I was briefly infatuated with Richard Powers listening to this interview:
I was so infatuated that I started looking for the transcript of the show and noting the parts of the interview that struck me as I was out on a walk listening to it. I mistakenly published my notes at some point during the walk, and then just left them published because it was too much work to figure out how to unpublish it from the mobile interface. It’s been sitting at the top of the blog for days now, still only partially finished. My apologies.
Commodity mediated, individualist, market driven human exceptionalism…
…I had this sense that to become a better person and to get ahead and to really make more of myself, I had to be as productive as possible. And that meant waking up every morning and getting 1,000 words that I was proud of. And it’s interesting that I would even settle on a quantitative target. That’s very typical for that kind of mindset that I’m talking about — 1,000 words and then you’re free, and then you can do what you want with the day.
I had heard of Suzanne Simard long before this episode of Ezra’s show. Way back when I first started listening to podcasts. During my binging of the back catalog of Radiolab, I ran across this episode:
To summarize the part of her work that is covered in that episode, trees feed each other through the network of fungi that fill the ground around them. The forest is more than just the trees. The forest exists for its own purpose. A purpose that has absolutely nothing to do with us.
If we see all of evolution as somehow leading up to us, all of human, cultural evolution leading up to neoliberalism and here we are just busily trying to accumulate and make meaning for ourselves, death becomes the enemy. When we enter into or recover this sense of kinship that was absolutely fundamental to so many indigenous cultures everywhere around the world at many, many different points in history, that there is no radical break between us and our kin, that even consciousness is shared, to some degree and to a large degree, with a lot of other creatures, then death stops seeming like the enemy and it starts seeming like one of the most ingenious kinds of design for keeping evolution circulating and keeping the experiment running and recombining.
And to go from terror into being and into that sense that the experiment is sacred, not this one outcome of the experiment, is to immediately transform the way that you think even about very fundamental social and economic and cultural things. If the experiment is sacred, how can we possibly justify our food systems, for instance? It’s only the belief that we share no significant kinds of meditation or emotional life with cows that allow us to run the kind of food system that we run.
I am not nearly as impressed with Neil Postman as both Ezra and Richard Powers are. When I got to that section of the interview, my infatuation with Powers waned significantly. I have some pointed thoughts about Neil Postman, some of which may eventually appear here after I finish working through the two books of his that I’m on again, off again, listening to. In the meantime, here’s a link to the other true prophet that Ezra mentions:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
If I was to risk my life to see a movie, this is possibly the only movie that I would cross that line for:
Check out the ‘thopters, man. Finally someone gives me real ‘thopters. That alone will get me to go watch the movie, even in a time of plague.
I just hope the movie has a story. A story that feels something like the story in the book. I’m not looking for the book as a movie, I’m looking to feel the same way about the story in the movie as I do about the story in the book. Fingers crossed.
The first movie of Denis Villeneuve’sDune ends immediately following Jamis’ Tahaddi challenge. Given the place in the first book where the movie ends, I would say that there are at least two more movies of material left to put on the screen. That is, if we are talking about the series of movies ending where the first book ends. If we go on to Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, then we have at least a nine-film epic.
I liked his handling of the story as far as it went. He departed from the text several times, and yet the story remains intact underneath the changes. The director deftly weaves a tale that was made for the screen out of the text that Frank Herbert wrote, and he does it better than all the others who have attempted to tell the story before.
Documents the first time someone tried to bring the book to the big screen. While the attempt was fatally flawed from the beginning, the collaborations that started with that endeavor went on to generate a dozen other works that would be sorely missed today had the attempt not been made. I’m glad the movie was never finished. There is no way the completed project could equal the grandeur of the vision that is presented in the pitches for the movie.
Unfortunately for us, David Lynch did complete his attempt to put Dune on the big screen. Luckily for us, David Lynch went on to make better movies. Don’t get me wrong, there are facets of the 1984 Dune that are grandiose almost beyond imagining unless you have seen the movie yourself. The guild steersman in the first act; in fact, all of the first third of the movie was excellent. All of the casting for the Harkonnen’s including Sting as Feyd-Rautha was excellent. Unfortunately the production couldn’t create ornithopters that looked like ornithopters. They also abandoned the Prana-Bindu training/fighting in favor of creating a gadget that they called a weirding module to make the fighters unbeatable.
The production suffered from many problems during the course of the movies’ creation and this shows in the finished product. There were long exposition sequences throughout the film, a shortcut to storytelling on film that is never a good idea. The Wife walked out of the movie back in 1984, midway through one of the sequences that featured a bloody battle scene while the voiceover track intones “…and Paul and Chani were in love.” The horror of it was too much to bear. She spent the remaining hour of the movie playing video games in the arcade attached to the theater.
I have watched the movie several times over the years. It never got better for me, which is its own condemnation of the effort in my eyes. When you know a story before seeing the movie made from it, the anxiety of what you are about to see enacted on something you know and love overshadows everything. This has proven to be true for me for every movie that I have watched after reading the book. The first viewing is almost painful to endure. If the movie is good though, the later viewings get better and more enjoyable because you already know how the movie treats the thing you are nostalgic for.
1984 Dune treated a novel that I had read more times than I had read anything else very poorly. It strayed from the meaning and intent of the story almost from the moment the characters touch down on Arrakis. I had read the first four novels seven times through before seeing the movie in 1984 and most books never get a second reading by me. Dune spoke to me in ways that other books did not. Frank Herbert understood realpolitik, and he wove his vaguely recognizable societal groups into a believable future framework that gives the reader insight on the world of power politics, and what can happen when an oppressed population is given a savior that they recognize instinctively. Almost none of this was present in the 1984 version of Dune.
This version was superior to Lynch’s version. It was more like the story it was trying to tell than 1984 Dune. True, they still didn’t get the ornithopters right, and they didn’t have Sting as Feyd-Rautha, but they made do with what they had and at least tried to tell the story that Frank Herbert wrote. I’ve never managed to catch this series since it first aired, so I have little recollection of it now. I just remember being glad to see the story treated more like I expected it to be treated, instead of being buried behind special effects sequences that could never replace real storytelling. They even went on to make:
An adaptation of the second two books of the series. I remember even less of this series than I do the first SyFy series, although I remember watching both. This one didn’t impress me with it’s ability to bring the story to the screen. In the end the small screen can’t compare to the big screen and these stories deserve to be on a big screen.
All of this is my way of saying that I look forward to seeing Jason Momoa returning in movie number four as the Goula Hayt. I’ll be along for the ride for at least that long. Here’s hoping that Denis Villeneuve gets the green light to continue with the second movies’ creation.
What Dune achieves – as Frank Herbert himself wrote – is an ambivalence and suspicion of “good wars.” The film’s allegiance is with the natives, and certainly with cultural humility toward the unfamiliar and the unknowable. Colonizing another is a brutal if not a fatal mission.
What makes a person go online begging for help from total strangers, and then when someone tries to understand the problem, tries to understand why this stranger is publicly threatening to kill themselves, they turn on the would be helper and try to submerge them in their ire?
As I deleted all my comments from the thread that started this thought train moving and reported the post as a violation of the subreddit’s rules (what I should have done in the first place and will do the next time I see one of these kinds of posts there) I was reminded of this passage from Dune:
“Once on Caladan, I saw the body of a drowned fisherman recovered. He–“
“Drowned?” It was the stillsuit manufacturer’s daughter.
Paul hesitated, then: “Yes. Immersed in water until dead. Drowned.”
“What an interesting way to die,” she murmured.
Paul’s smile became brittle. He returned his attention to the banker. “The interesting thing about this man was the wounds on his shoulders –made by another fisherman’s claw-boots. This fisherman was one of several in a boat — a craft for traveling on water — that foundered . . . sank beneath the water. Another fisherman helping recover the body said he’d seen marks like this man’s wounds several times. They meant another drowning fisherman had tried to stand on this poor fellow’s shoulders in the attempt to reach up to the surface to reach air.”
“Why is this interesting?” the banker asked.
“Because of an observation made by my father at the time. He said the drowning man who climbs on your shoulders to save himself is understandable — except when you see it happen in the drawing room.” Paul hesitated just long enough for the banker to see the point coming, then “And, I should add, except when you see it at the dinner table.”
When you are drowning in depression, it will do you no good to stand on the shoulders of the swimmer next to you. You will both surely drown if you do that. This is why rescuers in actual water emergencies frequently have to wait for a drowning person to stop fighting the water before they can attempt to pull the victim to safety. A drowning person will drown you and themselves in their frantic attempts to stay up in the air. They don’t know what they are doing. A depressed person needs therapy, and solid, stable people around them. Not more depressives that will pull them down deeper into despair.
Had I not found aid in the form of disability payments back in 2005, I would have been dead in 2006. I had it all planned out. I just had to start the plan in motion and it would have worked flawlessly. Probably. I was drowning in depression, convinced that I had to keep working to have any value to the people around me. It took almost another decade for me to figure out that I had value that wasn’t calculated in dollar figures, something that a working person who is convinced that they must keep working to have a meaningful life can’t understand. Not really.
I know this because I was one of those people and I can see the train of thought that lead me from my deepest pit of despair to where I am now. But I’m still burdened with the same chronic illness that forced me out of work twenty years ago. I know this because any time I forget who and what I am and try to start back into my old ways the vertigo sets back in and I have to take a week off in order to recuperate. Just like I had to do every other week back in the bad old days when I thought force of will alone would see me through.
I cannot rescue another chronic illness sufferer if that person can’t understand how I’m still treading water all these years later and flings insults at the methods I employ in order to cope. Hopefully they will also survive long enough to see the error of their ways. I won’t know because I can’t save them and save myself at the same time. They’ll have to find someone with a firmer grasp on reality than I have. I have people who want to see me keep on living. I hope that they do too.
She was going to have to give up nursing in order to treat her Meniere’s if she had Meniere’s. She didn’t have vertigo, so I tried to explain to her that she probably was misdiagnosed and should seek a second opinion from a professional. She then scathingly informed me that she was a professional who damn well knew what was wrong with her. She had endolymphatic hydrops that she developed from exposure to a chemical (she never said what) and hydrops was Meniere’s. She said I needed to educate myself. She then attacked me for being on disability for 15 years, leeching off the government as she put it.
It isn’t Meniere’s if you know the cause. It isn’t Meniere’s if you don’t display the full spectrum of symptoms. It isn’t Meniere’s if you can cure it. I wish I didn’t have Meniere’s. What she has isn’t Meniere’s. What she did have was evidence that:
It has been said that he who is his own lawyer, is sure to have a fool for his client; and that he who is his own physician is equally sure to have a fool for his patient.
At the end of the room a loud speaker projected from the wall. The Director walked up to it and pressed a switch.
“… all wear green,” said a soft but very distinct voice, beginning in the middle of a sentence, “and Delta Children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly colour. I’m so glad I’m a Beta.”
There was a pause; then the voice began again.
“Alpha children wear grey They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfuly glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able …”
The Director pushed back the switch. The voice was silent. Only its thin ghost continued to mutter from beneath the eighty pillows.
I’m entitled to make any assumptions I like, if they are internally consistent. This is an exercise in speculation, remember? Speculation starts with assumptions. If you don’t like mine, try your own; you might get some interesting results.
They were now their own unavoidable experiment, and were making themselves into many things they had never been before: augmented, multi-sexed, and most importantly, very long-lived, the oldest at that point being around two hundred years old. But not one whit wiser, or even more intelligent. Sad but true: individual intelligence probably peaked in the Upper Paleolithic, and we have been self-domesticated creatures ever since, dogs when we had been wolves. But also, despite that individual diminution, finding ways to accumulate knowledge and power, compiling records, also techniques, practices, sciences
possibly smarter therefore as a species than as individuals, but prone to insanity either way.
I queued up the latest episode of Throughline when it came out on the 14th of January, and I wondered what take they would give on the subject of impeachment now that we were in the second impeachment for Donald Trump:
The episode turned out to be a rebroadcast of a previous episode (High Crimes and Misdemeanors,Feb. 28, 2019) but as I was listening to the episode I was thinking “yeah. I wrote an article about my experience reading this book. What happened to that?”
After looking through my online drafts, I can tell my self from the middle of January what happened to it. I flushed it. I flushed the whole article. I was so disgusted with the results of President Trump’s impeachment in 2019 and trial in the early months of 202o (what feels like a decade ago now) that I didn’t see the point in adding an article about this book to the blog. I mean to say, the book and the first impeachment of a President in United States history had no bearing on the results of this modern President’s flirtation with perhaps being punished for his infractions by being impeached for some of them. The tale had no bearing other than that he was left in office just as Andrew Johnson had been, to the disgust of everyone who cared about the future of the country and the plight of the former slaves who were betrayed by Andrew Johnson.
Because I’m fanatical about saving everything I write somewhere, it turned out that there still was a draft of the article sitting in my backups waiting to be dusted off and revisited. Since President Trump has been so enormously stupid as to attempt to overthrow the United States government and not even understand that he should probably run away after failing so spectacularly to do even that job correctly, he has been impeached for an unprecedented second time, almost exactly thirteen months since he was impeached for the first time. Impeached for sedition. That’ll look good on his resume. What follows is an amended set of thoughts on the subject of the book and the relevance of the first impeachment of a sitting President with the current governmental tragedy that we are witnessing.
Impeaching a President implies that we make mistakes, grave ones, in electing or appointing officials, and that these elected men and women might be not great but small—unable to listen to, never mind to represent, the people they serve with justice, conscience, and equanimity. Impeachment suggests dysfunction, uncertainty, and discord—not the discord of war, which can be memorialized as valorous, purposeful, and idealistic, but the far less dramatic and often squalid, sad, intemperate conflicts of peace, partisanship, race, and rancor. Impeachment implies a failure—a failure of government of the people to function, and of leaders to lead. And presidential impeachment means failure at the very top.
I picked up The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple after hearing her interviewed on several podcasts over a few weeks in August, 2019. I listened to it over the course of a month or so in fifteen minutes stretches as I got ready for bed and then tried to go to sleep. When I dusted off the first abortive attempt to write an article about this book, I decided to listen to it again while editing this article and adding to it. I have now been listening to the book for two days straight and finished it on the morning of the third day. It is much better than I originally thought, and it is packed full of relevant details about the current president and his predicament.
It isn’t the most sleep inducing of books, which is a point in its favor, but I have to keep relistening to chapters in order to try to keep all the players straight. This is a flaw in the narrative that has been constructed for the story of the impeachment of Andrew Johnson to be told in. I have read better histories over the course of the years, but there is nothing particularly bad about this one. It flows well from chapter to chapter, I simply can’t keep all the names straight because I don’t understand their place in the overall story. In case anyone else is having this problem, I’ll attach a list of the obscure characters that the author seems to insufficiently touch on at the end of this article, as well as include a few quotes from them interspersed in the text. I looked them up out of curiosity anyway, I might as well list their names and what I took away from stumbling across them online here in this article. However, the best way to learn about the subject of the book, Andrew Johnson and his direct impeachers, is to just read the book or read one of the numerous other books that have been written about him and them.
Here’s an example of why this book is relevant today:
I cannot believe there is really any danger of armed resistance to impeachment. The force which Johnson could command is so small and the suicidal folly of the course so evident. Still, Johnson is an exception to all rules.
Andrew Johnson and Donald Trump resemble each other in character. Vain, narcissistic and borderline sociopaths, with a certain kind of charisma that they both used to raise crowds to their defense when they were speaking extemporaneously, but when looked at later in the cold light can be seen to be voicing sentiments that are almost completely without merit. They are cut from very similar cloth and neither of them should have ever been allowed near the levers of power, and abused their power when it was given to them.
The story of the first presidential impeachment stems out of the first assassination of a United States president, which followed directly on the heels of the Civil War, a conflict that finally put to rest the question of slavery that had badgered American reality and morality since the founding of the United States following the separation of the American colonies from Great Britain.
I recommend that anyone interested in this subject also read Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin or at least become passingly familiar with the subjects that swirled around in political circles of the day. Because, while the book is entertaining and self-contained from the perspective of explaining most of what you need to know about the subject of the first impeachment of a president, it isn’t going to tell you just how embedded the common notion of white supremacy was, a concept that was later scientificated into eugenics, which in the modern day is inseparable from white supremacy itself, even though it is still an active science in several countries.
Without that understanding, you will not be able to credit just how hard it was to find enough people of power to make the kinds of changes in the South stick that needed to stick without turning the entire project into another form of genocide:
Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
Threading that needle, avoiding the mass slaughter of the plantation owners for the purpose of providing property and means for their now freed slaves, while at the same time allowing the former slaves enough space to be able to exercise their newly-granted legal rights, was the task before the country when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, the task that Andrew Johnson was not capable of executing. A fact that he demonstrated many times before the House of Representatives was forced to impeach him for his transgressions of the law.
I especially loved the explanations that Benjamin Butler came up with to explain what it is that falls within the realm of ideas encapsulated by the phrase High Crimes and Misdemeanors:
An impeachable misdemeanor might be an act that subverted the principles of government, such as one that violated the Constitution or that flouted an official oath or duty or law. It could be an act that abused or usurped power.
The Senate was bound by no law, either statute or common, that should limit your constitutional prerogative. The Senate, acting as a court, was a law unto itself. Bound only principles of equity and justice where the laws of the people was supreme.
The Senate is not required to be certain beyond a reasonable doubt in order to hold the president accountable for the crimes he has been charged with, an idea that is also encapsulated in this article from The Atlantic, as well as my own article on the subject. These definitions did not stand in the way of the president’s defenders then and now, insisting that there were no laws broken so the impeachment could not be a valid one but only a political one. Even a political impeachment is valid, if the reasons for the impeachment are dire enough.
If there was a movie made of what happened after Lincoln was assassinated its title should be Betrayal. Betrayal is what Andrew Johnson did to the visions of Abraham Lincoln. A betrayal of the formerly enslaved people in favor of the wealthy white landowners. If these downtrodden people had been given the voice they were promised back in 1865, we wouldn’t have needed to impeach a white supremacist president in 2019, and then impeach him again in 2021.
Mitch McConnell comparing the Republicans who impeached Andrew Johnson to the Democrats who have impeached Donald Trump did get one thing right. Both impeachments were undertaken late, and both impeachments will likely end with injustice done to the Constitution and the ideal of the rule of law. In the case of the impeachment of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell is already on record as being intent on doing injustice.
The modern record should not distract from the historical though. It is the process of following the trends through history that provides the illumination for current events, not the other way around. Andrew Johnson never did get the justice that he so richly deserved, and that is yet another reason why we remain in this quandary today.
Putting aside such causes of the Senate’s action as women, whiskey, cowardice, greenbacks, Free Masonry, Negro-hate, offices for one’s sixteen pine-tree cousins, a diseased Chief Justice, spite, dyspepsia and noodleism – It is evident, on the face of things, that while a very large majority of the people, and specially of the Republican party, wished its success, there was a very strong doubt among the party leaders whether such success would help the party.
Roughly listed in the order that they appear in the book:
Edwin Stanton – Perhaps the most famous of Lincoln’s cabinet. You see a different side of the man in this history than you will see in other histories.
William Seward – Secretary of State under both Lincoln and Johnson. A much more despicable figure than I had understood him to be from other histories I have read. What a strange man he must have been.
Thaddeus Stevens – Leader of the abolitionists in the House. Played memorably by Tommy Lee Jones in the movie Lincoln, he has never been treated more kindly as a character anywhere other than in that movie, and that is a shame on our nation and what our nation means. Stanchly even handed, but willing to manipulate the rules of the House of Representatives to serve the needs of the nation itself, we need at least one legislator equal to him in today’s Congress. Unfortunately we don’t seem to have any of them.
Charles Sumner – Leader of the abolitionists in the Senate. No one seems to like him, and there is little of him in this book. Still, we should understand who he was if we are to understand his place in history. I’ll have to try to find more to read about him.
Lyman Trumbull – Coauthor of the thirteenth amendment. Author of some of the freedman’s legislation. Senator from Illinois.
James Mitchell Ashley – Proposed the resolution to impeach Andrew Johnson. For this and for his stance on educating the populace (including former slaves) he was soundly defeated in 1868 and never held elected office again.
Benjamin Butler – Benjamin Butler would open the House Manager’s prosecution case against Andrew Johnson in the Senate. More should have been written about the history of this man, given how important his role is in the impeachment trial. Butler provides the definitions for the offenses that Andrew Johnson was impeached for, quoted above.
Have a look at its bits: mono from Greek μόνος monos ‘alone, single’, taxo from Greek τάξις taxis ‘order’, philia from Greek φιλία filia ‘love’, but causo from Latin causa ‘cause, reason’. These are all parts of the lexical Lego bucket, but from two different sets that have been combined. It just happens that the Greek equivalent of causa, αἰτία aitia, is not much used in modern scientific neologism.
The word was apparently invented by Ernst Pöppel (humor?) I did a search through the history of the wiki page that Sesquiotic mentions as showing up in a Google search. There is no record of the word ever being part of the page. The edits on wiki articles are preserved (in a general sense. Wiki-social does this as well) so the word probably never appeared on the page. why the wiki page shows up when you do a search for Monocausotaxophilia is a question that Google will have to answer.