Bush’s Götzen-Dämmerung; Obama’s Revaluation of All Values

This does even more for me than Hillary Clinton’s drinking habits:

Obama himself went through a period of “devouring” the work of Nietzsche while living in New York. It’s difficult to say what Obama might have absorbed from the German philosopher, mostly because Nietzsche himself is so hard to pin down, but one of Obama’s favorite instructors at Occidental told Mendell that anyone who immersed themselves in his thought would learn “to call everything into question.”

(Miller, Laura, “Barack by the Books,” Salon.com, 7 July 2008)

New York and Nietzsche! Could it be any more élitist? It kinda makes ya see the theme of change in a different light. As Nietzsche said, “… only beginning with me are there hopes again” (Ecce Homo, “Why I am a Destiny,” §1, trans. Walter Kaufmann, 1976).


The Squirrel Path of Naigedajo

Koike, Kazuo and Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf and Cub, issue 3, The Gateless Barrier, July 1987, p. 39

Before I leave the issue of animals, I guess one more observation.

Our cat is an indoor cat and I like to torment him by enticing the squirrels into the backyard. I leave a trail of nuts along the top of the fence and the cat sits in the window despairing to bury his fangs into the throats of one of those rodents. And for their part, the squirrels love it. They dance and cavort outside the window, just inches from the cat. But there’s more to it than nabbing the nuts with impunity. The squirrels seem to revel in braving death. They will take up position on the fence and lock themselves into some mental faceoff with the cat, the most ready human analog that comes to mind is the contest of will between pitcher and batter in a baseball game (only with death on the line). They stair intently at each other. After a period of fixed stillness, they both begin to twitch their tails in some sort of converging harmonic. There’s this elaborate dance — a dance of death, if you will.

What is surprising to me is the utter level of clumsiness that seems to be effective for a predator. A predator doesn’t have to get the drop on their prey. Frequently enough, prey spot predator and seem to have some sort of prey behavior where they recognize and accept their prey destiny. It’s enough to make me believe in the Inuit practice of killing only the whale that an elder has confirmed has given itself willingly to the village. It’s like Freud’s death drive already present in some common ancestor.

Alternately, last week S. and I were sitting in the back yard and a regular outdoor cat who works a circuit up and down the alley of our block made a stop at our place. The nuts were out and so were the squirrels and I braced myself to intervene to save one of the creatures that I had enticed into harm’s way. The cat leapt up to the fencerail. The squirrels scattered, except one who stood his ground less than a foot away from the cat. This is a tough, gristly, street-smart black cat. He was prone for the kill. We could see the tension for the pounce build in his body. But this squirrel didn’t back down. They stared at each other and both did the tail routine. But after a few minutes of this psychic altercation, the cat relaxed into a submissive position. The squirrel won the faceoff through some means entirely invisible.

I acquired all of my knowledge of Zen Buddhism, Bushido and Kendo as a pre-teen through an intense study of Lone Wolf and Cub comics. And intense study is how I would characterize my interest in these books. To this day I still find occasion to break out some concept or bit of wisdom gleaned back then. In issue three of this most conceptual story, Itto Ogami is hired by town politicians to assassinate a local radical Buddhist priest who is militating for the peasants. When he finds that he cannot deliver the killing blow, the monk counsels Mr. Ogami on why he cannot:

That which is not … cannot be slain. You cannot kill me for I am a leaf of Naigedajo. Forget the self and unite with Mu, Nothingness.

To kill a man, you must first project the aura of death. Your opponent reciprocates, projecting his aura of death — or perhaps an aura of fear. Thus united can you wield the sword. This is Mu. But if no aura opposes yours … that which you project rebounds upon you. It is impossible to make such a cut. If you force yourself, you yourself will be cut.

Like Sensei Splinter, I think that squirrel must walk the gateless path of Naigedajo.

Back on Assignment; the Menagerie

13 July 2008, Pennsylvania menagerie

No posting for the past week because I spent the last few day in Pennsylvania with S. visiting her family.

There’s lots of nature up there, in lots of different states. We saw two grey down-covered baby birds in a low nest. They extended their gangly necks and waived their open beaks when they sensed our presence. We stopped in the road for a gaggle of baby wild turkeys in tow behind both their parents. I nearly stepped on a fog who decided that laying low until the last minute was the best strategy. I saw just about the biggest frog I’ve ever seen while walking a lap around a pond. One of S.’s parents cats, George, scared the shit out of me when he came galloping up while I crossed the yard in the middle of the night. He turned out to be just a cat, but when I heard his feet in the dark I didn’t know if he was a coyote or what. The deer are so prevalent that they aren’t even worth mentioning. Except maybe the one we saw cross the lawn of a notably manic hunter neighbor. We marveled that it managed to get that close to his house without getting blasted, but it turns out that for some reason he has taken favor on this one and has tamed it.

And where does one even start with the bugs? The most unusual black and white moth, more like a church window than a moth, tried to hide in a basket full of shells in the W. house. At a dinner over at the maternal grandparent’s house, a moth so big that it was mistaken at first for a bat, got trapped between the house and the bug net. Along a creek — what most people would call a drainage ditch, but from the environs was obviously a fairly important part of the area — something that looked and flied like a dragonfly but with colored butterfly-like wings flittered.

I plucked two beetles off a bush. They clung to the leaves in large numbers. They had a characteristic way of spreading their legs out that seemed designed to dissipate heat. Once in my hand, one pulled its legs in and curled up into a ball. The other ran across my palm, grabbed the other, rolled her into position and, to my surprise, mounted her and began to copulate. Part of me was disgusted to have these bugs fucking in my hand, but the other part of me was fascinated! I have read Olivia Judson’s post on paleontological sexology and all the different animal genitalia (“A Tyrannical Romance,” The Wild Side, The New York Times, 12 February 2008) and was thrilled at the prospect of conducting field observations. Their spurred feet dug into the ridges of my fingerprint so that dislodging them would actually be somewhat of a chore. He deployed from his abdomen a maroon colored device like my mind’s eye imagines the weapon of the second murder from the film Seven. He jabbed it into her abdomen and I could actually the proboscis pumping her full of semen. He took a couple of minutes, finished, retracted, and commences some sort of post-coitus ritual, running his previously confining appendages all over her. During coitus she had folded her antennae, like the rest of her appendages, in to some ultra-sleek shape, but now she relaxed them out and they began to twiddle as in a more active state. It’s amazing how much the forms of human copulation resemble those of the rest of the animals, all the way down the hierarchy. It was time to move on for the humans so I ditched these two randy bastards to perhaps another mate for her (all nature is slutty) or perhaps gestation time. It was a rare opportunity to observe something totally wild.

The think about America’s rural areas is that there is a lot more interesting wildlife engaged in natural-type stuff, instead of obsessing over the contents of our trashcans like all the animals in the city. Unfortunately, rural people think that the best way to enjoy nature is to destroy it, in that a significant portion of the animals that you encounter are various states of dead. A significant portion are roadkill. The weekend revolved around a giant country picnic that entailed a lot of barbequed cow, two deep-fried turkeys, lots of hunters and their hunting paraphernalia. The picnic was hosted on the grounds of an avid hunter who took us on a tour of his above-garage bar and game room. His game room included a real menagerie of dead and stuffed animals, skulls and antlers. S.’s brother (a meat-eater) commented that the place was like the sanctum of a psychopathic killer. One could imagine a Jeffrey Dahmer or someone similarly collecting and posing their human victims.

On the way home, we drove part of the way down Route 11 to avoid construction on I-81. Route 11 runs along a river and we passed a gigantic turtle in the middle of the road — and I mean gigantic! He was probably three feet tall and 60 pounds. Instead of the usual stubby little tail that most turtles have, he had this long, spike-rowed tail like a dinosaur. But he was a turtle in the middle of the road. Prospects: bad. He looked like he knew how bad they were, but had no choice but to cross the road. I though of insisting that we turn around and help him, but what would have happened? Maybe both of us would have been done in together. I can see the headlines the next day: “Man and Turtle Killed in Accident on Route 11.” Or for all I know he was a species of snapper and the fucker would have turned around and bite me and I would have had to chop off his head to get him to let go. It’s sad to think that a probably 60 year old specimen of a species millions of years old was killed by a redneck on a potato-chip run. Animals possess a dignity that humans ought not violate for their petty purposes.

Anyway, enough with the animals and the rednecks and my weekend. It’s back to the tussle.

The Central Question Regarding Barack Obama

Paul Krugman opens Monday’s editorial asking the central question for the left about Barack Obama (“The Obama Agenda,” The New York Times, 30 June 2008):

It’s feeling a lot like 1992 right now. It’s also feeling a lot like 1980. But which parallel is closer? Is Barack Obama going to be a Ronald Reagan of the left, a president who fundamentally changes the country’s direction? Or will he be just another Bill Clinton?

Oddly enough, I found myself a supporter of Hillary Clinton in the primaries because I suspect the latter. Perhaps that was a little naive as I also suspect that Senator Clinton is fundamentally and genuinely conservative politically and personally.

No one can fight every battle and not every battle should be fought in the most direct manner. One must marshal one’s resources for the critical moment, and more times than not maneuver is superior to grabbing the bull by the horns. I presume that Senator Obama recognizes two things: first he has to get into the White House before he can do anything else and once there he will only be able to accomplish a small number of his objectives so he needs to dispense with the lesser objectives and focus on the really important ones.

For instance, voting for the FISA bill last week was, I presume, tactical. It takes that accusation off the table for the duration of the campaign. Everyone runs a stealth campaign anymore. You’ve got to avoid at all costs doing anything that could be used to provoke the middling mind of the independent voter. Once in the White House, then he will really be in a position to address the problems of the FISA program. Again, first win the election, then come the reforms. Would losing to John McCain serve the cause of FISA reform?

Presidents can only have limited power and limited time to accomplish their agenda. Senator Obama has to be eyeing that Oval Office desk and thinking Economy, Budget, Healthcare, Iraq, Afghanistan, War on Terrorism and everything else will just have to take the back seat.

At least this is the story I am feeding myself to assuage my severe doubts that this will be another eight years of cowed liberalism. Senator Obama is giving us plenty of reason to believe otherwise.

The Most Terrible Power of All Concentrated in One Man

In response to a reader question, Matthew Yglesias says that if President Bush so decides, there is nothing anyone can do to prevent air strikes against Iran (“By Request: What if Bush Bombs Iran?,” TheAtlantic.com, 1 July 2008):

… if Bush orders air strikes against Iranian targets, nobody can stop him. A plain reading of the text of the U.S. Constitution would seem to suggest that it would be unconstitutional for the military to follow any such order absent a declaration of war or some other form of congressional authorization. But the settled precedent, ratified by key Democratic Party leaders as recently as the bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo crisis, is that no such authorization is necessary. I’m not happy with this situation and think it’s crazy that we as a country have moved away from the constitutional procedure, but the cat’s been out of the bag for a while now and if Bush wants to bomb Iran Bush will bomb Iran.

Democracy is based in part on a notion of the wisdom of crowds — or in the negative formulation, it is based on the recognition of the perfidy of powerful men. It is terrifying to think that when it comes to the most fateful questions facing a nation — the most terrible expenditure of the nations resources a country might undertake, one that throws the very survival of the country into the pot, one capable of completely remaking the social order of a people — we have abdicated that power to a single man.

On the right there is this constant carping about the founders’ intent, originalism, strict constitutionalists and activist judges, but when it comes to this issue, perhaps the most gross violation of the founders’ intent and the plain language of the Constitution, Republicans are complete subscribers to the cult of the great leader — at least until that power passes to a Democratic president, that is.

This is one of the reasons that I like The American Conservative. They actually see this situation for the massive threat to American liberties and the American way of life that it is.

Some future president, less ambitious, more moderating, ought return to the traditional confines of the office and forfeit this unofficial power. And a Congress more attune to it’s Constitutional duty than to it’s party platform ought to reassert this prerogative by threatening impeachment to any president who dares usurp it.