Dead blogger

Like people, more blogs are now dead than alive.

The spirits of dead blogs. The necromancy of the Wayback Machine.

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Well that explains the retweets of his latest, bad as it was. His last, I mean.

Does his administrator know to pay his server? Does anyone know his wife?

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A comment on his final post: a link to a 2KB gif animation – a flickering candle.

Call him. She’s kept his away greeting.

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“Trill” are my Twitters. Tweet suites from @slowreads.

Marginal

On Apocalyptic talk. Let’s put two pieces of evidence together. On May 16, 2010, the Washington Post reported that “people are voting with their feet” and moving to counties and states that share their cultural and political viewpoints. As a result, “Many more states and counties are dominated by one-party supermajorities than in the past.”

Four days ago, the New York Times reported that, as of early next year, about three-quarters of the states will have their executive and legislative branches controlled by a single party:

One party will hold the governor’s office and majorities in both legislative chambers in at least 37 states, the largest number in 60 years and a significant jump from even two years ago.

Are our social and political divisions becoming increasingly regional as well as increasingly bitter? Are parts of the country finding less and less in common with other parts? Will the zeal of one-party rule on the state level combined with the U.S. Supreme Court’s current deference to the states (the Obamacare case restricted the federal government’s use of the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause, for instance) eventually make living in a different state like living in a different country? Are we becoming as geographically polarized as we were just before our Civil War?

Slow crux

This past month, in the process of changing my blog’s look and adjusting its focus, I uncovered a lot of essays on slow reading. An essay by Dave Bonta, another by Teju Cole, one by Fiona Robyn, and lots by me. I decided to put the best of them in one place.

I’ve done something like that before. Three essays I grouped two site renovations ago amounted to an introduction to slow reading. The ten essays I selected this month take on the subject from more angles and more writers’ perspectives.

Sorting through these old posts made me wonder why I had never asked John Miedema, a Canadian blogger and the author of Slow Reading, for an essay. John and I live just outside our respective nations’ capitals, and he represents to me a kind of slow reads completion, his yin (which, after all, literally means “north slope”) to my yang. We met online five years ago tomorrow when both of our sites landed on the same MetaFilter page celebrating the Slow Movement.

Today he said yes. “Slow reading” was his blog’s first post, and he feels it still summarizes his views on the subject. The post exemplifies John’s usual depth and succinctness, and I’m grateful he let me republish it here as part of the core.

Slow reading has its social, creative, educational, oral, literary, spiritual, poetic, and sensual aspects, and I hope the core posts open some eyes and ears. Links to the posts appear in the left margin’s slide-out side panel under “The specials.”

mole

Sometimes, after an illness, I have a similar sense of impatience with appearances, impatience with having my instincts trifled with.

From mole

Soulfool

A woman is slathering pomade on my scalp. It is a curious feeling; I imagine a snail crawling, leaving behind it a trail of something glistening and sticky. The insides of the woman’s fingers are filled with a substance—flakes of dried dandruffy laughter, and limp, buttery dust motes, and the dribbly sounds of tadpoles gurgling in a muddy creek.

From Soulfool.

The age of time

When I was in my twenties, I thought my teenage years were drugs. Each iteration sees its progenitors as hallucinogens.

Back then, I effectuated, consummated, carried off more and more, immortal.

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Immortality is for packhorses. “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.”

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I don’t miss an endless life so much as the spacious sense of a day’s time.

The Lord is young: a day is as a thousand years. The Lord is old: a thousand years is as a day. (2 Peter 3:8, SRV)

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“For the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” Who would stay when night and day harry each other so?

Shortened or not, my latter days are short.

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For the young, the rising & setting suns are worlds apart.

I remember the trees, creaking. Ash. I lay on beds of moss summers for what felt more like forever than ever since.

An ant.

Clouds binding and decoupling like bath bubbles. The field warm like a woman.

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Youth pines, even through the knots of age. [Dasgupta in NY Times Mag: http://is.gd/vQ76rI ]

Nascent senescence: my old age, anyway, is young.

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Such divergent old ages! Wrinkles, creaking knees, and death tend to herd the arrows, but otherwise, age honors young trajectories.

There’s no name for one’s childhood self. No tombstone, either, that would call for it.

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Old age flowers the mausoleums of youth.

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“Trill” are my Twitters. Tweet suites from @slowreads.

Marginal: Ron Paul’s call to secede

On The mysticism of Abraham Lincoln and Texas’s successive secessions. The idea of secession should be troubling to Americans, not only from a practical and patriotic viewpoint but also from a philosophical one. The argument in favor of a right to secede is the argument against a right to revolt, and the right of revolution – a right we must hold to now as much as we did in 1776 – is a basis of our political liberty. The American Revolution was the victory of the individual’s rights over the state’s when those rights were in conflict. Secession is the assertion of the state’s rights over the individual’s, beginning with the rejection, in 1860 as well as now, of a president’s election by majority vote.

So Ron Paul couldn’t have been further from the truth when he argued Monday that “Secession is a deeply American principle” and that “This country was born through secession.” I don’t describe too many philosophies as dangerous, but secession and its relativistic, historicist foundation are uniquely un-American and dangerous. Why? At its foundation, secession denies the political existence of the individual.

Paul continued:

If the possibility of secession is completely off the table there is nothing to stop the federal government from continuing to encroach on our liberties and no recourse for those who are sick and tired of it.

Paul here couldn’t have sounded more like John Calhoun, the chief philosopher behind nullification and secession.

First Rick Perry, now Ron Paul. Do conservatives believe in a people’s right to revolt or a state’s right to secede? Is there a spark of divinity in man, or is mankind so benighted that its rights exist only at a state’s behest? If the Republicans are going to reflect on what kind of party they now wish to be, as so many pundits have recently suggested they do, they could not start with a more important and fundamental issue.

Reflections on the Church

“Your reflections on the Church are painful, as usual. The merit of the Church doesn’t lie in what she does but what she is. The day is going to come when the Church is so hemmed in & nailed down that she won’t be dong anything but being, which will be enough.”

– Flannery O’Connor to Erik Langkjaer, May 23, 1955

Conventions and protocols

What is tomorrow’s presidential election about? The economy? The candidates say so only because the undecided – and unaligned – voters say so.

The economy isn’t the real issue, says Yuval Levin in his Weekly Standard article, “The Real Debate.” Watch the convention speeches, he suggests. Listen to Romney talk to his millionaire friends behind closed doors. If they didn’t have those pesky independents to win over, the parties would say that the election is a struggle between the government (defended by progressives) and individuals (defended by conservatives).

But Levin eventually dismisses this idea, too. When it comes to understanding what’s at stake in this election, the parties are about as clueless as the undecided voters.

Levin spends the rest of the article developing what he considers the true meaning of the election: the survival and prosperity of “the space between the individual and the state” and the “mediating institutions that occupy [that space]: the family, civil society, and the private economy.” Progressives “have always viewed those institutions with suspicion, seeing them a instruments of division, prejudice, and selfishness,” Levin asserts, but conservatives insist that “local knowledge channeled by evolving social institutions – from civic and fraternal groups to traditional religious establishments, to charitable enterprises and complex markets – will make for better material outcomes and a better common life.”

Levin is mistaken about three things: (1) the cause of some of these institutions’ declines, (2) the proper role of these institutions relative to individuals and government, and (3) the result his focus on these institutions would produce.

(1) Why the public realm is in decline

Levin believes that the federal government, under the control of the progressives from Franklin Roosevelt forward, has shoved churches and charities out of their proper roles of caring for the poor. While the government has maintained a social safety net since the New Deal, however, churches and charities have never seen the demand for charity exceed their supply. This is true especially when one considers the entire world. Jesus’ promise that “The poor you will always have with you” is in no danger of being annulled by the United States government’s safety net.

Like many neoconservatives, Levin argues that the loss of a public life is only a product of our current saeculum, Levin referring exclusively to the dynamics of the years following World War II. Richard Sennett argues more convincingly, though, in his 1974 book The Fall of Public Man that our public life has been deteriorating for about two hundred years and through no fault of the federal government. In eighteenth century English and French societies were balanced between the claims of civility (public life) and the claims of nature (private life):

They saw these claims in conflict, and the complexity of their vision lay in that they refused to prefer the one over the other, but held the two in a state of equilibrium. Behaving with strangers in an emotionally satisfying way and yet remaining aloof from them was seen by the mid-18th Century as the means by which the human animal was transformed into a social being. . . . The tensions between the claims of civility and the rights of nature . . . not only suffused the high culture of the era but extended into more mundane realms. These tensions appeared in manuals on child-rearing, tracts on moral obligation, and common-sense beliefs about the rights of man. (18 – 19)

The breakdown of a transcendent “order of Nature” associated with Romanticism around the turn of the nineteenth century and industrial capitalism’s growth as the century progressed caused people to question the conventions that upheld public life, Sennett argues.

Gradually the will to control and shape the public order eroded, and people put more emphasis on protecting themselves from it. The family became one of those shields. During the 19th Century the family came to appear less and less the center of a particular, nonpublic region, more an idealized refuge, a world all its own, with a higher moral value than the public realm. (7)

Sennett, a sociology professor at New York University and the London School of Economics, was at least as conservative when he wrote The Fall of Public Man as Levin is now. Sennett believes, for instance, that our current emphasis on sexuality as merely “an expressive state” is indicative of the loss of the public realm. “We uncover [sex], we discover it, we come to terms with it, but we do not master it,” he states. But his conservative thesis does not lead him to blame the federal government for burdening family life. In fact, given Sennett’s thesis, it would be hard to imagine any government action that would alone recreate a balance between a public and private life, thereby freeing the family from some of the burden the collapse of public life has placed on it.

(2) The proper role of local institutions relative to individuals and government

Levin places “the family, civil society, and the private economy” between the individual and his government. Reading Levin, the image that comes to mind of these entities is never that of a triangle, as one might see reading John Locke’s commentary on the individual, society, and government. Instead, Levin creates a vector of sorts with society standing between the individual and the state. He speaks twice of “the space between the individual and the state” and of “that intermediate space, and . . . the mediating institutions that occupy it.”

One wonders if Levin’s mediating institutions include unions, anti-defamation leagues, and mosques, but no matter. At a conceptual, theoretical standpoint, no institution should serve to mediate between government and individuals. Indeed, from a metaphysical standpoint, no space exists in our republic between government and individuals.

Locke and our Founders believed in a state of nature in which individual preceded society and that society preceded government. He believed that, should government fail, society and individuals would still exist. He did not believe, however, that elements of society such as the family, the church, or the private economy were “mediating institutions.”

John Calhoun, on the other hand, didn’t believe that individuals existed outside of their society from the point of view of government. He denied the state of nature that Locke, Jefferson, and Lincoln maintained as a necessary metaphysical understanding between individuals and their government:

But it is equally clear, that man cannot exist in such a state [of nature]; that he is by nature social, and that society is necessary, not only to the proper development of all his faculties, moral and intellectual, but to the very existence of his race. Such being the case, the state is a purely hypothetical one; and when we say all men are free and equal in it, we announce a mere hypothetical truism; that is, a truism resting on a mere supposition that cannot exist, and of course one of little or no practical value….

Calhoun denied that the individual existed outside of society, and he used that denial to defend slavery. If we adopted Levin’s similar metaphysical relationship among individuals, society, and government, we may lay the foundation for the end of the secret ballot. The Supreme Court has recently lifted the prohibition against bosses telling their employees how they should vote. Could employees and other “intermediaries” also put more pressure on individuals by putting an end to the secret ballot, which isn’t nearly as old as our republic?

This space, if it existed, would abhor a vacuum. If the fifty states were sucked into it as “mediating institutions” between individuals and the federal government, could we justify the repeal the constitutional amendments for the direct election of United States senators and for the more direct means of electing presidents? Would we be more inclined to pass the recently drafted “Repeal Amendment,” through which a vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures would overturn a federal law or regulation?

Despite Levin’s charge, few people – even few progressives – want to see the economy, the family, religious institutions, and voluntary associations weakened. But I don’t want them seen as standing “between” and individual and her government, either. No such role for them was mentioned in the Constitution or the Federalist Papers, and no such power should be accorded to them now.

I suppose I open myself to the charge of being too concerned with political metaphysics. I would answer the charge as follows: the hierarchy of Nature’s God, Man, and Nature is fixed and is also baked into our founding documents. This hierarchy amounts to a political convention – not the type the parties hold just before each presidential election, but a necessary fiction, if you will, like a dramatic convention, examples of which would be an aside and a soliloquy that an audience chooses to believe in to make a play work.

The hierarchy among God, people, and nature, famously expressed in Jefferson’s observation that “the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred,” is an instance of transcendence in a culture that Sennett says is governed by “the principle of immanence” (22). And this hierarchy – this precious convention – and the famous clause it fosters, “All men are created equal,” often seems invisible to very conservatives who claim they want to restore our Founding Fathers’ governing framework.

(3) Undue focus on local institutions and restoring the public sphere

It seems counter-intuitive to say that attempts to improve the political clout of local institutions would prevent us from restoring a balance between our public and private spheres. However, what Sennett calls “localism and local autonomy” is a symptom of the loss of our public sphere.  Our “dead public space” and our “contempt for ritual masks of sociability” have made us more reliant on relationships among people we know (15). (These ritual masks, the eighteenth-century version of which amount to the most entertaining reading in The Fall of Public Man, make up a more comical kind of convention than Locke’s and Aquinas’s grand Natural Law conventions, but they would be almost as important as a means of restoring our public life.) We now fear impersonal life – the life that our roles and masks allowed us the freedom to experience before Romanticism. Localism, taken to an extreme and as a substitute for an impersonal public life, can be self-defeating in a global culture:

Localism and local autonomy are becoming widespread political creeds, as though the experience of power relations can have more human meaning the more intimate the scale – even though the actual structures of power grow ever more into an international system. Community becomes a weapon against society, whose great vice is now seen to be its impersonality. But a community of power can only be an illusion in a society like that of the industrial West . . . . In sum, the belief in direct human relations on an intimate scale has seduced us from converting our understanding of the realities of power into guides for our political behavior. (339)

This “retribalization” Sennett warned us of almost forty years ago seems to fit the nationalistic Romantic age as well as today’s political polarization and international religious strife. Localism, which can lead to retribalization, won’t make up for the lack of a true, public life.

4. And so

All politics may be local, but it’s not all personal. We have to balance our care for local institutions with a new willingness to adopt protocols and conventions, some theoretical and some seemingly silly, to shore up our freedom and, as Sennett puts it, to “learn to act impersonally” (340).

I’m voting tomorrow, but not to restore the space between the individual and government. Mike Huckabee called to let me know today that the election will set the course of this country for a century. It’s a big election, but after thinking over some of the sweep of John Locke’s and Richard Sennett’s thought tonight, I don’t know if I can go as far as Huckabee. I’m not sure, either, if Sennett, in enjoining us to act impersonally, had Huckabee’s robo-call in mind.

slow reads 6.0

I switched to WordPress a year and a half ago because I needed a low-maintenance blog. My final Dreamweaver iteration is now my favorite — clean with an accordion navigation system that showed off my best work. But what work went into showing off that work! Every thing bloggers never give a moment’s thought to I did by hand each time I posted. Now I’m sold on low maintenance.

I went in for high maintenance early into my blogging because I wanted to mix a portfolio with a blog. I found I wanted to highlight what I considered my best writing no matter how old it got. I’ve come up with six major blog designs over my eight years of blogging, and each attempted to balance the old with the new. I finally got comfortable enough with WordPress to create enough menus to let readers see as much of my old stuff in an organized fashion as they could take.

But my first WordPress blog was still too skewed to the new. I became aware of this bias when I began to let weeks and months go by without writing more than a post, maybe two. My visits to my blog were like archeologists’ visits to Pompeii: slow reads had become an artifact that attested to a lot activity suddenly and completely abandoned. I just can’t freight a site like that anymore. I need a blog that is low maintenance from a technological as well as a writerly point of view.

In a few hours’ search, I found this theme. Its creator designed it, he says, as a portfolio for a particular kind of artist or photographer — one who likes to write. I’m no artist, though I like to take pictures. I’ve retrofitted the theme’s chief portfolio functions — the thumbnails and the home page’s slide show — to highlight my best writing. And because the theme is designed to be more balanced between the old and the new, I think I’ll feel better leaving it for weeks and even months on end. (Really, I should take the blog off the home page, just make it a tab on a static home page. But that doesn’t feel like blogging, not really.)

The theme is also responsive, as more and more themes are these days. So it looks good on my iPhone. It should look good also on an Android phone and on any tablet, though I haven’t checked.

ThemeHybrid, which provides the theme’s platform, offers relatively attractive themes. So far I’ve been happy with its support community. (Genesis, my old WordPress platform, is very good, but their themes aren’t nearly as attractive or as dissimilar as ThemeHybrid’s are. I still use Genesis for my classroom blogging.)

I continue to outsource slowreads’ comments to Facebook. Sometimes the comments people leave me on Facebook never make it here, but I like the idea of having a single conversation, of having my comments appear both under the blog post and on the Facebook update linking to the post. It would be unlike Facebook to fix the glitches very soon, but who knows.

On the subject of comments, all my pre-WordPress comments died a month ago. Echo took over Haloscan some time ago, but in the spirit of Bain Capital, it seems, it bought Haloscan’s business only to close it down. I saved comments to only five or six posts before the deadline. I didn’t persevere in my project to save them all. Perhaps it’s for the best. If slow reads were too much like a museum, I’d never write well there.

So I’m slowly deleting all of the old Haloscan links at the bottom of the posts. I also have a lot of work ahead of me turning pages into posts and reassigning new categories to those posts. There’s plenty to do, but I’m happily ensconced in a new home that may hold together even when I’m not so ensconced.