nthposition online magazine

Joe Palmer

Palmer is a retired American Emeritus Professor of English living in Canada.

Not nice people

[ opinion - august 14 ]

"We’re all a little bit nuts in our self-absorption and greed, enjoying other people’s misery..."

On A Confederacy of Dunces

[ opinion - december 11 ]

Twenty years after it was published, the novel is still tedious, repetitious, unpleasant - and funny.

Deconstructing Krazy Kat

[ opinion - november 11 ]

Sancta Simplicitas, a mouse and the Jesuits

After A O Barnabooth

[ fiction - october 11 ]

"Having freed myself from social duties and broken away from my inherited caste, disposing of my real property, my horses, and my yacht, I am at last free to experience the world as an ordinary rich person among the three million millionaires in the United States."


[ bookreviews ]

"During the years that both Stalin and Hitler were in power, more people were killed in Ukraine than anywhere else in the bloodlands, or in Europe, or in the world."

Shelley's Necessity of Atheism

[ opinion - july 11 ]

Religions are merely unreal, not of this physical world, until they become the fires that burn heretics

How I put my eye out

[ fiction - june 11 ]

A short story about explosives

Old Scratch's Tea Party

[ opinion - march 11 ]

"Republicans and Democrats are more or less equally divided among educated Catholics, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Evangelicals and other mainline national churches. It is the outliers, the gullible and grasping, who are up for grabs"

Poema morale: a moral ode, a sermon

[ opinion - february 11 ]

Today there is nothing that is not therapeutic

Xenophobia and Babel

[ opinion - january 11 ]

A little Hitler in your head...

Tea Party and Know-Nothings

[ opinion - december 10 ]

"The Tea Party wants a balanced budget, fiscal responsibility, limited government, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, along with charity to begin at home, the free expression of opinion, sovereignty, the rule of law, justice, God, honesty, family, Kinder, Küche, Kirche, Dum spiro, spero..."

Race and language after Twain

[ opinion - november 10 ]

"Every language is good enough for the needs of the person who speaks it"

Funny Boy

[ opinion | bookreviews ]

Wittgenstein's philosophical joke (not a review, but a reflex)

Hitler's spirit lives

[ opinion - september 10 ]

...and the Know-Nothing Party is back

The Millionaires' CLUB and The Big RENEGER; or Democrats are Toast

[ opinion - august 10 ]

In praise of cherishing the golden goose.

Bored on the 4th of July

[ opinion - july 10 ]

"Americans use patriotic songs from Irving Berlin's (1938) syrupy and banal prayer 'God Bless America' to the unsingable and flag-waving 'Star-Spangled Banner', perpetually popular because you have to be drunk to sing it..."

What reason is missing

[ opinion - may 10 ]

The United States is a jury-rigged country put together following the outlines of a myth suggested in the Declaration of Independence, which Americans think is part of the Old Testament.

Mummeries of superstition

[ opinion - april 10 ]

A serio-comic piece about the Pope's visit to the UK.

Murder and misreading

[ opinion - february 10 ]

The necessity of misreading The Catcher in the Rye

On reading Isaiah Berlin

[ opinion - january 10 ]

Do not make waves is good advice when you are standing with others in shit up to your chins

The God & government problem

[ opinion - september 09 ]

"The very essence of modernism is that there is no connection between our politics and our assumptions about God and final things."

Lost Christianity

[ opinion - july 09 ]

"Remember that organized religion is politics, and missionaries are lobbyists for a new socio-economic order that will bring dental floss and tithes to the unwary. Religionists always serve other masters until they are strong enough in numbers to tell the government what to do."

Translating Habermas; love & justice

[ opinion - june 09 ]

"Habermas says we owe our soul to the Company Store, and if we don't pay up, the post-national constellation of barbarians will foreclose on our subprime mortgage, and we'll all be up Shit Creek without a paddle."


[ opinion - may 09 ]

"Wittgenstein brilliantly reduced his conclusions to the introspective principle that you should shut up when you are the only one to think you know what you are talking about."

The Holy Land

[ people - april 09 ]

"Michal's folks were assured that she would be absolutely safe under the care of Dean Fallows and her corps of neutered monitors, chaperones and overseers."

Ayn Rand's schtick

[ opinion - march 09 ]

The founder of Objectivism "is a great writer the way Dan Brown is a great writer".

Economic recession as therapy: the Mighty Hand

[ opinion - march 09 ]

"some Mighty Hand put the quietus on our gluttony and our other deadly sins, and then seeing that the tactic worked, It called in all the loans, mortgages, credits, advances, frontings, markers, IOUs, and all the promissory notes everywhere."


[ people - february 09 ]

Stoicism is practically taught to itinerant farmer families and they go on living tomorrow.

Brave New Worldviews

[ opinion - january 09 ]

"Science and religion both assert the same thing: the Universe operates according to rules and that those rules can be discerned. Both science and religion are wrong. You cannot get to a place where you can make out the rules from there."

On diffused complicity

[ opinion - december 08 ]

"We are marking time, waiting for the Bush years to be over. Anything would be better than this legal theft, incompetent expertise, business embezzlement, potlatch politics, and sanctimonious hypocrisy."

The good old Brits: Orwell, Waugh, Greene

[ bookreviews ]

"The galleys of Brideshead Revisited were parachute-dropped to Waugh so he could do final revisions."

Enlightenment Reformation

[ opinion - september 08 ]

"They all hold that scientism is truer than mysticism, mostly because it is harder to share your personal revelations than those you find through scientific procedures."

The beaver & the Fenian

[ opinion - august 08 ]

"American hawks assumed that Canadian colonists would rise up and support the invading US armies as liberators, and that, as Jefferson famously assured the American public, conquering Canada would be 'a mere matter of marching.'"

Doctorates & doctorettes

[ opinion - july 08 ]

"Now there is more to learning than the law and the Bible, the managers have made an Abu Ghraib of the mind, and the narrow minded have penalized knowledge, a Guantánamo of scholarship, confining it in special cells where its secrets are learned and no one escapes."

Artfulness & science

[ opinion - may 08 ]

Colliding particles...

"Isn't God a shit?"

[ opinion - april 08 ]

To get into a work of imagination, a story, movie, drama, comedy, novel, or the Bible, you have to misread it and misunderstand it intentionally, in your own, personal manner.

Murder and misreading

[ opinion - march 08 ]

"We have to take everything with a grain of salt, which statement does not mean what the words say. Never trust the written word."

Bad art

[ opinion - january 08 ]

"Electric power is the work of the Devil, bringing absolute moral and spiritual dependence on the modern world. We become dependent on alternating current, like oxygen."

Disney's preacher

[ opinion - november 07 ]

"The Democrats pretend and try to embrace the poor and all races, but most Americans could not care less about treating the poor or colored as equals, except under the law, and as Mr Bumble says, 'If the law supposes that, then the law is a ass, a idiot!'"

The Theocratic Age; or, The last days of the American Republic

[ opinion - november 07 ]

"Our popular, accepted, received way of presenting arguments today gets lost in hyperbole and irony. We expect contention as the right of free people, and so we make our case by lying and cheating."

Germans in America

[ places - october 07 ]

On the occasion of Ken Burns's The War

Pope Benedict XVI & Latin

[ opinion - september 07 ]

The Mass is a not a magic trick. It is an art form.

The True Believer

[ bookreviews ]

"The 'American Dream' has been shelved by popular demand. Our schools reflect a society segregated by race, class, and money, and that’s the way we want it."

The true religion

[ opinion - june 07 ]

"The ancient philosophers tell us that no philosophy will clear up the mystery of Being. We have been brainwashed by madmen to think otherwise. The uttering of religious bullshit might just be the Original Sin."

Earthy words

[ opinion - may 07 ]

"Isabella, you have asked me, your great-grandfather, what I have learned during my long life. Like ice and snow, I am only one of the many forms of water, as polluted as any lake or stream. When they take out the water at my cremation, only salt, dust, ashes and my gold teeth will remain."

Faith without religion

[ bookreviews ]

Simone Weil's 'Letter to a priest'

Hanging baptists

[ opinion - march 07 ]

Whence this theocratic oligopoly battling the "secular-humanist homofeminists"?

Atheism: stargazing in sunlight

[ opinion | bookreviews ]

"Dawkins owes a lot to behavioural psychology, descriptive linguistics and Kenneth Pike's 'tagmemics', making his work a sort of CSI: Biology."

Baba, Taj & Yusuf

[ opinion - january 07 ]

Memories triggered by the revelation that the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee not knowing difference between Sunnis and Shi'ites...

What's so funny?

[ opinion - november 06 ]

"The Dalai Lama does not weep; he looks at evil, and smiles blissfully. Depressed people weep, seeing evil everywhere, suffering melancholy and despair."

White Mischief in Somalia

[ places - august 06 ]

"The United Nations established Somalia in 1960 just as they had established Israel in 1948 - by decree."


[ fiction - august 06 ]

A short story about antagonism.

The truth about language

[ opinion - july 06 ]

Monoglot incuriosity, polyglot confusion & certain inalienable rights...

Gene Autry and me

[ places - june 06 ]

A talk-story.

God is not intelligent

[ opinion - april 06 ]

Intelligent Design is an attractively simple creation myth.

Rewriting history for the Bush cabal

[ bookreviews ]

Compared with Max Weber's and Jared Diamond's work, Rodney Stark's theory of the ascendency of the West is just a victory of delusion.

In defense of Islam

[ opinion - january 06 ]

"A religion is no more an honest category for sorting people than sexual preference is an illness. An ayatollah is as much a man as a pope, and just as mad."

Deus Absconditus [after Simone Weil]

[ opinion - december 05 ]

"The Lord of Hosts is the Lord of Flies too. He has to be. It makes no sense to claim that omnipotent God is only good. "

Lead, kindly light

[ opinion - november 05 ]

Whenever people submit to a powerful, centralized, bureaucratic, militarized authority, as in Saddam’s Iraq and the USA today, corruption and suffering must follow. All personal values become subordinate to the values of the rulers.

Why do men chase women? (Because they are afraid of death)

[ opinion - october 05 ]

"Being at war with ourselves over the fact of our own deaths is, in every case, a heroic endeavor."

Bombs away - religion and language in the USA

[ opinion - september 05 ]

"Faith is the product of one mind. Religion, like a language or a kinship system, is something that happens when people live together for a long time."

Courting disaster

[ opinion - august 05 ]

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has damaged the US's traditional - and constitutional - separation of church and state. Good riddance to her.

War and the Iliad

[ bookreviews ]

Simone Weil's and Rachel Bespaloff's resonant meditations on war, inspired by the Iliad and their own experiences.

Evangelism and the sense of fact

[ opinion - june 05 ]

They prefer and favor absolute conviction. And furthermore, their faith in their religion is stronger than others people's faith in progress, relativism, science, One World, or any of the trendy, favorite phantoms that haunt us night and day.

Red State America and violence

[ opinion - may 05 ]

"The tyranny of the majority, the primary drawback of democracy that de Toqueville warned us about, has arrived."

A skeptic s credo [after reading Simone Weil]

[ opinion - march 05 ]

"We are experts in gauging the sincerity and truth of what we are told. We are sophisticated skeptics in a world of charlatans and politicians."

Scary democracy

[ opinion - january 05 ]

"Here is the worst case: the guys who can drop atomic bombs, the officials in positions of influence and authority in the American government, are demonstrably cuckoo for Christ."

Deth in ye fyre: a defence of More

[ opinion | bookreviews ]

Politics based on taking the Bible literally is destructive of human values, says Joe Palmer, reviewing Brian Moyhahan's splendid 'God's Bestseller'.

American jihad: The banality of violence

[ opinion - september 04 ]

"Why is Iraq more fun than Ohio? Would you rather be in Baghdad or Akron? Quick. Choose."

Chechnya and Tolstoy's Hadji Murad

[ opinion - september 04 ]

"In 1851 Tolstoy went to the Caucasus, where he learned the true story of Hadji Murad, a hero of the new democratic age."

Jews and Druze

[ opinion - july 04 ]

"The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosophers as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful." Gibbon's analysis of Rome still has relevance.

Dobeliou and Caliban

[ opinion - july 04 ]

A lesson in Victorian literature...

Abortion on demand and eugenics

[ opinion - may 04 ]

"Right-to-life advocates say that women are not enlightened enough to make good choices"


[ opinion - march 04 ]

"For what profiteth a man if he know the name of a tree spelled with three letters? Or that a 2x2x2 Rubik's cube has 3,674,160 different configurations?"

Vest and Goose

[ opinion - february 04 ]

"Correctness" is arbitrary, a product of the mind of the listener. I once saw an applicant for a teaching position blackballed because in an interview he pronounced elegiac Ella JAKE instead of Ella JIKE or aLEE Jack.

The Battle of Lepanto

[ opinion - january 04 ]

A history of enmities in the French manner: sujet amené, posé, divisé

A lion's share

[ places - december 03 ]

"A telecommunications center, formerly aboard the USS Mt Whitney, was established at La Meunière, with 800 Marines on stand-by to counter terrorism in Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Yemen. At long last, Djibouti has a source of income."

Viva Papa!; or, Humanism betrayed

[ opinion - october 03 ]

"People have forgotten that it is impossible to derive humane ethical principles from theological premises because reasoning and evidence are necessary to determine what is right or wrong, and religious dogma does not yield physical evidence or logical thinking."

De libero arbitrio et IX/XI - On free will and 9/11

[ opinion - october 03 ]

"This essay is about cultural conditioning, that is, about values that are second nature to us because of the way we live together, and about popular theological arguments at the time of the fall of Rome"

Thesmophoria, not Euphoria

[ places - september 03 ]

From an epithet of Demeter, the earth-goddess [Thesmo-]: casting pigs into chasms, and mixing their decaying flesh with earth to insure fertility.

A funeral In Bangkok

[ places - july 03 ]

"'Yes, whatever happen. And since whatever happen was not meant to be, there is no Fate.' Dean Charoon smiled at his own attempt to argue in a way I understood."

Islamic law and Genghis Khan's code

[ politics | opinion - may 03 ]

"The problem that Genghis Khan had to solve was how to govern his conquered peoples, much as Douglas MacArthur, another single-minded, self-righteous autocrat, had to govern the Japanese after World War II."

Dean Stang

[ places - april 03 ]

"With her little pearl-handled, chrome-plated, .25-calibre pistol she shot him in the left temple. In Thailand they drive left, as in England."

Québec happens

[ places - march 03 ]

Language, dialect and identity in French Canada

Give Kadiddlehopper your axe

[ opinion - november 02 ]

Clem Kadiddlehopper is an American Frankenstein, despised by the 'people who belong' as a grotesque deserving of exclusion. Joe Palmer remembers one.

Higher education

[ fiction - november 02 ]

"'Everybody has his reasons for doing what he does.' That is the truism I discussed with the Reverend Father Alister Cobb for months after we moved to Bailey St in Romeo, Michigan. It is what he called "necessity." You have to do what you have to do. I met him when he was out walking just to take the air, wearing a black cassock, like some Greek monk."

Bull and Harp

[ people - october 02 ]

Thoughts on a a peace-loving arms dealer.

Frequency modulation - memoir & parable

[ places - july 02 ]

"For the people of Canada to achieve social, political, and economic integration and autonomy, a first step was for them to act as if they were superior, free, and rich, like Trudeau himself."

Decker; or, The Klan and I

[ places - july 02 ]

"The Klansmen were my people, safely demonstrating their solidarity among their own kind in uniformed disguise, beating their drums, showing their colors, trying to convince themselves that they were God's avengers."

Queen Lill

[ places - june 02 ]

Lill ran Boston's most expensive bordello until temperance agitators made business as usual impossible...

Pilatus Kulm

[ places - april 02 ]

Climb ev'ry mountain, ford ev'ry stream... On drying-out clinics, and other peaks and troughs of Swiss travel.

Ali Omar, te vediamo, papa

[ places - april 02 ]

An intercessionary presence in Somalia.

The national theater of Somalia

[ places - april 02 ]

"We trained the Somali police force, the Russians trained the Somali army, and the Chinese tried to make themselves creditors by building the National Theater Building in Mogadiscio."

Gorée - a meditation on race and prejudice

[ opinion - april 02 ]

Joe Palmer meditates on race and prejudice.

Watch boys

[ places - april 02 ]

Nomads' children survive precariously in Mogadishu.

Out of Egypt have I called my son

[ places - april 02 ]

"On the floor there were three men in front of the desk. Two of them were apparently wiping their bloody hands on their faces."

Why is America hated?

[ fiction - february 02 ]

"My uncle Sam Purcell drove his old Volvo up the wall of the Whiskey Trench Expressway next to Seagram's Distillery in Montreal on New Year's Day last year. No, he hadn't been drinking. He was, like many creative people, allergic to alcohol. A heart attack, maybe."

Mexican Hallowe'en

[ places - january 70 ]

What do you feel in your mouth/All red and anxious?/It's the taste of my big skull