Snippets

          Are there palindromes in Chinese?

          Do geese see God?

          Was he able before Elba?

          What was the last restaurant to give women (or in this case “ladies”) a menu without prices?

          The Wisconsin Congressman was on Fox News. I was surprised that he was not wearing a U.S. flag pin. Instead, on his lapel was a Green Bay Packers symbol. You might not think that he has his priorities right, but he does for a Wisconsin politician.

          My idea for a book group: Everyone read three-quarters of the same mystery and then get together for a discussion.

          My idea for a blockbuster script: Little Women Walking Dead. Beth comes back as a musical, apologetic vampire.

          New York City pedestrians violate the traffic laws less than they did a generation ago. I was used to walkers coming to an intersection with the light against them and looking for a break in traffic to see if they can scamper across before they get the green. Now if people can’t cross when they get to the corner, they look not at the traffic but down and read, scroll, or text on their smartphone. They don’t look for an opening in the cars and trucks and often don’t even notice that the light has changed.

          What does it say about me that I am disappointed that even though “futtock” sounds dirty, it is not?

          When the men’s room has a solitary toilet, what is the correct etiquette after using it: Put the seat down or leave it up?

“as you both know,

if you worship

one god, you need

one enemy—”

          Louise Glűck, “Witchgrass”

          During a promo for a TV show “Viewer Discretion Advised” came on the screen. I was viewing, but I did not know how or on what I should exercise my discretion. Surely it did not mean that I should not watch the show, but what does it mean to watch a show with discretion? Does that mean with one eye? Or that I avert my gaze every five minutes. Could they be more specific about how viewers should use their discretion?

          I am confused. How can pants I have not worn for a while simultaneously get longer in the legs but smaller in the waist?

Postmodernist Trumpism (concluded)

I am not trying to say that post-modernism has caused the increasing stack of conservative falsehoods or the acceptance of them. It is almost always impossible to say precisely how trends take root. Ideas often seem to percolate from multiple sources at the same time. But the postmodernistic idea that something is true only if it is true to the individual has escaped academia, entered the general air, and descended on many of us. Harry Frankfort, the philosopher of bullshit, maintains that cultural conditions and epistemological beliefs can help spread bullshit. It proliferates where it is denied that “we can have reliable access to an objective reality, and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things really are.” In other words, bullshit builds on pillars of postmodernism.

Of course, we get falsehoods on many different topics—often about personalities in popular culture, for example—and there is bullshit throughout the political spectrum. It is not bullshit, however, to believe that never before have we had a president who has provided so much bullshit so regularly. And perhaps we have never before had so many people not just willing to accept it, but to desire it.

What will this pervasive political falsehood and bullshit culture do to our country? For example, isn’t it likely that the proliferation of bullshit and its acceptance will also lead to more people believing that there is no reliable access to an objective reality and no way of knowing how things truly are? And if that happens, haven’t we entered a bullshit spiral from which we might never escape?  

Gary Kasparov has said: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.” (Quoted by Michiko Kakutani in The Death of Truth.) I doubt that Trumpism has that conscious goal. But it certainly can have that effect.

Postmodern Trumpism

If Trump lied, he would not be as dangerous as he is as a bullshitter. Frankfort writes, “By virtue of [not paying attention to the truth], bullshit is the greater enemy of the truth than lies are. . . . Through excessive indulgence in

[bullshit]

, which involves making assertions without paying attention to anything except what it suits one to say, a person’s normal habit of attending to the ways things are may become attenuated or lost.”

There may be many causes for Trump’s bullshit—his narcissistic ego may be the prime reason, but there is at least another one. “Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.” Those of us concerned with the truth should give up the notion that Trump will learn what is true and what is not and that the falsehoods will decrease over time. As long as Trump continues to talk about things he knows little to nothing about, the bullshit will continue.

The real issue is not why Trump excretes so many falsehoods, it is why so many people accept, even desire, his bullshit. This is where postmodernism comes in. In a postmodernistic world, we don’t have to go to the trouble of ascertaining what is true because what matters is what is true for me. Many of his supporters surely know that what Trump says is not only false but errant bullshit, but he says what the Trumpistas want to believe. The important thing is that what he says feels true to his audience. And if it feels true to them, then it is true. Postmodernism, once a leftist phenomenon, has found its zenith in a conservative world.

The appeal and power of accepting falsehoods because they feel right, because they are true for me, should not be underestimated. We might think that when everybody has their own truth individuals are separated from each other and the world is atomistic. It is true that in the postmodernist world I don’t have to engage with those who hold other truths and I can remain segregated from them, but believing in falsehoods also brings people together. What Lawrence Wright, in Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, wrote about a new religious movement has broader applicability: “Belief in the irrational is one definition of faith, but it is also true that clinging to absurd or disputed doctrines binds a community of faith together and defines a barrier to the outside world.”

Wright’s insight helps explain our modern world. Many who believe that we should distinguish truth from non-truth in order to formulate policies and action have their own faith in rationality. They are surprised that as the breadth, depth, and frequency of Trump’s bullshit became increasingly apparent that Trumpistas have not fallen away. These rationalists see the falsehoods as a negative for Trump, but in fact they are a source of the president’s strength. His falsehoods have produced a feeling that such utterances must be true, ought to be true, are at least emotionally true. As a result, they have bound his supporters together, helping to define a needed barrier with the rest of society.

Something like this postmodernism has also affected some who do not support Trump. I have several friends, not Trump supporters, who have said that whatever you think about the president, you have to concede that he has kept his promises. I begged to differ, although a bit more forcefully than that. I referred them to the factchecking website Politifact’s Trump-O-Meter which tracks 102 promises made by candidate Trump in 2016.  It reports that he has kept 18% of his promises, broken 17%, compromised 11%, and the rest are “stalled” or “in the works.” This hardly indicates that he has kept his promises unless keeping less than one in five looks like a promise-keeper to you.

But all promises are not equal. Perhaps he has kept the important ones. All may not agree on what should fall on this list, but Politifact’s list of Trump’s top five promises concludes that only one has been kept, and that was to suspend immigration from terror-prone places. Two are rated as compromises: “Everybody is getting a tax cut, especially the middle class” and “The Trump Plan will lower the business tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, and eliminate the corporate alternative minimum tax.” (These ratings raise the question: Can you compromise a promise or is a compromised promise a broken promise?)

The other top Trump promises, according to the fact-checkers, were to repeal and replace Obamacare and to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. Politifact lists both these promises as stalled. That begs the question of how long a promise can be stalled before it is broken. But whether the stalled characterization is correct, it seems clear that these promises have not been kept.

Even so, my knowledgeable and non-conservative friends say that Trump has kept his promises. When confronted with the information showing that he has kept few of them, my friends reply that the specific things he promised do not really matter. The attitude he projects about immigration, Obamacare, taxes, and the like show that he is keeping his promises. My friends are really saying that the truth of promise-keeping does not matter as long as it feels as if promises have been kept. How post-modern of them!

(Concluded January 15)

Postmodern Trumpism

If Trump lied, he would not be as dangerous as he is as a bullshitter. Frankfort writes, “By virtue of [not paying attention to the truth], bullshit is the greater enemy of the truth than lies are. . . . Through excessive indulgence in

[bullshit]

, which involves making assertions without paying attention to anything except what it suits one to say, a person’s normal habit of attending to the ways things are may become attenuated or lost.”

There may be many causes for Trump’s bullshit—his narcissistic ego may be the prime reason, but there is at least another one. “Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.” Those of us concerned with the truth should give up the notion that Trump will learn what is true and what is not and that the falsehoods will decrease over time. As long as Trump continues to talk about things he knows little to nothing about, the bullshit will continue.

The real issue is not why Trump excretes so many falsehoods, it is why so many people accept, even desire, his bullshit. This is where postmodernism comes in. In a postmodernistic world, we don’t have to go to the trouble of ascertaining what is true because what matters is what is true for me. Many of his supporters surely know that what Trump says is not only false but errant bullshit, but he says what the Trumpistas want to believe. The important thing is that what he says feels true to his audience. And if it feels true to them, then it is true. Postmodernism, once a leftist phenomenon, has found its zenith in a conservative world.

The appeal and power of accepting falsehoods because they feel right, because they are true for me, should not be underestimated. We might think that when everybody has their own truth individuals are separated from each other and the world is atomistic. It is true that in the postmodernist world I don’t have to engage with those who hold other truths and I can remain segregated from them, but believing in falsehoods also brings people together. What Lawrence Wright, in Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, wrote about a new religious movement has broader applicability: “Belief in the irrational is one definition of faith, but it is also true that clinging to absurd or disputed doctrines binds a community of faith together and defines a barrier to the outside world.”

Wright’s insight helps explain our modern world. Many who believe that we should distinguish truth from non-truth in order to formulate policies and action have their own faith in rationality. They are surprised that as the breadth, depth, and frequency of Trump’s bullshit became increasingly apparent that Trumpistas have not fallen away. These rationalists see the falsehoods as a negative for Trump, but in fact they are a source of the president’s strength. His falsehoods have produced a feeling that such utterances must be true, ought to be true, are at least emotionally true. As a result, they have bound his supporters together, helping to define a needed barrier with the rest of society.

Something like this postmodernism has also affected some who do not support Trump. I have several friends, not Trump supporters, who have said that whatever you think about the president, you have to concede that he has kept his promises. I begged to differ, although a bit more forcefully than that. I referred them to the factchecking website Politifact’s Trump-O-Meter which tracks 102 promises made by candidate Trump in 2016.  It reports that he has kept 18% of his promises, broken 17%, compromised 11%, and the rest are “stalled” or “in the works.” This hardly indicates that he has kept his promises unless keeping less than one in five looks like a promise-keeper to you.

But all promises are not equal. Perhaps he has kept the important ones. All may not agree on what should fall on this list, but Politifact’s list of Trump’s top five promises concludes that only one has been kept, and that was to suspend immigration from terror-prone places. Two are rated as compromises: “Everybody is getting a tax cut, especially the middle class” and “The Trump Plan will lower the business tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, and eliminate the corporate alternative minimum tax.” (These ratings raise the question: Can you compromise a promise or is a compromised promise a broken promise?)

The other top Trump promises, according to the fact-checkers, were to repeal and replace Obamacare and to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. Politifact lists both these promises as stalled. That begs the question of how long a promise can be stalled before it is broken. But whether the stalled characterization is correct, it seems clear that these promises have not been kept.

Even so, my knowledgeable and non-conservative friends say that Trump has kept his promises. When confronted with the information showing that he has kept few of them, my friends reply that the specific things he promised do not really matter. The attitude he projects about immigration, Obamacare, taxes, and the like show that he is keeping his promises. My friends are really saying that the truth of promise-keeping does not matter as long as it feels as if promises have been kept. How post-modern of them!

(Concluded January 15)

Postmodernist Trumpism (continued)

          At its inception, literary postmodernism had little effect on the broader world, but it is not surprising that postmodernism spread. The deification of the subjective is comforting and appeals to basic human impulses. It fits into an “I’m ok/you’re ok” world. It tells me that what I believe is valid. It comforts because it relieves me of the often difficult job of finding facts, of ascertaining the truth, or grappling with determining what is good science, history, or journalism. In a world where knowledge is simply socially constructed, I do not have to abide by the standards of good historical, scientific, sociological, or anthropological inquiry. I don’t have to grapple with the strengths and weaknesses of sets of data. I can just stop with my inquiry once something feels right for me. The postmodernist death of objectivity as Stanley Fish says, “relieves me of the obligation to be right.” (Quoted in Michiko Kakutani’s book The Death of Truth.)

          Postmodernism is also comforting because it means I don’t have to grapple with information or views I don’t like and the conflicts, external and internal, that they can cause. My belief is as true as yours. Discourse, analysis, research is all a waste of time. My life is easier. I don’t have to think one of the hardest thoughts: Do the facts indicate I must change my mind? I never have to confront what T.H. Huxley said about science: “The great tragedy of science—the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.” Leisure increases and life is simpler without a responsibility for discerning or establishing facts.

          As the lure of this thinking spread outside of academic halls and became divorced from literature, there have been consequences. It helped lead to movements that affect health and safety. It has put down pavement for the anti-vaxxers and climate change deniers. For these people who reject overwhelming scientific evidence, as an infectious disease expert said recently, “Science has become just another voice in the room. It has lost its platform. Now, you simply declare your own truth.” In spite of the statement attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in the postmodern world you are entitled not only to your own opinion, but also to your own facts.

Postmodernism and its initial spread was the creation of anti-authoritarians and leftists, but now the philosophy is imbedded in a Trumpian conservative movement that rejects expertise and research, accepts “alternative facts,” concludes that actions based on gut reactions are better than carefully considered positions, and is regularly based on and spreads falsehoods. I doubt that Trump, while he has all these characteristics, is a product of postmodernism. The postmodernist is like Trump in not caring about objective truth. Postmodernists, however, do seek and care about their own personal and subjective truths. So, for example, the anti-vax mother who heard about one study linking vaccines and autism finds ways to reject all the information debunking that study as well as the information revealing the real dangers in not having a child vaccinated. She clings to her personal truth no matter what the evidence. She cares about her own beliefs. She seeks her own subjective “facts” and will not entertain thoughts or information that question them.

Trump, however, is not even seeking personal, subjective truths. He simply does not care about any kind of truth. Harry G. Frankfort seems to have anticipated our president in his marvelous little book, On Bullshit, which makes a convincing distinction between bullshit and lies. Lying requires a degree of craftsmanship to get the lie accepted, a skill that recognizes truth. “In order to invent a lie at all,

must think he knows what is true. And in order to invent an effective lie, he must design his falsehood under the guidance of that truth.”

The liar, thus, has a concern for what is true. The bullshitter does not. A bullshitter’s “statement is grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are—that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.” And since our president does not craft lies as much as utter falsehoods with an indifference to the truth, he is not a liar. Stop calling him that! He is a bullshitter.

The bullshitter has more freedom than the liar. The bullshit artist “does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a certain point, and thus he is not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it. He is prepared, as far as required, to fake the context as well.” Frankfort continues, “He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

Many wonder how Trump can tell so many falsehoods, or how he can repeat falsehoods that have been repeatedly debunked, or how he can assert things that on their face are blatantly false. They haven’t recognized that while a liar and truth-teller are on opposite sides of the same contest, the bullshitter is not even in this game. Trump does not grapple with the authority of truth, as the liar does. Instead, as with any bullshitter, “he pays no attention to it at all.”

(continued January 13)

Postmodern Trumpism (continued)

          The postmodern view that truth is subjective has important epistemological consequences. We no longer have to listen to each other: we don’t have to try to reconcile competing claims and information. If you maintain that thousands were massacred at Wounded Knee on that day in 1890 while I contend that no one was killed, if we believe that there is an objective truth, we would engage each other. We would investigate what support there is for the competing positions, and perhaps do more research. As a result, we might abandon or modify our original assertions. If, however, truth is subjective, if truth is what is true for each individual, we will not undertake this shared enterprise seeking a better understanding of the truth. Thousands dead is true for you. Nobody died is true for me. End of story. It’s all relative.

          The notion that truth was relative wedged its way into a wider world and crept into many areas of thought outside of academia. For example, Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard wrote: “What is true is what is true for you. No one has any right to force data on you and command you to believe it or else. If it is not true for you, it isn’t true. Think your own way through things, accept what is true for you, discard the rest. There is nothing unhappier than one who tries to live in a chaos of lies.” (Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief.)

          It also entered an Ivy League seminar room. I don’t remember the topic discussion for the class I was recently leading, but when I called on one student, she said, “Don’t you want to know what my opinion is?” I snapped “No!” The bright young woman had a shocked look. Surely her opinion was valuable. Others around the table were concerned. Many looked as if this was the first time a student opinion was rejected. I went on to say, “I want your facts; your information. What relevant experiences have you had? Then you can tell me how your opinion arises out of those data.” She went silent. But in a world where truth is subjective, all opinions are equally valid, and she probably thought that I should have allowed her to present her truth no matter how it was derived. (I got one bad teaching evaluation from this seminar. I assume that it was she, but that is just my opinion; I don’t have facts to back it up.)

          Postmodern thinking has affected diplomats. Michiko Kakutani’s book The Death of Truth quotes a Russian propagandist. “All narratives are contingent, Surkov suggested, and all politicians are liars; therefore, the alternative facts put out by the Kremlin (and by Donald Trump) are just as valid as everyone else’s.” Surkov “invoked Derrida-inspired arguments about the unreliability of language—to suggest that Western notions of truthfulness and transparency are naïve and unsophisticated.”

          Postmodernist thinking even invaded science. On The Big Bang Theory it is a laugh line when Penny’s not-overly-bright boyfriend says to Leonard and the rest of the Caltech crowd: “Agree to disagree. That’s what I love about science. There’s no right answer.” But supposedly bright people began to maintain that science was merely socially constructed and that science could not claim to be neutral. Science could not seek universal truths because it was fatally affected by a scientist’s identity and cultural values. (Tell that to the scientist spouse and watch her seethe!)

          One of my leftist academic colleagues adopted this anti-science position. The United States Supreme Court had written an opinion about what scientific evidence could be admitted into trials. I appeared with my colleague on a panel at a neighboring law school discussing this decision. My colleague denigrated the decision by glibly saying that science like other knowledge was merely “socially constructed” and subjective. On the other hand, I knew that she had taken an elevator to the conference room, and I wondered if she truly thought that the principles that allowed that lift to ascend and descend were mere subjective social constructions. If we truly believed that there was no objective scientific truth, we could not operate in the world. No one really believes what she was trying to peddle. Instead, a more sophisticated approach might have allowed that science does not produce absolute truths because it is always trying to refine its knowledge or that scientific funding, which influences what gets studied, can be affected by cultural and society forces. But we all know that there is a universal truth behind the physics of gravity and friction.

(continued January 10)

Postmodern Trumpism

          The end of year. A new year begins. We mark this time with traditions that seem to have been with us forever—egg nog, Auld Lang Syne, the ball drop at Times Square, fireworks everywhere, pine needles in unlikely spots from an aging Christmas tree, resolutions and promises–but we also now have a seasonal tradition that is only three years old. Various news organizations tell us how many falsehoods Trump has told in the last annum. This might not seem as festive as other traditions, but it is becoming as entrenched.

          It is mystifying that a president can produce so much that is false and still have the support of so many. Probably no simple explanation can satisfy, but I suggest that we consider the effect of a literary theory. While the juxtaposition of “literary theory” and “Trump” may seem bizarre, bear with me.

          At one time, literary scholars uniformly saw a text as the creation of the author. The writer “owned” it and determined its meaning. Readers searched for what Hawthorne or Stendhal or Locke or Pound meant.

          However, a competing view emerged. It noted that an author cannot determine how a reader reacts to a given text. These new literary theorists led by Jacques Derrida maintained that it is critical readers who determine what a piece of writing means, which may not necessarily be what the author intended it to mean.

          This “postmodern” or “deconstructionist” approach transformed the meaning of “truth” in a text. If the author’s intention is the meaning, then there is just one “truth,” and those exploring a writing were all after the same thing. But if the crucial question is not what the writer means, but how the text is interpreted by its readers, there can be as many “truths” as there are readers. Something may be true for one reader and not another. Truth no longer was a single, objective concept but was subjective and variable. A text could have many meanings depending on who’s reading it.

          As long as postmodernism was confined to literary theory, it had limited significance, but it broke out into other disciplines. Anti-authoritarians and the New Left promoted the notion that many “facts” were the product of entrenched, Western, white, and male-dominated thinking. Instead, the new critics maintained that in reality there were no universal truths but only personal ones shaped by cultural and social forces. Postmodernism denied an objective reality existing apart from human perception. Knowledge, they said, was filtered through class, race, gender, and other factors.

          This approach had merit and gave valuable perspectives on history and society. So, for example, there is not one truth about capitalism. The economic system is different from the perspective of the corporate officer or the migrant worker picking lettuce. Class, race, and gender, the postmodernists maintained, shape thinking about the value of the police. The positive effects of Christopher Columbus are viewed differently from various perspectives.

          Postmodernism points out that received wisdom is often the product of a limited or biased view and should not be uncritically accepted. That point has great value and should be a call to work harder to comprehend a given phenomenon. More information, more views should be sought to improve understanding. I should not accept that a mountain is forested just because the south face is covered in trees. The north face may be barren. I must go around the mountain to get a better understanding of it.

          This can be difficult work that might not completely satisfy. So, for example, if I want to understand what happened on December 29, 1890, at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, postmodernistic thinking could tell me that I cannot just accept the official army reports. I should seek the views of Lakota members, army regulars, bystanders, and others. I might have to learn about the Ghost Dance movement and how a ghost dance appeared from the Lakota perspective versus the perspective of the soldiers on that day. I could expect to find contradictions and gaps in information and perhaps not a completely satisfying understanding of the massacre, but my understanding would be deeper because I sought out different perspectives rather than just relying on official reports.

          However, those undertaking this endeavor still believe there are objective facts. Hundreds of men, women, and children were killed that day. I am seeking to get a better understanding of those facts, and I expect that you would reach a similar understanding if you, too, undertook this endeavor. We may not agree completely, but we are after the same thing–an objective truth.

          But this “postmodernism” is not the postmodernism of the literary theory. The textual analysts rejected that there was a single truth that all critical readers were after. Instead, they concluded that the meaning of the text varied from reader to reader and that “truth” was subjective. If an understanding was true for a reader, it was true even if was not true for a different reader. In one way, then, postmodernism deepened our understanding of the world when the assault on traditional knowledge required seeking different perspectives on a phenomenon. However, it was another matter when this literary theory crossed over into other fields bringing the message that truth is “relative” or “contingent”; that there is no objective truth; and that truth is subjective.

(continued January 8)

Courtship and Conscription

Five years earlier than our trip, our Moroccan guide was thirty-four years old and single when his brother suggested that it was time for the guide to get married. The brother had someone in mind. The guide was told that he could glimpse the woman at a particular time and location, and he went there several times, but she, in spite of the prediction, did not pass by. Finally, the brother brought him to the woman’s house. The guide and the woman, according to the guide, each asked a “few” questions of the other. Only after this meeting, did the guide tell his parents about the woman. The parents were surprised that he had met her without them knowing—apparently a breach of protocol. A short while later, the guide, his parents, and his sisters went to meet the woman and her family. After this meeting, the two got engaged and were married six months later.

This courtship seems strange from a western viewpoint, but the way the guide recounted it, it must not be unusual in Morocco. And as far as I could tell, the marriage has been successful. My only doubt about that is that the guide seemed a bit intimidated by his wife.

After four years of marriage, the couple had a son. The guide is very proud of the boy and said that he would like one more child.

The guide more than once told us that women have advanced much in Moroccan society. When he did so, I always thought it would be informative to get a Moroccan woman’s perspective on their situation.

Women are allowed the opportunity for an education; our guide’s wife has a college degree, having studied physics and architecture. The guide said that she would like to work, but it is hard to find an appropriate job. He said that the Moroccan unemployment rate is ten percent overall, and jobs for educated people using their training are often scarce.

Moroccan public education is free through college. Universities have a hierarchy with some harder to get into than others. University admission is determined by a graduation test from the equivalent of our high school. Our guide readily admitted that he had not done as well on that examination as others and did not get into the most selective school. Instead of studying medicine, he studied English.

Morocco has compulsory education from the ages of six through fifteen for both boys and girls, but it has not been completely successful. There is much absenteeism from the schools, especially in the countryside, and the country still has an illiteracy problem.

Morocco has recently reinstituted mandatory military service, and this produces some equality between men and women since both are conscripted. The guide did not say why the draft had been abandoned a generation ago, but it did not exist when he was of military age, and, as a result, he did not serve in the military. Conscription does not seem to have been reinstituted because Morocco feels an imminent foreign threat. Instead, the guide said that the major goal of the draft is to instill nationalism, but he did not elaborate on why that had become necessary.

Hearing this bit about Moroccan conscription, I thought about the United States draft. It ended nearly fifty years ago, and I wondered if American patriotism had waned or waxed since then; whether the country was more or less warlike; whether our nation was more or less safe; whether young people were better or worse trained for jobs. I wondered what the chances are that conscription would ever be reinstituted here. If so, how would our country be affected if both men and women were subject to a draft? I wondered if we might have mandatory, universal national service of which the military would be one option. There must be some good literature of such topics, but I don’t know about it. If you do, let me know, for these are subjects worth exploring.

Snippets

I resolve to smile more.

I resolve to be less of a wiseass. (Oops. That conflicts with above.)

I resolve to learn how to use a bidet.

I resolve to learn how to open oysters efficiently and without drawing my blood.

I resolve to learn the words to the second stanza of The Star-Spangled Banner.

I resolve never to sing the second stanza of The Star-Spangled Banner.

I resolve to go to more small-town museums.

I resolve to watch less football.

I resolve to produce less polluting waste.

I resolve not to learn how to play mah jong. (Sorry, spouse.)

I resolve to make fewer typographicul errorrs.

I resolve to at least in some small way make our politics better.

I resolve to have an open mind about religion.

I resolve to have an open mind about vegans.

I resolve to remember the words of Benjamin Disraeli in Sybil or the Two Nations: “To be conscious you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge.”

I resolve to remember the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh in A Gift from the Sea: “The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere.”

I should resolve to learn how to wrap packages in an acceptable manner, but experience tells me that ain’t going to happen.

I resolve to deepen my sense of wonder.