Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Timothy Geithner has taken heat this week over his suggestion that tax policy toward upper income Americans reflect the “privilege” of being an American–namely, that these people pay a greater percentage of their income in federal taxes.  While the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal is best left undisturbed for fear of some frightening monster baring its gruesome fangs, Lawrence Lindsey’s piece appearing today, “Geithner and the ‘Privilege’ of Being American,” begs to be swatted out of the park.

The roots of the word privilege extend very deep, but in modern times its definition intersects very squarely with that of “right.”  In fact a privilege is synonymous with a right except that a privilege often goes:

beyond the usual rights or advantages of others; spec.  (a) an exemption from a normal duty, liability, etc.;  (b) enjoyment of some benefit (as wealth, education, standard of living, etc.) above the average or that deemed usual or necessary for a particular group [OED]


For those who may need more explanation of the validity and “constitutionality” of Geithner’s use of the term (I have Mr. Lindsey in mind), it is entirely self-evident that to be American is an immense advantage compared with being a citizen of any other nation on Earth.  I would assume Mr. Lindsey would not disagree with this.  To pull back the last curtain on his sophistry, I draw the reader’s attention to the fact that the definition of privilege is not concerned with the granting authority of the privilege, or that there even be a granting authority.  In conclusion: to be an American at the present is the very definition of privilege.  For those stuck on the idea of there being an entity to bequeath a privilege, I suggest that this is accomplished by the American people in concert with its government.

Under this system of a government by and for the people, being an American is the ultimate privilege.  Take it or leave it, Mr. Lindsey.


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I can assure you that will not happen, but I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.  Whether we like it or not, life in the twenty-first century is influenced in profound ways by decisions made from the other side of the globe.  And the financial and economic health of America and all the nations of the world profoundly influence our well-being.  If there was a great debate in art right now for which I could add my perspective, I would probably rather do that, however I believe that these stories I’ve been following are too big to ignore.

Many of the things that make the human experience impossibly rich are possible only when our basic needs are fulfilled.  Recession and financial peril threaten the things we love.  That’s true for anyone, regardless of origin or circumstance.

Yes, finance overlaps politics and policy and flouts boundaries that I’d prefer to stay away from in this forum.  But the die is cast: “too big to fail” should be a clue that it’s “too big to ignore.”

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The poem Lycidas, evoking an entire pastoral world, is a favorite of mine, though unfortunately it has no catchy phrases about music from which to take my blog title. “Sweet compulsion,” more often quoted “such sweet compulsion,” is from the masque  Arcades, which shares imagery with Lycidas.

The Genius of the Wood is speaking of listening to the harmony of the spheres, or celestial harmony.  This harmony, produced by the singing of the nine sirens that preside over the spheres, is made for the ears of the one who holds “the vital shears.” This is Atropos, the cutter of the thread of destiny.   The sweet compulsion of celestial music governs the actions of the Fates.  Those inclined to fatalist thinking often believe Fate to be the final arbiter.  That Fate itself is governed by a higher force, the concords of celestial harmony, is a fascinating aspect of the passage.

The reader is not to believe that Fate rests ultimately with the Sirens, or even the celestial music, but rather with the laws of the universe that are expressed through this harmony, “worthiest were to blaze / the peerless height….”

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Marguérite Gérard’s painting, the source of the header image of this blog, may be a lightweight compared to its predecessors from Vermeer and Velázquez, but it is fascinating nonetheless.  The Roman profile of the lute player acknoweldges its Neoclassicist style.  The gazes of the three women do not meet; it is only our gaze that meets the lute player in the painting of the painting.  A beautiful, sloping arc is defined by the eyes of the three women that extends to the right wall where a mirror hangs.  Though it is not central to the work, one is reminded of Parmigianino’s mirror since both are paintings about the act of painting and the reflection that is art.

The plane of the canvas looms large over the painter almost as a memento mori.  The reminder is that the canvas survives the artist.  The discarded flower is certainly a clue that points in this direction.

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On the nature of the blog

General observations here are too speculative to be fruitful.  I consider discussion of the nature of the book, or entertainment, or leisure, to be similarly lacking in rules of engagement.  In spite of this, it is necessary to ask myself the following as they relate to “Sweet Compulsion,” or, this blog:  what, why, how, and when.

In considering “what,” I am faced with the paradox of internet mass media: unlimited publicity and massive anonymity.  By publicity, I mean:

pub-lic-ity, n.(pə-ˈbli-sə-tē): the ability for a commodity to be consumed by the public, determined by the extent to which it is available to the public easily, readily, and cheaply.

The phrase massive anonymity also requires unpacking, as massive does not refer to absolute size, rather it speaks “of the masses.”

Since the concept of publicity (in the sense of media, paparazzi, publicist) is burned into the contemporary brain, it will intentionally run interference with my tweaked definition and give the full sense of the term “unlimited publicity,” which is ultimately the ability for anything written here to be disseminated to anyone, which is both an inspiring and humbling condition.  The other side of the paradox is the anonymity that I can take alongside Technorati’s 100 million bloggers.

So the boundaries of “what” now take shape.  I may post nothing controversial.  I happen to like some controversy, so one must look for it here outside the hot-button issues of the day.

I’ll take “why” and “how” together, simply because they are so different in scope.  I am doing this because I like the attention and like the idea of opening a different part of myself to others who I may never meet.  “How” seems easy now, but I expect that might change.

The question of “when” gets back to the nature of the blog and will conclude this first post.  Blog, meaning web log, taken as web diary, suggesting daily.  Since we have determined that there is necessary prior restraint in this public blog, it is not a true diary.  Therefore it is also not daily.

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[thus speaks the Genius of the Wood]

Stay gentle Swains, for though in this disguise,
I see bright honour sparkle through your eyes,
Of famous Arcady ye are, and sprung
Of that renowned flood, so often sung,
Divine Alpheus, who by secret sluse,
Stole under Seas to meet his Arethuse;
And ye the breathing Roses of the Wood,
Fair silver-buskind Nymphs as great and good,
I know this quest of yours, and free intent
Was all in honour and devotion ment
To the great Mistres of yon princely shrine,
Whom with low reverence I adore as mine,
And with all helpful service will comply
To further this nights glad solemnity;
And lead ye where ye may more neer behold
What shallow-searching Fame hath left untold;
Which I full oft amidst these shades alone
Have sate to wonder at, and gaze upon:
For know by lot from Jove I am the powr
Of this fair Wood, and live in Oak’n bowr,
To nurse the Saplings tall, and curl the grove
With Ringlets quaint, and wanton windings wove.
And all my Plants I save from nightly ill,
Of noisom winds, and blasting vapours chill.
And from the Boughs brush off the evil dew,
And heal the harms of thwarting thunder blew,
Or what the cross dire-looking Planet smites,
Or hurtfull Worm with canker’d venom bites.
When Eev’ning gray doth rise, I fetch my round
Over the mount, and all this hallow’d ground,
And early ere the odorous breath of morn
Awakes the slumbring leaves, or tasseld horn
Shakes the high thicket, haste I all about,
Number my ranks, and visit every sprout
With puissant words, and murmurs made to bless,
But els in deep of night when drowsines
Hath lockt up mortal sense, then listen I
To the celestial Sirens harmony,
That sit upon the nine enfolded Sphears
And sing to those that hold the vital shears
And turn the Adamantine spindle round,
On which the fate of gods and men is wound.
Such sweet compulsion doth in musick ly,
To lull the daughters of Necessity,
And keep unsteddy Nature to her law,
And the low world in measur’d motion draw
After the heavenly tune, which none can hear
Of human mould with grosse unpurged ear;
And yet such musick worthiest were to blaze
The peerles height of her immortal praise,
Whose lustre leads us, and for her most fit,
If my inferior hand or voice could hit
Inimitable sounds, yet as we go,
What ere the skill of lesser gods can show,
I will assay, her worth to celebrate,
And so attend ye toward her glittering state;
Where ye may all that are of noble stemm
Approach, and kiss her sacred vestures hemm.

-John Milton, Arcades – Song I

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