Monday, October 31, 2011

Haiku Sequence: On the Greyhound Bus

If you sleep on the bus
you miss the lakes and trees.
If you watch the lakes and trees
you miss the dozing dream.


A scowling passenger wears
a hijab and a tee shirt that says
Victoria’s Secret

Early snowfall; red leaves
flame through frost.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Unholy Trinity Is Dead

so with our intervention, 3 major dangerous leaders in the arab world are dead. Qaddafi may have been the scummiest of the lot.  and it does seem that here it wasn't just america pulling along a few allies; it was america as part of an alliance of which we weren't any more important than the others.  and libya had pled for intervention.  if it hadn't become a sort of  US hobby to invade foreign countries for their own good, this one on its own and for this fairly authentic action [no made up weapons of mass destruction] might even make me glad.  most important, it clearly was in support of an already existing people's revolution, not a scaremongering of americans into thinking we were in direct danger.

it still leaves me uneasy.  as with bin laden and saddam hussein, i'm not sorry he's gone.  but i still end up wondering what good it will do, and how our government will continue now.  are we going to set ourselves up as the university of democracy and stay there as the civil war goes on?  how will it play out in america's increasingly imperialistic in other people's  countries?  and how much will our involvement cost our own awful economy? and what country is next???

or, in the happiest scenario, will this participation in the 'arab spring' encourage the more intelligent and least cynical of our leaders to make the connection with the Occupation here? 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Giggle Here

from the huffington post: after steve jobs died, it seems the westborough church had something to say.  with his satanic inventions, jobs had caused vice to spread rapidly, and for this, they knew for certain he was burning in hell now and for all eternity.  it was important that people know this so we'll stop praising his accomplishments and ruing his early death,  it was important that we knew this right away. luckily they were able to make this happen.

yep, they twittered it......

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Three Cheers for 'Harry'...umm, Make that 2 1/2....

Harry's Law, for any non-TV buffs out there, is a fairly new (since January 2011) lawyer drama.  to a large degree, the premise is, if not quite cliched, at least comfortably familiar.  Harry is tough, angry, filled with horror at the inequalities in a legal system in which the wealthy get by with crimes and the poor get imprisoned for lack of adequate legal representation.

what makes this show different is that harry is not some gorgeous young, or even middle-aged, man; she's a 62 year old woman, and she looks like it. she's grey-haired and stocky and wears comfortable pants suits.  she takes no bullshit from anyone.  she is played--wonderfully, need i say?--by Kathy Bates, who has always  looked like a real woman in the real world, not like someone who advertises hair color and tells us she's 'worth it.'

i haven't watched it much, because it always seems to be clashing with something else i want to watch, but i've been trying to catch up recently.

this week's episode was especially interesting to me for two reasons.  one is that its guest star was camryrn manheim, another terrific actor and a frankly fat woman.  

the other thing that made it outstanding was that it explored the phenomenon of teenage bullying, in the all-too-real context of a high-school lesbian's suicide when she has been publicly outed in a nasty classmate's popular blog.  the hitch here is that harry's client, unexpectedly, is not the family of the dead girl, but the vicious blogger.  though horrified by the girl's act, she sees something deeper in the whole tale.  reading the entire blog, she sees that every entry is ugly, furious, potentially hurtful.  in that very augliness, harry sees another tragic story--a victimized, 'different' student who has chosen a dangerous way to fight back, without looking at the possible consequences.  with manheim as the prosecutor, we see the overarching tragedy of a society's acceptance of viciousness.  each lawyer is passionate in her fight against the forces that create, allow, and nurture cruelty.  fighting each other, they are clearly both right.  the combination of their summaries serves as a large overview of a complex social evil.  and to watch these two women as opponents in what is never remotely a cat fight, and to see the dignity and intelligence that they convey in spite of their failure to to look fetchingly sexy, as we have come to expect from our tv professional women, was refreshing.

so why begrudge the episode that 1/2 cheer?  because in the speech the writers have given harry,  as she blames the injustice of society that creates characters like the pathetic blogger, among her list of examples of politicians, actors, newscasters etc,who are  rewarded for viciousness, she includes in the same category rush limbaugh and keith olberman.

i am, it is true, an olberman fan, as i am of his fellows on his former channel MSNBC. i like his politics, and i don't like limbaugh's, which would always give me a preference for olberman.  but succumbing to the smug and beloved notion that olberman and rachel maddow are the leftwing equivalents of limbaugh  and glen beck is cheap, especially on a show in which we are begged to look at  complexity.
the similarities between the [essentially] Fox and MSNBC shows begin and end with their structures: hour long programs using commentary and guest interviewees from a very clear political perspective.  the differences are much greater than that surface appearance.  i have seen olberman be angry, sarcastic, and withering in his contempt for most conservative positions.  he clearly enjoys attacking right wing spokesman bill o'reilly.  but except for that---and i'm pretty sure o'reilly can handle it--olberman is rarely rude.  more importantly, as much as he espouses one framework of belief, he doesn't lie. when olberman tells you that, say, Congressman Jones told the newspaper reporter that he didn't care about the union organizers,  you can be pretty sure that that's what congressman jones told the newspaper reporters.  whether you agree with olberman that the congressman was wrong is another question.  but the facts he states to buttress or explain his position are true.  in the rare event he inadvertently gives any misinformation, he apologizes on air for it.  beck and limbaugh and o'reilly either invent facts or take them from careless sources.  and they do spread hate.

so one word off-base in an-hour long episode of a fine series? why am i complaining?  because it undercuts what harry's law is about; it takes an easy potshot that belies its complexity.  in a less fine show, i'd be annoyed by such a line.  but in a really quality show, i'm both annoyed and disappointed. so, i think, would harry be, if she were real.

Friday, October 14, 2011

''Could it be? Yes, it could....''

the Occupation is totally amazing,  bigger than anything we could have predicted when it started....o we of little faith!  how can you not love it?  it  can't go on forever--winter weather will get to if the state and big business don't do it in first.  but if every branch of it vanished tomorrow, it will have served a purpose nothing else could.  it has provided a reference point for every nascent dream of organizing for anyone's  rights.  sure it can be infiltrated, and co-opted; what movement hasn't been? but its combination of progressive passion and openness makes the infiltration and co-optation potential very slippery.  or so it seems to me now.  maybe i'm over-influenced by keith olberman.  okay, i'd rather be over-influenced by him than by dull-edged cynicism that is guaranteed to accomplish nothing, except maybe keeping one's way-cool self-image intact.

when i went and walked around Occupy Boston this past week, all i could say was 'thank you' to everyone i met there.  'thank you'  and 'i'll be back.'

i keep thinking of the title of one of obama's books--the audacity of hope.' that wonderful title and his betrayal of it are embittering;  who better could show us the folly of optimism?  but these people have demonstrated that audacity.  may they continue to be worthy of it, and to help the rest of us achieve it...

oh, and by the way, mayor bloomberg is a shithead......

Sunday, October 9, 2011

RIP Hella Haasse: Grand Old Lady of Dutch Literature

i was sad today to learn of Haasse's death.  she was 93, actively writing til the end of her life. Born in the Dutch East Indies to a prosperous Dutchman, she grew up the daughter of Ruropean invaders.  Born in a country in which she would never be a native, she was a native of a country foreign to her.  In some way this experience was similar to that of Albert Camus, the frenchman born in algeria, though his family suffered poverty as well as an unsought position as a member of the invading ruling class.  Like Camus's, her writing always reflected this sense of a dual identity, or rather non-identity.  and like Camus, she was strongly aware of the guilt of her inheritance, and was almost inheritantly a leftist.
At 30, she  published her first novel,  Oerog, a short, intense story of the freindship between  the title character, an indonesian boy whose father lives adn works on the estate of a rich dutch settler, and the settler's son, in whose persona the story is told.  as both boys grow and learn the history of the country's occupation by dutch settlers, the friendship suffers and eventually turns, on oerog's part, into hatred. in spite of the narrator's personal innocence and sympathy with the natives' cause, his heritage can't escape him.  when the book was published in english it was significantly retitled Forever a Stranger.  the title might well have been applied to haasse herself.

at 20, she went to holland to study at the university; when the nazis took over, they forced students to sign a loyalty oath. rather than comply, she left the university and went to acting school instead.  she began writing plays, but soon switched to fiction--where, she said, she was playwright, director, and producer of her own works.  not surprisingly she wrote superb dialogue.

over the years, she grew more and more attached to historical fiction, and once told an interviewer that she preferred to escape into the past than stay in the troubled present.  but the past she inhabited was no less troubled, and her writing was always a vivid depiction of the interplays of political and social power that shaped and destroyed lives.

not much of her work is available in english, but there are a few.  Oeroeg, as i mentioned.  the best known in america is het woud der verwachting--literally, 'the forest of expectation.'  the english title, approved by haasse, is taken from a translation of the Inferno,  In  a Dark Road Wandering, a long, detailed picture of the 11th century Duke of Orleans.  It was my introduction to Haasse, and i have loved her ever since.  later works include The Scarlet City (a literal translation), a rich, disturbing novel of 16th century italy, peopled by such varied luminaries as machiavelli, michelangelo,  the dramatically different poets vittoria colona and tullia d'aroganna, and assorted borgias.  i loved it, and taught it one semester at the castle, but the students pretty much all hated it.  i never understood why; it's a difficult book to read, and its cast of characters can be overwhelming.  i never tried teaching it again.

but meanwhile i discovered a much shorter historical novel that may be the most radical of her novels, Een Nieuwer Testament,  which literally means 'a newer testament,' and whose english name is Threshold of Fire. Here we are taken to the last days of the Roman Empire, when christianity has grown from an oppressed sect into the dominant and oppressive state religion.  after many semesters of teaching it, i have, not surprisingly, come to love it more each time i read it.   its two major characters, implacable enemies, live out the sad phenomenon of the choice to reject one's background to become part of the 'better' majority and the choice to embrace all that one is while letting go of what has become useless and destructive.  both perpetual outsiders, one devotes himself to being 'more roman than the romans,' the other to escaping either glorifying or diminishing his past, but simply to look at whatever truth he sees.

haasse herself clearly chosen the latter model, embracing the fact that she was 'forever a stranger' and thus inhabiting whichever world she was in, whether the present Nederland and Indonesia, or the various pasts she has resurrected in her fiction. i am sad for her death, grateful for her life.  Thank  you, mevrouw haasse.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

naomi klein at moveon .org

this is a wonderful, brief, and legitimately optimistic view of the 'occupy' actions. i don't know how to get it from facebook or moveon to here.  but do check it out.  she warns against cynicism, and offers intelligent hope.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

Occupying History: a very rambling draft

it seems odd for a blog that runs toward progressive issues not to be commenting on the Occupy movement.  i haven't even gotten over to Occupy Boston yet, though i've been avidly watching whatever coverage there has been. that is growing, but still not a lot.  strange, when it seems pretty clear that whatever happens with this, it will likely be a large part of what history recalls of our era.  or maybe not so strange; maybe it's too terrifyingly big for most of the media to acknowledge.  big not just in numbers, but in a new approach.  anyway i've been moderately ill, which is as good an excuse as any, and directions to the place are hopelessly confusing.  of course there's no question of my camping out--nor in truth would there have been if i were years younger.  in the late 60s/early 70s when all young folks were going camping and getting in touch with nature, i tried it twice and found it truly loathsome, and that was when it was supposed to be 'fun.'  but then, i could certainly go for an hour or so.....and probably will.  so why haven't i at least written about it?

i think i just don't have anything to say.  it's astoundingly important, and inspiring, and whatever happens with it, too wonderful to be believed.  maybe that's why i feel distanced; i'm afraid to believe again, to hope.  a cynicized soul harbored in an aging and weakening body.

or maybe i'm just numbing a fear.  the very thing that has made this happen may  kill it.  literally.  so far there's been only a small amount of predictable police bullying, and numbers of cops even in new york seem aware that they're part of that '99%'.  che guevara once said that US americans were lucky; we had the real possibility of making change because we 'live in the belly of the beast.'  are these kids getting closer than ever to the ultimate beast, the people who own and own and own and care about nothing but owning more?  the nearly overt admission by the conservatives that they are owned by the rich may have overstepped itself, a kind of 'let them eat cake' arrogance that has triggered a so-far mildmannered, sensitive response that really is a threat.  how  much will the people in power allow before they begin to fight back with all their weapons?  they are willing to kill off the poor of our own and other countries; we know that already.  how soon before they openly and directly start killing protesters?

or are these kids, with their nameless and clear demands, really capable of doing what needs to be done,  and to capture the conscience of the country?  are we all, in our various forms, part of whatever has created the arab spring?  human greed is destroying the earth;  maybe the demonstrators represent some deep emerging awareness that this  our last chance.

time to get energy, time to put in my hour or two among this crowd of messianic dreamers.....