Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Archive for June, 2013

Filthy Lucre

with 7 comments

Every once in a while I have one of those, where things don’t just go wrong, they persist in epic fail. By eight o’clock, I was a complete wreck, and I’ve become very worried about my chicken. 

Given the principle that luck comes in runs, that chicken is going to get up and walk out the door before I cook  it, or I’m going to accidentally put it down the garbage disposal the way I did the turkey one Thanksgiving a few years ago, or…

You see what I mean.

Part of  the list of failures for this morning is my utter inability to find the link to the Weekly Standard article about the lack of Republican literary writers. 

I know there’s a link to it somewhere, because I found it with a link.  It was on Arts and Letters Daily about a week ago.  But when I look at ALD, I can’t find the link, and when I google the article–I get sent to the ALD home page.

Where I can’t find it again.

So, for the moment, you’ll just have to take my word for it–there was a short article in The Weekly Standard lamenting and trying to explain the lack of “literary” writers from the Republican ranks.

It was a very short article, and very odd in some ways. 

There was, for instance, that emphasis on “literary.”  Why restrict yourself to a single genre when discussing the political content of writers work or their lives?

It is difficult to impossible to dispute that, these days, what goes by the name of “literary” is not the high art tradition but another genre. 

And it’s a highly restrictive genre at that.  Writers like Lorrie Moore, Tim O’Brien and Sue Miller aren’t the heirs of Dickens, Shaw and Hemingway.  They’re not even the heirs of Proust.

By and large they’re part of a large bureaucratic class whose career paths are mapped out ahead of them and whose income is predicated on a strict adherence to a set of rules that covers not only their writing, but their personal  lives and their opinions on everything from fast food to genocide.

Great writers were once stereotyped as guys who ran away from home to travel on tramp steamers.  Most contemporary literary writers  never get out of school.

But what interested me most about the piece was the assumption–never stated, and possibly unnoticed by the writer–that there are only two possible choice, “liberal or left” and “in favor of commerce and business.”

And we all do it, to an extent.  We assume that “literary intellectuals” will always and everywhere be left-wing, or at least welfare state liberals.  Scratch a passionate devotee of the Metaphysical Poets or the Pre-Raphaelites or Homer  in the original Greek, and you find somebody also passionate for redistributing income an installing the dictatorship of the proletariat–or at least the vanguard that will lead the dictatorship of the proletariat.

What’s odd about this is the dichotomy itself–either you’re for the rise of commerce or  you’re for the rise of “social justice,” and that’s that.

But those are hardly the only two alternatives, and there’s more ways than one to be against commerce. 

What’s more, up until a few decades ago, men and women committed to that third choice made up the bulk of teachers of English, art history, and philosophy–and a fair clump of the teachers of history proper–in most American and European colleges and universities.

One of the reasons why you may denigrate commerce, and capitalism in general, is because capitalism is a great leveller.  It breaks down traditional relationships between the classes more surely and relentlessly than a Communist dictatorship (of the proletariat or not) ever could.  It sweeps away all the old hierachies and makes the old gatekeepers irrelevant.  It substitutes the rule of the dollar for the judgment of the elect.

In other words, one of the reasons you may be opposed to capitalism is because it destroys aristocracy.

Now, it is true that the social justice/welfare state/socialist-to-Communist line is also an attempt to return to aristocracy.  It posits a world in which the Enlightened Few who Really Understand what is going on in the world direct and control the choices and lives of the Unenlightened Many.

But no matter how fundamentally aristocratic that vision of the world is, it is not aristocratic in the same way as that of straightforward aristocrats.

An aristocrat–an Ortega y Gasset, for instance–doesn’t simply believe that the masses are  Unenlightened.  He believes that the number of people able to attain true culture are very small, and that the culture itself is vastly more important and valuable than any hundred thousands of human beings who just don’t get it. 

What’s more, such culture is both traditional and ancient.  Modern society has, by definition, nothing to add to it.

Nor does science, which is grubby and procedural and of no interest to anyone but people with grubby little minds focussed on the trivial.

The aristocratic mind is focussed, above all else, on preserving the legacy of the past in as hierarchical and rigid a way as possible.

As late as the era in which I went to college, there were nice big clumps of aristocrats in the Humanities. 

And in the era just before that, between the two world wars especially, such aristocrats existed not only on college campuses, but very prominently in the culture at large.

Ortega  y Gasset’s book was a best seller, and undergraduates were at least as likely to style themselves as exemplars of Good Taste and Good Breeding as they were to take up radical politics, especially at universities in the South.

My question is this–where are all the aristocrats?  Where did they go?  Why does it seem, these days, as if they no longe exist?

When I try to  puzzle my way through this question, I come up with a lot of half-answers that aren’t truly satisfying.

One of those  half answers is that it is harder to play the aristocratic role than it is to play the revolutionary. 

It isn’t quite enough for an aristocrat just to strike a pose.  He has to actually know something, and quite often he has to know a lot of something.

We’re long past the era when prep schools automatically insured that their graduates could read Greek and Latin and that they h ad read their way through Homer and Shakespeare as well.  We’re completely forgotten that there was a time when our high school guaranteed the same for their “college course” students.

Even most of the best public and private schools no longer teach “that stuff,” and even when they do teach it they don’t do it in any systematic way.  It’s beyond unusual to find a college Freshman who arrives on campus convinced that Hesiod is more important to the tradition than Sappho or that Donne’s meditations have more to recommend them than his sonnets.

But “knowing something” is, after all, a relative thing, and there’s that saying about the kingdom of the blind. 

Both undergraduates and PhDs these days are so badly prepared acadmically that a would be aristocrat could probably get away with quite a lot of not knowing things he should. 

I wonder if the real reason is that the option doesn’t occur to anybody, because they’ve never actually encountered it.

One of the things the Humanities are supposed to do for us is to let us experiences ways of living and modes of thinking different from our own.  They are supposed to present to us all the possible ways in which life can be lived and understood, at least as they have appeared in the Western tradition.

I had a student this past term who tried to explain Coleridge’s “Kubla Kahn” as his expression of despair at his “addiction.”  When I explained to her that this era had no concept of “addiction,” and that people like Coleridge thought smoking opium was good for them (witness the poetry he wrote while high!)–she couldn’t assimilate it.

This same student, being informed that in the era of Shakespeare and Donne, it was definitely NOT the case that “everybody had their own idea about God,” confidently asserted that since people of the time were restricted to “just one idea” about God they were very frustrated and angry and couldn’t lead good lives.

It is very different to imagine lives that are truly and fundamentally different from our own.  In some ways, we can never actually do it.

There was a time, though, when we provided not just competing visions of what the world was like–you can get that from science fiction and fantasy–but competing realities of possible lives. 

My students are not surprised to find that writers of novels and stories have different ideas about how the world does or should work–that’s “creativity” and it has nothing to do with the real world.

On the very few occassions when I have been able to get through the hazy conviction that Now is all that’s real or possible, they’re amazed that there are or were actually people in the world who thought these things and lived these ways and who would consider the way they themselves live to be completely undesirable.

Even when I do manage to impress it on them, they’re highly skeptical.

We’ve lost a big whacking hunk of who and what we are and were.

Ortega y Gassett is probably rolling over in his grave somewhere, feeling vindicated.

Written by janeh

June 30th, 2013 at 10:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

New York Jew

with one comment


I stole the title. 

It’s actually the title of one of Alfred Kazin’s autobiographical volumes.  Kazin–an editor, writer and intellectual in the 30s and 40s–meant it, I think, partially in that “reclaim the epithet” sort of way, and partially as a badge of honor.

He was, Kazin thought, a prime example of the breed, an icon of something he thought it was a very good thing to be. 

So I’m using it here, to designate another prime example of the breed, and somebody who was also very proud of it.

But  Meyer Schapiro was more than that. He was also one prong of a two  pronged dilemma that I keep trying to work out, and failing to get solved.

Before we get to the dilemma, though, let me start with Meyer Schapiro, who was and is a very interesting person in his own right.

Schapiro was one of those people who make the rest of us groan because we can’t figure out how he  managed to do all that.

He immigrated to the US when he was three or four, speaking only Yiddish.  He ended up graduating from a NYC high school when he was sixteen and from a  NYC public college when he was less than 20.

Along the way, he picked up a few languages and a passionate interest in all things having to do with art.

He tried for graduate school at Princeton and got turned down, almost certainly because of the Jewish quotas.  He tried for Columbia and got admitted.

He got two more degrees, read enough to have an encyclopedic knowledge not only of art history (his area), but of Medieval and Renaissance history, philosophy, theology, you name it.

Somewhere along the way,  he managed to reinvent art history as an academic discipline and turn art criticism into a major force in American intellectual life.

I actually knew of Schapiro in two ways, and for a long time I didn’t connect them.

The more obvious way was from graduate school. 

Schapiro was for many years the pre eminent scholar-critic of Medieval and Renaissance art. 

Nobody doing graduate work in any Medieval area could fail to encounter him. 

And in encountering his work, you also encounter his–I don’t really know what word I want for it. “Life stance” may be the closest I can come to it.

Schapiro had very definite ideas about what it meant to live as a civilized human being in the world, about the part played by art and music and literature in such a life.  He seemed to live as thoroughly embedded in the actuality of Western Civilization as the symbols of Christian theology lived in the paintings and sculpture of the eleventh century.

Okay, what can I say?  It was the kind of life I aspired to when I was 20, and a kind of life that was rapidly slipping away under my feet.

As far as I can tell, there are no people like Schapiro working now, or–if they exist–they’ve been relegated to obscurity. 

Schapiro was  not obscure.  In fact, he was vastly celebrated, called on by everybody from television stations to learned societies to provide insight and explanations in the arts.

I used to think there was a place like that in the world somewhere, and that if I played my cards right I could live in it.

Youthful fantasies of a lost continent of the life of the mind notwithstanding, Schapiro is more than worth looking into if you’re interested in art history, and not just in the history of the art of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Because there was another side to Meyer Schapiro–well, a few more actually; more on that later–

And this second side was almost certainly the one he became most famous for.

Meyer Schapiro was the first great champion of modern art, and especially of American modern art. 

He was the first person to bring Jasper Johns and de Koonig to the attention of the American public, to explain expressionism and abstractionism and I don’t know what else.

And he did it not by ignoring everything he knew of the high civilization he’d spent  his academic career pursuing, but by tying it all in together, so that you could see at least an outline of the way in which you got from the Castelseprio fresco cycle to Pollock’s emotionalism.

When I was in college, Schapiro was giving lectures on modern art at the New School, and every once in a while some of us would (okay, hitchhike) down to the city to see if we could get in to hear him. 

When we managed the feat, I often had no idea what I was listening to.  Whether we did or didn’t, the most important part of those trips for me was always the time we spent at the coffee houses on McDougal Street afterwards. There, I could listen to people who cared about this stuff talk about it, and that was part of that thing I’d been trying to get to.

All these long years later, I picked up a copy of a collection of Schapiro’s essays–ones on Medieval and Renaissance art–and started feeling rather depressed.

I was depressed because the book I have I bought at a library used book outlet–for 25 cents. 

I sat around thinking that nobody knew who Schapiro was, and nobody cared.  That nobody shared his way of being in the world, or even knew that such a way of being had ever existed. 

It’s not just my students who have no cultural context and no glimmer of understanding of the enormous enterprise that Western Civ is and has been.

Think of Shadia Drury, or that silly woman I had the argument with on FB.  We’ve reached a time when “educated” has been reduced to “can talk absolute gibberish about  gender, race and class.”

Then I got just a slight lift.  It turns out that although Schapiro may now be unknown to the general public, he is not at all unknown to departments of art  history.  Matt came home unexpectedly to find me reading the Schapiro essays and said, “Oh!  Shapiro!  Isn’t he a gas?”

Okay, I don’t know if Schapiro is a gas.  But it’s a start.

Shapiro began his career in a world where art history was the province of upper middle class Gentiles who spent their time enthusing about how spiritually enriched they were by being in proximity to Michaelangelo’s David, and left it as a discipline that did rigorous scholarship on dating and provenance. 

He grew up in an America when the public dismissed all modern art because it wasn’t what they were used to, and lumped de Koonig together with standing urinals. 

He ended it in one where people at least got the theory, even if they didn’t agree with it.

He led a life I would have like to have lived in every respect but one, and that’s where we get to our dilemma.

Or may dilemma.  I know from previous discussions on this blog that some of you think it’s easily solved.

But I don’t.

So here we go.

Schapiro fit his cultural designation in every way possible.

He was a cultural but not a religious Jew.  His academic specialization required a deep and rigorous understanding of  Christian theology, history and iconography, certainly much more than most Christians then or now would ever have.

His secularism made it possible for him to see past the knee-jerk assumption that “if it’s Medieval, it must be religious” and identify and explicate the secular aspects of Medieval art.

Which was a good thing, because the Middle Ages misunderstood as Carl Sagan’s “demon haunted world” are a lot less interesting than the real ones.

But being Jewish, and from New York, and an intellectual during the Depression, he was also something else.

He was also an unabashed and outspoken Communist.

Not a socialist, mind you, a Communist.

Now, I might not have started nattering after this thing again, except for two circumstances.

The first is that there is, on my TBR pile, right at the top and out front, a little stack of books by Gentile (and largely Southern) American literary critics, with Allen Tate on the top.

The other is an article that appeared last week in The Weekly Standard about why conservatives don’t write literature.  The Weekly Standard is a (very) conservative magazine.

Anyway, those two things started me wondering about a phenomenon–the left wing LITERARY intellectual–that we tend to take as perfectly obvious but that I don’t think is obvious at all, especially since it hasn’t always been true.  It certainly wasn’t true in the 30s and 40s.

I’m stressing the “literary.”

The magazine piece has an answer for why such literary people should be left wing rather than ‘conservative,” but in fact that answer only holds up if you think “conservative’ always and everywhere means “somebody in favor of business, commerce and free trade.”

Since that one won’t survive fifteen minutes with a good encyclopedia, I’ll start with that tomorrow.

And I’ll try to post a link to the WS article.



Written by janeh

June 29th, 2013 at 10:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

And One More Thing

with 2 comments

The main post is below, but because I know this is going to come up, I figured I’d better get it in.

The regulatory state would NOT suddenly work the way you want it to if we “got money out of politics.”

The regulatory state does not favor large corporations over smaller business and individuals because it’s being bribed.  It favors large corporations over smaller business and individuals because the nature of the regulatory state itself REQUIRES large corporations to function.

Small businesses and individuals do not have the resources to satisfy 1600 hours of regulations a year, and those regulations that may change at any moment and require a complete overhaul of procedures, etc, etc, etc.

If you get the money out of politics, you get Western Europe, where large corporations are routinely protected from “predatory competition” (meaning:  any new upstart that might upset the apple cart) and the corporations pay off with worker security and benefits, while keeping their national work forces as small as possible.

Then the regulatory state responds to the inevitable double digit unemployment by generous social welfare benefits, so they people they throw out of work can at least eat.

That may be your idea of a good time, but it is not mine.

Written by janeh

June 28th, 2013 at 8:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized


with one comment


I’m going to leave out some of the parts of the discussion that seem to me to be tangential at best.

But let me start with what should be obvious.

Mike F’s description of how well corporations fit the analogy of “sociopaths” applies at least as well, and in fact exponentially better, to government.

The lust for power is at least as strongly a part of human nature as the lust for money, and may be a stronger one.

And on that list of characteristics, I could do an entire volume.

Doesn’t care about anybody else’s rights?

Consider Arne Duncan’s Department of Education, which has instructed colleges and universities that if they want government money they must adjudicate campus rape complaints by a preponderance of the evidence and not a beyond a reasonable doubt standard, and must further have sexual harrassment codes based entirely on subjective feelings and with no requirements for basis in verifiable fact.

Or consider Katherine Sebilius’s Department of Health and Human Services, which thinks the free exercise clause of the first amendment is an optional extra to be subordinated not even by law, but by her executive fiat.

I could go on in this vein, but you see what I mean.  And these things most definitely happen because the nature of government, its internal logic, is what it is. 

Government power will grow inexorably against individual liberty unless it’s watched very closely and kept strictly in check, and to me Mike’s “answer” to the behavior of large corporations is to throw all the watching and the checks out the window.

The other thing I think Mike F is missing is the fact that the very size and power of the corporations he detests is symbiotic with–and COULD NOT EXIST WITHOUT–the regulatory state.

In a nation that functions according to the rule of law, the power and reach of any person or organization within it is limited by a number of factors.

For business entities, these include competition from other firms, both for profit and for employees.

The more competition there is, the less power any one corporation can  have.  The LESS competition there is, the less power any one corporation can have.

Corporations therefore look to  limit competition any way they can.

In a country operating  under the rule of law, there is a limited number of things corporations (or groups of corporations) can do to limit competition. 

Under the rule of law, rules are passed by elected bodies whose members can lose their seats and their power. 

All proposed rules are publicly debated, and are often in the news and known to everybody long before they are passed, never mind go into effect.

That means that everybody has a chance to prepare if the rules are going to change, and nobody is left scrambling at the last minute to accommodate  sudden changes in the legal landscape.

What’s more, such laws, being public and (ideally) short and to the point, are expected to have a single interpretation that applies to everybody. 

If X means Y for Little Business, it means the same thing for Large Corporation.  Everybody is expected to play by the same rules.

But the regulatory state does not operate by the rule of law.  It operates by the rule of men.  And, of course, women.

Nearly two thirds of the laws we now live by were not passed as laws, they were issued as regulations. 

The people who issued them are effectively immune from any accountability at all.  They are not only not elected, but civil service regulations make it damn near impossible to fire them.

They can issue literally thousands of pages of regulations at one go.  

Technically, they’re required to hold 30 days of public hearings before these regulations go into effect, but in practice it turns out that there are lots and lots and lots of exceptions to this.  In the past five years, the public hearings-public imput rules were ignored close to half the time.

What’s more, however, is that regulations mean what regulators want them to mean–when Little Business comes to ask what completely incomprehensible Regulation A actually means, he may (and often does) get a very different answer than the one that was given to Large Corporation.

The level playing field is gone.  What now matters is who you know, not what you do.

But even if everybody was trying very hard to do the right thing–and human nature says they won’t–the simple fact that thousands of pages of regulations can be issued at short notice, or that thousands of pages of regulations already exist that must be satisfied before you’re allowed to make widgets, limits competition by itself.

First, it makes it difficult to impossible for new start up companies to emerge to challenge the existing corporate presences.  The start up costs are too high.

And second, it makes it difficult to impossible for small companies to grow significantly larger. 

It’s take a lot of money and manpower to accommodate suddenly released reams of regulations–money and manpower that smaller businesses don’t have. 

The incentive, in this structure, is for small companies to stay small so that they don’t get hit by new requirements that mean nothing  much to GM but that could put them underwater. 

When you limit the competition between companies, you also limit the options of workers, who are increasingly in the position of having no place to go if they don’t work for Large Corporation.

A country with a few clear rules applied evenly across the board offers anyone who wants work thousands of opportunities to get it.  The regulatory state reduces the number of operating firms and therefore the number of other jobs a worker could bail to if he doesn’t like the way he’s being treated.

And it does more than that.  It treats the biggest of the big players the way it treats bureaucrats.  It produces “too big to fail,” and therefore makes sure that business In The Club are  protected from their own  mistakes.

The mistake of the Reagan administration wasn’t in deregulating the S and L’s.  It was in deregulating them while STILL INSURING THEM.  It produced a situation where there was no downside to taking stupid risks.

And the same is true of the 2008 meltdown.  The problem wasn’t that these guys were either stupid or greedy, although they were both.

The problem was that these guys KNEW they wouldn’t pay for it.  The government bailed out the S and L’s.  It keeps bailing out failing firms.  Therefore, when the time came, the people at the banks knew they had nothing to lose.

And they were right.

If you want to avoid another 2008 disaster, you don’t issue more regulations and give more power to regulators. 

You return to the rule of law, and if people make mistakes, you let them fail.

There is, however, one more thing–

Mike F says that the government should have more power over corporations than it has over individuals.

But the fact is that the way things are set up, the government has far more power over me than it has over Citigroup.

It has decided that it can regulate every aspect of my life, from the way I raise my children to what I eat and whether or not I exercise.

And unlike corporations–who make products I can decide not to buy if I want to–I’ve got nowhere to escape to.

Arguments like the one about potato chips–the corporations are making them addictive! you’re all helpless addicts–are NOT about regulating the corporations.

They’re about regulating me.

And I had enough of that a long time ago.

What I eat is  my business, my right, my choice.  Whether the government decides to go after me personally or go after the people who sell what I want to buy, it is STILL none of its business.

The government exists for one reason and one reason only, to preserve my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

It has no “right” to “protect” me from myself, even if it does so by redefining the  narrative so that, when I make a choice it doesn’t like, it can explain to everybody that that wasn’t REALLY a choice, I only think it was so it’s okay to take that choice away from me.



Written by janeh

June 28th, 2013 at 7:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

More On the Evil Corporate Plot To Get You Addicted to Potato Chips

with 21 comments

So, let’s clear up something first.

What I clearly said is that “I described  NO strategies for avoiding cravings.”

I then did describe something else I don’t  keep in the house because I tend to pick at it without thinking–peanuts in the shell.  No oil.  No salt.  No grand corporate design.

Last night, after I read Mike F’s post, I asked my younger son to give me a list of everything he’s not supposed to bring home from the store. 

The list certainly included some evil corporate food, including Wheat Thins and Goldfish crackers.

But the list ALSO included the following:  kiwi fruit; cauliflower florets;  sliced cheese of any kind; strawberries.

Now, I suppose I can be in deep denial about my desperate cravings for corporate food, but to me that list looks like just what I said it was:  the list of a woman who tends to pick at ANYTHING, thoughtlessly and absentmindedly, that happens to be around and easy to get to.

If I’m “craving” all this food, lusting after it like an alcoholic after Scotch, then I’ve got bigger problems than worrying about whether corporations are trying to get me addicted to potato chips. 

To have cravings for all that, and to have them virtually all the time, every day, would mean that I had some kind of severe nutritional deficit, or maybe a disease that makes it impossible for me to absorb nutrients.

But I’m not aware of any cravings.  What I AM aware of is that need to pace back and forth to think and then to have something to do with my hands.  I flip pens.  I tear at papers that happen to come to hand on a desk or table. 

I once took apart and put back together, alphabetized, an entire bookcase full of DVD cases–without realizing I’d done it until, several hours later, when it was discovered by my younger son. 

It is, of course, possible that I was secretly craving corporate food during all this, but it seems more sensible to me–since I’ve done this kind of thing all my life–that it was all part of the process of trying to figure out how the suspect got the will out of the wall safe without being caught by the security cameras.

And why is it that when I go to the gas station and see a pile of potato chip bags and just don’t care, I’m exhibiting a “strategy” instead of what it is I think I’m doing–not caring? 

And how is not caring evidence that I have a deepseated, alcohlic like craving for the stuff I’m not caring about?

I didn’t fail to acquire potato chips over the last few days because I was exercising a “strategy” to avoid them.  I failed to acquire potato chips because I forgot about them.  Is that also evidence of  how I’m “addicted” to potato chips and must manage my encounters with them with “strategies?”

This is an infinite loop–EVERYTHING seems to be evidence of an addiction.  Any behavior of mine that seems to be evidence to the contrary is simply explained away (you’re in denial, you don’t see your own desperation) or ignored (unoiled, unsalted peanuts? weren’t ever there).

The minor aspect is the poisoning of the well thing.  You’re not just eating food, you’re desperately craving empty calories.  You’re not drinking a soft drink, you’re guzzling sugary drinks!

The point of poisoning the well is to delegitimize the choice (or the point of view) without discussion. 

The major aspect, though, is to reconceptualize human beings as helpless, willless victims caught in the play of forces over which they have no control–thereby legitimizing the process by which experts have every right to curtail and manipulate their choices, since those aren’t REAL choices anyway.

They just can’t help themselves!  We’ll have to make those choices for them.

Mike F also asks what I want for evidence–the people involved have already said they’re doing this!

One of the things I’d want is evidence that the project is actually WORKING–not that they’re producing products that are “highly palatable,” but that these products are actually “addicting” the majority of people who use them.

It is certainly the case that food that tastes really good is food you’re likely to eat a lot of and not to want to stop eating.  That’s true whether the food was designed by the corporation or by your mother.

And I also think it is certainly the case that MOST human beings really like things high in fat and salt and carbohydrates–but I think that this is true of all people, everywhere, and I think it’s BEEN true since the dawn of time.

This is not the result of corporate conspiracy.  It’s the result of thousands of years of human evolution, and not just human evolution. 

Cats like the same kind of stuff.

I DO get cravings for salt and fat and carbs, but I’d get those even if no corporation ever existed.  I get them especially when  I’m sick, and I think that’s also  most likely the result of thousands of years of evolution.

But THOSE kinds of cravings can be solved with lots of things, including (as mentioned before) my home made corn chowder. It’s a recipe over 300 years old, I never had it made for me as a child. I found it with a little stack of recipes and letters when Bill was still alive and gave it a shot.

It’s got salt pork, and butter, and heavy cream, and potatoes and–well, you get the picture.   

If I’d had some sitting around in the refridgerator this week end, it would have done much better than potato chips. 

Like Mique, and Cheryl, I see nothing wrong with a company studying what makes food taste good to people and makes them want to eat more.

I do NOT see this as an attempt to–never mind a successfully accomplished attempt to–turn human beings into helpless addicts unable to resist their compulsion for “empty calories.”

There are only two ways that corporations can make me helpless to resist their products.

1) get the government to require me, by law, on pain of penalty, to purchase their products (wouldn’t have said that was possible before recently, but here we are)


2) drive all their competitors out of business so that I am forced to deal with them for a product that I literally can’t live without (food).

For option (2) to work, the corporation MUST have the cooperation of the government to squash competition–it must have a regulatory state where the enforcement and interpretation of regulations is left up to individuals who can be bribed, corrupted or co-opted, and it must include regulatory burdens so significant that it discourages new competitors coming into the field, or just knocks them out altogether.

Since fixing (2) is NEVER the recommendation of people who rail against Evil Corporations, I’ve naturally come away with the impression that ranting about the corporations is not meant to rein in the corporations, but to redefine citizens as being neither capable of nor entitled to make their own decisions about their own lives.


Written by janeh

June 26th, 2013 at 8:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Second Post of the Day

with 2 comments

Found this on RealClearPolitics:


Another migraine producer, but very good at unraveling what’s going on in American higher education.

Written by janeh

June 24th, 2013 at 10:59 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Unhealthy Alternative

with 16 comments

When I went to bed last night, I had pretty much convinced myself that I’d get up this morning and get some work done.  When I got up this morning, I was in that physical state that I usually label “wrung out,” which probably shouldn’t have surprised me. 

I am at the stage where not working in the morning is getting me really annoyed, but I am something else as well, and it’s beginning to drive me completely nuts.

I’m starving.

Okay, on  one level, this is probably the good news.  I’m hungry at least in part because I’ve been ill and I’m getting better–always good news.  And I’m hungry in part because I spent two days eating almost nothing at all, and my body is acting like a cat–hey!  where’d the food bowl go?  do something!

The problem is that the food in this  house is not arranged in such a way as to accommodate a problem like this.

I have plenty of food for formal dinners and lunches.  I could make you a meatloaf or a chicken.  I could stuff peppers or give you  pasta in tomato sauce with hot Italian sausage.  I could get fancier than that if I had the energy.

What I can’t do is wander over to the refrigerator or the kitchen cabinets and just get something fast to take the edge off of cravings that, let’s face it, do not make a boatload of common sense.

I can’t even make toast, because I don’t usually  keep bread in the house, and I don’t have any here now.

But the situation is even worse than that.  I don’t want toast, and I don’t want to make a meat loaf at seven o’clock in the morning.

I want potato chips.   Millions and millions of potato chips.

And there is absolutely no way I can drive out anywhere in the  next couple of days to get any.

Now, here’s the thing.

It’s possible that this craving for potato chips is related to the abcess and the antibiotics and the Vicodin.

The Vicodin especially tends to make me extremely dizzy if I don’t eat something when I take it, and most doctors tell you to take antibiotics with food.

And something starchy and bland and easy to get hold of would certainly fit the bill.

So if somebody came and asked me why I feel as if I’m going to strangle a puppy if I can’t get my hands on some potato chips very, very soon, that is the explanation I would give them, and I’d feel perfectly justified.


The thing is, I often crave potato chips.  From childhood, potato chips have been my snack of choice.  Yes, I truly love chocolate, but if I had to choose between the chocolate and the potato chips, it would be salty over sweet almost every time.

On top of that, I am born and bred in New England, the Potato Chip Mania capital of the world.

In most parts of the country, when a big storm hits and you’re likely to be holed up for a couple of days, people go out and buy bread and milk.

In New England, when the Nor’easter is going to be a two foot fall, we go out and denude the grocery shelves of potato chips.  If you don’t get to the grocery store at eight o’clock in the morning on the day before the storm, you’ll find the snack aisle virtually bare and all the potato chips gone.

I saw a statistic once that said that New Englanders ate more potato chips each year per capita than any other people on earth, and I believe it.

I also believe the one that says that North American women eat more chocolate per capita than anybody else on the planet.

But that’s another issue, for another time.

Right now I’m  just sitting here sort of bemused at myself.

Part of me feels that I have failed somehow in prudence–I  know I get cravings for potato chips.  I should have bought some at Costco when we did the regular shop.

Part of me feels that I as silly to feel this way for two reasons.

First, because I couldn’t anticipate that I was going to get a tooth abcess that would make it nearly impossible for me to eat for days and too tired to do a lot of cooking and too whacked out to go to the store.

Second, because if I had bought the damned things, I almost certainly would have eaten them before the crisis hit.

There are good reasons why we don’t just keep potato chips on tap around here.

At any rate, it really is very early in the morning, and I am demonostrating the reason why the Healthy Eating People are never going to get the response they want from the American public.

Some things are choices.

And some things are potato chips.


Written by janeh

June 24th, 2013 at 7:22 am

Posted in Uncategorized


with 5 comments

Every once in a while, I dedicate a post on this blog to deploring the continued cultural (and linguistic) illiteracy of a Canadian writer and academic named Shadia Drury.

I read her column in a magazine called Free Inquiry, which is one of the publications of the umbrella group called CFI–the same one whose CEO got himself a feminist problem with his remarks at the Women in Secularism 2 conference.

I went over there today to check to see if there were any more updates to that situation, because although I get their e-mail news updates, those updates did not notify me of the official statement I quoted on the blog some time earlier.

Then I bopped around a bit and reconfirmed my feeling that the secular movement and I have very different ideas about what constitute civil rights and civil liberties, and then I went looking around some more and found the Drury.

Most of the time when I get on to complain about this stuff, I’ve read the article in the print magazine, and it’s not available to link to.

This time,  it’s online where you can get it, right here:


I can say with some confidence that this is a typical piece, because Drury seems to write  nothing but typical pieces.  She seems to be making a career out of saying the same thing over and over and over again.

In this, she starts by getting the conversion of Constantine wrong and (as often) out of order, and goes on to a portrait of Greek religion that’s downright hysterical.

I’ve said before that I’m pretty sure this woman wrote a book about the work of Thomas Aquinas without being able to read Latin.  I’m can be firmer about this, because I know this woman is writing about Greek religion without being able to read Greek.

And somebody ought to give her a decent dictionary.  There’s nothing in this as bad as the time when she defined “oligarchy” as “rule by the rich” (plutocracy, Dr. Drury, plutocracy), but she managed to get in a couple of howlers nonetheless.  Pay careful attention to her (re)definition of “hubris.”

In the end, though, I get to the place I usually get to with Drury. 

I just don’t understand why the secular movement in the US continues to support her.

Yes, of course, she says what the secular movement wants to hear, but there are lots of writers out there who say what the secular movement wants to hear, and a lot of them are at least conscientious about knowing what they’re talking about.

Drury is a joke, and her scholarship has been roundly deplored and thoroughly debunked by numerous fellow scholars who are not religious and have no axe to grind with the secular movement.

Credibility matters in the end, and if Drury’s work was the first I ever came across on a secular website, I’d be justified in thinking that nothing the movement said was worth bothering with.

Written by janeh

June 23rd, 2013 at 9:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

How I Ended Up in the Emergency Room–and What Came Later

with 6 comments

I’m going to have to ask you to bear with me this morning.  Of course, you always have to bear with  my typing, because I’m bad at it, but today I’m likely to be worse. 

And the content may be a little incoherent.

We’ll get there.

Before we get there, though, let’s go back in time a little.

Right after Bill died, say about a year or so, I developed a problem. I started to grind my teeth in my sleep.

I didn’t know I was doing this, which means I also didn’t know that this is the most common way for  teeth to develop tiny hairline fractures.

And what I also didn’t know was that tiny hairline fractures are what most often lead to tooth absesses.

One afternoon, in whatever year this was, I decided to take the boys to the movies in a mall a fair distance away.  Disney’s Hercules was out  in theaters, and it was the kind of thing they liked then, so we went to that.

I bought them soda and candy and we sat down and started to watch the movie, and about halfway through I got up to go to the ladies room.

I was just about to wash my hands when I caught sight of my face in the mirror.  It wasn’t that I had, as the dentist said later, “some swelling.” 

I had a really impressive amount of swelling.  It looked like I was carrying half an inner tube  under my upper lip.  And I could see it visibly getting larger, albeit just a little.

And it hurt.

It really hurt.

It hurt worse than labor.

I didn’t want to deprive the boys of their movie, so I managed to get through it, but we stopped at the dentist on the way home. 

He took me in immediately, checked me out with x-rays,  gave me a couple of prescriptions and made me make an appointment for a week from the day. 

It turned out that I had not one, but sixteen interlocking tooth abcesses, all of which needed root canals and caps.

Let me point out that, in my family, you get one of two kinds of teeth.  You get teeth like my father’s, which fall apart if you so much look at them with cotton candy.  Or you get teeth like my father’s father, which can be neglected for decades and subjected to every known bad food and bad drink, and still be perfect.

My grandfather thought toothpaste was a government plot to rob immigrants of their virilty.  He died at eighty four, never having had so much as a single cavity.

Guess which kind of teeth I got.

Anyway, I got all that cleared  up, and that was a long time ago, but when my jaw started to feel a little funny on Thursday, I remembered it.

The problem is, all my jaw felt was “a little funny.”  And when it actually started to hurt, all it took to make it feel fine was a little aspirin.

So I started waffling, and I waffled and waffled.  And the pain got worse.

But then the pain would get better and I’d be fine for hours.  And then the pain would get worse.

By the time I actually reached the point where the pain was unbearable, it was six thirty on Friday night.

Here is something true:  the one thing you are not going to find at six thirty on a Friday night, especially in summer, is a dentist.

What you can find is an emergency room. 

So, mindful of the fact that I was in no shape to do much of anythng, I called my friends Carol and Richard and got a ride to the emergency room.

Now, at the time I called to ask for the ride, I was in a lot of pain, and I wasn’t very clear on what was going on, which would cause some problems later.

I was, however, in enough pain so that I didn’t realize I hadn’t been clear.  My older son was home for the week-end, and I wanted him to come along for moral support, and he realized I hadn’t been clear, but there was no talking to me at the time, and no way I could have understood anything anyway.

Richard left his dinner to pick me up.  Matt and I got out at the emergency room entrance, Richard went back home to eat his dinner, and then we waited.

At this point, a number of things conspired to make everything even worse.

First, Carol and Richard do not live anywhere near the emergency room.  It’s at least a half hour drive to the closest hospital. 

Second, it was a slow night in the emergency room.  The wait was no wait.  I’d hardly sat down before I was called in.  I’d hardly been called in than I was seen and prescribed for.

Third, somewhere in all that, my mouth decided to play another of its little games  and the pain pretty much disappeared.

For a while.

The “for a while” is important, because if the pain had just disappeared, things would have been a lot simpler.

Instead, Richard had barely gotten home when Matt called him to tell him I was done.

He got back into his car and headed out again, still not having had any dinner.

I sat in the waiting room and read all the material about what I should worry about the drugs they’d prescribed for me.

One of those drugs was Vicodin, which I had never taken before, and of which I knew nothing except that House was addicted to it.

It had one of those lists of warnings that would make any sane person swear off medication forever.

So when I got into the car, I was joking about how I’d just as soon skip the painkiller because it didn’t sound worth it.

And anyway, I don’t like painkillers.  I don’t like feeling out of it.  I don’t like being in the kind of mental condition where I can’t think and I can’t read and nothing makes sense.

I know there are people who get addicted to this kind of thing, but I think I can say with some certainty that one of them is never going to be me. 

That spacey “high” feeling that makes millions of people crave opiates does nothing but get me annoyed.

At any rate, when we got to this town’s single all night pharmacy–by then, it was around nine o’clock–I was still feeling more or less okay, but I was also just a little twingy.

And then, between the time Richard and Matt went in to pick up the prescription and the time they came out, twingy had gone to definite pain. 

So when they came out to ask me if I’d been serious and didn’t want the Vicodin, I was working on heavy duty denial and unable to make much in the way of sense.

They then went back in and tried to work it out, and at that point they realized that Vicodin has tylenol in it.

And tylenol does absolutely nothing for me.  It doesn’t relieve pain.  It doesn’t reduce fever.

So, since it seemed that I was hinky about taking the Vicodin in the first place, and the Vicodin seemed to be tylenol based and unhelpful in the second place, they bought the antibiotics alone.

We got home–to my house–about quarter to ten, and by then I was in active, really nasty pain.

We then stood around talking about the situation, sort of.  It was only sort of because I was in no shape.  But in the m iddle of all that discussion, Richard said that maybe he should go back and pick up the Vicodin, except that didn’t make any sense, because since it was Tylenol based, it wouldn’t have any affect on me.

But Vicodin isn’t tylenol based.  It’s got tylenol in it, but it’s hydrocodone based.  It’s in the same class of drugs as codeine.

And, unlike tylenol, those work on me just fine.

Matt and Richard packed up and went all the way back to the  pharmacy.  Carol sent me a frantic message that Richard hadn’t eaten yet and was about to fall over.  I was in so much pain by then I read it but didn’t understand it. 

Then Richard came back,  handed me the Vicodin, and took off for home and finally dinner. 

It was ten thirty.

Did I mention that I have really good friends?

I also have some new and interesting knowledge about the way my body works.

The tylenol in the Vicodin is supposed to “kick start” the hydrocodone. 

True to my history with tylenol, it still doesn’t seem to do much of anything to me.

So once I’ve taken a pill, it takes a really long time–like, say, an hour–before anything starts happening.

But once it does start happening, it’s really–well, happening.

There is no longer pain in my jaw, as far as I can tell. 

This is good, because that pain was getting really out of hand.

But the real effect of this stuff on me is–it makes me the calmest person on the planet.

I’m not high, mind you.  I’m just really, really, really, really, really, really calm.

And I’m supposed to take five of these things a day for two days.

I figure that by the end of the week-end, I’m not just going to achieve world peace, I’m going to be world peace.

In some ways, it’s a little disconcerting–or would be, if I could work up the energy to be disconcerted.

I did manage to work up the energy to write this post.  I even worked up the energy to open the latest Gregor and look at it, but I couldn’t come up with a single idea for what was supposed to come next.

I listened to a little Paganini.  I’m not sure if I heard most of it.

And I know, of course, why they don’t give this stuff as anti-anxiety medication.

No work would ever get done again.

Even so, this is probably the most effective anti-anxiety medication ever made.

They could announce the start of a nuclear war in fifteen minutes, and I wouldn’t be able to work up enough alarm to turn on the news.

I’m going to go off and be calm now.

Written by janeh

June 22nd, 2013 at 8:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Bad Hare Day

with 2 comments

For what it’s worth, it’s always easy to figure out whether I’m having a good day or a bad one when I’m writing. 

If I don’t post to the blog until midmorning, or I don’t post at all, I’m probably doing well.  If the blog post is up early in the day…well.

It is, as I write, not even five thirty in the morning.  So there’s that. 

As I write, there are things on my mind that don’t matter, and yet I can’t get them off.  Which is how I end up with posts like this.

The first thing on my mind is the fact that our microwave died the day before yesterday.

This is not only not particularly interesting but not particularly important.  I don’t absolutely need a microwave–although I come close–so the fact that Ican’t go pick one up right away isn’t much of a deal.  And God only knows the  things are cheap enough these days, especially if you get them at Costco. Or Walmart.  Me being me, I tend to prefer Costco.

What’s really intrigued me about the death of the microwave is the way it died–that it did, in fact, just die.  It was about seven years old, which is pretty old for a microwave.  And a couple of days ago,  it just stopped heating stuff up.

That was it.  No drama.  Nothing dramatic.  Greg turned it on to heat something up and it counted down the time faithfully, but it didn’t light up or turn the turntable or get anything hot the way it was supposed to. At that point, Greg noted that the thing had been making “funny noises” for weeks.

If you’ve ever had a microwave die on you,  you’re probably sitting there wondering where this is going, because what I’m describing is absolutely expected.

I, on the other hand, have never before had a microwave just die on me before.

Usually, when we have to replace microwaves around this house, it’s because we’ve set the old one one fire.

Accidentally, of course.

But over the years, we’ve managed to do this with really remarkable regularity.

You wouldn’t think that there were all that many ways to set a microwave on fire, but we found them. 

There was the time I’d made a ham for Sunday dinner and made yams to go with it.  There were lots of yams and I didn’t need them all, so I left some to do something with later. 

We had dinner and the boys cleaned up, and because of that I didn’t realize there were cooked yams left over.  So, when Matt came to me the next day and asked me how long to microwave a yam, I assumed he meant the uncooked ones.

“Twelve minutes,” I told him.  And, of course, by minute six, the already-cooked yam he’d yapped on high was a little ball of flame.

When you set a microwave on fire, interesting things happen to the inside of it.

There’s a lot of smoke, of course, and you can see flames spurt through the window of the door.  The flames are small and don’t seem to threaten to burn done any of the rest of the house.

I’ve always found it the best idea to unplug the machine at that point and wait until the fire eats the oxygen inside and goes out of its own accord.

Then you open the thing up and  you find that the side walls and the top have all sort of bowed dramatically inward, creating the kind of thing some people like to call “found art,” but I don’t.

It’s very dramatic, and up until now it had left me the impression that microwaves didn’t just die out. 

I mean, why should I have thought that? 

The other thing that’s been on my mind is this:


In case you’re wondering, that’s the official statement put out by the Center for Inquiry on the subject of its CEO’s opening remarks at the Women in Secularism 2 conference.

You remember–Ron Lindsay standing up and opening that conference by saying that the problem with conferences like that one is that there are some people who call themselves “feminists” who use such venues and the jargon talk that goes with them (“privileges”) to shut other people up on the basis of their gender identity alone.

At which point, a stack of these same people–including the particular ones Lindsay called out in a later blog–proceeded to prove his point by acting like a pack of thugs and bullies.

All they wanted was an apology, they said–but of course, that wasn’t all they wanted.  They wanted abject groveling, along with a statement that everything he’d said was just bigotry and not true, and if they didn’t get both, they wanted him to resign.

They haven’t got his resignation yet–although that statement is so weak it doesn’t auger well for CFI’s long term behavior. 

And, as one other freethought blog put it “the exodus has begun,” and the two women Lindsay called out as well as several others, and some men, have cancelled t heir memberships.

So they may get him yet.

What makes this a little more interesting than these situations normally are is the fact that CFI has an internal problem–it’s a skeptical/freethough organization, not a left-liberal “social justice” one. 

That means it has a stack of men AND women on board who object to the “let’s talk about privelege and silencing” “feminists” at full throttle, and some of those people are very famous and very active and very generous with donations and time.

And THOSE people have made it clear that THEY’LL walk out if Lindsay is forced to apologize or resign over saying something that is, after all, true.

I’ve always thought it was a bad idea for secular organizations to advocate for one side or the other politically.

Over on the main page of the website I’ve got an essay up called “Why I Am Not A Humanist” that explains why.

It’s going to be interesting to see which of these two groups of people CFI thinks it’s more in need of over the long term.

What they should have done, of course, is not to  have sponsored a “Women in…” conference at all.

Because Lindsay was absolutely right–those conferences inevitably become captive to the sort of self proclaimed “feminist” who’s only interested in consolidating her power by enforcing ideological conformity.

A secular movement that honestly believes its business is to uphold truth and reason against superstition and authoritarianism cannot accommodate these people without losing its right to be taken seriously by people of good will.

Here’s hoping CFI responds to this “exodus” in the only way it can  while keeping its honor.

Let’s hope they look at the departing backs of ideological  Inquisitors and say:  good riddance to bad rubbish.

Written by janeh

June 19th, 2013 at 6:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Bad Behavior has blocked 183 access attempts in the last 7 days.