Monday, February 28, 2005

Poetry on the last day

Morning Dress

I select my socks in the dark,
pick a pair by touch and hope the picture in my mind
matches the result when I walk into the sunlight.
All too often, the result is today’s picture of sartorial inelegance –
navy blue pants, cordovan leather, connected by black socks
with a random indistinguishable pattern
that looks like miniature yellow and red bandaids
glowing in the dark,
a light I missed earlier in the day.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Predicting the Weather

The weathermen are hedging their bets today. They claim that a large storm front could hit this area sometime tomorrow, and dump considerable snow over the following 24 hours. But they conditionalize their statements with ‘maybe’ and ‘depending’ and ‘prevailing winds’ and ‘gee, we don’t wanna seem dumb this time…’ One local weatherman predicted 12-18 inches two weeks ago, and we shoveled about 4. So we do not yet have weather maps in three different colors, each signifying snowfall totals for three states above the New York City line.

Maybe we have seen the end of an era: the use of the weather segment as a way to hype the news ratings. Then again, maybe it’s because tomorrow is the last day of sweeps month, and the storm is hitting on the first day of the next month….Silly theory. This is winter, it snows in winter in upstate New York, and it’s cold. That’s all we need to know. The plows will take care of the rest.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Government Will Soon Be a Tie Ballgame

Here’s an interesting statistic: the country’s 50 state legislatures contain 3,657 Republicans and 3,656 Democrats. Out of over 7300 elected legislators, the Republican Party currently holds one more seat than the Democrats.

Is this polarization? Or an inability to define what we stand for?

In the mid-1970s, columnist David Broder (The Party’s Over) wrote that the political parties were no longer important political, governmental or social institutions. They no longer stood for anything. They were loose clubs that people selected out of habit, because their parents belonged, or their surrounding community was affiliated with one or the other party. They were so large that gravity – the need to get elected across a broad geographic and political landscape – sucked everybody into the political center. A party platform was so generic that one could be passed under the pen of either party affiliate, and no one would have any trouble signing it.

So, do we believe in anything? Can we define a Democrat? A Republican? Even the media has homogenized each party: their graphics have colored Republican states ‘red’, and Democrat states are labeled ‘blue.’ The 2004 vote for President in that state may have been separated by 1 percentage point, but it still only gets one color...

Do individuals have core beliefs? How do we express them? And how do we express them as social – and thus, governmental – actions?

Lots of ink can be spilled on this issue.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter Thompson, Gonzo

"If I followed my better instincts right now, I would put this typewriter in the Volvo and drive to the home of the nearest politician -- any politician -- and hurl the goddamn machine through his front window...flush the bugger out with an act of lunatic violence then soak him down with mace and run him naked down Main Street in Aspen...."
Hunter S. Thompson, August 1974

Hunter Thompson ended his life with his own shotgun yesterday, at age 67.

Hunter Thompson had no boundaries. He had no filters. He took his gut instincts, his intelligence, his emotions, and turned them into incredible stream-of-consciousness writing that was succinct, observant, rambling and vitriolic all at the same time.

He apparently lived like that, too. At least his writings reflected that sort of life; it would be hard to believe that this was all fiction, and he actually lived in a raised ranch in some boring suburb of Denver. He made no apologies for his drug and alcohol-driven binges, which became legendary in his Rolling Stone articles during the 1970's.

His writing could be violent. The paragraph above was written after Thompson watched Gerald Ford -- "that sold-out knucklehead refugee from a 1969 Mister Clean TV commercial" -- pardon Richard Nixon. In the "Author's Note" to his 1979 collection, "The Great Shark Hunt", Thompson wrote:

"...it is a very strange feeling to be a 40-year-old American writer in this century and sitting alone in this huge building on Fifth Avenue in New York..in an office with a tall glass door that leads out to a big terrace looking down on the The Plaza Fountain....and when I finish, the only fitting exit will be right straight off this terrace and into The Fountain, 28 stories below...
Nobody could follow that act."

News articles today call Thompson a counterculture author, a pioneer of new journalism, a fictional journalist, and the original 'gonzo journalist.' I don't know what all these terms mean. He was a prolific writer who wrote from the gut, who responded viscerally and emotionally to everything he absorbed. I don't know if he kept an online journal; blogging would seem a perfect format for his reactive writing. He wrote this way every day of his life; 30 years ago, he had to wait for the next issue of Rolling Stone to publish.

I wonder what Garry Trudeau does with Uncle Duke now?

Thompson on Jimmy Carter: "He could pass for a Fuller Brush man on any street in America..."

Monday, February 14, 2005

Pink is the new Red

Pink is the new Red.
Red has been the traditional color on Valentines Day. It represents the heart, the traditional symbol for the day of love.
Red is an aggressive color. It is bright, powerful; it outshines and overwhelms any other adjacent color. Red is typically paired sartorially with white or black. There is a clear reason for this: white and black represent either the absence or presence of all color, and no other shade or tint can compete with the glare of red.
The heart itself is a pulsing organ, providing the power that propels lifeforce to the entire human body. It pushes adrenaline, ramps up desire – creates passion.
Love should not carry that same powerful, aggressive, overwhelming connotation. Love is not the emotion of power, force, and attack. Love is an unselfish emotion of giving, with no expectation from the object of its intent.
Love is light and passion modified, softened. Love is pink.
Red is power and passion.
Pink is sharing and accepting, sensual touch and caring.
Pink is a better representative for Valentines Day.
Somebody call Hallmark.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Phony Wars

Do the ends justify the means? We created a war in Iraq to eradicate weapons of mass destruction, to clean terrorism from its face, to topple Saddam. Only one of those objectives was reached, and our leaders have pronounced that the real reason we sent in troops was to install democracy. The election has been declared a success, and it may very well be the beginnings of a new era in that country. American resources will be committed for at least a generation to protect it.

In other words, a phony war became a real war with different objectives. At a cost.

The President has now declared his primary domestic objective. As his first major foray into the 'ownership society', he wants a government-backed retirement system that permits individuals to create private investment accounts. To do this, each individual must use a portion of the Social Security account to create investment -- at a cost to future benefits. The government will need to borrow trillions of dollars to get this started.

This may be another phony war, with hidden agendas. Such a system will benefit those with the resources to invest -- not just the money, but the moxie and knowledge on how to win at that game. The investments also benefit money managers, major investment firms, and corporations, since the whole purpose is to increase contributions to the private sector.

The experience in Britain and Sweden has been different. Investors have generally lost ground, and their pensions have been hurt by the private investment system.

This phony war could still end up as a success. The President's focus on Social Security will result in some sort of legislation to shore up its long-term stability. Bush will then declare victory, even if he doesn't get the private investment accounts.

Politics is such a messy business. Sometimes it works in spite of itself.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Let's just play the game....

The Super Bowl is over, and pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than two weeks. I just finished Roger Angell's book "Game Time", a collection of essays over the past two decades. Angell is the fiction editor of "The New Yorker" magazine, and has made his mark with insiteful and cogent essays on baseball since the early '60s. He loves the sport, but he also has much to say beyond just what happens within the white lines. This is from a 1992 column, in which he talks about his father:

[My father] had only limited financial success as a Wall Street lawyer, but that work allowed him to put in great amounts of time with the American Civil Liberties Union, which he served as a long-term chairman of its national board. Most of his life, I heard him talk about the latest issues or cases involving censorship, Jim Crow laws, voting rights, freedom of speech, racial and sexual discrimination, and threats to the Constitution; these struggles continue to this day, God knows, but the difference back then was that men and women like my father always sounded as if such battles would be won in the end. The news was always harsh, and fresh threats to freedom immediate, but every problem was capable of solution somewhere down the line. We don’t hold such ideas anymore – about our freedom or about anything else. My father looked on baseball the same way; he would never be a big-league player, or even a college player, but whenever he found a game he jumped at the chance to play and to win.
If this sounds like a romantic or foolish impulse to us today, it is because most of American life, including baseball, no longer feels feasible. We know everything about the game now, thanks to instant replay and computerized stats, and what we seem to have concluded is that almost none of us are good enough to play it. Thanks to television and sports journalism, we also know everything about the skills and financial worth and private lives of the enormous young men we have hired to play baseball for us, but we don’t seem to know how to keep their salaries or their personalities within human proportions. We don’t like them as much as we once did, and we don’t like ourselves as much, either. Baseball becomes feasible from time to time, not much more, and we fans must make prodigious efforts to rearrange our profoundly ironic contemporary psyches in order to allow its old pleasure to reach us. My father wasn’t na├»ve; he was lucky.


Are we actually hindered by too much knowledge sometimes? Do we become so overwhelmed by the cacaphony of voices, facts, opinions, and news that they become a hurdle to building our own paths? The incoming barrage becomes so daunting, that we no longer want to play?
Can't be.
We just want to play a game. The fact that others play it on a larger stage, and do it so much better than us, shouldn't keep us from having our own fun.


Friday, February 04, 2005

Locking up little old ladies

"Administration lawyers told her, in response to a hypothetical question, that they believed the president would even have the right to lock up "a little old lady from Switzerland" for the duration of the war on terror if she had written checks to a charity that she believed helped orphans, but that actually was a front for Al Qaeda. "

This, in federal court; the 'her' is the judge. Quoted from Bob Herbert's op-ed piece in the Times today.

Stay calm. We must remember that this is a democracy: we have elected over 400 people to those halls in Washington, and they can still outnumber that one person in the White House. Thankfully.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Loneliness of SOV's

“…I thought the only lonely place was on the moon.”
Paul McCartney, “Jet”

Most of my daily commute covers 25 miles of the New York State Thruway. The traffic is heavy during both morning and evening commuting hours, particularly between Exits 25 and 23.

One thing is very striking about each vehicle: the driver is nearly always the only person in the car.

Thousands of single-occupancy-vehicles each day. A mass of steel and rubber jockeying for road room at 70 miles an hour, all with one individual over each set of four tires. How lonely can we seem? How lost in ourselves are each and every one?

Naturally, we are all pretty busy while we cruise toward our place of employ or schooling. We listen to our radios and CD players. Some people shout at other drivers or give them the digit of universal disdain. We drink our coffee, eat our breakfast, do our makeup. Some even read the paper.

Those who crave human conversation will take out their cell phones, and flaunt the law. The safer ones have a wire crossing their shoulder, with that little knob about a foot below the earlobe, looking for all the world like an on-off switch rather than a receiver.

But in the end, don’t we look like hundreds of very lonely people? We represent one of the ironies of the metropolis age: mankind is crowding together in larger and larger metro/suburban/exurban communities, with more and more people on less and less space -- but we isolate ourselves from our neighbors. Big lawns and fences separate our homes. We drive into our driveways, shut the garage door behind us, and never even see our neighbor, much less wave to her. We walk up the front steps of the city brownhouse, or apartment building, and unlock the front door – the one with the bars, multiple latches, and camera above the alcove.

Our electronics keep us focused elsewhere – not really inward, just somewhere else. Digital music players and radios that come with small earpieces, so we can shut out anything within one foot. Huge 50-inch televisions, where we bury ourselves in vivid pictures and sounds. Video games that lock the mind into never-ending vignettes and chapters, hooked together in a seamless story that takes hours and cannot be broken.

I can’t fully condemn us commuters. For many, this may be the only solo time they get. Generally, we probably could be riding with a neighbor, working around the logistical problems and timetables, having a little human conversation and contact.

Meanwhile, we travel in a pack of SOVs. Yup, that’s me in the salt-covered black Focus. Driving by myself. Probably listening to Yes. Ask me if I’m lonely…