Showing posts with label Adult Behavior. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Adult Behavior. Show all posts

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Reprint Heaven Forever: We're Whalers On The Moon

Yet Again, The Birthday of Big Marine Mammal Avatar Creators

Moving through life, we find ourselves on occasion in the midst of experience or the presence of a thing which resonates and reminds that something, more than what we think we know or can perceive (if we would just stop and shut up and pay enough attention to see), exists.

Principally, this happens when we're 'out in nature', but it also happens when we encounter some art -- in particular, when it's been created by someone who made deep and illuminating connections and Brought Them Back To Tell Thee. From August 1 in 2016 and 2017 and 2018.

There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own.
-- Herman Melville / Moby-Dick, or, The Whale
Over at the Soul Of America, it's a celebration of Herman Melville's 200th birthday (!!!), and things of the Sea, and a Whale, and other notables which Herman brought back, To Tell Thee.

I considered writing a post from the viewpoint of the Whale just for the potential Yucks (because, god knows, We Need The Yucks Wherever We Can Get Them), but gave it up and settled for the Humorous Image.

The best thing about the post, and the reason I mention it here, is -- Herman tends to be overlooked in a culture whose highest expression is a Rhianna / Pitbull remix; it's good to be reminded that he is still there -- as he reminds us that we are chased by our mortality; and that sometimes the Form Of The Destructor is large, albino, and aquatic.  For me, it's a big lawn mower. Your Harbinger O' Death™, of course, may differ.

I was introduced to Melville when I was fourteen -- not through the novel he's most often identified with, but in the short work, "Bartelby The Scrivener" (1853), a classic in its own right. Ishmael's tale was next, and I was, uh, hooked. Later, I wasn't able to read anything by James or Conrad that didn't refer back to the narrative style I encountered first with Melville.

"Moby Dick: Or, A Whale" is ubiquitous. There is No Whale before He who populates a portion of that book (Yeah, okay; 'Shamu'  and 'Willy' are not the same thing). The Whale at least lurks, an unseen presence, in the background of all the on-ship action -- like Death, or Fate, or reruns of Three's Company. As if the Whale might chuckle and snicker in the dark during certain scenes:
" 'What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike.'   
" 'Heh heh heh heh,' " came a deep basso rumble out of the darkness which hid the waters. Ahab started, but did not otherwise acknowledge the presence of that upon which he had focused for so long."
That Big Marine Mammal is archetypal, now. And, aber natürlich, the moment something makes an appearance on "Family Guy", it's an absolute certainty that, whatever it is, it's now hard-coded into our DNA.

 Herman Left Out The Part Where Whales Like Raisin Bran

MEHR, MIT KEINE POLITIK: My Very Own Hillaryite Colleague asks, "So you hate music, too?" (This, because of the Rhianna / Pitbull quip.) And I would agree, it's absurdist reductionism to claim that the essence of culture in Eusa is rap music and movies like Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. I'm convinced that people (or, Whales; or very intelligent Honey Badgers) in the not very distant future will look back on this period as one of the most varied and vibrant in the history of our humanoid species -- until, you know, that thing happens.

UND NOCH IMMER MEHR:  Once I saw this, I could not un-see it. It is an actual book. Swear to god.

UND: WAS IST AUCH SCHON WIEDER LOS? MEHR:  At one point, if you had $39.9K, Jim Morrison's Moby could have been yours.

At that price, you'd think the seller would have provided free shipping -- but, remember: this is Aremica, Land Of The Free and Home Of The Hip.

Friday, February 22, 2019

What We Leave Behind


Charlie Chaplin, 1914

Some spiritual traditions believe in additional dimensions of existence; that the world most of us see as the only reality is one place where thought can be transformed into physicality.

Everywhere we look, there's an idea translated into concrete form, and associated with positive or negative energy -- speeches, laws and regulations; social agreements around money, sexuality, role and status; value. And most obviously, images, novels, poetry; music. Even the simplest transaction between strangers, a word or a look or a tone of voice, carries some form of energy.

Following that perspective, the world might be viewed as the collective energy in all ideas, actions and objects in it at any given moment. In that view, reality is defined by what we as individuals and as a species put into it.

When a playlist of music you're listening to on Soundcloud runs out, an algorithm in the service continues providing a shuffle of tunes with similar themes or instrumentation. In that way, I found myself listening to a melody composed by Charlie Chaplin for his film, A King In New York (if you use Soundcloud, search on "Charlie Chaplin Filmmusic - Mandolin Serenade").

That brought up a stream of images of Chaplin that I carry around in long-term memory -- mostly, his iconic 'Little Tramp' character. His acting and films were so influential that for generations almost any adult, nearly anywhere in the world, might see a drawing of a figure with a postage-stamp moustache, wearing a bowler hat, and say, "Oh, that's Chaplin!" and smile.

Early Little Tramp: Mack Sennett's Caught In The Rain, 1914

Chaplin started as a 24-year-old immigrant from Britain, a contract actor for Mack Sennett's film company in 1914 (the photo at the top of the post; he looked like almost any Dude you might pass on the street today). His Little Tramp routine caught Sennett's eye -- initially a burlesque on an "affable drunkard", a bit loutish and inconsiderate and sloppily boozed. Chaplin's humor was physical, perfect for the trademark slapstick of Sennett's short films, and his comic timing was amazing.

Within four years, Chaplin had refined the Tramp into a more sober, sharper, plucky 'Everyman'. The Tramp became one of Sennett's most popular short-film characters -- and whenever a new Chaplin 'flick appeared in local movie-houses, people paid to see him. Lots of people: Chaplin 'packed them in'.

Kid Auto Races, Venice, California (1914); Chaplin's First Film Appearance
As The Tramp, Then Still The Affable Drunk

Like any artist, Chaplin was all about having as much creative control as possible; eventually, he convinced Sennett he could create better films (with the Tramp, of course) for Sennett's company. When a better financial and creative deal became available with another studio, Chaplin jumped at the chance -- and within four years of landing in America, by 1918, Chaplin was one of the most popular 'stars' in moving pictures, and possibly the most highly paid.

In the years immediately after the First World War, he became a founding partner of United Artists, a film company founded to allow film 'artists' more freedom to experiment with the medium, in contrast to what was becoming a Hollywood studio system. UA allowed Chaplin the control he wanted over his work, and in less than a decade he had created some of the best  American silent films (arguably, some of the best motion pictures) ever made: The Kid, "The Gold Rush"; "The Circus"; "A Dog's Life", and Pay Day, to name a few.

Arguing With The Boss: Pay Day (1922)

Sound motion pictures appeared in 1927. Four years later, Chaplin released City Lights, a film without dialog, only a music soundtrack he had composed, after Talkies had all but buried silent films. He continued in 1936 with another classic, Modern Times, again accompanied only by a soundtrack of Chaplin's music. As an art form, it wouldn't be used again for forty years, until Mel Brooks' Silent Movie.

The western press mocked Hitler in his early days as dictator by referring to him as "the politician with the Chaplin moustache". True to form, Charlie used the humor in that comparison to create a parody of Adolf and his Reich in The Great Dictator (released in 1940) not long after the Second World War began. After 1945, Chaplin made only four other films: "Monsieur Verdoux" (1947), Limelight (1952); "A King In New York" (1957), and A Countess From Hong Kong (1967).

Chaplin's work showcased poor and working people in the early Twentieth century, easily shoved about by authority and manipulated by wealth. His films made clear he was no fan of unbridled capitalism, industrialism or the dehumanizing, assembly-line exploitation of labor. In 1947, when  anti-communist hysteria spawned House Un-American Activities Committee investigations of Red influence in Hollywood, Chaplin was tailor-made to become a target. It didn't help that he had unwittingly made an enemy out of J.Edgar Hoover, whom Chaplin had met in the mid 1920's.

Gossip about Chaplin as a wealthy actor and director involved him and young women under the age of consent -- of his four wives, two were sixteen, and another eighteen, when they married. His Leftist, anti-authoritarian political views were clear. Hoover's Bureau collected gossip (and any information in an FBI file must be legitimate) on thousands of Americans, which Hoover was happy to use for personal and political ends during his 70-year reign.

To Hoover, Chaplin was just another foreign national -- and a Jew, Hoover believed -- with loose morals and radical political sympathies, forcing radical propaganda down the throats of innocent Americans through his films. His interest in Chaplin nearly amounted to obsession: the actor / director was a target of FBI surveillance from the mid-1920's until his death in 1977, and his FBI file may be the largest publicly known (over 2,000 pages) of any prominent public figure in the agency's archives.

As Chaplin left the U.S. in 1952 to attend the London premiere of his film, Limelight, the Justice Department revoked the re-entry permit on his resident alien visa. To be allowed to return, he would have to "submit to an interview concerning his political views and moral behavior". Hoover was behind the move; he had asked England's own Bureau, MI-5, to provide confirmation of Chaplin's communist connections, and for proof that his real name was 'Israel Thornstein'. MI-5 found no proof that Chaplin was a Red, and didn't respond to Hoover's antisemitism.

The FBI's files on Chaplin, released under Freedom Of Information Act requests, show the U.S. government had no serious evidence to prevent his return to America if he had applied for re-entry. While Limelight received praise and success in Europe, Chaplin was smeared as a communist sympathizer in the U.S., and the film boycotted. Frightened and disgusted, after living and working in America for thirty years Chaplin decided not to go back.

... and he didn't, until in 1972 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (which had done little to stand up to Hoover, McCarthy or the HUAC) tried to make amends by voting to award a Lifetime Achievement Oscar to Chaplin "for the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of [the 20th] century."

At 83, having had a series of small strokes and other health issues, unsure how he would be received in a country he believed had rejected and then forgotten him and his work, Chaplin came to Hollywood and was visibly moved when the attending crowd gave him a twelve-minute standing ovation -- the longest tribute of that kind by the Academy in its history.

Easy Street, 1917

Chaplin's Tramp, and other main characters in his films, were ordinary 'folks' -- mostly poor, or at the mercy of Fate and Chance. The world of his films was familiar to the people who could find a nickel to see them, and populated by easily-recognizable archetypes: regular, working-class Joes and Janes; office workers; the bullies and bosses; streetwise kids, shopkeepers and beat cops.

The Tramp -- at the bottom of the social ladder -- had to make a tremendous effort to overcome his circumstances, just to achieve some happiness or justice. He hoped for something better than what he had. And, the stories in Chaplin's movies were transformational, where that Good Ending comes about by helping an Other -- the Girl; the Child; the Friend.

The Kid, 1921

In The Kid, the Tramp finds and raises a little orphaned boy -- whom he had initially wanted nothing to do with -- then rescues him from the clutches of a brutal County Orphan Commissioner, using the Tramp's poverty as the excuse to take the child away. You know when he embraces the boy that the Tramp loves him, will protect and care for the Kid as if he were his own. They're still dirt poor, but the little boy is safe -- and in a world where anything can happen, that's the point. It's everything.

City Lights (1931)

In City Lights, possibly Chaplin's best film (it was his favorite work), the Tramp is poor and homeless, ignored by most people, teased by a pair of wiseass newsboys -- but meets, becomes friends with (and almost immediately falls for) a beautiful blind girl, reduced to selling flowers on the street to help support herself and her grandmother. Whenever they meet, she gives him a small, white rose.

When he speaks, she mistakes his voice for that of a wealthy millionaire she's heard in the neighborhood where she sells her flowers, and (more out of embarrassment than some attempt to impress her) the Tramp allows her to believe it's true.

Later, when the Girl falls ill, the Tramp learns she might recover her sight -- but only through an expensive medical procedure. He works to save the money; after more plot twists, the operation is paid for and a success. Her vision restored, the Girl is able to open a flower shop with her grandma -- where she hopes the 'wealthy millionaire' who helped her will appear one day and sweep her off her feet.

Meanwhile, The Tramp, having been tossed in jail after the usual comic misunderstandings, is now even shabbier than when we first met him -- 1930-31 was the worst year of the Great Depression in the U.S. He shuffles along the street, mocked and teased by the same pair of newsboys.

Suddenly, the Tramp sees a small white rose in the gutter and picks it up -- the same flower the blind Girl used to give him. He turns, and is standing in front of the Girl's flower shop; she's sitting inside the front window, and has been watching the antics of the newsboys with this ... street person. She and her grandmother share a laugh; they think it's funny.

When he sees her, The Tramp is overjoyed; she's whole and healthy, but suddenly he's ashamed: she's now a respectable shop owner, and he's not.

The Last Scene Of City Lights; Critic James Agee Described It As
"The greatest piece of acting ever committed to celluloid"

The flower he'd picked up in the gutter is losing its petals; the Girl comes out of the shop to offer him a new rose, and a half-dollar. He carefully accepts the flower; she takes his hand to give him the coin -- and from the feel of his hand, the texture of his coat, all familiar to her when she was blind -- she suddenly realizes who he is. "You?" she asks; the Tramp nods. "You can see now?" he asks; she replies, "I can see now" -- meaning, it wasn't a wealthy man she had been waiting for, but the one with a heart, who helped her.

As he looks back at The Girl, the Tramp smiles. In his expression is every person who ever hoped for good luck in a hard world, a chance to care deeply about someone and have them care about you -- and barely able to believe, after everything, that it's come true. The screen fades to black.

We can't know the sum of the actions of Chaplin, the man. We do know more about the effect of his artistic output on the world -- and it's much greater than "making motion pictures the art form of the [Twentieth] century".

From the perspective of the world being the sum of what is put into it -- even though they drew on earlier forms of storytelling, Chaplin's movies helped define what the motion picture medium could be. His films were moral, in the same way as Dickens' serialized novels: they showcased human folly and the absurd nature of life; they reminded us how we ought to treat each other. How our societies should reflect that, not just to serve as vehicles for commerce and acquisition, avarice, and domination.

Chaplin's films weren't meant to portray a perfect world, no matter that some of their plot resolutions might seem like fairy-tale-magic. They presented hopes human beings have for how life might be, how things might turn out if the Fates were kind -- and that on occasion, our hopes can be made concrete and real, in this world. His movies affected people, first; he made us laugh. He still does.

In These Times, it might seem that Chaplin's work is outdated, less recognizable, but something tells me that's not the case: Chaplin is still iconic. And if we have an opportunity to add to the world even a fraction of what he left behind in his art, we'll have done something important -- if only because we need so much more of that now.

MEHR, Mit einer offensichtlichen Sache, die ich vermisst habe:  I was adding this 'Mehr', when something happened, and the entire post was deleted. No hope of recovery. Just - gone. It was like hiking for miles to get to the truck to take you home, and it just pulls away; you're eating dust, screaming at the top of your lungs, and know nothing can help. 

JEDOCH, Es Ist So: The post was open in the browser on my smarter-than-me phone -- and if I wanted to Man Up and transcribe retype it, from scratch, it would be remade.  

UND So Wurde Es Gemacht War: But Dear Fucking God Jesus and the Yeti, I never want to go through that again.

UND SO WEITER: The Girl Who Refused To Be Mrs Mongo said, "You write about Chaplin and his politics, and you miss the final speech from The Great Dictator? Shame!"


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

What's Goin' On

Today Everyone Votes

Today's election will not result in peace at home or abroad. There will be no immediate universal, empathetic connection with our human kin. Poverty will not be erased. Hatred and fear of The Other will not go away. Our Fabled Wealthy will not suddenly find themselves Regular Joes and Janes, living in rented digs, expected to do a day's work for a day's pay and treated fairly so long as they don't act like jackasses. The climate of the Great Planet will not suddenly calm itself and give us temperate skies and balanced seasons; the vanished animals will not appear again. Our beloved dead will not rise, whole and smiling. The sicknesses of body and spirit will not dwindle and vanish, never to return. There will not be Enough For All, and the children of the world will not all go to warm beds feeling safe, and loved, and excited about what will come on the morrow. 

Today's election will not result in any of this. But all the same -- show up and exercise the franchise, while we can.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

I Am A Marxist

Though Harpoism Works For Me Too

I'm not having good times these days. Few people I know are very far from the oppressive weight of (Today's) New Normal, soon to be replaced by (Even More New) Normal.

To paraphrase something: I believe with a perfect faith in all the history I remember, and I've been in some truly frightening places in life. But current events we're living through frighten me in a way I didn't think was possible.

At The Place 'O Witless Labor, I stumbled across an interview with my favorite Marxist, courtesy of TPM. (I am so old I remember seeing it on TeeVee when it was broadcast new, in that long-ago 1969, before that trip to long-ago Southeast Asia). I offer it as an antidote to everything currently occurring, and a protective screen to anything I might say afterwards:


Each day, the American Right crawls further along a metamorphosis into an active Paranoid Raving Loon I Kill You! political movement.  One which could allow or sanction serious physical harm and imprisonment of not only minorities and the underclass, but anyone they declare an ideological "enemy".

Trump is an insane old man, a bully; a liar; a tormentor; one who exhorts others to do harm -- and the GOP is fully his party. Its candidates, representatives and organizers are taking his lead and saying that the Left is "evil". Just as he says the media (except Murdoch's media) is "the enemy of the people".

The political Right is saying that 'they' (meaning anyone who disagrees with or opposes Trump -- that is to say, everything perfect and right and good) are a "Mob".  The new strategy to incite 'The Base' around the midterms is to increase The Base's level of fear -- that they are personally "at war"... personally "in danger" of being attacked by a Leftist Mob.

Obligatory Cute Small Animal Photo
In Middle Of Blog Thing

Go and sample rhetoric captured by Media Matters. Fox in particular is pushing the line that anyone who is "a Trump supporter... an average citizen" is in danger -- that "anyone who's a Trump supporter [are] all targets". America is in danger from a mob that will act like "genocidal Hutus in Rawanda". The Murdoch machine is working overtime to spew that Party Line.

It's a lowest-common-denominator appeal. It is calculated to divide the country even further towards some bad fork in the road. If it doesn't sound like inciting behavior which can only culminate in violent acts, martial law; civil war; or just incredibly high levels of road rage and in-your-face responses over the most trivial events, I don't know what does.

The only thing that's missing is a(n overt, public) statement by Good Ol' megachurch leaders that the "evil" of the Left is also "in league with satan", "in rebellion against god". But I'm sure they'll come to that, in time.

Okay; that's it, until something else happens. Fuck; I need another antidote. Enjoy.


Oh, and, yeah; I am a member of the Cohen Front also.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Republican Finish Tax Bill; Perhaps Will Provide Details Later

Step Outside

Up There (Getty)

They haven't yet determined how to charge us a fee  for looking up, into the universe -- but would very much like to, because it is who They are, and is what will please Them.

But even so, step outside and look up. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Reprint Heaven Forever (1934 - 2016)

Closing Time

Over at The Soul Of America, a reminder that today is Cohen's birthday. Originally posted last Armistice Veteran's Day in 2016, when he went off to the Bardo, or wherever the hell we go, if anywhere (and in that spirit, I'll add a link to this).

November 11 is one Day I use to consciously remember specific people, from a specific time, whom I miss. It was right after the election, and everyone still numb; the fat, raving Parasite-Elect had barely begun to push his tiny manhood into America's collective face, and everyone I knew were looking around for anyone wearing the same uniform. Cohen's bowing out just then (to take the metaphor a little further), seemed like one more Loss in the Unit. We were going single file; I turned around, and he wasn't back there there any more: Ah, fuck; aber natürlich, it would have to be now.

Goddamn it. Knew the news was coming, but wasn't ready for it just now.

Ah we're lonely, we're romantic
And the cider's laced with acid
And the holy spirit's crying, where's the beef?
And the moon is swimming naked
And the summer night is fragrant
With a mighty expectation of relief

So we struggle and we stagger
Down the snakes and up the ladder
To the tower where the blessed hours chime
And I swear it happened just like this
A sigh, a cry, a hungry kiss
The gates of love they budged an inch
I can't say much has happened since
But closing time
Closing time
Closing time
Closing time 

 Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius. Even the counterpoint lines—they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs. As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music. Even the simplest song, like ‘The Law,’ which is structured on two fundamental chords, has counterpoint lines that are essential, and anybody who even thinks about doing this song and loves the lyrics would have to build around the counterpoint lines.

His gift or genius is in his connection to the music of the spheres. In the song ‘Sisters of Mercy,’ for instance, the verses are four elemental lines which change and move at predictable intervals . . . The song just comes in and states a fact. And after that anything can happen and it does, and Leonard allows it to happen...

‘Sisters of Mercy’ is verse after verse of four distinctive lines, in perfect meter, with no chorus, quivering with drama. ... This is a deceptively unusual musical theme, with or without lyrics. But it’s so subtle a listener doesn’t realize he’s been taken on a musical journey and dropped off somewhere, with or without lyrics.
I see no disenchantment in Leonard’s lyrics at all. There’s always a direct sentiment, as if he’s holding a conversation and telling you something, him doing all the talking, but the listener keeps listening. He’s very much a descendant of Irving Berlin... [whose] songs did the same thing. Berlin was also connected to some kind of celestial sphere.
And, like Leonard, he probably had no classical music training, either. Both of them just hear melodies that most of us can only strive for. Berlin’s lyrics also fell into place and consisted of half lines, full lines at surprising intervals, using simple elongated words. Both Leonard and Berlin are incredibly crafty. Leonard particularly uses chord progressions that seem classical in shape. He is a much more savvy musician than you’d think.
-- Bob Dylan 
I loved you for your beauty
But that doesn't make a fool of me
You were in it for your beauty too
And I loved you for your body
There's a voice that sounds like god to me
Declaring, (declaring) declaring, declaring that your body's really you
And I loved you when our love was blessed
And I love you now there's nothing left
But sorrow and a sense of overtime

I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not. It’s there, you can feel it in people—there’s some recognition that there is a reality that they cannot penetrate but which influences their mood and activity. So that’s operating. That activity at certain points of your day or night insists on a certain kind of response. Sometimes it’s just like: ‘You are losing too much weight, Leonard. You’re dying, but you don’t have to cooperate enthusiastically with the process.’ Force yourself to have a sandwich.

What I mean to say is that you hear the Bat Kol (divine voice). You hear this other deep reality singing to you all the time, and much of the time you can’t decipher it... At this stage of the game, I hear it saying, ‘Leonard, just get on with the things you have to do.’ It’s very compassionate at this stage. More than at any time of my life, I no longer have that voice that says, ‘You’re fucking up.’ That’s a tremendous blessing, really.

-- Leonard Cohen / September, 2016
And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it's moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there's gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

And everybody knows that you're in trouble
Everybody knows what you've been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it's coming apart
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows
And I missed you since the place got wrecked
And I just don't care what happens next
Looks like freedom but it feels like death
It's something in between, I guess
It's closing time
closing time
closing time
closing time


MEHR, Several Hours Later:  The last thing I wanted to do was write a post about this man that had even a hint of self-reference, but remembered a thirty-year-old conversation. 

A long time ago: someone said in a discussion of Sufis and 'The Work' that "There are a lot of people around who say they're looking for answers, want self-enlightenment, and they present a posture -- removed, serious, aesthetic. Like a parody of the Holy Man. Another is the smartass, the 'Mister Natural' who just enjoys fucking with people. And my feeling is, neither of them are 'authentic'. 

"The Sufis I've met have been raw and real, man; There's grit in their voices -- they're like Blues singers. Tom Waits, minus the alcohol. They've been around the fucking block, they've done some things, and they know what really matters. They're not saints -- 'rogue sage'; you know? -- but about the Big Things, you can trust them."

Cohen loved the Blues. He sang them, no matter what style his songs were.  He spoke simply, straight from the heart, about The Big Questions.  His music, the way he lived his life, was grappling with those questions and his human condition, and ours, unashamedly. He was no saint, but an honest and sincere seeker of Truth -- and his music was a commentary on that stumbling around in the dark. His work was illuminated by a long Rabbinical tradition; he was born with a Heart On Fire.

His songs were in the language of missed chances, relationships spoiled by ego or greed or a simple misunderstanding; ecstatic revelry and bone-crushing disappointment. When he sang politics, it was about choice and betrayal from the level of someone in the street. He told you: This is what happened to me. I don't know what all this is. I don't know what I'm doing, either; you're not alone out here. It was like the end of Moby Dick: A thing happened; buoyed up by a coffin, I came back to tell thee.

And what he sang about was a reminder that everything in this world was part of something else  -- The Big Questions, maybe. And he sang about that all the way to the end -- "You Want It Darker", his album released in October.

People sense how much truth they're being told by others, moment to moment, moving through the world. The number of people who speak in an authentic voice that we recognize, instinctively, as being true are very few. Poets can do this; Cohen was a poet, first, which is how I met him (only discovered later that the guy had albums of music, too, which made sense). From his work, he was recognizable as being as egotistical, confused, scheming, greedy; fucked up; kind, generous; lonely and longing -- as human, as I am. He had the energy and talent to share his particular vision, and it resonated with a wide audience.

When someone like that leaves the room, I grieve, because they're so few. And I'm pretty damned sad (The Best Friend texted back "Goddamned shit storm November" when I told them Cohen had died). I understand: never knew the man personally; it's the connections on so many levels to memory and hope and experience that add to the emotions. And there was Fucking Tuesday; and, today.  We're all going to have to leave the room -- if I can bow out in the same frame of mind, with the same intent as he was reported to have, that would be an act of grace.

Another Mensch leaves us. Now he knows what we do not -- but he was frankly curious, without much fear, as to whatever that is.

Also, remembering the day, and Absent Friends. "We Have Done So Much With So Little For So Long That We Could Do Everything With Nothing Forever" (1969 - 1971)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Right Action

Adolfo Kaminsky, Forger

Courtesy of The Paper Of Record (please god never let the Ruperts 'acquire' it, as they lust to do): An amazing story, told principally in silhouette animations; almost like Javanese shadow-puppets -- which if you think about it isn't a bad analogy for whatever this is that we inhabit. Some people I know will understand why this story resonates.

A  small meditation on our ability, with a single act, to change the direction of the lives of others whom we will never see. Never let anyone say that art has no power.  Enjoy.

(If for any reason you can't see the embedded video, go here.)


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Make It Fun

Don't Drive Angry

Be The Hat.  Be The Hat.
Puxatawney Phil, The Groundhog, saw his shadow today in Blegsylvania. We therefore have three years, and three hundred fifty-three more days of bottom-feeding Fascisti to go.

It beats having to experience this day in Murrikan history, over and over and over. And over. With Little Jeffy Spicer, Mr PotatoHead, lecturing the whole Earth about how bad and wrong, and wrong and bad, it and everyone in it, is.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

2, 4, 6, 8

Stop The War / Smash The State

(Mongo / Machine)
An exceptionally large number of people participated in the Women's March yesterday. A worldwide event, it was initially organized to focus on women's rights but expanded as a generalized protest against any aspect of the incoming pack of bourgeois lickspittle revanchist trash administration.

(Mongo / Machine)
In San Francisco, a very large number of people attended. I'm not good at estimating crowd sizes; as part of an anti-Vietnam War march in The City in the spring of 1972, when Tricky up-tempoed his bombing campaign of North Vietnam, over 300,000 were supposed to have attended -- but all I could have told you, then or now, was that there were a hell of a lot of people on Market Street.

(Mongo / Machine)
Several luxury buses -- the sort used to ferry Genentech or Google's tech workers to their jobs, a ubiquitous sight in San Francisco -- dropped people off near Civic Center Plaza; no idea who these people were, or why they deserved such treatment. Back in the day, even the organizers and speakers didn't appear at the Demonstration in a chartered vehicle.

There was a hefty police presence all day as well, but (despite the Tac helmets and riot batons you can see in the photo) I guarantee you these officers were thinking primarily about containing the crowd to the area agreed between the city and the march organizers, traffic reroutes, making sure nothing starts that gets out of hand, and keeping people from doing eight bazillion things to hurt themselves.

Of course, if Anarchists (back in the day, it would have been Trots or PL Maoists) executed an action, it would be a different story;  helmets and batons would be more than contingency. San Francisco, alleged bastion of Wingnut Liberals, has had several highly-publicized officer shootings in just the past year.

It was a good crowd, demographically -- Kiddies, Olds; families with younger children, mothers in their fifties with daughters in their teens and twenties; Gay, straight -- and while there were people of color in the crowd, it seemed predominately white.

(Mongo / Machine)
And there were a number of Hipster men and women for whom going to the demonstration appeared to be an art project, a chance to sport fashionable clothing and professionally-printed signs displaying a "Sixties Psychedelic" typeface (The woman above appeared to be posing for two professional photographers: a photo shoot with an actual demonstration as 'background').

The rain began to come down steadily -- more than a shower; less than a deluge -- from about 4:30 on. With the rain, I watched as Hipsters quickly walked away from the Plaza, smart phones up, headed for side streets; the Uber or Lyft drivers pulled up and took them -- away.  No great loss.

Meanwhile, the vast bulk of the crowd, with umbrellas or none, finally moved out of the Plaza and headed east up Market street towards Justin Herman Plaza, across from the Ferry Building at the bay.  I took no pictures of the actual march; a Dog can only do so much.

Weirdly, streetlight poles all along Market had banners advertising an anti-abortion 'walk for life - west coast', scheduled for January 21st ... plainly, the Women's March had, uh, trumped the Phyllis Schafly brigade.

And, please note the slogan: abortion hurts women. Those who support a woman's right to choose, are, according to the individuals behind that particular march, murderers. And worse. All part of the Culture War, brought to you by the same people who now have a seat at Trump's table.

'Death Dance' - Illustration By Mr. Fish - In Santa Fe, New Mexico, January 21st
"Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election ! Why didn't these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly."
--  Il Duce ! / Twitter; January 21, 2017.

In talk show interviews Sunday, advisers defended Trump's anger at journalists for correctly reporting that his inauguration drew a smaller crowd [than] President Barack Obama did eight years ago... [that] the Trump administration was supplying "alternative facts."

Kellyann, With Cleavage, About To Appear On Sunday's Meet The Press
"There's no way to really quantify crowds. We all know that. You can laugh at me all you want," Kellyanne Conway told NBC's Meet The Press.  "I think it's actually symbolic of the way we're treated by the press."

Aides also made clear that Trump will not release his tax returns now that he's taken office, breaking with a decades-long tradition of transparency. "He's not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn't care," Conway said on ABC's This Week.
-- Newsday, January 22, 2017

Monday, November 28, 2016

This World At Night


As I punch this in, it's twilight on the Left Coast and almost too obvious an image. At work, in the aftermath of the election few people spoke about the results. Even fewer people mention what's to come, now, except with a lot of who-the fuck-knows eye rolling and shrugging.

For now, there is an adult, no matter what you think of his policies, in the White House. We can push the image of Trump and his ilk, of Mike Pence telling the media to "buckle up", out of our minds -- but everyone knows that this (relatively) liberal presidency is ending; the light is fading.

I wrote a long post claiming to know something of the future, but this was bullshit: I don't know, and I'm not going to pretend otherwise. I let those who can analyze and translate current events well, or those with louder voices, or with a penchant for ego masquerading as humble simplicity, do their thing.

Something else I understood -- the future is very present. It's going to play out in the faces and the lives of friends, and total strangers whose fates seem more important now than they did a month ago.

I'm not a very deep reader, and when uncomfortable tend to chew on the familiar. So I grabbed Alan Furst's The World At Night to read over the long weekend. It's a story of Paul Casson, a Parisian and a producer of films, in France at the fall of the Third Republic, and the choices he makes after. It's about morality, love, and the courage and venality of life during occupation.

Casson has been recalled to the army in the late spring of 1940; the Germans are already invading the Low Countries (and eventually, as everyone knows, France itself via the Ardennes). He is part of a propaganda unit filming the French army as it heads toward the front.
     ...Casson was stopped. The sentries were drunk and unshaven. "What brings you here?" one of them said.
     "We're making movies."
     "Movies! You know Hedy Lamarr?"
     "Dog dick," said another. "Not those kinds of movies. War movies."
     "Oh. Then what the hell are you doing up here?"
     The second man... offered Casson a bottle through the window... [and] laughed as he took the bottle back. "Come and see us, squire, after this shit's done with."
     The hard Parisian sneer in his voice made Casson smile. "I will."
     "You can find us up in Belleville, at The Pig's Ass."
     "See you then," Casson said, shoving the clutch in.
     "Red Front!" They called after him.
The German army is successful; Casson melts away, towards Paris, more a vagabond than a fleeing soldier.
     ... Sometimes, in a cafe, he heard the news on a radio. Nothing, he realized, could save them from losing the war. He left the roads, walked across springtime fields... He shared a campfire with an old man with a white beard, a sculptor, he said, from Brittany somewhere, who walked with a stick, and got drunk on some yellow stuff from a square bottle...
     ... "We'll all live deep down, now," the sculptor said, throwing a stick of wood on the fire. "Twenty ways to prepare a crayfish. Or, you know, chess. Sanskrit poetry. It will hurt like hell, sonny, you'll see."
Casson is a character who lived a comfortable, creative life, a Parisian life, and after the nazi victory he only wants to get back to living it -- and he does, until he discovers that he actually is a moral man. And, while it takes time for the corrosion of the Occupation to seep through to him, eventually he has to act against it. He had no other choice, really; it just took some time for him to become clear to himself.

At the end, Casson makes another choice -- as much an act against Occupation and exclusion, division and hate as joining the Resistance. But for a purist or Marxist it will appear a fool's move, sentimentalist garbage. Only, it's our deepest passions, sometimes hidden from ourselves and spurring us to act, that define us.

For the Left, the appointment of Bush in 2000 was a shock unlike any other in American politics -- and what followed was an eight year chapter in the Banality of Evil.

Life under Bush, a limited, Dauphin of a man, was Life During Wartime -- one reason Obama's election in 2008 was greeted with street parties -- here in Kiddietown, it was like the Place De Concorde in 1944 -- The nazis are gone! Vive La France!  We were Liberated!

But, Bush and the creatures that swept in with him had some legitimacy as part of the political mainstream. Not so with Trump or his creatures. Lil" Boots played at being a loud, crude Man Of The People but was always the son of a Yankee, blue-blood, Old Money family.  Trump has all the sophistication of an infomercial, the intellectual depth of a racetrack tout -- and, it's not an act. No one knows what will happen this time, but it's almost certain to be bad.

 Obligatory Cute Animal Photo In Middle Of Blog Ogg Ogg
(From Mongo Interviews Mitzy, 2012)

And this time, it feels more like Occupation. Like the real thing -- as if Bush had been a dry run, a testing of limits. Just outside our field of vision, we sense men in Field Grey on the corners, but they're waiting, not asking for Ausweis; not yet.  Unconsciously, this was why I had taken Furst's book down from the shelf in the first place.

It's going to take time for the corrosion to sink in. And it will take time for people to act against it from our moral centers -- some sooner than others, but act we will have to. And the values and passions at the core of our Selves will direct us. We don't have any other choice, really.

From the Post That Never Was, some tasty links as you cook that Crayfish. Pass the square bottle of yellow stuff, would you? And, which way to The Pig's Ass?

"Red Front!" They called after him.

Alastair Crooke, Without Any Masterpiece Theatre  --  and who he quotes, Raul Meijer.

ARTHUR, Once Upon A Time In His Head, who self-references. It's totally okay.

Richard Rorty, though he be dead (quotes below -- see The Paper Of Record's original 1998 review.)
"[M]embers of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

"At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. …

"One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past 40 years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. … All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet...

"This world economy will soon be owned by a cosmopolitan upper class which has no more sense of community with any workers anywhere than the great American capitalists of the year 1900... [This group included intellectuals who are] quite well insulated, at least in the short run, from the effects of globalization."

Friday, November 4, 2016

Reprint Heaven: Good Night, Uncle Walter

And That's The Way It Is
(The Googlegerät reminds: Today is Uncle Walter's birthday. This, from 2009)

Walter Cronkite 1916 - 2009 (CBS News)

I know that the memories and worldview of Boomers are things of derision for more 'relevant' generations; who the hell cares what we remember. However, for most of my childhood and early adulthood, there wasn't a single major event that didn't have the voice of Walter Cronkite narrating it.

The Cuban Missile Crisis; The arrival of The Beatles; John F. Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963; the war in Vietnam (1962-1975); Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy's assassinations in 1968; Chicago during that years' Democratic Convention; the first landing of human beings on Earth's Moon on July 20, 1969; the Watergate hearings in 1973; the collapse of Richard Nixon's presidency and resignation in 1974...

...and it wasn't only the signal events between 1962 and 1981 which Cronkite narrated which made him an icon. It wasn't even the thousands of mundane items that he introduced or reported on for over twenty years. It was the sound of Cronkite's voice. Even if you only had the CBS evening news on in the background, that voice added to what made up the continuity of our times.

Cronkite represented a connection to news reporting that reflects the Reality of what was occurring (he wouldn't have made it as a Fox Entertainment 'journalist'). He was also willing to court physical risk to discover what that Reality was, and translate the essence, the Truth of it, as best he could. Beyond all that, being a reporter was his job; he wanted to do it as best he could.

As a 25-year-old AP reporter, Cronkite covered America's war in the Mediterranean and Europe at its beginning. From Operation Torch in North Africa in November of 1942, he went to England -- where he gained a reputation for going on more 8th Air Force daylight bombing raids over Germany than any other reporter. On D-Day in 1944, Cronkite was one of the first correspondents ashore; later that year, he was landing by glider behind German lines with the 101st Airborne in Operation Market Garden. He was in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. And he covered the Nuremberg trials of the twenty-one major nazi war criminals.

In 1962, CBS created the 30-minute news-program format. News on the radio had been commonplace for forty years, but it had never been presented on television. The program would go out live in New York, but taped for delayed broadcast in Central and Pacific time, to be received in millions of American homes at 6:00 PM, Monday through Friday. It was an innovation -- and some thought, risky: Would people accept the idea of a news program broadcast when most people were eating dinner? More important -- would they watch the commercials? And CBS' choice to be the lead commentator, the "anchor" for a lineup of filmed segments filed by other reporters, was Walter Cronkite.

CBS' decision was based on the fact that he appeared so completely mainstream, so inoffensive. His baritone voice sounded authoritative, like the radio news broadcasters most people were familiar with -- H.V. Kaltenborn, or Edward R. Murrow, who had moved on to television. Cronkite was a solid, thorough reporter who had paid his dues; he had a reputation for "Iron Pants" -- sitting still through the most boring assignments, never sounding or appearing anything but interested, never losing his temper or melting down on the air.

And unlike Murrow, Walter had no apparent interest in using the television soapbox he was about to be handed to express any... uncomfortable opinions. He didn't like to throw controversial questions in an interview, and was known to toss "Softballs" to subjects like Eisenhower, Nixon or Kennedy. When Murrow had taken on Joseph McCarthy and the endless 'Red Scare' hearings of his Senate committee, CBS lost advertising revenue. That fact was not lost on CBS' Chairman, the redoubtable William S. Paley, who had to approve the choice of Cronkite for this new venture.

The format was a hit. Apparently, people did watch television news while they ate their evening meals, and liked it. The Neilsen ratings agency said so, and the advertising revenue began to roll in. The other major networks copied CBS, a sure sign of a winning trend. CBS affiliate stations (like the main network, dependant on advertising dollars) loved Walter because he was making them money.

People at home, watching their RCA or GE or Magnavox Teevees from the dinner table, instead of each other, thought Cronkite was so... trustworthy. People had liked Edward R. Murrow -- but when he broadcast, Ed sounded like some critical relative, lecturing you about a choice of meat for dinner, or scolding your children for running with scissors. You knew he was smart, but America doesn't like smart that much; it's not neighborly. Nobody really likes someone better than you.

But -- if you had "accidentally" borrowed money from the 4-H petty cash and couldn't pay it back; or couldn't decide whether Polaroid at $3.50/share was a good deal; or your girlfriend had missed her period... for 1962 America, Cronkite looked like the Dad or Uncle you could confide in. He'd never lecture you like that prissy Murrow, or sound like that undertaker, Chet Huntley; or that Mr. Peepers-type with the glasses, John Chancellor, on NBC.

You could see just by looking at him that Uncle Walter had been around; he knew what was what, but somehow, it hadn't changed him. He didn't believe he was better than you. He'd give you straight advice. And even if you'd utterly and irredeemably fucked up, and his advice was to face the music and dance... you'd know he was right and still go away feeling good about yourself.

Cronkite had come up as a reporter when radio was king, and the best-known broadcast commentators all had signature 'hooks' -- Murrow's opening was the famous, "This -- is London", during the Blitz in 1940; Walter Winchell's was, "Good Evening, America, and all the ships at sea". Lowell Thomas' closing line was, "So long, until tomorrow!" So, early in the CBS Nightly News, Cronkite adopted his own famous signature close, which he would repeat for the next nineteen years: "And that's the way it is: Friday, July Seventeenth, Nineteen Sixty-Four; this is Walter Cronkite. For CBS News -- goodnight." It stayed in our heads as well.

And when JFK (initially concerned that Cronkite was a Republican, and so might skew his reportage -- he wasn't; he was a registered Independent) was murdered, it was Uncle Walter who broke the bad news, first, to the nation -- and who sat up with the country for hour after hour over the next days, through the pomp and circumstance and unbelief. More than Chet Huntley or David Brinkley's voices on NBC, or Eric Sevaried's on ABC, it was Walter Cronkite's voice that bridged that period between the end of Camelot, and whatever was to come next.

All this gave him the necessary credentials when, five years later, Cronkite publicly questioned the wisdom of America's involvement in Vietnam. The Pentagon Papers would reveal that the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident (pretext for the next eight years of escalating war in South Vietnam) had been a sham. Cronkite, who had excellent sources, might have suspected the war had been engineered, but never questioned it on those grounds. Like many of his viewers, he had supported America's mission in Vietnam -- but only until it was plain that we were mired in a conflict that could not be won under post-WW2 rules of engagement: It wasn't the kind of classic, "Good War" between Light and Darkness which he had seen first-hand.

After a series of journeys to Vietnam and long interviews with everyone from Diplomats and Generals to Grunts, Cronkite came to the firm conclusion that we couldn't win. He wasn't interested in the details, so much as the broader questions -- In a world with nuclear weapons, can we win this war? And, is it worth it? He believed another solution was possible, and necessary; and it would include pulling our troops back from Southeast Asia.

It was 1968, with Martin and Bobby already both assassinated. It was an election year defined by the war; by three years of race riots, National Guard soldiers in the streets. It was a year defined by the Counterculture, and by an antidraft, antiwar movement. Cronkite decided to do what CBS' executives never though he would -- to tell America that uncomfortable truth from behind the Anchor's desk on the CBS Nightly News. In a closing commentary reminiscent of Edward R. Murrow, Uncle Walter said "In this reporter's opinion", that the Vietnam war simply wasn't winnable; "that perhaps we should say, 'We did the best we could'," and bring our boys home.

President Lyndon Johnson, watching the broadcast, knew it was a watershed moment: If Walter Cronkite had said America should pull out of Vietnam, Johnson told an aide when the broadcast was over, "then I've lost the war". Little more than a week later, LBJ went on national television to say he "would not seek, nor will I accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President."

Cronkite and his CBS team in Vietnam, 1967 (Public Domain)

Cronkite broke the code of silence that made up so much of life in post-World War Two America; he was calling things by their right names, reality with a Capital R. I remember watching Cronkite deliver that message in 1968. It was the sort of moment I hoped some other American broadcast journalist would come to during the "Lil' Boots" Bush years. Finally, Keith Olbermann did, a little late in the day, and not entirely because he had come to a heartfelt conclusion about the disaster of Lil' Boots' presidency... but also because it meant good ratings for MSNBC, something Cronkite would have barely considered.

Our leaving Vietnam would take another four years, and cost additional thousands of American lives. Richard Nixon was elected claiming he had a "secret plan" to end the war. That turned out to be more escalation, CIA assassination squads; J. Edgar Hoover's COINTELPRO; the 1970 invasion of Cambodia and a heavy crackdown on antiwar demonstrations; The Plumbers and black-bag jobs and 'Enemies Lists', and cozy relations between the GOP and the Mob-run Teamsters' Union. After the killing of four students at Kent State in Ohio, Cronkite lashed out at Nixon's policies, and his stand gave other reporters and networks the courage to voice their own opinions in closing segments.

In response, Nixon put heavy pressure on William Paley to muzzle Cronkite's criticism; then, Vice-President Spiro Agnew went after America's media in a series of speeches, essentially accusing national news outlets, and figures like Cronkite, of treason.

Nixon's pressure and threats had a chilling affect. In 1970, after a broadcast criticizing the government's attempt to threaten journalists into silence, ABC News anchor Frank Reynolds was forced to resign. The war went on; bombings of North Vietnam escalated; the whole period was a reminder of the blacklisting and censorship of the McCarthy period -- which Cronkite's CBS colleague, Edward R. Murrow, had famously stood up to.

For network television news anchors, Murrow's courage in criticizing the bullying atmosphere of fear which Tail Gunner Joe created set the bar for future television journalists to defend their ability to inform Americans what is happening in, and to, their country. Cronkite maintained that tradition, not backing down despite the obvious threats made by The President -- and Cronkite knew Nixon was famous for using the power of his office to take revenge. It helped that CBS' executives stood behind him (Something they didn't do for Dan Rather, thirty years later -- but, in these days, truth is highly overrated in the news entertainment industry).

Even backstopped by CBS, Walter had professionally put his ass on the line. He knew it didn't matter what his reputation was, whether he was considered a presence on television. Cronkite knew the other side of Murrow's defiance of McCarthy; Murrow had been a legend, too -- and came within a hairsbreadth of being fired (rent Good Night and Good Luck, again) by the same Bill Paley whom Nixon was calling to express his wattle-jowled displeasure.

At the same time, Cronkite had been as close to actual combat situations as a noncombatant can; something like Nixon or Agnew coming at him only made him angry. He must've had a moment of satisfaction, watching Agnew forced to resign under indictment for talking over $300,000 in bribes when Governor of Maryland; and later, watching a paranoid, self-destructive and self-pitying Nixon, pinned down by Watergate, resign himself. And, as with JFK's assassination almost eleven years before, the voice of Uncle Walter took us from the "long national nightmare" to whatever would come next.

People who didn't grow up with him as a fixture won't understand the context within which he was important, or how he's missed. It isn't nostalgia for a simpler time -- it's that in 2009, television news is simply another form of corporate entertainment. It's always been an Establishment mouthpiece in one way or another -- except for people like Cronkite, who believed that facts didn't need to be presented like movie trailers, or with political spin. Cronkite intensely disliked the media style of Limbaugh, Wiener and O'Reilly because for him, it distorted the Truth, the Facts: Fox and other networks' use of this kind of format wasn't about news, but personalities, and a political agenda.

Few people have the opportunity to reach so many other human beings, a fixture in our cultural memory, without being corrupted somehow in the process. After nineteen years as CBS' anchor, Cronkite retired -- like any working person, putting in their twenty and then calling it quits -- and didn't look back.

Cronkite never used status for personal gain or to create another career. He always reminded me of another man from Missouri, Mark Twain -- though without the bite of wit, or his obvious humor; but still an honest and quintessentially American observer. He never ran for office; never appeared in films (in 1984, approached to appear as himself in the film version of The Right Stuff, even with his interest in America's space program, Cronkite said no; they had to use Eric Sevareid instead).

He declined, gracefully, to capitalize on his image in a way that would be accepted as normal today (and I shudder to think what that says about contemporary culture). David Halberstam, another legend as a reporter and writer, once observed about Cronkite that "He liked, indeed loved, being 'Walter Cronkite', being around all those celebrities -- but it was as if he could never quite believe that he was a celebrity himself."

Cronkite participated in developing the Illusion Factory television has become, but I think the reason he never took his status seriously was that he never confused Walter Cronkite, the image and voice on millions of television screens, with Walter Cronkite, a guy doing a job. It may seem incredible, especially with the cynical take many of us have on the age we live in, but I swear it's probably just that simple.

He was as ambitious as the next person; when some lucky breaks arrived in his job, he took them. But when he saw something he believed was wrong, he judged his chances and then stood up and spoke out -- even at the risk of losing that job. He worked for a living, tried to meet his bosses' expectations, and (because he was very much aware of his own status) live up to the standards of his profession as he saw them; doing a 'good job' mattered. At night, he went home to his wife and children.

Regarding himself, he never said, Hey, what's all the fuss about?; he knew. He was, after all, like the Uncle Walter we believed he was, the guy who had been around -- but for all that had been unchanged. Unlike media personalities in 2009, Cronkite was a reporter who never believed in his own press.

And that's the way it is.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

James Tate

(Because the comments section at BLCKDGRD is closed, and I can't get my suggestion in. And, it seems fitting -- the season, and bloody obscene tragedies, and politicians, and Oval Office speechifying, and everything. That the world as we see it now must seem full of opportunities, to a certain type of individual.)

Behind The Green Door

Thaddeus had said he wanted to get together, but,
then, when we met in town, he didn’t seem to have anything
on his mind. “I’d like to get myself one of those remote-
controlled airplanes, and chase pigeons in the park,” he
said. “That will show them who’s boss,” I said. “Of course,
some people might think I’m a little old for that,” he said.
“For terrorizing innocent birds? You’re never too old for
that, Thad,” I said. We sipped at our beers. It was still
before noon, and Mary’s was almost empty, except for an elderly
couple at the bar drinking martinis. “They’re pretty expensive,”
Thad said. “Martinis?” I said. “No, stupid, remote-controlled
airplanes,” he said. “Think of it as an investment in your
lost childhood,” I said. He thought that over for a while.
The couple at the bar toasted one another, and laughed. The
bartender brought us another round. It was a Saturday, and
I had many errands and chores on my list. “You know all about
my ‘lost childhood,’ so I don’t need to remind you,” he said.
“I can recite what you got and what you didn’t get for all
your birthdays,” I said. “Then, why do you put up with me?”
he said. “I need to suffer, Thaddeus. It makes me a better
person. So, you see, indulging you is completely selfish
on my part. It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s how the
world is, and that’s why some great good may come out of
making those birds suffer. I don’t know what it is, but something
tells me it’s so,” I said. The woman at the bar was tickling
the man’s ribs, and he was about to fall off his stool. “Then,
you think there really is a plan?” Thad said. “Absolutely,
right down to the last drop of beer spilled on this floor
every night, to the ant you killed walking out your door,
and the plane crash in the Andes,” I said. Thaddeus seemed
stunned, while I was just saying anything that came into my
head. I took it as my job to give him something to think
about. The couple at the bar ordered another round. Then,
Thaddeus said, “If that’s true, then I’ve never really done
anything wrong. I had no choice, I’m off the hook.” I looked
at my watch. We were right on schedule for that conclusion.
“And soon the earth will open up, and a ten-thousand-year-old
giant squid will strangle us all,” I said. “I’m hungry,” Thaddeus
said, “do you want to get some lunch? There’s a new place
across the street.” “That’s not new. They just painted the
door a different color. The owner, Herb, had a midlife crisis
or something,” I said. “Well, then, it’s sort of new, I mean,
you don’t know what you’re going to get after something like
that,” he said. “I see your point. I suppose it could get
kind of ugly. Or maybe not. It could be better than ever.
Still, I have these errands,” I said. “You’re afraid to lose
even an hour, George, afraid what you might find in its place,
something truly unknown, without a name, no visible shape.
There’s nothing wrong with that, George. You know I’ve always
admired you, so go on your way, get your dishwashing detergent
or whatever it is. I’m going to find out what’s behind that green
door,” Thaddeus said. “No doubt there will be an ambrosia burger,”
I said, “and you’ll order one.” “I will have no choice,” he
said. When we stepped outside, the sunlight blinded me. “Good-bye,
Thaddeus,” I said, “wherever you are.” A dog barked, and, then,
a siren sped by. I couldn’t see my own hand in front of my

-- From "Ghost Soldiers" (2008)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Four Billion Years Of Evolution

Pluto, Bitches

Pluto, Nearly 5 Billion Miles From Earth, As Seen By New Horizons Probe (via BBC)
 As sapient beings who have four billion years of evolutionary history behind us, we still can't seem to deal with each other very well. Spend even fifteen minutes watching a news feed of events around the world and the old joke (4 Billion Years Of Evolution And All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt) seems generally true -- except when it isn't.

Nine-and-a-half years ago, when there was plenty of money to design, build and send scientific packages into deep space, the New Horizons probe was launched. Its ultimate mission was to perform a fly-by of Pluto and photograph as much of its surface as possible before transmitting images and data (via much slower than light radio waves) back to us.

My small request of humanity today is -- in the next few days, when it's night, wherever you are; and depending upon the amount of cloud cover -- to stand somewhere and look up at the night sky. Out There is Pluto, the ninth and last planet in our solar system, over 3 billion miles from Earth.  It takes light from the sun (traveling at 189,000 miles per second) five hours and forty minutes to get out there.

When you look up, feel yourself standing on the earth, Third Rock from the sun. Try remembering where we are, and everything you every knew about our evolution. And think about this:
Because the observations are all run on an automated command sequence, New Horizons had to fly a perfect path past Pluto, and with perfect timing - otherwise its cameras would have shot empty sky where the dwarf or its moons were expected to be.

This necessitated aiming New Horizons at a "keyhole" in space just 100km by 150km (60miles by 90 miles), and arriving at that location within a set margin of 100 seconds.

The last indications were that New Horizons was on the button of that aim point, being perhaps 70km closer to the surface of Pluto than anticipated, and arriving about 72 seconds early -- all this was achieved after a multi-billion-km flight across the Solar System lasting nine-and-a-half years.
As you stand up looking into the sky, remember that we may not know Why We Are Here -- but Here We Are, and we've hurled machines into the heavens to put them almost directly on a target we aimed for, at a distance so far away ...  As a species, we have a right to feel proud of that. Each and every one of us.