October 26, 2015

Latest "Neurotic Beauty" Review

Hi there, Wafers-

We're on the edge of (re)publication, I'm happy to say. Water Street Press will soon be making Neurotic Beauty available on Amazon, online (and also in bookstores, they tell me). It's been a long, hard slog, and I have had to practice the Japanese art of patience. Meanwhile, George Scialabba, an author and professional reviewer, just sent me his review of the book, which will be posted very soon on an online journal based in Boston called The Arts Fuse. As follows:

Neurotic Beauty: An Outsider Looks at Japan by Morris Berman. Water Street Press, 501 pages, $27.50.

Cross-cultural comparisons are thrilling but perilous. Pronouncing authoritatively about one culture is difficult enough; running the gauntlet of two communities of academic specialists is a daunting prospect. Fortunately, Morris Berman is intrepid.

Most historians would be content to have written one deeply researched and interpretively wide-ranging trilogy on a large and important subject. Berman has written two: one on alternative forms of consciousness and spirituality (The Re-enchantment of the World, Coming to Our Senses, Wandering God) and one on the decline of American civilization (The Twilight of American Culture, Dark Ages America, Why America Failed). The second trilogy, a grimly fascinating inventory of the pathologies of contemporary America and an unsparing portrait of American history and national character, is a masterpiece. Unsurprisingly (considering how self-critical and historically informed most Americans are), it was not well received. At interludes while writing his grand historical syntheses, Berman has also produced fiction, poetry, a memoir, and a volume of essays.

He has returned to the grand scale and the prophetic mode in Neurotic Beauty. Even the most pessimistic of prophets cannot help looking for hopeful signs. Berman ended his “American decline” trilogy on a despairing note. Four centuries of relentless territorial expansion and manic economic growth have left American resources exhausted and American society in a state of befuddled anomie. And it seemed as if the rest of the world had been so thoroughly Americanized that there was little chance of escaping a global collapse and a subsequent Dark Age, this one probably resembling dystopian science fiction rather than medieval torpor.

Like many other jaded Westerners, Berman turned toward the East, searching not so much, however, for interior solace as for glimpses of a viable human future. Looking beneath Japan’s Westernized surface, he finds a submerged psychic and cultural stratum, which contains some possible antidotes to the consumerist and individualist fevers that have driven the US to delirium. According to Berman, Japanese culture has two sources, both external. In the 6th century, itinerant Chinese and Korean monks brought Buddhism to Japan, thereby opening the country to large-scale importation of Chinese culture. There was little Japanese culture – in fact, no written language or legal system – before that time, and Japanese literature and institutions remained imitative of Chinese exemplars for many centuries.

It was a peaceful and prosperous society, even if isolated. This did not protect it, however, from the second great event in Japanese history: the arrival of the American fleet under Admiral Perry in 1853. With supreme arrogance, Perry informed the Japanese that if they did not open their country to trade with the West, he would bomb their capital. The Japanese submitted, but so intense was their humiliation that the country’s leaders embarked on a crash course of military and industrial development, to catch up with the Western imperialists.

The Western imperialists did not, of course, look kindly on this ambition. The resulting competition for markets and resources led to war in the Pacific, which ended with an even greater trauma for Japan. The Japanese reacted, as before, by imitating their conquerors, once again to the point of outstripping them, at least by some measures.

Today, though, as Berman demonstrated at great length in his “American decline” trilogy, their conquerors are looking less and less worth imitating. Japan is still a country of bullet trains and elegant skyscrapers, as well as the world’s largest net creditor, with a higher average standard of living than the United States. But resistance to Western modernity is growing. Not only have prominent Japanese literary figures, like the aristocratic Yukio Mishima and Japan’s first Nobel Prize winner, Yasunari Kawabata, carried their protests over the erosion of the country’s cultural traditions to the point of ritual suicide, but an astonishing number of young adults – around a million, by some estimates – have in effect seceded from the society and economy, withdrawing with their books and video games into a bedroom of their parents’ house and not emerging for years at a time. These hikikomori, or “recluses,” one sociologist writes, are an “utterly rational indictment” of Japanese society, which offers them eighty-hour workweeks at meaningless jobs, usually with long commutes. The fate of many of those who accept the eighty-hour week is a stern warning: Japan’s suicide rate is twice that of the US. Another million young adults are unemployed, not in school, and not looking for work. Another 3-4 million are working part-time at dead-end jobs and (mostly) living at home. There is also a disturbing “celibacy syndrome”: a third of Japanese youths between 16-24 say they have no interest in sex; a third of people under 30 have never dated anyone; and fewer than half of all those from 18-34 are in any kind of romantic relationship. In quantitative economic terms, at least compared with the US, Japan is a success. But more and more Japanese feel a deep malaise.

The reason, Berman suggests, is that unlike Americans, the Japanese know that there is more to life than getting and spending. “Japan remembers what it is like to be old, to be quiet, to turn inward,” writes a Japanese academic. The long centuries of isolation and self-sufficiency before the mid-19th-century American irruption are “in the nation’s DNA.” Reading that DNA, and patiently explaining to impatient Americans what it is that the Japanese know, is the aim – and achievement – of Neurotic Beauty.

One thing the Japanese know is nothing; or better, nothingness. As Berman emphasizes, there are two kinds of nothingness, which are actually two different ways of experiencing nothingness. When possessions and sensations – stimuli – are eagerly pursued, they will sometimes be used up or unavailable. The result is negative nothingness, a state of anxious deprivation. But when stimuli are considered distractions and are foresworn, positive nothingness results: a state of pure, concentrated attention or mindfulness. This is the frame of mind in which the Japanese craft masters – sword makers, potters, calligraphers – and athletes – archers, martial artists –have worked. It is also the precondition of enlightenment in Zen Buddhism.

Zen is quintessentially Japanese, Berman writes – for better and worse. The power to concentrate attention is, after all, morally neutral. One can be a mindful pacifist or a mindful militarist. During the 1930s, as Japanese nationalism reached fever pitch, the prestige and techniques of Zen Buddhism were frequently co-opted by the state. Unlike most other religions, Zen lacks an “axial” principle, an objective or transcendental criterion of morality, like the will of God or the dignity of the individual. This has spared Japan the dogmatism of more religious societies and the litigiousness of more liberal ones; but it has left many Japanese with no moral center, no means to withstand group pressure or the tides of history.

This is, Berman points out, at once a strength and a weakness. In emergencies, Japanese typically behave with extraordinary self-restraint and orderliness. (And not just in emergencies: the stampedes that occasionally kill shoppers at big department-store sales in America are inconceivable there.) But initiative (“thinking outside the box” in management-speak) is just as spectacularly lacking; and the conscientious objector, the stubborn moral individualist, is a rare character type in Japan. The nuclear disaster at Fukushima offers a poignant illustration: workers and residents stayed calm and shared food and shelter freely among themselves; but executives at the Tokyo Electric Power Company covered up to protect their superiors and punished whistleblowers. Should one admire this distinctive capacity for self-sacrifice and national unity or deplore it as abject conformism? Both, obviously; but a more interesting question is: can a world that has overdosed on assertive individualism and manic consumerism of the American variety learn something useful from Japanese culture? Berman thinks so. Economic austerity is nearly universal today, and may be for quite a while – for that matter, the environment may not survive another epoch of capitalist prosperity. As one Japanologist points out, the country seems to have a “gift for minimalist living.”

American systems and assumptions based on constant growth, wealth and prosperity, many of which are pathologically corrupt, are dying fast. The demands of the new world we live in feel a lot more Japanese – equitable, careful, quiet, and modest.

The Japanese, Berman observes, seem to have attained something like “luxury in austerity,” the elements of which include "aesthetic awareness (the presence of beauty and sensuality in daily life); care, precision, and mindfulness; continuity with the past." Traditional craft values are incorporated into contemporary industrial design and processes. Berman calls it “archaic modernism.”

For a very long time – perhaps forever – American individualism and the distinctively American dream of limitless abundance must be renounced, or they may prove lethal. Of course the world still needs, and will always need, American ingenuity, tolerance, self-reliance, and our culture’s many other virtues. But a humbler America must now, for the first time, learn another culture’s virtues if the world is to avoid another Dark Ages.

George Scialabba is a contributing editor of The Baffler and the author of What Are Intellectuals Good For? and other books.

99 Comments:

Anonymous AS said...

Congratulations MB. They'll be chanting Belman in the streets soon enough.

Back to the subject of America's educational system:

Another in the endless series of police brutality videos (note the other students reaction - it's all just part of the show: Survivor - Classroom Edition)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HN966KxyoIU

11:28 PM  
Blogger Marc L Bernstein said...

outstanding review - it does you (Dr. Berman) and your work justice.

Here's a little anecdote that is quintessential Japanese:

I have a friend (let's call him Takashi), a fellow chess master, who is Japanese. Both of his parents grew up in Japan and neither speaks English well at all. Takashi was born in the USA but was taught Japanese at home. His English is ok but nothing special. Takashi's father has not been a success in business here in the USA, and both of Takashi's parents have partially relied on Takashi (and his chess income!) to make ends meet. Takashi is a basically conservative fellow who does not do a whole lot of thinking for himself, but he's a master technician, being a real expert at origami as well as chess. Takashi is rather solitary, and as far as I know has never even dated, still living at home with his parents, even in his mid-30s. He has recently become a "born again" Christian, which resulted in our relationship becoming strained. He was my protege (in chess) starting around 17 or 18 years ago but he has surpassed me as a chess player. Takashi is not literary nor does he have any particular interest in learning about science. He has been influenced by the Christian right, much to my disappointment.

ok, I'll end it here. I have more to say, but it would be too long. Does this little anecdote resonate with your understanding of Japanese culture?

12:35 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Marc-

Yes, he does fit the picture of a certain niche of Japanese youth, esp. the search for meaning. I do talk a bit abt this in my Japan bk.

AS-

"Belman!" they cried. Meanwhile, no luck so far in getting a Japanese translation. As for video: nonreaction of other students says it all.

mb

1:03 AM  
Blogger Kanye Cyrus said...

Congratulations MB, looking forward to see you reclaim your #1 spot on NYT's Best Sellers' list.

@Juliet, Bill,

To follow-up on your comments from the previous post, yes I really feel like the Chinese are "hustling with a vengeance". It's quite scary to watch. What's peculiar to the Chinese as compared to Americans as well (even though Americans are not role models in this domain either), is the increasing reported number of cases of moral depravity of Chinese tourists abroad. For example Chinese tourists are frequently letting children defecate in public and some of them were even reported opening Emergency Exit Doors in airplanes for no apparent reason. Please note that these are not "one-off" incidents, but happen on a regular basis.
http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-01-16/china-learns-airline-etiquette-the-hard-way
http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1748106/tourists-china-again-criticised-bad-behaviour
http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/are-chinese-tourists-the-worst-tourists-in-the-world

Kanye

10:26 AM  
Anonymous al-Qa'bong said...

Hello Wafers:

That review was interesting...until the conclusion:

" Of course the world still needs, and will always need, American ingenuity, tolerance, self-reliance, and our culture’s many other virtues."

The author missed "self-delusion."

Did you hear about this? MSNBC posted a map showing the loss of Palestinian-controlled lands since the late-1940s, and was forced to apologise following pressure from Zionists. The truth is apparently offensive to some. I wanted to mention the story in response to the article on political correctness on campus that was posted two threads previously:

http://www.mintpressnews.com/msnbc-opts-to-apologize-after-airing-map-of-disappearing-palestine/210641/

11:52 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Wafers-

Just got the link for the review from Arts Fuse, in case you wanna pass it on to friends:

http://artsfuse.org/136125/fuse-book-review-neurotic-beauty-japanese-therapeutics/

mb

1:04 PM  
Blogger Miles Deli said...

Greetings MB and Wafers,

MB-

Wow, a dynamite review of "Neurotic Beauty"! It's nice to see it will soon be back in print and getting the attention it deserves, MB. Many thanks to Mr. Scialabba for writing such a wonderfully incisive review. I tell ya, I wept at such beautiful prose.

Miles

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Zeke said...

What a thoughtful review - I'm glad to see MB's NB get more exposure.

On the topic of education, boy-howdy do I have a lot to say. I recently enrolled at a small business college to finish my degree. The classes, students, everything a joke. It's quite rare to have less than half a class using their phones during lecture. The curriculum is heavily computerized; I've had to learn five new computer systems and passwords to complete homework, contact my professors, access campus web, access campus email, buy textbooks, etc. And the kids, are they ever hopeless. I forget where I heard the phrase "they come to college knowing nothing, I don't mean a little, I mean NOTHING" but it is no exaggeration. One of my group activities was to name what animals live nearby (higher education in the USA, ladies and gentlemen) and they struggled to even come up with "squirrels". I was shocked - in addition to being zombified (they cannot express themselves, form a thought, respond to questions, or really show any evidence of life) they're completely cut off from nature.

I believe a main tenet of education should be to teach people to know their rights, and defend them. Perhaps that's why students don't rebel when they're forced to spend hundreds on textbooks they'll never use, or when tuition rates go up up up. Or has culture itself deadened them before they even enroll?

1:55 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Zeke-

Abt 3 yrs ago I was invited by the late Thos Naylor to give the keynote address at the annual Vermont anarchist conference. He threw a party for me the night b4 at his house; but snow was so heavy, I didn't get there until 11pm or so. Most folks had already left, but one guy was there who taught at UVT or somewhere nearby. He said to me, "Freshmen arrive here and they know absolutely nothing. And by nothing, I don't mean a little; I mean nothing." What do they talk abt? I asked him. "Video games," he said. Apparently, they had no idea who Hitler or FDR were. But it's not just that American students are a joke; *America* is a joke. Check this out:

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/10/26/higher-education-capitalism-its-most-despicable

Jeff-

He is, indeed, an excellent stylist.

mb

2:09 PM  
Blogger Christian Schulzke said...

To follow-up on your comments from the previous post, yes I really feel like the Chinese are "hustling with a vengeance".

I visited China in 1997 for two weeks when I was 25. It was a great time to go because tourism in China was in its infancy in terms of popular destinations and it was amazing to be able to experience the country sans masses of foreigners. I am just shy of 6’6” and blond so I had a lot of interaction with the locals as they couldn’t resist coming up and talking to the foreign giant even if only to have their picture taken with me.

Yes, the Chinese are hustlers par excellence! If you pay full price for something they are almost disappointed; they want to “play the game” with you. They want to haggle. This has nothing to do with Capitalism, per se, they have always been this way. It does wear on you after a while, but fortunately hustling isn’t the only thing their culture offers.

Defecating children. Yes, I too found it disturbing. Lots of toddlers with assless pants that just squat whenever nature calls.

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Sally said...

MB. What a great review. I look forward to reading your book.

And thank you for the welcome last week. I have been away from the computer this weekend so I'm just catching up. Yes, feeling alone is something I am used to and as I get older, I'm learning to accept it and enjoy it more. When I was younger, I thought it meant I was a loser. Now, I know I am (by America's standards) and I'm okay with that. If Trump and his fans are examples of "winners", I want no part of it.

Rusty Snag, I'm not in upstate NY, although I have some acquaintances from there. I live in SC and there's an upstate pipeline heading down here. I'm not sure why I used the term "up here" but I guess I was thinking of MB being in Mexico.

Our higher educational system is a disgrace. Like so many of our institutions, it seems as if its only function is to enrich a few at the expense of the many. I feel sorry for young people today.

3:18 PM  
Anonymous James Allen said...

We learn from those who job it is to keep track of who's on first and what's on second that retired brain surgeon Ben Carson has moved ahead of Donald Trump in the run for the roses. As ever, we turn to Andy Borowitz for commentary on the man and his métier:

http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/ben-carson-shattering-stereotype-about-brain-surgeons-being-smart

For those curious to know what's happening on the law enforcement front, the following item from the LA Times, which informs us that the Northern California town of Anderson plans to equip its 20-person police force with nunchakus (aka nunchucks) to provide a less lethal method of suspect restraint. (Never mind that many of the current models are made of nonyielding stainless steel.). Nunchakus were originally devised by Okinawan farmers as a self-defense tool, and were based upon a grain flail consisting of two bamboo or wooden rods attached to each other by a leather or cord connector. PS: California prohibits ownership of nunchakus by private individuals.

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-northern-california-police-department-to-adopt-nunchakus-20151026-htmlstory.html

Finally, an article on for-profit colleges from the New Yorker, showing their role in the commodification of education and their contribution to the student debt debacle:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/11/02/the-rise-and-fall-of-for-profit-schools?mbid=nl_151027_Daily&CNDID=24465181&spMailingID=8194841&spUserID=MjczNzc1NTI4MDMS1&spJobID=783401876&spReportId=NzgzNDAxODc2S0

4:09 PM  
Blogger Rosegarden said...

One of my book discussion groups is reading Annie Dillard. She may be of some interest to Wafers. This is from her autobiography, An American Childhood, 1987.

“Knowing that you are alive is feeling the planet buck under you, rear, kick, and try to throw you; you hang unto the ring. It is riding the planet like a log downstream, whooping. Or, conversely, you step aside from the dreaming fast loud routine and feel time as a stillness about you, and hear the silent air asking in so thin a voice, Have you noticed yet that you will die? Do you remember, remember, remember? Then you feel your life as a weekend, a weekend you cannot extend, a weekend in the country. O Augenblick verweile.”

From Pilgrim At Tinker Creek, 1974, Pulitzer Prize.

“But there is another kind of seeing that involves a letting go. When I see this way I sway transfixed and emptied. The difference between the two ways of seeing is the difference between walking with and without a camera. When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment's light prints on my own silver gut. When I see this second way I am above all an unscrupulous observer.”

I do not think much is being printed on the silver guts of Americans today.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Jas-

Abt 12 yrs ago I had an unexpected rendezvous with a friend from high schl yrs, who had become a neurologist. As teens, we had been very close. It proved to be a rather strained evening: he told me he "adored" George Bush. I refrained from suggesting he use his professional training to examine his brain. That was the last time we saw each other. Tragedy comes in many forms. Anyway, he and Ben Carson are examples of what I've said many times: in the US, even the smart are stupid.

mb

5:38 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: NBC can be proud: on Nov. 7 they're having Trump host SNL. What a coup for them.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Bill Hicks said...

Dr B - indeed an excellent review, except that I'd really like to know where this "American ingenuity, tolerance, self-reliance" Mr. Scialabba refers to is because I haven't seen many examples of it in recent years.

Speaking of "tolerance," yet another astonishing example of modern liberal brain dead political correctness was on display recently courtesy of an MSNBC talking head:

http://www.mediaite.com/tv/msnbcs-melissa-harris-perry-dont-say-hard-worker-because-its-offensive-to-slaves/

Yes, using the term "hard worker" is offensive to the children of slaves, whose ancestors were the only people in history who ever worked hard, or something.

Even more bizarre, she made the comparison while also saying Paul Ryan was a "great choice" to be Speaker of the House.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Serendipity Sent Me said...

Re the video AS posted: What did you expect the other students to do? NBC doesn't choose the guest host Lorne Michaels does. Are you saying they should have blocked him from doing so?

7:02 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ser-

Why not get up and leave, or stand up and start shouting, or better yet, go get the principal? Sitting there silently speaks volumes, sad to say. As for NBC, yes, I think it's quite shameful to have a major bigot hosting SNL, and I think they are bringing shame on themselves for allowing it.

mb

7:10 PM  
Blogger pinkpearl said...

Long time no see, WAFers!

Congrats on the new book, MB!

So I got one for y'all:

Long story short, I got laid off from a toxic job earlier this year. No biggie, it freed up time to finish the master's degree I'd already been working on part-time for a year. (I'm almost done, woo hoo!) Today I found out through the grapevine that my ex-coworkers see my getting a master's *as a failure*. Like I'm only doing it because I lost my job and I'm desperate and it's all just so awful for me and they hope I'm OK.

Uh, I thought it was an accomplishment? (Of course it is. F**k those haters.) Anyway, it struck me as a new low in anti-intellectualism. I mean, that workplace was no Algonquin Round Table to begin with, but wow.

A day in the life of a WAFer.

2:11 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

pink-

Chalk it up to existential strain. And don't forget that most Americans are douche bags. I mean, consider this:

http://www.timesofisrael.com/walmart-takes-heat-for-idf-halloween-costume/

Just when I think the American head can't go any deeper into the American ass, someone surprises me!

mb

2:15 AM  
Anonymous KJ said...

This shows what Americans are worried about:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cameron-schaeffer/the-3-letter-word-that-cuts-women-down-every-day_b_8234202.html?utm_hp_ref=women&ir=Women

8:00 AM  
Anonymous Rusty Snag said...

Sally - I think South Carolina is a beautiful state. I hear that some of the people there aren't so beautiful, but that pretty much describes these entire Disjointed States of America. I know many people who have relocated there from the frozen tundra. I'm actually a "reverse snowbird"- I moved to New York from Tennessee many years ago.

Wafers - I drive in Vermont almost daily. Vermont is always portrayed as a laid-back, cooler-than-most kind of place, but we do have our fair share of blithering idiots, especially on the roadways. I recall someone posting recently that they get a lot of one-finger salutes for driving the speed limit. I've been driving at the speed limit lately with the same predictable results. Therefore, I have come up with a new bumper sticker: I BRAKE FOR DUMBASSES.
I wonder how many dumbasses will actually get it.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

KJ-

Gd 2c that Cameron has her priorities straight.

mb

9:27 AM  
Blogger pinkpearl said...

KJ, I thought the 3-letter word would be "fat", but "too" also works. Women - whatever we're doing, we're doing it wrong.

Amy Schumer has a great sketch about this. A bunch of women meet, and every time a woman gets a compliment from another, she argues against it. Until one one woman just says "thank you!" in response. Then all the rest kill themselves.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

pink-

In future pls post only once every 24 hrs. Thanks.

mb

1:02 PM  
Anonymous al-Qa'bong said...

Hello Wafers:

I thought the three-letter word would have been "fat," too.

As for that IDF costume, that would be handy. Then at least I'd know which kids to throw rocks at.

Ana samed, O&D and &tc.

1:14 PM  
Anonymous troutbum said...

Dr. MB & fellow Wafers:

Paul Theroux has a new book out, "Deep South" written in his travelogue style. It's his account of repeated visits to the Deep South of the USA. He avoids the interstate and glitzy towns and sticks to the back roads and forgotten small towns.
No surprise, he finds conditions equal to those he saw in poorest Africa. People living in hovels w/o running water or indoor plumbing, downtowns, once vibrant now empty and boarded up, same with the factories. This is in contrast as he also visits Churches, gun shows and Non Profit organizations. There is some hope but it's mostly poverty and racism.

Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads
by Paul Theroux
Link: http://amzn.com/0544323521


3:18 PM  
Blogger Miles Deli said...

Hola MB and Wafers,

pink-

Good to hear from u, and congratulations on earning yr master's degree.

MB, Wafers-

Well, this evening I'll be on the big ol' jet airliner carrying me to Seattle, WA. I plan on visiting some old friends and searching used record stores for the doo-wop classic LP, "Belman and the Wafers." I'll also keep my eyes out for some first-rate examples of Cascadian douchebaggery. Anyway, have great Halloween everyone.

Peace, Love, Waferdom,

Miles

5:38 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Jeff-

Yeah, everyone thought the record was Dion and the Belmonts, but it was actually Belman and the Wafers, wall of sound provided by Phil Specter. Available only on vinyl.

al-

Don' ferget the large prosthetic nose for Arab sheiks, also at a Wal-Mart discount.

mb

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Sally said...

Rusty Snag, it is beautiful down here. I love it in many ways. I don't think people are any worse here than the rest of the country, but some of them are definitely more up front about their nastiness.

Speaking of your driving adventures, road rage is an epidemic around here now. I get tailgated all the time, and that's usually at 5-10 miles over the limit.

SC has had a rough few months-Emanuel, the North Charleston police shooting, devastated areas from the floods last month, and now this incident at the school. There was one girl who spoke out against the officer. She was kicked out as well. But at least one person spoke up.

I am off to a Trappist monastery on Monday for a four day retreat. The area looks beautiful. I cannot wait.

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Patricia said...

Rusty, Sally, and fellow Wafers,
Where I am (coastal Virginia), most people look as though they're playing video games instead of what I think of as "driving", - very aggressive, too. Yield signs are pretty much a thing of the past, since almost no one yields except older drivers like me. Damned scary sometimes. I stay at home with my canine companion as much as possible, getting my kicks from gardening, reading, cooking. (I also fabricate silver jewelry, a little of which sells at a local shop.) If I must venture out to meet some obligation, I feel like I'm bombarded by decadence, ignorance, televisions everywhere. Feel like a stranger in a strange land. Thank goodness for this (the only) blog!
And I'd be a reverse snowbird, too, if I had the means. It's staying too hot, too long around here. End of rant.
love to all,
Patricia

10:43 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Pat-

Here are the 1st 2 Commandments of the Wafer Blog:

1. "I am the Wafer Blog, who brought you out of the land of America/illusion, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other blogs before Me.

2. "I, the Wafer Blog, am a jealous blog, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of trollfoons, but showing mercy to those who faithfully stick to this blog."

(Wafers are encouraged to supply Commandments 3-10, e.g., Thou shalt not post more than once every 24 hours, or Thou shalt always carry a 6-pack of Bud Light wherever you go.)

Honestly, sometimes I hear someone say that s/he has visited another blog, and I'm absolutely bewildered. "Why?" I say to myself. "Why would anyone do such a thing? This blog has it all: movie and book reviews, political analysis, ethnic jokes and political incorrectness, travel tips, and the trenchant humiliation of trollfoons. In addition, this blog represents the highest state of consciousness existing on the planet today, and has gathered the crème de la crème of American society, spiritually speaking: 167 registered Wafers, whose clear-eyed vision and brilliant analytical abilities have carried this blog to the top of the blogosphere. We shall have no other blogs before us!"

Wafers are invited to corroborate Patricia's insight by heaping mountains of praise on The Only Blog That Counts.

mb

11:27 PM  
Anonymous Al B. Tross said...

May I add:

Thou shall not order a cup of "black" coffee; it shall be referred to as "Dark" coffee.

I was recently corrected by a barista, unbeknownst to me, that it may be politically incorrect to order coffee in this manner. For clarification purposes, have any Wafers had a similar experience?

Cheers,

AL

12:38 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Al-

Oy vey. This country really is going nuts. The problem with 'dark coffee' is that it cd still have some milk in it. I wonder if 'African-American coffee' is next on the agenda. Of course, 'Jewish coffee' has a matzo ball floating in it, and for 'Hispanic coffee' substitute an enchilada. As for Irish coffee, not a problem.

I'm thinking we really do need an all-purpose Wafer T-shirt that simply says, HEADS WEDGED IN RUMPS. This wd cover all possible occasions.

I want to report a remarkable event that happened to me today. I'm still reeling from it, how amazing it was. I have a US mail drop in a town abt 90 mins. from where I live, one that is basically a gringo colony (ugh). I go in abt once every 3-4 wks, and try to get out as fast as possible, so that I won't vomit too much. The office has a row of computers, so there I am at one of them, and a tall, slender American guy abt my age sits down at the one next to me. I don't know how, but he began talking abt how he and his wife were planning to move to Capetown, South Africa, as soon as they cd. He began to go on and on abt how awful Americans were; how rude and stupid and--well, you guys know the drill. I simply couldn't believe what I was hearing; gringos in Mexico just aren't aware themselves. Soon, the guy and I were trading douche bag stories from our own experience. This went on for abt 20 mins, after which he left. Now I cd kick myself, that I didn't get his contact info, because among the gringo population down here, this kind of understanding is like, from Mars. But every time (in a blue moon) you meet an American who says, "Americans are jerks," it's a gift from the gods.

mb

1:00 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Rusty Snag,
I'm recently getting this on the road. I am the first in line waiting at the red light. The car behind me honks! What-I should go on red risk a moving violation and possibly an accident so this moron can watch football with his other moronic friends? And yes, I'm getting the bird so much these days for driving the speed limit I'm becoming the Birdman of Philadelphia.
Oh this is new. People unleashing their dog in the park. God forbid you might need to discipline your lovely canine terror. No, let the mutt experience freedom like the rest of us, don't want to stunt its physical and psychological growth. So now I'm riding my bike through a lovely forest like park and this huge dog runs directly into my front wheel. The owner said, "I'm sorry." I replied, "Hold your fuckin' dog!" She replied, "But I said I was sorry." Oh, you're right. You did say you were sorry. How rude of me to get angry.
Thanks again for the wafer who recommended "Dino"-a great read. It shows what fools Hollywood thinks of its viewership. For example,there was never an audience for the Dean Martin Roasts and there were only 3-4 people on the dais at any one time. "As many as a thousand cut and paste edits were done to give the show the illusion that everyone was together in the same place at the same time." I wonder how old veterans like Jack Benny and George Burns must have felt sitting up seeing what had happened to their beloved show business.

8:26 AM  
Anonymous Rusty Snag said...

Dan,
As we watch our nation implode, there are many things to notice. Drivers no longer have a clue about courtesy and working with each other to keep traffic flowing. People in public places in general have little or no concern about how their behavior affects others. Hell, I'm not even sure most people are aware that others are around most of the time, what with the smart phone zombie syndrome so prevalent. I also feel your pain about the state of Hollywood. My wife and I no longer bother going to the movies as most of it is just junk. Capitalism eventually ruins everything it touches, and our entertainment outlets are no exception.

Dr. B,
Is San Miguel de Allende the gringo colony you referred to in your last post? A relative of mine went there and he saw the presence of muchos gringos as a good thing. I would steer clear because of that. I went to Nayarit last winter. The Mexicans I met were overwhelming nice; the Americans and Canadians were, well, you can guess.

I started reading Down and Out in Paris and London recommended by a Wafer on this blog. It is a very good read. I highly recommend it to other Wafers. It makes me want to read more of George Orwell's work. His descriptions of life in poverty let me know he's been poor himself at least once.

O&D, friends, O&D.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous politically incorrect said...

an IDF costume at Wal-Mermde? I'm shocked! I tell you, shocked!... I think it was Rodney Dangerfield who had a joke about his old man telling him for Halloween "he should put a pair of jockey shorts over his head and go as an ass".... Why this never caught on, I'll never know?...

12:38 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

So there's an interesting article in the New Yorker of Oct. 19 regarding the history of school shootings in the US. Apparently, since the 26 kids killed by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook in 2012, there have been more than 140 school shootings in the US.

The author, Malcolm Gladwell, comments that "the great puzzle is how little school shooters fit any kind of pattern." Wow. As I always say, in the US even the smart ones are dumb. How about the nature of American culture as the pattern, eh? Do ya think that just might have something to do with it? However, Gladwell concludes the article by writing that we can no longer attribute such acts to the mentally disturbed. The problem, he says, is "that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts." So I guess we're making some progress, getting beyond the 'crazy loner' theory. Maybe in 10 yrs, the New Yorker will figure it out, and we'll take the leap to seeing these events as sociological. Honestly...

mb

2:23 PM  
Blogger Rosegarden said...

The Council of the Great City Schools has released their study of testing in large, urban school districts. From pre-kindergaten through 12th grade, students will take on average 112 mandated standardized tests. Countries that outperform the US on international exams test their students only three times. The scariest part is that the average Pre-K student takes 4.1 standardized tests. These are three- and four-year-olds. Not only are they not reading yet, they can barely hold a pencil!

3:44 PM  
Blogger Kanye Cyrus said...

I've got a good one for your Wafers!

It now costs $6 to visit Karl Marx's grave in London.
http://uk.businessinsider.com/karl-marx-grave-costs-6-to-visit-2015-10?r=US&IR=T

If I may add a Wafer Commandment:

Commandment number 4: if someone starts staring at his phone or electronic device for no reason whilst engaged in a conversation with you, thou shall stop the conversation and stare the person in the eyes to make him feel uncomfortable until the conversation resumes.

Kanye

3:58 PM  
Blogger Christian Schulzke said...

In college, I had a world literature professor that noticed often times students would finish their essays (our tests were always in essay format) where they should have begun. That the concluding sentence was the thesis they should have started with. I kind of had the same feeling reading the New Yorker article.

The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.

5:47 PM  
Anonymous James Allen said...

Commandment Number X: a WAFER who finds himself in a conversation in which one or more of the following phrases is uttered by any participant shall excuse himself and depart the company as quickly as possible: "bottom line"; "outside the box"; "going forward"; "leverage"; "paradigm/paradigm shift"; "wrap my head around"; "win-win"; "zero-sum game"; "cutting-edge/bleeding edge"; "boots on the ground"; "synergy"; "at the end of the day"; and "due diligence".

You undoubtedly have your own list, but likely require no checklist to know when it's time to leave. Trust your WAFey sense, so to speak.

8:47 PM  
Anonymous ennobled little day said...

Apropos of recent posts...

According to Michael Sandel, Americans and the Chinese (and apparently the Poles) were the most hostile to his view. Europeans, Latin Americans, most other Asian countries (including Japan) were much more receptive to his ideas.

http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2014/07/26/ep98-michael-sandel/

(He mentions it towards the end of the podcast when talking about his book tour.)

9:36 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Jas-

Well, the conventional wisdom has it that yr pushing the envelope.

mb

9:59 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: food for thought (hope that's not a cliché):

http://www.unz.com/freed/wimp-nation-poised-to-fall

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Dawgzy said...

Hi. I tried to post earlier- maybe it didn't pass muster, though more likely I flubbed the posting process. Anyway, it is good to see the kind of review MB cites. It's informative and shows that the reviewer has not only read it, but has an understanding of the larger subject matter, and of MB's larger body of work as well. It's a useful and interesting piece in its own right.
As to the Gladwell article- it's pretty formulaic. He grabs a few concepts from cognitive or social psychology then strains events through them, supposedly to show a new way of looking at whatever the topic is. In this case he misapplies theory primarily about participation in riots to school shootings. It's a labored hash, and not as agile as his other bits of gee-whiz conjuring in the New Yorker. I don't want to go over his other pieces but wonder whether there's a habit of producing a bright, shiny object to distract from the simplest explanation. There's always been an element of "everything you know is wrong" to his approach.

10:13 PM  
Blogger Jacob James said...

Meanwhile in my home state of Texas:

http://www.kvue.com/story/news/crime/2015/10/28/2-east-view-high-students-arrested-after-gun-brought-school/74747034/

One of the lucky cases where nobody was injured.

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Attended the Philadelphia Orchestra last night and during Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun someone's cell phone went off. I mean talk about coitus interuptus.
Yeah, this is truly a wretched time to be alive. Homo sapiens have been here for 200,000 years and never needed earphones while walking or running. They never needed to carry gadgets in place of human interaction. How sad that young people today may never know what it's like to have a genuine uninterrupted conversation. Personally, on those times I need to carry my I-phone I get slightly nauseous. I'm not sure if it's because of the micro-waves entering my brain or because I am complicit in the corporate consumer techno lifestyle. Probably a combination of both.

7:21 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dan-

Same thing happened to me a few yrs ago in Melbourne, when I went to see a traditional Sufi trance dance, and at the height of the trance, someone's fone began ringing. It's a pity that cell fone jammers are illegal; we need a ton of them. In general, I've stopped going to concerts and public events; it's just too demoralizing.

mb

9:05 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: Will someone tell me why I'm supposed to care abt this?:

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/29/politics/jeb-bush-2015-debate-performance/index.html

Suppressed by the news media is the fact that Jeb recently was in hospital to have a brain biopsy, and it turned out that he actually had mashed potatoes in his head.

mb

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Pastrami and Coleslaw said...

Screw Gladwell, this is the only New Yorker article worth reading:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/11/02/in-defense-of-the-true-cue

10:48 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Then there's this:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/10/29/citing-federal-immunity-statute-judge-tosses-manslaughter-charge-for-texas-detective-who-shot-unarmed-black-man-in-2013/

My problem here is, Why wasn't the officer equipped with a nuclear device?

mb

10:57 AM  
OpenID vwclown said...

Dear Wafers and Dr. Berman:
That is a beautifully written review! Undoubtedly another laurel to stuff in your mattress, should you ever choose to rest.

The following story nearly completely crushes my spirit... - Fruit Woman

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/29/world/middleeast/champion-of-coexistence-felled-by-its-failure-is-buried-in-israel.html?ref=todayspaper&referer=http:/www.nytimes.com/pages/todayspaper/index.html?nytmobile=0&nytmobile=0&_r=0

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Sally said...

I agree, Pastrami and Coleslaw. I'm originally from eastern NC and good barbecue is like a religion there. Love some cue!

1:37 PM  
Anonymous Marianne said...

Dan,

Your experience at the Philadelphia Orchestra sadly happens all the time. Sherry Turkle in her latest book Reclaiming Conversation chronicles in her research example after example of how the universal use of technology plays out, not only in the young but their parents as well. Students tell her they text to feel good about themselves, conversation is stressful, and knowing that 100 friends are out there on linked in or instagram makes them happy. Studies find kids lack empathy for others, don't even realize that what they say hurts others or are unaware that there even are others around them. See how we are being dehumanized.

On another note. The article Thank You, Donald? by David Michael Green in Counterpunch today is worth the read. It tells the story of the Bushes, 911, and more. Wafers know much of this but it's always good to see it in print.

Marianne

2:52 PM  
Anonymous COS said...

Professor,

What a fine review--congratulations. A fun and easy work drawn from the postings on your fine blog can be a collection "Varieties of American Stupidity". It would be a longish tome but could be arranged by different themes.

It would appear than both from the postings on this blog and just plain experience that the stupidity of Americans is a fact. Now having established via a long chronicling the stupidity of all facets of Americans the next logical step would appear to be why? Perhaps proceed by induction--it is established that Americans have guano for brains but why o why dear Wafers? Is it something about Democracy? Is it the high level of electron transmissions (radar, security, Wi-Fi), food additives? Also against what historical benchmark? Some argue that there was once a halcyon period of keen intelligence but the evidence is mixed (the Hays laws, prohibition and William Jennings Bryant come to mind). On the other hand just read the autobiography or Ulyses S. Grant. Magnificent! At a desk with a Pen and dying of cancer produced a magnificent work...so well written that many thought Mark Twain actually wrote it. Now compare that to Bush or Clinton--can they even write a paragraph on their own? The question remains--how and or why did americans get so stupid?

3:24 PM  
Blogger Bullshevik said...

Rosegarden, in my late 40s I went back for a Master's in Ed. to become a teacher but lost my job after one year in public schools- the year 100,000 teachers were let go, nationwide. Anyway, I haven't been a full-time teacher since, but seeing where education has been heading it's not necessarily a bad thing. Last month I got into a discussion about the current state of education with my boyfriend's sister-in-law (a Republican whose husband makes loads of money) and expressed my disgust with the emphasis on testing and the tendency to put business people in charge of education. She said her kids have no problem with testing and if the teachers are "teaching to the test" then it's their own fault they are such bad teachers. And since school districts have a budget, she sees nothing wrong with having business leaders in charge; schools should be run like a business. I didn't feel the need to debate her because she apparently knows everything about education, since her husband is a successful businessman and all.

7:08 PM  
Blogger Bill Hicks said...

Dr B said (regarding the other students who sat passively watching their classmate get slammed against the wall): "Why not get up and leave, or stand up and start shouting, or better yet, go get the principal? Sitting there silently speaks volumes, sad to say."

Not only did they do nothing--hundreds of them marched out of class to support not the student, but the fat headed pig who assaulted her:

http://www.rawstory.com/2015/10/hundreds-of-spring-valley-students-walk-out-of-class-to-support-officer-slam-who-attacked-classmate/

Yet, so many prominent liberals still believe in the possibility that one day the citizenry they wish to "save" will rise up against their oppressors. They really need to get it through their thick skulls that most Americans are unworthy of being saved. They are instead well on the road to getting what they so richly deserve.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Bill-

Turns out, the officer went into his rage because the girl wdn't put away her cell phone. I'm now beginning to see this in a different light...

mb

10:13 PM  
Blogger Marc L Bernstein said...


a recent article on Gore Vidal by David Masciotra:

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/great-american-novelist-who-warned-us-about-donald-trump-fox-news-and-rise

an excerpt:

"The cosmopolitan classicism of Vidal injected his contribution to political and literary culture with wisdom. The wisdom creates an unbreachable divide between Vidal, and for example, William F. Buckley. “Best of Enemies,” the recent documentary on their feud, treats them as equals. In reality, the record shows that unlike Vidal’s fine wine political positioning, Buckley’s retrograde views suffer decay and infirmity with each passing year. He opposed the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, and the gay rights movement, and he celebrated Joseph McCarthy, supply side economics, and the war in Vietnam."

I remember William F. Buckley. I never did understand why he was regarded as particularly intelligent. I think he had a little bit of sauerkraut in his head.

6:35 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Speaking of "Our leaders don't come from Mars": Michael D'Antonio just did a bio of Trump, called "Never Enough"--the basic hustler credo--and, referring to Trump's lifelong pattern of self-aggrandizement, writes: "Donald Trump is not a man apart. He is, instead, merely one of us writ large."

Jesus, how long have I been saying stuff like that? In the teeth of the media and the progs who insist that The American People are decent, wise, self-abnegating, and/or ripe for revolution? When will the new Mencken, Carlin, or Vidal come out with a book called "They're All Douche Bags"?

mb

9:52 AM  
Anonymous James Allen said...

Marc L. Bernstein said

"I remember William F. Buckley. I never did understand why he was regarded as particularly intelligent. I think he had a little bit of sauerkraut in his head."

Maybe because he went to Yale? Don't Americans accord special respect to people who go to Ivy League schools? And given the statistics concerning the education level among the population at large, isn't this tendency almost inevitable?

The idea of counterexamples to the Ivy=smart/brilliant doesn't seem to intrude into their thinking, to the extent that the idea of counterexamples even occurs to the average citizen. George Bush, for instance, wasn't even assessed on the strength of his Ivy League degree, but rather on his likeability: he was someone Joe Six Pack could share a beer with. And, to take a more recent example, look at Ben Carson. Yale grad, U Michigan doctor's degree, at retirement in 2013 Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. Superior credentials to be sure, but if you've heard him speak or have read some of his views, you'd have to say he's no brain surgeon.

Buckley could speak in complete sentences, could write well, and possessed the self-assurance of the well-born, but he didn't give a whit for the lives of those who were his "inferiors." A category that encompassed a sizable number, as such things go in the United States.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Jack Lattemann said...

In light of recent Wafer discussion of the state of Merican education, Here’s a good one for the documentation of dumber America:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. —Alabama's reigning Teacher of the Year has resigned after being told that due to certification issues, she's unqualified to teach.

Fifth-grade teacher Ann Marie Corgill says that officials with the Alabama Department of Education told her that she was unqualified despite her accolades, The Associated Press reports.

In a letter to the department obtained by AL.com, Cargill wrote,"After 21 years of teaching in grades 1-6, I have no answers as to why this is a problem now, so instead of paying more fees, taking more tests and proving once again that I am qualified to teach, I am resigning."

http://www.wlky.com/education/teacher-of-the-year-resigns-after-being-called-unqualified/36144310

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Net said...

Marilynne Robinson has a new book out, scathing review of it here. Dr Berman recommended her Absence of Mind book a few years ago, and I really enjoyed it.

https://t.co/YpYWNUFP1l

6:34 PM  
Anonymous Al B. Tross said...

Wafers,

Please add to the Nation of Hustlers catalog. This is from Lawrence in the comments section:

"The foundation that in 2009 raised almost $300,000,000 in donations and then donated only $14,000,000 (less than 5% of their intake) to breast cancer research and treatment. Where did that other $286,000,000 go? To create more fund raising, generous salaries, private jets, and numerous other perks for the people running the foundation. They have pulled off one of the most successful scams in history and done almost nothing to actually combat the disease they use as a tool to benefit themselves."

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/31/health/breast-cancer-awareness-pink.html?ribbon-ad-idx=10&rref=homepage&_r=0


7:21 PM  
Anonymous Vince said...

MB,

I thought you would like to know that you were mentioned several times in the interview that is linked here: http://naturebatslast.podbean.com/. It is the latest broadcast. I was hoping that Guy and Mike would take the time to interview you. Like yourself, Guy doesn't believe in possibility of turning our "predicament" around. He believes that mother nature will have the last say, whether we like it or not. His take is that industrial civilization has played itself out.

Gore Vidal pretty much said that our system was a sham, "..our democracy is the greatest form of bribery in history...". It is hard to refute the cultural, environmental, and statistical evidence that things don't look good for the near future.

I personally am looking to move some place where I can still enjoy the amenities of public water / sewage, paved roads, etc. However, I need to be away from mechanical and cultural noise of our time. As you and others have said before, there is no sense in reasoning with the unreasonable.

Ever since reading this quote in one of the Zeitgeist Movies I have longed for a deeper sense of solitude. Krishnamurti: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

Peace,
Vince

7:21 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Net-

Did I recommend it? I don't remember reading it...

mb

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Marianne,
Thanks for telling me about Turkle's latest. As I said in my last post, this is truly a wretched time to be alive. I almost envy anyone who died before all this techno-crap took hold. In 1992 there were only 5 million cell phones. Can you imagine what life will be like in the US 20 or 30 years from now? "Even the walls have ears" Tacitus said and I can easily see something intrusive contained within each wall of a dwelling. Yes, conversation is dying and it is becoming increasingly hard for me to go anywhere these days. If knowledge is indeed, as the Greeks held, a social construct then what new knowledge can be constructed if everyone is so thoroughly self-absorbed in technology? I only hope I can die as a Buddahsatva so I can choose whether to return to earth or not. You can surely guess what my choice would be.

7:29 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Wafers-

I accidentally deleted somebody's post today; can't remember who it was. Sorry! Part of my being technologically challenged, I guess. So if anyone did send in a message recently and it didn't appear, please re-send, thanks.

mb

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Net said...

Haha I assume that is Absent Minded humor? You totally quoted it.

9:20 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Net-

You wd know better than me. Keep in mind that I'm in my 70s now and increasingly senile, as all of my enemies will assure you. I have a cane, and I drool a lot. Occasionally, I go outside, wave my cane at the skies, and yell at the injustice of life.

mb

10:26 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

These are your neighbors, and they are a collection of buffoons!:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/seeking-americas-lost-greatness-and-finding-trump-most-appealing/2015/10/31/2435e06e-7c12-11e5-b575-d8dcfedb4ea1_story.html

10:46 AM  
Blogger Marc L Bernstein said...


a new article by Frank Rotering:

http://nomoreillusions.org/young-forsaken/

"The brutal truth is that the young have been forsaken. The old have left them to suffer from the coming degradation and chaos, to raise their children in an unfolding apocalypse, and quite possibly to die an early and agonizing death."

Dr. Berman has written "Why America Failed". Perhaps books or articles should be written entitled something like "Why civilization failed", "Why humanity became extinct (a post-mortem)" or "How bad is the 6th mass extinction going to be?"

2:07 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Excellent Rebecca Solnit essay from Harper's about a year ago: http://harpers.org/archive/2014/12/poison-apples/

2:52 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Kev-

Thanks for this. 1st-rate.

mb

7:17 PM  
Anonymous Birney Zouave said...

Hello Dr. B & All:

I had the pleasure of having lunch on Friday with two people from Taiwan, who were representing a company quoting to build equipment for us. The female interpreter related a story to us about how their chairman had an attack of claustrophobia last year while boarding a flight in Philly to return to Taiwan. The airport authorities had him taken to a local hospital; all he needed was one of his "pills" that he normally took for his condition, but the hospital insisted on doing multiple tests and billed him $15,000. The interpreter said that they now always make double-sure that they have in-force temporary health insurance for any visits to the USA. She also said that regular visits to clinics in Taiwan cost $3 and an emergency room visit costs about $15. Are we No. 1, or what?

7:51 PM  
Blogger Janus said...

MB (et al) -

Longtime lurker, first-time poster here. I'll go ahead and out myself as one of those mythical millennial Wafers, quietly soaking up knowledge at the feet of the elders. Is there some sort of initiation ritual we do here? Pastrami sandwiches are en route as we speak.

My impetus for posting: I was recently laid off from a job at a not-quite Fortune 500 company in which I had a great education in a lot of American social ills described in this blog, including total subservience to portable digital technology, socially-destructive discourse and constantly-attempted one-upmanship, and ruthless pursuit of ... well, I'm not sure what, really. I lost track of the number of colleagues to whom I said goodbye that stared at me, bewildered, when I told them I didn't have immediate plans and was going to take a moment to breathe and reevaluate what's next. As if I was crazy for not launching into hustle mode and latching onto the nearest thing to quickly snuff out the existential angst.

At any rate, I wanted to say this blog and your books (of which, I regret to report, I still have a few to track down and finish) will take on extra significance as I turn a new page. I've decided I don't want to join the long march to the corporate grave for the rest of my years, but I haven't quite put together what my alternative narrative is yet. I fear I may have to be a "dirty lotus" for a bit longer. But, I will return here for a much-needed dose of smelling salts every time I start longing for the shackles again.

Thank you for your work.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Birney-

No. 1 in hustling, I suppose.

mb

8:00 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Jan-

It's always great when lurkers come outta the shadows. As for pastrami, check this out:

http://www.amazon.com/Pastrami-Rye-Overstuffed-History-Jewish/dp/0814760317/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1446429665&sr=1-1&keywords=pastrami+on+rye+an+overstuffed+history+of+the+jewish+deli

Regarding yr colleagues: I suppose u already realize that they are douche bags, and douche bags generally don't wake up b4 they die. They just remain douche bags, suffer greatly, and think they've had a great life.

Anyway, working on an alternative narrative is always a worthwhile endeavor. You may hafta spend part of yr time doing jobs you don't like, so you can support your "habit" (art, writing, whatever). That was a lot of my own life, I shd tell u. It ain't easy, but for me, anyway, necessary. Just keep exploring.

And of course, keep coming back to The Only Blog In Town.

mb

9:09 PM  
Anonymous lack of coherence said...

Janus -

you're not the only one. I'm in my 30s, and I was fully into the normal working/shopping lifestyle, so I got a good degree and good paying job. Then a couple years into the recession, I started to see how crazy all of this was, then I read several of MBs books, and I realized he really hit the nail on the head. I went from the normal happy worker so somebody who started to think our whole hustling lifestyle was idiotic and crazy.

I have to agree w/ MB, I feel like I'm surrounded by idiots, people who are still in the working/shopping mindset -- that the point in life is to be frugal, productive, and rich. People are constantly bragging about working hard & saving money, and I just don't care.

I don't think I can keep the corporate job much longer, it's a real struggle when you just don't care about making $$$ and climbing the corporate ladder. Once my debts are paid (all stemming from student loans), I'll be outta there for good.

Leaving the US would be ideal, not sure I could do it though, we'll see. My goal might be the alternative option, moving to a small city, and leading a different kind of life not focused on hustling and shopping.

12:44 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Jan, lack-

Sometimes I feel like I am a modern form of the plague. Let me tell you a true story.

It's the late 70s, and I'm in my mid-30s. I'm living in a large apt in San Francisco, w/a view of the GG Bridge. I'm surviving on p/t jobs, while writing the Reenchantment bk. Given the rent on this place--all of $275(!!!)--I had to have a roommate, and the guy was a young stockbroker. His life was rather crazy. He and his coworkers in the financial district worked 10 or so hrs/day M-F, then late Friday went to the bars and got totally plastered. They would congregate in the bathrms of the bar and pull off quickies w/each other. Then he wd sleep all wkend, get up and start all over again on Monday morning.

I set a very different example, obviously; plus, I told him that he was leading a dog's life. Truth was, he was a terrific carpenter, and began to pursue commissions on the side. These projects gave him a lot of satisfaction. Finally, he snapped, quit his job. That day (he told me) he got blottoed out of his mind, rode the bus home screaming to no one in particular, "You people aren't living! You are just a collection of vegetables!", etc. Not clear why he wasn't thrown off the bus.

So he left the Life of Wealth (he wasn't making *that* much anyway, as it turns out) to pursue carpentry. We eventually went our own ways; I left San Fran for a tchg job in Montreal (which of course drove me nuts, tho I did have one gd class). Abt 10 yrs ago or so I was reading the New Yorker, and they did a foto essay on motorcycle owners, something like that. And among those fotos, there he was--my old roommate, now a chicken farmer in the Midwest--! And I thought to myself, "Holy shit, I did this to him!" Of course, who knows? Maybe he was truly happy, at long last.

Anyway, I'm confessing all of this as a caveat. Listen to me, you might wind up raising clucks in Nebraska.

mb

2:22 AM  
Anonymous troutbum said...

Janus and Mr. Lack,

Once you realize the system is rigged by the one percent and that the other 99 percent are scrambling to join the 1 percent, then your life gets hard because as you have stated, " I don't want to join the long march to the corporate grave."

As a person who now semi-retired and been there, this epiphany will serve you well. My suggestion is to consider working at a non - profit organization. try and find a local organization working on an issue that interests you. Gain experience, make connections and you'll have a chance at a real life. My experience is that non - profits do not normally have the total number of crazies working inside, there are fewer sharp elbows and the culture is much different ( better ) than a corporation. If you are lucky, your non - profit job could be subversive to the corporate culture at large.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Wafers-

Once again, it becomes clear that this is The Only Blog There Is. Not only do we provide a rational critique of an insane culture, help everyone orient themselves to a society in collapse, and act as an oasis in a world of utter morons, but we also throw in movie reviews, bk recommendations, and now--career advice! You see why I am bewildered when people tell me they occasionally read other blogs.

mb

10:32 AM  
Anonymous James Allen said...

Under the heading "We issue such people weapons and provide them with high explosives," the following:

http://gu.com/p/4dzca?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

So as not to deprive the thing of whatever "Holy Shit!" impact its reading might afford you, allow me to offer this "tease":

The individual in question has undoubtedly been given a stern talking to by his commanding officer, and we would not be too far off the mark if we were to utter the phrase "Confinement to post and reduction in rank,"

#Armydoofus

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Golf Pro said...

Just in case anybody missed this:

http://www.theonion.com/blogpost/i-am-fun-51731

3:28 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Bye Bye American Pie Dept.:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/health/death-rates-rising-for-middle-aged-white-americans-study-finds.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

4:54 PM  
Blogger Marc L Bernstein said...


There are a few weblogs other than "Dark Ages America" that are worth reading. One of them is "Clusterfuck-Nation". This is not a blog name I would have chosen but Jim must have had his reasons. In fact, one of my facebook friends would not post Jim Kunstler's articles because of the name of the blog! I have been following James Howard Kunstler's weekly short, witty and acerbic posts for several years now. This one is worth mentioning to WAFers:

http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/good-little-maoists/

Jim does weekly podcasts as well. Dr. Berman has been a guest a few times.

I also have a high regard for John Michael Greer's blog "The Archdruid Report".

Nevertheless, there is no other blog that is quite like this one. It's not for everyone, particularly those easily offended by mild vulgarity or criticisms of typical US citizens.

Taken from

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=douchebag :

"Someone who has surpassed the levels of jerk and asshole, however not yet reached fucker or motherfucker."

5:12 PM  
Anonymous al-Qa'bong said...

Hello Wafers, ya big ol' pack o' douchebags you:

The discussion censor on rabble.ca actually banned the word "douchebag" from their discussion forum because it is sexist, or a "gender-specific slur" or some such rot.

For many days now, I've been pondering that Arab schnozz disguise that Dr. Belman mentioned earlier. I've concluded that it may serve as an all-purpose Semitic prop for the kiddies on Hallowe'en (gotta wait until next year). A kid can dress up as a sheikh, which may cause concern with the sexist-botherers (I was rebuked on Commondreams as un-progressive for saying "sheikh" is a compliment to a guy's sexual prowess as in Rudolf Valentino and 1920s slang), or invite a drive-by shooting from the white-power bubbas in their half-ton trucks.

This is a versatile prop. You can stick the nose on a kid, dress him in striped pyjamas with a yellow star sewn on it, send him door-to-door and watch the ensuing hilarity. Rather than the kid receiving candy, the other kids will steal all his stuff and beat him up whenever he rings a doorbell.

Boo.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

al-

Douche bag is in no way sexist. It applies to both genders, altho some women prefer that female douche bags be referred to as douche baguettes. To that, I have no objection whatsoever. Wal-Mart, that is marketing the Arab schnozz, is clearly a collection of douche bags.

Marc-

Honestly, whenever I hear abt people consulting other blogs, it breaks my heart. I just sit here and cry my eyes out.

mb

7:27 PM  
Blogger Miles Deli said...

Hello MB and Wafers!

Despite a very recent influx of Jews living in Seattle, I couldn't find one great deli in the entire city, sad to say. Typical problems were:

1. improperly cut corned beef
2. bland potato salad
3. Matzo ball soup w/out carrots (huh?)
4. dry pastrami w/little Russian dressing

This put me in a deep state of depression as I walked the rainy streets in despair, Wafers. Then, my friend and I happened upon a place called Piroshky Piroshky; oh, no, not a deli, a Russian bakery w/an incredible array of wonderful baked treats. I proceeded to stuff my face w/cream cheese Vatrushkas, Moscow Rolls, Apricot turnovers, and Marzipan rolls. All of them...out of this world! Haven't been able to get them out of my head since.

Anyway, I have no extreme cases of Cascadian douchebaggery to report. It turns out, tho, my friend thinks Bernie is the answer. I didn't call him a douche bag, of course, but I did say, "I think yr a bit deluded." His response was that America is now *ripe* for Democratic Socialism because Obama-style capitalism hasn't worked out so well and he didn't keep his promise to reform the nation. Oy vey, where do I begin, I thought? I didn't!; I just ordered another Moscow roll and cup of joe, and listened to him talk a blue streak about how Bernie's gonna save us.

Miles

7:47 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Jeff-

Pity we didn't all go over to the Russian Tea Rm on W. 57th when I was in NY; their borscht is divine. They usta run an ad in the New Yorker yrs ago that went: "Is it true that Tschaikovsky ate 9 plates of blini before composing his Pathetique symphony? Come, be inspired!" (Actually, if I ate 9 plates of blini I'd be in a coma.)

As for Bernie, guaranteed that he's gonna embrace Hillary when she's nominated as the Dems' candidate; no question abt it. Meanwhile, I just wish I cd get the two of them in a rm so I cd bang their heads together.

BTW, have you heard anything from NearFar (aka Christian)? He seems to have disappeared after our great NY weekend, along w/the charming Elizabeth.

mb

8:21 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: an early example of douchebaggery:

"On 8 November 1519, Moctezuma met Cortés on the causeway leading into Tenochtitlan and the two leaders exchanged gifts. Moctezuma gave Cortés the gift of an Aztec calendar, one disc of crafted gold and another of silver. Cortés later melted these down for their material value."

8:36 PM  
Blogger Juliet Cash said...

MB,

Kudos to your new book review. It will give readers lots to choose from as it weaves your previous trilogies giving your work a sense of continuity. I see more Wafer making potential in your future.

Wafers, MB

America has had two right wings of the property party - as Vidal cleverly assessed- for quite a while now, but on the point of will it make a difference to have a Carson, or a Trump, or a Cruz winning vs a Bernie or a Clinton I beg to differ. The year was 2000 when there was also a lot of disappointment with Clinton's administration amongst the democrats and many decided to sit it out. Who do you think the Iraqis would have preferred to have handled the 9-11 aftermath, an Al Gore or what they got, a George W. Bush? I bet they would have a clear idea, hands down on their differences. Or how about climate change scientists? , in hindsight who would have enacted changes on our energy policies that would have perhaos meliorated the climate change debacle we are facing today?
And now we have an entire GOP wishing to destroy the Iran-US nuclear accord. Some want to go to war as soon as they get in office. Just my opinion. Between Imperialism light and Imperialism at Full Force I would guess our victims would call us stupid for sitting it out- and somewhat privileged.

Privilege is when something is not a problem because it isn't a problem to us personally.

On another subject: This article on South Korea increasing state of lonely deaths is qyite sad: poverty is preventing them from giving their relatives a proper funeral. Their bodies remain unclaimed or are donated to hospitals. In the US people are already willfully eliminating funerals completely but to save money and ignore grieving.
http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/a-lonely-end-for-south-koreans-who-cannot-afford-to-live-or-die/ar-BBmHrhO

JC

7:47 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Nice to know who's handling the surveillance of American citizens:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/one-time-nsa-division-chief-to-plead-guilty-in-young-sons-death-court-files-show/2015/11/02/e82f6c70-81a2-11e5-a7ca-6ab6ec20f839_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_no-name%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

9:47 AM  
Anonymous al-Qa'bong said...

Hello Wafers:

Dr. B., yes, "douchebag" isn't sexist, but that isn't what the censor meant when he said the term was gender-specific.

He meant that the, er, appliance is used by women only, and therefore to insult someone by using a term related to such a "gender-specific" device is sexist.

How messed up and bizarre is that line of reasoning? I think the guy is a PhD candidate in English Lit. too, which explains a lot.

In case you're wondering, no, I'm not making any of this up.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Pastrami and Coleslaw said...

I'm sure more WAFers will post this, but here is some "Life in the US" fun:

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/03/shoot-any-bad-guys-grandfather-tells-girl-five-leaving-her-in-desert-with-gun

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Net said...

Quite alright, Mr Berman! I had taken your word over mine, assumed some1 else recommended it, but I just found it !

"I suspect the next 2-3 years are going to be quite fateful for the US, and not in a good way. I very much doubt there is anything substantive any of us can do to derail America from its destructive, self-defeating course. But we can attend to our souls a bit; at least there's that. With that in mind, here is a quote from Marilynne Robinson's recent book, Absence of Mind. She writes of

'...that haunting I who wakes us in the night wondering where time has gone, the I we waken to, sharply aware that we have been unfaithful to ourselves, that a life lived otherwise would have acknowledged a yearning more our own than any of the daylit motives whose behests we answer so diligently....I am hungry, I am comfortable, I am a singer, I am a cook. The abrupt descent into particularity in every statement of this kind, Being itself made an auxiliary to some momentary accident of being, may only startle in the dark of the night, when the INTUITION comes that there is no proportion [i.e., relationship] between the great given of existence and the narrow vessel of circumstance into which it is inevitably forced [Heidegger: thrown]...The soul [is simply] a name for an aspect of deep experience....'

To all of you, a happy and soulful 2011."


Anyway, I read that little book last year, maybe the year before, after coming across that. On the whole I thought it was as charming as that excerpt. So thanks for that now amnesiac recommendation!

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Novalis said...

Some WAFeresque comments in this article on the problems of education. She seconds Prof. Belman's point that cooperation is more basic than competition:

http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/33499-how-the-myth-of-the-meritocracy-ruins-students

12:50 PM  
Blogger Frederick Froth said...

Net
Marilynne Robinson is of course a Calvinist.
It seems to me that Amerikan kultur is the epitome and/or inevitable product of the double-minded deeply puritanical sex and body paranoid mind-set that is at the root of the Calvinist world view. A world-view in which even bodily pleasure is deeply suspect or frowned upon.
It is the now-time expression of the perennial somatic psychosis that Morris wrote about in his superb book Coming To Our Senses.
The very mind-set that has to be transformed (trance-formed) if any kind of positive change is ever going to occur - which of course seems to be less and less likely every day.
This same psychotic double-minded mind-set is also at the root of right-wing "catholics" such as those that associate with the horrible "first things" outfit and all of those who have signed up with the Manhattan Declaration which is essentially a manifesto for father-knows-best American fascism.

3:19 AM  

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