Monday, November 22, 2010

15 Books in 15 Minutes

This is my list of "books you can come up with in fifteen minutes" that had an impact on you. Several friends have passed along their list, so here is my contribution.

1. Gospel, by Wilton Barnhardt
2. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
3. Son of the Morning Star, by Evan S. Connel
4. The Marx Family Saga, by Juan Goytisolo
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
6. The Savage Detectives, by Robeto Bolaño
7. The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco
8. The Big Rock Candy Mountain, by Wallace Stegner
9. Death and the Penguin, by Andrey Kurkov
10. The Twelve Chairs, by Ilf & Petrov
11. Tourist Season, by Carl Hiaason
12. Planet of the Apes, by Pierre Boulle
13. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkein
14. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe
15. A Confederate General From Big Sur, by Richard Brautigan

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I am the Itinerate Poet

I am the Itinerate Poet.

Or at least, that’s what Seamus Heaney called me when we met.

I crashed the reception after the reading, entering through the kitchen. Why not? I said to myself. After all it was a three hour drive to get there.

He was right, you know.

I have always written poetry. And I have always worked jobs that kept me on the move and just below the poverty line. A dependent, you could say—friends and family always helping out with the bills and what not.

But always there was the poetry.

I don’t have any academic connections. Nobody asks me to read for them. I am anonymous.

He held a glass of whisky, and all I could think of was how I can’t drink anymore. Not—recognize me—I exist. No, there was only the whiskey and the poetry.

I am the Itinerate Poet.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Demonic Energy

Fire trucks and cherry pickers are on the scene
Obstructing any inquisition
Sparks and flotsam conspiratorial

The bolt shot through me--halfway
Into my dialogue
Into the baser part of the brain

Left in darkness, left in a strobe
Not in rhythm with my pulse
Only irregular

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Book Review: Voltaire's Calligrapher by Pablo De Santis

Voltaire's CalligrapherVoltaire's Calligrapher by Pablo de Santis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Voltaire’s Calligrapher,” is an owlish historical novel, as well as part thriller. It is also a philosophical novel, full of adventure. Dalessius is a twenty year old calligrapher and archivist, who goes to work for the famous Voltaire. Mechanical writing is already on the scene, but the talent of the calligrapher is still needed in a world where invisible and poisonous varieties of ink still have place among enjoyable cat and mouse games, filled with conspiracies, individual manuscripts, libraries, and booksellers. He is raised by an uncle, who makes his living transporting corpses. But once in the services of Voltaire, Dalessius is set out as a spy to look into the case of the suspiciously condemned Jean Calas, but ends up in a web of far greater intrigue between the Dominicans and the Jesuits. At a deeper level, you could say, he finds himself in the middle of the intrinsic struggle between the mephitic remnants of the Dark Ages and its collateral ingredients. The stage is filled with life-like automatons, graveyards, executioners with their ingenious devices, huge homes where it easy to get lost, back alleys, bordellos, henchmen, and poisonous fish. How can you go wrong? The best part—it’s not too long. It is short, amusing, and very, very smart.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Award

The Prophet of Sorrow by Mark Van Aken Williams
Lucky Press, LLC, has been named a finalist in the The National "Best Books 2010" Book Awards.”--Fiction & Literature, Historical Fiction.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Book Review: Speak, Nabokov by Michael Marr

Speak, NabokovSpeak, Nabokov by Michael Maar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Speak, Nabokov, Michael Maar gives us literary criticism that digs into the fiction of Vladimir Nabokov like a cabalist seeking out the hidden truths. Because we are led to believe that Nabokov is so intelligent, absolutely everything in his fiction is detail and put there on purpose. Nothing is left to chance. And Maar, combining biography with the fiction, also combines different people in Nabokov’s life with the persons that inhabit the fiction. But what of the author is in here? To me, much of it is speculation, much like a detective’s case--a hint here, a clue there. With footnotes galore, we are painted a picture of the philosophical nature of Nabokov’s work being Gnosticism, by aegis of Schopenhauer. I am not a scholar; so much of the jargon was lost foreign to me, both in the text and footnotes. I also have no pretentions of being a metaphorical Holmes. In fact, I tend to get uncomfortable when these guys steer towards literary “outing.” Surly Nabokov must have been homosexual, because of clues left in his fiction. But if this is the way you prefer your analysis, here is a wonderfully slim volume for you. As Maar puts it, “Nabokov is fully present everywhere in his work; even the tiniest sliver contains the whole. And that is why each of these slivers scintillates with a dazzling spectrum of colors—a magic that is hard to convey in analysis.”

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Book Review: The Death of the Adversary by Hans Keilson

This novel is set in Nazi-occupied Europe, although it is never mentioned. There is no guessing here. The adversary is the Führer (referred to as “my enemy”) and the word Nazi is never used. All of this creates an atmosphere where the protagonist fails to come to grips with the reality of the ascendance of National Socialism and the relationship between subject matter and context. Written as memoir, we see how a person who is just as caught up in the culture of his homeland as those who seek to make him an enemy, can only see himself with detachment as a way to protectively shield himself from certain truths, not only about himself but about the horror in the making. This dichotomy is never clearer than when the protagonist (unknown to be a Jew) is sitting with the friends (Nazi thugs) of a girl he has a crush on and them talking about an assignment to desecrate a Jewish cemetery. This is as haunting a scene as you will ever come across in fiction. The prose is astonishing: part philosophy, part psychology, and part poetry—combined to point out the failure of coming to grips with reality. Because of the anonymous nature of the people and places, I was able to transpose this story to a new time, here in America, where the hatred toward Muslims could have the same effect on a young Muslim man who also grew up an American. Certainly a masterpiece!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book Review: Ours--A Russian Family Album, by Sergei Dovlatov

Mark Twain once said, “The quality of humor is the commonest thing in the world. I mean the perceptive quality of humor. In this sense every man in the world is a humorist. The creative quality of humor - the ability to throw a humorous cast over a set of circumstances that before had seemed colorless is, of course, a different thing.” The Russian émigré, Sergei Dovlatov, traces four generations of his family’s life with the circumspect of the truly creative humorist. Through the likes of Uncle Aron, Cousin Boris, Grandpa Isaak, and a terrier named Glasha, we discover the amusing, comical, incongruous, and absurdity that goes hand in glove with the very course of Soviet history. The chaos of the past is remembered and intermingled with a sense of recovery. Even though each life is unique, all lives are familiar to us. So with Cousin Boris, the boy who started with such promise, and was always held up as an example to Sergei (yet somehow kept ending up in prison), we get this—“ I finally understood the ruling trait in my cousin’s character: he was a natural-born existentialist. He could act only in extreme situations: build a career only in prison, fight for life only on the edge of the abyss.” And with Glasha, the terrier—“She was surrounded by esoteric poets, Suprematist painters, composers of atonal music, and sculptors of non-representational constructions. All of them were indefatigable critics of the regime, especially when in their cups. With friends like that, she could hardly have turned out politically loyal. Actually, she herself behaved no better. To be specific, she barked at policemen and generally hated all uniforms, whether on soldiers, sailors, or ticket collectors. Along with this, her displeasure was aroused by red banners and billboards bearing revolutionary slogans, and to top it off, she liked to relieve herself behind a certain building, at the base of a four-meter-tall portrait of Brezhnev.”

The Education Problem in America

When considering the appalling state of education in America, we need to approach the problem and the challenge in an imaginative and innovative way. The old strategy no longer works. So please stop thinking about better unions and throwing huge sums of money at antiquated systems. As odd as this concept may seem to many people, entrenched in their particular paradigms, breakthrough ideas are the answer. Then, and more importantly, we need to take action on these ideas.

First we need to identify what our challenges are (poverty, teacher training, etc.), and then to recognize our goals. This can start with our dissatisfaction—then move to our desires.

I know most of you hate this part, simply because we are used to thinking that “studying something” usually means just putting something off. But it is crucial to access and review all the data we have. You can not innovate without having an objective beginning point.

Once we begin to understand what the problems are, we can then understand the challenges inherent in them. This will help us to focus on what the REAL problems are. We want to come up with the right answers to the right problems.

We must be vigilant about deferring judgment about new ideas. This is where being stuck in old paradigms keeps us from proper exploration. To often these ideas are labeled as wild, outrageous, and out-of-the-box. Making creative connections, taking risks, and trying new associations will lead to potentially innovative scenarios.

Finally, we must generate a barometer needed to analyze and critique these ideas for change, in order to find out which of these are the best ideas.

This country was based and developed on the premise and fruition of great ideas and the action taken to realize them.

Lets do what we’re good at.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book Review: Mona And Other Tales, by Reinaldo Arenas

Mona and Other TalesMona and Other Tales by Reinaldo Arenas

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a work of stories and other pieces of short fiction, much of which appeared to be experimental, or so it seemed to me because it resembled a bad nightmare. I’m not fond of reading ten or twenty pages and when I’m done I just shake my head and say, “What the F***?” In all fairness though, I did find one story, “Mona,” to be very engaging and thoroughly kept my disposition to incredulity aux abois. I know that Arenas is supposed to be one of the Latin American greats (and they made a movie about his life), but I guess I’ll leave the experts to their precincts, and go search out my copy Ring Lardner short stories.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Book Review: The Engagement, by Georges Simenon

The Engagement (New York Review Books Classics)The Engagement by Georges Simenon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one Simenon’s more compelling psychological novels (1933). In it we follow Mr. Hire, a solitary man with a dubious past, who is framed for a murder he did not commit. Mr. Hire’s bleak existence is seen only through the author’s juxtaposition of character, which slowly emerges, against the settings in which he navigates his daily routine (his commute, his business, and his various other habits). He is illusive and remains isolated as this trap conspires around him, and a constantly heightened tension creates an oppressive environment. Part psychology, part thriller, and definitely part eerie. This one is a must read for Simenon neophytes or any one into books with plenty of atmosphere, character, intensity, humor, and an understanding of the afflictive mob.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

To Cry for the Moon

from Circus by Moonlight

so jesus said to be like doves
and you squated to drop an egg
legs unstable, not sure from which
orifice it would leap out

developing perseverance, i saw
this on your two minds attempting
to evoke the inexpressible
symbols (harps, crowns, and gold)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Review: Understanding Cosmology, by the Editors of Scientific American

Understanding CosmologyUnderstanding Cosmology by Scientific American

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got bumped from the Russian Soyuz. They overbooked, I guess. Anyway, $40 million was a little steep, I think. So before I make that mistake again, and book a flight with Boeing-Space Adventures, I thought I’d check out what all the hubbub was about. Actually, I was interested in the idea of whether today’s Cosmologists were nothing more than modern day alchemists. Also, it would be interesting to see if there was any theology threads weaved through this tapestry of science. “Understanding Cosmology,” in the most pedestrian language scientists are capable of (many times completely incomprehensible) attempts to bring the reader closer to the truth of how the universe formed, evolved and developed, and what it means to us. During the parts that I could understand, I found out that the Big Bang Theory is old news. There is so much more that they know now, like what happened before the Big Bang. WHAT? Yeah--before. What you come away with is that there are whole new worlds of thought, which are now unimagined, and will eventually become commonplace theories in the future. Oh, and by the way, it turns out that the Cosmologists are in fact closet alchemists—the big question for them being: is if there could be a theory of everything so simple and so elegant that its basic concepts could be understood by a child.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Book Review: The Princess, the King, and the Anarchist. By Robert Pagani.

This is the first novel by Swiss play write Robert Pagani, and is as shallow as two of its two title characters who I will nickname, the “painfully full bladder” and the “erection.” The book takes place on May 31, 1906, the wedding day of King Alfonso XIII of Spain to British Princess Maria Eugenia of Battenberg. It was short-listed for the Prix du Premier Roman in France. Why? You got me. But this is coming from a race of people who think Jerry Lewis is a genius. During a time when people were beginning to question the idea that royal blood transcends mortality, instead of an insightful exploration of corporeal beings being subject to injury and death, we get something that never comes close to shaking the body politic. The Princess is concerned with how badly she needs to urinate, in the middle of all the carnage (a bomb is thrown at the wedding procession). “Pipi, always pipi,” and “Pipi--It was beginning to be painful.” The King on the other hand, suffers from Priapism, and simply can’t wait to pop the royal cherry. The end is too ludicrous to even bother covering, but I’ll give you a hint. There was no stain on the sheet.

How the Koran Burning Story Became As Big As It Did

How can the story of one unknown preacher in Florida, with a congregation of around fifty, get world wide news coverage about what was supposed to be a gimmick to attract more congregants?

In the age of the twenty four hour news cycle and the insatiable appetite for more and more opinion dominated coverage masked as fact, stories with significant political symbols can go viral.

A symbol is something used by human beings to index meanings that are not inherent, nor discernable from, the object itself. It can be defined as a thing the value or meaning of which is in no instance derived from or determined by properties intrinsic in its physical form. John Locke termed it as having “their signification,” from “the arbitrary imposition of men.”

In this case, the Koran is the political symbol for different individuals’ meaning to the same object. And because socially significant symbols arise and are sustained through a system of social interaction, they become regarded as elements of a culture.

When this happens, within the current media environment, individuals ignore personally irrelevant messages and pay attention to the kinds of things they need and agree with. The reasons may be behavioral, emotional, or intellectual. They tend to use the media to gain a sense of security and social adequacy. They feel gratification when the media reinforce what they believe they already know. When people only focus on what is personally useful and gratifying to them, they will then naturally ignore other pieces of information, regardless of its political and social significance (especially if the information disturbs their peace of mind, and conflicts with their political and social tastes, feelings and attitudes).

The next factor that comes into play is that the media as gatekeepers to information, tell people in fairly uniform fashion which individual issues and activities are most significant and deserved to ranked high on everybody’s agenda. Most of us easily accept and adopt the media’s agenda of importance. When the media make events seem important, politicians quickly run to the nearest camera to comment about them and to take action.

When these symbols become political, they quickly become characterized by a variety of myths, assumptions, and prescriptions regarding nature, man, and society. However, symbols should stand apart from the meanings they index at the cultural level, just as they should at the individual level. When the media gets involved, along with the subsequent politicizing, the cultural meaning of these symbols comes from the interpretations popularly accorded it. In our case, the Koran, becomes divorced from the cultural meaning with which it was once associated. It now has taken on a life of its own.

Television and the internet have created a new, impressionable public, who are highly susceptible to these symbolic cues. Today the sheer volume of new information has created a more involved public. The symbols that come into the twenty four hour news cycle serve to distinguish groups as well as unify them. It is therefore easy to see how they can also play a role in the dynamics of creating social conflict.

And this is why they are potent and this is why they can go viral.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

TinkersTinkers by Paul Harding

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Warning!!! This book has no vampires, wizards in training, or is on any best sellers list. This means, you’ve probably never heard of it. But it is a good book from a small press (Belleview Literary Press). This is like many other books from small presses, where good writers are desperately trying to connect their work with readers. This one happened to get word-of-mouth momentum and found its audience. Then something strange happened—it won the Pulitzer Prize. I found it to be an enjoyable read, and I confess I was rooting for the home team (my books are published by a small press). I especially enjoyed the descriptive fiction about growing up and living in rural Maine. I did though have problems with the parts that sounded like a graduate writing school assignment (impossible to understand). These passages are in a language only spoken in English Departments. Many writers unfortunately suffer from what I call the Gabriel Garcia Marquez wannabe syndrome (if its mystical sounding enough, it has to be good) It just makes me feel dumb. I never went to that school.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied VictoryOperation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben MacIntyre

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting tale of espionage, deception, and intrigue during WWII. The tale was told in the 1956 film "The Man Who Never Was," staring Clifton Webb. But now documents have been unsealed and we know who the corpse was, Glyndwr Michael, a Welsh suicide victim. Author makes mistake of including photos of the decaying corpse. Just because you have all the information, doesn't mean it has to be included. This image haunted me during the remainder of the book. Too creapy!

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Monday, August 30, 2010

The Jokers by Albert Cossery

The JokersThe Jokers by Albert Cossery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Perhaps if I had read Cossery’s The Jokers when I was in my early twenties instead of in my early fifties, life would have been much easier to digest. The character Heykal states that are two very simple things to understand. The rest is of no importance. The first being, that the world we live in is governed by the most revolting bunch of crooks to ever defile the soil of this planet. The second being, is that you must never take them seriously, for that is exactly what they want. Follow the pursuits of this group of “Comedy Terrorists” in their attempt to deal with the world’s madness, as if it were their salvation.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Suit of Night

because this darkening is
so malignant of itself
and so contrary to be undone
the memorials are to be sanctified
by prejudice, pick-me-ups
and such wherewithal

the kidneys are to be
diversified and made right
with paraphernalia which
recreate and undergird
the marrow and fabric
of indispensable content

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cleveland Behaves Badly

When you grow up in Cleveland, Ohio, you learn how to be embarrassed for the city at an early age. You realize that your city will often be the brunt of jokes by comedians and others around the nation. And much of this is deserved. Remember when the Cuyahoga River caught on fire.

You also learn how to wear this on your sleeve with a self-deprecating sense of humor. Ghoulardi taught us this lesson.

Unfortunately, Clevelanders just gave themselves another black eye. A fan wearing a Lebron James Miami Heat jersey attended an Indians game. Immediately words went back and forth between him and the crowd. After about five minutes of this, some of Cleveland’s finest (CPD) escorted the man wearing the jersey out of the park. In other words—he was ejected.

Now wait a minute! This guy had all the right in the world to wear that shirt. The reaction displayed by the crowd was unbelievably immature. In fact it was EMBARRASING.

As far as I’m concerned, the way the people of Cleveland are reacting to the Lebron James move, is the same as if he were a “run away” slave. If I was offered a better job, in say Tulsa, I would probably take it without worrying about having any obligation to the city of Athens.

In fact, I just ordered my Heat jersey.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Iroquois Lacrosse as Metaphor

The Iroquois Nation which helped develop (or better yet—invent) the game of lacrosse, has a team attempting to partake in the sport’s world championship in England. There is a problem though. They want to travel as the Iroquois Confederacy, using their own passports (meaning that they are a sovereign nation). But England has refused them visas, saying that they are in fact not sovereign.

Actually the problem is with the United States government. They have made it clear that they will only let players back into the country if they have valid US passports. The British government simply won’t give the players visas if they cannot guarantee they’ll be allowed to go home.

Of course the US government has been playing fast and loose with sovereignty issues and Native Americans for some time. Historically, Native American Tribes have been dealt with through treaties, negotiated with Congress or through administrative decisions within the executive branch. In the recent past, 1978 to be precise, the Bureau of Indian Affairs established a regulatory process for recognizing tribes. This is something a country does if they are dealing with another sovereign nation.

But then something strange happened. I think you can guess what that may be. It starts with a C and ends with an O. Wait a minute… you mean the Injuns now have the resources to file law suits against the US governments to protect their interests. We’ll show them.

The U.S. has consequently recognized only about 8 percent of the total number of tribes. The consequence of this is that if a Native American tribe is not currently federally recognized—then the tribe and those enrolled in the tribe are not entitled to certain privileges, such as sovereign status and immunity.

It hasn’t been easy for tribes to gain any sovereign status in the past. There are some examples, such as in Turner v. United States and Creek Nation of Indians, 248 U.S. 354, 357-358 (1919), when the court noted that “the Creek Nation [whose political structure had been terminated by Congress in 1906] was recognized by the United States as a distinct political community, with which it made treaties and which within its own territory administered its internal affairs.”

I can only imagine the hill to climb now.

In 2010, when sovereignty is an internationally recognized concept, indigenous Native Americans still do not retain any of their pre-colonial traditional indigenous rights. And let’s not forget that a basic tenet of sovereignty is the power of a people to govern themselves.

Case law has already established that tribes reserve the rights they had never given away. American Indian tribal autonomy and powers originate with their history—where they managed their own affairs.

So now we are adrift in murky waters. The U.S. Constitution recognizes Indian tribes as distinct governments, and they authorize themselves to regulate commerce with “foreign nations, among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.”

Yet the picture today, is one where the U.S. government describes Indian tribes as “domestic dependent nations.” It maintains that the federal-tribal relationship “resembles that of a ward to his guardian.”

So do tribes remain sovereign nations and possess self-government?

Do tribes have any nation-to-nation relationship with the U.S. federal government?

Does Congress have plenary power over Indian affairs?

Is state governance permitted within reservations?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The President of Uruguay

As I watch the World Cup tournament 2010, my prediction of a good showing by the South American countries is proving to be correct. Uruguay is beating South Korea at half time presently. During the first half, though, my concentration wavered as my memory brought me back to 5th grade when I met the President of Uruguay.

My family, during spring break, visited colonial Williamsburg, VA. We stayed in the top half of one of the restored homes in the colonial section, which was near the main Inn. The whole vacation was an incredible adventure for a young boy with an overactive imagination.

It was brought to our attention that the people below us were from another country. Apparently at that time, Washington would put foreign dignitaries up in Williamsburg and fly them into DC via the Marine helicopter. Rumor had it that it was someone important.

Now, when I was young, I could never be accused of being shy, especially if I spied a beautiful woman in her twenties sun bathing on a beach. Even though I was only in my pre-adolescent years, I would ingratiate myself into her life with all the charm of Don Juan.

So, because of my incurable curiosity and having no fear at all, I walked down the stairs and knocked on the door of the apartment. A very dignified man answered and asked what I wanted. I then explained that my family was sharing the house (pointing to the stairs) and that I heard that someone important was inside that apartment.

“I want to meet him,” I said with the arrogance of a royal.

The man hesitated. I looked him in the eye. A grin then appeared on his face and finally he said, “Please. Come in.”

He explained that he was an attendant to the President of Uruguay.

“Do you know where that is?” he asked.

“Of course,” was my answer. I lied.

He showed me the President’s coat, which was on one of those sewing type mannequins. It was covered with military medals. It was one of the most impressive sights these eyes had ever seen. I was speechless.

Finally the man himself came out from the back and the attendant explained to him who I was. He was gracious and dignified. I was meeting a great man. This I understood. Yet he was also very humble. He spoke with me for a short while and then off I went running up the stairs to tell all to my brother and sister.

When we were in the restaurant the next morning, we saw the Marine helicopter land out back of the Inn, through the bay window. I waved at the machine as it eventually flew off, only hoping that the President of Uruguay might have been waving back at me.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Advice for Ulysses

(from Circus by Moonlight)

to calm passion
or lull the mindset
we will initiate another
kind of chaos
which will snub and slight
the understanding man

the novice will sit
in his seat
as presiding officer
of idiocracy

prefer me
before my peers
and i will tell you how
to make yourself
stinking rich
as if by
laughable happenstance

act the upstart and
speak as a bigot
like all artless actors
look inflated
and temporize
the name of insolance
and pride

Monday, May 10, 2010

Obstacles to the Heart

nothing is so pernicious
as the charismatic contagion

an embalming fluid, this blackdamp
of cold light and scattered countenance

the unconscious reflex
of our shameful spewing

be there any frigid agony
in it, or torpid bashfulness

while the hypothermia in the entrails
will make the melancholy atomic

frostbitten wildwood
of trust and confidence

deadweight of thorns making an
all-out effort to bloodstain the margins

a signet from long past
yet so painfully contemporary

Thursday, April 29, 2010

May I see your papers, please?

When I was a kid and we would play “Army,” often the kids playing the German’s would say something like, “May I see your papers please?” And you would answer, “This is America. It’s a free country. I don’t need to show you anything.” Then we would all laugh. World War II was big theme in these games, because of all the movies about it made in the sixties (the time I was in elementary school).

Consequently we, as a cooperative society believed (and still do) that people in the United States have the right to travel and associate without being monitored or stopped by their government, unless actually suspected or convicted of a crime (and unless that suspicion is reasonable). This is an understanding that stands on the back of decades and centuries of court decisions about the rights of innocent Americans. And when this is taken away, it feels as if we don’t live in a free country. In fact it eerily resembles life in a totalitarian state, where you need the permission of the government to think, to write, to speak, to move from place to place.

In a free country, we have always been under the assumption that people going about their lawful business cannot be compelled to identify themselves, especially when they are engaged in activities protected under the Constitution. This is called—anonymity. In Talley v. California (1960), the Supreme Court stated that “It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes.”

Remember your history please…The Federalist Papers, which explained the justification for the American Revolution, were written anonymously, and were published with pseudonyms.

Now in Arizona, a new law has been passed where the law entails that any person who “looks illegal” could be asked to provide proof of citizenship at any time. Skin color, accent or dress can trigger a police officer to stop someone. In fact, a truck driver with a commercial driver’s license was just pulled over while driving “through” Arizona because he had brown skin. When he showed the proper identification, it was not sufficient enough for the police officer, who then asked to be shown a birth certificate. I ask you—who carries their birth certificate around with them?

So, for those of you, who happen to have the misfortune to live or pass through that totalitarian state of Arizona, I say—defend your rights.

If you are pulled over by the police, don’t talk to them about your immigration status or anything else. Terminate any police encounter as soon as possible, and never consent to any search, and assert your right to remain silent and to consult a lawyer. This is because the police officer is required; if (1) they are in lawful contact with you and (2) they have “reasonable suspicion,” to “attempt…to determine” your immigration status. This obligation is on the police officer, not on you. There seems to be nothing in the law that purports to create any obligation on you to assist in that “attempt…to determine” your status, to answer any questions, to carry or produce or display ID, or to consent to a search for evidence of identity or immigration status.

Of course, most people don’t know this…and that’s just the way they want it.

Boycott Arizona!!!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Assignment: Earth

The Large Hadron Collider is now smashing atoms (or more properly: colliding subatomic particles). All of this is happening in the Swiss-French countryside. Just imagine it—something out of an impressionist painting with a monster lurking just beneath the surface. And when I say lurking—I mean smoldering.

Protons are stimulated to more than 99 percent of the speed of light, with energy levels of 3.5 trillion electron volts apiece around a 17-mile magnetic corridor. So what does this mean? Well, they crash together to form little (and I mean little) microscopic fireballs which might reveal the forces and particles that might have appeared during the first trillionth of a second of the Big Bang.

But up till now, there has been a hitch: it has kept breaking down. The reason for this is why I’m so fascinated with this subject, being such a sci-fi nut. And here it goes—some scientists believe that the forces that the collider will create will be so abhorrent to nature, that it is being sabotaged by its own future. They call it—Higgs boson hypothesis, which states that the collision or Big Bang would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make it happen.

Wow! And this coming from scientists (most notably Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan)--not just any run of the mill Star Trek geek like me. Oh Yeah—and for all you Nielson fans, also Holger Bech Nielson, of the Neils Bohr Institute in Copenhagen.

This influence from the future, they say, was also responsible for the cancellation of the completion of a super collider in the United States in 1993.

Scientists are so funny—some have said that the theory is crazy. Yet maybe, crazy enough that it might have a chance at being correct. This means that the fundamental laws of physics must be reversible. And I do believe that most scientists believe that they are. Now if you’ve seen Star Trek (Original Series) repeats as much as I have, you have no doubt concluded that it is in fact a Starfleet ship that has returned to sabotage the collider.

But the Large Hadron Collider just successfully made their first little explosions and nothing happened. They are in search of dark matter, which you are fully aware, is some tricky stuff. In fact it is too tricky for Neanderthals such as us. So I think that there is some Spock-like dude (from the future) who has infiltrated the site, and is keeping us from blowing up the universe.

Hey—this theory is just as valid as the one from the smarty-pants with big degrees.

And don’t forget what Albert Einstein once wrote to a friend: “For those who believe in physics, this separation between past, present and future is only an illusion.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

My Life of Crime

I am thy father’s spirit.
Doomed for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul; freeze thy young blood;
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

If the whole of the court and the whole of society is corrupt, and if there is a flaw running through the linear chain of humanity, then my contribution to it can only be termed a failure.

A well known fact is that, although corruption is birthed from somewhere in the middle of our double helix of DNA (probably stuck between scatology and cynicism strands), it is a concept usually introduced to us by our older brothers.

Biological or not, I fall into the later category. And boy was my brother a master.

This story about my fall starts with a brief word about the shoes I tried to follow. My brother Clyde and his good friend Rob took to shoplifting school supplies from a local bookstore.

Act casual.

A pencil (here).

A beautiful ink fountain pen (there).

Compasses. Rulers.

Next—almost every damn thing in the store.

The inventory must have shown that something was wrong. Somebody had to be opening a supply store nearby and didn’t want to purchase their stock.

Deep in Clyde’s closet, was a box with the booty. A treasure box hidden well from a mother’s prying eyes. He and his friend would take out the box and gloat over its contents. I was only given permission to look on rare occasions.

Of course, my privy eyes would bulge. This was incredibly neat stuff. The seed was planted. Their talk of thievery was so casual, it must be an activity worth exploring; must be relatively easy. Just look at their cache.

Yes, there is profit in transgression! There is perfect logic in it. One must imitate an older brother’s enterprise—his art.

So off I went, in pursuit of splendor. Off to start my life of crime. I was thy brother’s spirit, riding towards the store on my new bicycle.

The plan was perfect. I had a leather pouch with straps, hanging from the back of the seat. It was the ideal place to stash the goods. Such praise from Fagan.

I entered the store with the eyes of Artful Dodger, trained with amazing awareness. Yes, that would be nice. The clerk is not looking. The clerk is looking. This location is obstructed from view. Act like a browser. Casual demeanor disarms suspicion. If you act nervous horns will sound, Doberman Pinchers will come bounding down the aisle and make lunch meat out of you. Do they send boys to prison?

A problem arises. I just can’t do it. I am too nervous. The anxiety within me is so intense that the booming of my heartbeat is reverberating from the walls. Books will start vibrating and fall from the shelves.

I can’t chicken out though. The humiliation would be even more painful than my cowardice. It is no longer a matter of how much to take, but more like what would be the easiest to conceal and how fast I can get out of there.

I can snatch and run. No—too risky. The minutes seem like hours.

Doesn’t this boy have a home? He must be lost. He must be waiting for his mother.

Finally, my eyes spy the object of my corruption; the singular article confining me to fast in fires. It is a Bic ball-point pen. It’s net worth: nineteen cents. Nineteen cents for a soul. It spoke to me.

Casual as an earthquake, I lifted it from the shelf. I inspected it. Yes, must be quite a fine pen. Try it out. Balances nicely! Walk down the aisle a bit. Nobody looking! In the pants. Better be safe and put it inside the underwear. Now just walk slowly towards the door. It is getting nearer. Keep your eyes straight. There was no tunnel when I came in here. Why was the damn door shrinking? Out the door! Walk slowly. Run! Yes—run like hell to the bike.

Once I got there, I burrowed into my pants for the pen. I put it into the leather pouch and rode home as fast as I could. The anxiety only got worse. I waited for the sound of police sirens in the distance. Upon entering our garage, I quickly closed the door, put my back to the cold brick wall and waited. Still no siren! I peered around through the window. The coast was clear. I did it!

But wait! Where was the pen? I frantically searched the pouch, but it was nowhere to be found. I searched again, but it was not there. I couldn’t believe it. This was all for nothing. Then my brother came up the driveway.

“What ya doing in there?”

“Nothing,” I returned.

To this date, the sight of a Bic ball-point pen causes each of my particular hairs to stand on end, like the quills upon the fretful porpentine.