Comments or suggestions: Gerard Van der Leun

Myths & Texts

The White Whale: America’s Voyage


Humanity on its raft. The raft on the endless ocean. From his present dissatisfaction man reasons that there was some catastrophic wreck in the past, before which he was happy; some golden age, some Garden of Eden. He also reasons that somewhere ahead lies a promised land, a land without conflict. Meanwhile, he is miserably en passage; this myth lies deeper than religious faith. -- JohnFowles, The Aristos

How fares the good ship America during this, the 241st year of our voyage? Many would say that with its new captain setting a new course it sails on into fairer days and calmer waters now that our demons at home and abroad are being mollified and made more sociable. Many others, now more than half, would say that we tack between Scylla and Charybdis with a more than fair chance of being driven onto a lee shore by the gusting headwinds. All would agree our present position was unforseeable even two years ago and that our present passage is fraught with danger.

Dangerous passages are nothing new to the good ship America. She’s weathered many but never one quite so close run as that of 1860 to 1865 when a fire in the minds of Americans burned so hot they required the blood of 620,000 to quench them. We did not sail into that maelstrom in a year or so. We were bound there, some would say, from the founding.

I think, however, that the Civil War first loomed on the horizon during the rise of Transcendentalism in New England. That period began in the early 19th century and flowered during the literary period of 1850 to 1855 that is known as the American Renaissance. Transcendentalism was the first secular Great Awakening and perhaps its most enduring. Emerson and Thoreau are the chief avatars of the movement as it is known today and much of contemporary American progressivism bears the marks of those two men.

I’m not interested in them at present. Once entrancing both Emerson and Thoreau have come to seem softer to me of late. Both have taken on the consistency of store-bought bread. Instead I’d like to look at the more rugged work of an outlier of transcendentalism, a prophet who came late to the dance, Herman Melville.

Melville was, unlike many other transcendentalists, the very opposite of an intellectual dilettante. He was an Abraham in a land of Lutherans. Melville was a man with a harsh experience with ships and how they fare upon stormy seas. Melville was a man with rough hands. Melville was a man that, having voyaged further out, did – for a few years at least – see deeper in. And in seeing deeper in and leaving behind a record of that vision in his masterwork, Melville still has something to say to us today about the state of America, the experimental nation.

Long sea voyages have strange effects on writers as the mystical and melancholy work of Conrad shows most clearly. The same effects, at first submerged, were to surface in the work of Melville in one gigantic book and then submerge again raising only ripples on the surface of his subsequent writing. Prophecy is a harsh task master and more often that not consumes the vessels through which it speaks. So it was, in the end, with Melville.

As a young man Melville stood many long watches on the long nights in the dark oceans in the early 19th century. Decades later, those voyages and night watches would haunt and inspire Melville as he struggled to finish the career-ending vision that had gripped him in transcendentalist New England in 1850. At first, his book was to be just another adventurous sea story like Typee or its sequel Omoo. In this case, however, the destination was not to be the exotic south sea islands, but a whale as big as an island. Indeed, Melville in contemporary correspondence doesn’t refer to his book as Moby Dick but The Whale. It was only in the last stages that the book’s title became Moby Dick, a variant of a monstrous real whale of the time Mocha Dick, for reasons that Melville never clarified. Perhaps he just liked the sound of it.

Melville’s first books had been successful and, I imagine, that at some point Melville imagined that The Whale would be as well. It was not to be. In his lifetime the book was to earn him only a bit over $500. Moby Dick was not a formula novel. It was not, as they say in publishing, “the same thing only different” that his readers were expecting. It was just plain different, and therefore unpopular. Although he no doubt intended at the beginning for Moby Dick to be a rousing whale hunt on the high seas ending in tragedy, it seems that at a certain point something else, something other, took over the writing of the book and drove Melville before it. In the process, the book broke him financially, spiritually, and physically. As it was finally written, Moby Dick was to be and become many things, but “commercial” was not among them.

In Melville’s day, stories of long voyages to the far Pacific read like science fiction voyages to distant stars and alien worlds read today. As such they were much sought after by readers of the time since the novel was the television of the 19th century. His first couple of books about his youthful adventures both exotic and guardedly erotic had enjoyed such large sales he’d be able to move his family to the country to continue to spin his yarns of the far oceans, cannibals, and the hunt for that singular source of light and lubrication in his era, the sperm whale. In the beginning Moby Dick was just going to be another ripping yarn about adventure in the seas where few men had gone before. But that changed when he meant Nathanial Hawthorne and began reading a bit too much of the Old Testament.

Hawthorne was an older man when Melville and he first became friends following an enforced conversation in a cave during a surprise thunderstorm. Following that encounter their friendship grew apace during most of the time that Melville was actively composing the novel, but fade soon after for reasons still unclear even though the novel is dedicated to Hawthorne. Perhaps the intense state that Melville had worked himself into proved to be too tiring for Hawthorne. We’ll never know. Still, it is amusing to think of Hawthorne and Melville strolling about the woods near Pittsfield and Lenox, Massachusetts discussing Melville’s latest effort and Hawthorne saying, in an off-hand manner, “You know, Herman, this is a pretty good whaling story you’ve got here, but how about taking one more pass at it and adding a little more, I don’t know, depth and resonance to it?”

At the same time it’s clear from his letters that Melville was obsessively reading in the Old Testament, with an emphasis on Solomon and the prophets and finding that “Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe.” Those resonant jeremiads were clearly having an effect on him along with the pervasive atmosphere of transcendentalism. They were the material he began to bring to his composition and revision of Moby Dick. That and whatever he gleaned from his conversations with Hawthorne, a man celebrated as one of the greatest American writers of his day and who retains that position even into the 21st century.

That Moby Dick had gripped Melville past all reason is confirmed in a letter from his wife revealing that he

"wrote White Whale or Moby-Dick under unfavourable circumstances— would sit at his desk all day not writing anything till four or five o'clock—then ride to the village after dark—would be up early and out walking before breakfast—sometimes splitting wood for exercise. Published White Whale in 1851.—Wrote Pierre: published 1852. We all felt anxious about the strain on his health in Spring of 1853."

This is not the picture of a writer having an easy time of it. It was the struggle with the book that brought out the mystic that was never far beneath the surface in Herman Melville; a mystic that was perhaps first called during the long night watches of his youth. Now as he reached a successful middle age those faint mystical beginnings blended with the “fine hammered steel of Ecclesiastes” and the mystical energy of the New England transcendentalists of the 1850s to suffuse Moby Dick.

Scholars have long noted that the rhythms of Shakespeare in the most transported passages of the novel shape it, but it seems to me that the enduring and strange power of the book comes from someplace deeper than style. The haunting power of the book arises from the deeps of the human soul; from some place in Melville’s psyche that understood, at some moment, that what he was involved in creating as he composed the novel was not merely another ripping sea yarn of hunting down a source of oil and lubrication for his era, but something that could stand, in time, as it does, for the great ship of state on which he and all other Americans of his time, and ours, crewed into an unknown future.

At some point Moby Dick turned from yarn to allegory. And it is as an allegory, as a downward trending Pilgrims Progress that Moby Dick should be read. It is a book that is not so much written as it is received. On a very real level, Melville is taking dictation from something other and larger than himself. D. H. Lawrence in his “Classic Studies in American Literature” would probably have that something as “The Spirit of Place,” and to avoid contention I’ll leave it at that.

From fierce Jeremiads flung out of a bow-shaped pulpit, to brief meditations on avatars such as Bulkington, to longer explorations of “The Whiteness of the Whale,” Moby Dick is not only our greatest American novel to date, it is also a vision of our shared fate here on the storm-tossed decks of this ship of state. Moby Dick is the American allegory; our dark Pilgrim's Progress.

Like all great works, Moby Dick repays re-reading at different stages of life. Its vision of the deeper truths of the American experiment may find a different focus, be different in different passages and chapters at different times, strike deeper chords, but the vision persists. And even if the vision inspires, it still terrifies as one’s reading finds concordant echoes in contemporary events. Like its ostensible subject, Moby Dick is the Leviathan of American allegories. To steal a phrase from Melville’s contemporary Whitman, “It is vast. It contains multitudes.”

I’ve read Melville’s masterpiece, the composition of which pretty much brought an end to his career as a writer, many times over the years. Of late, I keep returning to a particular chapter as a harbinger of the dangerous shoals and lees on which our ship of state is currently tossed -- The Try-Works.

Ostensibly, The Try-Works is about cooking down the carcass of a whale into its oil late at night on the decks of the ill-fated Pequod. But like all things in Moby Dick, that is only the stage set for a more sonorous drama and deeper meditation.

It was about nine o'clock at night that the Pequod's try-works were first started on this present voyage. It belonged to Stubb to oversee the business.

Stubb is the pipe-smoking and contemplative second mate of the Pequod. He’s not the intellectual that Starbuck is, nor the blunt and uncompromising Flask. Instead, he’s affable enough with a kind of homespun wisdom to him as he moves too and fro wrapped in the constant smudge of his pipe.

"All ready there? Off hatch, then, and start her. You cook, fire the works."

The works, a kind of vast kettle set over a fire pit, draw their heat from the very beast they are melting to the fluid on which so much in the early 19th century depended. As Melville describes the process,

No wood is used, except as a means of quick ignition to the staple fuel. In a word, after being dried out, the crisp, shriveled blubber, now called scraps or fritters, still contains considerable of its unctuous properties. These fritters feed the flames.

So far, so good and so… prosaic. A straight forward bit of information about how the industry of whaling was carried out. Moby Dick is packed full of these moments and morsels of information about the technology of whaling. But then, as so often happens in the book, a strange kind of vision overcomes Ishmael and we see, with him, deeper into the moment that the mere burning of fat to make a fire.

Like a plethoric burning martyr, or a self-consuming misanthrope, once ignited, the whale supplies his own fuel and burns by his own body. Would that he consumed his own smoke! for his smoke is horrible to inhale, and inhale it you must, and not only that, but you must live in it for the time. It has an unspeakable, wild, Hindoo odor about it, such as may lurk in the vicinity of funereal pyres. It smells like the left wing of the Day of Judgment; it is an argument for the pit.

“An argument for the pit.” Indeed, the smell must have been that and more with its allusion to the burning of corpses on the banks of the Ganges. But it also serves notice that something more is afoot here than a whaling story; something more than some arcane precursor of “The Most Dangerous Catch.” Instead we understand that a darker dream is about to be unfolded and Melville takes us deeper into that darkness.

The wind was freshening; the wild ocean darkness was intense. But that darkness was licked up by the fierce flames, which at intervals forked forth from the sooty flues, and illuminated every lofty rope in the rigging, as with the famed Greek fire.

And laden with that fire the Pequod, emblem of the society that made and launched her, is seen to drive on,

as if remorselessly commissioned to some vengeful deed.

That deed, as we know from what comes before and after, is the hunting and killing of the White Whale; an act that dooms all aboard except the witness and prophet, the one “escaped to tell thee.” But first we have to receive a quick sketch of the Pequod’s crew on deck in that flame-slashed night. It’s an assemblage of which the most ardent supporters of diversity today would be proud. For it’s time, and absent the women, the crew of the Pequod looks like America.

Standing on this were the Tartarean shapes of the pagan harpooners, always the whale-ship's stokers.

These would be Queequeg, the tattooed South Sea island cannibal (reformed), Tashtego, “an unmixed Indian from Gay Head” on Nantucket, Daggoo, a hulking African from Africa, and Fedallah, a Zoroastrian Parsi from India come to the Pequod by way of China.

These men, having slain the whale they are rendering, are the ones who feed its flesh into the pot and provide the ghastly entertainment for other members of the crew:

Here lounged the watch, when not otherwise employed, looking into the red heat of the fire, till their eyes felt scorched in their heads. Their tawny features, now all begrimed with smoke and sweat, their matted beards, and the contrasting barbaric brilliancy of their teeth, all these were strangely revealed in the capricious emblazonings of the works.


All much like a group of today’s workers might, after a long day, repose in an antediluvian sports bar in the blue glow of a flat-screen and watch some odd iron-man challenge unfold:

The harpooners wildly gesticulated with their huge pronged forks and dippers; as the wind howled on, and the sea leaped, and the ship groaned and dived, and yet steadfastly shot her red hell further and further into the blackness of the sea and the night, and scornfully champed the white bone in her mouth, and viciously spat round her on all sides; then the rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness, seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander's soul.

(Headlong rushing. Savages. Fire. A corpse. A monomaniac commander. All these images strike the bell of our present day.)

Or so it seems to Ishmael who has drawn for this shift the task of helmsman; of keeping the ship on her true course. Removed from his fellow seamen to the stern, it is a task that lends itself to drowsiness, to dreams and visions:

So seemed it to me, as I stood at her helm, and for long hours silently guided the way of this fire-ship on the sea. Wrapped, for that interval, in darkness myself, I but the better saw the redness, the madness, the ghastliness of others. The continual sight of the fiend shapes before me, capering half in smoke and half in fire, these at last begat kindred visions in my soul, so soon as I began to yield to that unaccountable drowsiness which ever would come over me at a midnight helm.

And Ishmael, for a fateful moment, drifts until...

Nothing seemed before me but a jet gloom, now and then made ghastly by flashes of redness. Uppermost was the impression, that whatever swift, rushing thing I stood on was not so much bound to any haven ahead as rushing from all havens astern.

But this moment of feeling as if the ship was lost in a headlong dash towards no particular place but only rushing away from all places and havens previously known passes when Ishmael realizes what has happened. In his drifting semi-slumber, Ishmael has merely turned around and is looking at the darkness behind the ship. He comes back to reality not a moment too soon.

In an instant I faced back, just in time to prevent the vessel from flying up into the wind, and very probably capsizing her.

Because of this reprieve, the ship is made safe and able, for a time at least, to continue on as before, “rushing from all havens astern” and “remorselessly commissioned to some vengeful deed.”


This is the nightmare of all those whose time and duty have converged so that they, and not others, are at the helm, charged with the responsibility of keep the ship on its true course, of keeping it from the lee shore, of steering it ahead towards calmer and sunnier seas and climes. It is a task at which the fire that burns and flares in the minds of men will always seek to distract the helmsmen. It is a distraction all helmsmen must, as Melville saw, guard against and avoid.

Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with thy hand on the helm! Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly. To-morrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp - all others but liars!

This approaches the core of Melville’s vision. Only the true light, not the light from the fires, lamps, and burning dreams of men is the one to steer by and towards. “All others but liars!”

And not because it is the light that illuminates gentle and fine things only, but because it is the light of the world as it is. Not the Happy World that is always to come and always, strangely, delayed.

Nevertheless the sun hides not Virginia's Dismal Swamp, nor Rome's accursed Campagna, nor wide Sahara, nor all the millions of miles of deserts and of griefs beneath the moon. The sun hides not the ocean, which is the dark side of this earth, and which is two thirds of this earth.

Nor is one to believe the men who emerge from the masses preaching Paradise Now, with only a few modern alterations and additions.

So, therefore, that mortal man who hath more of joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true - not true, or undeveloped.

Books and philosophies promising serenity and happiness now must also be ignored if the ship is to remains safe,

With books the same. The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon's, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. "All is vanity". ALL.

Not quite ALL as we see in the conclusion of The Try Works as Melville shares the last and possibly greatest insight of his vision and prophecy. Even in the knowledge that "’All is vanity’. ALL,” there remains the one way for the helmsman to steer the ship clear of disaster. He must, in the end, refuse the promise and the seduction of the refining fire, and stay at his station at the helm of the ship.

But even Solomon, he says, "the man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain" (i. e. even while living) "in the congregation of the dead". Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me.

There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.

And so.... from all of that and so much more besides fares the good ship America during this, the 238th year of our voyage?

It is laden with savages,
           burning with fire,
                  carrying a corpse,
and cursed with a monomaniac commander.

Then again, as in the final words of Melville’s vision, even at its lowest swoop it is still “higher than the other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.”

Still soaring. And still, by the grace of God, sailing on.

And still “The America” and not yet ‘The Pequod.”

Steady on.


Posted by Vanderleun at Nov 27, 2017 11:12 PM |  Comments (29)  | QuickLink: Permalink
My Father


The Interface
--for my father, Albert John Van der Leun

The empty rituals and dusty opulence
of the nightmare's obvious ending dwindle,
and the sounds of departing automobiles
fade into the humm beyond the cul-de-sac.
Inside the house my mother sits quietly,
surrounded by the plates of finger food
that everybody brought and no one ate,
and wonders if she should begin to take
his clothes from the closet and call the Goodwill.
Some blocks away, the minister hangs
his vestments on a peg, and goes to lunch.

I drive the Skyway to the town named Paradise,
park his car at the canyon's rim, and sit awhile
in the hot silence of the afternoon looking out
at the far Sierras where, in June, the winter lingers.
On the seat beside me a well-taped cardboard cube
contains what remains of my father. I climb out
and, taking the cube under my arm, begin to climb
down the canyon's lava wall to the stream below.
The going is slow, but we get to the bottom by and by
and sitting on some moss, we rest awhile, the cube and I,
beside the snow-chilled stream.

The place we have come to is where the pines lean out
from the rounded boulders lodged above the stream;
where what the stream saves builds up in the backwater,
making in the mounds of matter an inventory of the year:
Rusted tins slumped under the fallen sighs of weeds,
diminishing echoes of the blackbird's gliding wings,
laughs buoyed in the hollow belly of stunted trees,
gears, tires, the bones of birds, brilliant pebbles,
the rasping whoosh of leaf fall crushed to dust,
the thunk of bone on bark, the thud of earth on wood,
the silence of soft ash scattered on chill waters.

And in such silence, he fades forever.

The stream, its waters revolving round
through river, ocean, clouds, and rain,
bears away the hands and eyes,
but still the memory remains,
answering, in pantomime,
the questions never asked:

Are these reflections but the world without,
carried on but never borne onward, westward,
towards sunlight glazed on sea's thigh?
Or are such frail forms shaped upon the waters all
the things that are, and we above immersed in air
the forms that fade, only the mere mirrors of the stream?

Is this life all that is and, once life lost,
the end of all that was, with nothing
left to be, with no pine wind to taste,
nor sun to dapple mind with dream?
Is all that is but ash dissolving,
our lives mere rain in circles falling?

Or are we still the center of such circles,
our fall a rise above the shawl of night,
where all shall shine contained within
that single soul, that heart of stars;
that interface where souls and suns
and Earth's far scattered waters meet?

Meet in that one hand whose palm
still remains held out forever,
held out and for forever open
even in the coldest light of day.

Posted by Vanderleun at Jun 18, 2017 12:08 AM |  Comments (25)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The List

notoffthlist.jpgAs some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list--I've got a little list....
- W. S. Gilbert

"The List" is the bane of testosterone-driven humans. "The List" is kept in the secret mental lock-box of human beings of the estrogen persuasion. Some believe that "The List" is a social construct, while others believe that "The List" is hard-wired into the DNA of the human female. I favor the latter theory since it seems to me that "The List" is merely a subset of "The Plan" -- and "The Plan" is not only part and parcel of the basic makeup of the human female regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, or historic epoch, it is also the reason that -- over time -- women triumph over men. Women, in short, always have a life plan while men are stuck with something that looks like a cross between a spread sheet without a recalc button and a really slick marketing idea.

In short, men might have a plan for making a rocket-propelled street luge, but they have none at all when it comes to human activities that stretch across decades -- unless it involves such trifles as national defense or energy policy. Men seem to see items like this as actually important, but women know that what is really important is the command and control of male behavior. Hence, "Your Permanent Conduct Record" aka "The List."

Women reading this essay are, of course, not the type to ever keep an indelible list of male transgressions, large and teeny-tiny. But trust me, there are many that do. Why? Because it works.

"The List" is a means of male-control through negative feedback. Positive male actions towards a woman are expected, perhaps noted at the time, perhaps not, -- but always in pencil. A brief pat and nod of encouragement and then the woman goes back into the default mode of "what have you done for me lately?" "Lately" is, as all men know, but a small subset of a single day.

Failings of the male -- such as lapses in mental telepathy -- are kept on "The List" in indelible ink, preferably blood-red. "The List" also includes transgressions, large and small, against the woman from previous relationships with previous males. The ownership of all these transgressions is automatically transfered to the male of the current relationship at the moment of inception or conception, whichever comes first. This is the reason men sometimes feel they are expected to pay an overdue bill for a meal they did not eat in a restaurant that no longer exists. Plus a 20% tip.

Posted by Vanderleun at Feb 14, 2017 1:51 AM |  Comments (71)  | QuickLink: Permalink

Come, my friends,
’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
- Alfred Lord Tennyson's Ulysses

Posted by Vanderleun at Nov 8, 2016 8:25 PM |  Comments (5)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Visit to an Old Friend

For Steve | Dec. 1945 - July 2012 Seated, second from the left.

While riding on a train goin' west,
I fell asleep for to take my rest.
I dreamed a dream that made me sad,
Concerning myself and the first few friends I had.*

Cruising in the bright August morning down Highway 5. California's great central valley, north of Sacramento, where the farm towns roll by, their blunt names like an old catechism of your life, "Willows," "Williams," "Orland," "Nord."

Rice fields shimmer in fives shades of green. Enough rice to feed the Orient with a bunch left over for the States. Old and new orchards in whirring diagonal rows. Roadside attractions promising 20 different varieties of olives. White egrets pacing in the irrigation canals. Yellow crop dusters banking and coming in low over the highway.

Heading south towards San Francisco; towards an appointment with an old friend trapped too early in a brain where all the furniture is fading, dissolving, melting into a blurred now and a bright twenty years ago.

The old story. You wonder about a friend you haven't been in touch with for a decade. You meet someone who knows someone who knows him. Or you run an Internet search and find an email of a person who once knew him. And you ask. Most of the time things are fine, but then there's that time when the news is not good. Not good at all.

How many a year has passed and gone,
And many a gamble has been lost and won,
And many a road taken by many a friend,
And each one I've never seen again. *

You get a phone number for his brother and you call. His brother fills you in on the details.

Several strokes stemming from a traffic accident twenty years gone and an operation on the brain five years later. First wife saw what was coming and cleared out, dumping the marriage to become a poet. Right.

He married again and, by all accounts, married well. Had some good years. Was back to his music and his songs. But then the strokes came, and came again, and his mind began to liquefy. The second wife couldn't handle all the care -- could you? -- and placed him, at last, in a home in San Francisco.

One daughter sees him often, the other daughter seldom, the second wife some times, the brother every six weeks, the first wife never.

And so, because of what was, and because you have to be, at the least, a witness to this part of his life and yours, you arrange a visit.

By the old wooden stove where our hats was hung,
Our words were told, our songs were sung,
Where we longed for nothin' and were quite satisfied
Talkin' and a-jokin' about the world outside.*

The hours and the miles roll by and the roads slowly meld together until you're just another metal insect skittering past dry brindle hills, old oil refineries, the sluggish green waters of the upper bay, then shuttling up on the Bay Bridge, across and then down into the wedged traffic creeping towards Civic Center and Hayes. Park the rental car just short of Laguna and Hayes. You used to live around here in the early 70s. Or was it ten blocks over towards the bay? In Pacific Heights, North Beach or the Haight? You're not sure.

Lock up, look around. These residential neighborhoods in San Francisco don't change much over the years. Victorian apartments over new shops. Bay windows. Wood frame structures with once bright colors fading under the assault from sunshine and salt-laden fog. Walk San Francisco's broken and poorly patched sidewalks, stepping around this block's official homeless person sorting her things in her grocery cart. Look across the street. He's there by his brother. Warmed by the sun he sits, trapped now forever, in his wheelchair.

His hands once played the piano, boogie-woogie to rock to classical. Your call. Played the guitar too. Folk, rock, classical. Your call.

He's written dozens of songs. He's organized a rock orchestra of 24 people. They played gigs and recorded his songs too, even though few ever heard them.

In 1971 he founded a School of Rock decades before the movie was even a pitch across the lunch plate of some useless Hollywood studio clone. In San Francisco. In the Seventies. It's still there teaching the now time-honored techniques of rock and roll to whomever applies.

Which of us would have thought then that someday rock and roll would be taught like "classical" music. He did, back then, when rock and roll was still "experimental" music. It could be taught and it would be taught. He was there then.

We were all there then.

With haunted hearts through the heat and cold,
We never thought we could ever get old.
We thought we could sit forever in fun
But our chances really was a million to one.*

The old joke goes, "If you can remember the Sixties, you weren't there." Funny, but a lie. I was there in the Sixties. My curse is that I remember everything -- even the things I would like to forget. Especially those. But if forgetting the shameful memories means removing the wonderful memories too, I'll take the whole library.

I've probably embroidered those memories over the decades, but so slowly and carefully that the added stitches are now indistinguishable from the rest of the tapestry. Baroque though they may be, the memories, for me, are just that. I don't try and live in them nor have them dictate my life now.

Be. Here. Now. Remember?

He's here but not here now. It's two decades, two wives, two daughters, and many more than two strokes later. He's here now in this residence hotel for the aged and the infirm in a San Francisco neighborhood that doesn't change with the years. He's waiting for me in his wheelchair, in the sun, his brother by his side.

He might still want to play the piano, but his hands won't answer him any more. They can't. They'll never do it again. The hands no longer answer when he calls them. He's learned not to call.

Now his hands can barely lift a spoon or maneuver a cup to his lips. His speech is slurred and slow. You can see the end of the sentence fade from his mind before he gets to the middle.

Still, in fits and starts, in moments and sparks of expression, you can see him emerge from inside his prison and then sink back in. You find yourself looking for those moments. You let the others slide.

We meet and we go for a walk and a roll with his brother in the San Francisco afternoon. We come back and take a table in the Indian restaurant under the series of rooms are now his last home. We work our way through the lunch buffet. And we talk, mostly about the past since the past is where he's most at ease.

There was the fence we built on his ranch/commune. There was the day the two dogs we owned from the same litter killed the chicken. The stoned, comic film we were going to make with large vats of spaghetti in the first scene. Wives we had and girls we knew. The old songs. The handsome collection of pot plants on the deck that was taken away by the local police. The concerts. The marches. All the old moments, more than we could say in the few hours we had.

As easy it was to tell black from white,
It was all that easy to tell wrong from right.
And our choices were few and the thought never hit
That the one road we traveled would ever shatter and split.*

After a couple of hours, his youngest daughter came in. Lovely and warm and smart. Quiet and calm with him. She lit his face up with a glow I hadn't seen. But she had things to do in the way that the young always have things to do, and had to rush off to meet her boyfriend. As she left, he asked her in his painfully slow way, "Do you... have... a good... man?"

"Yes," she assured him, "he's a very good man."

"I'm... happy then."

She left and we went out of the restaurant and up to the home on the floor above so his clothing could be changed. His brother and I waited for his nurse to bring him back in the small terrace outside. The very old pushed their walkers about. The mentally deficient mumbled in the corners. The sun was still warm in the late afternoon. His brother told me that the prognosis was, in short, a long decline to a dead end. He would never be better tomorrow than he was today.

He was rolled back out and we spent some more time talking, but he was obviously tiring and the early supper time popular in these homes was approaching. So it was time to go. As I got up to leave, he reached up and took my arm pulling me close. He paused for a moment and I could see him gather his energy. Then he said, quite clearly, "I just want to say one thing."


"I deeply regret... that everyday there are people... out there trying... trying with all their might to... hijack your brain."

So we left it like that and I drove to the airport and took the next flight out. I had no reservation, paid with a debit card, was flying one way to a California town with a New York Drivers License. I got my own special bag search right down to the seams of my suitcase, and an extended question and answer session with airport security -- just in case I was going to try with all my might to hijack the plane. It's how we live now.

At John Wayne Airport, I waited in the warm evening until my wife at the time picked me up.

"Do you want to go somewhere for dinner?" she asked.

"No. I just want to go home."

We drove to the coast and turned south along the Pacific. On the left, the lights were on in all the multi-million dollar homes that gaze out over the Pacific. On the right, you could see the flickering lines of white as the waves coming in from Asia broke at last against the rocks and the sand. Beyond them, there was the dark sheen of water moving off until it all faded into the night and merged into a spray of stars.

With half-damp eyes I stared to the room
Where my friends and I spent many an afternoon,
Where we together weathered many a storm,
Laughin' and singin' till the early hours of the morn.

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain,
That we could sit simply in that room again.
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat,
I'd give it all gladly if our lives could be like that.*

*Bob Dylan's Dream
Republished from September, 2004

Posted by Vanderleun at Nov 6, 2016 2:11 AM |  Comments (30)  | QuickLink: Permalink
A Brief History of Republicans and Democrats -- Author Unknown


Some historians are teaching that history began some 10,000 years ago. Humans existed as members of small bands of nomadic hunter/gatherers. They lived on deer in the mountains during the winter and would go to the coast to live on fish and lobster in the summer.

The two most important events in all of history were the invention of beer and the invention of the wheel. The wheel was invented to get man to the beer. These were the foundations of modern civilization, and together were the catalyst for the splitting of humanity into two distinct subgroups: Liberals & Conservatives.

Once beer was discovered, it required grain, and that was the beginning of agriculture. Neither the glass bottle nor aluminum can were invented yet, so while our early human ancestors were sitting around waiting for them to be invented, they just stayed close to the brewery. That’s how villages were formed.

Some men spent their days tracking and killing animals to B-B-Q at night while they were drinking beer. This was the beginning of what is known as “the Conservative movement.”

Posted by Vanderleun at Nov 1, 2016 12:11 PM |  Comments (21)  | QuickLink: Permalink
"He Wasn't In His Right Mind"


"All of the victims were shot in their heads
and all but McGowan were shot in their beds,"
Doyle said.

"The beds were undisturbed.
The house itself was undisturbed,"
Doyle said.

"There were no signs
of a break-in,"
Doyle said.

-- No Motive Found in California Murders

Above, the unintentional "found poetry" of a local murder in Garner Valley, California. Exceptional enough to be brought to the ever shortening attention span of the nation because the toll was unusually high: David, Father, age 42 -- believed dead by his own hand; Chase, son, age 14; Paige, daughter, age 10; Raine, daughter, age 8; Karen, wife and mother, age 42; Karen's mother, no name or age given in the report.

We learn that a "911 dispatcher didn't hear any voices on the line, but was able to identify the sounds of the telephone hitting the wall and a gunshot." We learn that the father's body was found next to a handgun and a phone. We learn that "this community is in no danger. We are not at this time looking for a suspect." We learn that the town is really quiet and that, "A lot could happen right next door and you wouldn't even know it."

We don't learn if the standard spontaneous shrine of flowers, balloons, stuffed animals and children's art and crayoned notes has been erected at the edge of the police tape in front of the home, but we know it will be, and it will remain until the rains wash away.

We won't learn, unless we live in that small town, the "why" of it all.

We probably could know, in time, the why of it all if we became interested in this common killing, exceptional only for its body count. We could learn if we followed the ever-shrinking national news reports down to the local level. We could, we think, learn why if we followed the reports on through the inquest and into the six graves that wait after all the bodies are autopsied by the men who spend their lives
"Working on mysteries
Without any clues.."

We could know why, but we won't bother to find out. No need really. We already think two things that keep us from needing to know. First, we think that we do know what happened in the house. Second, we know -- because it happened in that house -- it will never happen in our house.

We know it will never happen in our house because, as humans, we have an almost limitless ability to forget any hint of 'could' when it comes to horror. In those few moments when our forgetfulness fails us, we remain secure in our belief that we would never do such things to those we love. We know to an absolute certainty that anyone who could must not have been "in his right mind."

Posted by Vanderleun at Oct 31, 2016 3:34 AM |  Comments (89)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Only By Fire is Fascism Finished


Year upon year in this world's dark forests,
Heaped at the foot of the trees,
The tangles and bundles of dead brush increase
Which sunlight shall never seize.

The vampire by sunlight or stake.
The wolfman by silver in bone.
The demon by book, chant and pentagram.
The fascist by fire alone.

The ash that descends in the clearest of skies?
The leapers that swam down the stones?
Best answered by bombs from mid-heaven at prayer
With the fire that hollows the bones.

The vampire by sunlight or stake.
The wolfman by silver in bone.
The demon by book, chant and pentagram.
The fascist by fire alone.

If their god decrees war, God's war shall prevail.
His lessons are seared in the stone.
No dreams shall defer, nor wishes erase,
The answer that's burned in the bone.

The vampire by sunlight or stake.
The wolfman by silver in bone.
The demon by book, chant and pentagram.
The fascist by fire alone.

Only by fire is fascism finished.
This sin is demanded that your line may live.
Only through fire is freedom reborn.
Each generation pulls the sword from the stone.

Posted by Vanderleun at Jun 18, 2016 11:00 PM |  Comments (44)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Closing Time

She was cruising down the Big Sur coast,
Looking for a little romance.
I was walking the edge of Highway One,
Hoping for a second chance.

She pulled that Ford to the side of the road.
I opened the door, got in.
Said, "My name's Adam, baby. What's yours?"
She said, "They call me Original Sin."

She didn't look like no high-school sweetheart.
She was no obvious beauty queen.
But she had something every man knows,
That fire that's felt not seen.

We coasted down that seaside highway
Until the evening fog rolled in,
Then checked ourselves into the Pines Motel,
Where I first knew Original Sin.

When I awoke the next morning
The room held nothing but me and a note.
"Nice knowing you, Adam, but I gotta roll.
See you around sometime," she wrote.

I wandered on down the side of the road,
Feeling just strange and tired.
Stuck out a thumb and a rig pulled over,
Said, "You want a job moving, you're hired."

We drifted along the curves below Sur
For most of that foggy morning,
Crawled over a hill and into a bunch
Of cops and cars with no warning.

Below the carved cliffs, out on the rocks
Was the smoldering wreck of a Ford.
Gulls swarmed above it, calling and calling,
Looking for a little reward.

"Another damn fool," said the trucker.
"Took the curve just a little too quick.
I seen it before and I'll see it again.
It's a killer of a road when its slick."

He edged round the cops and the gawkers,
Hit the gas, downshifted the gears.
"Pull over," I said, " and let me get out.
Far as I go is right here."

I walked back to the Sur and got me a job.
Worked hard, got some money laid in,
And opened this bar by the side of the road,
And I named it Original Sin.

And sometimes halfway to morning,
When the last of the drunks have rolled home,
I find myself down by the Pines Motel,
And I know that I'm never alone,
Know now that I'm never alone.

And that's my sad old story, pal.
Just one of a million I hear.
But this tale is mine to know and to tell.
Tell me yours and I'll buy you a beer.
Tell me yours and its worth
One cold beer.

Posted by Vanderleun at May 12, 2016 12:41 PM |  Comments (5)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Smoke


Snow still sheaths the streets in their mountains,
and the spring trees shudder in the wind off their lakes,
until night's smoke frames them fades them finally and forever and they're gone...
gone into the smoke of the world.

Smell of her long hair hot in the sun through the windshield,
rattle of dried corn sheaves shaken by dusk's breeze,
soft heft of breasts sweet as winter oranges,
the breath rising in the dry heat parching her body.
And the fire rose up in me and I stretched her out, O lovely,
across the pale cloth and reached out
and holding held and held until gone....
gone into the smoke of the world.

Gone fifty years.
The day, the lips, the hair -- gone,
gone forever, forever gone into the gone world...
gone into the smoke of the world.

Above Berkeley's Old Moe's bookstore late at night
she loomed over me in the lamplight
as morning seemed forever delayed.
An eastern school took her at dawn,
her name forgotten, her scent and her flesh
remembered so that even now, on a unknown street
here in the west, I sometimes pass
a woman with that scent and turn
wondering, all these past gone years later,
could that one, that one, that one have been her
in that night when the dawn delayed,
and I woke to find her scent on the pillow
but her body forever gone, gone forever...
gone into the smoke of the world.


They arrive dancing along the blade of night.
They leave fading into the smoke of dawn.
The mists of memory swirl and fold,
and remove their distinct details:
the haiku left behind in old boxes:
"I scrunched up the moon
into my water bucket..."

Did someone say she became a singer
somewhere in California? Judy? Was that,
last innocent love of my youth, her name?

The Christian roommate with tawny hair,
stroking the breasts near the kennels of the barkless dogs.
That musk, that hot breath in the cherry orchards,
the dwarf cattle, that hand closing upon me
so fleetingly and then gone...
gone into the smoke of the world.

The Italian with the moped.
The cowgirl with the blues.
The lapsed Catholic.
The painter with the horse's face and too-tight jeans.
The chintz shack. The quilt covered table.
The kiss upon my body -- Ah and Ah and Ah --
The whispered love in the attic of the San Francisco Mansion ---
The poet's garret on the side street, gray corridors --
The one named after the little deer... Bambi....

And then the forest takes a spark
And all the woods are blazing
And ash drifts down over the days
And they are all gone ... all gone...
gone into the smoke of the world.

Then the years of the cities and the slim women
wafting out of the night and into the smoky clubs.
The models and the painters and the posers.
Hairdressers, shop girls.... and those that loved the literary life.
The mockers and the shockers who kept
mostly cats but sometimes chittering marmots.
The ones who were sneaking around way downtown.
The socialites at the Black and White Ball
who needed their foreheads held as they hurled
into the shrubbery and then headed back to the bar
for another burst of oblivion.

And then in the room next to the roses in the Sur,
Holding the one who became the long wife.
Now off to her aging and gone, long gone...
gone into the smoke of the world.

The brief wife calls from her place in the smoke,
hiding her need at the center of her speech,
and achieving assurance can't wait to fade back
to the rooms that she's chosen to have and to hold.

"How am I?
I'm good.
I'm doing quite well."

"That's good.
Glad to hear it.
Stay well."

Missed connections.
Harsh static.
The cellphone in fade and then gone...
gone into the smoke of the world.

Snow still sheaths the streets
in their mountains and rivers,
and the spring trees shudder
in the wind off their lakes,
and the streetlights flicker
in their towns and their cities,
until winter banks their fires,
and night fades them finally,
and forever they're gone,
gone into the gone world,
gone, gone, long gone,
gone into the smoke of the world.


Posted by Vanderleun at Apr 25, 2016 1:09 PM |  Comments (6)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Walking on Thin Ice

Photo from Poretto @ Bastion of Liberty

This image in this morning's email brought this meditation from 2006 to mind:

To the secular, nothing is sacred. Then again, why should it be? They're "secular."

Back in 2006 National Geographic and other media echo chambers thought enough of this "discovery" to headline it, Jesus May Have Walked on Ice, Not Water, Scientists Say . I'm not nearly so objective. After I read the story, I thought it could more reasonably be headlined, Scientist Confirms Popular Theory That Most Scientists Are Atheistic Asses with Too Much Time and Money on their Hands, Sensible People Say

The New Testament says that Jesus walked on water, but a Florida university professor believes there could be a less miraculous explanation -- he walked on a floating piece of ice....

Nof, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University, said on Tuesday that his study found an unusual combination of water and atmospheric conditions in what is now northern Israel could have led to ice formation on the Sea of Galilee.....

"If you ask me if I believe someone walked on water, no, I don't," Nof said. "Maybe somebody walked on the ice, I don't know. I believe that something natural was there that explains it."

"We leave to others the question of whether or not our research explains the biblical account."

We leave to others the question of whether or not this research is worth diddly-squat. What is of broader interest is the present state of the secular mindset to all things religious.

Religious in the Christian sense, that is, since the current global climate of "Fear of Muslims" seems to have created a shortage of "scientific research" into the various miracles and powers assigned to Allah in the Koran. Indeed, given the reaction to a drawing of the Prophet with a bomb in his turban, it is not hard to imagine that even if a "scientist" were to notice "something natural that explains" Allah, his next thought would be something on the order of "Why should I put my head on the chopping block?" Jesus, being a more forgiving God, is safer game.

Of course, it is, as scientists are wont to say, 'only a theory.' This is used in two ways.

When it comes to a central tenet of modern science, Darwinism for example, the word "theory" is used in a manner that merges forcefully into the word "fact," and a great deal of effort is put into why "The Theory of Evolution" really means "The Absolute and Forever Established Fact of How the World and Life and Everything Else Came to Be and Everyone Else Can Just Shut UP and Sit Down."

Nof opts for the Non-Denial Denial use of "Theory" in his paper. The Non-concluding Conclusion to his paper, "Is there a paleolimnological explanation for 'walking on water' in the Sea of Galilee," reads:

We hesitate to draw any conclusion regarding the implications of this study to the actual events that took place at Tabgha during the last few (or several) thousand years. Our springs ice calculation may or may not be related to the origin of the account of Christ walking on water. The whole story may have originated in local ancient folklore which happened to be told best in the Christian Bible. It is hoped, however, that archeologists, religion scholars, anthropologists and believers will examine such implications in detail.

Translation: "I just pulled the pin and threw the grenade in the building. Can't blame me. I was just the hand grenade's messenger. And, by the way, you may cower and abase yourself when you note the insertion of the word "paleolimnnological" in the title. Makes it sound real solid scientific, don't it?"

Of course, when Nof gets a little attention from a supportive and loving media, he phrases it a bit differently, "If you ask me if I believe someone walked on water, no, I don't," Nof said. "Maybe somebody walked on the ice, I don't know. I believe that something natural was there that explains it."

Nof's entitled to his 'belief' in "something natural." That belief system is not only the foundation of his career, but of his self-limited life itself. It is, in a very real sense, his religion.

As far as the whole "Jesus walked on the water" issue goes, my own belief is: "I don't know. I wasn't there. I can't seem to find the weather report from that day online. And there's no video tape that I'm aware of. Just some eye witnesses, with all that implies."

I'm also aware of another theory that holds that the Star of Bethlehem was a supernova that just happened to show up in the sky at Christ's birth. Arthur C. Clarke used this to good effect in his short story "The Star." T.S. Eliot used it earlier in "The Journey of the Magi." In a much less distinguished manner, I've even used it myself in Sunday Meditation: The Star @ AMERICAN DIGEST where I noted, in passing,

In time stronger sciences would rise upon the structures of the proto-sciences of astrology and alchemy. These sciences would push the first sciences into the realm of myth, speculation, and popular fantasy. The new sciences, you see, were much, much more about Reality. They would never be tossed aside in their time as so many playthings of mankind's youth. The authority of astronomy, biology, physics, chemistry and others was certain. Unlike astrology and alchemy, they would never be questioned. We had the evidence. There was no doubt. They were as eternal and as fixed in the truth as... well, as astrology was in 5 B.C.

All of which gets us back to pretty much where we are today where Christ is revealed to have been, at the very least, pretty good at ice-skating. And, with a supernova at birth and a frozen lake near the end, you would have to say, even as a secular scientist, that Jesus had a great sense of timing as well as a way with words.

Nof seems to have a sense of timing and a way with words as well. I'm sure there are nods of approval and various other high fives pinging into his email today from other true believers world-wide. After all, it seems that the only thing that makes a bigger splash in Science these days than a cure for cancer is some bit of "cutting-edge research" (almost always with the aid of computer modeling) that either warms the globe or disparages religion.

Why? Because it is a central tenet of faith, of pure faith, in the Secular Religion, that traditional Christianity is the "Anti-Darwin" to that faith. Strange when you consider that, in terms of actual dogma and actual acts, Islam is far more hostile to all the core tenets of science, but -- as I noted above -- it really isn't very safe to take too close a look at that collection of ergot-derived insights out of the desert. Those adherents are a bit more lethal when it comes to accepting slights on their religion. But then Christianity is the dominant religion of the First World and that's what we're discussing here -- not which faith is right, but which faith is to be master. It seems that for Science to triumph as the new religion, Christ has to die again -- and this time he's got to stay dead.

There are fundamentalist Christians who hold that everything in the Bible is as the Bible says it is. And there are fundamentalist Scientists, like Nof, who hold that nothing in the Bible is as it says it is.

My very small puppy in this fight says that there is a lot in Science that lets all of us live longer and better lives while there is a lot in Christianity that lets us live deeper and more meaningful lives.

I don't look to Christianity to bring me the weather reports for tomorrow. At the same time I don't look to Science to ever, in its widest dreams, reveal the core of the miracle and mystery of being a conscious entity who has been granted the gift of being able, in my better moments, to witness -- even for an inch of time -- the wonder of Creation.

I know that there are many zealots of the Secular Faith who will think the less of me for not being "tough minded" enough just to face up to the fact that everything really is "purposeless matter hovering in the dark." I know that habit of mind well. I wore it like a pre-fab Medal of Honor for many years. Then one day I had had enough of Nothingness and I sent it back.

I guess you could say that being a Secular Atheist started to feel like trying to walk on thin ice.

Posted by Vanderleun at Mar 29, 2016 2:11 AM |  Comments (36)  | QuickLink: Permalink
We do not die, "period"; we die, "comma."

From Donald Sensing's Easter Meditation:

The Resurrection means that the worst thing that happens to us is not the last thing that happens to us. Christ's resurrection reveals that we do not die, "period"; we die, "comma." On Easter God turns pain to power; God transforms tragedy to triumph and pushes through crucifixion to resurrection.

If Christian faith is about nothing but the here and now, then Paul admits it isn't worth the time we spend on it. That is why the cross and the empty tomb stand at the center of our relationship with God and one another. On Good Friday's cross is where the Advent proclamation, that Jesus was "God with us," was made completely true, for Jesus died as we do. Easter's empty tomb beckons us to trust in a gracious God who provides throughout both our life and our death.

Posted by Vanderleun at Mar 27, 2016 10:00 PM |  Comments (2)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Laguna Dawn


These fragments I have shored against my ruins. - - The Waste Land

The full moon is sliding down the dark sky over Catalina Island off on the western horizon. Slipping in and out of sheets of haze it spreads a blue on darker blue pool of moonlight out from the silhouette of the island's steep hills and across the open slate water to the shore. Below me to the north, the winding lights of the village converge on the long dark strand of the Pacific Coast Highway arcing up and over the hills of Laguna Beach and on into the towns that string out towards LA, growing ever denser along that route until it fades into the bleak streets of the metropolis.

Driving that way towards the central coast, you'd be tempted to give up the coast highway, old Route 1, for a quick transit through LA and out over the Grapevine to the featureless plain of the central valley and the torpor of Highway 5. But if you stay on the Pacific Coast Highway as it disappears into the scuzzy sprawl of LA, you'll find, in time, you took the better route.

It's true that to find the deeper rewards of the Pacific Coast Highway you have to crawl through endless renditions of our modern malaise laid out as the strip malls and neighborhoods of low degree in that part of the passage -- the fried food joints, the store-front fortune tellers, the endless quick shot bars and bad to mediocre restaurants, drive-through churches -- but in the end the Highway emerges in Santa Monica, gives way to the long beaches and headlands of Malibu, sweeps out of the city completely and leads to highlands and sea cliffs and finally to the Sur. You'd never get there if you take the fast and easy freeway to the east. It is true that you might get to someplace else, some other clot of cities, quicker. But then you'd just find yourself in another variation of Los Angeles. It would be as if you never left, since, in truth, you had not.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that if you take your time with a journey, you have a much better chance of finding, again, that the journey itself is the destination and not some distant city; that if you can accept you need to pass through the uglier parts of the landscape to get to the highlands and the vistas, they will in time appear again. But if you try to take the fast route, the route that leads around all the clutter, detritus, and smash of our disposable culture, you will in the end have seen little and understood less, you will be traveling on the bland Highway 5s that always run into the dark end of nowhere special.

This morning, having come back from a very long journey, it seems clearer than usual to me that our recent ability to achieve speed in transit has infected us with the idea that all transitions in life need to be done at speed. After which, we complain that there seem to be far too many wrecks and breakdowns on these highways of our lives. We complain that there is always too much traffic around us and all we can do is hunker down in our own steel shell and drive with one foot on the gas and the other on the brake, boxed in by a flying wedge of semis hauling things we don't need to houses that are not quite homes, and tailgated by our own impatience to get there on time only to discover that destination is not really where we needed to be at all.

Posted by Vanderleun at Mar 24, 2016 12:09 AM |  Comments (5)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Wedding Vows


           ....Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.

             --- Shakespeare -- Sonnet 116.

THE FIRST TIME I WAS MARRIED I was married to over 200 naked people. We weren't quite buck naked. The men had crudely made laurel wreathes on their heads, sometimes just a wad of weeds, while the women had wreathes of flowers around their brows and, for those old enough to have any, small bouquets of blossoms lodged in their pubic hair. All the men had large clubs and all the women large breasts. It was the butt end of the 60s and people in my set tended to have that kind of equipment. What children there were tended to be either infants or toddlers, all still nursing at will.

The men and the women had separated an hour or so before the wedding and, at dusk, the two groups came together from opposite directions.

First the men came, chanting and grunting and pounding and waving their clubs. At our center was the groom, long black hair streaming down over his back, nude and tanned, under a kind of pagan huppah of a custom tie-dye made for the occassion and four sticks sporting Gods Eyes, also hand crafted for the ritual.

Chanting and grunting, (Yes, the LSD had kicked in an hour or so before and was still not peaking.) we made our way to a bluff of hard black stone overlooking the Great Central Valley in California from the first rise of foothills that step up into the High Sierra. All about our feet were deep, smooth indentations in the black rock where the Indians had, for centuries, ground acorns into mash with stones.

Looking down from the stone bluff we could see all across the Great Imperial Valley to where the sun was descending behind the Coast Range. It was a green day shading into an orange dusk. There were guitars strumming somewhere. In those days somebody was always noodling a long nothing on a guitar. We turned and, as men in groups at wedding have always done, we waited for the bride and her estrogen entourage. The waiting for the women was perhaps the only traditional moment of matrimony to be had on that day.

The women emerged from the shadows of the pine forest that rolled up behind them to the starker slopes of the Sierras where the timber line looked cold and gray under the lingering slabs of snow that still, even in high summer, caught the light and shined from inside the shadows. They numbered around a hundred. Never before or since have I seen such a large grouping of naked women. All shapes and sizes, all ages. I'd like to say all races but this was early in our forced march into the leaden halls of mandatory diversity and they were mostly white.

And all, at least in my memory, lovely -- each in their way.

They'd spent their two hours (as the mystery molecule that was our sacrament in those years kicked in), gathering vast quantities of wildflowers from the valley and the forest. They carried large bouquets and had used the surplus for adornment. This adornment consisted of wildflower tiaras ringing the long hair or all colors that fell from their heads, and as smaller bouquets formed by placing individual stems in large quantities into their pubic hair -- and in those days of dedication to the natural body, pubic hair was much more formidable than the current rage for plucking, shaping, and waxing could possibly indicate.

Standing with 100 naked men on a stone bluff as 100 naked women walked towards you singing some ancient melody is something that a man does not easily forget. I have, in my memory, a large set of mental Polaroids from those minutes and they have not faded. Primal, true, baked at high temperatures and very elemental moments have a habit of lodging themselves deep your the cerebral cortex never to be evicted.

In time the groups merged and stood close together in the warm dusk as the bride joined the groom under the tie-dyed huppa through which the sun's light glowed.

The man chosen to lead the ceremony stood at the apex of the arc we'd formed behind the bride and groom, his back to the valley and mountains to the west. He was a man of strange interests and a fascinating philosophy. At least, that's how I remember him since, at this remove, I don't remember any of the odd things he believed, except their were a lot of them. He'd suffered some sort of catastrophic accident involving fire and the left side of his face was a mass of shining scar tissue which was usually pink but became inflamed and glowed red when emotions surged through him. Since this was a moment when both emotions and LSD were surging through him, it was like looking at some strange naked harlequin mask perched atop a short and stock naked body with a large mat of red chest hair.

Somehow this pastor or shaman pulled himself together enough to begin the ceremony. Since those present at the ceremony, taken en masse, represented a lot of the original tribe that had, in San Francisco in those years, invented the Hippies, we were -- so we saw ourselves -- the Acquarian Center of the World and the Crown of Creation. As such, we were inventing the world anew. And one of the things that simply had to be invented anew from scratch were the Wedding Vows.

Not for us were the tired promises made by our parents and all those who came before our parents going back into the centuries long before.

Not for us to be gathered in the sight of God ( although He saw us all more clearly that day than we could hope to know), but rather in the sight of our self-selected naked tribe that would later imagine something named Gaia as a shallow but faintly adequate god that mapped to our own egos and self-willed agnosticism.

Not for us to respond to the warning "as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, that ye confess it." Confession was not in us, not necessary. We believed in being 'up front,' except in those cases where fronting something would bust us in the other's eyes. In which case, we stuffed it and lied. We did not fear the day of judgment. We lived in the realm of "Hey, no judgments. Cool?"

Exempt from both history and the uncool straight world that was cool with a "criminal war" against the Vietnamese peoples' right to place themselves under a Communist dictatorship for decades, we didn't have to take the part about "Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live? " except as it pleased us to do so.

Love was cool. After all, was it not written in the Sacred Book of Beatles that "Love was all you need?" -- here and there and everywhere. Comfort was something you could get off on so that could hang around somewhere in the vows. Honor? Very 19th century warmonger kind of deal, man. What did it mean anyway? Sickness and health? Say, if we kept eating our macrobiotic, utterly natural salad bar we'd never grow old, sick or even -- yes -- die. Health from the magic of the old ones would always be ours. Forsaking all others was, well, right out as the groom and the bride both were to demonstrate later that night repeatedly. Theirs was going to be an open marriage going in and an explosively open one coming out. None of that fidelity for life -- or even for an afternoon -- operated in that post-pill, pre-HIV era.

With all those half-baked newly minted and untested values in play, the deeper part of the traditional vows -- have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, for fairer or fouler,in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us depart, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth. -- didn't have a chance of even making it into the first draft of this couple's Acquarian imaginings of what to say when, ostensibly, getting married. If they'd wanted to translate it to their new age palaver it might have read:

... to have and to hold until the next lover walks through our front door, for better until something better comes along, for richer and only for richer, for fairer or knock-down gorgeous, in health but not in an extended illness or if you should lapse into a persistent vegetative state in which case you, my love, are out of here, to love and to use in groups, till being uncool on any level makes me dump you, in accordance with nothing holy in particular, and unto you I plight thee my maybe...

All of which would have been true enough since, over the years that followed, that's pretty much how it worked out for those two.

They had no use for the uncool traditions of the vows of the straight square world, so they did what many have done since then, they rolled their own vows.

Well, not exactly vows since the promises made were thin as mist and not true as steel. Instead, they created a minor literary masterpiece by cobbling together a hodge-podge of quotations from non-Western, non-running-dog imperialist sources until they had something like a clumsy collage of notions and potions that they were easy about promising each other. Nothing in them that they couldn't find the out in if it struck their fancy.

They weren't vows at all as I think back now, but merely a display of their shared coolness. There were a lot of bits and pieces from the Native American realm since that was just getting big then in the catalog of cool, and a few shards of poetry... something about not breeding impediment to a marriage of true minds, and it was easy to see there weren't going to be any impediments at all in this marriage.

The scared and naked preacher read through these while standing at the center of the naked company assembled. I don't remember much about most of the 'vows' except that at a certain point it became very, very evident in a deep rose purple that either the words or the situation were having a very, shall we say, arousing effect on the preacher. I've been to many wedding since including a couple of my own, but that was the only time I've noticed an erection on part of the preacher. They are usually much more detached from the moment.

What I do remember about the vows they'd written together was the last line which seems now to reflect so much that has gone wrong with our very modern methods of marriage. It was a straight cop from James Joyce's Ulysses where, in Molly Blooms monologue at the end of the book she says, "...and I thought well as well him as another.."

That said, they were wed. Not forever after, but for a few years or less.

"As well him as another" or "As well her as another," pretty much sums up the real level of dedication to another human we took on in those years and that has gone forward, under one great wail of rationalization or another since then. Vows that reduce themselves to temporary promises until boredom or better comes along. A light shrug of the soul that, sighing, accepts that nothing between two people is really for life, but only until things become, well, difficult and unromantic and then its back to the chopping block and on to the next new person.

We didn't notice then the temporary nature of the arrangement the two had just agreed to. If we had, we wouldn't have minded. After all, life was change and change was all good. Wasn't it? It was, to us, as we learned from our music not important to keep you promise but to "... don't make promises you can't keep." In that I'll given them credit for at least being honest if not honorable.

The sun had faded behind the coast range as the ceremony was pronounced finished and we moved off to a party that would continue for another two days. As the darkness slid down from the mountains, I recall seeing the wedding feast being prepared as large fires flared up and goats and pigs were turned slowly crisping on spits turned by long-haired naked men that capered about, dark silhouettes against the rising flames.

Couples and groups were merging here and there about the meadows and in the shadows of the trees, pale ghosts tumbling through the flowers and grasses down the slopes of the hills and off into the rubble of their lives to come.

I found myself with someone I didn't know... who really needed to know anyone in those days in order to make love to them?... down by the black swimming pool where I saw, in the long evening, the bats swoop down to snatch small insects up from the surface of water and "splash the other dreamers with twilight."

The insects came out to mate and the bats spiraled down to snatch them up. So it was.

And so we went on down all the past gone years, making promises like those made that evening that we would not keep. We'd call them vows, as if that word made them sound more serious than we ever intended them to be.

Then it was later and we needed to stand in the autumn meadows and look down not on a wide valley, but on a narrower way where we'd left, heedless in our lightly given but little considered word, the small mundane disasters of our lives. We'd fashioned our own new world out of utopian fantasies and LSD-driven dreams and it had been all been formed from gossamer.

The Chinese ideogram Truth: a human standing by his words. To standby the word when given, rather than just toss out some fancy words untested by the hard rain of the world and pass on.

Perhaps if we'd taken, on that summer day, not the tissue of words from our brave new world, but the tempered steel of the old vows and stood by them we'd all have learned that it isn't the Wedding party and the Wedding night that needs to endure in our hearts, but the things that stand at the center of the old vows. We all know them. They are the words that allow no misunderstanding when said from heart's truth: love, honor, comfort, fidelity. We all know too the promises that come later: to have, to hold, for better, for worse, richer or poorer, fairer or fouler, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, unto death and beyond, under God's holy ordinance.

Real vows are not the casual things come to of a stoned summer's afternoon, but the hard things come to over long lives and many generations. We thought we were a brand new generation, that nothing like us every was. We had a lot to learn.

[Footnote 2010: Three days after this was written on May 5, 2008, Michael, the groom at the wedding died. His wife, Karen, was at his side. They endured.

           ....Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.

Posted by Vanderleun at Mar 2, 2016 2:13 AM |  Comments (34)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Notes on Love and Death


"What is it about? Like all Greek songs, about Love and Death." -- Melina Mercouri, Phaedra

"The Politics of life are easy. It's the Poetics that are tough."

I'm still working out what I meant when I wrote that. It'll take me life plus 99 years.

The Poetics of life are much more persistent in their knocking at the door of your inner self than the Politics. Politics have their seasons, but the Poetics are our constant companions, waking and sleeping, thinking and dreaming. In a very real sense, since they run deeper than the Politics, the Poetics are the Politics' power source. But what are the Poetics about? Simply put, they are "like all Greek songs, about love and death."

I've done a dance or two with death over the years. I've found that he's not very graceful and he always wants to lead.

Once, during a long-lost summer, I was the night driver for a hearse at a mortuary. In the wee small hours of the morning, I'd drive the on-duty mortician to pick up a man or a woman's or a child's body from wherever it had become just a body. In the hot California delta night I'd drive the mortician, both of us in Blues Brothers suits, to a hospital basement, a home bedroom, a city morgue, or, one time, to a shabby skid row hotel where the leaking wicker basket holding the suicide had to be held vertically in the creaking ancient elevator for all eight slow floors.

I've been alone in the waiting room with my mother when the surgeon, still drying his hands on a towel, walked through the door and said, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Van der Leun, but we just couldn't stop the bleeding."

I've stood in a room high above Central Park West where the only sound was a death rattle in an old man's throat, and told the doctor on the telephone that there was really no reason to send the emergency resuscitation crew for the twelfth time in half as many months. I sat quietly holding the old man's hand for around thirty minutes until his breathing stopped. Then I left that room, told my in-laws he was dead, and watched them mask their expressions of relief.

I've found my name carved into the stone monument at Battery Park that lists those that died at sea during the Second World War. I've found the names of two men I went to high school with carved on the Vietnam wall in Washington.

If I'd managed to keep one address book for my contemporaries since graduating from high school, it would, as they say, be beginning to fill up with dead people and that rate would increase.

I've stood on the Promenade on the Heights and seen two towers fall and reduce thousands of people to ash and dust in what seemed like less time than it has taken you to read to this period.

I have sometimes, I confess, "been half in love with easeful death," but no one living escapes that siren call. The trick there is to lash yourself to the mast of the day, pray, and somehow, through the grace of God, just sail on by.

By now, like many others of my age, I've seen death personally and professionally, retail and wholesale. There really is, when you move with it, nothing to love about the dance of death. The only response is, as Prufrock knew, to see "the eternal Footman hold my coat and snicker, and in short, I was afraid."

So I know something -- not a lot, but something -- about that old Greek theme of death and it scares me about as much as it should scare, I imagine, any man. And, having now briefly been dead, the fear is perhaps less shrill but more persistent; a tempo of a fading drum heard far off, cast back over the horizon but still approaching.

What I know increasingly little about, and what really frightens me, is the other theme of the Greek songs, love. These days it seems that it will take more than a lifetime to figure love out.

Love frightens me because, unlike death, love cannot be understood. Love can only be given, gotten, taken or dropped. Like death, it would seem that, once discovered, there's no end to it -- or, to take Hemingway's point of view, no good end to it since one way or another death will trump love -- in this world at least.

Love is where the Poetics of life collide with the Politics. It's a collision where the possibility having to call in the MedEvac helicopter and the coroner is always present; where wreckage is assured and survival never promised. Falling in love is, as a comedian noted, like buying a puppy. You are purchasing a tragedy.

No, that's not quite right. Say rather you are purchasing a hybrid; a tragicomedy or a comic tragedy, since love always has, for those of us removed from its immediate drama, elements of the ridiculous, slices of the sublime, and not a few moments of boffo laughter at the shambling human animal.

Still, it would be nice if I could understand the nature of love and my absurd role in the love dramas of my life. If the joke, in the end, is on me it would be nice to be able to say that I "get it."

Nice but not, I think, necessary. Even if I never get it, I do know one thing for certain about love, "I wouldn't have missed it for the world."

First published 2009-- added to and altered since.

Posted by Vanderleun at Feb 14, 2016 12:09 AM |  Comments (50)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Ceremonies of the Horsemen

The Green House, Berkeley California, in 2008

The cloak and dagger dangles,
madams light the candles.
In ceremonies of the horsemen
even a pawn can hold a grudge.

--Bob Dylan

None of this ever really happened.

1. Prologue

To tell the truth about those years, you'd have to begin with the observation that truth was, like all precious commodities, in very short supply. Like LSD from Sandoz or pharmaceutical cocaine, truth was rumored to be everywhere but became scarce when you attempted to score.

If your ambition was to make a market in Truth Futures, you were in business. No problem and plenty of willing buyers and sellers. But if you just wanted some truth of your own, to get you through the night, your head was straightened on that score in no time. After a few attempts to lay you hands on some actual truth, you came to understand that such a quest was against the secret rules. Scoring pure, uncut truth was not even a part of the game. It wasn't what was "happening, man."

What was happening wasn't, to be sure, the only game in the big BeHereNow Casino out on Sunset trip, but it was the most fun and everyone, well, almost everyone, wanted to play at its table hoping that their new and improved revolutionary system for revolution would beat the dealer. No matter what you wanted to be at that table and be happening. After all, not to be part of what was happening in those years was, in a sense, not to be.

So you learned that as long as you confined yourself to speculation of what the Revolution might be like and what the world after the Revolution would be like, there was no end to truth. But if this made you nervous and you asked any of the fellow players for a little hard truth, a little coin of the realm to cover your margin and theirs, they were quite content to drop a brick of Acapulco Gold on your head and call it The Philosopher's Stone. And because stone was a state of mind, you were left with a headache, a heartache, and overdrawn at the First National Bank of Angst.

Man, you weren't happening.

What was happening was all that mattered. It was the predominant concern of the decade. "What's happening?" was a greeting and a secret sign that would determine if you were one of the elect and the saved. It was later compressed, as was most of our secret language, into a statement: "Happening, bro." Hard to translate now, but it made sense at the time.

Like the ancient and biblical phrase "What is truth?", "What's happening?" did not demand any response more specific than a shrug and a suitably stoned smile. A verbal response would be offered only as long as it began in and returned, at regular intervals, to a rippling fog that covered all our shared mental landscapes like the mist in a Japanese Samurai movie. This perpetually foggy language indicated that the speaker was a member in good standing of the lighter-than-air bunch and not really on the planet. It was the progenitor of an act of mental levitation which was much later converted by Transcendental Meditation into groups of people who learned to jump into the air from the full-lotus position.

Posted by Vanderleun at Feb 13, 2016 12:21 PM |  Comments (36)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Something Wonderful: Blue Whale Spotted Live at Moss Landing

Live interview interrupted by Blue Whale

To see the same video twice as large....

Posted by gerardvanderleun at Aug 31, 2015 5:14 PM |  Comments (7)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Man Who Loved Not Wisely But At Least Twice

Watch out! You might get what you're after.
Cool baby! Strange but not a stranger.
I'm an ordinary guy,
Burning down the house!

-- Talking Heads

Call him "Carl."

Many, many years ago I founded and ran my second magazine in San Francisco. In time, I sold my share out to my partner and, flush with cash for the first time in my life, decided to move to New England with my then live-in love whom I shall always think of as "The Socialite." The Socialite's family was one of the 500 and, although fallen on hard times, they retained their position within high Eastern society because of their illustrious name. Their family seat was in Newport, Rhode Island, and The Socialite would, years later, live there with her husband and their daughters. I think about her from time to time and saw her once five years ago. She'd turned into her mother -- slim, patrician, and slightly nuts.

But this is not about her, or those white nights, or even the oh-so-social summers at Bailey's Beach. This is about Carl, the most unwise lover I ever met. I'm telling you about him because by doing so it makes me feel less stupid about love and that's a feeling that's far too rare for me these days.

When the Socialite and I moved back to New England, we rented the oldest farmhouse and grounds in Litchfield, Connecticut. Litchfield is a Norman Rockwell village that is more of a Norman Rockwell village than Norman Rockwell's village.

Our house had no street number. Our house, about a mile out of Litchfield Center, was simply called "Wolfpit Farm." It was an immense house of some six bedrooms upstairs and two down with a parlor and dining room and large open kitchen. Attached to this large house was the original structure; a squat 17th century post-and-beam antique with two stories crammed into about 15 feet. This made each floors ceiling come in at about 6 feet four inches. People were smaller then so I assume this didn't crowd them.

Carl, the unwise lover, was already living in this colorful but squat structure. His ceilings were 6 feet 4 inches and Carl stood 6 feet 6 inches, an updated and somewhat dazed Ichabod Crane. Every time Carl stood up in his house he had to squat down and shamble from room to room. He had to be especially careful when going through the doors of his place since they were shorter still.

His living area, much smaller than ours, shared one wall with us in the kitchen. As a result, every so often when Carl became a bit too rushed, we'd hear a thump and a muffled curse as Carl missed his stoop level going from room to room and his forehead collided with the top of the door.

This usually happened after happy hour in the Village on Fridays.

"Thump!" "Jesus! Oh, Jesus! Arrrr!"

In those days I don't recall ever seeing Carl without a Band-Aid or a scab right in the middle of his forehead. He was permanently in recovery from beam collision.

He was also in recovery from his desire, like George Costanza, to be an architect as well as a divorce. The two were not at all unrelated, as I shall now relate.

Carl was not an architect. He was a small town school-teacher as was his high school sweet heart whom he married while in college. She too loved the idea of being an architect, but would never be one. She had some small skills in art but no concept of calculus. Together they loved each other and the idea of modern architecture. Together, upon their marriage, they determined to build one of the finest modern homes in Litchfield as a monument to their love. They both wanted a great house more than anything else in the world. More than, even, children.

In the confused thinking common to those who value things above all else in this life, the Carls ran the numbers. They found that they could, on two (maximum) salaries as small town school teachers, afford either a really great modern house of substance or children. Not both.

Carl later claimed to be sort of ambivalent about this. He wanted kids and probably wanted the great house too. His wife was not at all ambivalent when she talked to him about it. It was a house, house, house. Full stop. Period. Kids had no place in her fantasy. And what's more, she told him, they needed to be sure.

Solution? She could get her tubes tied or Carl could get a vasectomy. They discussed it and came to the typical marital compromise. Carl conceded and would get the vasectomy. It was, his wife pointed out, much cheaper than her getting her tubes tied. After which they could be secure in their building of the finest modern home known to Litchfield in the mid 1970s.

Land was not an issue since Carl's father owned vast acreage around the town given over to apple orchards. As a wedding present, he gave the lovebirds a prime ten acre building site and enough money to retain the architect. In those days, the bankers were still local as was Carl's family and they secured the financing quite smoothly. The wife brought little to the marriage except the expectation of a fine house and a vasectomy.

Carl married her, they both signed for the loan, retained the architect, went on a honeymoon, and came back to their jobs as school teachers and the beginning of the building of their dream house.

Carl used Spring break that year to get and recover from his vasectomy which was, in the mid 1970s not quite the well-worn and somewhat painless procedure it is today. At bottom it was the same in effect. An incision is made in the man's scrotum and a tube that conveys live sperm to the penis is snipped and sewed shut. You still can have good sex, but you are firing blanks. The recovery now is mostly benign. A little discomfort for a day or so and then some careful weeks and you are good to go. Back then it was slightly more painful for quite a bit longer. But Carl was doing it for a house and for love. He had not heard the phrase "Faustian Bargain," but he'd learn.

Love, as all men and women learn, is often only for a season, but a mortgage is for 30 years. The Carls worked with their architect and even got some of their more grandiose visions incorporated into the house. A spiral staircase running the three floors made of brushed aluminum. A three story atrium of ground to roof windows in which plants that never got closer to New England than the Amazon Rain Forest would thrive in all seasons. A slate roof. Copper gutters. Open. Edgy. It was the talk of the town. And then the talk was all over town.

It seemed that one of the brawny men who came to install the slate roof and put up the copper gutters had a smooth way of talking and a very big hammer. He also had a strange attraction to Mrs. Carl. It was an attraction that was, it would seem, returned numerous times on the job site and in the apple orchard. It was, in short, a new an unexpected love for Mrs. Carl. Whatever the roofer had it was powerful since, within a month of the completion of the Most Modern Home in Litchfield, Mrs. Carl ran off with the roofer to points far west and left him with a note, a huge house, a jumbo mortgage, and one teacher's salary with which to service it.

I won't go into the emotional train-wreck that ensued in the wake of her betrayal and abandonment except to say it was everything you are thinking and more. I don't know what happened to her. As far as I know nobody does. She exits stage west with a roofer with a large hammer. Fare well and God bless.

Carl had to stay behind, sell -- or rather give away -- the house since nobody around could be found to buy the Most Modern House in Litchfield for anything close to what it had cost to build. The 3-story atrium emptied heating oil into the New England winters like a supertanker that had been blown in two on the high seas. The slate roof, probably because one of the roofers had been distracted, had a tendency to develop a new leak onto the white shag wall-to-wall after every weekly ice-storm. It was a pale, pale elephant of a dream and Carl was going down with it.

He sold and took about a $75,000 loss. His family had been local for generations so bankruptcy was not discussed. His father was too upset with losing 10 acres of land to people from out of town to help Carl with his folly for at least a year.

So Carl took the hit and moved from owning the house of the Most Modern and High Ceilings in Litchfield to renting the house of the Most Antique and Low ceilings in Litchfield. If it was Friday it was: "Thump!" "Jesus! Oh, Jesus! Arrrr!"

But, in spite of it all, Carl still believed that somewhere out there in the world love was waiting for him.

And he set out to find it.

I don't know when the idea to travel around the world with a smile, shoeshine and rucksack occurred to Carl, but once it did he set about planning for it ruthlessly. I imagine he thought that finding love was a matter of Brownian Motion -- if you just ramble around enough you're bound to bump into the right thing. He failed to see how rare real love is and how easily it is discarded once obtained. Romantics tend to love not others, but romance itself. And when the "romance" fades they can't move to a higher, deeper love, but only on to the next incident in a long chain of catastrophe tarted up into cheap opera. Like Carl's wife, they're off moving on to the next big adventure. Their perfect defense is that they don't have to taste the fruits of their desertion.

Carl determined to learn, at least, this lesson. The key, he thought, is in motion that takes you far away. And the farthest away you could get, he reasoned, was to go around until you got back where you started. He made meticulous arrangements for a year long voyage. Got the addresses and contacts from friends and family to their friends and families in at least 15 countries. Got the books. Got the maps. He even dated a local travel agent to get some advice and discounts. He was honest about this and she didn't mind, love 'em and ticket 'em was her motto.

Having lived in Litchfield all his life, Carl had a lot of friends and we invited over 250 to his send-off party at Wolfpit Farm. It was a superb bash with a lot of toasts to maps and globes and the start of a great life adventure. The last guests left at dawn with Carl in an airport limo we'd all chipped in to get him. It got to Kennedy International and the sendoff continued. In those innocent days it went on until the final boarding call was made and Carl kissed and hugged everyone and took the evening plane to London, the first stop on Carl's Round-the-World Tour. Bon Voyage!

About ten days later, The Socialite had gone to New York to see her mother and I was alone at Wolfpit Farm. I came down from my studio and into the kitchen around sunset to make a cup of coffee and consider the evening cheese and fruit plate. I was bustling about in the kitchen when, suddenly, "Thump!" "Jesus! Oh, Jesus! Arrrr!"

Carl was back and before I could even begin to think what that could mean he was knocking on my door.

We sat down for coffee and he filled me in on the miracle that had happened to him.

His plane had landed at Gatwick and he'd gotten to his small hotel in Kensington early in the morning. That day had been spent on the tube and on buses just taking in the sights and sounds and smells of the familiar yet always strange city of London. At around six in the evening, exhausted from the trip and the day, he made his way back to his hotel and went into the small pub next door. He took a pint and sat down at one of the tables and looked about. Sitting at the next table was a gamine and gorgeous woman who smiled at him. He smiled back and said "Hi."

"You're a Yank," she observed and picked up her beer and sat down next to him.

Two days later, they admitted to each other they were in love. Four days later they were even more in love. A day after that they'd determined they would marry and live in the Norman Rockwell village of Litchfield happily ever after. There were some visa and other diplomatic issues so Carl agreed to come back first so he could get a place ready for them.

"This place won't do," he said. "We'll need at least three bedrooms."


"For sure. She's got two daughters by her first marriage."

"Don't you think all this is, ah, a little sudden?"

"Sure. But when you've found the real thing, why wait for your life to begin? You have to grab love when it comes along."

And so it was written and so it was done.

The house was found and Carl rented and furnished it. In time the woman came with her two daughters -- who were very cute but tended to have some problems with discipline. The woman was not really a hit with the village and the family who were, to say the least, suspicious of her motives even though she was invariably polite, amusing and charming. All in all, they settled in well enough.

Somewhere about this time, I'd gotten my first important magazine job in New York City and I'd given up my rambling place at Wolfpit Farm. I spoke to Carl on the phone, and always received a glowing report on how happy the four of them were, and it was only a question of time before they'd take the final step and get married. But the calls tailed off as the calls do, and for a number of months I heard little from Carl but wished him well in his new life. He deserved a little happiness.

I was in my garden duplex on East 86th street when his call came.

"Hey, I've got a favor to ask."

"You in trouble, Carl?" With Carl it was always best to ask that first.

"Not at all, not at all. We're going to get married very soon now."

"Great news," I said, knowing through the grapevine that there had been some unexplained delay in the marriage plans.

"And, there's better news," Carl said. "We're going to have children."

"Oh?" Thinking of the vasectomy Carl had gotten at age 23 in order to 'finance' the Most Modern House in Litchfield. "Don't you already have her two girls?"

"She wants to have one that's ours, ours alone. I've looked into it and it is possible to reverse a vasectomy. They just go in and sew the tubes back together. Once that's done she says she'll be ready for the wedding."

I had a few thoughts about there possibly being a more ulterior motive for a woman who was not a natural born American wanting to have a child with him, but I kept them to myself. You never liked to disappoint Carl when he was in one of his believing moods.

"The only problem is that money's tight and the operation is expensive. I can afford it but not the hospital stay afterward and the doctor says I can't take a three hour car trip for at least three days after the operation. I want to know if I can recuperate at your place. I won't take up any space and I won't be any trouble."

"Sure," I said. After all, how much trouble could it be? We confirmed times and dates and I assured him I'd be home to help him out as soon as the hospital released him.

"Do you want me to come pick you up?"

"Don't be silly. I'll just take a cab. It only about 20 blocks."

The day came and I left work early in order to be there for Carl. The Socialite wasn't pleased but she said she could put up with it.

At about four in the afternoon, my doorbell rang. I went to the building entrance and greeted.... a taxi driver.

"You Van der Loin? Get out here. You're pal's all messed up and I ain't gonna be cleaning out my cab. It's gonna take two of us."

What I saw in the back of the taxi gave new meaning to the phrase "pillow-biter." Carl was essentially immobilized in a hospital smock and perched on a pile of purloined pillows. It is hard to imagine how a man can sit in a cab and not sit down, but Carl was managing this feat of levitation. What he could not manage was movement. The jouncing ride over the Manhattan potholes had frozen him in a sitting, but not sitting position. A sphere of bandaging beneath his waist was the reason.

In those days, long before the more bizarre realms of body modification that have been achieved in this blighted era, you would not have thought it possible for a normal man's scrotum to swell to the size of a grapefruit, but that was what Carl, in his quest for perfect love, was sporting.

The cabby and I carried him, very gingerly, into my duplex and deposited him, oh so gently, on the large sofa that was to be the center of his realm for the next three days. I've never known a deeper sense of empathy nor a deeper gratitude that I was not the man I beheld. I'd like to say I felt his pain, but the truth was that here was a pain I never wanted to feel.

He rolled onto his back and lay there, forehead bathed in sweat, gazing blankly at the ceiling. I paid off the cabby, who was only too glad to be rid of this fare and he was off.

Carl, pale -- very pale -- glanced down at his bandaged nether regions. "Ice," he croaked. "Lots and lots of crushed ice."

Getting and fetching and crushing ice for Carl's reverse vasectomy was to be my role for most of the next few days. I told him right up front that there would be no application service. He'd have to do some things for himself.

The Socialite was kind to Carl and even kinder to me. There were no "I-told-you-so's" spoken, but her long suffering looks were all it took for me to get the message.

Three days later, Carl, still tender said some profound thank you's and hobbled off to the cab that would take him to the train and back into the arms of his soon-to-be-loving wife.

We shook hands at the curb and he got, still with a lot of care, into the cab.

I never saw him again.

But I did hear, a few months later, what happened next.

Carl recovered from the ordeal of the reverse vasectomy. In a week or two it didn't hurt and full sexual function had returned. Sadly, since the operation then was much more crude than it is today, the sperm function did not return. There would be love making but no baby making.

It didn't take long for the English woman to decide that she was not going to get everything that she wanted from Carl after all. The wedding was called off, and she announced that she and her daughters were going back to England. Carl was not invited.

He was a good sport about it. He bought their tickets, helped them pack, and even ironed some blouses for the girls just before he drove them to Kennedy to say farewell. He still loved this little artificial family. It was his family even as it was blowing him off.

They parted at the plane and Carl drove back to his now empty three-bedroom house in Litchfield.

As Carl came up the last hill and into the little valley where the house was, he noticed a plume of smoke rising over the trees. When he got over the hill he saw the trucks of the Litchfield Fire Department pouring water onto the smoldering ruins of his house.

Later it was determined that the cause of the fire was an iron that was left plugged in and had fallen, probably when someone slammed the door, into a hamper of clothes.

After that, the years rolled on and the city came to claim me and I lost track of Carl. I still don't know what happened to him, but I like to think that somehow he got a third chance to love and that he took it, and that he was, maybe, wiser at last.

All it would have taken was one good woman.

Posted by Vanderleun at Jun 25, 2015 3:51 AM |  Comments (33)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Delete "Hook." Insert "Heart"

John Popper of Blues Traveller belting out The Hook

This morning I have been bedeviled by the earworms, hooks, and heart tricks of popular music. I keep telling myself that most popular songs are not written to be true, but glib; that they run on what's call 'The Hook.'

Distracted by numerous lyrics that all seemed to sending me a secret message, I decided to investigate the inner nature of 'The Hook.' and came in my Googling to a song by Blues Traveler from their album "Four."

"Four" is an album I've had for many years (A memoir of a brief, but doomed, May -- September romance a decade or so back back.) which has a song on it called "The Hook." Looking up the lyrics, I saw -- for the first time -- what the refrain actually says:

"Because the hook brings you back
I ain't tellin' you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely."

It's a common problem with the lyrics to pop songs that they are often misheard by the listeners. These ear blips are called "mondegreens." I have a old friend who has bought apartments in New York City by exploiting and cataloguing the phenomenon in books. ('Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy and He's Got the Whole World in His Pants , among others.)

Mondegreens are commonly explained by the facts of loose recording standards, production choices, and the volume at which all the instruments play and the singers sing. It is more simply explained by the fact, as noted by my old friend Ethan Russell about Mick Jagger many years ago, "Well, you know, he does slur a lot."

And he does, and they all do. Singing words requires, as we learn in the sacred book of Bob Dylan, that you bend and shape the song's words to the measure of the song's music. Success in pop music is always found, after the last note fades, in the singer not the song.

The other thing that drives the hearing of a song is the mood of the listener. You hear things in songs that aren't ever there just as you see things about your house that are long gone. In each, what we hear and see in down times is essentially the ghosts of ... love, etcetera. And coming or going, love has a lot of etcetera attached to it that it pulls along behind it like the chains on Marley's ghost.

All of this is a periphrastic way of coming to what I had heard sung in the refrain to 'The Hook.' for many years. I never heard the word 'hook.' Instead I heard the word 'heart,' as in:

"Because the heart brings you back
I ain't tellin' you no lie
The heart brings you back
On that you can rely."

I've listened to 'The Hook.', with attention or just as background, probably around a hundred times over the years. I've trance danced to it. I've even been to a Blues Traveler concert in New York City that had it on the set list. In all those iterations I've never heard 'hook,' but always heard 'heart.' Now I know different .... but not better.

Seen whole the lyrics to 'The Hook' are all about the plight and pain of being a pop star. One of thousands of such screeds in which our celebrities bemoan the curse of wealth and fame their rise has brought to them -- the endless angst of those who fear they had to 'sell-out' in order to 'buy-in.' I try, but somehow I just can't feel this pampered pain.

In the end, I really don't want 'The Hook.' to bring me back. I want 'The Heart' to bring me back:

"Because the heart brings you back
I ain't tellin' you no lie
The heart brings you back
On that you can rely."

It might be a mondegreen, but it makes a much better song.

Posted by Vanderleun at Mar 31, 2015 2:24 AM |  Comments (4)  | 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 at Sep 27, 2014 1:46 PM |  Comments (12)  | 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 at Sep 12, 2014 10:48 AM |  Comments (20)  | 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 at Sep 7, 2014 2:30 AM |  Comments (29)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Disney's "Der Fuehrer's Face": Greatest Propaganda Film In History


Was Donald Duck A Nazi?

In a bid to help sell war bonds, Walt Disney produced Der Fuehrer’s Face, as an example of American Propaganda. The cartoon had Donald Duck in a nightmare working in munitions plant, eating stale bread, and dunking a coffee bean into water once to conserve the taste all the while giving continuous “Heil Hitler” salutes.
Winning an Oscar for the Best Animated Short film at the 15th Academy Awards, Walt Disney decided to keep the film out of general circulation due to the fact that Donald Duck was a Nazi. It was not until 2004 that it was first released for home video in Disney’s third set of Walt Disney Treasures. It was also voted #22 in the best cartoons of all time from leading members in the world of animation. In 1943, a year before the Normandy landing, a 10-year-old Donald Duck brandished a Swastika on his sleeve and worked in a German Nazi munitions plant.

A top 10 hit from October 1942 to January 1943 for Spike Jones & His City Slickers, this novelty tune sold over one million copies and was one of the biggest hits during the Second World War. Not that RCA records initially saw any potential in the recording: They pressed a mere 500 copies of the disc at the outset and it was only when New York DJ Martin Bloc decided to play the song every half an hour during his then popular Make Believe Ballroom show that the record took off.

How I Wrote "Der Fuerher's Face"
By Oliver Wallace as told to Ralph Parker

The time was 3:00 P.M., and I was feeling low. I had been a naughty boy the night before.

That had to be the moment when Walt encountered me in the hall and gave me a rush order: "Ollie, I want a serious song, but it's got to be funny."

The further information that it was to be for a picture telling Donald Duck's adventures in Nazi land didn't help very much.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Suppose the Germans are singing it," Walt offered. "To them, it's serious. To us, it's funny."

Walt walked away. I stood in the hall. I continued to stand in the hall.
Once more I was on the spot.

Arriving home disgruntled, I encountered no idea while eating dinner.
Then I laid down for a rest. "To hell with it," I told myself.

The wee small voice told me what it thought of me. It was a familiar routine.
"Get off your back and get on your bike," said my wife. "You're going to the store with me."

The fresh air brought out the nobility in me. I turned receptive and laid myself wide open to any idea.

There ought to be a German band.

The music came to me in one flash. It nearly knocked me off the bicycle. My mouth opened in surprise. There followed a second surprise. Words came out of that mouth. I heard myself singing with the loudness which distinguishes my voice: "Ven Der Fuehrer says, 'Ve iss der Master Race,' Ve Heil! Heil! Right in Der Fuehrer's Face."

My wife laughed. "Who wrote that?"

"I'm writing it!" I yelled--and almost ran into a truck.

Half an hour later, it was finished. I sang it to my two daughters (separately) --and when each said she liked it, I thought I had something.

But would Walt like it?

Arriving at the studio next day, I sang it all over the place.

The sound brought Walt out into the hall (where he does most of his business).

"Let's hear it," he said.

I stalled. "Orchestration . . . there's a funny sound in it . . . can't be made without an instrument . . . has to be practiced . . ." The truth is, I didn't know what Walt would think of the highly robust Bronx cheer. Could such a sound be used in a Disney picture?

"Let's hear it," said Walt.

I let loose.

Walt laughed.

The rest is history.

Posted by gerardvanderleun at Jul 3, 2014 2:26 PM |  Comments (3)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Almost missed my flight out of Seattle this morning....


Posted by gerardvanderleun at May 23, 2014 2:57 PM |  Comments (5)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Free to American Digest Readers: The Quotable Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930)

“My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people do not know.” -The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

What everyone who cares about “the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known” knows is that today is the 154th birthday of Arthur Conan Doyle. Here's my homage to one of the world's greatest literary creations free to download.


Every so often, I either write or make a book. And every so often, as is the way of the world, those books go out of print. But not, I dare say, on the Internet. While it is not as compact or as slick as the original, it still has all the text and should give no little pleasure to those that love the "World's Greatest Consulting Detective."

Originally Published by The Mysterious Press (Time-Warner) in 2000.
Now sadly out-of-print -- except here.**

Click Right Here to Download Free PDF [ 530K ]

Please feel free to link here, to download, to email and otherwise and pass it along.

Posted by Vanderleun at May 22, 2013 9:04 AM |  Comments (32)  | QuickLink: Permalink
This Is the Oldest Record In History—Scanned and Recreated From a Photo

A recording made in the 19th century of the voice of a man born in the 18th century.

"Sometime in 1889, Emile Berliner recorded the first album in the history of the world. Then, that record by the father of the gramophone was destroyed. Today, Patrick Feaster, a sound historian at Indiana University, recreated the album using just a printed photograph of the album. His technique defies belief.

"Feaster found the photo of the album by chance, in a German magazine from 1890 stored at Bloomington's Herman B Wells Library:

I was looking for a picture of the oldest known recording studio, to illustrate a discussion I was giving on my work with Thomas Edison's recordings. I pulled it off the shelf and, while I had it open, I looked at the index and saw there was an article on the gramophone. I thought, 'Oh, that's a bonus. So I flipped through and, lo and behold, there's a paper print of the actual recording.

"Let me emphasize that last point: there was no relief on that photo. As the video above shows, it was printed on paper. The image was completely flat, absolutely bi-dimensional. It had none of the three-dimensional valleys and mountains that make the sound in an album.

"But Fester is an expert on resuscitating records from photographs. He scanned that image at a very high resolution. Then, using image processing software, he enhanced the resulting image. After obtaining the sound profile hidden in the shadows of the print, he used software to recreate the actual sound. -- Gizmodo

Posted by gerardvanderleun at Jun 29, 2012 6:20 PM |  Comments (14)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Origins of Their Faith


They expose the unwanted infant
On a hot, flat stone or throw it,
By the feet, whirling into the ravine
For the ravens' obscene brunch,
And walk back down
The barren brindle hill
To their village of rocks,
Hearing the mother moan,
Noting the father's stern smile.
All male, the state demands,
And sound.

Posted by Vanderleun at Jun 20, 2012 10:41 PM |  Comments (7)  | QuickLink: Permalink
True Tales from Where the Buffalo Roam

Proof -- Dateline: Moab, Utah Taken at Site

DATELINE: Moab, Utah
He'd hunted big game for years all over the United States. Hunting was a way of life to him. But, in all those years, he'd never shot a buffalo. He'd put his name in for the lottery that gave out yearly licenses to shoot buffalo, but year after year the winning number had eluded him. As he failed, again and again, his need to add a buffalo, an American bison, to his life bag grew to obsessive proportions. Finally, he could stand it no longer. He determined that he would buy a couple of young buffalo, raise them, and then shoot them. It seemed like a plan.

When the buffalo purchase was completed the question arose about where these buffalo were to be raised. He wasn't a rich man and the cost to two baby buffalo maxed out his credit cards. The only viable option was to raise them on his front lawn in Moab, Utah. Accordingly, the buffalo were delivered and put out to pasture, or "out to lawn" as the case may be.

Besides grass the lawn also contained, courtesy of his kids, a couple of soccer balls. Shortly after the buffalo became his lawn ornaments, he was out walking among them when one of them discovered a soccer ball and butted it over to him with its nose. Without thinking he kicked it back towards the other buffalo, who passed it to the first buffalo who butted it back to him. An hour or so of passing and kicking the soccer ball between man and buffalo ensued.

When he went out on his lawn the next morning, they were waiting for him. One seemed to be playing midlawn while the other hung back by the water trough which had become some sort of goal. The forward buffalo butted the ball towards him. Without thinking he returned the kick over the head of the forward. No good. With a speed belying its bulk, the defensive buffalo moved quickly and butted it through his legs to the porch. When it bounced off the barbecue, they seemed to do a brief victory prance. The game was afoot.

Day after day, week after week, the strange lawn ritual with the soccer ball went on and on. In truth, he had long since pulled far ahead of the buffalo in goals, but what do buffalo know about keeping score?

In time, however, the hunting season came around. He looked out of his house on the first morning and saw the buffalo waiting for him, the soccer ball in front of the forward, the defensive buffalo pacing slowly back and forth by the water trough. It came to him then that he could never shoot them. It would spoil the season -- and the soccer season, in the deserts of Utah, is never really over.

On a hot afternoon soon after, he looked out his window and discovered, much to his delight and his neighbors' shock, that the two buffalo on his lawn were indeed male and female.

Now it is two years later and he has four buffalo on his lawn. He doesn't hunt anything anymore. Says he's lost the taste for it. His old hunting buddies come by every so often and razz him about the buffalo.

"You started with two and couldn't shoot them," one said. "Now you got four, and next year you're gonna have five. What are you going to do then?"

He went to his garage and came back with a basketball.

Posted by Vanderleun at Sep 5, 2010 2:43 AM |  Comments (6)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Landscape Game [with answers and bumped]


Once Only

almost at the equator
almost at the equinox
exactly at midnight
from a ship
the full


in the center of the sky.
--- Gary Snyder, 1958

I don't remember who first played "The Landscape Game" with me. It would have been many, many years ago. I also don't remember what my answers were to the game's ten questions, but I wish I had written them down. Played once the game is played forever. Once the first answers are lost, they are lost forever.

You can only play The Landscape Game once in your life. Once you know the questions and the interpretations any chance of replying honestly and openly is gone. It is one of those things that, if you know the "solution," makes any further revelation impossible. "The Landscape Game" is true once and once only.

So no peeking by any means. There's no "win" in the game and the only player you can cheat is yourself.

On Friday you will see why.

The good thing about the game is that once it has been played with you, you can then play it with others. The only provision is that those you play it with can never have played it before. If that has happened, the game is not just spoiled, there's no real point to it.

That is because "The Landscape Game" is all about getting to the Real Point; about the revelation of yourself to yourself and to one another. It can be played in groups if the group is trusting of all the people in it. It is often good for there to be a glass or two of wine before playing, but that's not strictly speaking necessary -- giving a massage or making love will do just fine in the absence of wine.

I don't really know the provenance and the origins of "The Landscape Game" with any certainty. I can only repeat here what I was told when it was first given to me. It sounds a bit pat and I'm sure others will know better where it came from, or even the other names by which the game is known. But it is very much a part of the oral tradition, so all I can do is pass along what I know.

"The Landscape Game" is a variation of an ancient Chinese "thought experiment," or means of self-examination and revelation. It is thought to predate the I-Ching ( +/- 2700 BC ), perhaps as a precursor, but nobody is sure exactly when it came into being. It is seldom written down, but is instead passed from person to person across the generations. Those with whom it is played take it and play it with others. And so it goes on.

Like many of the deeper things in this life, "The Landscape Game" is very simple on the surface, but like a stone dropped into the center of a still pond its ripples will spread out.

It takes a minimum of two to play but beyond that any number can play. It could, conceivably, be played in a stadium holding a hundred thousand if one person led and none of the 99,999 others had ever played the game before and were each equipped with a pencil and an index card. (Which you might think about getting for yourself just about now.)

The game consists of ten questions which are always asked in the same order.

The one being asked the questions should think calmly about the answers to each and respond in a detailed manner giving the first clear thought that enters his or her mind. These answers can be written down or simply remembered by those playing the game.

Each question must be answered before the next question is given. There is, however, no clock used in "The Landscape Game" so it can be played across hours, days, weeks, etc.

The only rule is that the person being asked the questions must never have been asked the questions before. In this, the questioner relies on the honesty of the person receiving the questions.

Ready? No? No problem. I'll wait.

Ready? Good. Let's play.

Posted by Vanderleun at May 28, 2010 10:32 AM |  Comments (46)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Very Near Future of Literacy in America

Posted by Vanderleun at Sep 30, 2009 11:48 AM |  Comments (2)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Bill Presley and Adolph Dean

Proving that the ruling maxim of modern advertising is, "When in doubt, morph."



For a chain of stores in South Africa. From Ads of the World

Posted by Vanderleun at Sep 23, 2009 7:38 PM |  Comments (1)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Kids. Remember to Kampaign Karefully: 2012 is the 200th Anniversary of 1812

It might be fun to take a victory lap over unseating a Green Munchkin, but there are plenty more where he came from and they've got money and men and material. As Napoleon forgot, remember that the road is long and the outcome uncertain -- especially when you invade Russia.

Source: Edward Tufte: New ET Writings, Artworks & News

Update: More wise caution at Riehl World View: Be Careful Conservatives

As for what comes next, remember that it's the health care debate that must come first. It's also what matters more to us and all of America in the end. So, don't get lost in what one Fox personality is picking up on that's going to boost his ratings. And don't get so giddy over one in the win column that you take your eyes off the ball. I suspect Obama would appreciate nothing more right now. Hitting a home run in a losing game isn't cause for too much celebration, after all.

Posted by Vanderleun at Sep 6, 2009 4:44 PM |  Comments (4)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Coming Soon to a Civilization Near You!

Dante's Inferno

Jim Carter, a stoker on a luxury liner, loses his job after he reveals that he has faked a broken arm, and he vows to those wealthy people looking down on him in the stoke hole and laughing that someday he will be where they are. After Jim fails to last as a target in blackface at a sideshow for baseball pitches in a carnival, Pop McWade, owner of the carnival show "Dante's Inferno," offers him a job cleaning up the place.

Posted by Vanderleun at Aug 1, 2009 10:07 AM |  Comments (2)  | QuickLink: Permalink

-- for Apollo


The moon marked out the edge of heaven.

On this, our scriptures all agreed.

The moon was fixed, it could not fall.

The moon would fill our final needs.

The songs we'd learned were of the moon,

A fitting subject, known to all,

But the songs we sang were of the Earth,

And those that lived before the Fall.

These songs of forests flowing round

The Earth's four corners warmed the frost

That killed our gardens, coming early,

To remind us all of what we'd lost.


"Why wander yearning for the moon?"

We'd ask of stones and ancient trees.

Their silence sang back in the night,

Of lands where all free choices freeze.

"Tranquillity", they promised us,

"Is the highest peak you will attain.

Tranquillity, where your bones will rest

Forever in the airless rains."

Our numbers grew, as did our tongues,

Beside brown rivers, on ancient plains.

We made more gods, we built up walls,

We fashioned towers of dirt and rain.


Within those walls we planted fruit

And flowers bordering roofless rooms,

Wherein we sang the centuries down,

Observing all the phases of the moon.


In time our towers turned to steel,

And their foundations into fire.

The rooms we made were sealed as stone,

And in those rooms we rose much higher.


The moon grew monstrous as we ascended;

In our window it grew larger than the world.

We lowered our ladder gingerly,

Stepped down, a bit of cloth unfurled.


We named the place Tranquillity.

A fitting gesture, all agreed.

We photographed ourselves on site,

Tossed away some junk we did not need,


And left, returning to that place

Where we'd begun beside the plains,

Boasting our footprints would endure

Forever in the airless rains.


Sometimes at night, we still look up

And see the moonrise scrape the sky.

It is the same, yet not the same,

And we know why, yes, we know why.


Posted by Vanderleun at Jul 20, 2009 1:40 AM |  Comments (3)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Ad Astra Per Aspera

Remembering Apollo 11

Lift-off of the Saturn V rocket, carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin Jr, along with 6,700,000 pounds (3,039,000 kg) of fuel and equipment into the Florida sky, bound for the Moon, on July 16th, 1969.

The rocket was rising faster, slanting a little, its tense white flame leaving a long, thin spiral of bluish smoke behind it. It had risen into the open blue sky, and the dark red fire had turned into enormous billows of brown smoke, when the sound reached us: it was a long, violent crack, not a rolling sound, but specifically a cracking, grinding sound, as if space were breaking apart, but it seemed irrelevant and unimportant, because it was a sound from the past and the rocket was long since speeding safely out of its reach—though it was strange to realize that only a few seconds had passed. I found myself waving to the rocket involuntarily, I heard people applauding and joined them, grasping our common motive; it was impossible to watch passively, one had to express, by some physical action, a feeling that was not triumph, but more: the feeling that that white object’s unobstructed streak of motion was the only thing that mattered in the universe.
What we had seen, in naked essentials—but in reality, not in a work of art—was the concretized abstraction of man's greatness. -- Ayn Rand

Velociman writes for me when he says,

Once upon a time we were a great nation that strived for the stars. No more. Now we are ashamed of glory, because some fucking crackhead might feel neglected if we don't dote upon her, and slather her with our largesse at the expense of the Great Things. -- Velociworld: We Choose To Go To The Moon

I'm still hoping we don't get to the point where Charlton Heston will speak for all of us: You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

... but every so often I gets my doubtins'.

Posted by Vanderleun at Jul 15, 2009 7:49 PM |  Comments (7)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Five Old Pictures in Search of an Explanation: Up in the sky of 1943, it's.....

One of my tasks to prepare for my mother's 90th birthday was to create a "memory wall" out of photographs spanning her life. My brother went through her albums and brought me some sixty old pictures, in varying degrees of preservation, to have scanned and printed.

One of the pictures he brought for scanning was this one (reproduced at approximately the size of the original):
Mom & Dad, just married, Los Angeles

It would have been taken in the mountains above Los Angeles on some day in either 1943 or 1944. Like a lot of the others it had dirt, scratches and smudges, but I was sure I could clean up the image. Then I started to look more carefully at the smudges in this shot once it had been scanned....

Posted by Vanderleun at Mar 29, 2009 3:38 AM |  Comments (16)  | QuickLink: Permalink

JANUARY 1, 2009

by W.H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the January night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Terrorism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 1, 2009 9:55 AM |  Comments (5)  | QuickLink: Permalink
What If Black Politics Was a Fiction?

A good question without any easy -- or quick -- answers.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Posted by Vanderleun at Nov 21, 2008 12:23 PM |  Comments (1)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Way Cool New Pledge of No Allegiance

To: The Central Committee to Make America Nice Instead of Evil
From: Bill Ayers @ Newspeak Central
Re: The Way Cool New Pledge of No Allegiance

Dudes,Dudettes, (and Others Transitioning Between Genders or Just Diddling with Your Doughnut,)

It seems that people are still in a people's struggle about the Pledge of Allegiance and just don't know what is now cool. Well chill, because as we at Newspeak Central all say. "In Obama, all shall be cool."

As part of the "transition" Newspeak Central has reviewed the "old and in the way" Pledge of Allegiance. After six months of multicultural diversity focus groups this is the new one. We hope you give us hugs for it.

Posted by Vanderleun at Nov 16, 2008 9:04 AM |  Comments (4)  | QuickLink: Permalink
On Fights in Which I No Longer Own a Dog

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

-- The Loving Spoonful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Vanderleun at Nov 16, 2008 7:51 AM |  Comments (9)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The New York Times of the Future -- If It Has a Future


Posted by Vanderleun at Nov 12, 2008 10:40 AM |  Comments (6)  | QuickLink: Permalink
"A twisted path, our tortured course, and no one left alive."

'All hands on deck, we've run afloat!' I heard the captain cry
'Explore the ship, replace the cook: let no one leave alive!'
Across the straits, around the Horn: how far can sailors fly?
A twisted path, our tortured course, and no one left alive.

We sailed for parts unknown to man, where ships come home to die.
No lofty peak, nor fortress bold, could match our captain's eye.
Upon the seventh seasick day we made our port of call,
A sand so white, and sea so blue, no mortal place at all.

We fired the gun, and burnt the mast, and rowed from ship to shore.
The captain cried, we sailors wept: our tears were tears of joy.
How many moons and many Junes have passed since we made land?
A salty dog, this seaman's log: your witness my own hand.
- Procol Harum

Posted by Vanderleun at Nov 2, 2008 2:39 PM |  Comments (6)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Essayists: Round 3


Posted by Vanderleun at Apr 30, 2008 10:15 PM | QuickLink: Permalink
Selected Shorts

mcgovern.jpg"Receive my warm greetings, as always, from Washington!"

A military strike three weeks ago killed Reyes, No. 2 in command of the FARC, Colombia's most notorious terrorist group. The Reyes hard drive reveals an ardent effort to do business directly with the FARC by Congressman James McGovern (D., Mass.), a leading opponent of the free-trade deal. Mr. McGovern has been working with an American go-between, who has been offering the rebels help in undermining Colombia's elected and popular government. - A FARC Fan's Notes -
[Ed: "Tell me again why traitors like McGovern are in Congress?" "I don't know. Democrat Party affiliation?" ]

Born to Mow:
"The grass was always hay when I came. Each blade a tree in a miniature forest. I'd get out the rusty push mower and meditate over the swish swish swish of the blades. The daylilies would sway like languorous hula dancers in the sea breeze and you'd dance the rigid right-angle minuet of the landscaper beside them. After you cut the grass it looked like a bald man's crew cut. It's all sand anyway." - Sippican Cottage: Three-Quarter Cape

"Poverty just is.
It doesn't become an actual force until the left takes over and begins to magically "create poverty" with bad ideas.... Thus, the first law of wealth is "get off your ass." The second is "get the government off your ass." - One Cosmos: Cosmic Forces and Terrestrial Farces

The greatest passage in history:
"Wil Shipley, a Seattle software developer, uses his iPhone at the Whole Foods fish counter to check websites for updates on which seafood is the most environmentally correct to purchase. He quizzes the staff on where and how a fish was caught. Because he carries the Internet with him, "€œI can be super-picky," he said. -- White People in the News March 25 @ Stuff White People Like
[Ed: "What's that Seattle dude's address. I'm going to find him and bitchslap him stupider with a salmon." "Stupider? Not possible." "I know, I know, but I want to see him run like a girl."]
Posted by Vanderleun at Mar 25, 2008 10:26 AM |  Comments (1)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Essayists: Brief Links to Long Thinks
Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 17, 2008 7:20 AM | QuickLink: Permalink
Life List: "My God, what have I done?"
Posted by Vanderleun at Dec 22, 2007 6:36 PM | QuickLink: Permalink
It's Midday in Seattle on December 1. Do You Know Where Your Global Warming Is?


My backyard 14 minutes ago. More coming down and sticking. I'm also getting reports of a real deep freeze setting in back on in New England. If you've got some spare global warming hanging around, bring it on! As for me, I'm putting on the robe and going into hibernation mode. Wake me when the Ice Age is over.

Posted by Vanderleun at Dec 1, 2007 6:17 PM |  Comments (3)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Patience Please: An American Empire Takes Time
"It is not the weapons per se that cause fear, but the nature of the government that possesses them." -- Victor Davis Hanson

One of the mildly exasperating things about the plethora of news media available now is having to wade through a much more extensive swamp of fetid posturing and vain prognostications on a daily basis. The "stalemate of this" in "the quagmire of that" consumes these impostors. The disaster of beginning weakly and the hubris of winning resoundingly confounds their timorous timetables. The warnings not to be too weak in struggle nor too overbearing in victory erupt from their mouths like gouts of steam from a Yellowstone blowhole ringed round with slack-jawed credulous groundlings. The endless whines about the least loss of innocence in the inadvertent slaughter of an innocent slink out of their yawps as dependably as hamsters multiplying in a cage of some kindergarten.

The war must be won in a week! If not, abject failure and the military must go to its room.

The peace must be won in a day! If not, rioters will strip the country bare and another Vietnam will spring up from the desert sands like the ghost of Christmas past.

We must pacify a foreign country and make them love us in a month, or, well, we're just not good enough or smart enough or nice enough.

Posted by Vanderleun at Dec 20, 2006 11:55 AM |  Comments (8)  | QuickLink: Permalink

Posted by Vanderleun at Sep 16, 2006 6:55 PM |  Comments (9)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Child Care


Children are easy.
One gun will rule dozens.
Shoot one, the rest will obey.

Children are easy
To keep and control.
No need to water or feed.

Children are easy.
Their tears are quite tiny.
No need to hear them or heed.

Children are easy.
They gather in schools.
It's simple to beat them en masse.

Children are easy.
Their bones are like sticks.
You can snap them in two if you please.

Children are easy,
And much cheaper to kill.
One bullet can blow away three.

Children are easy.
There will always be more
For the bags, for the bags, for the bags on the floor.

Posted by Vanderleun at Aug 1, 2006 8:21 AM |  Comments (8)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Intelligent Design

Whose will decreed this slash of sea
Would frame this sun in gleams of green?
What plan determines stone's decline,
Or shapes in stars, or shadow's sheen,

Or that we track, as clever beasts,
The passing haze of comet's fall,
Or are the glaze of thought on flesh
That sees the need of plan at all?

I know, I know... no plan at all

Posted by Vanderleun at Jun 17, 2006 10:57 AM |  Comments (1)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Go-Bag: "What does one wear to a truly stunning natural disaster?"

[Tornadoes in Kansas make me think of earthquakes in California. Others think "disaster preparedness." And talk about the kits we all should have -- the "go bags." I thought about this a couple of years back. Here's how I put it together then. There are some things that should not be "left behind."]


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 PJs?"

"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.
Pictures of my wife and stepson.
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.
A small oval tin given to me by my wife Sheryl containing a very small picture of her and two silver hearts that make a soft rattling sound when you shake it.

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 at May 7, 2006 11:22 AM |  Comments (16)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Hamlet Men

Another in my continuing series on "Bad Americans."

Posted by Vanderleun at Apr 9, 2006 11:40 PM |  Comments (12)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Seattle: A City of Cultural Extremes Groping Towards a Middle Way

Posted by Vanderleun at Mar 5, 2006 1:37 PM |  Comments (1)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Breaking Points

hillary punch-1.jpg

Posted by Vanderleun at Feb 26, 2006 10:19 PM |  Comments (7)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The History of the Universe in 200 Words or Less. Take a deep breath....

by Eric Schulman

Quantum fluctuation. Inflation. Expansion. Strong nuclear interaction. Particle-antiparticle annihilation. Deuterium and helium production. Density perturbations. Recombination. Blackbody radiation. Local contraction. Cluster formation. Reionization? Violent relaxation. Virialization. Biased galaxy formation? Turbulent fragmentation. Contraction. Ionization. Compression. Opaque hydrogen. Massive star formation. Deuterium ignition. Hydrogen fusion. Hydrogen depletion. Core contraction. Envelope expansion. Helium fusion. Carbon, oxygen, and silicon fusion. Iron production. Implosion. Supernova explosion. Metals injection. Star formation. Supernova explosions. Star formation. Condensation. Planetesimal accretion. Planetary differentiation. Crust solidification. Volatile gas expulsion. Water condensation. Water dissociation. Ozone production. Ultraviolet absorption. Photosynthetic unicellular organisms. Oxidation. Mutation. Natural selection and evolution. Respiration. Cell differentiation. Sexual reproduction. Fossilization. Land exploration. Dinosaur extinction. Mammal expansion. Glaciation. Homo sapiens manifestation. Animal domestication. Food surplus production. Civilization! Innovation. Exploration. Religion. Warring nations. Empire creation and destruction. Exploration. Colonization. Taxation without representation. Revolution. Constitution. Election. Expansion. Industrialization. Rebellion. Emancipation Proclamation. Invention. Mass production. Urbanization. Immigration. World conflagration. League of Nations. Suffrage extension. Depression. World conflagration. Fission explosions. United Nations. Space exploration. Assassinations. Lunar excursions. Resignation. Computerization. World Trade Organization. Terrorism. Internet expansion. Reunification. Dissolution. World-Wide Web creation. Composition. Extrapolation?

Posted by Vanderleun at Feb 23, 2006 10:08 AM |  Comments (5)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Citizens from the Mud: The Subconscious Yearning for American Defeat

ROGER SIMON is on the money (again) with his summation of the American death wish that seems to operate on some subconscious level in much of the American media:

These days the media is referring to our adversaries in Iraq by the seemingly objective term "insurgents," a word Merriam-Webster OnLine defines as

1 : a person who revolts against civil authority or an established government; especially : a rebel not recognized as a belligerent
2 : one who acts contrary to the policies and decisions of one's own political party

Definition 2 does not seem to be relevant, but what about 1? Are the guerrillas in Iraq merely people revolting against civil authority or are they something more specific? According to virtually every report, they are Baathists and their sympathizers, Islamic fundamentalists and their sympathizers or paid thugs working for either or both of the foregoing two groups. So what are they all together? Quite simply they are fascists or at best fascist fellow travelers.

But the media never say the "F" word. They never write the "fascists" did this or that (as they certainly did in other wars). They persist in using the benign "insurgents." Why? I don't want to think that Noah Oppenheim is correct in writing that many in the media quite seriously don't want us to win, but tonight of all nights it seems more likely that could be so. As I type these words at ten p. m. PDT... maybe I missed something... maybe I didn't click far enough... but I see no reports of the large pro-democracy/anti-terror march of Iraqis in Baghdad today in tomorrow's New York Times or Washington Post or in the Los Angeles Times(at least on their websites). Or on the CNN site. Or on MSNBC.... Do you think for one moment that if thousands had been marching for Saddam... for the fascists... excuse me "insurgents"... it wouldn't have been front page news? I don't. What's going on?

One is tempted to say that "God only knows," but that's false. What's going on is a massive, subconscious desire on the part of thousands of our fellow Americans to ensure that America loses -- not only in Iraq, but in the wider First Terrorist War. But why?

The French have an idiomatic phrase nostalgie pour la boue which means, roughly, yearning for the mud. It's a compulsion

Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 30, 2006 2:38 AM |  Comments (8)  | QuickLink: Permalink
"The North West Washington Barbies are FINALLY Available!"


DO YOU RECOGNIZE any of these little dolls?

Laurelhurst Barbie: Available with a Volvo XC70, a Kate Spade handbag and Nike Sweatsuit. Her ponytail is pulled through the back of her baseball hat. She is very active on Juniors PTA and is fierce at school fund-raising auctions. Beware, you do not want to bid against her!

Comes with Double-tall soy latte with a splash of hazelnut, Xanax and Patagonia foul-weather gear. Optional accessories include either a black or yellow lab with tennis ball chucker.

Available at University Village.

Seattle Barbie: This modern day homemaker Barbie is available with a Mercedes 4WD SUV, a Prada handbag and matching Nike Yoga ensemble. She has a masters degree and double-majored, but has the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom with Ken's generous salary.

Comes with Percocet prescription and Botox. Starbucks mug and traffic-jamming Blackberry internet/cell phone device sold separately. Husband Ken is into fishing, golfing, baseball and is often "working" late.

Available at all Seattle-area Starbucks retailers.

Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 30, 2006 12:05 AM |  Comments (11)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Dick Dialogues

[Warning: NSFW -- "Not Safe for Wife"]

These panels taught me ... that the creative contextualization of a play like The Vagina Monologues can bring certain perspectives on important issues into a constructive and fruitful dialogue with the Catholic tradition. This is a good model for the future. Accordingly, I see no reason to prohibit performances of The Vagina Monologues on campus, and do not intend to do so. -- Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., President, University of Notre Dame

LIKE THE DISTINGUISHED, BEFUDDLED, AND OUTFLANKED Father above, I too -- in a fit of "creative contextualization"-- seek to bring "certain perspectives on important issues into a constructive and fruitful dialogue" here at American Digest. To further that mission, I hope I won't be telling tales out of school if I reveal that, of late, a secret evening of drama has been taking place in numerous undisclosed locations about the nation. We are all aware of the unstoppable chunk of mummery and flummery known as "The Vagina Monologues," but few know -- and few deserve to know -- about the blowback (so to speak) that is "The Dick Dialogues."

This play is usually performed on the down-low in the basements of sports bars, carefully darkened car-repair garages, and the deepest forest amphitheaters of the Bohemian Grove. Attendance is strictly male and strictly invitation-only since in many states the mere thought of giving a performance of "The Dick Dialogues" would constitute a hate-crime.

Modeled on the successful NPR series "Car Talk," a typical episode of "The Dick Dialogues" consists of two men, traditionally named "Plick" and "Plack," slumped in Lay-Z-Boys in a nondescript Rec Room. Here they field calls on a speaker phone from a series of male and female and neuter voices. The actors, clad in the traditional garb

Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 21, 2006 12:49 PM |  Comments (6)  | QuickLink: Permalink
This Just In: "The Revolution Will Not Be Blogged"

The Revolution will not be Blogged
by Pharoah Ashseti of Newark @ myspace

You will not be able to read it at home, brother.
You will not be able to log on, log in and syndicate your feed.
You will not be able to lose hours in MetaFilter and Kuro5hin,
Click on text ads for naked punk girls with online diaries,
Because the revolution will not be blogged.

The revolution will not be blogged.
The revolution will not be hosted on Blogspot or Pitas.
It will certainly not be hosted on Salon or Backwash.
The revolution will not show you digicam pics of people
You've never met before in pubs or bars looking like they've
Just stepped out of Nerd Central Station and
Eaten a few too many Ring Dings.
The revolution will not be blogged.
Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 8, 2006 1:30 AM |  Comments (2)  | QuickLink: Permalink

I DON'T REMEMBER ANYTHING ABOUT IT, but it is "On the Internet so it must be true." I was dunking about in depths of Internet Archive's Way Back Machine to try and see if there are any remnants of the original American Digest from late 2001. They're aren't. They only go back to May of 2002. Then, because I am always curious about myself [Ed: And who isn't?] I plugged my own name into the machine. Out popped the following from the stone ages: Internet Archive: Details: John Cage at KPFA on July 29, 1971

"On the evening of Thursday, July 29, 1971, John Cage visited KPFA to discuss his current activities and interests and also to read the first and fifth sections from his Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse). He also reads a high school speech which garnered a permanent trophy for Los Angeles High School where he was valedictorian of the class of 1928. Present in the room during the discussion are also Charles Amirkhanian, Richard Friedman, Charles Shere and Gerard Van der Leun. Gordon Mumma joins the discussion to talk about the latest activities of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company with which he and Cage are associated."

1971? Not in that room any longer, but still present and accounted for, sir!

Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 2, 2006 4:31 PM | QuickLink: Permalink
Pause.... and Begin Again

Seattle, Washington. January 1, 2006

THE RAIN HELD STEADY for three days. A constant tapping on the roof. Streets slicked with it, the trees drooping, the ground drenched and the people in a scurry.

Around ten in the evening the rain tapered off and then stopped. By eleven the clouds that had blanketed Seattle drew back to the fringes of the city and the stars appeared.

We stood along the edge of the heights looking down the damp slopes on grass that still soaked our shoes. All around us the thousands of others who had come to watch counted down the seconds as midnight rolled past us around the globe.

And then that year turned into this one.


Chilled we hurried back to the house, sloshing along the wet sidewalks under a shovel of stars as the old year faded far to the west over the slow Pacific swell never to return.

All in all, it was a good end to a bad year.

Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 1, 2006 12:35 AM |  Comments (2)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Deluge

[First published January 9, 2005 ]

Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.

--Eliot, The Wasteland

When a monumental disaster sweeps over humanity I expect myself to respond with an emotion that, to me at least, feels commensurate with the event. I'm certain most other people expect the same of themselves, and almost everyone is capable of it. And if, for some reason, we are not capable of it, we nevertheless know enough to pretend. It is what we expect of each other in the modern, civlized world.

We like to think we feel compassion naturally, but in truth we are raised up and trained in it. And, as a reasonably well-raised man, my expectation of myself was to feel, without question, an upwelling of empathy as I had in the past. This time it was different. This time I could feel nothing at all.

This time my ability to find compassion wasn't so much diminished as it was drowned under the awareness of a catastrophe so immense that it ground human imagination down to a dull nub. For days I was bothered by the fact that, for once, I just couldn't get my head around what had happened. For some time, I put it down to a persistent illness that seemed to hang on and on. But as my illness burned itself out I came to understand that nobody else could do it either.

Yes, I made all the expected statements of pity and shock and concern. I gave money in response to the unremitting pleas for money. I nodded and agreed that this was very, very bad. I applauded the heroes and condemned the criminals and hustlers.

I watched, straight on at first but then more and more at slant, the images sweeping out from the epicenter of the catastrophe. I listened, attentively at first and then with only a part of my mind, to the news repeat and repeat itself in an upward spiral as the numbers of the dead began as monumental and rose up into the incomprehensible.

Posted by Vanderleun at Sep 14, 2005 12:24 PM |  Comments (1)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Wind In The Heights

The wind at Ground Zero during the first memorial service, September 11, 2002

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

           -- Christina Rossetti

-- Headline, New York Post, September 12, 2001

AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY I lived in Brooklyn Heights in, of course, Brooklyn. The opening of the Brooklyn Bridge on May 24 of 1883 transformed the high bluff just to the south of the bridge into what was America's first suburb. It became possible for affluent businessmen from the tip of Manhattan which lay just over the East River to commute across the bridge easily and build their stately mansions and townhouses high above the slapdash docks below. Growth and change would wash around the Heights in the 117 years that followed, but secure on their bluff, on their high ground, they would remain a repository of some of the finest examples of 19th and early 20th century homes found in New York City.

When I moved to Brooklyn Heights from the suburbs of Westport, Connecticut in the late 90s, it was a revelation to me that such a neighborhood still existed. Small side streets and cul-de-sacs were shaded over by large oaks and maple that made it cool even in the summer doldrums. Street names such as Cranberry, Orange and Pineapple let you know you were off the grid of numbered streets and avenues. Families were everywhere and the streets of the evenings and on the weekends were full of the one thing you rarely see in Manhattan, children.

Posted by Vanderleun at Sep 11, 2005 11:45 PM |  Comments (7)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Notes Made on 11 September 2001

If peace needs to be purchased with the sword,
we should be ready to do this. We must become
what we were during the Second World War
--ruthless and unrelenting.

[What follows is a slightly edited transcript of what I saw and how I felt on the 11th of September, 2001 from Brooklyn Heights in New York City. On that day I was posting to a West Coast Computer Conferencing system known as The Well. As a result, even though I was writing from Brooklyn Heights, directly across from the Towers the time stamp reflects PST]

Tue 11 Sep 01 08:07

Saw the first tower collapse from the Promeade across the river in Brooklyn. Fine white and pale yellow ash everywhere. Lower Manhattan covered in smoke with ash still drifting down.

Military jets overhead every five minutes or so.

Lower span of Brooklyn Bridge jammed with people walking out of the city, many covered with white ash. Ghosts. The Living Dead. BQE empty except for convoys of emergency vehicles.

Sirens in all directions. Ferry ships emerging from the smoke heading to the Brooklyn shore riding low in the water fully loaded.

This is monstrous.

Deaths in the thousands in New York.

Posted by Gerard Van der Leun at Sep 10, 2005 1:36 PM |  Comments (2)  | QuickLink: Permalink
"We Must Disenthrall Ourselves"

Yesterday: words that would ring true today

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disentrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.

From: Abraham Lincoln's Annual Message to Congress -- Concluding Remarks, 1862 First Posted to American Digest 2004-04-17

Today:Bush and Lincoln Echoes of the past in today's strategic mistakes. BY NEWT GINGRICH Thursday, September 7, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. . . . As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves." --Abraham Lincoln, Annual message to Congress, Dec. 1, 1862

WASHINGTON--Five years have passed since the horrific attack on our American homeland, and, still, there is one serious, undeniable fact we have yet to confront: We are, today, not where we wanted to be and nowhere near where we need to be....First, the president should address a Joint Session of Congress to explain to the country the urgency of the threat of losing millions of people in one or more cities if our enemies find a way to deliver weapons of mass murder to American soil. He should further communicate the scale of the anti-American coalition, the clarity of their desire to destroy America, and the requirement that we defeat them. He should then make clear to the world that a determined American people whose very civilization is at stake will undertake the measures needed to prevail over our enemies. While desiring the widest possible support, we will not compromise our self-defense in order to please our critics.

Posted by Vanderleun at Sep 8, 2005 9:46 AM | QuickLink: Permalink
Site Notes

MY ESSAY ABOUT THE CREATIVE PROCESS, "The Arrival" is currently the featured article at Mike Burch's Mysterious Ways: Poetry and Literature about God, infinity, eternity, things mysterious.

Posted by Vanderleun at Aug 31, 2005 5:24 PM |  Comments (2)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Koinonia of Blogdom

JEFF MEDCALF @ Caerdroia expands on my small essay earlier this week, Fear of Instalinking by taking a closer look at three factors that the blogs have that are critical: depth, breadth and reconsideration. Of particular interest is his citation of the tendency of blogs to form koinonia -- loose fellowships of sensibility --

Posted by Vanderleun at Jul 30, 2005 9:29 AM | QuickLink: Permalink
How Palestine Imitates a Bad Horror Movie

Richard @ The Belmont Club IMs:

I think the real problem with Sharon's withdrawal is it revealed that "Palestine" doesn't exist as a functioning nation; it's a term which has been applied to a hodge-podge of refugee camps, gangs and factions.

It's dissolved into a soup yet for the sake of the fiction will be propped up like a zombie.

Speaking of which, I came across a referece to one of the most bizarre scenes in movie history, featuring an undersea battle between a Jaws and a Zombie. [ That would be "Zombie" (1979) ]

The scene in Gaza is beginning to resemble that.

Between Jaws and a Zombie. I think the loser became an Undead Shark.

Posted by Vanderleun at Jul 1, 2005 6:51 AM |  Comments (1)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Love Gone Missing

ABSENT BEING IN A COMA IN A CAVE somewhere on a high mountain in the middle of a cypress swamp, you cannot escape "The Runaway Bride." She is the plat du jour of our blighted age and the story of the decade so far this week. Now that she's back she'll be parsed and probed, drawn, quartered and eviscerated by the rapacious media until she's little more than a damp spot on some surgical sponge.

I hated The Runaway Bride from the first moment it was revealed she was safe and had simply freaked out and taken the geographic cure by getting gone to Vegas. Sane people have to hate Las Vegas too -- a place that advertises that when you do freak out, it is the psycho's vacation destination of choice. A pathetic reason for a town to exist, but cheap and low places need to work with what they have. After all, nobody would mistake Vegas for Vatican City until, of course, they build a 1/3rd scale model of Saint Peters and slam six thousand slots into the basilica -- something I am sure is in the planning stage.

Still Vegas is the perfect place for The Runaway Bride to select as the terminus of her

Posted by Vanderleun at May 4, 2005 10:51 AM |  Comments (14)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Man Who Loved Not Wisely But At Least Twice

Call him Carl.

Many, many years ago I founded and ran my second magazine in San Francisco. In time, I sold my share out to my partner and, flush with cash for the first time in my life, decided to move to New England with my then live-in love whom I shall always think of as "The Socialite." The Socialite's family was one of the 500 and, although fallen on hard times, they retained their position within high Eastern society because of their illustrious name. Their family seat was in Newport, Rhode Island, and The Socialite would, years later, live there with her husband and their daughters. I think about her from time to time and saw her once five years ago. She'd turned into her mother -- slim, patrician, and slightly nuts.

But this is not about her, or those white nights, or even the oh-so-social summers at Bailey's Beach. This is about Carl, the most unwise lover I ever met. I'm telling you

Posted by Vanderleun at Apr 29, 2005 10:18 PM |  Comments (12)  | QuickLink: Permalink
The Silhouettes

Off the beach and beyond the reef where the breakers slash,
two ships scud in silhouette, struggling towards safe harbors
over sheets of burnished pewter as the rogue wave rises.

The small town's ordered lawns, spattered
with deserted wives and businessmen,
make calm ponds of green, of vacant thoughts of green,
bordered by a planked path that curves
between the grass and the clean and sifted sand.

Once off the path our steps were quick
among the shells of ancient crabs,
the finer grind of granite,
the grey grains of bone and pearl;
among the buried beach glass, the shards
of broken promises and lives,
that, concealed beneath the wave smoothed surface,
would slash a foot set wrong an inch.
And so along the long sands we stepped,
hunched against our wind-tossed histories,
and hurried homeward in the afternoon.

Our pace, pressured as a drunken tambourine,
beat to the sound's small tide that,
cupping emerald seagrass in soft hands,
swelled within the water
as your breasts might when,
caressed by languid fingers
in a careless night, rise
in a rage of heat, up over rocks, and rip salt-flamed
all walls to ruined rubble, and remove
all drowned and rusted monuments to navigation,
that once out of chains the soul chimes
to free the fettered mind from memory that it sing,
and louder sing, until light is taken out of dark,
drowning all of was to raise in dawn what is,
that trumpets scorch the stones and scatter then,
like ancient bones tossed into ash, all the past
lashed onto the slow sea swell withdrawing ,
drowning them down in the eel's dank lair,
into that damp oblivion the stars create
by shining on the waters of the moon.

To drown in one great wave the shore,
the grass, and all the waste of was.
To leave the past annihilate,
as waves once spent, forget their water,
erasing footprints, ash and embers,
single feathers curved for flight,
become glass shadows on the tide moist grass,
or fading fog on silver plashed,
or the listless lift of empty hands,
or the dream sealed in the stone.

(Her skin glowing with a scatter of stars,
the untraced map of forsaken constellations.
Her taste, the tang of seafoam and copper fading
into blue behind the high cirrus.
Her kisses like the pale glimmer of cave fish
born to blindness in the caverns of the sea.
Her thoughts, pale flickers of farewell.)

On the horizon, two trim ships,
their sails set full in silhouette,
merged, and then passed,
and then sailed into the distances

and drowned.

                                    --Crystal Cove, Laguna Beach 2005

Posted by Vanderleun at Apr 27, 2005 3:58 PM |  Comments (4)  | QuickLink: Permalink

I WILL BE ON RETREAT for eight to ten days, so there won't be any new entries during that time. If you'd like, here's a selection of essays from my archives that seem, at least to me, to have some value beyond the moment they were written. Almost all of what I write here and publish here is a first draft so they will have all the flaws commonly found in such essays. This is not, I hasten to add, a digest of the Digest. Only things selected on the run from the archives -- which are, to say the least, chaotic:

Posted by Vanderleun at Apr 10, 2005 7:01 PM |  Comments (2)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Waking at Dawn

IT IS SO SILENT HERE that the softest of noises can wake me. This morning it was the rush of wings and mutterings from the two doves that seem to have taken up residence in the foliage outside my bedroom window.

It was just after first light, 5:45 by the red numerals on the coffee pot in the kitchen. I took the pot and filled it with water, put in the beans, and started the device. As it whirred and chuffled away, I walked out onto my deck that looks out over the brindle hills and down to the Pacific a mile or so away.

The sea seemed ruffled in large smooth circles, slate in the fading shadow of the hills but, as it rolled out towards the horizon, shading up into a charcoled blue, then to a gray blue haze at the horizon rising up into rose that gave off abruptly into clear and fresh blue.

Hanging just above the line of rose was the full moon gleaming gold in the exact center of all that I could see.

I watched it slide down the sky for some time, then I went back into the kitchen for coffee. When I came out to look again, it was gone.

Unexpected beauty rising in the center of all you can see. Take your eyes away and then look again and its gone. But the day goes on and the light rises around you and you know, with an abiding faith, that beauty will surprise you again when you least expect it, out of the dark on a rush of wings. There are many ways of this world and that one is not the least of them.

I thought for a moment about turning on the news to see what had transpired in the rest of the world while I slept. I decided against it. Held halfway between a death and a life, between Good Friday and Easter, I'd already learned the news of the day.

Posted by Vanderleun at Mar 26, 2005 7:21 AM |  Comments (4)  | QuickLink: Permalink
I've Got Your Six! [Illustrated]

"The Sharon Stone, using only the power of her giant throbbing brain, is trying to mesmerize."-- Manolo

DILBERT'S CREATOR on "Boondocks' " creator's decision to take a break:

"Believe me -- I understand how hard it is to work on an animated TV show, unless you have a big writing staff like the Simpsons. It's literally 100 times harder than writing a comic strip. But still -- four sentences? Come on.

"So I started to wonder what sorts of writing jobs could be easier than writing comics. The only thing I could think of was writing traffic signs.

"Hmm... I need a sign indicating that the motorist should cease all forward motion. I've got it: STOP! Man, I'm burnt out now. I'd better take the rest of the day off."

LOVE, SEATTLE STYLE: You - Gorgeous... Me - A Gamer... - m4w

It was last Friday. I had just gotten up from a SWEET game of Warcraft on my PC. Anyway, I realized I was dangerously low on Mountain Dew, so I threw on my lucky green sweat pants and my trenchcoat to walk 3 blocks to the convenience store. I figured if I had enough change, I might even pick up some Slim Jims, but I digress...

On my way back to my apartment, Dew and Slim Jims in hand, I saw you and your friends walking into the Jazz club across the street. You seemed so comfortable and cool dressed to the nines for an evening of drinks and dancing with those closest to you.

IF SEATTLE HAD KNOWN OF THIS SUFERING, IT WOULD HAVE LENT THEM A SPARE 30 DAYS: "Phoenix's airport received nearly an inch of rain, marking the first time in 143 days that it received at least a trace of precipitation." -- CNN

ROGER SIMON ASKS: Is he lying or is he an idiot? Yale fundraiser Alexis Suvorov says he was "only vaguely aware of Taliban practices."

I'm going with "lying idiot" myself.

QUINK THICKLY: Inner Blonde Quiz

Time to do the inner-blonde test! Pay close attention! There are 10 questions, so you should be able to answer them all in 5 minutes.

LIAR'S POKER JACKPOT: Several Million Little Dollars

If James Frey is still smarting from his public flogging at the hands of Oprah Winfrey, perhaps he will feel some comfort this month when checks for more than $4.3 million show up in his mailbox -- royalties on sales in the last three months of last year of his now-discredited memoirs, "A Million Little Pieces" and "My Friend Leonard." And he has earned an additional $1.5 million since he admitted making things up.

Posted by Vanderleun at Mar 13, 2005 8:47 AM | QuickLink: Permalink
New "LobsCrab" Combines Feasting and Flossing

JUST ADD BUTTER: "Marine biologists have discovered a crustacean in the South Pacific that resembles a lobster or crab covered in what looks like silky fur." -- 'Furry lobster' found in Pacific

UPDATE: NOW YOU CAN sew your own plush replica of Kiwa Hirsuta.


Posted by Vanderleun at Mar 8, 2005 10:11 AM |  Comments (3)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Religion Breaks Out on the Supreme Court!

-- from ABC New's Manuel Medrano, a legal affairs correspondent, who also seems to think that the Supremes Federal Funding/ Law School decision might lead to "the government condition[ing] receipt of say, a driver's license, on you swearing to support the war in Iraq." Me? I say let the Supremes continue their churching, Manny. Renew that driver's license now so that your dissent cannot be suppressed!

Posted by Vanderleun at Mar 7, 2005 10:29 AM | QuickLink: Permalink
10 Things That Have Nothing to Do with Each Other

1. NSFW [NOT SAFE FOR WIFE]: A Sampling of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Supermodels

2. SCROOGE McDUCKSKY'S MONEY BIN:Russian Thieves Break Into Soviet-Era Missile Silo to Find it Filled With Money Bills

3. MONEY, SEX, TRAVEL, SEX, SHOP, SEX:Web users now have almost 76 million sites to choose from, yet most only visit six on a regular basis, it was revealed today.

4. AGROUND: World's oldest ship timbers found in Egyptian desert

5. SEARED, SEARED!, WITH THE MEMORY OF the perfect steak.

6. FIRST AMONG PREQUELS: Rudy Giuliani is the most popular politician in the country. ... Giuliani's mean score was 63.5 .... Hillary Clinton 50.4.

7. BEST PUN IN A HEADLINE THIS MONTH: Oscars TV viewing figures crash

8. DOOMED, I tell you! DOOMED!

9. ATTENTION PRISONERS OF THE CUBES: It's more important to look busy than be busy. Here's how.

10: FOUR ELEMENTS required to form a wise crowd.

Posted by Vanderleun at Mar 7, 2005 7:54 AM |  Comments (2)  | QuickLink: Permalink
MoveOn.Org's Lebanon Liberation


Since its inception, has championed the cause of People Power, harnessing the mighty force of millions of ordinary Americans from Park Slope to Williamsburg, from Los Feliz to Santa Monica, from Wicker Park to West Wicker Park and everywhere in between. Through our organization and fundraising efforts, we have inspired countless millions of everday Americans to log off of Craig's List, get up out of their Aeron chairs, and work together to change the world. And now this prairie fire of activist People Power, first kindled by MoveOn, is spreading across the globe.

Case in point: witness the street protests that took place in Lebanon this week. No doubt inspired by the election year example of MoveOn and other vital progressive organizations in America and Europe, thousands of young Lebanese people marched through the streets of their cities. The parallels to our 2004 anti-war actions were almost eerie: here was a spontaneous march of courageous young people saying NO to violence, and demanding things. Also, many of them were carrying signs. If you squint your eyes just right, and mentally PhotoShop in a jpeg of Madison Square Garden and a few "No Blood For Oil" banners, you can almost see the MoveOn protest at the GOP National Convention.

Please join me in saluting the global achievements of these great Americans by reading the whole thing at -- iowahawk: is Blowing The Winds of Freedom

Posted by Vanderleun at Mar 6, 2005 8:07 AM |  Comments (5)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Browsing Magazines

Instead of drearily working their way to the top, today s exalted executives travel a route more like something out of a Harry Potter novel. Initially, the wunderkind finds his way to one of our most elite universities, which still proves inadequate to contain his prodigious mental energies, as in the case of Harvard dropout Bill Gates and the two founders of Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who abandoned a Stanford Ph.D. program. Then he retreats to a holy site (often a Silicon Valley garage), where there s a period of mysterious wizardry involving smoke and flashes of light before our hero emerges with his Creation. More years of struggle follow, and then comes the magical ceremony that finally earns him the mantle of true genius: the initial public offering.
-- Wilson Quarterly's The Revenge of the Nerds by Steven Lagerfeld

While the comments that followed [at Daily Kos] rejected such speculation, a consensus developed that President Bush was nonetheless to blame for Thompson's demise. Opined one Kossack: "His blood is also on Bush's hands. Probably just couldn't accept life with four more years of Bush. Guess he chose to take the easy way out." Other commenters were slightly more reasonable. Recalling an acquaintance who had committed suicide shortly after the 2000 election, another Kossack conceded, "I doubt he killed himself over Junior Caligula's ascencion [sic] to the throne . . . but it no doubt was on the background."
-- The Weekly Standard's Kos Party

Renowned physicists, authors of astronomy textbooks and prominent popularizers of science have made incorrect, misleading or easily misinterpreted statements about the expansion of the universe. Because expansion is the basis of the big bang model, these misunderstandings are fundamental. Expansion is a beguilingly simple idea, but what exactly does it mean to say the universe is expanding? What does it expand into? Is Earth expanding, too? To add to the befuddlement, the expansion of the universe now seems to be accelerating, a process with truly mind-stretching consequences.
-- Scientific American: Misconceptions about the Big Bang

In her testimony, told and retold over the last forty years, she claimed among other things that she was looking at the limousine where she saw Kennedy and his wife, Jackie; the couple was looking at a little dog between them, a white fluffy dog. Hill then jumped to the edge of the street to yell, Hey, we want to take your picture! JFK turned over to look at her. At that point, he was shot, and Jackie shouted, My God, he has been shot! Then, Mrs. Hill said that she saw some men in plain clothes shooting back and a man with a hat running toward the monument on the other side of the plaza on the so-called grassy knoll. Immediately, she started running after him, thinking he was involved in the shooting.
-- Facts and Fiction in the Kennedy Assassination; Notes on a Strange World (Skeptical Inquirer January/February 2005)

Computer enthusiasts have worked out how to reprogram Apple's iPod music player with their own code using an ingenious acoustic trick.

They adapted the component that generates clicks - or "squeaks" - as a user scrolls through the on-screen menu in order to extract vital information from the latest generation of the device. This allowed them to install an alternative operating system and make their iPods run games and other new programs.
-- New Scientist Breaking News - iPod 'squeaks' betray software secrets

Posted by Vanderleun at Mar 1, 2005 9:46 PM |  Comments (1)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Murder and Mystery in 18th-Century London

by PAT CUMMINGS American Digest Book Editor

DAVID LISS' FIRST NOVEL, A Conspiracy of Paper , has won an Edgar Award for Best First Novel, a Barry Award and the Macavity Award. His ex-boxer detective, Benjamin Weaver, is a Jew in London in the early 1700s, estranged from his family and unwilling to re-enter that world. He has found a comfortable niche in London's newly-developing (and somewhat seamy) stock trade, serving as a liaison between lower-class thugs and thieves and their upper-class counterparts.

Weaver begins his memoir with the day a gentleman comes to him with a tale of murder to investigate—the victim, his own father. Despite his cool feelings for his late sire, Weaver is intrigued enough, and sufficiently in need of the money, to follow the clues. Slowly the ex-pugilist is drawn back into the shadowy corners of the stock trade, as he pursues the conspiracy that ended his father's life.

Posted by Vanderleun at Feb 27, 2005 10:20 AM | QuickLink: Permalink
"Oh, and by the way, try not to kill anyone."

Robert Pool's Beyond Engineering: How Society Shapes Technology
by PAT CUMMINGS American Digest Book Editor

This is a very different book from the one I began writing four years ago... In 1991, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation provided grants to some two dozen writers to create a series of books on technology. Because technology has shaped the modern world so profoundly, Sloan wanted to give the general, non-technical reader some place to go in order to learn about the invention of television or X-rays or the development of birth control pills. This would be it. Sloan asked that each book in the series... be accessible to readers with no background in science or engineering... I took nuclear power...
—Introduction to Beyond Engineering [emphasis mine]
Robert Pool, author of the controversial look at the biological basis of gender, Eve's Rib, and longtime contributor to several distinguished science and technical journals, did not realize what a complex topic he had chosen. Originally, he intended to write "a straight-forward treatment of the commercial nuclear industry—its history, its problems, and its potential for the future." Instead, he discovered a Byzantine maze of inter-connected choices, society shaping technology, rather than the opposite. Beyond Engineering completes the circle, reflecting what he discovered back to the general, non-technical public in very accessible terms.

History and Momentum begins this journey into complexity with a look at how society has shaped the choices made in providing electricity to the user. Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla; Szilard, Einstein and Rickover—choices made by these men before 1950 determined the economy of future decisions in the power industry. Pool then looks at The Power of Ideas, giving us a background on the concept of paradigm shift in molding scientific inquiry, before exploring how the "endless power source" paradigm shifted irretrievably to an "evil destructive nuclear polluter" view of nuclear power.

Posted by Vanderleun at Feb 23, 2005 1:13 AM |  Comments (2)  | QuickLink: Permalink
What's Just So Wrong with This Picture?


Posted by Vanderleun at Feb 22, 2005 9:27 PM |  Comments (3)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Three and a Half Kinds of Love for Our Era

1) THE LOVE THAT DARE NOT BAAAAA! IT'S NAME: Homeless Man Tries to Steal Sheep "LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Feb 22, 2006 (AP) A homeless man who police say tried to take a sheep from the Little Rock Zoo has been arrested on numerous charges. A security guard at the zoo called police Tuesday evening after spotting a man carrying a trash can with a sheep in it, a police report said." Honest, officer, it just jumped into my garbage can when I was trying to sleep.

2) AND THE LOVE THAT IS COMPELLED TO SPEAK IT'S NAME: Sulu's Gay "LOS ANGELES (AP) -Oct. 28, 2005 - George Takei, who as helmsman Sulu steered the Starship Enterprise through three television seasons and six movies, has come out as a homosexual in the current issue of Frontiers, a biweekly Los Angeles magazine covering the gay and lesbian community." That clever Sulu. Fooled everybody for years.

3) AND THE LOVE YOU NEVER KNEW EVEN HAD A NAME Autogynephilia ".... (from Greek auto (self), gyno (woman) and philia (love) ( "love of oneself as a woman") is a behavioral model proposed in 1989 by Ray Blanchard, who defines it as "a man's paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman."

A more common way of putting this might be, "It takes a man like me to make a woman like me." Right? Right. The reverse condition would be "autopeniphilia," but nobody knows any women like that. Right? Right.

3.5) THEN AGAIN THERE'S ALWAYS Normal Love. Right? Right.
Posted by Vanderleun at Feb 22, 2005 8:12 PM | QuickLink: Permalink
My DNA Made Me Do It

On Jonathan Weiner's Time, Love, Memory : A Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origins of Behavior

by PAT CUMMINGS American Digest Book Editor

Not since the Age of Enlightenment had the world seen such a crew of intellectual cutthroats, divinely assured of their rights of succession and their place in history. The philosophes of the Enlightenment also had their share of tall, thin, prognathous young men, and many of their contemporaries found them (in the words of Horace Walpole) "solemn, arrogant, dictatorial coxcombs—I need not say superlatively disagreeable."
Time, Love, Memory by Jonathan Weiner is the tale of these "intellectual cutthroats" who tracked down the mechanism of Mendelian inheritance, DNA. From Watson and Crick (whose names are famous) to Brooklyn-born Seymour Benzer (whose name is virtually unknown, even in scientific circles outside DNA research), Weiner has put together a brilliant presentation of the unfolding of a new science.
So after the eureka of Watson and Crick, one of the challenges for the new science (which did not yet call itself molecular biology) was to connect these classical maps of the gene with the new model of the double helix. It was Benzer who thought of a way to do it. Not long after Watson and Crick announced their discovery, Benzer hit on a plan that might unite the old revolution and the new revolution: classical genetics and molecular biology.
Weiner's "cast of characters" reads like a Who's Who of 20th century iconoclastic science: Richard Feynman, Max Delbrück, E.O. Wilson, geneticists Watson and Crick and Ronald Konopka, and the "Fly Room" scientists T.H. Morgan (whose name was given to the chromosome map unit "centimorgan"), Alfred Sturtevant and Ed Lewis. At the center of the tale, though, is Seymour Benzer, an innovative thinker who took the inheritance paradigm one step further, asking, can behavior be inherited?
With the discovery of the clock gene, the sense of time, mysterious for so many centuries, was no longer a mystery that could be observed only from the outside. Now it could be explored as a mechanism from the inside. The discovery implied that behavior itself could now be charted and mapped as precisely as any other aspect of inheritance. Qualities that people had always thought of... as if they were supernatural, might be mapped right alongside qualities as mundane as eye pigment.
Benzer's band of "cutthroat intellectuals" would have to battle for the new paradigm, with both the scientific community and outside it. Weiner's book is, therefore a war story; but one in which the victories are celebrated by all combatants, and coups are bloodless. For those interested in behavioral science, genetics, or the concept of paradigm change, it is a fascinating read.
Pat Cummings, constant reader, also reviews books at his site Paper Frigate, and at Blogcritics as well. He can be emailed here.]
Posted by Vanderleun at Feb 17, 2005 8:11 PM |  Comments (1)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, SpammerX: "Baldly Written?" Nope, Just Badly Written

On SpammerX's Inside the SPAM Cartel

by PAT CUMMINGS American Digest Book Editor

I was eager to get into the book Inside the Spam Cartel, written by "SpammerX". That eagerness persisted only into the second chapter—the self-professed spammer is coy in his presentation of examples, leaves out more information than he gives, and (by far the worst sin) seems unable to mate subject and verb number, use apostophes or adverbs rationally, or spot abject incoherence in his own writing.

Aside from that, the book is intriguing in a creepy way.

The topic is one every Internet user will find interesting, and SpammerX delivers a lot of detail about the process, purpose and payback of spamming. He has been somewhat careful about removing actual IP and eMail addresses and user names, although this, like all his proof-reading, is not thorough. He includes a number of examples of using HTML tags to encode spam messages that will slide through spam filters, while telling us his philosophy of spam. This philosophy boils down to: "I can do it, and you can't stop me, so it's all right. Besides, I get paid to do it."

Posted by Vanderleun at Feb 16, 2005 12:25 AM |  Comments (4)  | QuickLink: Permalink
It's in the Cards

I KEEP NOTES. I keep notes on everything. Lately I've upgraded my note-keeping with the compulsive use of the the Hipster PDA -- a device that will change your life.

As a result, I've got a growing file of random notes which, at the time I took them, I felt would come in handy for something. And many have. But others just wait in card file looking for someplace to live. So, here's a few in no order other than the time they were taken. Why here and why now? Because I can.

Posted by Vanderleun at Feb 15, 2005 12:25 PM |  Comments (3)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Scarborough's Rome: Disturbingly Candid, Depressingly Detailed

On Joe Scarborough's Rome Wasn't Burnt in a Day: The Real Deal on How Politicians, Bureaucrats, and Other Washington Barbarians are Bankrupting America

by PAT CUMMINGS American Digest Book Editor

IT'S AN AMERICAN ICON: Jimmy Stewart, freshly appointed Senator, ready to take on the machine, in Mr Smith Goes to Washington.

In the 1937 classic an idealistic Jefferson Smith... barnstorms Washington, hoping to make a difference. But the young senator is soon confronted by the awesome might of Washington's political machine... they unleash the political attack dogs, hoping to destroy the reputation of the young reformer. But our Mr. Smith fights back, defeats the political bigwigs, and watches his leaders confess their errors. He even wins the girl.
Throw out that image, "Congressman Joe" Scarborough tells us. It's not how Washington really works.

Posted by Vanderleun at Feb 14, 2005 11:57 PM | QuickLink: Permalink
My DNA Made Me Do It

On Jonathan Weiner's Time, Love, Memory : A Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origins of Behavior

by PAT CUMMINGS American Digest Book Editor

Not since the Age of Enlightenment had the world seen such a crew of intellectual cutthroats, divinely assured of their rights of succession and their place in history. The philosophes of the Enlightenment also had their share of tall, thin, prognathous young men, and many of their contemporaries found them (in the words of Horace Walpole) "solemn, arrogant, dictatorial coxcombs—I need not say superlatively disagreeable."
Time, Love, Memory by Jonathan Weiner is the tale of these "intellectual cutthroats" who tracked down the mechanism of Mendelian inheritance, DNA. From Watson and Crick (whose names are famous) to Brooklyn-born Seymour Benzer (whose name is virtually unknown, even in scientific circles outside DNA research), Weiner has put together a brilliant presentation of the unfolding of a new science.
So after the eureka of Watson and Crick, one of the challenges for the new science (which did not yet call itself molecular biology) was to connect these classical maps of the gene with the new model of the double helix. It was Benzer who thought of a way to do it. Not long after Watson and Crick announced their discovery, Benzer hit on a plan that might unite the old revolution and the new revolution: classical genetics and molecular biology.
Weiner's "cast of characters" reads like a Who's Who of 20th century iconoclastic science: Richard Feynman, Max Delbrück, E.O. Wilson, geneticists Watson and Crick and Ronald Konopka, and the "Fly Room" scientists T.H. Morgan (whose name was given to the chromosome map unit "centimorgan"), Alfred Sturtevant and Ed Lewis. At the center of the tale, though, is Seymour Benzer, an innovative thinker who took the inheritance paradigm one step further, asking, can behavior be inherited?
With the discovery of the clock gene, the sense of time, mysterious for so many centuries, was no longer a mystery that could be observed only from the outside. Now it could be explored as a mechanism from the inside. The discovery implied that behavior itself could now be charted and mapped as precisely as any other aspect of inheritance. Qualities that people had always thought of... as if they were supernatural, might be mapped right alongside qualities as mundane as eye pigment.
Benzer's band of "cutthroat intellectuals" would have to battle for the new paradigm, with both the scientific community and outside it. Weiner's book is, therefore a war story; but one in which the victories are celebrated by all combatants, and coups are bloodless. For those interested in behavioral science, genetics, or the concept of paradigm change, it is a fascinating read.
Pat Cummings, constant reader, also reviews books at his site Paper Frigate, and at Blogcritics as well. He can be emailed here.]
Posted by Vanderleun at Feb 12, 2005 12:34 AM | QuickLink: Permalink
Arab Like Me?

Razib at the invaluable Gene Expression** takes an up-close and very personal look at "Arab looks" in White or not?

Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 31, 2005 10:34 AM |  Comments (3)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Fulghum, Griffin, Sabine, and Winnie the Pooh

In a great riff of Brain Jazz , Joy McCann at Dean's World picks up my essay on Robert Fulghum's Novel-In-A-Box, Third Wish, and kicks it up a notch by looking at other innovators in the novel.

The second-most physically adventurous publishing venture has to be the Griffin and Sabine books, which tell the story of a romantic correspondence betweeen two artists. The postcards are made by one of the characters, and are pasted into the sheets of the books. The letters are in envelopes that are glued into the books' pages. It is truly like reading hand-written letters. When Professor Purkinje turned me on to these books, he pronounced them "the best thing in the world." Fact is, they were pretty damned conceptually hot. I ought to read them all the way through; it's good stuff. And they are physically stunning.

But innovation in publishing doesn't just involve putting books into boxes with trinkets, or making the reader fish a letter out of an envelope. Sometimes it means going to the mat with one's agent:

What follows is an illuminating essay on elements of the career of Winnie the Pooh creator A. A. Milne. Much of which you didn't know, but will be glad to learn.

Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 26, 2005 9:38 AM | QuickLink: Permalink
Fever Dreams: The Calcutta Chromosome

by PAT CUMMINGS American Digest Book Editor

Amatav Ghosh: The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery

In The Calcutta Chromosome, author Amitav Ghosh has written a fever-bright mystery story about an historic event.

In 1898 in Calcutta, Sir Ronald Ross* solved a riddle: how is malaria transmitted?

"Malaria was the cold fusion of his day, the Sunday papers were scrambling to get it on the covers. And it figures: malaria's probably the all-time killer among diseases. Next to the common cold it's just about the most prevalent disease on the planet..."
Into the historical tale that traces the intense competition between Pasteur in Paris, Ambrose Laveran in Algeria, and Ronald Ross in India, Ghosh introduces the mystery: a LifeWatch worker named L. Murugan investigating (in 1995) how Ross came up with his idea.

Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 25, 2005 8:57 AM | QuickLink: Permalink
Not Guns, Nor Lead, But Men's Vices

by PAT CUMMINGS American Digest Book Editor

Georg Bauer's De re Metallica

I have omitted all those things which I have not myself seen, or have not read or heard of from persons upon whom I can rely. That which I have neither seen, nor carefully considered after reading or hearing of, I have not written about. The same rule must be understood with regard to all my instruction, whether I enjoin things which ought to be done, or describe things which are usual, or condemn things which are done. -- Agricola, Preface to De Re Metallica, 1556

The first illustrated "how-to" book for mining and metallurgy was written by the German Georg Bauer in the mid-16th century. The book has been in print and used from then to now with only minor changes were needed to accommodate modern materials. ("Bauer" was Latinized to "Agricola", probably by his teachers at the University of Leipzig.) Agricola was a teacher, philosopher and doctor as well as the world's first industrial publicist, and the opening of De re Metallica ("Concerning Metals") reflects his philosophical bent.

While re-reading it recently, I was struck by this passage in Chapter One. In the midst of a dissertation on the economics and politics of mining and the monetization of metals, Agricola diverts to make several points about the "evil" of metal weapons. It does not take much editing to apply his thoughts directly to today's debate on the "evil" of gun ownership.

The curses which are uttered against iron, copper and lead have no weight with prudent and sensible men, because if these metals were done away with, men, as their anger swelled and their fury became unbridled, would assuredly fight like wild beasts, with fists, heels, nails and teeth. They would strike each other with sticks, hit one another with stones, or dash their foes to the ground. Moreover, a man does not kill another with iron alone, but slays by means of poison, starvation or thirst. He may seize him by the throat and strangle him; he may bury him alive in the ground; he may immerse him in the water and suffocate him; he may burn or hang him; so that he can make every element a participant in the death of men... From these examples we see that it is not metals which are to be condemned, but our vices, such as anger, cruelty, discord, passion for power, avarice and lust.
-- Georgius Agricola, De Re Metallica
It is not explosives that carry evil, it is the suicide bomber who carries the explosives. It is not the knife in the hand of the chef that stabs a man, but the one in the hand of the murderer. And it is not guns that kill. In all these examples, it is the murderer's desire to kill which is at fault, not the instruments used to act on those desires.
Pat Cummings, constant reader, also reviews books at his site Paper Frigate, and at Blogcritics as well. He can be emailed here.]

Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 18, 2005 9:42 AM | QuickLink: Permalink
Freedom Among the Asteroids

by PAT CUMMINGS American Digest Book Editor

L. Neil Smith's Pallas

L. Neil Smith's original fiction shows the influence of Ayn Rand, as well as his own long involvement with the Libertarian Party; and none of his novels reflect this so clearly as Pallas.

This story of finding freedom is set on the commercially-developed asteroid, Pallas. It opens in a collectivist compound on that planetoid, the Greeley Union Memorial Project. Emerson Ngu (pr. "New") is a thorn in the sides of the project overlord, Senator Altman, and his UN goons. Ngu was enrolled in the project as an infant, when his parents signed their rights, his rights,and those of his children over to the project in exchange for passage to "the opportunity of a lifetime" on Pallas.

Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 16, 2005 10:01 PM | QuickLink: Permalink
Sunday Reflection

The Beasts That We Keep

If we held the intent of the beasts which we keep
In far fields and dark valleys, in the pale light of sleep,
In marked shards of clay, in papyrus and parchment,
Beneath the brick hearth, in the marks on old bones,
In the marrow of bones, hitched to the plow of stones
Parting the furrows where our dreams are pale sparks
In the roots of our nerves, sprouting to thoughts,
To the tee-shirt philosophies of cheap magazines,
From the afternoon shows of electronic dreams,
That reveal our blank selves dredged up from sleep.

If we knew the intent of the beasts that we keep,
We would surely sit senseless, and hide from the sun,
And turn on ourselves the unregistered gun.
If we held the intent of the beasts that we keep.

If we knew the intent of the beasts that we feed
From couches confessional, in the stone barns of God
Where the soul's soundings echo the light in the sod
To our penitent minds; which illumines our stark
Hearts from within, that dazzles our dark
With His fierce pyrotechnics, with His animate spark
That glows in that womb where all yearning starts,
And yearns for the flare at the top of the arc,
But burns like dead screams flung down in the dark,
Like torches cast deep where drowned Incas decay.

We would know then this life takes place in one day,
That the beasts which we keep are the beasts of our deeds,
Created from dust in the long dusk of God,
That we know the intent of the beasts which we feed.

Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 16, 2005 9:51 AM |  Comments (1)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Steven Pinker: Words and Rules -- Not the How, But the Why

by PAT CUMMINGS American Digest Book Editor

Language comes so naturally that it is easy to forget what a strange and miraculous gift it is... We humans are fitted with a means of sharing our ideas, in all their unfathomable vastness... Yet to me the first and deepest challenge in understanding language is accounting for its boundless expressive power. What is the trick behind our ability to fill one another's heads with so many different ideas?
Steven Pinker has a strong claim to the niche his books occupy: He explains in language accessible to the layman how our brains work. In Words and Rules, Pinker expands on the language-development concepts he introduced in The Language Instinct and How We Think, to give us a clearer picture of why* this language "trick" works.

Pinker tosses out ideas like popcorn pouring from the movie-theatre machine:

  • Language acquisition is hard-wired, but the exact sounds we will use requires a software installation.
  • Thus languages are culturally acquired, and children who miss the "acquisition window" are condemned to learn their own "native language" as a foreign tongue.
  • It's hard for adults to learn languages unless they have been exposed to multiple tongues during the acquisition window, in which case the "multi-lingual" switch turns on.
  • Sounds used in language seem onomatopoeic because they are.
  • English is terse because of syncretism and allomorphy.
  • Adding human vocal chords to a chimpanzee would not be sufficient to give it an oral language, because the brain structures aren't there.
Whoa, too much popcorn! Pinker makes these concepts easy enough to acquire, because he provides a structure to fit them into. And that is precisely his premise. Our brains are structured to acquire language. This is a fascinating book, and gives a fair voice to competing theories of language development.

*If you're interested more in the How, I recommend the light-hearted "zero-tolerance approach" of Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss for punctuation. See How Languages Are Learned by Patsy Lightbown and Nina Spada, for a different look at the "how" of language acquisition.

Pat Cummings, constant reader, also reviews books at his site Paper Frigate, and at Blogcritics as well. He can be emailed here.]

Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 11, 2005 11:12 AM |  Comments (2)  | QuickLink: Permalink
These Just In

BURNING LOVE: A WOMAN who allegedly stabbed her partner six times because he repeatedly played an Elvis Presley song will face a West Australian court today. Continued...
Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 10, 2005 12:49 PM |  Comments (1)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Publishing Nostaligia: How Many Still Live?

AN INTERESTING MORSEL from the deepest sectors of my hard drive. Interesting in that not all the great publishing powers named still exist, even in name only.


Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 9, 2005 12:51 PM |  Comments (1)  | QuickLink: Permalink
Bujold on the Essence of Engineering Evil

by PAT CUMMINGS American Digest Book Editor


I recently watched the National Geographic Channel's documentary about the Eschede train derailment on June 3, 1998.

More than 100 people died when Germany's high-speed Inter-City Express (ICE) train went off its rails and crashed at 125 mph into a bridge abutment. An episode in the "Seconds from Disaster" series, the

Posted by Vanderleun at Jan 7, 2005 1:35 PM | QuickLink: Permalink
G2E Media GmbH

5-Minute Arguments
American Studies
Analog World
Art Within America
Bad Americans
Blather & Spew
Blodder Award
Click-Pix: Blogs on a Roll
Coasts & Heartland
Connect the DotComs
Critical Mass
Culture & Civilization
Drool-Cup Award
Enemies, Foreign & Domestic
Essays & Items
Fish Barrel Bang
Frequently Answered Questions
Global Reach
Grace Notes
Heroes & Hustlers
Intellectually Insane
Issues & Episodes
Its the Law
Letters from Home
Letters Never Sent
Mass Distractions
Military Affairs
Mondo Bizarro
Moving Images
My Back Pages
Myths & Texts
News to Me
Nota Bene
Obsessed & Confused
On the Land
Patriot Gains
Pinhead Punditry
Political Corrections
Political Pablum
Pure Opinion
Pure Products of America
Quisling Corner
Reportage Redux
Rumors: Substantiated & Otherwise
Science Made Stupid
Site Notes
Sites Unseen
Space Patrol
Squawking Points
The Americans
These Just In
Thinking Right
Tinfoil Brigade
Truth @ Slant
Under Review
Useful Idiots
What's Just So Wrong With This Picture?
Word Forge