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"In Spite of Every Thing"
THREE WEEKS, VOLUME 1 ISSUE 12 - JUNE 15, 2002

"In proportion as people grow polite they cease to be poetical."

Cover
Independence Day, by the Editors
Notices
A Gloss Upon Oblivion, by Henry William Brownejohns
A Note on Current Fashion
Friendship & Love, by Henry William Brownejohns
Final Reports from Ms. Bonney, by Eliza Anne Bonney
A Stroller in the Trash, by Ephrain Underhill
A Brief Theological Debate
On Congress and Human Cloning, by Alexander Swartwout
The Weather, by J. Ephrain Underhill

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INDEPENDENCE DAY

 

THE CONDITION OF THESE STATES ON THEIR ANNIVERSARY

 

And Their Regrettable Recent Designation as a ‘Homeland’

 

by the Editors

Just as the currency of this issue is expiring, so too will the final embers of the fireworks be drifting spent to the ground, the last of the hot dogs thrown to the family retriever, and the final cheerful discharges from emergency rooms across the land be examining their bandaged, disfigured hands.  We do not ordinarily expect the public attention span to remember us through the full span of our cycle, but in this case, we must address Independence Day, whether the readers will remember us for it when it comes, or not.

We must address Independence Day because so few others will, and even fewer shall do so with any substance.  We must address it because to us it remains significant, beyond its effect on the post office and the bank, beyond the too rare appearance of gunpowder smoke in the sky, beyond the beauty and mystery of the cookout tradition, even beyond the annual bloom of star-spangled banners along Main Street.  Independence Day is and ought to be America’s Ides, the pivot point of the entire year, and just as the Romans might pause to consider what it is to be Roman, so should we strain to a refined conception of our Americanness.

We do so on Christmas by worshipping a secular devil and buying goods on an immense scale – and this is no less American than stars, stripes, and felled cherry trees.  But there is another facet to our civilization worth contemplating, one that is only crudely approximated by the plethora of schoolboy myths and awkward historical glosses all deeply rooted in our memories.  For even after we learn better about Mr. Columbus, more graphically about the Manifest Destiny, and every theory on the fallibility of the Founders, there is  still everything to admire in America.

Our skeptical readers may fear that we have become patriots.  But we have stated in these pages already that patriotism implies inferiority elsewhere, and we are too much humanists to treat even the French so badly.  We are not so much expressing crass patriotism as political connoisseurship, even if it is a grisly time for our beloved.  America remains, and ever shall, a marvel of human ingenuity, and even if it is surpassed by a yet-born utopia, America shall remain a pinnacle of achievement.

We refer the reader to the Declaration of Independence, which is specifically what the colorful mock-war being staged on the Fourth celebrates.  Students of American history only may find the Declaration short of stirring, even predictable.  But a student of human history would be able to recognize it as a masterpiece, the culmination of hundreds of years of human rational effort – and the crown jewel of the Enlightenment.  America itself represents not just the tired old concept of democracy and a good place to dump the world’s unfortunates, but more the species’ very first effort at founding a political body based on Reason, as opposed to all the previous motivations for organization: fear, instinct, convenience, and superstition.

The Declaration is an eloquent document, and an idealistic one.  The excessively snide can read it today and point out all the Framer’s hypocrisies, but they miss the point.  All literature is better than the hominids who make it, and as self-styled moderns, we should be savvy enough to appreciate the disparity between art and artist.  The Declaration did not establish the United States in its own image after all; it established a vision for what the United States might become.  And the genius of the subsequent documents, such as the Constitution, was how they described a society without constraints, so that perhaps one day America could be what the Declaration announced as its ideal.  Liberated, free, equal, heterogeneous, an example to the world.  When the fireworks go off this Fourth, and the flares of the Revolution are once again simulated for a picnicking and idle nation, only remember that the Independence declared on that date was an independence from stasis.  It was not an overblown boast from which we have receded for two centuries; it was America’s statement of purpose, an open-ended pursuit for a society unaided by kings and gods.  The Enlightenment out of which America was born was not the end of human progress, after all, it was a renewal.

Of course there is nobody more alert to our nation’s shortcomings than the firebrands here in these offices, but every of our salvos comes with a salute to the mere ability to fire them.  THREE WEEKS should not be allowed to exist in a lesser nation, or a darker age.  Two millennia of variations on tyranny were ended on July Fourth, 1776, and every time we lob our vitriol at this country’s adequate caste of morons, dimwits, and inadvertent despots, we do so only because they so do such little honor to their country.

The condition of these states, indeed, is not  currently very good.  They have ever more brazen enemies without, and ever fewer capable defenders within.  Their government is an oversized weakling, led by same, with neither the capacity for nuance or a vision of its own purpose.  The principles of this place are more and more often clouded by its excesses, and the majority of the population seems only marginally aware of the significance of their home to the rest of the world, and its responsibilities.

Still, America is more explicitly expressed in our ability to criticize it and adore it at once, than it is by any government agency.  The government does not require our love and protection, and certainly does not currently merit it either; but this paper, and the rather remarkable fact of its existence, we think does – and not simply for the sake of our employment.  There is a tremendous flexibility, a built-in adaptability to America, that seems to make its best attributes eternal.  We hesitate to forecast calamity, but under that hypothesis, we still believe that Americans would remember what they truly valued about this place, and restore it.  Day to day life in this country, as we view it out our hazy windows, is a unique routine in human history, and having been established, we think no political crisis, no worldly catastrophe, could ever utterly eliminate it.  We shop, and we complain, and we are free to do both; and if something were to threaten this, let us hope that our apathy would be overcome, and our intuitive allegiance to those founding tracts would guide us.

In the meantime, we have specific complaints.  Most notable is the administration’s new word-game and three-card monte with the U.S. Cabinet.  Mr. Bush has announced his intention to found a Department of Homeland Security, either with an egregious nod to Orwell, or a perfect ignorance of him.  It’s not that we don’t like when the government tries to protect the citizenry, but that they can have as shallow an intellectual conception of America’s purpose as a fresh high-school conferee in doing so.

To us, lexical purists, the Department of Defense sounds like protection enough for a great nation.  Defense is an admirable goal, and it surely deserves its own department.  However, we are a few decades into the postmodern political era, and we know that the Department of the Defense is just the Cold War name for the Department of War, which it was in fact named for most of America’s history.  Perhaps dreamy fools, we would like to see the Department of Defense actually do some defending, and if necessary, bring back the Department of War to do its thing too.  There’s no need to trick us soft-hearts into believing that America doesn’t wage war, and doesn’t think it has to, with dodgy titles and evasive language.  But the nascent Department of Homeland Security is just a gory piece of Newspeak, and one unworthy of the country to which it obliquely refers.

The creamy politicos have failed to understand that millions of Americans have other homelands.  It was one of those good effects of the Founder’s effort that their country turned out to be a fine place to escape strife and struggle, and two hundred years later, America is not so much anybody’s natural home as it is an improvement for millions of individual existences, a progression in civility.  A second home, that great bourgeois badge of success.  But it should be cruel and unusual to insist that newcomers abandon all thought of their origin, and it would make the American body politic as bland as Congress.

The sinister implication of Homeland Security is that it is not so concerned with securing anybody but those with a whole-milk American pedigree.  This was the idea in Soviet Russia, of course, to preserve the purity of the so-called Motherland – which is as preposterous in actuality as homogenizing America.  Chechens, Georgians, Kazakhs, and Mongolians, among others, have been pleased to relinquish the artificial identity the Bolsheviks inflicted upon them.  It is a poor learning curve indeed that we would now do the same to our even more eclectic populace.  Even the editors feel that, though they are Americans, their homeland is New York – and if the Assembly disagrees with Mr. Ridge, do we lose the privilege of his defense?

So on the Fourth, be neither ashamed of your warm feelings, nor unsettled by your percolating disaffection.  America requires that its best feel both.  It was founded by firebrands and malcontents, and it is ideally populated by them.  Taste at once the magnificence of its achievement, and the bitterness of its failings, and, though it may not be for us to direct your actions, don’t hesitate to actually contribute towards its incipient aim. 

That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is  the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.  Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to  which they are accustomed.  But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is  their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.’ 3W

 (home)


NOTICES

 

MS. BONNEY’S RETURN

The staff is enormously grateful to have Ms. Bonney back among us, after her long tour of the Continent.  And not merely because the staff is so small that every workload is greatly reduced by the addition of even one worker, but also because Ms. Bonney is too integral to the spirit of the place to go for long without her.   By all accounts - and there is only the one - the trip was a success, in that Ms. Bonney saw some things she had never seen, and saw again some things she needed to see at least twice to appreciate.  She also threw the spark of life into this paper’s foreign correspondence column, where before there had been only darkness and excuses.  It is our hope that the readers are at least minutely more worldly for her efforts.

She returns to an office in a bit of turmoil, as the reader can find out in “A Brief Theological Debate,” elsewhere in this number.  With unmatched tranquility, she has set to restoring peace, explaining without reluctance that the matter is one purely of ego, and the gentlemen involved should know better.  It seems easy for an individual who has spent so many weeks away from the fray to step in and see things clearly, and indeed, she could not have returned any more promptly.  Ms. Bonney has resumed her literary duties as well, to the great satisfaction of Mr. Brownejohns, Mr. Swartwout, and Mr. Underhill, who may have overestimated how readily they could take up the slack left by Ms. Bonney’s absence.  The fruits of those efforts shall likely grace the reader in the forthcoming issue.  Until then, simply know that a family has been reunited, and is back to doing its work with the full vigor of its entirety.  This, obviously, will mean different things to different people.

 

THE SIZE OF THIS PUBLICATION

The boast has already been made that THREE WEEKS is being housed in the hallowed cellars of the New York Public Library, and the doubter can go there and check the computer catalogue for proof.  As a matter of self-gratification, Mr.  Brownejohns actually goes there often to do just that.  And he has already found displeasure in the Library of Congress headings under which this noble leaf is listed, including the bland and unhelpful ‘New York’ and ‘America,’ and the incomplete ‘Wit and Humor.’  A letter has been filed, begging for at least the addition of ‘Indignation’ or ‘Tub-Thumping.’  Well, the Editor has returned to the Library, and discovered what he either overlooked last time, or what has been surreptitiously addended.  THREE WEEKS is also filed under ‘Little Magazines.’ 

            We know what they mean, but we dislike how  it is said.  It is our resources that are small, obviously, and not our pages - but we do not see why this should be the criteria under which the entire future of the human race should discover us.  Our ideas, we know, are larger than the whole of American publishing combined, and that we are only sixteen pages long is easily accounted for, because any multi-color glossy weighing down the newsstand is only ten pages without its advertisements.  And look around - we have none of those, though it shall surely kill us.  We are hardly ‘Little,’ and we are not physically small.  That we are even a magazine seems somewhat incorrect, unless it is intended in the ballistic sense.  Whether the Library is conscientiously belittling this publication or is merely stocked with unimaginative archivists, we do not know.  We only ask that the future American reader be given a better chance to find us, as who reads little magazines?

(home)


PROFUNDITIES

 

A GLOSS UPON OBLIVION

 

THE VOID, AND ITS EFFECTS UPON THOSE NOT YET THERE

 

“The Majority of Men are Unable to Grasp the Concept of Annihilation,” According to Mr. Mencken

 

The Editors Inclined to Agree

 

by Henry William Brownejohns

Perhaps the closest most of the readership has yet come to thinking concertedly about oblivion has been on some Christmas Eve during their childhood, when nothing was dearer than that inexplicable collapse of time between sleep and waking, and the nearness of morning it offered.  The child craves the void, knowing he will later emerge from it into a gaudy saturnalia of candy and toys; and yet the urgent desire for it makes sleep all the more scarce.  In those thoughtful hours, perhaps the sensitive child goes on to wonder about the mechanism of unconsciousness, and the fundamentally neurotic tot might even question its reliability.  What ensures us waking?  And what is to be feared if we do not?

One of the great counterproductive psychoses of the human condition is that we think so little of such things after childhood, and put them off until there are few other things to consider and it is too late to reconcile.  The denial of oblivion may be the driving force behind the entire array of human religion, to quell the fears of that inevitable open-ended sleep early discovered by imbalanced children on the happiest night of the year.  Every dogma ever hatched by the imagination of man contains a satisfying explanation for what lies beyond, and yet none of them have anything to do with that perfect annihilation.  In my researches, I was even dismayed to discover that the Library of Congress, that acme of the Founder’s rational utopia, is too squeamish on the subject to have a listing for ‘afterlife,’ but instead shuffles the browser into a category called ‘future life,’ as if to console those bibliophiles afraid of their termination, and to reject the prospect that life might indeed be temporary.

In short I propose that in general the human race is in thrall, and ever has been, to sets of ideologies that are not even as intellectually complex as the dozy fantasies of materialistic children.  And subscribing as I do to at least a basic form of causality, I would ask what this has done for us, as individuals, and as a civilization.

The subject is on my mind because of the proximity of annihilation, by the bumbling of greenhorn politicians around the world who have come into possession of the efforts of their more accomplished contemporaries in nuclear physics.  Between Mr. Musharraf of Pakistan and Mr. Vajpayee of India, the future of human civilization seems to be held in the hands of two of the most amoral simpletons to ever emerge from the backwaters of the third world and ascend to international prominence.  Experts and idiots agree, that the conflict between the two nations is a purely political construction, and that Pakistanis and Indians, free from the mandatory prejudices of their respective propaganda networks, have nothing against each other.  Still, the Earth once more finds its most precocious children poised to incinerate one another, and this time, without the relative civility – yes, civility - of the Cold War.  Mr. Vajpayee’s morbid logic suggests how murky are the minds at work on the problem: if nuclear war breaks out, he argues, India will be severely damaged, millions dead, but it shall still exist, while Pakistan will be entirely destroyed.  Here is that certain breed of human that not even Socrates could find satisfaction in debating – they will forever come up with five from a pair of twos.  Humanity deserves better than to be decimated by its worst.

So to ease the terror taking root in my heart, I sought to discover what might be Mr. Musharraf’s and Mr. Vajpayee’s slant on death and its epilogue, and how it could possibly seem like such a small matter for them to ensure the death of so many million more.  And as death is such a popular diplomatic offering in this era, I began to speculate how it might weigh upon the maneuvers of all of today’s most busy instigators.

For the sake of background, and the eternal presumption that the reader has never, and shall never, independently learn anything, let me run through what shallow knowledge I have been able to gather in an afternoon in the stacks, on the subject of the so-called ‘future life.’

Even to the first sentient hominid, scuffling about in the grasslands, it was evident that something profound occurred to an individual either particularly old, or sick, or well-pummeled by the tusks of the mammoth.  This observation would be the last rigorous empirical work done on the subject by the species, to this day.

It was thereafter speculated, by the best minds of the age, that perhaps the individual made a sort of journey, for which his corpus was of no use.  A new geography sprang up, of abodes for the deceased, and an atlas of maps was composed to guide them there.  The Sumerians presumed a river needed to be crossed, and that idea held influence right through to the Greeks, who named it Styx, and told of a ferry-master, Charon, who needed to be paid to take the visitors across.  They stuffed money into the mouths of the dead to cover the expenses, and generations later, in traditions that don’t even subscribe to the same aquatic geography, the dead are still sent off with some change, in their pockets, or over their eyes.

In Egypt, where a more rigorous logic was preferred, it seemed improbable that the body was entirely useless after death, and an elaborate science of preservation was developed.  Only Egypt’s aristocracy was given the benefit of mummification, however, because it was only they who merited the extravagance of taking their person along with them, while the rest of the dead would have to enjoy eternity with just their essence.  All of them underwent the same judgement, a weighing of the heart, to determine how enjoyable that eternity was going to be.  The lucky, regal, and wealthy subsequently got their brains pulled out of their heads, and then were duly wrapped for the journey.

The Greeks, on the other hand, originally didn’t differentiate between afterlives for the good and the bad – everybody went to Hades, which wasn’t, as we conceive of it, necessarily an unpleasant place.  Only in the later mythologies is there any elaboration on just where Charon is rowing – Elysium for the lucky, Tartarus for the rest.  This is a more familiar differentiation to the modern Western ear, which is conditioned to conceive of a dual after-world.  But it wasn’t always so. 

The Hebrew tradition, as it came down into the Old Testament, also only indicates a single destination for all souls: Sheol.  Like the Egyptians, there is a measurement, or a weighing, of the merit of the individual, but it doesn’t lead to an outright rerouting.  To the Hebrews, the prospect of judgement was enough; explicit description of an unpleasant eternity wasn’t necessary.

And, subsequently, the early Christian tradition was content with the same standard, although the New Testament does include a handful of references to more specific, separate destinations.  Hell, at this point, remained not much more of an ordeal than one briefly described as a land of ‘fire and brimstone,’ and frankly, was still being outdone by the more developed descriptions of Tartarus being passed around the declining classical world.

By the sixth century, the Christians were demanding a fuller accounting.  In his “Dialogues,” Pope Gregory - also responsible for the conversion of Satan from an angel to a ruddy, goat-legged demon - began describing Hell in detail, and provided most of the standards we today associate with the place.  The “Dialogues” were ostensibly those held between the Pope and a few lucky converts who had died and come back to tell about it, and the idea was to further discourage sin, by clearly and incontrovertibly delineating its consequences.  (Such a thorough description of Heaven, on the other hand, has yet to be made.) 

Pope Gregory’s Hell was largely based on the underworld of the Greeks and Romans, in particular Virgil’s thorough cartography.  But the wily pontiff had a few political issues to sort out as well, as six centuries of doctrinal Christianity had raised a few difficult practical questions.  For example, would a just god really send a merely lazy person to the same horrible fate as a murderer?  For this, Gregory emphasized the idea of a place called Purgatory, and inadvertently suggested that the afterlife was a dynamic place, where the guilty could be promoted and demoted, depending on their conduct.  Here, the Christian tradition departs from the rest in its concentration on the next world.  Elaborate equations of behavior became the stuff of Christian practice, calculating sins against virtues, and trying to come up with either zero or a positive sum.  Perhaps no other tradition has since spent as much intellectual energy  on the time after death as this one.  Judaism, certainly, remained primarily concerned with the stuff of life, and this was the jumping off point for Islam, as well.  Each preferred to work towards achieving the reclamation of paradise on Earth, rather than adding up a good resume for the after-world.

All of these traditions presume there is only one life, however, and this happens to be the opinion of only a half of the world’s theologies.  In India and China, from the early Hindu and later Buddhist traditions, and even simultaneously in the more animistic ones of North America, it seemed more likely that one soul simply kept reoccupying different bodies.  It was more efficient for the universe, anyway.  These ideas spurred societies that were probably more concerned with their surroundings, as the hills did quite literally therefore have ears.  And yet an individual’s lifetime was still to be spent trying to improve the lot of the occupying soul, which had eternity to answer for its transgressions.  In every case, what was spawned as an explanation for what happens after a fellow stops breathing turned into a device for guiding the behaviors of the living, in most cases by a kind of ultimatum.  If there was nothing else to prevent anarchy, the priests could at least refer to the monotony of eternity.  In the Eastern tradition, they also advertised the benefits of good behavior: transcendence into finer and finer forms.  In the West, more emphasis was put upon the divine’s imaginative array of punishment.

Our conception of the Western, specifically Christian, after-world was codified in the early fourteenth century by dear Dante.  He of the excruciatingly categorical mind applied the organizational rigors of twentieth-century observational science to Pope Gregory’s sixth century depiction of the after-world.  He counted the circles of Hell, and the tiers of Purgatory, and assigned every grade of baddie to his proper place, and had done to each of them whatever torment he thought an exceptionally devious and obsessively symbolic god might conceive.  And he even included Limbo, that late addition to the geography of eternity, which was drawn up after some Christian nitpickers complained that there was no place for infants to go, who had never had a chance to sin or to be baptized.  After Dante, the Western after-world was fully formed; and it was even he who did the most to drum up the merits of Heaven, in the final book of his Commedia (the final thirteen cantos of which, according to Boccaccio, were lost at the time of Dante’s death, and were only recovered after the poet returned to visit his son as a ghost, and pointed to the spot in the wall where he had concealed them.  Apparently, Jacopo Alighieri, Dante’s son, had taken it upon himself to try and compose his own ending, which seemingly worried the specter of the poet enough to breach the veil of oblivion, and give up the goods.  Why he had hidden them in the first place isn’t mentioned, but his lack of confidence in his son’s abilities, and the implication of his own Pride – the sin for which Dante knew himself to be guilty, and gave himself a foretaste of upon the Mount of Purgatory in the second book – are evident).

There hasn’t been much significant development in the major schemes of mystical rationalization since Dante, in any theology.  But organized religion is only as good as its most arcane cults, and of these, there are ever a dozen anew.  While the Christians, Jews, and Muslims all have fairly well grasped the speculative calculus of after-death, within each there are sects whose own doctrines are at variance with the main, and the contrasts, I think, are telling.

Christianity has evolved such an elaborate set of requirements for success after death, that most Christians are better off just not thinking about them on a daily basis, and going on about their business, or else they would have no time for any of it.  But the turn of the millennium has shown the world what even subtle perversions of the equation can wreak.  It tires the mind to recall all the suburban cults which have sprung up, largely on the singular basis of a new conception of the afterlife.  Christians, ordinarily, are obliged to live their lives, and not steal, not kill, not kiss strangers in excess, or the wrong types, and generally behave themselves.  There is no early out, because that is a sin, too.  But a cult, such as the Heaven’s Gate of California, which changes that single rule, and declares the afterlife available only to the suicidal and the Reebok-wearing, is bound to provoke a whole new type of behavior.  It is the public’s fortune that they didn’t imagine heaven was also only available to heathen-killers, or the persistently obnoxious, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  

In Islam, the scarce depiction of the after-world of which most resembled Judaism, Sufism was an early mystical cult which took more of an interest in the esoteric, and did for its followers what Gregory and Dante did for Christians – it mapped out and illustrated the nitty-gritty details of life after death, and its descriptions have been carried through larger and larger swaths of unofficial Islam.  The most notable of these is that contemporary Hydra, the loosely named fundamentalist wing (which is the West’s easy tag for what is actually several dozen unrelated cults).  A reader of the Q’uran will find little in the way of honey-soaked virgins floating on clouds of ecstasy; but every gloomy description of a suicidal zealot’s last moments on the streets of Jerusalem seems to include some such reference.  Muhammad urged his followers to establish the paradise of creation anew on the Earth; his questionable ideological descendants are content to do so in the next world.

The application of even an iota of logic suggests that an individual who believes the present life is a relatively pedestrian affair compared with the regalia of the after-world is also an individual who will little respect the present life of others.  In the mainstream of every faith, this obvious connection is thwarted by a somewhat hastily attached ban on suicide, so that simple-minded believers won’t just commit a good deed and then finish themselves off to make an express trip to paradise.

But a strong enough conviction in the after-life inevitably leads to the conclusion that death is only a modest problem – even if it is still too frightening to reasonably think about over tea.  But if death is a modest problem – to anyone – then the right to take death seriously is essentially taken away from the rest of us.  Israeli teenagers and Afghan beet-farmers, who might have either the scruples or the ignorance enough to take their lives seriously and treat them preciously, are punished by faint-thinkers with grand conceptions of another world - though, I offer again, the only evidence ever gathered by man merely states that when we are not conscious, we are not conscious.  The goal of enlightened civilization must be to allow multifarious individuals to cohabit and either improve, or at least not impinge upon, one another’s wills.  This means that extrovert, aggressive ideologies cannot be accommodated.  Exploding oneself in public for the sake of one’s own salvation is among these; as is exploding others.

Anecdotal evidence, and cold reason, suggest that death isn’t unlike an open-ended nap, collapsing time and consciousness in the same benign manner.  But far from wishing to pitch a new dogma altogether, I would however like to speculate just one step further, about a society perfectly aware of such a void at the end of life.  This would hardly be a hopeless society; rather, I think its citizens would want nothing more in their lives than to achieve the favor of posterity – knowing that their memory would be the only form of existence available to them after passing.  This society would be composed of individuals necessarily engaged in meritorious behavior, or at the very least, in cherishing their few moments of consciousness.  If true oblivion loomed at the end of every lifeline, avoidance of sin and fear of death would be replaced by pursuit of fulfillment and delight in existence.  This is all esoteric conjecture, of course, but I contend that it is made with a larger grain of reason than the one that thousands of years ago declared when we enter that final sleep, it is instead just a harmless move into a new neighborhood.

And there can be no comprehensive theory on the effects in this world of an individual’s conception of the next.  I do think a suicidal zealot must have a good feeling about who’s waiting for him on the other side; but I cannot equate an afterlife with zealotry, even if I am comfortable equating it with ill-consideration.  The subtle structures of the Eastern models would require a greater tome than this to analyze with any decency (although Mr. Vajpayee, still, cannot but be a half-wit; cremating twenty million of his own Hindus, and as many Muslims, cannot be the way to anything like transcendence, in any of Hinduism’s cults.  He is either content to return in his next life as a dissecting worm, or he is using genocide as a bluff in a vile political game).

            And so I am left to conclude again that we are neither as clever as we should be, or as utterly appalling as we could be.  The lot of us, even if we aren’t properly dedicated to sensible thinking upon profound matters of existence, are at least subscribed to some kind of system, however abstruse, which prevents us ruining things for the others.  There remain, however, too many whose faith is as self-centered as it is half-considered, and these among us, all too often, are capable of giving the lot proof by demonstration of what really lays beyond.  I remain an adherent to the worship of existence, having had the full course of Christmas Eve contemplation, and it is intolerable, from this perspective, that I should be forced early to bed by any less thoughtful ideologue.  3W

(home)


CULTURE

 

A NOTE ON CURRENT FASHION

 

Fashion, or the study of what people like to wear, is something we would never dignify with consideration unless some element of it seemed to us to be either a symptom or an effect of the current social malaise.  Otherwise we find prolonged thoughts on the topic to be quite like deep breaths of pure carbon dioxide, which seem mechanically just like any other good breath, but leave the respirant suffocating and unfulfilled, and ultimately will make him a vegetable.

The object of our concern is the so-called ‘distressed’ pant.  These are typically an ordinary denim trouser, bleached by the manufacturer on the front and back of the upper leg, as if to simulate the wear-and-tear upon an old pair of pants, inflicted by years of busy rubbing by the hands of a nervous self-caresser.  Such garments are not merely popular; as of  this writing, they are universal, a habit of the masses which proves our theory about the deleterious effects of fashion-thinking.  Indeed, ownership of such an item singularly qualifies the owner as a part of the masses.  We hate seeing these pants, and for two reasons.

The first is the fraud inherent.  The American consumer class has now come to a place in which they neither possess anything long enough, nor live an involved-enough life, to actually wear out their belongings.  They discard what is still new, before it bears an imprint of their existence – or else that imprint isn’t considerable enough to ever see.  In either case, being Americans, at least they have their shame intact, and the manufacturers of the distressed dungaree have tapped in to it, consoling the sloth and banality of the people with the impression that they actually work, or face adversity, or have a cherished heirloom.  Every coddled mall-rat need only glance at their own bleachy thighs to be persuaded their place in the human race has been earned.  Yet the pants are a delusion – the limbs within them have never witnessed the living trials that the fabric is testifying to.

Our second complaint is the general incompetency of manufacture and the resultant ill aesthetic effect of the pants.  The faded areas upon the thighs are preposterously symmetrical, usually two long ovals of pale fabric, which not only gives the impression that the wearer is a narcissist of the first order, whose disease has overflowed into obsessive self-stimulation, but a geometrical perfectionist.  Having rubbed one thigh to excess, it seems that they have made a careful point to  compensate the other.  Rather than giving the impression of having lived a rugged life, the pants project an image of a chronic Onanist, or a panicky existentialist; and an anal-retentive one at that.  As for the effect of the corresponding ‘distressed’ areas upon the back of the thigh and the buttocks, not only does it offer an even more suspicious account of how the wearer treats themselves, but visually, the two symmetrical brightnesses on the backside call to mind the colorful bare patches on the posteriors of orangutans.  These pants, worn by women, turn them into primal mating-objects, and surrounding males are helpless to resist the ancient attraction to colorful cheeks.  Mimicking the courtship rituals of the lower primates is a far cry from the intended impression of hard-won humanity, and it comes about only by the shabby skill of the manufacturers.       Editors

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THEORY

 

 

FRIENDSHIP & LOVE

 

AN OBLIQUE ANALOGY  ON HUMAN RELATIONS

The Upper Metaphorical Lobe of the author’s brain has been overactive lately, and I fear it won’t subside until its model for Friendship and Love has been set down.  Conceding nothing to sentiment or its lucrative commercial applications, I briefly theorize.

Friendship is a great landmass, a Continent, across which the individual is free to roam from landscape to landscape, taking nourishment, finding shelter, safe from the elements, in search of Love.  Love is, incidentally, the occasional paradisical island, found off the shore of the Continent.  Sometimes it is of the same landmass by geology, other times it may be unrelated.  In any case, from shore it seems utopia, and the individual shall pursue it at the expense of the mainland.  Such islands, however, are more vulnerable to storms and high tides, and many a Love is overwhelmed by ordinary weather.  The fortunate individual will not have taken up residence on an island too far from the mainland, while too many will have forgotten entirely which way the Continent lay.  Those shall drown without Love or Friendship, while the former might at least return to the sturdy shore of his friends, unfazed by the same storms which submerge Love.     Henry Wllm. Brownejohns

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FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS

 

FINAL REPORTS FROM MS. BONNEY

 

A LAST FEW POSTCARDS CARRIED HOME IN PERSON

Notes on Activism and Airplane Food

BERLIN.  The interested traveller will come here on May 1st, because on that day, the May 1st riots are held.  It is outrage and anarchy that can be counted on to be punctual.  Berliners of every stripe gather to voice their dissatisfaction, to anyone who will hear them, and the more adventurous ones will try to antagonize the police, for good measure.  But it is all quite regulated, not to be feared like some demonstration that might erupt on another, unscheduled day.

For my appearance, there were forty-two separate demonstrations being held, by those who would mold the world into the vision of Mao, Marx, Trotsky, and even Hitler, to name a few prominent.  While tourism is hardly discouraged, my party did find it difficult to get across the bridges which would have led to the neo-Nazi demonstrations; the police do at least recognize the ingredients of a calamity, even if they don’t mind them all being spilled at once into the street.  We were absolutely and unequivocally restricted from passage, with wishes for a wonderful day.

Making our way to Kreuzberg, where the heart of the riots were advertised, we were accompanied by some activists who suggested the inevitable gradation from earnest cause to just-because.  Beer cans were opened with the zippers of leather jackets, provoking sensations in this author of both lost youth and acquired maturity, and sadness over each.  The leather-clad shall never appreciate my hard-earned wisdom, and yet I am sentenced to see them with memories of simpler days, when I may have been as short-sighted.

In Kreuzberg proper, the riots were mainly in the form of families picnicking on public greens, and tourists and their children awaiting the spectacle of  political upheaval.  The police, in ominous black armor, lined the streets, and smoked en masse.  A horde of disinterested leftists and some Turks marched hither and yon, more out of obligation to the calendar than the heat of ideological passion emanating from their hearts.

With the setting of the sun and the dispersal of the picnickers, the riots livened up.  The typically late arrival of the teenagers and anarchists was the likely cause.  At last, a few bottles were airborne, as at any proper riots, and the police were obliged to make a move.  They slowly corralled the horde around the Mariannenplatz, without setting off any real panic, and also without taking away the anarchist’s precious sense of repression.  Occasionally, the police would emulate phagocytes, and absorb a particularly anarchic anarchist from the edge of the mob, and digest him into one of their armored vehicles, behind the lines.  A few cars were cheerfully tipped over (“Umkippen!”), and set afire (“Anundzen!”), while others had the privilege of merely being danced upon, with not so much political malice as the simple enjoyment of dancing.

Much excitement was had, and soon everybody grew tired of speaking above the din of helicopters and avoiding the streams from the water-cannons.  The next day, the news reported on what a great success the day had been.  Whether for democracy or police tactics or the holiday crowd was unclear; but the sense of a job well done pervaded, and the Berliners are already making plans for next year.

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AIRBORNE.  I am on an airplane which originated in Bombay, stopped through Germany, and is now bound for New York.  The fellow seated beside me, a Pakistani from Queens, ordered the Muslim meal.  The steward tells him that the Muslim meal is the same as the Hindu meal, and asks if that is ok.  At first, I am struck by the mere fact of the meal’s similarity, though a quick recollection of one’s world religions will reveal that it isn’t so surprising.  No pork, no beef.  Then I go on to wonder why the steward felt compelled to tell my seat-mate this at all.  It does nothing but to suggest that the Muslim meal isn’t really his to have, but is instead some kind of gift from the Hindus.  If the meals are the same, why not tell the Muslim it is a Muslim meal, and the Hindu that it is his?  Does the steward have some kind of political motivation?  Is he belittling Islam relative to Hinduism, or is he striving to make them see how much they are alike?  When my chicken arrives, along with his curry and rice, I only wish that I too had ordered the Muslim meal.                3W

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OBSERVATION

 

A STROLLER IN THE TRASH

 

I observed this afternoon a child’s stroller, folded and stuffed into a public wastebasket, among so many soda cans and sandwich wrappers.

The method and manner of the stroller’s discard inspired in my mind a tableau of near-miraculous doings.  It suggested that somewhere nearby, a toddler had an epiphany, and unstrapped himself and declared the vehicle obsolete.  He stomped around authoritatively, suddenly in thrall to the power of his own legs, and I imagine his mother was awestruck, not sure whether to squeeze her child for pride, or raise her hands to the sky.  It was the final moment of primacy, when the child sees that to be human is to stand upon two feet, to walk upright. 

The mother and child decided immediately that the stroller was an object no longer worthy of their burden, and they threw it out at the first garbage can they encountered.  The toddler ambled home triumphant, the doors of his bedroom swinging wide as if for a dignitary.  I imagine this evening he is at home commanding his parents to throw out his infantile toys, peel off his nursery wallpaper, and donate their supply of diapers to the Goodwill.  There is a stroller in the trash upon this block, and somewhere close, there must be a new and proud pedestrian. Eph. Underhill

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EDITORIAL

 

A BRIEF THEOLOGICAL DEBATE

 

The Daily News has called the office again, for the sixth time in as many weeks, and not for a quote or an informed opinion.  They have called to solicit a subscription, and what’s worse, they have somehow got Mr. Swartwout’s direct number.  Historically, Mr. Swartwout’s telephone rings only rarely, so when it does, he is careful to pick it up.  Thus, when that jangle recently shattered the intense calm of his office, and he set himself to the task of conversation, only to be greeted by the empty familiarity of the News’ telemarketer, our Alexander was understandably intemperate.

Most of us present at the time heard his reaction from within his chamber – an atypically inarticulate exclamation, “Good god, you people!” – and understood he might either mean to debase telemarketers generally or the Daily News in particular.  In any case, there followed a prolonged silence, after which Mr. Swartwout walked forth into the common area, looking utterly buttoned up.  We figured that it had been another attack by the News, but this particular level of pique on the part of Mr. Swartwout begged explanation.

As he tells it, the solicitor was all too ready for his rejection, and even his sacrilege.  She allegedly responded to his oath by declaring “How dare you take the Lord’s name in vain!  I don’t need to hear this!”  The shill then ended the call before Mr. Swartwout could even draw his blade.  He had been hit-and-run, as he said, by a zealot – and one employed by the most notoriously unworthy hamster-cage rag in town.  Life figured to be unpleasant around these offices for a while.

Mr. Swartwout compressed his ire into twenty pages, which Mr. Brownejohns promptly rejected, saying it was too much artillery for a scarce foe.  Mr. Swartwout then lobbied for room to editorialize.  This was granted on the condition that Mr. Swartwout not write it himself, but that it be done like so, and only incidentally vent Mr. Swartwout’s primary frustrations with his devout, short-tempered telemarketer.  Such a decision hardly satisfied Mr. Swartwout in the heat of his outrage, but it struck the rest of us as the very best of Mr. Brownejohns’ editorial genius.  It saves this paper’s sensitive readers from being damaged by Mr. Swartwout’s occasionally hyper-virulent exposition, without neglecting the need to lay out his reasonable grievances against the Daily News’ pious and persistent shill.

First of these is her disdain for the law.  The News had been commanded five times already to cease and desist in their unsolicited calls, and yet this saintly surrogate of theirs, either ignorant or malignant, made her call contrary to state and federal regulations.  Had she remained on the line long enough, Mr. Swartwout is adamant that he would have collected her information and reported her to the FCC, the ACLU, or to whomever one reports such transgressions.  So she is an outlaw.

Second, she is a lazy student of scripture.  It is not religious types that bother Mr. Swartwout, but rather the mentally slothful.  He begs to understand why anyone would so scantily examine the doctrines of their own faith, to come away with a misconception as glaring as the one that suggests their god’s name is actually “God.”  Is there also a crisis in the Sunday schools?  The odds are, of course, that this telemarketer’s deity goes by Yahweh, though nothing these days is certain.  In any case, use of the word ‘god’ - by the faithful or the profane - is nothing more than the healthy exercise of the English vocabulary, unless we presume that the Creator of All Things is as dull as those people who name their dogs “Dog,” or their cats “Cat.”  Mr. Swartwout wants the full use of the language restored, so that he can take secular oaths against any deity he likes, or all of them at once. 

            Though we have done our best to lay these subjects open before the sensible eyes of posterity, Mr. S is still burning that he couldn’t have done so while the phone connection with the News was still true.  He takes it upon himself to lead every charge from the front, and to see through to victory with his own eyes.  We can only console him that progress is slow; to which he adds that not only is it slow, but its direction is never certain.  On behalf of peace and tranquility, we end by begging the Daily News to steer clear of our numbers.3W

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POLITICS

 

ON CONGRESS AND HUMAN CLONING

 

THE DEBATE IS REJOINED

  

The Senate at Work upon a Non-Existent Problem, Long Ago Digested by the House

 

by Alexander Swartwout

 

Once again the American Congress has attempted to focus the dim, guttering candlelight of its collective intellect upon a subject that is not only beyond their comprehension, but is also not yet even a part of our reality.  The subject is the cloning of human beings, whether for business or pleasure, and to date, it has never been done.  And so, to understate it, let us just say that legislation seems premature.  It was late last summer when the House of Representatives, in its bleary wisdom, passed a total ban on human cloning, and then the whole inane subject was forgotten when the very real conflicts of the wider world arrived immediate upon these shores.  Only now has the second sandbox in the Capitol come to life on the subject, and the Senate has begun their discussion. 

If the Congress has blank spots in its schedule, and needs things to occupy its time, I suggest it argue against itself for a law which would prohibit Congress from passing laws regarding any things which do not yet exist, and of which we therefore cannot know the true nature of.  Or else they would be just as well off dividing up real estate on the moon.  It is equally relevant.

While we are on the subject of the moon, which was still with us when last I checked - in spite of our unworthiness - it is worth remembering how that old rock once represented a very different outlook on science among the infants in American government.  Only four decades ago, a Congressman would look up to the night sky and see, with his watery, uncomprehending gaze, a universe of endless possibility and hope, and he did not revert to the singular animal reflex of fear, but instead he felt that definitive first trait of humanity, curiosity.  He was inspired, and when Mr. Kennedy issued his famous challenge to achieve the moon by decade’s end, Americans were nothing but optimistic, since they smelled no fear from their representatives.   The Congress, conscious of their insufficiency in the face of such lofty work, stepped aside, and in due time, men walked on the moon, without incident, and without any good reason at all.  Yet, decades have now passed, and nobody is the worse for wear - not the moon nor the tides nor the astronauts thrust out into the vacuum that day - and the lot of us are left with a fond national memory, if nothing else; like that of a last family vacation before some beloved relative passed away.

These days, we find ourselves closer than at any point in biological history to possessing the technology to generate genetic copies of existing human beings without using any of the tried and true methods that this reporter has heard so much about.  And instead of stepping aside and awaiting the enrichment of knowledge on the subject as did their forefathers regarding the moon, our representatives have fancied themselves prophets and enlightened men, and have developed their own opinions in advance of any relevant information.  A representative from Wisconsin, whose name is actually Sensenbrenner, has said “If scientists are permitted to clone embryos, we can look forward to embryo farms where embryos will be stockpiled and mass-marketed.”

I wholeheartedly oppose the cloning of any creature who is capable of spontaneously generating this kind of cockamamie syllogism, and in such a poor, repetitive style at that, but the rest of us must surely realize that this Sensenbrenner character is working from nothing but a wasted childhood of second-rate comic books and watered-down science fiction television programs.  I do not know of anyone who has his heart set on establishing an ‘embryo farm,’ nor am I acquainted with anyone who would like to buy an embryo on the mass market, even at a fair price.  Any trade in designer embryos is destined to occur on the black market, by deranged people like Sensenbrenner himself, and it’s worth remembering that the black market generally defies any efforts to legislate it.

As far as this semi-informed layman can discern, the benefit of human cloning technology, should it ever actually come to fruition,, is that it would enable a doctor to create a blastocyst - a microscopic clump of about 300 nonspecialized cells - which contains genetic information identical to that of the patient.  This blastocyst - which is exceeded in girth by the punctuation mark at sentence’s end - would have the unique ability to be grown into virtually any kind of tissue required by the patient, whether it is a new lung to replace one charred by the good works of the tobaccanist, or a new heart, a new liver, bone marrow, spinal cord, spleen, skin, or, while we are in the throes of speculation, even a resuscitation for an aged and failing brain.  These new tissues, being genetically identical to the originals, would never be rejected by the immune system of the organism in need of their services, and would obviate our species’ current and doubtful practice of harvesting the organs of pigs and prom-night car accident victims.

Only the fevered imagination of a Congressman could come up with as impractical an application as an ‘embryo farm.’  Sophisticated enough cloning technology could work with as simple a procedure as a cheek scraping, or a blood sample, and need only be performed on patients in medical need.  An embryo farm would be an absurd waste of space, especially in this increasingly cramped real estate market.  As no one is yet sure whether cloning will be possible on the moon, where there is a lot of space, it would be a good time to determine once and for all who that real estate belongs to - if the Congress needs something to focus its energies on.

 ---

The debate over the prospect of human cloning - if we are willing to honor this misinformed stream of preachy, rhetorical drivel with the title of ‘debate’ - has been called by proponents and naysayers alike (in their ignorance), a ‘moral argument.’  Before we are even able to enter into the fray over the issue at hand, the heathens have already fallen off their horses, and demonstrated that either they cannot recognize a non-moral argument when they see one, if ever one existed; or else that they possess, as I suspect, a staggering ineptitude at accurately expressing themselves in English, and have no idea what ‘moral’ means.

For the cloning of humans is not at all a moral argument, and it dazes me somewhat to even decide where to begin to correct the innumerable neural misfirings of the pundits, politicians, and suburban prophets.

First, let me take the conciliatory approach.  That is, let’s say for just a lunatic’s moment that morals were somehow involved in the ‘decision’ over whether we ought to clone human cells or not.  Is there one of us in the bunch who would then proceed to assign the role of moral jury to our elected representatives?  Is there anyone half sane who knows these fellows to be anywhere near as moral as algae, at their best?  No.  If we were faced with a real ‘moral argument’ in this country, we should have to call out the clergy and the academics, who are the only factions even close to being capable of moralizing.  And then a national civic nightmare would ensue, as these dreary fellows pontificated, and twenty years later, nothing would be solved, and the Chinese will have meanwhile cured cancer.  No dears, morals aren’t involved, in spite of what your eleven o’clock anchorman says and what your two-bit local newspaper editor insists in his eighth grade C+ prose.

That the cloning of humans is a technical argument, and not much more, seems to me obvious.  It will be done somewhere, at some point.  For Americans to deny that this is the case, and to ‘ban’ it on the basis of some delusion of moral superiority is just another unpleasant symptom of that lazy-minded, Sunday-in-the-suburbs American yokelism that’s still got the majority of us believing that most of the people in the world are actually God-fearing Christians, and eat eggs for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and steak for dinner, just like us.

The only argument worth having is over the technicalities: how is it done; when will it be done; what will it take for us to do it; and is it worth it for us to try?  While most light-truck driving Americans and every toddler in government seems to have first-hand knowledge about God’s personal opinion on the subject of cloning, not a one of them could answer for you any of the above questions, all of which are considerably more practical.

If one has, so far, and against all one’s own best judgement maintained one’s optimism, one might expect at this point the creaky doors of Congress to be thrown wide open, and the Scientists to enter; noble, rational, full of wisdom, and deaf to the inevitable hisses from the unbendable religious types staked out in the gallery.  This is, after all, a scientific question, and who better to inform the policy-makers than the Scientists themselves, who will be doing the cloning, and manning the embryo farms?  Yes, if one had gotten this far on the fumes of positivity, then this is where one finally gives in to the maelstrom.

For this is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the whole affair, more so even than the bald display of America’s stunted, infantile intellect, and our total lack of curiosity: that the all-important Scientists are nowhere to be found. That when the question is raised in congressional debate whether the Earth is flat or round, there is no scientist there to answer.  That if a Congressman wanted to know at what temperature water boiled (or if it was simply a function of God’s anger), there is no scientist there with thermometer and teakettle.

Indeed, for all their skill in perverting nature, making cars move, inventing computers to entertain us, and keeping windows transparent, the Scientists have an abominable talent for translating their work into the political sphere.  Surely, science would be happy to live on unmolested by politics, and politics would be overjoyed to be naught but undisputed master of science, but in our complicated world it simply cannot happen.  The Scientists must explain themselves to the Politicians, in small words and with numerous sweet snacks interspersed, preferably; and yes, at the cost perhaps of time in the laboratory.  But they must, they must be organized, and they must recognize that they are a very specific and unique segment of a much larger and totally interdependent society, and not a separate race, living in an ideal world of Reason and Truth and Tenure.  If the Scientists seek such a world, they must realize that it cannot be approached by remaining cloistered in their labs while the world rushes by outside, but only by coming out and explaining themselves to the dullards, who, modestly educated, might even take an interest themselves.  Don’t the Scientists yet see that their next big act has already been ‘banned’ by the Moralists, as if it were an excessive speed limit?  What will it take to summon the Scientists into the glare of the outside world?  And what can the rest of us do until they decide to come?

Apparently, we shall continue to die of cancer, of heart disease, of a whole incomprehensible slew of neurological diseases, and of course of plain old organ failure.  To even a mildly informed layman, it seems a practical certainty that at least one or more of these afflictions could be eradicated by the well-directed use of some form of cloning technology.  As it stands now, cloning is legally protected in Britain, and will likely be protected elsewhere in the European Union and around the world, where morals are decidedly lax.  If the U.S. ban, by some miracle of dereliction and ignorance, is upheld by the Senate, then any domestic perpetrator of embryo farming, human cloning, or  blastocyst fondling will be subject to ten years in federal prison.

This sets up a heartwarming scenario, in which a panacea cure for, say, cancer, is developed in a god-hating backwater like England, and an American, beset with the fatal affliction, gets it in his head that he should be able to enjoy the fruits of all mankind’s labor and cure himself, being as he is a free citizen of a free nation.  So he decides to take the English medicine, derived though it is from non-specialized human stem cells.  This fellow may indeed live a long, cancer-free life, but, as per Congress, he will have to do it in an American prison.

If anywhere there is any kind of moral argument, it begins only here.  As for the rest of the questions, they are about technicalities, and we ought to hear for once what the technicians have to tell us about them, if only they would come out of hiding, or denial.  As for embryo farming, I see no future in it, and any elected official heard muttering anything more about that kind of idiocy I say ought to lose his right to be someday cloned. 3W

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METEOROLOGY

 

 

THE WEATHER

 

A GUST OF WIND

For a reflective, or even self-conscious, soul, nothing is more gratifying than a morsel of legitimate self-discovery.  Monks and ascetics are known to throw subdued celebrations when they learn a new thing about themselves - it is their primary goal, after all - and so for one of us not so graced by the time and solitude for significant reflection, and instead buffeted by the gales of social interaction, to come upon self-knowledge is a true windfall.

In my case, the good news is tempered by what is contained within it; not everything we learn about ourselves is pretty.

Early one recent morning I stepped outside and set up to read the newspaper, always eager to escape from my familiar rooms.  I did not detect the strong, gusting breeze that is the natural enemy of stationary newsprint, until I was already settled in and anchored by a cup of tea and a doughnut.  Now I would simply have to cope.

Pages fluttered noisily in the wind; blocks of text rattled unintelligibly before my eyes; sentences about to reveal important newsworthy facts were abruptly interrupted by blasts of air that ruffled twenty pages into a nest before me; slower, steadier winds kept the paper hovering threateningly as if any moment it would be carried away altogether, and I was forced to use both my arms to hold the thing down so it could be read, preventing me from reclining or relaxing.  Meanwhile, my tea turned cold and the powdered sugar was whisked from the surface of my doughnut.

For a moment the breeze abated, and I let my guard down.  Then a mighty gale arose, the clouds raced through the sky, the tree branches high above roared, and my newspaper was transformed into a crumpled paper flower, which yearned to be litter, and not information.

To my own surprise, I utterly lost my temper.  I stood and cursed and tore the useless pages.  I hurled cup and doughnut to the ground and crumpled the Times violently into a ball, and cursed more.  The wind blew again and I actually shook my fist in the direction of its source, and cursed Nature from the core of my heart.  Spent, I sat down again, and let the air wash across my face - I would say ‘tauntingly’ if I believed that air could taunt, but in truth, the only spite was mine.

I have never believed that I am any kind of perfect psychological specimen, but I was truly surprised at how much fragility and reckless irrationality lay within.  In traffic, or in debate, or in a pressing crowd, I generally keep my temper constrained, and have my wits about me; but what sort of monster gets mad at the wind, when it keeps him from reading his horoscope or the box scores?  Was this a dramatic stage in my mental deterioration?  Had I snapped (was this what it meant to snap?), or was I showing signs of fatal strain?

Although I have not lately had too much to do in the first place, for the sake of my suddenly tenuous mental health, I granted myself a vacation from any duties that might arise.  I would not attempt anything that required more than a minimum amount of mental strain.  I would not think about politics or mull over philosophical conundrums.  I picked up a child’s book of crossword puzzles and a fifth grade arithmetic workbook and, safe within the standing atmosphere of my living room, set out to complete the exercises within both.  I plan to make a number of exploratory trips outside, but without any papers to read or loose-fitting hats, so that I might reconcile my relationship with the wind, in a meditative mode, and hopefully achieve the simple temperamental normality that I believed I had always enjoyed, and had neglected to cherish.

I am not sorry that I discovered such an awful fact about my lack of resilience and ability to cope with the world around me.  My only regret is that I long ago abandoned any doctrine that might possibly have allowed me to blame the wind for all this conflict - such as animism, Greco-Roman paganism, or even Christianity, where some vengeful spirit or angel might have been responsible.  Anyway - wiser, we wake tomorrow.J. Eph. Underhill

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