Monday, October 19, 2020


When continents settle, slumping

back to back, mountain ranges rise in violence and distress.

Did India mean the Himalayas? Should it have known better?

Or was it Asia's fault, standing in the fairway and gawking at the view?

Still, a whisper and a feathery touch behind the knees

tells me I am not out of the woods. Whose woods these are --

well, that would be telling, now, wouldn't it? The right road lost:

and mid way was a long long time ago. 

Again. Heave up the carcass for another flense:

waste not want not.  I have not explained the multiplicities

and variances carefully enough. No one measures

properly these days. Even my old and scattered notes make clear

that loving you could not be helped: not Archimedes' steering oar

could have have turned this sub- and rich and deep-spiced 

-continent aside. There is such a thing

as momentum.

Whosoever hath -- to him shall be given. Says so in the Bible.

Who am I to question holy writ? If I seize your wrist, if I scrape

my teeth against your palm as if it were the buttered leaf

of an artichoke, and find the space between your fingers with my tongue,

then it was written so. But that's to register as fate

the most contingent thing, the matter most free,

in all my life so far. The mountains stand white against the sky:

they could have been otherwise. I could not have been.

If I am not right, then am I wicked? Or mortally confused?

I walk the more surefooted in this blind dark

than ever I stepped in the sun. I have your hand for guidance.

When I press it to my ribs, my heart knocks against it,

and we walk under fir branches under the stars

under the weight of time.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Should you Pay Attention to the Polls?

No: if you're asking, then no.

Especially if you were shocked by Hillary Clinton's defeat in 2016: no. Pay no attention.

If you don't have enough statistical savvy to interpret them properly, then they will just lead you astray; instill false confidence or false dread. Don't do that to yourself. You don't need to get fancy. You don't need to scry the future. Just vote. 

I follow the polls daily, as I did in 2016. I was not surprised by Trump's victory in 2016, though I was deeply distressed. On the eve of that election, you remember, I wrote: "My heart is convinced that Trump will win this election." I knew precisely what the polls said: they were giving us four chances in seven of winning, which is pretty close to a coin flip. If you didn't get that, then stay the hell away from polls. They'll do you more harm than good.

At this point -- at this point -- the best forecast has six chances in seven of Biden winning. Those are good odds. I like them. But that still means that if you held the elections seven times, and there was a reasonably fair count, Biden would win six times and Trump would win once. (I know, you can't hold the elections seven times. One time in each of seven identical dimensions? Something like that.) That is nothing like certainty. 

Soldier on. Fight for fair elections, wherever you are. Vote as early as you can, and if your state doesn't really know how to vote by mail, vote in person if you can. But most of all, just vote. There is no way to know what happens next.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Hombres Buenos

I am reading, for the second time, Hombres Buenos by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. It deals with two members of the Spanish Royal Academy who, toward the end of the 18th Century, undertake to travel to pre-revolutionary Paris, purchase the French Encyclopédie -- the distillation of Enlightenment thought -- and bring it home for the shelves of the Academy, despite the fact that the work is (theoretically) banned in both nations. They have a dispensation for the Academy from the Spanish king, but the task is a tricky one, nonetheless; the more so because vested interests in Spain are keen to keep the Encyclopédie out of the country, and dispatch an agent to follow them and to ensure their failure. So, as always in Pérez-Reverte, there is a boys' adventure story at the heart of things, to which we can turn whenever the struggle of the enlightenment becomes dull. And, also typically, there is a double narrative: we move in and out of the historical narrative, and Pérez-Reverte's first-person narrative of his discovery and investigation of the book-hunting expedition, which serves both as a relief from the 18th Century, for the historically short-winded, and a proof of Pérez-Reverte's care for historical accuracy.

The two members of the Academy -- the Good Men of the title -- are the Academy librarian, Don Hermógenes Molina, and a retired naval officer, Don Pedro Zárate. We follow them under the nicknames  of Don Hermes and el almirante (the Admiral). The heart of the story is the exploration of the extent their commitment to Enlightenment ideals; the most endearing qualities of both being the places where they simply cannot and will not follow Reason. For Don Hermes, the line stops at Church and King: a world without royal and religious authority is one that he can't contemplate. For the Admiral, it stops at the honor of a soldier. Or perhaps it's at fighting over male status and the sexual favors of beautiful women? Is there a difference? He is not sure, and neither is the reader. In any case, there is a sword-duel at dawn which is everything a boys' adventure aficionado could want. And of course, brooding over all is the impending revolution: we are well aware that the elegant Parisian philosophes and dandies of the narrative are headed, in a few short years, for the guillotine. It's all going to get very real very fast.

The book will feel very old fashioned to readers for whom the Enlightenment is remote and unimportant, a done deal; and that will include a lot of modern literary people. What have we to do with the tug-of-war between Reason and the Church, or between Reason and codes of honor? But to Pérez-Reverte, and to many people in the world, it's not a done deal at all. It's still a central, inescapable question: how much can we cede to Reason, and where must we balk? How much reality can we bear? How much should we bear? The political stresses of present-day America suggest to me that these questions are as active and important as ever, however  irrelevant they may feel to the present professional-managerial class.