Friday, November 20, 2009

The Empire Strikes Back

Army Specialist Alexis Hutchinson has been arrested and jailed for failing to report for overseas duty.
She failed to report, not because she didn't want to go, but because she couldn't find a responsible person to look after her 11 month old child while she was away.
Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think much of a government that will send mothers of infant children into combat zones. 
I don't think much of a military that will put assignment ahead of the health of a baby.
One more example of America losing its way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Report from the Home of the Brave

Firefighters were called to Jerry Thomas Elementary School when school officials told them that a boy and a girl could not be awakened after a class nap.  By the time fire-rescue got there, the students were awake and had no obvious medical problems.
The school was evacuated and the two children were taken to Jupiter Medical Center for observation.  Firefighters in protective gear took air samples in the classroom but found no contamination.
The two children were given a decontamination bath.
No cause has been found for the incident.

From the Palm Beach Post, 2007

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When you go looking for that special gift......

Consider this:

"The iCarta toilet paper dispenser comes with an iPod dock and dual speakers so you can always be with your iPod."

Featured in Residences magazine of the Palm Beach Post.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tom Wolfe Revisited

Twenty years ago this month, Harpers magazine published an article titled "Stalking The Billion-footed Beast:  A Literary Manifesto for the New Social Novel", by Tom Wolfe.
Not too often does an article on literature create the feverish tumult and debate that this one did.  Several writers responded in the Letters Section of Harpers in the following month.  Robert Towers took two pages in The New York Times Book Review to comment pro and con.  Lewis Lapham moderated a debate  on his TV program "Bookmark".   Many other outlets added to the discussion.  Ah yes, I remember it well.
I have my original copy of the magazine in front of me, (with the necessary address label in the lower left hand corner showing my former New York residence), and I am struck again with the term 'billion-footed'.  What could it refer to, I wondered 20 years ago, and found out that Wolfe seemed uncertain too.  At different points in the article, the 'beast' is either New York City, or the USA, or possibly the entire world. 
Mr. Wolfe seemed grieved that no one was writing the big novel about New York City that he wanted to write but didn't have time for just yet.  He thought poorly of literature that delved in fantasy or minimalism and other non-realist themes. 
Well,  people who make a living writing about literature had different opinions about the article.  Some critics saw it as self-promotion. 
Most pointed out that Wolfe had failed to cite many authors who satisfied the requirements of his screed.
Philip Roth, John Hawkes and Robert Towers said their past comments had been misinterpreted by Wolfe.
Madison Smartt Bell rang in that Wolfe was more of a social satirist than a social novelist but endorsed his call.
Mary Gordon called him "the thinking man's redneck".
Jim Harrison described the article as "the Babbittry of Art in a white suit".
Walker Percy gushed in his approval of it.
Twenty years later and all I can say is Ho-hum.  Episodes like this always bring to my mind the title of a popular song:  "What's It All About, Alfie?"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day - the dark side

About ten years ago, a Vietnam veteran named Joe Kirkup wrote the following article for the Hartford Courant:

"Barbara was probably the softest woman who ever lived.  Everything about her was quiet and gentle.  Her eyes were delicate brown orbs set in tiny pillows of alabaster, open portals to the most vulnerable of souls.  They were filled with tears.
I was leaving, next stop Vietnam.  We sat in my car watching our last hour together slip miserably past.  She couldn't stand to see me go.  I couldn't stand to see her cry.  I felt so desperate to take away her pain, to make some sense of what had to be done.
Typical male animal that I was, I resorted to logic.  I explained the domino theory of international affairs, the threat of socialism, the obligation we had to help all people free themselves from the tyranny of communism.  'This is a democracy,' I said.  "We elect the best leaders we can, then we have to trust in their decisions.'
About a year before that, 32 years ago, we now know from the release of his White House tapes that the best leader we were able to elect,  Lyndon B. Johnson, was engaged in a related conversation with his national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy.  Despite Mr. Bundy's attempts to cut in,  Mr. Johnson went on and on about the total fallacy of sending troops to Vietnam.  He groused angrily about how there was no way we could win a jungle war 10,000 miles from home.  And about the heartbreak of sending thousands of young soldiers, fathers and husbands, brothers and sons, to die in a conflict of questionable purpose with almost no hope of success.
But Mr. Johnson was trapped, as he explained to Mr. Bundy, if he failed to engage in what he clearly believed to be a totally hopeless and massive bloodletting, the pointless sacrifice of what would ultimately be 58,000 American men.  His political career would be in jeopardy, the Republicans would cast him as soft on defense in the next election, he might lose some votes.
Barbara's moistened and loving eyes watched me go;  they read my letters about the deaths of my friends, about my tortured dreams of killing and the paralyzing fear that gripped me from dark to dawn
When I returned, they gazed sadly into my own, into the nightmare, into the price I paid for Lyndon B. Johnson's popularity.  Then she closed them to me forever, knowing that the young man she had loved was never coming home.
I know I'm still crazy.  But this is what I want.  I want to take Lyndon Johnson from his grave and bury him somewhere far away from this country I love and nearly died for.  If I can never come home, neither should he.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dangling Conversations

Overheard at the Duck and Cover Diner:

"I am never 'here'.  I am always 'there'."
"Yes.  Someplace else.  Anywhere else.  I hate connections."

"I think it was called The Cafe of Two Maggots."

"I have no love for Death.
It leaves me cold."

"Why am I so reluctant, even fearful, of being seen?  This apprehension keeps me from walking."

"When did you stop folding paper airplanes?"

Monday, November 9, 2009

More things I have learned

Most of us don't grow. We simply change.

A mis-used truth is not much different from a lie.

It means little to be free if you keep your mouth shut.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

On the Death of Children

In today's (11/08/09) Parade magazine, Madeleine Albright writes on freedom and democracy and how important they are.  In the article, she describes a visit to Sierra Leone when she was Secretary of State under Bill Clinton. She writes "Militia groups there routinely chopped off people's hands to keep them from casting a ballot, even using machetes on the limbs of small children. I'll never forget holding one maimed girl in my arms. I couldn't help wondering how anyone could hurt her in such a cruel way. Whose enemy was she?"

When Albright was Secretary of State, she was interviewed by Leslie Stahl for the TV show 60 Minutes.  Stahl asked her about the half a million children who have died in Iraq due to the sanctions imposed by the US and NATO.  Stahl pointed out that was more children than were killed in Hiroshima.  Was it, she asks Albright, worth the price?
Albright responds:  " We think that's a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it."

Whose enemy were they, Madame Secretary?

Military Draft: the right idea?

Lately I see, hear, or read people recommend that the military draft be returned to active duty.  The reasoning behind this, as I understand it, is that with a Citizen Army as opposed to a Volunteer Army, more people will be affected by the war and  become so disenchanted with our war making efforts around the world that they will bring an end to the enterprises in Iraq and Afghanistan;  and that it may act as a brake on any future plans by the powers in government to invade countries.
That is the long way home.  Better to join anti-war groups and plan protests.  Better to vote out all people currently serving in the government.
Everybody claims that congress is corrupt and/or incompetent.  Everybody that is except their own congressman and senator.  This is why nothing changes.  At the next election, I will vote against every incumbent, even the ones I like.  It is past time to clean house.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Process

For  a score or more years now, people in advertising, po;itics and government have used an expression called "The Process".  A great many ideas and proposals have been subjected to the workings of The Process in order to validate their worthiness.
I never really understood what The Process meant.  For me, it remained a vague abstraction and therefore eluded my understanding.  The first President to use (even overuse) the expression was George Herbert Walker Bush.  It was obvious that he knew what it meant and how to use it.
It was also about that time that Joan Didion, a writer I admire, provided an explanation for what The Process is or means.  I have extracted three quotes from her writing on the subject:

"the traditional ways in which power is exchanged and the status quo maintained."

"consisting of a self-created and self-referring class who tend to speak of the world not necessarily as it is but as they want people out there to believe it is."

"they prefer the theoretical to the observable, and to dismiss that which might be learned empirically as anecdotal.."

Thank you, Ms Didion