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"Another such victory over the Romans, and we are undone."- Pyrrhus

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Officer Friendly, he daid,Huck.

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

gerardvanderleun : September 20, 14  |  Your Say (0)  | PermaLink: Permalink

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

It all started in Laguna Beach when something went BUMP!

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

We looked!
-- The Cat in the Hat

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

Everything except me.

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

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

"You feel that?" I asked.

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

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

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

"You feel that?" he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"There's a thought."

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

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

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

Which was when I remembered Mandel's car.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanderleun : September 19, 14  |  Your Say (16)  | PermaLink: Permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanderleun : September 19, 14  |  Your Say (34)  | PermaLink: Permalink

American Studies

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I, of course, am a churl.

Hence my only thought on hearing this statement was

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

Not sure? Let's review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gerardvanderleun : September 18, 14  |  Your Say (8)  | PermaLink: Permalink

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gerardvanderleun : September 17, 14  |  Your Say (3)  | PermaLink: Permalink

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No longer a problem in the way-new America.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Vanderleun : September 17, 14  |  Your Say (15)  | PermaLink: Permalink

Bad Americans

Take my country, please.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[First Published: 2010-08-25]

Vanderleun : September 17, 14  |  Your Say (23)  | PermaLink: Permalink

American Studies

rockwellthepeople.jpg In the darkness with a great bundle of grief the people march.
In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for keeps, the people march:
       "Where to? what next?"

-- Carl Sandburg: The People Yes

IN THE DAYS AFTER THE TOWERS FELL, in the ash that covered the Brooklyn street where I lived at that time, in the smoke that rose for months from that spot across the river, when rising up in the skyscraper I worked in, or riding deep beneath the river in the subway, or passing the thousand small shrines of puddled candle wax below the walls with the hundreds of photographs of "The Missing," it was not too much to say that you could feel the doors of history open all about you.

Before those days, history happened elsewhere, elsewhen, to others. History did not happen to you. In your world, until that day, you lived in the time after history. There were no more doors in front of you, all history lay behind you. It was a given.

You would have, of course, your own personal history. You would live your life, no bigger or smaller than most others. You would meet people, have children, go to the job, enjoy what material things came your way, have your celebrations, your vacations, your possessions, and your dinner parties. You would hate and you would love. You would be loved and betrayed. You would have your little soap opera and the snapshots and emails to prove it. At some point or another you would die and be remembered by some for some time. Then it would all fade and the great ocean would just roll on. And that would be fine.

History was behind us. It was something our parents entered for a while during the war but they emerged into what was, essentially, the long peace. They'd had enough history, didn't want any more, and did what they could to keep history from happening. In general, the history of the Cold War is the history of what didn't happen punctuated by a few things every now and then such as Korea and Vietnam. But all in all, for over 50 years, history didn't happen.

With the end of the Soviet Union in a whimper and not a bang brighter than the sun on earth, history was officially over. The moment even got its own book, "The End of History," which stimulated an argument that even more than the book emphasized that history was over.

Most sensible people liked it that way. In fact, a lot of people really liked it that way. Because if history for the world was over, these people could get on making the history that really mattered to them: The History of Me.

More and more throughout the 90s "History" was "out," and "Me" was in. "Me," "Having My Space," "How to Be Your Own Best Friend," "Me, Myself, I," were hallmarks of that self-besotted age. The History of Me was huge in the 90s and rolled right through the millennium. It even had a Customized President to preside over those years; the Most Me President ever. A perfect man for the time and one who, in the end, did not disappoint in choosing "Me" over "Country." How could he do otherwise? It was the option his constituency of Many-Million-Mes elected him to select. I know because I was into Me then and I voted for him because, well, because he seemed to be "just like me." It was a sad day when "Me" couldn't run for a third term, but The Party of Me offered up "Mini-Me" and a lot of Mes turned out for him too.

Many millions of Mini-Mes were very upset when there weren't quite enough Mes in one state to put Mini-Me in office to continue with the wonderful Me-ness of it all. I voted for "Mini-Me" in 2000, but not because he really seemed like Me, but because he was the only thing out there that said he was Me.

Unlike millions of miffed Mini-Mes, I wasn't too upset when he didn't get in after stamping his feet and holding his breath. I suppose I should have. It was what all the really intense Mini-Mes were doing. But I'd already started to become disgusted with all the Me-ness that had been going around so long and this tantrum of the Mini-Mes just made me not want to hang around them. After all, we were well beyond the End of History by this point, so what did it matter?

Then on one bright and unusually fine New York September morning History came back with a vengeance we'd never seen before in the history of America. It came back and it stayed and stayed and stayed. The doors of history swung open again and we were all propelled through them into... what?

Nobody knows. Not the President, not his opponents, not the right, left, center, or just plain unhinged and now in low-earth orbit. We know how it began, but we don't know how it will end. We don't really know what's next. Indeed, we never know.

It was better when we lived in The History of Me. We knew how Me would end -- birth, fun, school, fun, job, fun, family, fun, age, fun, death and then ... probably fun, who knew, who cared? The meaning of this history was not deep but was to be found in the world "fun." Mini-Mes love fun. You could almost say it is their religion, a religion of fun. A funny concept, fun. Fills the space between birth and death. "He was a fun guy" could be a generic epitaph for the era.

Now we find ourselves back in history as it has always been and it is not fun. Not fun at all. The history of history has little to do with fun, almost nothing at all.

Most of the Mini-Mes don't know what to do in a history that isn't fun. All their lives have been about shaping history towards fun and they've been having a good run at it. They like it so much, they are now willing to do anything to bring it back -- the Kennedy Era, such elegant fun; the Clinton Years, "Hey, we partied like it was 1999." In the run-up to the last election and now for the next, there's been and there will be a lot of code swapped about getting the fun back in the game. "Remember the fun of the 90s? You can have it all back. Peace. Love. Understanding. Stock-market Boom. Money. Any number of genders can play." Indeed, these Merry Pranksters of our politics are setting up to run "The Bride of Fun" for President in 2008, even though it is clear she is the least fun of any of them.

Unlike "The Bride of Fun," Fun is very attractive. It is an illusion to Us now, but the Mini-Mes need Fun and want it back more than, well, life itself. The Mini-Mes talk a great game about groups, entitlement, empowerment, but their program really is, like fun, "all about Me."

This is not to say that the incumbent administration is the Second Coming in any way, shape or form. Nor is it to say that Me-ness doesn't dominate that bumbling faction as well. Washington is always about Me-Magnified. In a way, it is true to say that a lot of what is going on is a fight over which set of Mes shall be master. But that is always the case.

Still there are always "differences of degree," and it is on those differences that one must judge. Weighing the two, it seems to me clear that there is, within the core of the current party in power, at least the recognition that "fun" is no longer what we need to be about at this time. Indeed, there is an understanding there, backed with deeds and policies, however flawed in conception and execution, that our holiday from history is over and we need to get back to business if we'd like to be around in any kind of recognizable form by mid-century. There is even, if you look at it closely, a distinct lessening of "Me" and the beginnings of an "Us" on the peripheries of the Party. Not a lot, but when you look at the other, there is none. Only a yearning for the warm mud of Me.

History as it will now unfold will require little from Me but much from Us. I'd like to say that this country's going one way or another tomorrow will be the ruin of the nation. If I could I would be able to get my Me into the Punditocracy. But that is false. One result or another will not be the ruin of the nation for there is, as one of the founding fathers once remarked, "A lot of ruin in a nation."

Should the nation choose to continue in the elections of this year to move forward, to stay the course and continue the offensive, our encounter with history will move forward at much the same pace as it has these past four years, perhaps a bit accelerated. Should the nation choose to step back, to retreat, it will simply retard the process that grips it a bit more than otherwise might be the case. Neither result wil place us back in the History of Me no matter how many yearn for it.

History, having returned, will continue to happen, not to Me, but to Us.

We will have war whether we wish it or not. It will continue to be brought to us as it was brought for many years before we could see it in a pillar of flame by day and a pillar of smoke by night. We will be long in this wilderness, perhaps as long as forty years, and it will take a terrible toll from us, soldier and civilian alike; a toll we have not yet begun to see. Like all global wars in the past century, the war upon us will rise in violence until such time as we either capitulate, or find the will to kill our enemies wholesale. This is not what we would choose, but it is what we shall have.

We could, if we wished, withdraw every soldier from every inch of soil that is not American territory and leave them here inside our borders rusting for a decade. War will still come because war is already upon us, and wars do not end in staged withdrawals, but in either defeat or victory. The lessons of Vietnam and the Cold War teach this to us if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

In this First Terrorist War, the character of our leadership will make a difference to some degree, but it will not decide. It is who we are and who we shall become as a people that will decide. How that will be in the end, I do not know. What I do know is that history, no matter what they tell you, never comes to an end. And because of that, the one small thing that I have the power to do is to decide that I shall no longer vote for Me. I shall vote for Us.


First published March 2006

Vanderleun : September 16, 14  |  Your Say (49)  | PermaLink: Permalink

InVerse

theyhadleft.jpg

Homestead

It was found in the fog that shivered
        the slivers of glass in the windows.
It was seen in the sheen of the moon
         on the unworn wood of the floor.
It spoke with the slow, patient clutching of light
         and tapped out the unknown codes of the flesh,
         the indistinct worm of the years and the shapes
         of desire, possession, and fate.
It was mute.

It was stitched in the spaces
         of the wind's alphabet.
It was clothed in cool hands
         gloved in wet weather.
It appeared on the paths
         that admitted no passage.
It's rachety rhythms
         were all made of match sticks.
It waited.

It's slashings were tattooed
         on drapes of dank velvet.
It's gibbering laughter inserted itself
         between doorway and jamb and continued to carve.
It's snickering plumbing
         rotted the dinner.
They had left, they had left.
         Indeed, they had left.
Of that all their objects would clearly attest.

Vanderleun : September 16, 14  |  Your Say (11)  | PermaLink: Permalink

American Studies

hockneybigsplash.jpg

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

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

Chico, CA: Early September, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanderleun : September 15, 14  |  Your Say (15)  | PermaLink: Permalink

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

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

gerardvanderleun : September 15, 14  |  Your Say (6)  | PermaLink: Permalink

Companions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerard Van der Leun : September 15, 14  |  Your Say (19)  | PermaLink: Permalink

The Stars Go Over The Lonely Ocean
by Robinson Jeffers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click Here to Continue
gerardvanderleun : September 15, 14  |  Your Say (1)  | PermaLink: Permalink

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

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

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

gerardvanderleun : September 14, 14  |  Your Say (14)  | PermaLink: Permalink

Grace Notes

"And I thought of all the bad luck,
And the struggles we went through
And how I lost me and you lost you."

-- Don Henley

dove_rs.jpgThere's a lot of it being bandied about these days. Change, that is. Mostly in the realm of the Politics of life. Despite all the hand-wringing and introspection that goes on in this area, I've come to believe that the Politics of life are easy. It's the Poetics of life that are tough.

Changing your politics by either softening or hardening or completely reversing your positions on issues is such a simple intellectual feat that almost anyone, even politicians and lawyers, can manage it. At bottom, it is mostly a matter of viewing or "re"-viewing your internal map of how the world should be, and taking up those positions or opinions or policies that you believe will lead the world from "what it is" to "what the world should be."

Thoughtful and engaged citizens of the nation or of the world continually assemble and reassemble their political beliefs to resemble their visions of the world and its continual becoming. All of which implies, to a greater or lesser extent, some individual control over the creation of policies which determine -- to some degree -- political outcomes.

Politics is the great game of our globe. It is now and always has been the only blood sport played well by both warriors and wimps. This is as it should be since blood or treasure must often be spilled to obtain any one of many possible outcomes. In all this, change may be for the better or the worse, depending on where you stand, but change will come, have its way and send the butcher's bill.

And the butcher's bill will always be more than you imagined you would have to pay. In blood and in treasure, the stakes are fates.

All of that is hard and difficult and, more often than not, splits parties, factions, families and friends right down to the living bone. It is played in real time and with live ammunition. But none of it is mysterious. In the end it involves only the process of politics and, while the rules may be at times obscure, they can still be descried and codified.

Not so the changes of the darkest realm of our lives; that realm we know only dimly but tell ourselves, in our error, that we know well. This is the realm of the human heart; a place where change comes more slowly than wisdom accrues, and rolls below our conscious minds like a deep, underground river into which we have drilled, through the bedrock of our lives, the wells of love and the wells of hate.

We recognize and celebrate the deep wells of love within ourselves. So much so that we invite others, be they strangers, friends or lovers, to drink from them; to refresh themselves and thus know us as the kind of human being that can love and love deeply; that can make the deeper vows of love in life and, despite setbacks, still cling to them and draw strength from them. To close down and fill in one of these wells we open in ourselves to another is still seen -- even in this deluded age of no fault for anything -- a large failure in, and a waste of, life. This is as it should be. A deep love is known, by all who have had it granted to them, as the rarest of all moments of grace to be had in this world. Nothing can buy it and nothing replaces it. One can only nuture it or squander it.

We toast the couple who has made it to fifty years of marriage. We are, indeed, amazed these days when half that measure is achieved. We admire the parents who have a deeply challenged child and yet stick by and raise that child into all the happiness of which that child is capable. We honor all those who spend their lives in service to humanity and even, when that service passes all understanding, raise them up as saints, holy or secular.

The water from our deepest wells of love runs clear and clean. It refreshes the soul. Like all the great waters of this life it carries within it no taste at all other than that which is pure and which is true. Tasted once we carry within us forever a ceaseless thirst for more of it.

Then there are, because we are only human and caught halfway up the stairs between beast and angel, the darker wells of which we do not speak, but which run just as deep and just as ceaseless within our hearts.

These are the wells of the black and bitter water that we drink from at that awful hour of 4 AM in the soul. That hour when the bad phone calls arrive, when the arguments and the accusations twist in the soul, when nothing is satisfied and sleep is slight and the dawn delays.

Nothing good ever transpires in an argument carried past 2AM, and it grows almost lethal as it winds on until 4. It doesn't matter whether or not the argument is with another or just with oneself, let it run that long into the night and you will know -- cold and stained -- the darkest secrets of the self. And you will drink them down as night after night and year after year they are drawn up from the heart's core. And the water will be dank and false and carry an ever increasing taint of poison into your soul. Tasted once, you will have a ceaseless thirst for more of it.

I've been drinking my dark bitter glass from my secret well of hate in the dark hours on and off for what is now going on fifteen years. That's a strange measure since it marks just about the same length of time that I loved the woman and was married to her.

But I'm no addict. I'm no alcoholic of hate. No, not me.

Over time I no longer drank from this dark well nightly. I'd lost a couple of years to its intoxicating haze in the early 90s, but I emerged from that in time. Say what you will of the dark water, it did not rule my life, only -- from time to time -- my nights.

After some years had passed it surprised me to realize that I had not really thought of her for months. It was surprising to notice that my once nightly mantra of secret thoughts centered on all the wrongs done, and all the years of my child's life stolen from me, had retreated to a much more infrequent pattern. I was relieved that the thoughts that always spiraled down into the dark (where I would imagine the worst sort of things happening to the woman I once loved above all others) had faded to a sometime thing.

And there it stayed, a sometimes thing. A steady state of hate.

Of course, because it came up from a well of hate I had dug deep into my heart with my own hands, the sometimes thing was always the same thing on those random nights when it filled my sleeplessness. It was a thing fashioned from the shabbiest materials of my soul, all the cheap claptrap that I was capable of pasting to the mildewed walls, all the shoddy stuff that held me up as a heroic "sufferer" at another's hands, the eternal moist "victim of circumstance," the paltry, spurned lover. The husband who had been so unjustly cast aside that he had conveniently forgotten his own hand in the matter. The wronged father who could not be bothered to look at his own failures when the spite and the maliciousness was so clearly all on the other side.... On and on it went in a litany of wrongs unavenged. The trial was held and held again and the verdict on her "crimes against my humanity" was, according to the jury (that would be me as well) always guilty, guilty, guilty.

Then I'd siphon up another glass of black hate from the dark well of my heart, knock it back neat, and get on to my favorite part: punishment. I won't go into the punishments I would imagine except to say that I have an extremely vivid imagination and that being in the book and movie "American Psycho" would have seemed like an all expenses paid day at Disneyland by comparison. After all, it is the nature of hate to feed upon itself and, like all addictions, demand greater and greater quantities to become sated. Let's just say I ate my revenge slow and cold with a table knife.

And that was how my private little melodrama played in the showcase of my soul as a decade rolled by and I waited for it, like some perverted and worn Velveteen Rabbit, to become real. I'd hear of her from time to time but never in any great detail. I could have if I'd wanted to since I still retained connections with various members of her family. But I didn't ask and they didn't tell. In truth, so dark was the hate I held for her that I thought I didn't want to hear anything about her unless the news was bad -- very, very bad.

I honesty and deeply believed that about myself right up until the day I actually heard some very, very bad news about her.

It came in over the rumor mill of the telephone, just like the game of telephone. Somebody told somebody something. That somebody told somebody else something. And that somebody told me. It was a series of anecdotes four times removed from the subject. Little more than the thin gruel of gossip watered down and enhanced four times over.

The tale told was bleak and awful. It had all the things about it that I had, in my hate, been waiting to hear: disease, destitution, loneliness and ruination. My waiting cup was at long last filled to overflowing and handed to me.

And I could not drink from it. I dashed it from my lips. In one stunned instant I knew that everything I had been telling myself for nearly 15 years about my deepest feelings for this person had been one of the most carefully constructed and meticulously executed lies I have ever told. And one that I had told only to myself. One that I had believed.

It was in one moment revealed to me as a lie because my very first and deepest reactions to the awful news I had been waiting for for so long was neither the glee nor the jubilation I had always imagined, but the exact polar opposite of both these states.

My first reaction was one of shock, of concern, or wanting to know more, of thinking immediately of which resources I possessed that could be brought to bear to help her, no matter what the cost.

A second illumination followed almost instantly upon the first and I saw tumble through my mind a host of bright memories I had long thought erased forever. The roses by the cabin door in Big Sur where we had first become lovers. The nights above the fog moving over the Presidio in San Francisco. Her face leaning out of the window of her loft down on Duane Street in New York as she threw down the keys. The wedding at the Pierre in New York. The flat in Belgravia. The villa in the Algarve, the apartment in Paris and the village house up along the Western Front. Her hand crushing mine as our daughter was born. The picnic in the Boston Public Gardens in a blizzard of blossoms from the cherry trees. The Hanukkah/Christmas evening when I looked into our house in Connecticut and saw her and my daughter lighting the candles on the musical Menorah.

Everything that had been good and true and wonderful across all the years before it all went smash rolled back over me, much as they say life does before a drowning man. Only it didn't drown me. It pushed me up out of my chair, out into the sunlight on the dock, and there it.... Sat. Me. Down.

It sat me down beside the still waters of the inlet with a ringing in my ears. Then it cold-cocked me like a ball-peen hammer stroke to the third eye with the truth of what I had been drowning with hate for so long. What I'd been hating darkly was not her at all but what I had let happen, in all the small and large ways that you do, to destroy what we had had and would never have again. A sad and sorry and shabby truth to be sure. All the more sad and sorry and shabby for being, in the end, so very common and ordinary.

After about an hour of this, I got up and went back into the houseboat office and made a call. I knew enough about the ways of the "telephone game" to know that you verify rumors before acting.

In a day I got an answer back that, in fact, nothing very dire was happening at all. Life for her went on and, in the main, that life was good. No threatening diseases, no financial ruin, no more loneliness than is common to single people of a certain age, and that she enjoyed the steady love of our daughter. Some travel was in the offing and, on the whole, everything was all right. Examining some of the details of her recent life made it clear how rumor bred with rumor to yield a dire report, but like all gossip it was only a few flecks of truth that were expanded into a false tragedy. There was nothing in it that called out for my intervention and thus no need to alter the state of no-connection that had suited us both for so long. We'd both, as they say, moved mostly on. No need for change in that regard.

Change. There's a lot about it being bandied about in the political sphere where, as I mentioned, it comes easy enough. Less so, much less so, when it comes to the change of the heart.

And a change of the heart is, I suppose, what I've finally gotten out of the whole long, sad, sorry and sordid tale. In the weeks since this happened I won't pretend that the deep and black well in my heart has somehow been back-filled by God, made whole in some miraculous moment. I don't think God does plumbing like that. He probably sub-contracts it out to free-will and leaves the heavy lifting up to you. I do know that I've managed to cap that dark well at last and am busy carrying in stones to keep the lid on.

Just as well because I'm not going to drink from that bitter water again. You need the power of a lie to work that pump, and once you know the truth about yourself you've got no handle to work it with. But I'm going to keep piling on the stones. Just in case.

Vanderleun : September 14, 14  |  Your Say (42)  | PermaLink: Permalink

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

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

gerardvanderleun : September 14, 14  |  Your Say (14)  | PermaLink: Permalink

American Studies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Vanderleun : September 14, 14  |  Your Say (7)  | PermaLink: Permalink

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The Flag at Fort McHenry

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


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

gerardvanderleun : September 13, 14  |  Your Say (3)  | PermaLink: Permalink

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New York, NY- WTC heavy winds cause a wind swept dust strom around the ring of honor at the bottom of ground zero during the one year anniversary of the tragic event. Photo: David Ryan

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

           -- Christina Rossetti

10,000 FEARED DEAD
-- 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 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, the Heights would remain a repository old and new money, power, and 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 on evenings and on weekends were full of the one thing you rarely see in Manhattan, children.

Brooklyn Heights had looked down on Wall Street and the tip of Manhattan from almost the beginning. It hosted the retreat of Washington from New York City during the Battle of Long Island, the first major engagement of the Revolutionary War. To be in the Heights was to hold the high ground and all the advantages that position affords.

Brooklyn Heights today enjoys a kind of armed hamlet existence in New York. Outside influences such as crime, poverty and ghetto life don't really intrude. Since it has long been a neighborhood of the rich and the powerful of the city, it has been spared some of the more doleful effects of city life. It doesn't have walls that you can see, but they are there, strong, high and well guarded.

Traffic, that bane of New York life, is controlled in the Heights. To the west, the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, once planned to cut through the Heights directly to the Brooklyn Bridge, was rerouted by a deft application of money and power; placed below along the harbor. To the east, all traffic coming off the Bridge is pushed along Cadman Plaza to Court Street and off to Atlantic. This forms the eastern border of the Heights whose edge is further delineated by the ramparts of Brooklyn City Hall, Courts of all flavors and a rag-tag collection of government structures that exemplify the Fascist Overbuilding movement of the early 70s when, expecting 'The Revolution,' governments built towards gun-slits rather than windows. The south of the Heights is sharply drawn with Atlantic Avenue, a street given over to a long strip of fringe businesses and a corridor of Islamic-American mosques and souks and restaurants. The north is quite simply the Brooklyn Bridge and its approaches that shelter the now slowly evolving sector devoted to overpriced raw loft spaces and bad art known as DUMBO, for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass."

The best thing about the Heights is the Promenade. This is a long pedestrian strolling area that runs from Remsen on the south to Cranberry on the north end. It's a brick walk high on the bluff above the Expressway below. Over the baroque railing you can see far out into the harbor, beyond the Financial District and Wall Street on the tip of Manhattan, beyond the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island to the distant silhouettes of the cranes and wharfs on the Jersey Shore. You can see north up the East River past the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge to, maybe, the merest wisp of the Williamsburg Bridge. Across from the railings are a selection of gardens and backyards with water fountains and shaded benches. It is one of those hidden, off-to-the-side areas of respite that are secreted across all the seven boroughs of the city. You discover it by being taken to it by someone else who has already been there.

The Promenade is a fine place on any day but best on a Sunday afternoon when the weather is clear. Then you can stroll with your fellow citizens and catch a bit of the constant breeze or a bracing wind. Under most conditions, this wind is one of the best elements of Brooklyn Heights. Usually you just take it for granted -- as you do all the small mercies of life in New York City.

When the wind came from the south off the harbor those who lived on the Heights got to breathe the sea air first before the rest of the city had its way with it. And it usually did blow from the south even if there were days when it blew in from the west across the southern tip of Manhattan. At least, I think that it did on numerous days even if I only remember it from one.

I don't remember the wind from that day because it blew hard and long. The winter, spring and fall brought many blizzards and storms to the Heights with winds that would howl over the roofs and pulse in the chimney of my parlor floor apartment. In winter it would slam against the stones of the facade and rattle the windows while rolling snow so fine against the door that a dusty drift would work its way through the weather stripping and into the foyer by morning.

So if I think about the storms I can say they always came to the Heights on the big shoulders of a bigger wind, but I don't really remember any one of those winds. In my memory, I just assume they were there, a part of the storm. Winds always are a part of any storm. Just as the French say "Never a rose without a thorn," so "Never a storm without a wind."

Except once and then the storm came later. And even if that wind has now become a faint foreign breeze moving over a distant landscape of sand and rubble and blood, it rolls along still and will in time make its way back to where it began.

The wind came when the pillar of fire became, in what seemed a moment outside of time, a pillar of smoke. We had been standing on the Promenade that morning in our thousands watching death rage at the center of a beautiful September morning. It was a morning with a clear and washed blue sky; the kind of rare New York morning when you can believe, again, that anything is possible in that city of dreams that so often dissolve into disappointment.

Anything, of course, except the two towers whose peaks were engulfed in flames.

Anything, it would seem, but what we were seeing.

And it was a morning, as I recall, that had no wind at all. That was why the flames and the smoke from the flames went almost straight up into the sky, a long sooted streak that bisected one side of the blue sky from the other.

It was, except for this one insane thing happening in the middle of our panoramic view from the Promenade, a most beautiful day; made even more so by the absence of any irritating noise from passenger jets overhead.

The last two jets into New York airspace that morning would be the last for days to come. In New York you become so used to the sound of jets overhead in New York that you don't really hear them. What you did hear on that day was the silence of their absence. When the sound of jets came back later that afternoon it was not the sound of passenger jets but of F-16 fighters, and we were glad to hear them.

But in that mid-morning all we could see and think about were the souls trapped in the twin torches about a quarter of a mile away from us on the other side of the East River.

At a certain point in that timeless time you noticed that specks were arcing out from the sides of the buildings from just above or just below or just within the part that was in flames. Looking again you saw that the specks were people flying out from the building and plunging down the sides to disappear behind the shorter buildings that ringed the towers. You tried to imagine what must have been going on in the offices and rooms of that building that made leaping from 100 floors or more above the ground the "better" option, but you didn't have that kind of space left in your imagination. And so you looked on and watched them leap and distantly, silently fall, locked within that morning that had no time, in which all of what you had known, believed, and trusted in came, at once and forever, to a sudden frozen halt.

And then the first tower came down.

We've all seen, most of us on television, what happened next. We've all seen the dropping of the top floors into the smoke and then the shuddering impact and then the rolling and immense cloud of ash that exploded up the island of Manhattan overtaking thousands running north and laying thick slabs of ash over everything in its wake. The tape was played and replayed until, by order or consensus, it stopped being played. World Trade Center and north up the island -- center stage in death's carnival on that day.

That wasn't for me. I was part of the sideshow in Brooklyn Heights.

Lower Manhattan is a welter of thin 17th century streets lined with tall 19th and 20th century buildings. When you take the mass of two buildings the size of the Twin Towers, heat it to the point that steel bends, and drop it straight down into the center of this maze, it does not all go just one direction even if that's where the video cameras are. It moves out radially in all directions. Standing on the Promenade you are in front of many different channels for this atomized mass and the plumes of smoke and what it holds will come at you. And it did, very fast and very dark.

It seemed to come out of the streets that opened onto the South Street Seaport like some Titan's grime clotted fingers, and roiled across the river as if the distance was a few hundred feet rather than a few thousand yards. You saw what was coming and you turned to flee from this black wind with no storm, but there were thousands of others who had come to watch and they too were turning to run out of the exits from the Promenade that had, moments before seemed broad, but now impossibly narrow.

As the wind-driven cloud came over us and things became murky then dark, panic began and shouts and screams could be heard inside the dense smoke. Through some miracle, the crowd ordered itself and those who had brought children with them were eased out in the sudden darkness and others followed in a rapid order. The cloud lightened and then darkened again and the wind rose and fell away and came back. It rippled your clothing, and the smoke must have had a smell to it because it hurt the lungs when you breathed, but I don't remember the smell only the sensation of small needles in my lungs and the gray mucus that came up when I coughed.

The wind pummeled my back for the five minutes it took me to make my way to my apartment, get inside and shut the windows. I stood there at the windows and watched the others rush by, blurs in the smoke, and noticed when, as suddenly as it had come up, the wind died away and the air was almost still. The smoke and the ash still moved in the street outside and high overhead. The day was still darkened but the initial violence of the blast and the wind had passed.

In time, everyone had passed by as well and the street was empty except for the settling smoke. I looked outside the window where a Japanese maple grew and noticed that its wine-dark leaves were covered with small yellow flecks. I looked down at the sill outside the windows and saw the yellow flecks there as well.

At some point in the next few minutes it dawned on me that there would be few bodies found in the incinerating rubble across the river. I knew then -- as certainly as I have even known anything -- that all those who had still been in the towers had now gone into the flame and the smoke and that, in some way, the gleaming bits of yellow ash were their tokens, were what they had become in that plunging crematorium.

And I knew that all they had become had fallen upon us as we ran in the smoke; that we had breathed them in when the wind reached us; that they were covering the houses and the sills and the cars and the sidewalks and the benches and the shrubs and the trees all about us.

What they had become was what the wind without a storm had left behind. Now that the wind had passed everything was, again, silent and calm. The blue sky above the houses on Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights were beginning to emerge from the fading smoke as the breeze of the harbor shifted the plume away from us, moving it north, uptown, into Manhattan, leaving the Heights again as an elite enclave, above and to the side of New York City.

The yellow flecks remained, resting like small stars on the surface of everything in the Heights for three days until the first rains came on a late afternoon to wash them away. I walked out into that rain and back down Pierrepont Street to the Promenade where for months yet to come the fires would burn across the river.

The rain came straight down that day. There was no wind. As I walked down the sidewalk I noticed the rainwater washing those yellow flecks off the trees and the buildings and moving down the gutter to the drains that would take it on to the harbor and on to the sea. And that water was -- for only a minute or so before it ran clear -- golden.

Vanderleun : September 13, 14  |  Your Say (43)  | PermaLink: Permalink

5-Minute Arguments

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Via No Blood for Obama's Oil? キ zomblog

gerardvanderleun : September 12, 14  |  Your Say (11)  | PermaLink: Permalink

Search American Digest

The Top 40


Sex in Scotland

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"The war on drugs has not been a failure, because it has never been fought. "

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In a comment on The Z Blog › Legalized Soma JOSEPH K writes: “Drugs certainly play a role in the degeneracy of the lower classes, but they are not a cause.” Absolutely correct. Drugs take hold in the lower classes because the soil is ripe. But there is a flip side to the story.
Contrary to what the IQists assert, most people are not born with a strong propensity for self-discipline and self-regulation, no matter what their IQ. That is a Rousseauist fantasy. Dumb people can be very disciplined, and smart people can be out of control. Discipline must be learned, in fact implanted, and therefore must be part of the culture. The mainstreaming of drug use, to the point where a majority of middle-class kids start using drugs at an early age with little adverse consequence, has meant the ghettoization of the middle-class. The old bourgeois culture that made Republicanism and capitalism possible is nearly dead, and the mainstreaming of drug use has been a major factor.

I would be all for drug legalization if the entire welfare state was dismantled beforehand. In the old days, when drugs were legal, only the very poor or the very rich could be incessant drug users, because the one could afford it, and the other would die without consequence. A middle class or working class person who did drugs would end up in the bowels of society, with no support or succor. Punishment was swift and ruthless. You ended up dead, or the living dead, which was worse. The elites made drugs illegal when they amped up the welfare state for a reason. They were smarter then.

The war on drugs has not been a failure, because it has never been fought. Where it has been fought it works. What we have in the West is a game that produces revenue and justification for the therapeutic managerial state, and an excuse to put problematic members of the lower orders in jail. The war on drugs is working just fine in Asian countries, which is why they are now stomping the West. Kids in Singapore don’t smoke pot at 14. Low level drug dealers are executed in China and their organs are harvested. The Asians learned from the Opium Wars. They made it extremely punitive for their citizens to do drugs, while taking over the supply side. They are very happy to supply the West with the means to its own destruction. I’ll bet the Chinese Politburo is eagerly awaiting the day drugs are completely legalized in the U.S. and Europe.


The first time a “dispensary” blows up or the owner is gunned down,

everyone will suddenly remember that the drug dealers
did not pack up and go away just because weed is legal. Not that it will matter. The rulers have concluded that it is too much fuss to defend western civilization. The easy choice is to give the mob free drugs so they can sleep through the rest of the collapse. The Romans gave away free grain. The new Rome gives away free weed. I’m sure it will turn out just fine.
The Z Blog › Legalized Soma

See No Evil. Hear No Evil. Speak No Evil.

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These days, Democrats aren’t talking much about Obama in congressional speeches - The Washington Post

Death to Urban Elves!

Elves can breed with humans, but they are embarrassed of their attractions to brutish and short-lived humans so they prefer to murder the children before their Elders find out.
This is why elves tend to be feminist and vote Democrat. Elves also tend to be outspoken feminists because the elvish race, which has much in common with the Dwarves (but we’re not going to get into the whole gold-mongering Dwarf thing here), is almost completely androgynous and elvish communities have been matriarchal since their Age of Vulvar began in 33 AD. Elves will often say that “gender is just a construct” because they like to tease “unevolved” humans, who they know full well have more fully differentiated sexes. Hen-pecked Elvish males are secretly jealous of human men, though, so they work with the Dwarves to market birth control pills, human pornography, soy products, plastics and other products with dysgenic, emasculating effects.
Jack Donovan

"Hustlers of the world,

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there is one mark you cannot beat: the mark inside." - - William Burroughs

Developing effective combat mindset and killer instinct is the most important aspect of tactical training.

Some believe this is something you have to be born with.
They say it cannot be developed. They are wrong. We are all born with it. It is the legacy of our ancestors. We just have to learn to overcome post-modern cultural conditioning to bring it back to the forefront of our options. Of course, the past of history may change course. The Republic may be restored peaceably, and you may never face violent physical danger. You may die of old age, peacefully in your bed, surrounded by a legion of loving children and grandchildren.Or, you may die face down in the mud on a wet, dark night, choking on your own blood and lung tissue, a burst of 7.62ラ51 through the chest, listening to the screams of your wife and children as a mob drag them off to a living hell. The choice is yours.
Combat Mindset and Killer Instinct | Forward Observer Magazine

The Difference Between White People and Black People

The eager, fact-seeking Martian would learn that white people have historically hated black people and have conditioned them to hate themselves.

Life has been unfair and oppressive for black people ever since being kidnapped from their homeland, despite the fact that by most measures of living standards such as longevity and yearly income and access to medical care, it is far better in America for them than it is back in their homeland.
- Taki's Magazine



The coming hundred years, in one hundred words

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A century hence I imagine civilization not to have added metal upon metal;
heaping plastic and gnarled brambles of wrought steel wrapping the earth to form a solid mass of techno-pathocracy, instead to have evolved, prodded along by its new stewards, give birth, grown and green and basking in eternal sunlight. A techno-primitivism where mankind lives in harmony with its surroundings, a new eden, a cornucopia, a garden earth. Our ancient foes flora and fauna kept now as a momento of our past. Not to conquer nature with asphalt but the barefooted first steps of post-scarcity. A feast for the touch. A miraculous biology. -- Sean Moriva
The Technium: A Desirable-Future Haiku

Obama's No Muslim. He Just Plays One on TV.

Obama came from Chicago culture, arguably the most corrupt if not criminal, burg in North America.
After an undistinguished spell in the US Senate, Mister Obama became the new face of the Left in Washington, DC, a Beltway culture populated by the likes of John Brennan; big city Irish Catholic -- and like Pflegler, a product of progressive Jesuit schools, too. The progressive worldview is informed by a theory of Orientalism, the shop-worn notion that race and exploitation are the unitary explanations for First World (pale) success and Third World (brown) failure. A good part of the black American minority in America and the Sunni global Islamic majority share a victim’s outlook: false pride, dependency, an inferiority complex, and generational rage.
-- Taking Sides in the Muslim Civil War

Hey, 'you guys' I need another vacation in Hawaii on the dime of 'you guys.'

Michelle Obama: 'Being Married to the President ... Can Be Hard'
"About being in the -- about being First Lady is being able to do stuff like this, really. And it is so special for me to get to meet kids like you guys, Because sometimes living in the White House and being married to the President and trying to live a life like that, it can be hard. But when I meet you guys, I am so inspired, which is one of the reasons why I like to come and spend time with you guys."


Certain parts of San Francisco are what happens when white people have no natural predators.

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I loathe San Francisco. Sure, it looks like Jurassic Park in places, and the fog layer is enchanting with its plumes and trellises interweaving with the leaves and lichen on the redwoods.
But everything else is like if New York'€™s Gramercy neighborhood got a whole town. On any given night there are way too many "€˜going-out shirts"€™ and the women dress like there was a fire sale at some emporium that only sells clam-diggers and kicky little jackets with ornamental zippers. I have never so frequently witnessed pinstripe and patchwork meeting in the middle as I have on the tragic A-line skirts of Valencia Street. Every man who isn'€™t contemptibly rich enough to be famous for it reminds me of Matthew Lillard'€™s pigtail-braided Rollerblader in Hackers. I have never tallied so many "€˜Pick-Up Artist"€™ hats or labret piercings outside of 1996. Fashion is no more than an indication of larger trends.
- - Never Yet Melted » Bring Back the Grizzlies

[Bumped] Perhaps it’s an ungenerous attribution,

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but they can’t help finding tattoos obnoxious.
The tattoo seems to summon their eyes, to draw their focus even if they have other things they wish to think about. In that sense, a tattoo is narcissistic, and narcissism is coercive. It lives off of others’ notice, and when the narcissist fails to draw attention, he feels disturbed and wounded. Whenever we sense that need, we recoil from it.
A Theory for Tattoos | Mark Bauerlein | First Things

The Great Influenza

“These men start out with what appears to be an ordinary attack of LaGrippe or Influenza, and when brought to the Hosp. they very rapidly develop the most vicious type of Pneumonia that has ever been seen.

Two hours after admission they have the Mahogany spots over the cheek bones, and a few hours later you can begin to see the Cyanosis [blue color due to lack of oxygenation] extending from their ears and spreading all over the face, until it is hard to distinguish the coloured men from the white…
- - neo-neocon Ebola and influenza: pale rider



In case you weren’t paying attention: this is war.

And the sooner we realize that these zombies mean what they say, will not be mollified with saccharine overtures, and will keep coming at us until they are put down en masse,
the sooner we can steel ourselves to the necessary resolve for the monumental task at hand. Our Constitution is not a mutual suicide pact. Curbs on immigration and maybe even the expulsion of 5th-column elements who mean us evil should be on the table and strongly considered. The shape-shifting mask of Islam, given the grim reality of its relentless demographics, should not be allowed a foothold here to secure a dagger into our backs at a time of its own choosing.
Articles: Foreign Policy and Roosting Chickens

Puffy pedant Neil deGrasse Tyson

is enduring a meteor shower of criticism over his totally unscientific obsession with how stupid everyone is.
Most notably, from The Federalist, which first published, “Another Day, Another Quote Fabricated by Neil deGrasse Tyson” and followed it up with, “Did Neil deGrasse Tyson Just Try to Justify Blatant Quote Fabrication.” Turns out, Neil is a complete douche. I told ya so.
- - McINNES: Universal Truth | Truth Revolt

What Obama's Kids Will Be Eating in Their School

While the self-appointed, unelected grunt chunker Michelle tells American kids to eat crap, here's her daughters' Sidwell Friends Menu for Thursday, September 18

Snack: Cinnamon Breadsticks & Pears

Roasted Vegetable & Israeli Couscous Salad

Sweet Italian Sausage

Fresh Hummus & Veggies Wraps

Sauteed Peppers & Onions

Gemelli Pasta w/ Pesto

Local Nectarines

Nothing is too low for this couple. Nothing.

"A helmet. A helmet. My kingdom for a helmet!"

Richard III Killed by Sustained Attack, Suffering 9 Wounds to Head The forensic study of Richard's remains has revealed that the doomed king—the last English monarch to die in combat—suffered 11 wounds at the time of his death at Bosworth Fields in 1485. Nine of these were to his apparently unprotected head, two of them "nonsurvivable."
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For socialism, like Islam has its warrior elite:

the people who count act for causes and not money.
Didn’t Chelsea once boast she had tried making money and got bored with it? Working was for dull people; Chealsea wanted a meaningful life, a warrior life; a wonk existence. Drudgery has been too boring for the aristocracy of any society, beneath the great men of its legendarium.
Belmont Club サ Myron Vs Atilla

More Stupid

I can’t make up my mind on the November elections.
I think the country would be best served with a massive Republican victory. They could bottle up Barry’s judicial nominees for two years and stop his planned amnesty. Barry would be a lame duck and spend the next two years playing dress up with Reggie Love. The Republicans would do nothing to address the many things that ail the nation, but at least they would probably staunch the bleeding. On the other hand, a loss would throw cold water on Conservative Inc and the Wets in the GOP. I fear I would blow a funny fuse watching guys like Hannity burst into tears on election night.
- - The Z Blog

We conjure up more fabricated outrages and controversies in a month than past civilizations could have mustered in a thousand years.

Does anybody remember what everyone was super worked up about four weeks ago? Yeah, me neither.
Maybe something happened on an awards show, or maybe some Republican said something about gay people, or maybe a blogger wrote an opinion of some sort — who knows? We moved on to something else, and then something else, and then something else, and then something else. We have located the Fountain of Eternal Indignation, and we drink it by the gallon.
It's racist to ask someone where they're from, according to your kid's college - The Matt Walsh Blog

It’s time to quit worrying and learn to love the battle axe. History teaches us that if we don’t, someone else will.

A rule not ultimately backed by the threat of violence is merely a suggestion.
States rely on laws enforced by men ready to do violence against lawbreakers. Every tax, every code and every licensing requirement demands an escalating progression of penalties that, in the end, must result in the forcible seizure of property or imprisonment by armed men prepared to do violence in the event of resistance or non–compliance. Every time a soccer mom stands up and demands harsher penalties for drunk driving, or selling cigarettes to minors, or owning a pit bull, or not recycling, she is petitioning the state to use force to impose her will. She is no longer asking nicely.
Jack Donovan | Violence is Golden

Muslims are waging war

in South East Asia, The Middle East, Europe, Asia, North America, Russia and China. In what way is this not WW3? Wrath Of Gnon / Twitter

Despite being the greatest orator of the last thousand years,

he's a complete bust at selling anything but himself,
as comprehensively demonstrated in his first couple of years: see his rhetorical efforts on behalf of ObamaCare, or Massachusetts Senate candidate Martha Coakley, or Chicago's Olympics bid. When it comes to war, he suffers from an additional burden: before he can persuade anybody else, he first has to persuade himself. And he can't do it. So he gave the usual listless performance of a surly actor who resents the part he's been given.
Coalition of the Unwilling :: SteynOnline

Regardless if it's a gun or a marshmallow

if someone tries to prevent your ownership of anything at all they are trying to control you.
That person is genetically flawed and cannot be fixed and it will continually try to own you. There is only one remedy for this. Total and instant destruction at the source. Anything less is coddling and encouraging.
Ghostsniper commenting @ AMERICAN DIGEST

Why are all the excuses made for Islam?

Islam, after all, is a religion, and has been for over a thousand years.
You can call it a weird religion, a violent religion, an intolerant religion, not a “true” religion (whatever that means), but it certainly has claimed to be one quite successfully for all that time. Unlike the other Abrahamic religions which preceded it, and which have a text (the so-called Old Testament) that contains some violence and misogyny, Islam is steeped in both—positively marinated in them -- €”and those Muslims who don't espouse such things are not in the overwhelming majority.
-- neo-neocon

The post-Christian, post-modern man will not fight to defend himself.

He is psychologically emasculated and saturated with self-loathing.

Further, war will never be formally declared. You will not see the U.K. (whatever is left of it), France, Germany or the U.S. declare war on anyone, ever. That’s all over. For the U.S., that ended with World War 2. You all know that the U.S. never declared war in Korea, Vietnam, or anywhere else since World War 2, right? Additionally, while World War 3 grinds its way forward through time, and as millions upon millions die, the media will continually state that THERE IS NO WAR, and anyone who says that there is a war is just a loon. And the people will nod their heads, and the body count will rise, but it won’t be WAR you understand, because everything’s fine.
Octet | Barnhardt



The Headchopper Next Door

Mohammed would have been as happy rampaging around Iraq and Syria as a pig rolling around in dung.
ISIS is Islam. It’s the naked religion. There are no angels or djinns, no revelations, just piles of mutilated corpses and children playing with severed heads while other children are raped in prison cells. It’s Mohammed, but it’s also Saddam Hussein, Bashar Assad and Gaddafi. Islam doesn’t end the cycle of tyranny and oppression. It is the reason that the cycle continues.
Sultan Knish:

“I was not ‘converted’ to the Church,

but made my way into it through what Newman calls illation — fragments of truth collecting in my mind through personal experience, conversations, knowledge of exemplars, and much reading and meditating.” - - Russell Kirk

"How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries!

"Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy.
The effects are apparent in many countries, improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement, the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men."
-- Winston Churchill

This just in....

Obama Unable to Sleep After Learning Limbaugh Liked His Speech - The New Yorker

And, lo, it doth beginneth...

Christ Arrested for Assaulting Muhammed in San Rafael

If You Liked Vietnam, You’ll Love the War With the Islamic State

Young progressives of Barak Obama’s generation were taught by their professors that the Vietnam War was an evil undertaking few had the inclination to seriously study. Obama himself described it as one of the “dumb wars” when he was a candidate. There are no dumb wars; there are however, wars fought in a dumb manner. Our president appears to be embarking on one. | Small Wars Journal

Confucius Say:

A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve.
If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.
The Rectification of the Names

And counting....

There Are Now 52 Explanations For Pause In Global Warming | The Daily Caller

You've come a long way, baby. [Bumped]

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And the latest leader of the band in the endless parade of perverts would be...
UK Soldier Converts to Islam, Gets Surgery, Becomes First Transgender Gay Muslim Woman

["I try to become more cynical every day, but lately I just can't keep up."]

Bogart from Above!

Mysterious Men Dropping From Helicopters In CA To Chop Down Marijuana Plants...

I love the smell of irony in the morning

A lawyer in the IRS ethics office is facing the possibility of being disbarred, according to records that accuse her of lying to a court-appointed board and hiding what she'd done with money from a settlement that was supposed to go to two medical providers who had treated her client....[Despite this] the office has dispatched Ms. McGee to lecture professionals about the importance of maintaining high ethical standards. - Washington Times

You're Not My Real Stepdad!

My real stepdad used to let me take the dirt bike out by myself all the time.
He gave it to me when he told me he was marrying my mom and explained that I should try to call him "Dad." Dennis was awesome. He even promised to take me hunting once, and he would have, if he didn't have to spend all his time and money on a good lawyer. He treated me like his own son through marriage. And unlike you, my real surrogate father raised me from the time my mother sat us down and told us that Dennis would be spending the night at our house from now on.
- America's Finest News Source

The Unitary Cult Theory.

This is when members of a mass movement, always jostling with one another for status within the movement, close the information loop,
excluding information from people outside the movement regarding a topic. The result is a piety contest where members of the movement stand up and commit increasingly extreme acts of public piety. As more and more members jump into the ring, the contest quickly spirals out of control resulting in these absurd public displays. Because the country is run by the Cult of Modern Liberalism, these piety wheels get maximum attention. The public is often sucked into the the false drama in the same way people get caught up in a TV serial. That’s gasoline on the fire. With Ferguson, the public has seen that drama too many times to stay interested for very long. The Gay Gayington story is too disgusting. This Ray Rice story gets more interest because the NFL is so popular and everyone can relate the story at the center of it
.The Z Blog

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