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This is, I fear, a fairly immodest proposal... and that makes me sad. [Mar. 9th, 2011|03:37 pm]
For what it is worth, here is a small contribution to the continuing "political civility" thread of discussion that crops up over and over again in this thoroughly partisan era we live in.

It seems to me that you know you *really* understand your opponent's position when you can describe it in terms that they are content to accept as fair and undistorted. 

My rule of thumb is that if my characterization of what the other side is saying is dismissed by that side as a parody or as a straw man or as a distortion in whatever way of my opposite number's position, then I have failed in the first requirement of civil discourse and dialog: I have not demonstrated that I really understand what my opposite number *means* by what he is saying.

It is crucial to this suggestion that my characterization of what someone on the other side is arguing is accepted as valid by someone from that side, not just by someone from my own side. In practical terms, this means I will not argue against your point of view before I can restate it in a way that you find acceptable...and will require the same from you when it comes to arguing against my position(s).

I don't do a lot of political discussion any more because, sadly, it seems increasingly difficult to find people willing to do the work necessary to arrive at what seems to me to be a necessary starting point.
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Reading Mark Twain's Autobiography, Volume 1 [Jan. 16th, 2011|09:52 pm]
I finished volume 1 of Mark Twain's autobiography last week, and have been mulling what to say about it.

One thing involves a bit of irony. Twain writes that once a review has been published, no critic ever has an original thought for subsequent reviews--- they all agree with each other. I don't have the exposure to turn-of-the-last-century reviews to know how accurate this perception is, but I was amused to read that Twain's response to this was to make sure that his friend Howell at The Atlantic got a manuscript of any new books to review long before other reviewers, counting on him to set the tone.

Robert Heinlein did this toward the end of his career--he'd have Spider Robinson review his new books in advance; everyone else had to wait for the publication date.

Anyhow, I did read a review of the autobiography in the Wall Street Journal before I read teh book, and find myself agreeing with one observation the reviewer made... and I wonder if I'd have had the same thought had I not read the review before reading Volume 1.

A short experiment, then--Twain made a number of false starts on an autobiography, and eventually settled on a method he felt was uniquely his, something nobody had ever though of before. He dictated instead of writing so that the prose would be immediate, informal, and discursive. He emphasized that he would dictate what was on his mind in a given day, following his current thoughts and interests, and not attempting to create a chronological account of his life. Instead he talked about what interested him, and jumped into memories as he talked.

He also would insert newspaper articles, excerpts of other things he had written, and passages of other people's work he wanted to reference (especially his daughter's biography of him, which was half diary and half biography).

Sound familiar? Think of the inserts as hyperlinks, and it snaps into focus for me: Twain was blogging his autobiography.

So... is this characterization something I would have come up with on my own had I not read the WSJ review? Or was that observation in the review enough to shape my perception of what I was reading?

If reviewers are good at what they do, and if we accept that there is such a thing as objective truth (lower case "t" in this instance), I would expect people to come up with similar conclusions about a book, at least with respect to something that really is pretty evidently true.  This is not a flaw in reviewers; they see the same thing because it is there to be seen.

I found reading the Autobiography to be a lot like reading a blog, whether someone else planted a seed for the opinion in me or not. Deal with it, Sam.

All of which which leads me to my next observation. Twain is remarkably contemporary in his voice and attitudes--recognizably "modern", so to speak. BUT. He writes and opines with essentially no trace of psychologizing, and this is sometimes rather jarring.

Not that it's jarring per se to read work by someone who doesn't psychologize in the modern sense; most of the pre-modern reading I've done lacks that same perspective; it's a modern perspective. But Twain doesn't have it and doesn't use it-- for him character and thoughts define a person and explain his actions.

Combine this with Twain's apparent belief that hypocrisy is one of the worst--perhaps the worst--of human failures, and you do get something jarring, because the elevation of hypocrisy to the status of paramount vice is also a modern perspective. This is not a perspective I share, having lived at the end of a century which showed what the non hypocritical humans can do do, from Stalin and Hitler to Mao and Pol Pot.

It is interesting, though--When Twin doesn't like someone, his take on their character is withering.  And he often extends that jaundiced view to humanity in general. Yet in the next day's entry, he is all praise and loving kindness about a given friend or old acquaintance--described as a person without flaw, or with almost no flaws.

For a long time I have thought that we, in our over-psychologized age, have come to substitute understanding for forgiveness. If you can attribute the negative parts of a person's character to trauma or issues; if you can explain an unpleasant action by analyzing it as "acting out", you can avoid the need to simply forgive them for their trespasses.

Beaus Twain believes in character and not in psychological constructs, his take on the people of his time is limited to forgiving acceptance or outraged condemnation (Yes, I oversimplify).

Well, it was always thus, really. We have just added condescending or compassionate understanding to our range of reactions.

There is considerable humor in the book, but it is mostly the humor of Twain's lecture circuit persona--cynical, sarcastic, hyperbolic, and inverted. It is entertaining, but more so in small doses than in a marathon exposure.

But Twain's is a great mind shining forth from a great talent at expression--I found the book engaging and entertaining and well worth reading, and I look forward the succeeding volumes.
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Who was Olive Logan? Mark Twain's Autobiography: outtake 1 [Dec. 6th, 2010|03:04 pm]
[Current Mood |amusedamused]

I am currently reading The Autobiography of Mark Twain, published in unexpurgated form 100 years after his death.  One incident struck me as particularly illuminating and amusing, a story that starts on page 151 concerning one Olive Logan, a low-rent celebrity who worked the lecture circuit in the late 1860s.

 It turns out, according to Twain, that her celebrity was entirely manufactured, probably by her husband, a journalist who put out very short, filler puff pieces on her doings and opinions as though they mattered--such as "The report that Olive Logan will spend the coming winter in Paris is premature. She has not yet made up her mind."

 She also published her own work-- Twain said it was undistinguished--in newspapers and obscure publications. At one point, Ms. Logan's name was as familiar as any celebrity's, and people discussed her. But Twain says when he asked people what she had done to be the subject of such interest, nobody could ever say.

 She was, as are more than a few people today, famous for being famous. She worked the lecture circuit for a year or so, and the reality of her appearances seems to have destroyed her celebrity, and she dropped back into obscurity.

 So, once again, a modern phenomenon turns out to be a repeat of something well known to previous generations. Perhaps there really is nothing new under the sun, after all.

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Reunion: Delight, Affection,Regret, Kindness...And Bandwidth [Jun. 15th, 2010|03:45 pm]
[Current Mood |gratefulgrateful]

The 40th year reunion of the OHS class of 1970 was held, well attended, and is now passing into memory, as have the days that brought us together in the first place. It was a great weekend, even though I attended only a smallish part of it. Here are my reflections on the event--pretty obvious stuff, I suppose, but saying the obvious out loud is what I do. And sometimes I stumble over things that are not so obvious.

Read more...Collapse )
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Hearing God's Voice Clearly [Jan. 23rd, 2010|06:11 pm]
I heard someone this week bemoaning the fact that is is so difficult for him to hear God's voice, to know what God really wants him to do with his life. I think I surprised him when I said "Well, that's a relief."

More behind the cut...Collapse )
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The Gift Our Father Longs to Give [Dec. 26th, 2009|12:43 pm]
I had a remarkable experience this December. My daughter--the mountain biking, road biking, rock-climbing, SCUBA diving, Skydiver asked for a basic set of tools so she could work on her bikes, her car, and her equipment.

I cannot recall ever being so pleased at the prospect of shopping for a Christmas gift. I've bought her books and music and clothing over the years, and toys of one sort or another, and basket of "I enjoy being a girl" lotions & such, and enjoyed the giving, the seeking out of things she might like. But this was, in an odd way, a gift to me as well, because I love tools. I love fixing things and tinkering. Over the last 30 years I've amassed a nice collection of tools, and I know which have been the most useful and versatile, what has worked and what has not.

It was exciting, getting her set up with a good basic set of tools and hardware. I shopped around a lot, thinking about different combinations and what gaps I might need to fill; looking for toolboxes and carry bags, admiring the design of this set of pliers and that ratcheting screwdriver...

I think the only thing that might match it for shopping pleasure would be buying an electric train set for a grandchild--not that I'm in a hurry to have one or anything, but the possibility really quickens my pulse. How lucky I would be to have someone to buy a gift for that I would love having myself; sharing the joy of wanting the same thing another wants and being able to satisfy a shared desire.

Which gives rise to some thoughts on prayer.

If I, a weak and earthly father can have such joy in filling a request from my child that I know is good for her, how much more does our Father in heaven delight in sharing our desires and filling them?   In him there is no darkness at all; when I bought tools for my daughter, it was a chance to buy tools themselves, something I like doing. With God there is no taint of self-indulgence, small and benign though mine may have been.

I got her a wonderful set of high-quality tools, giving her in one swoop a set that took me 5 or 8 years to accumulate from the time I was her age, buying what I needed for each chore and waiting on the rest until needs and affordability coincided. I was able to give to her in abundance, and did so with great pleasure and satisfaction. And her delight on receipt was the cherry on top of the sundae.

I am convinced that there are prayers which God our Father longs to answer for us with the same enthusiasm and abundance I had answering my daughter's request. But I think we do not pray them as often as he would like, or as much as we need. 

Lord, enter our prayers, and guide us into praying not what we imagine we want or need, but for those things you will delight in giving us and the world. Give us the trust to pray for your will to really be done here on earth, and in our lives, the way your will rules in heaven and and in the life to come. Grant us the gift of asking you for what you most want to give, that our joy may be completed through your love and mercy and abundance.
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A prayer from Depression [Apr. 9th, 2009|12:02 pm]
Oh Resurrected Lord
Shining with the Glory of the Father
And seated at the Right Hand of God
Please hear me as I call to you from the depths of my sorrow.
You who bore all the pain and shame of the world in death
Hear me as I call to you from own pain and shame
I have lost sight of Your light
My eyes are overwhelmed by darkness
And my heart is heavy with dread
The taste of life is ashes in my mouth
And death opens its arms in greeting
Deliver me from my extremity, Oh Lord
Open my eyes to see again your light
Fill my heart with gratitude for your blessings
And my soul with the sweetness of Grace
Remind me of your Love
and give me the strength to return to the world you have made
Rejoicing in your mercy
Fill my mouth with praises to Your name
And my days with works of Your will
So raised with You, I may never return
To the emptiness and despair of self alone.
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Iwo Jima Reunion [Mar. 12th, 2009|02:39 pm]
On Friday, February 20, I attended a 3-day reunion of survivor's from the battle of Iwo Jima, a reunion that also included survivors of the USS Indianapolis and members of the "Lost Battalion", along with a scattering of other WWII veterans.  It was a remarkable weekend, and it has taken some time for me to gather the perspective necessary to write about it.

I was there because my father-in-law was a pilot in VMTB 242, a Marine Air squadron of TBM Avengers which took part in the preliminary bombing of the island before the invasion. After the airfield was taken and Mt. Suribachi cleared, half of his squadron--his half--were moved to the island to fly close ground support missions for the attacking Marines--the Avenger being heavily armored against light arms fire and capable of delivering a wide variety of munitions (considering what was available at the time).  The primary weapon that they wanted to use were 5" rockets, 8 of which could be mounted under the wings of a TBM. In the event, these rockets proved to be to inaccurate to be too useful against the tunnels occupied by the Japanese defenders. but the four  .50 caliber machine guns and other capabilities of the aircraft were put to good use. Three of the squadron's airplanes were destroyed by Japanese artillery; a number of the squadron members were killed by artillery fire or infiltrators.

A total of 31 Iwo Jima survivors attended, along with 6 or 8 survivors from the USS Indianapolis. I never got a count of "Lost Battalion" members, and I think none may have come this year.

There may not be many Lost Battalion members left; there weren't a lot of them in the first place, and a number of people from the other groups who had attended the previous year were unable to attend because of poor health, and a number were memorialized.

There are any number of attitudes a person can take toward a veteran; in this venue there was a pretty small range. Love, respect, honor, and pride... mixed with grief, sorrow, and an unavoidable sense of mortality.

One of the most remarkable moments for me was on Saturday morning. Roughly 250 or 300 members of the Patriot Guard, joined by a Boy Scout Troop and others came to the, lining the corridors leading from the lobby to the meeting hall, shoulder to shoulder, standing at attention, holding full sized American flags.

The first stretch of the corridor was about 40 yards long, and it was an impressive sight. I accompanied my father-in law down the line, and I watched him straighten his arthritic spine, compressed by dive bombing and a near miss by a 14-inch shell. Head up, shoulders back, he walked down the line not so much for himself but for the other members of his squadron; he is one of two left alive.

All around me I saw the fierce, protective love and pride of veterans for each other; the men against the wall from both Gulf Wars, from Viet Nam, Korea... and each old vet pulled himself erect as he approached the corridor, determined to honor those who could not be there.

As we neared the corner I saw the corridor was sill lined, and could see that it extended beyond the next turn as well--in all about 120 yards of corridor lined by men and women standing silently, respectfully, shoulder-to-shoulder. Weekend bikers in fancy expensive leathers next to scruffy riders in denim colors and worn boots, all standing to attention, all silent as a sentry.

Tears streaked many of the faces, and my own eyes filled and overflowed; it was, simply, overwhelming.

I stood outside with one of the Indianapolis survivors and listened to his story--5 days in the water seeing and hearing his shipmates taken by sharks and wondering when his turn would come... and later, why they left him alone. He found out when he was rescued; he was covered head to toe with a thick layer of fuel oil.  He also told me about his post war life, words tumbling out like a landslide. Nothing in life was worse than those 5 days, but nothing in life ever brought him a sense of peace or ease at being alive.  And in his age, he wondered why he was left alive, even now, when so many had gone before.

On Saturday night we heard from a Japanese who had been training to become a Kamikaze; his life was saved because the war ended two weeks before he was scheduled to take off in his flying bomb. At the end of his speech he sang the Imperial Japanese Army's dirge for all the dead, ending with a sharp military bow, holding it to thunderous applause from men whose hatred long since turned to sorrow enough to share with even the most fearsome of former enemies.

Memorials abounded--a general service for all who died on the Island; a general service for the survivors who died in the last year, and a special service for the family of a Medal of Honor Recipient who died recently.

I watched a pair of 84 year old buglers playing taps. One of them had to stop; both had tears streaming down their lined and weary faces.

I watched aging children and mature grandchildren watching over their fathers and grandfathers,  the young hawks soaring protectively over the old eagles.

I was proud to be there, in the presence of men who endured what only other veterans can understand.
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How things have changed. [Jan. 28th, 2009|05:16 pm]
[Current Mood |wry]

Years ago--never mind how many--A newsstand was a place you went to that had a ton of magazines, paperback books, and newspapers, plus cigars and other junk. Some of them--by no means all of them--had a little room guarded by a curtain, behind which a person might skulk and buy what we didn't even know to call porn; they were just dirty books and magazines. People who did so often bought a newspaper or other magazines to hide whatever they might have purchased behind the curtain.

Today I stopped at a newsstand to get a magazine I don't subscribe to that had something in it which interested me. These days, I find, a newsstand is a porn shop that has a smaller section in which you can find magazines, many of which have no nudity or other adult content at all.

Imagine that!

I got the magazine--Model Railroader, if you must know--and picked up a copy of Mad Magazine as well, which I haven't seen for a long time, it seems. (It too has changed!)

I wondered for a moment if I ought to buy some porn to hide my mundane purchases...but I decided to flaunt my unorthodox tastes. and purposefully put the covers of both magazines facing outwards.  I read kid humor and model railroad hobby magazines on occasion, and I'm not ashamed for the world to know it!

Please don't tell my parents.
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WANT!!! [Jan. 22nd, 2009|08:07 am]
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