Author Archive: Mark Tiedemann
Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.
When you have a dream about an argument, maybe it has some weight and should be written about. Recently, I posted a photograph on my Google + page. This one, in fact (click on the photo for high-res version):
My caption for it was “What more is there to say?” Partly this was just to have a caption, but also to prompt potential discussion. As symbol, the photograph serves a number of functions, from melancholy to condemnation.
It did prompt a discussion, between two friends of mine who do not know each other, the core of which centers on the divergent meanings of such symbols for them and a question of sensitivity. I won’t reproduce the exchange here, because as far as I’m concerned the question that it prompted for me was one of the idea of “sacredness” and the appropriate use of symbols.
Which immediately sent me down a rabbit hole about the private versus public use of symbols.
Essentially, we all have proprietary relationships with certain symbols. Since I already posted the image, the sign of the cross is one, and not just for Christians. As a symbol it has achieved that universality advertisers dream of. It is instantly recognizable as the sign for a faith movement just about everywhere. It’s possible some aboriginal tribes in the beclouded valleys of New Zealand don’t know what it is, but on the level of international discourse it carries across all lines.
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Governor Rick Perry, who may or may not be running for president on the Republican ticket (any day now we may—or may not—get an announcement) has put out a call for a great big Texas style get-together prayer meeting. He has a passel of preachers coming to harrangue about the problems of America.
There’s only a couple of problems with the guest list and what it says about Perry.
He has one preacher who said that Hitler was sent by god to force all the Jews back to Israel (part of the Grand Design).
Another insists that not one more permit be issued for another mosque anywhere in the United States.
We have another who claims that the reason Japan’s stock market crashed was because the Emperor had sex with the sun goddess.
Still one more claims that demons are being released through the good works of people who are doing those good works for all the wrong reasons.
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It’s the Fourth of July. I’ve been pondering whether or not to write something politically pithy or culturally au courant and here it is, almost noon, and I’ve made no decision. I think I pretty much said what I had to say about my feelings about this country a few posts back for Memorial Day, so I don’t think I’ll revisit that.
Last night we sat on our front porch while the pre-Fourth fireworks went off in the surrounding neighborhood. Folks nearby spend an unconscionable amount of money on things that blow up and look pretty and we benefit from the show. Neither of us like large crowds, so going down to the St. Louis riverfront for the big explosion is just not an option. The older I get the less inclined I am to squeeze myself into the midst of so much anonymous humanity.
We’ll likely go to bed early tonight after watching the rest of our neighborhood go up in brilliance, starbursts, and smoke.
I suppose the only thing I’d like to say politically is a not very original observation about how so many people seem to misidentify the pertinent document in our history. The Declaration of Independence is often seen as more important than the Constitution and this is an error, one which leads us into these absurd cul-de-sacs of debate over the religious nature of our Founding.
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This morning I opened my front door to find a flier lying on the porch. I thought it was another local contractor ad or announcement of a barbecue-and-rummage sale, so I scooped it up to glance at it before dropping it in the recycle hopper. Instead, I find in my hand a vile piece of unconscionable poison. And it seemed like it would be such a nice day!
I’m not going to dignify this crap by citing the source. The header of the two-side sheet reads: The Holocaust Controversy The Case For Open Debate. What follows is a putrid example of revisionist nonsense designed to suggest that six million Jews were not systematically slaughtered by the Third Reich. In tone, it is reasonable. It does not make many strident claims with exclamation points, just calmly asserts one bullshit “fact” after another (plus a photograph of an open pit containing the skeletonized remains of concentration camp victims labeling it a photo of typhus victims) to lay the groundwork for the claim that the Holocaust didn’t happen, that it is all a Big Lie assembled by a Zionist conspiracy to advance the cause of sympathy for stateless Jews in order to get them a state.
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Paul Ryan and his supporters are trying to sell their spending cut and lower tax program and they’re getting booed at town hall meetings. They’re finally cutting into people’s pockets who can’t defend themselves. They thought they were doing what their constituency wanted and must be baffled at this negative response.
Okay, this might get a bit complicated, but not really. It just requires a shift in perspective away from the definition of capitalism we’ve been being sold since Reagan to something that is more descriptive of what actually happens. Theory is all well and good and can be very useful in specific instances, but a one-size-fits-all approach to something as basic as resources is destined to fail.
Oh, I’m sorry, let me back up a sec there—fail if your stated goal is to float all boats, to raise the general standard of living, to provide jobs and resources sufficient to sustain a viable community at a decent level. If, on the other hand, your goal is to feed a machine that generates larger and larger bank accounts for fewer and fewer people at the expense of communities, then by all means keep doing what we’ve been doing.
Here’s the basic problem. People think that the free market and capitalism are one and the same thing. They are not. THEY ARE CLOSELY RELATED and both thrive in the presence of the other, but they are not the same thing.
But before all that we have to understand one thing—there is no such thing as a Free Market. None. Someone always dominates it, controls it, and usually to the detriment of someone else.
How is it a free market when one of the most salient features of it is the ability of a small group to determine who will be allowed to participate and at what level? I’m not talking about the government here, I’m talking about big business, which as standard practice does all it can to eliminate competitors through any means it can get away with and that includes market manipulations that can devalue smaller companies and make them ripe for take-over or force them into bankruptcy.
From time to time, here and there, someone brings Ayn Rand up as some kind of role model. Lately it’s even in the national news, thanks to the Tea Party and an apparently not very good film of Rand’s seminal masterwork, Atlas Shrugged. The uber conservatives now crowding reason out of the halls of congress with their bizarro legislation and their lectures from the floor and on committees about how their toilets don’t flush right so why should regulations on light bulbs be passed are the children of the Dragon’s Teeth cast randomly by Ms. Rand and her philosophical cult followers. It amazes how people who profess to believe in a philosophy of independent thought can sublimate themselves so thoroughly to the dogmas of that philosophy and claim with a straight face that they are free thinkers on any level. The phrase “more Catholic than the pope” comes to mind sometimes when crossing verbal swords with these folks, who seem perfectly blind to the contradictions inherent in their own efforts. Rand laid out a My Way or the Highway ethic that demanded of her followers that they be true to themselves—as long as they did as she directed.
Ayn Rand’s novels, of which there were three (plus a novella/parable I don’t intend to discuss here), moved by giant leaps from promising to fanciful to pathetic. There are some paragraphs in any one of them that are just fine. Occasionally a secondary character is nicely drawn (Eddie Willers is possibly her most sympathetic and true-to-life creation) and from time to time there is even a moment of genuine drama. But such bits are embedded in tar pits of philosophically over-determined panegyric that drowns any art there might be.
But then, her devoted fans never read them for the art.
What Rand delivers in both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged is a balm to the misunderstood and underappreciated Great Man buried in the shambling, inarticulate assemblage that is disaffected high I.Q. youth.
The give-aways in both novels involve laughter. The opening scene in The Fountainhead characterizes Howard Roark for the entire novel, prefiguring the final scene in the novel, which translated to film perfectly in the weird 1947 Gary Cooper thing.
Howard Roark laughed.
He stood naked at the edge of a cliff….He laughed at the thing which had happened to him that morning and at the things which now lay ahead.
Of course, the thing that had happened to him that morning was his expulsion from university for not completing his assignments. You can pretty it up with philosophical dross, but basically he didn’t do what he was required to do, instead opting for self-expression in the face of everything else. Hence the misunderstood genius aspect, the wholly-formed sense of mission, the conviction of personal rightness, and the adolescent disdain for authority no matter what.
But his reaction? To laugh.
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Ken Ham is the head of Answers In Genesis, an organization that promotes and perpetuates the Creationist view that the Earth is less than ten thousand years old, that homo sapiens sapien trod the same ground at the same time as dinosaurs, the the story of Noah is literally true, and that evolution is All Wrong. He’s an Australian and a biblical literalist. He built the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, in 2007. Check the link for an overview by an (admittedly) biased source, but for simple clarity is hard to beat. It is a fraud of research, flagrantly anti-science, and laughable in its assertions (in my opinion).
Ken Ham is one of the more public figures in our current national spasm of extreme religiosity. He’s attempting to have built another show-piece in Kentucky, a theme park based on Noah and the Flood. The problem with this, however, is that tax dollars are being used in its construction and it is a blatantly religious enterprise.
In the meantime, Ken Ham and Answers In Genesis have recently been disinvited from a conference on homeschooling.