November 16, 2008

On Fights in Which I No Longer Own a Dog

Did you ever have to make up your mind
Pick up on one and leave the other behind?
It's not often easy and not often kind.
Did you ever have to make up your mind?

-- The Loving Spoonful

BACK AT THE BEGINNING of this whole mess in the early 60s, Mario Savio got a lot of things wrong, but he got one big thing right. Mario peaked when he stood on the Sproul Hall steps in Berkeley in December of 1964 and said to me and a few thousand others, "There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part..."

Now I'm pretty sure that if Mario were alive today he'd be among all those other Berkeley lifers who no longer speak to me other than to police my brain at a distance, while contemplating perfect organic vegetables in a perfect world where all the bongs have brimming bowls and cats and dogs sleep together in perfect harmony and all is, at last and finally, really copacetic in the world; that world where everyone gets a big fat check from the government, unless you are oppressed -- in which case you get two.

Ah, well, that was all long ago and all their town and colleges are all a crapulous shambles so let them go, let them go, God bless them. I come not to bury them, but to take inventory.

Now, as the Potemkin Presidency begins its rollout with YouTube fireside chats, it comes to me that I have passed, probably long ago, the "point of fulcrum" that John Fowles speaks of in The Magus: There comes a time in each life like a point of fulcrum. At that time you must accept yourself. It is not any more what you will become. It is what you are and always will be.

It is my habit to take an inventory of my life from time to time. Usually it is just a mumbled conversation with myself while shaving, but at other times it assumes more concrete lineaments. It is usually in two parts, the public and the private and, as is the nature of such things, the public is both more superficial and more interesting. This is that section of my current testament. The private may or may not be along later.

I find, in processing the superficial portion of this annual inventory, that there are a number of "burning social and political issues" that no longer burn in me. It is not that they don't raise my hackles and push my buttons, but that I'm pretty much beyond the "point of re-persuasion."

These are the items that make this year's list, triggered as they usually are by a popular catch phrase that just won't die.

This was once stated as "It's pretty but is it art?" No more. There is almost nothing created today by 99.99999% of the talentless American citizens that have the hutzpah to call themselves artists that even begins to ooze into the "pretty" unless it is the "pretty ugly." As for beauty found in the kind of American contemporary art celebrated by the Art Mafia, you can forget about it. They hate beauty and love "edginess" since their need for novelty and cheap stimulation far exceeds their need for beauty. The reintroduction of beauty as a predominant value in American art at this point would only expose how base and ugly the decades since the classic abstract expressionist period have been.

As John Cage succinctly summed up the art of our day, "We no longer have time for the good, the beautiful or whether or not something is true. We have only time for conversation." And that conversation, such as it has become, is only about the vapid and the coarse.

I take the time and the trouble to see a lot of what passes for new art and it is almost invariably depressing and disgusting and forgettable in varying degrees. In the last year, I have seen only one show of one artist (out of dozens of visits to exhibitions) in which beauty and feeling and form and the sublime triumph. That was the William Cumming Life Retrospective at the Frye Museum in Seattle. (William Cumming: The Image of Consequence)

Discovering the work of William Cumming, now into his 80s, was like walking into a undiscovered universe filled with sunlight. Amazing and enthralling as you see how, no matter what hard corners gouged this artist in his life (and they were myriad), the talent and the vision and the unquenchable drive to create real art and an always deepening beauty trumped everything else.

I know quite a bit about the major painters of the 20th century, but I'd missed William Cumming until I walked into the Frye on the advice from a friend. I went back to see it again before it closed a few days ago and it was even more splendid.

Cumming himself was in the museum, an old man with a cane and thick glasses, a well-worn cap on his head and a face in which a long life could be read. I spoke to him for a few minutes and then walked on. He stood for a bit in the middle of the large white room displaying his "works and days of hands" and then, I imagine, went back to his studio to continue the work of tomorrow.

As in so many other things, the Bush administration has shown itself to be unable to wield real power, to act rather than react. It may be that decades in the wilderness left the Republicans without the real moral fiber and deep determination to finally use electoral power to effect real change. It may be that internal advisors counseled softer words and a smaller stick. Or it may well be that, canny as always to the mood of the public, the administration was waiting for our enemy to make the one serious mistake it can still make -- an attack on the homeland.

If it is the latter reason, that would be as craven a motive as one can imagine, but not, knowing the internal souls of politicians, a motive that cannot be imagined. It matters little now since the Republicans have squandered their chance and are off for yet more decades in the wilderness. Hail and farewell, thanks for all the fish.

In the final analysis, what will it take for America in the coming age of Obama to wake up and to stay awake, and to finally and at last, "know there is a war on?"

Quite obviously and without a doubt, it will take thousands of dead American civilians: men, women and this time our children too. They will die here on our soil because we did not have the will, the policies, and the guts to pursue this war as a war, using all the terrible power that we command. The dead will be your family and your friends and your neighbors. They will be the cost of the Obama administration's vapid policies coupled with the unremitting agenda of the Fifth Estate.

That is precisely what it will take. Not one body more. Not one body less. And although our enemy will be at fault, we will have nobody but our own weak and fat souls to blame. After all, we won't be able to say we didn't see it coming this time.

First noted in The Fifth Estate's Agenda: No, We Don't Know There's A War On

What is there to left to say, really, about this once proud and historic political party of which I was once a card-carrying member, and that is now a crazy-quilt of rabid interest groups and stultifying Bush derangement without a whiff of a plan, a ghost of a clue, or a pinch of purpose? Very little that they don't say and prove on a daily basis. And it is not so much that I'm over the Democratic Party, but the Democratic Party is over and what we are seeing now are merely post-mortem effects. But the undead are alive enough to elect a blank screen onto which they can project their nightmares and make them our living reality.

Roger Simon is more eloquent that I am when he notes, The truth, as I gradually learned, is there is no "back" to go back to, even if I so desired. The left n'existe pas. It's over. There's no there there, as Gertrude famously said - only a boring and aging social club trying to preserve their perks.

And Neo is much more moving when she writes: To speak or not to speak: coming out as a neocon The idea is that I can't keep as a deep dark secret something so important and basic to my way of thinking from people I consider my friends. Painful though it may be, if the friendship can't handle it, I'm willing to kiss the friendship goodbye. Because what sort of a friendship is it, if it's based on something so very fragile?

My own epiphany came inside The Well, an online community that I'd been a member of for over 10 years, in late 2001. Within weeks after 9/11, the infantile leftists that infested the system were bold enough to come out with the standard palaver and drivel we now here daily. I pushed back so hard that at one point another member of the system asked me, "Don't you see that this isn't the sort of thing that it is worth losing friends over?" To which I had to answer that this was exactly the sort of thing worth losing friends over.

I lost a lot but gained others as well. Others that were, at least for me, much better and more trustworthy friends. As for the left and the Democratic Party that is more and more the standard bearer for failed regimes and religions, well, they've yet to bottom and admit they are powerless over powerlessness. Perhaps they will and, in time, come to admit their ideology has become unmanageable but I don't want to hang around for that ride.

When listening to Bush or other Republican "leaders," why is it that I'm always reminded of that guy in the Got Wood commercial. It seems that they simply cannot get comfortable with using power once they get power. Probably the result of decades of living with powerholic Democrats who still haven't bottomed. They haven't learned to Let Go and Let God. Instead, they too bumble about look towards the next election, the next check from a lobbyist, the next free trip to some god-awful backwater in the 3rd world, the next time their name is in the paper. Everything, in short, that doesn't involve hard decisions and harder policies. It proves that just because the Democrats long ago lost their cojones, the Republican party didn't find them or grow a pair of their own.

That's not to say that I look for the party with a philosophy closest to mine to amount to anything other than a minor gadfly on the backside of the electorate anytime soon. Sad in a way to see the idealism needed in the other parties to be so overwhelmingly present in this one that it fails, time after time, to thrive in the world of realpolitik. I guess its adherents need purity more than power. Too bad. They've got some nice ideals.

Repeat after me. It doesn't. It wouldn't even at $5.00 a gallon. We aren't burning too much. We aren't burning enough. Hybrids and other attempts to cut down on foreign oil dependency are just so much bollocks and blather. Anyone who understands the nature of petroleum as a fungible global commodity knows that a gallon not used here is used elsewhere. Anyone who knows a scintilla of a jot about human nature knows that alternate, sustainable energy solutions will come to pass on the day that the last gallon of gasoline on the planet is burned and not one second before. So the more we drive the closer we get to energy independence. Gentlemen, rev your engines.

See "Republicans, limp and sans cojones" above.

We knew it was going to go wrong, terribly wrong, when the name echoed, ever so faintly, "Der Vaderland" with all the overtones of Fascist over-reaching that entails. It has, in every way, lived up to its name. Everything done by this vast new Federal jobs-for-life program gives off the whiff of half-measures, insecurity, and is subject to frequent panic attacks. Hard measures are not taken, but its easy to strip search an 80 year old Norwegian farmer in a walker with a metal hip, so who is complaining? You all want to get on your plane, no matter what, don't you?

Before the robe, they were all sleazy lawyers since lawyers partake of sleaze by definition. After taking the robe, they somehow take on the mystic embodiment of "THE LAW" in all its august majesty. To show respect for this, all are required to rise upon the entry of this dwarf on stilts into a courtroom. This is a tradition that could easily be assigned to the ash-bin of history. If, in fact, the judge did not have the power to send you to jail for contempt if you do not stand, this little custom would have ended long ago. As it stands it doesn't betoken "respect" for the law since, by the actions of our contemporary judges again and again, there is less and less of the law left to respect. Instead, people stand out of fear and to curry favor. That alone should tell you that there is little in the law left to respect.

Trolls, fools, sycophants, psychopaths, ignoramuses, and those who in any other era would be institutionalized with their drool cups emptied five times a day are by and larger those who show up in online forums. You wouldn't answer your door if any one of them rang the bell, yet you let them push your buttons over and over again online. File under, "Life, Get One."

The current convention of "joining the conversation" -- whipped up, I believe, by that least dependable of Web appliances, -- is just the latest, damper equivalent of the 90s dumbest metaphor "the virtual community." Whatever it is that goes on online has zero resemblance to an actual conversation or a real community. Those things are what people really yearn for, the online behaviors are just weak and non-commensurate replacements. Even at their best, these conventions only underscore that absolute lack of the world dimensional to be found there. Most people, when given the choice between, online chat and real pillow talk would head to the pillow. God knows I should have.

"Uncomfortable" is the present decade's place holder for the 90s most idiotic word, "inappropriate." My first wife used to revel in "inappropriate" whenever her nearly constant condition of "anusmouth" was about to set in. It signaled that, no matter what you thought or did or were, it was just wrong, awful, stupid and immoral and no dissension was to be tolerated. "Uncomfortable" in the Oughts does all that or more. It is now used not as a mere prelude to condemnation, but as a pretext for passing laws and regulations to be sure, absolutely sure, that nobody you don't know is going to be offended. Canada is taking the lead here when it comes to people not agreeing, like the drinking bird over the glass, with the latest party line on the infinite goodness of gay. America is not far behind with the various endless and draconian anti-smoker laws since America always needs some class to oppress and all the usual suspects have been raised into heaven. Given the new political power of "uncomfortable," people who declare it and ask you to reach for your wallet or a modification of the Constitution should make you very, well, uncomfortable.

You shall know them by their unrelenting impulse to take what is private and personal and send in a government bureau to sit in your house and make sure you are talking and doing only correct behavior as defined by "those values that everyone knows and agrees on at my house." Rules and regulations governing what can be said and done in our public spaces are slowly starting to invade our personal spaces and lives. Soon they will come to your house not only to count your spoons, but to cause you to count them again after they leave. Through fines, fees or taxes you will pay them to do this.

Yes, there is. Pop goes the weasel. Start saving now for much cheaper houses in 2007 when cash will again be king.

This tendency is the worst knee-jerk reaction of The Buttinsky Party. Case in point: An amendment forbidding Gay Marriage. In case you have been sleeping, gay marriage is a done deal and a de-facto state. It's been decided by your children's generation and your children's children's generation. Yes, it's queer, but yes it's here, and the compulsion to staple something on to the Constitution to forbid it is like shoveling seaweed against the tide with a Jello pitchfork. The Constitution is supposed to be more than just an ad hoc collection of Post-It notes tacked on and taken off depending on the whim of the year.

But if we must, I propose a trade. Conservatives drop all efforts for an amendment forbidding gay marriage if Liberals will support the repeal of the 22nd Amendment so that George W. Bush can run for office two or three more times. Any takers on either side? I thought not.

Okay, a compromise. We'll shoot Michael Savage on the air in mid-mental meltdown if you'll garrote Al Franken in mid-flatulation at the same time. Okay?

Good. Now we can get back to speaking to each other in a civil tone in an atmosphere devoid of their poisoning stenches.

While we're on the subject of civility and cultural stenches, can we all agree to just stop allowing our children to dress like the most woebegone cross between a Balkan Refugee and the jewelry counter at Penny's? And can we remind the white kids that MF this and MF that doesn't have the grindingly disgusting quality of the black kids spouting the N-word with equal frequency and ignorant intensity. And they can back off the technicolor tats and the gigantic metal spikes hammered through every limb and orifice while they're at it.

And, as we read in the Holy Book of Forrest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that."

First Published 12/31/05

Posted by Vanderleun at November 16, 2008 7:51 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Wow. {clapclapclap}

That wasn't me you were talking about regarding "those who show up in online forums", was it? (Don't answer that.)

Forget the 22nd Amendment. I'd be deliriously happy to see the 16th and 17th repealed, though I'm not holding my breath.

For those who are unaware (not you, Gerard), the 16th Amendment gave Congress the power to levy a personal income tax, while the 17th allowed for the direct popular election of Senators. Prior to that, Senators were chosen by the state legislatures--which were popularly elected--to represent the state's interest in Washington. (Representatives in the House were always popularly elected.) That's how the Founders intended it, and the passage of the 17th Amendment really drove a stake into the republic the Founders created, and moved us a giant step towards pure democracy; which, as the Founders could have told you, would inevitably degenerate into mob rule.

So, to recap: Now we have Senators elected by popular vote, who can raise taxes on unpopular minorities (businesses, smokers) to pay for whatever redistributive programs the majority wants, and the individual states have practically no representation in Congress.

Posted by: rickl at December 31, 2005 6:02 PM

Oh, and Happy New Year, Gerard.

Posted by: rickl at December 31, 2005 6:09 PM

Thanks. The coming year can't help but be better than the last.

Posted by: Gerard Van der Leun at December 31, 2005 6:20 PM

Happy New Year. Thanks for all you gave us this year Gerard. You gave much that was (is) good.

I, myself, started working for the Marine Corps at the end of 2005. I will help the youngsters who have lost control by abusing family members get on track and make the most of their military experience and their lives. Some of these people had never been abusive before serving in Iraq/Afghanistan. This is something I know I can do well.

As a result of this job shift, my pacifist sister won't talk to me, and I have lost some friends. I'm a social worker, after all, and many of us are victimizers and Ultra-Liberal Democrats who think Bush is the epitomy of evil. I am proud to say the social work staff at Camp Pendleton is proud, professional, dedicated and effective. It is remarkable to me to have a colleague who has sat zazen with some of my own teachers and zen friends from long ago. We will sit together now. The rest of us are protesting against the war and Bush.

Bless Us All, Barbara

Posted by: barbara spalding at January 1, 2006 11:04 AM

General agreement, with slight quibbles due to the local peevishness index. As regards to #6, tho...

It's a weird concept to get your head around, and the eco-movement's worst nightmare.

Posted by: ed in texas at January 2, 2006 9:23 AM

"America is not far behind with the various endless and draconian anti-smoker laws since America always needs some class to oppress and all the usual suspects have been raised into heaven."

I look forward to the day when cigarette smoke only affects the smoker. I don't care what substances anyone imbibes but I shouldn't have to inbibe it along with them, especially if it makes me sick (and I mean immediate nausea, sinus headache, respiratory problems, not potential cancer) and makes my clothes and hair stink for the next 24 hours.

This is a ridiculous issue to around which to identify oneself as an "oppressed class."

"Good. Now we can get back to speaking to each other in a civil tone in an atmosphere devoid of their poisoning stenches."

Gerard, this essay was well-written and I agree with 90% of it, but I wouldn't call it "civil." Pot, kettle, etc.

Posted by: Yehudit at January 2, 2006 10:27 AM

Quite obviously and without a doubt, it will take thousands of dead American civilians: men, women and this time our children too.

Hmmm. I used to believe this. I no longer do: this will not be enough for some 10-15% of Americans to understand that there is a war, unless it's the war against Republicans, Bush, "Bushco", or similar. (That percentage would be less significant did it not include 90% or better of those who decide whaat goes into our major media outlets.)

Should this happen in the next three years, it will be the direct result of our fighting back (or "our aggression against the Muslim world"). The reaction will be, not a sudden realization that there is indeed a war on, but a deepening of the conviction that the fascist Bush administration must be stopped by any means necessary. What is now found only in the fevered pages of Salon will become conventional wisdom on the WaPo editorial page.

(If you doubt me, consider the reaction to the mass murder of Iraqis by "Iraqi insurgents". [The multiple lies in that common phrase are also worth contemplating, but that's another story.] Foreigners come into Iraq, kill civilians, saw off people's heads on direct-to-video propaganda movies, target Shia children - CHILDREN! - for bombing, and the response is... outrage at Bush and America, understanding compassion for the murderers, and near-complete obliviousness to the victims.)

These people attacked us. They killed thousands of our people. They strove to kill hundreds of thousands, and might well have succeeded. They have made their intentions and desires plain, in simple words, in authenticated communications, over and over. We're dealing with a population capable of seeing these things, capable of reading that the goal of al Qaeda is to reestablish a Caliphate, to destroy America, and to put the world under the boot of jihadist Islam - and still conclude that all this is a chimera and the real danger is some guy from Texas who's trying to keep a lid on this prospect.

What makes you think seeing 30,000 bodies instead of 3000 will have the slightest impact on the direction of their thinking?

Posted by: jaed at January 2, 2006 3:52 PM

Happy New Year, Gerard!

(The fashion trends to which you refer seem to be peaking here in two-steps-behind Missouri; personally, I've enjoyed The New Punk.)

Posted by: Rita Rouvalis at January 2, 2006 4:31 PM

"The coming year can't help but be better than the last."

They said that about 1916 too.

Its better to be a pessimist. That way you can only be pleasantly surprised.

Posted by: Eric Blair at January 3, 2006 9:59 AM