Eros and Thanatos

Thanatos, Ephesos
I've reached a stage of life where I think about mortality almost as often as about sex.

Well, maybe not that often, but still, more than I used to. As Dr. Johnson noted, an unappealable deadline concentrates the mind wonderfully.

According to the I.R.S.'s life expectancy tables (for calculating minimum yearly distributions from your IRAs), mine could be 30 years from now. (I'm 68.) A man could do a lot of damage in 30 years. Or a lot of good. But that assumes maintaining the physical vigor and mental acuity to do one or the other. And this is one reason I've so eagerly read Elkhonon Goldberg, The wisdom paradox: how your mind can grow stronger as your brain grows older. New York: Gotham Books, 2005. Twice! Because I wanted to be sure I got it all, including the summaries of experimental results and the technical language. Goldberg was a student of the great Soviet neuropsychologist Aleksandr Luria (1902-1977), who practically founded the discipline (combining knowledge of psychology with examinations of brain anatomy and processes), and is now doing some very creative work of his own at New York University. This book, and maybe some reflections on my earlier readings of Luria and Vygotsky, deserve another blog essay. But in short -- very short -- there is good reason to think that, with good mental exercise, we can keep our brains active and alert for a very long time.

My friend and mentor Walter James Miller is now 91, and still continuing his prolific writing and lecturing career.* I think I know how he does it -- he keeps reading new and challenging things, writing analyses, and exchanging ideas with students and other authors. Terrific brain exercises.
* Walter died on 20 June 2010, about a year after I'd written this. Check out his Wikipedia page in the link above.

But I'm going to plan more conservatively, to try to get everything important done much sooner. In the next ten years. Some writing projects, both fiction and sociological, two languages I want to learn better and some others I'll have to learn from scratch, and in the shorter run, to learn to play the Albéniz' "Asturias" (transcribed for guitar).

And of course to enjoy as much sex as possible before wingèd Thanatos comes to whisk me off. That's also good for maintaining vigor. And it's such fun.

*Illus.: Winged youth with a sword, probably Thanatos, personification of death. Detail of a sculptured marble column drum from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos, ca. 325-300 BC. Found at the south-west corner of the temple. British Museum. Source: Wikipedia


Think Again: Why Not the Best?

Excellent investigation of the real state of America's "best health system in the world." By Eric Alterman: Think Again: Why Not the Best?

When is a coup not a coup?

The defenders of acting Honduran president Roberto Micheletti have put together as close to a coherent argument as possible, I suppose, that sending soldiers into the president's bedroom and rousting him out of bed and out of the country is not a coup, but a constitutional democratic act.

They may have a point, that President Manuel Zelaya was flouting the constitution (by calling for a constitutional referendum without approval of the established organs). Presidents tend to do that whenever they can get away with it, even in places with sturdier institutions (I'm thinking of G. W. Bush and Guantánamo, etc., but there are plenty of other examples). But then, who wasn't flouting the constitution? Where in the Honduran constitution does it say that the Supreme Court is authorized to send in the army to oust the president?

The Honduran constitution needed, and needs, reform. Zelaya's problem with it was that it was designed to keep economic and political power in the hands of the old elites, in part because of the stacking of the Supreme Court and other obstacles, and so limited his powers to reform the economy. The political right's problem with it was that, while it was designed to protect the privileged, it didn't contemplate any serious challenge from a democratically elected president (the right was hoping to control and limit elections as they always had), and so had no mechanism for impeachment. They expected constitutional interpretation always to be malleable to their wishes, especially since they control the Supreme Court.

Joaquín Villalobos was right when he wrote a few weeks ago that the weakness and instability of Central American governments is by historical design, beginning with independence and the division of the region (under the influence of Great Britain and the U.S. subsequently) into five (or six if we count Panama, seven if we also count English-speaking Belize) little states, each intended to be too weak to buck outside economic or political pressure. Except when they do. And even when at great cost a popular movement has struggled to victory or at least stalemate vis à vis the local oligarchy, as in Nicaragua or El Salvador, they still are poor and vulnerable.

The solution will be a long time coming. It will have to be some sort of economic and political union, not necessarily fusion into a single Central American state but mechanisms of cooperation with other countries within or beyond the region. The need for such larger support is of course what impelled Zelaya's groping for Hugo Chávez's outstretched hand. Whereas the Honduran oligarchy preferred the U.S.'s impending boot.

Meanwhile, we have to insist that military intervention to solve political disputes is unacceptable. Isolating this regime by cutting off trade, aid and political contacts seems to me like the best policy, to encourage other democratic forces within Honduras. And we may hope that whatever leadership emerges will be less clumsy than Mel Zelaya, and that it will have created more space for reform by changing the Supreme Court and other institutions. In short, there's no easy solution, but this crisis can be the prelude to needed reforms.

YouTube - Union Civica Democratica -- July 4 -- Democracy Alive and Strong Because The Constitution Works