Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday Poetry: Calvin Trillin

Hey folks, I'm in Texas! In honor of this locale and of the recent upsurge in resignations, I'll offer a small selection on our president from the "Deadline Poet" of The Nation.

Calvin Trillin
I Dreamt That George W. Bush Adopted James Frey's Three-Step Program—Denial, Larry King, and Oprah—to Get to the Truth About the War in Iraq

At first, when people said he'd lied,
He, bristling visibly, denied
A lie or even a mistake
In anything he did to take
This country into a debacle
That, like a nasty streptococcal
Disease, seems endless and resists
The many cures that he insists
Will someday get us unensnared,
While in his speeches he declared
That people saying he misled
Just help the folks who want us dead.

This Larry King's a friendly sort,
Who won't object if guests distort
The truth a bit, so pols all like
To make announcements at his mike.
Though presidents don't usually come,
I see Bush there, admitting some
Of what he said was slightly wrong.
Like Frey, he's brought his mom along.
She smiles. He's sounding slightly whiny
While claiming falsehoods all were tiny—
Just unimportant details. And he
Says otherwise the war's just dandy.

Our Oprah, stern-faced, draws applause
With questions while he hems and haws.
She clears the mist that still enshrouds
His yellowcake and mushroom clouds.
She asks why, in the name of heaven,
He tied Iraq to 9/11.
Bush stares at her—a hollow stare.
He's all alone. His mom's not there.
He then admits, with eyes quite full,
His tales have been all cock-and-bull.
And Oprah says, "Well, fine. That's great.
For thousands, though, it comes too late."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

It's Got Quality

About a week ago, I took my cousins, age 11 and 7, to the movies. At their request, we saw Daddy Day Camp.

Yes, I actually paid money to go see the film Daddy Day Camp. I paid money for more than one person to see Daddy Day Camp. I sat through Daddy Day Camp with two little boys who expected me to be laughing on a regular basis because a fat white guy farted in a tent.

In the movie, Cuba Gooding Jr. and his friend, now the successful managers of "Daddy Day Care," start a day camp through a series of stupid mishaps and childhood rivalries. Cuba Gooding Jr.'s military father was strict and unpleasant about Cuba Gooding Jr.'s childhood rivalries, so Cuba Gooding Jr. intends to be a soft, sensitive, loving daddy for his son Ben. All the kids at day camp want to be managed by Cuba Gooding Jr.'s military dad in the inter-camp tournament, because he treats them like soldiers, but Cuba Gooding Jr. wants to protect his son. Eventually we learn that everybody's a little bit right and if everybody's a little bit right we're all happy about it.

As a movie, speaking as someone who likes movies and is currently finding an addictive transcendence in watching every episode of Six Feet Under, it kind of hurt all over. It was hard to think of any non-commercial purpose for it to be put into the world.


My cousins, without going into too much detail, are the children of my cousin who died in May (the latter was, in fact, my first cousin once removed; the former are thus my second cousins) and are having a difficult time living with their confused, angry, widowed father. The elder child in particular has an intense conflicted relationship with him, and also has a desperate need for a male figure to look up to. There is a sequence in the movie where Cuba Gooding Jr.'s father makes a motivational speech to the kids before the big inter-camp competition the following day, inspiring them to be good soldiers, tough, working as a team, a platoon that supports each other but to play tough, play to win. We soon discover that Cuba Gooding Jr.'s son has gone missing, and soon enough find him up a tree in the woods. (He likes to climb trees.) At this point, Cuba Gooding Jr. makes a speech about how he wants these kids to grow up into kind, thoughtful people who treat other people well. My eleven-year-old cousin, who had been making loud commentary throughout the movie about how funny certain things were, said thoughtfully to me, "Charlie [Cuba Gooding Jr.] and his father both made really good speeches." When I dropped him and his brother at home, he hugged his father. Not that I live there or have even been a uniquely close family member, but it was the first time I had ever borne witness to such an event in eleven years of knowing the kid.

Which leaves me with the question, who the fuck am I to say that it was a bad movie, if it was able to effect my cousin this way? I mean, certainly I don't mean to imply that Daddy Day Camp is capable of solving eleven years of a painfully fraught relationship, but the vague traces of reality in the movie's world spoke to my cousin. It offered him something he needed about father-son relationships, about masculinity, something that he, as a serious thinker, was clearly taking the time to think about. Just because I know and think more about art, why does that make me the ultimate arbiter of quality?

Or I guess the question is, what is quality? Since we so often hear "quality over quantity," is quality the element of art that cannot be quantified? Which I say as if there's only one such element, which clause in itself shows me that quality and quantity can't always be separated in such a clean fashion. Quality clearly involves standards; the question is, are those standards completely subjective? I'd hate to believe that, since it almost negates the prospect of communal, shared experience. But by the same token, I'm not sure I want to feel compelled to like Daddy Day Camp just because it meant something to my cousin. My cousin's experience means something to me, because I love him, but I didn't have any profound shared experience with the movie itself, I had it with my cousin and my knowledge of him and his life. But don't I then have to respect something about what the movie puts out, if it effected a mind I respect? I don't really want to have to do that either.

I suppose this is a question I'll be struggling with all my life, in one form or another. But it's one I wouldn't mind input on. Does anyone have a clear view of what quality is? If so, how did you come by it?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday Poetry: A.E. Housman

A.E. Housman
Is My Team Ploughing

'Is my team ploughing
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?'

Aye, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now,
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.

'Is football playing
Along the river shore
With lads to chase the leather
Now I stand up no more?'

Aye, the ball is flying,
The lads play heart and soul,
The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.

'Is my girl happy
That I thought hard to leave
And has she tired of weeping
As she lies down at eve?'

Aye, she lies down lightly,
She lies down not to weep,
Your girl is well contented,
Be still, my lad and sleep.

'Is my friend hearty,
Now I am thin and pine,
And has he found to sleep in
A better bed than mine?'

Yes, lad, I lie easy,
I lie as lads would choose,
I cheer a dead man's sweetheart,
Never ask me whose.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Poetry: Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
Pygmalion's Image

Not only her stone face, laid back staring in the ferns,
But everything the scoop of the valley contains begins to move
(And beyond the horizon the trucks beat the highway.)

A tree inflates gently on the curve of the hill;
An insect crashes on the carved eyelid;
Grass blows westward from the roots,
As the wind knifes under her skin and ruffles it like a book.

The crisp hair is real, wriggling like snakes;
A rustle of veins, tick of blood in the throat;
The lines of the face tangle and catch, and
A green leaf of language comes twisting out of her mouth.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Good-Bye, Karl, Good-Bye

Interesting, that.

I'll be interested to see if and when they come up with a successor. Can't say I'll miss him, but by the same token, I wonder if they're trying to to cut back on the extremely recognizable fixtures of the administration—I mean, come on, who's heard a word about Gates since he took up the post?—and if so I wonder what for.

I don't want to take anything for granted with these guys, even if they give me something that seems to be a gift. In this case, I'd be up for looking in the mouth, if only I could see in.

We'll see.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Balls Update

Hey folks, I'll stop talking about Balls to Congress soon. But it means a lot to me, as you can tell.

It turns out that we were misreading; the site was not started by Ed Schultz himself, but rather by a gentleman who comments on Schultz's message boards. We contacted the gentleman on Wednesday, and he's yet to write back. Since he started his site barely two weeks ago, and was inspired by a caller to the Ed Schultz Show, we can only assume that said caller had read about us on the Daily Kos and not quite made the connection, and that the founder of the new site didn't do very careful research, so excited was he by the idea. Certainly, I can understand being excited by the idea, and I hope that we'll be able to create a partnership. But we at Balls do want acknowledgment of first use. Hopefully we'll be able to get it. We are documented back to November, both on the interweb and in written documents, and we're getting a trademark as we speak.

(We were also on the radio. Neat, huh?)

That is all. In the meantime, you should really send some balls to Congress yourself! Seriously, what with the expansion of wiretapping rights expansion and the ridiculous behavior surrounding Gonzales, I'd say this is a good time.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Poetry: Randall Jarrell

Randall Jarrell
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother's sleep I feel into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from the dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Every viewing of The Corporation (spoiler) brings with it a proliferation of new ideas from whatever group I watch it with. This makes it a great documentary: it shows you exactly how bleak things really are, right now and not in the future, and does not make you want to give up. If I were a movie, I wouldn't mind being that one.

When H, Maddy, Mark, T-bone, A and I watched it a few weeks ago in L.A., H's new innovative idea was that if these corporations are legally human beings, and these legal human beings have all the salient characteristics of a sociopath, why not have the state declare these human beings legally insane, therefore legally incompetent to act on their own? A, a law student himself, foresees some legal troubles on that front, but I wonder if you couldn't make it happen with a crack legal team—the sort that would include a reformed corporate lawyer, someone who's been employed by the state as a social worker or legal psychiatrist, a defense attorney who's worked with sociopathic clients. Certainly it's going to take a lot of work, but if you're dealing with intelligent people anyway I think it would be a joyous challenge and thought experiment.

Speaking of thought experiments, one thought of mine that developed from this viewing of the film—I'm not quite sure what about the film made it so clear to me, but it did—is that there is much more to the anti-immigrant legislation than meets the eye. I mean, that's obvious, but specifically, I think it's about the imminent refugee crisis that will follow from coastal flooding.

Consider: there has to be a conservative think tank out there dealing with the realities of global warming and the imminent social changes that will accompany it. As Annie pointed out, it would really be the strongest explanation for George Bush's sustainable Crawford ranch. Bush and/or someone close to him is thinking about where the country and the world are likely to be at in the next fifty years, and he's aiming to keep himself and his family safe and comfortable. (The last article in that linked bunch would, I think, have it otherwise—the Bushes' leftist environmentalist architect, David Heymann, sees it as simply a good working relationship between himself and his clients. Mr. Heymann sounds like a pretty great guy, and I hope he'll forgive me my cynicism.) If indeed the serious conservatives are considering imminent possibilities (can possibilities be imminent?), it follows that a think tank would do so on the macrocosmic as well as microcosmic level. Which is to say, they're considering the kinds of things scientists working for Al Gore mentioned, and one of the most vivid images in An Inconvenient Truth was that of the refugee crisis that will arrive as rising ocean levels and the resulting coastal flooding has its disproportionate impact on the global south. (Which I recognize is a really reductive term, but allow me to use it once.) The United States, which as a body of land is going to have a much easier time surviving a season of coastal flooding than, say, island nations, would still be a reasonable goal for persons displaced by such weather conditions. As Gore presented it, and I was fairly convinced, we'd be seeing a refugee crisis the scale of which we ain't never seen.

And it can't be that conservatives are completely ignoring this prospect. That's one of the most important things I've learned from thinking about the Project for the New American Century (*how* does that swing being a nonprofit, bydeby?): folks on the left have a tendency to assume that folks on the right just Aren't Thinking About It, or Just Don't Get It, and that's foolish. I've made that point before, but I want to keep emphasizing it. So if even folks like Cheney are thinking about climate crisis, Cheney and whatever senators he's got in his pocket must be thinking about ways to look out for Number One. And a very good way to do that would be to have legislation in place that puts foreign nationals entering the United States, in manners legal, illegal and in-between, in a very difficult position from the get-go, before we're flooded with people in even more acute need than those entering now.

We need, and can be, thought groupings that are as good as theirs, albeit less exclusive. I mean, yes, I'm sure there are a ton of important leftist think tanks in D.C. that I don't know about. But I think we'll be much the stronger if our thinking isn't done in tanks—I guess that's my Harry Potter-based view of the world (or maybe I should give myself credit and realize that I believed emotional connection in politics was essential even before I read Harry Potter). Tyromaven's already getting some wonderful group connections and thinking together—there was a meeting on connections of thought and action out of diverse passions and needs a couple of weeks ago, the Radical Futures Working Group, which was pretty bloody awesome—and every viewing of The Corporation (at this point, all two of 'em, but let's do it again—seriously, even if I don't know you, let's hang out and watch it) makes me feel that thinking together, that having a group of intelligent people with different perspectives on and connections to the corporate-controlled world, is really what makes the difference, is really what puts together exciting ideas with a realistic and idealistic bent. Who wants to be on the anti-corporate crack legal team?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Keep Balls Safe

Hey folks. I have new essays coming, but two bits of important news about Balls to Congress.

The first is that its co-founders, myself and Annie, are going to be interviewed on WLUW-Chicago (88.7 FM) this Friday at 6:00 pm for Outside the Loop Radio. Take a listen if you're in the Chicagoland area, check out the podcast if you ain't!

The second and more serious note is that progressive radio commentator Ed Schultz started a ball-sending system startlingly similar to Balls to Congress only last month. (I'm not linking to it because I don't want it to get any more hits; I've been looking often enough myself.) From what we've read of the gentleman, it sounds like an honest mistake of too little research on his office's part, and we're in the process of contacting him in the hope that he'll retract and acknowledge that our work was present on the internets three months earlier. But if I could have regular readers of this blog willing to say that they've been following the development of Balls to Congress since November 2006, the support would help me a lot.

Also, if you are the webby type yourself and have a website or journal accessible to the public, I'd love it if you could link to Balls to Congress again. Even if you're awesome like Connor and did it already. The more hits, the more documentation we have of the existence of the site and its functionality from earlier on, the better off we are going up against a power greater than we.

Thanks in advance.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

It Shouldn't Surprise You At All

I don't know. I don't know if any of it surprises me anymore. But it certainly frustrates me. Oy vey.

"The law, which is intended as a stopgap and expires in six months . . ."

What gap exactly is it stopping? The gap between ethics and lack thereof?

I don't know. If I am to consider myself a socialist, which more and more I think I do, do I have to succumb to such invasions of privacy? Do I have to say that if the government gives me services, support and community, I have to succumb to the measures it deems appropriate to keep me safe—trust for trust? If not, why not? Why do I consider these acts, these violations of privacy, so unethical?

I believe that the right to privacy is an ethical if not a constitutional right. (I've been through this, albeit ages ago; I don't necessarily agree with everything I wrote two years ago, but I'd say my views on privacy rights still stand.) Why and how do I believe that? Why do we need the ability to maintain this separation from other human beings? What makes me think that's important?

I guess the question that leads to is, what would a society be if we didn't have privacy? A society without privacy is a society where individuals cannot control their actions. If your actions are continually monitored by outside sources, or could be at any point—well, whaddayaknow, I've discovered the panopticon. It becomes a society in which people control themselves according to the rules of the society. But aren't all social codes like that? Isn't it insanity not to do that? So the element of choice, then, is what makes the difference. Why does choice matter? It allows for the possibility of divergent authority. Why do we need divergent authority? Because the real problem with the panopticon, I guess, is that there's no check on the person who's in it. Which is to say, the element of choice is the only way to ensure that there are more than self-generated checks on everyone. Which sounds contradictory, but it's true. That's the guarantee of a society really being able to keep itself an equal system: it requires privacy. It's not just voting, not just being a republic with a constitutional system, it's being a system that respects individuals.

I'm kind of tired, and it's late-ish, so I may not have the logic solid, but if it still works in the morning I'm pretty proud of that. So, then, Bush is supporting, and by supporting I mean being, a system where we only have outsider checks. And really, it's entirely unsurprising.

But boy, does the whole thing blow. Let's see where we're at in six months. Let's see if Congress can get its mind cleared up. Though at this point I'm not optimistic.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Friday Poetry: Aaron Fogel

Aaron Fogel
The Printer's Error

Fellow compositors
and pressworkers!

I, Chief Printer
Frank Steinman,
having worked fifty-seven
years at my trade,
and served for five years
as president
of the Holliston
Printers' Council,
being of sound mind
though near death,
leave this testimonial
concerning the nature
of printers' errors.

First: I hold that
all books and all
printed matter have
errors, obvious or no,
and that these are
their most significant moments,
not to be tampered with
by the vanity and folly
of ignorant, academic
textual editors.
Second: I hold that there are
three types of errors, in ascending
order of importance:
One: chance errors
of the printer's trembling hand
not to be corrected incautiously
by foolish scholars
and other such rabble
because trembling is part
of divine creation itself.
Two: silent, cool sabotage
by the printer,
the manual laborer
whose protests
have at times taken this
historical form,
covert inferences
not to be corrected
censoriously by the hand
of the second and far
more ignorant saboteur,
the textual editor.
Three: errors
from the touch of God,
divine and often
obscure corrections
of whole books by
nearly unnoticed changes
of single letters
sometimes meaningful but
about which the less said
by preemptive commentary
the better.
Third: I hold that all three
sorts of error,
errors by chance,
errors by workers' protest,
and errors by
God's work
are in practice the
same and indistinguishable
Therefore I,
Frank Steinman,
for thirty-seven years,
and cooperative Master
of the Holliston Guild
eight years,
being of sound mind and body
though near death
urge the abolition
of all editorial work
and manumission
from all textual editing
to leave what was
as it was, and
as it became,
except insofar as editing
is itself an error, and

therefore also divine.