July 22, 2019
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net


How tiny he turned out to be, and how soon forgotten. During Watergate I thought the press and Congress were our Samurai protectors. Now they are more reminiscent of the movie Trope in which Stephen Seagal or Samuel Jackson turns up momentarily to tell you he is in control of the situation, but is immediately picked off by the monster.

Tiny UFO's

I've been reading Jung, so am in a silly season mood (and anyway, it is the silly season). I haven't read his book on UFO's yet, but: It is interesting that now that we have video of them, the UFO's we have seen are all universally tiny, fast and on the periphery. We haven't seen the mothership which fills half the sky, which would cause a much greater disruption in our lives and thought (if it did not actually enslave or kill us). The analogy is that instead of Godzilla, we have spotted a new species of iridescent small lizard flitting around at the edge of the driveway.

The Fisher King

While I am having a Jungian moment, I am fascinated by the story of the Fisher King, the wounded man who guarded access to the Grail. He was crippled, and in different versions of the story, lived in a wasted domain, but could be healed if you asked him the right question. That is a fascinating and rather unique element of the story: if you think about it, in most similar folktales, the wounded person can only be healed by someone with the right information. In the Fisher King story, instead, the interlocutor is the person who knows what they don't know.

I had a rather lovely idea, that the secret question could be as simple as "Yes?" (or, in the Jewish version, "Nu?")


It was tempting to devote an issue of this column exclusively to silly season stuff. But: The Supreme Court decision on gerrymandering was a crossroads moment at which the Court's majority made an intentional decision to go down the wrong road, away from democracy. It doesn't really matter that gerrrymandering was invented by framer Elbridge Gerry, or that the Federalist and the Constitution really envision minority rule (what do you think that "faction" crap was really all about?). Of course the saddest thing is that we are headed down a road to oligarchy (that's optimistic: some would say we have long been there); but let's call out something else, which is that it isn't even the calm, competent autocracy of, say, the worlds portrayed in Costa Gavras' State of Siege or Marquez' Autumn of the Patriarch. I don't think, after years of Trump tweets, we have even started to envision the cheesiness and incompetence of the world into which we are headed.

John Roberts

My classmate John Roberts is apparently a supporter of oligarchy who is carefully disguising his initiatives: throw the left a small bone on this case or that, pay some lip service to stare decisis, phrase your decisions like the gerrymandering one in terms of separation of powers. You can do a tremendous amount of harm without ever writing a sentence as honest as the infamous one about the black man having "no rights which the white man was bound to respect". He is heating the water slowly, so (as in the old frog story) when it is boiling we will not have expected it.

Late Capitalism

When I write my history of the world of Late Capitalism, two case studies will be based on news items that broke this week: French Telecom during privatization more or less intentionally driving some of its workers to kill themselves, and the device revealed to be installed in some American parks which emits a disturbing sound intended to drive away teenagers.

Apropos of frog stories, I just remembered a free verse epic I wrote when I was fourteen or so, called "A Cracked Frog World", in which all the water drained out and the inhabitants were left wizened and dead.

Vargo Titanium

This is the first time I can remember mentioning a product by name here, but:

On July 16, 2019, I turned sixty-five. I was able to carry out a wish, of waking up on the Appalachian Trail on my birthday morning, in a shelter on the trail near Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut I have been visiting since 1980 (or possibly its predecessor, as the existing shelter is listed as being built later than that).

It is easy to imagine the pull of the AT for its beauty and the exercise you get; for contemplation and strengthening yourself. It may be less obvious to people who haven't hiked that the humans you meet, and the conversations you have with them, are extraordinary.

I was sitting at the wood table in front of the shelter reading a Jungian work about alchemy (see what I did there?) when a retired criminal psychologist older than me walked into camp, and immediately asked me about the book, and then whether I was a professor, and a few minutes later, how old I was. I actually wish more people would be that boundariless, as it would lead to many more interesting conversations with strangers. In half an hour, we had shared life stories. He started to prepare his dinner, and placed what looked like a large lug nut from a truck tire on the table in front of him, filled it with antifreeze and lit it. I was sure I was witnessing what we called in the software industry a "kluge", something he had improvised himself, but it turned out to be a commercial product, a Vargo Titanium. In any event, it led to an insight that I don't remember having before, that a hiker's choice of stove is very revealing. Another much younger man at the table had a stove which was heavier and taller and which had the reputation of being the gourmet choice, for those who wanted to do real cooking on the trail. A third man had no stove at all, but prepared a "cold soak" recipe, of rice and beef jerky.

An Aphorism

I invented an Aphorism (by inverting an old one): I love people. Its humanity I can't stand.