Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Power of Words

A few days ago i was having tea, and then a glass of wine, in my house with a friend who was visiting. i was telling her about my sense that Barack Obama manifests (to me) some of the hidden powers of a taoist master--something like those martial-arts guys who can just look at you, and suddenly you are flying across the room. Many Obama supporters are worried about him being shredded by the Republican slime machine, but I'm not.

I remember some rare film footage I once saw of Zen monks practicing the art of archery, dodging the rapid fire of huge arrows aimed straight at their hearts. They simply shifted their bodies slightly to the left or to the right so the arrows whizzed right past them, consistently missing their target. Obama, I tell my friend, is a bit like that. I was trying to illustrate the subtle deftness I was talking about, and without realizing it, sat up straight in my chair, shifting my head a few millimeters to the left, when suddenly at that precise moment, there was a loud CRACK. What on earth was that? I said to my friend, slightly freaked. It turned out to be my glass of wine, which was sitting nearby on a table. The glass had split in two, for no explicable reason.

My friend was dumbfounded. She reported that just before it happened, my face had changed, and it was as if I was suddenly a conduit for the power I was trying to describe.

So much for the magic power of words! Arianna Huffington did her own bit of juijitsu on her blog this week, in the astute way she threw Hillary over her shoulder for ragging on about how Obama is little more than a "shallow speechifier." First Huffington quoted Hillary's comments on Obama in some of her recent stump speeches:

"I could stand up here and say 'Let's just get everybody together. Let's get unified. The sky will open! The light will come down! Celestial choirs will be singing! And everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect!' Maybe I've just lived a little long, but I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be. You are not going to wave a magic wand and have the special interests disappear!"
Last week it was: "Speeches don't put food on the table. Speeches don't fill up your tank, or fill your prescription, or do anything about that stack of bills."

And then Arianna came in for the kill:

"Now, I agree with Clinton that it's important to look at how each of the Democratic candidates uses words and how rhetoric fits into how they've run their respective campaigns. And if you do, you'll see that one candidate does believe that words are like a magic wand: you utter them and reality changes. But it's not Barack Obama -- it's Hillary Clinton.

"Clinton's use of words is disturbingly reminiscent of the way the Bush administration has used words: just saying something is true is magically supposed to make it true. Call it Presto-change-o Politics.

"The examples are so notorious they hardly bear repeating: "mission accomplished," "heckuva job," "last throes," the endless "turning the corner" in Iraq. They were all said with the arrogant belief that merely saying these words was all that was needed: reality would literally change to fit the rhetoric...Meanwhile, as the Clinton campaign was busy trying to use words to push the idea that losing is actually winning (you know, just like in Iraq), the Obama campaign was actually winning votes. To the extent that anything in a campaign is real, it doesn't get any more real than actual votes."

Obama, she continued, "uses words to persuade, to mobilize and to get people to imagine that reality can be changed. And based on how his campaign has been run, on the ground, in state after state, it's clear that he knows changing reality is not done through magic -- it's done through hard work. It is Clinton who uses words to deny reality, and expects them to magically change it. Haven't we had enough of that over the last seven years?"

John McCain was also seen waving his magic wand of words this week, when he called a press conference for 7 a.m. on the morning after the New York Times broke a story about his questionable relationship with a female lobbyist some years ago. To every question a reporter put to him, McCain made the same, simple, wooden denial: "No. I did not." You might even have believed him as long as you weren't paying attention to his petulant, crafty eyes and his ghostly pallor. But lying wasn't even the crime in point. The real offense for me was when McCain (and later on, his campaign manager) declared, in any subsequent mention of the allegations by other members of the media, that the matter had already been dealt with. It is over (because I say it is over). There is nothing more to discuss. This, to me, was vintage waving of the magic wand of words. And, as Arianna said: haven't we had enough of that over the last seven years?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Selling Snake Oil??

I got my knickers in a twist the other day reading an article in my local paper by one of the Roanoke Times' more dimwitted columnists, Cal Thomas, who flat-out stated that "Obama cannot deliver...He is selling snake oil."

You wish! I thought. Thomas further declared Obama as "untested in battle" (what does he think a political "campaign" is, if not a battle?) and accused him of making people feel good (maybe grounds for future impeachment?). Somehow it all reminded me of the days when Marcel Duchamp exhibited a found urinal at the New York Armory, and was severely criticized for it's being "not art." But then, the sculpture went on to make history by opening up a richness of inventive possibility that had not been available in art before; eventually the urinal became the most expensive and coveted example of "snake oil" ever known to mankind. It should be stated that Duchamp's reputation has far outlived and outdistanced that of his critics.

I'm not ready to accept that Barack Obama is somehow a cure-all for all that ails this country, or that he will be a bulwark against the real possibility that humanity could soon become extinct. We all know that toothpaste cannot be put back in the tube. But perhaps what he can do is begin to reverse a modicum of the damage done by Bush-Cheney & Co., restoring something of America's honor and respected place in the world.

To my mind, the biggest plus that Obama brings to the table is an unfevered brain. That is to say, God help us, he's "just not that into" the whole political kabuki of global hegemony; he isn't itching for preeminence and full-spectrum dominance. Obama manifests no need to be seen as the giant that attacks other countries preemptively. With any luck, he won't mindlessly ratchet up the violence or run roughshod over everything from international law to the U.S. constitution. He won't lead by defiant vetoes, or fill the air waves with ideas about being strong or weak, winning or losing. Nor will he set his sights on raiding the world for its raw materials. This man has the beauty of both complexity and grandeur. He will not kick sand in anybody's face.

Sooo, eat your heart out, Cal. You'd better surrender, Dorothy, because you're out of your depth. You ain't seen nothin' yet. A beacon of self-possession, Barack Obama is not flushable. After nearly eight years of obtuse Bush and dislikable Cheney, the hearts of the American people fell to the ground and they could not lift them up again. If, by some miracle of grace, a person has appeared who can help them to lift up their hearts again, then I say: no wonder the country is positively fizzing with excitement. Why wouldn't they be?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Valentine Flashers Infiltrate Nivea Event

This is a follow-up report of the event I blogged about in "My Funny Valentine" last week-- a guerilla-style protest of the Iraq War, which was staged on Valentine's Day at the U.S. military recruitment center in Times Square by a group called Artists Against the War:

"Roughly 100 people came out in the cold last night. At the peak a line
of Grannies, Artists Against the War demonstrators and associates stood against the recruiting
station holding the Broken Hearts posters. Others held them up to the
passing traffic. The rest milled around talking to passerbys and
handing out hundreds of Broken Hearts postcards ...many people were
sympathetic, there were foreign tourists who seemed to either be with
us or baffled. The least sympathetic were the two head security people
for Nivea. Nivea had rented the northern tip of the "recruiting"
triangle for promotion of their skin care products in a picket -fenced
"Garden of Love." Those hostile security people made it quite clear
that our signs were not welcome in the Garden and they were obviously
not happy to have our assembly so close to their blissful enclosure.

Joyce and I decided to see if we could sneak the signs in, as once in
the Garden we would have the opportunity to have our poster-holding
image on the giant screen over Times Square (rented for further Nivea promotion.)
We put the signs under our coats and waited on line. After a while we
reached a lovely white wooden swing amidst the artificial flowers and arranged
ourselves in front of the camera, Nivea-given white roses in our teeth.
When the camera person said ready, we opened our jackets and expected
to be tossed out of Eden. Instead the photographer was either in
agreement or not comprehending because she asked us
to adjust the posters so that they would be more visible and minutes
later our images were projected over Times Square.

The hand dyeing didn't quite happen, the dye wasn't strong enough to
really dye skin, plus it was too cold to keep one's gloves off but I
still think it is a good idea and plan to do this as a way of making
people ask questions and further promoting March 19th. Olive Ayhens painted
hers with red acrylic before coming, and that worked better."

elise engler

When I asked my New York friend Alison Armstrong if she had ended up participating in the event, she sent me a few random impressions, suggesting it was something of a fizzle:

"I was a bit
disillusioned--no tear gas,
no press, the police were very laid back and
sweet and polite--in fact it seemed nobody took
any notice... I just got
cold, there were not enuff posters, rang the
doorbells of the army recruiting station that we
were picketing and asked some young officer
dripping with gold medals if he had a brochure
with the text from the lighted billboard above
the door that kept talking about "strength the
army way," but he didn't even seem to know what it
was saying. I thought privately that it was a
bizarre contrast to/or in accord with all the
obscene light billboard ads in the rest of Times

Perhaps the symbol of the broken heart they created will somehow take on a life of its own and become an instrument of new knowledge. Certainly as symbols go, it more than succeeds as an embodiment of powerful feelings with regard to the Iraq war.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sleeping with the Bogeyman

The narrative of my dialogues with author Morris Berman seems to have taken a perplexing turn. In one recent exchange I had asked what he thought we should be doing, given that we had backed ourselves into a corner in Iraq, and there were no good options left. I resonated deeply with his response--that we should be doing exactly the opposite of what we are doing, i.e. apologizing to the Islamic world for all the harm we have inflicted and offering restitution --because this is exactly what I feel too.

I was prompted at that point to send him an essay of mine, one written in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I was trying in my own way to make sense of what had happened to our country on that day. The essay contained several readings I did at the time from the I Ching, and as I explained then, whenever a difficult situation arises requiring a series of correct choices, I often find myself consulting the I Ching, an ancient Chinese Book of Changes that Jung famously used for over thirty years to gain insight and spiritual guidance. Jung considered that when he consulted the I Ching, it was as if a live voice were speaking to him and giving answers. Many people (as I wrote in the essay) might consider that it is intellectually primitive to believe the world is infused with a spiritual presence that is communicating with you and guiding you in some conscious, intelligent way. Indeed, contemporary culture is maintained by convincing us that nothing is out there. But this has not been my experience. Over many years of using the I Ching, I have found it to be an inexplicably reliable guide for creating changes in consciousness that separate me from my habitual reactions. When I threw the coins that day asking for some enlightenment about the meaning of the 9/11 attack, I got the hexagram of “Modesty,” with the following added line at the top:

"Chastising the capital city indeed. Punishing expedition, a rectifying move. To be in accord with the time, you are told to be humble. It is favorable to set armies marching to chastise one’s own city and one’s own country. When enmity arises nothing is easier than to lay the blame on another. Only through having the courage to marshall one's armies against oneself, will something forceful really be achieved. Modesty does not allow for anger, self-righteousness, pride, or self-pity. The superior person stands guard against his own inferior elements. The time calls for self-discipline. Do not place the blame on others. Do not indulge in extremes of any sort. Be modest about your part in the process."

I was completely unprepared for Berman's response--virtually ridiculing my use of this ancient Chinese wisdom text for information in such a context. I had mistakenly thought he would find it interesting that the I Ching was so prescient about what he himself refers to in "Dark Ages America" as "the roads not taken." Obviously at the time, the U.S. did not choose (not then, not now) to look into its own provocative foreign policy actions that had led up to the catastrophic strike on the WTC by suicide bombers. Instead we forged ahead into angry, self-righteous, and prideful retaliation. Berman responded:

"As for the Ching: what voice do you think it's channeling, exactly? There's some cosmic database out there, the Akashic records? Yer serious? Are we really going to start believing in oracles as reliable guides to the future? You probably would have thought *any* hexagram was on the mark; I mean, they all have something to say. Time for reality, kid: study record of US foreign policy in the Middle East--quite a lot more reliable. As for the economy--it was entering the skids prior to 9/11 (check out my Twilight book, written in the late 90s). Issue is the consumer economy, overspending, huge trade deficit and debt to China and EU, etc etc. Yer a smart cookie; keep yer feet on the ground here. No need to add God to social science, when social science alone makes the future pretty clear at this pt. "

I wrote back to say that I was dead serious--that the I Ching, when it works, is just another way of tapping information to get a picture of the energy dynamics of the present moment. It encapsulates a situation, and offers guidance as to whether it is a time to advance or to retreat. When it works, the I Ching can change your consciousness quickly, bringing sudden clarity to an otherwise confusing situation.

"Don' know what to say, kid," Berman wrote me back, "you believe in the bogeyman and in an oracle as a guide to history. I can understand using it to solve personal issues, but as for the rest of the world...Oh well...you are aware (see the Twilight book) that as Rome collapsed, its intellectual class went in a similar direction, yes?"

Kid? The bogeyman? Who is "kidding" who here? I'm probably making a bad situation even worse by asking Virgil to check this out for me. But sometimes it is necessary to cross strange bridges. These comments came, after all, from the man who wrote "The Re-enchantment of the World." Whatever happened to the old enchanter, the "father-shaman," the magus?

"One could say," Virgil tells me in his most languorously experimental voice, "that knowledge by direct transmission (or divination) defies the laws of post-Aristotelian logic and reasoned intelligence and can therefore disconcert some people. However, there must be a kind of dialogue of the deaf going on right now between you and this particular senor, who is acting like a profound taboo has just been violated. It reminds me of the mummy."

The mummy! What mummy?

"The mummy who still thinks he's inside a pyramid, but he's actually inside a museum in Ohio."

If you happen to believe that using the I Ching in times of great emotional crisis disturbs the natural order of the world, try talking things over with a druid-talking alligator with attitude, whose head is always upside down when he looks at things, and whose eyes are a magnet that makes everything coalesce.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My Funny Valentine

As of now, I have no plans for Valentine's Day, because strictly speaking, I have no Valentine: no heart-throbbing, swashbuckling Romeo, who might, in principle and in a best-case scenario, be dreaming up some extravagant, caressing scheme to celebrate the moment with me. So I had nothing special in mind for how to mark the approaching day, until I got an e-mail from a friend, who said that this was what she was going to be doing:

On Valentine's Day, Thursday, February 14
from 5-8 PM, Artists Against
the War will be assembling at the US military
recruitment center in the
middle of Times Square. Our hands will be dyed
red and we will be
carrying the attached poster to mourn five
years of bloodshed in Iraq.
Please join us and participate for awhile that

When, almost immediately afterwards, I happened to read an article in The Nation about how a stressed-out Marine Corps sends its troops on repeated tours in Iraq, and then tosses them out when they come back stigmatized--because they are suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and so are often prone to emotional and behavioral breakdowns--I knew that my Valentine blog would have to be about the heartbreak of these confused and lonely and lost war veterans. Suddenly I wanted to do nothing else but visit the sick, like Walt Whitman did during the Civil War.

Because the machismo military tends to view PTSD as a form of weakness, those who are so afflicted often remain under diagnosed and under treated. They suffer not just from physical wounds but many have lost their mental health as well--sometimes becoming alcoholics, or worse, committing murder or suicide. I'm not going to do statistics here, or offer any horrifying particulars, but the fact is that veterans of the Iraq war are finding themselves, in record numbers, unable to readjust to normal living or to make sense of who they are or what they did over there. But the real psychic insult is that often they are being kicked out of service with not honorable discharges-- disqualifying them to receive educational and medical benefits. Thus stripped of their hard-won achievements in combat duty, they can then become a financial and moral write-off for the government. Just thinking about this is so oppressive and demoralizing that a whole world of suffering and isolation flares up.

In my recent and still ongoing correspondence with Morris Berman, I asked him what he thought we should or could do now--given that we've already taken all the wrong roads and there are no real choices left. He wrote back:

"What we need to do now is the opposite of what we are doing, beginning with an apology for messing in their affairs. This is not to condone 9/11, of course; but put the 3000 dead on that day against the 1/2 million Iraqi children dead during the 90s, thanx to Clinton's aggressive support of the UN sanctions, and it does look kind of imbalanced (cf. 58000 US soldiers dead in Vietnam vs. 3m Vietnamese--where is *their* memorial?).
... If we want to pursue the terrorists in a war we can't win (because it's a technique, not a political entity), blowback will continue and more 9/11-type events will occur. If we want to stop such events, an apology to the Islamic world for Iran 1953, Iraq 1991, etc etc and etc, and restitution for what we have done--the murder of Iraqi children just for starters--would change the situation significantly, it seems to me. (Just consider what an official Israeli apology to the Palestinians would do for the situation in the Middle East, for example.) But as you and I both know, the US Govt, whether Dem or GOP, can be counted on to pursue the worst possible strategy, the one that is most self-destructive. Since you like to quote Churchill, consider this line from him: "The US can always be counted on to do the right thing, after it has exhausted all of the alternatives." I fear it will take us a very long time to exhaust the alternatives, in this case. As in the case of the Cold War, we need an enemy badly, for our own identity and psychological "integrity". America would disappear without an opponent. The tragedy is, it will disappear with one as well, and probably faster. "

Since I have committed myself to ruthless honesty in this blog--to facing things exactly as they are, however unpalatable--it strikes me that instead of smooching and eating chocolates, I may just have to spend Valentine's Day weeping and praying for these men who have had their lives so mutilated. Grieving is hard work to do. But I don't know how else to surrender to the reality of what we've collectively done. Perhaps I really will dye my hands red right here in Blacksburg, and simply mourn the five years of totally wasted bloodshed in Iraq, like my friend is planning to do.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Virgil and the Homunculus

Years ago, when I was in my mid-twenties, I had a romance with a younger, very handsome English lad by the name of David Dalton. Today David is white-haired and married, writes about art and Pop culture, and lives in the woods in upstate N.Y. with a pet pig. Occasionally over the years we have been in touch via cyberspace. More recently, we have had an e-correspondence about the nature of Virgil, my savvy alligator blogging assistant.

David, who describes himself as an "indentured scrivener," claims that he, too, once had an encounter with a "homunculus,"--admittedly "not as exotic (or cute) as your dear totem animal"--but nevertheless a creature that he recognized at the time as being the internal engineer of his soul, a numinous entity that he experienced as quite objectively apart from himself. And it startled him greatly.

It intrigued me: the notion of the soul as having its own private "spectral engineer." So the first thing I did was consult the Thesaurus for the meaning of "homunculus," only to discover that it can mean anything from "small animal" to "dwarf" to "pipsqeak" to "runt" or "miserable specimen," exemplars being Pinocchio and Thumbelina. Even more intrigued by "that tiny spectator who lives inside everyman" of David's, I proceeded to question him further:

What do you see as differentials between, say, a "spirit guide," a "soul engineer," a "homunculus" and a private Mahatma blogging assistant? This character of yours, I asked him, was he benign or malign--or neither? Friendly or scary? Someone you'd want in your life or not?

David wrote back suggesting I read the essay he'd written about his encounter with the homunculus. It is called "The Off-Ramp Motel" and I will include an edited excerpt here. The essay begins with the author speeding along a six-lane "satanic freeway" in California in a rental car at 3 a.m., after a 7 1/2 hour flight to Los Angeles. He is on an undisclosed writing assignment, and is thoroughly exhausted when he finally spots his destination--the Terminal Motel, which he describes as "built on the Albanian model--cinderblocks, stucco--by contractors who had never heard of Albania."

"The room is edgy, on guard, as if braced for some coming insult to itself. The industrial strength carpeting is of a density and fiber calculated to defy any sort of abuse thrown at it—cigarettes, gum, tar, dog shit. Perhaps as a pre-emptive strike, it’s color and compacted weave mimic the filth it will be subjected to.
The furniture: standard dentist-office modern. Blonde wood, brown nubby fabric. A desk in the same nondescript style. As if insisting on its anonymity. There’s going to be no small talk here. Don’t try and get personal, bud. Just put the money on the dresser; this is a one night stand.
I turn on the TV and click through the channels. The phone rings. They’ve killed the story. Jesus! Why should I care? I should be glad, actually. I didn’t want the stupid assignment in the first place, but now that it’s been cancelled, the room is—how to describe it?—gloating.
Curtains, carpet, bedspread. Everything is either manic holding-tank yellow or thorazine brown. The bedspread resembles a freshly-dug grave mound, an Addams Family bouquet of dead flowers. The coverlet is suffering from bi-polar syndrome, now clearly in its depressive mode—the primary colors have run away in panic leaving only the drab, dowdy burnt umbers and raw siennas.
Bathroom. Brown alluvial tiles on the floor. The tiles on the bathroom wall are cream colored with rough brown oatmeal-textured surface. Oh, no. I begin seeing little troll faces in these tiles, needle-point eyes, alarmed O-shaped mouths screaming—Devonian demons trapped in the clay, sealed there for millions of years. The shower head, a long thin dinosaur snout bursting through the wall, an eyeless, rapacious chrome predator...

"I'm wondering if the patterns of the tiles possibly be Mayan calendrical signs predicting rain, sacrifice, volcanoes, UFOs, bird-headed snakes—when out of the side of my eye I catch sight of the homunculus of myself. He is also taking a bath and is pale as Lazarus in an early Netherlandish altarpiece, reflected in the chrome to resemble myself in the afterlife. One’s self as might be seen in a painting by Lucian Freud—worn out, the flesh as metaphor. Vaguely distressed, bewildered, a bit pathetic, unearthly. Ready for the embalmer. .. Who is this creature? ...

"A diminutive self-portrait in a convex chrome appliance. Hidden behind a silvery screen of false silver—the indifference of chrome. As substance, we are poles apart from wood or stone, but we can identify with their rough, organic planes. We can imagine being wood. But chrome—we will never be chrome.
My secret sharer, his skin’s surface as yellow as a leaf. He navigates my face in search of answers. He examines me with a calm, resigned look, like a 2nd century funerary portrait from Fayum, Egypt. .. My doppelganger is a creature of great melancholy and forbearance, miming my every action. Was he the one that ran the show, my engineer? My KA, as the ancient Egyptians would say, operator of my soul. Caught by surprise in a metal mirror. The desperate nature of the room, its brazen hideousness had startled him into existence. Aroused such pity and sadness in him he'd awoken with fright in his chamber in the hippocampus. The room itself had winkled him out."

So there it was, reflected in the chrome faucet while David is taking a bath, he discovers the homunculus of himself, also taking a bath: "One's self as might be seen in a painting by Lucien Freud," he writes, "worn out...vaguely distressed, bewildered, a bit pathetic, unearthly. Ready for the embalmer."

According to David, narcotic melancholy suits his view of life. "My homunculus, alas, is not a private Mahatma blogging assistant, as your charming reptile is. Perhaps you can tell me how to get one?"

I pass the question on to Virgil. I can't really speak for his suggestions, but it seems like there were several options. However, since I preferred the first, that is the one I'm offering here: "Ask Ezra Pound's girlfriend."

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Obama as Funeral Director or Wild Card?

The other day, a friend sent me a drawing of two dogs having a conversation. One was saying to the other: "I had my own blog for a while, but I decided to go back to just pointless, incessant barking."

I have always felt more than a little ambivalent about the nowhereland of cyberspace, and have often wondered whether these blogging efforts of mine were indeed "just pointless, incessant barking." I do not receive, for instance, many comments in the "Comments" section of my blog, but when there are any, they are automatically delivered to my email. The truth is, I do get responses, but most people write to me directly, rather than posting their thoughts on the blog. So be it.

My previous entry, "The Vision Thing," included excerpts from a book I am reading, "Dark Ages America," by Morris Berman. Believe me if I say there is no way to describe my wild excitement when I turned on my computer the next morning, and to my utter astonishment, found the following comments from Berman himself:

Dear Suzi,

Many thanks for recommending "Dark Ages America" to your readers; I appreciate it. I just want to say, however, that neither Obama nor anybody else can provide America with a last chance. What I really discovered in writing "Dark Ages America" is that our problems are structural, and that some of them go back to the very early years of the Republic, if not before. These problems have come full circle now, and whoever winds up in the White House--whether black, white, male, female, blue or green--is essentially going to be a funeral director, nothing more. Certainly, a GOP president will accelerate our collapse, insisting on a hegemony we no longer have, and thus carrying out self-destructive policies at home and abroad. As for the Dems: Hillary not only backed the invasion of Iraq, she has also been saber-rattling over Iran, which would be a rerun of the Iraq scenario, only much worse. She also has major ties to leading corporations, esp. the medical establishment (see article by Ari Berman in The Nation, 4 June 07), which means that we shall have with her what we had with Bill: the shadow of social change, but hardly the substance (rich got richer and poor got poorer under Bill's admin). As for poor Barack, all he can do is smile and provide cliches about unity when there is little to smile about and no unity in the country at all. A few months ago the New Yorker did a very sympathetic portrait of him--he certainly comes off as a nice guy--but ironically enough, his political outlook is probably closest to that of Edmund Burke, the famous British conservative who saw societies as organic, and believed their basic framework could not be altered very much, if at all. Burke would not have been surprised at my 'discovery' (hardly mine, really) of the structural and deeply historical nature of our problems, and it just may be that Barack is aware of them as well. He may indeed be the perfect person to act as funeral director, but let's not kid ourselves that he or anyone else can turn this country around. That is a pipe dream. I recall reading some fairly sophisticated economic analysis recently entitled "Farewell to the Dollar," or something like that; readers might also want to check out the essay by Parag Khanna in the NYT Magazine, 27 Jan 08, entitled "Waving Goodbye to Hegemony." Finally, on the microlevel, the street level of daily life in the US, we have a population so incredibly dumb or ignorant that very little can be expected of them in the way of intelligent action or decision making--even if that were to make a difference. ("A nation of sheep breeds a government of wolves"--Edw. R. Murrow) I have been documenting this for years, and have a huge list of stats that boggle the mind. For the latest example, readers might want to check this out: http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/12496
Nor is this limited to the proverbial woman-in-the-street. John McCain strolled thru Baghdad last year in a Kevlar vest with helicopters flying overhead, and proclaimed the city "safe". This has to be just about as idiotic as anything the current president has said during his tenure. While Obama is certainly no moron, talking about "hope" and "vision" when the data clearly show dark days ahead is a kind of ignorance all its own. I'm sorry, but Sartre really did have it right: No Exit.

Thanks again for your kind comments on my work.


Maury Berman

I have a tiny history from the past with this man, worth recounting in the present context. We once had cokes together at a Common Boundary conference in Washington D.C., where we had both been invited as speakers. It was a very genial encounter, but that seems like it was almost a century ago now, and we have never had any contact since then. However, one of Berman's early books, "The Re-enchantment of the World," was a big influence on me when I wrote "The Reenchantment of Art."

I responded back immediately to Berman to say that we are on the same page about these being end times for America, maybe even the world. Things are NOT going to get better, I said, because, as Derrick Jensen so aptly puts it, "We're fucked." Even so, there is still the option of chemotherapy, which has been sometimes known to reverse a fatal illness. Obama as chemotherapy? I suggested. Because I do believe, in the words of my friend Bill Rutherfoord, "Nothing would send a clearer signal to the world that Americans are serious about correcting past excesses than to put Obama in the White House." Why? Because, as Toni Morrison wrote last week in a personal letter of endorsement she sent directly to Obama: "...you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don't see in other candidates." Whatever mysterious quality she was referring to is what I see as well: it may be a kind of evolutionary force.

Again Berman wrote me back: "I tend to see Obama more as nationwide Prozac (or Valium) rather than chemo--just a sedative to keep the lid on as we drift off into nothingness. Hillary is probably closer to chemo; McCain to shock therapy followed by death. I don't think Jensen got it quite right; it's more like: "We are utterly and totally fucked." Check out discussions on my blog (morrisberman.com) for more elaboration."

But there is something else I want to mention, and that is the possibility, in every situation in life, of the wild card. It's the thing you never imagined could happen. For instance, if anyone had told me Morris Berman would respond to my blog about his book in less than twenty-four hours of the post going out, I would've have said, "That's impossible--no way, Jose!" However, despite my inability to have imagined it, that is exactly what happened. To me it was a message: there is always a wild card. And whenever I personally receive the gift of one, it serves as a reminder: no one ever really knows what will happen. For all that we know, there may be worse places than the U.S. for a phoenix to perform its fiery rites. And on that I rest my case.