Saturday, June 28, 2008

Coffee,Tea, Or Me?

I hate to say this, but if I can get there by car, that’s how I’ll do it. The airline industry is seeing prices that are about to explode and service that is going down to nothing at all. Air travel used to be a luxury and a fun experience. It was a bank and shoal of time when passengers were well dressed (this meant no pajama bottoms) and on their best behavior. Today barely a day goes by without an incident of air rage, in the terminal or on-board causing flights to be diverted. Our options are now: cattle car or royalty.

My introduction to air travel came in the 1960s. It was a period that started with the turbo-propeller aircraft, saw the introduction of the transatlantic jets, and ended with the new generation of jumbo airliners, led by the Boeing 747. There was the promise of major advances in every aspect of air travel, including capacity, range, comfort, operating efficiency, safety, and costs. Boeing, Douglas, Convair, and Lockheed are the darlings of my remembrance of things past. By the time I had taken my first flight, nearly two-thirds of the American population had never flown.

My brother was particularly enamored with flying and started a life-long hobby of collecting OAGs (Official Airline Guides) as a boy. In fact, he would plan and schedule all flights for family vacations, even though he was not ten-years-old yet. We would make the observation deck at any airport a mandatory obligation. A meal at an airport restaurant was a coat-and-tie affair.

Do you remember any of this? Observation decks were actually how most families would observe planes—from the ground.

In the sixties, air travelers were still mostly wealthy people and business people on expense accounts, who flew repeatedly. Most Americans could not afford to fly, to see their loved ones in other cities, or to visit exciting vacation spots. I was fortunate in that my family got to go on vacations. It was an economic stretch for my father, but he felt that it was worth the debt. He was right; I remember every minute of those experiences.

The family would go up to Toronto, from Cleveland, to board an Air Canada Vickers Vanguard (Turbo Prop) en route to Antigua, with a refueling in Bermuda. It was a long flight, but I have many fond memories of those incredibly gorgeous Air Canada stewardesses. Yes, I may have been a tot, but I still knew a good thing when I saw it.

Here’s a life-long kudos to Air Canada. You had the best stewardesses ever!

Since those days, air travel has rapidly expanded to cope with the increasing flood of travelers. Many of the airports have become miniature cities, containing shops, restaurants, and even places of worship. There is a whole industry of hotels enveloping these mega-ports. At the modern airport, Americans spend around 3.7 billion hours stuck in traffic, burning gasoline whose price has soared by 60 percent. Security lines snake endlessly, runways are choked, and delays are common. Experts predict that, with the population climbing well past 300 million, the demand for travel will only grow.

Back in the 60s stewardesses had to be single, attractive, and thin. Today, as anyone can tell you, flight attendants tend not to be any of these things. Does anybody remember a book called Coffee, Tea or Me? The Uninhibited Memoirs of Two Airline Stewardesses. It was considered racy at the time. My brother got hold of a copy and we would surreptitiously share it. Of course my imagination put the faces of the lovely Air Canada Girls into the characters of this classic piece of literature. I wonder if I re-read this as an adult—would it lose its prestige? I guess some things are better left alone.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Profile This, You...

This just in—The City of New York has announced a plan to test every adult living in the Bronx, for H.I.V. This is the poorest of all the boroughs in the city. Let’s face it, Americans hold negative stereotypes about poor people, and the general population often distance themselves from poor individuals


Most upper class individuals have never experienced severe and enduring financial hardship, and therefore are unsympathetic to the plight of the ill-provided. Attitudes of disregard and avoidance of the poor are often implicitly and explicitly conveyed to their children, because the poor are often portrayed as ignorant, lazy, dishonest, and disinterested in self-improvement. It is therefore likely that children in the United States come to think about and understand individuals from low socioeconomic backgrounds negatively.

Let us not ignore the subrogation of the term urban poverty for race. Most health statistics in the U.S. are stratified by race. Data on morbidity and morality are routinely collected by race, and are routinely used as a control variable in medical research factors. They believe that race is a good indicator of the risks of death and disease. One can only conclude that race is being used for a proxy. When you use race as a proxy, in any circumstance, you engage in what has come to be called “racial profiling.”

So, New York, get busy profiling all those poor blacks and Hispanics for H.I.V. and AIDS. God forbid that their plague should spread over into other boroughs. You claim that 40 percent of the population there already has the disease. I guess that means that the rest have it too, but it just hasn’t been confirmed yet.

Why stop there? I say, that we should do a little more profiling!

First, we’ll start in Holmby Hills, a neighborhood just west of the Los Angeles Country Club in the so-called Platinum triangle. It has some of the most gargantuan houses in the U.S.. Diseases are starting to spread from here to the rest of the world. The World Health Organization used to focus on malnutrition and infectious diseases in developing nations, but now non-communicable diseases are becoming so prevalent the emphasis is changing. Well, it looks like diabetes and heart disease, long thought to be the presumptive right of the affluent, have in a significant shift been identified as the emerging big killers in developing countries. Recent estimates predict that the numbers of people with diabetes will more than double to 300 million worldwide in the next 25 years. We need to keep this killer quarantined, my friends.

I’m not making this up. Here is the math I’m using for the profiling—

One Variable is used for a proxy for another Y when X is used in the place of Y to make a particular decision about an individual. Let Y be a variable that is material to an interest I but that cannot be directly measured and X a variable that can be directly measured but is not material to I but correlates with Y. In that case, X is a proxy for Y if X is used instead of Y in making a decision about the individual in order to further I.

Second, we’ll go to North Greenwich-Round Hill and The Indian Hill Club-Woodley Road area in Southern Winnetka. Here we find older and traditional dwellings with mature landscaping on carefully screened acreage. The diseases of semi-irrational phobias need to be profiled here. These phobias have been quietly hiding in these communities. Noise phobia seems to be the most common. It is an excessive fear of a sound that results in the person attempting to avoid or escape from the sound. The most consistent signs seen with noise phobias are panting and trembling. Other behaviors that frequently occur include drooling, whining, house soiling, hiding, and seeking constant contact with the Nicaraguan housekeeper.

It may be too late, but here are a couple of signs that you might be infected:

*You occasionally wake up in rooms you didn’t know you had.
*It is more than two football fields from your front door to the street.

Oh and let’s not forget:

*You have an entertainment center in your bathroom.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Either Intrinsic or From God

The crimes you are about to hear have all been specially committed for this blog. Here to tell you a story with the aid of smoke-glass ear-trumpet and reconditioned head is yours truly:

I remember when it all started. At the time I was asleep in my electrified elephant hammock, when through the pigeonhole flew a carrier pigeon. There was something strapped to its leg - it was a postman.

He began to play the pontiff and started to get to the bottom of the Myth of Sisyphus. “Life is veritably absurd, sir. So it is even more absurd to counteract it; instead we should engage in fetching breath and reconcile the fact that we live in a world without purpose.” This advice was none too soon, for I had been contemplating the efforts of humanity to find meaning in the universe. In fact I was beginning to become certain that no such meaning exists, at least in relation to humanity.

In other words, meaning is humanly impossible, even though there may be some inherent meaning in the universe. It is just not within our reach. This was made clear when my postman enlightened me to the confrontation between man’s desire for significance, meaning, and clarity, and the word-bound, cryospheric universe. This is when I had my “Ah Ha” moment. There are specific experiences that evoke the notion of absurdity. When we encounter them, we are taking a leap of faith, so to speak, to acceptance. And when we do, we are acting with the “virtue of the absurd,” as Johannes de Silentio said.

This faith has no expectations. It is flexible and set into motion by our notions. So this got me thinking about where my notion of the absurd came from. My first tutors were Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Recent absurdist trends in television comedy are now referred as being "Pythonesque." Through them I discovered the ludicrous arising out of the improbable or distressing; usually where the defect or weakness was of man’s own seeking. With the Python's comedy, the more the incredible the effrontery, the greater the joke.

How can I apply this today? Well all I have to do is to pay attention to what is happening in the world. By the time Paul Bremer, the American pro consul in Baghdad left his post, $8.8bn had disappeared. Americans overseeing cash handouts in Iraq could not adequately account for the money, according to an audit by a government watchdog. One official said, on the condition of anonymity, “The worse-case scenario is that someone took it home.”

Do you think?

Here’s another one—The Denver Police had kept files on 3,200 people and 208 organizations who could pose possible security risks. It was discovered by The American Civil Liberties Union that the American Friends Service Committee was one of these groups under surveillance. Guess what? They are a Quaker pacifist organization. I imagine that their subversive prayer and potluck meetings deserved recognition.

Keeping in comic character is consistency in absurdity. Doesn’t it sound a little bit like our current administration? They have a determined and laudable attachment to the incongruous and singular.

At least in comedy the devotion to nonsense, and enthusiasm about trifles, is highly affective as a moral lesson. And this, as we know, is one of the striking weaknesses and greatest amusements of our nature.

It is through my devotion to absurdity that I have been able to understand our President’s morphemics. A common element of surreal humor is the non-sequitur, in which one statement is followed by another with no logical progression. Yes, I guess I do know what you’re saying Gov.
But, does your administration have problems communicating with one another, and is their language oftentimes ludicrous? And, following the cyclical pattern, is your administration going to end in the same state it began in, with nothing really changed? Well, we're WAITING.

As Samuel Beckett said, " What doI know about man's destiny? I could tell you more about radishes."

(The beginning of this essay was borrowed from The Whistling Spy Enigma—The Goon Show, broadcast 9-28-54.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Make Me Laugh, Please.

The death of George Carlin, the astringent stand-up comic, recently has caused me to reminisce about something that was dear to my heart and a great influence to my sense of the world: the comedy album. I came of age in the late 60s and early 70s, a time when comedy was evolving from the buttoned-down decorum to the counterculture hero. This is when George’s comedy took flight. His irreverent and tempestuous social commentary examined the absurdities of everyday life that I was trying to come to grips with.

Follow for yourself the metamorphosis from Take-Offs and Put-Ons to FM & AM, followed by Class Clown, Occupation: Foole, and An Evening With Wally Lambo. Politicians, advertisements, religion, the media and conventional thinking were all fair game in his routines.

The first comedy album to cross my path was from my father’s collection. It represented the button-down comedy generation. The First Family was a collection of satiric sketches about the Kennedy family, where Vaughn Meader stole the show as the President. I would roll on the floor, in stitches, as the first family perfused our living room. Apparently, this was the fastest-selling record in history. This was followed by My Son the Nut by Allan Sherman. I would sing “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” to and with my friends. The subjects and the punchlines were always funny. They were soft-hued and delightful.

My father has a friend who owns and runs a classical music radio station in Cleveland—WCLV FM. Bob, the friend, had a show where he played bits from all sorts of comedy albums. My dad and I would listen to the show together. The comedy that I loved the most, on his show, was from An Evening With Nichols and May—Mike Nichols and Elaine May. They were hip, extended pieces filled with clever lines, pathos and biting satire.

I lived a short distance from Shaker Square in Cleveland, Ohio. There used to be a small record store there that I would frequent. I would walk from my home and enter the store full of anticipation for what would be waiting in the comedy bin. I would work for my parents or for neighbors, just to raise enough money to buy new records, especially anything new from Bill Cosby. He was my favorite. In fact the only surviving artifact from this era is a scratched copy of To Russell My Brother Whom I Slept With. I love to pull it out every now and then. His visual pictures come to life every time I listen to it. When my wife and I married, I used to jokingly say while in bed, “This is my side of the bed” in one of the characters voices, and she would respond by saying, “What are you talking about?” Comedy references can be so personal and arcane.

Here are some other albums that need to be mentioned as all-time greatest comedy albums:

*The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart—Bob Newhart. It is highly stylized, often with Bob using a phone as a prop but letting us hear only one side of the conversation (Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Ave.).

*The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress—Flip Wilson. With his alter-ego, Geraldine, Flip helped open the door to African-American performers. It won the Grammy for best comedy album of 1970.

*The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters—Jonathan Winters. This album is not about jokes, but about the characters he creates. It demonstrates how creative comedy can be. Talk about voices in someone’s head. Watch out!

*Derek and Clive Live—Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore. Just two blokes drunk off their asses and having a good time.

*Child of the 50’s—Robert Kline. This is smart, funny, and original. Robert was one of my favorite comedians appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show. He lacked the political edge of some of his contemporaries, but he did show that the baby-boomers had arrived (younger and hipper).

*Standup Comic—Woody Allen. If you have never heard Woody’s standup act, you have to get a copy of this. It is a classic in comedy writing.

Do any of you have any favorite comedy albums that you would like to share? Leave a comment if you do.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Circus by Moonlight

flanked by a quiet of night
they watch
the parade, migrating
circus figures,
passing in unfamiliar
outlines of pygmy
and ballooning-bubble-elasticity.

limp sleepers, hanging
by moon’s hooking crescent,
space babies with
no planet, dangling
to the organ grinder’s
hypnotic spell,
while cotton candy—
cocoon, envelopes them, in sticky.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Bicycle Built For Two (Me And You)

I guess it is now perfectly clear that our president wants us to perpetuate our addiction to oil. He wants more offshore drilling (that’s right Florida, you heard me).

What we need to get through our heads, Mister President, is that we now need to follow the lead of the rest of the world. It is time for us to follow, since we no longer know how to lead. Gas is hitting the high prices that other countries already experience. The 4 to 5 dollar gallon is here to stay.

Think of China: while the bicycle is still used as an essential form of transportation, the country has recently seen a rapid decrease in bike ownership as their population becomes wealthier and turns to cars.

Think of the enlightened countries: a number of European and South American cities have set the standard for bicycle use and promotion, via pro-bike transportation and land use policies. They have provided heavy funding for bicycle infrastructure and public education. While biking remains popular for recreation in the US, it is underused for transportation. It now accounts for only 0.9 percent of all trips, with cycling to work at only 0.4 percent. The more progressive leaders today are working to bring cycling back to prominence in the urban transport landscape. It is a clean and efficient alternative to the automobile and a practical way to reduce congestion and pollution. Remember—more than half the world’s population now lives in cities.

There is tremendous potential for governments and urban planners to increase bicycle use. It promotes people’s physical fitness while helping to create cleaner, more livable communities, as well as addressing climate change. In Amsterdam, cycling accounts for 55 percent of trips to jobs that are less than 4.7 miles from home. The Dutch government has pledged to spend $160 million from 2006 to 2010 on bicycle paths, parking, and safety. Bogotá, Columbia, has more than 300 kilometers of bikeways, the most for any city in the developing world. In Australia, the state of Victoria has amended planning laws to require all new large buildings to provide bike parking and other facilities such as showers and lockers.

The best example is in Paris, with the low-cost Vélib rental scheme. They offer 20,600 bikes that can be rented by credit card at 1,451 stations throughout the city. The program logged 6 million rides in its first three months.

Funding for bicycle usage in the US has been for recreation use only, with $900 million a year in federal funding for the promotion of biking and walking. At least this can be seen as an encouraging sign, despite the unimpressive statistics. Perhaps if we follow the lead, this funding for recreation could be targeted towards integrating bicycles in transportation planning, educating the public about cycling’s benefits, and discouraging driving with restrictions and taxes on car ownership and parking.

With gas prices rising, we need a call for a broad coalition of citizen and environmental groups to call for safer, pedestrian-and cyclist-friendly roads designed for everyone, not just cars. Six states and more than 50 cities, counties, and metro regions have now enacted some form of this legislation. Let’s keep the momentum going. Forget about the quick fix of offshore drilling. Let’s think about our children’s future.

The world produced an estimated 130 million bicycles in 2007—more than twice the 52 million cars produced. Bike production is gaining steam.

It’s time to flip through my new Trek catalogue now. I’m thinking—the Soho S (single speed).

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Cultivation of the Mind (Old School)

The new version of Get Smart is now out in a movie theater near you. You will probably come across articles and reviews in the newspapers comparing Steve Carell to Don Adams, in the role of CONTROL spy Maxwell Smart (Agent 86). I suppose I will go see the movie, simply as an oblation to one of my heroes—Don Adams.

Why Don Adams? My education came from so much more than school.

My entire life I have been hearing people besmirch television. Guess what? I like television—have and always will. There is great stuff there, if only you look hard enough. Unfortunately my search for the good stuff lately has crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Since the writer’s strike, my wife and I have been acquiring BBC shows on DVD (MI-5 and The Thin Blue Line are our favorites).

Similar to my spiritual enlightenment, my education has come from a plenitude of sources. Don Adams was the voice of the wise-cracking penguin Tennessee Tuxedo, a television cartoon character between 1963 and 1966. Along with his dim-witted pal Chumley, they constantly schemed against zookeeper Stanley Livingston and his assistant Flunky, in an attempt to improve the quality of zoo-life.

Here’s where the education part comes in—their projects required the assistance of their educated friend, Phineas J. Whoopee and his three dimensional blackboard. The voice of Phineas was provided by Larry Storch (I got an autographed photograph of Larry when he was a cast member of the show F-Troop). The blackboard helped demonstrate basic scientific principles through the use of instructional film clips. In fact, the show was introduced on CBS-TV in response to a speech by FCC Chairman Newton R. Minnow, which addressed television as a “vast wasteland.” The purpose of the show was to educate as well as entertain young viewers.

The sad part was that, even with the help of Whoopee, the pair failed to get their plans to work. I guess there were life-lessons to be gained—

1. I've learned that heroes are people who do what has to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences, or if they don’t always succeed.
2. Surrounding yourself with positive relationships is half the battle.
3. Most success boils down to perseverance, determination, tenacity.

Adams went on from Tennessee Tuxedo and gained worldwide fame and three Emmy Awards for his role as Maxwell Smart.

I just want you to know, Don: I remember Tennessee and can attribute part of my education to him. Oh, and I understand that you spent your leisure time, later in life, either at the racetrack or in card games at the Playboy Mansion. I hope there’s a lesson there also.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Carrying Spears

the tiny

had a bit

on such a

halfway to

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Let's Talk Business

When you think of social websites, I have no doubt that what comes to mind is something like; some Ashley or Courtney prattling on about that cute boy in biology class; or Dude and Dude comparing Phish concert tapes. But take note—Facebook and MySpace have new competition within the cosmic constant of cybernation. A social network for business professionals, called LinkedIn, has just arrived for the career-minded, white collar camarilla. According to Dan Nye, the chief executive of LinkedIn, “We want to create a broad and critical business tool that is used by tens of millions of business professionals every day to make them better at what they do.” In other words—build a network.

Business networking is the process of establishing a beneficial relationship with other business people and potential clients and/or customers. The purpose is to increase business revenue. With this new site, people will be able to create and maintain online résumés and establish links with colleagues and acquaintances, then be able to expand their network through contacts. This career driven caucus doesn’t have time to waste with developing real relationships. It is too slow and too grueling: tennis, dinners, golf, charity balls, etc.

If you are not included in this sodality, you may have discerned how boring they may appear. Anton Chekhov said, “People who lead a lonely existence always have something on their minds that they are eager to talk about.” Now there is no genetic trait that says a person is doomed to be boring. Perhaps their terms of reference make them that way. To me, business types tend to talk about themselves too much. If you are not in their club, you don’t exist. Have you ever been talked down to, because you work in the service industry?

The fact is—some of the smartest and most interesting people I have ever met were not rich business folk, but had normal working class jobs.

Now, let’s consider all the lying that is going to take place on this site. A survey entitled Manners and Behavior released by the website found that 30% of men and 19% of women believe telling white lies online is acceptable. And don’t forget that almost everyone involved in online dating is lying, just to get laid. Think what people will say to get ahead in the business world. I remember a cartoon, from my youth, where a retired British military officer told the most fantastic tales of heroism and bravery. In fact, so utterly fantastic as to be laughable. I can see it now, “Warren Buffet and I waved as our Gulfstreams passed at 50 thousand feet.”

There will also be a whole can of worms opened when business rivals start slandering each other, because now Internet providers as well as individual users can be liable for intentionally distributing defamatory information online. LinkedIn may find themselves busy policing their site to remove postings from chatrooms and message groups, whenever someone complains about a libelous statement made by a third party.

The 1st District Court of Appeals, in Barrett v. Rosenthal, AO96451, disagreed with the decision of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Zeron v. America Online Inc., 129 F.3rd 327. In that case, a federal three-judge panel dismissed a plaintiffs complaint that AOL did nothing to stop an unidentified third party who maliciously posted messages on an AOL bulletin advertising offensive T-shirts and listing the plaintiff’s home phone number.

Ouch! Lying in cyberspace just got riskier.

One more thing to look out for: the résumé. In 2004, the federal Government Accountability Office released a report that found that at least 28 senior-level federal workers had claimed degrees from diploma mills and other unaccredited schools. It doesn’t take much imagination, to wonder what hyperbolical embellishments will appear in this new network.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Humpty-Dumpty Complex

It’s time to usher in the eggheads.

This is what Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has announced with a proactive plan to recruit social scientists, and a brain trust of economists and scholars, to help combat our security threats. The Pentagon has regularly financed Research and Development for science and engineering. Now it’s the social sciences and humanities (those two concepts that make all engineering students cringe) turn.

Cooperation between universities and the Pentagon has a long history of contention, because of the instinctive unease among scholars cooperating with the government. This conceivably, could be due to the nature of protecting independence and quality.

According to Mr. Gates, “The key principle of all components,” of this undertaking, “will be complete openness and rigid adherence to academic freedom and integrity. We are interested in furthering our knowledge of these issues and in soliciting diverse points of view, regardless of whether those views are critical of the department’s efforts.” Let’s hope this is true. What we don’t need, is another think tank.

A think tank is an organization, institute or corporation that engages in advocacy in areas such as social science. They mostly tend to concentrate on the affairs of political strategy, economy, technology and industrial or business policies. Don’t forget- also military issues. Unfortunately they have become little more than public relations fronts. They are experts at spinning webs of self-serving scholarship which serve the needs of the advocacy goals of their sponsors.

I like the idea of our leaders surrounding themselves with smart people, as long as they are impartial and listened to. Of course if you surround yourself with people saying what you want to hear, then it serves a nefarious function. The term kitchen cabinet, the popular name for a group of intimate, unofficial advisors, originated during the term of President Andrew Jackson. There can be good and bad kitchen cabinets, depending on your political views. Ronald Reagan had a kitchen cabinet of allies and friends from California who advised him during his terms. Clark Clifford was considered a member of the kitchen cabinet for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, before becoming Secretary of Defense. Robert Kennedy was considered part of his brother’s kitchen cabinet while also being a member of the Cabinet as Attorney General.

Now even a better idea is what is referred to as a brain trust. This is a group of experts who serve, usually unofficially, as advisors and policy planners, or a group of experts gathered to discuss issues informally in public. Franklin Roosevelt had such a group of advisors. They presented Roosevelt with analysis of national social and economic problems and helped him devise public-policy solutions.

Barak Obama seems to be taking a cue from Roosevelt’s play book. He is already starting to surround himself with smart people. This includes a Swahili-speaking Air Force general, a 30-year-old speechwriter who helped draft the final report from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, and President Clinton’s first national security advisor. Whether they will turn out to be a kitchen cabinet or a brain trust is only speculation at this time. I’m hoping for the later.

So now, let’s get back to Secretary Gates’ plan. Here are a few things that these scholars might be able to help with-

1. Specific expert advisory groups, committees and roundtables.
2. Critiquing and providing intellectual rigor to department responses to various discussion papers, position papers and reviews.
3. Advice on research and policy issues currently affecting the department.
4. Assistance and advice on the rigor of planned research and evaluation.
5. Assistance with the scope and design of research projects planned to assess the impact of various programs and policies within the department’s reform agenda.
6. Provision of advice on the use of current data base holdings for secondary analysis and conduct of analysis using existing data where appropriate.

Remember, Humpty-Dumpty was the biggest egghead of them all, and we know what happened to him. So best of luck, Mr. Secretary.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

It Isn't Over Till The Skinny Chick Sings!

There is something funny happening in Opera these days; the slimming down of sopranos. The 47-year old American, Deborah Voigt, was recently fired by the Royal Opera House for being too fat. Now, I want to make this clear, Deborah is known for her Wagnerian roles. You know- the ones famous for the coining of the term it isn’t over till the fat lady sings. Apparently, the singers’ appearance has become more important than the voice.

Ms. Voigt has just started her comeback, after losing 120 pounds as a result of gastric-bypass surgery. There was a time when the casting for an operatic production was done on the merits of the quality of the voice and not the singer’s physique and beauty.

In March of 2005, Jennifer Wilson burst onto the international scene by understudying for Jane Eaglen as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s five hour Götterdämmerung, just a day after singing the same character in a rehearsal of Die Walküre. This was an athletic feat, not only for the voice, but also for the physical stamina involved. She has, what could be described as a big-voice. Also you could say, she had the “goods.” Unfortunately, American vocal training favors lighter, flexible voices with a wide range. But opera has traditionally relied for it’s survival on the powerful, concert-hall filling voices.

Segway into: the microphone.

The coordination of lungs and diaphragm, and the proper use of breath, which are the fundamental prerequisites for sustaining powerful voices in huge auditoriums, are no longer required. As Deborah Voigt said, “I’m hoping that we don’t go so far as to put microphones on soubrette sopranos and have them singing Isolde.”

Now we have to take into account that bigger voices take longer to mature. By the time they do, many of those that possess them are 35 years or older. In other words, they are no longer the “Hot Babes” of opera; the ones that sell CD’s like Cecilia Bartoli. Speight Jenkins of the Seattle Opera said, “Voice teachers in general do not encourage the unique, original voice.” Instead, they encourage “the voice that can hit all the notes and do what is supposed to be done,” regardless if they have any flair or artistry.

So now we have singers with attractive bodies, and light, agile voices. Quick fame, like we have with American Idol, is the way to go. OK, so you just had dinner and you have to sit through an opera. So who wouldn’t rather watch a “hot babe” perform a virtuosic aria from Mozart’s Abduction From the Seraglio, instead of that “huge chick” belting out five hours worth of schnapps and sausage music.

This shift towards “popera”, with the use of microphones and pretty girls is starting to blend the genres of Broadway and Opera. Will we be seeing Sarah Brightman singing “Dich, teure Halle” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser, on 42nd street next season?

So Deborah Voigt is back now, in her slimmed down version. But will the voice be the same? ''I think that the face of opera is changing,'' Voigt said. ''To assume that one can weigh 300-plus pounds and still be viable on today's opera stage is naive.” But as they say, it isn’t over till the skinny chick sings.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Beam Me Up Jesus!

I received an e-mail yesterday from a friend with a link to a web page. At first, I thought it was a joke, but at closer inspection, I realized it was real. How many times have you thought that when you have seen it all, another surprise is just around the corner to upset your perceived harmony among irrational impulses?

Well, here it is: Post Rapture Pets.

Those who are taken up in the rapture (this is when Jesus beams you up) will be safe in the arms of God; but what about the pets we love and care for?

The web page tells you that, by buying their book, you too can make sure that little Fluffy won’t be plagued by the demonic savages of the post-rapture. This apparently is another, in a long line of Rapture books, and we know how many millions of people and millions of dollars have been made by Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

In the fundamentalist Christian eschatology, the Rapture is the moment in which they believe that Jesus will descend from Heaven, accompanied by his posse, whose bodies (rotting corpses I presume) are reunited with their spirits in a resurrection. Just imagine bodies popping out of the ground. Does that remind you of anything? How about- Night of the Living Dead. Immediately after this all “true” Christians (meaning fundamentalist Protestants, not Catholics, etc.) alive on the earth are simultaneously transported to meet the Lord.

The Left Behind books are popular apocalyptic thrillers in which Jesus returns to slaughter everyone who is not a born-again Christian. The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof said, “If Saudi Arabians wrote an Islamic version of this series, we would furiously demand that sensible Muslims repudiate such hatemongering.” Even the conservative theologian Barbara R. Rossing, an associate professor of New Testament studies at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, and who received her doctorate from the Harvard Divinity School, said “Today’s Christian fixation on Armageddon and war is a sickness even while it may be thrilling and entertaining.”

What this fear mongering really does, is to control people through fear- plain and simple. And don’t forget, that societies (this includes religious societies) living in fear are no longer functioning to their full potential. Fear is crippling to productivity, confidence and mental serenity. So the “Flock” is best managed through fear. There will always be some cause for fear created by those in power to keep followers in line.

This is why, rather than confidently laying out a positive program of beliefs (like traditional denominations do); fundamentalism is more concerned with raising alarm over putative dangers lying in wait.

Now my family has a rich spiritual history that includes The Catholic Church, Protestantism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Buddhism and Atheism. Perhaps my spiritual view of the world has amalgamated positions from all of these and more, which is why my wife and I are about to start attending the Universalist-Unitarian Church here in Athens. My spiritual enlightenment can also come from a variety of other sources. In fact, I relish what Yoda of Star Wars says about this issue, “Fear is the path to the dark side: fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”

Oh, and by the way, if you buy anything from links on the Post Rapture Pets page, Enoch will get a small percentage of the price. I just hope that a portion of these proceeds are going into a Trust for Fluffy.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Renaissance Fair?

Well it’s that time of year again, to slip on your favorite woolen clothing, with undergarments made of linen, and head off to the nearest Renaissance Fair. Yes, I’m talking about those ubiquitous flea markets plumed in cap and bells. And for those who are greatly experienced in costumery (from all those science fiction conventions), break out the hose and jacket with pleating or skirting, or the tunic with a surcoat. Women don’t forget your flowing gowns and elaborate headwear, ranging from headdresses shaped like hearts or butterflies to tall steeple caps.

For those of you unversed in fair punctilio, I suggest that you scour your closet and attic for the following:

1. Natural leather shoes, boots, and sandals.
2. Blowsy shirts in natural colors.
3. Natural leather vests.
4. Blowsy dresses in natural colors.
5. Snug fitting pants without pockets if possible

In other words, break out the old hippie stuff!

Now, when you show up, here’s what you’ll encounter: a replica of a formed small community, supposedly around a central lord or master. Not unlike the real thing, which were isolated, with occasional visits from peddlers, pilgrims on their way to the Crusades, or soldiers from other fiefdoms (who would practice their jousting skills with each other). There was no electricity, no water from faucets, no television, and no cars.

This is the Renaissance Fair experience- partly a craft fair, partly historical reenactment, and partly performance art.

But wait!

I want to know which idiot came up with the name, because if you know anything about history, everything I have just been describing can be referred to as: The Middle Ages. And as we all know (at least those who care about history), the Renaissance Period comes after the Middle Ages.

The Middle Ages are commonly dated from the fall of the Western Roman Empire (5th century) to the beginning of the Renaissance. This new modern period , lasted from around 1400 to 1500 A.D. It was a time that saw the birth of Humanism, a search for knowledge rather than accepting what already exists, and a faith in the republican ideal. In the arts it produced the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael Sanzio, and Michelangelo Buonarotti (not “Theater in the Mud”) (Face it; it’s your favorite part of the fair).

I don’t believe that thinkers like Galileo (mathematics and astronomy), Nicolaus Copernicus (astronomy), Tycho Brahe (astronomy), Johannes Kepler (mathematics and astronomy) and Isaac Newton (astronomy, physics, and mathematics), walked around peddling turkey drumsticks or replica swords.

But I do believe that their contribution to science was the foundation for modern science and technology, which eventually brought out the possibility of space travel and all of the ancillary science fiction, including the sci-fi conventions where you can really express yourself via costume. By the way, some of the alien creations that I have seen at these conventions could put a Hollywood makeup/wardrobe artist to shame.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Musicology of Rage

The orgy of fury,
Compels us to
Pule the dying days,
Make our moans to a
Crepuscular address,
With neutral contempt.

Take no pity of us,
Or aggravate our
Hemorrhaging elixir.
But give us festering language,
That is frugal and
Will embalm our orthodoxy.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Recommended Poets

As someone once said, “I really want a poem to spout roses and spit bullets.” I agree. It’s no wonder that one of my favorite songs from a while ago was Send Lawyers, Guns and Money by Warren Zevon.

Now I'm hiding in Honduras
I'm a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan

So what constitutes a good poem? For me, it is something that says more in a few words than a novel can in five hundred pages, with wit and word-play. It has an extraordinary mixing of music and image, word and thought. The job of the poet is to choose the right words, not only for sound (the music of poignant language) and connotation (landscape), but even for the countenance of them.

The poem corresponds to a centrifuge of sound, alliteration and rhythm. The reader will be walking into a world for the very first time; a world of terseness and parsimony.

Poetry IS about words!

Another person also said, “What makes a good poem? A good poet.”

So I have two great poets for you to discover this summer: Zbigniew Herbert and Miroslav Holub. They are two of my favorite poets.

Zbigniew Herbert is an avant-garde poet from Poland, who experiments with precise, restrained rhythms. His poetry is continually exposed to the impersonal, external pressures of politics and history. He started writing poetry during the Nazi occupation of Poland, and during the years of Stalinism his poems were continually banned. A. Alvarez says “Irony", such as Herbert’s, “is a two-edged weapon, which turns on the poet as readily as on the world outside. It is based on a sense of his own ineffectual fragility when faced with the steam-roller of political force." His politics is of sanity and survival; something that is completely relevant for this new century.

Also a survivor of WWII, Miroslav Holub was conscripted as a railway worker under the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. He went on to become one of his country’s most important scientists, as a research immunologist at The Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine. He argued that, “The emotional, aesthetic and existential value is the same (that scientific method and poetry-making are basically similar)…When looking into the microscope and seeing the expected and when looking at the nascent organism of the poem.” He felt an affinity for the aesthetic of his fellow doctor-poet William Carlos Williams, who is also one of my favorite American poets (along with Wallace Stevens).

So here’s Holub spitting a few bullets at you-

Here too are dreaming landscapes,
Lunar, derelict.
Here too are the masses,
Tillers of the soil.
And cells, fighters
Who lay down their lives
For a song.

Here too are cemeteries,
Fame and snow.
And I hear murmuring,
The revolt of immense estates.

Does anybody have any poets that they would like recommend to me?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Summer Reading

Have you considered your summer reading roster yet? I have just been exploring how other people pick their list and the parameters of their decisions. Most suggestions include:

1. Books you own, but have not read.
2. Read a classic that you should have read in High School, but never did.
3. Include a History book.
4. Read a Biography.
5. Don’t forget a book of Poetry.
6. Don’t think for yourself and read what your favorite magazines choose.

What I found interesting is that none of the suggestions I found, suggest picking an author to focus on or even discover.

If this produces an “ah-yes” moment for you, I have an author for you.

The most refreshing work that I have come across recently is from Roberto Bolaño, the Chilean poet and author of twelve novels. He has received some of the Hispanic world’s highest literary awards. Born in Chile, he lived much of his life as a nomad, living in Mexico, El Salvador, France and Spain. He was at the front, as a founder, of an Avant-garde group of poets and writers in Mexico who called their work infarealism. Living in Spain, he died in 2003, at the age of fifty, of liver failure while waiting for a transplant. Years of hard-living finally paid their toll.

To make it simple, I would suggest starting with Los detectives salvajes (The Savage Detectives- now in English translation), winner of the 1999 Romulo Gallegos Prize (Venezuelan). The novel centers on the poetic movement of visceral realism, which can be seen as an echo of Bolaño’s own infarealism. It is a road-book that is anything but linear.

Locations, characters and plot-threads expand to reflect a sense of displacement. Not unlike Bolaño’s own life, the characters travel in search of roots. This may cause some work on your part, because of the non-linear story. But remember, “Easy” is for magazines and such. Good literature should challenge you. Look for the tones, for it is there where you find more than just a story. Find yourself enmeshed in figuring out how Bolaño artfully weaves together his patchwork of poets.

As he points out, “All poets, even the most avant-garde, need a father. But these poets were meant to be orphans.” It is no wonder that the establishment figure of Octavio Paz is so brutally assailed. Let the person, inside of you, who loves to rebuff authority get some catharsis this summer.

Even if you have become the establishment- take a little time to explore the inner orphan in you.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Got Soup?

For those who are taking part in the new gastronomic rage and, perhaps dare I say- fad, overtaking this country, their deputation has just taken a disturbing turn. The butter and cream sauces of Julia Child, James Beard’s Chicken Risotto Topped With Caramelized Apricots, or Craig Claiborne’s Acini di Pepe, are now as passé as Brontosaurus burgers (Sorry Fred).

Stepping up to the plate are dishes like boiled sheep’s lung. Brains, tongue, feet, stomach, intestines, and other internal organs are now all fair game. Remember when you were a kid and your mother took you to the grocery store with her. When you passed the butcher’s stall, all the above were there specifically to gross you out. Maybe she said something to you like, “that’s for the poor people.”

Most Americans consider themselves to be “foodies” now. The proliferation of cooking shows, trendy restaurants, along with a host other influences has manifested a nation of daring gastronomes. Only a few years ago, the biggest threat to our sensibilities, was to watch people consume the hottest Hot Sauce they could without bursting into flames or stripping the lining out of their intestinal tracts.

But Americans love to out do each other. This is a basic creed. And the new arena is what I call “the gross out factor.” I know that it has long been fashionable to gross us out with foreign food in the movies and TV. Remember the monkey brains in Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, or Napoleon Solo and the goat’s eyeball (this one dates me). Well guess what, Anthony Bourdain will down a raw seal’s eyeball for you, if only you tune in to his show.

There used to be a rule: if it moves don’t eat it. The haute couture of the day is: if it is still moving, this will be a moment of culinary transcendence. The slugs, bugs, and creepy-crawlies of Survivor, has become the satisfier of deeper appetites; the food odyssey.

"Testicles appear on menus under various euphemisms, which prevent the diner from confronting too directly the contents of the plate," writes Alan Davidson in the Oxford Companion to Food. I’m not sure how to deal with this one, but for the brave of heart, there is no doubt a restaurant for you. Just don’t ask me to come. Which brings me to a phobia of mine? I tend to avoid those new fashionable places that offer cuisine from other countries. They are opening up all over mid-Ohio; Russian, Turkish, Thai, North African, West African, etc.

If I have to go, you had better bring a good translator with you. And don’t forget, there is always a good burger somewhere on the route home (make mine Brontosaurus, please).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Question of Americanism

In his paper, “The Quest for the National Character”, David M. Potter raises some interesting questions concerning our national character. To paraphrase; I would say that unlike most countries in the world today, the United States is not ethnically rooted in the land where we live. We, for the most part, are recent arrivals, which may effectuate our compulsive preoccupation with the question of our Americanism.

He doesn’t believe that anyone would argue the fact that when one’s ethnic, religious, linguistic, or political heritage is amalgamated, nationality can not exist without the form of a common commitment to shared values, an approbation for certain qualities of character, and a common set of transient traits and attitudes.

Here are two images for you to ponder: (A) Americans can primarily be seen as individualists and idealists, and (B) They are conformists and materialists.

The individualist theory starts the moment when a person made that decision to migrate. It is a story as old as the country itself, no matter what the country of origin. It is a story that is happening today. Someone in Mexico, or Morocco, or any other number of countries, is making that decision today. Our myth of ourselves tells us that it is related to the resourcefulness of the early pioneers, constantly confronted with circumstances in which he could rely on no one but himself. I guess we can thank Frederick Jackson Turner for this. Thomas Jefferson’s argument was for equalitarianism.

Here is a question for you: Are equalitarianism and individualism inseparably linked, or even a sanctioned ambiguity in the American creed? Alexis de Tocqueville didn’t think so.

According to him, “When the inhabitant of a democratic country compares himself individually with all those about him, he feels with pride that he is the equal of any one of them; but when he comes to survey the totality of his fellows, and to place himself in contrast with so huge a body, he is instantly overwhelmed by the sense of his own insignificance and weakness.”

As for the other side of the coin, in 1823 William Faux proclaimed, “Two selfish gods, pleasure and pain, enslave the Americans.” The American pursuit of happiness took a detour very early in our history. It was Washington Irving who coined the phrase, “the almighty dollar, that great object of universal devotion throughout the land.” Yet we have grown to become one of the riches nations in the world. So, is this a bad thing?

So where am I going with this? I guess I’m contemplating whether some kind of identifiable American character exists.

I tend to consider the intangibles. One, for sure, is that I can pick out another American at any airport in the world. I’m not sure if it is how we carry ourselves, look, or act, but rest assured, I’ll pick you out of a line-up. And don’t think any of you Canadians think you can get past me. I can smell your European pretentiousness, a mile away. I understand that this is not an original idea, but it is 100 per cent fool proof.

"The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer," claimed D.H. Lawrence. Is this what we see in each other? For those of you, who read history, remember they used to carry guns in the House of Representatives, and fire them off when they were upset about something. ... Andrew Jackson walked around with two bullets in him for most of his life. Theodore Roosevelt once told a reporter that the grizzly bear should be the symbol of America, not the eagle.

Barack Obama argues in his new book The Audacity of Hope, "We are becoming more, not less, alike.” So, are we just looking into a mirror?

Or do we just have an uncanny ability to recognize the ambiguity of individualism and acquisitiveness in each other’s eyes?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Euro 2008

Did you know that the United States is the only country in the world that doesn’t consider soccer to be the top sport? In fact we have even changed its name: its real name is “Football”. Interestingly, the rest of the world views our version of football, in the same way we view Australian Rules football—quaint but silly.

We American soccer fans often feel like we are culturally isolated from the rest of our citizens. But there we are; often you can see us strolling down a grocery store aisle, in one of our funny looking replica jersey’s. I have an assortment from around the world, but will most likely be seen sporting Arsenal (England), Fulham (England), or Argentina (National Team).

There is at this moment, one of the biggest and most important sporting tournaments in the world happening in Europe. It could be considered second only to the World Cup in popularity. I’m talking about the Euro 2008. Ask your neighbor and he’ll probably say, “The what?” The US National Team, don’t get to go because, well, they aren’t European. But we do get to choose teams to root for.

As Americans, we soccer fans tend to pick the team representing “the old country”, in order to take pride in our ancestral heritage. This is easy for this tournament, considering that most our immigration came from European countries. So in my case, I have one team to route for. My first choice would be for Wales (father’s side), but since they didn’t qualify, I can’t. Now my team will be Holland.

My mother’s family is a Dutch family from Shaker Heights Ohio. There used to be a Dutch community in part of the area where Shaker would later be incorporated as a city, where my grandfather grew up on farm. At one time, I used to own a home on land where this farm once stood. One of my cousins has the letter that our great-grandfather had to sign, renouncing the King of Holland, in order to become a US citizen.

I was also raised in Shaker Heights and this community did not gather around the television every four years for the World Cup. We were never indoctrinated into tribal allegiances by soccer-crazed families and neighbors. But somewhere along the line, I got bitten by the soccer bug. The sport is simple, yet beautiful. And I can’t get enough. With soccer on cable TV, I can watch up to six games a week, from all over the world.

So this month, while our entire nation doesn’t walk off the job or wake up at two in the morning to watch games, the way they will in the rest of the world, I will be all alone in front of my TV cheering for the Dutch.


Holland just thumped Italy 3-0. Hurrah for the men in orange.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Through My Lonely Window

Last month, the Holy Family Soup Kitchen and Pantry in the Franklinton area of Columbus Ohio, was robbed of two large refrigeration compressors and copper piping. Two months’ worth of food was spoiled, and the Kitchen had to shut its doors.

It will open again soon, due to many donations from people in the Columbus area. Perhaps this is because it has garnered much publicity in the local media.

Before this event, most people of Columbus had no idea that this kitchen even existed. But let me tell you, that it has diligently been feeding people (they went from feeding fifty people a week to up to a thousand in one day) for a long time. It is located in an area, where most suburbanites would have nightmares about finding themselves stranded with a flat tire. It is called home to many of the street people that most of us turn an eye to.

The Pantry also gives food to 0ne hundred families.

It is a Catholic charity. I am not Catholic, but a couple of years ago I found myself devoting one day of my week to volunteering there. It’s funny how these things happen. My friend, who is Jewish, was a volunteer there, and she asked me if I would be interested coming with her to help one day. After that Monday, the rest of my Mondays were penciled into my calendar.

Don’t you just love America- Here we are, my Jewish friend (who was married to a Congregational minister) and me, a WASP, working in a Catholic Church basement.

Now my job, ended up as the dishwasher. In the summer months, it could get to around 140 degrees back in the kitchen. In fact, often times I could lose five pounds of weight in just one morning shift. And it was hard work; fast and furious (one thousand trays sprayed down and put through a sanitizer). Weirdly enough, I found it to have a Zen type of quality to it. I could un-clutter my mind.

Now, my view to the dining hall, was through a little window, and I guess the view of me from the hall, was of a non-descript man passionately throwing his arms about, twisting and turning.

This brings me to why I’m bringing this all up-

Something happened one day that I’m still wrestling with. At first, I took it as a complement. As time has passed, it has taken on deeper meaning. One of the diners, when putting his tray through the window (he looked like someone straight out of central casting for the homeless), looked straight at me and said, “You know, you’re going to Heaven”, turned around and walked away.

This is something that is certainly beyond my capacity as a flawed human being to understand, but I have locked it away for those times when I have needed it; to put me back on track and put my life into perspective.

It is little things like this, that happen to us in our life, which helps us to acquire security, true happiness, forgiveness, freedom from guilt, an adequate purpose for living, and insight for living. And most importantly of all, when I get too self absorbed, it can provide me with the power for change. As far as my spiritual life is concerned: doing seems so much more practical than praying. If this message through the window was an answer, well who can argue.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hillary Clinton's Concession Speech.

What Does Hillary Really Want?

Tuesday night, it was: We’ll See (Oh, you’re such a tease).

Then the New York congressional delegation stood up to the balcony and cried: Let our people go!

So Saturday, it was; don’t cry for me Argentina. Mrs. Clinton produced her “concession” speech. We waited in anticipation of how she would portray defeat. Would a concession convey an impression of victory?

Here is what we have come to expect from concession speeches- They are intended as a professional courtesy, with a deferential acknowledgement of the loss and a pat on the back to the winner. They take the opportunity to thank their supporters and staff. They can even construct it in a way to leave open the door for a future run, usually by indicating that they are committed to the cause (what ever that may be).

Did I just hear the score from Evita, playing in the background?

Adlai Stevenson in 1952 said it the best, “The people have rendered their verdict, and I gladly accept it.” He went on to put things into perspective, “Someone asked me, as I came in, down on the street, how I felt, and I was reminded of a story that a fellow townsman of ours used to tell- Abraham Lincoln. They asked him how he felt once after an unsuccessful election. He said he felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark. He said that he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.”

The truth is- Americans don’t pay attention to concession speeches. The only people interested in this one, I’m sure, were the Hillary supporters and cable news junkies. I guess this includes me (Junkie that is). They need some kind of closure.

But Wait!

Was there closure? Or were the Clintons just getting in the last word, again. The campaign is only being suspended, not ended.

My first inclination, realizing that the Clintons are lawyers, is to consider that they are finding a loophole to payoff the enormous campaign debt, thought to be around $20.88 million. I have no doubt that this was discussed at “THE” meeting on Friday, in some kind of deal. Maybe the fact that she only suspended her campaign might indicate that she might not have gotten the relief from the Obama camp that she was hoping for. If it is suspended, perhaps contributions can still be collected, to pay this debt.

The United States Campaign Finance Glossary defines Debt Retirement as, “The practice of raising additional funds after the election is over in order to pay off the candidate’s campaign debt.”

Assumption of debt as a political bargain goes all the way back to the beginning of this country, when Alexander Hamilton promised the national capital to the south in exchange for federal government assumption of state debts.

And of course, the lawyers can tell you; that all these debts, at least to the vendors (business expenses) can be deducted as business losses if not repaid.

Don’t think that the Clintons won’t think and act like lawyers? Remember the “it depends on what your definition of is, is?”

Solitary Signs

i come from this wall,
but not as graffiti,
with cryptic lettering
that declares the
boundaries of suffrage,
extracted from a child’s
innocence – blood still warm.

i am not a thick
moss, the mold of suffocation come to
seal forever an offensive mortar, a tomb for our
sins under a lush
and deceptive green.

i am born of a seed,
deposited unseen by a
breath that was gentle
as a lover’s sigh, to
draw support through
the decay, a blooming,
simple and susceptible.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Hartford, What Happened?

This morning, my wife and I were watching the Today Show. There was a news segment that showed an elderly man in Hartford Connecticut, captured on a traffic camera, being run over by a car. There were three vehicles in close proximity, and not one stopped to help the poor guy. One pulled over to the side, but never got out. He or she just gawked and then drove off.

Even more disturbing than this, was that there were pedestrians who just walked by. One gentleman crossed the road, and walked right by the body without even a hesitation.

We were stunned.

The story had the “legs”, as they say in the news business, of as long as it took to go to break. The live concert of a rapper was coming up and the anchors were giddy at the prospect of dancing with the crowd.

My wife and I hit the mute button and had a lengthy discussion about what we just experienced. Now I am here at my desk, and I tend to able to collocate my thoughts when writing, so here’s my two cents-

These bystanders are what we would define as citizens, and not just that, but citizens living in a democracy. Now by definition, citizenship in a democracy is more than nationality. One could say that it is an office that carries with it certain powers and responsibilities. And for democracy to succeed, citizens must be active and not passive in the public life of their community and nation. You can say that it is a way of living and working together. It requires cooperation.

We gain a strong sense of personal identity through our participation, which ultimately enables us to connect with the world. The communal benefit that we receive involves individuals sacrificing some of their immediate interests.

Of course getting involved in an accident will result in some type of sacrifice on your part. Imagine what was going through the mind of that elderly man, as all those people just strolled on by, as he lay there helplessly.

Think about it: in an authoritarian system, the state demands loyalty and service from its people. Here in the US, we have freedom. But this freedom means responsibility, not freedom from responsibility.

Now we have to ask: why?

My wife’s first response was that we are desensitized to violence. So let’s look at that. This is a cheeseparing of emotionally related physiological refluence to real violence. In short, there was no reaction. A body being hit by a car and ending up splayed on the concrete elicited absolutely no reaction from over twenty or thirty people who witnessed it.

There is no doubt that blood and gore have worked their way into video games and other forms of entertainment. And has this replaced the heartbreak and emotional suffering that a real crisis entails, to the point that we can’t make the distinction?

So my hope and prayer for this day, is that an evolutionary shift in consciousness occurs in our roles as citizens of a democracy that will help create meaningful and healing relationships with each other that empowers us to dialogue with who we are and what we want from each other.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Life's Decisions

The First Decision of My Life

As a boy death, and the fear of it, were concepts foreign to me. It was a time when the consideration of things not done, loves not loved, were only waiting ahead, lurking beyond adolescence. It was the period of my life when, at age ten, the only hair on my body had a name: a haircut that honored an Ivy League University, Princeton. My father, older brother, and I were taking a cruise through the Bahamas on a three-mast sailboat called Victory.

Someone mentioned — filling my head with a multitude of pirate fantasies — a ship that had been used in a Walt Disney film. This proposition was more than anyone could possibly hope for. As a child of the Sixties, I belonged to the Apostle of St. Walt. On St. Lucia the fiberglass reproduction of a giant snail used in Doctor Doolittle sat on the beach across from our hotel. I think some family had moved into it.

I talked to the animals on St. Lucia.

The ship was docked in the harbor of Large Bimini when Death introduced himself to me. It was not the false Reaper that one looks forward to when vomiting violently on the open seas. Go to the other side. Go to the other side, aft of wind.

Well, at least they didn’t make me clean it up.

Our day was free to explore the island. We did this, and the impression left on me was only that all dogs on the island had faces that looked the same. Ky and I were forever, after this point, on the watch for Bimini-faced dogs wherever we went. “Oh look! A Bimini-faced dog,” my brother would say.

My father got the idea that it would be fun to do a little snorkeling. Someone had said there was a nice coral reef just around the point where Large Bimini and Little Bimini met at the mouth of our harbor. We had the masks and fins, so off we went along with a schoolteacher from somewhere in Minnesota — four adventurous souls in search of the ocean’s wonders.

The bottom was only sand and grass . . . nothing exciting. So we continued to kick away with webbed feet. When swimming in this fashion, you always keep your head underwater.

The reef was not to be found. I can’t remember who it was, but one of us decided to lift his head out of the water to take a look around and get a bearing. I heard a muffled shout. Lifting my head, I noticed the others pointing toward shore. It was so far away; only a white strip was visible along the edge of the horizon. We had been caught in what I later learned was a rip tide.

Immediately we started to swim toward shore. It was a struggle. Ky and the teacher were making headway; I followed close after. My father, upon my inspection, was falling behind.

This is when I had to make the first decision of my life, other than which channel to watch.

All right. Fog-Horn Leg-Horn. I love this big chicken. No, he’s a rooster, stupid.

I knew that I could make it to shore, but I also knew that my father could not. And I was going to stay with him, no matter what. If we perished, so be it. Death had no meaning to me. Why, people die on TV all the time, and for noble reasons. I was noble. I knew right from wrong. What I did was the right thing.

My father was legally blind. His vision had left him when he was almost the same age as I was at this point in my life.

I was his seeing eye dolphin. He needed my eyes. I needed him.

I was a child.

We were an organism, greater than the sum of our parts.

I could see that my brother and the schoolteacher were probably going to make it to shore. My father and I kept drifting farther out. There was no longer any land to be seen.

After several hours, I still had plenty of energy left. I was as fresh as when starting out. When you have no fear, you do not uselessly burn it up.

My father was fading.

It is odd, my entire focus, my entire being, was directed toward my father. This was my first lesson comprehended: There is serenity in selflessness. My school was the ocean.

I was never very religious. To me God was something to put up with between the hi-jinks at Sunday school. But I have forever since had a notion that the Fates do exist. This is because I spotted a fishing boat in the distance. For some reason, the captain had the fortune to turn and glance at what was only a spot on the water in the distance. Our glances met each other. It was not supposed to happen; he just had a feeling.

I waved.

There is something that cannot be explained when you are dragged out of the ocean miles from shore like two shipwreck survivors set adrift. You are somewhat embarrassed. You have a feeling of being safe in a way that will never leave you.

I was a son.

I was a man.

Later that night, we were walking along the main road of the island. There was a research center for the study of sharks. We talked with one of the employees. There were tanks of giant man-eating sharks that intrigued my Walt Disney imagination.

When asked where they got those sharks, the man turned and pointed toward the part of the ocean where my father and I had faced death together.

Wow! Neato!

I was a child.

# # #

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Obama as candidate

Today, we have an African-American nominee for one of the two major political parties, running for the President of the United States. This is truly an historic occasion.

One does not have to look far back in to history, to see how far we have come. The abolitionists of only 140 years or so ago regarded it as a “sacred cause” to abolish slavery here in the United States.

Let us take a lesson from this page of history. When elected to his second six year term as Senator of Massachusetts in 1857, Charles Sumner saw the vote as, “a sign, that the people of Massachusetts, forgetting ancient party hates, have come together in support of a sacred cause, compared with which the fate of any public servant is of small account.”

Today, the cause is more than the fact that an African-American could possibly be the next President, but is about what our potential, as a country, can be. Our new “sacred cause” is the hope of the world. People can make a difference. People matter, no matter who or what they are.

Do we artificially prolong the United States’ power status in this period of globalization, and encourage chauvinistic, even racist, attitudes? Do we need to create our own version of the ancient Roman formula of “bread and circuses?” Or can we come together as Americans in support of each other, in support of the greater causes?

Let us define our mission in moral terms. James Madison warned of the tendency of government toward the “vice” of faction, toward “instability, injustice, and confusion.” This is the politics of vested interests. It is what we have come to expect in the US; we focus on the concerns that most often are already well enmeshed in governmental institutions. It is what we know and except. But now, all of a sudden, there seems to be hope for a change. A change that focuses on concerns that have either been excluded from the agenda or sufficiently discouraged.

When I look at Barak Obama, and believe me I’ve seen plenty in the past year, I have come to see someone blessed with the mind of a Jefferson, the steadfastness of a Lincoln, the calmness of an Eisenhower, and the grace of John F. Kennedy.

Think about it: is this the type of man who can grasp the real needs, wants, and higher aspirations of the American people? And make the huge fragmented and polarized system of government serve those needs and aspirations, not just for the few, but for all?