobody's lost their life who's served with the reconstituted police force.

Those few opposing a cessation to physical force executed him, as their RIRA comrades did two sappers in their early twenties a week ago. They were picking up a pizza delivered to their Antrim barracks. These were the first killings of British security forces in over a decade. Sixty bullets were fired; two deliverers, one Polish, were wounded. How many Irish want to lapse back into such petty savagery?

Now, three more rest next to three thousand bodies. They bear mute testimony to the pain that has wracked so many in the province for so long. Under the "imprint of history," literature can try to express such emotion, professors and psychiatrists, priests and police can tally its impacts, but these all offer only echoes. Words fade before the loss and sorrow of death among those who must live on in silence.

To his killers [Mrs. Carroll] said: "I hope these people are listening and if they just realised that we only get one chance at life and a piece of land is a piece of land and at the end of the day my husband is just going to get 6ft by 6ft and that's all any of us are going to get and why don't they realise this and talk to each other."

Quoted in the 13 March 2009 Irish Times. News Feed on the Carroll murder.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Paddy's Purim Party Promotion

St. Patrick's Day often arrives near Purim. "Irish are in search for a Pot of Gold, Jews have both pot and gold."** "St. Patrick Jewish": this URL led to various, uh, "instant dating" sites. I'm no party person, but I chase Irish-Jewish net-rainbows!

For Patrick's Day, we commemorate the Roman British youth from it seems Caledonia's shore. Claimed therefore as kin by the Welsh, true natives to that region. (These namings get complicated quickly; I'll pass them over for brevity.) Kidnapped by Niall of the Nine Hostages, taken off to Éireann, and enslaved next Slemish mountain's slopes until he escaped and, two hundred miles south-east, found a boat back to Prydain and freedom.

Later, he returned. Justifiably eager to eliminate the old ways into which he'd been sold, his missionary work made the Celtic fastness that Rome never colonized into the loyal bastion of Rome's successors ruling from the Vatican. For all the advances brought into the land of saints and scholars, I wonder at the knowledge lost.

There used to be an "in memoriam" each 14 October in the Times of London for the fallen leader at once Senlac, then Battle Abbey, still Hastings. Survivors mourn however vainly past defeats, present victories of one culture over another, one nation's vanishing under another nation's rising. As with Harold's defeat by William, the Amerindians by Columbus, Pizarro, or Cortez-- or the capitulation of Rheged or Elmet to the Saesnag-- such defeats as Patrick spearheaded among my ancestors in Christianizing their lands loom in hindsight as inevitable.

If not them, than someone very like them would have invaded. We no longer give our schoolchildren Columbus Day off; I think I enjoyed it as a holiday in grade school. It became anti-PC, and "Dia de la Raza" supplanted it among those understandably resentful of La Conquista. Also, Italian American lobbyists I supposed were outnumbered by the burgeoning Latino voting bloc somewhere three dozen or so years ago. Still, Americans love to dress up and celebrate each other's cuisine and costume. Within limits allowed; my former hometown of Claremont forbade, in its ultra-collegiate sensibility, Thanksgiving dress-up last year at one elementary school as insensitive to indigenous individuals. Irish, contrarily, seem to care less about boorish, beery, and bovine depictions. We join in, we laugh it off.

"Real" Irish jeer at us plastic Paddy green-beer Yanks. The Irish who missed the famine ships did not raise a "raimeas" about their patron saint, we Americans were chided. But, I spent one March 17th in that capital city, for an Irish Studies Diaspora & identities conference. Staying in 2005 at a B&B near UCD, I was certainly out of the way of the civic mayhem. Not yet evening when I made the long bus slog from Swords south, I did note how happy the bus driver and his mate were when I disembarked and wished them their night's cheer. It was a long walk from Donnybrook to Belfield; I'd received typically wrong information at the airport's tourist info desk about the proper route and stops. As I pulled my luggage like a dork, I breathed the fresher air beside the highway's fumes-- after ten-hours-plus on Aer Lingus, I was pleased to stroll.

A couple nights later, it was Saturday. RTÉ news earlier that day that I watched in my little room regaled me with reports from market towns the breadth of the island with DIY parades that reminded me of where I endured my teens, Temple City and its spring Camellia Festival, homemade floats inching down Las Tunas made by youth groups. Even more boring than Pasadena's Rose Parade, but displaying municipal pride. One element spicing the Irish settings was a very high and colorfully visible presence of international contingents, African and Chinese and Middle Eastern. I couldn't tell if these dancers and marchers were immigrants themselves resident in Ireland, but I figured they were. How many would, as I did, fly into Ireland on their own dime? Let alone dress up in folk costume in Portlaoise if not Portadown?

Not that I wore any garb! On my way home Saturday into Sunday morning, down the couple of miles back from Donnybrook-- even further away after the conference ended with a dinner at a indefinably ethnic, vaguely upscale restaurant waited on by Poles, where I was surrounded by a half-Irish, half-Indian from India playwright, grad students from Serbia, Switzerland, and Africa, and professors from Hungary and Germany-- I passed inebriated teens splayed about spilling out of pubs. They'd closed as I hiked past the hungover lads and screeching lasses. News the next day echoed the chaos whose faint reverberation rolled from the city center out to that more respectable southside suburb. Even if "donnybrook" shouldered into Béarla a century and a half ago as a byword for brawl after its tumultuous local fair.

Apparently the most boisterous St Patrick's Day to date, severe reporters told us. In terms of arrests, that is. I suppose the Irish were now showing us tourists that they too could join the globalized frenzy that marks-- in chain-pubs from Prague to Portland to Perth with manufactured tin signs and ye olde furniture that's made somewhere in another Dublin suburb or perhaps in China-- Celtic caché and cliché.

Purim, by contrast, remains a loss-leader outside the neighborhoods with schmaltz and shtreibls. Cinco de Mayo ads that at least in my California turn ubiquitous find no counterpart for this movable feast of the Jewish revenge on the Persians. As a friend of mine sums up, if not originally, Purim repeats the plot of every Jewish holiday. "They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat." At least fun days, unlike Tu b'Shevat where all you do is talk about trees and eat nuts, or the lugubrious fasts and bewailings about fallen Temples and fatal shtetls shadowing darker defeats with far fewer left to tell terrible tales.

Possibly the only excuse that Jews and Irish share when excessive drinking's the norm. You're mandated to imbibe until "Haman" (boo-hiss accompanies every mention of his name during the Purimspiel's recital) from Esther's "cousin" (a kissing one and a wily procurer some whisper) "Mordechai" cannot be distinguished. As for Patrick's homage, the match of Irish and booze somehow fits, even if verbal glibness also tends to be part of the package deal every night in a pub or in a parlor.

There's a crucial difference. The Irish cartoon draws the staggering fellow as so waylaid by whiskey or stout that he's unable to perform with the skillet-weilding buxom colleen when and if he stumbles home. For the Jews, there's not the shame that cloaks sex in guilt for, well, 1500 years since 432 A.D. up to about thirty years post-Vatican II, throughout 32 Counties. And still within my kinfolk home or abroad.

Purim does disguise, as with many festivals of spring, sex. There's tellingly no Irish equivalent surviving that lauds female seduction or fashions fertility symbols. Good Queen Esther puts the moves on her compliant king after he shunts proto-feminist Vashti out of his harem. Uppity Trophy Wife #1 refused to strip for her husband's pals. At least from what I'm told. Ahashverus'-ex might have been told by her man to show even more hospitality to his drinking buddies. So midrash rumors.

The shape of the delectable cookies with tasty filling does not persist as triangular only to mimic Haman's pockets or his wacky Persian hat. I read in a Victorian erotica collection an inventive story about how Esther enticed her way, along with ten willing if still virginal gal-pals as handy handmaidens, into the royal bed. This distaff diligence did make me wonder about what I'd been missing from the Oral Torah, the stories transmitted that never were recorded until much later. Although 1880's under-the-counter titillation from downmarket London's Whitechapel may be pushing the date of earliest extant manuscript provenance.

I find it intriguing that St. Patrick's Day has been stripped of its religious connotations-- how likely are you to find on a liquor store's sign our mitered bearded First Primate of All Ireland vs. a cavorting leprechaun or Java-Man-shovel-faced Hibernian hoisting a pint amid a shower of shamrocks? Purim, by contrast, endures as purely a Jewish holiday. Like Passover and Chanukah if underplayed for the Mommy & Me or Peace Now crowds, Purim tells how the harried Hebrews hammer hell. Threatened by pogroms and pashas, they lash back. They mow down their tormentors-- who drown in the Red Sea, who get backstabbed by anti-Hellenist predecessors of the haredim, or whom hang suspended from Shushan's gibbets.

These haggadah and spiels may be sanitized for family use, but they remain bloody. Their full meaning, perhaps like the Kabbalah not being studied unless by men past forty, carries danger. Most chronological red-letter days have proven less benign for the Jews. Those Irish brawlers if for one night (although the marketing makes it look that every night's a chance to get wasted if an Irish bar at hand or when an Irish beer's in hand) forget the elimination of so much pagan lore, the eradication of Celtic orientations, and the domination of Catholic power for so many centuries. The misfortune that accompanied Patrick gets romanticized, caricatured, and-- if by drink as so much in our life-- mercifully if dangerously blurred.

The twist? Patrick wiped out paganism without annihilating its adherents. The Catholic benefits-- eventually no more slaves, a lot more hope of an afterlife, a lot less chance you'll make it to that heaven however praised, a lot less respect for nature and women: this turned into the Roman and Apostolic trade-off that the natives, whether on the coasts of Peru or Panama or Donegal or Down, the pale or swarthy natives dared not refuse.

By comparison, Jewish commemorations lurk in the ruler's shadows. Being often martial in origin and recalcitrant in spirit, they're more subversive than Lucky Charms or "Kiss Me I'm Irish" buttons. Chanukah finally, around the decade when we erased Columbus Day, earned a Winter Season Stamp. It gets a polite nod on the public service spot, or Google art decoration of the menorah, but these ecumenical greetings issue from the monotheists still in charge. The majority outside Zion no more fills up water pistols to shoot colored spray on Diwali or shuts down from sun-up to sunset during Ramadan than they bake hamantashen or rattle groggers.

Part of the problem may be these floating lunar holidays. They drift around the season, if not as far as Islamic dates. While this predictable progress does not stop most people from figuring out-- unless you're an Eastern Christian or Greek Orthodox-- when the Easter bunny pops up, it does leave these persistent fasts and feasts cherished by the minorities in American and abroad marginalized, and I'd reckon by them happily so.

Perhaps it's a saving grace not to have every holiday or tradition sold to the masses. Irish culture's been so manipulated that even at home, those who once mocked us abroad now turn themselves into Anglo-Americans in not only media consumption but beverage choices. The commodification of franchised bars, mass-market beers (Guinness despite savvy ad campaigns now owned by Italian giant conglomerate Diageo with a token amount of the Black Death still trundling out of St. James Gate vs., say, Canada), and endless promotion marks the conversion by corporations of Mexican and Irish festivals into American-- and exported-- excuses to get plastered.

As I prepared to release this to you: my wife informed me of the forthcoming lament by Bill Barich, "A Pint of Plain." He writes how now more Guinness is downed in Nigeria than Ireland. Paddy's praisers prefer Coors Light, on ice. We despised Irish Americans can now shake our heads at those we left behind. At the risk of sounding intellectual, this attests to the darker flipside of globalization and assimilation.

I blame it ultimately on George Washington. I heard St. Patrick's Day was pushed here to counter the redcoats' attempts to lure with the King's shilling the New York City Irish immigrants into the military. Colonial American ranks upped their patriotism by appealing to the Micks, so gradually-- as you had to I suppose appeal to the Scots-Irish and the Protestant and Dissenter as well as the Catholic crowd to fill the cannon fodder-- we started a craze. So well that the American invention of corned beef and cabbage became a sign of a stereotypical bogtrotter's favored fare.

Image: **"St Purim's Day"-- #3 on Bangitout.com's Kosher Top 10 list that I mentioned in my first paragraph merited repeating: Use it as a toast for libation. Trying "Irish" with "Purim," I trawled one usable result. It's from a messianic Christian's travels in Israel; lovely snapshots fill Reuel McFarland's globetrotting "Who is Yeshua?" blog. A less scenic shot: "Our Haifa Irish Band and Purim Get-Together." April 29. 2007. His entries suddenly stopped last erev Rosh Hoshanah. I wonder if he's finally found what he so devoutly desired?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bloggers: Bottom Feeders or Top Skimmers?

Two weeks ago, an L.A. Times journalist sneered at me, indirectly. We bloggers often simply lifted material out of his paper, rather than producing our own. I agreed, directly. I added that journalists were needed to cover complex issues and pursue intricate stories, professionally and diligently, if need be over months or years. (I obviously have no experience with a real-world Fifth Estate run savagely into the ground by, say his bottom-line boorish boss Sam Zell. The same one that wants to sell naming rights to Wrigley Stadium. Even to the Wrigleys themselves.)

However, as a teacher with nearly a quarter-century experience, and an amateur(ish?) scholar as long at least, I also expand into this medium where you find me as a tour guide and chatty interpreter. Google's E-Blogger enables me to thunder with the same distribution, if not the circulation, publicity, mansions, ladies, or lucre of Hearst or Pulitzer. Few read me, fewer follow me or comment. Nobody's paying my bills here. What kind of competition am I for trained journalists?

Am I contributing to the demise of the Times? Is my wife, reading it on the web rather than in print (where we subscribe to it fewer days), putting our friend at the potluck we hosted out of a job? Or, berated by that paper four times straight over our paid bill, do we make a Sam Zell slash of our budget ourselves? After all, opening a thinning set of sheets that two days after the journalist came to our kitchen axed its local news section-- leaving Sports, front page, Business for daily perusal-- are we making a sensible choice environmentally and financially? I used to sit down to enjoy the Times over breakfast. Now I stand with it as I skim it over the counter.

Still, I need to be fed by such reports, from somewhere. We all find nourishment and stimulation by exposure beyond our frail bodies and weak minds. By nature or avocation or desperation, my inclination's to discuss ideas. I like to tell others about what I've heard, read, seen, or mused. It's a venerable, if wayward, tradition of passing along information, wisdom, rants, opinions, trivia, finds, and detritus to you, my audience. How's blogging different than what Aristotle or Abelard did?

Minus the "in vino veritas" symposia or the cock-up with Heloise, you tell me. The wisdom's diminished as the vanity's increased, certainly. Blame lack of editorial oversight, although the sages of old managed to survive without any bottom-line save a copyist's patience, a patron's demands, or the chance of a manuscript escaping fanatics, fires, or rodents. Exponentially so we expound today, but then, so's grown the literate public, dire its market share may be, same as it ever was. We babble by Twitters and Facebook and Google and Amazon and RSS feeds, but it's still word of mouth even if tapped with thumbs.

Narrowcasting, peercasting, podcasting, call it what you or pop cult pundit may. I'd like to think somebody kind's rating my reviews on Amazon, snipping at me here on E-Blogger, or wandering here from Facebook or a search engine. I may never learn about you who read this, but you find out about me. It's me speaking to you a classroom whose roster I'll never recite aloud; I'll never forget your unknown name.

Like my students, I also think that I've made here a few friends. I may not have met you in person, and I may not know your true names either in some cases. This intimacy, all the more, cheers me. It's not based on flattery, grades, or favor. It's establishing a mutual admiration society, but one based on common passions. And, isn't that part of some proto-communal ideal, some utopian template we seek?

We scourers of ideas, scroungers of facts, scrabblers of lore still search for what intrigues us. Often, we pass the best of it along. Sure, we must rely on our judgment. Perhaps an editor or author's already shown us what we then transmit. Or, we may regale you with eyewitness accounts. Most likely for me, it's a combination of the two. Journalists may be schooled in objectivity, but blogs pull ourselves into the mix that we push towards you. I may add that a few of us do carry a track record, if off the beaten tenure path, of scholarly preparation and print parallels.

Electronically rather than personally, and as one who must now navigate a hybrid delivery of half-onsite, half-online, I wish I had a New York or London publisher chasing me down after stumbling upon my marvelous prose here. But, I'm one of millions. At least I have the chance to broadcast my ideas, rather than lock them in a diary or limit them to a few letters to a few of you, or languish in a provincial paper or, yes, an obscure journal (where I do languish). Given the reality of declining publishing endeavors, the difficulties of competing with the theoried tenurati, and the economic downturn, I choose this method over ranting to myself.

One requirement for my teaching: using technology in my own preparation and in my own delivery. I do miss much of the energy of face-to-face engagement. Yet, I'm powerless to change the demands of my educational employer. They tell me we must adopt to what the digital natives demand. I'm an immigrant in their world, without memory of typewriter, card catalog, index card notes, or shelves of books rather than rows of videos and screened carrels. Volumes once comprised a library. Now, I move between my own stacks and this monitor, my fingers jotting and my hands pecking away as I squirrel away a doubly hoarded knowledge.

I cautioned this morning my writing class, preparing them for their own research papers, that much remains that'll never be on-line. Only a fifth of music recorded last century has been digitized or exists on CD today. Similarly, we lack connection unless we look within pulp and binding to much of our accumulated understanding. Nonetheless, hired by a college that advertises itself as career-oriented, I lack the support of a liberal arts enclave full of like-minded rumpled colleagues. It's a company, and it expects profit. My institution in a year's moving to a building half its current size. It's certified "green" and solar powered, but 18,000 volumes must be slashed to 3,000. Whatever's called the library in a digital century will share 1,300 square feet with a tutoring center, offices, and stacks of very few books.

A gaming professor asked me, as chair of our Library Research Committee charged with increasing faculty and student use: "Why should my students go to the library? They find everything they need online." I disagreed, as he did not know about our database that enables students to record, organize, format, and present sources they find from the Net and in print into a single document. Still, his riposte rankled me. Like the L.A. Times journalist, I too watch the decay of a treasured storehouse.

I'm not making a living at my intellectual investigations. Unlike my counterpart at the L.A. Times, I chase knowledge only for the love of it, as an amateur. With that admission comes acknowledgment of a lack of finesse, a surfeit of pretense, and a tendency to ramble. News reporters face editors; network anchors edit faces.

The rest of us, largely unpaid and unheralded, tapping away when we can, fill in much that we may be derided for, but as with Wikipedia contributing or Amazon reviewing, I counter that much altruistic effort accrues for the common good. We constitute the translators for the new literati.

Nobody's feeding ads onto this blogging site; if you find it via Facebook, that's beyond my choice! As with the rise of writers for hire two-hundred-and-fifty years ago in London, we without hire in our spare time chatter to a public eager for rumor, hungry for gossip. Do we need town criers, hawkers of headlines, purveyors of tabloids, when we come home, click open, and log on? When we tune into our own channel, surf our own webring, spray on each other's Facebook Wall?

Perhaps a few of us, in this socially networked, virally transmitted realm, try to hang on to your collar and bend your ear long enough to whisper more than sweet nothings. And, while we may annoy or seduce, we nevertheless respond to the common, or unique, touch that only another person close by can conjure up within us. Virtually, we replicate the charge of minds connecting on our Bloggers and Facebooks.

It may be a poor cousin to the "craic 90" in the pub, or the dinner party's modern symposium, but for a global diaspora filled with those of us looking for mental action, it beats Woody Allen's Whore of Mensa. Maybe. We still might catch a virus.

There: today's showing all journalists that I can prepare an entry that rests no dwarfish assertion on the shoulders of a giant predecessor. It arrives without a citation, hyperlink, or reference to another site, article, or event outside my circumscribed life, albeit inside my discombobulated house.

P.S. But, I always give credit for my images, true scholar that I am, or pedant. Here's an illustration from Hogarth's same London that graced my previous entry. William Hogarth: "The Distressed Poet." 1736. Birmingham City Museum & Art Gallery. The bill's due for our scribbler. Maybe the Tatler collections-due customer representative's calling at the door? Now we get hounded by robo-calls and minimum-wage dunners.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spending one billion dollars an hour

This is how much we're increasing our federal debt these past fifty days. Contrast this with how much we're diminishing our personal expenses this past year. Meanwhile, at my house, calls from creditors get more aggressive and less civil.

For instance, four harangues over $36 we've paid to the Los Angeles Times. There's a nastiness in the telephoned air, contrasted with an earnestness in the televised ads. Bargains, cost-cutting, value: post-Christmas commercials deftly replaced "priceless" credit card come-ons with a Poor Richard's Almanac rectitude when slapping down plastic at the big-box. Credit card companies enjoyed a nearly fifty-percent leap in profits 2003-08, so I doubt if they'll let up on teasing us now.

The banks may, however, crack the whip after the strip tease. There's a schoolmarmish disapproval at our deadbeat profligacy. As if we're prodigal sons in Vegas whoring it up, when we should be hassling pigs for husks. Forget about slinking back to Dad to enter in a no-Sunday's off regimen of yard chores without any allowance. Perhaps a franchise opportunity for debtor's prisons-- privatized for lenders under some stimulus plan "earmarked" for a few GOP legislators who bolted and supported the Dems. Doubtless representing foreclosed subdivisions: cracked tile roofs, desolate Mervyn's, three-car garage meth labs, McMansions stripped of copper.

A series of intense, "you are on record as co-guarantor; this will be recorded" portents from our bank over another mortgage bill we already sent in. Or, endless robotic yammer from Time Warner over our past-due (yet presently-paid) televised fare. Yes, we still get cable-- one of the first discretionary items most consumers cut. We live in a topographical quirk, and cannot receive signals otherwise. Additionally, as Layne's in "the industry," for us somehow with her inventiveness watching the tube's a legitimate investment!

Pre-empting any comment by said spouse, I admit being lured in albeit briefly by the amazingly raunchy, even by cable standards, "Eastbound and Down." I peered as if it was an accident unfolding in thirty-minute slow motion. It seemed endless, as I gazed with horror and humor similar to what I'd experience, given my usual schadenfreude, if it was a fender-bender.

My kids, alas, already know and love this series of Danny McBride playing a John Rocker-sort of mullet-headed baseballer down on his luck after an injury. Reduced to, of all horrors, teaching high school. Except for my better if just as cheap haircut, my erudition, and my lack of athletic prowess, I can almost relate.

Anyway, the "Forward," about my only printed contact lately with a realm of discourse nudging if skeptically a higher realm than boorish sitcoms, had on its March 6th front page Nathaniel Popper's piece: "In a Downsizing Economy, Is There a Jewish Way to Lay Off?". Seeing that my wife's had to let go folks with whom she worked many years, all of whom she'd hand-picked and mentored and bonded with, in the past year after first the devastation of the 100-day writer's strike and then the implosion of Hollywood production later last autumn, I witness her own worries and trauma. It's kept me up nights along with her.

The article offers us little insight, I suppose, beyond Maimonides' advice that retraining remains wise, that advance notice be given, and that pay cuts across the board take precedence. I thought of a conversation ten days ago with a professor at UC Riverside. He told me how his offer as acting chair to have his department reduce their salaries so adjuncts could be kept on had been rejected. The university would simply pocket whatever savings accrued, so this somehow did not translate into smaller classes with more instructors-- by some administrative budgeting lack of logic. I admired nevertheless his stance; I thought that he acted in the Jewish tradition as a mensch.

Institutions with their disdain clash against individuals with their compassion. No, as my dear wife berates me, I don't have any better solution than letting Citibank or GM or Freddie Mac go belly-up and the hell with 'em. But I've inherited a cranky populism angered by smug capitalism. Amassing more debt to pay off debt confuses me, but I'm no Ivy League wonk. I feel like Phil Hartman's smarmy "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer" in the SNL skit shrugging: "But, what do I know? I'm just a caveman."

Stubbornly disenchanted with Capitol's lobbyists and Beltway finaglers. Hating corporate socialism from pork-barrelled politicians. We're beholden to what 52% of voters chose, not that the lack of any compelling alternative gave the party in power any convincing competition. Any skeptics about the Second Coming were overwhelmed by a desperate swell of hope-full sentiment, $506 million in marketing, and Shepard Fairey's ubiquitous iconography.

Approved by both administrations, billions flow towards Detroit, Wall Street, and the White House. Leaders threaten doom. Billionaires scream for bail. They threaten us even as the funds they've hoarded seem to be squandered or squirreled away out of reach of we taxpayers. Half of all workers now fear losing their jobs. Stuck with declining incomes, rising prices for food and energy (the dip being temporary I am positive in oil), and much higher tax burdens-- re-brand them as "investments" along with our president-- I do again wonder at what I reminded my students last week.

It took fifty years for the economy to recover after 1929. So severe was the shock that only a suspendered posse of Gordon Gekkos could come of age long after who'd never known bread lines and soup kitchens. The top one percent of Americans now control a fifth of our wealth. The bottom 40% possess a share equal to the top one- percenters. This same disparity last aligned right before the Great Depression.

William Hogarth. "The Rake's Progress: The Rake in Prison": Panel 7, Fleet Street incarceration for debt. Tate Gallery, London. 1734.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Darker My Love: "Mondays at Spaceland" (Vol. 1 Abridged): Music Review

Abridging recordings of July 2006 gigs at this L.A. (Silverlake) club, local favorites DML charge with more intensity than on their self-titled début. It's closer to The Warlocks than Love or the Beatles. It's less like The Verve than tracks on their follow-up, "2." It may also prove why Mark E. Smith of The Fall would recruit members from DML as his back-up band after they opened for The Fall during yet another disastrous American tour. The band's tougher, more garage-like and less polished by production.

High points? The end of track 6 moves from a thundering piece "Vol. 4 [Blue]" into somewhere "Vol. 5 [Daily]"-- full of "I Am the Walrus" types of mellow wooziness that recalls the best acid-pop of the era. The start of track 9, "Rate/Depth," hammers a punkier delivery that enlivens the somber mood. It settles later into what most of this CD prefers: slow-building, cresting, waves of stoner rock-- if with more of a British late-60s shambling feel than a metallic hone or grungier accretion.

The album's lack of sheen works to its advantage. Sometimes it evokes postpunk in its determined single-mindedness. The songs from the first album at times do not boast the construction of some on "2," but they're made more convincing by the band's commitment to their concert and their concentration to bringing out the songs' power. They often come across more appealingly in this looser, louder format.

I reviewed both studio CDs recently [here and at Amazon], and while I admire both, I prefer the live show here. It ends with a lengthy-- naturally-- cover of Can's "Mother Sky." A great tune, and as with Th' Faith Healers and Loop's versions, DML locks into the classic krautrock 'mekanik' groove and churns away for ten minutes happily.

I'd be curious to find how, three years on, the band's shifted their more shoegazing-meets-Britpop songcraft into their stage performance. The band appears without pretense or pomp, and if you like The Warlocks, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Farflung, The Black Angels, or The Out Crowd, you'll like this. Interestingly, many of these songs do not appear on either CD, so fans of these two releases may want to seek this out.

(Posted to Amazon US today.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

An cúigiú Lúnasa ag cur báistí.

Bhí sé ag cur báistí beagán ar moch ar maidin seo ann. Tá sé an cúigiú Lúnasa go díreach anseo. Ar ndóigh, ní bhíonn nuacht ann go hiondúil ina hÉirinn. Ar scor ar bith, tá mé i gcónaí ina Cathair na hÁingeal!

Is maith liom nuair ag cur báistí. Níonn sé an tsráid. Líonann sé an speir. Glanann sé mo charr.

Bíonn scéal níos coitanta anseo faoi báisteach. Ar maidin, tá báisteach air. Bheifí imníoch go cinnte air. Ní bhíonn sé ábalta a tíomaint an bóthar mór. Stádfaidh an trácht cathrach ghluaisteán go luath gach áit.

Tiocfaidh brú tráchta triu na ceantair ann. Fanaim ar an mbus agus ar an treain go minic. Gheobhaidh tú duine go leor ag caitheamh cochall cniotáilte ro-mhór ann. Faoi deireanach, feicim na duine óg agus/nó na Laidiní leis hataí crua h-ollanachaí na hIncaigh.

Cloisfidh tú ar an nuachtan faoi "Faire Stoirme." Déarfaidh siad leis imni faoi néal doininne is fada. B'fhéidir, beidh muid fliuch báite. Mar sin féin, is docha go raibh tirim fós de gnáth ann.

Ní bheidh sé ag cur báistí níos fada i gCalifoirnea Theas. Ansin, éireoidh sé níos gile. Le deanaí, tá an lá sin níos teo níos tapaidh anois. Canann éin taobh amuigh do mo sheomra codlata aríst.

The fifth Monday raining.

There was a bit of rain coming down early this morning. It's the fifth Monday straight here. Of course, this isn't news usually in Ireland. However, I'm living in Los Angeles!

It pleases me when it's raining. It washes the road. It fills the sky. It cleans my car.

There's a story more customarily here about rain. In the morning, it looks like rain. Somebody may become fearful for sure. Somebody will be unable to drive on the highway. The city driving traffic will stop soon everywhere.

There'll come traffic congestion throughout the district. I wait often on the bus and the train. You'll find lots of people wearing too-large knitted scarves there. Lately, I see the young and/or the Latinos with soft hats of wool from the Incas.

You'll hear on the news about "Storm Watch." They will talk with terror about a stormy cloud far away. Perhaps, we will get drenched. All the same, it's likely that there will be dryness still as a rule.

It will not rain for long in Southern California. Then, it will get brighter. Lately, the sun's warmer very quickly now. The birds sing outside my bedroom again.

Image/ íomhá: "Ag Cur Báistí" le "Jonathan." 11 Meán Fómhair 2008. Gaelscoil de hÍde, Cnoc na Crúibe, Roscomáin.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

"Tuaisceart": Danta le Ciara Ní Tuama.

Chuir mé suíomh nua inniu síos ar mo bhlog. Tá nasc chuig danta rogha le Ciara mo chara. Scríobhann sí faoi ag tarlaithe ina Tuaisceart Éireann ar feadh na dushlán poblachtach le déanaí.

Is aithne liom an scríobhneoir seo nuair go raibh sí i gcónaí i gCalifoirnea Theas. Anseo, tá sí ag cónaigh is fada! D'imigh sí go Eirinn.

Léigh mé a danta ansin faoi deireanach. Tá tú ábalta a feiceáil siad anseo ar a blog. Tá sé fíor ornáideach ann.

Is maith liom an gréas leis an iasc mór. B'fhéidir, tá íomhá go raibh Meiriceánach gnás na tíre í ann. Is cuimhne liom faoi "brádan feasa" An Fhiannaíochta! Bhain mé uirthi os cionn.

Bheul, níl uair agamsa go leor anseo ag rá faoi seo anocht. Gheobhaidh tú ag fáil an scéalín "An Déantóir Buamála" freisin ann. Cuir cuairt go "Tuaisceart" túsa féin go luath.

"North": Poems by Carrie Twomey.

I put a new site up today on my blog. It's a link to collected poems by my friend Carrie. She writes about what's happened in the North of Ireland during the republican struggle recently.

I knew this writer when she was living in Southern California. Now, she's living farther away! She went off to Ireland.

I read her poems there lately. You are able to see them here on her blog. It's well designed there.

The design pleases me with the great fish. Perhaps, it's an image that may be a native American likeness. It reminds me of a Fenian tale's "salmon of knowledge"! I put it up above.

Well, there's not lots of time for me to speak about this tonight. You will get to find out the short story "The Bombmaker" there also. Pay a visit to "North" yourself soon.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Fanatics in Fabric?

A bit about religion & politics! Obama's inaugural nod to "non-believers" woke us up. We're no longer a "Christian nation," but a U.S. where Hindus and Muslims now step up alongside rhetorically yoked "Jews" to march along the 80% or so professed Christians in political or social ritual. I read in the February 27th "Forward" (one of our last in print, it seems; we may have to let it go to save trees and spare cash) yesterday Michael Felsen's "Obama's Faith in 'Non-Believers'."

Felsen, from the avowedly non-religious, leftist-radical (if by time's sepia as burnished as other Yiddishkeit) Workman's Circle/Arbeter Ring, as expected applauds such inclusion next to Approved Monotheists. Add to those reliable People of the Book now Hindus with 300 million gods, nearly as numerous in America (in followers and not deities, although the 1:1 ratio of residents in the 50 States to Indian superpowers does seem neatly appealing in a guardian angel hovering over every American's right shoulder type of set-up) as those claiming Judaism. We're a market for every marketing angle. I see Indian Americans now in ads, black women kissing white men, and all sorts of all-purpose caramel-colored brunettes cavorting. And, Asians seem as some aspire to be the "new Jews" given their prominence in print and on-line photos next to any matters hawked financial or dovishly educational.

A softer pitch, less hectoring, sells to our jittery buyer. Assurances in stability, aimed here or the hereafter. Doctrine rebranded as diversity. Dogma downsized to deals. Consumers remain wary, weary of debt, blamed both for spending and saving. Sinners whether profligate or spendthrift, hoarding up treasures where no moth can go. The parables come back to mind, the Book of Proverbs, hints of hymns and psalms.

In the same issue, Dan Friedman notes (do I alone hear an unattributed allusion echoing Walter Benjamin?) "Jewish Culture in the Age of Electronic Reproducibility." Arts and Culture editor Friedman argues that Judaism works as product placement outside the shul. For,
"as Douglas Rushkoff pointed out in his 2003 book 'Nothing Sacred,' unlike narrow religiosity, Jewish culture is perfectly placed to move into the 21st century, because Jewishness is perfect for this new hybrid world: It’s mobile, it’s democratic and it’s niche."

I recommend Rushkoff's book, by the way. He anticipated well the demand for a less-combative, more adaptable form of post-rabbinic Judaism, able to reach out to those not even darkening a door on the High Holidays. Value-added, tangential, quirky: it's three thousand years of wisdom as alternative product under a stealth label. (I think of hipsters falling for Pabst Blue Ribbon-- the beer my godmother drank out of cans in 1966-- revived as if a "real" downmarket brewery when in fact it's just another conglomerate masking itself from the bleary eye of the tatted and pierced barflies. Like the loft where the trendy afterhours crowd may dally, it's built on old capitalist, corporate industrial, foundations despite the faux-ironic slouch.)

The lack of geography, the necessity for decentralization-- at least post-Temple-- finds Judaism ready to fit into the little nooks of networking and the crannies of technology. Better an add-on app that gives the longing Jewish loft-dweller meaning than, I guess, Kabbalah Water or a red string. Friedman assures us that Judaism's a "high-quality niche," although how you differentiate the substance of the Ein Sof in what Regina Spektor peddles from what Madonna shills leaves me I admit sadly still unenlightened.

Friedman coins as "peercasting" what earlier commentators I've seen have called "podcasting." It's the narrowing of tastes that then can be shared electronically with like-minded folks one-on-one, improving in turn upon "narrowcasting" (think of cable vs. the big three channels). That in turn improved upon what Friedman credits as of course "broadcasting"-- total push, no pull, you the hapless viewer who has to get home by 8 to watch the new episode of "Seinfeld" or else must wait months in hopes of a summer re-run. And, like "Seinfeld," perhaps the larger culture will listen along too to what the fringe folks have to say, "with confidence that the particularity of the story will not prejudice the universality of the issue." Not that he mentions the show. He doesn't. Nothing wrong with that. I'm channelling it and I don't even like it. See the power of the marginal to captivate the majority? See who runs the media;) That's viral!

This "viral" marketing, intriguingly, reminds me of a brave student last term in the same course where his classmate asked me two months ago if I was an atheist. The student presented on Richard Dawkins' concept of the "selfish gene," memes, and the young twenty-ish undergrad touched delicately (within a study more about technological evolution) on how mimetics spread religion as a culturally embedded virus among its carriers. He showed a chart of Christianity, from 1054 onwards, splitting nearly as vigorously as any other organism under the microscope. I wonder if Rushkoff or Friedman thought of this form of a culture, a religion, a Jewish practice, as truly "viral" in the way that the Oxford biologist meant the term?

Zionists, jihadi, Christers, fanatics in fabric: these annoy a lot of sensible people. Even if we often harbor our own illogical tenets, as improbable at least as dianetics, the Book of Mormon, Mohammed's horse-conveyed flight to the Dome of the Rock, or transubstantiation. Yet not even neo-atheists-- except for Hitchens-- get that mad at Buddhists. Harris, in fact, shows no small sympathy for meditation in the Tibetan tradition in "The End of Faith." He's in quite a large crowd among his comparatively few kinsmen, secular though he professes. The well-known overlap with Jewish-born practitioners has been said to be half of all American-born followers of the dharma! Top this with the 15% or so cohort argued by some to be agnostic, atheist, or I guess like me so complicated I lack any census box, and you get, as Bill Maher argued half-successfully in "Religulous" (a film as awkward as its title), a substantial representation of a lot of non-... along with a lot of post-...Christians.

Those Dawkins tried so far unsuccessfully to get re-branded "brights" reach nowhere near, say, Swedish levels of stolid stoic reason. There's humanists, but this term for me gets forced too often into a rigid "secular" adjective by non-believers. This pairing ignores those who possess faith along with an adherence to a nuanced form of humanism. Maybe another Jesuit scientist, Teilhard de Chardin, could help us out here? I only wish I understood his philosophical speculations more. Maybe in 200 years my descendents will. I reckon the spiritual landscape will welcome the advent of the noosphere by then, if we allow our planet to survive long enough to hear this inspiring message. Certainly we need to hear voices that align us within fragile creation. All the talk of Twitter and cellphones and mobbing: will it bring wisdom?

It seems we're eager to follow and share much but with less time to stop and hold. Anyhow, Maher lets out the truth-- without managing to investigate why exactly as he may've wanted to before his snark waylaid his suss-- that Americans by far boast out of all advanced nations the most conspicuously credulous in faith. On the other hand, Rev. Wright aside, Obama foreshadows multicultural America where our children may wander from tradition. Or at least pledge not that allegiance when one's expected to choose one parent's creed over the other's. Look up "Ne Temere" that split many Catholic-Protestant marriages apart in essence if not in fact during last century. Often, as with some relatives of mine a century ago, daughters took the mother's creed, sons that of the father. I wonder what, or if, they really believed, even if they could not have admitted such aloud back then.

This leads to unpredictable families. Felsen reminds us what I doubt got a lot of campaign press. Obama's Muslim father turned atheist. His free-thinking, free-spirited early hippie mother suspected "organized religion." Her parents were "non-practicing Methodists and Baptists" although from that fabled Kansan heartland.

My hunch is that Obama's family's diverse paths in adulthood may become more common for many more Americans than now may think so in the comfort of their churches, mosques, or temples. Or, spas and Starbucks. A majority of voters currently vow never to elect an atheist-- it's easily the most detested category-- but I reckon by another quarter-century, if religious fundamentalism allied with globe-spanning weaponry allows us to survive, this may alter.

In My Father's House, many mansions? Obama's path, although perhaps partially for calculation, partially for meaning, led him back to Christianity. That variety remains one of many options, although it may become less often the one by default we expect of prodigal sons and wayward daughters. Also, which Maher neglects to explore, "organized religion" for the children of hippies and eggheads evolved more nuanced versions than peddled by a Chicago preacher. Dawkins argues that the moderates only further by misguided tolerance the excesses of their more intolerant brethren of whatever denomination. Maher agrees, but this proviso's overwhelmed towards the end of an increasingly shrill cinematic investigation turned entertainment. Therefore, the crucial point that he borrows (if uncredited) from Dawkins lacks nuance. Not that viewers of "Religulous" demand subtlety.

Maher should have given those Jesuits on camera more time (I admit my bias) to explain how one can doubt a scripture based on pre-scientific conceptions, yet still believe. I wanted astronomer Fr. Coyne and the other priest, the big laughing gent in front of St. Peter's, to explain that Ignatian sophistication. I know my college professors-- both Jesuits and ex-Jesuits!-- could have convinced Maher's audience. I'm not sure if Maher would possess the patience.

Dawkins, Harris, Maher, and Hitchens may charge that the clergy could not uphold Darwin and deity and remain truly faithful. Still, I'd have liked to have heard more from those who eschew radical cleavage to the Verbum Dei yet carry out their scholarship as highly educated, yet sincerely devout, adherents. Rather than chasing after crackpots, that direction could have inspired a less silly, but more worthy documentary that might have gotten the Oscar nomination Maher griped about missing during that last spectacular, twelve days ago live from Hollywood. Even if the film would have lacked so much wonderful stock footage, much of it from Budget Films, where Layne and "the boys" toil to find truly devilish clips of angelic awe(fulness).

In his National Prayer Breakfast address a month ago, Obama stressed the Golden Rule. He advocates moral foundations and ethical practices that anyone can attain. Maher's documentary fumbled this warm fuzzy lob, but this Enlightenment emphasis on decency without a fear of a vengeful God or eternal payback, a twist on Pascal's wager, deserves promotion. Certainly familiar, yet oddly hidden.

The venemous quotes Maher featured from the Founding Fathers fulminating against Christian tenets surprised me by their bitterness. What John Adams and Jefferson through the secularized Jews warned us about has come to pass. They still echo, from the margins and the arthouse cinema and the fringe columnists in papers for the minority of a minority of a minority readership today. I wonder if we will ever be able to run as far away from faith as the rationalists urge us to flee. I'm not sure we can stand the heat so far from the haimish kitchen of our forefathers and zaydes. As a recent Forward column's titled: "Deconstructing Cholent."

The prescient cautions now repeat through revived neo-atheists like Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, but they remain in their own self-righteousness as a restive, snarling, fervent, and superior cadre. I sympathize with them, but compared to Dante (at least the Paradiso), Khajaduro's sandstone ecstasy, Tara's gaze, or a Celtic filigree's spiral swirl, cold comfort from rational rule or chaos theory even in the contemplation of the helix, Horsehead Nebula, or cancer cell. You accept their logical sums, but they seem so smug to skeptical me as, well, true believers.

(P.S. That erudite, if superior-seeming as they lord their certainty over us doubters no less than pontiffs or imams-- trio marks another footnote tonight. Behind not hijab or chasuble, but between buckram and glue, through pulp and byte, they too thunder their fabrications bound by cloth about men of the cloth. I dared to review "The End of Faith," "The God Delusion," and "god Is Not Great" in a doomed attempt on Amazon at even-handedness. Their authors comprise precisely one-and-a-half Jews, technically if not actively. Harris as the naturally secular one and Hitch as accidentally half by his mother's assimilated side! Add Maher-- Irish Catholic I take from his dad; his non-practicing mom stamps him indelibly halachic. My Irish-Jewish boys, I hope, will inherit more flattering profiles than the comedian-- and his sister-- flaunt! Time will tell.)

Illustration: Charles Allstin Collis. "The Devout Childhood of St. Elizabeth of Hungary." 1852 Pencil drawing. Tate Gallery, London.