Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Vision Thing

Bill Clinton had his popularity balloon punctured this week for attacking Barack Obama's ability to galvanize audiences by infusing them with hope--hope being, you know, that flimsy thing with feathers. Obama's drastic fits of hope have infuriated Clinton, quite literally making his skin twitch, because Clinton considers Obama's hope-filled dreams to be pie-in-the-sky whimsy, a flat-out denial of the catastrophic realities confronting us. Vision, both Clintons claimed from their tandem bicycle, is fine as far as it goes, but vision stops short of actually getting things done. It took an experienced president, Lyndon Johnson, to put into law the "dream" of Martin Luther King, Hillary chimed in, tragically managing to shoot herself in the foot, in what may yet prove to be a lethal, if self-inflicted, wound.

As if in direct response to these perturbations in the electoral college, Ted Kennedy (and his niece Caroline) came out simultaneously with their big endorsement of Barack Obama--precisely because he IS so inspirational and speaks directly to the best we can be, and to our highest aspirations as a country, by seeming to rise above the deforming effects of many of our cultural pathologies. Obama's "vision thing", it seems, is about recapturing a positive identity for America, which has been in the grip of what the German philosopher Hegel called "negative identity" for some considerable time now--defined as, the process of creating an identity for yourself by having an enemy who you are against.

My eyes were opened to this distinction--and to just how much, as a country, we have been in the grip of "negative identity"--while reading a recently published book, called "Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire" by Morris Berman. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Berman claims it was inevitable that when the Berlin Wall fell, signaling the end of the Cold War, we were suddenly stripped of our identity as "anti-Communists," which created a void and left us stuck with only our humdrum identity as "consumers" all during the Clinton years, a distinction that somehow lacks any grand mythological appeal. However, with the collapse of the USSR, it had also become obvious that only one superpower remained standing: "toys are us."

Enter the right-wing, neo-conservative "junta," (consisting of Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld et al.); their "vision thing" was to see to it that America would have no rivals in the next century and that no other nation would ever become a great power. Their Big Idea was world hegemony, otherwise known as "Full Spectral Dominance." The previous foreign policy of "containment" that had largely underpinned the Cold War was ditched, to be replaced by notions of preemptive war and "regime change," as the sublime tools for fulfilling the vision of America as an empire with complete global hegemony. (This became known as the "Bush Doctrine.") The intention was to remake the entire planet in our image. And if, as Berman writes, "a country should, for some unimaginable reason, disagree, well, what else is the U.S. military for?"

September 11th became the unexpected opening for the neoconservative crowd to press into action with their agenda of a new American empire of world domination. All this has been, in Berman's words, "a gradual turn toward a Dark Age" for America, achieved through a slow-motion coup d'etat that would, in the process, hopefully transform U.S. democracy into a one-party system and a theocratic plutocracy.

Hail to the Chief! The blow-back of our foreign policies over many decades of American militarism has finally come home to roost in the form of terrorism. It's an enemy, says Berman, that we cannot defeat because it is, strictly speaking, not an enemy, but rather a technique--the only weapon available to those who object to the violence of American empire and how it impacts them.

"What it would take now," he states, "to pull back from the edge, let alone reverse course, requires a grace, a flexibility, and an imagination that I suspect we simply don't possess."

When Berman wrote those words, there was no Barack Obama to be seen riding the escalator of ambition, no blueprint for change in the sky visible in our political destiny. There was no sign of America's last chance to still pull back from the deadly scenario of "negative identity," in which our country has morphed into a monster in the rest of the world's eyes. As it happens, I definitely agree with Berman: we will not get another chance.

So, anybody who thinks this election is somehow about race, or about gender, is sadly mistaken. What it is really about is America's one and only last chance.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Winning or Not Winning?

In today's HuffingtonPost, Rep, Mark Udall, who has just come back from a 3-day visit to Afghanistan and is commenting about present conditions there, claims that things are getting worse:

"I just returned from Afghanistan. It's a land like none other, and the stakes of our efforts there could not be higher. It's a country graced with remarkable snow-capped mountains reminiscent of the Colorado Rockies, but ravaged by levels of turmoil and poverty almost unthinkable to the average American.

I spent no more than 36 hours in the country, but having only slept a few hours in a retrofit shipping container on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, I managed to visit several areas of the country...If there is a message I want to convey, it is that we cannot allow the Taliban or Al Qaeda to defeat us in this part of the world.

The American people understand who attacked us on 9-11. They also understand that after nearly 7 years we still haven't fully defeated the Taliban, or Al Qaeda and we haven't eliminated Osama bin Laden. Finishing those jobs are critical, and we have to get them done.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are the true central front of the fight against Islamic terrorism and I believe the U.S. needs to do more to counter growing instability in those countries. However, I am deeply concerned that the Bush Administration's focus on nation-building in Iraq has led us to neglect nation-building in Afghanistan.

I opposed the war in Iraq in part, because I was worried that this would happen -- and my fears have borne out. We are not losing in Afghanistan, but unless we can secure more resources -- including additional NATO forces -- we could lose ground in this critical part of the world, and the consequences would be disastrous."

One of many readers responding to his blog comments:

"If we hadn't spent 17 years using Afghanistan for target practice, maybe it wouldn't be such a mess. Maybe the U.S. needs to get out of Afghanistan and stop "helping" them. Since our help leads to so much misery, death and destruction....

As for nation building, I'd like to nominate the United States to be next for consideration. If the federal government is looking around for a project, I suggest they start here, right in their own backyard. We've lost millions of jobs. Millions more are losing their homes. We can't pay the bills. We're broke. Our leadership is corrupt and our people are hopeless. Any ideas?"

According to official assessments, we have been "winning" in Afghanistan, so it is a real inconvenience to find out that the Taliban are ominously returning. And, according to "surge" supporters like John McCain and President Bush and General Petraeus, experts all, we are also now "winning" in Iraq. But are we really? Or, have the insurgents who have fled Baghdad merely regrouped again in Mosul, an unstanchable flow? Maybe they aren't the same insurgents, or maybe they are--who knows? The important thing is that we maintain the pretense that we are winning. We have, after all, a message to give away. With so much surface discontinuity, utterances of winning become objects, laid end to end, to persuade a dubious public. Utterances of winning are reassuring. But are they true? How elusive, how mercurial, is this matter of "winning" anyway? As Joseph Palermo states (also in a HuffPost commentary from last week):

"Those who claim the United States is "winning" in Iraq must define exactly what they mean by "winning." Does "win" mean we have a pro-U.S. government successfully running Baghdad without American military assistance? Or does "winning" mean the U.S. stays in Iraq until 2018 or 2025 or 2085 or longer? Or does "winning" mean the Iraqis accomplish some form of lasting "reconciliation" among the various political, tribal, religious, ethnic, and class factions? Or does "winning" simply mean that more Iraqis die in the fighting than Americans? What exactly has the United State accomplished in Iraq? In other words, I wonder what... the U.S. has gotten for all of those taxpayer billions and American lives thrown at that country....

All of the Republican presidential candidates who advocate continuing the occupation of Iraq must define for the American people what their idea of "winning" means. The current status quo in Iraq could lumber along in the form of what we used to call "low intensity conflict" for decades or even centuries."

My own humble opinion happens to be that the United States is not "winning" anything, anywhere. It is slowly bleeding itself to death. We continue to fight a military war with an enemy that has the upper hand strategically, and manages to outwit us every time. (President Bush recently toured the Middle East on a so-called "peace-making" mission, which he used basically as an opportunity to badmouth Iran, the country he most would like to start his next war with.) In all of these confusing, opposing, and mostly illegible Middle Eastern situations, it seems like the "big picture" is always missing, and the underlying issues are neither explored, explained, nor understood. To be able to assess, or begin to understand , who is really winning this war, how many people, if asked, would be able answer any of the following questions?

Are the societies that resent the West conditioned to do so, or is it a freely developed attitude? Is Islamic resentment deeply cultural, politically triggered by events, or is it constructed by an ideology? Are jihadis building an enmity towards the West that is irreversible? What would we need to do to reverse this enmity? Are the majority of Muslims trusting or fearful of the jihadist forces in their midst? Do they feel a need to reject democratic processes because they are being engineered and imposed by the U.S. government? How is it that every time voters hurry to democratic elections in these countries, given the chance, they mainly vote for Islamist party leaders who are not supportive of democracy?

Anybody who can answer these questions gets a free lunch with me and Virgil.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Conversational Art

One of the sweetest components of my life these days is "salon." On the third Saturday of each month, a dozen or so people gather at my house for food and wine, followed by several hours of what we have come to believe is enlightened conversation. Whatever we talk about is never by any pre-planned agenda, for there is none. Yet we seem to have developed an ongoing network of themes, a narrative of sorts, that so far, at least, has never failed to launch into something as fabulous as it is fortuitous.

The original premise was that people need and want a place to talk seriously about what is on their minds: things such as the imperilled state of the world, which has become like a person diagnosed with a fatal illness; the war with radical Islam; the future direction of our lives; and how to be relevant in dire times.

It was agreed from the beginning that the most provocative issues are often eclipsed by the daily grind of family preoccupations, work responsibilities, and other personal agendas and pursuits. We decided to look at the big picture, and to view ourselves as improvisational jazz musicians, meeting regularly to make conversational music. Conversational art is quintessentially ecological. It doesn't use resources (except for gas), it doesn't pollute, and it doesn't contribute to the consumer trance. Besides costing nothing, it turns out to be great fun.

In his book "Conversation: A History of a Declining Art," Stephen Miller laments the decline of conversational art in America, which he defines as "a discussion of great and small topics by people who practice mutual tolerance for opposing viewpoints."

"The best conversations," he said in an interview last year in the Utne Reader, "are playful. They go different places, people are throwing out ideas, and no one is pronouncing on things...even disagreement has to be good-humored. The alternative is it gets ugly, and that's unfortunate. Quite often people don't discuss anything because they're afraid of offending--or if they do discuss something they're screaming."

Our group talks a lot about politics and religion and art, but people do not cross talk or scream. They listen well and respectfully. There are never personal attacks. Instead we practice a combination of forthrightness and restraint, and the range of opinions offered is exhilarating.

Last night's meeting was funnier than most. Some of us were laughing so hard we were rolling about. Chico Harkrader, an artist from Roanoke, began reading some paragraphs from an old book he'd acquired in a recent giveaway called "Sexual Personae" by Camille Paglia. I think he was expecting, perhaps, to stimulate talk about sexual politics, a topical subject with regard to the current presidential race. But that conversation never happened. Instead we got derailed by Paglia's ludicrous and incomprehensible prose, becoming intoxicated by the ever accelerating incoherence of what was being read, our laughter skidding more and more out of control.

The book is a name-dropper's Nirvana, full of murky concepts and spitball, anti-feminisht maledictions. We fell into a game, opening to a page at random and reading a sentence at a time out loud.

"I heard those well-aimed jets of laughter falling like loose change in your living room last night," says Virgil with his usual scorching candor, "sticking that poor woman in the middle of nowhere without an alibi or a defense minister--and making short work of those lame, gnat-brained pieces of demagogic doo-doo. Another step in restoring the distorted nervous system of the world to its normal functioning!"

After people left, I Googled "critical reviews for CP" to see what others had made of this egregious nonsense, and I enclose here some extracts of the more interesting responses, which came off of, There were 55 reviews in all. I confess to only having read the first few. The first reviewer--who quotes John Updike, who I think nails it-- seems to have adopted Paglia's own style for her review:

September 3, 2002
In One Ear Out Your Mother (East Brunswick, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
Imagine some monstrous 600-page addenda to *The Birth of Tragedy*, deploying the Apollo vs. Dionysus doublet ad vertiginem, putting the proleptic insights of Pater, Jung, and Frazer to work in new and frightful ways, invoking a faux-Gorgonic eye to peer into the heart of culture High and Low, from empyrean edifice to paganized Pop void, and you'll have a distant impression of this cocky, gumptious, explosive treatise, a book that takes so many risks its grating weaknesses never quite catch up to its prodigal greatness. You just gotta read this.
*Sexual Personae* starts out strong. Its promises are manifold. By the time Paglia is done ravishing us with her visionary Egyptology and impudent synoptic judgements on the failures of feminism to give us an authentic sexual politics, the reader feels primed and whetted for the perilous night journey ahead. For the next 550 pages, however, our expectations are both whippingly indulged and (sigh) left flaccid, limp, and befuddled. Mistress Camille begins to flounder beneath the weight of her gushing, declamatory syntax, pounding and thrashing us with repetition and overemphasis, the voice of an S/M dominatrix sliding mushily into self-parody.
As John Updike soberly put it, "It feels less a survey than a curiously ornate harangue. Her percussive style -- one short declarative sentence after another -- eventually wearies the reader; her diction functions not so much to elicit the secrets of books as to hammer them into submission.... The weary reader longs for the mercy of a qualification, a doubt, a hesitation; there is little sense, in her uncompanionable prose, of exploration occuring before our eyes, of tentative motions of thought reflected in a complex syntax." Paglia throws around the word "chthonic" like Heidegger pimping "Dasein." The Nietzschean parabolic of Apollo vs. Dionysus is often stretched thinner than Calista Flockhart fed through a saltwater taffy dispenser. But when Paglia is good, she's good. When fiery intellectual hubris finds its phantom gemini in the anguished erotic gravity of high art and literature (even when this gravity seems a willful projection of the critic's own manic preconceptions), the book simply rocks.
... "One author after another is made to confess to sexual crossover, androgyny, and sadomasochism" (Updike, 607). For better or worse, her Nietzschean cold-water brutality keeps things grounded in the Freudian mother-earth we thought we'd deconstructed into oblivion, returning us to a dark, punishing realm of synoptic deities who tear men's lives to shreds without batting an eyelash, sending the phallic ego on greased skids to Hell while maintaining their crystalline serenity. Like the dark heart of a jewel, the gods refract all light as we transients of the flesh go down to feed the worm.
Some of Paglia's paragraphs are (more or less) "chthonic" mush, an attempt to forcefeed her pet metaphors of sexual neurosis down the throats of younger readers eager for snappy punchlines and all the deferential sloganizing of feckless guru-worship. But just as often her quicksilver intellect hits us pleasurably below the belt, leaving the reader shaken and transfigured by a powerful, exotic cinema of the spirit, forcing us to rethink our whole battery of preconceptions on every artist and work under discussion.
*Sexual Personae* churns and rumbles with this sort of audacity, shifting breakneck from meticulous, careful scholarship to wild conjecture and enthralling hearsay (often in the same paragraph) without so much as a by-your-leave, transfused with a fluid comedic irony that kept this reader chuckling softly to himself throughout. Paglia takes no prisoners. Her egotism is as caustic as it is unrepentant, as bludgeoning as it is cranky, as penetrating as it is monomanical. She polarizes her audience. At her strongest and most original, you either love her or hate her. I won't even try to compete with the wonderful media caricatures that have fulminated in the wake of her celebrity. This philosophic maneater knows all too well the sexual persona she has created for herself, the lesbian-vampire renegade academic deploying pungent barbs of wit from her sniper's nest at the University of Arts in Philadelphia. And when she hits her mark, that goon squad of poseurs, bureaucrats, pomo fiends, and power-obsessed Foucauldian politickers that saturate Academe seem to wilt into irrelevance when propped toe-to-toe against her loud, dismissive, polemical swath.
Despite its many hokey allegations, its fatuous overreadings, its easy-to-parody voice, its argumentative forcefeeding, and its jarring repetitions and overblown pretentions, *Sexual Personae* is a book I recommend to virtually everyone I meet. Just to see their reaction. To provoke a new, headier form of dialogue, a post-Freudian genital vernacular sashaying its way past crotchety feminist tightwads who cheerfully ignore human biology by trying to eunuchize that hoary "patriarchal" beast of art-producing obsessiveness. And, hopefully, a good cathartic guffaw every few pages or so. Not of condescension, but rather pure sensual joy of steamy, immoderate, intellectual conversation. For beneath it all, Paglia is a fork-tongued raconteur and comedienne of the Oscar Wilde school for tarts, an irresistable stud-leather vixen bringing the bullwhip of her sass down on our goosepimpled backsides.
So don't be a prig. Go get some.

An Erotics of Art, February 1, 2007
R. mangum - See all my reviews

...Paglia's criticism is at her best here in her chapter on Emily Dickenson, whom she calls "Madame de Sade", and who seems to have been misunderstood even by her admirers for over a hundred years. This is the book's final chapter, and it is so incisive and revelatory that it makes "deconstructive" criticism look like bloated, impotent sophistry.

Now that this book has been around for almost 20 years, it is possible to assess it. In my humble opinion, it mistaken in most of its arguments, but a lot of fun to read. Remember folks, "the duty of the critic is not to be right or wrong, but rather, interesting." Buy a used copy and live it up.

Anyone who gets to the part about the "gigantic sexual molecule with a female center" and still gives the book a bad review has no soul.

Men like porn, December 21, 2005
Negombo "Lo" (Earth) - See all my reviews
and of course they would LOVE a woman who said porn was OK.

My experience dealing with lesbians like Paglia is they tend to jump on whatever side is more powerful because of their obsessive need to lord it over someone. What better way than to side with men, label their primitive sex and aggression instincts as something positive which does not need to be bridled, and to top it off, label them as "victims" of "female oppression" which has attempted to supress and "civilize" those instincts. In her little mind, rape is OK because it's natural for males to be aggressive, sex obsessed and violent. And women should just deal with it.

I do deal with it. That's why I've got a 9mm Glock.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Defining Moments

"Defining moment" seems to be a recurrent theme in the election news. First, the surprise when Obama took Iowa (he was not expecting it), and second, when Clinton won New Hampshire (she was not expecting it either). Now, instead of a coronation, as someone pointed out, we have a good race to the finish, and may the best candidate win.

So what constitutes a "defining moment"? I've been thinking about this a bit, and came up with one of my own, in response to an invitation to submit a short essay for the Point of View column in Orion magazine. A key component seems to be: something happens you were not expecting to happen, and it changes things in that moment, permitting you to view things differently-- forever. As you know, I enjoy tracking good synchronicities. Defining moments are worth the hunt as well, so if you have a good one of your own to share, do let me know!

If it is possible for someone to pinpoint a defining moment when something in one’s life changed, this was certainly mine. Shortly after having published, in l984, a provocative book of cultural criticism about art’s role in society, Has Modernism Failed?, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on “The Moral Imperative in Art.” Anybody who knows about the history of modernism will be aware that the “object-centered” aesthetics of that time, and the “white-cube” paradigm of galleries, museums, and auction houses, do not easily lend themselves to any obvious consideration of where spiritual or moral values fit in. I remember feeling extremely nervous about how to address such an unlikely topic. I belonged to an art world whose entire infrastructure is based upon product marketing and self-promotion, not on being responsive to social or environmental conditions in the world at large.
It was Christmas break, I had only a few weeks left in which to compose my talk, and I was still stymied—when the universe intervened. A package arrived in the mail from a friend in Santa Fe, Dominique Mazeaud, containing a manuscript she was writing entitled Riveries. It was a diary account of an art project, in which my friend described how she ritually went to the Rio Grande River once a month, armed with garbage bags (donated by the city), and cleaned pollution out of the river. (She did this for seven years.)

It was not just the undertaking itself that moved me. When I read the descriptions of what she felt while engaging in this activity, I wept. What I saw was the possibility for a whole new spiritual and ethical template, with a potential for changing product-oriented art at its roots. Later on, I called it “connective aesthetics.”

“Yes, I see what I am doing as a way of praying:

Picking up a can

From the river

And then another

On and on

It’s like a devotee

Doing countless rosaries…

How many times did I wonder about the persons who hurl the beer bottles down the rocks…trying to imagine what went into this action?...Just as I could no longer walk on trashed river banks without doing something about it, I could no longer be there without transposing my witnessing into some form that people could share. That day I started my “riveries.” …Two more huge bags I could hardly carry to the cans. I don’t count any more…I don’t announce my “art for the earth” in the papers either…All alone in the river, I pray and pick up, pick up and pray.”

I still weep, years later, when I re-read these words, slivers of artistic defiance that exert no influence on the larger culture, because they have no commercial value. Art premised on empathy rather than on mastery—art in which aesthetics does not meld well with economics—still gets a bad rap in the art establishment, which is not happy when there is nothing to sell. Other presenters at the conference, important artists, critics, and curators, all seemed to make the same unblinking case—namely, that there is no moral imperative in art, because for art to play a useful or moral role would make it a tool, no longer a valuable end in itself. The only moral imperative for artists was to be dedicated to making the best art they could, a philosophy well summed up in this comment by sculptor Louise Nevelson: “If they blow [the world] up, that’s not my business. My business is to work.”

As next-to-the-last speaker at the conference, I knew I was in trouble with what I was about to do: make the case that art can actually be used to solve social and environmental problems, rather than focusing solely on aesthetic ones. When I read out loud that day from my friend’s diary, I expected at best to receive some half-hearted, spotty applause in response. What came back instead was a standing ovation. That was a defining moment for me, in terms of the future direction of my life as a writer, and a champion of art with a moral purpose.

The sorry truth even now, when the very survival of the human race is in question, is that not much has changed in the turbocharged art world: the whole system radiates indifference. It continues to lunge forward with kangaroo speed along the same market-driven parameters, clutching at originality, without any moral imperative at all.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Colleen's Poem/Bush's Peace Talks

My friend and fellow blogger, Colleen Redman, of "Woof!Woof!" fame, recently sent me the following poem, which as she explains in the opening paragraph, was written shortly before we invaded Iraq. The poem blew me away when I read it, as if it had been composed just yesterday, and so I asked her permission to post it here. This week our president is on tour "waging peace" in the Middle East. It seems that the Arab press is having a hard time taking taking Bush's peace overtures seriously, something about the joke having gone wrong and his inability to grasp the basic hydraulics of Islam; but, they are noticing the way he repeats the same phrases over and over again, completely unaware of the world that he drags along in his slipstream. As for the poem, the strongest praise I can offer is that I wish I had written it.

Dream for President Bush

The following was written as a spoken word poem in November, 2002, before the US invaded Iraq. It was an emotional and cathartic outpouring of expression which took place over course of a three day solo retreat in a cabin at Fairystone Park in Stuart, Virginia. Later, it was read at several Peace Rallies, open mic poetry readings, and for a cable show in Hull, Massachusetts, where I grew up. It was also passed out at the October 2002 and January 2003 Peace Marches on Washington, and was handed directly to Representative Cynthia Mckinney and actress Jessica Lange. It’s being reprinted at the request of readers who encouraged me to after I posted a few excerpts in an entry about a recent Spoken Word event in which it was read. Colleen Redman

I want President Bush to have a dream
like the one that Ebenezer Scrooge had
I want him to be visited by the ghosts of Iraqi children
who cry out, "But mankind was your business"

I want all the Tiny Tims of the world
to get their 401k money back
from the white collar criminals who stole it

I want them to not go to war for oil,
good ratings, or weapon sale quotas
because this white collar mafia is in power

I wish President Bush would have an affair
I wish he'd take off his black pointed cowboy boots
and look at the moon more often

And then I wish he'd wake up
and be inflicted with what Jim Carey had
in the movie "Liar Liar"

I wish all the billboards across the country read:
"Give back the votes your brother stole"
and the poets would shout from every street corner,
"The emperor wears no clothes"

I want his mouth washed out with soap
every time he says "weapons of mass destruction"
and for him to wear a Darth Vader helmet
if he ever says "the axis of evil" again

I hope President Bush looks out his White House window
when we descend on Washington marching for peace
like hordes of starlings who know their way home
because it is in their nature

I want President Bush to have a dream
like the one that Martin Luther King had
I want him to be visited by the ghosts of King,
John Lennon, Paul Wellstone, and the Kennedys

I want the New York Times to cover the story
when his mother scolds him for being a bully
I hope he gets some Gi Joes for Christmas
and starts to play with real toys
and not with real people

I think President Bush should go back to school
and look up some words in the dictionary
or study history - like the Roman Empire
I'd like him to write on the blackboard 100 times,
"I will not promote propaganda - or the far right agenda"
" I will not join gangs"

I want President Bush to be haunted
by the ghosts of our Founding Fathers
until he learns this lesson:
that killing civilians is a terrorist act
and pre-emptive strike is invasion

I want him to break out in song
at his next Address to the Nation
singing "Give Peace a Chance" is all we are saying
and "We Shall Overcome"

I want President Bush to have an epiphany
or else I want him gone
I want Americans to say "yes" when the polls ask,
"Should regime change begin at home?"

And I want him to stop shouting "Fire!" in the theater
when he is the one with the matches
I want him to care about children
more than slogans and re-elections

If President Bush doesn't have a real dream soon
he should step aside for those who do
He should impeach himself
and ask for forgiveness
for imposing his nightmare on the world

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Alligators can't vote in U.S. elections, not even enlightened ones, but Virgil and I both agree: Obama is now riding the crest of an unstoppable wave. For a long time, I was personally wary of Obama's rock-star persona, even though it is complemented and offset by a brilliant, laser-like intelligence. Watching him grow into his potential as a world leader over these many months, my skepticism has waned, and my excitement is on the rise, along with the rest of America. Obama doesn't lead with ego, but with passion, candor, and integrity. Without realizing it consciously, I think that is part of what the country is responding to: the fact that he is cut from a more transpersonal cloth, of the likes of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and the Kennedy brothers, embodying, as they did, the world's most evolved human possibilities for a better tomorrow.

But Obama is not all vision and hope either. He alone among the candidates sees the acute danger emanating from Waziristan, the ungoverned tribal area on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and how the regrouping of Taliban and Al Qaeda forces there needs to be seriously addressed. Obama reiterated that he would consider going in there militarily, even without Musharraf's permission, although he would certainly try diplomacy to gain his support first. When confronted by a reporter as to whether he was not, then, in favor of GWB's policy of preemptive war, he was quick to respond that this was neither comparable nor preemptive. These are the same people who attacked us, he said, and they are not part of any legitimately recognized country. More importantly, they continue to plot against us and wish us serious harm. Bush, on the other hand, embarked on an oil war under false pretenses, against a country that had not attacked us. I'm hoping if/when Obama wins, he will (a) pick Bill Richardson for his VP or Secretary of State, and that (b) he will not be killed like his forerunners.

But I do feel sorry for Hillary Clinton. She would probably make a good president, too, but this time America really does want CHANGE and with her long history, there is no way she can transform herself into the symbol of that. Below are excerpts from a couple of commentaries off the HuffingtonPost.

[James Moore]

The problem for everyone other than Obama is that they are all telling us how bad the world is and how much danger we face and how only they are qualified to protect us. This is a kind of K-Mart version of Bush's entire administration and Hillary sells it with as much fervor as does Rudy G.

Obama makes us think it is possible to solve problems without guns. He is giving boomers and their babies and the babies of their babies a reason to look forward with longing instead of backwards with fear. If he is elected, it will be, in part, a reaction that says to the rest of the planet that we are the exact opposite of what you have seen in the past eight years and that we let slip the grasp of our government and leadership but things have changed and we will now be the America everyone expects.

Karl Rove's dream was to establish a political hegemony. I think he is about to accomplish his goal.

But not for his party.

[Jon Robin Baitz]

Well. Voters know what the fire this time looks like: They are thirsty for intellect unfettered by compass-watching-perpetual caution. That alone draws them to Obama.

They are voracious for a passionate and credible communicator; that too, points them towards Obama.

They crave a new model, a new kind of American, who somehow is not redolent of the old and shop-worn language of the past. That craving brings them in a straight and inexorable line right to Obama.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Icecapade and Alligators Galore!

I write this as one year has ended, and a new one begins. And after many holiday festivities, with gifts given and received. The irrepressible Virgil, my blogging assistant and muse, received his share of presents, too, so we acquired some new alligator relatives, extending our already large alligator family. The first was a pale green (imitation) jade alligator brought back from China by Hank and John, who came up from Boone to deliver it.

"Is this your father?" I ask Virgil, just to get the ball rolling.
He shakes his head. "I don't know who that is."

Then there was the Rolls Royce of alligators with a raffish leer, a white replica of its living albino counterpart in the Audubon Aquarium, brought back by Jane from New Orleans. And last night, Eileen pressed a small bronze alligator into my palm when we met for New Year's Eve dinner at India Garden.

Now all the alligators huddle together on my kitchen counter, sleeping against each other as alligators sometimes do. "It's the triumph of a niche culture," says Virgil.

Meanwhile, as we were busy partying, Pakistan was in flames over the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, and Greenland was melting. I think I first fell in love with Greenland when I read Gretel Ehrlich's "This Cold Heaven" a few years ago. I just couldn't get enough of her descriptions of sea-ice, polar nights, spring snow melts, calving glaciers, and suns at midnight. Ehrlich has performed one of those magical feats of writing (rather like Cormac McCarthy in "The Road") which makes you feel like you are right there, and part of the scene. I could even smell her dinners of curried seal and rice, see the long shadows like sharks' teeth cast by the icebergs outside her window, hear the sled dogs tethered by long chains barking endlessly into the black night. When I was really sick a few years ago and reading her book, I would hang out with Ehrlich, reclining on a reindeer skin, bundled up in sealskin pants and fox-fur trimmed anorak, sharp bits of ice flying in my face as we rattled along together on a sled, hunting for polar bears and seals. She was my inspiration.

Ehrlich first traveled to Greenland in the summer of 1993, after which she was so smitten she went back every year for the next seven years. Greenland is the largest island in the world, and ninety-five percent of its surface is ice. Now Greenland's ice sheet is melting--recently at a rate of fifteen percent more than the usual summer melt, and quadruple the amount that melted fifteen years ago, according to satellite data released not long ago by NASA. If Greenland's ice were ever to completely melt, it could add twenty-two feet to the world's sea level.

People are going to the Arctic and the Antarctic these days in droves, to see the ice caps before they disappear: it's the latest offshoot of "disaster capitalism." The travel industry has cashed in with its own sub-industry of "doom tourism," specifically targeting destinations that are destined to suffer the devastating effects of global warming. Boatloads of artists, teachers, journalists, and scientists can be found cruising the icy waters to study the effects of climate change. One artist traveling on board the Schooner Noorderlicht recently observed, "If we have learned anything on this expedition, it is that the forces that will be released against us will not be manageable."

How do you stop an iceberg from melting? What if this is the way it is, beyond all the palliative technologies we might invent, and the therapeutic constructs?

"Well," offers Virgil with a smile, "I reckon it's all bridge under the water from here on out. So either you are very post-postmodern about it and maintain a philosophically respectable depression, or maybe you can take up surfing like a Babylonian seal. You could enter the new world as an amphibian and discover the lost meaning of all that. Or, you might try to attain the condition of music. A world that no longer sustains human life may be in the making, but alligators could continue on just as they have after the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. Of course, if all else fails, as a last resort, you could always marry me. Like Saint Francis, we could find a cicada, and then sing to each other."

I can't help smiling back at Virgil, who on New Year's day is sporting a homemade snood made from a supermarket onion bag.