Saturday, May 07, 2011

Stream of consciousness

Here we go. About 45 minutes of stream of consciousness. No reason why. Just doing it. Follow.

Never read Ulysses, which is certainly the most famous work of fiction in the style. I did read Camus' The Fall, which is supposedly also stream of consciousness, but I didn't notice. Not as pure as Ulysses I guess.

There are so many famous novels I never read and probably never will. Faulkner for example, except for the short story, The Bear. My mother was deeply dedicated to Faulkner, working towards her doctorate on him when she got sick and eventually died (I guess she would have been a doctor of English literature as you probably can't be a doctor of Faulker). I always imagined that if there was an afterlife (nice thought, but I sure don't believe it) she would either be living with Faulkner or stalking him. Poor dad. Maybe he wouldn't notice though.

My daughter, Nicole came down from New York to visit this week for about 4 days. She's 23 and a really good girl. I always say I am the luckiest father in the world, because all the time she was growing up (not including infancy) there really were no fits to speak of. I remember two, I think both around 7th grade, and they weren't that bad. That's it. I know some parents who are happy if that's it for the day. We were hoping to go kayaking, but, life being what it is, the week of beautiful weather ended the day she came and started up again after she left - just like that.

The Kentucky Derby was today. I sometimes bet on it, but I didn't pay any attention this year. Still, since I had to walk down to the river (10-15 minutes) to get my bicycle I decided to stop in the theatre in town where they were showing it for free on my way. They had said it would rain today, but it was beautiful, so I went kayaking, which was why my bike was down by the river. If I am kayaking alone, this is how I do it. I strap my kayak on top of the car and place my bike in the back seat after removing the front tire (and, it is a pain because there is no quick release). If I am paddling downstream from my town, Buchanan, as I did today, I drop the kayak off at the public access, which, I might add, is the best one on the river that I've seen, by far, as you are right on the edge of town. Then I drive to Arcadia where I am going to get off the river, about 6 miles downstream. I take my bike out of the car, put back on the tire, and ride/walk back to Buchanan. I walk part of the way because there are two very long steep hills that this old man cannot handle. My heart beats too fast and I start heating up. So, I get off. However the last mile and a half or so is almost completely downhill, except one short part where it is fairly level.

I know I got off track - Kentucky Derby. So, I walked down to the town towards the theatre, which is one of the those real old looking ones, that is fairly well preserved. They show second run movies (out on DVD) or old ones, or sometimes have things like a blue grass festival or talent show. I've gone only twice since I moved here three plus years ago; the first time to see Hope and Crosby in one of the Road movies - not as funny as I remembered - and, coincidentally, last night, with my daughter, to see Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder in The Dilemma, which was a fairly decent - not great - romantic comedy. I used to not be able to stand Vince Vaughn, but he has grown on me. He always plays Vince Vaughn, which doesn't mean he isn't a good comic. After all, Kevin James pretty much always plays his one character, and that is really fairly typical of comics in general, even actors. Anyway, a young guy with a small role, Channing Tatum stole the movie in my opinion. It actually raised an interesting dilemma which is hard to solve. What if you find out your best friend, or just someone you are close to, is being cheated on by their spouse. Do you tell? We all know what might happen if you do. They'll shoot the messenger, think you are lying, or trying to hurt them. Still, you might feel obligated to do it anyway, or, as here, give the offending party a choice - them or you. Either way you probably lose. And, of course, there are complications. Like, how do you know what their arrangement is - express or implicit? Maybe they know but don't want to believe it or acknowledge it. Maybe they are better off in the marriage and just getting cheated on.

Here are the factors I'd look at if trying to decide.
Are you sure?
Which of the two is more of your friend? Or are you close to both of them?
Have you ever tried telling your friend something before they didn't want to hear? What was their reaction?  How likely is this going to be a big mistake on your part?
How certain are you that they don't have what you might think is a good reason (that's obviously subjective - one man/woman's good reason is another man/woman's cheating). In The Dilemma there were actually other circumstances which I thought made some difference, but, no one in the movie seemed to think so (of course, it is a movie).
Are you biased in inclination because of your sex? My experience is, men tend to sympathize with men and women with women. Maybe that's human nature.

Let's face it. No matter what you do, you lose.

Yeah, I know - Kentucky Derby. So, I walked down to the town and coincidentally ran into Howard and Liz as I passed the post office. They are an older married couple, 75 and 61, who are among my best friends and my frequent breakfast companians at the best "diner" (as we would call it in New York) around - astonishingly cheap with plentiful food and endless coffee. We sit around a few times a week for about two hours, Howard and I trying to one up each other with cheap shots and ridiculous arguments, or watching (and mocking) Howard as he does the crossword puzzle. Liz seems to find us very amusing, and I have to admit, sometimes strangers sitting at nearby tables do too. It is the kind of place with many regulars, where people who go get themselves coffee walk around to all the tables with the pot (not me, too shy), and where the owner, Debbie, rules the roost in a very pleasant way. Anyway, it is one of the few places left that Howard hasn't been thrown out of for teasing the staff or owners, and I think he knows better than to do it there.

So, anyway, Howard and Liz drove me the last 100 yards or so to the theatre where I got out and went in, just in time for the Derby, which was won by a horse named Animal Kingdom, who came from behind and the outside to outsprint the leaders down the stretch. Not a bad race. I was only in there for five minutes, the highlight - other than the race - being when the commentator mentioned that one of the jockies (maybe all, for all I know), wore 9 pair of goggles, which he would discard as they got clouded with dirt. I did not know that.

After than, I walked down to the river, which was really only about two or three minutes walk. And, of course, it started raining. So, I road my bike back in the rain. Fortunately, if you take Lowe Street, it is down hill most of the way too until you get to the long street leading up to mind. I had to walk that too - in the rain. Story of my life. There was a wonderful book, later made into a radio series in Britain, and then a movie here, called a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by a deceased writer named Douglas Adams. It is silly stuff, but I thought very creative and funny. Anyway, there was a character in the book who, unbeknownst to himself, was a rain god. He just found it unfortunate (and depressing) that wherever he was, it rained. I have sometimes thought I may have a bit of the rain god in me too, although I have been rather lucky on most vacations.

The kayak trip, by the way, was fantastic. The weather was perfect for me - about 70-75 degrees, with some cloud coverage, as I'm not a big sun worshipper. The water was pretty cold, and you can't help but get splashed a little, but it was still warm enough to go in just a bathing suit. There was one place, where the river is cut in two by an island, and the left side has class 2 rapids. It travels in an arc around the island back to the main stream. You have a choice, you can punch through the really fast rapid current with big waves and stay on a little tributary for a bit, or - the one I took - follow the current around the arc and try and straighten yourself out suddenly when you come back to the main stream. When you hit it, you are being propelled in two directions at once and I really strained myself so that I did not tip over. Honestly, I don't know how I avoided it. When I got to the take out, a young woman was there with her labarador (she had a life vest). She was throwing sticks into the water for the lab to retrieve (she is a retriever, after all). If the stick didn't go far, the lab would rush in and get it. If she threw it more than ten feet, the lab would turn and look at her and say (I'm sure), "Seriously, that water is really cold. You go get it." Somehow, it was fairly comical.

And, I saw a heron - a familiar site I see almost each time I go - fly away with a little fish - which I've only seen twice - the first time by an osprey on the Potomac river, and now. I also saw my first owl. Here's the list of the animals I've seen on the river that I can identify.

Snapping turtles - they lay on top of logs or down trees, one on top of the other in a chain, but fling themselves into the water when you come close. Some are pretty big with shells at least a foot long.
Otter - I saw two, male and female, last year (and one once the year before). They both dived in the water. The female escaped while the male floated in front of me with his head out of the water, hissing at me. He was not persuaded to be petted by my docile demeaner.
Deer - I've seen many deer down here, even crossing my own yard, but I saw two once while paddling the most beautiful little brook under a canopy of trees that I have ever seen. It is passable only in high water, and it is normally part of the woods around the river. The scene was breathtaking as they carefully forded the stream in front of me in an almost Disneyesque landscape, until the second one saw me approach and dashed to safety.
Bear - I've seen one on the river in the early morning at about 600 yards. I'm sure he notice me too as he loped off.
Cows - I know that sounds pretty pedestrian, but it is fun to see them in the river, where you just don't expect them. Sometimes they flee when I come near, but today one stared me down and I made a circuit around him.
Beaver - I've seen a few. I thought there would be more.
Bald eagle - I've seen these majestic creatures several times and it is always thrilling. I don't care if majestic is a cliche. It fits.
Grey herons - these large and graceful birds are a pleasure to watch take off and leisurely flap away.
Coyote - one very scraggly one on the shore. No, it wasn't a dog. I know the difference.
Monarch butterflies - I know that also sounds pedestrian, but the first year I was here there were thousands on the river. Often the would congregate in mass piles on a little puddle or moist spot. It fascinated me that the dark blue ones would have their own piles separate from the more plentiful yellow ones. Segregation even in the animal kingdom.
Many hawks, vultures, innumerable water fowl, most of which I can not identify and many different types of small colorful birds of the finch, nuthatch type and about 1 gazillion dragonflies, damsel flies (they are different), water spiders (which look like they are riding on tiny little personal jet skis.
Very rarely a fish, which does not sound right, and is sad, but I think they have killed them off with pollution. People do fish there, but they don't catch much, and certainly not big ones.

Heading to New York tomorrow. Have to decide what books to bring. I am one of those people who has to read a bunch of stuff at the same time. Sometimes when I count them up I am stunned myself. Here's the list right now. I won't include The Iliad and The Bible, the first a constant for me, the second too frequent too mention.

The Empiricists. A collection of works by Locke, Berkely and Hume (epistemology)
The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukov. An explanation of modern physics through the prism of Eastern philosophy.

First time
The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. II (Hegel and Marx) by Karl Popper. A great book but not as fascinating as Vol 1, on Plato, which gave me a great feeling of vindication that I wasn't the only one in the world who thought Plato was a friggin' Nazi.
Essays in the History of Liberty by Lord Acton. Other than his defence of the South in the Civil War, is great stuff, by a true politician-scholar of the sort they just don't make anymore.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn. A classic in scientific history, it is not easy to read and I am slowly slogging through. Check with me next year to see if I finish it. I have a vague feeling I tried once before.
The Blue and Brown Books by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Popper's nemesis, and a revered poltician that no one can seem to understand. Was he brilliant or just nuts? These were not planned books, per se, but notes from students made into books.
Iran-Contra: The Final Report by Lawrence E. Walsh. If you ever make the mistake of believing we can trust government, read this and weep.
Her Majesty's Spymaster by Stephen Budiansky. This is a biography of Queen Elizabeth I's councilor and secretary (not the kind who takes dictation), and, spymaster. It is interesting, but I would not say fascinating.
Argonautica by Appollonius of Rhodes. This third century B.C. epic is mildly interesting, but perhaps most because reading it lets you understand just how brilliant Homer was. No comparison in any manner.
The Best of the Achaeans by Gregory Nagy. One of the leading Homer scholars, his book is very scholarly and very hard to understand. However, if you are fascinated by Homer, it is breathtakingly informative.
Active Liberty by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. The justice explains his jurisprudence. It is written for the laymen. Not that impressed so far, but I'll give him a chance.
An Enlightened Life by Nicolas Phillipson. A recent biography of the many times covered Adam Smith. I'm actually reading this on frequent visits to Washington & Lee University's library. Now that I got a card, I'm probably going to take it out soon.
Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth by Gitta Sereny. I have read all of Speer's books many years ago and was fascinated by his view of Nazism from the inside. Sereny seeks to take the hide off of him as a self serving liar. I just started this so I can't say what I'll think.
Rivers of Gold, The Rise of the Spanish Empire from Columbus to Magellan by Hugh Thomas. He is a great if little known historian who rights on Spain. I finally understood the Spanish Civil War after reading his book on it.
A Short History of Everything by Bill Bryson. He's a great writer. His Mother Tongue is one of the books I most frequently recommend. This one is my car book, and it is great fun and red lights and (shhhh!) long highway stretches when I am all alone.

I'm sure I am forgetting a few, but so what.

This actually took one hour and thirty nine minutes, but I came back afterwards and added one animal and one book that I forgot. This was interesting, but I am still not going to read Ulysses. Who has time?


  1. Okay, stream of consciousness, relax, breathe deep, forget I know the author... first thing that comes to my mind is.....
    this is the most gay thing I have ever read. Were you wearing a dress on your way to the theatre? Not that there's anything wrong with it.
    Did love the reading list though - I cannot live without books (didn't some GREAT American thinker say that?) Mine: Maimonides - Joel Kraemer
    A Great Night for Dying -Jack Higgins
    American Renaissance -Mathiesson (About the period where Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville and Whitman were all writing. Amazing.)
    Our Oriental Heritage- Durant
    Alexander Hamilton - Chernow
    The Ancient Historians - Gray (my years to finish book)

  2. You know, I swear there are nice comments, but for some reason they email me instead of doing it here. Bear is just trying to win all places in the end of the year best comments awards.

    I did notice your sly Jefferson remark. Relax, I have acknowledged he was a great man - but you need to acknowledge his character was wanting.

    Nice reading list. I've done Chernow and Durant and would like to read American Renaissance someday.

  3. I decided to comment on my own post now that I am roughly 250 pages deep into Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth, by Gitta Sereny. I wrote in this post above: "I have read all of Speer's books many years ago and was fascinated by his view of Nazism from the inside. Sereny seeks to take the hide off of him as a self serving liar. I just started this so I can't say what I'll think." Since, as I said, I had just started the book (a few pages), I took my description from what I had read about it in other sources. Apparently, they were not sources who had either not read the book at all or just did not understood it (obviously, there must be reviewers who did, but, unfortunately, they are not the ones I had read). Sereny knew Speer well, interviewed him and studied him for many years, liked him a great deal, and certainly wasn't trying to "take the hide off of him" except possibly in the psychological sense. Rather, she wrote a wonderful book that investigates just what the title states: "struggle with the truth". I had turned to Speer many years ago especially to try to understand what would make people follow Hitler, and I thought Speer did some of the best writing on that. Sereny takes it a step further, looking at Speer's own psychology, recollections, writing, and some cover ups, etc., as well as those of many others in Hitler's circle, to investigate the same thing that had long interested me - what did these people do to insulate themselves from the truth or to explain it away or to hide it from themselves and others? What were the aspects of Hitler, themselves and their culture which made Hitler hypnotic to them so that they implicity trusted him? How did they deal with it in the midst of the horrors and then after there were no excuses possible as to who and what Hitler was? There is no indication I can see at p. 250 or so that she finds Speer or the others any more dishonest than anyone else. In fact, many of them, she finds exceedingly or completely honest. Her analysis of Hitler and those in his immediate circle are far less comic-bookish than many other historians I have read and I give her great credit for courage in dealing with some of the issues in a more honest way - in particular, that while not denying the monstrosity of the holocaust or Hitler's influence - she does not treat him as one dimensional. I have always found that ability of "regular people" whatever that means, to do horrible things in a cause, far more terrifying than monsters, who are much more infrequent and have trouble hiding for long. It also make me (trying to be objective) wonder if people in succeeding generations will find my common places beliefs horrific, or primitive. Fascinating stuff and I'm glad I picked up this big tome. I may come back to this topic another day.


Your comments are welcome.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .