Thursday, July 31, 2008

#39 Bush, Jefferson, God

Before July slips away, I need to go back to the 4th one more time for a little more Bush-bashing. So easy. I almost feel guilty--as I must admit I sometimes do when I watch Letterman's sadistic excerpting of Bush's verbal ineptitude in the nightly segment, "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches." Some of it is quite unfair of course: a twitch, an awkward pause, misaligned syntax usually in an impromptu situation (though SMART presidents like Clinton had no such trouble)--these can't really be scaled next to the prepared and storied speeches of the luminaries that precede Bush's clip.

But on second thought aren't these gaffes and glitches symptomatic of the larger problem?-- Dubya is a complete idiot. But no, here's the larger problem: he's just smart enough to do evil. And in the name of God (see earlier post). This is why he had to expurgate and eviscerate the words of none other than Thomas Jefferson in a speech at none other than Monticello on Independence Day last. The stench of it still lingers. Jefferson wrote a letter of commemoration a few weeks before the Declaration's 50th anniversary (and with a preposterous rhetorical flourish DIED on that very day). Bush appropriated it (how in-appropriately!) for a group of newly-made citizens and quoted the godfather of "Wall of Separation" as follows:

"May it be to the world, what I believe it to be (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves and to assume the blessings and liberty of self-government."

But wait. This isn't quite what the fresh-faced citizen/immigrants heard. Bush BOWDLERIZED that entire italicized passage! Just cut it right out and cauterized the sentence, thus effectively quashing Jefferson's anti-religious point. And his WHOLE point, really. For his revolutionary fervor, like all our Founding Fathers', was directed at Kings AND Priests, working in tandem to oppress the people. This is why, as we all should know, he was so adamant about the Establishment Clause. The ignorance and superstition inherent in organized religion (L. religio="to bind") are the perfect devices of the Tyrant. Don't even think of the George W. and George III parallels. OK, go ahead. If I may use a religious term, Bush's performance was tantamount (no, not that one) to SACRILEGE. Jefferson's grave is almost within spitting distance of where he was dys-quoted, and don't you know he'd be spinning if he could. OF COURSE Bush had to excise the anti-religion from Jefferson's letter; it was religion (along with some twisted Oedipal impulses that I'll leave for others to figure out) that got him into office... and us into Iraq... and all kinds of other trouble (fill in the blanks).

The brave little tailor Dennis Kucinich (et. al.) tried in vain to swat this execrable President with impeachment, but Bush survives maggot-like, beneath the flesh, unswattable for now but ultimately subject to Constitutional ex-term-ination. Whoa. Enough of that...although the Smirking Cowboy is INFURIATING enough to inspire some hate-filled metaphor. How about this: he's a festering wound, a suppurating sore on the body politic, a bilious boil to be lanced and blanched with the blade of some masked avenger from south-side Chicago. (Hey, that's where I grew up.) But I do go on.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

#38 Books to Know and Love--Natalie Angier pt. 2

I need to return this book, and I'm feeling lazy, so let me entertain you with this lengthy excerpt from her earlier Woman: An Intimate Geography (2000). It's from the chapter, "Holy Water: Breast Milk." Enjoy--

As a sacred fluid, the milk of the Virgin ranks just below the blood that flowed from Christ's wounds. If there were enough splinters of the True Cross in reliquaries throughout Christendom to construct an entire cathedral, there were enough vials of Mary's milk to feed it's congregation...The Madonna's was not the first latte to be exalted, nor the last. The milk of a Greek goddess was said to confer infinite life on those who drank it....If a woman's menstrual blood is frequently considered polluted, the reputed purity of her breast milk restores her to homeostasis....The practical breast is a modified sweat gland, and it is meant to be used as the pancreas, the liver, and the colon are there to be used. Lactation is a bodily function....Nobody has to beseech us to let our heart pump, our neurons fire, or our menstrual blood flow. Breastfeeding is another matter. It may be natural for a woman to nurse her baby, but it is not guaranteed, and so it has been variously mandated by prophets, legislated by politicians, and hoisted onto a sociomedical pedestal that brooks no excuses or complaints. Lactation has not been allowed to be what it is, the business of the body. The mammary gland has often been underrated, which is why in the middle of this century infant formula was thought to be not merely a passable substitute for breast milk, but an improvement on it. Now the gland is overrated. We believe that it can make every baby into Izzy Newton [it seemed to work pretty well on my boys, however] or Jane Austen. Now breast milk is seen as the universal female elixir. Through it, we give more than a part of ourselves to our children, we give ourselves purified and improved. Our breast milk is better than we are.

Makes me jealous--no, no, not of breastfeeding (well, maybe a little)--rather, jealous of the total tectonic control Angier seems to have over, between, and among her sentences. The allusive wit and historical wisdom are a matter of course.

Footnote: as a companion volumn let me recommend David M. Friedman's A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis (2001). Between the two of them you'll know more than you ever wanted to know.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

#37 Sunday Sundries

Worst of the Week
  • The Great John Edwards Disillusionment. He should have stayed in The Law. After a little research, I learned that he was a really bang-up lawyer, one of the best "plaintiff attorneys" in the region. He won some celebrated and it seems highly-principled civil suits for the "little guy" before leaving for politics. I guess THAT was his first mistake.
  • Former astronaut (Apollo XIV) and moon-walker gives credibility to UFO-nuts and adds fodder to the somehow influential sub-culture of irrationality in demon-haunted America. He says that "little people with large eyes and big heads" (phone home ET?) have been been walking among us for decades, though he admits not seeing any. The "gubment" is of course covering up, he says, ever since Roswell. This kind of "evidence," along with fuzzy photo/cinematography and eyewit(less)ness accounts, just won't wash, and can be easily explained. He should know that no hard physical evidence has ever been discovered. He should know even better that our high-tech surveillance can pick up a space-borne object the size of a pencil. Walk on the moon, become an old luna-tic.
  • Waste-of-taxpayers-money dept: FOUR law-enforcement agencies(state and fed) and about 50 people and vehicles and flying machines coordinate a field-eradication of $12 million worth (they say) of MARIJUANA in nearby Harnett Co. NC. No arrests made. As usual. However, they can be proud that they have put a dent in the ONE BILLION dollars' worth produced in NC each year. The Weed beats out tobacco and cotton for the #1 cash crop in the state (as in 12 others) year after year. There's so much wonderful foolishness here that I want to get back to it a little later, where I will also present some other Libertarian bona fides.
Whatever of the Week
  • Today is Parents Day. Across the nation. No kidding. In 1994, Congressional Resolution #36, para. 135 proclaimed the 4th Sunday of July as a day for "recognizing , uplifting, and supporting the role of parents in the rearing of children"...and to "celebrate our dedicated parents." It further exhorts us "not to let life's problems and concerns [like kids?] take precedence over our responsibility as parents." Woops. Oh well, despite the questionable logic, I'll celebrate anyway. It's the law.
Best of the Week
  • The Obama trip. While evidently providing no big "bounce" at home, all agree that he accomplished a great deal well-needed image-building abroad.
  • Tennis is back on the Tube (sorry). The US Open series for is on every week now right up to the main event. And here's a little heresy to be appreciated only by the idle aficionado--I like the 2-out-of-3 men's matches over the best-of-5 played in the Grand Slam events (except for the women). They do tend to go on at times, as if the players WERE in need of a more concentratedexperience. Besides, the men have complained that the women shouldn't get equal money in the Slams because they're never called upon to play 5 sets. Problem solved: 2-out-of-3 for everybody, all the time.
  • Habitat for Humanity. Had no idea (shoulda) that they are GLOBAL, until I saw a report last week on a local senior-high-school girl who went to Africa for a couple of weeks to help build HUTS! of all things. That's what they wanted and that's what they got. Just great. Here are those better angels of the American character that I was talking about.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

#36 John Edwards' Death in the Family

No, not the accidental death of their talented 17-year-old son, Wade, in 1996, nor do I mean the inevitable death of wife and mother Elizabeth whose incurable cancer has spread to the bone (this is a real tragedy for a very brave woman--his better half, indeed)--no, I'm speaking of the death of husband and father John Edwards in the National Enquirer (and latterly the main-stream media) a couple of days ago.

It is truly a loss to be mourned. Here was a guy... an Al Gore but for humbler beginnings, who still "coulda been a contenda" on the national scene (who also lives down the road from me in Chapel Hill). But his public life is dead. His infidelity, rumored last year (and fiercely denied), is now doubtless true, and further compounded by lies, and worse, hypocrisy. In spite of his wife's illness and added pounds, he had proclaimed his faithfulness, and even--get this--come out last year with a cozy coffee-table book that he shilled on the talk shows called Home: The Blueprints of Our Lives. The affair had gotten underway the year before. Now he's been caught skulking and cowering (literally; read the reports) with mistress and "love child" in Beverly Hills. No wonder he was so adamant in refusing (not so coyly as it turns out) a bid for VP. He would have been "vetted," and no chance he would have passed. He's always been a second-stringer, but always a damn good one. He really outshone Kerry in their 2004 White House bid, and he was dangerously nipping at the heels of the Obama/Clinton first team almost to the end of this presidential-nomination campaign.

Here is the terrible irony: he would have been the PERFECT RUNNING-MATE (I was hoping) for Obama--white, southern, working class roots--or lacking that been a formidable voice in the administration to come. Edwards' progressive politics would have been just right--anti-war, anti-poverty, pro-choice, pro-universal-health-care, pro-environment, etc. He had it all. Really a critical wound, though not fatal, to the body politic that's taking form. Obama can do it without him. Notwithstanding the gloom and doom of yesterday's post about his poll numbers, lets go to where the numbers really count: Las Vegas! But seriously folks, the betting lines across the country have Obama in a virtual landslide at 66-33%. You betcha.

Friday, July 25, 2008

#35 Obama Overseas and Under-polled

Well, I told you so. Obama has lost ground among registered voters since June, according to latest Gallup and other polls. And the way I read it, a slip in Independent voter-hood is the cause. More about that shortly. Ironically, the polls are through the roof in Europe. British, French, and German folk love him like a Kennedy to the tune of 60% or more. While McCain slumbers in the single digit range. Of course, he's not there, but I don't think those figures would change much, even if he were. They know him; seen him before as a G.W. Bush avatar, which perception McCain has done nothing much to dispel. Has this transatlantic Obamania translated itself back to the States? No. The Junish/early July polls had Obama with about a 6-8 point lead among most all voters, including Independents. Now he's down to a pathetic 43-41% lead over McCain. Here's the killer: he's now LOSING by a point or two (at best statistically dead even) among Independents.

I'm sure the drop is a result of his vote to allow Bush/Cheney to spy on us at will. Well, that IS the cold reality of it, after all. A lot of Independents (maybe most) are Libertarians like me, and although we maybe can forgive and forget the RHETORIC of vote-getting (Obama's waffle/shuffle--he calls it"assessment"-- positions on such issues as pro-choice and troop-withdrawal), with the warrantless-wiretapping vote Obama is MAKING LAW. It's on the books. No taking it back, or re-"assessing." I wring my hands.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

#34 Poem

Palmistry At Dusk

Trunk ascends to apex,

Intersecting frond.

Lifeline creases toward index,

Intersecting heart.

Which palm will thrive the dark

And wake upturned

To yawning sky?

--Through the bedroom window, Fort Lauderdale 2005.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

#33 Obama and THE NEW YORKER Cover

Four days late, I got the notorious issue yesterday (Monday), though "getting" The New Yorker even when you've got it, is another matter ALtogether. I'm reminded of a Seinfeld episode (when aren't we?--there's one to cover every aspect of human existence) where Elaine is up for a possible job at the very magazine in question. In her interview SHE questions the editor about a cartoon she didn't understand (she had submitted one of her own that subsequently turned out to have been unconsciously plagiarized from I think Howard Huge...very unsophisticated): "I just don't get it; Why does the cat ask the dog this question about [so-and-so]?"..."Well, it speaks to our current post-modern existential angst [or some such]."..."You don't know what it means either, do you."... "Not a clue."..."Then why did you put it in your magazine?"..."I love cats."

I'm sure that you Myriad Readers subscribe to the TNY for the same reasons I do: to keep abreast of Broadway openings and new restaurants about town. So this is why I was disturbed that the Obama number was not in my mailbox on Wednesday as usual. Maybe it was hijacked and sold on the black market just for the cover? Burned in effigy by a secret Nazi clavern in the PO? Vandalized/destroyed by Obamaphile mailpeople who just couldn't "get" the joke? Well, the joke was on them, and not too subtly. One need only turn to page 2 to get the title, "The Politics of Fear." Nonetheless, Barry Blitt was called on to explain himself and his cartoon by the end of a week of puzzled outrage--but only on the part of the non-cognoscenti. Face it, TNY is for the intellectual elite, or wannabes thereof. If you miss only one or two of the cartoons per qualify. But the satire on the cover is indeed SO hyperbolic that I believe the artist was a little "paranoid" himself about people NOT getting it. All of the unfounded fears of the Great Unwashed about Barrack and Michelle are duly depicted and ferociously caricatured. (Please bring it up online if you don't have a copy--spare me a description.)

Now here's the problem for the Obama camp. They all "got it"--no question. But he's already been accused of being an elitist (the "clinging to guns and God" comment), even by Hillary (!) once upon a time. Now to admit that he's in on the joke that a multitude of his supporters sadly don't understand...would support the charge. So of course his team had to give out that they were "offended" by the cartoon, but, wisely, without much further comment. I would be surprised,too, if Barry Blitt WEREN'T an avid Obama fan, so fervently it seems did (he think) he was advancing the cause. What afterthoughts must weigh upon him now, poor guy. The cartoon is great. Will it help or hurt Obama? I don't know.

Monday, July 21, 2008

#32 Books To Know and Love--Natalie Angier

She's a Pulitzer-Prize-winning science writer for the NYT, but I discovered her quite randomly in the low Dewey 500's science shelf at the nearby Library. Right off and put simply, I'd check out ANY of her books just to read her sentences. No matter what she's writing about. Best non-fiction prose I've ever read. To get a little technical and critiquy, her sentences are alive with wit and wisdom. Almost poetic: their tonal and ideational rhythms are rarely off-key. And almost every "period" is graced with a metaphor, allusion, or pun--love it. Too much embellishment? "Give me surfeit of it..." said the Prince. No, because like Brian Fagan she's got some pretty solid content undergirding her style. Here are two examples from her latest, The Canon: a Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science (2007). (I'll save Woman: an Intimate Geography, 1999, for later.)
  • From her chapter on Chemistry: "Some chemical reactions occur easily and spontaneously while others won't bother unless you light a fire under their orbutts, or bury their starter parts underground and forget about them for half a billion years. If you combine sodium and chlorine, poof, they'll react instantaneously, heatedly: Sodom meets Gomorrah, and we're left with a pillar of salt."
  • Molecular Biology: "You can't sterilize your mouth, or your hands or face, no matter how many bottles of Purell sanitizing gel you go through in a week. You are covered with bacteria. Maybe a half a billion blanket your skin, like a drifting tulle ... a teeming microtropolis of several thousand different strains. Billions more happily fill the moist orifices of your body...When you breathe, you breathe the happenstance vortices of airborne bacteria...When you walk, you walk through and upon a Christo confabulation in Central Park but less saffrony...We galumph through all this life heedlessly, like giants in a Gary Larson cartoon, attending to it only when we seek to kill it--kill the plaque. the strep, the bearers of your tuba-toned bronchitis."
Woy, Woy! Read it. Then pick up an illustrated copy of my favorite non-fiction book of all time, Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything (2005), and you'll know it all.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

#31 Sunday Sundries

Worst of the Week
  • The War, of course, but here's a bit of its absurdity demonstrated in very personal way, as follows: At a memorial service in a NC town for on young soldier lost in last week's suicide attack that killed nine, in what was considered a "safe" outpost in Iraq, friends and family were gathered in "shock and disbelief," according to the reporter. A tall, blonde-headed, boy-next-door-looking guy, obviously adored by all, he had planned to teach HS and coach wrestling after his army service. One of the mourners--not related, but knew him-- said this on camera: "Of all the other people over there and everything, why did it have to be HIM that got killed?" What?! He was a VOLUNTEER SOLDIER in the middle of a WAR, forgoodnessakes. There's an epiphany here. The speaker (and she said it for all in attendance) didn't appear to be a complete idiot; on the contrary, she was expressing a sentiment, sad to say, common to most Americans regarding Bush's war. It's been just too damnably distant and ABSTRACT. It's been manipulated that way. Now here was this poor girl--I don't blame her overmuch--confronted with the stark fact of unique, particular, and individuated DEATH. The true consequences of this idiotic war almost became clear to her. I throw up my hands.
  • Bush's smirk. Does he still think by his smug, giggly grinning that everybody out there is with him on all of this? Just give me 15 seconds alone....
Whatever of the Week
  • Bizarre Story Dept. Another kind of memorial was held at a town in NC honoring COLORED Confederate Veterans of the American Civil War! All colors in attendance. One African-American man said that he was "proud of their sacrifice." I don't know what to think.
  • Cognitive Dysfunction Dept. At yet another memorial service, for a tragically slain (probably by cheating husband), Cary NC jogger and young mother of two little girls. Pastor: " all know it's unfair, I know it's unfair, but most importantly GOD knows it's unfair." Get outta here. The good pastor was on to something there, but he didn't quite know what.
  • Silly Exactly-the-opposite-meaning Solecism Dept. News report on shut-down of nearby county's EMS service because of complaints about slow response, poor performance on site, and (TV graphic) "wreckless driving."
Best of the Week
  • Obama's overseas trip. Not so much that it can add to his foreign policy "cred" (as most pundits infer), but also simply to get out and about and show his American multi-racial face to the world. We've got a lot of face-saving and image-repairing to do out there, after eight years of looking at the Smirking Cowboy. Seriously, they need to be reminded/reassured that our system of government is not (like many of theirs) a one-man show. We are not Bush/Cheney, and are only partially responsible for eight years of lunacy. McCain should go too. The Clintons. Gore. Anybody. Carter anytime. Let them see some of the true-blue private and semi-private citizens of good will who are trying their best to restore the better angels of the American character here and abroad.
  • Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson back together again, again. I've seen their honeymoon video tape. Made for each other.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

#30 Books To Know and Love--Brian Fagan

Brian Fagan, The Little Ice Age (2000) and The Long Summer (2004).

The earlier book has more celebrity: it was the subject of a documentary on one of the History channels, and the author himself appeared a couple months ago on none other than Jon Stewart's ""Daily Show"--total surprise, as Fagan's paperback edition lay open on the couch next to me! Cosmic, man. Well, it's an absolutely engrossing account of our 1350-1850 cold snap and how it changed history. You'll discover that Bad Weather was a decisive influence on such events as the Mayan extinction, discovery of America, French Revolution, and explains less "cosmic" but no less interesting puzzlements like: Why Britain no longer could produce some of the finest WINES (!) of the middle ages; Why there are now no winter ICEBERGS in the Delaware River that Gen. Washington had to carefully navigate in the famous portrait of his crossing; Why Hans Brinker and his Silver Skates (a favorite story from my childhood) cannot now glide magnificently as he once did over the ice-covered canals of Holland. But of course the greatest positive effect, ironically and in spite of the cataclysmic Irish potato famine, was the great Agricultural Revolution (during the latter part of those centuries) that we are still enjoying today, along with the renewed warm period.

A little too warm. As Fagan points out in the last chapter, global warming and consequent melting of northern ice sheets could again shut down the North Atlantic Oscillation (gulf stream, etc.) and lead paradoxically to another Ice Age, anytime now. It's all VERY precarious right now, and Brian Fagan explains it all admirably. And, by the way, vote for Obama to get AL GORE back on the White House team.

Fagan takes us sort of "back to the future" in his latest book, filling the gap of 18,000 years between the last true Ice Age of the Pleistocene up to the little one above. The Long Summer is just as interesting and informative--here, after all, is when and where civilization developed and we culturally evolved. You will be amazed at how much WEATHER had to do with it. Read this one first, and then, having read both, pick up a copy of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel
(1998) for a total understanding of everything.

Friday, July 18, 2008

#29 FISA , Liberty, and the Obama Shuffle

As I said earlier, I'll vote for him anyway. But, sad to report, he has signed off on amendments to the 30-year-old act of Congress (actually a pretty handy one, after REAL terrorism descended upon us) that will significantly broaden the government's powers to eavesdrop on US citizens without a warrant. Despite its complicated and sophistical language, the FOREIGN Intelligence and Surveillance Act Amendments Act (FISAAA!) does just that--effectively violating the Fourth Amendment guarantees against "illegal search and seizure." Telecommunications companies can now with impunity/immunity help Bush and Cheney spy on your PRIVATE e-mails and i-messages, and whatever. Obama had heretofore been speaking out and voting against these incursions, but now...not. (Another shuffle to the right, along with the Iraq pandering.) It's interesting that for awhile there, Liberal and Libertarian values seemed to be in tandem (as they most often are, at least for me), but, alas, no longer on this issue.

Listen, the neo-fascist administration currently in power is more than welcome to read and comment on this blogman's posts to their black heart's content and even become part of the Myriad Readers. But that's IT. Originally intended to spy on foreign-to-foreign communications (OK), FISA can now get right into the intimate depths of Joe Six-Pack's PC. If he or I had more political clout than we do (next to nada), who knows that we couldn't be blackmailed or intimidated by a hostile Gov't for what it finds there? Even though of no criminal nature. THAT'S why they've GOT to have a WARRANT... and THAT'S the protective wisdom of the Fourth Amendment... and of the Founding Fathers, one of whom I'll end with:

"Any society that would give up a little liberty for a little security will deserve neither and lose both"--Benjamin Franklin.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

#28 "Charlie Wilson's War" etc. Pt.3

"God told me to go into Iraq"--George W. Bush. Just like God told Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) and the other principals that the secret war against the godless communists was a "Christian mission." Unfortunately, after Charlie and the CIA and, evidently, Jesus of Nazareth got through devastating Afghanistan, other gods took over, giving divine aid to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. So much so that I guess we're fighting Allah to this day. Lessons: (1) keep the gods out of it and (2) DON'T INTERVENE in foreign wars, civil or otherwise. (Amazingly, some influential god-nuts, even some in Congress, believe that the best way to solve the problems in the Middle East is to convert them all to Christianity--Jews not excluded!)

When has it worked? Justifiably? Not since being ATTACKED in the middle of WWII. Not Korea, Vietnam, Somalia--not even the elder-Bush's Gulf War of the '90's. We're back there again. (This is not even to mention all the other secret CIA operations that have always gone wrong--think Central and South America.) In the very last frame of the CWW movie there is a postscript quoting Charlie as saying he wished that after the Soviet's defeat we had provided reparations and secured a stable government for Afghanistan. Instead, after the Texas cowboy rode out of Dodge, the place reverted to ruination and radicalization--and 9/11. Another Texas cowboy rode in six years ago and declared, "Mission Accomplished." But this time he couldn't ride out unnoticed.

All right, there is a difference. Our incursion into Afghanistan WAS justifiable. We WERE attacked on the home front, and we had to take the posse into foreign territory to bring the outlaws to justice. How stark, on the other hand, is the contrast with Bush's invasion of Iraq. And how much more innocent blood must flow? No matter: like Charlie Wilson, Dubbya was on a mission from God. Take heed Obama, IF you are elected. Time has long ago run out for your latter-day, politically-pandering plans to "assess" the situation in Iraq (if that indeed is your current stance)--you're reportedly losing poll-points already. "Re-deploy"?... HELL!... get us the hell out, because, if anything, 'twas Hell, not God, that got us in.

Monday, July 14, 2008

#27 Blogging and Longevity

Good news for the Blogman and his Myriad Readers! The mere act of blogging daily (even sounds athletic, like maybe "jogging gaily"--in the old sense) has been shown to extend human life. Even past the century mark! It was reported today that one Olive ("Oh, live"?) Riley of Woy Woy (near Sydney) Australia blogged almost unto her last breath at age 108. All I can say is..."Woy"! Admittedly, she didn't start till last year, logging in over 70 posts ("logging in"... "posts"?--virtual heavy exercise).

But surely she had some sybillic notion of the weblog phenomenon long before it happened. This is clearly demonstrated by her curious prophetic habit, all her life, of "singing a happy song every day." I can't think of a more perfect definition of blogging. So this is what she did while waiting for computer technology to catch up with her, and it kept her alive until she could put her happy songs on the Web. I believe it. Means I've got 40plus years to go.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

#26 Sunday Sundries

Worst of the Week
  • After retreating from his earlier positions on FISA's warrantless wiretapping and pro-choice, Obama now seems to be waffling on Iraq. Next, it'll be health care. Troubling. It's reported that he's "shifted from stressing withdrawal" to "assessing the situation" in Iraq. Where's he been for five years and five thousand dead soldiers?! I'm tempted to take my "McGovern-anti-war-vote" back, the one I planned to recast and award to Obama after all these years. But no, much as I admire John McCain as a true warrior-hero in the Beowulfian mold (we all know that he refused a preferential release in his first year as POW until his "less-connected" fellow-prisoners were also set free, and for that remained in captivity for another FIVE years!)-- the country, as we know it, just literally couldn't survive another Republican administration... as we know it. It's not a question of Obama's moving Right or Left; he's in a real DOWN here--undermining his brave progressive rhetoric with, I guess, political expediency. He and his team are deluded. Just look to what happened to Gore and Kerry when they took that road. But I'll still vote for the guy, unless he really screws up and picks Joe Lieberman as his running-mate. You have my word.
  • The Drought in NC.
Best of the Week
  • Ted Kennedy returns to the Senate. After successful brain surgery right down the road here at Duke, the dissipated old warrior broke an obstructionist-Republican-threatened- filibuster involving Medicare on his FIRST DAY BACK. What a guy. I only hope that he can survive long enough to shepherd through health-care reform, under President Obama, before the cancer gets him. (I know this last sounds cold-blooded--what else is new--but think about it. Ted K. is a very lucky man, and not just because he's alive. He now knows his "death-day"--information provided to a select few. He has lived a long and productive life. Lucky. And with only a few admittedly serious divigations (fill in the blanks) that didn't ultimately impede his success. Lucky. And now Duke has given him a couple more years. Lucky. Finally, and most important: from this point on he need have no illusions, procrastinations, etc. etc.--he MUST, almost as a matter of course, definitively plan out this last measure of life to accomplish the very best he is capable of, and doubtless do it. Lucky, QED.)
  • The Rain in NC. Did its thing all week.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

#25 "Charlie Wilson's War," etc. Pt. 2

On the level of "meta-cinema," the film failed to address in any kind of sophisticated way (Mike Nichols directed?) the moral/political problems associated with our intervention in the Soviet-Afghan war. Their "Vietnam." Hey, you're saying, it's only a Hollywood-style movie with its own point-of-view-- but it's a shamelessly simplistic and distorted one, and should be exposed as such. The audience surely was expected to cheer blindly for the defeat of the godless communists and the fall of the old USSR. Soviet bad-guys vs. Rebel good-guys. In fact, the grinning, thuggish Soviet pilots dropping disguised "toy-bombs" on innocent kids (really?...doubtful) reminded me of the equally exaggerated stereotypical "Jap" pilots of our WWII propaganda movies--buck-toothed and bespectacled, gleefully strafing and suicide-bombing anything in their little yellow-devil sights. (The difference is, of course, the Japanese were bombing AMERICANS by then, not some third party.) And of course the movie-goers cheered when these miscreants were blown out of the sky. But these Soviet pilots were heroes at home, fighting for their "freedom" from the terrorist threat of the mujihadeen and Taliban RIGHT ON THEIR BORDER. Far better justification than we have for fighting the SAME FOLKS halfway around the world.

Back in the 80's when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, I often wondered as the war went on for years and years, why they hadn't learned anything from our Vietnam. They were in a perfect position to do so, since at that time they were the shoe on the other foot. THEY were the Charlie Wilsons of THAT war, supplying a sufficiency of arms and materiel' to the Vietnamese rebels--and sure enough WE LOST! And the aftermath was much the same in both cases. What did CWW accomplish? Notwithstanding the Huzzahs and Hosannas at the end of the movie, the Soviet empire, already "the Old Man of Asia," would have collapsed anyway. Here's what it accomplished: the amoral and misguided Congressman Charlie Wilson and his evangelical cohorts succeeded in eventually killing 5000 American soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent civilians. More later.

Friday, July 11, 2008

#24 "Charlie Wilson's War," bin Laden, Bush, and God

The 2007 film, Charlie Wilson's War (arriving at my movie screen as always via Netflix), was eminently watchable but disappointing on two levels. First of all, not so disappointingly, it was a busy, busy movie. Frenetic, colorful, ever-shifting mis en scene. From Houston hot-tub to Congress to Afghanistan and back again, it never lingered on an event or setting for more than 3-4 minutes in its 2-hr span. Interesting menagerie of characters (Ned Beatty always delivers). And you always get your money's worth with a Phillip Seymour Hoffman performance (my favorite: State and Main), no matter the picture. (But then again I'm perhaps too easily pleased at a $9.95 a month, one-at-a-time unlimited membership.) As a complete film though, it fails. The other two leads, Hanks and Julia Roberts, are miscast or somehow mis-scripted. Roberts has little depth as an actress, and Hanks (beloved since "Bosom Buddies"), whose best roles involve bringing an interesting and deep consistency to (mainly consistent) characters (in e.g. Gump and Priv. Ryan), just can't get me to believe in the multi-obsessive and contradictory Wilson. The narrative arc of the film is also severely compromised by history. No suspense. There are little glitches along the way toward Charlie's ultimate goal, enough to satisfy a bit of agon here and there, but we KNOW the outcome already. And this leads me to the other level of CWW's failure. Call it "meta-filmic"--the movie is again fatally compromised by history, leaving us with a very sad and sour taste about our foreign policies then and today. But more about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

#23 Split Personality of Secular Holidays

Independence Day/4th of July has a kind dual identity, as do several other secular holidays I'll mention, that reflects upon the American character, and , I guess, human nature in general. I'm speaking strictly of the non-religious kind, not a true "holy"-day-- all of them having their own kind of built-in schizophrenic issues that can have even global repercussions. But let's save that for a later post.

I was pondering all ofthis while watching the annual fireworks display fill the sky and our living room window (they built the NC Fairgrounds just 3 miles away and at just the right angle for my convenience. Now if I could only get them to muffle the sound). Beautiful. And this is what almost every single one of us associates with this holiday. In fact, if you conducted one of those popular "How stupid are we?" polls among the Great Unwashed, I guarantee that a percentage of our citizens would miss this trick question: "Our Independence Day falls on what date?" (Like the old chestnut, "Does Canada have a 4th of July?"--again reflecting that confusion of day and date.) Or consider this dissonance: I'm gonna watch the fireworks on Independence Day. Doesn't sound right, does it. That's because this holiday maintains a perfect dichotomy between its memorial aspects and the celebration of same. Between commemoration and commission. And so we've afforded it really two different names. No other is quite like that. The true anniversary involving Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson (the latter two dying on July 4th, amazingly, 50 years after the fact), and King George may be in the back of our minds, but it's overshadowed by blockbusters and barbecue. Which is quite OK, and fireworks-displays are surely appropriate historically for the real-war fireworks that followed that Declaration. But we really need to be reminded of that. New Year's Day, on the other hand--pure unashamed celebration. Out of the running. The others have an uneasy duality. Honestly, at this moment, I'm not quite sure who is being commemorated on Presidents Day. Is it ALL of them, or just the Founding-Father luminaries plus Lincoln born around the first two months of the year? But we do get MONDAY OFF!

And I'm afraid this is the principal reason we look forward to the other "seculars," now almost all conveniently embedded in THE LONG WEEKEND. (July 4th got lucky this year.) MLKjr Day (because its new and "political") and Memorial Day (because of its NAME and the ongoing war) are still heavily front-loaded in favor of commemoration, despite their "long-weekend" adulteration. Labor Day actually has an interesting memorial history that I won't bore you with, but for most of us its just a welcome 3-day break nicely bisecting the summer and winter holidays. In fact we think of it more as a weekend than as a "day." Did I miss any? Too late for a curmudgeon alert.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

#22 Sunday Sundries

Worst of the Week
  • Obama waffles on on Pro-Choice position.
  • Obama to extend Bush's "faith-based initiatives."
  • Obama compromises on warrant-less surveillance.
(What's going on with this guy? More in a later post.*)
  • NC legislator introduces bill to raise misdemeanor "hate crime" of displaying noose or cross to a FELONY if intent is to "intimidate." Free speech issue here.*
  • Tom Hanks' Charlie Wilson's War.*
Best of the Week
  • Jesse Helms dies.*
  • Tropical depression upgraded to tropical storm and dubbed "Bertha." Will it be a BIG Bertha? The TV Weatherguys&girls sure hope so. You can't miss the wild gleam in their eyes as they fondle their doppler. Katrina-addled, they seem to be mentally screaming Colin Clive's famous line, "It's alive! It's alive!" from Frankenstein. Finally. It's been two, long, dry years for them, despite always-hopeful predictions. They're hungry.
  • Wimbledon finals. Nadal over Federer. I just witnessed five hours (!) and five sets of the most competitive and entertaining tennis I've seen since the Borg/McEnroe years. (But wait, didn't I utter those very words last Sunday? extra charge for prescience.) Let's hope their rivalry endures for a while longer. Same goes for the Williams duo who excelled in the other exciting final. Venus finally beats "little" sister at Wimbledon. What a great All-England-Croquet-and-Lawn-Tennis Championship! I wonder who won the the Croquet play-offs?
  • Independence Day.*
  • McKenzie's 4th birthday.

#21 Helms, Gore, Obama, McCain, Black

Jesse Helms is dead (sangfroid alert), at long last. (But Charlie Black lives.) The pathway of cultural evolution/enlightenment is often impeded by influential troglodytes too long on the earth and so far behind the Zeitgeist that simple Darwinian EXTINCTION is greatly appreciated. Falwell's gone (thank god?). Sometimes we can't do anything but wait 'em out. Like Javier Bardem's metaphorical embodiment of evil in the Coen Bros. No Country for Old Men (exactly right) , Helms just couldn't seem to be killed off. (There was even a hip-hop song, "Jesse, why don't you hurry up and die?"... I swear) Even now I'll have to hear funereal accolades for the next two weeks on the Raleigh newscasts (and turn away when a file clip shows him doing his Mr.Ed-with-peanut-butter-in-the-mouth speechifying), where reporters call him ad nauseum a conservative icon. Icon, yes, of the neo-nazi politics of hate. Anti-black, -ethnic, -gay, -science, -privacy, -civil-rights, even anti-POOR ("No food stamps for YOU" while at the same time doling out Tobacco subsidies from Agri. Dept. funds")...never "pro" anything except for good ol' Christian white people who hated the same way he did. And this got him elected to the Senate over and over for 30 years.

We were watching from next-door So. Carolina, where we had our own walking-dead dinosaur counterpart, Strom Thurmond, racist extraordinaire, who we now know did Helms one sin better: total hypocrisy. He enjoyed screwing Black Americans figuratively, and as it turns out, literally as well. All of this sort of leads me back to that "southern strategy" I talked about in regard to Gore Jr.&Sr. in an earlier post, and which has obvious and not-so-obvious relevance today. There are some sinister connections.

The Nixon coattails that swept away Gore pere in '68 were still dragging in the dregs in '72 when
Helms was first elected to the Senate. "Vote for Jesse, he's one of US!" was his slogan against a highly-qualified opponent of Greek extraction, and, by extension, against all non-WASPs. Later, fearing that the Reagan coattails in '84 might not do the trick, he again played the southern-white-bias card in portraying the estimable Gov. Jim Hunt as too cozy with that other Jesse and with minority voter registration. He also fillibustered against the MLK holiday on the floor of the Senate. Didn't hurt. He narrowly beat the much better man. The '90 campaign (Boy, I thought we had him there) was more subtle. It could afford to be. He was running against a BLACK MAN, the very popular Charlotte (our 'big city" from where we lived in SC) mayor Harvey Gantt. So Helms and his managers dressed-up the racism in the guise of anti-Affirmative Action. His TV spots subliminally said, "White people! Vote for Gantt, lose your job." I feel sad about his death, because he was able to live out his loathsome life avoiding the utter disgrace he deserved (and so it was, unfortunately, with Strom Thurmond, too).

Now behold the rats in the cellar: I just learned a few days ago that one Charlie (irony alert) Black was Helms' chief stategist for the '84 and '90 race-card campaigns. Now the former lobbyist associated with the Ad-Firm of Burton-Marsteller (!) is, since March, the CHIEF ADVISOR--helmsman, so to speak-- to the McCain campaign! So beware Barack Obama, Mr. multi-racial, (usually) progressive candidate for president...the Helmsian dirty work could be already afoot.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

#20 Shabbat [update 7-13]

From the Hebrew, "to cease"-- and it's a good idea to DO some ceasing now and again, and Saturdays would "work" nicely for this blog. Divinely inspired, too--taking my cue from the Jews, of course, and the various Christian sects from 7th-day Baptists and Adventists all the way to the Lemba tribe of southern Africa, believe it or not. Saturday sabbatarians all. (In the pagan Roman and borrowed Anglo-Saxon traditions, our Saturnesdaeg was an unlucky day to undertake anything important, anyway, being governed by the the most disagreeable of the Greek gods--hence the superstition about "Saturday's child." But ironically, Saturn doesn't appear in the various Romance-language names for the 7th day; rather, all descend from the Latin Sambata Dies [e.g. Sp. sabado, Fr. samedi], the sabbath fossilized in the day before the day it's celebrated Roman-Catholically! Sun-day, pagan.) well as non-blogifying, I will also NOT be beating wool or scraping hides, two of the 39 Talmudic melakhat(=works) that could get you severely lapidated in Old Testament times, but I think I'm relatively safe in most of those areas of endeavor; however, I will be "building fires" today (using electricity) and writing/erasing two or more letters (why would one-letter-only NOT be fatal, while aleph or gimel...?) as I am now--compounding the fire prohibition by punching in on the computer--offences that could also get you stoned, but not at all in a good way. Impossible to be a tee-total shomer shabbat, as John Goodman's quirky character tried in vain to be ("No, Dude, can't answer the F-ing phone [or words close to it]; can't even use the F-ing light-switch, DUDE!"), in The Big Lebowski. But I do go on. THAT"S why it's good to take a break at least ONE day out of the week; ergo, I won't be writing this today.
Update 7-13-08--OK, henceforth every day of the week will be deemed a Saturday, for whatever purposes it needs to be put to--ipse dixit.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

#19 Post Times Misleading

Just a quick note to the Myriads, lest you all think that the Blogman is composing these things at all hours of the night and chirpy morning. No, there seems to be some sort of Time Warp twixt the lip and the post. By about 4-5 hours. I don't know, but could be Google-time on the west coast when they actually put their stamp on it. I'm writing this at 7am Raleigh time. Posting it now, and will come back in a minute to edit in the published time here>>> Yep, sure enough. Officially posted by Google Blogspot at 3:35am. A puzzlement. Do any of you have a clue?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

#18 Illegitimi Non Carborundum and the EveryDay

Sometimes it's not easy to embrace the Ordinary. ("So how long is he gonna ride this pony," I hear you asking.) More often than not, intractable people and the unpredictable event get in the way. Can't control the latter, but the former you can get a handle on. Mary Richards was cheered on by Ted Baxter to accept gladly the quiescence of the quotidian (see earlier post), but she still had to deal with his darker side on most occasions, and with her irascible boss, Lou Grant, almost all the time. (I had a perfect ted-baxter-type as a colleague in my academic department, whom I had to endure for 25 years!) But to move from the ridiculous to the classical sublime--no, Marcus Aurelius DID NOT write the faux Latin in the title, trans ="Don't let the bastards wear you down" (he wrote in Greek, anyway), but he might as well have. His Roman Stoic version comes at the beginning of Book II while fighting yet another Germanic tribe, though that's not the enemy he's talking about in the following:

"Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable people. All of these things have come upon them through IGNORANCE of real Good and Ill. But I, because I have seen that the nature of the Good is the Right, and of the Ill, the Wrong, and that the nature of the person who does me wrong is akin to my own...I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in the Wrong, nor can I be angry with my kin, or hate them. For we have come into the world to work together, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. To work against one another therefore is to oppose NATURE, and to be vexed with another or turn away from them is to tend to antagonism"--Meditations.

Please note his prescient use of evolutionary biology to make his point! We are all genomically "kin" (cognate words), after all--cooperation, altruism, love-thy-neighbor...hey, all in the DNA.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

#17 Fathers and Sons and Grandchildren and Birthdays

Here's a bit of the Ordinary that has transcendence built right in. BIRTHDAYS come and go with irresistible regularity. But what ineluctable delight! Good wishes, smiles, hugs--even if obligatory--and, when and where appropriate, POTLATCH ceremonies of one kind or another, accompanied by ritual song and fire. My sixth grandchild is 4 today. It's been a pleasure in my dotage--literally, I dote--to descend from the loftier zones of Poesis to compose commemorative verses in the form of a Limerick for each and every one of them (and more on the way from my 4th son, I hope). So for the sake of public posterity and the fun of it--I'll share HERS with the Myriad Readers:

There was a young girl named McKenzie,

Whose birthday became quite a frenzy.

She turned upside down,

And fell to the ground,

Right on her little Backenzie.