Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Present

Marcel Proust. Can one recall a more practiced conjuror of dots connecting themselves through time’s infinite portals? When asked what he would do if the Apocalypse was, indeed, about to commence, the revered layabout replied, as only he could, wisely, because, somehow, knowingly. As once a certain ghost from Christmas Past did present a gift to the reviled M. Scrooge a gift that changed his world, M. Proust’s gift to us, also, consists of clear and genuine reflections that can change ours.

“I think that life would suddenly seem wonderful to us if we were threatened to die as you say. Just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs, studies, it—our life—hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future, delays them incessantly.

"But let all this threaten to become impossible for ever, how beautiful it would become again! Ah! If only the cataclysm doesn’t happen this time, we won’t miss visiting the new galleries of the Louvre, throwing ourselves at the feet of Miss X, making a trip to India.

"The cataclysm doesn’t happen, we don’t do any of it, because we find ourselves back in the heart of normal life, where negligence deadens desire. And yet we shouldn’t have needed the cataclysm to love life today. It would have been enough to think that we are humans, and that death may come this evening.”

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Media Freak

Garry Wills had him nailed a long time ago. 
Jesus, are we stupid or what?

“He was all energy and conviction, never letting up, though I was soon worn down by the emotional attrition. Every time I tried to ease my way out the door, he loomed up with new giant claims or some belligerent challenge—was I calling him a liar? Like all spellbinders, he was clearly convincing himself at least part of the time, trying to believe, with an actor’s wish to measure up to the part. Or, alternately, he would taunt me with undisguised lies that he made me respond—and had me hooked again. The weird fascination of Hitler became comprehensible at last. Much as I tried to stay clinical and observant, he involved me, made me angry, or sympathetic, or frightened; ashamed for him, or ashamed of myself for letting his emotional bullying work. He was the voice of all that Sixties mystique of “the confrontation”—the belief that sheer conflict will somehow purify, as when people in encounter groups screamed, criticized, fatigued each other down to the ultimate capitulation—and called their stripped down exhaustion “reality.” The street theatre of shouts and trashing, tear gas and taunting the pigs, was a way of moving these “encounters” out onto the public stage. My Demagogue had brought the process full circle around, taking the inflated political rhetoric back into the ego’s echo chamber. The Sixties experience—“mind-blowing,” consciousness-altering—was always some kind of trip.”

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

Attention Doomsayers:
We who ignore history are not destined to repeat it. We're still living it.

The following paragraphs from the college textbook, Western Civilization Since 1500, illustrate the painfully slow pace of positive economic, social, and political change even in the most democratic nation ever to grace the face of the earth, the United States of America.

Bear in mind that these words were written many decades ago by the noted historian, Walther Kirchner, during the Eisenhower administration, and that they concern only the years 1830 through 1848.

United States. Unencumbered by old-established aristocratic traditions, the United States, a republic in a world elsewhere dominated by monarchs and vested landed interests, continued during the period 1830 to 1848 to escape most of the complex social problems confronting other Western nations.

Internal Conditions. The United States’ population enjoyed civil rights. Hereditary privileged classes did not exist; the franchise, accorded in England and France to no more than a tenth or twentieth of the population, was almost universal; the government and law courts were democratically organized. The settlement of western lands continued to act as a powerful force for democratization. Although life (except for the upper middle class of the eastern states and the plantation owners of the South) was comparatively hard and competition was sharp, America held out promise for all and, with her geographic advantages, offered opportunities for material progress unequaled in the Old World. Yet, numerous social issues persisted, even though they were of a kind differing from those in other parts of the Western world. Among them were the race problem and slavery, the question of unity between the agricultural South and the increasingly industrial North, and the issues of protective tariffs, centralized government, enforcement of law, westward expansion, and immigration.

Foreign Policies. Despite her safe geographical location, the United States early had shown strong nationalistic tendencies. Fearful of European colonialism, she had proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine (in 1823), which aimed at preventing foreign powers from gaining additional footholds in the New World. The successful development of the nation simulated nationalistic feelings and a measure of imperialism. This was evinced by the fact that the westward movement was often accompanied by the eviction or extermination of Indians; by economic imperialism, reflected in the tremendous growth of the lumber industry and in the swift development of mining for copper, silver, and gold; by foreign wars and the annexation of territory—for example, Texas in 1845, and other large Mexican areas in 1848; and by treaties, such as the compact with England regarding the Canadian border. Thus, while domestic unrest and international calm marked the European scene, in North America the situation was reversed. Internally, the country progressed without revolutionary outbreaks; but externally, expansion and wars marked the period from 1830 to 1848."


Add to these continuing problems those of the effects of globalization, climate change, international terrorism, rapid technological change causing worker displacement, widening income disparity and the crisis of having a worldwide leadership vacuum and you've got a good case to continue reading, "The Sunday Funnies". God Bless Blondie and the United States of America.

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Pragmatist’s Take On Socio-Political Change

In practical life, there are many recognitions of the part played by social factors in generating personal traits. One of them is our habit of making social classifications. We attribute distinctive characteristics to rich and poor, slum-dweller and captain of industry, rustic and suburbanite, officials, politicians, professors, to members of races, sets and parties. These judgments are usually too coarse to be of much use. But they show our practical awareness that personal traits are functions of social situations. When we generalize this perception and act upon it intelligently we are committed by it to recognize that we change character from worse to better only by changing conditions—among which are our own ways of dealing with the one we judge. We cannot change habit directly: that notion is magic. But we can change it indirectly by modifying conditions, by an intelligent selecting and weighting of the objects which engage attention and which influence the fulfillment of desires.
--John Dewey*

* "Habits as Social Functions",
   from Human Nature and Conduct
   "The Place of Habit in Conduct"

Sunday, November 13, 2016


Americans say the darnedest things like--
"It Can't Happen Here," but it can, and--
New York was a living lock, I knew, but--
Posted my absentee ballot 'cause, "Hey--
You Never Know!" And now I'm back--
Buried with piles and piles of dead leaves--
To rake, to bag, or just to slowly burn--
And miles and miles to go before I'm--

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Reflections Upon A Trump

The following has been culled from the "Preface" to William Wordsworth's first major work, "The Borderers". "The Borderers", how apt indeed. How so not at cross-purposes.

A Challenge:
Try not to think of a man we have come to know and judge as you read this Wordsworthian excerpt.

"...His energies are most impressively manifested in works of devastation. He is the Orlando of Ariosto, the Cardenio of Cervantes, who lays waste the groves that should shelter him. He has rebelled against the world & the laws of the world, & he regards them as tyrannical masters; convinced that he is right in some of his conclusions, he nourishes a contempt for mankind the more dangerous because he has been led to it by reflexion. Being in the habit of considering the world as a body which is in some sort at war with him, he has a feeling borrowed from that habit which gives an additional zest to his hatred of those members of society whom he hates & to his contempt of those whom he despises. Add to this, that a mind fond nourishing sentiments of contempt will be prone to the admission of those feelings which are considered under any uncommon bond of relation (as must be the case with a man who has quarrelled with the world), the feelings will mutually strengthen each other. In this morbid state of mind he cannot exist without occupation, he requires constant provocatives, all his pleasures are prospective, he is perpetually chasing a phantom, he commits new crimes to drive away the memory of the past. But the lenitives of his pain are twofold; meditation as well as action. Accordingly, his reason is almost exclusively employed in justifying his past enormities & in enabling him to commit new ones. He is perpetually imposing upon himself, he has a sophism for every crime. The mild effusions of thought, the milk of human reason, are unknown to him. His imagination is powerful, being strengthened by the habit of picturing possible forms of society where his crimes would be no longer crimes, and he would enjoy that estimation to which, from his intellectual attainments, he deems himself entitled. The nicer shades of manners he disregards, but whenever, upon looking back upon past ages, or in surveying the practices of different countries in the age in which he lives, he find such contrarieties as seem to affect the principles of morals, he exults over his discovery, and applies it to his heart as the dearest of his consolations. Such a mind cannot but discover some truths, but he is unable to profit by them, and in his hands they become instruments of evil.

He presses truth and falsehood into the same service. He looks at society through an optical glass of a peculiar tint; something of the forms of objects he takes from objects, but their colour is exclusively what he gives them; it is one, and it is his own. Having indulged a habit, dangerous in a man who has fallen, of dallying with moral calculations, he becomes an empiric, and a daring & unfeeling empiric. He disguises from himself his own malignity by assuming the character of a spectator in morals, and one who has the hardihood to realize his speculations."

At this point I must admit that these truths exposed by Wordsworth as being self-evident continue to mount for several hundred more well-crafted and well-chosen words by the laureate, and you can find and read them in cyberspace, paradoxically---free, yet full of charge.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Much Ado

Nothing means nothing means nothing means something. Nothing means anything means nothing means something. Nothing means something means something--- Nothing means nothing.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Being Yet Nothingness

If I had written this on a napkin
Then you'd know it was important
To put it into words,
For no matter how brief a life.

Not that it had to be read now,
Or ever, really, but just entered in the record,
That is, on my account, as if in a ledger,
With columns and rows of symbols.

Yet here on a faux sheet floating in space,
And having no bodily texture,
It lacks everything but meaning.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

That Time of the Month

Something there is that draws me closer--
Something there is that demands satisfaction--
Something there is that needs to be scratched out--
Something there is

Friday, July 8, 2016

Apple Flotsam

We rode the Staten Island Ferry on the 5th to brunch on leftovers from the 4th while sitting on a bench at St. George's port walkway and imagined the previous night's fireworks and teeming masses. Way cooler.
Walked uptown along the East River to South Street Seaport (the main building with all the shops and eateries is closed and under construction). Give it a pass, mates.
Hoofed over to 17 Mott Street for takeout of Shrimps with Black Bean Sauce over noodles.
Hauled ass up Avenue A by way of Christie Street to St. Mark's Place & Tomkins Square Park (saw a guy OD and roll over in front of us stone cold dead). 911 was called.
Chowed down from Wo-Hop's goody bag (way too much food! Re-secured bag for a possible dinner on the 6th.)
Legged it over to the Shake Shack in the Flatiron's shadow to rest our barking dogs before heading over to Herald Square and Hajni's compulsory Macy's scouting. I sat at a table for 40 minutes watching and listening to the sights and sounds of tourists (and re-opened the Wo-Hop bag for a midair re-fueling).
Chatted up the security guard at Victoria's Secret while Hajni completed her mission.
Shuffled over to the #1 Train, got off at 96th and Broadway and painfully made our way to the car on Riverside and 93rd. Drove home upriver to Stony Point, flipped out of my sneakers and socks. Hajni poured herself a Marques de Riscal, I gulped some iced ginger ale and we played the DVR recording of the Macy's fireworks spectacular from the previous night. Still, way cooler.
We woke up early on the 6th and went for a 3-mile hike before the heat and humidity got out of control. Now, I think I will soak my feet. Where's that bag of peppermint-scented Epsom salts?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

String Theory

I could, or you, or almost anyone, these days,
Could Google it, but why bother?
We already know that the answer won't be there.

Besides, there are more important things for us--
Things like Chaos and Relativity and--
Well, we can just do the math.

There's so much we already don't know:
Ourselves, Others.
Why keep looking for more?

Living is pushing on a string.
That's my theory. I didn't find it on Google.
I looked down a Wormhole and saw it for myself.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Holy Wall: Who Will Pay For It?

From the Encyclopaedia Britannica Edition---
The Annals of America---
Volume 7, 1841-1849:

May 6-July 8, 1844. Several armed conflicts between Protestants and Catholics at Philadelphia leave 20 persons dead and about 100 injured. Clashes result from agitation by nativists, who are anti-Catholic and who resent naturalization of foreign immigrants, especially those from Catholic countries.

From the Grasmere Edition*---
The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth
Volume IX, 1834-1847:



DAYS undefiled by luxury or sloth,
Firm self-denial, manners grave and staid,
Rights equal, laws with cheerfulness obeyed,
Words that require no sanction from an oath.
And simple honesty a common growth--
This high repute, with bounteous Nature's aid,
Won confidence, now ruthlessly betrayed
At will, your power the measure of your troth!--
All who revere the memory of Penn
Grieve for the land on whose wild woods his name
Was fondly grafted with a virtuous aim,
Renounced, abandoned by degenerate Men
For state-dishonour black as ever came
To upper air from Mammon's loathsome den.

*Houghton Mifflin. Boston 1911
10 Volumes.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Loser Wins!

Don DeLillo, whom Harold Bloom calls one of the four best American writers of the late 20th century knows how to riff (which is probably why Uncle Harry has endorsed his fellow Bronx-native).

Following is but one example from DeLillo's first novel, Americana, which shows his easy-flowing, though fragmentary, style which preciously (and precociously) foreshadows the inviting depths of his modernist ouevre.

Presidential runners-up this season ought to take heart, because you don't have to be a Marxist to see the blister of truth embedded like a stone in the kishkes of this reality.

"I'll tell you a true story right out of one of the country's most distinguished scientific journals. They pulled an experiment on two monkeys. They gave them electric shocks every sixty seconds. Now the first monkey had a button and all he had to do was press it and he wouldn't get any shock. The second monkey also had a button but it was completely useless. Eventually monkey-A caught on to the gimmick and started pressing the button like mad to avoid that juice. Whereas monkey-B realized that his button wasn't worth shit and he just squatted in the corner, scratching himself and getting jolted every minute. So what happens? The first monkey gets stomach ulcers and kicks off in two weeks. The second monkey, who had resigned himself to the shocks, lives happily ever after. That little experiment is a moral for our time. It shows the price you have to pay for working yourself up to a decision-making post. I'll have to show you around the office sometime. You'll see sixty-five executive monkeys weeping into their telephones and pissing blood. But don't worry about me, kid. I've got a cast iron gut and I'm an odds-on favorite to pull through. In my heart I'm deeply conservative. I come from a long line of secret Presbyterian drinkers. My grandfather was a blacksmith in Sag Harbor. What was the point I was trying to make?"

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Chasing Our Own Tale: From Ouroboros to ISIS

"Hark ye yet again," sayeth Captain Ahab, the following:

"All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event--in the living act, the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think that there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations. But not my master, man, is even that fair play. Who's over me? Truth has no confines."

Herman Melville from his/theirs/ours, Moby-Dick.

Friday, March 4, 2016

(T)rump (R)ubio (A)ll (C)ruz (K)asich

I have devised my own system of deciding who won last night's Republican Debate. As I watched the proceedings  I T R A C K E D each actor's character in 26 different categories from A to Z. By this method I have deduced that John Kasich was by far the most rational, mature, and prepared of the four contestants and made of Presidential timber, which probably will disqualify him from winning the nomination.

Using a (T) (R) (A) (C) (K) grading system for each category resulted in the following list.
There is a zero probability of error in this result:

Agonistic (A)
Benighted (T)
Catarrhine (C)
Duplicitous (TRC)
Embarrassing (TRC)
Feculent (TRC)
Guttering (TRC)
Havering (TRC)
Ignominious (TRC)
Juddering (R)
Kaltblutig (C)
Lumpen (T)
Mendacious (TRC)
Nugatory (TRC)
Otiose (TRC)
Peculating (T)
Querulous (R)
Risible (T)
Sententious (C)
Turbid (T)
Unpresidential (TRC)
Vulpine (C)
Wily (C)
Xenophobic (TRC)
Yapping (TRC)
Zealous (C)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Joanna Russ: An Amazonian Visionary

Joanna Russ writes:*

Assuming this to be free advertising space, I will now put in a plug for writers, who—with a very few exceptions—are day laborers paid piecework in an industry that is shaky, badly advertised, and poor, largely due not to its choice of books or its editing of them, but to an impossible distribution system for paperbacks (in which the distributors and the retail outlets do not share in the risk and in which books are merchandised like Kleenex) and a vehement confusion between old-style paperback selling (impulse buying) and the emerging reality that soon there ain’t gonna be hardbacks except for specialized books and library sales. Nobody has adjusted to this yet. Nobody knows who buys books where and why. It is a mess.

It is rude and crude to rend the lovely veils of spidery illusion which blow so gently over our work, but for a field that prides itself on being down-to-earth there is an extraordinary reluctance to look at the economic facts. Many Americans seem to be like this—maybe art is supposed to be Above All That.

My own, quixotic dream for the paperback-book industry is a giant Sears-Roebuck-ish, centralized store which will carry remaindered books at lowered (or raised) prices (depending on their bibliographic value and the rise due to inflation) and have wee beautiful catalogs in every hamlet, village, and town where people (now that the movies are too expensive) can go when TV palls and find old Phyllis Whitney gothics (Look! I found a copy of Fear in the Old Castle!) or HPL (Look! Horrible Monsters from Old New England!) or controversial books (How can anybody bear to talk about such filthy things in public? I’ll buy it.), order them (see? No problems with shelf space), pay for them, and get them (quickly). The books would move only when paid for, copies would not be shredded (as they are now when they’re not sold within about ten days). But how would prices on old paperbacks be changed? With a goddamn supermarket stamp, nudnick!

College bookstores (as three of them have told me) always sell SF if it remains on the shelves long enough. The real problems are distribution and information (really identical).

Of course, such an operation would require a vast capital outlay. Or would it? Specialized bookstores do this kind of thing already. At any rate, it points in the proper direction, I think. The first step is for some brilliant sociologist or computer programmer out there (hello, hello?) to get a grant to study just who buys books and why, something about which there are a lot of publishers’ theories and no facts. A big grant. And then . . . ?

Say, why don’t one of you readers . . . ?

*This piece was added following Joanna Russ's short-story, "Existence" which appeared in the SF collection, Epoch: The State of the Art of Science Fiction Now
Edited by Roger Elwood and Robert Silverberg
(c) 1975 Berkley/Putnam Publishing  593 pp

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Bury the Left at Weak-in-the-Knees

The February 2016 issue of Harper’s has a well-written, informative essay by Garret Keizer, a contributing editor, which brought dulcet memories flooding back to me of the halcyon days of the 50’s through the 80’s when the proletarian-on-the-street was more concerned with the economic forces of good and evil than with the natural and political forces of impending and concurrent doom.

“Left of Bernie: You say you want a revolution”, by turns, describes, reveals, reviles, and reviews the failures of the organized, and for the most part, disorganized, left in the United States. Keizer makes a strong case  for expecting Capitalism, as we know it, to outlive all of us despite our gutiest instincts to want it reformed.

He concludes his fair and balanced essay of the current state of our painfully "slow Bern" with the following musement:

“As one veteran leftist told me, meaning to deprecate no one but himself, to say that you’re a socialist and be in no party is something of a contradiction in terms. His remark made me queasy, as the word “party” always does. The problem with socialism is not, as Oscar Wilde reportedly said, that it takes up too many evenings but rather that it attracts too many people who don’t know what to do with their evenings. They scare me to death. But if I’m truly serious in my anticapitalism, I need to affiliate myself with some group. I see no way around it. Even a Sanders victory, much as I hope for one, will not let me off the hook. I need to find my own battalion, an outfit I can stomach that can also stomach me. It won’t be the Revolutionary Communist Party, I can tell you that much. But I can tell you this too, that I owe a debt to the Revolutionary Communist Party and, yes, to Bob Avakian, for moving me one paltry millimeter closer to the point of the spear.”*

*”The labor movement is not a revolutionary movement. It’s a reform movement. It’s a movement that throughout its existence has always sought to reform the conditions it’s working under. But in any radical transformation of society, working people are going to be at the point of the spear.”—Michael Eisenscher, former national coordinator of USLAW. (U.S. Labor Against the War)