Friday, May 29, 2009

New York Times (again)

This is from a column by Dave Kehr printed in the Arts section of the Times on December 23, 2008 wherein Mr. Kehr promotes a film by Quentin Tarantino:

"Grindhouse" flopped, perhaps because the concept was too arcane, too elaborate and too drawn out for the impatient audiences of the 21st Century.
...Mr. Tarantino may be most celebrated for his imaginative explosions of violence, but his greater talent lies in structuring long periods of inaction, in the leisurely construction of dramatic contexts, in sketching large casts of characters and getting them to interact with one another through dialogue that generally has no direct bearing on the plot.
...but Mr. Tarantino resists easy ideological readings, confounding politics with visual pleasure....and confounding pleasure with revulsion."

No, this is not satire. I know it tends to read like it, but Kehr genuinely believes that long periods of boring inaction, and dialogue that has no direct bearing on the plot of the story are the hallmarks of a great movie.
There was a time when the Times would never have found this fit to print!

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Is not Life itself a bringer-on of pain and danger and can it not do it without any prompting from man?

Give me a life that can be lived without fabricated importance, imperial needs, the demonic pressure of economic engines pursuing ever more productivity, capital, and goods.

Man used to exercise power by the acquisition of troops and horses to plunder villages. Now he builds corporations and uses them to plunder the wealth of the society that supports them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Religous Questions

In Egypt, once, a man in a morgue, believed dead, rose up and called "Where am I?" An attendant nearby died from the shock. Was this exchange of lives arranged by God?

What kind of a man would sire a family only to abandon it, to be weak and inattentive? God would not do that, would He?

Yesterday, today and tomorrow, people will be killing and dying for God. Why?

What can one say about a world where mass murderers have 'spiritual advisors'?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


In this Monster stone,
tons long, yards heavy,
smooth gray megalith,
I see God
as God is, or must be -
featureless, holding
the huge power
of never being wrong,
of immunity from pain,
or guilt, or change.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The 11 O'Clock News

By half-light dawn off a dead-dog road
a bird mistakes a window for the future
and body breaks upon the hardened light.
Behind old dormers, dry-crying eyes
close upon the world's red sores.
Stained rivers snake through valleys
hissing at their slopes while hawk-eyed
engineers weaponize flowers
to bloom on armor's foreign fields.

Monday, May 18, 2009

From My Newspaper Archives

Sunday NY Times November 1, 1998:
In the Magazine, a full page ad for POLOSPORT: he's wearing her hair; she's wearing his clothes; she looks prepared, assertive; he looks uncertain, misty-eyed. Nearly identical mouths full, wide, sensual. Both are square-jawed with classic noses and high foreheads.
We are to believe that these two live in a remote cabin in a snowy wilderness, having been clothed by Ralph Lauren who supplies "explorers, travelers and adventurers".
Unpimpled; unpocked; very, very scrubbed.

From the Arts & Leisure section, same paper:
An article by one Ann Powers on how rock music embraces the family after years of rebellion and adolescence. "There seems to be a growing consensus that no one really wants to die before they grow old."

And so the nation's greatest newspaper slowly succumbs to the superficiality of the modern consumer society.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Changing America (cont'd)

The Interstate Highway System (hereafter called IHS) was not only a huge structural undertaking that altered the landscape of America. It brought about a social and economic upheaval that we still do not fully appreciate.
Originally, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938 called for a study of a six route toll network. FDR felt there should be three east-west routes and three north-south routes.
But as Congress and succeeding Presidents studied the matter, the concept grew in scope and size. In 1956, President Eisenhower signed legislation establishing the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. By now, the IHS was seen to require 41,000 miles of roads.
Note the words Defense Highways. The Department of Defense played a major role in the development and construction of the IHS. Its purpose was to allow for mass evacuation of cities in the event of a nuclear attack. The DOD went even further by requiring that one mile in every five miles had to be straight to be available as airstrips in the event or war or other emergencies.
The IHS committed this country to the automobile as the primary source of transportation. As a result a nationwide system of rail and bus transportation began to decline and disappear.
The automobile industry became, as the economists like to say, the "backbone of our economy". Instead of building or keeping the diversified manufacturing we had, we set the stage for an economy dependent on one industry for fiscal health, and it created a demand for and dependency upon oil that had long term consequences that are still being felt today.
Social upheaval followed as well. Freeways cut through cities, nearly always through the poorer neighborhoods. These dislocations not only left people homeless but without a grounded sense of place as well.
The complex and organic network of railroads and traditional highways that had developed over time linking communities to retail centers, workplaces, schools, etc. were bypassed. In time, it was seen that a new arrangement of how a community lives had to be found and put in place.
This explains the growth of suburbs and box stores and shopping malls. This also demonstrates how the new arrangements created a demand for even more cars. The one-car family with a one-job provider is an anachronism today. Every one needs to have a job and everyone needs their own car to get there.
And so we have these 14 lane super-highways in metropolitan areas filled with cars moving slower than horses that have been nicely described by James Howard Kunstler as "automobile slums".
Fifty years ago it was very different!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Thomas Pynchon Question

The novelist Thomas Pynchon has written: "If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers." Great line. (And we know who they are.)

Here's my question: why do we need credit cards? They are only about 40 years old as a major component in our economy. We lived 193 years in the USA without them. So, why do we need them? Think about it!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On Torture

Does torture work? That is the question being debated by the hosts of cable news channels (I call them 'the pack of yapping jackals) and the radio talk show hosts (I call them 'rats who like to gnaw on the social fabric'). Does torture work?
Gee, I don't know. Does assassination work? Does lying work? Does carpet bombing work?
Let's not forget that this debate began over whether or not waterboarding, electric shock, hanging suspended by the arms, etc. constituted torture. It even got down to fine-tuning parameters, such as how long the condition lasted or how often it was repeated, and so on. It was like reading a Kafka novel, or a policy paper from the Soviet Politboro.
Finally, even the most obtuse, even the most shifty-minded of the supporters of this practice had to accept that it was torture.
But now it's okay to torture because 'it works'. That is the party program now.
Well, I'm sorry, but it is not OK. Never has been, and never should be.
Even if it works, it is wrong.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Canary In The Coal Mine

The murder of five American soldiers by another American soldier has been described as a warning similar to the canaries who were taken into mines to warn of impending explosions or by their death from gas.

Well, I said to myself, how many canaries does it take? Soldiers have been killing themselves from the effects of this war upon their personalities at an unprecedented rate for a couple of years.
Canaries, you say! Damn you and the horse you rode in on.

But wait, there are still two more years of war left in Iraq, and who knows how many more in Afghanistan.

I am reminded of the words of Siegfried Sassoon, English war hero of WWI:

"Let no one ever, from henceforth say one word in any way countenancing war. It is dangerous even to speak of how here and there the individual may gain some hardship of soul by it. For war is hell, and those who institute it are criminals. Were there even anything to say for it, it should not be said; for its spiritual disasters far outweigh any of its consequences."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Falling Out (short story)

All spring and summer there was talk about a ski area being built on Mount Forge. This news seemed strange to me because I didn't know anyone who skied. Also we didn't get alot of snow in New Jersey. Some winters we got hardly any snow at all. But the word was they would make their own snow, if you could believe that.
The word of this miracle came from Billy romp. Billy was a classmate of mine and he had gone to work at the ski area right after our high school graduation. He had always worked at some job, even when he was in school. So it was no surprise that he had a job before his graduation robe was packed up for return.
Billy said he had spent most of the summer raking and seeding the newly graded slopes. Now they were laying two lines of pipe up the side of each slope and these pipes would carry compressed air and water to make snow when winter came. He said there was lots of work to do and the owners were hiring more help. Chair lifts were going up, and rope tows, and it was all very exciting.
I had fooled around all summer, taking vacation, but I was beginning to feel edgy. I knew I needed to be doing something, getting on with my life as my father would tell me almost every day. Make something of myself, get a trade. My father was a carpenter and he said he could make me one too, but I didn't want to do that work. I know that bothered him, but I just didn't like carpentry.
My friends and I talked about enlisting in the military, or was it better to wait for the draft. Vietnam was heating up then. LBJ, the cowboy President with the sniggery smile, was throwing the good old USA deeper into the mud with every speech. My father said joining up would be good for me, make me a man. Yeah, a dead man, I said. Don't get smart, Jack, he said and gave me one of those looks of anger mixed with sadness. Someday, Jack, he said, you're gonna break my heart.
My father believed every man should do the patriotic thing. I thought so myself, but I wasn't ready just yet. So I went to Mount Forge and applied for work. They hired me on the spot and they made it clear that I could stay on when the construction was done and work when the area was open for business. There would be jobs manning the lifts and tows, making snow, work in the ski rental shop, and other stuff like that.
Well, it worked out fine for me and I stayed on the payroll for the winter. I liked the job, the people, and all the activity. I was willing to work all the hours they gave me, and that made the owner happy because the jobs were seasonal and turnover was high. Sometimes employees just stopped coming to work and there would be no one to stand at a lift station or sell tickets and I would get called and say "Yes, sir" and go racing in to save the day.
When spring came the weather turned mild and the snow began to disappear from the slopes. Soon the place shut down and layoffs began. The owner asked me if I wanted to stay on through the summer and fall keeping the place up, doing maintenance. I had done a good job, he said, he would give me a nice raise, and a title, Mountain Manager. I said Yes, sure enough. I loved that title. Mountain Manager. So I had a full time job now. Billy Romp and two other guys were kept on too.
My Father said I had taken hold real well but did this job have a future? I told him it had next year in it anyway. Past that I didn't know.

Next winter, just before Christmas, my father found out his own job had future problems. The USA was in a recession; construction was off, and my father was out of work until next Spring.After a week or so, he asked me if I thought he could get some work at the ski area. At first I thought he meant carpentry and I said no, but he said he meant any kind of work, something to do to make money. Well, I asked the owner and he said Sure, tell him to come on in. He's got to be good, he said, like father, like son, right?So Dad was put to work as lift operator at the top platform of Chairlift One, the longest lift in the area as it stopped at the highest point on the mountain. The platform where he worked was made of wood and stood about 25 feet above a jagged rocky ledge. On the slope side of the platform was a booth where the operator stood to watch the approach of skiers and make sure they were ready to ski off out of the chair. Sometimes skiers would get talking and forget to raise the safety bar in time to ski off so they had to be reminded with a shout. Inside the booth there was an intercom for communication with the base terminal and a mushroom button shutoff switch.Dad did real well. He was older than most of the guys who worked there but he knew how to fit in. Things got better between us. He didn't even seem to mind that I was in charge of him, or that I was paid more than he was.One day, when things were slow, I decided to make an inspection of the chairlift towers. I had done this before. I'd start with the bottom tower and walk my way up the mountain on the right-of-way beneath the cable. I climbed each tower and checked out the sheaves for bearing noise or wobble, and how the cable seemed to be wearing on the sheave lining. As I was climbing down from the last tower before the upper platform I saw Billy Romp riding up to relieve my father for lunch. He smiled and waved. I yelled at him to tell my father to wait for me, we'd ride down together. He nodded OK.I finished climbing down and walked the last 100 feet to the platform. Dad was scrunched to the outside of the booth talking to Billy inside. He saw me and waved come on.Now the rules for safe operation of the chairlift were that the lift must be stopped for anyone getting a chair on the top platform for a ride down to the base. So when I got to the platform I stood to one side and watched an empty chair swing around and start toward me and I waited for the lift to stop.

My father went by me and stood in the path of the chair and shouted "Come on. I told Billy not to shut it off. Let's hop on." I started to say no and I looked at Billy but he was laughing and I knew it wasn't going to stop and that I had to get in front and do this horseplay thing with my Dad.

I'm not sure what happened next. I think he tried to bump me to hog the seat but I'm not sure. I know he went for his part of the chair like a kid, fast and grinning.

Like I say, I think he tried to bump me over a little, maybe not. I know I bumped him back but, just as the chair approached the platform edge, I saw I had pushed too far or too hard because he wasn't on the seat. The chair left the platform and my father lost his grip. He gave a little cry and dropped off onto the rocks below.

For a moment I froze, then I looked back. My father was lying face down on the rocks. He wasn't moving. Billy was calling on the intercom. I turned around. Skiers going up the other side of the towers were pointing, gaping. What happened, one of them shouted at me. I saw a snowmobile with two ski patrolmen on it. Their jackets had the color of dried blood. They looked like statues on a frozen sea.

At the bottom, people asked me What happened? I don't know, I said, I'm not sure. It was so fast. I couldn't say what I thought, what I felt.

Later, I heard that my father, large man that he was, had hit the rocks hard, breaking his ribs and crushing his heart. His broken heart.

Anyway, afterwards, I did get on with my life, like he always wanted. I was happy too. But I wasn't the same. No, I had changed. I was different, but in a way that I didn't understand.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Death doesn't complete. Death interrupts the beginning.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Vernon Watkins

I have decided to do this once a month, that is , to print a poem by a major poet, a poem I like and hope that others will too.

This is by Vernon Watkins, Welsh poet, 1906-1967. He was a friend of Dylan Thomas.

The Revolutionary

I was that youth. Now from myself estranged,
after the revolution I was seeking,
I stop stone dead, to hear another speaking:
"Change nothing; you yourself must first be changed.'
I travelled seas and learnt to read a chart,
knew how to navigate through dispossession
the hardest straits, yet wrote in my confessions:
"All triumph was resisted by the heart."
Much evil and much good remain, and yet
the heart has no immaculate remedy.
Life, to be won, is won less easily;
the stars remind us: 'Your own eyes are set.'
Say of this patience that impatience gained;
when others left their station, he remained.

A Changing America (cont'd)

I was re-reading a book, Teacher In America by Jacques Barzun, which was originally published in 1945. My copy is a paperback edition of the sixth printing from 1959. On page 15, I read the following:

"Meanwhile I dwell on the necessity of teaching, that is to say on the need for teachers. There are never enough. Statistics tell us that at this moment we are one hundred thousand short - one in ten. This does not include men fighting or putting their special skill at the war plant's disposal. One hundred thousand have simply jumped at the chance for higher pay. that is their right and in a competitive system they must be free from blame. Nevertheless we have here an estimate of the number who are normally in teaching for want of better jobs. The "call" cannot be strong if a teacher will leave the classroom to floor-walk in a department store. Doctors are poor too, but they stick to their rounds and their patients." (italics mine)

Wow, I thought, how many people remember that! Comparisons are not fair, however. Today doctors know far more, and it is much too costly to go through the process of becoming a doctor.

But what a change!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Was your Bobbie like my Bobbie?
Were her breasts as soft and fair?
Could it be that she loved twice,
two men too old to care?
Were her eyes as blue as snow?
Were her lips as sweet and red?
She is kissed by no one now.
Oh no, my dear dear Bobbie's dead.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Some Light Verse

Here on the happy streets
where happy people play
and happy money is spent
every happy day,
good times will last forever.
Tomorrow is today.


whether the time is right,
or the time is wrong,
the time too short,
the time too long.


We walked the autumn streets,
our heads turned to our dreams
I, Belmondo, you, Seberg.
Manhattan roared around us.

But we didn't run; we stayed,
grew old with struggle, jobs, regret.
We should have robbed a bank, baby,
had some fun.

We might get caught, go to prison?
Yeah, maybe.
But wouldn't you take that prison
for this one?
Just recalled a memory: as a boy I heard of other boys who earned money as golf caddies. I thought this strange and other-worldly.

I see now that it was me who was strange and other-worldly.