Comments or suggestions: Gerard Van der Leun
Mark Twain's Corn-pone Opinions: "He was a gay and impudent and satirical and delightful young black man"

marktwaincornpone.jpgFIFTY YEARS AGO, when I was a boy of fifteen and helping to inhabit a Missourian village on the banks of the Mississippi, I had a friend whose society was very dear to me because I was forbidden by my mother to partake of it. He was a gay and impudent and satirical and delightful young black man -a slave -who daily preached sermons from the top of his master's woodpile, with me for sole audience. He imitated the pulpit style of the several clergymen of the village, and did it well, and with fine passion and energy. To me he was a wonder. I believed he was the greatest orator in the United States and would some day be heard from....

One of his texts was this:

"You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is."....

I think Jerry was right, in the main, but I think he did not go far enough.

1. It was his idea that a man conforms to the majority view of his locality by calculation and intention. This happens, but I think it is not the rule.

2. It was his idea that there is such a thing as a first-hand opinion; an original opinion; an opinion which is coldly reasoned out in a man's head, by a searching analysis of the facts involved, with the heart unconsulted, and the jury room closed against outside influences. It may be that such an opinion has been born somewhere, at some time or other, but I suppose it got away before they could catch it and stuff it and put it in the museum.

I am persuaded that a coldly-thought-out and independent verdict upon a fashion in clothes, or manners, or literature, or politics, or religion, or any other matter that is projected into the field of our notice and interest, is a most rare thing -- if it has indeed ever existed....

The outside influences are always pouring in upon us, and we are always obeying their orders and accepting their verdicts. The Smiths like the new play; the Joneses go to see it, and they copy the Smith verdict. Morals, religions, politics, get their following from surrounding influences and atmospheres, almost entirely; not from study, not from thinking. A man must and will have his own approval first of all, in each and every moment and circumstance of his life -- even if he must repent of a self-approved act the moment after its commission, in order to get his self-approval again: but, speaking in general terms, a man's self-approval in the large concerns of life has its source in the approval of the peoples about him, and not in a searching personal examination of the matter.

"A political emergency brings out the corn-pone opinion in fine force in its two chief varieties -- the pocketbook variety, which has its origin in self-interest, and the bigger variety, the sentimental variety -- the one which can't bear to be outside the pale...."

Mohammedans are Mohammedans because they are born and reared among that sect, not because they have thought it out and can furnish sound reasons for being Mohammedans; we know why Catholics are Catholics; why Presbyterians are Presbyterians; why Baptists are Baptists; why Mormons are Mormons; why thieves are thieves; why monarchists are monarchists; why Republicans are Republicans and Democrats, Democrats. We know it is a matter of association and sympathy, not reasoning and examination; that hardly a man in the world has an opinion upon morals, politics, or religion which he got otherwise than through his associations and sympathies.

Broadly speaking, there are none but corn-pone opinions. And broadly speaking, corn-pone stands for self-approval. Self-approval is acquired mainly from the approval of other people. The result is conformity. Sometimes conformity has a sordid business interest -- the bread-and-butter interest -- but not in most cases, I think. I think that in the majority of cases it is unconscious and not calculated; that it is born of the human being's natural yearning to stand well with his fellows and have their inspiring approval and praise -- a yearning which is commonly so strong and so insistent that it cannot be effectually resisted, and must have its way.

A political emergency brings out the corn-pone opinion in fine force in its two chief varieties -- the pocketbook variety, which has its origin in self-interest, and the bigger variety, the sentimental variety -- the one which can't bear to be outside the pale; can't bear to be in disfavor; can't endure the averted face and the cold shoulder; wants to stand well with his friends, wants to be smiled upon, wants to be welcome, wants to hear the precious words, "He's on the right track!" Uttered, perhaps by an ass, but still an ass of high degree, an ass whose approval is gold and diamonds to a smaller ass, and confers glory and honor and happiness, and membership in the herd. For these gauds many a man will dump his life-long principles into the street, and his conscience along with them. We have seen it happen. In some millions of instances.

Men think they think upon great political questions, and they do; but they think with their party, not independently; they read its literature, but not that of the other side; they arrive at convictions, but they are drawn from a partial view of the matter in hand and are of no particular value. They swarm with their party, they feel with their party, they are happy in their party's approval; and where the party leads they will follow, whether for right and honor, or through blood and dirt and a mush of mutilated morals.

In our late canvass half of the nation passionately believed that in silver lay salvation, the other half as passionately believed that that way lay destruction. Do you believe that a tenth part of the people, on either side, had any rational excuse for having an opinion about the matter at all? I studied that mighty question to the bottom -- came out empty. Half of our people passionately believe in high tariff, the other half believe otherwise. Does this mean study and examination, or only feeling? The latter, I think. I have deeply studied that question, too -- and didn't arrive. We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking. And out of it we get an aggregation which we consider a boon. Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it the Voice of God.

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 30, 2014 11:44 PM | Comments (8)  | QuickLink: Permalink
And the next group training to jump the fence and rush the White House is....


White House fence-jumper made it far deeper into building than previously known

After barreling past the guard immediately inside the door, Gonzalez, who was carrying a knife, dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters. He then ran into the 80-foot-long East Room, an ornate space often used for receptions or presidential addresses.

In other news.... Is Barack Obama's life safe in the Secret Service's hands?

A knife-wielding intruder allowed to run rampant through the first floor of the White House. Bullets that struck the window of Barack Obama's private residence but went unnoticed for days. A presidential bodyguard so drunk he passed out in hallway of a hotel. These are just some of the recent incidents that have shaken confidence in the Secret Service, the elite agency assigned to protect Mr Obama, his family and the White House.

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 30, 2014 5:53 AM | Comments (6)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Resolved: The Flaming Gay Fashion Designers of the World Don't Really Hate and Loathe Real Women At All

"Junya Watanabe was in conceptual mode for spring:

i.e., seeing women not as fashion consumers, but as walking canvases for a jolly geometry exercise. His series of collages of flat, circular pleather cutouts placed on gauze, shown on models with plastic cloche-like headdresses, triggered vague reminiscences of 1920s experimental art—Sonia Delaunay, maybe." Junya Watanabe Spring 2015 RTW — Vogue




Nothing like being "in conceptual mode" to remove all hints at needing to humiliate those who have what he will never possess.

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 29, 2014 3:36 PM | Comments (15)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Oops! Wit Ebowlaa Mistaeks Wur Maid

How many Ebola cases are really simmering in Africa? That depends on who is underreporting them.


The Center for Disease Control: Estimating the Future Number of Cases in the Ebola Epidemic — Liberia and Sierra Leone, 2014–2015

To aid in planning for additional disease-control efforts, CDC constructed a modeling tool called EbolaResponse to provide estimates of the potential number of future cases. If trends continue without scale-up of effective interventions, by September 30, 2014, Sierra Leone and Liberia will have a total of approximately 8,000 Ebola cases. A potential underreporting correction factor of 2.5 also was calculated. Using this correction factor, the model estimates that approximately 21,000 total cases will have occurred in Liberia and Sierra Leone by September 30, 2014. Reported cases in Liberia are doubling every 15–20 days, and those in Sierra Leone are doubling every 30–40 days.
There. Now don't you feel better now that you are better informed?

Not to worry. We've got thousands of soldiers wandering around in those pestholes and they'll be home soon with the truth. I, for one, certainly hope Barack Obama greets and shakes the hands of each and every one of them.

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 29, 2014 2:41 PM | Comments (6)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Slow Fires in the Great Smoky Mountains

Vista, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, October 20, 2007

Fast fires consume California. They take men's homes and the habitat of "protected" and unprotected species without fear or favor; without asking permission of the coastal commission or the EPA. Whether sparked by nature or arson, the decades of overbuilding, misbegotten "environmentally correct" management policies, the logjam of litigation that prevents stewardship, all combine -- like the fires and the winds themselves combine -- into "the perfect firestorm."

Many, afraid to blame utopian politics and fanatic environmentalism as two of the culprits, blame "nature;" the only admitted vengeful god of our age. But nature, as wise men know, always sides with the hidden flaw, and the flaws hidden here are those of men, foolish men who believe they can control and terraform the planet they inhabit. The walls of flame and hills of smoldering ash are the answer to their green hubris.

A similar instance of eco-utopianism currently seethes in the Great Smokey Mountains. The fire there burns much more slowly and selectively, but it burns all the same. In the end, a spark or a maniac will touch it with flame and then it too will rage up and destroy that which the fire's enablers most wish to save. And when the ashes cool and everything is bare and dead, their answer will be -- as it always is -- "we need more laws to protect that which our present laws have destroyed."

The slow fire in the Smoky Mountains is a pest, the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, that attacks and kills the hemlocks in the park. The adelgid has been having its way with hemlocks throughout the eastern seaboard since it first snuck into the area from Asia in the 1920s. The park service reports that:

"Over 800 acres of old-growth hemlock trees grow in the Smokies -- more than in any other national park. Younger hemlock forests cover an additional 90,000 acres of land in the park. Originally discovered here in 2002, adelgid infestations have now spread throughout the park's hemlock forests. In some areas infested trees have already begun to die."

"Begun?" It would be more accurate to say that in pretty much all areas that can be observed, the hemlocks have not just "already begun to die," but are -- in fact -- stone cold dead and gone.

Here is a photograph I took from a viewpoint in the Smoky Mountain park two weeks ago:

Pretty, isn't it? Actually, to stand in the place that this was taken and to look out over the mountains is more than just "pretty." It is overwhelming to the senses as ridge upon ridge and valley leading onto valley fill and brims with the reds, the scarlets, the oranges and the yellows of full autumn.

If you do not look too close. If you do not look too deep.

Here's a detail from the photograph above:

The grey spindly splotches are the dead hemlocks and they are legion in every direction. They are visible from every overlook. They are dead and they are dry. Pitch-soaked pine torches waiting for the match. And, we assume, that deeper into the park where only intrepid hikers and members of the Forest Service patrol, the carnage goes on and on.

What's the Forest Service plan to halt or control this parasite that destroys its host and leaves stands of tinder in its wake? Soap and beetles. That's it, soap and beetles.

While there is a pesticide, Imidacloprid, that works against this plague, it can contaminate the soil and the watershed for 30 days in water and 27 days in soil or, in aerobic soil, up to around 3 years. If you have hemlocks on your property and are either careful or stealthy you can save your own personal hemlocks. But since it is, after all, a pesticide, this is politically impossible to use in a National Forest. The Sierra Club does not, after all, approve.

(The Park Service does note that this insecticide is being used on hemlocks "near campsites" and on "tall trees." I guess the hope is that if you can see healthy hemlocks you won't think the service is losing the war so badly. Call it the "Park Service lied and hemlocks died" program.)

Instead, the current plan is to use an "insecticidal" (sounds nicer than "insecticide" doesn't it?) soap solution that must be applied to each and every tree that is infested. And no, you can't spray the soap suds from the air. Yes, each and every hemlock surviving in the "800 old growth areas" and "90,000" other acres has to be individually tended to and scrubbed.

Call me crazy, but I just don't see the Forest Service -- even if its budget were to be increased 10-fold -- as having the ability or the technology to wash down all these trees. Much less get to them. In terms of stopping the infestation, washing down the trees seems to me to be a chunk of ecologically-correct make work.

Do not despair over the bogus "soap solution." There is also a back-up plan. That plan involves releasing a beetle. A teeny-tiny beetle that will, someday, increase in numbers enough to destroy the parasite on the hemlocks. "The park has released tiny black lady-beetles that feed only on adelgids. They have been thoroughly studied in the field and do not congregate in large numbers and do not leave the forest during their summer dormant period."

These beetles were brought in in 2002 and it is, of course, far too soon for their populations to have had a noticeable effect on reversing the slow fire in the park. Meanwhile, the parasite continues to kill the hemlocks and leave the towering trunks of tinder behind.

But to keep hope alive and to give the impression of actually doing something effective, the Forest Service has a back-up to the back-up and a back-up to that as well. (Fret not, none of these involves actually using something that is known to kill the pest on contact.)

According to a brochure stapled to a notice-board at the park's visitors' center, the service is essentially getting ready to lose what it has probably already lost. This brochure attempts to answer the now very frequently asked question, "Why are so many trees dead, Ranger Rick?" After the standard blather about soapy water and beetles, the brochure admits that the Forest Service has sequestered many seedlings elsewhere in a protected and undisclosed environment. Not only that but it has also frozen many seeds in seed-banks so they can be replanted after the current plague has run its course and the parasite died off for lack of a host.

I suspect that under this plan, the hemlocks in the Great Smoky Mountains can be back on track in, say, two or three centuries. This assumes, of course, that the seedlings, the seed-banks, and the United States Forest Service along with the United States lasts that long. Still, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

A week of partial rains has dampened the land and the forest in this region of Blue Ridge and Great Smoky mountains. For now the threat of real fire has receded here. But the rains have only moistened the surviving hemlocks and given a drink to the pest that burns them slowly. In the hemlock forests of the east coast the slow fires rage on, out of control, and we refuse to use the one tool that could -- maybe, just maybe -- put them out. Why? Because the eco-fanatics in the Forest Service and elsewhere just don't like them. For them, forests with vast stands of dead trees are fine. For them these places are paradise....

Cue The Eagles:

"They call it paradise
I don't know why
You call someplace paradise,
kiss it goodbye"

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 29, 2014 1:30 AM | Comments (5)  | QuickLink: Permalink

God of our fathers, known of old,   
   Lord of our far-flung battle-line,   
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
   Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,   
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
   The Captains and the Kings depart:   
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
   An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,   
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
   On dune and headland sinks the fire:   
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
   Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!   
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,   
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose   
   Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,   
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
   Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust   
   In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
   And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,   
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!


Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 28, 2014 8:19 PM | Comments (3)  | QuickLink: Permalink
330 Things I Know About the Net


I've been at this since 1987. Here's my list so far. What do you know?





















21. NO FEAR.






Posted by Vanderleun Sep 27, 2014 1:46 PM | Comments (12)  | QuickLink: Permalink
A Small Favor

achicken.jpgIn the account books of friendship, a balance can never be struck. Favors are always owing. True, there's some sort of record and you can, if you really push it, get overdrawn, but the Bank of the Friend is very forgiving of minor transgressions and small inconveniences. You can be lounging about on a weekend morning with no intention of dressing and driving out into the cold, but the call comes in and you saddle up.

Ringtone: "Hello."

"I need help with my equipment I used in the sermon."

"I thought that was just going to be one telephone."

"It got more elaborate."

("Elaborate" is a word he uses when he let his imagination get the better of his judgement. In general, he believes in simple things: zen gardens, books of quotations or jokes, a single perfect leaf next to a perfect rock, wood floors instead of shag rugs. Over the years his friends have learned to fear "elaborate.")

"More 'elaborate' huh?"

"Well, I wanted it to be a memorable sermon."

(This was in response to an invitation to give a speech at a certain Seattle church's 50th Anniversary.)


"It started when I decided to give the sermon in the chicken suit."

(He owns three full-body yellow-feathered chicken suits -- with heads. There are full-body bunny suits as well and there was once, briefly, a full-body pink gorilla suit, but that's two other stories.)

"But they've already seen the chicken suit."

"That's exactly what I thought so I decided to dress it up."


"So I went down to The Love Connection by Lake Union."

(The Love Connection is a local "Adult" Toy Shop with a special line of lingerie, leather wear, and expensive, very large dildos for the truly ambitious.)


"I told the woman at the store that I needed a large size set of red sequined bra and panties. She nodded and looked me over." (He's a large bearded man.) "It was clear she got requests like mine every day."

"I imagine that she does, this being Seattle, the headwaters of the Gay Bear community of the Greater North West. Not that there's anything wrong with that."

"Yes, but I had to explain to her that size was an issue. It had to go over my full-body chicken suit."

"What did she say to that?"

"She said, 'Oooo, kinky!' and then she got me some really spectacular foundation garments."

"I've always said that it would take a man like you to make a woman like you."

"Hey, I wanted to make my sermon memorable."

"I see that you were well on the way, but where do I come in?"

"It started with the telephone. I had to get a prop telephone. So I went to Archie McPhee."

(Archie McPhee in Seattle is the ground zero for bizarre gifts, weird props, practical jokes and rubber chickens. It is where you go when you need something nobody has.)

"We've all told you time and again to stay out of that store. It's like smoking crack for you."

"I know, I know. But I needed a prop telephone quick. One with a body, a headset and a dial."

"Did you score?"

"Yes, of course. But when I was in the store I noticed that they had a cake for rent."

"A rental cake? Doesn't that get a bit stale?"

"Not that kind of cake, Jake. But a great cake. You know, the kind that strippers can jump out of."

"More elaborate, right?"

"Exactly. In one blinding instant I put me, in a chicken suit, wearing a sequined bra and panties, jumping out of a cake with a telephone in my wing. Memorable."

"Not easily forgotten, true."

"So I rented the cake."


"Well, it is a huge cake. Six feet around at the base, four layers, five feet tall. With casters. Weighs about 125 pounds. So I had to rent a trunk. Which is where you come in."

"I'm not shoving you around a church in your chicken suit inside a five foot pink cake. Let's get that straight."

"No, no. I got that handled. Did it all. Got the cake to the church, got inside, had myself pushed out on the stage, and jumped out of the cake in the chicken suit with the foundation garments on and gave that sermon last night."


"Yes, but I don't think they're going to ask me back any time soon."

"A church has to have some standards."

"Maybe, but these are Unitarians."

"Oh. In that case, they'll probably come around."

"Anyway, I got the cake back to Archie McPhee's fine, but now I've had to return the truck way out here in Ballard and I've got no ride back. Can you come pick me up?"

"Are you still wearing the chicken suit with the bra and panties?"

"No. Of course not. Do you think I'm crazy?"



"Okay, I'm on my way, but if I see so much as a feather within a block of you I'm driving right on by."

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 27, 2014 2:07 AM | Comments (26)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Does Obama Possess Courage? [From before the 2008 Election]


There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you ... in places where winning means survival and defeat means death ... - Sarah Palin's Address to the RNC

Is Obama's courage limited to talking? I've been reading a number of quotes from Senator Obama over the past 24 hours that have to do with fighting. He's not taking things lying down. He's not going to be "bullied." That the sort of tough talk that's pretty much par for the course in political metaphors these days.

Last night, for instance, while getting paid a hundred grand and change for having dinner, the Obama scene went like this:

Bon Jovi [once a well-known rock star] and his wife, Dorothea, hosted more than 100 people for dinner on their mansion lawn by the Navesink River in Middletown, N.J. The price was $30,800 a person, to be divided between the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

"When I look at Barack, I see an old man," Bon Jovi said in introducing his guest. Obama is 47, Bon Jovi is 46.

Obama spoke for about eight minutes before greeting guests individually. He vowed to fight Republican attacks on his character and background more fiercely than John Kerry did in his losing campaign four years ago.

"We're not going to be bullied, we're not going to be smeared, we're not going to be lied about," Obama said. "I don't believe in coming in second." - Obama At Bon Jovi Event: 'We Won't Be Bullied'

Sounds tough, doesn't he? And in the pure political sense of Chicago machine politics, he probably is.

Obama's also known for shooting hoops. As one of my commenting readers put it:

Obama, after Governor Palin's speech: "I've been called worse on the basketball court." My fantasy reply from Governor Palin: "I'm a runner and a basketball player. I don't think he can beat me on the court. I don't think he's got the stamina."
That's amusing because, as most people can sense, it has more than a grain of truth in it. Stamina is more than simply making campaigning for President your day job, stamina comes from doing a tough job in crisis mode, day after day. Sort of like, say, being an infantry soldier doing a tour of Iraq. Or flying jet fighters into places where they have a lot of anti-aircraft guns and missiles.

All of this leads me to a question for which I do not have a ready answer: "How much personal courage does Senator Obama possess and when has he demonstrated it? Not talked the talk, but walked the walk.

Surely we must have some examples of this somewhere but I don't recall any.

Why is this important? Because, as is obvious, there are times when courage, real courage in the personal, the physical, the spiritual, the moral or the political sense, is called for from a President.

We have numerous examples of these sorts of courage in the life and political career of John McCain.

What has Obama done that demonstrates real, classical courage? I would really like to know.

To my mind, courage is a far more necessary element for a leader of the United States to possess than any other. It even trumps experience. I've heard a lot from Obama and his supporters about it taking "courage to vote for Obama." But really all it takes to do that is to get to a polling place in November, go into a voting booth, and pull a lever, push a button, or mark a paper. It takes no courage at all.

Leading the country to safety and security after it has been attacked and 3,000 citizens killed in a morning -- that takes courage and we've only seen that in one man. The next President had better possess that sort of courage as well.

So again, I ask, when have we ever seen Obama demonstrate real courage?

[2014: Yes, I know..... "But John McCain, blah blah blah did blah blah.....and is.... blah blah blah!" Fine. OK. Spare me. Thanks.]

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 27, 2014 1:09 AM | Comments (40)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Stanley Kubrick’s Photos of New York Life in the 40s

Self portrait with showgirl Rosemary Williams 1948

Before he became famous for directing films like A Clockwork Orange, Lolita, and Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick was a poor kid from the Bronx who worked as a photojournalist for Look magazine. (He was their youngest staff photographer on record.) Kubrick’s striking black and white images of 1940s New York City — which were often shot on the sly, his camera concealed in a paper bag with a hole in it — hint at the dark beauty and psychological drama of his later creative output. Stanley Kubrick’s Dramatic Photos of 1940s New York City – Flavorwire





More at TwistedSifter

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 25, 2014 9:52 PM | Comments (4)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Secret Service to Erect New Sign on White House Fence


Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 25, 2014 11:21 AM | Comments (5)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Have you ever wondered why folks in the freak show of San Francisco California appear so confused and perverted?


Consider this: Chief Heather Fong (left) is the first SFPD female lesbian Chief of Police. Theresa Sparks (center), a former male, is president of the San Francisco Police Commission, and CEO of a multimillion-dollar sex toy retailer and a transgender woman. Sgt. Stephan Thorne (right), a former female, is the first transgender male SFPD police officer. Their Representative in Congress is the alien lizard Nancy Pelosi.

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 25, 2014 11:15 AM | Comments (17)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Web Above Us


Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.

       -- Poe, The Conqueror Worm

At the Seattle houseboat where I write, it's either spider mating season or a spider building boom. Unlike the rest of the builders in this burg, there's no slump in the spider building boom. Here no bubble has burst. All about this floating world on the lake, spiders big and small are weaving elaborate webs in all the angles a host of houseboats offer.

In fact, so many spiders are getting so busy that it behooves you to begin the day waving a straw broom across your doorways and walkways lest you end up wearing a web. Getting your face slapped and your mouth filled with web is no way to start the day. I know. So sweeping the air with a broom like some latter day sorcerer's apprentice is required. That's my current ritual and it works, most of the time. But webs, I've found, come in all sorts of shapes and diameters and not all are easily seen and swept. Miss one and you get a face full of web and the spider gets, I imagine, very ticked off seeing his long night's labor wiped out in a split second. If you both get very unlucky, you get a mouth full of web with a crunchy spider filling. Not my idea of a crisp morning's memorable moment. Certainly not the spider's.

At the same time, you don't want to be too enthusiastic about web wipeouts. I know how beneficial it is to have spiders at work in a wet environment like a houseboat community. Where spiders weave mosquito populations are severely reduced, flies too. If you want insect life kept down to a dull buzz, you don't want to destroy any webs that aren't directly in your way. Besides, after a fog or a light rain at dawn, or in the slanting late afternoon light, you are can see dozens of gleaming diadem-dappled webs moving ever so gently in the light breeze off Lake Union. Regardless of how you feel about spiders, their work and their webs are both beneficial and beautiful.

Webs, as we know, are not so wonderful for flies. For flies, a spider's web is, in the full meaning of the phrase, a dead end. Touch even one silken strand and you can't shake it off.

The nature of the spider's web is that once touched by a single strand, your struggles to shake it off enmesh you ever more securely in others until escape is hopeless. In the end you are held not just by the single strand you started with, but by all the others that lie just to this side or the other. The spider will be along soon enough to wrap things up. The only safe way to escape the spider's web is not to touch it in the first place.

At least that's what I told the small fly that landed under the web next to my foot this morning as I stood outside on the railing with my coffee. I'd noted the web between the two uprights when I'd first stepped out earlier brandishing my broom like Shiva the Destroyer, but since the web wasn't going to interfere with me, I wasn't going to interfere with it. Live and let be, I thought. I could have brushed it into oblivion with the broom to my right, but it was both beautiful and functional, so why destroy it? Why interfere? Live and let be. What a good Buddha I am. Or is it "Oh what a good Jainist am I?" I forget.

Then I noticed the fly. For a fly it was kind of cute. It wasn't a big buzzer that can batter on a window. It was a small fly, insignificant even by fly standards, a pipsqueak. It sat, bobbing slightly up and down as flies at rest often do, on the decking just below the web above. From my giant's vantage point, it seemed to be scanning the green water and moored boats for whatever it is flies scan for with their ommatidium eyes. Being a fly it had no real knowledge that just overhead death lurked with its many invisible strands. Touch just one, fly up into just one, and that would be the end of my little fly's all too short history.

That's when I got the idea that I could help this small fly avoid destruction with the slightest of gestures. I could see it was courting an unpleasant and lingering death but it could not. The fly sensed no danger at all. Why would it? It didn't have that powerful frame of reference we humans believe we have in the 21st century. It lacked our overweening certitude and preening "knowledge" that we finally know, to a certainty, all the important facts about the Universe -- its size, its age, our place in it, and all the other hubristic crap we tell ourselves because, in the final analysis, we are still afraid of the great dark that we've done our best to make larger and darker.

No, the fly was just moving in the world according to its instincts and programming. It was not at all like us. It was, I suppose, doing whatever felt either necessary or good to it at the time. Not at all like us. Or perhaps it was doing what it was doing because it had to do it. How can we ever understand what happens in the mind of a fly, when - for all our pride - we do not know the what happens in our secret hearts; when we do not even know how we move our hands to make our gestures. If the fly got caught in the web above, it wouldn't matter. It would be just one of the billions of small natural tragedies that happen every minute of every day in our brave new world where -- so many of us seem to have decided -- "purposeless matter hovers in the dark." What right had I to interfere in the unfolding of nature?

Every right. I was not outside of nature but part of it too. And I was there at that time and that place. I could see the danger. The fly, for all the facets of its eyes, could not. A butterfly beats its wings in a garden in Peking, a fly settles to rest under a web on a houseboat in Seattle. God's plan, Fate, Chaos Theory, or a minuscule meaningless moment? Probably a bit of all of the above. Plus the chance for a minuscule godlike moment for me.

I know, through repeated experience, that you cannot save people from themselves, but, I thought, I could at least save one small fly from her own foolishness. A small gesture, affirming life, but mine own. A tiny prayer sent up from a simple act here on this morning in my floating world.

I gestured towards the fly with my shoe. It took alarm and flew off a foot or two. And then it hovered and came back to land at the self-same spot. I gestured again, closer and with more vigor. Same reaction -- a small box-shaped moment of flight and then right back to the self-same spot. Again with the shoe and yet again the stubborn pattern of escape and return on the part of the fly to the self-same spot.

Curious, I bent down and looked closer. It was then I saw a faint, thin strand of web above had already attached itself to the fly. Loose and long, the strand, a single strand barely whiter than the air around it, had already adhered to the fly's shoulders. I guess it had been there all along but from far off and high above I hadn't been able to see it.

Determined now to complete my mission of saving this fly from its fate, I waved my finger over the fly severing the strand. Alarmed, the fly flew away.

But it only flew a little way. Then it came back and settled roughly in the self-same spot.

In the same way it didn't know it was trapped, the fly didn't realize that it was free; that some omnipotent being beyond its ken had granted it grace. Instead, in response to some deeper programming, the fly returned again to its pre-ordained place in this infinitesimal corner of the universe. There it courted the same fate I'd tried to save it from, lifting up to fly about in the strange right-angled way that flies do as if seeking the strand I'd severed. And always returning to the self-same spot.

I finished my coffee and walked back into the room, leaving the fly to whatever fate may, in time, have befallen it. Like so many human beings I've known, the fly was, I guess, fated to be there. All it would take would be one small move, one firm decision, the flight of a moment out over the calm water, and it would live. It couldn't do it. It was tied to its place in the loom of life by strands too fine for me to see and far too strong for me to sever.

From where I sit now, another fly crawls along the inside of my window. Through the glass I can see the spider, who owns the web under which my fly sits. Something, some faint tremor from a single strand, has alerted it and it is starting to scuttle, ever so carefully, from that shadow it waits in towards the center of its web.

I refill my cup and settle into my morning reading. Today it's Pope's "Essay on Man" where, after a few minutes, I read:

Oh blindness to the future! kindly giv'n,
That each may fill the circle mark'd by heav'n:
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
A hero perish, or a sparrow fall,
Atoms or systems into ruin hurl'd,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world.

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 25, 2014 2:35 AM | Comments (6)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Wheat Field


Sunset in a wheat field of the Solgonskoye farming company in the village of Solgon, southwest from Krasnoyarsk, Russia, on September 6, 2014. Fall Is in the Air - In Focus - The Atlantic


From each one in the hard soil a myriad are spun.
Sheaves of gold on bronze in files beneath the sun.
Is it towards the whiteness of the wafer
The field bends on autumn winds;
Towards the body which is breath not flesh
That the body which is only flesh
Scuffs its limbs upon the soil,
And fears at night tomorrow's toil,
And sees in dreams the shade of musk
The trumpets rising in the dusk?
Or is the seed of wheat enough,
Its own bronze parable of blood,
Enorbing in its nucleus
The architecture of the Ark,
The constant covenant of bread?

On the Thirtieth Meridian, at the pivot of the Earth,
A fan spreads out in silted twists
Pinned by five gold inches to the river's wrist,
And clasped by five white fingers of that marble hand.
Between the rise and fall of speech
The pulse is felt throughout the land,
Its rhythms mimicked by the priests,
Its regulations drawn on dirt
In circles, trisects, lines and cubes
Of numbers and of wheat,
Of incantations scratched on stone
That from their power we may eat
The bread, for we have tasted of the fruit,
And found it, if not sweet, of use
In surveying tombs and gardens that will suit.

The wilderness yields only flesh
Of fruit, or fowl, or hunted beast.
It cannot give us wheat and bread,
And it is bread that we would eat.
Though our bodies be of infirm flesh,
Our thoughts enslaved to blood and heat;
Though we scan the skies with eyes of beasts,
Still we would walk in fields of wheat,
And from such sheaves deduce the laws
Of war and wealth and God, and pause
To build our towns and temples, paved streets,
And gird the very globe with grids,
And make our maps and take our measures,
And populate the final stars with myriad
Grown from one, in the harsh soil, our single treasure.

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 24, 2014 9:50 PM | QuickLink: Permalink
Best Chinese Restaurant in San Francisco


"But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well.
You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself."

Via Don Surber: Telling the customer off

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 23, 2014 8:29 AM | Comments (14)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Regrets? She's Had a Few

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 22, 2014 8:25 PM | Comments (4)  | QuickLink: Permalink
His Finest Moment

Behold how he doth relish the taste of his own pungent substance.

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 22, 2014 7:56 PM | Comments (2)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Press by Rudyard Kipling

Why don't you write a play  €“
 €‚ €‚Why don't you cut your hair?
Do you trim your toe-nails round
 €‚ €‚Or do you trim them square?
Tell it to the papers,
 €‚ €‚Tell it every day.
But, en passant, may I ask
 €‚ €‚Why don't you write a play?

What's your last religion?
 €‚ €‚Have you got a creed?
Do you dress in Jaeger-wool
 €‚ €‚Sackcloth, silk or tweed?
Name the books that helped you
 €‚ €‚On the path you've trod.
Do you use a little g
 €‚ €‚When you write of God?

Do you hope to enter
 €‚ €‚Fame's immortal dome?
Do you put the washing out
 €‚ €‚Or have it done at home?
Have you any morals?
 €‚ €‚Does your genius burn?
Was you wife a what's its name?
 €‚ €‚How much did she earn?

Had your friend a secret
 €‚ €‚Sorrow, shame or vice  €“
Have you promised not to tell
 €‚ €‚What's your lowest price?
All the housemaid fancied
 €‚ €‚All the butler guessed
Tell it to the public press
 €‚ €‚And we will do the rest.

Why don't you write a play?

[Rudyard Kipling, 1899]


Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 22, 2014 10:25 AM | Comments (6)  | QuickLink: Permalink
In My Mother's Small House Are the Mansions of Memory


In her 95th year 99th year, this happenstance kitchen collage of my mother's life is growing both richer and deeper. The image above is of what once was a bulletin board. It is kept in my mother's kitchen in her apartment to the rear of an unassuming but decent collection of apartments in the small city of Chico, California.

It's too bad the image of it is so small here on the page. But no matter how much I might enlarge the image of it, it could never be as big as what it represents. Although small in scale it is larger than the lives it chronicles. It is the sum of all love.

You'd miss that. If I could show it to you in real time and at its actual size, you'd still miss it. It would remain much as you see it here -- just a jumble of clips, slogans, photos, handicrafts and images. Aside from its complexity, it wouldn't mean all that much to you. These icons of other people's private lives never do.

And yet, if you have anything that even resembles a functioning family, there's a bulletin board like this somewhere in the various dwellings of your family. If you're lucky, there's more than one. You don't know what this one means, but you know what yours means. You know it all -- for better and for worse.

Still, to know the worst of the stories that lie behind these images you not only need to know the lives these commonplace icons chronicle, you have to be looking hard for the worse and, in the end, dragging it out of your own memory. If you work at finding the worst in people, you can always locate it.

But if those who keep these family altars are like my own mother in their dedication to them, you won't see them displayed. There will be no shadows there that you do not supply yourself.

My mother only adds the things of love to this board, never the things of disappointment, failure, heartbreak or betrayal. To do so would be a betrayal of the trust that keeping this board brings with it, and, to my mother at least, a waste of life.

My mother does not waste life.

In my mother's home not a scrap of love -- however faint or distant now -- is ever discarded. Everything that does not meet her measure is tossed away without pause or regret. If something comes her way that she deems special -- be it an out-of-focus photograph, a clipping from a far-away newspaper, a small note of thanks, or a pipe-cleaner figure made by one of the second graders she acts as a teacher's aide for -- it gets promoted to the bulletin board. Once there, as you can see, it stays. If something comes to her that's a downer, out it goes.

That's why my mother has two piles of scrap in the kitchen: one for recycling and one for the shredder. She gets a warm feeling by recycling, but she gets a real kick out of running things through the shredder.

At age 95 99.8, she's tiny but sharp. Quick to empathize and quicker still to laugh. Playing tennis several times a week kept her on her game -- until 95.5 when her knees quit -- in more ways than one. So does bridge and working as a teacher's aide with small children. She's wise that way but without pretense. If you ever told her she was wise, she'd shrug and ask you if you'd like another German pancake, this time with lemon juice and powdered sugar. She hasn't missed breakfast for nearly a century, which shows you, if you had any doubt, just how wise she is.

Years ago, after she sold her rooming house for college girls and moved into her apartment, she decided that the kitchen wall was perfect for a bulletin board that she could use to keep track of her busy schedule. Somewhere under everything else on the board we think there are things that pertain to schedules in the late 1980s, but it would take an archeological team to excavate them. Instead, one photo got put up, and then another, and then a clip of this and a note of that and, over time, it became the raucous riot of bits and pieces you can see here.

Babies and friends, present and past wives, can all be found. Girlfriends long let slide still peek out. Birthday parties and christenings, weddings, vacations, and graduations.... all the private triumphs and moments of personal happiness glisten and shine, one fit atop, against, behind, or aside the other as life rushed on and curved away, ebbed and then surged back again, brighter and larger than before.

If you knew all the pieces here as I do, you could review them and see the tokens of a life that begins before the end of the First World War and rolls along right up until today. It's a very big life to be contained on such a small board in such a small apartment, but my mother's genius when it comes to this collage is that, no matter how full it gets, she always finds room to add one more moment.

We don't know how she does it. It's a gift.

Mom on a bench created and dedicated to her by her friends and installed at the Chico Racquet Club in April, 2010.

[Republished from 2007/2010 because.... well... because I like it.]

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 22, 2014 2:48 AM | Comments (20)  | QuickLink: Permalink
How to Elicit a Child's Sense of Wonder

Steven Spielberg: “I had to the left of the camera a cardboard partition, and to the right of the camera a second cardboard partition. To the left of the camera, I put Bob Westmoreland, our makeup man, in a gorilla suit — the full mask and hands and hairy body. To the right of the camera, I dressed myself up as an Easter Bunny, with the ears and the nose and the whiskers painted on my face. Cary Guffey didn’t know what to expect. He didn’t know what he was gonna react to. His job was to come into the kitchen, stop at the door, and just have a good time. … And just has he came into the kitchen, I had the cardboard partition dropped and Bob Westmoreland was there as the gorilla. Cary froze, like a deer caught in car headlights … I dropped my partition, and he looked over at me, and there was the Easter Bunny smiling at him. He was torn. He began to smile at me — he was still afraid of that thing. Then I had Bob — I said, ‘Take off your head.’ Bob took off his mask, and when Cary saw it was the man that put his makeup on in the morning, Cary began to laugh. Even though it was a trick, the reaction was pure and honest.” Once for All – Futility Closet

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 21, 2014 4:07 PM | Comments (2)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Remember Hunger? Me Neither.


But when the trucks stop for a week or two and the stores are cleaned out down to the Draino, it will be back. It never really went away, it just moved to Africa for a vacation.

From his childhood in the workhouse, debtors' prison, and bootblacking warehouse Charles Dickens knew about hunger:

The mill which had worked them down, was the mill that grinds young people old; the children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age and coming up afresh, was the sigh, Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere. Hunger was pushed out of the tall houses, in the wretched clothing that hung upon poles and lines; Hunger was patched into them with straw and rag and wood and paper; Hunger was repeated in every fragment of the small modicum of firewood that the man sawed off; Hunger stared down from the smokeless chimneys, and started up from the filthy street that had no offal, among its refuse, of anything to eat. Hunger was the inscription on the baker's shelves, written in every small loaf of his scanty stock of bad bread; at the sausage-shop, in every dead-dog preparation that was offered for sale. Hunger rattled its dry bones among the roasting chestnuts in the turned cylinder; Hunger was shred into atomics in every farthing porringer of husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.
Its abiding place was in all things fitted to it. A narrow winding street, full of offence and stench, with other narrow winding streets diverging, all peopled by rags and nightcaps, and all smelling of rags and nightcaps, and all visible things with a brooding look upon them that looked ill. In the hunted air of the people there was yet some wild-beast thought of the possibility of turning at bay. Depressed and slinking though they were, eyes of fire were not wanting among them; nor compressed lips, white with what they suppressed; nor foreheads knitted into the likeness of the gallows-rope they mused about enduring, or inflicting. The trade signs (and they were almost as many as the shops) were, all, grim illustrations of Want. The butcher and the porkman painted up, only the leanest scrags of meat; the baker, the coarsest of meagre loaves. The people rudely pictured as drinking in the wine-shops, croaked over their scanty measures of thin wine and beer, and were gloweringly confidential together. Nothing was represented in a flourishing condition, save tools and weapons; but, the cutler's knives and axes were sharp and bright, the smith's hammers were heavy, and the gunmaker's stock was murderous. The crippling stones of the pavement, with their many little reservoirs of mud and water, had no footways, but broke off abruptly at the doors. A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
It cannot be said too often that "These are the good old days."

[Note: Due to the mad search skills of commenter Phil we know that the House of Mercy is still with us.]


Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 21, 2014 3:35 PM | Comments (6)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Shit (Pretentious) Hipsters Say

HT The ever-popular Never Yet Melted

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 20, 2014 8:04 PM | Comments (3)  | QuickLink: Permalink
No cop is gayer than Sheriff Michael Gayer.


Officer Friendly, he daid,Huck.

Pulaski County, home to 13,124 people, has obtained several trucks, a snow camouflage parka, a “ballistic blanket” and night vision sniper scopes, the paper reported. “We are a rural law enforcement agency and not readily served by larger agencies … to handle our emergency needs,” Sheriff Gayer wrote in his application for the MRAP. “Therefore, we are building our department with surplus equipment to handle the needs of our citizens and their safety.” Indiana sheriff on MRAP purchase: 'America has become a war zone' - Washington Times

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 20, 2014 2:46 PM | Comments (12)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Go-Bag: "What does one wear to a truly stunning natural disaster?"


Yesterday's spate of look-backs on the Mt. St. Helens eruption recalled an essay from some years back on disasters and being prepared for them.

It all started in Laguna Beach when something went BUMP!

And then
something went BUMP!
How that bump made us jump!

We looked!
-- The Cat in the Hat

ABOUT QUARTER TO NINE this serene Sunday morning, as I was sitting down and wondering what to write about, the house bumped me. One BUMP with the sound of "Thump!" as if a giant's fist had given the floor a little love tap. And then... nothing. No rattle of plates and shuddering of books in the shelves. No rising hiss of gas lines pulled open. None of the sounds of panicked birds. Just one BUMP with a thump and then everything goes back to "Condition California Normal."

Everything except me.

When you've recently had a number of homes 400 yards from you just wake up one morning and decided to take a slide down their hill, you tend to become just a wee bit oversensitive to your environment. That solid BUMP had me out of my chair and moving toward the front door with dedication. Once second, I'm sitting. Next second, I'm standing in the middle of the intersection looking up and down the streets. I'm
paying special attention as to whether or not I can see any tall trees swaying on this windless morning. Nope. Nothing. But the birds agreed with me since they had, for once, shut up.

I also found myself standing in the intersection in my pajamas with bare feet. A neighbor dressed in a robe and boxer shorts came out on his third-floor balcony, wallet and keys in his hand.

"You feel that?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah. I see you did too."

"Maybe," I said, "we should get dressed."

A new Lexus came up the steep hill behind me heading for the road down from the summit. It stopped for a moment. An old couple was inside. He was driving. She looked resigned and was holding a irritated looking cat.

"You feel that?" he asked.

"Am I standing in the middle of the street in my Pajamas?"

"We're going downtown and then out to the valley for the day. Can't be too careful."

"Well, that's true enough. Just don't linger on the canyon road. You got rock slide zones on both sides."

"We're not going through the canyon. We're going up to Newport along the coast."

"Well, get through those parts that run along the cliffs quickly."

"You got that right. Anyway, I've got water, food, and shovels in the trunk. You can't be too careful. These days you can't be too careful."

His wife was beginning to roll her eyes and their cat continued to squirm.

"Or too prepared," I said with a slight edge of sarcasm in my voice.

"No, you can't," he said, and gunned the shiny tan Lexus up the hill and out of sight. They were pretty old and frail. I hoped that, if anything happened, they'd be able to get out of their car and to the shovels and water in the trunk.

I looked up at my neighbor on his balcony high above the street and thought about the ten or fifteen seconds it would take to fall on top of me if we had another more serious BUMP, which was due in Southern California.... oh, just about any day now.

My neighbor shrugged. "What you gonna do?" he said in the manner of those who, faced with their continuing powerlessness, have nothing at all to say.

"I don't know about you," I answered, "but I'm getting dressed."

"There's a thought."

I went back inside and got dressed thinking, "Now what does one wear to a truly stunning natural disaster?" This thought revealed to me that I had not a smidgen of an idea about what to wear or what to do at all. Not a single brain cell in my over-furnished brain had been tasked with determining how to survive the most likely disaster in my little world.

Like millions of others on this shaky slab of the planet, I just woke up every day, took a breath, had some coffee and ran my "I'm okay and I'm okay" tape in the background and got on with "havin' a good one." Like millions of others in this state which is, like all states, just a state of mind, I "had the experience but missed the meaning." Like millions of others, I had -- in my heart -- scoffed at the old man in the Lexus who had, probably for the hundredth time, pushed to wife and the cat into the car and driven to the valley with his various survival supplies rattling in the trunk. Unlike millions of others, I stood in my bedroom and, not for the first time, realized that I was an unreconstructed fool. Worse still, I was a fool that laughed at the wise. Worse yet, I had no plan for a disaster that was not an if, but a when; a bad day that only lacked a date certain.

I had no plan even though I'd seen, at first hand, the man-made disaster of 9/11 kill thousands in seconds and render a great city helpless and floundering for weeks and months after. But then I thought, as my neighbor said, "What you gonna do?"

Which was when I remembered Mandel's car.

Tom Mandel was the first good friend that I made during the stone age of online communications in the 1980s. He was my first 'cyberbuddy' in the days before we had such a wet word for it. I met him through the Well conferences (about which the less said the better these days), and he grew to be a real friend in the real world. We even co-authored a book together. He was a good, complex, secretive, and brilliant man. And he died young of a bad disease.

Tom had lived in Palo Alto and been alive during the Loma Prieta earthquake that hit the Bay Area on October 17, 1989. Nothing much happened to him or his home on that day, but people driving in the wrong section of Cypress structure on the Nimitz freeway were not so lucky. Large portions of this concrete overpass pancaked down and reduced a number of cars and 42 of their occupants to flattened slabs of metal. bone and flesh. Others, somewhat luckier, were trapped in their crushed cars until rescue.

After Tom died, his widow -- a woman he loved and married in his final weeks -- was going through various things and came to his car. He hadn't used it for some months. When she began to clean it out she noticed first that the front seats had been rigged so that they could flatten backwards. Then she noticed that the back seat had been rigged so it would pop out easily enabling you to crawl into the trunk. Opening the trunk she found blankets, a number of military issue MREs, containers of water, a folding shovel, a long crow bar, two hundred feet of rope with knots tied in it every two feet, and three small but powerful hydraulic jacks. It would seem that, although he was not a man given to planning the future, Tom was at least prepared for being trapped in a collapsed structure after an earthquake. He could have gotten out of that one. It was the cancer that he couldn't escape, but in the end there's always something for each of us that we can't escape.

Then there are those that we can. If we plan.

Experienced sailors, having seen the lethal caprice of the sea and survived it, have a habit of packing a "Go-Bag." People who advise about emergencies also advise you to have one. These bags are supposed to contain all sorts of items handy in a survival situation: radios, batteries, flashlights, first-aid kits, ropes, knives, and so on. All the items deemed necessary to get by and keep going if the world around you is, suddenly, transformed to one state or another of, well, rubble.

I can understand, finally, the wisdom of that and, after this morning's BUMP, I've finally gotten the message clearly enough to begin to assemble my own Go-Bag along with a few other items in the trunk of my car. I don't know if I'm going to go as far as the hydraulic jacks, but the folding shovel and the blanket seem to be a good bet.

In order to do my Go-Bag right, I've made a list of all the practical things I'll need to assemble or buy, with an eye towards practicality and portability. But as I look at it now, I can see there are some essential things that I'll need for survival that I've left out. If you've ever made such a survival list, I'll bet you've left out some of the same things. None of the sites or agencies that talk about Go-Bags include them either. I'm going back in to add them even if it means I have to throw some 'sensible' things out. The new additions include:

  • A collection of photographs of my daughter in a small album. It stops at age 11.
  • A card she once made for me for a long-ago father's day.
  • A long letter of advice from my father that he wrote to me when I was too young to know how valuable it was.
  • A photograph of myself and my two brothers in our Sunday School best posing with my mom and dad on some long ago summer afternoon.
  • A sheet of paper with a hand-written haiku made for me by my first love.
  • A slim King James Bible owned and bearing the initials of my paternal Grandfather, that old reprobate.
  • A page from a notebook containing idle doodles and a few self-portraits of my daughter that she did, off hand, while being bored at my apartment in New York five years back.
  • Tom Mandel's Marine dog-tags.

That's the list and I've now got them all in a small, sealed canvas bag next to my front door. I'll buy the "important" survival supplies this afternoon at the mall, but for right now I think I can say that the BUMP made me jump enough to survive. My real Go-Bag is full and I think, at last, that I'm finally good to go.

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 19, 2014 2:21 PM | Comments (18)  | QuickLink: Permalink
"O Magnum Mysterium:" The Persistence of Sacred Beauty

"We no longer have time for the good, the beautiful, or whether or not something is true. We have only time for conversation." -- John Cage

It is a commonplace that the overwhelming mass of our contemporary art that is "exhibited" has devolved into mere "exhibitionism." Vapid, disposable and preening the works are doomed to be buried in the gaping garbage pits of marketing-driven museums, and crapulous galleries that hold most contemporary American and European art. Still, great souls persist among us and great art, though it is often obscured by poseurs and perverts and pallid imitators of all stripes, can still emerge when talent and skill are wedded to inspiration and belief.

In an arresting and rare explication and meditation on the origins of great art in our time, composer Morten Lauridsen writes of his own work and the work of a long dead master in It's a Still Life That Runs Deep. The essay reveals a bit, but just a bit, about how inspiration can leap from one medium to another in art and, by such a leap, gain even more power.

Lauridsen's exegesis also reveals how all great art tends to exist outside of time and to defy the "moral, spiritual and aesthetic relativism" that reduces most of our "attempts" at art to rubble. He does so by reminding us that great art, like God, exists outside of time.

In E. M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel (Surely the only book it is necessary to read to understand the novel.) he presents an image that is as pertinent to all true artists as it is to novelists alone:

"We are to visualize the English novelists not as floating down that stream which bears all its sons away unless they are careful, but as seated together in a room, a circular room, a sort of British museum reading room, all writing their novels simultaneously,"
Lauridsen underscores this notion and expands it to painting and music.

In discussing the origin of his chorale composition, "O Magnum Mysterium," in the early 1990s, Lauridsen cites as his primary inspiration a painting done in 1633, more than three and a half centuries before The painting is Francisco de Zurbarán's "Still Life With Lemons, Oranges and a Rose."


How, we might ask, can a mute still-life from more than three and a half centuries ago spark a contemporary chorale that has been performed and recorded over and over since it's creation? Unlike today when most paintings contain only a sop of skill and a slapdash chunk of execution, paintings once spoke more clearly. And those today who still know the ancient language of painting and the old belief can still hear the music in the pigment. Lauridsen describes, or rather interprets, the painting thus:

Francisco de Zurbarán's "Still Life With Lemons, Oranges and a Rose" normally hangs on a back wall of one of the smaller rooms in the Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena. Like a large black magnet, it draws its viewers from the entry into its space and deep into its mystical world. Completed in 1633, it is the only canvas the early Baroque Spanish master ever signed and dated.
We are shown a table set against a dark background on which are set three collections of objects: in the center, a basket containing oranges and orange blossoms; to the left, a silver saucer with four lemons; and, to the right, another silver saucer holding both a single rose in bloom and a fine china cup filled with water. Each collection is illuminated and placed with great care on the polished surface of the table.

But it is much more than a still life. For Zurbarán (1598-1664) -- known primarily for his crisply executed and sharply, even starkly lit paintings of ascetics, angels, saints and the life of Christ -- the objects in this work are symbolic offerings to the Virgin Mary. Her love, purity and chastity are signified by the rose and the cup of water. The lemons are an Easter fruit that, along with the oranges with blossoms, indicate renewed life. The table is a symbolic altar. The objects on it are set off in sharp contrast to the dark, blurred backdrop and radiate with clarity and luminosity against the shadows.

The painting projects an aura of mystery, powerful in its unadorned simplicity, its mystical quality creating an atmosphere of deep contemplation. Its effect is immediate, transcendent and overpowering. Before it one tends to speak in hushed tones, if at all.
I've seen the painting by Zurbarán and I can attest to the fact of its strange power to arrest the pace and still the attention into contemplation. The underlying symbolism of the work was unknown to me until Lauridsen made it explicit, but I don't find it surprising. After many years of ignorant acceptance of one gruesome and ugly step downward in art after another that I witnessed when I wandered around in New York's overheated and overhyped art scene, I came to the reluctant conclusion that most contemporary art was garbage, that it had no soul, and that deep down... it was shallow.

When I thought about why that was a host of reasons presented themselves to me. Perhaps it was that the ability to draw was no longer taught and expected to be a basic skill of those who would call themselves our "artists." Perhaps it was that the proliferation of art schools and "art majors" gave the baby boomers and their offspring a way through college that required as much intellect as a point guard, but not nearly as much talent and dedication. Perhaps it was that the rise of the ridiculous rich with their 15,000 foot McMansions meant a lot of wall space that had to be covered with something fashionable but not demanding. This just at the time Warhol and Mapplethorpe popped off and could no longer supply those whose bad taste was in their mouth and down their throat. Hence a legion of pretenders and jackanapes arose to fill the arrivistes' demand for garbage to decorate their squalid lives. This is not a hunger that should be fed for, as all Park Rangers know, "Once a bear is hooked on garbage, there's no cure."

In the end, it was, of course all of these and none. It was as simple as Gertrude Stein's "There's no there there." For at the core of all the objects that form the mountain of crap that is palmed off as "art," there is simply and plainly, nothing at all. Nothing felt, nothing sensed, nothing learned, and nothing believed in. As such it is without soul. And nothing that lacks soul can survive death, especially the death of a culture and our present state which is best described, a la D. H. Lawrence, as "post mortum effects."

Which is why it is so reviving to come across Lauridsen's citing of the magic and mystery of a painting that inspires music from his soul across more than three and a half centuries. It reminds us that art that is true, that art that comes from belief and the soul, will survive and will continue to expand the soul of man despite all the forces that may array themselves against "the good, the beautiful and whether or not something is true."

Does Lauridsen's "O Magnum Mysterium" fulfill this promise? Does it demonstrate that, in the midst of the ruins, great art can still arise in our time; that all it takes is belief? I believe that it does and that belief nourishes my soul. You decide for yourself.

I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. -- William Faulkner - The Nobel Prize Banquet Speech, December 10, 1950

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 19, 2014 1:30 AM | Comments (35)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Kids Today


They say it is a mental flaw to let things go "in one ear and out the other," but at my age it is merely a question of deciding what to admit onto the hard drive of my brain. Mine is a large but, alas, limited hard drive, and at this point it is pretty much full. To save something new to it means I often have to delete something else from it. Often what I am deleting is not known to me until later when I search for it. At my age I don't view this "in one ear thing" as a flaw but rather a necessity. I don't forget a thing so much as I let it just "slip my mind."

A common variation of this slippage is our deplorable habit of letting something slip "in one ear and out of the mouth" without first striking either a reflective surface or passing through a BS filter -- preferably both. Once you realize that "In-Ear-Out-Mouth" (IEOM) is an affliction of epidemic proportions in contemporary America you can spot it maiming and killing brain cells everywhere.

The latest notable example of IEOM showed up a few nights ago at a meeting of troubled Americans that I, being troubled by Americans, often attend. A woman of middle years was -- yet again -- bemoaning the fact that she is just, well, nuts. Being nuts is, according to her, part of "Being all I can be!" Even though being crazy makes her unhappy, she seems as determined to hold onto her nuttiness as she is to "let go" of her girlish figure "and let God" bring on the burritos.

It is not that she is nuts that is the problem. The problem is that she has a burning need to "share" her insights. These reflections on her part often give way, as such reflections do, to the nostalgic and idealistic:

"Things were better when...,"
"If only I had what I had when....,"
"Don't you all think I should have now what I had then.....?"

She thirsts for the past. It is her central theme. But last night she introduced a variation on her theme of yearning for the past. She yearned for the deep past -- when she was a child, or, even better, an infant.

In the course of announcing this insight to the stupefied listeners counting the seconds until her 3 minutes were up, she emitted a pure bit of IEOM. She said,

"I was feeling extra crazy so I took a walk down to the town beach where all the new babies were out and all the children were playing. And I saw, so very, very clearly, how lucky the babies and children were to be so simple, and so deeply, deeply sane."

"How lucky the babies and children were to be so simple, and so deeply, deeply sane" is a safe statement to make in a Troubled Americans meeting. It was an IEOM statement that was so incontestable -- lest you be labeled a churl -- that all the other females in the room (Those either presently incarcerated in mom-jail, recently paroled from mom-jail, or hoping to be soon condemned to mom-jail.) began to bob their heads in agreement like a gaggle of drinking birds over the glass.

I, of course, am a churl.

Hence my only thought on hearing this statement was

"In-Ear-Out-Mouth... and you really are crazy if you think that babies and children are sane for one second of the live long day. Infants and children are many things, sweetheart, but sane is not one of them."

Not sure? Let's review.

First and foremost, the unsanitary insanity of infants is strikingly obvious. Any adult human being who has to be spoon-fed, drools uncontrollably, and has forgotten the rudiments of bowel and bladder control had better have loving relatives, a sizable trust fund, a pit-bull lawyer, and medicare lest he or she be put down like an old dog in this society.

It would seem that we put up with this shitty behavior from infants for more than two years simply on the grounds of "they cute." Well, so are kittens and puppies, and the time and expense spent on their basic training is considerably less. Besides, if the kitten or puppy doesn't work out you can just drop it off by the side of the road without much trouble. Try that with an infant and you are quickly brought to heel. It would seem that we are determined to protect levels of unsanitary insanity in some of our citizens more than others. I ask you, how fair and equal is that?

After sanitation, there's post-infancy sound pollution. Children, having had some time to practice at life, acquire small motor skills and a sailor's vocabulary without losing the ability to screech like a disemboweled wombat at any instant and for no reason at all. As a result they present a more interesting buffet of brain disorders.

Napoleonic complexes and the belief that their backsides produce nothing but moonbeams are common mental disorders. Children also have a distinct inability to understand any time lapse at all between desire and gratification. Add to these items the realization that we have, as a society, decided that no actions of children -- no matter how awful -- are to have any consequences other than a disappointed look and a "Time Out," and you have the recipe for all these inmates to rule their asylum homes. Which they do. With predictable results.

In a simpler time, children's misdeeds and psychotic outbursts (A frothing temper tantrum involving heel pounding and floor revolving on being denied a pack of gum was observed recently at a local supermarket.) were controlled simply by referencing the "father" who would "get home soon." No longer. There is often no father that will be home at any time in the next decade. Even when a father is home he is often inhibited in his impulse to renovate the insane child by the knowledge that the child knows how to dial 911. And that the police will respond. With handcuffs and guns.

In making sure that the state guardians of children always respond to 911 calls with weapons, we have given the whip-hand to the nuts in our homes. It is as if an asylum provided an armed bodyguard to every sociopath admitted, and gave that bodyguard permission to shoot the doctors if they even looked cross-eyed at the afflicted. Today the afflicted can look cross-eyed, stick out their tongues, and flip off the doctors as long as they have 911 on the speed dial of the cellular phones the doctors bought for them.

Whenever I observe young children shrieking, swearing, defecating and twitching in public while exhibiting other certifiable insanities I often long for a technological solution and training aid. But since I have been informed that cattle prods and radio-controlled dog shock collars have not been approved for humans under 180 pounds I despair.

I know that in our frantic efforts to get the control over our insane children back from the experts and government agencies to whom we've ceded it, we have often resorted to drugs, but surely some simple behavioral modification techniques can be employed to return them to sanity. Perhaps the "talking cure."

Perhaps our use of the word archaic "No" as a functional part of the conversation with our children would help. Upon reflection, however, that seems doomed to failure as long as the word "No" functions only to instill in our children the rudiments of a gambling addiction.

Think about your own children or children you have observed in the full grip of a "I-want-you-buy-me-crappy-thing-or-I-die-now" dementia. Do you ever see "No" used as a final answer? If you have then you have also seen winged monkeys thrashing about in the parent's pants. Adults who tell demented children "No" are seen by those children as mere slot-machines:

"Can I have?" "No."
"Can I have?" "No."
"Can I have?" "No."
"Can I have?" "No."
"Can I have?" "No."
"Can I have?" "No."
"Can I have?" "No."
"Can I have?" "Oh, all right."

This is made even more of a certainty since children, being functionally insane, cannot have or hold jobs and hence have no cash whatsoever. This makes them persistent and tireless negotiators.

Another example of how demented children are can be seen in their fashion sense. Yes, from the time they learn to fasten their shoes' little Velcro flaps (Another indulgence we've made so they don't ever have to suffer learning how to tie a bowknot lest a life moment dent their "self-esteem."), children left to dress themselves will emerge from their cells in outfits that would cold-cock a circus clown.

So unremittingly awful is a child's concept of couture that mothers will go to extraordinary lengths to dissuade them from appearing outside the bedroom closet in certain combinations. Indeed, the dictum of "You are not going ANYWHERE dressed like that!" seems to be the only requirement still enforced by parents. Yet, every so often, one does slip past comatose parents to a school where the psychotic fashion plate promptly becomes the envy of his fellow inmates: "Whoa, stained underwear over the plaid pants and a penis gourd? Cool!" This is how trends are born.

Of course, by the teenage years, this ability to dress in a myriad of ways suggesting the increasing degeneration of the cerebral lobes has paired itself with the ability to attack parents in their sleep with edged weapons. Once this happens all restraint is lost. This accounts for many children -- during the peak teen-aged years of unbridled psychopathic and sociopathic insanity -- emerging from their million dollar homes and their personal SUVs with the look of a feces-smeared Balkan refugee with multiple facial piercings and a 'message' t-shirt promising to fight for the right to party like demented schnauzers.

Any responsible adult appearing in any of our cities and towns with this "look" would immediately be reported to Homeland Security, surrounded by Navy SEALS locked and loaded, and find themselves on a one-way flight to Guantanamo. But for our children, it's "Hey, they're only kids. What can you do?"

Absent accepting long prison terms should the bodies be found, I guess the only thing we can do is increase our medications faster than we increase those of our children. It's the American Way.

In the meantime, as real adults who have survived our childhood and adolescence and been returned, somehow, to sanity, we might want to think about letting loose talk about the "sanity and innocence" of our children stop passing "In-Ear-Out-Mouth."

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 18, 2014 9:31 PM | Comments (8)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Enduring Legacy of Osama bin Laden


Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 17, 2014 5:43 PM | Comments (3)  | QuickLink: Permalink
No More Bums in America: Noted in Passing on the Streets

No longer a problem in the way-new America.

We are a "Can-Do! Yes, we can." society. One of the really amazing upticks in American society, as I noticed in a brief walk around various neighborhoods in sodden Seattle, is that we have almost completely cleaned up the streets of our cities.

How well I remember those tours through the various skid roads** of the cities I have lived in -- Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and San Francisco --in days of yore. Gone now. All gone. And their wretched refuse along with them.

Take a walk yourself and you will see that it is true.

Nowhere in today's brighter and more-caring American cities will you see those terrible social wrecks on the streets. Yes, no longer will you find "Bums," "Junkies," "Drunks," "Bull-Goose Raving Lunatics," or "The Hard Core Unemployed" on our sidewalks. They are all gone, a fading memory.

Indeed all that are left, strangely rising up from the background noise of the streets, are the blameless and harmless "Homeless."

They are the last social class to be saved by our loving and caring society and their continuing expansion in our cities is a mystery which yearns for a caring social solution.

My own is simple and solves two lingering social problems at once: "Feed the homeless to the hungry."

Problem solved and it is a two-fer. Paging Dr. Swift!

**The first skid row was Skid Road (Yesler Way) in Seattle, where logs were skidded into the water on a corduroy road for delivery to Henry Yesler's lumber mills.

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 17, 2014 1:42 PM | Comments (15)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Big Pinata

Take my country, please.

We talk about sealing the border. We talk about not letting the Mexican flag prevail over the American flag. It's all nonsense. The real symbol of Mexican illegal immigration goes unremarked. It's right there in the foreground. It's the Pinata.

The pinata is a bright candy-and-toy-filled container (generally suspended on a rope from a tree branch or ceiling) that is used during celebrations. A succession of blindfolded, stick-wielding children try to break the pinata in order to collect the candy inside of it. -- Wikipedia

I submit that America as The Big Pinata is what all this is about. It's all it ever has been about. This Mexican flag over the American flag hung upside down (Distress!) simply takes our eye off the ball, or rather, the pinata. And since pinatas are normally approached blindfolded, that's not surprising.

The kids above know, even if it is unconsciously, that the pinata is what is at stake here. What illegals from Mexico and every other country want most is unlimited chances to step over the line and take another swing at The Big Pinata. To date our border reality, if not our policy, enables that.

Those Americans who would like to think that there really is a border want the number of chances to take a swing cut back to somewhere below absolute zero. Those Americans who are consumed with the notion that self-esteem is more important than security favor unlimited swings along with policies that feed, clothe, medicate, and otherwise care for those 'wretched masses yearning to get the Big Pinata jackpot.'

Congress seems to be going for a policy which is: "Okay, kids, you get unlimited swings but, damnit, you gotta get in line, sign the guest book, and take your turn. After all, we can't have a horde of party animals just whaling away at the Big Pinata from all directions. Somebody could get hurt. And while you're waiting, could most of you please walk the dog, water the grass, take out the garbage, mind the deep fryer, give our spouses a little satisfaction in the afternoon, and do all those other dirty, little jobs that 'Americans just won't do.' You know, like coal mining."

In the meantime, it's clear that the Pinata Party is going to continue. After all, what can really shut it down? The fun's too cool. The prizes are too rich. And they're not even carding most people.

I know, I know -- a Wall; favored solution of Israel and East Germany. It'll probably happen in some form or another, but -- in the present political climate -- it's not going to happen anytime soon, mano, so be cool.

In America, just the argument about the wall is good for another five years. Then there'd have to be "legislation" for appropriation since no state is going to pay for it. That's at least two sessions of Congress right there. Then we'll have the period in which the various federal agencies will draw up the specs. Then the bidding period. Then the review of the bidding period. Then the review of the bids. Then the discovery that the winner of the bidding process is a company owned by Halliburton. Whoops, back to square one. Then the awarding of the contract. Then the beginning of the construction of a barrier that's what, a thousand miles long? Get back Great Wall of China, here's something else that can be seen from space with the naked eye.

Timeline? Ten years minimum. Fifteen in realistic terms. Twenty in Washington Time.

And guess what? The Big Pinata will still be there and the party will still be going strong, and the people will still keep a coming.

I mean, wouldn't you? If you are a person with an IQ level a few points above that of broccoli, and you want to make some money and have a good life, and you suddenly discover that, oops, you've been born in a Third World oligarchy like Mexico, without the benefit of being born into the Mexican oligarchy, you're walking north, compadre. North is where they're having the pinata party. And you don't care that the party's been walled up inside an exclusive club with a bunch of big armed bouncers manning the velvet rope and checking ID, you're going to get in somehow.

If anyone thinks a wall is magic bullet that puts our immigration problem out of its misery, they are sadly mistaken. As inventive as the means of getting in now sometimes seem (hiding people "inside" car seats, leasing children in order to become an instant familia), they will seem like amateur hour once a wall (physical, electronic, cyber) goes up. Once that's done, we're in for decades of Wile E. Coyote antics south of El Paso. Human catapults. Rent-A-Rocket Packs, Pocket Submarines, the Full Rube Goldberg.

Why? Because we've done everything possible to stop the flood except the one thing that would stop the flood: call off the party and slap the organizers of the Big Pinata Raves into jail, pronto, so they can't organize any more. And, while we're at it, we need to make sure any pinata around is empty. Yes, even if you make it and hit it, you get bubkis. Nothing falls out. After all, when a slot machine doesn't have a jackpot, nobody plays it.

Will we do it? Will we really throw the people who hand out the jobs in jail? Will we stop giving free food, shelter, medical care, education, and citizenship to babies born on American soil no matter the status of their parents? "In the present political climate," no way, Jose.

The stark reality is that for this country to get serious about immigration and controlling our borders, something else other than just a flood of illegals coming in on a daily basis has to happen. Something terrible. Something that doesn't just cost mere money and jobs, but costs lives. A lot of lives. That's the one way, the only way, that anything will be done. And what will be done then will be, well, the most terrible solution to the border problem any can imagine, and nobody wants.

Communist East Germany. Searchlights and the Stasi . With the guns pointed out and Predators high overhead.

And that, my friend, is. not. going. to. happen.

[First Published: 2010-08-25]

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 17, 2014 3:41 AM | Comments (22)  | QuickLink: Permalink
How We Live Now


Now the wintertime is coming,
The windows are filled with frost.
I went to tell everybody,
But I could not get across.

-- Bob Dylan | It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry

Chico, CA: Early September, 2007

This September, as in most Septembers, the days have been hot and parched here in the upper reaches of California's Imperial Valley.

This year, as in most years, wildfires have been stalking the region sealing the old folks, the ecosensitives, and the ever-proliferating hyper-allergenic inside behind their oxygen canisters, filters, and mounds of medications. The local TV weathermen make much of little, delivering the particulate count as if every second carbon atom spelled doom for untold numbers of weakened and afflicted Americans. It's all part of the shameful litany of vulnerability chanted so often that many previously tough Americans come to believe they are as insubstantial as moonlight at noon. It's how they live now.

The valved hum of the Highway 99 rolls relentlessly beyond the buttresses of the razor-wire fence and medical offices. The artery flows north and south through Chico, elevated until it drops down into the tabletop mesas towards Oroville on one end and the rolling walnut orchards towards Red Bluff. From both directions the road pumps into town, after the morning rush, the hardcore unemployed, the morbidly obese, and those obsessed with vapid shopping sprees in sleek aisles bracketed by cheap Chinese chintz. It brings them in to the all-you-can-stuff-in Country Town Buffets and the big box stores of Costco and Wal-Mart. Hard to figure that with so many working we can still have so many with nothing very special to do with their lives, but that is why we have daytime shopping networks and enough free parking at the mall to handle everyone who might, just might, show up on December 23rd. This is how we live now.

It's a Tuesday, six years thirteen years on from that much more memorable September Tuesday in New York City. To an extent, the qualities of today here in California mimic that day. Clear and calm and not all that hot. The light breeze moves the surface of the apartment complex's pool just enough to put a ripple on the clear water of the cool chemical soup. Every so often a car playing old rock anthems cruises into the parking lot with some half-heard lyric…. "Won't get fooled again?"…. too faint and quick to know for sure. The tennis courts bake in the afternoon sun but it is unlikely that they'll be used. They not much more than a selling point for a property purchase. It's how we live now.

Through the ground floor windows of the apartments here at night I note the proliferation of the large plasma screens washing the rooms they dominate in an endless retinal massage of football players, fools, and TV personalities such as an Oprah interviewing other TV personalities such as a Letterman in an endless round of media auto-fellatio. Mesmerizing meaninglessness. Just what the doctor ordered. Tomorrow, the expected sun and the expected heat and the expected high level of particulate boogey-men will be back to fade the parched concrete by the pool a still lighter shade of grey. Tennis courts and swimming pools can't hope to compete with pure plasma, xBox ecstasy, "social software," porn-on-demand and Grand Theft Auto. It's how we live now, a reality faded media gray.

Six years back the New York winter had faded the snapshot faces of "the missing" by February. Faded even those images their loved ones had sealed in plastic. Earlier than that (Was it before Christmas?) the spontaneous shrines of candles, keepsakes, images and children's sad art signed by whole "second, third, fourth grade class" that appeared in Penn Station and elsewhere across Manhattan had vanished over one weekend. Somewhere in the system officials had decided that enough was, at last, enough and had the tokens taken to wherever such tokens are taken. Perhaps the landfill in New Jersey where so much of the Ground Zero refuse, once hauled out of the pit, was taken to be sifted by ever-finer screens for something that resembled human remains. Perhaps that is where all those millions of pieces of fourth period art went. Or even more efficiently "disappeared." Difficult to know. Nobody was tracking the details. There were too many of them. That was how we lived then.

How we live now is in a space where the blood-oath "Never forget!" has been efficiently "disappeared" as well. Instead, the oath has become -- at most -- the question, "Have you forgotten?" popularized a year or so back by a maudlin Country and Western tune of large popularity but little distinction. Once a blood-oath becomes a question the answer is always -- for most -- "Yes."

For those who have not forgotten and who still hold to the oath of "Never forget," such an answer affirms only the shallowness and self-deceit of the growing mass of fellow citizens weary of war at six removes; of those eager to "move on."

And while this is neither unexpected nor incomprehensible, it is disheartening to see the shameless use of this urge daily -- most explicitly in the work of the media-traitors that compose the group of the same name; a group that seems always fully funded and well beyond any consequence as yet for their treason. A group for which "Pride in Treason" seems to be a checked "Yes" on the membership application. This too is how we live now.

Well, what of it? Let those diseased with decadence, dead of heart, steeped in cowardice, roiled by hate of that which nurtures them, and possessed of souls riddled with the chancres of the spirit brand themselves. The better to know them in a future time. Such beings always proliferate in the dark passages of history; and always play on the mindlessness of the masses. It is their insect nature. You can see it in the species from the maggot men of Palestine on up the mold chain to the preening Congressman prattling about "patriotism" while selling his country out for tin or a tickle. There will be more. Mark them well. It is how we live now.

How else should we live now that for most the first fear has faded and no more bad days have come their way? You can't promote a war of survival when your politics have only promoted a time of "perfect public safety here at home." The argument that "there have been no attacks" is not just a desperate demonstration of efficacy, but a perverse demonstration to the senses that there is indeed no real war upon us at all.

A war is not demonstrated by an absence of attacks on the homeland. Absence merely demonstrates the convergence, on a day to day basis, of somewhat effective methods of interdicting attacks, no little luck, and the forbearance of the enemy to engage directly what can be won more easily by disengagement. Enemies do not strike to enrage the foe, but to kill them in large numbers and break their will to resist. Absent the capability to do that, a wise enemy who thinks in Biblical spans of time will make few large moves and many minor ones. The London Blitz was such that no British citizen was in doubt that a great number of Germans were working night and day to kill him. A war of attrition against American soldiers in a distant land, with a casualty rate so insignificant that each killed or wounded soldier can be lionized, is hardly a war that presses home its lethality to the vast mass of work-crazed or leisure-soaked Americans.

The absence of enemy action at home is seen, over years, as the absence of an enemy, as an absence of intent, as no war at all.

One can easily fall under the spell of this month's cover story in the Readers Digest, "The Miracle of Sleep." One can be lulled into the illusion of peace on earth just sitting here by the swimming pool while the old man beyond the fence walks his dachshund from the comfort of his motorized wheel-chair, and his grandson in cut-offs and a t-shirt pedals lazy circles around him on one of those retro red Schwinns that is suddenly – like so many other ironic and harmless artifacts of the 1950s – back in style again. Back to the fifties with the aging children of the sixties – O paragons of cowardice -- in control of the Congress. It's how we live now.

War? Ask not what is it good for, but where is it? Ask also how long you think this luck will last?

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 15, 2014 11:20 PM | Comments (16)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Do Democrats care about dead black men?


"In politics, unintended consequences are rare. By going after the weapons white suburbanites and rural people enjoy, Democrats obfuscate the real issue: Black young men killing black young men for profit in cities controlled by Democrats." -- Don Surber:

After 30 Years Of Lies, NY Times Admits "Assault Weapons Are A Myth" | Bearing Arms: The NY Times finally admitted that "assault weapons" are a made-up political term fabricated by anti-gun Democrats. Op-ed writer Lois Beckett also admitted that once the term was manufactured and used to outlaw a class of weapons that dishonest anti-gun Democrats had used to con an entire nation, nothing happened.

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 15, 2014 3:48 PM | Comments (7)  | QuickLink: Permalink


In a hidden valley in the foothills of Utah's La Sal mountains, my old friend and I sat on his stone porch in the fading light and watched the sun disappear behind the soaring red rock of the Moab Wall ten miles to the west. As always from this perch along the fault line between basin and range, the view revealed four different American landscapes: desert, farmland, rolling ranch land and high mountains.

In the pasture to our right, the wranglers were bedding down the ranch's horses for the night. Up along the pine dotted cliffs on our left the last hunting hawks were circling. In front of us the impossible burnt orange of a Moab sunset swarmed up the side of the western sky.

As we sat there, cigars burning low and the Metaxa in the stoneware cups sipped slowly, our conversation ebbed into the long silences that wrap around you when the world puts on its very best end-of-day displays.

Then from very far away over the mountains behind us a faint, rising whoosh arced high overhead. Leaning our heads back we marked the contrail of an airliner slicing across the sky.

Through that still air the line of flight was marked from somewhere far to the east (Chicago? New York City? Further still?), and slanted down the slope of the sky towards somewhere far to the southwest (Phoenix? Los Angeles? Far beyond?). In the following moments while the night rose over the mountain behind us, more contrails appeared from the east arcing down behind the tinted thunderheads that moved towards us from the desert. Just before full dark we'd marked over a dozen, and they lingered, gradually expanded and then dissolved across all that empty sky.

"One of the things I remember about Seattle in the days following the Eleventh." my friend offered as the day faded out, "was the emptiness of the skies. No planes. For the first time I can remember, days with no planes."

"In New York," I replied, "we had planes. Fighters cut across the sky at all altitudes. You'd hear their sharp sounds slice through the air above you at all hours. You were glad to hear them. You slept better when you slept at all."

"Still, it was sort of peaceful in Seattle during those days," he replied. "Peaceful in an unnerving way. No noise from the air. No contrails."

He paused as the last light in the valley faded and the contrails high above still marked the sky like broad smudges on a blackboard.

"Well, they're back now," he said as the stars came on.

"Yes," I agreed. "They're back. For now."

Posted by Gerard Van der Leun Sep 15, 2014 2:58 AM | Comments (19)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Good Morning: "Long live freedom and damn the ideologies"

The Stars Go Over The Lonely Ocean
by Robinson Jeffers

Unhappy about some far off things
That are not my affair, wandering
Along the coast and up the lean ridges,
I saw in the evening
The stars go over the lonely ocean,
And a black-maned wild boar
Plowing with his snout on Mal Paso Mountain.

The old monster snuffled, "Here are sweet roots,
Fat grubs, slick beetles and sprouted acorns.
The best nation in Europe has fallen,
And that is Finland,
But the stars go over the lonely ocean,"

The old black-bristled boar,
Tearing the sod on Mal Paso Mountain.

"The world's in a bad way, my man,
And bound to be worse before it mends;
Better lie up in the mountain here
Four or five centuries,
While the stars go over the lonely ocean,"

Said the old father of wild pigs,
Plowing the fallow on Mal Paso Mountain.

"Keep clear of the dupes that talk democracy
And the dogs that talk revolution,
Drunk with talk, liars and believers.
I believe in my tusks.
Long live freedom and damn the ideologies,"

Said the gamey black-maned boar
Tusking the turf on Mal Paso Mountain.


Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 15, 2014 2:49 AM | Comments (1)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Tailgating: The "First" Lady of the Land in All Her Hulking Glory!


What a vile couple in all respects. This one has the class of a crocodile. When not exhibiting the worse fashion sense in the history of the White House, this denizen keeps busy telling Americans what to feed their children. Look what Michelle Obama wore this week | Entertain This!

And so it was that Barack Obama observed the anniversary of 9/11 by visiting something called Ka-BOOM!,

a non-profit that helps build playgrounds for children. Neither the President nor the First Lady nor anyone else in the 40-car motorcade appears to have thought it odd that, on the day the Twin Towers went Ka-BOOM!, America's Commander-in-Chief should be helping put children's toys in backpacks marked Ka-BOOM! From Kabul to Madrid, Bali to London, a lot of backpacks have gone Ka-BOOM! over the past 13 years, but evidently the thought did not discombobulate those who manage what the President calls his "optics". And so a day in which Islamic imperialists killed thousands of Americans by flying planes into skyscrapers has somehow devolved into a day for raising awareness of the need for better play facilities for children. Coalition of the Unwilling :: SteynOnline

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 14, 2014 8:43 PM | Comments (14)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Winning Strategy in the Air War Against Isis


Why send one-hundred-thousand bombs when you can send just one? POSidents and PUNdits say this war will take years. Nonsense, it's the work of an afternoon. If that.

It'll be sent sooner or later so why not now? Unless, of course, you don't really want to win. In which case, they'll send one to us just as soon as they put Pakistan in the bag.

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 14, 2014 7:30 AM | Comments (14)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Magic of Childhood


I'm not at all sure which pagan religion my 10-year-old stepson belongs to. Perhaps it is the arcane cult of "Nintendoism" with its secret rites of "The High Priests of the Thumb". Perhaps he is an acolyte of "Transformerology," which evidently commands him to amass enough Legos to build a Romanesque Chapel in his room that is large enough for himself and two friends.

I am disturbed this unknown cult requires him to keep a graven image in his room that resembles a large square sponge with legs and a Satanic expression. From time to time, he is known to take trays of burnt offerings, in the form of charred circles of dough covered in melted cheese and a sauce as red as blood, into his room. The offering trays are later recovered, but there is no trace of the sacrifice, only vague stains of red on the sponge and rug beneath it.

I am not sure how or when he came by this religion. Perhaps he was converted during one of those dead of night gatherings known among his coven as "sleep-overs." Sure, they sound innocent enough, but I am positive that these are covens at which much arcane and secret knowledge is transferred.

No matter what the source or nature of his unknowable religion, one thing is clear about the dangers of it. He has become convinced that there is such a thing as magic. My fear is that he may be right.

I suspect this because I have witnessed this dark magic at work in my own home.

One often seen magical incident is what I have come to know as "The Ritual of the Spirit Shoes." In this ritual, he discards his shoes at any place in the house in the sincere belief that they will reappear lined up in pairs in his closet. This, you will be astonished to learn, is exactly what happens. They actually do appear in the closet within the next 24 hours. At times they even reappear, as if they sense they will be his choice of footwear for the day, next to the front door ready for his feet in a kind of reverse Cinderella moment.

I have come to understand that "The Ritual of the Spirit Shoes" is only one of the strange effects that comes about through the intervention of "The Magic Floor." This "force" seems to be able to cause any and all items of his clothing discarded at any point in the house to vanish only to reappear, clean and folded, in his drawers and closets.

I have tried to reproduce this effect for myself by discarding items of clothing here and there about the house, but the only magical effect this seems to have is to cause "the look" to appear on the face of my wife. After which, I collect my spurned offerings from "The Magic Floor."

By far the most stunning proof that my stepson's religion is dark magic with large mojo is what I have come to understand as "The Miracle of Toys and Games."

As a 10-year-old boy, my stepson has no job, no prospects of a job, and is currently doomed to be a member of the hard-core unemployed for an unknown number of years. Because of this, he does not enjoy positive cash-flow. In fact, if he has any cash-flow at all, it is decidedly negative.

Still, he seems to have an ever expanding level of possessions. No sooner does he obtain, through prayer, an X-Box than he calls out to his strange gods for a Playstation II and, poof!, it appears. It comes complete with several strange circles of shiny metal that he places in the slot on the Playstation altar for an extended periods of worship.

Objects of this level of expense must, it would seem, be chanted for intensely, and the chants repeated frequently, over a period of time. The more mundane items such as school supplies seem to be the fruits of silent prayer. Still, the miracle manifests itself on a daily basis when, without any tapping of his own horde of cash kept in a large brown cigar box, his possessions multiply around him.

All this happens behind his back and without any intervention from him while in a trance state. At this level of contemplation and meditation he receives visions from strange beings that appear to him hour upon hour. Observing him in this state I can only conclude he is channeling his arcane gods through some mystical conduit that he calls "The Cartoon Network."

I am not sure what messages he is receiving since those few visions I have been allowed to witness involves bizarre figures of a slightly oriental cast flying about on alien worlds. Other than flying and exploding, they are unmoving except for a vibrating crimson squiggle where their lips would be. I am not sure what gospel they are preaching. I am sure, however, that I there is a monthly tithe for this somewhere in my cable bill.

No matter. Although it is a bit unnerving to witness the magical power of my stepson's unknown religion, I am at least comforted to know that he, unlike so many of our materialistic children, has a rich and full spiritual life. That's so important in these days when the secular seems to be dominating so much of our culture. Since many of his friends seem to share the same religion, I am also gratified that he has chosen peers whose family's values also accentuate the spiritual.

Yesterday I thought that I would help my stepson take one of his first steps towards adulthood by getting him his own wallet. In this way I believed I could begin to show him how to be responsible for his own finances. On reflection I thought better of it. His religion is so powerful that he would simply take it into his room, mutter some words over it, expose it to the mystic rays beamed in via "The Cartoon Channel," and it would be transformed into "The Boys' Wallet of Wonder -- Money checks in, but it doesn't check out." He would always leave home without it.

[Note: First published ten years ago this month.]

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 14, 2014 2:52 AM | Comments (7)  | QuickLink: Permalink
200 Years. Still Waving. "At 6:00 a.m. on September 13, 1814" The Flag at Fort McHenry


The Flag at Fort McHenry

This is the first known photograph of the American flag taken on June 21, 1873 by George Henry Preble. The flag was flown over Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland during an infamous battle between the British and the United States during the War of 1812.
At 6:00 a.m. on September 13, 1814, British warships began to attack Fort McHenry with guns and rockets in an attempt to take over the strategic Baltimore Harbor. For 25 hours American soldiers stood their positions, unable to do much but watch the British shoot at them. Their own cannons did not have the range to touch the British ships. The British, on the other hand, had longer-reaching guns and could hit the fort. However, they were wildly inaccurate. So the British sat in the harbor attempting to damage the fort while the Americans sat in the fort hoping their enemies’ guns would continue to be erratic. The British finally ceased their attack the next morning after using most of their ammunition. When the smoke cleared, only one British soldier was wounded while the Americans lost four and had twenty-four wounded.
The reason the attack on Fort McHenry is forever ingrained in the history books is because of one witness, a Washington lawyer, who wrote a poem about the attack. The poem, originally called “The Defense of Fort McHenry” but was later renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner” and became the United States’ national anthem. It was penned by Francis Scott Key who came to the fort to negotiate the release of a friend that was taken prisoner by the British. He witnessed the bombardment from a ship about eight miles away. Inspired by the sight of a lone, large American flag still waving strongly at the end of the battle, Key reflected what he saw in the famous poem: “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof though the night that our flag was still there.”
The oversized American flag he saw (shown in the above photo) was sewn by Mary Pickersgill. In anticipation of the British attack, she was given $405.90 to create the 30 by 42 feet flag. Pickersgill, a thirty-seven-year-old widow, had made ships’ colors and signal flags before and often filled orders for military and merchant ships. In making this particular flag, she was assisted by her thirteen-year-old daughter Caroline, her nieces Eliza Young (also thirteen) and Margaret Young (fifteen-years-old) along with Grace Wisher, a thirteen-year-old indentured servant. It took them seven weeks to make this flag along with a smaller flag.

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 13, 2014 3:08 PM | Comments (3)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Moderate Islam: A MYTH!

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 13, 2014 8:46 AM | Comments (1)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Spotted yesterday in Berkeley


Via No Blood for Obama's Oil? キ zomblog

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 12, 2014 11:30 AM | Comments (11)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Arrival

The Annunciation, 2010

"How can I know what I think until I see what I say?"

I've been enjoying a correspondence with a young poet of late. There's nothing like writing to someone else who shares your interest in an arcane subject to draw out your own thoughts or reflections on that area. He recently finished a long work in which a number of formal issues regarding sestinas and sonnets arose. He asked for help on these problems and I agreed to help. Not because I know more, but because I've seen more.

For those who don't pay a lot of attention to the technical aspects of poetics, I can only assure you that if you commit yourself to a long poem with a number of its elements cast in classical forms (instead of just spewing your immediate issues across the page and breaking the lines at an arbitrary point), the job of "getting it right" increases exponentially. The only poets who do not know how hard this is are those that have never attempted it. And they are legion in this blighted age of writers' workshops and writing an inchoate slab of feelings down the bones.

The poet in question had finally come to the first end point of the work, submitted it to a publication, and was burned out. This is not uncommon. This morning he wrote, "May it be months before I ever write another d**m poem."

If only it were that easy. When you permit yourself to seriously attend to this faded art, you'll find over time that you are only finished with poetry when poetry is finished with you. That does happen. Sometimes for months or even years. This I know.

Then, after an unknowable amount of time, it returns -- usually at an inconvenient time and an incovenient place where it is not expected, not expected at all -- " a corner, some untidy spot." I've taken to thinking of these moments as "The Arrival" -- something that I've never actually written about before.

Why not? Because so few people are interested in the serious practice of this art, and because to write about it brushes up against the mystical. I am always suspicious of things that travel "into the mystic." Especially so when it involves my own experience.

But something in his tone made me want to overcome this; a regrettable impulse to both warn and instruct. So I wrote back to the young poet who prayed "may it be months before I ever write another d**m poem," with some thoughts of my own after many such prayers.


You beg for months off and you may get them. Then again, you may not. Frankly, you don't have a lot to say about it.

I think you'll find, or perhaps have already found, that the poems you'll end up liking best of all your work tend to arrive first and are written after. They don't come up out of the page, or out of an immediate experience. Instead they always tend to appear almost unbidden out of that state that Wordsworth captured when he wrote, "Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility."

I've come to think of this experience as "The Arrival." It doesn't happen often but you know it when it does. The latest experience with "The Arrival" that I've had happened about three years ago.

It came on a Wednesday evening towards the end of first New York winter after 9/11. I'd worked late and taken the subway home from Penn Station. In an almost empty car I rode down along the spine of Manhattan, dipped deep under the East River, and rose up the long slope to the platform seven stories beneath Clark Street in Brooklyn Heights.

I took the elevator to the surface walked out of the Clark Street subway into about 2 inches of fresh snow collecting on cold sidewalks with more swirling down along the face of the wind. It was late and there was nobody else out on the two blocks I had to walk to my apartment.

In New York City during heavy snowfalls, the streets grow quiet. That evening was no exception save for the whoosh of infrequent cars on the boulevard off to the east, and the random humm of trucks on the expressway that ran along the river. Every so often, a car leaving the Brooklyn Bridge behind me would hit a steel plate in the road for a muffled, faint clang of metal on metal. There was a slash of wind above the roofs on the protected side of the street that kept the stronger wind off the East River from getting to me. These slight and distant sounds -- none so loud that I couldn't hear my steps moving across the snow -- merged into a kind of metronome of footsteps, tires, faint engines and wind, all with a distinct slow beat way down below.

At the end of the last long block, I had to turn right on Pierrepont Street towards the river. This brought the whoosh of the cars on the expressway up just a notch. The chill wind got an edge on it too as I turned into the swirls of snow, and my steps, slipping a bit in the shallow drifts, made a slight syncopation against the beat of the gusts. The snow was almost granular on the concrete and it gave my steps the sound you hear when tap dancers shuffle on sand.

Then as I passed under the streetlight I heard something say, "Their silence keeps me sleepless for I know..."

This was not 'said' so much as sounded -- a kind of echo under the wind at the back of my mind. Yet it was so distinct that I jerked around thinking someone was behind me, but of course there wasn't anyone there at all. It was just a phrase I had heard in the mind alone against the soft sounds of tires, wind, my own footsteps, and blowing snow.

I stopped, listened again, and it came back one more time, soft and distinct but with no whisper to it: "Their silence keeps me sleepless for I know..."

But what did I know? I knew, at that moment, no more than that single phrase, but having had the experience of "Arrival" at rare moments over the years, I recognized it for what it was.

I stood there for a several minutes straining to hear what the next phrase would be. But nothing else came. I was just standing by myself on a Brooklyn corner in the snow.

I remember thinking, perhaps saying out loud, "Okay. I hear that, but what, exactly, is it that I know?" No answer. There never is. It's not there for a conversation. It's come for a visit. It will talk to you on its own terms and in its own time.

Gradually I became aware that all I was doing was standing alone in the snow and getting colder. Not really a plan. I cut across the street, went up the stairs to my door, beat some of the snow off my coat, and went inside.

The first thing I did was go to my desk, grab a single sheet of paper, and write "Their silence keeps me sleepless for I know" across the top. Then I put it in the center of my desk and stared at it as if willing some secret, invisible writing to appear beneath the phrase. Nothing came up so I shrugged and went on to other more sensible things. As noted above, I'd experienced "Arrivals" before. I've learned not to push the moment if nothing else seems to be offered at the time.

Instead, I got out of my work clothes, took a long hot bath, changed into robe and pajamas, made a bite to eat and had a glass of reasonably good Bordeaux. Then I retired, watched some movie for an hour or so and fell asleep a bit after midnight.

At around three in the morning I was woken up by the experience of something that began as a dream but, as I woke, continued as that rare but not unknown form of waking dream where the room you are in can be seen clearly while the dream images cascade over it in a kind of superimposition. This lasted, as they always do, only about 30 seconds, then faded out and then I heard this:

"Within the smoke their ash revolves as snow,
To settle on our skin as fading stars
Dissolve into pure dust at break of day.

At dawn a distant shudder in the earth..."

That was it, but it was enough. I got up and went to my desk and wrote those four lines down underneath:

"Their silence keeps me sleepless for I know"

Then my mind stopped. I sat still and looked out the two large windows in my front room that opened onto Pierrepont street.

The wind had calmed while I slept and all had become even more silent than before. The snow was still swirling across the windows in the gold street light, building up on the branches of the trees, collecting along the ledges and window sills of the buildings across the way. I looked out at it for an indeterminate time and, in the silence, I listened very hard. And then I heard the rest of the poem arrive in order, pretty much as it stands now in:

The Missing

The poem has, of course, been planed, sanded, tweaked, waxed, dusted and buffed on and off over the years. I am not ready to, as they say, "abandon it" just yet.

At one point, Eugene Volokh convinced me to remove about 5 of the central stanzas for a collection of poems about 9/11 he was putting up on the web. At the time I agreed with his reasons and cut them. But over the years since, those cut stanzas have, one by two, come back in. It as if they insist on their rightful original places in the poem. I've come not so much to agree with them as to quit resisting them. They can be very assertive.

To make poems, I've found that it is possible to put yourself into a 'composing' state just by going to the work on a daily basis for three to six weeks. It's a dogged way of kickstarting the process and you'll waste a lot of ink, paper and time along the way. But it does work and that's the best thing that can be said for it. And I think that, once you are in the flow of the zone, a lot of respectable work is done that, with care and thoughtful revision, can become more respectable still. When you finally 'abandon' these poems you aren't sorry to have written them.

"Arrivals" are a different sort of beast entirely. They come when you aren't expecting them. They stay until they are finished with you. Then they leave.

Arrivals are very irritating to have around since they command all your attention to their needs and their mission. Simply put, their needs are not yours. You are, for the duration, the host and they are rude and demanding guests. You sleep when they let you. You eat fast and rather poorly at that. You consume a bit too much alcohol and far too much caffeine and nicotine.

Arrivals do not clean up after themselves and they depart without a word of goodbye. One moment they are there, the next moment they are gone in less time than it takes to see a spark. The strangest thing is that, when they do leave, you are not only sorry to see them go, you can't wait for their next visit.

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 12, 2014 10:48 AM | Comments (20)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Time to Punch Out a Whole List of Media People


Speaking just for myself, I think that we should hire the unemployed Ray Rice to punch the lights out of the next twenty TV, radio, or Web reporters -- from CNN to Fox to MsNBC -- that show that video clip and vomit out their feigned outrage one more time.

It's a tough job and a dirty job but it is clear that:

1) Ray Rice has the skill set and endurance necessary to the task, and....

2) America would actually enjoy seeing the video tapes of insects from Keith Olbermann to Rachel Maddow decked in an elevator over and over again.

Of course, that's just me. I could be wrong.

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 10, 2014 1:49 PM | Comments (8)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Nukes South of the Border Will Do, Thank You


Now comes word from Judicial Watch that ISIS is staging just across our border in Ciudad Juarez, and that increased chatter has authorities alarmed that an imminent attack, possibly against Fort Bliss in El Paso, is coming. Oh, and Thursday is 9/11. Articles: Lives for Votes

Then: [First written and posted 2004-11-15 @ 09:51:14, but some nightmares never really go away on waking. Do they?]

Why take your nuke to town when just standing on the other side of the fence gets you all the way there?

Time Magazine is roiling the blogsphere with its warning of terrorist nukes to be smuggled into Mexico and from there into the the United States

Sharif al-Masri, an Egyptian who was captured in late August near Pakistan's border with Iran and Afghanistan, has told his interrogators of "al-Qaeda's interest in moving nuclear materials from Europe to either the U.S. or Mexico," according to a report circulating among U.S. government officials.

Masri also said al-Qaeda has considered plans to "smuggle nuclear materials to Mexico, then operatives would carry material into the U.S.," according to the report, parts of which were read to TIME. Masri says his family, seeking refuge from al-Qaeda hunters, is now in Iran.

And they would "carry material into the U.S.?" The question that occurs to me in that statement is: Why would they bother?

Once you have smuggled a nuclear weapon into Mexico what reason would you have to take another, bigger risk and try and get it across the border into the United States?

Wouldn't it be much simpler and more straightforward just to take the bomb to Juarez, get as close to the border as possible, and then detonate the device. Given the right set of conditions you could achieve your terrorist aims and never have to set foot in the United States. Why risk two security rings when you can risk only one?

Detonating a nuclear weapon in Juarez, Mexico is the same thing as detonating one in El Paso, Texas:

Walk seven blocks south from the heart of downtown El Paso and you’re on the bridge that empties into Avenida Juárez, the tourism center of Juárez, and you’re a few blocks from the city’s cathedral and main plaza. Nowhere else in the world are two major cities of two different countries so closely connected — or so easy to visit from either side. --El Paso Tourist Guide

What would be the advantages of Juarez/El Paso from a nuclear terrorist's point of view? There are several:

  • 1) A combined population of around 2.5 million people. Casualties would be high.
  • 2) A regional manufacturing center using cheap labor and access to the US market has drawn in GM, Sony, and many other plants and factories. Especially popular are plants that can operate with less regulation in Mexico than in the US, particularly chemical plants. The economic consequences would be dire.
  • 3) Right on the north-eastern nub of El Paso, about 7 miles from the border, you have the US Army's Fort Bliss.
    Fort Bliss is the home of the Air Defense Artillery Center of Excellence and is responsible for air defense artillery training of U.S. soldiers and various allied nation soldiers. It also the home of seven Forces Command warfighting units - the 32d Army Air and Missile Defense Command, 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade, the 108th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, the 204th MI Battalion, and the 978th Military Police Company. .... With 1.1 million acres, this post is bigger than the state of Rhode Island and can accommodate every weapon system in the Army. Excellent ranges and training area, coupled with the third longest runway in the nation, make Fort Bliss a premiere facility for training, mobilization and deploying combat forces. -- Global Security.Org
    Needless to say, a nuclear "event" could have severe consequences for the base.
  • 4) El Paso is Texas, the home state of the President of the United States and a deep red state as well. This would be a propaganda coup of the first order. The symbolism would not be missed by those who wish America harm.

All of which goes to show that the security of the United States doesn't start at the border, but south of the border, down Mexico way. I don't know what Homeland Security is doing about this, but if I was in the organization, I'd be very concerned about the ports of Mexico right now and be looking very hard at truck traffic coming north towards El Paso.

Then, of course, there's the Canadian border.

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 10, 2014 9:51 AM | Comments (22)  | QuickLink: Permalink
School Today: Made by Mouthbreathers for Mouthbreathers


Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 9, 2014 8:32 AM | Comments (10)  | QuickLink: Permalink
"Shooter" Needs a "Green" Remake


Because I'm a bloody-minded man with a strong interest in justice delivered rather than delayed, one movie I enjoy seeing frequently is Shooter (2007). I enjoy it because at the end corrupt politicians and senators are shot to ribbons and then blown up and incinerated. These cinematic consequences satisfy my yearning for justice delivered to those who, in the real world, live lives that seldom have real consequences only re-election.

"Shooter" in summary, for those that have not seen it or read the book on which it is based, goes like this:

Bob Lee Swagger, one of the world's great marksmen and the son of a Congressional Medal of Honoree, is a loner living in the Rockies. He's left the military, having been hung out to dry in a secret Ethiopian mission a few years before, when he's recruited by a lisping colonel to help find a way that the President of the US might be assassinated in one of three cities in the next two weeks. He does his work, but the shot is fired notwithstanding and Bob Lee is quickly the fall guy: wounded and hunted by thousands, he goes to ground and, aided by two unlikely allies, searches for the truth and for those who double-crossed him. All roads lead back to Ethiopia.
Ethiopia? A scene late in the film illuminates that little incident:
What exactly happened in Africa? Somehow the villagers didn't think that an oil pipeline was a good enough reason to move their village to a place where the spirit gods didn't exist. So they asked them all nicely to move and when they didn't, they just killed them all?

No. They didn't ask. They just killed them.

So the next village won't need to be asked. They'll just go.

There is a mass grave with 400 bodies, men, women, children, under the oil pumping station 10 kilometres over the Eritrean border.

Ah well, it is just a movie, right? Oh, wait.

Big, Deadly Government: Mass Murder Committed to Game Kyoto "Credits"€™ Scheme

Armed troops acting on behalf of a British carbon trading company backed by the World Bank burned houses to the ground and killed children to evict Ugandans from their homes in the name of seizing land to protect against "€˜global warming,"a shocking illustration of how the climate change con is a barbarian form of neo-colonialism. The evictions were ordered by New Forests Company, an outfit that seizes land in Africa to grow trees then sells the "carbon credits" on to transnational corporations. The company is backed by the World Bank and HSBC. Its Board of Directors includes HSBC Managing Director Sajjad Sabur, as well as other former Goldman Sachs investment bankers...
This is, of course, a scenario in which Shooter would be very useful in delivering something other than a mild embarrassment in the news to the controlling executives of "New Forests," something in a full metal jacket rather than a dinner jacket.

But who among those charged with delivering justice in the world would really care about an African village? It is, for those who ride in the rich, sopping gravy bowl of Al Gore's Happy Green World, just a subject for tut-tutting on the way to the next international jet-setting hog-trough "Climate Change" convention.

"I say, Al, what exactly happened in Africa?"

In my fantasy of justice I like to think that these men and women who batten off the Global Warming scam will someday die in a fire. The only problem is that such a fire would probably also consume DC, Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Rome, Peking, San Francisco, etc. Maybe it's best to stick to the "One man. One bullet" scenario.


Posted by Vanderleun Sep 8, 2014 10:47 AM | Comments (13)  | QuickLink: Permalink
"Back to School"

Professor Terguson: You remember that thing we had about 30 years ago called the Korean conflict? And how we failed to achieve victory? How come we didn't cross the 38th parallel and push those rice-eaters back to the Great Wall of China?


Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 8, 2014 9:32 AM | Comments (10)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Gun School


What I said to my "concerned" friends that asked was, "I like to collect permissions to do things." I lied. Being freaked out that anyone they knew would take gun training and get a concealed weapons permit, they tacitly agreed to believe that lie. It kept everything smooth and "non-political," which I how a lot of my friends and I like it these days. All part of the little lies we tell because we cannot face reality in the world and in our relationships.

I took pistol training because one day it dawned on me that if I ever actually needed a gun it would be too late to shop.

It dawned on me after an unarmed mother and daughter were shot to death hiking in the mountains around Seattle. (Mother Daughter Shot While Hiking). It dawned on me after an enraged Muslim had bluffed his way into the Jewish Community Center of Seattle last summer and shot six women and killed one. (Six Women Shot One Killed at Jewish Federation) That was the week I went and signed up for gun training. After the training I felt I would be qualified to get a gun.I would get it because it was my right to get it. I would get it because I could. I would get it because Washington, no matter how deeply mired in denial and dementia Seattle may become, Washington itself is still a "must issue" state. And how long that would last in the demented rush to disarm and make all citizens effective wards of the state for their "protection" was anybody's guess.

Tracking the killings of over 30 unarmed, effectively disarmed and therefore helpless students, at Virginia Tech [in 2007] confirmed me in my decision. It took many bullets for this tragedy to unfold. It would have taken just one going the other way to stop it. That and the training to know what the situation was and how to react.

Unless you are morally, spiritually, and politically blind to human reality, you know that this is the truth.

Just one weapon on one person in the hundreds that ran and scattered in front of the maniac could have written a much different ending to this sordid and vile rampage. But there were none because the regents and officials and politicians responsible were mired in yet the persistent liberal utopian dream of a world that never was and never will be. In a very real sense, those students that died were sacrificed to the flaccid and unexamined politically correct beliefs of those charged with their education and their security. What they made in their yearning for perfection was a perfect "free-fire zone" for maniacs. This week one maniac took advantage of this officially safe killing zone. There are thousands of others.

There will be massive lawsuits. There SHOULD be other public consequences of dramatic proportions for those that failed and those that constructed the failed policies. Otherwise the whole thing will drift off into the vague whisps of woulda and shouda and the whole massacre will be repeated, somewhere else somewhere down the line. For those that live in the happy world, the real world never instructs because they always avoid any consequences.

The people who sit around and dream up their "perfect world policies" never suffer any consequences to a great enough extent to give the others of their ilk pause. It's a consequence of decades of dementia among those that gain positions of trust and tenure at our colleges and then hire other similarly demented people to chum up with them. It's the "old liberals' network" that is every bit as protective as the "old boys' network" it so preeningly replaced.

We've handed off our colleges to weaklings and the intellectuallly insane. No surprise when fresh insanity breaks out and kills our kids. No surprise at all. And the kicker is that these people with these mindsets stand ready to do it again in exactly the same way at some other location. What happens in the real world doesn't dent their wooly womb at all. Their school is not now and never will be The Gun School.

In the real world, the Gun School I attended wasn't what anyone here who would never consider taking gun training would think. Everyone I spoke with here when I was taking the training expected a place surrounded by pickups sporting Confederate Flag bumper stickers and gun racks. It didn't matter that The Gun School existed a half a mile from Microsoft in the deepest heart of soft and fluffy nerd land. They had their internal image of 'gun nuts' and they were sticking to it. Reality cannot hope to displace insular group fantasies decades old.

In reality my class at The Gun School was composed of about 14 people and it met four times for three hours. It was basic gun safety and handling. Everyone who want to get a gun needs to take such a class. A gun is not a pick-up and go play kind of thing. As we are all aware, it is the kind of thing that will, to say the least, hurt you or someone else real fast and permanently if you get stupid with it. It can hurt you even worse if a maniac has one and you don't. Then you're just a target for their rage and an instrument of their twisted pleasure. You're going to go and you'll go cheap.

Of the 14 people in my class, seven were women -- of which four were two lesbian couples. One and all told me they were there because of the killings of the mother and daughter who had been shot while hiking near Seattle. They had, I noted, the regulation number of anti-Bush stickers on their cars.

Two somewhat elderly Jewish couples took another four chairs. They were, I discovered, lifelong and committed Democrats and both drove the same model Prius. They were there because of the shootings at the Jewish Community Center. One of the wives, a grandmother type, said almost in passing, "It could happen again."

Then there was the programmer from a company he declined to name ("My coworkers and manager would think it really weird if they knew I was here.") and one man in his 20s who "just wanted to learn how to shoot." He drove a muscle car with no bumper stickers proclaiming his ideological persuasion. And then there was me.

The only thing vaguely ideological about my car is the license plate that says LEM for "Law Enforcement Memorial." When I registered the car I had my choice of "theme license plates" that would let me celebrate the woods, the streams and a host of other ecologically correct Washington themes. Way down at the bottom was a new one that gave the extra fee to a memorial in honoring Washington police who have died in the line of duty. These days it somehow seemed more fitting to me, but then again I'm strange in my Seattle set. I go to things like The Gun School. When they ask me about why I have a plate on my car honoring law enforcement -- a function without which their happy perfect world could not exist -- I tell them I think it will give me an edge if I'm ever stopped for speeding.

Like my reasons for going to The Gun School, I'm lying, but it helps keep their happy world intact and, really, once you're armed you always want to keep everything very polite.

But am I armed? Maybe. Maybe not. As far as institutions with demented policies and hardcore fantasies like Virginia Tech are concerned, it really is none of their business. They'd be better off today as would the students they sacrificed if they'd had that attitude to begin with.

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 8, 2014 1:15 AM | Comments (39)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Man Who Carried the Dark Lantern

The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead. -- Proverbs 21:16

Watching one of their ancient demons return to take control of someone you love, and begin to kill them slowly with euphoria is a hard witness to bear alone. They'll all tell you you have no power to stop it, but that cannot be true.

Surely somewhere in the mountainous library of studies written about the Demon there's a magic spell, an incantation, a potion, a pill, a recipe for rescue. You find yourself, as you always have, turning to books where, most certainly you've told yourself, all answers lie. But this particular library is, you will find when you go there, vast, unmapped and illuminated in the manner of Milton's Hell,
     A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,
     As one great furnace, flamed; yet from those flames
     No light, but rather darkness visible
and the card catalogue has long since been ripped from the drawers and scattered madly about the floor by others seeking the same secret. Still, I stumbled about blind in this dark place which held no braille, nor could I have read it if it had.

Like untold millions of others before me, I became disoriented deep in the towering labyrinth of stacks obsessively organized in perfect manic randomness. At some point I reached out and plucked a book at random from this chaos, but since I held no light it could not be read, and I probably would not have understood its language could I have seen the text.

Useless, I dropped it as so many others before me had dropped their randomly grabbed books. It didn't matter, in the end, how many books were dropped or thrown onto the heaps, there were always more being written and tossed in from all sides. Each, in the dark, as useless as the centuries of books that had come before.

In a short time, I became utterly lost. Then I could neither find what I had gone into the library for, nor could I find my way out. In my frantic quest to save what could not be saved, I had gone deep into the far corridors far beyond any faint glimmer and lost the way back.

I felt the fear that cavers feel when, in a tight space far below the surface, their helmet lights fade and die and the weight of absolute darkness presses hard all around their bodies. What I needed then was not The Book with The Secret -- somewhere in those endless shelves it may well exist -- but a guide to get me out. And for a reason I do not yet comprehend, but hope to, a guide was sent.

He was one of the rough, hard working men of America and he held a dark lantern --
an ancient device in which the light within is either concealed or revealed by means of a sliding panel. He did not know me at all, but he did know himself as he walked out of the night in a small town up by the Canadian border. He didn't know my story but he did know his story and that, at rock bottom, it was not that different at all from mine.

His dark lantern didn't light up the place where I was lost in some shattering burst of illumination, but instead -- by sliding the panel back and directing what little light he held towards the exit, we were in time to find ourselves outside the black library and sitting in that most common of American spaces, a small town coffee shop where I could, at last, see what he looked like.

The waitresses all knew him. It seems he's been guiding people out of the dark for some time in this town, and the ladies understand what he's doing when he shows up with yet another shattered pilgrim like myself. They put us in a booth at the back, refilled our mugs for free, then went away and let us talk far past closing time.

He was a carpenter by training and by trade. About my age but without any of the soft edges that I've either always had or more recently acquired. His hands were scarred and had the flattened nails and tips the fingers get from too many encounters with boards, hammers and the other daily hazards of the job.

You could see that his face, when angry, would have been sharp, vulpine and cold, but he no longer had any anger in him. That had been burned out long ago or stored in a vault over which he kept a careful, constant guard.

His hair and mustache had faded into almost complete gray and his skin and body had the look that decades of working outside in all weathers gives you. He was a man's man and a good man. But, as he was about to tell me, that had not always been so.

First he sat and listened long to my sad little pathetic story as he had I'm sure listened to hundreds of others. I won't bother with the details of that story now, but save it for a time when it no longer seems so ordinary and boring to me as, at the end of this week of telling it over and over, it does now.

Instead, from the hours of talk that followed, I'll try to give you a sense of his story and the path that led him to the small town coffee shop deep into that April night. Listening to him tell it was like watching him work his dark lantern. A panel would slide aside and the light would come out for a bit and then it would slide slightly back dimming the details. I only heard it once and I didn't get it all. As a writer I should have made notes, but I wasn't a writer in that night, just someone grateful to have been guided out of a labyrinth. What I remember now is...

He'd always had a hardscrabble existence from a childhood that, if it wasn't in the logging town we were in, was in some other place where logging was scattered all around and the railroad trains never stopped moving over the rails in the center of town. His family all had the Demon inside them because that was, in the end, what they had if they didn't have God. Sometimes they had the Demon right alongside God in the primeval co-existence that's furnished the human soul since the beginning. They lost no time in making sure, by hook or by crook, that he got his own personal Demon as a present from his town and his family along about the time he entered puberty.

Because everyone around him had and liked their Demon, there was no reason for him not to like it. Indeed, his Demon, it seemed at the time, was a lot of fun and the fun just got better as he got older.

True, he saw other members of his family and his friends in the small town go down under the Demon. Their lives went to the standard stops on the road -- fist fights, knife fights, job loss, crime, rehab, jail, prison or, at any time and age you might care to imagine, death by natural or unnatural causes. Lots of friends and family members went down over the years, but he was, he told me, always a bit tougher, smarter, cagier, sharper, quicker, more charming, and more ruthless. He was "the special personal exception" and he rode the Demon. It was never going to be the other way around. Until, of course, it was.

It rode him long before he knew it. It always does. By the time he knew that it had reversed roles and taken the saddle, he'd become used to being ridden and so he galloped on ever deeper into the darkness.

By that time it had been 20 years of life with the Demon and all its assorted friends. One Demon is never, it seems, enough if others are around. When they were, it was no longer just the Demon and him, but a party in his body.

Other bodies came in and out of the party over the years. Some he used and some used him, but it was always a using. They used him for fights and for other things of even lower degree. He got so it was not a question of how low he would go, but if he could find a way to go lower.

He moved the slide aside on the dark lantern:

"I don't remember everything because I either can't or it was so horrible God has, with His grace, removed the memory from me. I do remember some things. I remember lying on a filthy bed somewhere in Mexico. I had a bottle of Cuervo empty on the table next to it and another one full and ready to go. I had my pistol on the floor. There were a lot of lines of coke still waiting to be snorted. There was an old whore working me on one side while my other arm cradled my infant daughter. I'd wedged a chair under the knob of the locked door so I wouldn't be interrupted. I hated interruptions."
He moved the slide back and closed the dark lantern.

He told me other things, the full catastrophe. About how he lost it all -- house, job, money, business, health, love, freedom. About how his family either left or took on a Demon or two from him. He told me about some jail time. He indicated but did not tell me about worse things.

He told me about the women he'd been with, about the Demons they carried and the dark places they'd been ridden. Down, always down, under the relentless riding and the unremitting tug of the heavy gravity that the deep realms of degredation always emit. He told me how he'd learned to spot the ones that wanted to be used the most, and that he'd take them up on it, and be sure to take them deeper than they thought they could go. The slide on the dark lantern moved often as he talked.

"It's easy to go to these dark places around here," he said. "When winter sets in there's nothing else to do. But I've also found it's just as easy to go there in Chicago, so what do I know?"

He was a strong man and his Demon used every bit of it until to pull others into Its thrall, until at last it used him up. As It often does, the Demon took him at the end of the ride down towards an ugly death, the kind that happens in clapped-out broken trailers, or cheap hotel rooms with a bare light bulb. Not exactly where he found himself, but close enough. At which point, he was -- for no good reason that he could ever think of -- saved and slowly returned to life.

"Some one backed the Demon off me when I'd proved to everyone and myself that what I really needed to do was die," he said. "I didn't know then Who'd done it and it didn't come quickly or easily and I turned back dozens of times. But one day, I guess when I prayed to God to just kill me, He didn't. Instead, He led me back.

"I'm not going to tell you how because I'm not here to sell you a Bible. I'm just going to tell you that He did and as close as I can figure it, the reason for His Grace is so that I can, in this town, every so often come and talk to a man like you that has the Demon, or has someone he loves that has the Demon.

"Sometimes it seems to help and sometimes it doesn't and sometimes I never know. What I do know is that while I'm far from free of It, when I come home from work sore and aching, I get in my hot tub with the Bible and some ice tea and I keep reading through it. It took me two years to get through the Old Testament and I'm glad and happy to be starting on the New. In between, I wait for the phone to ring and when it does, I go out and listen and talk to the person calling no matter how tired I am, no matter what time is it, no matter how long it takes."

He seemed then to close the slide on his dark lantern and set it aside.

"My life's still not really right. Not really right at all. Given what I've done it probably never will be right. The family is still fighting the Demon just like me. Trouble still comes when you expect it least.

"I'm still upside down with money. I was down so deep I'll probably check out before getting it straight. I go to meetings when I go and I take my church seriously. But I still don't know what purpose I have. So I just do this because it seems to be what is given me to do. I can't do much in the way of spiritual work like the preacher can. I'm just a carpenter. But I can do this."

We parted then and he walked out into the dark early morning. The waitress, who had waited long past closing, locked up with some relief. "I don't mind staying at all when he comes in," she said. "Sometimes people just have to talk to other people."

I went upstairs and slept for a few hours, waking at dawn and walked through the tiny small town three blocks to the Catholic Church where I'd learned there was a meeting, not for me but for those that had the Demon. He was there, looking tired but ready to go to work for the day. Others, rough men and women all, were there too bringing with them what they had to bring, taking away what they chose to take, and leaving, if they could, some of the Demon behind.

When it was over he said, "Come to breakfast with us."

And so it was I found myself riding along in a carpenter's pick-up over the sand and snow scoured roads of the town to a local hash joint of ancient vintage by the side of the road. By the time that was over, I'd managed to meet many more good people in this town in one morning than I've met in the two years in Laguna Beach where I know hardly a soul.

On the way back to my hotel, we stopped off at a job a young man was doing for him. Tearing down an old ramshackle garage to put up a new for an elderly couple who needed it done. As far as I could tell it was being done for free because it could be. He spent a few minutes talking to the kid and advising, but not telling him, how to do it.

Then we drove back to my hotel and shook hands and said goodbye. He turned left at the corner and was gone.

I went back to my hotel room to pack for the drive to the airport. My phone rang. It was the person I had come to see calling to ostensibly thank me for the dinner and the talk from the night before, but also to be sure I was indeed leaving and would not be appearing suddenly at a function that night. It wouldn't do for a part of their old life to suddenly appear in the middle of this "clean break," this "fresh start" at living with the new-old Demon. As we talked I began to understand that I would now always be speaking with two whenever I spoke to this person and would be required to remember that as hard as it might be.

In truth, it was clever to ask. I had thought of doing just that the night before. Checking out of one hotel and checking in to another just to spring up and see what else was being hidden, concealed and kept secret from me as it had been for such a long time. Instead I began to accept that whatever I could imagine was either true or was going to be. I was tired of the game even though I knew I was not done with it, and there was -- if I looked at it coldly -- really nothing left to keep me where I didn't want to go in the first place. So I just gave assurances that I had a long drive and had to be going. Things became warmer after that and we said goodbye. I drove out of town and, at last, towards my home.

I'm back home now and am, as is the sad state of our times, finding myself sitting in rooms filled with bromides, slogans, cliches, isms, and the other people broken by the people who let the Demon ride them. Just another one of the remaindered souls set out on the bargain shelves.

I'm already loathing my story and shocked and frightened by some stories I hear that are, so far, much worse than mine. I've never been a man who spoke the truth without first being asked, nor have I been one who could listen, but I'm trying to learn that when you don't listen the only interesting story in the room is yours. And you're sick of it first.

They say that all of life is a series of lessons that will be repeated until you learn them. At which point you will be given a new lesson. I don't think I asked for this particular lesson, but I'll take a shot at learning it since that's the lesson that has arrived.

I've talked to the man with the dark lantern on the phone a couple of times since the night he took me out of the black library. He's still wondering what his purpose can be and working on getting through the New Testament. I'm not a religious man and I'm no expert on the Bible, but I think I know an apostle when I meet one.

Me? I've no idea what I'm going to do and even less about what my purpose can possibly be. God knows I've chosen wrongly up until this point every time. So for now I'm just writing down what happens to me as clearly as I am given it. It's my way, I imagine, of learning how to make my own dark lantern.

Originally published April 28, 2005

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 7, 2014 2:30 AM | Comments (29)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Unbearable Heaviness of Light Rail & Public Transport

Seattle Light Rail: Not All Aboard

I actually tried Seattle's much touted new light rail system a few weeks ago as an alternate method of getting to Seafair. I was, to say the least, underwhelmed with this multi-billion dollar boondoggle. A toy for rich white people to look at lovingly and feel good about as they drive by it in their large cars.

The system in Seattle, since the political core seems to hate cars, is to link the rail to the bus lines. But the bus lines, of course, are already too skeletal to really work. To really make the new rail system utterly inefficient, the system has no feeder parking lots for the main stations. You are, it seems, supposed to take the bus to the train even if there is no bus line near you. The entire effort puts the lie to the old saw that "You can't gold plate a turd." In Seattle it would seem, you can. And you can ever sugar coat it enough that many people will say, 'Mmmm, good!"

AskMom, in a comment to Hope for Seattle Change Now That Nickels' Out? Elect Me! sums up much of my discontent with light rail and local public transport in general. If more people would listen to these human, all-too-human, points the folly of light rail might, just might, be avoided.

It's tedious listening to the Obamoids droning about walking, biking, bussing, light railing or even heavy railing. Were they ever parents, ever disabled, ever need to do errands, ever want to buy more than half a bag of groceries?

Try being an older person with decreased mobility and/or vision. Now try walking a few blocks to get to your bus stop.

Now wait - standing - for 20 minutes in the heat, rain, wind or snow.

Now sit on a bus with no armrests to hold, no back support, no cushioning for your arthritic hip. Hope the bus driver is in a good mood and remembers to yell at you when you are at your stop, since your hearing is not good and your poor eyesight won't let you read the readerboard or the street signs outside.

Transfer to another bus, waiting 15 minutes again and worrying about the punks eying your tote bag. Arrive at your destination, 7 miles from your home, 2 hours after you left. Repeat for return trip.

Forget about errands on the way, you are too tired. And the places you need to go are not on either of the bus lines. Groceries are out of the question, as you cannot carry the bags from the store to the bus stop or from the bus stop to your home.

Forget about going anywhere after dark. Or on weekends when the bus service is limited.

Forget about going anywhere outside your own city. Write off anything more than a block or two from the bus lines. Forget about spontaneous anything: the transfers, weather exposure, waiting and walking and anxiety about finding toilet facilities are just too much to cope with.

But maybe you are young. So you gather up the baby, the four year old, the dog who can't be left alone any longer, the library books, the dry cleaning, the videos to return to blockbuster, the earth-friendly reusable grocery bags, and you load them all on your bike or onto the bus ... oops ... maybe not.

But suppose you are single. So you get a bike and plan the route and you ride to work and it's all just great until the day it rains. And there is no place at work to change, and no place to hang your damp bike clothes until you ride home. Or it's hot, and you smell like....well....after a few days of the boss's comments on hygiene, you realize that you can be employed or you can be a bike rider, but not both.

But maybe it all works for you. You walk to work and you ride the bus to your sweetie's condo, stopping at the Pike Place Market for some organic arugula and a latte, and you both walk to the bistro and take a cab home, and in the morning you both take the bus to work...

... then you are about one-hundredth of one percent of the population and Seattle is YOUR TOWN.

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 6, 2014 3:42 PM | Comments (30)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Pure Science

Pure Science


Titanium skaters on lakes of metallic hydrogen
Strew constant curves of crystalline
Isotopes of all things adenine
Embedded in our house.

Enigmas of equations
Slide lattices to rest
In beds of powdered strontium,
Molding energy as form suggests.

In the place of flux we forge new forms,
That our flux-forged spaces fold
Charms of magnets' fevers
Which conduct Earth's core from pole to pole.


The whiteness of Earth's silence
Is an eye that stares on space.
Orbits chart it ceaselessly,
Etching paradigms of lace.

The inner of Earth's outer
Is a torus twisted twice.
Balloons ascend within it
Claiming shadows are the room.


What can the mind of silence hear
Other than a whiteness past recall?
It evolves from our epicenters,
Stretches measureless as sound,

Or is found on the floor of the void;
Where the whine of protons stills
In the drifts of chromium snow;
Where we gaze upon the bones of matter bare.

In time men alone in aluminum cloaks
Descend the neutron ladder,
And move in a sleet of particles
Too scintillating for instruments to record.

In time men in groups descend
Through the smoke of the universe,
To tend the embers, imprison flame.
Their cascading dance sparkles,

We taste... the afterimage of events.
Below us, pale and silent,
The plutonium leaves arabesque
Through radiant silences of solid helium.


Sometimes it seems I had a dream and as that dreamer woke immersed in mineral baths
and closed within a cool, dark chamber fed by streams flowing in from the center of nowhere.

Hanging from the granite ceiling a kerosene lantern cast shards of light
through the pale steam rising from the surface of the pools.

Ripples radiated outwards from the edges of my body and tapping faintly on the rock
revealed in echoes the edges of the chamber.

Outside I could hear the wind slide across the spine of the mountains
speaking in a language I remembered but could no longer understand.

Steam filled my nostrils and heat penetrated my bones until, after a time,
I had no body -- only a sense of silence and distance and calm.

It was as if I had just woken from all water into dream.

More and more I am convinced that our purpose is to extend our vision in all directions to bear witness to the miracle.**

**Planet Earth. A special collection of the most beautiful places all over the world . Music , Loreena McKennit - Night Ride Across The Caucasus.
[HT: PV]

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 5, 2014 2:37 AM | Comments (24)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Columbus: "On! Sail On!"


Behind him lay the gray Azores,
Behind, the Gates of Hercules;
Before him not the ghost of shores;
Before him only shoreless seas.
The good mate said: “Now must we pray,
For lo! the very stars are gone.
Brave Adm’r’l, speak: what shall I say?”
“Why say: ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’”

“My men grow mutinous day by day;
My men grow ghastly wan and weak.”
The stout mate thought of home; a spray
Of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.
“What shall I say, brave Adm’r’l, say
If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
“Why, you shall say at break of day:
‘Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!’”

They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
Until at last the blanched mate said:
“Why, now not even God would know
Should I and all my men fall dead.
These very winds forget their way;
For God from these dread seas is gone.
Now speak, brave Adm’r’l; speak and say—”
He said: “Sail on! sail on! and on!”

They sailed: they sailed. Then spake the mate:
“This mad sea shows his teeth tonight;
He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
With lifted teeth, as if to bite!
Brave Adm’r’l, say but one good word:
What shall we do when hope is gone?”
The words leapt like a leaping sword:
“Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”

Then, pale and worn, he kept his deck,
And peered through darkness. Ah, that night
Of all dark nights! And then a speck—
A light! a light! a light! a light!
It grew; a starlit flag unfurled!
It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
He gained a world; he gave that world
Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on!”

— Joaquin Miller

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 4, 2014 4:26 PM | Comments (2)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Radical Roots and the Conquest of the Democratic Party

gerardlonghairweb.jpg old-hippiesweb.jpg
Dateline: AmeriKKKa, 1968 -- 2006

WHEN I WAS VERY YOUNG, majoring in marijuana at the university, hanging out with the Progressive Labor Party, and skipping through the clouds of tear gas on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, I was convinced that any war that would send my long-haired, sensitive, poetic and acid-tripping self off to wade through rice paddies in Vietnam just had to be wrong, wrong, wrong .

In those years it was easy to see the United States through red-tinted glasses. All you had to do was load a Chillum , roll another Giant Doobie, put "Blonde on Blonde" on the turntable, plug in the Bongomatic and light everything up. Like so many others in that long ago land of Nod-Out, this ritual was my major course of study.

Once this gentle ritual sufficiently soothed my tortured soul I'd often make my way (s l o w l y) to the daily Vietnam Day Committee meeting for a righteous rap session on how "the man can't bust our music or our movement." Then I'd float my way back home to listen to my hot red-diaper girlfriend rhapsodize about her Worker's Party parents and natter on about old Progressive Labor Party parties in New York that seemed to center not on politics but on heroin suppositories. She thought "those were the days."

I wasn't so sure, but she had cool Communist credentials signed off on by no less than the dowager princess of the American Communist Party Bettina Aptheker, so I was inclined to go along with her drivel in order to get along with her. Living with a red-diaper princess who was on the steering committee of the VDC was, in those days at Berkeley, better than going steady with the Homecoming Queen.

In later life, my princess was due to come down in the world. The last I looked she was counseling families into or out of the family state. Just another ordinary therapist wading through the muck of Urban angst. Back then she was professionally oppressed by the fascist war machine and so was I. So was every other college-deferment clutching coward of my time. Fear and lust controlled us well. She, and so many others, "said 'Yes!' to boys who said 'No!'" so I memorized all the ways in which we were oppressed. She was always giving a test on this subject and I didn't do so bad.

I also found that, like any good Berkeley radical, you needed -- in this realm of unremitting oppressions so thick and so multiple that counting was foolish -- to find some good friends; some very good friends both at home and abroad. And so you looked around, not so much for friends, but for enemies of your enemy, the oppressive AmeriKKKa. You looked around the world using the dubious intellectual filter: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

When you ran everything you said and did through that filter you had no end of friends in the 60s and early 70s. Some of them even had guns, ammo, armies, armor and nuclear weapons.

The "friends" of our slice of the young America included, but were not limited to, The Soviet Union, The People's Republic of China, Castro's Cuba, and socialist and communist parties stretching across Europe and down through Mexico, Central and South America. Elsewhere they included the Viet Minh, the Viet Cong, the Khmer Rouge, the Red Army Faction... on and on until the international litany of political dementia girdled the globe in a seamless political landscape of perpetual Revolution, sexual and otherwise. You and your oppressed and draftable friends saw those groups and nations as "righteous." You saw them not as the totalitarian serial killers they were, but as the secular saviors of civilization. They were, well, just very cool guys. They were "happening, bro."

When you got done with feeling cool about those friendly states and organizations, you still weren't out of friends. Instead, you just went on to the "enemies of your enemy" that were not necessarily rooted in real estate, but in the mind and the culture. These groups have been summed up in a stunning fashion by Paul Mann in his perceptive essay "Stupid Undergrounds." They were --take a deep breath --

Apocalyptic cults and youth gangs, garage bands and wolfpacks, alternative colleges and phalansteries, espionage networks trading in vaporous facts and networks of home shoppers for illicit goods; monastic, penological, mutant-biomorphic, and anarcho- terrorist cells; renegade churches, dwarf communities, no-risk survivalist enclaves, unfunded quasi-scientific research units, paranoid think tanks, unregistered political parties, sub-employed workers councils, endo-exile colonies, glossolaliac fanclubs, acned anorexic primal hordes; zombie revenants, neo-fakirs, defrocked priests and detoxing prophets, psychedelic snake-oil shills, masseurs of undiagnosed symptoms, bitter excommunicants, faceless narcissists, ideological drag queens, mystical technophiles, sub- entrepreneurial dealers, derivative derivistes, tireless archivists of phantom conspiracies, alien abductees, dupe attendants, tardy primitives, vermin of abandoned factories, hermits, cranks, opportunists, users, connections, outriders, outpatients, wannabes, hackers, thieves, squatters, parasites, saboteurs; wings, wards, warehouses, arcades, hells, hives, dens, burrows, lofts, flocks, swarms, viruses, tribes, movements, groupuscules, cenacles, isms, and the endlessly multiplied hybridization of variant combinations of all these...
That just about sums up the enemies of our enemy, AmeriKKKa, in the Vietnam era.

As you can see we had plenty of friends.

And they and we all grew older. We survived and thrived. Some even grew up, but only a few. For most of us -- no matter what was our lot in later life -- it would always be 1968. We so loved being "The Lost Boys."

Although I was of -- and among -- many of the groups above, none of them are among my friends any longer. I have, alas, far fewer friends. Indeed, as my strange political odyssey of saying "Goodbye to all that" continues, old friends seem to melt away like the highland mist at high noon in the desert. It is sad, but still, with friends like those....

Over the four decades since 1968, the list of regimes dedicated to, and capable of, the destruction of the United States shrank. They either took a long dirt nap in history, or are now shambling towards the graveyard of all other failed but deadly fascist ideologies. The political genius and destiny of the United States lies, after all, in the fact that we do not require you to be a friend. You simply have to not be an enemy.

The American Way is, after all, that nothing need be personal when it can just be business. One on one, Americans can be very warm, understanding and generous. But piss us off too much and we'll bomb your cities to rubble. We don't like business to be disrupted too much.

In all this, the world at large has gone forward and, all in all, improved for the better. We call it "Globalization" and it seems, slowly, to be working out well for most of those people who have, as they say, "gotten with the program."

But there remains a residual group of Americans who, although they batten off the program, don't want to get with it at all -- except when it comes time to buy a new Prius, vacation in Provance, or score a country home. They take pride in never having sold out, even as they buy in. They are "the Not-So-Great Generation."

Those Americans of the 60s whose fantasies were lit by a dream of a destroyed United States have very few friends left out of the long list of countries once dedicated to totalitarianism. And the list becomes shorter with each passing year.

Time and chance also makes the list of those Americans still dedicated to becoming life-long friends of countries and movements dedicated to the destruction of AmeriKKKa shorter every year. Yet most strangely still live and thrive in the very country they hate the most.

These dreary souls without a country have made prosperous lives for themselves in our local, state and national governments and politics. They are legion in the comfortable realms of academia, entertainment world, and the media. Graying they tint their hair and continue in their quest for an enemy of their enemy to make their friend. Balding, they tie what they have back in a ponytail and strut on impertube.

They are the American Left and, risen from their impoverished conditions in 1968, they now have tenure, high position, or acolytes from which they draw comfortable stipends. Of late, they've taken more and more to coffee klatches with Islamic fundamentalists who, if they don't have the armies to bring about the destruction of the United States, have at least shown they've got enough hate to kill Americans here and abroad retail and wholesale. Besides, they're out shopping for a nuclear weapon and some smallpox, so what's not to like about these guys from an American Leftist's point of view?

Sadly the longer list of Paul Mann's Stupid Undergrounds shows no signs of shortening. Fueled by the vapid culture of cool it gets longer by the day. And it is from within this expanding list of Stupid Undergrounds that the American Left of today draws not only its strength but its fresh and much younger converts.

If it were only the denizens of these fringe groups that supplied the ideological cannon fodder of the American Left, it would be a small matter to marginalize them since their very mindsets marginalize them from the square numbered "1." Indeed, just a few years ago, they could only exist within the rarefied environment of on-campus humanities and ethnic-studies departments. Once removed from these hyperbaric chambers, their failure to thrive in the world outside -- absent a position in various media companies and Washington Wonk Tanks -- was assured. They were, if not really useful idiots, harmless idiots.

Sadly that is no longer the case. Recently a very large and significant American institution has stripped to the buff, oiled up, and made its body politic freely available to the tender mercies and tough love of the American Left. Indeed, the capture of this group is the single significant achievement of the American Left in decades. With the elevation of Howard Dean, the canonization of Hillary Clinton, the sanctification of Ted Kennedy, the renovation of Nancy Pelosi, the self-defenestration of Barbara Boxer, and the deification of Barack H. Obama, it is clear that the political base of the American Left has now migrated from the fringes of our political arena to the dead center of the Democratic Party. And it is there to stay.

The American Left now controls the political party that calls upon the allegiance of nearly half of the country. It is the political party that is the Plantation Party of African-Americans. It is a party that holds its members now not with the plans of what it will do for them in the future, but with the fading memories of what it did for them in the past when it was a great and honorable party. The American Left will remain in control of this Party's shell since it has brought with it not only its failed ideology and all the rag-tag constituents of the Stupid Undergrounds of America, but the very fuel source of these groups itself -- Bush Hate. And on the Left today, Bush-Hate, more than money, is the new mother's milk of our darkening politics. With Bush-Hate money can always be had. Throw that out of the Democratic Party and what money there is currently coming into the party will surely flow away.

It is true that Bush-Hate brings with it a number of disturbing ideological contradictions to the center of the Democratic Party. These were best summed up recently by Pamela Bone in her essay The Silence of the Feminists :

Dislike of George Bush's foreign policy has led to an automatic support of those perceived to be his enemies. Paradoxically, this leaves the left defending people who hold beliefs that condone what the left has long fought against: misogyny, homophobia, capital punishment, suppression of freedom of speech. The recent reaffirmation by Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie has been met by virtual silence; as has the torture and murder in Iraq of a man who would be presumed to be one of the left's own - Hadi Salih, the international officer of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions. The hard left these days is soft on fascism, or at least Islamofascism.
All clear and present and very dangerous contradictions to be sure, but typical of the American Left today when you recall that a popular slogan of the AmericanLeft in the Sixties was, "Vive les contradictions!"

The conquest of the Democratic Party by the American Left which has now been consummated and will shortly be consolidated is, of course, bad news for the Democrats and for the country as a whole. A vital two or even three party system is essential to the long term balance of the Republic.

But this doesn't bother the Leftists of the Democratic Party at all. They are too busy counting the loot. And there is loot to be had.

The American Left receives many things from their conquest, not the least of which is the damage it does, axiomatically, to the United States. They also receive money, lots of it; especially when you think of the low funding levels the American Left has had for most of its existence. Their plunder also includes electoral organizations -- many -- as well as access to local, state, and national unions in the public and private realms. Add in mailing lists tens of millions of names long as well as websites and online acolytes by the thousands.

Most important of all, the American Left now has open access and control over sitting Democrats in Washington and the state legislatures. With money and organizations to win elections, the American Left now has the power over elected Democrats to instruct them to support and advance some decidedly non-centrist, non-liberal, but classic Leftist agendas. In a very real sense, the conquest of the Democratic Party gives the American Left a base that it could never hope to win, and will now probably never win, at the ballot box.

If you would see the American Left's apotheosis, regard the near vertical ascent, wreathed in light, of Barack H. Obama to hover over hordes of rapt worshipers eager to have their sins washed clean by his voice and visage.

Even though this regrettable transformation of the Democratic Party leaves it much smaller than it would otherwise be, it makes the American Left much bigger than it ever thought it could be. Those who have lingered all these years in the thick bong smoke of the 60s now have their fantasy within their grasp. They have made the enemies of George Bush and the New America at home and abroad into their friends and it is, at last, "Springtime for Lefties!"

Of course, it is a crowning irony to note that the proverb, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." was originally an Arab proverb, as were, indeed, the fuming chillums of 1968's Not-So-Great-Generation.

But hey, as me and my hardcore leftist friends said way back then, "Smoke 'em if you got 'em.".

First published 2006-09-08

Posted by Vanderleun Sep 4, 2014 8:03 AM | Comments (39)  | QuickLink: Permalink

Turn around, a decade's gone.

We watched the city skyline from the ferry deck
And you put your arms around my neck
We talked of looking just out of town
Now it's looking like a dream shot down
I still believe that there's somewhere for us
But now it's something that we don't discuss
And you're the best thing I ever knew
Stay with me, baby, and we'll make it to
We'll make it to
Seattle - you've got to love the rain
And we both love rain
We both love rain

So long good friends. With God's grace I'll see you all again a little further down that long and winding road.

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 2, 2014 8:46 PM | Comments (22)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Something Wonderful: Darling Pretty

It's time to come away, my Darling Pretty
It's time to come away on the changing tide
Time to come away, Darling Pretty
And I need you darling by my side

Heal me with a smile, Darling Pretty
Heal me with a smile and a heart of gold
Carry me awhile, my Darling Pretty
Heal my aching heart and soul

Just like a castaway
Lost upon an endless sea
I saw you far away
Come to rescue me

Cast away the chains, Darling Pretty
Cast away the chains away behind
Take away my pain, my Darling Pretty
And the chains that once were yours and mine

There will come a day, Darling Pretty
There will come a day when hearts can fly
Love will find a way, my Darling Pretty
Find a heaven for you and I
Love will find a way, my Darling Pretty
Find a heaven for you and I

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 1, 2014 9:33 PM | Comments (6)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Why Men Rule the Automotive Universe

Wait for it.

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 1, 2014 2:31 PM | Comments (1)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Burning Hellcat


Crash landing of F6F-3, Number 30 of Fighting Squadron Two (VF-2), USS Enterprise, into the carrier's port side 20mm gun gallery, 10 November 1943. Lieutenant Walter L. Chewning, Jr., USNR, the Catapult Officer, is climbing up the plane's side to assist the pilot from the burning aircraft. The pilot, Ensign Byron M. Johnson, escaped without significant injury. Enterprise was then en route to support the Gilberts Operation. Note the plane's ruptured belly fuel tank.
"I once showed a photo to my father-in-law (he, and my father, were WW II vets). It showed a carrier deck crewman jumping onto a flaming Hellcat airplane, which sill had the huge fuel drop-tanks attached, and he was trying to help free the pilot. Get it? He was jumping onto a flaming gas can to save a man. Here's what my dad in law said: he was doing his job.

"Now you understand something about that generation. They were made of iron." --Posted by: Casey Klahn in The Top 40: Falling on Grenades:

[Note: I'd been saving this image in my drafts for well over a year waiting for something. This comment by Klahn today was that something.]

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 1, 2014 11:50 AM | Comments (14)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Made in America

See "The Burning Hellcat" above

My old man's that old man,
Spent his life livin' off the land,
Dirty hands, and a clean soul.
It breaks his heart seein' foreign cars,
Filled with fuel that isn't ours
And wearin' cotton we didn't grow

He's got the red, white, and blue flyin' high on the farm
Semper Fi tattooed on his left arm
Spend a little more in the store for a tag in the back that says ‘USA’
He won't buy nothin' that he can't fix,
With WD40 and a Craftsman wrench
He ain't prejudiced, he's just made in America

He loves his wife and she’s that wife
That decorates on the Fourth of July
But says 'Every day's Independence Day'
She's golden rule, teaches school,
Some folks say it isn't cool
But she says the Pledge of Allegiance anyway.

He's got the red, white, and blue flyin' high on the farm
Semper Fi tattooed on his left arm
Spend a little more in the store for a tag in the back that says ‘USA’
He won't buy nothin' that he can't fix,
With WD40 and a Craftsman wrench
He ain't prejudiced, he's just made in America

Born in the Heartland, raised up a family
Of King James and Uncle Sam

He's got the red, white, and blue flyin' high on the farm
Semper Fi tattooed on his left arm
Spend a little more in the store for a tag in the back that says ‘USA’
He won't buy nothin' that he can't fix,
With WD40 and a Craftsman wrench
He ain't prejudiced, he's just made in America
Made in America
Made in America

My old man's that old man,
He's made in America.

[HT: Chasmatic & Ol' Remus]

Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 1, 2014 9:58 AM | Comments (3)  | QuickLink: Permalink
"You can say I'm a dreamer / But I’m not the only one."


Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 1, 2014 6:10 AM | Comments (10)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Once again.... I am so very, very, very sorry.


Posted by gerardvanderleun Sep 1, 2014 5:28 AM | Comments (7)  | QuickLink: Permalink
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