Monday, September 26, 2011

memory lane

Some unintentional humor from days long passed, found in an old notebook the other day while I was rummaging. As silly as it sounds to me now (the last paragraph, mainly), I'm fairly certain it was written in earnest.

"A man caught my ear as I was browsing the literature section in a bookstore today. I heard the words "Dickens" and "authentic poetry" in the same sentence and decided to hone in on the conversation. I walked over to the poetry section where the voices were coming from and saw a man sitting on the floor with a large stack of books and -- as the cliche would suggest -- a huge beard. He was speaking with a younger intellectual looking man about the younger man's poetry. As I drifted away to another shelf I heard the words "child prodigy" followed by the magic skeleton key to all things eye-enlarging: "Rimbaud." I couldn’t believe it!

The Beard then told the young man about a 19 year old musician who went to Mozart to ask for help. Mozart turned him down because he was too young. The young musician retorted: "But you composed symphonies when you were 5!" To which Mozart replied, "Yes, but I didn’t need any help!"

How perfect! The Beard used that story to prove his point and to get the young man to stop bothering him.

I moved in closer, reaching down for Baudelaire, hoping The Beard would notice and comment, confident that I could stand up to whatever he dealt me (I know a considerable bit about Baudelaire). He made no comment. I moved in again, my back turned in hopes that he would see the Artaud drawing and quote on the back of my shirt. He didn't. Like a true poet he paid no attention to me, his mind too busy with his books."

* * *

DIY jacket I wore during my late high school years

I used to make ink drawings of the likes of Artaud and Rimbaud and place them next to various excerpts from their writing. I'd draw them on old white shirts and cut them out (in squares or rectangles) so that I could safety pin them to whatever shirt or jacket I wanted to wear. I still remember the Artaud quote referenced above:

"You are outside life, you are above life, you have miseries which the ordinary man does not know, you exceed the normal level, and it is for this that men refuse to forgive you, you poison their peace of mind, you undermine their stability. You have irrepressible pains whose essence is to be inadaptable to any known state, indescribable in words. You have repeated and shifting pains, incurable pains, pains beyond imagining, pains which are neither of the body nor of the soul, but which partake of both. And I share your suffering, and I ask you: who dares to ration our relief? We are not going to kill ourselves just yet. In the meantime, leave us the hell alone."

(For some reason it never seemed to occur to me to make the excerpts short enough for someone to actually be able to read!)

I remember another shirt I made with some Crass lyrics on the front and a stencil of the Crass symbol (see jacket above) spray painted in red on back. I wore it frequently on a road trip I took with a friend across the United States a week after we graduated high school.

While in San Francisco, a homeless man stopped me in the street, pulled the front of my shirt taut, and read the following (I stood there until he was finished):

Be exactly who you want to be, do what you want to do
I am he and she is she but you're the only you
No one else has got your eyes to see the things you see
It's up to you to change your life and my life's up to me
The problems that you suffer from are problems that you make
The shit we have to climb through is the shit we choose to take
If you don't like the life you live, change it now it's yours
Nothing has effect if you don't recognize the cause
If the program's not the one you want, get up, turn off the set
It's only you that can decide what life you're gonna get

Or maybe it was:

If you don't like the rules they make, refuse to play their game
If you don't want to be a number, don't give them your name
If you don't want to be called out, refuse to hear their question
Silence is a virtue, use it for your own protection
They'll try to make you play their game -- refuse to show your face
If you don't want to be beaten down, refuse to join their race
Be exactly who you want to be, do what you want to do
I am he and she is she but you're the only you

(I think it was the latter.) In either case, after reading it he looked up with a huge smile on his face, gave me a thumbs up, and walked away.

* * *

Years later I saw the following in the book Post Secret. I smiled and felt sad at the same time.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011


       "What are you waiting for me to tell you? What good will it do? What if I say that this isn't a funeral, that it's a holiday celebration, that if you stick around the band will end up playing 'Damit-the-Hell the Fun's All Over'? Or do you expect to see some magic, the dead rise up and walk again? Go home, he's as dead as he'll ever die. That's the end in the beginning and there's no encore. There'll be no miracles and there's no one here to preach a sermon. Go home, forget him. Go home and don't think about him. He's dead and you've got all you can do to think about you.
       I've told you to go home, but you keep standing there. Don't you know it's hot out here tonight? So what if you wait for what little I can tell you? Can I say in twenty minutes what was building twenty years and ended in twenty seconds? What are you waiting for, when all I can tell you is his name? And when I tell you, what will you know that you didn't know already, except, perhaps, his name?
       All right, you do the listening in the moonlight and I'll try to tell you in the moonlight. Then you go home and forget it. Forget it. His name was Troy Davis and they killed him. His name was Davis and he was tall and some folks thought him handsome. His name was Davis and his face was black and his hair was short. He's dead, uninterested. Can you see him? Think of your brother or your cousin John.


His lips were thick with an upward curve at the corners. He often smiled. He had good eyes and a pair of fast hands, and he had a heart. He thought about things and he felt deeply. I won't call him noble because what's such a word to do with one of us? His name was Davis, Troy Davis, and, like any man, he was born to a woman to live awhile and fall and die. So that's his tale to the minute. His name was Davis and for a while he lived among us, and those who knew him loved him and he died. So why are you waiting? You've heard it all. Why wait for more, when all I can do is repeat it?
       Very well, so I'll tell you. So he died; and those who loved him are gathered to mourn him, and those who didn't know him are mourning him also. It's as simple as that and as short as that. His name was Davis and he was black and they killed him. Isn't that enough to tell? Isn't it all you need to know? Isn't that enough to appease your thirst for drama and send you home to sleep it off? Go take a drink and forget it. Or read it in The Daily News. His name was Davis and they killed him.
       Aren't you tired of such stories? Aren't you sick of the blood? Then why listen, why don't you go? It's hot out here. There's the odor of embalming fluids. The beer is cold in the taverns, the saxophones will be mellow at the Savoy; plenty good-laughing-lies will be told in the barber shops and beauty parlors; and they'll be sermons in two hundred churches tomorrow, and plenty of laughs at the movies. Here you have only the same old story. The story's too short and too simple.
       Troy Davis is one with the ages. But what's that to do with you in this heat under this moon? Now he's part of history, and he has received his true freedom. Next he'll be in a box with the bolts tightened down. He'll be in the box and we'll be in there with him. It's dark in that box and it's crowded. It has a cracked ceiling and a clogged-up toilet in the hall. It has rats and roaches, and it's far, far too expensive a dwelling. The air is bad and it'll be cold this winter. Troy Davis will be crowded and he'll need his room. 'Tell them to get out of the box,' that's what he would say if you could hear him.
       So there you have it. Troy Davis will soon be cold bones in the ground. And don't be fooled, for these bones shall not rise again. You and I will still be in the box. I don't know if Troy Davis had a soul. I don't know if you have a soul. I only know that you are men and women of flesh and blood; and that blood will spill and flesh will grow cold. When he was alive he was our hope, hope for the law and hope for justice. But why worry over a hope that's dead? So there's only one thing left to tell and I've already told it. His name was Troy Davis, he believed in Brotherhood, he got our hopes up and he died."

                                                                                    --text (somewhat altered) from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952)

Monday, September 19, 2011

comments on two current events (and one more in the comments section)

This post -- well, part 2 -- feels more like a sketch for something lengthier. But since I'll never end up writing the lengthier piece, the seed will have to suffice.

1.) Today President Obama unveiled his new deficit reduction plan which includes a minimum tax for all households earning more than $1 million a year. The tax is officially called the "Buffet rule" after the popular editorial, Stop Coddling the Super-Rich, that billionaire Warren Buffet wrote for the New York Times in mid-August. The twisted irony here is amusing. Once again, it's only the super-rich whose opinions seem to get any traction!

2.) The Occupation of Wall Street has thus far been underwhelming. Two thousand people (at most) showed up on Saturday, with somewhere between 200-400 people camping out overnight. The event is supposed to (I think) continue on for about two months, so it could easily swell to various sizes throughout or dwindle and fade into nothing after a few days. Time will tell.

But that isn't why I'm writing this.

Reading about the event I came to find out that $2,800 in pizza orders were called in to Liberato's Pizza (NYC) on Sunday. The orders came in from all over the world. (This also happened, I just found out, to a pizza place in Wisconsin back when protestors were occupying the Capitol building.) What's interesting to me about this is the hint it gives about the future of protesting.

I think we can all agree that the effectiveness of the traditional protest model -- getting approved for a permit, advertising, showing up at the appointed time and leaving when the permit has expired -- is minimal, at best. But now, because of the ease with which we're able connect with one another, new ways and models are becoming possible.

I wrote the following in June, 2009 (at the outset of the Iranian uprising): "Not only do we feel part of it, but because of the way technology was utilized, people from all over the world can (to some degree) take part in, and support, revolutions. The implications of this are obviously immense." The form this took in Iran was the sharing of uncensored outside information, as well as people around the world helping Iranians access the Internet. Recently -- as we saw in Wisconsin and Wall Street and presumably many other places as well -- the form this "outside participation" took was simply that which was most practical: the supplying of food. But isn't this seemingly insignificant act another harbinger of what is to come? Does it not suggest that the potential for large scale, sustained, high pressure protests is greater than it has ever been? Protests that can shut down entire cities (or corporations) for months. Protests that have real leverage. Protests that don't cede their power on the dotted line.

Granted, protests that have lasted for months have happened before -- Egypt, recently, and Syria, currently (once they last long enough they're called uprisings and revolutions). In America, however, the prospect of this seems increasingly less likely (the many reasons for this are a subject for another time, though the single largest contributor is probably the fact that Americans don't view themselves as being ruled by a tyrannical elite). But now the young -- who have the unique ability to spend long stretches of time doing as they please, especially during the summer -- and the poor/unemployed -- who obviously lack the means to travel somewhere distant or to stay somewhere overnight if it costs money -- now these two large groups have the potential opportunity to mobilize in unprecedented ways. Instead of a few thousand people having to emerge from a single location, both of these groups can now be freed up to swarm any city in the country with nothing but a bag of clothes in their hand and money for a return trip home in their pocket. And they can stay as long as they're being supported. Granted, this would have to be incredibly well organized -- a Kickstarter of sorts (though it'd have to be live and mutable) -- for protests and revolutions.

It's certainly true that this might be overly idealistic -- apathy might be a barrier too great to be overcome -- but, unlike a decade ago, it's not impossible. And, for me at least, I think it's potentially a very real way to create change without resorting to violence (which is something I'd all but given up on).

The pessimistic way to view the slew of worldwide pizza orders is to see it as evidence of an ideological shift in the way people perceive themselves. Adbusters, who organized the event, promoted the occupation by saying, "On September 17, 20,000 people will swarm into lower Manhattan and occupy Wall Street." The joke that has apparently been circulating on the Internet is that they did show up... on Twitter. As the online and off-line worlds continue to mingle, this kind of "virtual participation" could easily become a way for people to shift the responsibility they feel burdened with from the real to the virtual. And, let's face it, this has probably already happened to some extent. (Isn't it likely that more people would have gone to New York on Saturday had they not been able to "show up" virtually?) The end result of such a mentality might be summed up with the following image: a computer screen sitting in front of the White House displaying a live chat room filled with 1.1 million people texting voraciously. The room is called "End the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan NOW!!!"

* * *

Watching CNN this evening I was surprised to see Wolf Blitzer mention the Wall Street Occupation. Like everything seems to be on the news, it was perpetually "up next," so I sat and sat, and watched and waited, and many hours or days or weeks later (I lost track), the brief coverage of the protest/occupation finally arrived. And what route do you think CNN took to cover it? An interview. Who did they interview? Ray Kelly, New York City's Police Commissioner! I'm not making that up.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

ten years later


09/02/11: "[N]ew details of a 2006 Iraq house raid in which an Iraqi family was allegedly bound and executed by U.S. forces [has recently been disclosed]. The cable excerpts a letter written by Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, to Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State at the time. Alston describes how 10 Iraqis living on a farm were killed. The dead included a 28-year-old man and his wife, the man’s 74-year-old mother, his sister, a visiting relative and five young children ranging in age from five months to five years old. According to the cable, U.S. forces were fired upon when they approached the property, resulting in a firefight. The American troops then entered the house, bound all of the residents, and executed them. Shortly thereafter, an air raid was called in to destroy the home." [X]

* * *

"It seemed like everywhere we left..."

"...if the enemy wasn't there when we got there..."

"...they were when we left."

"We seemed to be sorta growing them, you know?"

"Planting them, like seeds."

"Wherever we went, we sorta bred the enemy."

"He just came out of nowhere..."

"It was almost as though, if we weren't there..."

"...there would be none."

Images & text from Joseph Strick's documentary Interviews With My Lai Veterans (1970)


The following was written by Wallace Shawn in 2001, shortly after the destruction of the World Trade Center. (Originally published in The Nation magazine.)

To: The Foreign Policy Therapist

From: The United States of America

November 12, 2001

Dear Foreign Policy Therapist,

I don't know what to do. I want to be safe. I want safety. But I have a terrible problem: It all began several weeks ago when I lost several thousand loved ones to a horrible terrorist crime. I feel an overwhelming need to apprehend and punish those who committed this unbearably cruel act, but they designed their crime in such a diabolical fashion that I cannot do so, because they arranged to be killed themselves while committing the crime, and they are now all dead. I feel in my heart that none of these men, however, could possibly have planned this crime themselves and that another man, who is living in a cave in Afghanistan, must surely have done so. At any rate I know that some people he knows knew some of the people who committed the crime and possibly gave them some money. I feel an overwhelming need to kill this man in the cave, but the location of the cave is unknown to me, and so it's impossible to find him. He's been allowed to stay in the cave, however, by the fanatical rulers of the country where the cave is, Afghanistan, so I feel an overwhelming need to kill those rulers. As they've moved from place to place, though, I haven't found them, but I've succeeded in finding and killing many young soldiers who guarded them and shepherds who lived near them. Nonetheless, I do not feel any of the expected "closure," and in fact I'm becoming increasingly depressed and am obsessed with nameless fears. Can you help me?

To: The United States of America

From: The Foreign Policy Therapist

Dear United States,

In psychological circles, we call your problem "denial." You cannot face your real problem, so you deny that it exists and create instead a different problem that you try to solve. Meanwhile, the real problem, denied and ignored, becomes more and more serious. In your case, your real problem is simply the way that millions and millions of people around the world feel about you.

Who are these people? They share the world with you--one single world, which works as a unified mechanism. These people are the ones for whom the mechanism's current way of working--call it the status quo--offers a life of anguish and servitude. They're well aware that this status quo, which for them is a prison, is for you (or for the privileged among you), on the contrary, so close to a paradise that you will never allow their life to change. These millions of people are in many cases uneducated--to you they seem unsophisticated--and yet they still somehow know that you have played an enormous role in keeping this status quo in place. And so they know you as the enemy. They feel they have to fight you. Some of them hate you. And some will gladly die in order to hurt you--in order to stop you.

They know where the fruits of the planet, the oil and the spices, are going. And when your actions cause grief in some new corner of the world, they know about it. And when you kill people who are poor and desperate, no matter what explanation you give for what you've done, their anger against you grows. You can't kill all these millions of people, but almost any one of them, in some way, some place, or some degree, can cause damage to you.

But here's a strange fact about these people whom you consider unsophisticated: Most of the situations in the world in which they perceive "injustice" are actually ones in which you yourself would see injustice if you yourself weren't deeply involved. Even though they may dress differently and live differently, their standards of justice seem oddly similar to yours.

Your problem, ultimately, can only be solved over decades, through a radical readjustment of the way you think and behave. If the denial persists, you are sure to continue killing more poor and desperate people, causing the hatred against you to grow, until at a certain point there will be no hope for you. But it's not too late. Yes, there are some among your current enemies who can no longer be reached by reason. Yes, there are some who are crazy. But most are not. Most people are not insane. If you do change, it is inevitable that over time people will know that you have changed, and their feeling about you will also change, and the safety you seek will become a possibility.

Monday, September 05, 2011

_ _ _ _




"Why worry about them?"

"Oh, my darling, why is it that love makes me hate the world? It's supposed to have quite the opposite effect. I feel as though all mankind, and God, too, were in a conspiracy against us."

"They are, they are."

"But we've got our happiness in spite of them; here and now, we've taken possession of it. They can't hurt us, can they?"

"Not to-night; not now."

"Not for how many nights?"

                                             —Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited (1945)



Paris, Texas (1984)