Tuesday, November 22, 2011

And then sometimes you get to talk with a guy who is a trauma room military doctor back from a hospital in Afghanistan, someone to talk with about London chefs, Hestor Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver, and a mutual regard for mountain scenes come up, and where I had a children's book about Sir Edmund Hilary and Everest, this guy has been to the top of a big mountain. Just passing through, going back to the UK.

"It's not so much about the good versus the excellent versus the absolutely brilliant," this chap says, "it's that the people you dealt with were nice, that makes it a great place."

He tells me about health care in the UK. The little sign on the desk between patient and doctor, a disclaimer, saying the doctor is fallible, quite. Politics, we talk. He sees the gross profiteering, the port where Iraq's oil gets shipped--there's no flow-meter on the pumps whatsoever. The GIs are supplied with all the Budweiser, Tabasco, lobster, steaks, whatever, so everyone's happy.

There is little choice, it seems to me, sometimes, but to be an artist. Maybe that's what Kerouac was saying in the oft quoted, Roman Candle People passage at the start of On The Road. Which means that it is natural and healthy for one to, rather than go out and find some profession that plugs a hole in a dyke, or that assumes more on the side that people won't be shot with bullets at the end of the day rather than that they will, rather just be an artist, a representer of nature and humanity.
The making of conversation is the most exhausting thing for a barman. It must require a huge expenditure of electrical energy. Or it is the simultaneous and opposing needs to provide conversation and to break away and serve the various physical duties, which come often as an interruption.

on Woody Allen on November 22nd

PBS, running a good piece on Woody Allen on American Masters. A man who tells jokes because that's what he does, writing jokes in his head basically as he walks down the street. It's what he does. It's what he does in interviews throughout this piece. And we, the viewer, are left with saying to ourselves, 'this is what he does, he is funny, he tells jokes, and the jokes are about real life.' It's a perfect dovetail. It's poetry, truly, like Larkin is a poet.

Any writer would almost be envious. Here's a guy, writing about his own life, and making it funny. Like, for instance, there is Diane Keaton's grandmother, who really was a good deal anti-Jew. He's funny, and he's wonderful.

But then one realizes, you know, what today's date is, and it's a not so funny day. It's November 22nd. And we are edging up to the 50th anniversary, if that is the term for it, of a very very horrible day, an event, who knows what to call it.

My lovely mom tells a story. It was close to my brother's birthday, a little party for kids, out in Berkeley, when my father, my father was out there getting a PhD. later in career, able to switch, quite ably, as he was, from old school classic botany, to electronic microscopy, teacher on one hand, scientist on the other, and anyway, what's on the radio around noon or early afternoon out on the West Coast, as my young mom turns the dial looking for music that will go with cake and games for 2 and 3 and 4 year olds, with a little happy glamour, but, on every station, somber music, classical music. Every station. Bach? Barber? Mahler? Chopin? (Today, would that be done? One hopes.) You are not in Massachusetts, you're in San Fran, with 2 year old handsome baby boy, new at being a mom, and somehow, somehow, someone is, or is about to tell you, at this modern age, that Kennedy--what else can you call him--that Kennedy, oh, what to say, an Irishman, a Prince, a young energetic cultured funny guy, that he has, here in the United States of America, most civilized country in the world, that he, the youthful President who said those great lines on a cold day, unfurling his great talent, had been instantly murdered, was, yes, dead, dead, killed, murdered, dead by all reports anyway, and that, somehow--and this was bad too, on top of everything, and just showed you how obvious it was to everyone that, in one moment, in one weird horrible gunshot act, or Walter Cronkite with glasses, or all the radio bulletins that came out of news flashes, that he, he, was dead--everyone knew, instantly, all news sources, that he was dead, that basically, he was shot in the head, and that it was the most devastating sort of a thing. And of all the heads to shoot, on top of a million other things.

The Umbrella Man, in today's Times... an interesting little piece about, you know, the usual conspiracy theories. Turns out Mr. Umbrella Man, who later was identified, and testified on Capitol Hill for the assassination committee was really just making, interestingly enough, given Why England Slept, JFK's senior Harvard thesis about Chamberlain's acquiescence to Hitler, a small protest of his own sort, the umbrella being the very signature of Neville Chamberlain, really a pointed jab on the protester's part against the old man, Joseph P. Kennedy, JFK's dad, who, as we know, was a bit 'let's not get involved.'

Woody Allen, I don't know, would he make a joke of some sort, about something that day, or a joke about conspiracy theories, or about a lone gunman? Would Woody ever play Oswald in a tee shirt, drinking a Dr. Pepper, eating a thigh of fried chicken looking out the Book Depository window?

The clock ticks, and it's November the 22nd, and something there is about this day that hangs in silence and sends a chill down the soul and leaves us feeling alone.

A free way on-ramp, or leading up to it... America changed for ever, more so than by 9/11.

What happened on that day? Why does one feel it so? Why does it hit one in the stomach so? Why does it appall so much? Well, of course it does.

Woody Allen gives us jokes and good movies. With pretty girls around him. And us, the rest of us, or you or me in particular... I know we take something from Mr. Allen, as far as candor, but... we have November 22nd Syndrome, for good reason, and it's hard to get rid of, and maybe it is, given the horror of real history, a realistic thing.

Your correspondent, to use a Hemingway phrase, is 46 at the writing of this, the same age of President Kennedy that day, in fact, older by about 4 months, so...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Treason of the Clerics

Google "Treason of the Clerics" today and you will see the main bulk of what the phrase has come to be, topically related to 9/11, Muslim clerics, etc. But fortunately you will also find an offering at www.mmisi.org/ma/01_01/kirk.pdf, a 1957 article by a Russell Kirk about a book published in the Twentieth Century between the two great wars by a Frenchman, Julien Benda entitled, Le Trahison des Clercs., coining the phrase.

The idea is simple enough, the intellectual class's abandonment of Platonic truths to the habit of serving the State. And because things come down to money, particularly evident today in the matter of the economy and the health of a nation, one might think this obscure intellectual thought might be worth tossing around these days. Where would the uncorrupted intellectual, the writer, the teacher, end up today? What would his or her role or life look like? Hopefully there would be something for such a person? Academics, like everyone else these days (except the billionaires), are just trying to survive.

Fortunately, for the sake of morale, a few examples of good health come to mind, which I, in my limited existence, have inkling of, Stephen Greenblatt, at Harvard, William H. Pritchard, at Amherst. Benjamin DeMott, deceased, who I hoped would have had a chance in life to have a chat with my father on such matters. (DeMott regarded the 9/11 Report as government whitewash.)

But, these days, its not so much about the Hellenic Truth of morality, human being, nature, but, you guessed it, the health of the corporations and business of varying sizes that drive the economy.

And this author of small books trying to shed some light on ideals has to go off and serve wine and food presently, and then be left to confront his own sensual nature, dumbed down by the grinding effort to keep afloat.

Monday, November 14, 2011

On Sexual Harassment

It seems about time. It is about time. It had to come from the female sector. "Sex Harrassment - What on Earth is That?" NY Times "In Favor of Dirty Jokes and Risqué Remarks," by Katie Roiphe, Opinion, November 12, 2011.

The creativity and resourcefulness of the definitions, the broadness and rigor of the rules and codes, have always betrayed their more Orwellian purpose: when I was at Princeton in the ’90s, the guidelines distributed to students about sexual harassment stated, “sexual harassment may result from a conscious or unconscious action, and can be subtle or blatant.” It is, of course, notoriously hard to control one’s unconscious, and one can behave quite hideously in one’s dreams, but that did not deter the determined scolds.

One can gather, easily enough, from the unlucky, the serious undermining of life and morale wrought by the insidious charges, even barely suggested, of those days, the atomic bomb dropped to eliminate a squirrel. Such a charge, insinuated or direct, puts a mark upon one's honor to be remembered every day of his existence, even as he is not entitled to feel any possible injustice for being so charged, as if the Kafkaesque had, unwittingly, come to rule over the deeper aspects of personal life.

Blinking at this new light outside the cell he's long been relegated to, one almost feels confused. What? is it sunspots? Is it the same wave that wrought Arab Spring, toppling dictators? The so-called perfectly reasoned liberal, secretly almost fascist, stiff (almost Inquisitor-like) arbiters of taste and proper behavior are crumbling, and now it's okay to be male, not just male but a male of the refined sort who has benefitted enough from previous history and basic human nature to be vulnerable, to be not such a complete prick or the usual tool who's so full of himself he somehow tends to get forgiven even if he does indeed to do bad stuff because of his supreme self-confidence? Now male randomness (he does have to produce however many billions of individual sperm cells each swimming with personal vitality, after all) is now more inclined to be understood and maybe even politely welcomed? I don't know, it almost seems like the end of the world must indeed be coming.

Life's already ruined, I don't even want to hear it, one is tempted to say.

Being a fellow of some humor, or once was, I wrote a book about a fellow who falls into such a situation, a college kid who seems adept at offending sensibilities, thereby leading to the attitude upon the part of 'the princess' that he is an harasser. One point of this tale being--taking place in the setting of a liberal arts college--that dreams at that age are a group of things, a field, a body of hopes for career and love, art and professional fulfillment all tied together. Like an atom, I suppose, a core with energy spinning around it. And in this particular setting he finds, if not a general disappointment, his dreams beset upon in a number of areas, on a number of fronts, at several crucial junctions of dreams and goals on one hand, and whatever we actually encounter in 'this practical age,' on the other. Fortunately, he does find the things that sustain and nourish him.

I have to wonder, about the cost to the economy, to productivity, a society makes in the process of sorting out and judging the efficacy of a kid's dreams. I think of the imperviousness of certain types back in that era of 'sexual harassment' charges for whom such charges didn't matter, i.e., the computer-tinkerer, who knows he is a geek anyway and doesn't have to bother with girls of a particular haughty sort. Nerdy techie guys are doing well these days, and so is the high tech sector of the economy. And similarly, a certain type finds success within the mafias of current academia, those too gifted at convoluted language experiments to chat up the opposite sex. (Being a deconstructionist post-Modernist doesn't seem like much of of a grand dream to me, anyway, and I can't see much as far as what it all has produced beyond lip service. And we wonder why our age has not produced any Shakespeares, for a Shakespeare would be exiled, his productivity discouraged, stifled. And it shows, if something is too complicated for the basic masses, such as this Average Joe, how does it help us face the every day, the need to go off and do some kind of productive work?)

And then on the other side, you had whole sectors of people shrewd enough to just avoid being weird enough to fall into behavior leading to the judgment of 'sexual harassment,' i.e., those who had their minds fixed on getting into banking and making tons of money through long hours, as if all that stuff about liberal arts was just window dressing, not pertaining to what they should do with life, the choices they should make. Never having found themselves outside of societal approval--the very colleges themselves coming to praise them--for their money making skills, they never had to question what they were doing. whether anything they did was right or wrong (and now look what came of all that, those heady days of happy money, if not the failure of the entire Western World, enchanted by numbers, profit and greed.) Banks sold packaged housing debt securities to pensions, then bet against those securities and walked away with the profits. Where is behavior like that going to lead us? Take a good look at economies that aren't very healthy or moral, like a Russia under thugs and oligarchs approved by powers that be, where everything, including virtue, is for sale to the highest bidder. You can forget harassment.

Yes, I wrote a book about those days of the idol of the 'level playing field,' of a young man who, rather than being praised, is being blamed for having dreams and also for the very tragedy of his dreams, as if having dreams was a crime itself. A Hero For Our Time, available on Amazon. It is, properly, in art that we first come to terms, to explain, to 'go there,' preceding general opinion and conventional wisdom.

Dreams, yes, they go together, the girl you liked, the kind of life you thought would be good for you, the kind of vocation you felt calling you. Dreams, after all, are fragile things. To discourage an honest mind, and a good heart, well, what purpose does it all serve, except some kind of Orwellian world as Ms. Roiphe points out. It's all just sad. Very very sad.

One hopes there is a basic underlying decency in humanity, worth putting some trust in, worth placing come confidence in, worth acknowledging, that makes the faulted forgivable and even quite redeemable.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

They knew what little time they had,
back then, in the renaissance.
They grabbed brushes and marble,
and some even fussed with words.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Personal Gravity, Personal Quantum Mechanics

PBS's NOVA, on The Fabric of the Cosmos, brought to us by physicist Brian Greene, is interesting. A viewer can't help musing about time and space, gravity, energy, electromagnetic forces, down into the quantum level.

A large object, in this case the sun, rests in the middle of the fabric of space, as if on a trampoline, the surface of the trampoline bent so that a round object approaching the sun would fall inward on the down slope into the where the sun is. That bend of gravity effects time as well.

And so, one might be tempted to think that each person has, if you will, a gravity force around them. Other people and beings around them are effected, as if that person projected a force that held something of us, of our minds, in some kind of orbit.

Then would it follow perhaps that some individual beings have a larger or more compelling effect upon the rest of us, say a JFK or an Abraham Lincoln? As if such people had an ability to intuitively recognize the potential, such that we end up wanting to read about them, study them, appreciate their own words, follow the lines of their histories... And perhaps maybe some of us are more prone to the influence of particular suns and planets, as it were, than other people might feel, and feel ever the pull of influence upon our own lives of such a person even though they may have died long before we were born.

It would be as if that person who has such an influence shaping the fabric of our world had grasped something about what it is to be human, as if he or she had a better grasp on what the reality of and behind every day life was about.

Anyway, this is why sometimes it is difficult for, say, a writer to start the day being contaminated with verbal interactions from outside, as such tends to throw him off from getting to the thoughts within. Politics, like creating literature, too is a matter of staying on subject, not being pulled away from the point by a meandering conversation. There is, of course, a time for interaction, but the thinker must say his piece or feel frustration.

The work week is only four shifts, but I feel pretty wiped by the end of them. Bartending is a hard job on the psyche. It is a hard contest of deprivation, of being out of synch with society's hours, and probably with one's own expectations from having graduated from college. Exercise helps, for freeing the mind from the shackles of the routine.

The weekend becomes for me a matter of clearing the head, of avoiding excessive external chatter. If I'm lucky, I get that one day to be a writer again, to emerge from the confusion of jarring barrages of information to remember a bit of what I've been thinking about. To get there it took a day of rest, then a day of beginning to do the basics, laundry, grocery shopping. The writing day was also by necessity a day of exercise, yoga, a hike in the woods, a bike ride. Part release, part rediscovery, part just letting go, part dusting off an old book, getting reacquainted with things interesting.

The meek inherit the Earth, it is said. Maybe that thought refers to the quiet that allows one to get back to a sense of her own innate gravitational force. Yes, it doesn't seem too much of a coincidence that a serious person who's got it all together is referred to as having gravitas.

And doing so, I am reminded, on a Saturday night, what a sweet intimate thing it is to sit with those thoughts and dreams going on inside. The difficulties of life fade away, the frustrations make sense as sign posts, and histories read point to the future somehow.

Who knows what writing is, what it's ultimate overarching purpose is. We see, of course, many many examples of it, a great proliferation even, so much so that the volume can hardly be filtered anymore. The Ancients wrote, rather wisely; there are famous moments where fiction and novels served a great purpose, becoming great vehicles for that purpose; there are great moments in political communication that call that high purpose. There are histories, that too must be well written, with a vision that is fair and appropriate and humane. And now, in this world experiencing another form of Big Bang, where everything people have ever done, it seems, is available for view, or purchase, on the internet, we must continue to enjoy whatever writing is, what it reaches for... Along with science. Along with art.

It is precious to hold on to those moments when we are allowed, somehow, by peace and practice and inspiration, and spirit, to give rise to the pen, to fingers across a keyboard.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

And then the real thing (abuse, harassment, penn state, catholic pedophiles)

And then, interestingly enough, the news comes along with the perfect example of acts that we cannot forgive, the molestation charges associated with former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and the ensuing coverup. The stomach cringes, the eyes wish to avert themselves from the train wreck, one thinks of the innocent victims left with shame and how to cope. Grief spreads out from the epicenters of the collected crimes. The cries against such acts are just indeed, and no stone must be left unturned.

Such acts allow a sense of scale. A long time ago in youth, in your romantic confusion, with bumbling shyness, one had an appreciation for a girl. And yes, maybe it even resembled that which we in our pop culture call stalking and rightly take to be creepy, or at least highly awkward and unwanted. Even if it was never your intention, to be like that, because, after all, you were in better control of yourself than you may have been made out to be. And through passivity or just bad luck or the bad influences of your chums, "come on, let's do a shot," the whole matter was left just hanging over you, unresolved. Because, you are considered far too much of a creep to be addressed, or, quite simply because it all was long ago and just forget it. Whatever you would do, obviously, you can't win, even if the decent part of yourself would want something akin to resolution, maybe a chance to apologize, just briefly, and then let the whole thing drop, no longer to feel about the whole thing. Because you never had bad or selfish intentions anyway. Just that it all got so muddled up in youthful days that you don't want to even deal with it yourself anyway, wishing you could forget it all but for the subtle stain it leaves upon one's honor. But hey, if someone finds you undesirable for whatever reason, like maybe, a: you don't have your shit together, fine, no problem at all. Address your needs as you see fit, that's totally cool and fine with me.

A First-Rate Madness, Uncovering the links between leadership and mental illness, by Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, The Penguin Press, 2011, makes an interesting case. One summary of part of the overall thesis is that in times of great upheaval, we have been well-served by those whose depression and mental illness allowed them to exert a great empathy over their times, along with resilience, the resilience such individuals develop through dealing with their condition's ups and downs over the period of many years. So, an emphasis on Abraham Lincoln for his empathy with those cast into slavery and with those of the Confederate rebellion, as one example. Gandhi came to passive resistance, the book argues, for his ability to emphasize with individuals even if they were of British rule.

Empathy, as we might find in Shakespeare's Hamlet, can perhaps cloud the mind with considerations as far as actions to actively take, famously, if we allow art into the context of such matters. To attribute empathy to Hamlet is but one interpretation upon a work of fiction, anyway. Dr. Ghaemi offers some resolution with the suggestion that empathy and the general sympathetic actions a depressive might take may lead to good things as well. And it seems nice for someone to come along with a decent argument to give credit where credit is due.

But that all still leaves us where we are today. Perhaps empathy here should completely be relegated to the sidelines in this case of willful ignorance and cover-up. A better person of good character will see that there really are no grey areas here, and of course there aren't. Charges must be brought, judgments must be made, and victims hopefully may be helped toward some form of healing as perpetrators are put away where they will do no more harm.

Still, one thinks of, even at such a time, of how charges quickly and rashly made can damage the lives of the charged, and through the passive lack of offering forgiveness or simple understanding to the so charged will continue to do harm as well.

Yes, forgive us of our trespasses where, or as, we would forgive those who trespass against us. Generally speaking, it would be very hard for us to forgive someone who did the things Sandusky did to young boys to us, and righty so.

Oh, how could I forget, the case of sexual harassment charges against Herman Cain, which also have a ring of credibility. Like a true harasser, he seems to carry absolutely no sense of wrong-doing, firm in his conviction that he did nothing wrong, that this is all complete fabrication. No contrition at all. A refusal to face the issue, one that marks him as a particular type not so desirable, to say the least. That, my friends, if true, is real sexual harassment, a serious charge obviously. Mr. Cain's quick denial reminds one, again, of Clarence Thomas's reaction to the same charge. "Clarence Thomas was 'obsessed with porn,' former colleague and girlfriend says in interview," one of several stories dated October 22, 2010.

Yes, self-righteous denials and high claims of occupying moral high ground always and forever, ought to make one suspicious.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Forgive us of our trespasses

It is not a commandment, but it's up there as far as the proper, decent and right moral thing to do. "Forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." It's a good rule of thumb. Each of us grows up as a separate personality within the fields of gravity/space/time that are our unique personal lives, childhoods, parental influences, etc.; Each of us carries such forward, onward into adult life. Given that we each have a personal field of gravity, shaping our space and time, so it is inevitable that differences arise when people meet. It's in the nature of the beast. Trespasses are inevitable, and we forgive these trespasses, because we're probably doing the same thing right back anyway. Rightly, we forgive.

And so, one hopes that there is a certain fairness to forgiveness. One hopes intentions more or less honorable are understood. One would hope that there is some sensitivity. It wouldn't be fair to forgive some people, whose trespasses are gross and ugly, and then not with some people through which trespasses arose over misunderstanding.

Do we apply the same standards of forgiveness to the homeowner in over his head as the Wall Street firm who the taxpayer bailed out? Forgiveness of sins, as a state is concerned, has to do with taxation, it seems. The rich are more forgivable, for their sins, than the middle class?

Judge not, lest ye be judged.

Somewhere along the line in his years of practice, even a mediocre writer of middling talent and little gift for creating fiction learns that there is, after all, some realism in his 'depressed view' of the world. In his writing habits, a very practice of resilience, he finds a form to his empathy. He finds a way to see the general wisdom in forgiving human trespass. He finds a way to support a value system, to identify right and wrong, as vague and as tenuous and as new or under-appreciated or against the grain as that wisdom is generally taken.

It hurts, in a strange way, to take the right way, for it will not appear at all proper, if it is worth writing about. On the other hand, it feels good. Like quantum physics, it's all a lot to take in.

Yes, maybe that's it. Deeper higher morality, the 'love thy neighbor' stuff, is harder to understand than all the supposedly practical things concerning behavior, much more difficult to convey. Maybe even counterintuitive. It's easier to have a little moral-sounding nutshell, some nonsense that seems on the surface to make sense, like 'fight evil,' or 'cut taxes,' or 'job creator,' or pointedly blanket statements about Occupy Wall Street protesters as 'immoral,' 'druggies,' 'sexual deviants,' etc. Shortcuts, sound bytes, Limbaughisms, eroding our deeper value systems with moral bankruptcy... and without morality, people quickly become ungovernable.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

fox five poison

The Fox Five, four of them, along with the whole crew of pundits, are such a great argument for market capitalism. They get paid handsomely to ignore truth, misrepresent, promulgate stupidity in such a way as to foster its repetition, say bad about perfectly good people through categorizing. They get paid, in short, to cause harm and act like idiots. And obviously, they are quite proud of the job they do. Oh sure, they keep a laugh around the edges, as if to say, oh hey we didn't really mean it, this is all innocent fun and games, in doing so smugly planting their opinions deeper in their listener. Which is clever, but to one who doesn't drink their kool-aid, this only has the effect of making them all the more despicable and impossible to stomach.

Last night, one witnessed their rant on government ads that responsibly mention the evils of sweetened soda and the whole slew of junk food pushed on children, who obviously bear the cost through diabetes, obesity, etc., etc. "No, there should be more Dr. Peppers," one triumphantly shouts, "that's what America needs."

Okay. Maybe it's just my bias, wishing Americans to have healthy lives, as life is hard enough already without temptations toward that which makes you sick. But I guess one shouldn't be surprised at the low quality of the pabulum Fox minds would offer the plebians, while they of course, on their way to trickling down from on high in their state of doing better eat well enough, why, because they have earned, earned it even through foisting off phosphates and high fructose corn syrup on school kids.

(And then, in the next segment, to prove the all knowing wisdom of Fox, all knowing Ms. Coulter conveniently has forgotten an interesting tidbit about Clarence Thomas, from accounts by the woman in his life, that he was quite fond of, addicted to, even, shopping at a pornography shop in Dupont Circle in his pre-Justice days, in a manner consistent with a side experienced by Ms. Hill. So, let's maybe get a better picture, even before we get to Mr. Herman Cain, on the original 'high tech lynching,' the Conservatives cry foul over, having coached their support. It's the hypocrisy here. Ah, but you can't argue with the likes of anyone such as Ms. Coulter.)

So, they sit around, getting paid handsomely to poison the public mind, because, hey, they are getting paid for it, therefore it has to be good for everyone, because it's a job and, we need jobs. I can think of better jobs for the lot of them. But, I'm glad they are so self-confident, smug, know-it-all, so untouched by the sad truth of things in general, so, in short, privileged.