Occam’s Razor 2016

Celebrated the launch of Occam’s Razor with its faithful dedicated brilliant editorial staff this evening. Wow they done good. So proud of them.

I’m faculty advisor, which in some situations might mean doing lots, but here’s mostly meant saying, “you, go be you; oh and keep a style sheet.”

Soon, a link to the online issue, in all its glory. For now, a TOC to titillate or intimidate you – maybe both – and brief remarks I made at a podium.


Check these Western moves out.

  • The Beneficence of Gayface
  • Domestic Violence Lethality Assessment Screening
  • The Historical Biogeography of Phototropic Consortium
  • Perspectivalism and Blaming
  • Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: Cause to Treatment
  • Deterministic Chaos: Applications in Cardiac Electrophysiology

And what I thought to say, or close to it.

Ockham’s Razor. Called a razor because it shaves away the excess, the unnecessary. Named for William of Ockham, a medieval Scholastic theologian whose shapeliness of mind may still be of help to us.

An early form of his razor goes like this. “Plurality must never be posited without necessity.” Got that?

Or – other things being equal, the simpler explanation is the better one.

Or – don’t add entities to your story of what happened you don’t have to.

For instance, when your iPhone stops working for no reason you know, you could blame leprechauns for it, but you don’t, because that would be extra.

In other words – cut through bullshit, your own or another’s, as best you can, in every way you can.

The world is complex enough; don’t add needless complications.

The more complications you cut through, the more the magnificent complexity of the life we share here together steps out.

And these guys get that. Their work shines forth their understanding of it. Look at this cover, at the edge of this cloudbank here. It’s complex. Puffs and crannies. And you know that if you zoomed up to it, it would be just as complex, six inches from your face. Wisps and droplets.

The only way that works – the only way complexity can resound like that – is when everything unnecessary has been let fall away. Look at this design. Clouds and empty space and a pebble moon. Complexity meets simplicity, and right at that edge, there’s life, and light.

Anyway, heeding Ockham’s principle, I’m going to be brief.

Does this journal matter? Is it more than just a needless complication?

I think it is. I think it does. Students at Western are doing some phenomenal work in their classes, their research, their independent projects. And all too often it gets handed in, graded, filed away, forgotten. No one in their class sees it – let alone other students in their department, other departments, other colleges.

I think of Occam’s Razor as the geekiest coffee shop on earth. It’s the place where the papers and projects that otherwise might not meet come together, share the same space, relax a little, caffeinate a little, share their intelligence with each other. Calculus chills with social science methodology. Cultural studies flirts with chaos theory.

Geeky coffee shop, or, the university, remembering why it came to be. There are no grades in these pages, no student learning outcomes, no bureaucracy of any sort. This is inquiry not institution. Curious, restless, meticulous.

I’m honoured and grateful to have been a small part of it.

Spider-chastening

I want to affirm for reasons I maybe only partly understand something President Obama said today to graduating students at Rutgers.

Facts, evidence, reason, logic, an understanding of science – these are good things. These are qualities you want in people making policy… In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue.

Affirm it because I may want soon here to try to understand the draw of Drumpf. He poses a grave danger and the danger’s got to be understood. And I think for me, understanding it, how he draws so many in, means going to what’s irrational and tribal and hungry for authority in me. What feels worn down by liberal piety and wants to be told its first thought’s okay after all.

I’m a poet and believe in a beauty outside the precincts of the rational. That’s a bound on Obama’s statement, one I think he’d assent to. Irrational, arational, supra-rational.

I’m also a Buddhist, and that’s meant finding the whole range of human goodness and depravity in my own breast. I don’t get to say the bad shit’s out there. To understand Drumpf I need to look at some ugly right in here.

I want us to be governed by compassionate reasonable people. We deserve to be. After all we’ve been through, some of us more than, we all deserve to be.

Don’t take any thoughtplay to come to mean otherwise.

Just want to bring light into dark corners. Mine own. Spider-chasing.

Belatedly he feels the bern

Walking home from the beer store it came to me. I’m voting for Sanders in the primary. I so did not see that coming.

Symbolic, I know Clinton1 is going to win, but still it matters somehow.

I really don’t much like her. Was going to hold my nose and vote for her just the same. She’s better rounded and worlds more pragmatic. She’ll get shit done, and most of said shit will be, at least domestically, more good than not, these fingers cross. What Sanders wants, I love and love him for, but he’s wildly unrealistic. Heaps of sympathetic economists concur. And he ain’t too very strong on facts beyond these murkin’ borders – and that, a little, turns internationalist me off.

What shifted it for me? Three thoughts fell, feather-light, to the floor.

He’s a better person than she is.2

His values align better with mine.

Most quadrennia, he’d be the weaker general election candidate, but this time round he’s stronger. And keeping Drumpf from power is the vital matter.

So, Bernie, you have me.


1. Am I fussy to be bothered by the sexism in her so often being called Hillary? It’s not like we need to distinguish her from Bill. Sanders’s advocates call him Bernie, yes, Drumpf’s fans skeptics and detractors call him The Donald, but Clinton is called Hillary rather more generally, by commentators assuming neutrality. Same phenom I see among students who call male authors by last name, female by first.


2. I know how problematic such a thing is to say. But it’s the form the thought came in and so I set it down in that form. I’m totally into authenticity. If I subscribed to Drumpfism, and never second-guessed my most base impulse, this footnote’d be fired.3


3. Some day in the future, when daring, a post on the liberation I think Drumpf seems to offer. Something to do with id energy uncensored by a super-ego. Something to do with a counter-swing from the sort of impulse-control of which President Obama – may blessings rain down upon him – is an acme.4


4. A complexity here. The counter-swing to Drumpf is a racist swing – from a scarily other president to a reassuring xenophobic anglo-puffball. And some of the anxiety around Obama is that he doesn’t plug into any familiar racialist narrative around American black men. He’s no animal. He don’t even talk black. He speaks Harvard. (Or Yale? I get those two confused. Went to Oberlin and worried more about the difference between tofu and tempeh.)

No wonder white trash find him condescending. That’s where you’re left when the back-and-forth of projection and introjection runs out of juice.

“White trash.” Well now that was asshole of me. I’m going to leave it, cuz I think Drumpf, his upwelling from the deeps of ‘Murka’s psyche, if it has value, it’s that he exposes the tribalism we’re all of us given to.

Myself too. “White trash” the surfacing of an ineradicable tribalism. I’m white and don’t want to be that white.

That’ll be the next post maybe – tribalism, rationalism. We all still do us-and-them, folks. We do it by skin colour, we do it by creed, we do it, here in Bellingham,  by bumper sticker. You might have time, before I get to it, to read Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, which lays out how Hume and Voltaire lead to Hitler, Hollywood, and our present bind.

“Return of the repressed.” What you repress returns, doublestrong.

That includes, repress the repressor. Trump’s our asshole, and that’s hardly even a metaphor. He’s America’s id, unrepressed but constipated.

Mother’s Day, a hard day

Mother’s Day’s a hard day for me. My mother and I have been estranged for some years. We’ve started talking a bit by e-mail recently, and that’s good, but this day’s still tough, even with all my humanistic skepticism re: the greeting card–industrial complex.

So I did what I usually do when something tough comes up. In no particular order. Meditated. Neglected the dishes. Wrote in my journal. Cut myself some slack. Stared into space thinking/feeling. Neglected a pile of grading. Pulled some weeds. Chitchatted with neighbours passing.

The journal writing (nothing very new vis-a-vis my mother) (inner mother and outer mother) (a distinction for another post) (one maybe never to be writ) (curious? buy my poetry!) after photocopy mojo looks like this.

Mother's Day
Click on me for some up close face time.

Veiled, I know. Do I want you to put the work into decipherment? Ish. Confession, I swing madly between nutshell-to-others and severe overshare. Seriously – I mean no glib appropriation here – I’m close to the spectrum on this one. Can’t figure out the norms, read the signals, can only see the shudder or shoulder-turn when I’ve overstepped.

With that proviso – maybe proof of the point it makes – I’ll for once give the source text of the aasemic text above.

8 May.

Mother’s Day. Not ever an easy day. With the chime of an email arriving came in quick succession—dread of an email from my mother tearing into me for not writing sooner or in a better way—shame, at that feeling—and, a thought, the connection is broken for good isn’t it. As to that shame: thought later: wherefore? The feeling (dread) verifies itself. I mean I would not feel it if I had never had reason to feel it. So—I thought later working at weeding—instead of shame, maybe, sadness. That I think is what comes in when the shame steps aside a little—sadness, for me, for her too, in the grip of she knew not what———.


I want to affirm three friends, all mothers, who’ve borne me up today.

One, Beth Thomas, an old friend from New York, who told the truth for her about Mother’s Day today on FB and made me feel bold to do likewise.

Another, S., even longer a friend, who wrote to me today

And thinking of you because it’s that day again – how is it that day again so quickly? – and I know it’s a hard one for you. As always, I hope you not just know but believe and feel that you’re loved.

Brings tears cuz I guess I don’t always.

Third, came to me a memory of a student in our program, she’s a mother, maybe a month ago we were both at a reading, her son was with her. And seeing, late in the evening, how heavily and easily her son draped in her arms sleeping – how quietly and carefully she packed up her bag, his toys etc., so as not to wake him – how fixed even so, all the while, her attention was on the reader reading, taking the words in.

Is it strange of me? Do you find it ordinary? It was so moving to me, her undividedness, her totally being nourished by what she was there for – the poetry – and being totally there as what her son needed her to be.

I need, as we all do, to be mother to myself, and lack, as many do, a good interior image of that. And so I savage me.

A lot of my inner life is trying to find relief from that.

Some relief comes from inner resources. Some more comes from chosen works – teaching, say, though I should be grading right now. And some comes from blessings like rain – friendships like these three.


She’s also, that third one, one of the most kickass poets I’ve worked with.

We ask a lot of mothers (fathers also) (children also).

Who are we that we think we get to ask so much.

Donald Drumpf. That’s your koan. Pass it and I’ll vote for you.

Good luck w/ that.


Addendum May 9.

Not Mother’s Day. Mothers’ Day.

Or just Mother Day.

Be a mother to what needs you to.

Something, someone, in here, out there, do.

Have I tucked this where none will see it?

I do that.

Syria, wildfire, climate change, and the 2nd Coming maybe

Article in the Times this evening, about refugees from Syria who, having settled safely in Canada, find themselves escaping flames once more, as a wildfire of great speed and scope sweeps through the oilsands town of Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Ms. Wedad Rihani, 68, a lawyer once of Syria – just where the indefatigable Ian Austen does not say –

“I left fire back home created by humans to come to the fire here,” Ms. Rihani said, her son providing translation. “Here you can escape; at home there’s no escape. Here you get a smile; there you get no help.”

Good for my home country.

It should be said though. Both conflagrations – war eating Syria, fire eating Fort McMurray – are climate change at work.

Our works are coming home to us. As to the one. As to the other. Viz, do.

I don’t mean to be unkind. These sufferings are awful, some beyond awful, beyond imagining, mine anyway.

I mean to say – root causes.


Am in a torn mood tonight. The Republican Party is tearing itself in two. But before I get too giddy happy at that – what rough beast, yo? Nuclear codes, yo? The tear comes by a terrifying claw.

American democracy survived, tho’ battered from the inside yes, eight years of Bush Dub. Eight Obama years – and I’m a big fan, would love for a third go – tested it in a few ways, too. This ginger puffball, I don’t want his name on my blog, this one, I don’t think so, I think he’s a grievous threat to the form itself.

He’s a totalitarian clown and I want just to brush him off. But we see by now where underestimating his strength, his appeal, gets us.

Hit me tonight how much hate there is in this country and it made me sad.


There could be a measure for that. Hate Per Capita. And an emergency global compassion fund to take care of it. Probably some climate change would get taken care of, and some income equality, and some other social justices also.


Seriously. Not to be condescending, but America’s HPC is higher than Canada’s, yes? For identifiable understandable karmic reasons, sure. So maybe Canada should be making some sort of lovingkindness donation southward. Without expecting recompense. Cuz that’s not how it works.

Tho’ recompense somehow comes. E.g., Ms. Rihani, whom I’ve not met, and never will, feels affection for northern Alberta – northern Alberta, in its early spring and laid waste by wildfire, and she speaks well of it! What a mind.

Imagine M. Ginger Puff had said to bar the door to her great spirit.