Through My Lens, Clearly

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Through My Lens, Clearly

For me, the 1950s ended in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the 1960s began in 1959 with the Cuban Revolution. I remember the elation in my family, in New York City’s Upper West Side (136th Street, and Broadway), when the Batista Regime in Cuba collapsed in January 1959; and I remember our dumbstruck terror in October 1962, listening to President John Kennedy speaking on our black-and-white TV, wondering if my grandparents would be radioactively incinerated in Havana before we were similarly dematerialized in New York City, or vice versa.

That is how my political consciousness was born; its coming-of-age and definitive molding was done later by the Vietnam War, and the many insistent demands by my government that I sacrifice myself to it. I escaped by dumb luck, for which I am eternally grateful. With the particular curvature and polish of my own idiosyncratic lens for political consciousness, I have come to resolve images of our collective reality that I sometimes feel a need to project, as here today.

People can’t be changed, they either evolve on their own, or they persist as they are to the death. The best you can do, for the rare few, is tell them the truth if they ask.

We live in a world rich in its diversity of intolerance of independent thought and self-directed living. Expressions of personal independence and creativity are threats to the slavish conformity of the mass of fearful repressed people hiding in their submissiveness to traditional ideologies that give them status in social hierarchies that limit the full human potential of the individual. This maintains, without merit, the elevation of patriarchs and power-hungry mediocrities who clip the wings of the human spirit and direct the enforcement of their systems of mental and physical imprisonment of the masses serving them.

Bigotry is popular because it makes stupid people feel intelligent, and weak people feel strong. President (sic!) Donald Trump’s popularity rests on people’s desire to be bigoted and respected for it. Bigotry will exist as long as there are ignorant people who are fearful. Such bigoted people love fascism because under it they can stay bigoted and be proud of it. Fascist bigots, like Trump, don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want to be made to feel ashamed. That is why publicly recognized fascist power-seekers always try to silence their critics: first by ignoring them, then by ridiculing them, then by judicial attacks against them, or by veiled calls to their followers to sprout proxies who will make illegal attacks on their critics, and ultimately if they gain dictatorial power they have their critics killed.

Evangelical Christianity is a cult of fear, and for its men also a cult of patriarchy. Politically, it is irrational Republicanism; socially, it is white supremacy and the subjugation of women. Why do such Republican women remain Republican? Because their bigotry, which is fear, is so embedded that it overpowers their self-respect, which is courage. Evangelical Christianity sees Islam as its reflection and its rival, which is why it hates Islam. In practice, their religion is a hate crime. Heraclitus was so perceptive to write, in about 500 BC, that “bigotry is the disease of the religious.”

The problem of race bigotry in America is like the problem of climate change. It is of our making, and we know how to fix it, but we never will. People are too invested in their ignorance for that to ever happen, and afraid if they let it go they will be weak in a changed world.

Arresting climate change would require the universal application of human intelligence, indiscriminate compassion, worldwide solidarity instead of personal selfishness, and thoughtful discipline instead of thoughtless waste. We are doomed. Climate Change is only a problem for the young, bequeathed to them by the old, who won’t notice it anyway because they’re comfortably done, and will be gone soon (geologically speaking).

I probably should not bother writing about the Climate Change Crisis anymore. Everyone everywhere now knows that it is real, and most have felt its first unpleasant effects. So, some Green Energy actions will now happen in response, probably too few, too weak and too late, but at least a start now that the Global Mind has opened to the truth.

Also, I really don’t need to write any more Jeremiads against Republican Party partisans (there are plenty of others to do that nicely), because it is now obvious to everyone everywhere — even the U.S. corporate media (though it puckers their sphincters to mouth it) — that the Republican Party is just a fascist conspiracy to eliminate democracy in the United States of America, and replace it with an authoritarian corporatized xenophobic bigoted Fundamentalist Christian White Supremacy theocratic oligarchy, to drive us all expeditiously to extinction under their self-satisfied obsessively avaricious command. Thieves lie, and liars steal. For them, it is better for humanity to die out badly than for the stupid, bigoted and greedy to be bypassed. Capitalism is fossil-fueled greed with a total lack of imagination, and a bodacious military. Capitalism is the ideology of parasites.

Who built the United States of America into the richest country in world history?: enslaved and exterminated Native Americans, enslaved Africans, dispossessed Mexicans, and exploited European and Asian immigrant laborers. Who produces American wealth today?: the wage-slave descendants of all of these, who only gain a pittance from their harvested labors. What salve are these squeezed working people given for the bruising sacrifices they make of their humanity into the endlessly grinding engines of obsessive greed?: a patriotism deficient in human solidarity but voracious for taxes. But, don’t think of it as taxes, think of it as tithing to the War Religion.

So in my lens’s focus today I find the following: For the world: Capitalism must die for the World to live. For my country: Tribalism is America’s fatal flaw. Resentment, envy and a fanatical sense of entitlement are its corrosive agents. A generational overturning led by socialist youth is its only hope. For myself and every other person: It’s not what happens to you that determines whether you are a success or failure at life, but how you deal with it. As Thucydides quoted Pericles: “Honor is the only thing that does not grow old.”

And now, back to the bread and circuses.

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Moby-Dick

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Moby-Dick

The red arm of the doomed American Indian
in his death-gasp
nailed the harassing American Eagle to the cross
at mast-top of the sinking Ship-of-State,
hull stoved-in
by unconquerable purity of majestic Immensity,
the pulse of Nature
that had been so monomaniacally pursued,
a blind raging exterminating profiteering quest
to capture, kill, and boil down its essence
for liquid fuel
burning in that self-annihilating hunt’s engine
only to be quenched out steaming
by the precipitous plunge into cold finality
of eternally billowing oblivion
in whose dark depths Nature ranges free.

One chastened orphaned wanderer
vomited out of the deep illusory unconscious
by random pity,
buoyed uncoffined by lost despair,
drifts beyond prophesy he now knows
will ever be unheeded
and yet fulfilled.

7 August 2019

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The Volcano Behind Oakland (redux)

Round Top crater, tilted 90° to right, and quarried.

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The Volcano Behind Oakland (redux)

I think I have settled on the epitaph for my tombstone: Have Fun and Be Kind. Actually, while I concede the certainty of mortality, I don’t really want a tombstone. I would prefer that my lifeless body be cremated and my bones crushed, so my powdery remains could be scattered at sea, perhaps in Bodega Bay following my father (or further out if the charter boat captain isn’t too stingy about using fuel). Then the gritty grey plume of my exiting ghost would settle out as a thin dusting on the muddy surface of the sea floor, and in time my ashes would get pressed into a thin-banded shale or mudstone of future millennia.

The only uncertainty about human extinction is its timing: Will it occur in the distant future when the sun expands into a Red Giant and consumes the inner planets, or will it be an unnecessarily premature self-inflicted demise by some combination of war (whether radioactive or merely with firearms), environmental exhaustion and climate change? I suspect humanity will select option B, but — through the magical power of denial — conceptualize the experience as victimization by unanticipated natural catastrophes. In any event, I do not find the inevitability of human extinction to be regrettable. Humanity is but one of many simultaneous and transitory expressions of Life On Earth, and this earth is only a minute speck of an unimaginably vast universe that can obviously sprout life. So relax, the earth and the universe will carry on majestically without us; we are as unnecessary to them as the dinosaurs were.

Like the animals and plants at the time of the dinosaurs, the life forms of today may become the coal and petroleum fueling the pottery kilns of future primitives, like the Anasazi, or the industries of future technological societies, if any.

I find the contemplation of geologic history, and the learning about its particulars on those parts of earth’s surface where I circulate, to impart a mental serenity like that gained by viewing vistas from mountaintops, or out in the expanses of the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau of the American West.

The North American continent moves west across the surface of the globe because of the widening of the Atlantic Ocean caused by the magmatic extrusion of new rock from a linear spreading center that runs down the middle of that ocean basin from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

The western edges of the American continents ride over the eastward-moving heavier tectonic plates supporting the Pacific Ocean, and which lie east of a series of north-south trending spreading centers. The eastern edges of the Pacific Ocean plates colliding into the American continents plunge into the earth, or subduct, to melt under the weight of those continents’ westward advance.

A Pacific spreading center, whose northern end was tilted to the east relative to its southern end, began to subduct under North America 30 million years ago (30 Mya), in what is today Southern California. Faults perpendicular to this spreading center extended westward (with a tilt to the north) from its northern and southern extremities. As this spreading center was overridden by the western edge of North America, it caused that portion of the overlying continent that was west of the buried spreading center to break off and begin sliding to the north, and west. The line of this fracture lengthened as the subduction of the spreading center continued, and this was the origin of the San Andreas Fault (SAF).

The north-south trending SAF lies near the California coast. By 20 Mya, the northern end of the SAF had extended north into Central California. By 10 Mya, the northern end of the SAF was near Monterey Bay, and today it is in Northern California at Cape Mendocino, which is the westernmost extent of the California coast.

The northern end of the SAF is a triple point from which emerges the Mendocino Fault, which runs perpendicular to the SAF and westward out to sea. Slippage along both the SAF and the Mendocino Fault is such that earth on the opposite side of the fault is seen to move to the right. The land just north of the triple point is colliding eastward into North America, and the land (ocean floor) just south of the triple point and west of the SAF is colliding northward into the subduction occurring north of the triple point.

The confluence of tectonic motions at the triple point generates sufficient geologic pressure and heat to cause vigorous seismic activity and volcanism in its vicinity. For over 20 million years, volcanoes have preceded the northward advance of the northern triple point of the SAF. The Neenach Volcano, in Los Angeles County, erupted 23 Mya and was subsequently split by the SAF so that its western half now lies 314 km (195 miles) to the northwest in present day Pinnacles National Park (which is east of the Salinas Valley and 130 km, or 80 miles, south of San Jose). From 10 Mya to 9 Mya, volcanoes erupted in what are today the hills east of the cities of Oakland and Berkeley. About 2.4 Mya, numerous volcanoes were active in the Clear Lake Volcanic Field, which lies north of the counties of Napa and Sonoma. The most recent eruptions in the Clear Lake Volcanic Field occurred about 11,000 years ago around Mount Konocti. Today, the magma chamber beneath the Clear Lake Volcanic Field is exploited to extract geothermal energy by the largest complex of geothermal power plants in the world.

The volcano in my neighborhood is Round Top, which is uphill from the city of Oakland in what is today a public park, the Robert Sibley Volcanic Preserve.

Between 16 Mya and 14 Mya, the San Francisco Bay Area was part of a marine basin a mile deep (1.6 km). The marine sediments of this basin are today lithified in the rocks of the Claremont Formation. The ocean floor of this basin was uplifted, between 14 Mya to 12 Mya, and the sedimentation of this period occurred in shallow water. This seafloor was lifted above sea level some time after 12 Mya, and for 2 million years the land was an alluvial plain accumulating sediments from streams running east from a chain of coastal mountains, which were situated where the San Francisco Peninsula and the Golden Gate Bridge (the entrance to San Francisco Bay) are today. This plain dipped toward the east to meet the shore of an inland sea near the present day towns of Orinda and Lafayette. These terrestrial sediments, from 12 Mya to 10 Mya, were lithified into the rocks of the Orinda Formation.

The Round Top volcano erupted many times between 10 Mya and 9 Mya, spreading thick layers of basalt lava over the layered stream sediments and gravels of the Orinda Formation. The surrounding countryside was a low plain with lakes, so volcanic ash ejected during eruptions would fall into water to settle out in thin, uniform layers, which were subsequently compacted into finely-banded rock. Ash and cinders also fell on dry land, and this too was eventually compacted into rock. Between periods of volcanic activity, sedimentation occurred by the action of streams or in lake bottoms, as in the earlier time of the Orinda Formation. The combination of rocks formed during the million-year period of Round Top’s volcanic activity is called the Moraga Formation.

You can see an impressive cross section of the alternating layers of lava and sedimentary rocks of the Moraga Formation on either side of Highway 24 on the eastern side of the Caldecott Tunnel, which passes through the north-south trending range of low mountains defining the eastern boundary of the San Francisco Bay lowland. These layers have been tilted up nearly to the vertical because of the flexing and faulting of the land due to the tectonic pressure of continental collision. (1)

Since its extinction, the Round Top volcano has been tilted over about ninety degrees, along with the rest of the Moraga Formation, and its interior has been exposed by the combined effects of erosion and quarrying. Today, one can walk up to a cross section of a basalt lava feeder tube (exposed by excavation), which was once deep inside the volcanic cone;

Cross-section view of now horizontal Round Top basalt lava tube.

and one can walk into the tilted crater of the volcano to see lithified layered ash and massive basalt.

basalt lava flow, and ash

A video about Round Top, which also shows scenes of the countryside in and about Robert Sibley Volcanic Preserve, is posted on the Internet at

http://youtu.be/ZWk47VrRbKk.

This article is not what the English teachers call a “persuasive essay,” as I have no argument to advance, nor any moral to conclude with. I was just rambling on my own, following trails in my mind. But, I will leave you with this, from one future rock to another: have fun and be kind.

Note

(1) For photos of the road-cut at the Caldecott Tunnel (Moraga Formation), see the following web page (and the web links therein):

The route 24 cut, south side
11 August 2013
http://oaklandgeology.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/the-route-24-cut-south-side/

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Originally published at:

The Volcano Behind Oakland
12 August 2013
http://www.swans.com/library/art19/mgarci69.html

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Happy 200th, Herman!

Herman Melville, 1870

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Happy 200th, Herman!

The first of August 2019 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick or, the Whale (1851), as well as numerous other novels, short stories and much poetry.

Because of the depth of his thought as well as the range of his invention, Herman Melville (1 August 1819 – 28 September 1891) remains America’s greatest writer of literary fiction, and also one of its superior poets. I consider Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910) the quintessential American novelist because his masterwork, the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), is such an exquisite encapsulation of anti-slavery and anti-bigotry moral principle within a widely popular coming-of-age boy’s adventure story. But Melville is America’s deepest literary artist, his novels are metaphors for long-running threads of reality entwined as the American experience.

While Mark Twain’s facile humor and droll prose made him very popular with his 19th century audiences — both through publications and with live appearances — Herman Melville remained largely neglected during the last forty years of his life, by a reading public that was alienated by the complexity of his art. That complexity resulted from the combination of his literary sophistication, strongly influenced by the poetic language and moral insights of both William Shakespeare and the King James Bible; his personal philosophical thought as the fundamental source for his writing; his morally enlightened (non-racist) attitude about the world’s people; and the wit of his continuing critique, embedded in his fiction, of Americans’ myopic for-profit utilitarianism and obsessive hucksterism and con-artistry, which continues to this very day.

Herman Melville, 1860

I am no amateur scholar of Herman Melville and his literature, nor do I pretend to be. I am just one of millions of readers who since 1851 have been entranced by Melville’s masterpiece, Moby-Dick. I have read this book at least three times since 1961. With each reading I was older, more experienced, and was able to gain more insight about and appreciation for the literary use of the American language, and 19th America, out of the richness of Melville’s prose. I used the image of Captain Ahab’s monomaniacal and fatal obsession to hunt down and kill the white whale Moby Dick, in a recent article of my own, as a metaphor for humanity’s current obsession to continue racing with its self-destructive fossil-fueled capitalism, which is the profligate source of greenhouse gas emissions causing anthropogenic global warming climate change.

Many readers today would find Melville prolix, abstruse, convoluted, and with a confounding multifarious vocabulary. This obviates Melville’s work from achieving instant contemporary mass pop-appeal. However, that prolixity, abstruseness, convolution and wide-spectrum vocabulary we grumble about now could reflect the devolution of Americans’ thought processes and language from a measured 19th century pacing of consideration to a hurried jittery 21st century attention-deficit superficiality: the shorn American language of today, our no-brainer “New Speak.”

Herman Melville, 1861

Herman Melville gained popular success as an author with his initial novel Typee (1846), a romantic account of his experiences of Polynesian life, gathered during his time as a whaler and seaman in the South Pacific between early 1841 and late 1844. Typee was followed by a sequel, Omoo (1847), which was also successful and paid him enough to marry and start a family. His first novel not based on his own experiences, Mardi (1849), was not well received. His next fictional work, Redburn (1849), and his non-fiction White-Jacket (1850) were given better reviews but did not provide financial security. (1)

Moby-Dick (1851), although now considered one of the great American novels, was not well received among contemporary critics. His psychological novel, Pierre: or, The Ambiguities (1852) was also scorned by reviewers. From 1853 to 1856, Melville published short fiction in magazines which were collected in 1856 as The Piazza Tales. In 1857, he traveled to England and then toured the Near East. The Confidence-Man (1857) was the last prose work that he published. He moved to New York to take a position as Customs Inspector and turned to poetry. Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866) was his poetic reflection on the moral questions of the American Civil War. (1)

In 1867, his oldest child Malcolm died at home from a self-inflicted gunshot. Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land was published in 1876, a metaphysical epic. In 1886, his son Stanwix died of apparent tuberculosis, and Melville retired. During his last years, he privately published two volumes of poetry, left one volume unpublished, and returned to prose of the sea. The novella Billy Budd was left unfinished at his death but was published posthumously in 1924. Melville died from cardiovascular disease in 1891. The 1919 centennial of his birth became the starting point of the “Melville Revival” with critics rediscovering his work and his major novels starting to become recognized as world classics of prominent importance to contemporary world literature. (1)

Most of Melville’s works can now be found on-line. (2)

Herman Melville, 1868

A most interesting and knowledgable commentator on Herman Melville’s works is Louis Proyect, both because of his familiarity with Melville’s texts, and because of his discussions of how Melville’s themes are critically reflected in the social contexts of both the 19th century and today, and of how Melville’s anti-racist attitudes contrasted favorably with the “utilitarian” consensus of his times, and even ours. (3), (4), (5).

To end this commemoration of Herman Melville and his literature, on the occasion of his 200th birthday, I borrow the following paragraphs from Louis Proyect (3). Mark well what ye read here, for we need slake our forgetfulness and remember this conviction today.

Melville’s Redburn is one of his lesser-known books, but it comes as close to a conscious expression of the world we are trying to build as will be found in all of his works. He writes:

There is something in the contemplation of the mode in which America has been settled that, in a noble breast, would forever extinguish the prejudices of national dislikes. Settled by the people of all nations, all nations may claim her for their own. You cannot spill a drop of American blood without spilling the blood of the whole world. . .Our blood is as the flood of the Amazon, made of a thousand noble currents all pouring into one. We are not a nation, so much as a world. . .Our ancestry is lost in the universal pageantry; and Caesar and Alfred, St. Paul and Luther, and Homer and Shakespeare are as much ours as Washington, who is as much the world’s as our own. We are the heirs of all time, and with all nations we divide our inheritance. On this Western Hemisphere all tribes and peoples are forming into one federated whole; and there is a future which shall see the estranged children of Adam restored as to the old hearthstone in Eden.

Herman Melville, 1885

Notes

(1) Herman Melville
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Melville

All images of Herman Melville here are from Wikipedia.

(2) The Life and Works of Herman Melville
http://www.melville.org/

(3) Deconstructing cannibalism
5 January 2016
https://louisproyect.org/2016/01/05/deconstructing-cannibalism/

includes Louis Proyect’s articles:

Shakespeare’s Tempest and the American Indian
6 December 1998

Herman Melville’s Typee: a Peep at Polynesian Life
18 October 2004

(4) The Confidence Man
23 December 2013
https://louisproyect.org/2013/12/23/the-confidence-man/

(5) Herman Melville and indigenous peoples
16 February 2008
https://louisproyect.org/2008/02/16/herman-melville-and-indigenous-peoples/

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