Monday, December 10, 2007

Against the dehumanization of art

An excellent essay by Mark Helprin, one of my absolute favorite authors.
From The New Criterion

Saturday, July 07, 2007

A quote

"I am not an educated man except that I have educated myself, and, because I have educated myself, what I say will not stand up, for lacking recognized authority. This in turn leaves me free to say what I will, in the hope that, like those small forces that do not threaten empires and are thus not fully pursued, the things in which I believe can survive in some high and forgotten place until the power of empire subsides.
And although I know that few will listen to or credit this, I think we are in a lost age, in which holiness and charity have been traded for the victory and penetration of knowledge, though all the knowledge in the world has not brought us any further than where we can go without it even in the outermost halls of grace. I believe that more is to be known and apprehended from the beauty of a face than in delving, no matter how deep, simply into how things work, no matter how marvelous they may be. The greatest substance in the world is immaterial, the province of the heart, and its study cannot be forced or reasoned. Merely to touch upon the edge of thing in parsing their mechanics is to forswear their fullness, for the entry to this fullness lies not in science but in art. I cannot prove this, for it cannot be proven, but I claim, assert, and have seen it."

- "Il Colore Ritrovato" by Mark Helprin

Monday, June 25, 2007

The old names and sideways houses

Our little 1-acre family homestead amid the wilds of suburban Edmonds, Washington is on the side of a hill. The overly busy street our property fronts is at the bottom of the hill (a valley really, as another hill begins to rise about 50 yards opposite), and the top of our property is just shy of the top of the hill. I have known, for as long as I can remember, that I live on Cherry Hill, though the name appears on no map of the area, and there is nothing official marking that particular place-name save "Cherry Hill Estates", a 70's era housing development located on the broad, flat top of the hill. The reason our hill is called Cherry Hill is simple, there used to be cherry orchards on the hill. When we walk our dogs I'll point out the few surviving cherry trees, now old, bent and gone wild for lack of pruning, that are the only reminders of the agrarian past of my neighborhood. We are lucky enough to have one of these old cherry trees in our orchard, the only fruit tree in the orchard that pre-dates my parents' ownership of the lot. The tree still bears fruit, though it is so tall now that the birds get most of the cherries, and since we have three other cherry trees of manageable height, I'm willing to let the big, old trees fruit go to the birds. It somehow wouldn't feel right to try and aggressively prune the old tree into productivity, though since it is good stock, I have toyed with the idea of taking cuttings or trying to germinate seeds from it.
The street in front of our house is officially called Olympic View Drive, though by a quirk of some sort, mail addressed to our house with 68th Ave West as the street name instead arrives just fine. Our house is one of the oldest on the street, and due to poor planning on the part of the City of Edmonds and the City of Lynnwood (the street being the border, my house is in Edmonds, my mailbox across the street is in Lynnwood), none of the houses on our block are in order numerically. The Postal Service seems to have resigned itself to this anomaly, but UPS, FedEx, and pizza deliverers can't seem to figure it out. To add to all this confusion, when I was growing up, my road was not known as Olympic View Dr or 68th Ave W, it was known as Snake Road. I don't know why this name came about aside from the fact that the road becomes very sinuous about a mile from my house and it winds its way down towards downtown Edmonds. Nevertheless I do have old maps of the area that show the road as Snake Road. It is not hard for me to see a Chamber of Commerce conspiracy behind the name change. After all Olympic View Drive is a more "marketable" name, despite the fact that over its three or so miles of length, there is only a 1/4 mile stretch where one can actually view the Olympics. I've often had a mind to mail myself a postcard. but listing my address as being on Snake Road.

There are still vestiges of the agrarian past in the area, reminders of a time gone by, whose continued existence is an indictment to the sprawl that surrounds us for those who know what to look for. The are a number of old farm houses, tucked away inside obnoxious housing developments. They would be instantly recognizable, even if by their architecture and quality of construction they did not counterpoint the homes around them which combine the worst of socialist homogenization and capitalist greed. The things that makes these home stand apart is that they are facing the wrong way. The old houses face the main street, and what was once the driveway is now the cul-de-sac that the rest of the cookie-cutter homes face. This leaves the old house in the awkward position of presenting its side to the new street, and its front to the house next to it. I can hardly understand why these homes, a poignant momento mori to a bygone age were suffered to remain. Since these developments are all built by giant house-building corporations (I will not deign to call them home-builders), which are by nature soulless, it must be some historical preservation law that requires it. Whatever the reason, I am glad for their reminder.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Libertarians and Marx

I've always looked at Libertarians with a slightly jaundiced eye. Once one gets past the populist "Reefer and machine guns for everyone!" aspect of their philosophy, and disturbing materialism becomes apparent. The fact that this materialism is in the service of the sovereign individual as opposed to the dictatorship of the proletariat in Marxist materialism, is no defense as far as I'm concerned. Materialism is evil regardless of who or what is being served by it. I always wondered if there was a connection between Libertarianism and Marxism, aside from the surface-level connection that both philosophies seem to produce ratchet-jaw ideologues that make poor company and tend to spoil the conversation at genteel dinner parties. Even the much-vaunted individualism of the Libertarian counts for very little when this sovereign individual is reduced to an abstraction, or to quote a certain Libertarian, "Consumers are necessarily free agents who exercise choice among competing alternatives."
Thus it was much to my delight that I found an article which makes the connection between the two:
Why Karl Marx supported Libertarianism

Monday, June 18, 2007

A quote...

"Every man is followed by a shadow which is his death - dark, featureless, and mute. And for every man there is a place where his shadow is clarified and is made his reflection, where his face is mirrored in the ground. He sees his source and his destiny, and they are acceptable to him. He becomes the follower of what persued him. What hounded his track becomes his companion."
- Wendell Berry

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The next best thing to a goat

For clearing brush, pretty much nothing beats a goat. Not only do they diligently dispose of all manner of unwanted (and occasionally wanted) plants, they also produce milk, and are themselves quite delicious when young and roasted on a spit. Alas the City of Edmonds would not permit us to keep a goat, and I doubt my lovely wife would be up for milking said goat every day. Of course considering we only have a half acre of "back 40" we could theoretically get a goat, let him eat the brush until it was gone, and then eat the goat ourselves, but the complications outweigh the advantages.
Last year, while my mother was in Serbia I asked her to bring me home a scythe blade. I figured (rightly it turns out) that since scythes are still a commonly used item in Serbia, one from there would be a more workmanlike piece than any I could find here. Our old scythe had reached the end of it's useful life. The blade was starting to break where it attached to the handle, and it had been sharpened so many times that the blade itself was becoming thin. I had forgotten my scythe request when my mom and grandma returned from Serbia this last fall (wedding preparations were on my mind in any case), so I was shocked and delighted on Western Christmas (my father, raconteur that he was, delighted in calling it "Catholic Christmas", much to the annoyance of my mother's Protestant family), to open an oddly shaped package containing a beautifully curved scythe blade. It is called a "Silver Special" and boasts the image of a rooster on a green background on the label.
After allowing the backyard to become horribly over grown the last couple of years, I decided it was about time to reclaim the space. I have two gas weedeaters, neither of which works very well. I decided that before I went through the agony of getting the weedeaters running, I'd be a proper agrarian and give the new scythe a workout. I dismounted the old blade from the handle, planed the end down a bit to accept the new blade and set to work.
I few swings were all it took to make me rue my stupidity. The scythe was so much superior to the weedeater in every way, that I felt like I had been cheated in using them all these years. Not only does the scythe, once one figures out the best method of swinging it, cut a much wider swathe than the weedeater (and does so without clogging up the head, which the weedeater inevitably does with tall grass), it does so without the noise, the deadening vibration, and stink of the weedeater. Furthermore, aside from sharpening and oiling the blade, and basic care of the handle, the scythe consumes no fuel, requires no spark plugs, and cost a tenth as much as the straight-shaft 32cc weedeater I bought.
I spent a couple hours of good, honest work clearing a large patch of the hillside. The rhythmic sound of the scythe cutting the grass was a pefect accompaniment to the sounds of the birds and the breeze blowing through the locust tree. Furthermore, the exercise did me good, though once I got a rhythm down, the scythe practically swung itself.
My schooling has given me an appreciation for the delight to be found in wel-made hand tools. In the realm of woodworking tools at least, the majority of the tools today are markedly inferior to the ones available 100 years ago. Even discounting the overall workmanship, the quality of steel has even declined. My classmates and I have talked of traveling to some remote village in Armenia or somesuch place, where we will find a man who can still make fine steel, who will hand forge us plane irons and chisels from steel alloyed in a secret method known only to him and his ancestors. In all seriousness, it is a shame that with all our knowledge and engineering these days it is difficult to find good tools. So many of the tools sold these day seem to be an aggregation of geegaws, to the point where the basic function of the tool is almost lost. Valerie and I went to Lowe's today to buy a ditch scythe, which is shaped like a large stirrup, and the model they offered, aside from having a handle so short that I'd need a chiropractor after a few minutes of use, had a blade that was poorly designed, and would have been pointless to sharpen. After rejecting it in disgust, I decided I'd have to make my own from an old handsaw blade I picked up at a garage sale.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The War and American foriegn policy

I started out supporting the Iraq war. In the last year or so I've come to myself and decided that it was a bad idea. Of course I've decided that American interventionism in general is a bad idea.
Here are two articles from the excellent blog Notes From A Common-Place Book which very well explain a "conservative opposition to the war. I don't entirely agree with everything written therein, but it is a good start:

One from the LA Times
The other from the normally idiotic New York Review of Books

Read and be edified.