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Showing posts from February, 2012

The Arrow's Espionage Mission– Background Briefing

Parthian's fellow Villagers are restive.  As our garrison suffers attrition with advancing age, we readily recruit replacements by word of mouth.  Our ranks grow at a rate that must alarm our adversary.  They have responded with a massive propaganda campaign to undermine our morale and bribe our leaders.  When our most valiant cataphracts defect, the bonds of comradeship within the Village become dangerously frayed.  We try to confront and deconstruct every temptation that gets over our ramparts, but our resolve is sorely tested by sophisticated marketing of the dream world of the CCRC. 
CCRC stands for "Continuous Care Retirement Communities".  Brochures and videos depicting the rituals, refectories, and slick amenities of these ubiquitous high-end end-of-life ashrams tempt Villagers to sell their homes and spend down their life savings for a one-way ticket to a last fling in a luxury condo on the piano nobile of their nearest-by version of Downslope Abbey. We veterans a…

Word from Afield

Parthian is cresting a steep learning curve in his new vocation as his own copy reader, editor, and publisher. The idea of aiming another blog at the savages who are despoiling the world we hope to bequeath to our grandchildren once seemed as simple as fletching another shaft from the store in Parthian's quiver. Posting to publish proved to be as easy as drawing a bow, but Parthian is still working to learn the other moves, and Google has no nearby store to which he can go for training. He begs your patience. This interim dispatch comes near the end of an operation behind the lines. The Arrow landed close to a prime specimen of the Village's bitterest foe, the dreaded CCRC. A draft assessment of our target will be filed soon, if Parthian's luck holds…

Update– Advancing Informed Choice

Dr Hadler informs us about the choices that we or our surrogates will face at the end of life, while on the other coast, Dr. Ken Murray tells of the informed choices that are usually made by the best-informed choosers:

"...Doctors die, too. And they don’t die like the rest of us. What’s unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little. For all the time they spend fending off the deaths of others, they tend to be fairly serene when faced with death themselves. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care they could want. But they go gently.

Of course, doctors don’t want to die; they want to live. But they know enough about modern medicine to know its limits. And they know enough about death to know what all people fear most: dying in pain, and dying alone. They’ve talked about this with their families. They want to be sure, when the time comes, that no …

Frank Pasquale Connects the Dots…and Bots

Following up on Slavery, Parthian sees that Balkinization carries a post showing how Citizens United amplifies political power by invading the social sphere of cyberspace with corporate armies of dacoits. Snippet from Frank Pasquale's post–
…corporate and governmental entities want to promote armies of propagandizing bots to disseminate their views and drown out opposing voices. Consider the experiment run by Tim Hwang, of the law firmRobot, Robot, & Hwang, on Twitter, as explainedin conversation with Bob Garfield:

GARFIELD: Earlier this year, 500 or so Twitterers received tweets from someone with the handle @JamesMTitus who posed one of several generic questions: How long do you want to live to, for example, or do you have any pets? @JamesMTitus was cheerful and enthusiastic, kind of like those people who comment on the weather and then laugh heartily. Perhaps because of that good nature or perhaps because of his inquiring spirit and interest in others, @JamesMTitus was able to…

A Singular World of Slavery– Who is the Master?

Fans of Kurzweil’s predictions will be gratified to learn that immortal corporations are not the only non-human members of the Pantheon that rules our affairs.  Thanks to Citizens United, corporations already have a legal and a political personality, but soon their agents will be dealing with us, and suing us if need be to enforce our end of a dickered electronic bargain.  Parthian wonders if the bailiff who calls with a summons will resemble the Tin Woodman of Oz.  The following snippet from Lawrence Solum’s posting today on the blog Concurring Opinions will begin to get you accustomed to the idea that we’re well beyond the halfway point on Kurzweil’s bridge from here to Singularity. Solum says that his essay,
Legal Personhood for Artificial Intelligence, suggests that the legal personhood should and will be awarded to artificial intelligences with the functional capacities of other legal persons.  But legal personhood does not necessarily imply the full panoply of rights we assign to…

The Indecencies of Indehiscence– a Morose Meditation

We humans take a long time after happily donating our mite to the gene pool before we ripen into undeniable decline. Biology tells us perhaps too much about the mechanisms of our decay– oh, those frayed and shrinking telomeres!– but it fails to persuade the casual reader with its tale of how human longevity evolved to a ‘natural’ span of 85 years.  Parthian was taught that big brains need long childhoods to finish their wiring. Long childhoods imply long parenthoods. The nuclear family plausibly becomes extended in time to allow the young time to grow up and learn to fend for themselves and contribute to their social group. Does evolutionary logic thus account for the survival of grandparents? How do we manage to drain energy, food and support from family, tribal, or national units when our generative and nurturing years have ended? The young keep us going long after we become net liabilities in our troupe’s economy.  Piety or filial love should by rights carry an expiration date.  In…

Wise Words from Behind Their Lines

To his surprise and gratification, arrows from the pursuing horde sometimes fall at Parthian’s feet bearing welcome messages. One such dispatch was deflected from the shield of a fellow warrior deployed behind the lines in my original homeland, California. My army buddy bounced it to me with a reminder that the author,  a schoolmate of ours, is our exact contemporary. Parthian’s failing faculties cannot retrieve an image of Joseph Epstein, but he honors him with sincere appreciation for his eloquent confession of sentiments upon reaching (during the reign of W!) the milestone marking the start of his 8th decade. Parthian recommends the linked essay to all his fellow Villagers who face the stigmata of ‘maturity’.  He is confident that most of them will recognize and endorse the reckoning reached by Mr. Epstein.  The auspices under which he published are however a matter for regret.

Free Speech, Public Places, and Political Thinkers

Codman Island– Public Forum (beyond Commons Gate)

Codman Island is a prime station for political workers bearing placards, and sometimes for the candidates themselves, because the busy intersection of Charles and Beacon Streets is controlled by a four way traffic light.  It is easy to stand there to wave a sign at vehicles waiting for the light to change. It’s also easy to move about the Island. Facing oncoming traffic feels safer than it did when Officer Michael directed traffic at that spot in Make Way for Ducklings. Sometimes Codman Island is crowded with opposing campaigners who may scrimmage dangerously as they contend for position– but then, the partisans‘ First Amendment rights to assemble and ‘speak’ with their signs may be regulated to promote fair sharing and public safety.  Islands like Codman epitomize the Supreme Court’s model of a Public Forum.  Never mind that those impatient drivers are gazing at the light, and whatever passengers they carry may be distracted by a dashb…

A Strange Encounter on Codman Island

Across the river from us, MIT and Harvard occasionally spin out an intellectual derelict whose neurons have snapped, stretched to breaking point by profoundly difficult investigations. Most of these unfortunates find their way to Harvard Square, where they accost passersby with eyes fevered like those of the Ancient Mariner. Very seldom, one of them can be found among the panhandlers on our side of the Charles. Since Longfellow Bridge is closed for repairs, the unshaven scholar who confronted me yesterday as I tried to work my weary way from Starbucks to the Public Garden probably crossed on the ice. 
Codman Island is a Traffic Island The young but wizened stranger forced into my hands a broadsheet, since discarded, which he claimed was sure to win an Ignobel Prize, which he would share with me for a sawbuck. It was difficult for me to shake him off, but the light changed and I made it to the Public Garden, pictured above on the far side of Codman Island, just as a Boston policeman came…

Senator Sessions Wins Parthian Arrow

As Gingrich ramps up his race-baiting food-stamp-crazy slogan-slinging, we can count on the Alabama Senator with the best pedigree of Dixie dimness to join the chorus. Senator Sessions, the Torquemada of judicial confirmations, has added his piccolo whine to the wheeze, expecting approval from unreconstructed racists. For this sorry fool,  the following arrow is dispatched:  Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions:  Be reborn among starved Bangla-Deshians! For the Buddha is right,  You merit that plight.

Could Boston Improve its Celebrated Fireworks?

Ever since he came to Boston, the spectacle of fireworks over the Charles on the 4th of July has been one of the highlights of Parthian's year. Watching from a rooftop near the summit of Beacon Hill, he marvels at the long display. He savors the sky, the blimp, and the reverberations from the rocket blasts as they echo from building to building, almost as much as he loves the colors and smoke and tracer-trails that magically inscribe the sky.  Second only to the glorious Fourth is the chilly First Night show, when the pyrotechnic extravaganza  dominates the sky over the Common and Public Garden, and the echoes play a Gargantuan concerto for timpani. These displays have improved over the years, but for several years running, the Arrow has discerned a similarity in effects and trajectory. Budgets may inflect the color choices of the more lavish detonations from year to year, but the feats of skill that generate celestial emoticons grow familiar, and those smiley faces remind Parthian…

A Matter of Local Action with Broad Economic Implications

Villagers are vigilant minders of the historic attractions of our neighborhood, but we also value its peripheral commercial amenities. Through our largely overlapping memberships in the Civic Association, we monitor police blotters, the heaving of our brick sidewalks, leaks in our gaslights, and most importantly, changes in usage of our fixed building stock. We all rely upon merchants at the foot of the Hill along Charles Street and also along the Cambridge Street thoroughfare that climbs the gently rising north slope. The Great Recession has hit our merchants severely, even though foot traffic remains strong enough make a stroll a scrimmage, as busloads of tourists throng the Hill in all seasons, architectural paparazzi with cameras in hand. The prime subject of our discussion this Wednesday when we host the President of BHCA, will be the alarming rate of closures on Charles Street, and their causes. This subject has come up before. Our regulars include a member of the BHCA Board, and…

Parthian Leaks a Bulletin from the Front Line

Parthian maintains a discreet channel of contact with younger cataphracts who serve our Cause behind enemy lines. One fellow-veteran still spies for us as an exemplary mole, painful though it is for him to lay aside his quiver and bow. He has recently tunneled into the staff headquarters area. Unredacted, and without compromising our methods and sources, I give you his report on the gladiatorial recruitment technique of one of the highest priests in their cult of ritual concussion-exchange: …I quote from the FSU football coach, Jimbo Fisher, about his success in recruiting in Alabama. "Just because no one has ever went into Alabama doesn't mean you can't go into Alabama...I mean, is there a wall there that said you're not allowed in?" Truer words were never spoken. This snippet exhibits my informant’s keen ear for the regional vernacular, the better to buttress his credibility reporting the political scene in Tallahassee. With minor redactions, I feel I can safely …

A Spectacular Day for a Party

On this bright, dry, frigid midwinter day, Parthian expects to gather in the dusk convivially with many of his friends, to pursue a common interest. We will assemble near the Common to have a wee drop, and take a few bites of nourishment before we march down Walnut Street and across Beacon, to glue our patriotic eyes upon the wind-swept waste behind the skaters on Frog Pond. Some of us will bring telescopes or binoculars, some will rely only upon the keen eyes of geriatric far-sightedness. We hope to see one of the consoling features of global warming, blowing in with the cold Canadian air mass that so recently passed through Michigan, a


The Arrow's Homage to the Belle of Amherst

Some of the coffee-drinkers at the Bistro are fond of verse. Most of us participate as faculty or students in the program of Beacon Hill Seminars. The Seminars catalog shows a broad and changing curriculum (see link in the sidebar) of courses taught pro bono by our neighbors. Emily Dickinson is a local favorite. Parthian's friend the Classicist, grew up as a faculty child in Amherst, so his Clerihew tribute to the town's favorite daughter is dedicated to Amherst's gift to Boston.

Emily Dickinson's Similes quicken one's Sense of the numinous. Brief her effusions; in sum, voluminous!

Review: Rethinking Aging by Nortin Hadler, M.D.

Parthian feels slightly dizzy as he reels towards a doom that awaits him on or near his 85th year.  Like a convict awaiting judgment at the bench of Rhadamanthus, he has studied his pre-sentence report, carefully marking words, charts, and analyses that provide him– as a self-insurer of his own life–  with the truth about his actuarial prospects as he serves out his term confined to a narrow somatic prison bounded by his thinning skin. Parthian’s future involves a painful tumble to the bottom of the steep downslope of his mortal span. The countdown of time remaining should be cheerfully brief, according to Dr. Nortin Hadler.   In his earlier book, Worried SickDr. Hadler addressed lay readers with advice meant to immunize them against the din of seductive claims in popular media from corporate mountebanks. Parthian remembers when the same advertisers promoted themselves as “ethical” drug companies– to avoid confusion with purveyors of nostrums like HadacolCarter’s Little Liver Pil…

History Lesson for Lessig's Rootstrikers

Lawrence Lessig’s movement is called Rootstrikers because it aims to eradicate the causes of our polarized and corrupted government through reforms by any means (short of amending the Constitution itself).  The constraints of Citizens United limit Lessig’s options, but they stimulate his legislative imagination. Concluding his brilliant description of how campaign financing corrupts Congress, Lessig concedes his program for electoral reform is a long shot. Watch his explanation in the link above (or read his Republic, Lost.)  You will find yourself despairing to the same degree that Lessig moves you to occupy, march, or man the barricades to force radical reform, especially of the legislative branch. The task facing us is Herculean, and the elephants in the Capitol stable produce legislative ordure like SOPA at a pace beyond our collective shoveling capacity.  Lessig thinks an aroused public can persuade incumbents to dismantle the system that gave them their offices, and vote to deny…

Witchcraft Goes West

Much fuss has been made on the talk channels about the Governor of Arizona’s discourteous finger-wagging at President Obama. That was a sure sign of a slow news day,  but I can report that the minority most oppressed by her and by the shamefully as yet unindicted Maricopa County Sheriff have adopted a perfect translation of her name: they call her Gov. Bruja. (If your Spanish is absent or rusty, this should be pronounced with a Boston accent: brew-hah.)  A bruja is a witch. Political life in AZ is a witches brew, and she the master Brewer (IMHO).


The current New Yorker opens with a letter from a friend of ours now living in Florida, about Donald Hall, the eminent New England poet. Hall’s meditation on growing old, increasingly disabled and isolated, yet attached to his home and familiar surroundings, was an exemplary performance in the rather disreputable genre of valetudinarian swanning.  Another friend, also an octogenarian, told me it appalled him to think of this former Poet Laureate peering out his window all winter long at a bird feeder and decaying barn, wondering whither his muse had fled. Perhaps the regretful tone in Hall’s honest and elegiac reporting is better captured by short allusive verses. Japanese haiku poets excel at what Hall somewhat verbosely essayed.  We liked his inclusion of autobiographical bits, since he mentioned attending the same Elementary School in Hamden that launched my wife’s studies.

A Missed Opportunity

I regret that I was both ineligible and too late to participate in a recent contest celebrating Stephen Hawking’s 70th Birthday. Contestants' winning questions were broadcast and answered by Hawking himself at a big birthday bash.  I remain curious about what he would say to my Clerihew’s query–
Stephen William Hawking... As he thinks, does he hear himself talking? Is his inner mind's timbre Merry or sombre?

Slavery Lives On! Rejoice!

This paradoxical eye-catcher may encourage you to link to a posting on January 29th by YLS ProfessorJack Balkin pointing to a doctrinal vulnerability in the Supreme Court’s rationale for protecting corporate speech inCitizens United v. FEC. He argues that corporations, if they are constitutionalpersons, must perforce have the status ofslaves. As slaves, they can be silenced by their owners, just as they may be killed, sold down the river (by Bain Capital), or bred to an unwelcome suitor. Since corporations gain (immortal) personhood by the operations of lawmaking lust, their powers may be limited (by theirowners certainly)and perhaps also by limiting their capacities in the gestational realm where ink meets paper and the unnatural person becomes viable, pending the formalities of legal parturition. Readily imaginable 'chromosomal' limitations might produce crippled slaves, but their disabilities would become part of their natural 'inherited' endowment before (or beyond…

A Red Tide Rising?

Nearly half the “young people” surveyed by Pew favor “socialism” above “capitalism”. Here is a prime example of the irony of unintended consequences. The under 29 survey respondents have been exposed to endless broadcasts and sermons defining acceptance of any aspect of Bismarck's welfare state in its current form, as no better than being a card-carrying Stalinist.  Having served up a dichotomous and Manichean menu pitting Ayn Rand against the Communist Manifesto, polluters of civic discourse should not be surprised when the stark choices favored by primitive political theology provoke respondents to adopt the demonic label. Everyone feels better when the dark side is so inclusive.

Rhetoric resembles psephology (polling, in casual usage). Both focus upon superficial and immediate responses to questions or tropes. And both stimuli are often meant to be deceptive as well as ephemeral.  A deeper insight into the preference of the young for ‘socialism’ over ‘capitalism’ may be found in…