Monday, February 15, 2016

Antonin Scalia and the Tractable Foundation

He believed in ruling according to the words that comprise it; meaning as it was written.

In not lending interpretation of "intent" to the efforts of the Founding Fathers.

So, let's just look at their obvious, patent intent, that which needs no interpretation.

And powerfully patent intent underscores why the conservatives in the country, led so smarmily by Scalia across four decades, should maybe just join Scalia in giving up the ghost of *their* malodorous and also patently obvious intent. Roll over, Thugnuts; you've been reading it wrong. Well, let's get honest here;  YOUSE, you street-level conservatives who have aligned yourselves to the Tea Party in all of their and your wrongheadedness, have never really read it, have you?

First, it's a document that frames a form of government in direct opposition to those that held sway--and the commoner's nose to the grindstone--across Europe and all of the rest of Western Civilization, and across the vast plains and mountain reaches of Asia for, oh, a few millennia.

There had literally never been a system so progressive ever enacted anywhere on the planet before our Daddies decided to say Fuck You to the regencies and oligarchies of the various Motherlands and and set out to enfranchise the widest swath of a population ever in the interest of a far more fully representative governance, a "More Perfect Union," if you will. (And isn't that the most delicious phrase of them all? Seriously, that metaphor describes this beautiful experiment of a nation so completely eloquently, does it not? And the fact that it is preceded "toward a" is breathtaking. Could there be a clearer description of the Daddies' intent that we be a Progressive Democratic Republic?)

And then they did a couple more things, one of which everybody "knows" though so many choose to forget: they made that document mutable, amendable. You know, just in case the world, itself, continued to prove mutable. And c'mon, people, you know *this* about the way things work (or are supposed to when the SCOTUS and one party do not hold the nation and its *progress* hostage because things mutated so far away from the late 18th century as to see us elect a Negro [Lawdy! {fans a damp and heaving bosom} Pass me ma smellin' salts!] to the Presidency) if you only managed to achieve the 5th grade in this country.

But they also took a measured and thoughtful path to enactment of our Constitution.  This next part requires that you have completed at least an 11th grade education or have done at least a semester of your senior year to have been taught, so if you dropped out or drugged up, lissen up: the Old Boys wanted to get it right, the framework for this radically progressive new form of government they were bound and committed to fully empower. So they commissioned a set of position papers be drafted up--you know, the Federalist Papers--then they published those papers in every newspaper in every community in each of the brand-new Thirteen States of this Brave New Nation, the United States of America. And then they invited feedback, debate papers from those who hoped to see tweaks and edits and inclusions and restructurings and large scale, well, mutation of the document in its proposed form.  Guess what happened next? And then after that? Well, they published those distaff arguments--the ANTI-Federalist Papers; cool name, huh?--all over everywhere, then scheduled a road trip to all over everywhere so that the people in all those communities large and small across the states could come out to town hall meetings and, having already read and discussed the Federalist AND the Anti-Federalist positions(you know, because people actually READ stuff back then), actually discuss their own feeling about a both sides of each issue and even add some of their own suggestions for revision.

The Founding Fathers wanted feedback, lots of it, before committing to paper and "finalizing." They believed in peer review, and they recognized a crapload more people as PEERS than any other governing body ever had before.  AND they built that sucker to be amendable, so that as WE (the People) expanded that peerage to include blacks, both free and formerly slaved, then women, and finally now various other groups of those previously denuded of rights if not the vote, THEIR voices could also be heard.  Nothing complicated here. The Daddies intended a mutable document and they intended broad discussion and compromise in making amendments. And they were PROGRESSIVE to beat the band.  Heck, they broke the effing SYSTEM in the name of progress. And their example was incredible. Again, for those of you who slept through US History in 11th grade and Government in senior year, check out how many regencies fell across Europe in the years following the establishment of the good ol' US of A and the adoption of the Constitution. And it is to our shame, if we finally get honest, that they have done it (this progressivist freedom thing) far better than we have ever since.

So, God Rest Ye, Master Scalia. Take a minute after parting the veil and slipping through to the Other Side. Yes, I trust you will find a place there; my Diestic God--the one I share with the Founding Fathers--has a loving sense of humor about all the ways we get it wrong--He would not punish you for your fear of change and growth and prosperity for all.  But ready yourself, because I strongly suspect you will find yourself in Initiation with a few of those Founders you reviled in your misguided efforts to maintain a centuries-old status quo. Expect a sitdown, perhaps with Thom and Alex and Ben and maybe an Adams or two. Thereafter, you may find yourself in penance haunting these you have left behind until they begin to actually attempt to reconcile their blather with reality.

By the way, the Notorius RBG misses and loves you. Well. At least that is something.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Pssst...C'mere, Kid

I have been blog-silent for a while now, choosing instead to express my insights in the more pithy environs offered by Facebook and the even-more-mandatorily pithy Twittershere. My choice was not as freely made as the word itself  implies; since my spine surgery I find it very difficult to sit for very long in any chair except for the recliner. But I would like to get back into this format, and to that end, I gifted myself both an iPad Pro before Christmas and a groovy mounting stand with an arm that swivels 360 degrees in multiple directions. It holds my tablet while I sit or recline and swings out of the way when I want (or, more realistically, *need*) to disconnect.

Given that it is a presidential election year, I am really hoping I can segue *out* of 140-character or 140-word mode. If so, you will be given an opportunity to read me in all my erudite and wordy splendor.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Knowledge, acquisition thereof

Below is a piece I wrote in an effort to elucidate my understanding of how one comes to know, how one transitions from innocence to experience, from ignorance to illumination and edification; how one comes to trust those transitory phases as valuable and worthy and necessary and formative of self. Give it a read:


Enclosed in a darkness
Interrupted only by the twinklings
Of others' ideas,

I imagine the path, the light.
Straight, narrow--
A plank jutting away.
I walk it, knowing I will fall
But not for long.

So I leap from that
Narrow refuge,
Falling free and
Spinning through the blinking darkness,
Arcing, swanning,
Head-long and head-strong
Into the abyss.

I see my port, a haphazard series of
Held in a loose raft
By the mind of another.

I slow my fall,
Drift to this sanctuary,
And alight.

I walk the construct,
Study its form and frame and
Fulcrums and fusions,
Until I know it well and
My feet know its Gordian map
And can dance its tangles and
Its angles and its lurches and
Its leaps.

Then I leap, diving away from
That sanctuary into the dark again.
To build my own,
I will need more planks:
Ignore the ignorant and build.
Others come behind who will need
Respite and refuge.
                              --R. C-A, 2002

Notice the control exercised by the narrator? These are anything *but* suicide leaps, though my sometimes emo-centric kids could see nothing but dark in the joyful light of this piece.  Do you see evidence of *joy* herein? Can you source it? Purpose in action? in form? in alliteration? Do you see that this narrator is anything *but* selfish in pursuit of ever more illumination?

(And, to give credit to those emo-kids, do you see how at essence, one must vanquish the old self in order to allow the new self to emerge?)

What metaphor do *you* employ to express intellectual/spiritual/philosophic change? We all do, you know...

I sometimes shared this poem with my students as part of an exercise in general poetic explication, as a piece on which to re-engender one's ability to adjudge mood and tone, structure and form, metaphor as meaning.  Most never learned that I had authored it; I feel there is something skeevtastic about a teacher requiring students to read them. It is difficult enough in conveying the essay prompt or the exam questions or the 'blog entry that is "just sayin'" rather than *say* sayin', know what I mean?How is a student to compose comfortable critical analysis under that sort of pressure?  Too often, especially early on in a teacher-student relationship, the acolyte wonders "What is expected of me? What does she want? What is *the* *answer*?  Before long, most of my students came to believe me when I told them I only wanted *their* answers, that I stood to learn as much from them as they from me, that I do not believe there is such a thing as *the* *answer*.


Sunday, November 2, 2014


With this repost, I relaunch this 'blog, one I maintained in support of a humanities course I taught for 14 years as a secondary English teacher at Fredonia High School. My sudden retirement due to illness last summer has shellacked me with several new layers of poignancy, the clearest, most golden-hued one inspired by the fact that I will never again teach this class. Early in my career I learned that, though my subject matter may be English literature and argumentation, what I *taught* and continue to teach even in retirement is *people*. That said, I was blessed to be allowed to develop and teach this particular course; I thoroughly believe it is what I was put here to do.

The course urged an examination of not only how we (the people/society/tribes across time) tell ourselves the truth: i.e., "make narrative structure" to explain ourselves to ourselves and others across time and space, but also how we as individuals draw our selves and our sense of self from the truths and"truths" and outright lies we tell: just as fictional characters are sculpted via their words and actions, so too are we.

So, starting in 2006, I directed my students to this as their initial foray into our mutual cultural examination of narration and their own, more personal one.  It seems a good place to begin again once more as I attempt to transition away from teaching in a formal setting and whispering across the darkness in this cybersphere.  Perhaps you will find reason to whisper back.

September 2006:

Recommended to me in the spring of 2006 by a colleague whose taste I trust is IRELAND, by Frank Delaney. Now, here's a boy whom I had not previously met, but his ken is dear to me, and my friend knew I would find syncronicity in his words.

So I acquire a copy of the book, and took it to hand the first moment I could--much later into my summer than I had intended; but then, everything about that season had been out of time...

I sit myself down in my favorite reading chair, turn the fan to "low" and "breeze", and turn back the cover and the first several pages, coming to rest upon the Author's Note:

"Beneath all the histories of Ireland, from the present day through her long troubled relationship with England and back to the earliest times, there has always been another, less obvious reporter speaking--the oral tradition, Ireland's vernacular narrative, telling the country's tale to her people in stories handed down since God was a boy.

"This fireside voice took great care to say that imagination and emotion insist on playing their parts in every history, and therefore, to understand the Irish, mere facts can never be enough; this is a country that reprocesses itself through the mills of its imagination.

"But we all do that [emphasis added]; we merge our myths with our facts according to our feelings, we tell ourselves our own story. And no matter what we are told, we choose what we believe. All 'truths' are only our truths, because we bring to the 'facts' our feelings, our experiences, our wishes. Thus, storytelling--from wherever it comes--forms a layer in the foundation of the world; and glinting in it we see the trace elements of every tribe on earth [again with the emphasis]."

Oh, Frank Delaney! Who on earth are you that you so closely channel the ways I speak about truth and how it's told? Is there some synaptic charge that informs us? Because we share a bloodline, do we share an urge toward a particular philosophic bent?

Yes, I added emphasis in two particular places: Where you, my brother from across the sea, acknowledge the inclusion of "other" in your view, your cant is decidedly toward our family, the Irish as a tribe. Here our paths diverge: My view is really always toward those who are "not" "mine;" it is always and urgently my nudge toward recognition that there is no other, that we are all far more alike than different, that cultural/systemic distinctions provide nuance but should not stand as barriers and borders and evidence of "wrong"/not "right"/alien and deserving of, even inviting fear, derision and loathing.

But it is a small point, is it not? I see that you agree with me on this. Your subject happens to be our little family, the Irish; my subject happens to be our big family.

And so, Frank Delaney, how do we tell ourselves the truth? Well, as you note, some of us--gifted with gab?--"get it" that the straightest, surest path to truth is nevertheless a landscaped one.

Ah, Frank Delaney, how I would enjoy a pint and a convo with you!

Friday, October 11, 2013

What my brother, Frank Delaney, has to say about poetry...

In class I got you started on the blue poetry packet; as you explicate all the remaining poems in the queue, consider this:

Frank Delaney, author of IRELAND and my brother from another mother, echos me in his take on just how it is that poetry comes to be written. Or perhaps it would tell a straighter truth to say "how it comes to be written down, recorded." Listen to what he says through the voice of character Barry Hanafin:

"...nobody can actually write a poem. There's no such act as writing a poem. That's not how poems are made. Oh yes, there's the physical business of pen, ink, and paper--but that isn't whence the poem comes. Nor may you send out and fetch a poem from where it's been living. No, like it or like it not, you have to wait for a poem to arrive.

"The people we call 'poets,' by which I mean true, real poets--they're merely very keen listeners who've learned to recognize when a poem's dropping by. Then they copy down what the poem's telling them in their heads. After that, they tidy up the writing, ask their wives, sisters or daughters to type it out for them, and so the poem's finished, next to be seen on the pages of some august publication...

"The thing about true poets is--they never have to wait...

"...No sooner do they listen out than a poem swoops down, whispers something to the top of their heads, and they feel it flowing down into their brain, down along their arms, into their fingers, and out onto the page in black letters." (IRELAND 186)

Now, some of you have heard me express the very same position on this subject. Sure, there is some variance in both lingo and vision--like, dude, we lady-folk are not mere editors and typists; some of us, too, are sharply attuned to the poetic voice!--but Frank essentially agrees with me: Poems just are; they hang there in the ether, patiently waiting for an open ear into which to breathe themselves so that they can coalesce into a form that can be spread and shared.

Because I know this to be true, as a teacher I never require kids to compose poetry. Och!, a more torturous thing to do to a poem awaiting birth than to sic a stopped-up kid upon it I cannot imagine! Sure, the kid probably thinks he's the one being abused, but trust me: the damage done to the conceit is by far the more lasting. (Do you believe me? Can you see how I could be right? Do you see how I could be wrong? Do you see how the truth can be...well, wily?)

But nowhere here does Delaney aver that only certain people are fit to be poem-listeners; indeed, though a distinction can be made between "poets" and "true poets," he (and I) say that you--anyyou--can midwife the coming of a poem; ya just gotta unstop your ears and be ready for the hearin'.

Check this: This is how Delaney has another of his characters explain it, this time a Wise Woman, someone who in another text or another time, might be called down for witchery and put to the flame (smart women are dangerous to society, don'tcha know?):

"Every word that has ever been spoken or sung has gone out into the air. They're all still up there. Oh, yes, they may be jumbled up but that's the beauty of the thing. Since words have their own lives, they can choose which other words they'll associate with. They're always looking for a good home, and a poem is about as good a home as a word can get.

"...What do you suppose a poet needs?...You're thinking a poet needs stanzas and rhymes and meters and cadence. No, no, that's not how it works. By and large, words will arrange themselves, thank you very much. Yes, they may need a little help here and there to get settled into the right place in the right line and so on, but that's easily learned. What a poem needs by way of a good home is a heart of fire and a spirit of honor. Poems won't come to rest in a place of baseness. No self-respecting poem would think of entering a soul of perfidy. [BTW, there is a direct lineage between these words and one of the "ennies"... See if you can wrangle out the familial ties.]

..."Listen out for a voice that's sweet and strange. Listen out for a voice that has the heart's own tune. Listen out for a voice without vanity or contempt." (IRELAND 193-194)

You can birth a poem, even if you are not a "true poet." Frank Delaney says so, and I do, too.