Sunday, January 31, 2010

Out Deviced

Or am I deviced out? I hear that English and Chinese, the two languages which mediate the master narratives on the planet right now, are both prominently and distinctly "analytic" rather than "synthetic". I might have the terms backward, but the thing Chinese and English share in common is that meaning is largely a function of word order and not of syntax or inflections. Oh, I've probably got those words wrong too. I wonder if there is a language of commerce in India other from English?

The other day, while dealing with my second warranty replacement for my SmartPhone (not a trademark) whose Internet connection strangely stopped while sitting still, and then whose replacement had non-functioning buttons just like the first time when I had to get it replaced, even though that time I still think it was the software becoming fragmented because lots of people on the 'net had the very same strange combination of problems where the buttons would engage in one orientation and not the other which pretty much ruled out the hardware. Whatever.

Anyhow, the other day I tried a download of a new "shell" for my Microsofted (slanderous trademark) SmartPhone, and, you know it was really cool. It was a genuine improvement on the default Windows shell, and a distinct and satisfying move in the direction of the iPhone (tm).

I thought I might blow the $29 bucks they wanted, just to extend the life of the gadget I've got. Not only is the one you know always safer than the one you don't, but who knows what new thing I'll wish I'd gotten once I sign on for another new every two (tm). But I was rescued, finally, by the fact that this new shell just pushed the memory limit too hard. It seemed to make things work more smoothly, until they wouldn't work at all, and checking the "meter" the memory was all used up at that point.

You just can't get new software onto old hardware, we all should understand. But I do have a lot of gadgets for an unemployed old guy. It seems wrong somehow, and still I want that iPad (tm). Sort of. Well, I don't know. What I really want is something cheap which disappears when I'm using it for whatever purpose, like my Kindle does when reading text, but like the computer never does when I'm surfing the 'net (I have limits on my upload/download, by virtue of being mobile, and - seriously now, I'm not making this up - most of my "quota" is used up by the continual and automated updates required of the OS (!!!). And I use Linux (no tm), so you can't go complaining about Microsoft here.

And anyhow, there's no such thing as a transparent website. There's always all sorts of luring in, and adverts meant for somebody else (I am a child of post-Kennedy media cynicism, where the assumption is that the truth is always being spun) who would be stupid enough either to fall for them or to buy them. There's always something better just out of view, for a price, but some really really good stuff for free.

And sometimes after you plunk down your money, you've finally learned enough to get the free stuff. I mean, really, who would outright pay for Office (tm???) functionality anymore? Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to make fun of you, gentle reader. I love you, truly I do.

I keep my gadgets longer than you do, I can almost guarantee. I used the Palm (tm) OS on my phone until it simply wasn't possible anymore, and I still consider it the most user-friendly, by which I mean simply usable while driving. Which I would never do. But then my car has nearly 300K miles on it, which makes it more environmentally friendly than your Prius (TM). And my laptop is garbage pikked (tm) not literally, but you know.

So, here's how our economy is breaking out. I know this from being in the hospital recently, for instance. Each little subcategory of work is splintered out as an outsourcable specialty, on the assumption that the costs can therefore be optimized. So there's a phlebotomist, who's separate from the nurse, who also no longer takes your food order, nor is that one the one who changes your sheets, and each doctor bills a separate visit fee and sometimes the supplies might get billed separately, even though they're supposed to be part of some comprehensive fee.

In the end, there's almost no "reality" to the overall bill, meaning, yeah, right, like I could have afforded that on my own? I broke my leg once and had I (watch the word order!) no insurance, and some sense ahead of time, I surely would have gone to a horse doctor and paid him twice his hourly fee. Taking the risk on the possible complications which got ruled out by what I did pay. Or rather, what got paid on my behalf.

So anyhow, each of these little franchises has their arguments for being. What the French call raison d'etre, I think. And they must lobby and sometimes strike and sometimes trick you into paying what they're worth. And they're all worth more than they get paid, just like my daughter who takes home maybe $18 (less taxes) for tutoring which Kaplan (TM) gets paid $75 bucks for. It covers all their research, and materials, and, um, advertising. Right!

And I don't even want to get into the labor content of a Nike (tm) sneaker any more. I'm tired of that one. As if they have no choice but to send those jobs overseas, although, honestly, I'm happy that the Chinese economy is getting a chance to grow, so long as they're not exploiting children or prisoners or people's desperation, which is sometimes hard to know.

But what I do know is that the current economic arrangements aren't working for either you or me. We've been pretty much and pretty well trained to be very afraid of "Communism", never mind "Socialism" (these aren't trademarked, but they probably should be), so I'm not about to go advocating those things. I like free markets. So, apparently, do the Commies (sorry, but I'm trying to stay away from political correctness, and I'm shooting for good humor) in China.

I am pretty certain that size is what matters, and that there are structures which, by design (I'm trying to be punny here, but it's buried pretty deep, for which I apologize) create what I would call a vicious feedback loop in favor of the big guys. It might not literally be monopoly, but it sure has all the advantages as if it were. I'm really talking the ruggedness of the topology of market concentration. You need some really good climbing equipment if you're going to compete against the likes of the market giants.

Plus, you need customers who will still prefer the small, close, easy to navigate, easy to understand kinds of arrangements which, for instance, my local food co-op (tm?) has. And my local bookseller always puts really intersting stuff right in my view, without my having to navigate aisle after aisle. And I don't even want to talk about the literal mountains of kitchen gadgetry at Bed Bath and Beyond (tm) among which it is quite literally impossible to find the pot racks I've been looking for.

They have hundreds of them on Amazon, and, for crying out loud, there's even an entire website devoted to pot racks. But I don't like to shop on (in? with? by? via?) the Internet. It feels so much like an expedition through the aisles of Home Despot (slander), say, and never knowing if they don't have the thing, or you just can't find it. It's not fun for me. (I know it might be for you, so don't take this personally, K?)

I'd like to just build one, but I'm not set up for metalwork, although I'm pretty sure a local welder could whip me up something for less than what they want, if they were to have one, at Bed Bath and Overload. I'm pretty sure of that. If you think about it, you would be too.

So, you know rugged landscapes are nice to visit. Colorado, the Pacific Northwest, probably the Himalayas; these are all overpopulated with ex-Buffalonians. Renegades from too much legacy baggage. Some are in my very own family. But there are charms to the warn down Adirondacks. And sometimes it's nice not to have so very far to fall. Lots of people are moving back here from Phoenix, say, to stir the ever-present hopes that we will be one, a Phoenix (no, not the literal one, but you know what I mean, right? The back from the ashes thing, not the out of the desert thing).

Anyhow, I remain utterly positive, convinced, convicted, pollyannish certain, that the turnaround from too big to fail to nice and homey scaled local can and will be accomplished in an instant. I mean these politicians asses are hanging out all over the place now, and thank goodness they finally said out loud that corporations can act like people. Because once you smoke out a sociopath, they're pretty unmistakable by their behaviors. No matter how well they fooled you before you knew what they were keeping secret.

OK, sorry, I've got to go back to my writing.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Goodreads Review of Noah's Compass, by Anne Tyler

Noah's Compass Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I just came back from walking to my local bookstore, in penance for reading Noah's Compass on my Kindle. It was so cold it burned my lungs, but my blood was pooling and the sun wasn't about to stay out the whole day. I paid for paper virtue.

Anne Tyler messes with an American reader's expectations, and she messes with mine. There is never a nice ending, if by nice you want to mean some resolution of life's fallings short. But there is somehow a getting at what it means to be alive and limited. Even when her protagonist is, marginally, smarter, simpler, more honest, and more successful than you are but in ways you'd never aspire to.

I guess these reads are about as satisfying to a guy as would be the Soviet follies, if there ever were any. If there were, your wife would be in them, and your place in the audience would be compromised by everybody knowing it was your wife up there and either what do you see in her, or how can you not be cheering. It would mess with your freedom to read, you know?

Because you don't really want your wife up on any stage. Not that way, unless that was her business, and you might want to stay out of the audience then, and trust that she'll come home to you. And you don't really want to read about yourself, just as you are. Why not just stay home, then. Why ever go out at all?

Or you might just remain alone, discretion the better part of valor, even though there is love on offer from a younger woman. Even though you feel that longing, it would mess up someone else's life, which is very much like inviting trouble home to roost. Curl up and read a good book, it's cold outside. The walk will do you good. Huh?

But gradually, that void which you had been obsessed to fill, the one you share with Liam, the protagonist here, whose placid life was disrupted by a new and violent voiding, disappears; and also for the reader, full and satisfied although nothing very much has happened. It was the search for what might have been, in that nothing spot, which filled up all the rest of nothing.

This must be cliche about Anne Tyler's novels, or at least it's how I've felt after each and every one I've read. Which must raise some question about why four stars and not my customary five, which I "reserve" for every book which changes my life, which is, well, just about every book I read.

Could be I'm just not willing to give Liam the upper hand over. You know, unlike Noah, I'm not willing to say I'm going nowhere with nothing important to do. Oh.

Well, some people think that the Kindle will save the planet by saving paper, and some people think that Amazon is just too Walmart big, and some people want to give free speech away to corporations, and I just simply can't afford to read that much on paper. So cut me some slack, and I'll trade you a star.

View all my reviews >>

Legacy Islands

There is all this wonder now, about what the great author might have left behind. Will there be a great book in his vault?

Sorry to say it out loud, but I really could care less. Not interested, is what I mean. I could not care less for the man behind the beloved text. There was nothing more that he could write, and so he recused himself from life.

David Foster Wallace is by far the greater writer, and he recused himself more cruely. I've been reading his take on tennis starlet Tracy Austin, which reflected also upon the author's own self-consciousness tossing up his serves in public as a tennis pro in training.

He celebrates the transcendent accomplishment of sports super-stars, whose techne/technique/kung-fu(if you want to be wrong-headed about it) leads them to an embodiment of godliness, accomplished by a perfect vacancy in the strong mind which got them, the athletes, to that point of natural-law defying beauty.

He himself, he writes, could never get to that kind of perfect poise, playing tennis, although at least a few of his readers thought he came pretty close in in his writing. He's a magician with words, tricking you into following arguments that far (that far!) beyond your capacity to understand. Over-reaching metaphor, until you almost stand with him at whatever transcendent meaning he has, himself, accomplished.

But the trouble with writing is that it can never be a spectator sport. The audience was as essential to Tracy Austin's transcendent tennis as it was to her youthful self-destruction. It defined the context for perfection. It destroyed her body during its course of growth. The audience was the adversary she could overcome quite naturally in her gifted youth. The audience triumphed.

For a writer, the audience has skin in the game, and triumph is annihilation in fact and not on any performance stage. It is a dance in private, and how could David Foster Wallace ever have known that there are limits to argumentation, limits to metaphor, beyond which you are and must remain alone, dancing with only stars, having made an object of yourself. Synecdoche death.

Thank God for the Chinese. I mean that ironically, since, of course, there is no God in Chinese, nor metaphor the way we mean it. Just raw competition, falling short of which is defined pretty clearly by the hoards left behind. Writing accomplishment there is the reward, as in tennis, for practice practice practice according to a regimen no different in intensity from the one required to empty your mind in the kung-fu of martial arts.

How glad am I that I never was a prodigy of tennis nor of words. I can be satisfied that JD Salinger was more autist than artist, and that there is nothing to be found in further writings that is not already cliched behind whatever secret combination. His vault would be the last place I would look for greater writings. That ship has sailed. This world has changed already.

I would that I might have had a conversation with David Foster Wallace, though. I would have asked him about the limits to rhetoric, to narrative, to technique, to craft. The limits even, to art. I would have tried out a Chinese approach. Not the one the Chinese now, still, remain saddled with, but one which comes at the remove of a different tradition, in comparison, really, against it.

Once in the traction of words in the single language that the mediated world is left with, there is no resistance against the disappearance of the self sucked up into the tuba of the words which were their own transcendence. There is no drug, nor alcohol sufficiently refined against it that would not leave you at the same place in the end. Vacant. Voided.

Evolution is a farce played out on a competitive stage only if you wish to see it thus. Beneath its truth of dog eat dog, there is love in the granting of life to the victor. It's very hard to see, and no question about it, but it is there nonetheless. This willingness to be made the object. Fuck with me, sucka. I'm yours. I have wanted you, alone, all this time. I've made myself up. I'm ready.

Words are their own object. Carved upon the earth, they bring the heavens closer. They must be outered and still they will silence you forever. Not terribly complicated, although if you are well endowed, then it might be more difficult to cut loose of what got you started.

Be thankful that you're not. They will suck you in, these words.

Not these ones, silly.

Friday, January 29, 2010

So Long JD . . .

Yes, I'm of the Catcher in the Rye generation. I'm also of the generation of scholarship - tutelage more properly - where we learned not to implicate the author - the author's life - in our read of his writing (I can say "his" right, since one doesn't say "actress" anymore???). I actually learned about that indirectly from Cleanth Brooks, the man himself, central to the New Critics school. He told all sorts of stories about how William Faulkner was in real life. Is that ironic?

I'm of the generation of those taught by the generation invested in New Criticism. These were my elders, dying out and being replaced by other sorts of scientist wannabes. There is so much scholarship of which I must remain unaware, oh Academy, you gentle tyrant you. Making objects of my dreams. And changing the terms of my understanding, way faster than I can read.

But I cannot possibly be the only one to make a connection between salient facts in the obituary of JD Salinger, and a recent film just coming out on HBO [(and which I therefore won't ever see). Or maybe that's what NetFlix is really for? To bridge the gaps among TiVO, cinematic rentals, and pay-to-watch TV?] Whatever.

In any case, the film involves this autistic woman who's managed to extricate herself from the potential of institutional life to become a prominent consultant to the meat-packing industry. She's the one who engineers the processes leading up to slaughter. She's able, in other words, to translate what the livestock are feeling, into structures which will lull them into their final moment - just as we all should like for ours - without ever knowing what is coming.

This, of course, is a great boon to humanity, by which I mean the humane sort of humanity, not the bloodlusting inhumanity-to-man sort which seems to form most of our truth. With a capital T. To minimize the agony.

So this reclusive champion of our youth (sic) [I'm not talking about the slaughterhouse gal - back to Salinger] was remarkable in his [youth], for being able to score young women cruising the bars on Manhattan [who's cruising whom?].

Oh please, gentle reader, you must see this, right? He was very much like that autistic guide to the slaughter house. He could read the women that directly and, Bill Clinton-like, feel their pain. And he would know what to say and how to behave and where to touch, and there would be nothing that they wouldn't do in reader-response to his power.

We recoil now, ever so slightly, at what might have been his interactions among actual youth were he to release himself from his self-imposed exile. But clearly, readers all [I address you here], he had that same empathy with youth which made him not a literary lion. It put him more in company with the dumbest lambs to whom he gave actual voice. Us. As if acting like Holden Caufield ever got any of us any scores. Predators get the booty.

You know, I think Salinger was an honorable man. He knew what he didn't want to be, and how he could hurt those who might want to love him. His life reads like an Anne Tyler novel. Alone and content in the end. Though there's no way he should be. Either.

I guess his personal habits were as strange as those of James Joyce. And as out of bounds to critics, who run hot and cold on him in almost precisely the same way they do with Howard Zinn, [historian critics, I mean here] the other author I killed off yesterday while in the process of selling my soul back to the University. (If they listened carefully, they would know that I can't be trusted with their secrets.)

So this author, JD Salinger, did lead us all to the slaughterhouse, and wasn't really there to catch us going over that cliff. That was our job. It was us whose voice was granted. We've failed ourselves, for sure.

I read his stories with a kind of hightened interest because I once did head a school for the likes of those game-show geniuses in Salinger's projected family. And just yesterday, having lunch with some University administrator types very directly involved with the local school systems, by work or by parental proxy, I had a chance to remember some early facts of my own naivist (sic) youth.

Way back when we thought that giftedness was a kind of uni-dimensional quality, perhaps representable by a single IQ score (not me, I always knew better). I also had a leadership role in a school for dyslexic boys, which treated them as though that term were some kind of medical diagnosis. That they all needed the very same kind of phonic drilling, which, ironically enough now, really has been shown to bolster the white matter part of the brain which might have been somehow under-exercised. (With the amount of time kids now spend NOT reading, why is this not as epidemic as diabetes???? ADHD? Does anybody even read anymore?)

We know so much more now about Asperger's sydrome, savantism, and a whole array of subcategories which might cause trouble with reading. Trouble with school.  Trouble with schoolmates. We can work that much harder to embrace the differences among our charges, and allow them each to be, herself, empowered. While we sort them out and ever so gently, allow the dull ones to find their way to the various bottoms. The ones without the voice which might be granted to those lucky enough to attend the, well, um, private schools. No matter their native talents.

Cleanth Brooks was a Southern gentleman, and therefore contextually if not genetically disposed to respect and even work to preserve the right of man to present himself formally, and to allow that presentation to stand alone, for itself, whatever the reader might do. Sucks if you don't have that wherewithal!

Now, we exist in a kind of conspiracy theorist's nightmare of the general public inside out private pants. And, well, somehow A Catcher in the Rye (underline, sic) remains right there at the center.

Sure, you know, when your car gets totalled, like so many did yesterday on our Buffalo skyway whose recent improvement engineered a kind of plunging from clear thin air down into a snowy pit of potential death as the wind blows straight in from the Lake. To drift the road such that even if you are a good Buffalo driver, there will be nothing you can do to avoid the pilings up of cars stopped in and by the drifts beyond your incoming tsunami sightline. On the very anniversary of our great blizzard of '77. When I was dropping out on motorcycle, and thankfully away. You see, I want you in my pants. I can't keep myself out of this.

But I must thank you, old JD, for guiding me down that chute as well. Last night I was driving home through white-out myself, preferring the back roads to the Thruway where nutjobs in SUVs would thrill by at the fact of their speed and leave me in their blinding wake. Where semi-trailers with views from up above would envelope me in their fury. I'll take my voided white-out blank, thank you very much. No surprises. Nothing. I'm still here to talk about it. Write? (sic)

Discourse, urges David Foster Wallace, is a life or death matter. Get the signals wrong, and you may betray your tribe; you may be exiled, you may cause your own or someone else's death. It's no wonder, he writes - as one who was on the receiving end of schoolyard brawls - that these rules must be drilled in to classmates. It's no wonder that teachers must rehearse for their charges what they surely know about what it's like to be one [a charge, and not in charge]. I want you to read this book. It will tell you about me understanding you.

Or perhaps we can drop that book now from our canon? This freakish man whose projected youthful voice overshadows an entire generation? Writers can't get him out of their head, I hear, is all. But there's nothing crafted there. Is that it?

When your car gets totalled - should I say totalized? - you have some sort of absolute right to extract from the guy who caused it whatever it takes to set things straight. Sure, in the end, the car will never be quite the same, but if you'd like an entire plastic bumper to be replaced for just one scratch, then that is your perfect right.

If you have a chance to live, although you might be 80-something, although it might cost a literal million bucks which might be more than you have earned in your entire lifetime, then you have that perfect right to demand that it be paid on your behalf. So that you may be a proper gomer in the end? So that someone with diabetes which they never really earned can be deprived? Or better yet, the genetic pre-dispositions.

How hard it must be to relinquish those rights and to tell the one who hit you, hey, give me $25 bucks, and I'll just accept the scratch. You mine. Got yours. Back. Scratch.

Entire houses of cards would then come crashing down, right? The insurance adjuster who writes up, without flinching, the $300 bumper, and the autobody shop which expends the time to make that key-scratch disappear. I know some people who draw a key down the side of their new car just as soon as they acquire it. We should do the same with each other, maybe, so that the real bumps won't be so hard to take.

Instead, we tell the abused among us that they should and must be sorrowful for their losses. They might bury a stillborn child and name it and carry that grief forever. Failing to learn from the Ashanti in Ghana that you should never name a child before a week is up, before which they are only a visiting spirit, checking out the digs, maybe. The priests were instructed that it could do no lasting harm, their touch, right? Unless it results in conceived life . . .

Authenticity is phony! The laying on of hands depends very much upon intention.

You have the right, well, except if you are watching from some upper window, as your car gets bumped in the process of liberation from some parking space. Then, you're just plain out of luck. Or what if you're boxed in? Must you seek out the owner of that inconsiderate car?

What do you do with all that anger, if not mis-direct it against the world? Have a tea party??

What if you were on the outs when everyone else was getting Catcher in the Rye? Must you kill John Lennon? Or must you lay the claim, like Mel Gibson did in life and in his role, that you are the only one to read it right [correctly]? That sometimes paranoids have enemies too? That there is some truth that you just really know, and sometimes there's at least one to believe you? True love in the end?

Scouts honor, honest injun, the dream I awoke with this morning had me sliding off a snowy roof right along with GWB and his Chevy Chase-like sidekick, perhaps in the role of Dick Cheney. As we passed the corner where some sort of satellite dish should be, out into the void which somehow didn't bother me. Perhaps I knew that there would be soft snow to catch me. I looked at George, who knew me as his loyal adversary, me wanting always to bring him down for the sake of the people. I asked him, as he was hanging from the gutter, and I was flying by, wasn't that the thingamajob which kept us safe from terror. That thing which came off - I didn't do it, I swear! - or was already off as I sailed over the edge.

George turned to Dick and asked, "does that mean I won't get my secret porn?" And then he turned to me, and I was laughing almost to the verge of control, and then he started laughing. And I knew that if I could only keep him laughing that hard, everything would be alright. And I woke up. Where's the intentionality in that, I'd like to know?

Of course, I can't vouch for the word-for-word accuracy of my recalling. I give it a shape, right, to play in to recent world events? I invest myself in there too. Well, it was my dream. But I gotta tell you, I re-read the Catcher in the Rye some good long time ago now, and, um, I don't see it. I think I never did. I never could relate with Holden Caulfield. He was some kind of prepster. I was always just a wannabe. Confused and illiterate and never having a clue. But I never did get beat up, quite. And once I helped a nerd pick up his books after they got scattered in the snow by bullies. Once.

And I've died so many times in my life now that I'm pretty sure I'll take it in the end. Quietly. Without wanting to take it all with me. And all.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I'm reading Anne Tyler's new novel on my new Kindle. She's so gentle to read. There's never any point or any mad adrenaline pumped page turning. I think she may even officially be chick lit, but then I eat quiche and like it.

To the point where I've gotten, the story describes a post-middle aged man who's out of work and just moved to smaller digs. I can relate. Just at the point of arrival, his new small apartment is invaded, but he can't remember a thing about what happened. Apparently, there was lots of blood and shit, but it's all pretty unmentionable. It's driving him mad to get at some memory of what happened, but as he was hit on the head, there's no chance he's going to succeed. I'm guessing.

Well, I landed in the hospital just after moving, and now I'm in an insurance black hole, since the out-of-network stuff won't be paid, but everyone's being really helpful as I plod my way out of the hole. They must be scared of Obama or something. Anyhow, it's not like I'm going to die over it; only lab tests. But it's kind of funny that I would have had to both know the limits of my coverage and drive long distance to be assured of coverage. The funny part is that it might be driving long distances which generated the clot in my legs which threw a clot to my lungs, which landed me in the hospital on Christmas eve.

I know you don't need to know all that, and there's no memory lapse involved. Just a kind of friends and family gap right where you most want it to be full. The protagonist in the novel has friends and family which don't seem to care for him that much, but you get the feeling it's because they never felt he cared for them. There's a lot of nice playing on words, much more gentle than the sort I indulge. And I feel loved, which does however, accentuate the void a bit.

I read some last night in a sort of strange donut hole in my sleep. I'd gone to bed way too early, as often happens after spending the day, say, dealing with the adrenaline rushing roller-coaster of merry-go-round calling to health insurance companies. It can give you a really bad headache.

Each of my two companies has a "Guest Coverage" office, and I now have two primary care physicians; one for Rochester which is my home territory because that's where I used to live and where I'm COBRA'd in (thank God) and one for Buffalo where I actually live, and they each have rules to limit their liability, and a lot of the time each phone-stop helpfully suggests that you need to call someone else, and these calling chains can take you right back to where you started, which would be funny if there weren't so much money involved.

Anyhow, I still feel cared for, and I'm not angry. It's just nerve wracking, maybe like playing poker with a lot in the game.

So I'm wide awake after midnight, and so I read about a void which is pretty much like the void in my sleep. And then, likely because of the punctuation mark of being awake in my sleep's middle, I am semi-dreaming all night about foreground/context matters, frames for art-objects, frames as craft and not art, and then the whole context which makes objects possible.

Naturally, I can't recover the clarity I felt in my semi-dream state. But I'm pretty sure it had something to do with how many words are required to create a context, and how few to define an object, once the context is established.

I write lots and lots of words, and they aren't always very easy to read. I know. And I always write as if I have a point, and trust me I really really do. But on the other hand, maybe what I've got is this void. This empty spot right in the middle where the point should be. That thing I can't find the words for, nor pin down. Maybe there really isn't any difference.

I'm just trying to establish myself, after all, by pinning my words to other words already more trued. The arrangements of the Internet make this really easy to do with hyperlinks which are almost like citations. You try to build this chain of trust which is the very opposite of what most people seem to be trying to do on the Internet.

Most people seem to be desperately trying to "go viral". They want to build a chain of interconnections in a kind of twitterish you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours and we'll build a big ponzi scheme of love to be sure that we have a chance to get the attention of the world.

I'm involved in a "startup" company which is determined never to be a startup company. We are working to insinuate ourselves, and prove ourselves to such a point that we'll have already existed for just about forever by the time you're even aware of us.

I also want my writing here to stand up to careful scrutiny. But it is hard to find a voice at about the age when you're losing your literal one. I'm not complaining. I'm just saying, it's really hard is all.

I'm not looking for a pass, nor trying to make excuses. I know I have to find some way to be worth reading if I have a point to make. So, I'm doing that thing you're supposed to do, which is practice practice practice.

Thanks for indulging me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

to Dream, perchance . . .

What do you suppose a dream is? Whatever the neurologists will eventually say - about cataloging and housecleaning and random constructs - memory is always a part of it. I'll never be certain that the literary takes on the mind will not prevail, in the end, over the hardware metaphors. Go Freud (misogynist pig)! Go Shakespeare (rehabilitated neologist)! Go Bills (yeah, right)! Go revisionism!

Dreams are hard to remember on waking, sure, but inside of them there is also a continual lag between whatever the problem was that your mind was working out and the working out of it which makes the dreams, when remembered, so surprising for their structure. As if you were some kind of genius beyond your own ability to know. Who makes this shit up when you're asleep? You know you could never do it waking.

The problem is trivialized, I'm saying, if you just suppose that your mind threw up structures based on what has been on it, your mind, and then promptly forgot them so that you could watch the construct of your brain, having suspended judgment for that time. As if you are outside the mind of its creator. Like being able to watch your own movie and be taken in by it even though you're its producer. Looking past the seams which you yourself stitched.

My dream, which I do remember because of unusual full bladder issues, likely related to staying up past my bedtime to watch some football game on TV; my dream was disturbing. I won't bore you with its details, but it did remind me to steel myself against harm to myself that I must bear in preference to harm to my children. That thing which George Orwell in his 1984 supposed can be tortured out of us by finding the one terror we can never, willingly, face. The one we would betray anyone to avoid. It would seem to be a good idea to face them all ahead of time, rather than to be caught in a lie, no? At least face them in your (waking?) dreams.

I must have had manonpause (sorry "andropause" more properly) on my mind, and resurrection, having read of Mel Gibson's rehabilitation all over again for playing roles of a father's rage at his child's injury. Reading of his certainty that the living Christ did resurrect, and him citing counts of eyewitnesses. As if he was there. His movie version doesn't convince me of anything other than of man's inhumanity to man. He seems addicted to violence.

So I was distracted the entire evening; one screen showing the football game - cheering for New Orleans since I don't know football but it seemed like a resurrection of sorts. After Katrina, as if there's such a thing as home team anymore. And one screen showing Extreme Home Makeover Buffalo Edition. Which, even excepting the excuse that I just moved back here, I should really know about. It's right around the corner from me. And just because I don't watch TV . . .

Well, the truth is I'm just plain cynical about such lottery celebrations. Like Slumdog and all the Hollywood movies, they just make you focus on your dreams (sic) and not on reality. As if there will be some sky ranger who drops into your life to take care of all your worries, and send you to Disney Land when he does it.

But there was Buffalo, turning out in volunteer hoards, to help a black community activist who wasn't even born here. Who has an accent still. And the show couldn't contain their project - with so many volunteers - to just that one house, so they spruced up the entire neighborhood.

Sure, I was in transition when all this was happening, and then I was in the hospital, being informed about the West Side by my roommate, one of 13 or 14 Puerto Ricans who grew up in one family there. I learned from his wife how to improve my take on beans and rice. But it's still a blind spot, the West Side on whose border's this side I barely live. It's still like a dream I can't recall. That blind spot I have to remind myself to include in my breath-restoring peregrinations. I generally walk the other way, where all the cool people stroll. Coming in from the suburbs.

Over there beyond Urban Roots. Where they make gardens of the empty lots, and where our white-speaking black mayor invests a lot of hope. I should get over myself already and cheer right along with the crowds.

And yet I hope, instead, to take point for the city as interpreter of China. That place which my daughter calmly points out, to her world which I can glimpse from Facebook, steamrollers Tibet. Bringing civilization to the world, pretty much the way that we have always done under the banner of Christ, or maybe just by Yankee ingenuity. We steamroller anything in the way of what we mean by progress. But we do it by corporate proxy, and with a winning smile.

As an adult and a realist, I understand that if these two great world superpowers posture themselves against one another, each holier than thou, then we're all screwed; and never mind the native riches that are being destroyed along with species on a daily basis, east and west. The Moslem v. Christians sideshow will fall into the backdrop. Foregrounded will be where the real money's at. Oil, after all, is limited. After a while the earth is just skin and bones. We're gearing up for that, right?

Sincerity meets formalism is how I see it. We Americans disingenuous in our insistence that here we enable the freest possible flow of information. Never mind that Verizon can divert that flow for government snooping, on illegal orders, and then get a pass for following them. Never mind that it can prove nearly impossible to get beneath various conspiracy theories to find some actual sincere speech underneath them. Nevermind that you would be a fool to trust even your spouse these days. Especially your spouse.

The Chinese put an especially formal face on things, keeping their own multi-part disputes under wraps until they settle on a public posture. House-imprisoning anyone high up who exposes the inner debates to the outer crowd. Chopping off heads unceremoniously, from those not high enough up to make any difference, but loud enough to be noticed. Harvesting their organs for the public good, or so some conspiracy theories say. Or have they already sunk beneath the noise, and I'm just out of touch?

They eat dogs over there (and the reason we find our dogs so lovable is because we ate all the ugly ones in our past, breeding the kind of irresistible quality which assures their survival as man's best friend). The Chinese were the ones who bred the really exotic ones for our approval.

My niece casually informs me, along with an audience of mostly elderly and extremely well-educated church goers, that in Ghana, where she'd spent two years with the Peace Corps, they don't name their children until a week has passed. In accommodation to the ravages of infant mortality, at least historically.

And my little Peanut was named instantly on violent exit from her wombspace. Two months early, as if there was no chance that the technology avialable wouldn't save her. (It wasn't the technology so much as the doctor's missed diagnosis which shocked the surfactin into informing her lungs while nearly killing her mother).

But we would charge murder against abortionists who understand that a child unloved is a far worse tragedy than one stopped in its gestation. I watched my daughter speaking reasonably up on YouTube about Tibet, as gangs of Chinese intellectuals marched out in protest against this affront to what they knew for certain. Much like fundamentalist capitalists do if I suggest that we don't have real freedom of real information either.

We take an opposite tack with our intellectuals. We suffuse them with left-wing pedagogy, confident that they will always prefer the pretty things after they graduate. Whose is the greater disinformation mill? I truly don't and can't know. I can only know that these two great powers must learn to understand and respect one another, and that only by doing so will the native life of the planet have any chance at all. We won't survive another cold war. The great firewall dividing the Huns from civilization is all made of cultural miscues. And the Huns were really really violent and nasty and brutish.

China sounds dreadful until you consider our prisonhouses full of despair, overrepresented by blacks and others who required drugs more powerful than those on prescription insurance subsidy to feel that their days are worthwhile. Until you consider how we destroy the Lindy Englands of our world, and give the powerful a pass too.

I'm no big fan of the NPR style assumption that if you simply air the left and the right, the balance will be found in the middle. Sometimes there really isn't any truth at all on one side or the other. Sometimes you have to catch Democracy Now! to be reassured the world hasn't all gone crazy (I'm sure Fox TV has a point or two, now and then).

Well, the Saints won in overtime. I liked that. Favre was inspiring too, for taking all those hits just like Mel Gibson would, and even going so far as to congratulate his opposition. And the folks of Buffalo showed the world once again that we will turn your cynicism right into activism, the same way we championed Scotty Norwood for his wide right. Although we're pretty beaten down. We seem to get up again. This City of no Illusions.

And the Chinese have good reason to be nervous about messianic cults resulting from contact with the West. They're pretty sure they don't want another cult of personality. They've suffered a few too many. As with any good marriage, by learning from each other, we can become our better selves. Bring it on.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hillary, Get a Clue

I love you. Really, I do. You and John Edwards would make a cute couple. But you really can't go on about the free flow of information in a country losing its newspapers faster than a Kung Fu boxer can stop a speeding bullet. You can't get on some high horse about freedom of information, when our Supreme Court just declared corporations the equivalent of people. Yes, sure I'll put my sacred trust in Walmart. They would never hurt the little guy. They even put us in their ads.

Anyone know where the closest FaLun Gong congregation is? I'd like to sign up. Sheesh.

China should get a clue too. It's not we the people who are the Imperialists. It's our corporations. They've taken over. Can I please have my government back? Please?

Love, Lust and Losing Things - Bye Bye John Edwards!

Can you imagine someone like John Edwards truly believing that he had to lie; that all the good that he could do for the world would be wrecked by his very private and personal weakness going public? Could that possibly excuse the lies he actually told out loud and in public?

I don't really think so, but I don't know for sure. I've never been rich and good looking and a prominent chick magnet who stayed true almost to the end.

The trouble with what he did is that he betrayed any trust at all he might have ever thought he had in the public. We thought. He can't claim to be an advocate for the poor and then suppose that the public, overrepresented by the poor, wouldn't understand his weaknesses. Just like Tiger Woods, he wanted to be thought one of the good guys, when he was really just another guy wanting or needing to get laid. Against his public vows. Are you proof against that? Really?

I gave Clinton a pass - in my mind right where Jimmy Carter lusted - because he was already in office, and fessing up would cause actual havoc. Too bad the havoc was wrought anyhow. Too bad for John Edwards that he didn't wake up earlier too. And if he was waiting for his wife to die so that he wouldn't have to break her heart, well, it's hard to find that noble. Not impossible. Just really hard.

Doesn't the public just want to get laid too? Maybe holding our representatives to a higher standard than we expect from ourselves just isn't working for us. Because, in the end, I'm simply not quite ready to call John Edwards a terrible person. I'll let him do that himself, if he wants to. If he wants his soul back, it will have to be done in public.

Or, you know, maybe we don't all want to be rich and beautiful and famous. Maybe we just want a chance to hang with the homies; by which I mean wife, kids, dog, decent job, a garden maybe. Maybe the trouble is our supposed lust after the life of those people we love to bring down once we expose their secret evils. How the hell did you think they got there? By playing tiddlywinks in Sunday School?

Hell, out in public, a single word, misplaced, can bring you down in a big hurry. And then people will think they know all sorts of things about you that you thought were hidden behind your public act. Just try saying Negro out loud. Your only excuse would be that you were living in a cave somewhere alongside Rip Van Winkle. (He wasn't gay, right?)

OK, here comes the strange part. There's always a strange part, but at least you can't say I didn't warn you! It's almost like I'm reverting back to the way I wrote when I was young enough to make a name for myself. I'm way too old now, without a chance.

There is that strange (see?) moment just before getting out of bed for the day, when there might be some clarity to thought. Some settled certainty, which feels as certain as if you will remember it. And then, like a dream precisely, you get out of bed and it's gone. Very much like those brilliant ideas you were in the middle of exposing, in the middle of a conversation, and then they're gone too, and you worry that you're losing your mind right along with your memory.

This morning though, I do remember the topic. It was nothing; the blissful realization that arriving at the still state of nowhere to go is bliss and that there never was anywhere to go and that finding nothing is finding everything. But I had some particular words which might go along with it. I was certain that I could write it, this nothing that was the proper goal of all searching. This it.

*Poof* Gone.

I watched the movie Klimpt last night, which was John Malkovich being Klimpt being John Malkovich, punning about body doubles and art objects and love objects and siphylitic madness and loss of mind from mercury mad hatting. In the film, in the paintings, in the mind, apparently, of Klimpt were these body lovlies, of a sort you might wish were pornographic. But they looked like paintings, and on the standard that you know it when you see it, I'm pretty certain that even the religionist nutjobs would not have found these moving naked bodies obscene.

They were juxtaposed, these lovelies on the screen, with intellectual crowds who looked ridiculous up against what we mean by modern art. Forgetting the costume of its day, when modern was something to look forward to instead of back on. Forgetting that people always did have a sense of humor, even when they took themselves seriously wearing track shoes in public, for instance, like we all did back in the 90s (except me. I never did that. I wear teal Chucks.). Bowler hats and black tie. Punching actual faces to settle scores.

How quaint. We murder now with words alone. With pictures.

Yes, art is that thing within the frame - Malkovich being Klimpt carried one he could look through to compose what he was seeing - and it must be distinguished from what has function and from the frame itself, which must be crafted and can't be art. Pedantry spoils the show. Klimpt had foul words for those who would make claims against him. He thought all art was shit. He was easily a man. There is no flattery in that. Women all, were his sacred objects.

Lust is functional, we suppose, for reproduction, and beauty too must have some evolutionary purpose. That must be why Adolf Hitler admired cheesy soft-pornographic paintings universally derided for having no artistic quality. He was all about eugenics and the celebration of a striving for his notion of perfection. Is it too bad he had no taste? We really must take better care of who we elect! The pretty people do not represent us.

Fashion is the thing which changes, and beauty moves along with it. These beauties in the film of Klimpt were post-modern beauties in the time of the audience now. They weren't the ones which got his juices going all the way back then. But these were cheesy beautiful in the way which would be mainstream hot. Not artsie hot. Hitler would approve if he were around today.

Which is a reminder, slightly, that the hot ones are always changing, always growing old, always a matter of taste, however bad. That while you catch glimpses, walking down the street or in coffee shops, of women whose practiced accomplishment at turning your heart and mind and eyes, in fantasy as in a dream, these are no more real for being real. The glimpses.

What is that thing that painters must strive for then, which can distinguish strawberry wine from the real stuff? Which would be so sublime if it did not make a buzz? I doubt it. Alcohol is what got civilization going in the first place, dummy! (sorry, I can't think of the modern term for you)

And women now, up against that certain age, will buy a test-tube man, apparently, rather than to remain barren, short of love, and I would never mock the impulse. At least the legal obligations won't be messy. At least Mom can trust herself then, forever and a day.

One hopes for family. One doesn't want to be alone forever. The arrangements for anonymity are so elaborate today. Let's say you want to be a Dad, but don't want any implication (OK, alright, I know, why would anyone want to do that??!! It could only be an oversight). Citibank will very helpfully protect my identity - I can monitor my credit score for only $10.99 per month on an hourly basis (!!!) - and you're terrorized by the ones who would steal you?

The other movie - I really should get back to reading - was amores perrros - "Love is a Bitch" - an absolutely brilliant look at love's betrayals through the desperate eyes of pit-fighting dogs who must maul for love. Men who will destroy all and any woman's heart for what they truly do believe is love. The kind on a billboard like a wet dream. If only I could remember. This film from corrupted Mexico is so far beyond anything Hollywood has ever produced that you might end up wondering if all we gringos watch is porn by analog?

This betrayal, then, will be its own final answer, for John Edwards as for me. This text beside the photo beside the reality of actual touch. I would betray my love out loud and in public, but it's the wrong place and the wrong time, like putting a marriage proposal up on a score-board during a game. Shouldn't the other party have a say?

My car also makes strange noises in its old age, and sometimes I wonder if the wheels are coming off. They do that sometimes, when the very nice mechanics forget to tighten the lugs. It's such a bother to do it myself now, in the ice and snow and cold of Buffalo winter. But it is distracting out on the highway to think that way. I wouldn't want someone to feel responsible because of my omission.

I think that exchanging words, exploring plots, fixing memories, does provide an entanglement at least as powerful as family ties. I do. John Edwards must feel very very alone right now. Hey, buddy, for a fee, I'll fix up your reputation. I'll coach you in honesty. Just as soon as I figure it out myself.

And so I live on now in some strange state of suspended animation, where nothing is happening, and I am breathless with anticipation. (no, really, to the point of landing in the hospital about it) Where weeks go by with no agenda, where there should be terror at the money running out, where I am indulged by friends and family who are under no obligation, where I can't even keep up with, never mind find, the words to fix it, anything, in place.

Now where is that clarity from my dream-state? Where is that nothing at my center? Even my broken cell phone mocks me. It awaits a new embodiment, to be delivered by FedEx tomorrow (yesterday by now, and the new one has a broken joystick. You can't make this shit up). And then I will retrieve my address book from the ether (got it!), so that I can know who's calling and how I might respond.

Shall I go on?

I could talk about IQ and how stupid it is to believe that numbers can pin us down . . . but it is not you I love. You don't even exist, remember? Reader of my dreams.

You know, this whole thing - this particular writing, and all my writing - reads almost exactly like a post-modernist academic rant. By the time you can understand what is being written about, it's already too late. You will have lost the strangeness of it to someone not in and of the academy. You will have forgotten that nobody in the real world talks like that or thinks like that or can respond to writing like that. You will have driven past the point, still waiting for a point, and you will be convinced with each new and brilliant sentence of the brilliance of the author, but then afterward, you also will not be able to recall the argument. Except maybe, to sum it up in a word or two. Power always gets the last word. Duh.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Simple Story of Numbers and Commuters

Here is a simple story, excerpted from a draft document found at the Capital District Regional Planning Commission website. It's meant to complement an excellent argument made by a fellow Buffalonian who is passionate about the fate of our nation's rustbelt cities.

We seem to have a death wish in Buffalo. At least we don't have the governator coming to get us from the future. Our own both blind and black governor - which ought to get us points - is doing a much better job at giving us some straight talk. He was up against the wall of poll numbers recently, and maybe feels new courage in the face of adversity. But he'll need the help of we the people to change some of the (home) rules of the game.

The story here requires little commentary, except to point out that the disparity between household numbers and building permits issued makes Buffalo stand out nationwide as the region most actively working to abandon and destroy its urban housing stock. New housing permit numbers which lead household growth works to evacuate a city. The Buffalo metro region issued about 300% more building permits than there were new households during the period from 1980 to 2000.  This compares to the nationwide high of 30-35% more in the Northeast and Midwest, and the general trend toward sprawl indicated by a national average of 19%.

In the Buffalo region, this is the direct result of multiple layers of "home rule" government being predatory against each other. Sprawl on steroids, you might call it. And at its root is the way the schools are districted. Small competing districts which form the basis for housing prices. Taxation rates are perversely related to housing affordability as you can see from the narrative below the chart.  And there remains (therefore?) a shocking disparity in school funding in favor of suburbanites who can afford the more expensive homes. The net effects work directly against the good of society at large.

This has to change.

(metro population)

City-proper Population

Metro Population

Percent Change

Household Change

Building Permits issued






City limits

Metro Region

































Living and Working on an Uneven Field
(from the Commission report)

Sam attends the same church as his friend, Charlie. They generally shop at the same Walmart in Glenville and use the same dentist in Niskayuna. They attend Broadway touring company productions at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady and in the summer go to the track once or twice together with their families. They are truly “regional residents”, enjoying all that the Capital Region has to offer.

As it happens, Sam and his family live in the Rosa Road area of northeast Schenectady and he works at a firm in the 21st century office park in Clifton Park. Charlie lives in the western part of Clifton Park and works at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady. They frequently pass each other on the Rexford Bridge as they reverse each other’s modest-distance commutes.

This is where the parallel nature of their lives ends. The heavy dependence in New York on local governments for the cost of public services creates an uneven playing field that affects residents and workers of differing communities in vastly different ways. Because Sam’s house happens to be in the city of Schenectady and Charlie’s house just three miles away is in the town of Clifton Park, their fiscal circumstances contrast significantly:

• When the Capital Region witnesses an increase in immigration of lower income residents from downstate New York, Sam’s Schenectady County property taxes rise. Charlie’s Saratoga County taxes do not.

• When the two families attend an event at Proctor’s, Sam has paid taxes to provide (city) police and fire protection, Charlie has not.

• When there is a traffic accident outside Charlie’s work place in Schenectady, Sam has paid taxes to provide a (city) police response; neither Charlie nor his employer have.

• When there is a traffic accident outside Sam’s place of work in Clifton Park, Sam, Charlie and their employers have all shared in the (state) taxes to provide a State Police response.

• As Charlie drives down Union Street to his work place, he can thank Sam for paying to maintain the condition of the street and operate the signal system on the city-owned arterial.

• As Sam drives along NY 146 to his work place, he knows he has shared the cost of maintaining the condition of the street and signals on the state-owned arterial.

• On top of all this, Sam and his wife Sarah debate educational plans for their young children. They wonder whether they should spring for the funds for private school tuition because of the low rating of the city’ s public schools – schools that are challenged in meeting educational achievement goals with a student body heavily populated with disadvantaged children.

• Charlie and his wife Cathy face no similar dilemma – their house is located in the highly-rated Niskayuna School District which serves children predominantly from households with incomes far above the regional average.

In short, Sam is required to contribute tax dollars to provide social services and public infrastructure for the general benefit of the entire region (service to poor residents and to non-profit institutions) to a far greater degree than does Charley. As a result, Sam’s personal finances suffer. His property tax annually totals $5,400 on his three-bedroom $100,000 house (whose value has only recently begun to recover from a ten-year decline.) Charley can work and recreate in Schenectady while enjoying steady increases in property values (his similar, three-bedroom house is now appraised at over $175,000) and pay $2,000 less in property taxes than does Sam.

Impossible Unmagical Thinking - a Rant Against the Supreme Court Decision on "Free Speech"

You won't be able to see it, but Alexander Cockburn, a reasonably prolific left-wing thinker, keeps on warning the folks on the left that global warming might be a diversionary plot, also funded by the carbon extraction industries, to keep our attention away from dealing with the real catastrophe, which continues to be industrial pollution. Cockburn writes for the Nation, where his articles are sequestered away for subscribers only.

That's what the New York Times would now like to do, in the interest of preserving their editorial staff against the economics of the Internet. They'd like to sequester their stuff away from any but paid subscribers. Except, also at the Nation - and I think this one's on their public site - they point out that journalism is doomed even apart from the changed economic realities of the Internet.

These Nation authors disparage the commercial history of journalism, which, if my read is correct, they see largely in terms of a progressive [sic] whittling away at any government subsidies. We once granted those subsidies with a kind of patriotic unanimity, starting way back with Ben Franklin. Well, he made his money from newspapering, and maybe even benefitted personally from the subsidies he patriotically demanded. Isn't it ironic?

That was the spirit with which we practically imposed a free press on defeated Japan and Germany after World War II. Having seen that the absence of a free press contributed to an uninformed public being roused into dangerous action by fascist dictatorships. These authors convincingly argue that direct subsidies to journalistic enterprises are essential to a functioning democracy. They may be right.

Somehow, we have allowed government - any government - to seem synonymous with control over our lives, much in the way that the beloved Dr. Seuss of my childhood presented Mom as the proto-fascist. Government, can't be trusted to hold any interest higher than its own self-preservation; like Mom only caring about keeping the house clean, and never ever participating in the fun. But government could be seen to be looking out for our interests, like Mom keeping us from hurting ourselves by stepping beyond her safety zone.

Let's take a closer look at what's up now:

Attacks on social security do a bait and switch on us Boomers, who are made to think we'll overwhelm the kitty which we funded. Or is it that the reserve fund will need to be refunded from a government treasury impossibly too deep now in debt. In debt to us, the people. It's not that social security will go bankrupt, it's that the government will be too indebted to our retirement fund to be able to pay it back. No wonder people have a hard time with trust.

And Glenn Beck wails about indebtedness in our name, without pausing for a minute to consider the cost of just letting the house of cards fall down. And everybody to his left is certain that he's just as scary as the white supremacists lurking among the teabaggers.

And so the merry-go-round goes, without any hope at all to resolve difficult issues. Without any hope at all to break the stranglehold of officeholders to stay there. Except - perversely enough for those of us rooting for the left side of the aisle - when someone like Ted Kennedy actually dies in office, and then the electorate says hey, finally, we want some change. As if they had been muffled somehow, all those years. Or were they just afraid to cut loose from their extremely well embedded representative in Washington? Afraid to lose their advantage. Whose advantage?

I get spam commentary on this blog now, which I guess is like rising up in the world. Most recently, there was an internal reference to a blog which looks legitimate. There is a picture of an impossibly attractive blond, who you presume must be this fabled "Mom to financial guru" and then there's all sorts of loving commentary, like you see on lots of people's blogs. Fans and well-wishers, but in this case you get the feeling maybe that the whole interaction is concocted. The language just doesn't sound like a native blond. But hey, who knows, maybe they won't steal all your money. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours, and we can all go viral together.

Sometimes even the really carefully vetted and honest seeming good guys steal all your money. Sometimes they don't even go to jail for it, because they technically haven't broken any laws. They just went out of business, and you took a risk. Will the government go out of business, or will they just bait and switch your attention to something really scary, like Social Security going bankrupt if we don't cut benefits or increase takes, or turn it over to the wall street guys who then could steal all your money without going to jail? (?????)

Who can tell if the teabagger anti-global warming types are right about false fears diverting our attention. But aren't they pandering fear too? Fear of a conspiracy of dunces? Fear of the end of the Republic? But which Republic do they fear will end? If it's the one which is of the people, by the people and for the people, hasn't that ended already? Hasn't it been replaced by Corporatism, whereby if you are big enough you can prevent any and all competition from the smaller entrepeneurs. Isn't that what the supreme court has now enshrined into law?

As David Brooks so aptly points out [I can't find any writing he's done yet on it, but he spoke on NPR and PBS all day yesterday - look it up], these guys aren't going to want to choose parties, politically, since they get their favors from both sides of the aisle. And they sell their wares to everyone; it wouldn't be good business to alienate the liberals, say. But they will lobby for preferences in a way that small business just can't afford, as has been happening with increasing and alarming frequency in Washington.

Our postal rates favor the massive media conglomerates. Airwaves are given away, but only to bidders who are ginormous enough to beat off any and all competition in a public "auction." Media are allowed to create vertical markets, on some kind of fantasy that new technology makes it possible to compete in ways that were never possible in the good old days which required regulation. As if little media outlets on the Internet can really outshine MSNBC or whatever alphabet soup of familiarity you choose.

There is some fiction about viral video catapaulting American Idols from obscurity to fame; and then it turns out to be Lonely Girl, put up by some clever screenwriting team. Makeover teams will not have time to get to your house, though you may dream it.

The Internet now is practically screaming Startup Startup as if the main thing you need to do with your life is have a dream, get some backing from friends and family and then go for broke. As though you might actually drown out the Leviathans of the Internet marketplace. You might as well play the Lottery. Even the cover of my Yale Alumni Magazine now depicts a guy in some basement spending all his waking hours on his Startup dream. You should remember, there still is an old boy network, and this guy has a lot better chance than you do.

I am locked in to Verizon if I want to move around and talk. I am locked in to Bank of America if I want to be able to bank from my phone. I am locked in to the New York Times if I want some reliable sense of what's going on in the world, since no-one else can even afford a newsroom. It's not that I don't trust the little guys, it's just that I'd rather have a good driver with a clean record who's a psychopath driving my kids' bus than the earnest honest guy who just can't drive.

And big corporations really are analogous to psychopaths. So, the Supreme Court now enshrines the right to free speech of those who would yell fire in a crowded theater if they could profit from it. Pretty much like the marketing of HINI flu viruses - er, I mean cures, well, alright vaccines - by the same folks who brought you the "wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Why do we go along with this?

We are about to pass, or more likely not pass, a "healthcare" bill which has been whittled so far away from what can meet anybody's needs as to be unrecognizeable by anyone who identified the trouble in the first place. But by now we're desperate - utterly desperate - to have something done about what is so clearly broken.

The insurance notices come in from my recent hospitalization, and of course everything's denied, since I had the temerity to be hospitalized "out of network". The default is to deny, and then if you don't have at least a college degree, you'll get worn down and assume that you broke some fine print. That it really was your fault all along.

These were not entrepreneurial lobbyists who whittled away the resolve of our representatives who are also, bizarrely, afraid of losing their jobs! Don't you have to die in office before the other party gets your seat? These were big big corporate lobbyists. Conglomerate lobbyists. Syndicate lobbyists. Do you really think they have your interests in mind? Well, I guess you do if you buy the mythology that we have a free market. It's not free if there's only too big to fail and the riff raff.

And we complain about the behaviors of China's government? Come on Hillary, get a clue. Our censorship is far far more effective. We simply overwhelm the voices we don't want you to listen to, and we do it with lots and lots of money. Is this cold war redux all over again now?

Doesn't it make sense, if you're an oil company, say, and you are more aware than the rest of us that you can't keep pumping this stuff out of the earth forever, for you to create some panic about carbon in the air? The price for what's left will and should go sky high. It's what we liberals are clamoring for, as the only solution to save the planet.

We can blame the earthquakes then on global warming too, since who can tell between out-of-control weather and tsunamis started by shifting the balance of the plates by sucking all the oil out of the ground. Do you think liposuction is really the way to lose weight? Aren't there repercussions, and things left out of kilter?

I submit, simply, that we really can't know. There's too much money involved, and too much profit, and even the scientists need their work to be funded from somewhere. But I'm not about to listen to the Jehovah's Witnesses telling me that there is no solution but to believe in some sky God who will make it all alright. They are pandering fear as well.

This sky God has to be brought down to earth. He has to reside in each of our hearts, so that we can act in concert with our fellow humans in ways to defeat the rendered will of people who are only interested in a paycheck. You and I are interested in a paycheck too. But there should be limits to what can be gotten away with in our name. We shouldn't be required to wear the company boxer shorts, or drink their koolaid.

The loss in Massachusetts will do the Democrats good if they will get a clue about what really happened. Global warming will take care of itself if each of us feels a little bit more guilty about the cost of indulging all of our lusts all of the time. Pollution will cease to be a problem as soon as we stop exporting it to countries without the wherewithal to regulate or limit it.

But no good can possibly come from this absurd defeatist and cynical Supreme Court Decision. Unless it provides the necessary goad to turn back the clock on whatever we were thinking when we, progressively over time beginning right around those bloody World Wars, gave "rights" to corporations as if they were people.

Let's do it, people. The only thing we have to lose is our fear. Otherwise we're screwed (he says to monger some fear himself. Hey, I hear there's lots of money it it . . . ).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Lost Faith

Isn't there some brain research which compares religious rapture to falling in love? This must be the same sort of chemistry which keeps runners running to get that endorphin high (which I have never known; knowing only the lalalalalala in my head from working out to the point where I could keep going forever). That same sort of chemistry which keeps people coming back to church on Sunday, and it must be that much better than whatever I get from watching a movie, a play, reading a book, which also feels like approaching some sort of high.

Over its edge, people say and do and believe really crazy things. As if they get pulled into their own narratives; their own private stories which have such a powerful trajectory that they can take over from reality itself: People climb into their personal story and can manage some conclusion so powerfully that it becomes an embodiment, in seeming reality.

Christ, for instance, of course belongs only in the heart, and yet the idea of embodiment - the embodied idea - is so powerful that it can catapult true believers out of all sense. Ideas are such nonsense. Truly. What's real is so much more so.

I had something like an idea of myself. A story of my life. Which can be made to look pretty OK. But the trouble with such tales is that they can collapse in an instant when glanced at from some other angle. When a single word, say, turns that wannabe conclusion into something different from what it seemed to be becoming. A twist. Like finding yourself in some video and then realizing who you really seem to others. Cringe.

This must be a kind of test; who is used to seeing themselves depicted and still feeling proud? Is that something only trained actors can do? Who else could survive the public stage? I have only one professional photo of myself, which I allow as my profile picture. I think I stole it. But it makes me cringe less.

I listened to the great great grandson of Charles Darwin explaining the man to Terry Gross yesterday on NPR. Darwin was so close to us in time, and he did struggle also with the faith around him. His own faith, one must suppose. His legacy scholar great great grandson spoke so slowly and deliberately; to an anglophile American he sounded erudite, but even Terry seemed to need to interrupt him from time to time as he rehearsed his slow way to some point.

She sounded embarrassed too, to ask the question about how it was to re-present his ancestor's life here in America, where we seem to have a lot more propensity than they do in the old country, to believe outrageous narratives. There are so many Creationists here. And the title of the film to be produced on Darwin's life - "Creation" - seems such a blatant tweak.

Well, of course he expressed gladness, this legacy thinker did, that there would be strong challenges to the thinking which in its time was worked out with real agony and cost to its thinker. A kind of survival of the fittest narrative, was the contest in question, and Darwin's legacy must welcome it.

In some ways, I can lay claim to be microcosm of America. I never would read when I was a child. I was therefore uncivilized. I know that this was directly related to what I can identify in retrospect as emotional incest. Very mild. Very common. You may recognize it in yourself if you were brought up in the suburbs. Far too much hope projected onto me.

I was thought smart, and therefore there was a kind of pressure put on me to demonstrate that, as a kind of show dog. What could I have done but refuse? Displace my interests out-of-doors, into the wild, where no-one would ever be watching. I never did read a book, really, until Plato's Republic one long night. Where I discovered the idea of the idea. And the surprising fact that I could read. I exaggerate less than you would credit.

I never could stand to see myself in pictures, though later I would find myself on television as a presumptive expert on giftedness, because I had been defaulted to the headship of a failing school for gifted kids. I cringe to think that I endured that. All of it. What could I have been thinking? That I looked the part?

It must have given me practice for this exposure here. Which I just do now, out of some practiced habit, as if I'd undergone a sex change operation and finally put on the dress in public (now there's some courage I really have to honor!). Pretending that I have something to say. Retaining, I suppose, that stupid American innocence as if things could be that simple. Hollywood simple.

Looking back, there must have been a kind of inevitability that I would study Chinese. Lots of irony, that study of the world's oldest continuous direct legacy chain of cultured civilization, represented by the most populous political entity on earth, could allow me a position of relative parity with those so much better read in English. Scratching the surface could make me relatively deep. Irony that by finding oneself on the other side of the planet, I could seem distinguished by minor efforts, just as I would by simply standing among Chinese from whom I looked different.

Inevitably, I had the wrong memory style for good study of literary Chinese. I'm deft enough with speech, but memorizing texts is not exactly a strength. In math or physics classes, I had to derive formulas during the exams, since I never could commit them, nor the recipe-like procedures, to memory. It was a painful deficit, which also allowed me to rationalize not taking any books home each night, which I wasn't going to open anyhow. There must be something traumatic which I can't remember, or is it just my wiring? I was proud enough of my ability to fake it, like some Matt Damon character or was it Leo, pretending to be a pilot.

Dad's memory is nearly gone now. Mom still can't find a way in to her own life. I still cringe at her unnecessary worries about me. They make me want to disappear. The two of them together remind me of how unlikely my own independence will always be. I'm an American, and I must be independent, authentic, and truly me. So, I fail by definition. But I do love my family. I would be lost without them.

There is something beyond taboo to rehearse these things in public. Something far worse than to expose oneself; a naked body, say. It would be better to promote the narrative to good conclusion. To write something finished.

Perhaps someday I will. I rather doubt it. How angry can we be at John Edwards, now, without being angry with ourselves for still wanting to believe those outrageous lies. What did he see in his mirror? How far is anybody willing to drive their narrative if they can seem to fill its part?

Just yesterday, I went over that edge myself. I thought that it would be important to let you in so far to my thinking that you would need to know just where and how I had come up with whatever outrageous connection I was making. That I located it, right on the toilet, as if thereby I could fix that much more credibility. Deletion is nice, though once spoken, words sometimes can't be taken back.

I wasn't so much embarrassed for myself. I had dragged other people into my thoughts. Like Edwards paying off his staffer to take the hit. What, for the greater good of the country? We can do without pretty people in love with their own reflections.

Charles Darwin made his discoveries so recently, and yet we find it strange that there are primitives among us still rehearsing Darwin's own struggles with the Biblical idea of creation? How can so much time seem to have passed? When it really was only yesterday that we lacked any good evidence for time's scale. When molecular structures for encoding legacy combinations were nowhere near a twinkle in any scientist's eye. When the stars were understood only marginally better than the way they look to me, in love.

Of course it remains offensive that humans should crowd out their projected God as if we could understand and derive those formulas which had been handed down by rote. Explanations don't and can't stand in for what we know to be true in our hearts. That we are not just random. Darwin lost a child, and felt no less pain for his understanding that it was a natural process and no retribution for his loss of faith.

You know, I understand the American romance for the wild. That sense that nature left alone must be preserved for future generations. I also treasure the Chinese sense of kept gardens and pruning and enhancing with pagodas and terraces and steles engraved with poetically related written characters to make the stamp of great poets upon the land. Even their filling in with water what we might call God's gorges. God's gouges. I can understand that, as a continuation of the inevitable and proper course of civilization. Bringing heaven's constancy down to earth. Regularizing the wild.

I am in from the cold. My apartment shakes in the wind, but it will not come down when the earth shakes. There is warmth in civilization.

And I really am just a dog in manly disguise. Not such a bad thing to be. But I've lost my faith that I'm a man. Which is rough. Ruff ruff.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Free Speech!

I'm so sorry, dear reader. I continue to fail to respect you. I have taken you for granted, and I think it's fair to say I sometimes don't even believe you exist. Sometimes I'm pretty sure that you are a projection of my fantasies.

But one thing I know you're not is the collective rendering of a bought impulse. What kind of idiocy has taken over our land? The supreme court now can't even tell the difference between an individual with a heart and mind, and the rendered position of people who are willing to sell their enthusiasms for a paycheck. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with working for a living. But I am saying that there should be a legal distinction between a person and a corporate entity. You can support the company's widgets, but I doubt you want to be beholden to the company's philosophy.

If you're like me, you might even be creeped out if the company has a philosophy. If it does, it should be called a church, and we know how we feel about those corporations being involved in politics. Don't we? Isn't there something about it in our Constitution?

If corporations want to publish anything at all, and if you want to read it, or watch it, or subscribe to it, I have no problem with that. But stay the hell away from my government, which is of the people, by the people and for the people. Your rights, if you're a corporation, are determined in the marketplace. That should be enough.

And I have to apologize for putting too much personal stuff in here. I don't really care that much if you like me. And people who do like me aren't all that comfortable with being dragged into this. It's between you and me. Sometimes I screw up. Sorry.