April 14, 2014

219: Konnichiwafers

Dear Wafers (and Waferettes):

Things to do in Tokyo:

1. Interview otaku(nerds). They really are adorable. I may even move here and become one, though it's not likely that anyone will ever refer to me as adorable. 2. Give lectures at the U of Tokyo (later this week). 3. Eat fugu, or blowfish. Word has it that this is called Japanese roulette. Apparently you die from it if improperly cooked, and half the time it's improperly cooked. I guess it's a macho sort of thing. I may wimp out, stick to salmon.

Stay tuned, more to follow. Migi, hidari, masugu!

mb

March 28, 2014

218

Dear Wafers (and Waferettes):

Time to start a new discussion; or continue the old one, if you prefer. What was it, anyway? Something about the Ukraine, and a Yuppie...I forget. My brain gets softer by the day; I can't even remember what I had for breakfast. Anyway, nothing profound to say at this point. Just remember that you are Wafers, and wear your T-shirts proudly. And don't forget to start the day by consulting your post-its.

I leave for Japan in less than two weeks. For those of you who will be in Tokyo on April 17-18, I'll be speaking on the Komaba campus those afternoons. Most of this 'holiday' is actually work: lots of interviews to conduct, that sort of thing, so I can complete my book on Japan, which will probably never see the light of day anyway. (BTW, I'll try to stay in touch with the blog during April 10-May 15, but it'll necessarily be touch and go. Please bear with me if things slow down a bit.) I may just run it off on a laser printer and distribute free copies at Times Square, what the heck. And after that, I might pull a Roth, and say: enough! No more writing. I'm moving to eastern Oregon to run a rhubarb farm. Many years ago, in fact, Roth calculated that for every 75 serious readers in the US who died, they were replaced by one. We now see the results of that ratio all around us.

But it's a great spectacle, collapse, n'est-ce pas? I'm sorry that Ovomit didn't botch the Ukraine thing more than he did, but perhaps we're not yet ready for a full-blown Suez Moment. Never fear: 2014 will give us much to gasp about, possibly even a return of Sarah (my true love) to public life. Or Mittney? Wouldn't that be a hoot. All of us keep saying, after each verkakte event, Well, it can't get any dumber than _______. And then--it does! I'm telling you, kids, we have much to look forward to.

kiss kiss

mb

March 19, 2014

A Collection of Degraded Buffoons

A few years ago I read a monograph by Sara Maitland called A Book of Silence. Lately, I’ve been thinking how precious silence is, how little of it exists in the U.S., and how I now have an abundance of it in my own life; so I decided to reread the book. Here’s a bit of text worth thinking about:

“In the Middle Ages Christian scholastics argued that the devil’s basic strategy was to bring human beings to a point where they are never alone with their God, nor ever attentively face to face with another human being….The mobile phone, then, seems to me to represent a major breakthrough for the powers of hell—it is a new thing, which allows the devil to take a significant step forward in her [sic] grand design. With a mobile, a person is never alone and is never entirely attentive to someone else. What is entirely brilliant about it from the demonic perspective is that so many people have been persuaded that this is not something pleasurable (a free choice) but something necessary.”

Everywhere you go in the U.S., you see Degraded Buffoons on phones. People talk on them while driving cars (resulting in lots of accidents, including fatalities), or while running down the street. You go into a café, and half the clientele are either on phones or on laptops, distorting what used to be a social experience, or a private creative experience (reading, writing), into a hustling experience—a rude hustling experience. The issue of people never being attentive to another person is so obvious: I’ll be talking with someone, their phone rings, and they completely forget that they are having a conversation with me and immediately go off on some diatribe with someone a thousand miles away. There is not even the faintest awareness that this is rude beyond belief. Indeed, it’s a good example of what Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to call “defining deviancy down”—that over time, what used to be regarded as vulgar becomes the norm. We’re pretty much at rock bottom by now.

I remember, a number of years ago, having a leisurely lunch with my then girlfriend at an outdoor café in Philadelphia. We were the only customers, and it was a nice balmy afternoon. Suddenly, some bozo runs up to the café, his cell phone rings, and he yells: “This is Joe Blow! What can I do for you?” This is what I mean by a Degraded Buffoon—a man reduced to nothing but hustling. He doesn’t say, “Hi, this is Joe Blow, how are you? What’s happening in your life?” No, it’s “Let’s do business!” Nor does it bother him to be disturbing a couple having a quiet lunch six feet away from him—fuck everybody else, I’m Joe Blow! Hard to describe how stupid he looked: crew cut, hatchet face, a bundle of tension. And I thought: yes, this is America, my friends; this rude, stupid piece of trash is who we really are.

Shortly after her cell phone discussion, Ms. Maitland takes up the topic of how (quoting Ernest Gellner) “Our environment is now made up basically of our relationships with others.” Not our relationship with a larger spiritual reality, or with nature, or with ourselves. No, it’s always with others, as though this were the only source of happiness. Kind of sad, when you consider how thin those relationships typically prove to be. She continues:

“This idea, that we feel ourselves to be happy and fulfilled only when we are interacting with other people, creates a dissonance with the equally popular mythology that stresses individual autonomy and personal ‘rights’. If I need interpersonal relationships and I have a right to what I need, it is obviously very difficult to have relationships of genuine self-giving or even of equality. However, this problem is not addressed, is indeed concealed, within popular culture. The consequence of this, almost inevitably, is the creation of an increasing number of lightweight relationships—relationships that appear to connect people, but are not vulnerable to the requirements of love, and therefore tend to lack endurance and discipline.”

This is an interesting observation: that friendship requires love and—horror of horrors!—staying power, discipline. When I left the U.S. (thank god), I think I had a total of three or four genuine friendships, after all of those decades of living there. One thing I discovered about Americans was that they have no idea of what friendship really is, and that it does take love, endurance, and discipline (effort, in short). These are alien concepts to Degraded Buffoons. “Lightweight” is precisely the right word here. Over the years, I noticed that it was not uncommon for people to disappear from my life, and the lives of others, overnight, and without so much as a word of explanation. In a few cases this even happened after a year or two of knowing someone, having had dinners together, having had (I thought) meaningful discussions. And then: poof! They’re gone, and apparently could care less. If you live in a world of noise, cell phones, and hustling, why would any one person mean anything to you? And this is the norm, in the U.S., my friends; what I’m describing—you all recognize this—is hardly aberrant.

What kind of lives are these? What kind of empty, stupid lives? People in a rush, people blabbing inanities on cell phones, people who have no idea what silence is and who probably fear it; people who can’t begin to imagine what love, endurance, and discipline consist of. These are what we call Degraded Buffoons.

-mb

March 10, 2014

The WAF Paperback Edition, At Last

Dear Wafers (and Waferettes):

It took just about forever, and the listing is as yet incomplete and somewhat botched, but the paperback edition of Why America Failed is finally up for sale on Amazon as a print-on-demand book. It has a new cover, which I thought you guys might get a kick out of, and mistakes from the hardcover edition have happily been corrected. Anyway, you all already have copies, I know, but you might want to tell your friends. Obviously, they are going to need one for the kitchen, one for the bathroom.

http://www.amazon.com/Why-America-Failed-Imperial-Decline/dp/149233393X/ref=sr_1_18?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1394485519&sr=1-18&keywords=morris+berman

Arriba!

-mb

March 09, 2014

215: I Miss Mittney

Hola Wafers!

As we were approaching 200 messages on the last post, I thought it was time to start a whole new discussion. But about what? I have no idea. I'm still collecting rejection letters from publishers for my book on Japan; I still can't manage to get the paperback edition of WAF up and running on Amazon, tho' they tell me it's imminent; and rumor has it that the Pulitzer committee will once again be by-passing me for their annual award. It's not entirely clear why I shouldn't shoot myself, and there are, of course, millions of people across the U.S. who would be only too glad to assist me in that endeavor, and who (as you know) have the firepower to do it. Packin' heat, as they say, tho' I'd prefer to be taken out by a drone. More prestige, I guess.

On the bright side, I leave for Japan/Vietnam in a month, to give some lecs at the U of Tokyo and complete some interviews for my Japan book. (Will give you all a report on the new rage that is sweeping the nation, corned beef sushi.) Also, after years of tendonitis in my right ankle that refused to heal, it finally did, and I'm back on the tennis courts--one of life's greatest pleasures (my forehand is still a little stiff, however). I've already sent Andy Murray a telegram, to the effect that there's a new sheriff in town. So it ain't all bad.

Another bright spot is the trolfoons, who simply won't go away. I feel like I'm playing Whack-a-Mole with them, but it's actually kind of fun. To see how little learning takes place with these morons is one of the high points of each day (or every other day).

As for the title of this post: well, it sounds odd, but it's true: I do miss the guy. To see that haircut walking around, with nothing underneath it, and spouting nonsense: honestly, it's guys like Rom that made America what it is. Though it's quite clear that that clown in the White House ain't a bad second, in that category. To have a president who stands for nothing, in a country that seems to stand for even less (well, OK, genocide, plutocracy, widespread internal violence, militarization of the nation, destruction of the poor and the vulnerable, fear and hatred of the Other, and Kim Kardashian's buttocks--but let's leave all that aside for now)--how can this not bring a warm feeling to the hearts of all Wafers? Clearly, we have much to celebrate.

Let us, then, enjoy our Waferdom, and move boldly into the future. Wafers Rule!

-mb

February 26, 2014

The Code of the Wafers

Dear Wafers (and Waferettes):

Many people have asked me what it takes to become a Wafer; what is the "Wafer Code," so to speak, or what are the basic characteristics of a Wafer. I understand their eagerness, because the world offers no higher status than Waferdom. Many lurk on this web site, yearning to be Wafers, and many more are, as we all know, trolfoons: they don't have the elementary courtesy or emotional intelligence to approach the site politely, and so get condemned to Utter Darkness. They keep knocking on the door, gnashing their teeth, but to no avail. They are essentially anti-Wafers, the lowest of the low. Many others are like those who press their noses against the windows of an elegant restaurant, seeing all the Beautiful People inside, wishing they could join in the fun, but somehow cannot cross over into Waferdom. (This is, after all, the only blog in the entire world worth paying any attention to.) My heart goes out to them, and it is for this reason that I feel the need, after 7.5 years, to set out The Wafer Code, explicitly, for all to see.

1. Wafers recognize that 99% of those around them, if they are living in the United States, are basically stupid and nasty. This is not said so much as a judgment as a description: it's simply the way things are, and these things are not going to change any time soon. Wafers know this, and they accept it.

2. The lives of Wafers are driven by knowledge, not fear or fantasy. They are living in reality, in short, not drowning in the mass illusions of contemporary America.

3. Wafers are serious about their lives. They are not here on this earth to waste time, to piss their lives away on other people's agendas, as are most Americans--right up to and including the president. Their goals are truth, love, and joy, and they are dedicated to pursuing them.

4. Finally, Wafers feel sorry for non-Wafers, and if they can, try to help them. They recognize, of course (see #1), that most cannot be helped; but if they come across someone who shows signs of potential Waferdom, of awakening to the the three points mentioned above, they try to fish them out of the drink, so to speak, and set them on the path of dignity, intelligence, integrity, and self-respect. Noblesse oblige, that sort of thing.

Anyway, there you have it: The Wafer Code. As the saying goes, although many may be called, few are chosen. Let us, then, continue on the Sacred Path of Waferdom. Life offers no greater achievement.

mb