Political Grammar

October 20, 2018

pile of benjamins

Spend two minutes online and you’re sure to find something inane. For instance, I ran across a bizarre boast the other day which the poster, after having tweeted, threw onto his Himalayan pile of former boasts. This latest had to do with grammar, of all things.

It said; “When referring to the USA, I will always capitalize the word Country.” Of course if you read through the heap of our boaster’s reeking tweets you’ll find he clearly does not. Considering the source, that he’s lying goes without saying. Yet ironically, this Trump boast is, in a manner of speaking, a sad truth because as he continues to invulnerably ignore the constitution’s emolument clause he is in fact capitalizing on country. Trump capitalizes on anything he can suck a buck from, no matter how cruelly or unethically. A quick google of how this man and family profit from his office brings up dozens of links with statements like this: 

” In their recent financial disclosure forms, Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner reported more than $500 million in income (which) came from their hotels, golf courses, clubs and merchandise sales (and) from long-established businesses and newly formed ones. No modern president has profited this way during his time in office.” —John Harwood, CNBC.  What’s more, many of those links indicate tax fraud as a major contributor to their wealth. The record of Trump’s emolument-denying “capitalizations” include his oligarchic Russian ties and, through his daughter and son-in-law Jared, those with the Saudis. Facts tend to suggest that if the president could bleed the country dry by capitalizing it straight into his tax fraud account he would. He’s made it clear there are no ethical rules that bind him. No moral leashes hold him down. And no chump sense of decency blinds him as he strips his country down.

Our constitution’s emolument clause, intended to thwart the very practices Donald Trump employs, was inserted into that document probably because, back in the late 18th century, either James Madison or Thomas Jefferson, its two main authors, had a prescient nightmare of some future president who would have no moral core. Maybe they both had such dreams.  Maybe they discussed them over tea and biscuits. I can hear them now:

Jefferson: It was extremely disturbing. In my dream this president was an absolute narcissist. He was much like King George! He thought he knew everything and that everything belonged to him. And he fancied himself an intellect. But by some strange aspect of my dream having to do with chirping or tweeting birds, I received an impression that made it abundantly clear this president was no intellect.

Madison: Yes! In my dream… but shouldn’t we really call them nightmares, Tom? —regardless, in my nightmare the president was very disreputable. He cheated in business and relied upon frauds and chronic mendacity to make a fortune. He really had no qualms about using his office to increase his wealth —no moral compass, I’m afraid. How could it possibly come to that after the bloody revolution and all? No! We will not go back there! We must do something to avert such an outcome!

Jefferson: Of course! How about this: Let us include in our constitution a clause that will prevent such a man from profiting on the power of his office. A statement something like this: no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state that might influence his policies. How about that?

Madison: Yes! Well done! No emoluments! Brilliant, Tom! We will call it the emoluments clause. And, fortunately, the way we have structured our constitution, wisely and prudently creating a government of three co-equal branches, each checking the others, should any reprehensible person ever gain the presidency by, let us say, foreign interference in elections or domestic suppression of a man’s right to vote, we’ll have a congress that will step in to check such blatant corruption and abuses!

Jefferson. Precisely. You and I are very, very clever, aren’t we, James?

Madison: Yes, only we can do it.

Jefferson: Oh, and James, one more thing: did your dream happen to suggest another character… with a name that sounded …Gaelic?  Conaill, perhaps, or some similar appellation prefixed with “son of” in that tongue:  you know, mac, mac… hmm, —mac Conaill … that’s it!

Madison: No, Tom, there was no such person in my nightmare.

Jefferson: Thank God! because throughout my awful vision such a character’s shadow loomed dark and Machiavellian over our senate floor and seemed to catch our brilliant constitution up short… bigtime.

Jim Culleny




Wrong Turn

October 4, 2018

global warmingThoughts on  global warming and how we got to thinking nature is our toy or slave rather than our own vital substance.

“The Church at the start of the Christian era didn’t know whether to accept the ancient view that we share consciousness with nature, or to declare a new era. The Church Fathers were afraid to open the door to too many visions for fear the ancient world would simply flood the Church. As it happened, The Church … smashed the temples, destroyed the relating texts and the lost doctrines. One Jacob Boehme, founded his theology on the idea that there is a consciousness inside nature; he was driven out of town by the local Protestant priest.  The French priest, Bossuet,  (writing about the same time) expressed in this passage one of the more prevalent Christian attitudes toward nature:

May the earth be cursed … a thousand times, a thousand times be cursed
because from it the heavy fog and those black vapors continually rise … from
the dark passions and hide heaven and its light from us and draw down the             lightning of God’s justice against the corruption of the human race.

This attitude was acceptable to the Church Fathers and to developing capitalism. When we deny there is consciousness in nature, we also deny consciousness to the worlds we find by going through nature; we end with only one world, the world of McDonalds, and that one is exploitable.” —Robert Bly in: News of the Universe, Poems of Twofold Consciousness

As an American I was schooled in that attitude. And, being brought up in the ways of Church and catechism, I’ve been twice stoked and smoked. Unlearning’s been a sweat to say the least.

Wrong Turn

scoping maps of other worlds

I came upon a shiny gazetteer
so bright with arcane avenues
and archipelagos it kept me

lured and stupefied for years
Jim Culleny
October 2007

Demographic Apoplexia

August 8, 2018

Why do we have an unapologetic,  racist, misogynist, sexist and (conveniently) xenophobic president as well as a ruling party of sexist, white supremacists (for all practical purposes) with an angry, frightened  band of supporters?  Probably because in the last few decades of the 20th century a demographic truth was finally realized by those with precisely those inclinations: that it would not be long before the United States would be a nation with a white European minority. Those with power then decided they must act to prevent that demographic surge from becoming real. Everything we see now, the lust for border walls, voter suppression, the political acceptance of racial animus, shameless public expressions of white and ethnic supremacy, the election of a president with obvious problems around women, who for the sake of power has manipulated the national dialogue into one of fear and hate. All of this flows from that (for many) clear demographic nightmare. But theirs is an impossible remedy, at least not without cruel political repression and is, in fact, transforming the nation into one with a quality of life far worse than a more humane and enlightened acceptance and approach to change would achieve.

Of course our white presumptions are as invisible to many as the water fish take for granted. Dominican-American  novelist Junot Diaz suggested as much is a statement about critical acclaim in his field:

“All I can tell you is that in 100 years I seriously doubt that the list of the 100 best writers from our time is going to be as white, as male, as straight, as monocultural as the lists we currently produce about the 100 best writers of our time.

“In all frankness, our present day evaluative criteria are so unfairly weighted towards whiteness, male, middle-classness, straightness, monoculturality— so rotted through with white supremacy—as to be utterly useless for really seeing or understanding what’s going on in the field, given how little we really see or value of the art we’re now producing because of our hegemonic scotoma. Who can doubt that the future will improve on that? No question that today, in the margins of what is considered Real Literature, there are unacknowledged Kafkas toiling away who are more likely women, colored, queer, poor.”

There are also thousands and thousands of other potential immigrants who would, as have those of the past, contribute to make the USA a better nation.

Jim Culleny


Reading again Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness (1890) I came to the following which, in the light of US politics of the early 21st century, may be seen as a late extension of our North American conquest as well as the consciousness by which it has run —and, cruelly reminiscent, still runs:

Trump DarknessConrad’s character, Marlowe is speaking of the history of Roman conquest in Britain:

“They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others…. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind… The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it…something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer sacrifice to…”

The idea is white supremacy, again. The idea is to keep certain peoples out to purify the nation —to be frank. The idea is to set authoritarians up to lead the dirty work of cleansing in the name of protecting, what, our greatness? …so we keep our personal hands clean.

Jim Culleny

The Story Tellers

May 4, 2018


excerpt from Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari

12,000 years ago, at the start of the Agricultural Revolution, “Farmers believed in stories about great gods. They built temples to their favorite god, held festivals in his honor, offered him sacrifices, and gave him lands, tithes and presents. In the first cities of ancient Sumer, about 6,000 years ago, the temples were not just centers of worship, but also the most important political and economic hubs. the Sumerian gods fulfilled a function analogous to modern brands and corporations. Today corporations are fictional legal entities that own property, lend money, hire employees and initiate economic enterprises. In the ancient cities of Uruk, Lagash and Shurupak the gods functioned as legal entities that could own fields and slaves, give and receive loans, pay salaries and build dams and canals.”

Posted by Jim Culleny


Living on Paper

May 3, 2018

—excerpt from Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari

quill pen

“Hunter-gatherers spent their days climbing trees, looking for mushrooms, and chasing boars and rabbits. Their daily reality consisted of trees, mushrooms, boars and rabbits. Peasants worked all day in fields…their daily reality was the feeling of muddy earth under bare feet, the smell of oxen…and the taste of warm bread fresh from the oven. In contrast, scribes in ancient Egypt devoted most of their time the reading, writing and calculating. Their daily reality consisted of ink marks on papyrus scrolls, which determined who owned which field, how much an ox cost and what yearly taxes the peasants had to pay. A scribe could decide the fate of an entire village with the stroke of a stylus.”

Related: Before the Ink Dries

Web of Stories

April 30, 2018

homodeus 4.JPG

From Homo Deus -A Brief History of Tomorrow:

“Animals such as wolves an chimpanzees live in a dual reality. On the one hand they are familiar with objective entities outside them, such as trees, rocks and rivers. On the other hand they are aware of subjective experiences within them, such as fear, joy and desire. Sapiens, in contrast, live in triple-layered reality… The sapiens world also contains stories about money, gods, nations and corporations. As history unfolded, the impact of gods, nations and corporations grew at the expense of rivers, fears and desires. There are still many rivers in the world, and people are still motivated by their fears and wishes, but Jesus Christ, The French Republic and Apple, Inc. have dammed and harnessed the rivers, and have learned to shape our deepest anxieties and yearnings.

“Since new twenty-first century realities are likely to make such fictions even more powerful, to understand our future we have to understand how stories about Christ, France and Apple have gained so much power. Humans think they make history, but history actually revolves around the web of stories. The basic abilities of individual humans have not changed much since the stone age.. But the web of stories has grown from strength to strength, thereby pushing history from the Stone Age to the Silicon age.”

Excerpt from Homo Deus – A brief history of tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Posted by Jim Culleny