WRRATLARGE Archive 2008
December 27, 2008 Culture Fragments by Joseph Glantz
December 27, 2008
In 1990, the University of Pennsylvania held a series of talks to celebrate its 250th anniversary. In one of the test talks Nicholas Negroponte, the co-founder of the MIT Media Lab and subsequently the founder of One Laptop per Child , debated Paul Fussel, a Penn cultural ad history professor best known for his book The Great War and Modern Memory (1975) about the state of the media. Mr. Negroponte argued that all of the technical advancements that were coming made for better communication and made for a better society. Mr. Fussell argued that all this technology made for a more fragmented society. He lamented the days of three station networks when all of the world, well – at least America, shared the common experience of watching the same television show.
From a technical viewpoint Mr. Negroponte has clearly had the better of the argument. Cable television has taken off so that there is now a cable channel for anyone’s special interest. If cable isn’t enough one can follow a series of hypertext links and blogs to read one’s topic du jour. One can argue that this trend towards specialized interests began much much earlier. Robertson Davies is his book The Cunning Man argued that specialists had take over the medical profession to the point the doctors rarely knew their patient. Mr. Davies’ lead character remedied this by sniffing the patient’s body before an examination. John Graver Johnson was perhaps Philadelphia’s best lawyer. He argued a full range of cases as a solo practitioner. Now a visit to any major law firm’s sites immediately takes one the full range of specialty services that the firm offers.
One can argue that all this specialization, be it cultural or professional, is more democratic. After all, it gives everyone a chance to pursue one’s interests. Arguably, the power of the Internet was a major factor in the fall of Communism. Whole industries have evolved around the specialized world we live in so arguably all of this specialty focus is good for business.
But more and more I find myself like the lead character in Ionesco’s Rhinoceros refusing to want to follow the latest trend. I find myself more in agreement with Mr. Fussell that something is being lost in all of this narrow focus. I fear that the specialists of this world are losing an appreciation for the generalists. If I have a health problem I want the general practitioner in addition to the specialist not just because he knows that a knee operation might affect my hip or my neck or my arthritis – but because the generalist knows how likely I am to exercise and to diet right and will take the time to answer questions more at length than the specialist because he knows me as a person. I want the general legal legal practitioner in addition to the expert because he knows how estate planning affects family relationships and that my priority might be more to spend my money before I pass than figure out how I can save it to avoid taxes. Somehow, I think a generalist will appreciate more the phrase “You can’t take it with you.”
Ditto the cultural world. It’s sad to see so many print newspapers in jeopardy. The joy of reading a newspaper was that with print I read the full paper after I read the sports section. Now I click on the sports columns I want to read and a few other columns – but I don’t rummage around (though I like to think the Wild River Review is the perfect exception to the rule). Now I don’t chat around the water-cooler talking about last night’s shows because I’m not confident that co-workers have seen the same show.
Technology and specialization require the reader and user to be their own editor, their own doctor, their own lawyer, their own accountant. There’s good in that. I can make my own choices.
But I have the humility to know I’m only one person and sometimes I long for the Renaissance man or woman who does fill the college mantra that was emphasized when I went to Penn – the essence of life is a well-rounded education
Joseph Glantz is consulting editor for Wild River Review and author of Interviews with the Famously Departed
December 8, 2008 An Obsession with Coffee by David Waldman
December 8, 2008
An Obsession with Coffee
My earliest recollections of coffee come from my childhood in the 1950s in the kitchen, observing the daily after-dinner grinding and Turkish brewing ritual, exclusively performed by my Father.
I was fascinated with the methodical and meticulous preparation of his daily demitasse (he was an eye surgeon) – hand ground fresh roasted Turkish Blend, mortar and pestled cardamon seeds, with a dash of sugar, and the slow boiling of the aromatic potion in a beautiful brass ibrik. (Dad was stationed in the Middle East during WWII – the first Jew in Ibn Saud’s a/k/a King Faisal’s harem. I attribute his longevity, 93 years, to his daily dose of Turkish coffee, a small chunk of dark chocolate, and a single Turkish cigarette – not a Camel, rather, a real Turkish oval).
I also have fond memories of shopping with Mom at the local A&P, and, on special occasions, shopping for fresh roasted beans at the Reading Terminal Market near Dad’s office in Philly. I was in charge of grinding the beans
In a nutshell, my obsession originated with the sensorial, in particular, the aromatics. I did not actually imbibe my first cup until high school (maybe 16 or 17 years old). I was always looking for a better way to enjoy the coffee experience — I experimented with French Press, Chemex, Vacuum extraction, single-cup Melitta drip, and developed a sensorial memory bank of aromatics and tastes associated with beans from all over the world — a good Harar, Yirgacheffe, Kenya, Guatemala, etc.
The range of taste possibilities was endless, and then there was the possibility of creating custom blends! The history of coffee always fascinated me – the dancing goats in Abyssinia a thousand or more years ago, high on the coffee fruit.
As the second largest legal commodity in the world (following petroleum), coffee presents an incredibly rich context for a myriad of thought and action, ranging from the sociopolitical, to worker’s rights, exploitation of women and children, direct trade (disintermediation of the disproportionate profits awarded everyone but the deserving grower), sustainability (agriculturally, ecologically, economically, etc.), and much more.
Editor’s Note: Former Sony Executive and pedal steel guitar player, David Waldman, owner of Rojo’s Roastery, joins Wild River Review. In regular updates, he will take us on a journey into the world of coffee.
December 3, 2008 The Heroes of Mumbai by Vibhas Tattu
December 3, 2008
The Heroes of Mumbai
Mumbai as well as all of India and indeed much of the world looked on in shock and disbelief as the events of the terrorist attack on some of Mumbai’s best known landmarks flashed across their TV screens last week. Over two hundred persons including foreigners, Indians, policemen and commandos were killed in this deadly attack.
When this horrific episode was unfolding it was accompanied by the usual images of blood and gore, of destruction and death, the constant media updates and commentary and international condemnation and shows of solidarity. All very proper and predictable.
The immediate tragedy is over now and the aftermath also follows a well oiled pattern: there is the public anger and outrage, the calls for action, for heads to roll, the outcry over intelligence failures, the demands to revamp the security apparatus, the finger pointing and the dirty politics. It all follows a sadly predictable pattern. Do we ever learn anything from such tragedies?
Action wise, heads have begun to roll: the Home Minister of India and the Home Minister of Maharashtra State (whose capital is Mumbai) both have resigned. The Prime Minister has announced a slew of measures to beef up and give more resources to crack commando units of the NSG (National Security Guard), the security wing which did such a wonderful job in the crisis. News media and public forums are holding the usual heated discussions and post mortems. All the usual suspects are being rounded up.
But do these things make a difference? Who or what makes a difference?
These are some stories of people who made a difference in the tragedy that Mumbai faced:
The Announcers at CST Terminus:
The first reported target was the CST Railway Terminus. The CST is one of Mumbai’s oldest and best known architectural landmarks. Built in 1878 it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also the hub of one of the busiest railway systems in the world. An estimated 4 million people pass through the station daily. Two gunmen with AK 47 rifles sprayed the busy platforms with bullets killing over 55 people in a few minutes on Nov 26, 2008. Like other train stations, CST also has a PA system announcing the departure and arrival of trains. It is a tribute to the unnamed announcers at CST that as soon as they saw the carnage below – they started warning all incoming trains and passengers alighting from trains just arrived to evacuate the terminus from the rear exits – away from the scene of the massacre. A few shots were fired at the announcers’ cabin also, but they continued to direct traffic away from the scene of the disaster. These announcers, who thought on their feet, probably saved hundreds of lives.
The Policemen at Metro Cinema:
The killers who attacked the CST moved on to Metro Cinema and Cama Hospital where they killed many more people before they were shot dead. One of them was captured alive as well. But not before some of Mumbai’s bravest had laid down their lives. Ashok Kamthe, the Additional Commissioner of Police of Mumbai, and Hemant Karkare the Chief of the Anti-Terrorist Squad in Mumbai, led from the front lines, not from behind their secure desks, and were gunned down outside the Metro Cinema while fighting the terrorist onslaught.
The Hotel Staff of the Taj:
The other iconic target was the five star Taj Mahal hotel, which is a 105 year old building overlooking the Gateway of India on the Arabian Sea. Karambir Kang is the General Manager of the Taj. When the terrorists struck on the night of 26th Nov, Kang’s wife and two young children, 14 and 5, were in their quarters in a sixth floor room of the hotel. Guests were called by hotel staff and told to stay in their rooms and away from the terror attack. Hotel staff tried to make sure that guests were all right and they were kept appraised of the situation as it developed. In this process of helping guests, several hotel staffers were killed. Meanwhile the terrorists set fire to the sixth floor. Kang called the fire fighters to rescue his trapped family, but in the chaos that was raging, little could be done. Kang’s family perished in this fire. Kang continued to work throughout this long ordeal until the last terrorist was killed and the operation completed.
The Chefs and Waiters at the Golden Dragon:
As four terrorists stormed into the busy hotel lobby and started firing indiscriminately, chef Minocha at the Golden Dragon Restaurant stepped out in the first floor stairwell and sustained a bullet wound on his hand. He and other chefs and waiters rushed to herd the guests in the restaurant to a safer area. The terrorist saga which lasted 60 hours, had just begun. These chefs and waiters made sandwiches and tea for the horror stricken guests. Later, amidst the firing and fires in other parts of the hotel, these same waiters and kitchen staff, through backdoors and fire exits, moved the guests quietly outside to safety in small lots over several hours.
The NSG Commandos and the Hotel Guide:
Sunil Kumar Yadav, a 29-year-old NSG commando saw the horror at very close quarters. He recalls the fear and shock on the faces of the guests he rescued, and the incredible relief of being rescued. Assigned to the operation on the fateful sixth floor of the Taj, he broke through one of the rooms only to be greeted with shots fired by the terrorist inside. Yadav was accompanied by a hotel guide who was shot and killed, but he managed to pull out a lady hostage alive from the room. Yadav sustained three bullet wounds in his thighs and is recovering in a Mumbai hospital. Two other commandoes, also of the NSG, were not so fortunate. Constable Gajendra Singh died while trying to rescue some Israeli hostages at the Nariman House, a Jewish Centre, another of the terrorists’ targets. Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, 27, died while trying to save one his commandos who had been hit.
What is so remarkable about these people? How did they make a difference? These are just ordinary people doing exactly what they were paid to do – their job. Announcers announcing, policemen fighting crime, managers managing, hotel staff taking care of guests, chefs making sandwiches and commandos fighting terrorists. The remarkable thing is that they all did their job in incredibly difficult circumstances – when their own lives or the lives of their loved ones were at stake. The difference is that they succeeded in doing their job in the face of death. They proved that heroes are not found in Hollywood or Bollywood or on the sports field, but in ordinary life.
What makes a difference is individuals who decide to make a difference. Individuals working alone or with colleagues, doing things they can do, however small or big, no matter what situation life has posed before them.
In the ultimate analysis what seems to matter in life is not whether you win or lose, whether you live or die, but how you play the game.
These are boring and old fashioned ideas, even hackneyed cliches. But it is these values, which carried the day in Mumbai. The fundamentals always apply.
This is my salute to all such people in Mumbai who lived up to values worth living for.
Vibhas Tattu is a regular contributor to Wild River
Review. He hails
from India and is a manufacturing engineer by profession. He has worked in
India, USA and now in the United Arab Emirates. Interested in Shakespeare,
Indian music, poetry (English, Hindi and Marathi). His new found love is
writing and he routinely practices Vipassana (‘mindfulness’) meditation. He has
a bachelor’s degree in Production Engineering from the University of Bombay and
Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from the
University of California at Berkeley, where he was a Fellow. EMAIL: email@example.com
November 30, 2008 Update from Mumbai – Stories from our Source in India
November 30, 2008
Update from Mumbai – Stories from our Source in India
I write this from Delhi where I’ve been getting reports from the newspapers here and friends from Mumbai.
A policeman was standing on the train platform near the Jewish Quarter when a gunman shot him. The bullet hit his belt buckle and he made it to safety.
Two street dogs attacked one of the gunmen, knocking him down.
A British billionaire, Andreas Liveras, 73, had parked his yacht near the Oberoi Trident because he loved their Goan curry. He was in the dining room when the gunmen took him and his friends hostage. He texted a friend, joking that he would be freed once the gunmen got their ransom and he finished his curry. He did not survive. Mr. Oberoi, owner of the Trident, and whose hotels in Jaipur and Udaipur have been voted the best in the world, was in the hotel the night night of the massacre. However, a friend had persuaded him to come to dinner in order to avoid a crush of photographers. He left at six; the gunmen arrived at eight.
WRR Indian contact.
November 29, 2008 From Hong Kong to a Mall Near You: Let the Shopping Season Begin by The Professor
November 29, 2008
From Hong Kong to a Mall Near You: Let the Shopping Season Begin
I wound my way to Hong Kong after 10 straight
days in China. Ah, Hong Kong, my fragrant harbor home-away-from-home floating,
twisting, spiraling like a delicate lotus petal downward from its prior heights
into the muck and smog of today’s political and economic reality. It was indeed
a relief to debark the KCR through-train from Guangzhou at Hong Hom station and
ponder where the trip’s first good glass of wine would be waiting for me. A
relief to know I had friends who could suggest the latest new resto, or perhaps
consider an old standby, still standing by for my pleasure.
But bittersweet too, as
seasoned travelers find at the end of many trips. Would this be my last visit
to HK, given the global turmoil? Would HK continue to be bypassed by those who
ply the China trade, opting instead to deal direct with factories in Dongguan,
Shenzhen, Chang An and other former industrial hotspots? And would – after this holiday season – there even
be factories to deal with, in the future?
Of course there will,
but everything is now officially different, including for HK. The fact is that
the HK people have long been marginalized, with fewer and fewer good jobs in
tech, finance and government available to the locals. Hong Kong has essentially
been a city of shopkeepers for at least 2 generations now.
And nothing defines
bittersweet like missing your overseas flight home, as your hapless
correspondent did recently after a connecting flight wound up almost 2 hours
late. Hapless indeed, was the ’4-star’ airport hotel chosen by Professor himself
to reside in grim hope of catching the next day’s flight. Chair to the room
door and lights on to discourage visitors inside and out; antiseptic stench
hanging in the air not unlike a Philly taproom’s urinal cake; whiskey, neat, in
the ‘lobby bar’, no ice, no ice. Debu-chi.
Bring on the holiday shopping season – Cheers – Your Professor
November 25, 2008 In a Sea of Books: At the 25th Miami Book Fair International by Lili Bita
November 25, 2008
In a Sea of Books: At the 25th Miami Book Fair International
In my French lessons, Sister Ursula, the nun who was my teacher, asked me what I wanted to do with my life when I grew up. Without hesitation, I answered her: “To drown in a sea of books.”
I was ten years old then. But it’s exactly what I’m doing now. I’m attending, as an invited author, the twenty-fifth annual Miami Book Fair International. It is a sea of books.
The invitation brought me great pleasure. The Miami Book Fair is the largest in the country, and attracts well-known authors from around the world and the thousands of bibliophiles who flock to hear them and sample their wares. Though Greek literature is not only the foundation of Western culture but, because of the universal impact of the West, in some respects the starting-point of our global culture today, I was the only Greek invited to participate.
The Fair took place on November 15 and 16 on the Wolfson campus of Miami-Dade Community College, itself, as its president told me, the largest institution of higher education in the country. I could well believe it. The campus was a forest of skyscraper-like buildings, as intricately laid out as a labyrinth. I arrived Sunday morning for my own reading with my colleague Peter Hargitai, himself a distinguished Hungarian-American novelist. There were what seemed like hundreds of tents on the campus, like a nomad encampment, each setting out its precious treasures by author and publisher: children’s books, cookbooks, books on dance, music, fine arts, photography, theater, therapy, self-help, spiritual exercise, all lined up for inspection, any and all of which could be yours for a plastic card or a few pieces of paper. When the hunger for books was slaked and one’s tote bag was full, there was an equally generous sampling of the world’s cooking from the vendors in the food courts.
Then it was time to hear from the authors themselves. We entered a large and crowded ampitheater. Each reader wore an identifying name-tag with the magic name “Author” affixed to it that swayed above their bellies, marking them off from ordinary mortals. In one area were the writers who were concerned with environmentalism and the well-being of the planet, seated with their works: Will Bauer’s The War on Bugs; Gene Bauer’s Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food; Mark Kurlansky’s The Last Fish Tale. Next to this were the distinguished African-Americans Tavis Smiley and Cornel West; and beside them, the literature of the Americas, men such as the Nicaraguans Rubi Arana and Sergio Ramirez and the Cubans Jose Lorenzo Fuentes, Jose Abreu, and Raul Chao. An Evening With Gore Vidal, the octogenarian American writer, was advertised beside one with Ishmael Beah, the African who, dragged into Sierra Leone’s civil war as a thirteen-year-old boy, had killed, as he said, “too many people to count.” There were exile authors with unfamiliar names, and Nobel laureates such as Wole Soyinka and Derek Walcott.
One recitation included the American poet laureates Billy Collins and Robert Hass, together with Mark Strand. I found myself being photographed with Tom Hayden, of Chicago Eight fame. In a packed hall, Salman Rushdie was reading, the man whose novel, The Satanic Verses, had put a price on his head. Writers from Egypt; writers from Brazil; from Norway and Spain and France and Argentina and Swaziland: four hundred in all, and I, proudly representing Greece. Between the readings were offerings from opera and ballet, Fringe theater events, a feast for the eye and the ear all galvanized by the power of the written word.
There are many book fairs, of course. But only in America, I thought, could there be something so free, so joyous, so diverse, so deeply hopeful. I’ve been a wanderer myself. But, amid the sea of books, I felt I had come home.
Author and actress Lili Bita is a regular contributor to Wild River Review.
November 24, 2008 How Obama Won the Election: A Personal Story by Erin Riley
November 24, 2008
How Obama Won the Election: A Personal Story
Where do I start? Well, I guess it started for me 4 years ago watching Barack Obama deliver the Keynote Address to the Democratic Convention in 2004. I didn’t know who he was but I sat alone in my living room in tears at the simple words, “We’re all connected as one people. If there is a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there is a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for their prescription drugs, and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandparent. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.”
I am also a mutt. I am the Greek, English, Irish variety. We all are in some way or another. I grew up in NYC in the 60s in what was at that time, a very poor Latino neighborhood and attended P.S. 84 in the time of busing. My elementary school pictures all look like they were taken at the U.N. I was white, but I was a minority at my school. My friends came from all around the world, all religions, all colors. My son goes to a predominantly white school now but his friends are from Iran, England, Kenya and all around the world.
My parents were very political and very liberal. I walked in peace marches and civil rights marches down Broadway as a little girl. I once met Bobby Kennedy; he shook my hand when I was only 8 years old. I dreamed of the day that the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” written by our founding fathers would ring true for all.The morning following the 2004 Keynote address, I made my husband watch it on YouTube. I’ve been following Barack Obama ever since. I signed up for the Philadelphia Meetup group. At the time, there were 4 members.
I was elated the day Barack announced his candidacy. I followed the campaign every day. He never strayed, always on point. Change, and change is what we need. My mom has a saying, “Keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve got.” Things have to change in so many ways or we will lose this beautiful planet we all love living on. There must be clean air and clean water for our children. We must have hope and love and peace in the world. Barack Obama believes this too.I went to every stump in driving distance from my house. Brought my kids so they would know that change is coming and it’s all for them.
Election night and ever since, I can’t stop crying tears of joy that now, when a little boy or girl anywhere in the United States looks up at their mom or dad and says, “Mommy, Daddy, could I grow up to be President”, they can truly answer, “Yes, if you work hard, if you are honest, if you care about people, you can be anything you want to be.”
Thank you Barack Obama for changing our course. For your wisdom that I know will be applied to help pull so many out of the muck we are in. I dreamed of you and you came, and you prevailed and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I now know HOPE.
Erin Riley has more than 25 years of experience in the music and entertainment industry.
November 20, 2008 Filth from BBC by Ed Cullen
November 20, 2008
Filth from BBC
“Filth,” the Masterpiece Contemporary movie about British broadcasting standards campaigner Mary Whitehouse, lay on my desk for a week before I picked it up. I wasn’t in the mood to watch a movie called “Filth.”
Called a satire and uproariously funny by people who apparently didn’t watch the same movie I did, I found ”Filth” charming. Housewife Whitehouse is played well by Julie Walters (“Mamma Mia!”, “Harry Potter”). Hugh Bonneville is fun to hate as Sir Hugh Greene, the taboo-breaking head of the BBC, who drew Mrs. Whitehouse out of her cozy living-room and onto the national scene.
Sir Hugh, as played by Bonneville, was probably good for the BBC and, by turn, American broadcasting which uses so much BBC material on PBS.
I have no problem with his paving the way for television that approximates British and American life and language, but if Sir Hugh was the high-handed, imperious public official portrayed in “Filth” it’s easy to see why he proved such a perfect foil for a savvy, but innocent, crusading housewife.
In the review DVD sent out, Sir Hugh uses an obscenity (the “F word”) at the family dinner table. In the broadcast of “Filth” on PBS Sunday, the word will be bleeped, proving that Mrs. Whitehouse and her successors on both sides of the Atlantic continue to influence what appears on television.
“Filth,” by the way, may currently be viewed online Nov. 17-23, 2008. To see the movie streamed, go to http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/filth/watch.html.
Olivia Wong at WGBH Boston says the movie will be streamed until midnight Nov. 23. You can’t download the movie, but the movie starts at the beginning each time a viewer logs on.
It’s not hard to see Mary Whitehouse’s point of view in the early stages of her taking on the BBC. She saw and heard things on British, taxpayer supported television that she found offensive.
Mrs. Whitehouse got carried away with her success. She objected to things on television that a British subject could see in a park. Mrs. Whitehouse found public displays of affection offensive.
She did get away with a funny — and scary — bit of censorship when she forced a British pop music program to air Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling” with an illustration showing the ding-a-ling in question to be a toy with bells and not what everyone imagined the ding-a-ling to be, Mr. Berry’s you know.
So, lie back on the couch with your laptop on your stomach and tune-in “Filth” online.
Ed Cullen is a regular contributor to Wild River Review. His most recent piece features South African Poet, Deena Padayachee.
November 18, 2008 PRO-LIFE, VOTING PRO-CHOICE by Terrence Cheromcka
November 18, 2008
PRO-LIFE, VOTING PRO-CHOICE
I grew up with a liberal mom in the absence of my conservative father.
I grew up in a liberal home in a conservative town in Pennsylvania, a swing state that swings either way but has swung more to the liberal side of things during my lifetime.
I grew up in the time of “the most important elections” this country has seen. The first one I remember was the long disputed election between Al Gore and George W. Bush – it seemed that our country just could not come to a consensus about who won. The second – the most recent election.
I grew up in a time where birth control is popped like candy and there is always a “Plan B” (abortion). If you had talked to me a year ago I would have been just like the next ten girls who would not have thought twice about having an abortion. That child would not have fit perfectly into my cookie-cutter life.
What is most important is that I grew up at all. I recently discovered that I had not been a product of a planned pregnancy and in fact, my parents had met only three months before I was conceived. My mother, who was raised by Catholic parents, did not abort me. Instead she and my father did the right thing, as far as I’m concerned, and kept me to raise as their own.
I love my life and I work every moment to over-flow the void that would have existed had my mother decided that I was not going to be brought to life. I believe that with the awareness of the power of creation I can cross party lines and make my own choices. I want to represent. With the heart and mind I have been given, I can see the birth of life for what it is, not what it seems to be through a political lens.
As a pro-life woman I chose to vote for Barack Obama, a pro-choice candidate. Simply, I know that no man will ever be able to tell a woman what she should do with her body or her life. And in my case, I’m glad my Mom chose life for me.
Terrence Cheromcka is a student at New York University and Deputy Editor of Wild River Review.
November 14, 2008 It’s a Spa; It’s a Bath – A Turkish Bath…Part 3 by David Rago
It’s a Spa; It’s a Bath – A Turkish Bath…Part 3
(Editor’s Note: To read parts one and two, see previous entries.)
On my back, for a minute, when I dared open my eyes, I saw the domed ceiling, terra cotta in color, pierced by small, evenly spaced circles every meter or so, and knew I was one of tens of thousands who’d seen them like this, and perhaps one of a hundred who locked onto their roundness as a distraction from the pain that was to again come as he crunched my legs, this time topside.
Suddenly, I was completely covered in hot water and a pile of suds. A big freaking pile of suds. He pushed the soap into my ears with his fingers, which was both surprising and not unpleasant. And weird. And then he splashed another tub of suds and hot water, scrubbing me down again. And again with the ear thing. There were apparently other customers in the room now, receiving similar treatment, because the attendants started loudly, strongly, singing some chant, or song ancient, other worldly, striking a chord deeply, drenching clear hot water, a sea of it.
And then it was over. I was helped up, mildly disoriented, confronted by my skinny tormentor. He looked at me, locked eyes. He came up to my chest. He pointed to his chest, saying “Azul.” The universal language, “tip me this time, ask for me by name next time.”
After showering, I wobbled up the winding staircase to my cell, quietly moving past Kemal, who apparently hadn’t moved since I’d last seen him. Having quickly dressed, I waited in the downstairs foyer for my wife, watching men and women come and go, enjoying the second hand smoke that filled the hall with a pungent haze. I drank from a large glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. Right there, in front of me, never seen that before, squeezing two big red pomegranates into a glass. Enough freaking antioxidants for a football team. The first gulps were consumed greedily, the last small swallows raised questions of wisdom, and dread, “what’s this gonna taste like on the way up?” That Pom stuff you get at the health foot store in the cute bottles? That ain’t shit.
As I sat there, amid the bustle of workers and clients and the guttural sounds of a language so unlike anything I’d heard this side of the New Jersey, it became impossible not to recognize the quiet spot within me that had been whispering throughout the night, the voice just below the surface of uncertainty and sarcasm. Allowing ourselves to be abraded out of our element, to be handled in a foreign manner, to surrender to something ancient, something primal and essential, isn’t this ultimately why we go to a place like Istanbul instead of seeing the easy version at Epcot Center? Isn’t that exactly the E ticket ride we paid for? Some travel takes you out of yourself, while other forays take you deeper into your center. The best do both, simultaneously.
My bride finally appeared and we shuffled together into the dark Islamic night, the lights of the Blue Mosque ahead of us, the Aya Sophia over our shoulders. She soon voiced her expected question, “Well, how’d you like it?”
Finally, with no hesitation, I said, “I’ll want to do that again.”
David Rago is a founding partner of Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, New Jersey. He appears as an appraiser on the popular PBS series, Antiques Roadshow.
To enter the women’s side of the Hamam, see The Steamy Side of Istanbul.
November 11, 2008 It’s a Spa; It’s a Bath – A Turkish Bath…Part 2 by David Rago
November 11, 2008
It’s a Spa; It’s a Bath – A Turkish Bath…Part 2
Walking unattended, undirected, into the Heat!, a 50′ high, domed, circular room, centered in which was a large, 30’round marble slab, there was an immediate sense of an echoing and ancient solemnity. Through the steam, one guy was laid out on his back, covered by what looked like the flag of Trinidad, his head “resting” on a flat bottomed metal bowl. I was relieved to see that there were a number of these bowls and each of them had a convenient, concave hollow for comfort. I should point out that this would be the Hamam’s only frill. It made me wonder why, if someone thought to used dented bowls to make the Hamam experience more enjoyable, stop there? But I digress.
I’m usually a large-an- in-charge kind of guy, not someone who finds solace in being clueless. But I’ve been through therapy, have had a Guru for 25 years, and have meditated in my past to the point of surrender. Anxiousness was not an option. so I figured I’d just model what the other guy was doing, laying diametrically across from him (which is another way of saying as far as possible.) on the moist, warm stone, knees hanging over the side, head resting sweetly on the metal bowl. I gave this about what seemed like an hour or so but I’m guessing only felt so long because, after a few minutes, the small comfort of the bowl gave way the hardness of steel, and the sweat created by the heat of the room pooled into my eye sockets, stinging with salt from my traditional Turkish dinner a scant hour before.
“Well, that was interesting.” I thought, “What a great experience!” I got up to leave and nearly made it to the door, which swung open towards me and, holy shit, in walked the old bearded guy, now bony and naked, except for the parts of him covered by the Jamaican flag. He immediately added another word to his vocabulary, thick and gruff, and if not for him gesturing behind me I wouldn’t have had a fucking clue what he wanted me to do. Moving back to my original resting place, he slapped the wet marble, Splat, instructing me to lay down again, this time parallel to the edge. On my stomach. With the comfortable hollow of the metal bowl now birdnesting my chin.
The old man made some slushing and ruffling sounds and moved towards me. The next thing I knew he reached around my head, grabbed my nose, and drenched me with semi-hot water. He did this twice, which was not entirely unpleasant, and then took to scraping me with a rough, hand puppet like cloth, which had the weird consistency of cheap cotton and triple ought (sp?) steel wool. Thankfully, he only went mid thigh, just to where my flag of Haiti ended. This part lasted, oh, five hours?
After mouthing another skein of consonants I couldn’t possibly comprehend, he then proceeded to put all of his weight into crunching my back and thighs, with my feet splaying out and my ankle bones searching in futility for something soft amid the marble. There was a method to his madness. At least, this is what I told myself, while doing a most excellent job of not asking him to “go easy, for Crissakes” or in any other way suggest that I was the Western pussy I knew he thought I was. I also thought about how brilliant I was to have thought to pee first. After what seemed like another hour, he had me flip onto my back, the echoing clatter of steel and marble as I scrambled to get the bowl under my head once again. Any port in a storm. “Now there will be the front scraping”, I imagined was the meaning of yet another series of grunts. And then it was done, right?…To be concluded.
For Part one, see previous entry.
David Rago is a founding partner of Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, New Jersey. He appears as an appraiser on the popular PBS series, Antiques Roadshow.
To enter the women’s side of the Hamam, see The Steamy Side of Istanbul
November 10, 2008 It’s a Spa; It’s a Bath – A Turkish Bath…Part 1 by David Rago
November 10, 2008
It’s a Spa; It’s a Bath – A Turkish Bath…Part 1
I visited a traditional Turkish bath, or haman, on a recent trip to Istanbul mostly because of the relentless prodding of my wife. She had gone the night before to a 400 year old “spa” just behind the Aya Sophia. It was her inability to say she actually enjoyed the experience, and her desire to do it again, one night later, that most aroused my curiosity.
Hamams, or at least this one, aren’t very much like the spas we’re used to back in the States, which was immediately evidenced by the cluster of men sitting in the waiting area smoking cigarettes. No Four Seasons mint-scented icy towels women shuffling quietly in white outfits, the gentle trickle of a faux waterfall, or even the soothing strains of the Sirius Radio Spa Channel. Just some brusque locals smoking Turkish tobacco.
Directed upstairs to the men’s “dressing room”, I was met by a brooding gentleman I’ll call Kemal. Kemal’s job consisted of mostly rising halfway from his iron stool and, with a nodding grunt, indicating the location of my “dressing room.” It was quite clear that Kemal was not being underemployed this incarnation.
I keep using quotation marks around the words “dressing room” because it more resembled a tiny cell for a prisoner who’d been very bad. There were a few hooks to hang my stuff, a tiny bed made of a sheet of plywood and a layer of padding the thickness of a slice of ham, and a room-sized window through which Kemal, hunched on his stool, could watch me undress. Sitting on the bed with my back to one wall, my knees nearly touched the other. I wrapped myself in a paper thin cloth towel with a surfeit of faded stripes which looked strikingly like the flag of one of the Caribbean islands.
Walking down the stairs to the main floor, I realized that for an Islamic country, I was scantily clad in the main foyer through which people of both sexes waited, some still smoking cigarettes. I was shortly directed through an old, large, brown door into an antechamber where I was met by a skinny, elderly, bearded man in faded jeans and even more faded plaid shirt. It took a moment or two before I was certain he wasn’t the panhandler who’d accosted me earlier that evening in the Hippodrome. He appraised me for a few seconds before pointing left saying “Toilet!”, and pointed right saying “Heat!” He turned away and disappeared. Since he said “Toilet!” first, I moved to my left.
In a flash of insight and premonition I thought emptying my bladder was a pretty good idea and then showered off because, well, it seemed like it was better to err on the side of conservative. I then moved towards the Heat!
To be continued…
David Rago is a founding partner of Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, New Jersey. He appears as an appraiser on the popular PBS series, Antiques Roadshow.
November 7, 2008 Election Views from Abroad by Angie Brenner
November 7, 2008
Election Views from Abroad
After Barack Obama’s victory Tuesday night, I asked some friends about their reactions to the news. Their words remind me how close we all are and the influence American values have across the globe:
“I guess this is a revolution. A part of the American history of racism and slavery finished two days ago. America has proven that it is a free country where anyone can be anything.
Bush is history, but a history of wounds that will be very hard to be recovered by Obama, but he will because he has been given the chance by this change.
Americans will have their honor back and probably Obama will travel to Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. It is big thing – like the Romans. America showed something deep from her heart and now America will send people to the rest of the world that is better then sending troops.
The Turkish people are so happy about it and whoever you speak to here we are just so happy. – Namik Safyurek, Kalkan, Turkey
“As I send this, we are watching a program on Barack Obama. Such great news; congratulations to you all. We feel inspired by all the positive approaches to the problems we all have.
Buzz off Bush! Welcome Obama.” – Joan and Roger Porter-Butler, Cornwall, England
Yes! what a celebration. I feel a deep sense of relief, joy, excitement and HOPE for this new order that is arising, an order that will hopefully bring greater consciousness and global connectedness, a deeper and more meaningful way of thinking and living for humanity. Obama really was chosen. I do believe this in my heart. He is a man of integrity, so needed in the USA., in the world. YIPEE! – Marina Sarles, Freeport, Bahamas
November 6, 2008 Independent Lens: Attempted Murder in Maine by Ed Cullen
November 6, 2008
Independent Lens: Attempted Murder in Maine
Knee Deep is a film the Maine tourism commission probably would just as soon as not have been made.
Against the backdrop of beautiful scenery and the camera’s loving caress of bucolic Maine, Michael Chandler and Sheila Canavan tell the story of Josh Osborne, young farmer whose parents mortgaged his future and, then, according to the film, his mother snatched it away.
This is not the Maine of E.B. White and landscape artists. Knee Deep is about the mind numbing, bone grinding work of the farmer dairyman, a life that Osborne embraces, apparently because he loves it but, perhaps, because it’s all he’s ever known.
The filmmakers tell us that Osborne plotted to have his mother killed after she threatened and, eventually, did sell the farm, a place promised to Osborne by his father in payment for making him leave school in the sixth grade to work on it. After Osborne’s father died, Osborne’s mother, who had since moved away, sold the farm and kept the money.
That’s where the story takes a dangerous twist. What Chandler and Canavan give us is a story one part love song to the man of the land and three parts Cops, where you gonna run when the cops come for you.? Though it’s suggested large that Osborne tried to hire someone to kill his mother. In any case, someone shot his mother, but that part isn’t fleshed out by the filmmakers. We have no one on camera saying Osborne approached them. Nor do we get the mother’s side of the story from the mother. The missing parts keep Knee Deep from being a great film, but it is certainly good.
Osborne comes across as simple, almost a simpleton, but by film’s end you get the feeling that he’s smart enough to almost have gotten away with murder. As it turned out, Osborne and his girlfriend, who probably fired the shot that wounded Osborne’s mother, had a parting of the ways and gave conflicting stories of the shooting. Because it was unclear who’d fired the shot, the district attorney’s case wasn’t strong, and the former lovers got off with light sentences. Osborne’s mother recovered from her wound and left Maine for good, having sold the family farm to a developer.
What saves the story from being a white-trash love song, is the filmmakers’ loving treatment of their characters and the land. Knee Deep is worth 90 minutes of your time, another reminder that commercial television shuns the work of some of the best filmmakers in the country.
Independent Lens, PBS’ Emmy Award-winning series, airs at 10 p.m. Nov. 6. For more information, visit pbs.org/independentlens/kneedeep. See pbs.org/independentlens for other offerings from Independent Lens in November.
Ed Cullen is a regular contributor to Wild River Review. His most recent piece features South African Poet, Deena Padayachee.
November 5, 2008 President-Elect, Barack Obama by Joy E. Stocke
November 5, 2008
President-Elect, Barack Obama
As Editor in Chief of Wild River Review, I write these words in awe and to put a twist on the phrase, with shock as well. I’ve returned from an election gathering on the banks of the Delaware River from which Wild River Review got its name. Downriver at a place called Washington’s Crossing – south of the town I call home and north of Trenton – in December of 1776 the British were holding firm – there was still no guarantee that the US as we know it today, would come to be.
Here is what happened:
After being driven out of New York by the British and forced to retreat to the West bank of the Delaware during the late summer of 1776, the American cause was at a low ebb. In the harsh winter Washington was faced with the annual crisis of the expiry of the Continental Army’s period of enlistment. He resolved to attack the Hessian position at Trenton on the extreme southern end of the over extended British line along the Delaware, before his army dispersed.
Washington’s plan was to cross the Delaware at three points with a force commanded by Lt Col Cadwallader with a Rhode Island regiment, some Pennsylvanians, Delaware militia and two guns, a second force under Brigadier Ewing of militia and the third commanded by himself which would cross the river above Trenton and attack the Hessian garrison in the town. Washington had as his subordinates, Major Generals Nathaniel Greene and John Sullivan.
Washington had some 2,400 men from Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.
The force paraded in the afternoon and set off for the Delaware where they embarked in a flotilla of the characteristic Delaware river boats.
It was a cold dark night and the river was running with flowing ice. At about 11pm a heavy snow and sleet storm broke. Washington’s force did not reach the east bank until around 3am. His soldiers were badly clothed and many did not have shoes.
Washington’s men then marched to Trenton, some of the men leaving traces of blood on the snow.
The German garrison comprised the regiments of Rahl, Knyphausen and Lossberg, with Hessian jagers and a troop of the British 16th Light Dragoons.
The Hessian commander Colonel Rahl had been ordered to construct defence works around the town but had not troubled to do so. On the night before the attack Rahl was at dinner when he was brought information that the Americans were approaching. He ignored the message which was found in his pocket after his death.
This is President Obama’s legacy. This is an early chapter in the story of a country where a man or woman can be more than one race, where immigrants like my grandparents made a new life, where a great experiment in democracy continues to unfold, where change is still very much possible.
November 4, 2008 Reading is wealth? by Joy E. Stocke
November 4, 2008
Reading is wealth?
Like so many others, I’ve been addicted to any and all news sources (print, web, radio) over the last few months of this presidential campaign. As a writer, I consider it part of my job to review many sources of information every day, of course. But I must say, there have been numerous times that I’ve been astounded that certain headlines like “Joe the Plumber lands book deal” seems to make CNN teletext headlines. What? Alas. Maybe I’m just jealous.
In such times, I usually turn to NPR for solace. Last Friday, I wasn’t disappointed. The show featured John Bogle, Founder of The Vanguard Mutual Fund Group on Radio Times. It was one of those pieces of radio journalism that made me stop what I was doing and simply listen.
Bogle explained the title of his most recent book, Enough, with a story. Apparently, Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller were headed to a party at a multibillionaire’s house and I paraphrase Bogle’s account, but Vonnegut turned to Joseph Heller and said something like, “Hey this guy makes more in a week than your book will ever make.”
Heller said, “That’s okay, I’ve got something he’ll never have….Enough.”
As Marti Moss-Coane said, it’s a great story.
I especially like the answer Bogle gave when a woman asked how her 15 year old son could best educate himself about how to succeed in life. She might have had something different and more direct in mind, but Bogle didn’t say, “attend my seminar”, or “take extra credit finance courses at the community college.” He said, “It’s the reading that’s the most important thing.”
November 3, 2008 The US Election: What a Difference a Year Makes- Meeting Michelle Obama by Joy E. Stocke
November 3, 2008
The US Election: What a Difference a Year Makes- Meeting Michelle Obama
In early December, 2007, I traveled with a group of Latin American trade and policy experts through Ecuador as part of a delegation accompanying Nobel Laureate, Muhammad Yunus-Opening the Gates of Capitalism. At a luncheon honoring Dr. Yunus, I sat next to Frank Sanchez, a public policy expert and former Assistant Secretary of Transportation for the Clinton Administration.
He was as gracious as his credentials were impressive, so when he told me he was now an advisor for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, I set down my glass of wine and began asking questions. The most obvious, “Why Obama?”
Obama’s name had filtered into the newspapers, but by most accounts, the 2008 Presidential nomination would go to Hilary Rodham Clinton. On the Republican side, names like Romney and Thompson led the list.
“Because Obama has the intelligence and guts to go into uncharted territory,” said Sanchez. He doesn’t doubt that his mission is to be of public service. People don’t realize that he has twelve years experience in public office in the Illinois and U.S. senates. That’s longer than Senator Clinton.”
I was intrigued. During conversations with friends across the political spectrum, when the name Obama came up, the discussion often turned to Obama’s youth and lack of experience compared to Senators Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. Sanchez went on to say that Obama’s wife Michelle was a political force as well: intelligent, as well-educated as her husband, and supremely articulate.
“I’m hosting a fundraiser for her next week,” he said. “Would you like to come?”
A week later, I stood in a crowded Tampa living room with Sanchez and fundraising organizers mesmerized by Michelle. It was just two weeks before Christmas and she had come from Iowa where her husband and Senators Hillary Clinton and John Edwards were in a tough race.
Campaign dollars mattered, and Sanchez and his team had managed to organize a sold-out event. Obama gave no hint that she was anything but prepared to go the distance with her husband. The weekend before she had appeared with her husband and Oprah Winfrey at a rally in South Carolina, a crucial state in the early primaries. That night, she courted a crowd that included black, white, and Hispanic voters.
She did it with ease and an engaging oratory style tailored to her audience, many of whom, including myself, wanted to know as much about her children as her husband. She carried a notecard, but barely used it, opening her speech with these words:
“No matter where I go, what people want to know most is, how are the girls doing. And I want to let you know that they’re doing just fine. They are fourth graders and first graders, and they don’t care about anything but Santa right now.
But it’s interesting because I think this is becoming more of a reality for them as well. I had this interesting conversation with my nine-year-old that ranged from what college did I go to? What college did she want to go to? And, what was terrorism and where was Iraq? Interesting, there’s a level of paying attention and not paying attention.
When I asked her, “How would you feel if your father won the presidency?” – she said she was excited and scared at the same time. And the fear was that she’d have to move and go to another school.
I said, “That wouldn’t be the worse thing in the world.”
So we’re holding it together pretty well.
We had a great weekend with the lady, Oprah Winfrey.She has been a good, solid friend, stepping out in a way she doesn’t have to. You know, when you are a billionaire, you don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to support anybody, let alone travel to the four early states and speak on their behalf.
So it was a wonderful experience and the enthusiasm and the energy was indescribable. They couldn’t get everyone under the structure and when Barack walked out, there were crowds lining the streets for a block, and they were cheering and waving.
It reminded me of a trip Barack and I took to Africa two years ago, the level of excitement that we saw in that country, the hope that people had just in the sheer presence of Barack Obama, a Kenyan, a black man, a man of great statesmanship who they thought could change the world…”
In Ecuador, at the end of our conversation, I asked Sanchez about the rigors of fundraising.
“First we’ve got to get through the early stages,: he said. “I’ll continue to raise money and take a larger role in Hispanic outreach. If things go really well for us – and we’ll know by mid-February – we’re only at the beginning because this race could be contested right up through June.”
The rest, to use an apt and well-worn cliche’, could be history.
Joy E. Stocke is Editor in Chief of Wild River Review.
November 1, 2008 And the Curse of William Penn, Phinally by Terrence Cheromcka
November 1, 2008
And the Curse of William Penn, Phinally
Here, in New York City, it is hard to get fully excited about the Phillies taking the World Series title for only the second time in history. It is only between classes and after finishing my schoolwork that I get a chance to think back to the hometown. It’s those rare moments when I’m, say, walking out of the gym and I see somebody wearing a “P” on their hat and it’s in that little exchange–a little brotherly/sisterly cheer– that I feel that brotherly love once again.
You wouldn’t understand unless you are from the greater Philadelphia area. It really is just that, so much greater. There is energy, a vibe, running through the streets and the blood of Philadelphia that you don’t get in New York City. There is a greater and deeper passion in the sports fans that I cannot see here that you see all over Philadelphia. Whether we deplore their names in the street or fly their flags (high above the rest) there is a certain connection with the teams that pulses through Philadelphia.
It has been a long time since the any fans have had anything to show for their intense dedication to the teams. For twenty-one years the city’s sports teams have been under the alleged “Curse of William Penn.” Since March of 1987 when One Liberty Place, the first sky-scraper to be built above the height of William Penn atop the City Hall, no professional Philadelphia sports team has been named champion. Four months ago, however, a small replica of William Penn was moved to the top of the now highest building, the Comcast Center, and allegedly the curse was broken! Finally, all the hard work paid off and the Philadelphia Phillies won the 2008 World Series.
What more does William Penn have in store for the sports fans of Philadelphia? Surely we will be rewarded for waiting ever so (well…) patiently.
Terrence Cheromcka graduated from Central Bucks High School West in June 2008 and is now attending New York
University. She is majoring in Religious Studies and exploring world religions and their histories, concepts and theories, and living practices.
October 30, 2008 How ’bout Them Phils… by Joy E. Stocke
October 30, 2008
How ’bout Them Phils…
Confession: Although a large percentage of Wild River Review’s staff reports from around the globe, many call Philadelphia, the City of Brother Love, home; or our former home. And those of us that do, turned, Tuesday night, from politics (forget infomercials, where’s the first pitch?) and the economy to cheer our 125-year-old baseball team on to its first championship in 28 years.
So there it was, game number 4 of 7. Phillies against the Tampa Bay Rays. Tuesday night: a Nor’easter blows into town pelting rain, and later sleet and snow, forcing the game to a halt after 5 innings. Last three innings to be played Wednesday night.
The Professor (see previous blog) checked in from Shanghai to say his plane was delayed and he hoped to be home for the game. No word if he made it. Don Lafferty, our social media consultant, was off the radar. Joe Glantz, author of Interviews with the Famously Departed, had departed for his living room and his television set. Webmaster, Bryan Palmer, put away his three computers.
It’s top of the ninth. Phils up by one. 31-year-old, “Lights Out,” Brad Lidge – all-time leader in strike-outs per nine innings, has two outs and two strikes, and goes in for a slider, striking out 30-year-old Eric Hinske.
The crowd cheers. Fireworks explode. Lidge drops to his knees. Catcher, Carlos Ruiz, runs forward to hug him, while frst basemen, Ryan Howard zooms in for a tackle and a team pile up.
Baseball is an equal opportunity sport. My daughter calls her dad from LA where she is on business. There’s a celebration going on in the bar in Santa Monica, she says, where she and her friend have parked themselves.
Philadelphia is a city with many challenges, a city that people love to hate, love to poke fun at, associate only with a fictional character called Rocky Balboa. But, as an interloper who lived there for twenty years, I have never seen a place so beloved to distraction by many its own citizens. And baseball of all the sports seems the most fitting to celebrate. Look at the team roster and you find members who are black, white, hispanic, older, younger, and all chewing bubble gum.
So, if you happen to be in Philadelphia on Friday, come join the parade!
Joy E. Stocke is Editor in Chief of Wild River Review.
October 29, 2008 Canton Fair Grounds by The Professor
October 29, 2008
The Long and Winding Road: Canton Fair, China – 2008
China Import and Export Fair,also called Canton Fair, is held twice a year in Spring and Autumn since it was inaugurated in the Spring of 1957. It is China’s largest trade fair of the highest level, of the most complete varieties and of the largest attendance and business turnover. Preserving its traditions, the Fair is a comprehensive and multi-functional event of international importance.
The buyer traffic at the opening of the second phase of the 104th edition of the Canton Fair was surprisingly good, in light of the gloomy economic forecasts from so many corners, including one from yours truly.
This was to be an auspicious Fair, with exhibitors finally consolidated into three new buildings
at one core location. Meanwhile, gone was the old downtown Liuha fairgrounds
and its seedy companion, the Dongfang Hotel complex across the street.
Exhibitor ID badges were upgraded to permanent hard cards with embedded data
and photos from the old paper tags with laminated passport photos.
But buyer traffic does
not always indicate sales activity, and in fact exhibitors were ruing their
prospects en masse. American buyers were
conspicuously absent, but Europeans showed up, if not to buy: The fall of the
Euro in the past thirty days had just presented the EU with a de facto 30% price
increase against the nominally greenback-pegged Chinese RMB. In fact, among all
visitors, only Middle Eastern buyers were actually buying.
There are many economic indicators beyond data like GDP, and I like to track core markers like cafe’ seat availability, restroom lines, hooker prices- that sort of thing. Regret to
inform that all these leading indicators were trending downward at the Fair.
Outside the grounds, hawkers clamored, brandishing handwritten adverts for
interpreter services and business card printing, shoving calculators and other
gadgets in buyers’ faces, shouting above each other for attention with a
decided desperation: Groundlings outside the castle walls, ever thus throughout
Another shock: blue skies, witnessed twice during this trip but never before during Canton Fair.
But when industrial output drops 30% in 30 days, you’re bound to have a little
sunshine come your way. And sure enough, the South China Morning Post’s
pollution index showed normal levels all across southern Guandong province
during my stay. Sadly not so for Hong Kong: Vehicle traffic there has
skyrocketed as more cross-border vehicle passes are awarded, clogging HK
streets with mainland cars.
No shock: As business declines, so rises temptation, and the specter of situational ethics rears its
hinky head. All across the fair, handshake deals were subsumed into survival
instinct, longtime alliances crumbled under pressure.
It turns out that the
104th Canton Fair was a 3 day show: buyer traffic evaporated quickly,
exhibitors went back to napping in the stands, and the world turned back to its
own troubles at home, with apparently no business conducted at all. If the nai-nai
of all trade fairs cannot weather this new
world economic order, where does that leave us, the groudlings outside the
More to follow…
The Professor is author of the column, Hong Kong Diary. For more then ten years he has been traveling to China His first column Fever Dreams appeared in the inaugural issue of Wild River Review.
October 25, 2008 Sending Political Emails at Work: A Guilty Pleasure By Desk Jockey
October 25, 2008
Sending Political Emails at Work: A Guilty Pleasure
Did you get the recent email
about Sarah Palin as “Head of Skate?” Or the Sarah Palin “Debate Flow Chart?”
No? Well, then, surely you’ve
seen the one where the other Sarah–Comedian Sarah Silverman– urges young Jews
to convince their grandparents in Florida to vote for Barack Obama, because his
brisket, “it’s beyond.”
If none of these political
e-mails has crossed your e-path, either you’re living in a “-Stan” country
(e.g. Turkmenistan), your Web site administrator has blocked everything but
your intranet, or you are the model of political correctness and absolutely no
fun at all.
If, however, you not only receive
such e-mails, but you actively Google them and viral them to your address book…come
sit next to me. Political incorrectness is the
principle I live by, as do 99 percent of New Yorkers for whom nothing, except a
valid MetroCard, is sacred.
Yes, I am aware that sending
political emails is a definite no-no. Particularly if you’ve set your eye on the
corner office facing Park Avenue.
So why do political junkies do it
anyway? Because save for a due-in-48-hours assignment, a nosey micromanaging
boss, or the imminent birth of a child, we damned well can.
A QUADRENNIAL EVENT
Every four years, political
e-mails become as plentiful as a politician’s promises. And this year, I would
suggest enthusiasm is running especially high because the candidates are
actually people you want to vote for.
This phenomenon was further
complicated during primary season by the fact there was a split among left-leaning
New York City Democrats. Some were die-hard “Hilldogs,” (supporters of Hillary
Clinton), while others were diagnosed Obamaniacs. A similarly competitive spirit prevailed on the G.O.P side–a
fan of Mitt Romney would sooner give rat poison to a three-year-old nephew than
cast a vote for John McCain.
As far back as January 2008, dinner
parties in New York City became as rowdy as the House of Parliament, characterized
by shouting, shaking of fists, and overturned Riedel wine glasses. All over the
slick battlefield known as Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Obamaniacs and Hilldogs
battled each other in the Oriental-carpet-covered trenches, jeopardizing
cherished relationships and swearing they’d never speak to each other (or just
plain swearing.) Hilldogs threatened they’d vote for McCain rather than Obama,
and Obamaniacs pledged to do likewise.
In short, it was messy.
This verbal war was made even
worse by the e-mail war. If you were a Hilldog, you combed the Internet looking
for anti-Obama diatribes (and you’d send them even if they were written by Pat
Buchanan!). But you had to be careful you were sending them ONLY to other
Hilldogs, or be judged a neo-Nazi.
This brings me to Rule Number # 1
for sending political e-mails: Be sure you are sending your email to an
appreciative, like-minded audience. Do not send your anti-Republican story, no
matter how cute you think it, to anyone who sells real estate to the Emperor of
Morocco for a living.
Is politics okay
to discuss openly at work? Depends
A recent survey at
the start of the primary season found that 67 percent of over 500 workers
polled thought it was just fine to discuss politics in the office.
Again, to me, that
means the other 33 percent are just no fun to be with, or have their eyes on
that corner office. Can I get that office with a plasma screen TV, please?
The courage to say it, not
just e-mail it
On a related topic, can politics ever
be discussed face-to-face instead of computer-to-computer? Sure, which brings
me to Rule Number 2: Be as polite and even toned as you possibly can in your real-time
Do not, as some Democrats
may be inclined, assert that all Republicans “should die,” just because you happen
to disagree with their policies. This may lead to your superiors storming out of
your cubicle, a severe diminution in your incentive compensation, and four
years of frosty silences in the elevator bank.
This leads me to Rule Number 3. Watch
what you post on the bulletin board–unless you are certain you are surrounded
by friends, not lunatics on the fringe who are given to getting drunk at lunch
and who frequent gun shows on the weekend.
As soon as Sarah
Palin was named Mr. McCain’s running mate in early September, some Hilldogs who
were previously unenthusiastic about Barack Obama went semi-ballistic, equating
their sudden conversion to Obamania to Saul’s on the road to Damascus. One
woman was so upset, in fact, she affixed an Obama poster to her office door.
Her openly political
actions were supported by 22 percent of respondents in another survey, who felt
the best option at work was to “stand up and be heard.” The school of
thought here is, make it more explicit, talk about what’s on your mind, so that
ill will doesn’t fester and distract you from your work.
Links to your favorite e-mails included below!
Obviously, mine is probably
not the first article dealing with the propriety of discussing politics at work.
But how many pieces have you read that include the links to all the really
For the benefit of my politically incorrect readers, and I am sure you are out there, here are some
links to a few of my favorite emails from the past several weeks. And you can
very likely access them from the links I’ve provided, as you are reading this
However, if you
still maintain political correctness, and draw the line at reading such emails
at work, then read them at home.
You may not find
Barack Obama’s recipe for brisket. But at least you’ll still have your job in
Desk Jockey writes the column From the Wilds of Manhattan. He lives and works in New York City.
Desk Jockey’s Favorite Links (not all are still live)
Sarah Palin’s Debate Flow Chart
Sarah Silverman Video
Tim Wise on White Privilege:
October 22, 2008 The Colorblind Race by Angela Ajayi
October 22, 2008
The Colorblind Race
by Angela Ajayi
Over the past few months, I have attempted to write a short piece on Barack Obama and race in America for Wild River Review, and I failed. I believe that there are two reasons for the lack of success:
One, I am a biracial person who spent my formative years outside America; and two, how can someone like me, who was fortunately raised to embrace both parental backgrounds freely, espouse a more neutral approach to race issues, without sounding rather utopic–or even worse, alarmingly out of touch with reality?
I have discovered that I cannot do so and thus, as a writer, I have chosen to focus on other matters, just as Barack Obama appears to have done during his campaign.
And in a presidential race that has been charged with racial politics, mainly brought on by John McCain’s campaign, I like to believe that this has worked in Obama’s favor, allowing him an even-handed (rather than, say, ire-filled – think Jesse Jackson) approach to accusations and misrepresentations.
I know that the issue of race remains a thorny one in America. Having grown up in Nigeria, where colonialism, and not grand-scale slavery, prevailed historically, I probably view things very differently. After eighteen years in Nigeria and the remaining in America, however, here is what I could surmise:
In Nigeria, there are more favorable associations with racial difference (though not necessarily with ethnic ones). Culturally, you are often taught to respect first – especially your elders – rather than to judge. Because through respect you maintain the invisible ties between human beings that usually give rise to stronger communities. Judging first, you see, privileges the individual whose views may or may not be based on sound reasoning.
If you closely examine more than one African country, including Kenya, you will find this particular kind of cultural mode of interaction. In fact, it is probably more pervasive on the continent than I am letting on. I try to stay away from generalizations, especially in regards to Africa, however — it is a writerly rule and I think the U. S. mainstream media does that job quite well already.
In any case, it is not difficult to see which approach Obama has adopted throughout his political life – and which one his opponent has favored more consistently.
Directly or indirectly, Obama’s early days away from mainland America, coupled with his father’s African identity, appear to have shaped his approach to racial matters. I fail to do justice to his mother’s influence in this short piece, though I imagine it was just as positively formative since she, like my European mother, was open to a relationship with man of another race.
So, I ask, as per Cornel West’s assertion, does race matter? Yes.
At all times? No.
In life, we do not always get to choose our battles – but once embroiled in them, we are free to choose our approach or focus. Be it one that is short or far-sighted, self-serving or not, we lose or we win in the end.
Come November 4th, whether Republicans or Democrats win the election, Obama, whose approach has been nothing short of respectful, even in response to gratuitous criticism on race matters, has – and we all know this – won, in more ways than one.
Angela Ajayi is a regular contributor to Wild River Review. Her interview with Marguerite Abouet, author of the graphic novel, Aya of Yop City, has just been published in the book’s second edition.
October 20, 2008 A SLOW MADNESS By Angie Brenner
October 20, 2008
A SLOW MADNESS
By Angie Brenner
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot, dry, Santa Anas that comes down through the mountain passes and curls your hair and makes your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that, every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husband’s necks. Anything can happen.”
– Raymond Chandler
The winds have finally stilled this morning. For five days they blew, relentlessly, from the east. They are the dreaded desert winds that form in the cold California deserts between October and March and clear pollution and more often fan fiery flames. In France, they are the Mistral; Italy has the Sirocco winds and Egypt the Khamsin. Australia is more straightforward and simply calls them The Desert Winds. A natural phenomena that we learn to live with, or do we?
With air humidity in single digits, skin dries, it seems, from the inside out. I only have to look at a piece of paper caught in the air and watch the edges curl and brown to understand how moisture is sucked slowly out of my pores. Fingers and feet crack and bleed, noses can be blown with a chisel, hair crackles with electricity. There’s not enough Lubriderm in the world to soothe the skin during a full Santa Ana.
The wind whips the oak branches and scrapes against the roof keeping sleep at bay – day after day. This unceasing monster is what must have helped to create myths of underworld spirits. By day three, I felt like the goddess Medea ready for revenge and death. My hair wildly unmanageable, every face crease deepened, REM sleep deprived, I could only throw covers over my head – my version of the underworld – and wait out the beast. I’ve read accounts of people experiencing the 1930s dust bowl and never being the same. These witchy winds carry positive ions that cause and enhance depression, anxiety, and exhaustion.
On day four I thought I was dying. My stomach churned, head pounded, chest burned and clenched. Earlier, I was asked whether the wind drove me crazy because of the eminent, and very real, threat of fires. I passed it off. “No,” I said. “I really don’t think about this unless it actually happens.” I’m not one to worry in advance. But at 11:00pm, I searched the Internet for clues as to my remarkable, unpredictable condition. Indigestion? Heartburn? These seemed unlikely considering my bland diet of yogurt and soup that day.
Then there was the word that popped up as a possible cause to my symptoms: stress. Maybe I wasn’t so immune to anticipated disaster as I thought. After several evacuations from my home during past Santa Ana wind fires, and watching friend’s and neighbor’s homes burn to the ground, perhaps my subconscious is more in tune with reality than my mind.
When everything around you is crashing and blowing, denial is often a lovely place in which to dwell. Yet, my body is asking for more out of me. Perhaps it is time to get together my emergency disaster kit – just in case. Maybe being prepared for the worst would calm unknown fears that harbor in the body. And maybe, I need to high-tail it to the Pacific Coast for a quick dose of negative ions.
Angie Brenner is West Coast Editor for Wild River Review. She is completing a book about Turkey where she finds relief in the local hamams. The Steamy Side of Istanbul
October 19, 2008 Thinking Otherwise: Legislation Creates Reality By William Irwin Thompson
October 19, 2008
Thinking Otherwise: Legislation Creates Reality
By William Irwin Thompson
“We Irish Think Otherwise.” Bishop Berkeley
Will the Treasury’s buying into the troubled banks rescue the economy of the democratic nation-state, or will it create an even tighter merger of big corporations and government? We need to remember that the depression of the 1930s brought forth fascism on the Right as well as the New Deal on the Left. And in the case of Franco’s Spain, fascism was not just a wedding of business and militarism, but of a state religion as well.
So the Evangelicals’ call for an end to the separation of Church and State, their attacks on intellectuals and science, and their desire to replace the republic with “the Kingdom,” should put the fear of God into the citizenry. Our capitalists are afraid of socialism and communism, but if this merger of the Treasury and the banks is not managed in the interests of the citizen-taxpayers – as Obama called for in the last Presidential debate – but only of the banks and the Fed and the military-industrial sector for expanded conflicts in Afghanistan and Iran, then we could end up in the authoritarian capitalism of Russia and China and have crawled out of purgatory only to slide into hell.
From a constructivist point of view, legislation creates reality. Consider the British Enclosure Acts that broke up the medieval web of obligations between laird (lord) and crofter (tenant) and declared that the commons were henceforth to be the private property of the lairds. This redefinition of society, as the historian E. P. Thompson has pointed out, was a clear act of theft from one class by another. But since the crofters did not sit in the Houses of Parliament, this act of thievery became an Act of Parliament.
With the ensuing Highland Clearances, the crofters were told they could leave as they were going to be replaced by sheep on the lairds’ estates. Some drifted south and became the new industrial proletariat of Manchester and Birmingham; the lucky ones had their passage to Canada paid by a compassionate laird, and there the Scots-Irish made a new start in a new world by doing to the native Americans what the lairds had done to them. Those who came to the United States took out their hatred on Indians, Blacks, and Catholics, and contributed to the eventual rise of the Klu Klux Klan. Sadly, these are my people, and not just Senator James Web’s.
When England began its shift from an agricultural kingdom to an industrial nation-state in the Glorious Revolution of 1689, the factory system did not yet exist. Legislation had to be created to pave the way for the modern state. What needed to come first was the establishment of a new banking system. The Dutch intelligentsia following William and Mary to England made their Bank of Amsterdam the model for the new Bank of England. With government helping to establish capital for investment, the Dutch helped to refinance the construction of Great Britain’s infra-structure of roads and canals. With a decent infra-structure in place, only then were factories and economies of scale viable and worth the risk of investment.
The Glorious Revolution of 1689 gave rise to the birth of the modern nation-state, and this was the modern world that Hamilton wanted to bring to revolutionary America and Jefferson hoped to block with his vision of an agrarian republic with its pastoral fantasy of: “That government is best that governs least.” But the visions of Hamilton and Jefferson were both plutocratic and not in the least democratic. Eighteenth century men of property feared democracy as the rule of the urban mob.
If reality follows legislation, and we bring forth new polities we are not prepared for, then we now should be very watchful with this new legislation the U.S. Government has set into place. If the public Treasury’s investment into the banks and mortgage houses is not seen as public equity that requires a return on investment to the citizenry, but instead is seen as a new commons to be privatized by the corporations, then we have simply reinvented the fascist state with its partnership of government with giant corporations.
We need to rethink the design of the democratic nation-state. This task will require a President even more visionary than FDR. Obama could grow into this role, once secure in his office, but, judging by his health plan, Obama’s centrist economic adviser Austan Goolsbee doesn’t seem to be imaginative enough to be able to rethink the economy. The Greens and the Democratic Left are going to need to lean on Obama’s centrist team very hard if, as it seems now, McCain’s sarcastic, condescending, and toxic personality as an ill-tempered old man in the debates h
as already flattened him like roadkill on the light speed internet highway of history, and it is to be the cool and more Presidential Obama who is going to have to respond to the new challenges of our time.
Poet and Cultural Historian-William Irwin Thompson-writes regularly for Wild River Review.
October 17, 2008 A Different Kind of Shareholder by Kim Nagy
October 17, 2008
A Different Kind of Shareholder
by Kim Nagy
From May to November, I kind of feel like Christmas comes around once a week.
That’s because I’m a shareholder at Honey Brook Organic Farm (http://www.honeybrookorganicfarm.com/) in New Jersey, the largest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiative of its kind in the U.S.
It’s not just the delicious food that I could never afford at Whole Foods, the variety of vegetables that makes me feel like a kid in a candy shop. It’s also the sense of peace that floods through me when I finally get to the farm at the end of every Monday (our pick-up day). In the heat of the summer, it is still sweaty at 7, but as the sun sets a soft pink against wide open fields, we pick snap dragons and zinnias, tomatoes and green beans, and I relax in my focus on one task–picking, picking, pickin–with the scent of soil and fresh herbs all around us. I’ve been taking my daughter here since the first year of her life, I’ve seen her gorge on fresh picked raspberries, cherry tomatoes, crunchy green and red peppers and she is now convinced that fresh organic green beans are among her favorite foods (of course ice cream is up there too).
By autumn, we head to the farm much earlier and a fresh chill (along with butternut squash and sunflowers) replaces the mid summer humidity. I watch my fellow shareholders walk by with their baskets and cloth bags full of produce (right now in October, there is broccoli, parsley swiss chard, carrots, lettuce, green beans, kale and cilantro) but there is not a wallet or credit card in sight. That’s because we all had to invest in the farm almost a year ago. As with any investment, it’s true there is risk, say if a crop or a number of crops fail. But the farm is very well managed and during my four years of membership, I know I am not alone when I say that I wouldn’t trade my investment in my local farm for the world. In fact, there is a waiting list every year for new members hoping to join.
Michael Pollan wrote an open letter to the U.S. presidential candidates in last weeks’ New York Times Magazine– http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/12/magazine/12policy-t.html and it got me thinking. Pollan warns the candidates that food itself is fast becoming a national security issue, and that what once looked like one key to progress–cheap food production–might ultimately be a very bad long term investment. Pollan connects decades of food production (that shifted from polyculture to monoculture) to major health problems, climate change, and over-reliance on fossil fuels.
“This, in brief, is the bad news: the food and agriculture policies you’ve inherited — designed to maximize production at all costs and relying on cheap energy to do so — are in shambles, and the need to address the problems they have caused is acute. The good news is that the twinned crises in food and energy are creating a political environment in which real reform of the food system may actually be possible for the first time in a generation. The American people are paying more attention to food today than they have in decades, worrying not only about its price but about its safety, its provenance and its healthfulness. There is a gathering sense among the public that the industrial-food system is broken. Markets for alternative kinds of food — organic, local, pasture-based, humane — are thriving as never before. All this suggests that a political constituency for change is building and not only on the left: lately, conservative voices have also been raised in support of reform.”
Ah. That’s where we all come in…No matter what your political persuasion, if there seems one lesson in the last couple of months, it is that we shortchange future generations when we try to get more for less. We shortchange ourselves when we live beyond our means because we forget that which ultimately matters most . Food, shelter, friends, family, community. All I can say is, I know where I am investing again next year.
NOTE: For a guide to local CSA’s. http://www.localharvest.org/
October 16, 2008 The Debates – Round Three by Bill Gaston
October 16, 2008
The Debates – Round Three
by Bill Gaston, Wild River Review Politics Editor
Obama vs. McCain: Round 3
Wednesday night’s third and final Presidential debate at Hofstra was devoted to domestic policy, and represented John McCain’s perhaps last gasp in trying to close the gap with Barack Obama who has been surging impressively in the polls.
McCain may well have delivered his strongest, most aggressive and coherent performance ever. But Obama more than held his own, and snap polls conducted after the debate showed Barack winning independents and undecideds by a nearly two to one margin.
For his part, McCain scored well on tax policy, education, and judicial selection, and made a lame stab at bringing up the Bill Ayers business (which I’m convinced no one any longer gives a crap about). And although Obama appeared lethargic at times, and sort of going through the motions, he was effective when the discussion turned to health care, his choice of Joe Biden for VP, and his defense of abortion rights.
McCain’s stage tics could fill an encyclopedia for bad mannerisms. He laughed at his own jokes, rolled his eyes repeatedly, and looked like he was ready to explode at various points during the debate. During a discussion of school vouchers, after Obama argued about the inconclusive success of the program, McCain snarked back, “Because there’s not enough vouchers; therefore, we shouldn’t do it, even though it’s working. I got it.”
McCain’s sarcasm and obvious disdain for Obama’s eloquence was manifest. As a tactical maneuver, it was one McCain might come to regret, especially this late in the game as he tries to woo independents, who are fleeing in droves to Obama. On abortion rights, he seemed to mock Obama’s support for permitting exceptions for the health of the mother.” Just again, the example of the eloquence of Senator Obama. He’s for health of the mother. You know, that’s been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything.
Ah. That’s the extreme pro-abortion position, quote, “health.”
Bottom line: the trajectory of the race has not changed. All the major polls now show Obama opening up nationwide leads in the 7-10% range, and in command of most of the key battleground states.
Maybe we’ll find our way out of Nixonland after all.
Bill Gaston’s review of Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland was recently published in Wild River Review.
October 15, 2008 Dangling Conversations by Joy E. Stocke
October 15, 2008
by Joy E. Stocke
“There is no such thing as conversation. It is an illusion. There are intersecting monologues. That is all.”
Dame Rebecca West, author of-Black Lamb and Grey Falcon-
My father shared the above quote with me during a phone conversation a few weeks ago before the collapse of the financial markets and before I had the opportunity to see Barack Obama speak at a rally outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
I learned too late that John McCain was in Philadelphia on Tuesday. I would have liked to have heard and seen him simply to make a comparison. For what I and the crowd of five thousand saw in Obama was a Presidential Candidate who, in the midst of his speech–which was, of course, a monologue–managed to make us feel as if we were actually in conversation.
Obama has been criticized for his so-called “aloofness.” He was anything but. In the midst of all that has happened the past few weeks, I couldn’t help thinking about his stand against the war in Iraq, one which was prescient. But I am also including excerpts and links to President Bush’s speech and John McCain’s speech. And pose this question: When do intersecting monologues become conversations?
Here is part of the text from President Bush’s speech the night of the US-led invasion March 19, 2003:
“Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly – yet, our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.
Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory.”
Here is what Barack Obama said in October, 2002:
“I don’t oppose all wars. My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton’s army…I don’t oppose all wars. After September 11, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I support this adminsitration’s pledge to hunt down and root out show who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such a tragedy from happening
I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and the other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives and hardships at home.
What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income, to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression…”
And John McCain:
“Saddam Hussein is on a crash course to construct a nuclear weapon – as he was in 1981 when Israel preemptively destroyed his reactor at Osirak, enabling U.S. forces to go into Iraq a decade later without the threat of nuclear attack, and as he was in 1990, when he thought development of such a weapon, if completed in time, would have deterred American military action against him, allowing him to secure his control over his neighbors and dominate the region.
Saddam has masterfully manipulated the international weapons inspections regime over the course of a decade, enabling him to remain in power with his weapons of mass destruction intact, and growing in lethality. He knows how to play for time, and how to exploit divisions within the international community, greased by the prospect of oil contracts for friendly foreign powers…”
It’s worthwhile to remember weapons inspector, Hans Blix, who scoured Iraq looking for, and not finding, weapons of mass destruction. What if the powers that be had started a conversation, one that would have kept Hussein in check while we continued our search for bin Laden in Afghanistan? What if? Worthless questions. Better to ask ourselves, who should we choose to lead us as our world grows ever-more interconnected?
Joy E. Stocke is editor-in-chief of Wild River Review. She has traveled extensively through Turkey and has visited checkpoints at the Iran, Iraq, and Syrian Borders- Rumi and Coke
October 13, 2008 Bring on the Debate? by Bill Gaston
October 13, 2008
Bring on the Debate?
by Bill Gaston
As the U.S. presidential candidates prepare for their third and final debate, I can’t help thinking it HAS to be better than the second. What a snoozer! I did my mighty best to stay awake for the “fireworks,” but they never surfaced.McCain and Obama appeared more practiced and polished with their talking points, although McCain struck me as peevish and irritable, with his relentless pacing around the stage. Yet, somehow the sizzle was missing. If I never again hear McCain utter the phrase “my friends,” I will be a happy man. A few points worth mentioning:
On national security, McCain, with no dose of irony, branded himself the “steady hand at the tiller.” Given his death-defying stunts of the last two weeks – suspending his campaign, threatening to cancel the first debate – this was laughably off target, and demonstrated zero self reflection. Reminding the audience of McCain’s penchant for off-the-cuff belligerence (“bomb, bomb Iran” and annihilating North Korea), Obama torpedoed McCain’s attempt to paint himself as the “somber” and sober commander in chief.
On health care, Obama effectively sliced through McCain”s plan for a $5000
health care tax credit, with the story (no doubt heard before on the
stump) of his ailing mother’s battles with insurance companies while
clinging to life in a hospital. This story drove home the real life challenges facing Americans
trying to cope with a broken health care system, particularly over the
horror known as “pre-existing conditions.” Kudos to Obama for calling health care a basic American “right,” (McCain called it a “responsibility.)
McCain unveiled a new $300 billion plan to bail out struggling homeowners. At the same time, he alluded to
cutting back Social Security benefits (has he given up trying to win
Florida?), and called for an “across the board” freeze in federal spending. Even conservatives must have been shaking
their heads and wondering where is the intellectual consistency.
With his lackluster performance, even the most die-hard
supporters of John McCain must now see the writing on the wall. Movement conservatives are primed for
slaughter in November, and John McCain has been set up to be the sacrificial
lamb. Apres McCain, le deluge.
Bill Gaston is Politics Editor for Wild River Review.
Editor’s Note: The Nobel Prize Committee has announced that Economist and New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, has been awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics. For more from Bill Gaston on Krugman, please see his Sept 20 entry in WRR@Large or read Gaston’s review of Krugman’s latest book-The Conscience of a Liberal.
October 12, 2008 And Now for Something Completely Different…Part 2 by Rae Ann Banker
October 12, 2008
And Now for Something Completely Different…Part 2
by Rae Ann Banker
(Editor’s Note: To read Part One of our two-part series on the story of Navaratri, scroll down to previous entry – October 10, 2008. The story is taken from the Hindu Epic Poem, The Chandi Path)
In answer to the King of Thought’s marriage proposal, the goddess Durga, Mother of All, has asked to meet the King on the battlefield of consciousness. If the King defeats her, she will marry him, and so she sends the King’s Ambassador back with her decision…
The ambassador was not at all sure that this was an answer that the King of Thought would accept. Still, the Goddess was smiling, and vows are important, so he hurried back to the King, hoping that everything would be okay.
He started with the good news, “Oh, great King, your bride awaits you!”
And then the bad news: “First, she insists on fulfilling her vow. She will only marry the King who defeats her on the battlefield. I’m sure it won’t be a problem. Just win and proceed to the wedding.”
You might think that the King of Thought would agree to the Goddess’s request and stage a small battle to help her fulfill her vow. Alas, that didn’t happen. Instead, he sent his General, Sinful Eyes, and an army of 6000 Unskillful Thoughts to force the Goddess to come to him.
As you may have guessed, the Mother of All defeated them very quickly.
Now, the King of Thought, also called Self-Conceit, was enraged. He called for his brother, Self Deprecation to lead a great army of demons. (Behind their backs, the demons called the brothers “Too Much” and “Too Little.”)
“Let the Thoughts Born of Calamity, and the Thoughts Born of Perplexed Hearts, and the Recurring Thoughts and Fears of the Unknown, be ready for war!” bellowed the King.
The army was ready in an instant and they set off to meet the great Goddess.
The battle began. The King of Thought and his brother, Self-Deprecation, threw their vast army against the Goddess who rode out to meet them on the back of a lion. In endless waves, the demons assaulted her and she dispatched them all with her mighty weapons, many composed of mantras or holy chants.
(Devyah Kavacham, Argala Stotram, Kilakam
Because of worldly attachments we become dead to our spiritual lives. Reciting this mantra we remember our spirituals Selves, and become to restored to life.)
Fearful and chaotic thoughts flew at the Goddess. Her chant grew stronger. The demon of self deprecation grew weaker, his arrogance burning until he fell on the ground and died. Enraged, the King of Thought attacked the Goddess, hurling missiles of self doubt, anger, suspicion, lies.
But he was no match for her. Her mind cleansed by mantra, she cut the bow of charioteer and killed him. The King of Thought lunged at her. She lifted her pike.
Although he faced defeat, the King of Thought would not surrender. So Durga had no choice. She pierced him in the chest with her pike and threw him to the ground.
He fell and his death rattle shook the earth, its oceans, islands and mountains. And when all the world was still, the universe was pleased and the sky became clear. The flaming clouds of confusion became tranquil, and the rivers flowed in their courses.
The minds of the multitudes of gods and goddesses filled with joy and the celestial minstrels began to sing sweet songs. The sacred fires burned brilliantly in peace…”
Commentary from RaeAnn Banker-I love this story. Of course, I like the parts when the Goddess is cleverly answering the King of Thoughts and his Ambassador, much more than I enjoy the battle itself. When I read about the battle, I want to identify with the Divine Feminine, the Mother of All, but so often my life has a lot more in common with the King of Thoughts.
It’s unpleasant to see myself in all the churning and upheaval between Self-Conceit and his brother, Self-Deprecation. “Too Little” and “Too Much” hits too close to home.
One of my favorite chapters from the Chandi, however, is Chapter 11. After the Goddess has laid the army of chaotic thoughts to rest, all the gods and goddesses return to sing her praises. Verse 2 says they praise her “because of the fulfillment of their desire.” They have been waiting for the defeat of the King of Thoughts and his armies, and when the battle is over they bow to her with hymns of gratitude.
This resonates for me and gives me peace. In those rare moments when the chaos of my thoughts is swept away to reveal the silence that is always waiting, I feel the beginning of who I really am. Too Little and Too Much are silenced and whatever I am is enough.
RaeAnn Banker is an ongoing student of Parvathi Nanda Nath Saraswati. After teaching the Iyengar style of yoga for several years, Banker studied the Saraswati method under Parvathi and now offers classes in both traditions. She owns-Saraswati River Yoga School-in New Hope, PA.
October 10, 2008 And Now for Something Completely Different… Navaratri – The Story of Durga by RaeAnn Banker
October 10, 2008
And Now for Something Completely Different…
Navaratri – The Story of Durga
Navaratri, which means Nine Nights of the Goddess, is an ancient festival in the Hindu tradition based on the lunar calendar, and corresponding to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Both holidays begin at new moon and end when the moon reaches its mid-point, ushering in the New Year.
What separates Navaratri from holidays and festivals in other cultures and traditions is that it celebrates the Divine Feminine in the incarnation of Durga, the Divine Mother. Some of the most well-known stories of Durga are combined in a beautiful Sanskrit text-the Devi Mahatmyam-or Chandi Path – which brings together many hymns to Durga and stories of her various victories over the demons of the ego.
These hymns and stories have been chanted in the oral tradition for thousands of years, but were collected and written down between the eighth and fourteenth centuries of the Common Era into a text called the Chandi Path. The Chandi Path is chanted in Sanskrit and rarely translated, as the literary meaning of the verses is much less important than the power of experiencing them, whether through chanting them or arranging for them to be chanted by someone else.
In the story that follows, Durga must triumph over the most dangerous of adversaries: the Lord of Thought:
When Durga-the Divine Mother-defeated The Great Ego in battle, all the other the gods and goddesses came to praise her, singing a grand hymn of celebration. The beautiful hymn reached Durga’s ears and she came out of her palace.
However, the hymn drew the attention of other beings as well. Two wily demons, Passion and Anger, came to the river to see why all the gods and goddesses had gathered together in one place. When they saw the beauty of Durga, they ran back to their master, Sumbha, the Lord of Thought, as fast as they could go.
“Oh, Greatest of all, we have found the perfect wife for you,”Passion panted. “She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Now that you have inherited the entire kingdom from the Ego, and you have the best palaces, jewels and chariots, you must have the best wife, too. Marry this woman, and all the universe will know that you are the greatest being of all!” “
“Hmm,” Sumbha replied. “She’s really that beautiful, you say?” He thought for barely a moment. “Fine then!”
He called forth his favorite ambassador – He who Appears to be a Friend – and ordered him, “Go and present my proposal of marriage. You have a honeyed tongue – you know what a beautiful woman wants to hear. Use some sweet words to lure her to my side, and be quick about it!”
Now, Sumbha, Lord of Thought, was also known as Self-Conceit, and should have gone to woo the Great Goddess himself. His lackeys, Passion and Anger, hadn’t even seen the true nature of Durga. He should have known that it is never wise to send a lackey to propose marriage to any goddess, let alone Durga, Mother of All.
But, Sumbha was a very foolish demon.
When “He Who Appears to Be A Friend”arrived at Durga’s palace, he did his best to let her know how great his master was.
“Oh, Most Beautiful Mother of all,” the ambassador breathed, “I bring you the best offer of your life. My master, The King of Thought, desires your hand in marriage. Since the death of the Great Ego, my master is now King of all Ego and Thoughts. He has the best of everything: palaces, armies, jewels. He could have any woman he desires, but he wants you–isn’t that wonderful? Now, array yourself in your finest robes and come quickly with me–you shall marry my master tonight.”
Durga, who was very wise, knew that the ambassador would not be able to hear any sensible answer. So she replied very sweetly, “What you say about the King of Thought is very true–he is the wealthiest King in all the earth. Many women would be delighted to become his Queen, but unfortunately, I have taken a vow only to marry the one who can defeat me in battle.”
Durga lowered her voice and fluttered her magnificent eyelashes, “Please convey my thanks to the King of Thought for his gracious offer. I was young when I made this vow, but what can I do? I can’t break my word – please tell your Master to search elsewhere for a bride.”
“He Who Appears to Be a Friend” was terrified to go back to Sumbha empty-handed. He knew what his reception would be and he wasn’t wrong.
“What?” roared the King of Thought, when the ambassador relayed the Goddess’s answer. “Search elsewhere for a bride? Who does she think she is? And more importantly, doesn’t she know who I am? Go back and tell her to come along willingly. If she refuses, drag her back here by her hair.”
The miserable ambassador made his weary way back to the Great Goddess’s palace. “Oh, foolish Beauty,” he said, “My Master is so angry. Please reconsider your answer right away. I have orders to drag you out of here by your hair if you refuse.”
Durga knew the ambassador was totally clueless. And She knew the King of Thought was so blinded by his distorted self-image that he couldn’t see anything else, but his desire. It was time to stop these foolish Thoughts at their source. The Mother of the Universe smiled at “He Who Appears to Be a Friend.”
“Oh, very well,” she sighed. “I agree to marry your Master. But first, of course, I must fulfill my vow. Please ask your King to come and meet me on the field of battle. Since he is so great, I’m sure he’ll have no trouble at all defeating me, and then we can be married right away.”
To be continued…
RaeAnn Banker is an ongoing student of Parvathi Nanda Nath Saraswati. After teaching the Iyengar style of yoga for several years, Banker studied the Saraswati method under Parvathi and now offers classes in both traditions. She owns-Saraswati River Yoga School-in New Hope, PA.
Octobere 8, 2008 The American Elections by William Irwin Thompson
October 8, 2008
The American Elections
by William Irwin Thompson
“We Irish think otherwise.” Bishop Berkeley
Enough already! Counting back to when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama started running for the presidency, the American Presidential election is orders of magnitude too long. Although I am Irish-American, let’s hear it for the Brits and the United Empire Loyalist Canadians whose elections last only six weeks. (By the way, although you’d never know it, the Canadians too are having an election.) The American Presidential election is the NFL Superbowl, NBA March Madness, and the World Series rolled into one, with just as much food for thought as a ballpark hot dog or a nutritionless Twinkie.
On Tuesday night, two zombies sleep walked through their tired lines, both exhausted from the sleepless nights of a Voodoo campaign that did not raise the dead, but did bury alive one used-to-be Democrat and one formerly maverick Republican. Now Barack promises to “kill” Osama, invade Pakistan, not bring the troops home but move them to Afghanistan, and continue our NATO encirclement with a tighter Iron Curtain around Russia with Allied forces backing up Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrghstan.
And maverick McCain has become as sleazy and dirty as tricky Dick Nixon campaigning against Helen Gahagan Douglas – and I am actually old and wise enough to remember that campaign because I lived in L.A. back in those good old McCarthy Days that McCain and Palin are trying to bring back. The military-industrial complexes of both Russia and the U.S.A. must be happy with this prospect of another huge Eurasian world war straight out of Orwell.
For the moment, let’s forget the candidates, and try to fix the electoral process. If we want to have a democratic republic and not a decadent Roman Empire, we need to do something along the following lines:
1 – Shorten elections to six weeks.
2 – Ban all political commercials.
3 – Have the candidates of the major and minor league parties present their ideas fully on C-Span, with web-casting on the Internet and radio. There should be no more questions from media anchors with the absurd limit of two minute responses on complex issues that just might affect the survival of humanity. No one wants Castro’s five hour speeches, but 20 minutes might be better than two on such critical issues as the war in Iraq or the global economic crisis. Let the pundits and members of the chattering classes shout at one another to their hearts’ content elsewhere on their own programs on network and cable TV, radio, and the Internet.
Yeah, I know, I’m from outer space, whereas Democrats are from Venus and Republicans from Mars. Do me a favor, on the long nights of the coming winter, turn off your TV and read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Cultural Historian William Irwin Thompson writes regularly for Wild River Review.
October 7, 2008 My Friend is a Racist by Erin Riley
October 7, 2008
My Friend is a Racist?
by Erin Riley
I love my friend. I’ve loved her for thirty years. But, how do I reconcile this?
And how do I know? Well, I don’t know for sure, but I suspect.
Here’s how it all went down:
First, I have NEVER brought up the topic of politics with my friend. I know better, but I let my guard down. We were out to breakfast, giggling and chatting as we always do when I asked, “So what do you think of Sarah Palin?”
“She’s fabulous,” replied my friend.
“I think she’s ignorant,” I answered.
And then to my surprise, my friend said, “I think YOU’RE ignorant.”
My friend is a lifelong Democrat. A liberal. Pro-choice. A vegetarian for forty years who believes it’s wrong to kill animals for food. She disagrees with everything Palin stands for, yet she’s fallen under her spell.
“I’m voting for McCain/Palin,” my friend says. She tells me that McCain can keep Americans safe; that although we never should have gone to war, we’re in one now and he has war experience.
I tell her that I believe John McCain does not care one iota about her safety because if he did, he would not have chosen a running mate with zero foreign policy experience. One that, if the not so unimaginable happened, would be the most unprepared Commander in Chief in American history. McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin absolutely disqualifies him as Mr. “Country First,” I say. “It’s McCain first and the Republican party first. And you, my friend are dead last.”
Then the truth comes out. Well, it actually slips out. My friend says, “I’m sick of Democrats giving all my money to black people.”
I nearly choke on my food. When I recover, I reply, “But you’re okay with Republicans giving all your money to fight a war half way around the world.”
And in that moment, I see the truth. My friend, a life-long Democrat, pro-choice, supporter of gay marriage, vegetarian, is also a racist.
I can’t change her. She grew up in suburban New Jersey in a close-minded household. I grew up in New York City, attended Public School 84 in the time of bussing, and where I was a minority. My class photos look like a meeting at the United Nations.
I still love my friend, but I won’t talk politics with her again. I will never look at her the same way, but
I also can’t throw away 30 years of close friendship because she wasn’t afforded the same open-minded upbringing I received.
I will vote with my conscience on November 4th and pray that the best man – no matter what his color – is in the White House on January 20th.
Erin Riley has spent over 25 years in the music business.
From the latest issue of Wild River Review: Aristotle’s Ghost.
October 6, 2008 Books Without Borders – An Update on the Independents by Gregory Frost
October 6, 2008
Books Without Borders – An Update on the Independents
by Gregory Frost
A month after I wrote -Books Without Borders- and not long after I had joined Indieboud.org, the independent booksellers organization that every author concerned about seeing independents thrive should join, I learned Abebooks, which I’d named in the article, had been purchased by Amazon.com.
Abebooks had become quite a success story. An affiliation of independent used bookstores all over, Abebooks was a great resource for finding out-of-print works. No surprise that to Amazon – which more and more offers used copies as an alternative to purchasing a new one (at a discount!) – it looked tasty and they gobbled it up. But it means that Abebooks is no longer an independent entity at all, and presumably the bookstores still participating through Abebooks will be Amazon partners now. I would be curious to know how many jump ship.
This is the thing about success. When you reach a certain level, someone comes along and throws money at you to change your mind. If you’re a retailer, that money says, “Sell your business to us and go do something else with your cash.” If you’re a writer, it’s Here’s a bunch of cash for you provided you just keep writing the same thing over and over again. You know, when someone offers you a million dollar advance, are you NOT going to write the sequel to Dune?
To quote Dudley Moore, “Of course I took the money.”
Of course you did.
The artist is always walking that tightrope. We want to have success. We want publishers beating down the door to buy our next book; we want galleries clamoring to show our work. It’s impossible to imagine anyone saying, “You know that now that you’ll pay a quarter of a million dollars for my next piece, I think I’ll go do something else.”
What generally happens, though, is that the entity handing you the money starts dictating what you are to work on next. More soup cans, Andy. More line drawings, PIcasso. More “Dune” books, Frank. There’s a price paid in freedom there. I’m not saying it’s good or it’s bad, just that it’s inevitable.
The same is true for the bookseller. If you’re just eking out a living and a big chain comes up and says, “Here’s a lot of cash if you’ll sell us your location,” well, why wouldn’t you take the money and go off and start someplace else? Or retire?
Then again, Amazon’s thriving. Not so the physical chains. Independent booksellers remain the best hope for disseminating the spectrum of ideas, essays and books that keep the world from becoming a homgenous mass of insipidness.
It’s “Banned Books Week” once again in America as I write this, and there is no testament to art than that it can rattle somebody’s cage. So long as we are troubling someone through presentation of knowledge and ideas, and literature, then we’re doing our jobs as writers, as artists.
And the independents are seeing to it that no single conservative corporate behemoth can crush those voices or hide those truths that might make someone nervous. The partnership continues.
Gregory Frost’s latest book -LORD TOPHET- is the second and concluding SHADOWBRIDGE novel from Del Rey (Random House) Books.
October 4, 2008 The Vice Presidential Debate – Soundbites over Substance? by William Irwin Thompson
October 4, 2008
The Vice Presidential Debate – Soundbites over Substance?
by William Irwin Thompson
“We Irish think Otherwise.” Bishop Berkeley
Well, Sarah Palin didn’t stampede off the cliff, as she did in the Katie Couric interviews. She was just folks, populist, cute, and not too smart – just the way most conservative men want their women done. In fact, she upstages John McCain and makes him look like the grumpy old sour balls he is.
Of course, Palin rarely answered the question, and shifted her time to reciting little speechlets her coachers had drilled into her, but she did not self-destruct, and for her that was a success.
Poor Joe Biden! If he had beaten Sarah up, or appeared arrogant and superior, people’s hearts would have gone out to her, and the fact that she was wrong on most everything wouldn’t matter.
And she was. She recited all the old suburban Goldwater/Reagan cliches about government getting in the way, and that the solution was to cut taxes and let America roll up its sleeves and go to work – this in the state that is a colony of the federal government, this at a time when that philosophy of tax cuts and deregulation has degraded public education and created the greatest economic mess since the Great Depression!
I don’t think the people in New Orleans want government to be as ineffective as it has been. And whenever “the Big One” hits California, even the Reaganites are going to be scared and pleading for help from Big Government and hoping that it still has enough tax revenues in the Treasury to be able to help.
But Palin’s worst, distorting, ignoble, Nixonian stupidity of the night was her claim that Biden wanted to raise “the white flag of surrender in Iraq.” General Petreus himself has said that Iraq is not a conventional war that can be “won” in some old-fashioned conventional way, that it is a militarized political operation. Palin and McCain’s vision of the troops marching home in victory parades, with bands playing in all the kiosks of small town America’s parks is precisely the kind of out-dated military thinking that is useless in our age of economic and ecological crises. Our leaders need to be smart, not delusional like McCain and ignorant like Palin.
But the night was a success too for Joe, for he did not fall into the trap of hammering her down into the floor boards, or patronizing the little woman. Considering how patronizing McCain had been with Obama, Joe and Sarah were civil and even agreed on a few issues. They ended up taking political discourse up to a new post-Rove level of politeness that Obama has been calling for all along. From this perspective, Palin upstages McCain, and now whenever they are together, folks will be bored with him and looking at her. You betcha! With her flapjack accent and her scrambled eggs syntax, she’s a new loveable character straight out of a TV sitcom – with the right wing media providing the canned laughter and applause. In the mental nursing homes of TV America, Sarah has won their the hearts!
So they both won, because no one really wins in this kind of TV double interview. This is not some sort of Lincoln/Douglas debate that goes on for hours and is about issues. This is TV, and from the time of Nixon’s four o’clock shadow and JFK’s Boston accent and good looks, it is all about appearance and has nothing to do with reality, because in the Disneyland of America, appearance is political reality. anyway, Anyway, Americans don’t know how to converse or debate; they just yell at one another all at once.Whether they are on Bill Maher or Barbara Walters – Americans in conversation are a dysfunctional family throwing fast thought styrofoamed packages of soundbites at one another.
The one who really lost was Gwen Ifil, who didn’t keep Palin on question, but let her recite her little Republican “show and tell” set pieces at the front of the class. Ifil never asked her to say more than she has about the banning of books in public libraries or the enforced teaching of Creationism in public schools. For me, these are the truly scary issues of the transformation of our Republic into the evangelicals’ Kingdom.
Cultural Historian William Irwin Thompson writes regularly for Wild River Review.
October 3, 2008 Palin. OK. Maybe not what you expected by Joe Glantz
October 3, 2008
Palin. OK. Maybe not what you expected
by Joe Glantz
Palin’s got spunk. I hate spunk.
Well, that’s at least what many Democrats would like to hear one say about Governor Sarah Palin’s performance – as Lou Grant did in the opening Mary Tyler Moore show decades ago. The MTM show isn’t a casual reference as the Mary Richards character was a ground-breaking role about a woman having an independent life. One where her identity wasn’t shaped by the man she was attached to.
There’s a tendency to want to downgrade the messenger and thus the style of the message with the message itself. To, as Senator Joe Biden mentioned, want to impugn the motive with the judgment. As a loyal member of the Will Rogers disorganized party, it was easy to see the substantive difference between Biden and Palin, and thus Obama and McCain. All one really needed to hear were Palin’s own words that she’s only been at this for five weeks. In the middle of an economic tsunami, foreign wars and global warming, which, contrary to Palin’s claim, most scientists think is fully man-made – it’s a little bewildering how someone who has thought about national and international issues so little could be touted by John McCain so much.
One could read the text of the replies and easily see that while both candidates hit their talking points, Biden’s answers had layers and depths of explanations and understandings that Palin’s failed to have. One can also argue that Northeastern and West Coast cities also have their Main Streets. Broadway in New York and Broad Street in Philadelphia are exciting avenues and deserve as much respect as the paved highways of Alaska. As for the other issues, I’ll let others do the play-by-play on the merit and lack of merit of the responses.
What I like about Obama are fundamentally two things – because let’s be honest, experience is not his strong suit either, though he’s been thinking about these issues for at least four years. What I like is that he gives measured as opposed to canned responses. There is a sense when you hear him speak that he understands the need to listen and hear as well as talk. It is that underlying quality that makes up for his lack of experience. It’s a trait that one admired in the last Illinois President, Abe Lincoln,who had no executive experience and less legislative experience than Obama. He listens. He respects other opinions. He’s thinking not reacting.
What I also like about Obama. And what I liked about both Vice Presidential candidates is that neither one came across as mean. There has been too much of a tendency in legislative politics, as there has been in the legal profession which I left, to immediately go to the extreme positions and then argue towards the middle instead of trying to get as close to common ground and then distinguishing out the differences. There has been too much of a tendency in politics to think that one has to be tough as nails to be a leader. Too much of a tendency to, when the going gets tough, launch the personal attack. Democrats think Republicans are meaner. Republicans vice- versa.
What concerns me about McCain is that he not only talks about being a maverick, like Palin does, but he acts like one too. His bailout over debate posturing was just the tip of the iceberg of what seems to me a personal identity trait that relishes the role of being different just for the sake of being different. What happens if he gets elected thus becoming the “standard” bearer for the nation? One saw some of these odd tendencies in McCain’s debate. He didn’t look at Obama. He didn’t speak much about Main Street. He seemed to relish too much the idea of labeling Obama as naive.
I did not have the same concern watching Palin (and no I didn’t watch her Convention speech so maybe I missed something). I didn’t read a double entendre into her Say it ain’t so Joe, Bless their hearts, Coming straight at you, style. At least it seems like who she is. At least it wasn’t mean. Very few people left that debate angrier than before they tuned in. If she’s a maverick she’s more of a smooth self-assured maverick like the James Garner fictional “Maverick” character who won more with his charm and practical smarts than his gun.
Change does require getting people to think differently. To the extent one uses practical smarts to show why doing things differently matters, as opposed to head on in your face change just to be different tactics, being a maverick is a virtue.
And not that I want everyone to have a folksy style. I don’t mind the zinger if it comes with a self-deprecating style. Kind of like Mary Richards’s friend Rhoda was on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Kind of like, I wanted Hillary to be. And I don’t like folksiness if that’s all one has, and many may argue that Palin’s folksiness is no different than that of George Bush. That at the end folksiness was just an excuse for justifying being boring and dull. Failing to respect or be curious about other opinions.
But Palin’s folksiness was not manufactured. A folksy voice isn’t the middle or the end of a discussion, but it does get people to listen, which is the key component to having a conversation. Can one, as did Mary Richards, turn on the world with a smile? Or, in today’s mantra can one change the world and still smile? Well, in a world which seems to be closing in too fast, it does take measured, respectful and curious responses. But I like to think Palin seemed to think being folksy mattered. And you know what I think. “Say it is so,” smiling Joe Biden thought so, too.
Contributing Editor, Joe Glantz, writes the column: Interviews with the Famously Departed.
October 2, 2008 Curiosity and Responsibility by Kimberly Nagy
October 2, 2008
Curiosity and Responsibility
by Kimberly Nagy
Last night, while we were throwing together a pasta dinner, I was talking with my dad and step mom about why the election (and the culture wars again unfolding around us) made me feel sick. I confessed that I think this one is giving me an ulcer, and yes, Sarah Palin, and the wild fluctuations of opinion around her, sends me rushing to my local CVS for more Prilosec.
But it isn’t Sarah Palin the person (who I would probably like), it is what she represents. It has always struck me as odd that religious fundamentalists and so called “patriots” speak of guns and God in the same sentence. When I was 16, I became a born again Christian because of the striking beauty of the teachings of Christ. They lit me up inside That we should be humble before forces greater than us, that love, not a fuzzy abstraction but a hand stretched out, a cheek turned, a deep willingness to understand and forgive was God’s gift. Love, an act which unites us and connects us all in a very mysterious and deeply mixed world. Divine mystery seemed all around me, in the sunlight, in the moonlight, in the eyes of others, and I felt so strongly that it should be recognized and honored with humility and awe. That was my faith. I sat in Church and wept.
But I also had questions. Lots of them, they swirled in my head when the lights went out: Why were women placed beneath men in the First Assembly hierarchy of life? And sometimes I didn’t understand but I dared not ask about the whole There is only one God, our God, or else thing. Plus, spreading the word sometimes seemed a lot like telesales, intrusive and rude, assuming and arrogant about what others needed in their lives. Was curiosity the force of the devil? Could reading unapproved books or listening to unapproved music damage my soul?
Yes, according to the First Assembly of God. A church community that branded my curiosity and questions as 100% bad. Even as I handed out flyers about Jesus saving our souls, it bothered me. I couldn’t articulate it, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was flawed in this thinking, especially as I saw so many of the congregants disrespectful to others in the name of God.
And should curiosity be banished in the name of Jesus?
So many years after I left that church, I see a wane in that essential life force that fuels us–curiosity. Not curiosity about the latest scores, or the finger pointing soap opera of our political economy, but the kind of curiosity that feeds upon itself and gets books written–the same force that has led to medical discoveries. I want my daughter to grow up in an atmosphere that nurtures and encourages that kind of seeking. Curiosity about others who don’t necessarily think the same way we do, a step beyond the provincial, a willingness to keep looking even when what we find challenges that which we hold most dear.
How do we find grace, a bridge towards greater understanding, in that moment?
I now know there is something sacred in the very act of asking questions because of what is on the other side of those very same questions–taking responsibility for my place in the world and holding myself (and others) accountable.
It’s what I want for my daughter. I pray for more of it.
Columnist, The Triple Goddess Trials
October 1, 2008 Thoughts at Michaelmas, Rosh Hashanah, and Ramadan, 2008 – Part 2 by William Irwin Thompson
October 1, 2008
Thoughts at Michaelmas, Rosh Hashanah, and Ramadan, 2008 – PART 2
by William Irwin Thompson
“We Irish think otherwise.” Bishop Berkeley
Prime Minister Olmert’s remarks (“Olmert Says Israel Should Pull Out of West Bank” Ethan Bronner, New York Times, September 29, 2008) on the two nation solution to Israel and Palestine remind me of President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address in which he advised us to beware of the Military-Industrial Complex. Both leaders would have helped the world much more had they had made their remarks and sought to advance them while they were still in office.
Both the United States and Israel have much in common: we started out as an agrarian republic fighting a global empire and then ended up as a military-industrial global empire. Israel was supposed to be a rational democracy set in an area of medieval irrationality; it ended up neither rational nor democratic as its theocratic right wing took over and its own military-industrial complex and Mosad turned the country into a nuclear weaponed militarized theocratic state.
I am Irish-American. My grandmother, Margaret Mary O’Leary, was born in Ireland, and my mother Lillian Fahey was disowned by her Chicago Irish father for marrying a divorced Protestant of Scots-Irish and Welsh Presbyterian roots. The Thompsons, a sept of the Campbells of Argyle in Scotland, come from the North of Ireland. Those who have read my first book, The Imagination of an Insurrection: Dublin, Easter 1916 know how sympathetic to Irish nationalism I was in 1967. I believed in the myths of Romantic nationalism and felt all Ireland should be green, and that Ian Paisley and his Orange Lodge ilk should take their matching colors to the flames of hell. I was in my twenties when I wrote that book, and now I too – were I to make a Farewell Address to a life of writing – would see things quite differently.
From the Gaian theory of my friend and colleague in the Lindisfarne Association, Lynn Margulis, I now see that life and identity are based upon symbiotic processes, that a membrane is a conversation and not a wall or fortress. When life and cultures are defined by territorial identities, they grow toxic. Ireland, for example, since the end of the Ice Age, has always been an attractor of laminar flows and has never been a culturally unified island. From the Fir Bolg, Fomorians, and Tuatha De’ Danan of mythic times to the Celts, Vikings, Normans, and Anglo-Saxons of historical times, Ireland has never been one nation under a Pagan, Catholic, or Protestant God. Like the mitochondria in the evolution of the eukaryotic cell, in which the little is surrounded by the large because the little produces the energy that makes the space of the large possible–as well as the acceleration of time in diploid sexual reproduction that packs genes into the evolutionarily novel nucleus–Greater Ireland becomes possible when Catholic, Protestant, and Viking converse through art.
Art is not simply touchy-feely expressions of emotion; it is the architecture of life. Think of us in the U.S.: you don’t get an Obama until you have already had a Louis Armstrong. Jazz was the musical conversation that created a new America beyond the confines of the urban ethnic ghetto or the White Protestant family farm. Or think of the Dalai Lama. His Holiness went from being the High Priest of a medieval theocracy to becoming a global teacher inspiring poets and cognitive scientists. He accomplished this through the loss of his territorial identity.
At a Labor Day conference of Sufis at Pir Zia Inayat Khan’s Abode of the Message in upstate New York, I heard Palestinians and Israelis performing Middle Eastern music together in a single ensemble. Since the Sufis inspired the Provencal floresence and the Italian Renaissance with their music and instruments and Persian poetry making their way north through Palermo and Andalusia, it gives one hope that the Sufis could once again inspire Muslims, Christians, and Jews to sublimate their conflicts into conversations.
To base a cultural identity on territory, on Blut und Boden, is to enclose life in a toxic container. We all come out of Africa, and even in prehistoric Chatal Huyuk of 6500 BCE there were two races living side by side. To base a state on a religion is a call to war with one’s neighbors. Israel should not be a Jewish state, but a secular democratic one with its capital in Tel Aviv. Palestine should not be an Islamic theocracy with its capital in Old Jerusalem, but a secular democratic state with its capital in Ramalah. And Jerusalem should become a World City, a UNESCO historical treasure, the shrine of the three Abrahamic religions, and as a World City it should be policed by the Blue Helmets of the U.N. No national armies or government offices should be allowed within this sacred precinct.
When Israel was founded, it was supposed to be a two state confederation. It didn’t work, and both groups went to war, as did Ireland after the treaty, and India and Pakistan after partition. What we see in all three cases is that it takes two or three generations for people to get sick of killing one another and for a new generation to arise whose new culture crosses forbidden boundaries through art and marriage.
The reason why the little cultures of the past have to evolve into the larger cultures of the future through the osmotic membranes of the secular democratic state is not to eliminate religion, but to guarantee the rights of all and protect each from genocide.
So let the cash-laden Saudis and Iranians build a monorail between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and let the Syrians, Lebanese, and Israelis patrol their borders with co-operating police forces and not armies, as we do with Canada, and someday will with Mexico.
We cannot solve cultural problems with military force. England tried that with Ireland for eight centuries and failed. If we simply shift our troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, bomb Iran, and challenge Russia with NATO military bases in their former Soviet Republics, we have a scenario for world war, something that both the neocons and McCain are gearing up for. We need to honor Iran as an ancient civilization–as we have already done with China through the Olympics–apologize for the CIA’s overthrow of Mosaddegh and energize the Iranian people through cultural conversations. Iranian scientists would love to have a year abroad to study at Harvard or MIT, or visit their relatives in the large Persian community in Los Angeles, and Iranian women would love to get rid of the mullahs and fly to Paris to buy their fashionable silk headscarves on the Rue St. Honore’
The trouble is that both Iran and the United States now have really God-awful governments – literally. Let’s hope that elections here and in Iran will hold out a brighter horizon for both of us.
Cultural HistorianWilliam Irwin Thompsonwrites regularly for Wild River Review.
September 30, 2008 Thoughts at Michaelmas, Rosh Hashanah, and Ramadan, 2008 Part One by William Irwin Thompson
September 30, 2008
Thoughts at Michaelmas, Rosh Hashanah, and Ramadan, 2008
by William Irwin Thompson
“We Irish think otherwise.” Bishop Berkeley
To the Israelis and Palestinians
My freckled soul has felt
its share of Eastern light,
but none of your praying
seems to stir God to come
into Jihad’s whirlwind
or West Bank settlements,
nor can Christian churches,
paved with rapt donations
make God’s Light compliant
to stained glass and sandstone.
To clear a future free
of religions’ scripted hate,
we need to give away
the present to those who
really need it and not
make war with those who hold
the past because they can’t
endure another day.
Cultural Historian William Irwin Thompson writes regularly for Wild River Review.
September 29, 2008 Meanwhile – Back in Louisiana… by Ed Cullen
September 29, 2008
Meanwhile – Back in Louisiana…
by Ed Cullen
I’ve spent much of the last two weeks in shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops sitting with a computer in my lap. First, there was Hurricane Gustav which left my street without electricity for 11 days. Then, came Ike which turned out to be a hurricane we watched on television in Baton Rouge as the giant storm hit coastal Louisiana, Galveston and Houston.
Hurricanes are great levelers. They level trees and houses, and they level people’s lives. The six figure accountant suddenly has a lot in common with the family that doesn’t have air conditioning anytime. There are many poor families in Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s capital city, who endure the heat and humidity the way people did 50 years ago when there was no air conditioning.
During the dark, hot nights of Gustav, I longed for my childhood house with its attic fan, high ceilings, big screened windows, and long front porch.
Hurricanes are reminders of how many people in South Louisiana are desperately poor. There they are in newspaper photographs – standing on molten, asphalt parking lots waiting for food stamps like human hummingbirds.
Listen to the radio call-in shows and be reminded how uneducated many of our people are. Their English is so bad they grope for the words to express their anger and frustration.
Turning the dial to catch the national news, there’s the reminder that a presidential race is going on. And, there’s President Bush sounding like a Texas sheriff telling people they better buckle up and not to drink and drive.
As a newspaper columnist, I get some odd things in the mail from PR people. During the dark days after Gustav, the Cartoon Network sent me a light sword. I wish I could tell you why, but I threw away the press release. I kept the light sword.
That night, I got home before my wife, loaded batteries into the light sword, and turned the control to imminent death. I was in shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops, practicing my sword moves on Lily the cat in the dark living room, when my wife walked in.
She didn’t say, “Have you lost your mind?” She didn’t say, “How OLD are you?” She didn’t say, “You know, that cat’s already half crazy.” She said, “How many batteries does that thing use?”
“Three triple As,” I said, and worth every volt.
These storms are over, but there’s more than a month left in hurricane season. We had power for two days, after 11 days without, and, then, lost it again when a tree crew dropped a limb on an electrical line. I haven’t been able to confirm the story, but word on the street says the crew lost control of a large piece of tree after a hive of bees in the tree was disturbed.
My wife called me at work to say the power was off again. I stopped at a filling station near home to pick up ice. I may ask the filling station to start daily delivery. Power outages will continue as crews cut down or trim trees. There are so many limbs and downed trees stacked beside the streets in this town that some streets have been reduced to one-car lanes.
The aftermath of Hurricane Ike in Galveston and Houston is being compared to New Orleans after Katrina, except that flooding will recede much faster than in the bowl that is New Orleans.
If there are two big lessons from these storms: Choose wisely where you build or buy a house. And we should keep more tax money at home. Laundering tax money through Washington is wasteful and terribly inefficient.
There is no good reason to continue to feed the federal disaster bureaucracy. Homeland Security, a name more suited to World War II Germany than the United States, and its demon spawn, FEMA, were bad ideas. That is clear. Their continued existence is an even worse idea.
Baton Rouge has come through these storms as well as any city in America could. We’re OK. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers anyway.
Ed Cullen is a columnist on the (Baton Rouge) Advocate in Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana. He is a regular contributer toWild River Review.
September 27, 2008 Why I am Not for McCain by William Irwin Thompson
September 27, 2008
by William Irwin Thompson
We Irish think otherwise – Bishop Berkeley
Why I Am Not for McCain
The debate on Friday night between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama was not one between two presidential candidates, but between two different world views and paradigms of political epistemology. McCain intoned all the old shibboleths of patriotism and country as a land of soldiers and heroic sacrifice. He radiated a paternal aura of the father-figure who would protect us from all the monsters out there and under the bed. Repeatedly during the debate, he went from paternal to patronizing and tried to characterize Obama as someone who “just doesn’t understand” the strategy and tactics that military men need to understand to keep their daughters safe and submissive to the High Command of one nation under God. McCain was the archetypal hunter, with tunnel vision focusing on a target – Victory! – and going after it with a weapon.
Obama was his archetypal opposite, the gatherer. His was a systemic view of the whole new global ecosystem that called out for a paradigm shift away from the top-down, trickle theory of market economics to bottom-up cultural innovations. Obama thought in terms of an ecology of education, public health, and health insurance and their importance to the economy; he saw the need for a new American globalist culture that was not simply military but one that inspired the rest of the world to look to America for democratic and environmental values, moral and artistic inspiration, and scientific and technological innovation to carry us all forward into a new planetary civilization.
Traditionally, of course, the gatherer is female, and so Obama was definitely the New Man – the son of a single working Mom with an absent mythic Father on the horizon in the Dreamtime, the kind of new man that the old men like Senator McCain and Governor Schwarzenegger would dismiss as the “girly-man.” And yet, for the particulars on nuclear energy, or whether to make Custer’s Last Stand in Iraq or Afghanistan, there was little light between them in putting their heads together to send in the cavalry into Pakistan or to encircle Russia with NATO bases at all its borders from Estonia to Alaska.
Senator McCain, the son of an Admiral, is a man with a military world view and a military interpretation of reality, so he is in the great American tradition that requires an enemy to support our economy. He is utterly incapable of imagining a new world economy that is not simply based on resource colonies and military forces protecting those American (read corporate) interests.
To be fair to the Republicans, McCain’s military world view expresses a bipartisan policy that goes from Washington through Jackson, Polk, Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, Truman, the Bushes, and the Clintons. McCain is a Good Old Boy and can be counted on to co-operate with the invisible Directorate – the new multinational board of directors of Earth, Inc. The attacks on him by the Rush Limbaughs of the right wing media are just the acts of hirelinga well paid to create the myth of McCain the Maverick to attract Independents and centrist members of the Democratic Party.
But what McCain showed Friday night is that he is operating from the playbook of Bush – a member of the oligarchic class who camouflages his predation of the helots by wrapping the flag around him and appealing to their emotions not their minds. He knows citizens vote with their amygdalas motivated by matters of fear and identity and not with their frontal cortex for ideas and policies.
So another archetypal dyad of American culture is brought into play: the set of the white upper class of the Bushes and McCains and the poor white trash that Palin so eloquently speaks for. When lunch counter Lill and Joe Sixpack in rural Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania say that they “don’t know” Obama, what they really mean is that they know him only too well – the uppity nigger who went to Ivy League schools.
Race and class are the emotional forces at work here, and are the forces of identity that Hillary tried to manipulate to her advantage in her efforts to become the first woman president. The positive side of this silent racism is that we have as a nation, at least, made enough progress that this racism is suppressed and polite and remains only felt but not spoken. That the debate could take place at Ole Miss with everyone behaving themselves spoke volumes of just how far Obama has taken us on the road to civility. Whether he can take us all the way on the road to a new planetary civilization remains to be seen. McCain has absolutely no perception of this new global civilization; he is still fighting the Viet Nam war for the American Empire and constantly reminding us that he is a hero in this war. And so a vote for McCain and Palin is a vote of confidence for Baker and Kissinger, Bushes major and minor, and Cheney, and a desire to have business as usual.
Let’s put this election in the perspective of the previous two. In 2000, the United States was taken over by a putsch organized by the neocon wing of the Republican party. Through their policy think tank, Project for a New American Century, the neocons had been planning this take-over for some time. Bush the Lesser was chosen to be the compliant poster-boy for the group, one who would have to do all the tedious work of campaigning because he was deeply in debt to the Old Boys Club of Dad et alia for bailing him out, failure after failure, from drunk driving to trying to run businesses and baseball clubs. He owed them all big time.
So with the connivance of the Republican majority on the Supreme Court, the counting of votes was negated (with a little local help from the Party in Florida) and James Baker himself rode into town to block the impending threat of a plurality of 600,000 votes for Gore. (Baker was a major player in the Carlyle Group which managed defense industries and global investments for the Bush family and the Saudis.) With the help of Cheney and Rumsfeld, an invisible Directorate decided to execute a hostile take-over of ou
r nation-state with the goal of reconstituting itself as a new global board of directors of the world. It was to be business after the playbook of Enron and the new capitalists of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.
So just as Enron had plundered the State of California, the new corporate raiders were determined to plunder the Big Government of the United States, starve it to death with tax cuts, and recirculate its assets back to the private sector. In a hostile take-over, the parts of a company are recognized to be more valuable than the whole, so the raiders take over the whole, break it up, and then sell off the parts for more than the whole is worth.
The whole of the United States, with all its citizens, labor unions, and obstructing environmental groups is not worth much to the global corporate managers in the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, China, and Europe, so a new policy was needed that was not based upon politics as usual – or capitalism as usual, for that matter, as this new development was more like a return to the fur trade Mercantilism of the Hudson Bay Company.
Iraq was to be taken over in the interest of creating a Crown Colony for the oil industry in the very middle of the Middle East. The war on terror could be used to justify deflecting resources from Afghanistan and the pursuit of bin Laden and al Qaeda to Saddam’s Bath Socialist Iraq. Bin Laden was more of use to the Administration alive than dead since he could serve as the boogey man to frighten folks into supporting the Patriot Act and accepting the shrinkage of the civil liberties that got in the way of Global Management. By shifting the attention of Americans to Iraq, Cheney and Rumsfeld were on familiar turf as they had connived with Saddam during the Iraq-Iran war. With the help of the Defense Policy Board of Perle, Woolsey, and Wolfowitz, the neocons went to work.
Once Iraq’s oil reserves were in the Directorate’s hands, Russia’s gas and oil resources with its grip on Europe could be blocked and China’s growth could be kept under control – their control. After “Shock and Awe” had done its work in Iraq, it was to be directed against the United States. If illegal immigration could be continued by protesting against it publicly but supporting it actually, a new working class could be constituted that would have no voting rights. Thus the power of labor unions would be checked and there would be no new working class members swelling the ranks of the Democratic Party. By borrowing from China and by running the three trillion dollar war in Iraq through deficit spending – a play the invisible Directorate took from Enron-style financing – the dollar would surely fall in value and this would enable Bush’s Saudi friends, the Chinese, and other members of the new global Board of Directors to be able to buy American properties quite cheaply.
If factories were owned by foreign companies, and the ports were owned by Dubai, then sovereignty would continue its shift away from the nation-state to the global board of directors. It was no longer a case of Charles Wilson’s famous line in the 1950s: “What’s good for General Electric is good for America, since the new capitalists had moved beyond national sovereignty to the interlocking boards of multinational corporations. So with environmental laws negated by Cheney, and civil liberties negated by the new Patriot Act, and with the working class weakened by illegal immigration and the transfer of factories to China and Indonesia, the take-over was a shoe-in. All that was needed was to neutralize public opinion with supportive propaganda.
Since some of the members of the board already owned the media, it took little effort for Clear Channel and Fox News to saturate the populace with corporate propaganda disguised as patriotism. The Press Corp could be counted on not to object, for they were no longer a Fourth Estate, but had become Muzak in the factory keeping the citizens distracted with news about sports and celebrities and happy at their work. Any member of the White House press corp who dared to ask a real question and raise issues such as those I have discussed above, would instantly lose his or her press card and access to power. As a reporter’s job depends upon being able to hold meaningless interviews with those in power, few reporters would risk his or her job, mortgage, and the tuition for the kids in college, in an exercise of true investigative reporting.
After the elections of 2000 and 2004, our social democratic state is now in extreme danger. President Bush’s support of torture and water-boarding shows just how far America has departed from its ideals. McCain’s grip on reality is too senescent and his lights are already growing dim; his mental acuity is not likely to improve as he ages in office.
Even when corrected by Senator Lieberman and told that Sunni al Qaeda and Shiite Iran were not in the same insurgent grouping, he continued to make this mistake in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s interview of General Petraeus, and this slip shows that McCain is at one mind with the neocons to demonize Iran and prepare Americans for the attack. To think that McCain can protect our democratic civil society is like thinking Herbert Hoover could protect us from the Great Depression. Small wonder that McCain quoted Herbert Hoover in looking at the crisis in Wall Street and proclaiming that “the fundamentals of the American economy are sound.”
From Enron to Lehman Brothers, the fundamentals of American capitalism have been anything but sound. We need a new paradigm of political and economic thinking, and a new world view. It is certainly not going to come from the Republicans. In fact, they are not even true to their own conservative principles, as they do not conserve the constitution and they do not now allow Schumpeter’s “creative winds of destruction” to sweep through Wall Street in the blowback of their own Shock and Awe; when it comes to their own companies, they are all for Big Government bail outs. One wonders, if they had succeeded in starving the government with more tax cuts, and putting in place more deregulation, where the funds would come from for their rescue of one another.
For the benefit of those who were watching Fox TV and not noticing when their Buds turned Belge as they lifted their bottles and proclaimed “We are the greatest!”, we are no longer living in the American Century, and you can thank Wyoming Cheney and the Texas Bush family for that. Little Bush has proven himself to be the worst president in American history, but at least the neocons never got to privatize Social Security and turn its funds over to thei
r investment banker golf partners who have just collapsed.
Next to fall after AIG will be the other insurance companies as more hurricanes and earthquakes in the populous cities of the West draw down more funds than anybody has. As the insurance companies write off disasters as Acts of God, an economic tsunami will follow. Since even the health insurance companies are in business to collect premiums and deny benefits in order to amass funds for investment – and certainly not to care for people – trust in the free market system to solve all problems will die with the old men who believed in the eighteenth century physics of Adam Smith. The Invisible Hand was really picking our pockets. The free market system can no more deal with the global environment or with national health care than it could with slavery. The free market can simply show you how to distribute slaves world-wide, not how morally to eliminate slavery.
Since Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan, the white men in the suburbs have tried to make “Liberal” a dirty word, conjuring up a demi-monde of Blacks, Jews, and intellectuals in the cities. But just as it took Liberals to eliminate slavery in spite of the protests of those conservatives who claimed that slaves were part of the sacred rights of property, and just as it took Liberals to eliminate child labor and dismemberment in the factories – again by interfering with the sacred rights of property – and Liberals to give women the right to vote, so will it now take Liberals to eliminate the neocon off shore capitalist pirates to provide environmental protection and a decent health insurance program that is in the interest of the patients and not the private hospitals, insurance companies, and HMOs. One can no more look to Republicans to accomplish these reforms than one could look to Southern plantation owners to eliminate slavery. Small wonder Senator Obama calls for change and gives it a new face.
In the banality of his campaign, Senator McCain is betting that Americans are not smart enough to know what Obama is about, and so will fall back into their comfort zones of fear, racism, patriotism, and the anti-intellectualism that sees all talk of ideas as foreign and French. This is going to be a telling election, and what it is going to tell about us is something the whole world is waiting to hear. This is the first global election of the new millennium.
Cultural Historian William Irwin Thompson writes regularly for Wild River Review.
September 26, 2008 So, A Man Walks into a Bar... by Joy E. Stocke
September 26, 2008
So, A Man Walks into a Bar…
by Joy E. Stocke
in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Bucks County, USA.
Or, should I say, a woman walks into a bar where a group of men are already seated. After the requisite banter, talk quickly shifts to politics. The group is equally divided between Republicans and Democrats.
Then I light a match. I ask the group who they want to see become the next president.
Across from me sits a gentleman I’ll name John, from England, a real estate developer who has been in America for 19 years – eighteen of those in New York City.
And he says, “McCain. I wouldn’t want to see a Muslim in the White House.”
I choke down a sip of wine, and say,” Obama isn’t a Muslim, and what if he were? Aren’t we a republic with separation of church and state?”
“Score one for the lady,” says the bartender.
And John digs in. “His father is a Muslim. He was raised in Indonesia. Obviously, he’s a Muslim.”
“His mother is from Kansas and earned a PhD in Anthropology,” I say. “She met Barack Obama Senior in a Russian-language class at the University of Hawaii where they were both students. Obama went to a Catholic School as a kid.”
“Propaganda,” says John.
“Fact,” I say.
And here is where I’ll stop. Because there is no punch line to this joke.
We, in the US, are in turmoil on many levels, and Obama, a Christian, raised by a single mother, and with a Muslim father married to her for less than three years, should, like John McCain, be judged on his ability to tell the truth and to lead, not on what people perceive his religion to be.
I invite your comments. What do you think?
Joy E. Stocke is editor in chief ofWild River Review. She has traveled extensively through Turkey and has studied comparative religion for twenty years. Her piece, Rumi and Coke, written with Angie Brenner tells of her journey to the Festival of the Whirling Dervishes. She can be reached at: JStocke@wildriverreview.com
September 25, 2008 He Said, She Said, Part Two by Angie Brenner
September 25, 2008
HE SAID, SHE SAID..Part II
By Angie Brenner
With the presidential election, only days away, I wonder if Republicans, Democrats, and the undecided (who are these people?) can come to some consensus on important issues. Has McCain’s decision to pick Sarah Palin as his VP running mate widened the chasm of American ideologies? Are we becoming two different countries? Perhaps the economic collapse of our government will be the glue that ultimately keeps us together…yesterday I found myself agreeing with Newt Gingrich. (More on the financial concerns at the new blog: WRR
These thoughts swirl in my mind as I continue my e-dialogue with my friend Tony:
ME: I think this (Palin) choice is reckless. McCain does have tenacity, he’s first and foremost a survivor, yet he has that same mean spirited nature that I saw in Bush eight years ago. While I was not a fan of Hillary (for president), she is a formidable politician and has broken through barriers. To say that not liking Palin as a good choice for the presidency (let’s face facts…McCain is not the healthy fighter pilot he once was) is sour-grapes and sexist, is like saying that you do not love your country if you don’t wave a flag. And yes, Palin, whether male or female, is a poor choice to lead the country. I want a president who speaks to most of my values but is better, more intelligent, and can lead with compassion and directness. Can America really afford tow more bullies in the Whitehouse? As Dr. Phil would say…”How’d that work for you?”
TONY: Please…please…please…I have no idea whether or not McCain is “mean spirited” or not but if there is a true example of mean spiritedness it is Hillary. There is a reason why she has the highest ever “won’t even think about voting for” rate in the polls. The country is scared of her. They are not scared of her because she is incompetent like George, they are frightened of her because she is beyond mean spirited – try The Vengeful.
My comments on Palin simply reflect what the women’s movement said about the treatment of Hillary…if you say it, you own it, but somehow the women’s movement seems to say it but then…kind of like the uproar over the awfulness of males taking advantage of young women who have to work for senior bosses, etc, etc, etc, but then somehow thinking it is ok for Bill to get blow jobs from an intern. And, this obsession with bullies…Lyndon was the worst presidential bully we have had in my lifetime and he was a fine president who unfortunately for him and the country, got sidetracked on the war.
ME: Regarding political rancor we all hate: Rewind the convention speeches. Obama spoke to all Americans, to the issues and what he would actually do. Bring jobs back to the US, tackle health care problems with concrete solutions, and offer higher education to anyone who wants it, with specifics on how to do this. He didn’t get smirky, smarmy, or whiny. Two days after Palin’s bull-dog rancor, McCain (who didn’t speak to the issues) said that “he would fight to end political rancor.” This sounds like a Karl Rove tactic, “If you say it enough times, with conviction, the masses will believe it, even if you contradicted yourself moments ago.
TONY: Actually, I think you meant ‘good point to counter your bad points.’ You are political and blinded by your hate of George and your fantasy that the Democrats will somehow make all the unhappiness go away. I am not political…just like to watch all you political haters and your mirror images from the other party, hee, hee, hee.
Angie..this is politics…they do say bad things about the other guys and if you don’t think that the Obama guys are having people say bad things about the other guys you need a reality check. My take is that both sides are far above the usual nastiness. It is the job of someone running for VP to say the bad stuff. BTW…please quote the parts of this awfulness from Palin’s speech. She, like Obama, brings a freshness to the country in that they can both give a speech. And, while you wouldn’t be able to enjoy it, she has marvelous comic timing.
The Democrats own the issues. This should be like tucker, my cat, fighting a pit bull, but somehow the Democrats manage to lose elections. There is alot of racism…I have heard things which truly surprise me from many of my Republican friends.
Obama has no experience and is too liberal for the country. McCain is too old and too militaristic. The Democrats have shown in the past that they are far better at distributing wealth than creating it, while Republicans have shown they can be just as bad as the Democrats…and that in spades. The world has dramatically changes since George took office and he had nothing to do with those changes…he also did nothing to help us adapt to those changes. It is the Democrats’ turn…only they could even think about losing this election…but they have done exactly that before.
TONY: This just in from the gender wars – from a very right-wing woman, on Sarah having mixed messages on ‘The Bridge to Nowhere.’ She noted: “After all, a woman can change her mind.”
ME: Did your Ms. Palin really say that?! No wonder she’s on a short media lease. (no pit-bull pun intended) Okay, let’s look at it this way…I knew Bush was a mean spirited dick-head (can I say dick-head in an e-mail?) from the beginning. I was certain in 2000 that the election was a slam-dunk for Gore, who, while lacking charisma and swagger, was intelligent and reasonable. How Gore and Kerry managed to lose two elections still baffles me, but it shouldn’t, we also know more about the election process and forces behind the candidates, and there’s the guy-who-I’d-have-a-beer-with factor.
So many once bush supporters (who have little positive things to say about him now) are now looking at McCain as a reasonable choice. My view point is that while I thought him a viable candidate in 2000, I have since watched and learned that he grew up on the coat-tails of family honor, was pretty much a bully in school, was forced into a military life and came out 5th from the bottom of his class of almost 900. He crashed his first plane and managed to get out from the bottom of the ocean even though he had ignored the instructions of how to open the cockpit. He had numerous affairs before settling on Cindy, then lied about the details in his memoir. He did some solid bi-partisan legislation in the senate, yet has reversed almost every position since, from a woman’s right to choose, to torture. And, he chose a wild-card running mate who gives good speeches and is tough-talking, yet has taken a stand to bane books and links being a soccer-mom with a pit bull. (Okay, it’s funny, but it’s mean and do we want this sort of tough talk when the stakes are nuclear?)
TONY: This election is about Bush to you but what it really is now is Obama versus McCain. The sooner the country gets over Bush the better off we will be. While he was certainly one of the very worst presidents we have ever had, there are many forces is the world which are still there and that have nothing to do with George. That is the challenge for the future and that is what will be the task for the next president. Saying that McCain is Bush2 makes for good politics but it is false. That is like saying Obama is clinton2 which is also false. Both are new faces for their parties and the country is better off for it.
ME: Since most everyone around me has pretty much the same opinions as me, I appreciate the conversation. It helps me to understand the other side of the coin.
I just believe that this year’s Democratic choice speaks more to all Americans and the Republican choice is more divisive and speak to only their constituents.
TONY: I have absolutely no desire to convince anyone to vote for anyone…I just like to question each side’s reasons for voting for whom they are voting. My big thing is to ask more of whom you will vote. BOTH sides have managed to get us where we are and only if both sides ask more of the ones for whom they vote, can we get to a better place. The right still talks of how awful it will be if the Dems. get control and seem not to notice exactly where we are and who has had the Whitehouse for 20 of the last 28 years. The left looks at where we are and says that the old left wing is still a solution. I see alot of heads in the sand; what we need are more solutions which result from a compromise between the extreme ideas of the left and the right. Think Bill and a Republican congress…a period where some things got done and we were all alot better off.
ME: WOW, I agree with everything you just said. I think there is hope!
TONY: I still plan to vote for Obama, but certainly not for most of the reasons most Democrats carry so preciously in their hate bags. The big MO has left Obama; he is no longer the HOT NEW media item.
September 24, 2008 The Election - He Said, She Said, Part One
September 24, 2008
The Election – HE SAID, SHE SAID…Part I
By Angie Brenner
To continue my dialogue about political opinions and ideologues, I couldn’t resist sending out the following e-mail to a few friends which included Tony, who often forwards me anti-liberal missives. Okay, I like to stir the hornet’s nest, but in this serious election – it was a bit of fun.
ME:On Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, the other night in a skit on Palin running for VP, Rob Riggel, portraying a backwoods idiot in a plaid shirt said: “I want to vote for someone just like me, only worse.”
Is this what Americans are really asking for? The day after the Republican Convention, the New Times headline stated that “McCain Vows to End Partisan Rancor.”
Hummm…wasn’t Palin’s well crafted speech all about creating partisan rancor? I fear this Republican lite-and-dangerous paring is talking out of both sides of their mouths. All I can say is that if you liked Bush and Cheney and what they have done to America….you are going to love the McCain – Palin America.
TONY:This is so much fun. First, the entire woman’s movement/media establishment was sooooooooooooooooooo upset that Obama’s campaign was sexist and now that the Republicans finally propel a woman into their senior ranks, there is a complete meltdown because she is not the CORRECT woman. The left has good ideas, but the one which is the absolute worst is their notion that their ideas are good only if they are carried out by those who share their very liberal philosophy. If you are truly for women cracking mirrors instead of men’s balls, you should applaud Sarah’s nomination. That she is a normal Republican shouldn’t matter. Your punishment is to a dinner of moose burgers.
And Angie…John McCain is no George Bush. That the Democrats are so desperate to paint him that way shows weakness. WHY do we have Obama running against John rather that Hillary running against Guiliani? Because there are so many of us out here and there and everywhere who are exhausted by the rabid political hatred from either side of the political fence.
I would like to line up the characteristics of all four of the candidates and then be able to make two acceptable ones. Sarah’s ability to make me laugh would be included as would Obama’s blackness and star power. Joe’s experience and John’s proven independence would be thrown in.
ME:This is good dialogue…I like the idea of lining up all four and listing the qualities.
PS You can use John’s military career, but the POW part isn’t a qualification for the presidency…he came home and pretended that it didn’t matter (like so many before him), and started having affairs. Hummm…maybe this is a qualification after all, the waters are so murky.
TONY:There are many different types of experience and seeing the absolute worst a society has to offer is one few people are unfortunate enough to have to experience. If you do not think that suffering the POW awfulness is something which is the ultimate test, then perhaps you should somehow turn off your political masters propaganda machine and start thinking independently again. As for having affairs, that is a strange comment from a Democrat.
ME:Well, I give your some leeway on the affairs, but you may have misunderstood about the POW experience. Of course that’s an ultimate test. But, at what price? It’s about as damaged as you can get. And is that a good thing?
TONY:I assume you mean ‘he’s’ rather than ‘it’s.’ I don’t get the damage part unless you are referring to the pounding his body took.
ME:”Being tortured is about as damaged as a person can get,” is what I’m suggesting. Damage to his psyche, spirit. Post traumatic stress is real and comes out in various ways, over years. I will go out on a limb and say that no one could experience being tortured and not be emotionally effected.
Also, why wouldn’t McCain vote against US torture techniques? This seems very odd.
TONY:Interesting; so anyone who has served in the military is not fit to be President. The greatest man ever produced in Africa, Nelson Mandela, he was imprisoned and tortured for a long period of time.
I am mixed on the torture argument. The definition says, “excruciating pain.” Does that include extreme discomfort? John McCain knows torture Angie. Maybe he thinks that extreme discomfort is within an acceptable margin if the results produce information. I do know that I would use torture if I thought it would gain information to save anyone in my family.
True enough with Nelson Mandela, someone I admire. So, when I look at this issue, I must admit that it isn’t about McCain being tortured, but the whole package doesn’t add up. I’d like to say that it must have been this thing or that thing that was the cause and effect, but human beings are more complex, and that is why these decisions on ability and character are difficult.
As for torture Tony, I can not condone any of it. I think it does more damage to perhaps the perpetrator then even to the one being tortured. That’s my personal opinion as a human being. Evil is as evil does. There are really bad people out there, but turning into one of them doesn’t change consciousness or provide better intelligence, and I can’t think about what I might be capable of doing to protect my family and friends. The Golden Rule still holds up for me on this issue. Don’t do it.
To be continued…
Angie Brenner is West Coast Editor for Wild River Review.
She contributes frequently to WRR@Large.
September 23, 2008 On Predicting the Obvious, Thinking Otherwise, by William Irwin Thompson
September 23, 2008
by William Irwin Thompson
We Irish think otherwise – Bishop Berkely
On Predicting the Obvious
For some time now pundits have been predicting a future of “wars of resources.” Duhh? Afghanistan and the central Asian pipeline? Iraq and Iran? Haven’t we been in wars of resources for some time? I seem to remember one August way back in the nineties, when Schverednadze and James Baker visited the Rockefeller JR Ranch in Wyoming, and soon after an independent Georgia got recognized and there appeared a pipeline that avoided Russia and went through Georgia instead.
The neocons in their Project for a New American Century proclaimed that the U.S.A. was now the single global superpower and needed to assert pre-emptive military force to insure that no other nation would equal it in military supremacy. George Bush Senior and Baker decided that a Russia integrated with Europe, aligned with its democratic values, and serving as its main supplier of natural gas would not serve their oil industry’s needs as much as a Europe fearful of Russia and oriented toward the U.S.A.
A Russia encircled by us with an American militarily protected Central Asian pipeline would help us check Russia and contain China. If only a way could be found to control Iraq and Iran. So Russia was left to sink into a gangster capitalism reminiscent of Al Capone’s Chicago, and soon the aged pensioners and unpaid soldiers were dreaming of the good old days of Stalin’s Soviet Union when overnight the country moved from a backward agricultural nation to a superpower armed with nuclear weapons.
Our encirclement guaranteed that a traditionally paranoid Russia would bring forth a new strong man and scare Europe into our embrace. So Bush Sr. and Baker chose to let Russia sink, and Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and George Bush, the Little, sallied forth to take over the holy lands of oil, encircle Russia from the Balkan States to Georgia and Kazakhstan, tighten the noose on Iran by taking over Iraq, invading Afghanistan, and pushing a missile defense radar system into Poland and the Czech Republic – all the while talking of freedom and protecting democracy abroad as they worked to eliminate it at home with the Patriot Act.
The neocon way of containing Russia, checking China’s growth, and protecting Israel, was to control the world’s access to energy. You may have noticed that while many an average middle class citizen has lost his home and job, the oil companies have been doing rather well. With such a geopolitic as their world view, why on earth would Cheney and Company want to offer tax incentives to new green technologies and alternate sources of energy in the articulation of a new Gaia Politique?
But you may not have noticed – though Senator Joe Biden has – that every neocon policy, global or domestic, has turned out to be wrong, and that rather than being the world’s single superpower, we are now an empire in rapid decline. We are now so in hock to China that the deficit-freighted dollar has become the Texas peso. (Bad as this is for the average citizen, the bright side is that Bush’s Saudi partners can now buy up U.S. real estate on the cheap.)
London is fast taking over New York as the financial and literary capital of the world. An encircled Russia is breaking through its containment and asserting itself both militarily in Georgia, subtly in the Ukraine, and more openly in Western Europe as its primary source of exports for natural gas. And an extroverted Iran, emboldened by our empowerment of the Shia in Iraq, is preparing to replace Saudi Arabia as the new Alpha Male in the Middle Eastern ‘hood.
Meanwhile, back home in the land of the old single superpower, we are living in denial of a recession with inflation; our train system, compared to Western Europe’s, is a disgrace, our infrastructure is rotting, and our general populace is so abysmally educated that it is actually proud of it. Sarah Palin is its avatar. The ancient alchemists had a nice big Greek word for this process that starts in one position and ends up in its opposite as it turns gold into lead; they called it an enantiodromia.
Another obvious prediction I would make is that capitalism is doomed to be absorbed – like mitochondria in the evolution of the larger eukaryotic cell – in the new noetic polity whose factories are Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, and not Ford, GM, and Exxon. We are moving from a subtractive economy based on extraction industries and limited resources such as coal, oil and soil in agribusiness, to a generative economy based upon knowledge and cultural evolution.
It is, therefore, wholly appropriate that Alaska–the last frontier of the extractive economy – should play the role of the provincial resource colony of a dying military empire, and be chosen as the last gasp of the American frontier. Industrial capitalism is not being killed by socialists; it is being killed by the capitalists themselves.
The government takeover of debt from the investment banks means that we all are now living in a federal credit union in which the banks are employees of the state. The banks have had it coming, for it was the kind of Enron management that plundered the state of California and robbed its own investors that first signaled our present state of decline – the kind of management that killed Swissair, WorldCom, and Anderson consultants, the kind of management that cheated investors, robbed pension funds, and polluted the environment, and then bailed out in golden parachutes of millions of dollars for CEOs and huge tax bills passed on to the citizenry to clean up the mess it had left behind.
These managers could get away with these crimes because the same sort of executives were running the executive branch of our our government. With the failures of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, the collapse of Freddie and Fannie, and the soon to be collapse of other insurance companies when one more Andrew-size hurricane hits Florida, and a huge earthquake hits the West Coast, we will see the complete collapse of the Republican eighteenth-century “Man dominates Nature” free market philosophy that scammed the citizenry with cons that backed up the neocons’ demands for tax cuts. Cheney and Bush let the whole infrastructure of the country rot and rust as they squandered our resources on their Halliburton War in Iraq.
If America votes for senescent McCain and fundamentalist Palin with her banning of books and elimination of evolutionary science in schools, there will be no transition to a new economy and a new philosophy of the social democratic state in a planetary civilization with an appropriately globalist leader like Obama. There will simply be the collapse of the military-industrial state of imperial America – not the arrival of Palin’s fundamentalists’ Kingdom – but the beginning of a new dark age. Imagine the United States becoming a penal colony of the stupid run by the rich – but then maybe like many sci fi prophets of the future, I am simply looking, not in a crystal ball, but in the rear-view mirror and seeing where we have been in the Bush administration.
Earthquakes and hurricanes aside, don’t you think it is amazing the damage old men in golf carts can do.
Cultural Historian William Irwin Thompson writes regularly for Wild River Review.
September 21, 2008 Game, Set and Match to David Foster Wallace By Joseph Glantz
September 21, 2008
Game, Set and Match to David Foster Wallace
By Joseph Glantz
Change. The mantra for 2008. Barack Obama claims to be the old FDR. John McCain wants to be the old Theodore Roosevelt. Change. The markets FLUCTUATE and the Bush government finally steps in. Change. Global warming has increased the concerns over summer hurricanes. Change. How does one cope in a changing world?
For the elite, the bright, the smart, coping is no farther away than a good book. For the brawny, for those who watch television, coping is clicking on the tube to watch the latest sporting events. Rarely do we think of combining these two methods of coping. The sports beat on the college paper was for those not really concerned about the issues. When one thinks of great writers, people like James Joyce, Henry James, Shakespeare and Charles Dickens come to mind. Rarely do people who write about sports top the list. People who read do yoga and treadmills – exercise for themselves. Getting caught up in the passions of the local team is an after-thought, not a reason to plan one’s day.
My introduction to writing, though, began when my father encouraged me to read The Chosen by Chaim Potok. The grabber was that an Orthodox Jew met an Hasidic Jew on the baseball field. But the lessons from the book were more. Baseball was a venue for showing how people with widely different beliefs (and yes it was part of the book’s essence that these two sects, similar to a Reform Jew like me, were widely different) had more in common than they thought.
My introduction to great non-fiction writings were the sports writings of John McPhee. Levels of the Game again focused on the differences and similarities of two, this time, professional athletes, Clark Graebner and Arthur Ashe. The essence of that book was that the play of the players reflected their backgrounds and vice- versa. McPhee also wrote A Sense of Where You Are about Bill Bradley’s college basketball days at Princeton. Bradley would set up chairs on the basketball court in the positions of his five opponents, blindfold himself, and then work out his moves to the basket so he could have a sense of where he was on the court. While sports were the draw, the marvel was McPhee’s approach to telling a story. McPhee was a master of detail, getting each fine point of the story, putting it into the language of the topic and then organizing each point into the right sequence- so he could get a sense of where the story was. From his sports writings I went on to read many of McPhee’s other writings about nature in the Pine Barrens and in Coming Into the Country, about Alaska.
Other great writers, who wrote about sports, followed: T. Coraghessan Boyle’s 56-0 about a player who vows not to lose a second game by the same score. I was introduced to Philip Roth through his Great American Novel, about a fictional third baseball league. And to John Updike through his short story on Ted Williams’ last at bat, a home run.
Which brings me, sadly, to the passing of David Foster Wallace. Wallace understood the passions and lack of passions (like the robot-like features of kids on the amateur tennis tour) of his characters. He tried a variety of writing styles including using footnotes and endnotes to drive the story in Infinite Jest, his masterpiece about a mixed bag of items; tennis, substance abuse, film and Quebec. The title comes from a line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which Hamlet refers to the skull of Yorick. “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy, he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!” The title could also apply to the book’s length. When asked on NPR radio about why the book was so long, 1200 pages, Wallace replied that 1200 pages was the edited version. Originally it was 1900 pages.
Wallace was also known for exploring irony in his writings, among them the irony of trying to live a quiet sincere life in a world inundated by the media and technology. To understand the genius of Wallace’s writing one need only read some of his writings on tennis. I’ll leave the English major points to others except to point our a few current ironies. Wallace’s signature non-fiction writing is the 2000 piece he did for Rolling Stone on the failed Presidential primary bid of John McCain. Ironic for those coping with change, that sports and literature are two constants – though the potential of the Cubs playing the Devil-Rays excites.
From A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never do Again by David Foster Wallace. The first excerpt if from the story – Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley. The second excerpt is from Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff About Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesqueire, and Human Completeness. Little Brown and Company. Copyright (c) David Foster Wallace. 1997.
“[Tennis] is billiards with balls that won’t hold still. It is chess on the run. It is to artillery and air strikes what football is to infantry and attrition.”
“Just one single in shot in once exchange in one point of a high-level [tennis] match is a nightmare of mechanical variables. Given a net that’s three feet high (at the center) and two players in (unrealistically) a fixed position, the efficacy of one single shot is determined by its angle, depth, pace and spin.
And each of these determinants is itself determined by still other variables – for example a shot’s depth is determined by the height at which the ball passes over the net combined with some integrated function of pace and spin with the ball’s height over the net itself determined by the player’s body position, grip on the racquet, degree of back swing, angle of racquet face, and the 3-D coordinates through which the racquet face moves during that interval in which the ball is actually on the strings.
The tree of variable and determinants branches out, on and on, and then on even further when the opponent’s own positions and predilections and the ballistic features of the ball he’s sent you to hit are factored in. No CPU yet existent could compute the expansion of variables for even a single exchange – smoke would come out of the mainframe. The sort of thinking involved is the sort that can be done only by a living and highly conscious entity, and then only unconsciously, ie. by combining talent with repetition to such an extent that the variables are combined and controlled without conscious thought. In other words, serious tennis is a kind of art.”
Joseph Glantz is Consulting Editor for Wild River Review. He is the author of the column-Interviews with the Famously Departed.
September 20, 2008 On the Roller Coaster – Life in Nixonland by Bill Gaston
September 20, 2008
On the Roller Coaster – Life in Nixonland
by Bill Gaston
Politics Editor–Wild River Review
Watching the sneering truculence on display (what is it after all about those horrible “community organizers” that twists the GOP knickers so?) at the Republican National Convention (could it really have been only two weeks ago?) got me thinking about some of the themes explored in my (June) WRR review of Rick Perlstein’sNixonland.
As fate would have it, in his op ed piece,The Resentment Strategy, Paul Krugman got there first. He marvels at the GOP’s amazing knack for winning elections by fanning the flames of cultural resentments (real or imagined), and by practicing the type of bare-knuckled wedge politics that Richard Nixon mastered more than 60 years ago.
But in a year when the Republican Party brand has soured so, can the fear-and-smear merchants, the graduates of the Karl Rove School of negative campaigning, pull another victory out of the hat? Or have the Republicans gone to the well too many times with their Nixonian tactics of positive polarization? Have Americans “wised-up” to being played for suckers by disingenuous appeals to their hatred of elites (read: “liberal” elites)? We shall see.
On the surface, it may appear that the party has turned over a new leaf. After all, hasn’t it nominated a “maverick” who extols the virtues of bipartisanship, and who relishes (on occasion) a good brawl with some of his own ideological compatriots, including the Christian right, global warming denialists, and Business Roundtable plutocrats? Has he not broken with party leaders on immigration reform, campaign finance legislation, and even (once upon a time) on tax policy, enraging movement conservatives who have never truly viewed him as one of their own?
Prior to the selection of Sarah Palin as VP, conservatives were privately despairing of McCain’s chances for victory in the fall. Underfunded and legendarily undisciplined, candidate McCain won his “accidental” nomination almost by default, as a sorry slate of pretenders among them. Giuliani and Romney more or less imploded around him.
Of course, the selection of the heretofore unknown Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate was a high stakes gamble to keep his fractured and wheezing party together, at least for one more cycle. But Palin herself, the self-styled pit-bull hockey mom, could have walked out of central casting as the main character inNixonland, what with her extremist views of global warming (not man-made), the war in Iraq, (God’s plan), polar bears (let them die), and drilling for oil in Alaska (to hell with those tree huggers).
So much for moderation and bipartisanship.
We are still living in Nixonland more than we know!
September 19, 2008 The Financial Markets – Now What??? by Fred Young
September 19, 2008
The Financial Markets – Now What???
by Fred Young
Yesterday the market sprang again – this time in the other direction. For those of you who breathed a sigh of relief, I still say caution.
Like riding the roller coaster – dropping from the top screaming your head off, then feeling the calming click, click,click as the car starts back up the incline – you still might maintain fear of what you think is bound to happen next.
Some might say that if you can’t stand the ride – get off.
I prefer to stay on the ride and close my eyes. I am not suggesting naive bliss, but rather a conscious decision to be there. I know that over the long haul investing in good and sound companies that have missions I can believe in and are managed with a similar long-term view will be better for me when the time comes that I need to use that money – in my case when I am collecting social security.
So, this is my mantra: know what you are saving your money for and line it up with investments that are in line with those plans. And by the way, I use an advisor because I like and trust her. Our conversations are rare because a) I don’t have a lot of money, b) it’s imperative that I detach myself during turbulent times, and c) we already had the tough conversation when I first started working with her and I opened up and talked truthfully about my family and our hopes and plans.
Here is a little primer on this noise about “short selling” and “naked shorts” (no guffaws, please):
Before getting into details, the news over the past two days that regulatory agencies are suspending certain short selling techniques should be commended. Finally, the school playground supervisor (in this case government) has outlawed “piling on,” which is one of the big reasons for the positive market results in the last 24 hours.
Short selling is basically the opposite philosophy of buying. When you buy a stock you hope it goes up in value, so when you sell the stock you make a profit. When you short sell, it means that you sell a stock and hope that it drops in value so that when you buy it back cheaper, you make a profit.
Sell something you don’t have, huh? That sounds confusing.
Well, not really. What happens is that you borrow the stock from someone and pay them interest while the “loan” is outstanding. This is easier than you think. If you have a brokerage account at say, Merrill Lynch, they have many other customerswho probably own the stock you want to borrow.
When opening a brokerage account, it is standard procedure that you allow them to lend any stock you have to others. Before you jump to aconclusion and say, “Well, don’t I get the interest if the stock is lent to someone?” The answer is no, that money goes to the brokerage firm simply because they are making a separate deal. If you are concerned that you might lose your stock that was lent out, don’t worry because the firms are insured (and you don’t pay that insurance). This goes on everyday.
The scary thing is the “naked shorts.” Here, the short-seller sells stock without borrowing and hopes for a quick sharp drop thatwill allow them to buy back the stock before they have to “deliver” the stock they sold. So you can see that if you get a bunch of folks to pile on i.e. geta lot of people to panic and sell which further drops the price, Bingo! it’s $$ time.
The suspending of “naked shorts” is a good first step. The next step is to re-introduce the “uptick” rule. Simply put, you can’t short sell a stock unless the last price for the stock is a positive. This rule was in place until last summer. hmmmmm…What’s going on? n class=”Apple-style-span” style=”color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: arial; font-size: 13px; font-weight: bold; “>
Fred Young was educated at the Wharton School and is on sabbatical after more than 25 years in the banking business. He is President of the Board of Directors for Wild River Review. He can be reached at: FYoung@wildriverreview.com
September 18, 2008 BEYOND THE PALIN By Angie Brenner
September 18, 2008
BEYOND THE PALIN
By Angie Brenner
Watching the news headlines during the past few weeks is much like playing the child’s game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. As the leading news stories this week suggest, Money trumps both the Election and Weather Disaster.
Yet, the rush to the White House lurks like a tsunami, and rightly so. The new president must be equipped to juggle the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, an unstable Middle East, 9 trillion dollar debt, and global climate change.
And, while we can all agree that we want what’s best for our family and country, what’s best is subjective and determined by individual backgrounds, economic status, religious beliefs, and how we view the world and our place in it. No one has a lock on this; everyone has their own point of reference when they choose to vote.
This year, instead of gnashing my teeth against opposing political opinions, I’ll ask why and engage in a dialogue with people that I agree and disagree with in an effort to seek common ground. It didn’t take long to get started:
When I first heard that Sarah Palin was selected as the Republican vice presidential choice, I considered it a poor and reckless choice. I was more shocked when a pro-choice friend thought she might have to change her Obama vote for McCain partially based on the Palin VP choice. “She’ll kick ass! We need this,” she said.
And, when I queried her about Palin’s conservative view on women’s rights, she said, “I think she’ll change her mind, especially considering that her daughter got pregnant.”
“I can’t believe that women still don’t think it’s possible to lose their right to choose,” I said.
“There are checks and balances; it’s not going to happen.”she said.
My friend’s comments seemed misguided, but she said that she needed time to sift through the convention spin. So I continued the dialogue on less contentious turf with a phone call to my friend, Leslie, a teacher who lives in Anchorage, Alaska. She might illuminate how Alaskans feel about Palin’s hard line rhetoric and religious right view points, I thought.
Leslie had just returned from a peaceful, midtown demonstration organized by a small group formed over a coffee-klatch, Alaskan Women Reject Palin, with the banner taken up by another grassroots group, Women Against Palin (www.womenagainstpalin.com). The assemblage in front of the library was poignant since there are reports that Palin had tried to have certain books removed from the Wasilla library, such as the children’s classic: A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle.
“It was packed,” said Leslie about the gathering. “Every age group was there. I felt that I wasn’t a lone voice, and it made me feel hopeful for the election.”
On September 14, the Anchorage Daily News would report that 1,500 people attended the rally, the same number reported to have attended a gathering earlier in the day when Governor Palin spoke. In this primarily Republican state, where the media reports an 80 percent approval rating for Palin, the turnout of women concerned about issues from abortion, free speech, economic concerns, and animal rights was impressive.
There’s no doubt that Palin has many fervent supporters in her home state, especially among conservative Republicans who still find McCain too far to the left. But she’s not a favored politician with some other women in government. Juneau legislator, Democrat Andrea Doll, wrote me:
“She (Palin) is no way in this world, qualified to be president. She has not completed even half of her term here, and has not proven herself as a governor. This is ambition and pure politics. The thought of her as president is truly frightening…”
The conversations begin…
September 17, 2008 The Financial Markets – Say One Thing and Do Another by Fred Young
September 17, 2008
The Financial Markets – Say One Thing and Do Another
by Fred Young
Over the last several months (and more so over the past few days) friends and family (some whom may be considered wealthy, others not) have asked me, “What is going on with the stock market?” as if there is some magic answer that will guide them into buying, selling stocks/bonds or putting their money in CDs. They are concerned with their savings plans (401K, pensions,) because these are usually invested in funds, which are made up of stocks, bonds etc. I have been asked, “If stocks are being sold, then where is the money getting reinvested?” as if the market is a zero-sum game.
In the early 80s, when I decided to step away from college to join the exciting brokerage business, my father gave me my first non-school business book, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. It was a great book for a young person to read, but just six months into my career, my first boss gave me another book: Andrew Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds published in 1841. Mackay’s book opened my eyes to the gyrations of the stock market.
Funny that Mackay, a poet and songwriter, would burn into me the unintended lesson that money needs to have a purpose. The purpose is individual and is coupled with a person’s true willingness to take a chance (aka take a risk). MacKay goes through history pointing to examples of how a crowd can take any notion and make it a fact (Salem Witch Trials, Land scams in Mississippi, etc). The book has been constantly in print with the most recent edition connecting these popular delusions to the tech bubble.
Most recently, “the crowd” has told us that we could buy a home with little or no money down at an interest rate near zero. That interest rate usually lasted 12 months and then ballooned dramatically, but no one wanted read the fine print. Buying a house should be an investment that is the cornerstone of anyone’s savings plan. Pay off your mortgage and you have a real asset that, for some, can fund retirement.
But back to the stock market…most of these family members and friends say that their savings are for later – a rainy day, retirement, their kids’ education. If that is true for you, stop trying to figure out how much your house is worth (unless you are moving); stop having your head spun by looking at the stock market gyrations on a daily basis.
This knowledge will only lead to bad decisions usually based in fear. When you are discussing your plans for your money with a mate, spouse, or professional advisor – TELL THE TRUTH! Will you need your money sooner than later (i.e. retiring in two years or college payments start next Fall)?
The gyrations in the market should not dictate how you handle your money. Like MacKay says so well: Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper.
Fred Young was educated at the Wharton School and is on sabbatical after more than 25 years in the banking business. He is President of the Board of Directors for Wild River Review.
Public Financing of Candidates: A Faustian Bargain
September 16, 2008 The Five Cs of Credit by Fred Young
September 16, 2008
The Five Cs of Credit
by Fred Young
1. Capacity (how the loan will be repaid).
2. Capital (how much have you “put down” or have invested in the project).
4. Conditions (how will the money be used).
5. Character (a subjective opinion by the lender as to who you are.)
Like a school child learning their ABCs, these were the cornerstones of my own education in banking. Drilled by Senior Underwriters, this simple template was laid over every case study and ultimately every loan request. My teachers and bosses would say, “Did you visit these folks?” “Did you go in the back where they are making their stuff?” “Did you talk with any employees?” “After all, when push comes to shove you may have to knock on their door and ask for repayment, and they better be willing to open the door.”
These all have been replaced by the mystical Credit Score and the Risk of Capital ratio. The advent of the Internet and the massive influx of petro-dollars made the normal turn-around for a loan request reduce from weeks to hours. The axiom – they who hesitate are lost – was our code because heck, these loans would be bundled with other loans passed on to some other bank anyway.
Slip in a few bad apples and no one will notice because the barrel is too big.
Twenty years ago, I laughed when I caught my then two-year-old daughter looking in the mirror and reciting “no” with a multiple of facial expressions. I told her to keep practicing for her future as a banker.
The skills my trainers were trying to get across:
1. It is too easy just to say no.
2. Look into the request and advise the best path.
3. Be strong and manage the expectations of your clients.
4. Keep your client informed along the way.
“No” was a last resort.
One last phrase from my trainers: “Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up.”
Like the old Evelyn Woods classes, reading faster without comprehension is a waste of time.
Our ability to borrow money and pay off over time is vital to a healthy economy, but borrowing money is a privilege not a right.
Tomorrow? What the heck – is the “uptick role,” so in future posts I will write about confusing financial terms that are tossed around.
Fred Young was educated at the Wharton School and is on sabbatical after more than 25 years in the banking business. He is President of the Board of Directors for Wild River Review.
September 15, 2008 Diamonds Amongst the Rubble Joy E. Stocke
September 15, 2008
Diamonds Amongst the Rubble
Joy E. Stocke
On the front page of the New York Times online edition:
Lehman Files for Bankruptcy
Dow Drops 300 Points Shortly After Opening
Big Insurer Seeks Cash as Portfolio Plummets
After Surviving Storm, Fleeing a Fetid Galveston
Crude Oil Declines, Trading Below 100
As Economy Slows, China Eases Monetary Policy
In the midst of all that, you can find a large advertisement from Tiffany’s: Against an Aegean sea-blue background, an elegant linked platinum chain interspersed with diamonds reminds us, luxury can still be ours…
September 11, 2008 Remembering 911 – A Culture Infused with War by Mark Hillringhouse
September 11, 2008
Remembering 911 – A Culture Infused with War
by Mark Hillringhouse
For four days I sat in front of the television unable to move. I watched the towers being hit over and over in constant replay with camera zoom-ins of office workers jumping, even of a man and a woman holding hands as they jumped. I started having nightmares soon after.
On the actual day of September 11, 2001, I had had an appointment to be in lower Manhattan at 9 a.m. that Tuesday at Borough of Manhattan Community College two blocks away from the Twin Towers. But it had been cancelled. Had it not, I would have been down there when the planes hit.
That day at my college, some of us went to our offices and desks and sat in stunned silence. A coworker, a Muslim woman, came up to me and said, “These are not Muslims.”
I could see how upset she was. I told her that I was worried about her, knowing she could be a target for hate crime since she lived in an area which is mostly Palestinian and Muslim. I knew there would be reprisals and bias attacks from those Americans that make me more fearful of my own country than I am of any terrorist. She said that she would be okay but thanked me. The college closed and we headed home.
Four years later, I started taking photographs of 9-11 memorials around my home state: New Jersey. My state paid a heavy price on 9-11, almost a thousand perished, one-third the total lives lost. As I travelled from place to place, I discovered the event’s memory in murals painted by street artists, on the sides of gas stations, as folk art on people’d front lawns, or in memorials. In the end, spending time at each memorial, honoring objects left behind in remembrance helped me deal with some of the emotions I had for all those who perished.
My first thought after 9-11 was that we should build hospitals and schools, not drop bombs and roll tanks over innocent people. But I’ll admit I also felt a gut rage, a craving for revenge. I passed a local mosque on my way to and from the college and I felt angry that many of these Muslims were sympathetic to Al-Qaida and even supported it. The FBI did a sweep of local businesses in Paterson that collected money for an anti-Israel terrorist organization.
Those vengeful feelings soon passed. First of all, many of my friends and students were Muslim and they were just as enraged as I was and just as grief-stricken. The religion itself wasn’t to blame. I had a Syrian-born Muslim student in class who had joined the Army and because he spoke Arabic was being deployed. He told me how anti-Arab whites drove through his neighborhood shouting obscenities and had threatened his mother who wore the headscarf. And here he was serving his country, risking his life.
There has always been this stigma that if you are anti-war that you are anti-American, that you hate your country and what it stands for. I saw this all throughout Vietnam. After 9-11, U.S. flag lapel pins and patches sprouted everywhere. Car windows flew American flags. Baseball and football players wore flag decals on helmets and jerseys. I wonder at the strange connection between nationalist pride and sports. You never see anti-war or anti-Bush signs or bumper stickers at sporting events. It is like being an Obama supporter at a NASCAR rally.
And what I find particularly odd is how our culture seems to have been infused with the war. On HBO there is a new series titled “Generation Kill” by the writers of “The Wire.” This is the first time that I can recall a war show on television being aired before the war even ends. That never happened with World War II, or Korea, or Vietnam.
How our culture uses war and the military to sell cargo pants and camouflage clothing at Target’s and Kohl’s is something that disturbs me.
What impressed and moved me most were the items family members and friends and well-wishers left on each of the two walls that carry all the names of every victim: rosaries, crucifixes, crosses, mother’s day cards, sea shells, photographs, letters from children to their dead parents placed under teddy bears and reading. “Dear Daddy, It’s been 5 years since I’ve seen you. I’m 12 years old now…”
These memorials mean everything to the victims’ families and friends. There needs to be a place in the ground that is permanent, a place where respects can be paid and prayers can be offered. So I approached each memorial with reverence. I wanted to spend enough time at each one to contemplate and reflect on the names. As I traveled, it seemed more and more arrogant to build another super skyscraper on the same ground and name it the “Freedom Tower.” Too disrespectful of what was once there and of all those who perished.
After taking photos all over the state, I’ve noticed that none of the New Jersey memorials talk about hate or revenge. The only messages I saw were for peace, love and understanding. There is something healing about this. It is as if all the dust had to settle before anyone could sort out this tragedy and start to live their lives over again.
Last month, I walked a circular pathway down to the “Tower of Remembrance,” a memorial in Stirling, New Jersey, on the grounds of The Shrine of Saint Joseph’s, a Roman Catholic missionary retreat that has a church bell and structure made from salvaged steel from the North Tower.
I found a brochure box with the story of the tower and its significance on one side. On the back, there was a prayer of peace and consolation.I read and re-read the prayer as I sat near the memorial wall that listed the vicitm’s names.
Mark Hillringhouse’s poems, interviews, essays and book reviews have appeared in the American Poetry Review, The Chicago Tribune, The New Jersey Monthly, The New York Times, The Paris Review, and many others. He has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has won several fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. He teaches writing at Passaic County Community College and has an MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
September 9, 2008 Left Behind by Ed Cullen
September 9, 2008
by Ed Cullen
When I venture out, I go in a counter clockwise route from my house to better navigate traffic unregulated by traffic lights. I scored big at the supermarket and kept going in the loop back to my house. I’ll get gasoline for my truck tomorrow. We got gasoline for my wife’s car yesterday.
Found a baby possum in the bottom of a trash can. It fell in or climbed in, but, poor thing, couldn’t et out. I dumped the can, and the possum lay in the matted grass, mouth open, stiff, feigning death. Playing possum. I guess the tiny possum figured I wasn’t buying the act. Suddenly, it was on its feet and hauling ass for the azalea.
I’m reading a few minutes before sleep each night by windup lantern. I’ve got an uncorrected proof of Tom Piazza’s novel about Hurricane Katrina, City of Refuge, Harper, and Elmore Leonard’s Pagan Babies. Piazza’s book is out this month, and what I’ve read is good. Hurricane Gustav, like the diagnosis of a terminal disease, has put
everything in perspective for me. I have a job that thrives on disaster. There are a lot of people who’ll recover from this hurricane only to be unemployed.
We were in a political hurricane before Gustav hit. Our country is terribly out of kilter. We ave become a nation of people who either have what they need or don’t. We are rich or poor. The middle class is edging downward. A storm likke this one reminds you that we succeed or fail together. I was complaining to a South African I know about Baton Rouge’s being forgotten by the national media. He said he knew the feeling.
Tonight, I feel like the telegrapher on the Titanic. Maybe I’ll feel better in the morning.
September 8, 2008 On the Way Back to Baton Rouge by Ed Cullen
September 8, 2008
by Ed Cullen
The utility crews were at the front of our neighborhood as we drove out this morning. We’re spending the night in Lafayette 60 miles west of Baton Rouge on the other side of the Atchafalaya Swamp,
An excerpt from a Letter in a Woodpile, a collection of my essays for NPR’s “All Things Considered”:
“Driving through the night in a twenty-year-old pickup truck, windows down, wrapped in darkness, headlights illuminating a long, conical world, I quickly reach a sense of no time. I’m driving the I-10 cross the Achafalaya Basin. The elevated road across America’s largest swamp wilderness makes speedboats of cars, mighty ships of 18-wheelers leaving Lafayette as dusk becomes night, I’m eastbound for Baton Rouge. Before me stretches a double line of red taillights. The lights float in the night like a lava flow.”
Crossing the basin this morning for a night of lights and air conditioning at our son’s and daughter in law’s house, I remembered why I stay in Louisiana despite the hot, humid summers and too frequent visits by hurricanes: Andrew (1992), Katrina (2005) and Gustav (Monday). I spent the afternoon riding a bicycle downtown. At Dwyer’s Cafe on Jefferson Street, the diners’ eyes were glued to the television screen. Hurricane Ike, a Category 4 hurricane, could be off the Louisiana coast by Thursday.
Louisiana is a beautiful state. South Louisiana is French, Spanish, Italian, German and Slavs, prairie, marsh and swamp, but North Louisiana is English and piney woods. The Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) physician’s assistant who doctored my infected toe called the patients he’d seen tough, polite and cheerful.
“They’re not whiners,” he said. “We were talking about that just now.”
Tonight, we’re having sausage, white beans and rice, smothered cabbage and cornbread. We’re sleeping cool for the first night since Monday (Labor Day) and taking hot showers in the morning. We had cold water showers before leaving Baton Rouge. We shower as much to lower body temperature as to revive after working to clear storm debris and cleaning out refrigertors and freezers of their frozen meat, seafood, milk, cheese, chicken stock, vegetables from the garden, jellies and jams.
Go to www.2theadvocate.com to see the damage in Baton Rouge. If Hurricane Ike comes next week, this will start all over again. The odds are the new storm won’t follow Gustav’s track but no one can say. As bad as Gustav was to South Louisiana, we can take the big storms better than New Orleans where flooding is more widespread and longer lasting. I’d like to hear from those of you who’ve been reading these entries. I’ll try to answer specific questions.” Email firstname.lastname@example.org or me directly at email@example.com.
It was cooler and drier today with sunlight that suggests fall isn’t far away. Mais cher, laissez les bon temps rouler. Sorry I can’t check a French dictionary to make sure my spellings correct but that means, “Baby, let the good times roll.” Bon nuit. (Good night.)
(Editor’s Note: This is the sixth blog in Cullen’s series on the Hurricane.)
September 6, 2008 Politics, God, and Life after the Hurricane by Ed Cullen
September 6, 2008
Politics, God, and Life after the Hurricane
by Ed Cullen
I have one foot in a a pan of dissolving Epsom salts, a cool Milwaukee’s Best within reach and red toe the size of W.C. Fields’s nose. It’s almost seven in the evening. There’s about an hour of daylight left, then I must begin preparations for night in a neighborhood without electricity.
The Louisiana capital, the largest city in Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina downsized New Orleans, has been largely without power since Hurricane Gustav hit on Monday (Sept. 1). A metropolitan area of about 700,000 people is slowly getting power back, but my neighborhood isn’t even on the list published in the paper this morning. Met some wonderful people from Massachusetts this afternoon. They talk funny, like Southern Louisianians but different. They’re physicians’ assistants, nurses and doctors who make up a DMAT (Disaster Medical Assistance Team). If you’re bad off you go to the ER. If you have an infected toe, probably from wading in yucky water, you go to the DMAT people in a tent outside the emergency room.
No waiting. Free sample antibiotics. Free clinic visit. DMAT is funded by you taxpayers. I’d like to take a minute to say, “Thank You.” At the CVS drugstore on Highland Road south of Louisiana State University, I filled my prescription for the antibiotics for which I did pay. DMAT gave me a starter pack of strong stuff.
I know, you’re not supposed to drink when taking medication, but I’ve had a long day.
The Cephalexin is for my infected toe. The beer is for the rest of me.
I’m looking at the most lovely sunset, all the more bright and vivid because of the big trees missing on the other side of the street. I tell you I almost cried watching the helicopters land at the little pad beside the emergency room. There are so many people hurting after this storm. Yet, because the storm didn’t finish off New Orleans, the rest of the country is treating it like an anti-climax.
Listen. We’re OK. We’re taking care of each other. As I said, there are some people here form Mssachusetts helping out. The Republican National Convention didn’t get a whole lot of attention in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, because the power’s off and we remember the FEMA debacle after Katrina. “You’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie.”
But I read that John McCain’s running mate, the woman from Alaska who looks like Saturday Night Live’s news anchor Tina Fey, if you squint, made a point in her acceptance speech. She said that our nation’s presence in Iraq is something God gave America to handle. I hate it when politicians speak for God.
Ed Cullen is a columnist on the (Baton Rouge) Advocate, in Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana. To see pictures of the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav, go to: www.2theadvocate.com
(Editor’s Note: This is the fifth blog in Cullen’s series on the Hurricane.)
September 5, 2008 Meanwhile – Back in Baton Rouge… by Ed Cullen
September 5, 2008
Meanwhile – Back in Baton Rouge…
by Ed Cullen
John McCain and Sarah Palin have formally thrown their hats in the presidential ring, but from now until we get power back to this city of 400,000, Baton Rougeans are in hurricane recovery, which means trying to find groceries, gasoline, and starting to hold block parties to cook frozen food that will go bad.
Last night, neighbors gathered at Betsy’s house. “You know you don’t have to do this if you’re tired,” someone said, as Betsy climbed out of her car. Betsy’s a nurse in the preemie ward of a large hospital.
“What else is there to do?” she said, unlocking the front door of her dark house.
Our neighborhood looks like artillery shells went off at tree top. Oak trees, magnolia, pecan, gum, crape myrtle, elm, pine, you name it, are down or topless. Houses behind ours and on nearby streets have large trees through the roof. Last night, a thunder storm rolled through. All I could think of was the added misery of rain falling through the ruins of our neighbors’ houses.
We’re not getting much national press. Long lines at gasoline stations, houses with candlelight flickering inside and people sitting on front porches aren’t dramatic enough for television. President Bush has been here. The governor and the mayor are telling the utility companies in no uncertain terms that a month before all power’s restored is not acceptable. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, my wife and I are moving around in the dark with miners’ lights shining from our foreheads. Lily, the cat, is so spooked she’s sheltering in place under the dining room table.
I worked in the yard yesterday morning from first light until I left for work at 10 a.m. Eggplant bushes survived. I propped up flattened bell pepper plants and put braces under the limbs of Meyer lemon.
I’m planning the fall garden…Life goes on in hurricane country.
Ed Cullen is a columnist on the (Baton Rouge) Advocate in Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana.
September 3, 2008 Aftermath – Gustav Leaves “His” Mark in Baton Rouge by Ed Cullen
September 3, 2008
Aftermath – Gustav Leaves “His” Mark in Baton Rouge
by Ed Cullen
Ed Cullen is a columnist on The (Baton Rouge) Advocate. Baton Rouge, the Louisiana capital is without electrical power following Hurricane Gustav.
We’re without power at our printing plant, but The (Baton Rouge) Advocate has made arrangements to have the paper printed at The Lafayette Advertiser, across the Atchafalaya Swamp, in Lafayette, La. Everything’s exotic in South Louisiana. Hurricanes. Wind-ripped banana trees. Armadillos flushed from their homes. Our readers are getting their papers by truck convoy across the I-10 swamp expressway.
This morning, Baton Rouge, about 100 miles up the Mississippi River from New Orleans, is 95 percent without power. There are no traffic signals working in this city of about 400,000. That means motorists must recall that question (and answer) on the driver’s exam. When a traffic signal’s out, the intersection becomes a four-way stop with motorists yielding to the car on their right. It’s working amazing well. At some intersections, traffic is moving more quickly than with signals.
The President is expected here Wednesday morning to tell us we’re a disaster area. You know, officially. Utility crews and residents are clearing thousands of downed trees. Power companies are putting lines back up. The mayor says some parts of the city could be without power for a month. Doubtful. The people here will string their own lines if the air conditioning isn’t back on in two weeks.
Of course, most of us are experiencing what the poor and many elderly people endure every day. Heat in the 90s with humidity to match in unairconditioned houses. That is the price you pay for living in Guatemala North.
We are a resilient lot, however. Our people know how to work with their hands. This morning, I worked in the yard surrounded by the banshee cry of chainsaws. I worked for a couple of hours before heading for work. The physical exertion felt good. Our house is slowly warming. The cold shower felt good.
September 2, 2008 Riding out Hurricane Gustav: Report from Baton Rouge Ed Cullen
September 2, 2008
Riding out Hurricane Gustav: Report from Baton Rouge
The morning paper, my paper, the one I work for when I’m not sitting out a hurricane on Labor Day Monday, arrived in the driveway with a wet plop.
“Gustave is here,” says the big headline across the top of the front page.
I love newspapers. They are as high tech as any business in the world until “the product” is thrown into the back of a Ford Econoline van for the adventure of delivery. In Baton Rouge, we are about 30 feet above sea level, a mountain compared to the marshland to the south and New Orleans, sitting in a bowl like a giant Cheerio, near the mouth of the Mississippi River. In Baton Rouge, the worst thing we deal with are falling trees. And that’s no small thing in a city where people ride a tiny, claustrophobic elevator to the top of a skyscraper Capitol to look out over a lovely canopy of live oak, water oak, sweet gum, crepe myrtle, sycamore and pecan.
Water oak is the tree you don’t want growing in your yard. In my part of town, south of Louisiana State University (LSU), water oak is what most yards have, if they have a big tree. A lot of water oaks got planted before people realized the tree isn’t as strong or flexible as live oak.
So, we watch the branches of water oak swirl high above the ground, 50, 60, 80 feet, in high winds. That’s when the spars come off to spear car roofs and the roofs of houses. On a calm, clear winter night, a water oak across the street dropped a javeline through the bedroom ceiling of a neighbor. She was in bed, asleep, a few feet away.
We were without power for a week after Hurricane Andrew in August 1992. Tree trunks and branches were piled high at the curbs, like thorn fences (ours had acorns) erected against lions in Africa. The evenings were so quiet. No air conditioners. Few televisions. This was before electrical generators, powered by gasoline, became popular. You might hear a radio turned low through an open screen door in one of the older houses. We’d survived a big storm. Our nightly walks were little celebrations.
Some really good sea food, bisques, soups and beef would go bad if we didn’t eat them in the next couple of days. Charcoal grills appeared on the front lawns of houses, like dark mushrooms after the storm. For days, the warm, humid evening air was filled with the most wonderful smells. We walked street to street, house to house with round metal camping plates and utensils, ravenous after a day of cutting up tree limbs with chain saws and the little bow saws that had been growing rust in garages before the storm.
That’s the part you don’t see in dramatic television pictures of reporters standing in the wind to make even more dramatic their news of storm devastation. Flooding and ineptitude killed people in New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina. About a month later, Hurricane Rita heavily damaged South Louisiana west of New Orleans. The governments of Louisiana and the United States got blamed for the misery brought by the storms, and those governments did not cover themselves in glory.
But storms have always come down to this: Did we choose a good spot to build or buy a house? Not everyone gets to make that choice. That’s where government comes in. Developers and people are allowed to build homes, condos and public housing in places where builders of the 19th century and earlier knew better than to build shelters humble or grand.
Over the years, high land, safe land, has remained relatively constant unless man messed with it. Low lands were never meant for permanent habitation.
I’ll leave you with a story that’s almost a hundred years old. It’s a family story that’s gotten better with the telling but it shows not much as changed with people in storms: (Excerpted from Letter in a Woodpile, Cool Springs Press) An unnamed storm – hurricanes weren’t named until 1953 – is known in my family as the hurricane that almost killed Mildred, my mother. She was an infant asleep on a bed in front of a brick fire place.” (The house destroyed in this storm stood not far from where Hurricane Gustav came ashore, Sept. 1, 2009).
“As the house began to shake hard, someone picked up my mother and headed for the back door. The walls and roof began to part. The chimney fell across the bed where minutes before my mother had been sleeping.
Now the good part: “In the kitchen, my Aunt Aggie was begging her big brother, Floyd, to put down the statue he was holding of the Virgin Mary to pick her up. Floyd had scooped up the statue from its place in the living room while nervously pacing the rooms of the house. ‘Hold ME, Floyd!’ Aggie cried as the roof began to lift.
My Uncle Floyd picked up his sister with one arm and, with the Virgin Mary under his other arm, ran for the back door. He cleared the back porch steps in a downward stride, ran across the yard and hurdled a fence. The height of the fence is what changes the most. At the very least, Floyd’s clearing the fence with child and Virgin qualifies him for the Olympics.”
Ed Cullen is a feature writer and columnist for the (Baton Rouge) Advocate and author of Letters in a Woodpile, a collection of essays that includes his commentaries for NPR’s All Things Considered.
Cullen is a regular contributor to Wild River Review.
September 1, 2008 Youths Destroying Themselves on the Island of Crete by Janey Bennett
September 1, 2008
Youths Destroying Themselves on the Island of Crete
by Janey Bennett
Throughout time, adolescents have done risky things. Sometimes the dangerous, child-no-longer actions are prescribed by their culture, as in the aboriginal initiations. Since our culture has no ritual rite of passage into adulthood, our teenagers are most often initiated into something (not adulthood) through excessive drinking and unsafe sex.
I’m not trying to sound judgmental and above it all: I remember bouts of Brandy Alexanders in my freshman year in college, although I don’t remember very much about them.
This is a phenomenon everywhere in the West: Fort Lauderdale spring break, Midsummer Eve in Helsinki, Graduation Night in most places. Some of the young don’t survive the initiation (think of those single car accidents on prom nights). In present times, the only initiation our culture offers into being grown-up is to do those things we couldn’t do before. And to do them big enough and bad enough to make the point that we’d done them.
In 1990, Bill Moyers and Robert Bly spoke of the need for male initation in our culture – http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/archives/gathering.html – the program and Bly’s book, Iron John, led to a range of results, from men’s groups that beat ritual drums in sweat lodges to some honest attempts to move out of permanent adolescence into a genuine adult role.
If culture can’t show us how to become adult, all we can do is follow our peers.
German and Scandinavian youth are known for initiations of drinking, and there are certainly enough signs of hangovers among them in vacation spots. The US has its share of kids drinking too much. The drunkest youth in the world these days are from England, and they land en masse on some holiday site and behave badly, really badly.
This year’s Self-Destructo Derby site is Malia, Crete, a small coastal town near a 4000-year-old Minoan palace. The town has been taken over by English kids, lured by a package tour priced at less than £ 200 (about US$ 350) including airfare and hotel for a week, and an invitation to bars that offer up to Buy-One-Get-Six drink deals.
Somebody’s making money.
How, you ask, can anybody make money on airfare/hotel packages that cheap? The only visible sign of profit is the suggestion that bartenders are lacing drinks with industrial alcohol to cut their costs. Maybe that’s why the English drunks are so dangerous in Malia this year.
Dangerous, you might think? Well, yes. Besides the usual drunk guys slugging each other and breaking windows in storefronts, just last month two drunk English women flying home from Malia holidays attempted to open the door of the airplane at altitude “to get some fresh air.” Flight attendants wrestled them to the floor, the plane was re-routed to Frankfurt and the girls were arrested there.
This English excessive drinking and screwing first drew my attention because this year it is happening on Crete, the island whose culture I spent seven years studying and writing about in my novel, The Pale Surface of Things. I love Crete and hate to see it damaged. Somewhere I read a quote that of all the forces that had oppressed Crete: the Byzantine empire, Venetians, Turks, Nazis in World War II,the worst of all are the tourists. There is no way to resist the changes that tourism has brought to the island. Visitors bring change to a place, yes, but no place deserves self-destructive young drunks.
Last month, also, a 20-year-old English woman returned to her hotel room from a night of partying, gave birth to an infant, killed it, and is now facing charges of infanticide.
Earlier this summer, a promising young athlete was attacked by five youths and left comatose. I can’t find an update on his condition, but the howl from his family was that Greek law had a time limit on bringing charges against the attackers, so the perps went back to England scot-free.
It is reported that one hundred girls a day show up at the Malia medical facilities to ask for the Morning-After-Pill, because they have woken up in bed with multiple men and they don’t remember what might have happened. Rapes in Greece t
hrough August this year outnumber all of last year, and those are just the ones that are reported.
The mayor of Malia has appealed to the British consul in Athens to help put an end to these excesses. No one seems to want to take on this problem.
One blog writer commented that if you think Malia is bad you should see Manchester on Saturday night. The only difference is it’ll be raining in Manchester. This is a major crisis of Western culture, that our youth have to go to such dangerous and destructive extremes to think they have arrived at adulthood. We’d all better wake up to the need to do something about it.
Who is profiting here? The bucket shops of tours? The bartenders of Malia? Who? And how can this be stopped before more of these young people do permanent damage to their brains and lives with this behavior?
Crete will survive. Malia will fall out of favor next year or the year after, or someone will do something to protect it. The larger question is what can we do to slow down the ever expanding reckless wildness of self-initiating youth? Can we find some other channel for their rite of passage besides this lawless and dangerous behavior? Can we make it possible for them to survive without injuring themselves?
Janey Bennett’s novel, The Pale Surface of Things, (ISBN 978-0-9734007-2-4) is set in the Cretan city of Chania and in a fictional village upslope on Lefka Ori, the White Mountains of western Crete.
Bennett’s novel traces the journey of a young American man on Crete to study archaeology for the summer before going home to marry and work for his bride’s father. At the last minute, he finds he can’t go ahead with the marriage and runs to the Lefka Ora – White Mountains – where he becomes a pawn in a family vendetta in a village still struggling to heal from the rifts caused by World War II.
August 25, 2008 Ski Oklahoma – Poetry by Peter Baroth reviewed by Eileen D'Angelo
August 25, 2008
Ski Oklahoma – Poetry by Peter Baroth
reviewed by Eileen D’Angelo
Wordrunner Chapbooks, Petaluma, CA
“There was once a place not really geographic, but a locale of the soul…”
This is what Peter Baroth accomplished in his book, Ski Oklahoma, “a locale of the soul,” a sacred space in which you will find yourself learning through your personal experiences, mistakes and accomplishments; a space where your heart is forged throughout your life.
Baroth’s words force you to acknowledge the person you’ve become, to appreciate the great and tiny tragedies that have changed you, or clarified your perception of your own life and of the world. Ski Oklahoma is about growth and putting things into perspective. Baroth celebrates the merits of falling down and the triumph of finding the courage to get back up. In addition to reaching beyond the physical, Baroth artfully captures the ambience and the mood of the many places he has seen in his life.
It’s St. Louis. Oklahoma. Chicago. Philadelphia. It’s Blues and Jazz, Coltrane and Miles, dark glasses, smoky bars. Music and words rolled into one. He celebrates the “funky neighborhood”, “guys holding hands at 13th and Locust”, “artists of Bucks County” and “nudists of New Jersey”. You will want to savor Baroth’s visions and voice, his cool/edgy/Kerouac style, the sly sophisticated humor, so smooth, you can’t help but smile. The only disadvantage of hearing Peter Baroth read his poetry aloud is that images fly at you like a freight train barreling down the track. There’s a pounding of startling connections until your brain stops and misses the next few lines. The great advantage in reading this book is that you can take the time to savor each word and listen to the music in each poem.
Some pieces in the book are crafted with a waterfall of slant rhyme, that give the words a slam-style, in-your-face tongue twist, words with subtle differences that sound alike, sounds singing and jangling, rolling into each other with a powerful kind of music. Like the staccato bursting of a horn that batters at minor keys, like the Coltrane or Charlie Parker he loves, he forces you to listen to a kind of word art barrage; sometimes cohesively, sometimes incoherently, in the same way an abstract painting evokes strong feelings, before there is an understanding of the artist’s message.
There is a wonderful spontaneity in Baroth’s poem, “Boxed Out.” He is not only telling the story of a love affair, he describes, as well, an appreciation and a love affair with life, seen through a poet’s eye: “And in the background, you can hear the trains passing/ headed for other towns.” In the middle of a series of recounted memories, Baroth throws in lines that startle the reader: “Do you know I’m writing this naked?” And a few lines later, his emphatic “yes, yes, yes” transports us from his recitation of memories to this verbal immediate exclamation, an involuntary outburst, followed by the romance of “We quit the world together and drift…” The language is clear and full of images that evoke strong feelings.
There are so many lines to fall in love with, in addition to the lines mentioned in “Boxed Out.” From his poem, “Space”: “But the old cities took you inside – swallowed you.” From “Microchip Madonna”. “I place the needle/on the vinyl of an old 45/ one far-off afternoon/ and do something like pray/.” He unites the growing concern of a generation, the lack of tolerance, the coming of age in rural America, the joys as well as the disappointments: “the erosion of subtle, supple thought.”
Try out “66 Kicks”, for original, fresh lines: “Maybe you sit on a stool and tell the bartender how it once was./And no one is around/to tell it like it is anymore./And Philadelphia is a town that everyone seems to anoint through/departure.”
A few lines from another poem which is memorable, “Lists,” employs a very clever way of moving through time and place. In “Lists,” there is an interjection of cities, towns and countries between specific memories of a woman, and a smart, understated humor, as he remembers everything
But her name
the name of my girl
has been gone for decades.
Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Barstow
I remember her laugh.
St. Louis, Philadelphia
Where she was from
Chicago, New York
where she was headed
I have no idea.
Consider the poem, “Next Time,” in which Baroth tells about his dreams, the things he’d do, the places he would go in the afterlife. He knows the next time, it will all be better somehow, as he catalogs an incredible list of accomplishments and experiences he anticipates: I’ll take drum lessons from Buddy Rich/ be a photographer for Playboy/ own a hotel on the Gulf Coast/ drink martinis with Sinatra/ in Atlantic City, write a play for Marilyn Monroe/ jam with Jerry Reed in Memphis…/
It’s interesting that as the poem concludes, he wants to “Be a mad poet.” Isn’t the work of a poet to observe his world, to take his life experiences and travels, and relate the paths he has chosen and convey the heaven and hell of each? Isn’t the desire of a poet to turn his own memories into reality for others, through the words he has chosen? To make the reader remember those startling moments in their own lives and to take the curves life throws at us and turn them into words? Then I’ve got news for Peter Baroth. There’s no denying it. He is already a poet with a capital “P”, in this life. There’s no need to wait until the next.
Elieen D’Angleo is director of: Mad Poets Society
August 20, 2008 The Yoga Diaries by Angie Brenner
August 20, 2008
The Yoga Diaries
by Angie Brenner
To say that I’ve wanted to become a certified yoga instructor most of my life may be only somewhat true. In the seventies I was too restless for meditation or the promise of enlightenment, always checking to see if anyone else was looking around the room during savasana, the resting pose, at the end of a yoga class. Life got in the way of my spiritual practice, and while a few friends sought nirvana in India and with mind-altering substances, I was too busy in my physical body – skiing, racquetball, running, hiking – to appreciate yoga. Career life intervened as well, and once I jumped into the corporate world and then ran my own business, many of the physical activities took a back seat, too. Yet, I always felt a pull toward yoga that was helped by the fact that I lived in San Diego, California within minutes of some of the best yoga training and classes available in the world.
Whenever I took a yoga class, I felt that the practice might offer me something more than a way of keeping my body in shape. But could I wholly commit to yoga, body, mind and soul?
It took moving to the mountains in Julian, an hour and a half from my former neighborhood along the Southern California coast, to ignite the passion. A local Native American woman and holistic healer opened a studio near my house and offered a Hatha Yoga flow practice that was already familiar to me. After a couple years of regular practice, my teacher began to let me lead some of the classes. It felt comfortable. Now, all I needed was a studio where I could get my 200 hours of teacher training for the first certification. This led me to seek out Tom and Trisha Kelly’s studio, Soul of Yoga, in Encinatas.
I’d prepared a lifetime and several frenetic days to begin the yoga training program. Was I really ready?
Diary of a Yogi in Training:
Day 1 – I’ve settled in at the house of my friend Lynda, with our respective dogs, Sam and Harley. Got a late start this morning, feeling rushed and behind, and got caught in I-5 morning traffic. After signing in and paying the balance of the training fee, I make my way to the yoga studio. Half an our late, I grab a backrest and cushion, I squeeze into the circle of twelve students sitting crossed legged facing Tom.
They all seem to know the repetitive chant and follow Tom while he plays the melody on his harmonium – a box instrument that looks to be a cross between an accordion and organ. Tom’s voice is beautiful and strong. No one but me seems to be struggling with the words. Damn, I think to myself, what a way to begin these next ten days. Then, I think about using the word, damn, even silently, during a meditation practice. This can’t be good. What have I gotten myself into? My mind is running helter skelter.
Relax, breath, follow the chant. It’s the same words over and over and over, how difficult can it be to remember? But, for some reason I’m struggling. Tom stops and says, “Now that you know your goal, just relax.”
What goal? I came in late and missed the goal! How can I relax if I don’t know the goal? Will I find out what the goal is? Don’t panic. Everyone in the circle looks serene engaged, someone will let me know later.
The meditation ends and we are asked to move into the smaller studio room next door. A few of us smile and introduce ourselves to each other. There’s a feeling of anticipation in the air. We again sit in a circle. On my left is a man with several large arm tattoos who might have just left his chopper parked curbside. I turn to him and introduce myself and ask him his name. He looks like he’d rather take up needlepoint than talk to me, but social niceties get the best of him and he tells me and then turns to Trisha seated in front of us.
“We’re going to introduce ourselves to each other,” she says looking in my direction.
Hmm, I think to myself like a smug yogi, I already know three or four of my counterparts, so this should be fun.
“But not by our names,” says Trisha. ”In this process, we’ll be silent. You will face each other and simply look into each other’s eyes.”
Screwed up again, I think, but the process begins before there’s time to fret. In turn, we move around the circle and one by one, holding hands, we look into the eyes of our fellow trainees for a whole ten seconds, which seems much longer. I’m shocked at how intimate this feels. Within the first moments, tears flow freely within the group, uncontrollably. Haven’t I had relationships where we never looked at each other so deeply? Soon, I’m lost in visions and ancient memories of the group held in coal-black, sea-foam green, and liquidy hazel orbs.
Well, that’s quite an ice-breaker I want to say once we sit down, but already I’m thinking of what I might learn from my fellow yogis and sense an instant kinship or maternal awareness coming through.
Twelve hours later, I drag myself back to Lynda’a house and collapse. Everything I thought this training would be, is different.
And tomorrow, we’ll be introduced to Kundalini…
August 6, 2008 Learning to Swim by Ed Cullen
August 6, 2008
Learning to Swim
by Ed Cullen
This morning, I encountered a sure sign of summer in the form of a small boy with a rolled towel under one arm and his mother two steps behind. No one had to tell me where mother and son were going. I recognized the body language of walking to swimming lessons.
I learned to swim in a municipal swimming pool where children outnumbered life guards 50 to 1 on a hot day. We learned to swim by imitating people who could. We’d do our versions of the breaststroke, Australian crawl, sidestroke and backstroke to make it across the pool in the shallow end.
When we felt we could handle a non-stop swim of about 60 feet, we signaled a life guard, got the nod and dived into the deep end. In our minds, the difference between the shallow end and the deep end was the difference between a bath tub and the Pacific Ocean.
Face down, arms flailing, we made for the opposite side. We judged our progress by markings on the bottom of the pool. Huge gulp of breath, more flailing and – then – we touched the far wall. A life guard gave us thumbs up. We were sanctioned members of the Deep End of City Park Pool.
We swam every day so the life guards usually remembered us. If they made us swim across the pool again, we didn’t take offense. We were, after all, cross-pool swimmers.
I took senior lifesaving in that pool, using the strokes I’d taught myself. I managed to survive water combat after the instructor told us to pinch him if he had us in a hold we couldn’t break. By the end of the class, the instructor looked like he’d been attacked by water moccasins.
This morning’s boy and his mother were heading for the home of a woman who teaches swimming in the family pool. No doubt the lessons are gentler than my instruction at the hands of municipal life guards. Missing is the challenge of swimming through the chop of City Park Pool between a sky of stabbing blue and the bottom fathoms below.
But I was learning more than how to swim. I was learning to survive in life’s deep waters. Then I walked home, red-eyed, to sandwiches and the rest of a summer’s day.
Ed Cullen is a feature writer and columnist for The (Baton Rouge) Advocate in Louisiana’s capital city and author of Letter in a Woodpile, a collection of essays that includes his commentaries for NPR’s All Things Considered.
July 25, 2008 Antiseptic: Inhibiting the Growth of Bacteria By Paulina Reso
July 25, 2008
Antiseptic: Inhibiting the Growth of Bacteria
I entered an elevator flooded with newspapers. One corner
was densely packed with paper and I feared that, contained in that cocoon,
there was some ill-fated creature beginning to germinate. Underneath the husk I
could have peeled and separated leaves to find rotting fruit. I remember
clutching a ruby orb of an apple in my small hand. Carefully, I stripped it of
its color and burrowed deep until I reached an area faintly tinged by sunlight.
The golden pieces that fell to the ground were sucked in by the sea. I
witnessed a sudden change in my feet; they were no longer firmly planted on top
of the swirling sand, but swallowed by the shifting surface.
Papers twitched in the electric-powered box: each sheet
convulsed like a cell struggling in a turbulent blood stream. When Henrik
nudged me into the nexus of the mechanized tug-of-war game, the air shifted and
made space for me.
“Don’t worry about the mess. Look at this headline. The most
popular name for a dog in Poland is Burek. Brownish-grey!” he said.
Our shuffling feet crumpled papers and deranged words that
once appeared sequentially. Black and white faces stared up at me from Commersant,
Gazetta dlya Zhenshin, Hello, Internet–they
moaned, they spewed ink that was trapped in the captions below. I could hear
the starved papers screaming for someone to read them, to notice their flashy
headlines. Immobile, I let the elevator fling me far above the ground.
Mr. Penguin was on the front page of one of the daily
papers, smiling. As we strode up six flights of stairs, I could hear the
crackle of his dry skin as it stretched to accommodate his great grin. By the
fourth level, I could smell the arid heat emanating from above.
“This is where you can find a tornado trapped in a
bottle. Scientists calculated its precise fluctuations and captured it at its
most exact moment of weakness. When it expanded again, all the tornado could do
was push against the layered glass and plead for exit,” he said.
He pulled me up on his broad shoulders so I could see better.
I felt myself wobbling and gripped his collar, hoping I would not fall into the
Mr. Penguin’s hair danced with the movements of the
earth. I saw it shifting and gliding across the surface of his scalp. It moved
rhythmically, in waves.
“Be careful, Aniela. The current is strong today. Henrik, go
with her! Make sure she doesn’t get too close to the water,” my mother boomed.
I tugged on my striped sundress so it stretched below my
knees. My toes clung to the velvet sand until neurons fired and commanded their
displacement. Fear was in my veins, but my heart beat slowly, taking care to
expel and recall gooey globs of blood.
My family made caramel. They owned a small organ, but
there was no space for it except in the kitchen. One day, the vat of bubbling
sugar burst and covered the precious musical instrument. The gilded legs
glowed. The syrup looked like rain slipping from the ceiling. It stretched and
hung frozen in the air, if only for a moment.
A tornado petrified in a bottle.
Sometimes when I stand at the edge of a vacant space I
hear my spirit pounding against something like an internal wire cage. “Set me
free! Set me free! Do you see how the tornado howls in its cylindrical pen?” it
When enough synapses suck up the serotonin floating in
the nether space, I was able to ignore this plea. I moved a strand of whipped hair from my slimy, salt-sweating cheek.
“Can you spare some change?” a man with leather skin and
a twisted tongue asked me. He cowered in a corner, expecting me to hurl loose
change at his collapsed frame.
“No, sir, I don’t carry any money. In fact, I don’t think
it still exists. I could afford to share this newspaper with you,” I replied.
My crumpled dress dropped to the cement with me. Hands
trembling, I offered him the paper. In his eyes, there was a hollowness, a vacuum. Had his soul
broken through and fled?
“I’m sorry, Aniela, but while you were at school, Burek
escaped. I can’t seem to find him. I’m sure that he’s safe and with his other
friends,” mother said.
An alarm blared and sound particles ricocheted in my head. “Huh. On miejsca gdzie on jest
the keys, I made the instrument scream weeoohweeooh.
A police car
zipped by, followed only seconds later by it shrieking siren. Veeummveeumm. The
air had been pierced, disrupted, disassembled. A street sweeper came to tidy
up. As the water that rushed beneath the machine slithered to the storm grates,
Burek bounced across the road. I did not call after him, but watched as he was
pulled in by the sweeper’s violently swinging brushes.
your hair become so knotty? Let’s see if I can convince this tangle to
unravel,” mother joked.
remained inert in my thistly mane. The harder she tugged, the more sand fell to
the ground. Purple sand from the beach at Big Sur twinkled on the tile.
When I came
back the next day, the elevator was clean.
the mess and frantically hunted for each shard of manganese garnet.
“This is quite
a gem,” the bum exclaimed.
did a fine job collecting a complete story. I had no idea that modern science
had achieved such a feat. A tornado in a bottle!”
He brought an
empty jug of Kubanskaya vodka to eye-level. A white horse pranced across the
“Not trapped in something much larger than this, huh?” he said as he scanned the
I watched a
man glide across the street as if he did not belong to this world. Perhaps he
was nourished by something supernatural. As he turned the corner I noticed that
he had a bundle of newspapers tied around his waist.
beautiful thing I’ve ever seen” was condensed and scribbled across.
I could agree
with him that tumbling sheets of paper that performed acrobatics mid-air were
lovely things, but chained to him, they lost their splendor. Now, they were
just like deflated rags, pleading for exit, begging to let the wind push under
their wings and inflate them once again.
July 15, 2008 The Night Club Singer by Brittany Mike
July 15, 2008
The Night Club Singer
by Brittany Mike
Janice Dumar wanders through the breezeway of the Shady Palms Motel at night crooning her old tunes. Her gray and thinning hair, held together by a faux diamond barrette, hangs on her narrow shoulders. A sequinced ruby red gown that once hugged her frame now drapes her brittle bones.
At one time she headlined hot spots in Chicago; considered to be the Jayne Kennedy of her day. Standing on a stage with her name flashing in lights, it was just her and the mic. Catcalls echoing from the audience never phased her mood and she always ended with a graceful bow.
Now a staggering Dumar churns out slurred words. “Thought I had a lover.” Listening for any man who recognizes her tune, she offers a private performance for money. Poor Ms. Dumar, blinded by her vanity and addiction. Always searching for the high of the limelight in a bottle.
July 2, 2008 Letter from Jerusalem: The Face 2 Face Project by Eliyahu McLean
July 2, 2008
Letter from Jerusalem:
The Face 2 Face Project
The many photos of Israelis and Palestinians, faces side by side, were posted over a year ago all over Jerusalem and the West Bank, and on both sides of the separation wall, at Abu Dis and in Bethlehem. The images on the Bethlehem side still remain today.
Since then, “JR”, the young French photographer, has posted these images, large billboard size posters, in central public locations all over Europe: in Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, Paris and most recently in Geneva.
Photos By Eliyahu McLean,
Jerusalem Peacemakers, co-director
June 11, 2008 Books, Bags, and Babes at BookExpo 2008 – and the mighty PEN by Angie Brenner
June 11, 2008
Books, Bags, and Babes at BookExpo 2008 – and the mighty PEN
Booksellers queue in front of the L.A. Convention Center doors on Saturday morning of the 2008 BookExpo America – BEA. At 9:00 am, they push through and quickly disperse among the rows of publisher booths, ready to grab the latest galley copies of new releases and meet the authors. Today, among the many on hand to sign their books are: Arianna Huffington, Ann Rice, Salman Rushdie, Dionne Warwick, Andre Dubus III, Alec Baldwin, Leonard Nimoy, Vincent Bugliosi, William Shatner, Mariel Hemingway, Jamie Lee Curits, and Barbara Walters – whose handlers make sure that no photos will be taken of the interview queen as she signs her just released, tell-all biography, Audition.
Along with hundreds of publishers and authors, there’s a vast array of forms and speakers. One must have a plan to tackle the more than 5,000 booths and numerous scheduled events. The main floor houses major publishers and the west hall an odd combination of children’s book publishers and romance and erotica genre where colored condoms wrapped as lollipops are handed out a few rows away from Madeline books.
After perusing the two pound BEA guide, I decide to attend the morning key-note speaker address by New York Times journalist, Thomas Friedman, who will talk about his latest book on climate change called, Flat, Hot, and Crowded. But first, I’m seduced by the stacks of give-away books and then by the ‘best’ tote bags being handed out in which to schlep the books. By the time I arrive at the lecture I’m loaded down with full Ingram and Princeton bags, and a zippered canvas Yale tote. Fortunately, the event organizers have arranged a shipping area where the collected booty can be dropped off and later shipped or hauled home at the end of the conference.
At noon, I’m scheduled for the author luncheon to listen to Michael Moore and Jon Krakauer, which was to be the highlight of my day. I’d missed seeing Stephen Colbert last year so made certain that I’d ordered tickets well in advance. But there’s an edge in the air when I take a seat at one of the dozens of tables. Service is slow. And finally an announcement is made that Arianna Huffington will replace Michael Moore who has been stranded in the Midwest due to bad weather, and Jon Krakauer has cancelled. (Later, I learn from Krakauer’s publisher, Doubleday, that his latest book about the story of Pat Tillman, the American soldier killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire would be delayed “due to sensitivity to Tillman’s family.”) Also, the convention center’s food service employees went out on a two hour strike. “Lunch will be served by BEA personnel,” says the host. Surprisingly, all goes smoothly and Ms. Huffington – gracious enough to pitch-hit at the last minute – is every bit as entertaining as Mr. Moore.
Needing a break from the drama of politics and war…I check the guide and scope out the HIC booth for author, Christopher Hopkins, the makeover guy pitching his book, Staging Your Comeback, A complete Beauty Revival for Women Over 45. While Hopkins extols advice on my ’casual’ style, his publisher hands out makeup and a state-of-the-art eyelash curler – yes, some of us still use one. Several women in line look to be barely over 30 and hardly in need of beauty tips, so I can only presume that they are thinking ahead.
Then, it’s off to an afternoon author event. This year, PEN America has joined with ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) to feature ‘Something to Hide, Writers and Artists against the Surveillance State.’ Several authors read passages from the works of other authors on the subject of government surveillance of artists and the subtle, and not so subtle, ways that being watched changes how we react to the world around us.
Actress, Sally Brooks begins by reading actual FBI files from the 1950’s that might seem absurd and laughable if they weren’t true. Children’s author, Judy Blume, moves us to tears when she reads from Doris Lessing’s work about “an empty space in which to write.” Roxana Robinson shares the chilling March 10th 2004 testimony by deputy Attorney General John Comey of the attempt by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card to have then Attorney General John Ashcroft reauthorize President Bush’s domestic surveillance program (which the Justice Department determined was illegal) while Ashcroft was in intensive care in the hospital. The Bush Administration went ahead with the program without the signature.
Before reading a poem, Iranian exile, Azar Nafisi says that “curiosity is insubordination in it’s purest form,” then states that she hates it when Americans say that if the political climate doesn’t change, that they will leave the country. Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog and his new book, The Garden of the Last Days about a 9/11 terrorist, reads an eloquent Graham Green essay as poignant today as it was fifty years ago.
Yet, perhaps the most moving passage comes at the end when performance artist Sekou and playwright Steve Connell perform Sekou’s own poem on how ‘being watched’ changes how we live, how we think, and why privacy is so important to our lives. (you can link to the performance at: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/insecurity.html)
This event, in my mind, proves to be the sleeper event of this year’s BEA. The essays show the value of free speech and why we continue to hover over authors like rock star groupies.
Afterwards, PEN and the ACLU host a champagne reception to meet and talk with the authors. Booksellers bunch together in groups at tables, happy to be sitting down, while the authors, relaxed under the blue L.A. sky, talk amongst themselves. Casual conversation reveals that while Andre Dubus III writes almost excruciating prose, he’s funny, kind, and extremely accessible, that I share the same politics as Roxane Robinson, and Azar Nafisi responds to my query about why she feels so strongly about Americans wanting to leave their country when they can no longer relate to their government, when she left her country for similar reasons.
“You can not compare the two,” she tells me. ”And here, I can be a voice for my friends and family still in Iran.” However, over glasses of bubbly Moet, an L.A. actress responds privately, ”I don’t care what she (Nafisi) says. If McCain is president, I’m moving to France!”
Dressed in black leather and dark sunglasses, Neil Gaiman arrives with his entourage, three women – one I think named ’Cat’ – ready to party. The mood decidedly takes on an east coast attitude.
Next year BEA returns to the Big Apple. Until then, I’ve enough new books by my bedside to last until then.
June 2, 2008 Coraline and the Ass Crack of Dawn By Angie Brenner
June 2, 2008
Coraline and the Ass Crack of Dawn
Dateline: Friday morning breakfast at BookExpo America Los Angeles
It may seem inappropriate for BookExpo America’s Jon Scieszka to welcome his early morning audience, booksellers and press members who arrived in droves to listen to their favorite children’s book authors, by thanking them for turning out at the “ass crack of dawn.” But this was not an ordinary audience, and Mr. Scieszka, who was named the country’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, is no ordinary speaker. ”He’s done more then anyone in the business to promote book publishing for the young audience, especially boys,” said Melony, my friend and bookseller with more than twenty years experience.
Mr. Scieszka set the stage for the panel, authors of intelligent children’s books who refuse to dumb-down to their audience. Masters of Ceremony, a gimlet-eyed Irishman, author Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl book series), played off the early morning shtick by saying: “Jon, the reason we are writers is so we don’t have to get dressed at dawn.” With his droll Irish humor and crooked mouth, Colfer speaks of how his own children, two boys, influenced his writing choices by filling in the gaps of stories his kids wanted to read and what was available.
The two other male authors on the panel, Sherman Alexie and Neil Gaiman (whom Alexie refers to as having “that bad boy thing going on”) say that their children have similarly inspired their writing. Alexie, born an epileptic and has a son with special needs, writes frankly in both Flight and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian about what its like to be a kid who is bullied. Gaiman, dressed in his standard black leather, tells us that his daughter liked scary stories, but he couldn’t find any to read to her. ”So I started to tell her a nighttime tale and had my pen and notepad by the bedside to write the story as I created it for her,” he says. That’s how The Graveyard Book came to be. “But the idea of this story came to me years ago when I lived in a narrow row house, you know, the kind where each floor is a separate room, next to a cemetery,” says Gaiman. “The only place where I could take my son out to ride his tricycle was on the grass among the gravestones.” Later Scieszka shows us a clip from the soon-to-be-released animated film, Coraline, based another one of Gaiman’s book that deals good and evil and lost souls behind the mirrors.
Prim Judy Blume (who Gaiman met in the Green Room and teased as ”having a serious potty mouth”) appears somewhat daunted, flanked as she is by these not-so-shy ’guy’ panelists. But her sweet stories and even sweeter success speak for themselves. She’s perhaps the most influential author of children’s books anywhere on the planet. For more than fifty years, Blume has been writing stories that children around the world understand.
With our first free stack of books under our arms, we head out “on the floor” to the almost 2000 publisher booths see what books will be in the stores this fall.
Who would know that the best of BookExpo was yet to come.
May 15, 2008 Maneuvering L.A. – Book by Book Part I by Angie Brenner
May 15, 2008
Maneuvering L.A. – Book by Book Part I
The Los Angeles Times Annual Festival of Books, held each year on the stunningly bright U.C.L.A. Campus, is all that’s good and right about Tinsel-Town. The open-air atmosphere gives rise to a feeling of freedom impossible to convey in the more serious literary venues of New York or Dusseldorf. For two days in April, the campus becomes a tent city that house free speech in the form of booksellers, authors, publishers, musicians, and campus activists. And, it’s all here for the taking, open and free to the public.
While the Wild River Review East Coast staff gears up for their interviews of writers and photographers during the week-long PEN World Voices Festival in NYC, I head north on the 405 freeway (no toll roads or express ways for us), already jammed with Sunday morning commuters headed to yoga classes, boats docked at Marina del Rey, cafes for lattes, or to work. An estimated 140,000 people will be flooding the Wilshire and Sunset Blvd. exits in a steady stream for a chance to hear Michael Connelly, Gore Vidal, Julie Andrews, Alice Hoffman, and Valerie Bertinelli speak – part of the 450 authors represented at the festival. As BRAVO’S Top Chef hostess, Padma Lakshmi, entertains an L.A. crowd with a cooking demo on the Culinary Stage, her ex-husband, Salman Rushdie, begins to host World Voices in NYC.
What sets the L.A. festival apart from other book and author fairs, or the annual for-the-industry BookExpo America, is accessibility and variety. Many people come just to mingle through rows of hundreds of bookseller and publisher booths of every imaginable genre, or have favorite authors sign their books. Free Korans are handed out at a booth along the rows of Islamic books, and in the new Comix Strip area, filled with hawkers of graphic novels and comic book publishers, photographs can be taken with a Darth Vader character. Storytelling and entertainment abound on the Children’s Stage, pop and rap on another. Icy cups of lemonade, sold throughout the campus, help quench thirst against temperatures already heading into the nineties.
I dodge parents pushing strollers toward a Kettle Korn kiosk and hip students dressed in black heading to the Poetry Stage to hear Mark Doty (author of Fire to Fire) read, and set my sights on Haines Hall. The author-panel schedule I pulled off the internet earlier indicates that author Pico Iyer will be discussing “Blurring Boundaries” with author’s Tony Cohan (On Mexican Time) and Jenny Price (Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America).
The hall is filled to capacity by the time I arrive, but a pleasant volunteer in a green polo shirt whispers for me to, “wait. I’ll get you in.” She tells her colleagues that she is: “returning her to her seat,” than leads me to an empty second row seat in front of the panel. Wow, I think, this is great. I wouldn’t want to miss seeing Iyer – who has just released his new book, The Open Road, about the Dalai Lama.
A quick glance at the panel and event board reveals that this panel is called “Crisis Points” and the authors are discussing aspects of their historical books. Wrong panel. What do I care about how Churchill got into power? There’s no chance now of slipping out undetected; the events are being filmed for C-Span. I pull out my notebook and pen and listen to what these three authors have to say.
Zachary Karabell, author of Peace Be Upon You: the Story of Muslim, Christian and Jewish Coexistence, tells the audience that ”Conflict is the name of the game. There’s no history of peace.” This sounds divisive, and a far cry from a discussion of blurring boundaries.
Then journalist, author, Patricia Goldstone (Aaronsohn’s Maps: The Untold Story of the Man Who Might Have Created Peace in the Middle East) speaks about how the events of the 1919 Paris Conference continues to effect world polices today, and says that Israel’s conflict with the Golan Height is about water. A light bulb goes on above my head. This is what I’d come to realize when first traveling around Eastern Turkey, where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers originate and flow into Iraq and Syria; and where a series of dams are being constructed to control this precious resource. In our oil obsessed world, the media often overlooks the importance of water and politics.
Any thoughts that an L.A. book/author festival with balloons, tents, and lemonade are for the light-weight reader are left behind. Historian, author Lynne Olson (Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England) compares Chamberlin’s pre-WWII Britain, when government criticism was deemed unpatriotic and jeopardized basic civil liberties, with post 9/11 patriotism. Olson also talks about how nervous she was to get the first reviews of her book. “After all, this is a sensitive subject for an American to write about, let alone a woman. I was expecting the worst reviews from Britain’s book critics. But they all praised the material,” says Olson. The presence of relevant women writers speaking at the L.A. festival impresses.
Later, Karabell peaks my interest when he discuss the historical context of the Ottoman Empire – a subject I’ve been reading and writing about for years.
“The Ottomans are remembered (from our Christian view point) as war mongers, as a brutal empire,” says Karabell. “But the Ottoman’s attitude toward minorities differed from other countries in that they encouraged Christian and Jewish trades-people to live and work in the empire.” It’s true that the Ottoman armies would conscript young Christians into their fold, and once they accepted Islam, they would often be promoted to the highest ranks. They also accepted Sephardic Jews during the Inquisition saying that, ‘Ferdinand and Isabella’s loss is our gain.’ Two Jewish brothers brought the first printing press to Constantinople.
Engrossed in how the historical context of the Ottoman Empire has reshaped the present global stage, I lose track that I’ve missed the panel across campus. Just as well, there’s only enough time to get to Royce Hall for the interview with Gore Vidal by Jane Smiley.
May 9, 2008 Burma - The Great Storm that Changed it All? by Kyi May Kaung
May 9, 2008
Burma – The Great Storm that Changed it All?
Editor’s Note: Regular contributor, Kyi May Kaung (Ph.D.) is a Burmese writer and Burma analyst living in exile.
Tropical cyclone Nargis hit Burma at 5 AM local time early Saturday morning and continued till 11 AM, with powerful winds of up to 150 mph. On Sunday, official reports on the deaths caused by Cyclone Nargis in Burma started with the low estimate of “just three women died as they paddled their sampan in the river.”
Yeah, yeah, I thought. There they go again.
remember the initially low estimate when the tsunami hit Southeast Asia in December 2004. I saw an animated map on CNN, where the wave was shown lapping at the shores of all the countries in South and Southeast Asia. It was physically impossible that countries such as Sri Lanka and Thailand would be so hard hit, and hardly any deaths in Burma! An airhead woman correspondent on a TV channel I can’t remember, did not understand waves at all, let alone a tsunami. She spoke as if a wave were a solid wall moving through the water in one direction.
You bet, the numbers will go up in Burma, I thought to myself, in the voice of my redoubtable old grandmother, Snow Maiden, a real straight talking Moulmein woman, practical to a fault, who once asked her distant spinster cousin who had a tic, “How long have you been living here with us, Miss Blossoming Diamond? Eight months? Well, today is the day you leave. Go now.” With Cyclone Nargis, sure enough, the news has gotten worser and worser, as Alice in Wonderland might say.
Nargis is a beautiful word and means “narcissus” in Urdu. Something so beautifully named has caused a lot of death and destruction. We are only now starting to hear excruciating survivor stories. After the all-time-low estimate of three, the death toll went up to 350 and then 351, before it jumped to 10,000, then 22,000 and even 63,000 in an official release from the Burmese Foreign Ministry. U.S. Charge d’Affaires Shari Villarosa said yesterdayday that the death toll is likely to reach 100,000.
This estimate is five times higher than the number given by the Burmese junta. Many countries, including the United States, have pledged millions in emergency aid, but the Burmese junta is still vacillating about granting entry visas to disaster assessment teams and aid workers who are all set to go in Thailand and in Australia.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said quite bluntly, “we would give more, except we don’t like the way the Burmese government does things.” Dissident Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy has always insisted that any humanitarian aid be monitored so that it gets to the people it was intended for.
I can think of a number of notorious cases from my time in Burma till the early eighties when I left on a scholarship. In one case the doctor in charge of leprosy medication took donated medicines and sold them on the black market.
Still, that pales compared to the level of corruption in the so-called “open economy” after 1988. Someone connected to a junta insider told me that in those years Mercedes and other luxury cars would arrive from anonymous donors intended for the top generals and that their homes were “now full of junk, but expensive junk.’
So Kouchner and all of us Burmese dissidents have a strong point. Today, there are reports that the junta has let in aid planes from six countries. So far, I have only seen on TV (official Myanmar TV) rows of fat generals and their cohorts “supervising” the unloading of boxed supplies from planes, but we have not seen anything actually delivered. There is only one foreign correspondent from CNN in Burma right now. Everyone else has been denied an entry visa, including Anderson
Cooper. The Irrawaddy reports that inside Burmese say “we only see the army on TV, now where else.”
Washington DC based U.S. Campaign for Burma is starting a letter writing campaign so that there is a U.N. Security Council resolution that say aid can be sent to Burma whether the Burmese authorities agree or not. Bernard Koucher also suggests going in without waiting for the junta’s permission. Condoleeza Rices says that sending aid is “not a matter of politics.”
The Thai government has started flying in emergency water and other supplies, and has promised to send a planeload a day, it is uncertain for how long. Burma experts such as Dr. Sean Turnell of Macquarie University, Sydney’s Burma Economic Watch, predict longterm food shortages. From the inundated areas in satellite photos, it would certainly seem so.
Before and after satellite photos: http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/05/08/myanmar/index.html
I don’t think in this case the Burmese authorities are exaggerating. In fact, the junta is now literally out of its depth in this human disaster. I know from experience that the Burmese military government is “expert” at manipulating data. Since the 1962 coup by the late General Ne Win that put the junta in place – and the policies set by Moscow trained chief economist (later relieved of his duties) the late U Ba Nyein – the junta has had an obsession with control and figures. Burma’s famous clowns have always joked of htan pin or “toddy palm surveys” in which you climb on a toddy or sugar palm and then count.
In this case, satellite images have shown a disturbing high percentage of floods post-Nargis compared to photographs taken before Nargis, floods which have inundated the land and changed the Irrawaddy Delta area and Burma’s southern coastline drastically.
In the seventies, former graduates of the Institute of Economics in Rangoon were visiting and told me that the junta had “fixed” the population figures to get a nice looking 3 percent annual growth rate. I can still feel my jaw dropping.
The head of the Central Statistical Department told us how in the 1950s, foreign experts wanted to see if there was enough bamboo forest for raw material for a paper factory, so they flew him over a bamboo forest. After some time, the Burmese asked if he had seen enough, the foreign expert said “yes,” and the plane flew back to Rangoon. But after the factories were set up, the entire bamboo forest bloomed and then died, as is the nature of bamboo. And the factories were stuck without raw material.
Last year, in September, the military regime beat, killed and imprisoned many monks who were peacefully demonstrating and chanting the metta suttra, in what is now known as the Saffron Revolution. For fifteen years, the junta has been s-l-o-w-l-y dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on a document it calls a “constitution,” and May 10 was scheduled to be the date of a countrywide referendum. Up till Monday, the junta was insisting that it would go ahead but it does not seem as if it will be able to.
To make matters more heart-wrenching, Burmese Americans are having a hard time finding ways to send aid.
Already bloated corpses are floating in salt water, so water purification tablets cannot be used.
The United States, the Bush administration, Burmese exile communities overseas, and international volunteers should play a leading role in both the delivery and monitoring of emergency aid as well as long term structural changes.
Tropical storms are likely to grow more severe worldwide due to global warming, but in Burma the disaster has been much exacerbated by the military junta’s years of neglect of physical infrastructure and civil society. All they have known is how to hang onto their own power. This has to end.
Below is a list of organizations seeking donations to aid the Burmese flood victims:
ActionAid; working in Irrawaddy, identifying the key needs of the affected population along with local partners to supply funding and emergency response.
Air Serv; is preparing to be a first responder, with helicopters ready to deliver crucial supplies and relief workers.
Direct Relief International; partnering in Thailand and other neighboring countries to offer assistance to medical relief efforts for people affected by the storm.
Doctors Without Borders; distributing food, plastic sheeting, jerry cans and fuel for water pumps, and treating water; planning a mosquito-net distribution in the coming days to prevent malaria and and dengue fever.
Global Giving; providing emergency medical care, shelter, water and food and other immediate needs.
May 6, 2008 PEN World Voices – News from the Hub – Watching the World – Technology and Human Rights by Kimberly Nagy
May 6, 2008
PEN World Voices – News from the Hub – Watching the World – Technology and Human Rights
It’s a bleak time for human rights.
So laments Mary Robinson, who, in 1990, was elected the first female president of Ireland. In 1997, Robinson became the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, where she served until 2002. And in 1999, she was awarded the J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding.
Along with Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Muhammad Yunus, Robinson is also an Elder (http://www.theelders.org/welcome/), part of a group of international leaders who have gathered to impart their wisdom to younger generations and to address the international problems of our day.
According to Robinson, in the last 15 years at least 500 journalists have been killed for their work; 65 of them in the last year. And that’s very likely a conservative estimate.
Despite the overwhelming challenges Robinson directly encounters everyday in her work, she begins the panel with a message of hope, quoting Seamus Heaney’s “The Cure at Troy” to set the stage for the conversation about to ensue at the French Institute at the Florence Gould Hall, a hot-spot for many PEN World Voices Festival events.
So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.
Could the great sea-change be the potential of technology?
PEN World Voices Festival’s “News from the Hub” panel, led by Hub Director Sameer Padania explored this question through the diverse work of Saudi Arabian novelist, Yousef Al-Mohaimeed, American/ Nigerian writer Uzodinma Iweala, and Burmese/ American writer, Thant Myint-U.
The Hub is a new global online platform for Witness (http://www.witness.org/), an international human rights organization that uses video and online technologies to expose human rights abuses, and provide grassroots organizations with direct access to a communication vehicle they can share with the outside world. Their stories can serve as instruments for policy change and the expansion of human rights.
Padania reminds us that there is an empty chair on stage representing those around the world who are not permitted to speak. During this panel, the chair is dedicated to Tibetan, Dolma Kyab.
On March 9, 2005, Dolma Kyab was arrested in Lhasa at the middle school where he was teaching history. He was taken to the TAR Public Security Bureau Detention Center, popularly known as “Seitru” in Tibetan where he was held pending trial at Seitru on charges of “endangering state security.” On September 16, 2005, he was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Lhasa People’s Intermediate Court. A subsequent appeal made by his family was rejected on November 30, 2005, and the 10-year sentence was upheld.
During the panel, Padania asked questions and played videos for the participants to comment upon including a video of a Saudi Arabian woman denied the right to drive in Riyadh. She speaks into a cell phone from her car because she is permitted to drive only in remote locations.
When asked about the video, Al-Mohaimeed, author of the recent novel, Wolves of the Crescent Moon, stressed that there is a long complicated history between public and private spaces for men and women in his country, a subject he addresses in his work including one intriguing story called, “The Bottle,” in which a young woman is counseled by her grandmother to pour all of her unacceptable feelings into an empty glass bottle.
Uzondinma Iweala, author of the novel, Beasts of No Nation, is collecting stories and perspectives of AIDS patients for his new book. It’s rare that we hear about love and AIDS in the same sentence, but Iweala said that while so many articles about the disease deny our intrinsic desire to love and connect physically – and often focus only on facts, figures, and statistics – a man who had spoken to him described his longing for physical connection, and for someone to touch and hold him. Iweala said that many hide their disease for fear of losing that connection.
In Iweala’s words, “We all want to be lovers and be loved. We need to allow people to be human. We need to try and get people to think less in terms of issues and more in terms of human beings.”
One audience member asked this question: Isn’t the democratization of the web and increased accessibility of images a double-edge sword?
In the fall of 2007, an Al Jazeera video clip from Myanmar, formerly Burma, shows soldiers striking barefoot protesting monks. Thant Myint-U pointed out that often overall context is missing when we are only exposed to images. Until recently, there is no consistent record of the conflicts that have occurred within Myanmar. In the clip, for instance, no one mentioned that Myanmar has undergone “the longest series of armed conflict since the British left in 1954.” He also pointed out that the media has best served the Burmese Diaspora.
Today, Myanmar faces the aftermath of a cyclone, which has killed more than 22,000 people.
Many citizens complained they were not properly warned of the storm by the government, according to the New York Times, which also reported that Burmese ‘officials said they would open doors of their closed and tightly controlled nation to international relief groups. So far, most foreigners and all foreign journalists have been barred from entering the country.”
So will a dire emergency combined with a global online platform open up the doors for policy change, in a country in which over 90 % of the population lives in poverty?
As Mary Robinson said in her opening remarks, “We have our work cut out for us.”
April 29, 2008 Of Dares and Progress: A Conversation with Author Chinua Achebe by Angela Ajayi
April 29, 2008
Of Dares and Progress: A Conversation with Author Chinua Achebe
Photo by Cie Stroud, Courtesy of Princeton Public Library
While listening to the public conversation between writer Chinua Achebe and scholar Anthony Appiah in Princeton on March 28, I made a sweeping observation, if you might call it so, about the reason Achebe penned his novel, Things Fall Apart. It had come to be, I believe, mainly because of several “dares,” all of them as valid as they were unusual for their time in 1958 when the book was first published.
In response to a sleuth of books by non-Africans that portrayed Africa in an inherently exotic light, Things Fall Apart was Achebe’s way of “daring anyone who reads about the habits and culture of Igbo people (in the novel, that is) to say, ‘these people are not human.’” If one were to read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, for instance, this very dare, put forth this way, makes a lot of sense. An African story, as Achebe knew it, could be told from a perspective that was essentially underutilized at that time – a non-European/colonial one, with the equally complex humanity of the African firmly intact.
Additionally, there is the issue of language for Achebe. While literature about Africa may have portrayed Africans living in a language vacuum of sorts – that is, one consisting of sounds, not actual words – then Achebe’s inclusion of the Igbo language in his primarily English-anguage novel is yet another dare. Surely, he seems to be saying, we do have our own language even though you may not think too much of it or conclude that is has too many dialects and wish to remove some of them.
And then, of course, there is the greatest dare of them all: “the existence of our own story.” As Achebe noted, all the stories he had read about him and his people at that time were unacceptable. He wondered, in desperation, why “our story was not read.” He then set out to do precisely this, producing a literary masterpiece and becoming what Simon Gikandi aptly called that night, “a cultural institution.”
It is almost impossible to be at an event on Nigerian literature and not discuss Nigeria itself, which according to Achebe, who lived in the country during the bloody civil war and pre-independence period, is “a catastrophic failure…and a disappointment.” This is true, no doubt. But what now?
One Nigerian story has been told with tremendous skill and success by Achebe, who has, as Gikandi noted, become the conscience of Africa and its talented writers, some of them up and coming.
Scoffing at what he believed was an unfair treatment of his own people in written narratives, Achebe single-handedly put African
literature on the map very early on, creating a literary legacy for his now failed nation and its struggling people. His is a success story indeed. Could it be that Nigeria will, too, reach the very depths of its own desperation and dare to come up against its loud, exasperated critics, proving that it too can engage progress head-on, as was the original projection for it? This, of course, still remains to be seen.
April 23, 2008 From Philadelphia: Inner Lights, Electric Kites – The Pennsylvania Primary – Part 3 – Let the Game Begin by Joe Glantz
April 23, 2008
From Philadelphia: Inner Lights, Electric Kites – The Pennsylvania Primary – Part 3 – Let the Game Begin
As the Presidential election now moves Outta Philadelphia, Philadelphia’s best insight into the future is not Tuesday’s results but rather a reflection of its past. Philadelphia, maybe more than any American city, is a city of complementary balances. Tucked between New York and Washington, Philadelphia likes to be the small Country Towne envisioned by William Penn and captured by Elizabeth Pennell, “Can the streets be fairer than in and around Philadelphia when wisteria blossoms on every wall and the coating is white with dogwood.”
But it’s also the large metropolis known by the moniker the Cradle of Finance and known for its entrepreneurs like Robert Morris, Stephen Girard and the Union League, among others, who helped finance the Revolutionary, Civil and First and Second world wars. Steven Conn wrote in Metropolitan Philadelphia that “Virtually anything made in a factory in the early twentieth century was probable made somewhere in Philadelphia.” During that time Philadelphia, whose products included the Baldwin locomotive and Atwater Kent radios, was called the Workshop of the World.
It’s a city that’s helped inspire the country – having had seven Presidents of the American Bar Association, lending a local partner, Anthony Drexel to New York’s J. P. Morgan, its Brandwyine Illustrators and Aschcan artists to New York publications and galleries, Oscar Hammerstein to New York theater and Bill Cosby from the streets of Philadelphia to the streets of New York’s Huxtable home.
Its focus can be parochial too. We may boo our home team, but we hate any out of town team more. We love our hoagies and farmer’s markets and we’re certain the 1876 Philadelphia World’s fair was the best World Fairs. Our Pennsylvania Impressionism movement is as good as that of France.
Even internally we’re a city of balances. The Main Line with South Philadelphia. West Philadelphia with the Northeast. Philadelphia movies are best described by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Carrie Rickey who emailed me that “The constant theme in Philadelphia from the Show Off through the Philadelphia Story to through the Young Philadelphians and Trading Places is that a blue collar type rubs up against or conflicts with a blueblood and both learn that are more alike than not.”
John Lukacs, author of Patricians and Philistines (a balanced title if there every was one) explains why these balances are part of Philadelphia’s philosophical, creative and even political soul. The balances come from our two most famous founders. Franklin represented the city’s mind. Penn, its heart. Penn was the idealist. Franklin, the pragmatist. Penn believed in the individual conscience as the ‘”inner Light,” while Franklin believed in “voluntary associations to set the standard for behavior.”
It’s these balances that give Philadelphians the real perspective needed in this Presidential race. Rarely does one Democratic nominee have the right answers and a second all the wrong answers. Rarely does one party have the only formula for success. The birthplace of democracy is still electing a candidate in a democracy. The winner will be either be a woman, a black man or a divorced white man. Unthinkable until 2008.
The manner in which candidates are elected has become more democratic this year. Pennsylvania and North Carolina and Indiana will count like rarely before. With video-conferencing and email the average citizen gets to ask direct questions of the candidates. There’s a contrast between winner take all primaries and sharing the votes. And at the end of the day, the voluntary civic associations begun with Franklin and the family associations and the religious associations one has, will matter just as much as who the elected President is.
Is it better to go through a tough campaign or win in a dominating fashion? The sports analogies of a political horserace are not lost on Philadelphians here. When the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies won, Red Smith, who wrote for the Philadelphia Record for a decade before we lent him to New York, penned this marvelous quote, “The tallest, steepest, dizziest, dare-devil, death-defying dive ever undertaken by a baseball team came off with a rich a fruity climax when the Phillies toppled headlong into the World Series.”
Does the Obama/Clinton analogy apply here? In 1980 Moses Malone predicted a fo’, fo’ fo’ sweep for the Seventy-Sixers basketball team only to be one game off. Wouldn’t John McCain like that strategy more.
Which way is superior? The tougher fight? The easy lead? Who will win in November? Will the general election be civil or nasty? Will the winner be a loser? The loser a winner because he/she may have a better balance of family life.
Philadelphians know the right responses. For the candidates, William Penn’s “Where wisdom has wit to express it, now there’s the best orator.” For the public, Franklin’s reply when asked “Where’s all the happiness the Declaration of Independence guarantees.?”
Franklin: “My friend, the Declaration of Independence only guarantees the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”
April 21, 2008 From Philadelphia: Inner Lights, Electric Kites – The Pennsylvania Primary – Part 2 – And then there’s Hilary by Joe Glantz
April 21, 2008
From Philadelphia: Inner Lights, Electric Kites – The Pennsylvania Primary – Part 2 – And then there’s Hilary
And then there’s Hillary. She’s ahead in much of the state, but in Philly…
Fighting Joe Frazier knocked
Muhammad Ali on his keister. Fought three of the greatest fights against him. Gentleman
Gene Tunney upset Jack the
Manassas Mauler Dempsey right here. It took umpteen trie in the courts
before blacks were admitted to Girard College. A couple of tries before women
were admitted to prestigious Central High School. The Fightin’ Phils. Broad
Deception. Two sides of an issue. We’re the best, baby. The
phrase, “When you’re in trouble get a Philadelphia lawyer,” began when William
Penn’s lawyer, Alexander Hamilton, used his legal acumen to get journalist
Peter Zenger acquitted after two New York lawyers failed. Ben Franklin was sent
to get money from the French during the Revolutionary war primarily because he
was deceptive. Franklin coined the famous poem, Equivocation:
Some have learn’t many tricks of
truth they use equivocation,
And eke it out
with mental reservation,
Which, to good
men, is an abomination.
Our smith of
late most wonderfully swore,
That whilst he
breathed he would drink no more,
But since, I
know his meaning, for I think,
He meant he
would not breathe whilst he did drink
Even the New York Times’s David Brooks book wrote about
equivocation in the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia. His book, the Bobos
of Paradise, is about the suburban culture
of trying to be both bourgeois and bohemian.
Legend has it that John Graver Johnson, our greatest lawyer,
once, when arguing a case was asked by a Supreme Court Justice, “Mr. Johnson, weren’t you here last week arguing the exact same point for the other side?”
Johnson’s reply, “Your Honor, I hope I don’t lose them both.
And department store owner, John Wanamker
said half the advertising he did worked. The problem was he didn’t know which half. So he tried both halves. Deception.
Come on. Hillary’s straightforward compared to us.
We have our share of notable women, too. We appreciate the
difficulties of the distaff side. Betsy Ross sewed a flag during the War. Marian
Anderson had to sing a little better than the men to be heard. The Plastic club
was a notable women’s art movement started because they couldn’t join the men’s clubs. Lisa Scottoline’s characters ain’t no shrinking violets. They’re not
clothespins. Lorene Carey’s and Dianne McKinney Whitestone’s characters are
survivors. Heck Upper Darby’s Tina Fey made it all the way to Saturday Night
Live. Film’s “Kitty Foyle” chose
the down to earth guy over the upper class elite.
And lest we forget, we have our feminine side too. Every year
we have the best damned “Flower Show” in America. Grace Kelly was born right here.
As for negative campaigning isn’t that just taking a cue
from Franklin’s saying, “Love your enemies for they tell you your faults?”
And if you want nullification of a public decision begin
with William Penn whose most notable court case found that his right to his
beliefs in his own Quaker religion were upheld by a jury even though the judge
instructed the jury otherwise. Talk about your super-delegates.
And finally there’s John McCain. He may not have to run, but you better believe he’s watching. Philadelphia loves lunch pail players who can survive
captivity for five years. Reminds of our most beloved athletes like Chuck
Bendarik who was the last professional 60 minute man and Bobby Clarke whose
front teeth were always missing when he played and Aarron Rowand, the
centerfielder who crashed into a wall to catch a ball.
McCain’s tough as Philadelphia scrapple. Oy! I mean Yo!
A 100 year war. Big deal. We waited 100 years for the
Phillies to win a pennant. And we’ll wait 100 more. We have the military in our
blood. The Naval shipyard built ships here for centuries.
Sure McCain’s old. But Benjamin Franklin signed the four most
significant American documents when he was around John McCain’s age or older.
Eugene Ormandy was conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra well into his
seventies. Nearby, Penn State’s Joe Paterno is coaching successfully into his
McCain reminds us of the Thomas Eakins painting of Max Schmitt
in his single scull – rowing to his own independent streak. Or the cover of a
classic Curtis Publishing cover drawn for the Saturday Evening post by the
likes of Norman Rockwell. All McCain’s really missing is a Stetson hat.
Having sewn all this fine spin, it’s also key to remember
that Philadelphia is also the town that once booed Santa Claus and once set
fire to its own buildings in an attempt to, well, save its own buildings.
So perhaps it’s best on Election Day to take the advice of
another esteemed citizen, W.C. Fields who remarked:
“I’m free from prejudice. I hate everyone equally.”
“I never vote for anybody. I always vote against,” and
“Start every day with a smile and get it over with.”
Besides the only politicians we like are our guys: Mayor
Michael Nutter, Governor Ed Rendell. and Senator Arlen Specter.
We’ll be even happier when it’s April 23rd and, as
Harry Kalas says, “The politicians and their media cavalry are ‘Outta here!’”
April 17, 2008 From Philadelphia: Inner Lights, Electric Kites – The Pennsylvania Primary – Part 1 by Joe Glantz
April 17, 2008
From Philadelphia: Inner Lights, Electric Kites – The Pennsylvania Primary – Part 1
So it’s upon us. 4/22 is just days away and Philadelphians
are about to make their most important political decision since deciding
whether they support the Barnes Foundation staying in Merion or moving to the Benjamin
And I know what you’re thinking: Since the American Revolution, what has Philadelphia really done to deserve the spotlight? Aren’t they the city Lincoln Steffens called “corrupt, but contented?”
Sure, the only local candidate to achieve national success
was George Miflin Dallas, Vice President under James Polk. And he’s best known
for having Dallas, Texas named after him. And our state’s only President was
James Buchanan whose only achievement is being the guy before Abraham Lincoln.
And we’d have the right to say who cares. Let others decide.
After all, the Capitol was moved out of here in 1800. The most significant
political decision affecting Philadelphia was Andrew Jackson’s demolishing the
Second National Bank destroying Nicholas Biddle’s Philadelphia. Philadelphians
three most notable lawyers; Horace Binney, John Sargeant and John Graver
Johnson, turned down appointments to the Supreme Court.
But decision-making is in our veins. We’ve chosen leaders of
all stripes. In 1848 Philadelphia’s Whig convention nominated the winning
candidate, Zachary Taylor. In 1856 Know-nothing Millard Filmore and OK the
loser too, Republican John C. Fremont were nominated here. In 1873 Republican
Ulysses S. Grant and in 1900 Republican William McKinley were chosen.
Presidents both. 1936 saw winner FDR and 1940 saw loser Wendell Wilkie. In 1948
we hosted all three conventions. How’s that for decisiveness! Republican Dewey,
Democrat Truman and Progressive Henry Wallace. In 2000 we were the ones
responsible for picking George Bush III.
Philadelphians love a good rivalry. Penn/Princeton.
Philadelphia/Boston. Tilden and the Four Musketeers. Katherine Hepburn choosing
between two suitors in “Philadelphia Story.” So we’re loving this fight between
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, even if they’re both from Illinois. And like
the bellweather keystone state we are, we can put a positive spin on anything.
After all, it was Franklin who when the British seized Philadelphia, responded, “No, that’s wrong, Philadelphians have seized General Howe.”
So let’s start with Obama and some of his so-called
deficiencies. Experience. We have no problem with the fact that Obama may be
inexperienced. Philadelphians crave inexperience. For starters, we’re an
experimental town founded on William Penn’s Holy Experiment which according to
Voltaire was “a Golden Age” unique to Philadelphia, since all other regions
fought or were focused on one dominant religion. Benjamin Franklin was a green
rookie from Boston who favored the trial and error method over the theoretical
stylings of Boston. Heck, even our American Democracy which began here was
really an experiment that most founding fathers didn’t think would last more
than a generation.
Philadelphians like “new” ideas. There’s the classic saying
that Boston is best, New York is biggest and Philadelphia is first. And “first
Philadelphia” includes the first botanical garden, Bartram’s garden; the first
medical school, the first public library, and the first fire department.
As a matter of fact we throw our experienced ideas and
people out. Television, film and computers got started here, but did we keep
them here and let them grow? No. Television and film left for California and
computers for Silicon Valley and Redmond, Washington. Scott Rolen and Curt
Schilling. We sent them packing so
they could win championships elsewhere.
Mangling words and ideas is another trait we embrace. We’re used to people making mistakes. It was another O, Danny Ozark,who famously said
the Philadelphia Phillies, who were seven games out with six games to play,
were “not out of this race.” Charles
Barkley, our favorite talking athlete, is consistently tongue-tied. Even our
favorite word, Yo! As is, “Yo! Move your f’in truck and not Yo’ mamma is just a
Benjamin West, who helped provide the medicine and herbs for
Lewis and Clark’s Expedition and encourage Presidents Jefferson and Adams to
write their famous letters after their presidency, was also the guy who treated
President George Washington with bloodletting.
Washington died. Our greatest merger, the Philadelphia Railroad with the New
York Central Railroad, ended in bankruptcy.
No. Mangling word and ideas. Stephen Colbert has nothing on
Middle class values. Obama’s only misfortune is that the
Mummers parade occurs in January. He could have walked down Broad Street
playing anything but a clarinet.
No. We don’t see Barack Obama as black. He’s more a
combination of Maxfield Parrish’s lapiz lazuli blue and Mary Cassatt’s gold. We
like his calm smooth soulful demeanor. It reminds of the Philadelphia Sound of
Gamble and Huff, especially the Soul Survivors’ Expressway to Your Heart, or the noted string section of the Philadelphia
Orchestra. We’d even have a cheesesteak with him. Fatten him up a little bit.
And then there’s Hillary…to be continued
March 20, 2008 What if we Called for War and No One Came? An Afternoon with Peaceniks and Gore Vidal by Angie Brenner
March 20, 2008
What if We Called for War and No One Came? An Afternoon with Peaceniks and Gore Vidal
This week marks the fifth anniversary of the American invasion into Iraq, and while the Shock and Awe now may be directed to public and political support for this preemptive war, protest groups haven’t generated much steam with the general populace or the main-stream media. I wonder why.
We all know the evidence that 9/11 had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein and Iraq, and the American public and elected leaders were brought into this war under a false pretense – and that at least half of Iraqis are displaced, wounded, or killed and the other half lives with trauma. What is the logic that justifies more killing in order to save-face for those who have already been killed? What did we learn from Vietnam? I decided to attend my first anti-war march and rally last week in San Diego to see and be with people unafraid to speak out.
“How many people marched?” asked my sister in Oregon.
”Oh, at least a couple hundred,” I replied. This seemed to me a decent number. I live in the small mountain community of Julian in San Diego’s back country where good peace vigil turnouts on the corner of Main Street can be up to 15 people.
”Two Hundred?!” My sister gasped. “This is San Diego, a city of what? 3 million? and with Gore Vidal speaking. I thought it would be one or two thousand!”
She was right, of course, it should have been more. The San Diego Union-Tribune over-estimated at 500 protestors, but still a low turn out for an important cause: a march and rally about a senseless, cruel, war with no end in sight, and a speech by none other than Mr. Gore “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace“ Vidal. Even the recent California 5 billion dollar budget shortfall for funding education against the tally of one to four trillion dollars already spent in Iraq didn’t make a dent in the apathy of most San Diegans.
The march and rally (co-sponsored by several groups like the Coalition for Peace and Justice and Activist San Diego) in the multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood of City Heights, kicked off with the S.D. Faith Leaders for Peace (FLFP) representatives – there were a couple Catholic priests, Unitarian minister, Muslim imam, and Buddhist monk.
“We must be the peace that we seek,” said the Rev. Beth Johnson of Palomar Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church.
Imam Sharif Battikhi, of the American Islamic Services Foundation, listed the points on the Iraq war that unite FLFP into one voice, “America must: #1. Reduce the number of soldiers in Iraq, #2. Not maintain a long term military presence in Iraq, and #3. Gather international and UN support to ensure the ongoing security in Iraq.”
Dr. Jeffery Gordon spoke to those wearing and carrying signs for: HEALTHCARE, NOT WARFARE! He listed the numbers of the dead and wounded, calling Bush, King George the Destroyer. “Bush compares health insurance to car insurance. He has turned his back on the progress of civilization,” said Gordon about the systematic dismantling of scientific research. “I’m unable to trust the medicine the FDA approves.” 47 million Americans are without health care coverage; 7 million were added to this list since 2000. Not an encouraging number considering the aging of baby boomers, and certain to be at the forefront of this year’s election issues.
Students from the Education, Not Arms Coalition asked the audience to sign a petition to remove gun shooting ranges from high school campuses, and to inform students that ROTC military science courses do not count for college credit. Shooting ranges on campus? “Yes, it’s true,” one of the students confirmed. “And, our school has a zero weapons policy.”
It was Vietnam era soldier, Gloria Daviston with Veterans Against the War, who got the protestors to put their money where their mouth is, and to open up their wallets.
”Bye Bye Blackwater,” railed Daviston with clenched fist in the air. The crowd cheered the long fought protest against the mercenary training camp taking up residency in San Diego’s fire-prone back country community of Portero. Last week, Blackwater pulled out of negotiating for land.
”And, Bye Bye Bush,” shouted Daviston with her million-watt smile. “This piss poor profiteer of the pathetic presidency.” She motioned to the young women from Pillows for Peace – “Send a pillow to the Whitehouse and tell the president to give the war a rest.” The women held out empty pillow cases. “You must pay for peace,” said Daviston. Few people shrunk back as green bill dropped quickly into the cases.
Daviston might be a hard act to follow…unless of course you are Gore Vidal.
“If we hadn’t already been a wounded country, we wouldn’t have this presidency,” said the 83-year-old Vidal in a voice of velvet authority. “It’s as low as America has every fallen.”
Given the fact that Vidal was born in 1925 and has lived through and written about American wars and history and culture, the statement held in the air for several moments. I could almost feel the collective brains comprehending the words and weighing the importance.
Vidal led with the topic of the 2008 election. As a life-long Democrat born at West Point, New York (his stepfather ended up marrying Jackie Kennedy’s mother), there was no question that he would be voting for the Democratic candidate in November.
”Obama or Clinton?” said Vidal wistfully. “Oh, I could be content with either.” He spoke of how, as politicians, they inflate themselves above the other on the road to the primaries and the White House. “Let them suffer a bit as they go up Calvary,” he said with his wry, intellectual wit before adding a reflection on the real ‘state of the union’ in few, yet poignant words:
”Either one is too good for us.” another pause as the audience takes in the information and swishes it around the synapses.
Vidal spoke kindly toward his friend Floyd Morrow, this year’s San Diego Democratic mayoral candidate, who stood nearby. “You’re lucky to have Floyd. There are too many creeps in polities,” he said referring to Republican Randy Cunningham, the former San Diego Representative convicted and jailed for bribery and tax evasion. “It’s time for some real housecleaning.
Now a resident of Los Angeles, Vidal keeps a close and active watch on American politics – until a few years ago Vidal resided in his villa on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.
”Explaining to Italians that America isn’t as stupid as it looks wasn’t easy,” said Vidal. “When you have to say this to Italians, you know your country is in trouble.”
Cane in hand, he left the podium, with assistance, to an awaiting wheel chair. His knees may have failed him throughout his life, but mind and spirit, and humor, remain strong.
Faith Leaders for Peace www.flfpeace.org
Activist San Diego www.activistsandiego.org
San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice www.sdcpj.org
February 26, 2008 A Man Who Moves Mountains: Greg Mortenson by Angie Brenner
February 26, 2008
A Man Who Moves Mountains: Greg Mortenson
Greg Mortenson’s Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a time
If you educate a boy
You get an individual
If you educate a girl
You get a community
– African Proverb
Sometime between the reception and podium, Greg Mortenson, author of the New York Times bestseller Three Cups of Tea, slips off his shoes and stands on the stage of the Point Loma Nazarene University’s Brown Chapel in stocking feet. This big midwestern football player and mountain climber looks oddly comfortable with the audience of more than 1800 people. The event venue had changed three times due to increased interest in Mortenson’s highly publicized book.
Kathie Diamant, the MC for the evening from San Diego’s National Public Radio Station, KPBS, tells how Mortenson’s book was chosen as this year’s One Book One San Diego − a sort of a book club for the entire city.
“Some men climb mountains,” says Diamant, after mentioning that San Diego State University has made Three Cups of Tea mandatory reading in next year’s curriculum. “Other men move mountains.”
Actually, Greg Mortenson does both.
In 1993 bad weather thwarted Mortenson’s climb to the 28,267-foot summit of K-2 in Pakistan’s Karakoram mountain range. He became disoriented and ill before being led by his guide into the tiny village of Korphe. The failed attempt to reach the peak hit Mortenson hard. This climb was to honor his younger sister Christa who had died, and the opportunity of a lifetime was missed. Or so he thought.
While recouping in Korphe, Mortenson became friends with the village chief, Haji Ali. “As the guest in the village, I was told that the first cup of tea offered is to the stranger, the second is to a friend, and the third is for family,” Mortenson tells the audience. “And, for family, they will do anything. When I left, I asked them what was most needed in the village. Haji Ali, himself illiterate, said that the children needed to be educated; they needed a school. They were scratching out math problems with sticks in the dirt.”
Mortenson returned home, sold his few belongings, and while living in his car, began to raise money to build a school for the children of Korphe. “I typed out letters on a manual typewriter at night,” he says. “The only response was $100 from Tom Brokaw. But it gave me hope. I went to Westside Elementary School in Wisconsin where my mother is the principle and spoke to the students. Six weeks later they presented me with 62,342 pennies. That began the Pennies for Peace program, now promoted by my eleven-year-old daughter.”
The first substantial benefactor, Jean Hoerni, gave Mortenson $12,000 to return to the Pakistani village to build the school. “When I walked into the village, Haji Ali just shook his head. He never expected to see me again. “‘You can not get materials to the village unless a bridge is built,’ Ali told me. So I returned home once again to find more money to build the bridge.”
Journalist David Oliver Relin found Mortenson’s story of school building so compelling that he worked two years with him to write the story.
“My publisher wanted the subtitle, One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations,” says Mortenson. “‘Greg, only 12% of non-fiction books make money, and terror sells,’ they told me. So, I agreed with their title for the hard cover release if they agreed to use my sub-title for the paperback publication should hard cover sales not do well,” As it turned out, the hard cover sold a dismal (by New York publishing house standards) 20,000 copies. “The paperback version of Three Cups of Tea has been on the NYT’s Bestseller List for nine months now.”
We can see Mortenson’s wide grin twenty rows away.
The story is remarkable on so many levels. It’s a story about compassion and trust, and believing in a goal and not letting it go no matter how the odds are stacked against you, and how to fight terror and hate through peace and education.
Mortenson talks about the two Fatwas against him that ordered him to stop teaching girls and ordering him leave the country. The Council of Mullahs would determine his fate. Inside the Imam Bara Mosque, Mortenson joined eight stern-faced, black-turbaned men and expected the worst. Syed Mohammad Abbas Risvi greeted him and placed a red velvet box that contained the decree on the carpet in front of him and opened the lid.
“We direct all clerics in Pakistan to not interfere with your noble intentions,” read the Mullah.
Mortenson believes that his refusal of all U.S. government contributions (and millions of dollars have been offered) helps his credibility in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. “They might think I was a spy if they learned that I took money from my government,” he says.
“I just returned from a speaking engagement at the Pentagon,” he says. “They purchased 5,000 copies of my book.” Again, Mortenson’s signature broad smile illuminates his face.
The building of schools near terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, with the resurgence of the opium trade and Taliban, proves to be even more of a challenge. Recently, one of his schools was threatened by the local Taliban despot who said that they would kill students if the school wouldn’t stop educating girls. The local authorities intervened, made arrests, and stopped the Taliban before anyone was hurt.
Building schools in two of the most politically charged and dangerous countries in the world, and encouraging that more girls attend, always puts Mortenson at risk.
When he’s not overseeing the building of a new school, Mortenson travels the world fundraising for his organization, CAI (Central Asia Institute). Already he has had 140 speaking engagements this year and just returned from an event in Florida where President H.W. Bush, Barbara, and their son Jeb, listened to him speak and offered a contribution.
He tells of the e-mails he’s received from an army captain stationed in Afghanistan who candidly says that this war can not be won by bombs, only education can create peace.
“I’ve come to realize that the Pentagon has no idea about this part of the world,” says Mortenson. “The captain stationed in Afghanistan says that he has no problem ordering thousands of dollars worth of bombs to be dropped on cities, but can’t get $4,000 to help rebuild a school.
The speaking engagements are working. Mortenson now has sixty-four schools under his belt, and 25,000 students being educated, many of them are girls. And, he’s adding to the success stories.
“One of the first girls I saw in Korphe was writing in the dirt with a stick. Even with much taunting and ridicule from boys, she has since graduated from high school. We paid the $800 for her medical training. Now she has returned to her village in Chunda, Pakistan, and with her medical skills has reduced the morality rate of women during pregnancy from about twenty a year to zero.”
Mortenson admits that he creates his good luck by building relationships based on trust and patience, and he takes the time for the third cup of tea.
Mortenson will carry his message again during his many San Diego speaking engagements, including the Camp Pendleton Marine base.
“You can not get peace through politics,” he says in closing. “You can only get peace through people.”
January 25, 2008 White Crow Walks by Angie Brenner
January 25, 2008
Jesse WhiteCrow’s long walk across America is nearing its final weeks. The terrain he crosses in January, the West Coast of Oregon and Washington, relentlessly gives up nothing to suggest that he can ease up. Frigid rain and snow offer up opportunities for sickness and hypothermia. Jesse finds comfort in a smile or kind gesture. A hot cup of Joe at a cafe. Sharing his stories with others. We catch up with him as he reaches the Pacific Ocean and begins to head north. Further Notes from Jesse’s Blog:
14 January 2008 – Seven Miles to Waves – Toledo, Oregon
“Rain falls sideways, shoved by the unfatiguing arm of the wind. In minutes my legs are soaked shingling water into my boots that aim to never dry. Again rain, though variation on a theme. Yesterday was my first sunny day in a month of daily watering. At first the sun made me flinch the way a laugh does after a long sadness, the squint of it erasing cloud.
“Under a bridge without a name I will make morning coffee from rain and pack up the kit that has seen me across America. Tomorrow I will put a foot in the Pacific Ocean and turn to walk north.” – Jesse WhiteCrow
January 9, 2008 Whitecrow Walking Across America by Angie Brenner
January 9, 2008
Whitecrow Walking Across America
Jesse Whitecrow has been walking across America for over two years. The idea that formed in his mind when he was six years old turned into a lifelong passion.
“Everything I’ve done in my life led me to this,” he told me recently when we met during his stop-over in Corvallis, Oregon.
He began the first leg of his journey from Maine to his Massachusetts home in the fall of 2002. In 2005 he picked up his staff and began again. Not for peace or to end a war or prove a cause. He walks for himself, for that little boy who had an idea that would not go away.
This week Jesse will leave Corvallis for the Pacific Coast and head north to Washington State where this trip ends, and perhaps a new one begins.
Wild River Review will be posting an interview with Jesse and on WRR@LARGE there will be excerpts from his blogs from the road (www.whitecrowwalking.com).
– Angie Brenner, West Coast Editor, Wild River Review
Corvallis, Oregon – Jesse Whitecrow’s January 6th blog
Thoughts of shedding gear for the last days of the trek…
“As with all my gear, a bonding takes place, a trust I feel I am betraying when (through no failure in gear performance ) I walk away from tack knowing I won’t return to it on this journey. Instead of adding weight to CrowDog (his backpack) with this line of thinking I ride the buoyant feeling of being unyoked, un-tethered, being given once again the promised freedom of having wings.”
On being with friends…
“Nightly we watch Northern Exposure re-runs for the first time on VHS tapes and our delighted bodies are cemented excitedly on the couch like children. I think of walking through Roselyn, Washington where the series was filmed fifteen years ago. I think of walking without ending. Relatives have been warmly introduced, and hands of Dave and Jeni’s friends have found mine, removing yet more strangers from the world. There is a great pleasure tied to being introduced to the friends of those we cherish. In this world of great music and souls truly alive yet lost in the sea of living on a globe seven billion strong I am given the hands of those that have been winnowed from the masses with love; songs that I may never have heard on my own and this alone is a reason for celebration.”
For Jesse’s full blogs, go to www.whitecrowwalking.com