“The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less. . .” (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Tom Wagner, NASA: not to be trusted because he studies Antarctica

Tom Wagner, NASA: not to be trusted because he directly studies Antarctica

I am not an environmentalist. I’m not a member of the Sierra Club. I don’t have a “Save the Whales” bumper sticker on my car. “Greenpeace” is much too warlike for my taste.

In the news yesterday were two “stories” that reaffirmed my suspicion that humankind, and especially Americans, are so addicted to their (our) hubris that it has taken over our ability to live successfully on this little planet.

Yesterday U.S. Senator Mark Rubio of Florida announced, “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy.”

He is correct about one part of his announcement: “the laws that they propose we pass will [not] do anything about it.”

“They” refers to all of those members of the Sierra Club and those scientists and those radical Democratic politicians (oh, for just one Radical Politician!) who want to save the planet.

Yesterday also, scientists (who take measurements over decades and have some understanding of the physical phenomena of planet Earth) announced they have evidence of at least one effect of “dramatic changes to our climate” that cannot be reversed. This “dramatic change” will take place in the lifetime of my grandnephews. These scientists, as far as I know, have no fiduciary or political interest in letting the evidence speak for itself.

The new finding that the eventual loss of a major section of West Antarctica’s ice sheet “appears unstoppable” was not completely unexpected by scientists . . . The study, led by glaciologist Eric Rignot at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. . . and the University of California, Irvine, follows decades of research and theory suggesting the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is inherently vulnerable to change. . .

“Unstable,” wrote Ohio State University glaciologist John Mercer in 1968. It was identified then and remains today the single largest threat of rapid sea level rise.

When it's gone, it's gone

When it’s gone, it’s gone

 

You can (as I did) hear about it from a mass media outlet instead of reading the scary scientific evidence. Senator Rubio is wagering his political career on his (pretty certain) understanding that a majority of Americans don’t want to read scary stuff and wouldn’t believe the truth if they read it.

All that’s necessary to discredit any idea or research for an enormous segment of the population of the United States is to associate it with “scientists,” particularly from universities.

Never mind that this study consists of actually measuring ice and water and temperatures for decades. Too many Americans practice anti-intellectualism and are convinced of the status quo of ignorance, just as the Church before 1492 believed the world is flat. Otherwise, no one could stake his political future on the claim that NASA, the University of California at Irvine, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Ohio State University are making things up.

I have almost—that’s almost—arrived at the place in my senescence that I really don’t give a damn what the rest of you do to your planet. If you all want to let Mark Rubio announce that God is in charge of the certain sinking of Miami into the sea and then elect him President, go for it! I’ll be long dead by the time Miami disappears, so what do I care?

I care a lot, it turns out. What grieves me is the pride required to remain ignorant when knowledge and information that could save your grandchildren is available.

It takes real heels-dug-in pride to remain ignorant. Ask Donald Skilling.

It takes the pride of absolute certainty that you deserve what you have and the rest of the world can go to hell to preach, teach, and give support to ignorance. Ask David Koch.

I say ask those guys because they are the poster-boys for ignorance, not because they are any worse than anyone else.

The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less;
The times are winter, watch, a world undone:
They waste, they wither worse; they as they run
Or bring more or more blazon man’s distress
.

The times, as they run, as they bring about the waste of our lives, announce man’s distress.

“The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less
,”
by Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844 – 1889

The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less;
The times are winter, watch, a world undone:
They waste, they wither worse; they as they run
Or bring more or more blazon man’s distress.
And I not help. Nor word now of success:
All is from wreck, here, there, to rescue one—
Work which to see scarce so much as begun
Makes welcome death, does dear forgetfulness.

Or what is else? There is your world within.
There rid the dragons, root out there the sin.
Your will is law in that small commonweal…

Neville F. Newman, a post-doctoral fellow at McMasters University in Ontario, Canada, (obviously not to be trusted because he is an academic) says

For Hopkins, the squandering of the world of which we are stewards is the root cause of our alienation from God. By requiring humankind to observe the earth’s destruction, Hopkins demands an acceptance of responsibility both for the action and the remedy. . . .

The fragment’s deepest sorrow emerges with Hopkins’s recognition that he is unable to effect change, “And I not help.”

That’s my deep sorrow. I cannot help. I care about destroying the earth and feel helpless in the face of ignorance and politics. Mark Rubio will feed voters’ pride of ignorance by pretending he’s advocating saving the economy when what he is really advocating is not offending the PACs of the enormously wealthy who have the power to get him elected—and whose enormous wealth depends on the pride of ignorance.

Pride, not ignorance. The certainty that “I know more about science than the scientists do.”

I don’t know about Hopkins’ and Edna St. Vincent Millay’s God-talk, but. . .

“God’s World,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is—as
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.
—1917

When it's gone, will this be gone?

When it’s gone, will this be gone?

“It is at the edges that time thins.” (Kay Ryan)

". . . amber suspending attention . . ."

“. . . amber suspending attention . . .”

On January 9, 2014, I wrote a bit about a poem by Kay Ryan. Kay Ryan was Poet Laureate of the Library of Congress 2008-2010. She’s also a lesbian, not that that makes any difference one way or the other. It just obviously makes me feel a special kinship with her. No, we’re not elitists or exclusivists or anything like that. And we’re not in a conspiracy to take over the world. Don’t be ridiculous. Just because you and Neil deGrasse Tyson can wink at each other knowingly when someone says, “It’s not rocket science,” the rest of us can’t assume you’re in some sort of conspiracy to take over the world.

Of course, I wish he were—and you would help him—to end the hoodwinking of so many fundamentalist christians and poor republicans by powerful financial and oil interests to make them believe both evolution and climate change are conspiracies of evil liberals just so the oligarchs can tighten their stranglehold on politics and the economy.

Just see how far off course I can get in the first 144 words of writing.

This started out to be a silly little piece on one of the items on my list of accomplishments before I kick the bucket—I won’t say my “bucket list” because my old buddy Kay might read this and be offended.

One of my first goals in retirement is to jettison the word “just” from my vocabulary—both written and spoken.

“Just” is a harmless little word unless you are using it in Jean-François Lyotard’s (1924-1998) sense of Just Gaming, his 1979 book about the language games we play. (Two observations: Lyotard lived to be only five years older than I am now, the sort of thing I notice with greater regularity every day; and his “language gaming” theory is one of those seminal 20th-century French ideas I somewhat understand, all about how the language we use is much of the time intended to wield whatever power we are personally able to muster over everyone around us.)

I need to ask Grant and Martha if “just” has some regional history or if it’s just one of those (almost) meaningless words that all English-speakers use.

You don’t know Grant and Martha? You’re admitting you don’t know the only really literate social/mass media left in the United States? Well, almost literate. NPR, of course, and specifically Grant and Martha’s show “A Way with Words.” They actually, believe it or not, answer listeners’ questions about etymologies of words. There. How’s that for my being snooty and elitist?

Off on another tangent, I see.

So I was in a very serious mood a couple of days ago (as I seem to have been most of the time here at the experience of letting go of my teaching career) and remembered Kay Ryan’s little poem (she says it’s pretty long for her, which it is).

“The Edges of Time,” by Kay Ryan

I claim a special kinship

I claim a special kinship

It is at the edges
that time thins.
Time which had been
dense and viscous
as amber suspending
intentions like bees
unseizes them. A
humming begins,
apparently coming
from stacks of
put-off things or
just in back. A
racket of claims now,
as time flattens. A
glittering fan of things
competing to happen,
brilliant and urgent
as fish when seas
retreat.

(Kay Ryan. “The Edges of Time.” The Best of It: New and Selected Poems. New York: Grove Press, 2010. This collection won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2011. )

I’m astounded when a great poet makes a simple but magical and powerful image like insects trapped in amber—frozen in time—and then the insects “unseized” when the amber melts. My God, it’s the sort of image you think, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Because it’s so obvious only a poet, only Kay Ryan would think of it.

She says, “Time which had been dense and viscous as amber suspending intentions like bees unseizes them.” Time solidified in place like amber, freezing all of my intentions, my desires, my hopes in to be dealt with or realized another day, has suddenly liquefied (as in amber’s original liquid form—tree resin). All of those intentions, desires, hopes are released to be finished now! There, how’s that for a wordy flat-footed explanation of a poetic image? Sorry.

That’s what I was thinking about a couple of days ago sitting at my desk at the university waiting for students to appear for conferences over their last work.

And the whole experience of contemplation was nearly destroyed by my discovery of Ryan’s use of one word. A humming begins, apparently coming from stacks of put-off things or just in back.

Just a few days before I had told my students they need to expunge words such as “biggest,” “best” and (most of all) “very” from their writing. I told them I’ve been in a years-long battle to expunge “just” from my writing. I’ve nearly succeeded in my writing, but in my speech, it just won’t go away.

And then Kay Ryan canonizes it. Just in back of the stacks of things I’ve put off there is a buzzing, beginning to be a hubbub of those bees let loose from the sticky amber. There is a racket of stuff still waiting to be done. That trip to Easter Island. That unwritten book. That last will and testament. That pile of stuff I don’t want anyone to go through when I’m dead (they will be shocked).

claims“A racket of claims now, as time flattens.”

“. . . by dividing the shame among them, it is so little apiece that no one minds it.” —Benjamin Franklin

Are you ready to eat some cake?

Are you ready to eat some cake?

Benjamin Franklin thought an absolute monarchy was preferable to an oligarchy:

The arbitrary government of a single person is more eligible, than the arbitrary government of a body of men. A single man may be afraid or ashamed of doing injustice; a body is never either one or the other, if it is strong enough. It cannot apprehend assassination, and by dividing the shame among them, it is so little apiece that no one minds it  (“Political Observation.” Franklin’s Sayings. Ebook available from Google Books).

It’s a good thing to be sick now and then to keep us humble. I wonder what David Koch and Alice Walton do when they get a cold that lasts with a fever of 100 degrees for four days. Do they have access to doctors and medications better and more effective than rest of us, or do they suffer, too? I can’t imagine David Koch with a cold.

So I’m writing almost nothing today because I can’t write more. I haven’t written for four days. That in itself is enough to make me sick – crazy, at any rate.

My purpose today is very simple. If I can get one person to listen to the Bill Moyers/Paul Krugman discussion of Tomas Piketty’s book on capitalism in the 21st century, or—better yet—buy the book and read it, I will have done my part in bringing about the beginning of the revolution we need in this country.

Here are hyperlinks to Picketty’s seminal book and the discussion by Bill Moyers and Paul Krugman.

That old rabble -rouser!

That old rabble -rouser!

If you want to understand the world in this necessary new way, you might look for and read the following academic articles (I realize that academics are suspect and seen as rabid commies or something in the anti-intellectual milieu of this country, but I’ll make the suggestion).
________________

Fukuyama, Francis. “Left Out.” American Interest 6.3 (2011): 22-28.
(Francis Fukuyama is Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute of Stanford University.) This article is available online.

“Scandalous as it may sound to the ears of Republicans schooled in Reaganomics, one critical measure of the health of a modern democracy is its ability to legitimately extract taxes from its own elites. The most dysfunctional societies in the developing world are those whose elites succeed either in legally exempting themselves from taxation, or in taking advantage of lax enforcement to evade them, thereby shifting the burden of public expenditure onto the rest of society” (Fukuyama).

“Another set of ideas was of even more direct help to the wealthy: Reaganomics. Supply-side economics provided a principled justification for the rich paying lower taxes on the grounds that entrepreneurial incentives unleashed by lower marginal tax rates would not merely trickle but pour down both via public finance and through the creation of employment. This argument was likely true at the near 90 percent marginal rates that prevailed after World War II, but those rates were reduced in several waves beginning in the 1960s. Clinton’s tax increases of the early 1990s brought rates up only slightly, and didn’t have the growth-killing effects widely predicted by Republicans—just the opposite, they preceded one of the great economic expansions of recent memory. The benefits of the Bush-era cuts flowed overwhelmingly to the wealthy, and yet were promoted on the grounds that lower rates would redound to everyone’s benefit. This is still a gospel that many people continue to believe, including, oddly enough, all too many of those left

Nothing to fear but George Lucas's money

Nothing to fear but George Lucas’s money

behind” (Fukuyama).

________________

“Too Important for Clever Titles — Scientific Study Says We Are an Oligarchy (Update).”
Daily KOS (Mon Apr 14, 2014)
________________

Piketty, Thomas, and Emmanuel Saez. “Top Incomes and The Great Recession: Recent Evolutions and Policy Implications.” IMF Economic Review 61.3 (2013): 456-478.
This article is available online.
________________

Spitz, Janet. “Intentioned Recession: An Ideologically Driven Re-Structuring.” New Political Science 33.4 (2011): 445-464.
This article is available online.