Beginning in Veracruz
Three cruise ships in two days, Brilliance of the Seas, Regatta, & Celebrity Summit did nothing much more than partially block my view of majestic cloud ranges the recent autumnal equinox brought in over the eastern horizon. Don’t ask about the passengers, not of my ilk, although for many perhaps this is the one trip they’ve dreamt of all their lives. Their dream trip. Can’t condemn them, tempted as I am to try to distinguish between them & filthy rich & spoiled, but then they’d have their own yachts, wouldn’t they? Anchor off more exotic climes? So welcome to Portland, ALL!
My new vintage typewriter is scheduled to land here from California two days from now, sole purpose to type postcards to send to friends here & abroad. Last week stopped into Carlson & Turner Antiquarian Books & Bookbindery on Congress & purchased Woman Sewing by Lamplight by Jean Francoise Millet, Frick collection, 1$; New Year Greetings with holly & clock showing midnight, 1$; Oldest Windmill on Cape Cod, with nothing but numbers on the card sent with one cent stamp & postmark, no price listed; How to Trap a Lobster, no price; La Tour Eiffel et les jete d'eau du Trocadero, sent to Miss Elizabeth Howe, Chocorua, New Hampshire from Ricky Ryder, two French stamps + postmark, $1.25; & finally attributed to Bruno Braquehais, Nude, 1850-52 [B&W photograph], 1994, Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, Köln, $3. Kind woman behind the counter charged me $3.25 for the lot.
Looking forward to the clack of metal keys again. Any of us writers old enough to recall typewriters in our past may well wax nostalgic. Sorting through some 480 machines on eBay my main recollection was that of traveling cross-country in 1974 in the Volkswagen Squareback purchased from Robert Hellman before he left for Copenhagen. Toted a portable typewriter in brown leather case. Read more than wrote, as I recall. After all, this trip was to be a test of writing.
If I didn't come away with anything of worth on this jaunt, planned to cash in my chips & forget it, writing that is. That machine didn’t get much of a workout. Not in the Blue Ridge Mountains, nor Memphis, Elk City, OK, Las Vegas, nor even Long Beach, where we stayed with a friend waiting to sell the car (an ad in the L.A. Times), & where police helicopters scoured the streets for Patty Hearst & the SLA. Left that machine in that attic, but funny in the sense that when we hooked up with filmmaker, Manuel Avila Camacho in Mexico City, he said he wanted us to join him on a film trip to Veracruz, my response was ok, if he could come up with a typewriter, which he did: spitting image of the one left back in States, brown leather case & all. Spent an entire day in an air-conditioned room in Veracruz typing up experiences thus far. Real fine feeling that day maybe this trip was worth something. If typing postcards to friends is all I do for the rest of my Time here & there, it may not differ from what I’ve been doing all along, beginning in Veracruz.
Warren Zevon is famous for a lot of things (e.g. "Werewolves of London", epic benders involving gun play), but one thing he rarely gets credit for is writing the seminal (pun intended) song about the risks of Wall St. insider trading. How can you resist a line like this?
And my Wall Street wiles
Don't help me even slightly
'Cause I never have the numbers
And I'm losing nightly
Poor junk bond king playing Seminole Bingo! He fell in love with the ping pong balls.
How do I even begin expressing how tremendously I dislike this movie? By describing it thusly: emotionally simplistic and overwrought "noble savage" hipster condescension.
Yeah, that's a start.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a neo-primitive hero narrative set in an allegorical Greater New Orleans. Our hero is a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (yes, really) who lives in a cyclically apocalyptic land called The Bathtub, a bowl-shaped locale which lies on the other side of the levee from the rest of society. Among her many heroic virtues is an uncanny ability to be eloquent and metaphysical well beyond her years, something of which Lucy Alibar--the debutante-hipster who wrote the screenplay--seemingly could not get enough. "When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces," she says. I never knew a six-year-old could be so portentous.
The members of her community--which includes her father but not her runaway mother--have built a self-reliant, proud and unabashedly hedonistic lifestyle on their patch of muddy segregated land. Like in any Apocalyptica, USA, their daily life rituals are primitive even as they use tools from--and are surrounded by--the detritus of the modern world. Among the heaps and hardships they find plenty of time for drinking, eating, dancing, drinking, carrying on and drinking. That's right, they are just like the real-to-life rednecks and coloreds in the beautifully romantic despair you see all across the American South. Ain't it quaint?
Challenging this sizzling din, though, is a persistent rhythm of impending doom, one that Hushpuppy can feel through the earth salt in her flesh and hear with her wise ear so low to the ground. "The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece, the whole universe will get busted," she tells us. Tell that to Darwin. Or God.
The Bathtub has a legend about primitive proto-cattle that once ruled their land but got frozen in the polar ice caps in the last Ice Age. Due to global warming, presumably, these aurochs will thaw out, herd into The Bathtub and once again stake their claim to supremacy. When that melting happens, of course, sea levels will rise and The Bathtub will also be incredibly vulnerable to storms. After all, the levee that segregates them is designed to keep excess water in The Bathtub and out of the rest of society.
Conveniently, a storm's a-comin' right at that point in a film where character development meets the accelerating plot. The wise thing to do, softies might say, is to leave The Bathtub before the impending storm, but most folks are having none of that. "They think we're all gonna drown down here. But we ain't going nowhere," Hushpuppy says, parroting the hubris of the obstinate adults around her.
The wise thing to do, a writer might say, is to continue character development while the plot progresses, but Alibar is having none of that. Hushpuppy's character is the only one that gets fleshed out at all, and even hers is mired in girl-power tropes.
The post-Katrina New Orleans fetish in this movie is more garish and hackneyed than Dr. John with a purple top hat and a talisman. Survival in poverty? Check. Pride in an anachronistic lifestyle? Ebullient hedonism? Check check. Mystical folklore? "Authentic" wisdom from ostensibly ignorant people? Victims of a cruel, uncaring, bureaucratic mainstream society? Check check check. They could have at least been a little more clever about it and placed the allegory somewhere other than a bowl-shaped geography in the Gulf of Mexico.
All this fetish does is rewarm shallow understandings of New Orleans and flawed simplifications of Black culture. They address the "laissez les bons temps rouler" tradition, but through a lens that doesn't explain the unique history of bad luck, tragedy, violence and oppression. You see the drinking and dancing in the face of annihilation, but you're left to assume it's because of present circumstances rather than a centuries-old history steeped in both Catholicism and mystical beliefs inherited from a wide swath of Africa. It also kept touching on the "tough love" aspect in Black culture. It is a very real thing--oversimplified beautifully in Boyz n the Hood and explained marvelously in the recent book The Warmth of Other Suns--but again the movie tried to display it without any real explanation, sensitivity, context or depth.
This is like the Vice Magazine approach to showcasing what is not in the American mainstream-- an arrogant liberal perspective in which "authentic culture" is prized by those without an understanding of what they claim to admire. This is particularly evident in the chaotic scenes after the storm. The Bathtub folks are evacuated to the big bad mainstream society and a mean old doctor in a white-bright room tells Hushpuppy's Daddy that he'll die if he doesn't have a heart operation. In response the whole cast escapes society, flees back home and Daddy takes a medicinal herb and worm concoction. The message is clear: the authenticity of voodoo worm medicine is way cooler than modern medicine and all its impersonal sterility and stuff.
I kept trying to like this soul-destroying movie, partly because I've always been fascinated with New Orleans's place in the imagination of America and partly because Quvenzhané Wallis's acting was quite good. The problem is that one girl's charming portrayal of bravery in isolation can't resolve hours of stylized racist hokum.
I also kept waiting for the disenfranchised but self-reliant people of The Bathtub to reclaim the civilization their culture created but from which they were unceremoniously kicked out, especially when they bombed the levee and when they found the floating nightclub seductively named Elysian Fields. Then I remembered that, just like vaudeville characters, these aren't ones in possession of their own spirits or destiny. Those are manipulated by their makers, even if those makers don't possess the knowledge to understand the depths of the culture they reference.
I guess to them it's all crawfish, Jax beer and sparklers.
Dana Stevens (Slate)
Here's another frustrating example of misleading campaign reporting:
"White working-class voters: They're the Holy Grail of the 2012 election. Disaffected with President Obama but skeptical of Mitt Romney, we're told over and over, they're the ultimate swing group. In order to win the election, Romney needs to win about two-thirds of them, the margin Ronald Reagan commanded in 1984, according to Ron Brownstein's analysis."
So Romney's only hope of victory is to overwhelmingly carry one very specific, waning category of American people. His strategy to win them? Play to the worst of their stereotypes and hope they say, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore! Get off my lawn!" Meanwhile, Obama has several different paths to victory, many of which don't require more than 35-40% of this demographic.
Can you please explain how that makes the working-class white demographic "the Holy Grail", or even "swing"? It's exactly this kind of context-less reporting that makes it appear as though we have a neck-and-neck race when Obama actually has a comfortable lead in the electoral college.
The headline choice is interesting, too: "Everything You Think You Know About White Working-Class Voters Is Wrong." Who, me? I was born white and working-class into a family already generations deep in it. In fact, I'm still working-class and have never had even a brief respite from that predicament. I've also done quite a bit of research on the cultures and histories of my socio-economic peers.
Are they telling me I am deluded? I don't think so, because the article and I have come to similar conclusions that "...[O]n the whole, the poll shows, the white working-class vote is...complicated, contradictory, and difficult to define..."
So maybe what they're saying is that, me being all working-class and all, I'm not the type of folk who reads The Atlantic. That's a fair assumption, because folks like me aren't the type to be given the opportunity to write for them, either.
I Could Use Some Good Give & Take Discourse
In San Francisco. At an antiquarian book fair. Apparently. One exhibitor named Puryear. I double-check: “You’re Puryear?” ”Yes.” He’s quite tall, amiable, long hair, grey suit, white shirt, no tie. “You published Robert Duncan, didn’t you?” “Yes I did, how’d you know?” Said something about meeting his father, (actually Andrew Hoyem, San Franciscan publisher at The Auerhahn Society & director of Arion Press, met in DC.) “You know what I’d like to do?” “What?” I asked, but already knew, even though it’s early in the sales day, say about 3:00 in the afternoon: Puryear wants to go out for a drink, wondering if I know a good place. Of course I do, one of the many bars at the Parker House Hotel, which is just about perfect, what with me dreaming in Portland, Puryear there in San Francisco, & my suggesting we meet in Boston. I wake up to an email invitation from Parker House management wishing me happy birthday, & an offer of 20% discount on any stay this October. I don’t know what to read into it all exactly, but I could use some good give & take discourse over literary matters & books over drinks. So what happens next?
All renewals of books on Still & Olson ended. They’re due the day after the dream meeting with Puryear. Facing a dollar a day fine for each late book, lug them over & up the stairs of the local college art library. Check out discards on sale, not much there, but on a table outside the entrance a sign for “Free Stuff.” Under Kodak developing paper, useless magazines, a slide I don’t bother viewing, are copies of both Plato’s Phaedrus & Protagoras, delighting me with the possibility of discourse with or without Mr. Puryear. Socrates tells Phaedrus that the priests of the temple of Zeus at Dodona claimed the first prophesies were words of an oak. The philosopher goes on to say that the oak spoke the truth, & that there is a brother to this discourse in the form of that which is written down with knowledge of the Soul of the listener. That writer also knows the distinction between a dream-image & the reality of what is just & unjust. Socrates makes sharp divisions between this & what a poet might do by spending long hours twisting things around, pasting parts together & taking them apart. The philosopher adds one final criterion: that the writer of truth can also make an argument that his writing is of little worth.
This is just...wow:
Mayor Mitch Landrieu traveled to Haiti for two days this week to announce a partnership with the Caribbean nation, struggling to rebuild nearly three years after a devastating earthquake killed more than 300,000 and left 1.6 million more homeless.
The Arab state of Qatar, which donated $100 million to the Gulf Coast states in the aftermath of Katrina to rebuild hospitals, schools and housing, has announced that it will pledge $20 million to the people of Haiti through the Qatar Haiti Fund.
'If anybody should understand the situation in Haiti, we should,' Landrieu wrote in a statement. 'It's a long journey back. We are still in the midst of a massive rebuilding effort, but we are intent on building back better than before. We want to help build capacity in Haiti, and we want to help them re-imagine what Haiti can be.'"
I understand the complicated legacy of the Landrieu family in Louisana, and that this they're not always the most squeaky clean or angelic. However, I have heard an American mayor say that part of rebuilding his city would be to improve the lives of people in a foreign country. That is revolutionary.
Scent of the sea is one thing to take with me. Suvorovsky Prospect maps itself less than an inch below Matinicus Island in the Gulf of Maine suggesting an afterlife linking St. Petersburg with Portland, & opaque windows built into traveling sarcophagi. Blackthorn shillelagh in order to keep dogs of Hell at bay, if that’s the destination. Memories of a year so filled with butterflies one flew into a dream with pink half-circle over its head, transmogrified nimbus above yellow, green, purple, & black. Have always told her I wanted to take Olson’s Archaeologist of Morning with me, along with a bottle of bourbon, but may just jot down a last-minute bibliography, infinitely-long, then decide to harvest grapes in some heavenly vineyard the way Melville planned to smuggle Champagne up there to enhance conversations with Hawthorne. Silence first heard in Machias escaping rat race in DC, & first sip of spring water cupped by hand from Lamasney’s underground aquifer he said had origins in Canada. All fateful mistakes & regrets driven like a nail through the hands. (That part of me wanting to write so well they couldn’t hit or attack, but got revenge in spite of the tactic, leaving bruises, drawing blood, simply ignoring it.) Touch & taste, seeing & listening, along with Proustian olfactory memory prove of a piece. Late summer breeze that moves shadows. Let background music include Boccherini’s Night Music from the Streets of Madrid. It will, will it not, because I got it all down here?
The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that "a group presently in the United States" was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be "imminent," although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.
But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives' suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.
In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.
Remember? We were supposed to be afraid of "weapons of mass destruction" that didn't exist from a government crippled by sanctions and pinned in by consistently-enforced no-fly-zones to the north and south. We weren't supposed to be afraid of--or even be aware of--the global terrorist organization responsible for the first World Trade Center bombing, a near-assassination of President Clinton, the embassy bombings in East Africa and the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole.
Of course today is another solemn anniversary of that first major travesty of the Bush 43 regime. We say we'll never forget, but most of us don't bother to know in the first place that the motherfucking war criminals who ran the White House then turned their backs to the warnings, and then used it to push an illegal war on the American people.
Photo: Mary Altaffer, Associated Press
I have a rhetorical question for you, Mr. Romney:
What do these two things together say about you and your worldview?
1) Your life goal is to be President of the United States, a large part of which is being Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces.
2) You think of the rank and file men and women of the military as one unimportant item on a laundry list, and even said so on national television.
"When you give a speech you don’t go through a laundry list, you talk about the things that you think are important."Ouch. You let something inhumane, offensive and strategically damaging slip from your mouth. From the look on your face it seems that you knew it, too, but you pressed on, saying,
"I described in my speech my commitment to a strong military unlike the president’s decision to cut our military. I didn't use the word 'troops'. I used the word 'military'. I think they refer to the same thing."
"We went over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I'd never been there before. I'd seen pictures of it. So I looked, both Al and me looked up guys in the telephone book there. That's what it looks like. They've got these little phone books and you look up the person's name you want to see. It tells you which part of the wall to go to.
So we looked up our friends in there and went and found their names on the wall. And when you stand there looking at their names, it's black marble. You can see your reflection in the wall.
So if you ever get the chance to go there I suggest you go to the place. It's a pretty fitting memorial."
Before Noon on Labor Day
Labor Day morning black grapes taken from cluster, washed, glisten in the sun on breakfast table. Coffee poured. Stayed a long while in bed staring at the ceiling, or eyes closed within each other’s embrace, giving thanks. Images of unemployed, classic black & white photographs by Lange & Abbott, or moving YouTube of last year’s Occupiers rustle past. Hell, & Work, & even Whitman’s words well up. I know the highway crew is working late nights under Klieg lights at the Eastern end of Congress Street for the next few weeks. Baxter wished me a good holiday at Trader Joe’s just yesterday, answering my question, yes, he’s working today. That’s been my belief: everyone wants to work. One doesn’t need statisticians to point out, name, & count numbers of oppressed & exploited, let alone left out. The line outside Preble Street Resource Center, formerly St. Luke’s Soup Kitchen, will be long & telling enough today. Is the so-called One Percent an historical constant, inevitable Dantean/Darwinian class that doesn’t give a damn? There are boats at Portland Yacht Services never get into the water, nor leave their moorings. Spare me, if I don’t wonder where the owners are all year? Let alone those “from away” as the locals would say, British Virgin Islanders on board hundred-foot Vesper, holed up for months down there, crews serving three gourmet squares a day, rarely setting sail. I, too, might be momentarily fascinated by the garishness of 289-foot Maltese Falcon out of Valletta entering San Francisco Bay, reminding me of reading Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class at nineteen, contradicting the belief everyone wants to work. Come to think of it, he traced their privilege back to the Middle Ages. Reminds me of overhearing on my walk to the subway on the way to work the word “prestige” uttered by a real estate agent from Trammel Crow on Milk Street in Boston regarding sale property in proximity to Ben Franklin’s birthplace. Prestige, from the French: illusion, trick, to blind. The difference in what Veblen saw in 1899, & this century may simply be that the rich are less conspicuous, most, at least, hidden from my sight, & those lined up right now on Preble Street before noon on Labor Day.