Sunday, June 27, 2010

Subversive Shorts Bee Lineup, AKA "A"

With a start, I realized that I should have been up in Toronto where all the real subversion was happening last night. Too late. I've been preoccupied with family matters, and numb to the world stage. Our own Seattle right around the corner, where acting up can make a difference. But then I watched a burning police car via over-the-Internets video and it looked so Canadian. Almost as if they have no interest in fanning flames of provocation. According to Michael Moore, they don't even lock their doors. And the cops with batons were equipped with bicycles, of all the crazy stuff. They were probably dialed in to the subversives' Twitter accounts. No-one looked very guilty. Not even the police. We're such hosers down below.

Subversion gets no satisfaction these days, and there are still unaccountably scant audiences down at the Theatre. Which only means that there's more room for YOU. These shorts are good!

I can't quite agree that this "A" or "Artaud" lineup is better than the one I saw last week. These short one-act plays were certainly engaging, but sometimes veered in the direction of a Saturday Night Live skit, which was what I fell asleep to last night, literally. Well, it was a re-run, so it wasn't technically "live", but it was live once! (Eat meat, it's what's for dinner, though you should eat stuff which was alive and not in industrial feedlot simulating life, as I learned the other time from the "B" lineup) It could just be the venue which keeps the crowds at bay - I'm pretty sure that if you threw these shorts up on a television screen, or a YouTube say, audiences would howl. Buffalo-born has made the world stage before!

Real theatre (sic) is face to face in a way, although I think if the actors were to make eye contact of the sort real people do they could never quite do the incredible job they did here last night. These actors were *in* to their roles. What a pleasure!

To run them down - not like police do, but like reviewers do - there were middle schoolers acting like adults negotiating gender politics as on the world stage of trade negotiations to our North (I might have my scale and venue mixed up). There was a traffic control disembodied voice posing as a very masculine God. There was celebration of the quiet choices of the abused women of the world, stood in for by an offstage silent smiling nun of ones imagination. The sister act-ed by a gay woman celebrant of absent judgement toward dronish subservients in a patriarchal structure of abuse which hardly becomes the Universal Church of Men. There really were bees composing Genesis, with some gender role reversals. Well, all you have to do is to imagine queens and drones and this was funny honey. Sweet. A Boorish banker opening an American do-gooder NGO-sponsored eco-tourism mecca down in South Africa with ironic twists. I mean, talk about ironic! You don't even know.

I don't know if life imitates art, or if the other way around, and how come it all coheres if only in this one mind, but each play plays on the others and on reality, so-called, and there's microcosmic shift which might be enough. It always has been. Did you think the world could change its mind all at once?

I'm not kidding, this was good stuff. The first short was acted out by students at the Performing Arts High School Magnet (another Buffalo invention), which is surely harboring some talent. Some good teaching. Some almost unbelievable presence on stage. The monologue by the gay sister of the sweetly innocent nun was performed so convincingly that I felt as though she stood for everyman, liberated, constrained, uncertain, freed, holding back from judgement herself, though she had every right to toss firebombs. On the model of silent women the world over who need honoring, but not, you know, worshipping.

And really, you should see actors channeling bees looking down on us humans-without-awareness. Divided as we are from the continuum of life. Genesis. Exodus. Who knows how the world will change? One awakening at a time? Person to person? The bees really are telling us something about our mono-culture, I mean the real bees, the ones we depend on for our pollination and our lives, and, um, I think we can't live without them, no matter the buzz down in South Africa which drowns out the thoughts of superstars. We didn't project our dreams on that screen this time, did we?

Right before the show I installed a new battery to the supposedly irreparable iPod my daughter's cat accidentally showered. People camped out all night to get the latest of these false presentations of seamlessness, interfaces without any way in. Willing to overlook flaws at the cost of a fatted service contract, as though they never crash. I will not refrain from opening smooth exteriors, you know, certainly not because I've been mesmerized by Word or words or acting.

The place where I bought the iPod battery represents a mission to protect landfills from poison superannuated electronic gear by demonstrating how easy it is to repair. Yeah, I know I'm being greenwashed, but, well, still I'd rather watch live theatre than participate in staged protest, and the "genius bar" just tells you they don't fix these things. I'm no sucker for guys in robes representing some mysterium.

Who knows how the world will change? The only thing that we do know is that it will, because the math doesn't work out the way we're going. Why not start here? Why not now? As my friend and I were walking out there was a full red moon just above the treetops, over the low buildings of this supposedly dying city. Now I just found out that I'd missed it's eclipse. The moon's, I mean, not the city's - for that I've been fully present. These menstrual pulls cannot be gainsaid by my manly artifice. My head was turned, as was God's, on stage, by flesh. Hey, I'm human. I'm implicated. She was hot!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Subversive Shorts!

None of us can know our own personal deficits. They are blind spots; lacunae, to borrow the title from a recent Barbara Kingsolver novel I admired. (I'm now savoring her nonfictional take on living close to the land, reading it slowly in imitation of the manner of eating which will provide the best reward, local and global, as she celebrates.)

We can know our deficits only by a kind of emotional triangulation from among the feedback we receive, trying to filter out that which is motivated by the lacunae in others; sometimes these are projections which might have nothing at all to do with us. We can try to modulate the ways in which we discourage useful feedback. Our resistances and sensitivities and bluster and anger. Our touchiness.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle must be the most intelligent book I have ever read. It uncovers much of what is really going on with our food culture. Just now, shopping at the local food co-op, I was distressed to learn from how far away my veggies had been shipped. But at least the Co-Op does provide that information now. I have been informed, and that's a start. The books wasn't meant as entertainment, but it's written well. Eat your spinach. As though it wasn't, well, yummy when well prepared and not repetitive to the point of evermore!

There is no delegating out my responsibility to make good choices, though good enough will nearly always be quite good by my lights. I have no real direct experience with the kind of fresh and lovingly raised food that Kingsolver celebrates and grows and worries over. I want to know why she will devote only a year and not a lifetime? Slowly. My standards aren't that high.

Last night I was among the ever more flush audience at Subversive Theatre for opening night of the "B" lineup, the "Brecht" series of their annual festival of short one-act plays. I liked them all. I don't know how to hoot as do the insiders, but I clapped loudly, only later learning that I should see the "A" or "Artaud" lineup if I want to see the good stuff.

The place felt cool; more comfortable than I remember. I remark on the irony now, that this theater has purchased an air conditioner, even as one of the shorts - a  post-apocalyptic play set in the future when air conditioning is illegal and ice, bizarrely, is the erotic toy of choice - might make it seem a Hummer of a buy. There are no perfect, no pure, no ideal choices. There is no escaping irony. None.

How would I know? How would I know which of these short plays and how, degraded women to make an ideological point? I could tell that some did to some women present. I can tell the difference among didactic and entertaining and emotive. There is no accounting, none, for personal reaction, though.

There was only one play which really moved me that way, theatrically and not in my mind alone: three characters, the mother and father of a soldier deployed in Iraq, at a coffee shop to meet his sweetheart. She would be travelling through Turkey, abandoning her Olympic hopes, to assist her lover in his escape from the travesty of this so-called War. The father celebrated his own service medals and couldn't face the shame of his only son, the deserter. The mother handed over her St. Christopher medals, finally resisting instruction from her Man - direct orders actually. She remained behind to sip her tea. Sending her husband home, startling when the barrista called her name in stentorian fashion. The absent husband's coffee finally ready post-departure. In her name. Old habits. Die hard. Go AWOL. With difficulty. The girl's parents care only for her Olympic glory. Echoes of the gods of the first piece.

The Medals play was the main course for me, meaning that it moved me to understand in a way which had a chance to change me. I recognize these in-formations of my own self. The ways in which I am inhibited from making change in the world around me. Barked orders, timid forays, checking my moves against the norms.

Oh, I mean that one short, but you know, it was that they were short which made them so easy to swallow. A kind of ratatouille when taken as a whole, or, no, different foods on a single plate, or no, courses, maybe as part of a gourmet dinner. My reach exceeds my grasp, of theater, of food, of what it is that will make people more certain in ways to do less harm.

Others among the shorts were meant more purely to enlighten. The vegetable side dishes. The vitamins. To teach the audience about our prison system, and how cruel it is to families. To teach about our petro-based agriculture. To demonstrate how that line to distinguish humanity from beastliness gets pushed ever farther back until we can justify even torture, on animal Prozac and Muzak and climate controlled comfort in their solitary feedlot pens. Not so unlike the assisted living facility where I recently moved my Dad. Why wouldn't you be happy there, Dad? You can't do anything for yourself. Anyhow.

It's hard to see all the distortions - how it might be that there is no choice but to raise animals this way for slaughter; to justify their suffering by making a fine and final distinction between animal and human. Kingsolver gently mocks the purity of vegetarians, since animal death is also implicated in vegetable growth in human cultivated plots. But many vegetarians might eat meat if the animal's end was that surprising to it; that unanticipated and the life was merely cut short instead of denied at the outset.

Which justification would you like for your daily bread? That it does, in fact, taste that much better when raised with love and locally and without having been distorted by breeding to make the long trip from grower to grocer? Or that you will feel better spending more and tasting less, always waiting for the prize in its true season. How much more would you spend?

I admired the cleverness of each of these pieces, but in the end, I guess, I still choose to be enlightened in a manner which entertains, which moves, which stops short of teaching, didactically, someone else's certainties. I would prefer to witness someone acting out what we all must go through to make the right choices; to fill in all our own gaps. Vitamins are only necessary in the first place because we breed out the complexities of the food we eat. I've been so informed.

I can have no idea how food might taste if we were to raise it properly, without industrial feedlots, allowing fuller genetic variation, and bringing harvests closer to their markets. I still rather suspect that the food I prepare with love still tastes that much better than the stuff I could prepare if limited to a radius of 50 miles in its true season.

I have this feeling that it's not all bad. That the present distortions will be rectified, that this is all the inevitable result of an oil-bender which can't last much more than the hundred years of its allotment. A mere human lifetime, give or take. I have a feeling that people will start to understand how our pleasures distort and destroy so many lives; animal, vegetable and even miracle by the displaced and outsourced decisions we leave to the marketplace. I suspect that we will learn to nuzzle one another again, and walk away from our wombs with views in which we hibernate to be born anew.

But I am absolutely certain that nothing will change without courageous re-presentations of what is going on. That line between pure entertainment and truly moving art has become so distorted now that theater must mock cinema, cirque du soleil enterprise in scope. Phantom of some former opera. So, I remain glad for Subversive Theatre, and for protests the world over, and for pure didactic instruction. I don't care if it's someone else's certainty, if they are moved to act. I am lacking in taste, I guess. My lacuna. I moderate my gluttony by small bites, chewed slowly, followed by drink and not only for the bodily satisfaction. I've been so informed.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Road, again

The Road The Road by Cormac McCarthy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Rarely do I make the mistake to see a good book first in movie form; degenerated that way as were the corpses desiccated in The Road's ashen landscape. This film was travesty, and made me detest misogynist McCarthy. I could see who he was, putting two and two together with No Country for Old Men. There is no need for this grim landscape of our future.

Sometimes I don't get clued in about who are the good authors. The shortcomings of random. But the Word can only be evacuated by words, and not by images which are as cruel is it would be to awaken in a coffin under ground. The reality of which was rendered by these words.

This is not a real world - in that one, we are not so powerful. We cannot wipe all life from the earth leaving only mankind living. Nature is not that particular. Narratives are. This one lays bare what choices are always present in the ever-present which only makes sense if there is its future. These are the choices which we avoid now, inventing a future which looks much like the one portrayed. Words cannot be depicted.

They can be hollowed. They can be made lifeless. They can be turned to purest rhetoric; something which is story only and can be rendered in film or audio tapes. Even an aging man like my own father who never was really likable and who smells bad might not be, well isn't yet, actually, without his future. Which must be not alone no matter how disagreeable he can be.

But. We must also preserve our laughter.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Obama, BP, and Perpetual Retooling: an Ivy League Disaster

I've been in and out of my apartment lately, and the magazines pile up. Today is recycling day, and road resurfacing day, and so there are lots of big machines grumbling about. There's been some lightning too, but so far no earthquakes. It's hard to find peace of mind.

While quickly scanning through the piled up magazines, to make sure that I don't throw away something I'd later wish I hadn't, I was struck by the cover of Information Week, March 8, just before the big Gulf oil blowout. They were celebrating the massive and radical transformation the shiny new BP CIO had accomplished.

According to the somewhat tired old saw which gets rehearsed in these particular pages, he had accomplished this great turnabout from IT being a moribund expense drag to it's being profit driven and cost conscious and mission centered. As you read the article, it's clear that the transformation was mostly about squeezing more productivity out of less money. They wanted to get rid of contractors and replace them with mission-oriented BP badge-wearing specialty staff. In place of "tenured generalists."

I'm certain that IT was already at the center of how BP makes its money. There are plenty of sophisticated applications which enable them to find oil and gas and then plan to extract it. Around these tools, there must be an incredible wealth of knowledge, much of it in the form of the lore of hard experience. Having been an IT "contractor" myself (which means you don't work directly for the company you support, but rather for an "outsourcing" company) I know how disparaged we types are by the company insiders.

But often the insiders are more focused on the politics of the place while the outsiders - the contractors - are focused only on getting the job done well, efficiently, and correctly. In many cases, contractors stay around long enough to know more about the processes their insider bosses direct them to accomplish than any of those insiders ever master. More than they ever need to master, because they have contractors to make them look good.

In one extreme case which used to give me chuckles bordering on helpless laughter, a particular government agency I'd had to interact with - one whose budget was the subject of a law suit on behalf of the people by the State's own Attorney General - kept firing this one lowly contractor, and then kept figuring out that he was the only one there who actually got things done. So they'd hire him back. He'd coach us "consumers" about how to circumvent the bureaucracy, and how to work the system, and finally he'd actually see to it that the goals on the books actually got accomplished.

He was a good-humored fellow who got through his days, I'm sure, by nursing along a book-length satire about government efficiency which I still hope to read some day. Maybe I was fooled by his Monty Python accent, but I think it should be a good read. Eventually, I discovered that virtually every single one of my peer "voluntary agencies" (meaning we were not-for-profit businesses apart from the government empire which controlled us) which interacted with this multi-hundreds-of-millions government IT operation was also best buddies with "Steve."

I don't doubt for even a second that the catastrophe in the Gulf is directly related to political transformations being effected inside BP. They were apparently discovering that they weren't making as much money as quickly as were their competitors and could see their own demise in their future. I'm also reasonably certain that this is directly related to those aspects of the company which truly were forward looking - all that "Beyond Petroleum" stuff which wouldn't pan out for years while competitors were cashing in on the here and now.

Information Week is clearly cognizant, even if only tangentially, of its complicity in the BP disaster - nobody wants to say these things out loud, but if you cut too much too fast, disaster is one likely scenario. It happens all the time in IT, which was the point of Information Week's follow on commentary about the cautionary nature of the BP disaster.

I still like President Obama fine, but like probably everyone else in the country, I was plenty disappointed by his message last night. The trouble with it was that is was all message. It was too well thought out, and reflected the Ivy world-view with which he has overpopulated his administration.

I should talk, but these guys have no real-world experience solving actual problems. They are skilled and talented and knowledgeable at the highest level only, and the bulk of their ability is rhetorical. They have to know how to align and motivate and direct those below them who actually do the work, just like that fellow at BP; their new and highest level IT manager.

Lowly IT people, no matter what their skills and knowledge level, would be scared shitless with the prospect to be the decision-maker at that height of accountability. That's what an Ivy League education actually means in the end, and it is no mistake that our presidents tend to come from there. They have no real doubts that they are as likely to know what to do as anybody else is, and gaining power and authority reinforces confidence in those positions.

Obama was off his game yesterday. He's allowed the message mavens to control his delivery and demeanor and to package a pitch-perfect rendering of the obvious, but really he should leave that to Time Magazine. It's what they're good at. He didn't come across as though he himself actually believes the platitudes about our better future, to be powered by our can-do American spirit. Maybe he's been ground down already by an insiders view of government in action.

It should be obvious to anyone that our future has never been brighter. We are at the brink of genuine breakthroughs in energy storage, transmission and distribution, and most of these will depend on sophisticated IT systems to be realized. An idiotic amount of energy - sorry - is still being expended on the supply side when any idiot can see that the sun deposits more than enough energy to run even our extravagant human consumption onto a space smaller than the state of Rhode Island if you do the math. Much smaller.

We are like lousy parents who talk a good game and maybe scream and argue and shout, but the kids know how to get the real rewards. The money right now is still in the hands and under the control of the oilmen. Oil is what's defined our civilization ever since the great wars of the last century, and continuing through the present. Oh, and by the way, there's lithium in Afghanistan, did I forget to tell you? How careless of me. Maybe that will quell the psychotic behaviors of our governors, even while it powers our cellphone and laptop batteries.

Maybe we'll let them concoct another third-world corrupted government narrative to maintain their hegemonic power over all that they survey. "They" are always graduated from the Ivy League.

Any damned fool can understand that the power of sub-global-corporate capitalism is more than equal to the task to rejigger our energy consumption patterns if there's money in it. Capitalism as we now practice it is more properly called global corporatism, and has about as much to do with buisness-minded energy as Stalinism does with Communism. We should get a rhetorical clue already!

It's government's role to change the incentive structure, and to do so somewhat drastically. So Rumsfeld is a criminal egotistical frat-boy jerk with some score to settle from the old days; that doesn't mean that all of his ideas were wrong. He was the majordomo of outsourcing, and likely of its corruption as well. Just imagine if we'd paid our grunts the money we paid to their private yahoo peers!

Sometimes we could use a Howdy Doody C-level intellect like Bush or Reagan, just simply because they can believe their own bullshit rhetoric. Hell, if I were to have exercised common sense ahead of time about many of my life's greatest accomplishments, I never would have attempted them in the first place.

OK, I don't have any great accomplishments, unless you consider the stuff I've already done which someday will be appreciated but so far isn't. Ha! But, there is something supremely satisfying about facing a problem which simply must be solved, and having to do it with the limited resources ready to hand. More times than not, I find that with a steady mind and steady resolve, and some body memory in my muscles which says that indeed this thing can be broken loose, there is a solution to be found.

The solution is almost never the one you might have wished for at the outset. Most of those fine soltions are readily had for a price, which is why not having the price of admission can be a pretty good solution driver, In order to get there you really do have to let your mind wander, and let some random in. You have to let the proper tools and parts and resources reveal themselves from among the stuff around you.

Right now, we think we all know everything we need to know about the problems which face us. We think we have all the facts we need about global warming and about Peak Oil and about population pressures, and oil-dependent agriculture and all we can see is gloom and doom because we can't imagine how to get all those stupid people to agree with us and agree to act in concert toward what we already know must be done.

Well folks, that's the Ivy League perspective in a nutshell. It can make you cynical, looking down at all those stupid people who just don't get it, how they have to put away their guns and snowmobiles and SUVs, while we continue to indulge our summer houses and multiple Priuses and jet-away holidays, and proxy murder of  hundreds of thousands of innocents if it isn't millions anymore. Our proxy larceny of whole cultures beneath our desire for year-round veggies to pamper the personal temple of our ever-so-sensitive bodies.

We live on oil in precisely the same way that we live off all the stupid people who eat MacDonald's every day, and believe that it's they who've failed and not our system of education. I don't mean that it's which  system. I mean that it's system in the first place. The very possibility for education has been destroyed in precisely the same fashion that we've already destroyed so many indigenous and self-sustaining cultures on the premise that they really want to be like us and should start my supporting us in the lifestyle according to which we'd like to remain accustomed.

Anyhow, what Obama needs is a few can-do Buffalonians on his advisory staff and a few fewer Ivy Leagers. He needs some more people with the actual experience of getting problems solved, and then he needs to let people take risks within the level of their expertise. Outsourcing, a notorious evil of our new global economy, can also mean autonomy, responsibility, risk-taking problem solving, and a collectively rendered solution very much in line with what's best about so-called capitalism.

Bureaucracies, no matter whether in government or in so-called private industry tend to stifle innovative problem solving. Surely this much is understood. You can see the buck passing written all over the face of the BP disaster, and the risk taking by people in no position to understand the consequences of the risks they would take. Everyone wants to be a cowboy, just like GWB was. The consequences are simply too obvious to bear rehearsing.

You can see our nation wanting to believe in the spirit so amply demonstrated in our past - the same damned World War II that Obama had to invoke yet again. The one which powered the oil-dependent economy my parents generation got wealthy on. I'm sick of that story. The emergency now is as great. Stop incentivising oil, stop incentivising agribusiness, stop incentivising too big to fail and the rest will take care of itself. Duh!

I just don't think this is rocket science - I mean getting people on the moon really was harder, and I'm tired of hearing about that too. Let's get our act together here on earth how 'bout, huh?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Occam's Razor

I hear on NPR that there's this new book about being wrong.

It's about how we're all somehow programmed to find long explanations to bolster our certainties; about how we will go to almost any length to protect the reality of something we've made an identity investment with. During the NPR interview and call-in there was some talk about how the wondrous techniques of modern science are the only thing that's proof against these long rationalizations of our certainties. Scientists are taught to doubt.

But there is also a time and place beyond which the doubting is itself that thing which leads to the unnecessarily long and convoluted explanations. Just like trying to compute the orbits of the planets while positing Earth at their center, scientists now continue to contruct complicated-beyond-belief tests for their convoluted permutations of particulate reality.

As with the math for Ptolomeic orbits, it can be followed only by adepts in the art of abstraction. These folks are hailed as our heros of thought, capable to do things with their mind analogous to what Hercules could do with his body.

That shift from Geocentric to Heliocentric cosmology has long been touted as the emblematic error of stubborn chauvinism; the chauvinism of common sense. It seems as though we must be at the center. We build  all sorts of rationalizations for what it means to be us on the assumption that we are at the center, and then we must consider as subversive anyone who would come along to disrupt that interlocking set of understandings.

Occam's Razor is the low-level test whereby, given competing explanations and all else being equal, the simplest one is probably the right one. This works for the Heliocentric description of the orbits of the planets. But only so far as the math is concerned. The mistake among the folks who were wrong was to invest too much in their metaphoric extensions from the basics. They thought decentering Earth was the same as decentering man.

The notion that God explains everything would almost always fit the bill for Occam's Razor, except that it fails to explain anything at all. It's all metaphor all the time, which pretty much explains the literality of the Bible for true believers.

At the point where we find ourselves now, it may be that explanations and wishful thinking have to merge in some slight way. At the fringes, where quantum reality takes hold, and particles are themselves conjectures; sometimes you see 'em and sometimes you don't. Provably.

We are dancing around now, trusting our champions in the field of abstraction. Trusting them with our money and our hopes and our dreams. Trusting that they will find a way for humans to control things, and then fix them and set the world right. We are all fans of the human endeavor, played on a field of dreams.

Well, I'm not. I've long since understood that at the fringes there is no real distinction between mind and matter. That mind apart from matter has become a dangerous fiction, because it projects reality as onto a stage, a screen, a field. Mind has always been implicated with matter, whether we as humans already existed or not. Our tears our hopes our dreams are simply not that important, except to ourselves, except that for so long as we project into our future some Savior descended from abstraction (which makes utterly no sense to say, but you'll think it does) or abstracted from the reality of our lives and education. Some genius to propose yet another mathematical and machine construable construct into which reality must be fitted.

When the Occam's Razor elegant solution is simply to change around our language. Regard as real those connections we now regard as merely emotional, and somehow centered on humanity. Emotional connections, which inhere in conceptual relations among perceptual phenomena, are always present in principle. As is the mind to know them. But no math can touch those relations before the phenomena have "touched" by exchange of particles, by impingement of forces, by interaction, mindlesslly, apart. As parts.

I am descending now - I am some way along the descent toward my dotage. I never did have the career rhetorical professional focus which would keep my words in play. I never did have a clear pitched voice, nor talent to project it. I am tired, my center does not hold. I seek company in the wilderness of whatever it is mine eyes are window unto.  They grow dim, trifocular, abstracted from whatever it is I once could grasp.

But I will like continue to rehearse the obvious, just in case somebody starts to pay attention. Somebody other than those bots and scammers, dregs beneath humanity, who now own our world of discourse. People writing whole books on obvious matters, as though it might matter to all those who will remain so certain that there is a conspiracy. The dunces!

We all conspire together. I watched that dreadful film, The Road, over the course of a couple of days (the wages of older age). Then I read a bit of that dreadful rhetoric. A spare writer who hangs with physicist-types. They deserve each other, and their serial women, chosen for beauty, deserve them too.

The world is now crowded with projections of its end. Even Margaret Attwood, who has the sense to clip my commentary from her blog, admired by feminists, indulges grim rehearsals of our current voids. Didn't John Updike write one before his ending? Chomsky. They're all misogynists, so far as I can tell. Haters of the very possibility that men don't mean that much. Man doesn't. Which means that they are haters of our matrix. Not realizing that Earth is that much bigger than our little dreams.

I'm with the global warming deniers, the Small Change believers that Bush took down the Trade Center Towers, the believers that the war in Afghanistan was always all about the mineral rights, and staking claims before China could. As if any of this is news. As if the failure of the CERN collider is surprise. As if there was always a Hollywood ending in store. There is no secret code for trust. There is no there there unless and until you make it so.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Explanations for Absence

Some day soon, I'm sure, the incredible power of computing hardware will be deployed where it belongs; in the direction of 'instant on.' I can imagine no reason anymore for the universal machine, which has to find a place in memory to park all of your Operating System and application choices and preferences. There is no reason any longer for the same physical machine to support so many different versions, deployments, distributions.

I'm that sick of the arms race between "software" (a useless term anymore) and ever faster hardware which just leaves me, in the end, waiting as long as I ever did for the infernal machine to let me do whatever it is I've set out to do.

Those long dialup negotiations have been replaced now with cellular setups with some little shim required to load so that they can meter and modulate your usage. There are all sorts of wireless encryption settings to negotiate, and only a fool would leave a machine connected permanently, without a lot of very expensive firewalling and intrusion detection machinery intervening between the loaded software and the wilds.

Then there's the need to monitor that, mostly automated, with, perhaps, some reasonably well-trained individual to monitor the rendered up reports. I understand now that some significant proportion of trading - and therefore of money made - on the stock market is simply algorithmic, nearly instantaneous and devoid of human reads of market trends based on any research. Am I the only one who thinks this might be a problem? Shouldn't the market reflect human reads of future trends? Factoring in a slice of desire, as in where do we want to go as a civilization?

With virtualization technology now deployable on the level of the application, there is no reason to allow any extrinsic influence to fiddle with the code. It should all be "hardware" in some virtual sense, instantly on and impregnable from attack short of power surging explosions. Most annoying of all is my phone, which has the Microsoft smartphony software on it. When it crashes I'm out of touch for what seems an eternity. They won't let me load on a different version of their software, so in the end, there's simply no excuse for this. Burn it in and make it work, bozos!

My phone's "state" should be permanent, like my Kindle's is, and it should respond to my touch that instantly, without consuming lots of power to be alert for my touch. This is a no-brainer, and I won't take it anymore what they do with my time and poise and equanimity.

But yeah, meanwhile, I've been absent from here because the time had come to move Dad out of Mom's house (you know, the one he worked his whole life to pay for, including her fussy decorations of it). He's been in a steady decline now for over a decade, finally having crossed the border they'd like to call dementia.

Everything looks very sudden when you poke your head in to take a look. You discover what Mom's been covering for. You find a lot of denial and acceptance of claims for presence which were memorized simulations of statements and phrasing which once did,,indeed, have presence. Which is a tough thing to realize when it's memory which is the thing most often pointed to as the absence. There is recall only of the positions, the postures, the verbal bullying. There is no presence "behind" the thing pointed to as absence.

Mom couldn't take it anymore, and so I've had to orchestrate a late-in-life divorce. Which isn't easy when the principals involved aren't anywhere near what you might call willing to "get" what has to change. It would be so much easier if there were tears and outrage and recriminations. Instead, there is a different act; a different script to follow.

Instead there's just confusion, together with a nascent offshoot of the healthcare industrial economy which is taking off just now. By 'nascent,' I mean they don't know what they're doing yet. Like kids drinking their first beer. Fed by the aging-out of the baby boomers' leading edge progenitors, who have neatly swept up all the postwar (I'm talking the Big One) wealth to provide for themselves castles in our sky. (Beware what you hope for)

Dad looked ahead, against Mom's disinclination, and purchased a spot in an insurance-based facility which would provide for nearly all eventualities as they lost their grip, physically and mentally, and their ability to manage independent lives. But Dad's never done any cooking or cleaning or laundry in the first place, and now it has to be admitted that Mom can't do it for him anymore. And, well, at the end of the day she quite clearly resents his presence.

Enter the middle child. Me. I'm burning out.

I wonder how closely drink mimics what is happening to them? You pretty much know that you aren't all there the way that you normally are, but only pretty much. Sometimes, belligerantly even, you insist to those around you that you are capable to do those things you used to do almost without thinking. "Why can't I drive?" Dad yells in outrage. "I can drive!!" As I spirit away his keys.

Sure, there is a knockout point. A blackout beyond which there is no more presence of the person who used to be there. That shutting off of power to the hardware. Shorting out the motherboard, pulling the plug. Or if the software goes all wonky and the system freezes up.

But this instance is rather more the reverse of that long and difficult process of growing up. It takes forever to boot up a person. Sometimes it's only in decline that the missing pieces are apparent. The stuff which never really did get internalized, no matter how well some simulation was enacted. Love, for instance, in Dad's case, seems to be something not really on offer during his upbringing. At least not the "normal" sort.

He did a fantastic job of acting it out though. Always and ever the good provider, thinking mostly most of his life about his wife and kids. Applying shades of rectitude to the ambiguities of moral choice. Knowing how to stay clear of feeling-laden manipulations to indulge some one person's sweet interests. Until, eventually, responsibilities discharged, he began to indulge his own. Ever the control freak, he never let his wife, my Mom, feel that she was free to do whatever she wanted, even while the budget for her indulgences was ballooning almost beyond belief.

Well, it would be beyond belief from the perspective of nearly every other person on the planet. They traveled over most of the globe. They bought the best summer place on the long and storied Canadian shore across from Buffalo. They furnished it with fine antiques, all covered with expensive fabrics. Everything's out of date, but so are they now, and always have been. Nerdy superannuated throwbacks to that time in memory's mist where we all think we'd like to live.

Not me! I can't wait, frankly, until my machinery boots up as fast as that Windows 98 machine, unreconstructed, that I had a chance to turn on the other day. What a pleasure!! Flick the switch, and there it is! Of course, you wouldn't dare plug it in to the network. It would be dead in an instant, subject to the predations of stuff that's still out there. Dormant for lack of prey. A chunk of dead meat into a school of piranha.

Some day soon, I will install a kill switch on my own personal hardware. It will be controlled algorithmically, just like those drunken kill switches some people install on their cars against their worse judgement. It will monitor my congruence with the stuff I used to write and say, and then at that moment when I've crossed the threshold of recognizeability, it will just pull the switch and I won't wake up from my sleep state. That would be so much easier on everyone, don't you think?

Well, sorry, gotta go. All those professionally trained people at the incredibly expensive eldercare facility are having trouble fitting Dad into any of their categorical boxes again. I have to intervene and demonstrate good socialization, rehearsing my deficits, preparing for my own demise. What a trip!!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Tell Me More, Tell me Sweet Little Lies

I don't know love. Oh, I know it better than you do, in the direction of the abstract, of God's love, or even of the sort which requires paid counselors to rectify. I even have a nifty little proof of how love is out there, a part of reality with or without us to feel it, a step more real than the sort attributed to God. Abstracted like a subatomic particle is abstracted. But the love I don't know is the kind that you have to learn, and it was never on offer where I got my learnin'. For you neither, I'll bet.

Here's a strange exercise: Go out to dinner with Dad, and then when he says that he doesn't remember anything, start to tell all the things you remember, in some sort of random order, or based, perhaps, on some assessment of their level of emotional impact. To him.

Some things will actually stir a memory. Sometimes, that will even trigger him remembering a few things on his own. Most of the time, it's just you remembering things, which is a pleasant enough exercise. It passes the time at dinner.

But the thing is that there is always something which will trigger interest when there is some presumption of involvement of Dad's "I". Some pride that there was a him actually involved in whatever it was I was telling him about. Or maybe he just appreciated that I appreciated it. But it doesn't seem that I could tell an outright lie and keep his interest. Although he frequently expresses disbelief at what I do tell. "Really, I did that? Tell me more . . ."

There are a few things I'd like to ask my daughter some day when the right moment comes along. Nothing about drugs and sex and alcohol, but I would like to know if she's ever cheated on a school assignment. I hear that all criminals feel justified, and so, you know, in this very dangerous exercise, I'd like to know if I feel as though I fell short, if I would like to assign blame to her Mom, or if I am angry with my child. I'd just like to know is all.

It's not the answer which weighs on me, ever so lightly. It's the question mark; the sense that there will never quite be an occasion to ask this question, to open up that channel for a level of trust which could transcend all questioning. Perhaps it will be denied me. I know it's a dangerous arena. It's not my love at risk. It's more about my character, and how much I devoted to her. I'm 99.99% sure that she never has. In fact I know of plenty of ways in which she demonstrated that she'd rather undermine herself than to do those cheap things her classmates did to grub a grade.

Alright. I don't want to know. I already do know. What am I talking about??

I have split my parents now, taking on that initiative because neither of them has the ability to do it for themself. Over time, it became blazingly apparent that there was no happiness in one another; Dad a kind of addict of Mom's mere presence, having long since forgotten that there is a life of its own inside the female of the species. He never was taught that way. Or he's just afraid, as he always says; afraid of "girls," afraid of dancing.

And Mom his slave through so many physical manifestations of introverted rage, near death each time, and still she has no idea what, actually, would make her happy. She has no instinct at all about what to do to please herself. Dad's memory is mostly gone, and so when springtime presented the opportunity to spirit him off to their summer home without Mom, I took it. But as I've learned it's not his memory that's gone. It's control, in perfect analog to his physical body which is remarkably strong and fit for its age, but not really all that strong.

I am regarded as some kind of hero within the small orbit of my family, having taken upon myself something no one else knew how to accomplish. And, in truth, I do resent it. I feel that my life has been robbed from me, as I tell both parents little lies, act out things I don't quite feel, determined to see this chess match through to where Dad believes that Mom is also in his past, a forgotten melange of Mom, grandma, some shadow person.

But that's not about to happen. It really isn't his memory that's gone, it's the story of his life, which he wrote before he would forget it, but which had already written itself as a long list of obligations capped by self-indulgence. I think that Dad was afraid to dream. I think he's always been terrified to step outside of his competency, formidable as it is, and every single move has gone according to plan, during a time in the history of mankind when such a thing was actually possible.

Now, the man is attenuated. The plan complete. What would you expect to be left at the remains of a completed life.

There is absolutely no question mark in my mind that neither of my parents ever cheated - not once - in school, and certainly not with each other. This has not seemed any sort of triumph - more a shortcoming in the passion department. Their rage is always staged. There is never any actual danger that it could escalate to physical harm. But it does the trick to keep each person from himself. It delineates the boundaries beyond which is something unknown, messy unpredictable.

I am become that sort of Catholic child I thought I never would or could become. The one who throws over some distant life to return back home to care for infirm parents. Those parents, or generally it is Mom, linger then for years and years and friends drop away since that particular sort of passion is exclusive of a life for oneself.

I have never ever cheated on a school assignment. I don't have it in me. And, well, I don't have it in me to know what it is that I really want with and of my life. And the lies I tell, therefore, are nowise geared toward advancing my own agenda. Other than to liberate myself from this strange purgatory on one of Earth's almost certainly most perfect pieces of real estate. This is the it life. Charming waterfront living, tastefully arranged.

I feel vaguely as though I should have a life, and it can't be here. I can't even last the summer, nevermind the years and years of lingering always in store for dutiful children. I don't feel as though I care either that little or that much. Perhaps I simply don't feel, enslaved all these years to some idea for myself. Some bottled aspirations, as my parents led the way toward what seems almost normal now. Like drinking corn sweetenered carbonated water, it's considered acceptable now to spend an entire life in devotion to the kids' success. That's what having enough means now: the sheer excess to be able to give your kids the message that if they don't get into the Ivy of their choice, they might as well die.

We saw an unusual bird today, and the other day there was some new not unattractive growth on the beach. Some invasive species, rendering useless the classic field guides strewn about this house. I once thought I had to learn the names of these things. I never did. Lots of Dad's memories are about the Boy Scouts. That's where I would have learned to identify plants and birds and constellations. Later on, I learned lots of Chinese characters. Then I stopped and they linger on in my being as unused competencies, shades of knowledge.

We eat often at a Chinese restaurant, one started by an artist, a calligrapher, a poet who drew his recipes from the classics. They know me there. I taught his daughter. I recognized the character in one of his "drawings." It was "filial piety" as normally translated. Respect for ones ancestors. It was somehow, vaguely mis-written. Or maybe it was an archaic form. It was tipped a bit, drunken. There's another full moon tonight. I snapped a picture of it, and got a flying saucer. I posted it to Facebook. I have no idea why. I thought it was funny.

Dad's struggle to find words is extreme. I struggle to find words, but his struggle leaves him comically bereft much of the time. He pantomimes with vague approximations, vocally, grasping for the most common terms. Things familiar. I'm not sure this is what's meant by "memory loss" to most people. In some cases, he has an apparent thing in mind, but can't get at the words for it. It reminds me of myself speaking some foreign tongue. It's frustrating, but only because you can't dig up the word to make a connection. You want a dictionary.

But a dictionary wouldn't help Dad. The mechanics would elude him. Right now he's watching something on PBS about something about war. War captivates him, just like memories of boy scouts seem the most present. But the war stuff has to be real. History. He can't watch caricatures. Dramatic enactments of WWII go well. Just now he remembered how his father was all set to ship off during WWI, but luckily was absolved by the War's end. He seemed to have a perfectly clear memory of this.

Lacking words for the organisms around us must be similar to what gets called "memory loss." We become abstracted from the natural environment which is also part of us, but it was the words themselves which abstracted us in the first place. Without them, we would be embedded, connected.

So there is nothing separate from losing grasp in general to memory loss. I guess there are some people who keep a good memory well after their body is decrepit. But what good would that be? Is a sharp mind in a blasted body more free than a blasted mind in a sharp body?

This sense of "I" that we celebrate so much is nothing other from abstraction, separation, identity, that thing which makes us unnatural. There is nothing about my Dad which is not perfectly recognizable as him. There is nothing lacking, though much has been attenuated. And he's no longer in control, even of his wife, who has finally learned to assert herself. At least on the phone. At least across an international boundary.

I won't be able to do this much longer. My mind is subsumed beneath the white noise of Dad. I can't think. I'm losing my mind in a different way. My words are not available to me because there is no peace. I think we mirror each others' frustration. Perhaps another TV uipstairs would do the trick?

Oh, I can read there on my Kindle, which allows me to purchase new books without leaving my seat, pulling in the tower from the hill across the lake in the good ol' U. S. of A. Remember when a book was something to have and to hold, and folks would have been embarrassed to sell you just the words and prevent you then from giving them away to the next person.

My struggle is with irritation, with bodily functions and smells and old bad habits which were only lightly veneered by some civilizing influence. It's hard to like Dad now. He smells and won't wash and makes embarrassing and loud comments in restaurants of the sort he used to know enough to keep to himself. And this new being can't be blamed on new deficits. Rather, something got removed which kept the disagreeable stuff in check. But it was always there.

Then what is left, when everything else gets removed? When the house and chotchkes gathered up across so many years of perpetually contested truce are disposed of and all the memories must be told from someone else's mouth, or pen, or also-fading memory. Constructed memory which will always be cartoon-like smoothed, toward abstracted perfect shapes, for better or for worse.

Is all that's left just simply this compulsion to care, to act out love, to treat the shell as though it were the real thing, and not what should get left behind. I'll keep you posted. I'm learning love, but I'm not there yet. I sitll have plenty of work to do, to arrange for disposals, for professional care, for preservations when necessary. I still have truths to tell so that there will be calm and peace and something like co-existence, on the same campus, of two individuals who can't help one another anymore.

One, my father, always competent and always preparing ahead, shedding things, before he can't handle them anymore. He is stubborn like a bull if asked to relinquish authority, autonomy, charge, unless invited to do so by someone who will help him as a peer. The other, my mother, always resentful of control taken away, and for whom help is something compelled, with belittlement if necessary, with money doled out or withheld.

So I must stand in. For love. In all the wrong places. And then one day, perhaps, I will experience it, as a felt experience, as something real beyond control. As something not dependent on so many things piled up across the years. Perhaps.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Power to the People!

Journal of the Plague Year: The Inside Story of Eliot Spitzer's Short and Tragic Reign Journal of the Plague Year: The Inside Story of Eliot Spitzer's Short and Tragic Reign by Lloyd Constantine

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Reading insider accounts of the workings of government makes a good corrective to conspiracy theories: if you ever fall victim to the belief that people in power are greater than you or me, well, then I suppose you will also believe that terrorists are evil geniuses.

It would empower us to realize they're not. But then we would be responsible to make things better. It's often nicer to be angry with someone who should have done more because it seems they could have.

Jail the feckless slob who manages to set off a forest fire with a careless match. For life. And make him a poster model for how responsible we'll be held if our cockamamie schemes should work. We recruit them - terrorists and shooters - by our very horror at their impact. As if it takes much plotting to do damage to a house of cards, an assemblage of fanatics; as if such doomsday machines as financial derivatives and deep sea oil wells don't have more probability for failure than for success.

Who are we kidding, if not ourselves?

Lloyd Constantine - certainly in his own mind - strives for truthfulness in his account of the early demise of the Spitzer administration in New York State. He doesn't spare himself, but finally, he faults Spitzer for indulging himself, not with prostitutes, but with the seductive temptation of the ordinary life of a wealthy alpha male. He took on the responsibilities of Governor, and he should have seen them through.

There is some mild recognition that there is no ultimate requirement that we the people are so uptight about sexual indiscretions. Why, the unspoken question gets asked, should a man as big as Spitzer internalize such small minded obsessions? Why should he be wracked with guilt? Why should he be so indiscreet as to allow his own undoing?

The real crime was that he'd led us all in New York state to believe that he really wanted to be governor. If that were so, he would have kept his promise to us. In the end, he's just another rich playboy, nevermind that he pays more than the rest of us would need to even if we wanted to, for the illusion of prowess in love. That much money should have bought discretion, unless he'd wanted or needed to be caught.

The hell of it is that he has this perfect wife, this perfect family. He had real prowess in his ability to attract such a powerful group of movers and shakers to the cause of his administration. But he saw himself, one guesses, as the Music Man, and couldn't keep up the act.

You know, I had the same feeling when I read Zhao Ziyang's smuggled out memoirs of his downfall from power in the People's Republic of China. From the inside, the moves of the extremely powerful look banal. They look like what we must imagine would be the inside narrative of sports heros, made up mostly of grunts and counting. There is not all that much to say from the inside of any exercise of the familiar moves of the greatly accomplished performing their great accomplishments. Some are more talented than others. But should we adore them quite so much?

As it is, how could they not see themselves as greater than they are. When politics is spectator sport? Lloyd Constantine clearly believes that he earns the millions that he earns, defending the likes of Rupert Murdoch from Constantine's self-styled Progressive side. As if he's that much better, more intelligent, harder working than the rest of us. As if the rawest wanting of the alpha-male is that distinguishable from luck.

And would the world be worse if Murdoch were crushed by the then still-reigning TV networks? Would New York be better off if the Spitzer administration carried though on its promise?

Or would we all be better off if we were to ignore the chest pounding of the alpha males, turn away, and do the hard work of making the right choices, as most of us do every day in our limited realms. Would we all be better off without such complex structures, such dizzying altitude distribution toward the various tops; things which will always seem more likely to topple than to stand.

I'd thought surely that one of Spitzer's enemies had entrapped him. The Church perhaps, which he could have brought down in New York State by erasing any statute of limitation for child rape. The stakes were high. Everyone has a weakness. Maybe that is what happened. Maybe the personal cost to do right by the people truly was made too high. Maybe his exposure of what really happened was simply made too personally dangerouus.

Or, you know, maybe the responsibilities Spitzer had taken on were in themselves, of necessity, destructive to the family that he loved, and he really did need a way out. Maybe no-one could threaten them more than his job did.

Well, that's the lesson I take from this and the Zhao Ziyang book. By the time you want that much power, or need it, your humanity has already been erased. Our democracy is not meant that way. Humility should be the norm in sport and in government. Extreme competence is its own reward. Constantine should go back to government. He's not that great a writer. And the position of Chancellor for the State University belongs to an ac academic, for chrissakes. Who do these operators think they are?

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Finally, Buffalo Trued

Buffalo Lockjaw Buffalo Lockjaw by Greg Ames

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Everybody in Buffalo wants to find a way to be ourselves in the world in a way to be noticed as something not quite dismiss-able, the way that Buffalo is. To do that, you have to find a theme - a big theme, that will sustain an entire novel, or a life, without once seeming clunky or contrived or making the whole text one extended metaphor in any way that you've heard it all already.

Yeah, who would want to go there? What is it we all avoid? Could that be where the humanity is? Could it? Can we look hard at the City of No Illusions and retain any illusions for ourselves?

People give up, you know, fall back, from dreams and accept life in its fullest mediocrity, take pride in that to the point of delusional boosterism, so? But why would you want to go there if given the chance to go somewhere else? Lots of creative types get born here, but they call it their beloved home. They don't stay. Visiting celebrities, filming, say, love it here. Why would they stay? Maybe aging football stars find a place where they can remain a celebrity for the rest of their lives.

From the inside, Buffalo seems a place of might-have-beens, if-onlies. Petty politics, advantaging local bigshots, trump vision every time and so we build our perpetual wanna-be flagship university out of town, wipe out our waterfront with highways and dead industrial tracts, and conspire to route traffic around our natural transportation hub. Hell, we even sell our hydro-power down the river, downstate.

So, it's in the person of a once-vital Mom, a noted expert in the care of elderly demented patients, who herself becomes a living shell of who she once was, that Buffalo can come alive, in words at least, as something larger than its life.

Something about each of our lives, no matter how accomplished, no matter how smug or self-satisfied must remain in the world's capitals of mediocrity. You will find yourself less than you could be and at the same time find the lock-jawed striving in the face of white-out blizzards determination to find in yourself and in your life something still better. Something to make light of. Something to brood about, and mostly long long lists of friends who care for you as you are.

This is not the fictional Buffalo. This is the real thing, real places named and authenticated. Real characters. I live here. I know them. I am them. If you want to be judged by your proximity to beauty, to power, to accomplishment, then this is not your place. But you are not those things, and if you are, you won't be for long.

If you realize, as did de Kooning in an essay which was for me, the central figure in this novel, "Content is a Glimpse;" if you realize that perfect beauty is always only glimpsed, perfect accomplishment, no matter that the glimpse may last an entire performance. I haven't read that essay, but it's title gives a glimpse, right? into its content.

In the end, that's all we are to each other, unless we make more of it than that. Unless we commit to stark beginnings and endings. Unless we understand that regret perpetuates the dissected stare, the bloodied guts-revealed loss of what might have been which is the city of Buffalo. Where only a glimpse is required for a father and son to bond, to conspire, to complete life.

Our natural disasters merit guffaws. No hurricanes, no oil to spew, just perpetual and powerful Falls. No Superbowl wins, ever, before they will inevitably move to another town more celebrated. More besieged by worse disasters. Ours are merely relentless. And of our very own making, if you'd like to have some excuse to pass us by.

But this novel makes of Buffalo what it truly is. A life. Worth living in and by and through. Stark. But not Carol-Oates stark. These are lives moving up, the way you feel when facing the Falls.

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