Sunday, August 17, 2014

America, America, God Shed His Grace on Thee ...

When Kim and I decided to go on vacation we had every intention of heading northwards.  She from Indiana, me from Connecticut.  First it was Montreal, a precursor to Paris; then Northern Michigan, Great Lakes country to rendezvous with another Brooklynite, eventually making our way to Chicago, then home.  That being decided I flew out to Chicago, she picked me up the following day and we returned to Indiana for her medical appointments before taking off.  In no time we were in Louisville, KY.  You know how these things go:  we are going to get There from Here.

So, I have been in Middle America, and now South for a few days.  When you've spent most of your adult life in the cloistered, crowded, and urban Northeast, you forget (or I do) how huge, how vastly beautiful this country is.  Despite our expansive in geography we seem so miserly in spirit.  We as a collective are unbelievably endowed with resources, space, security and wealth.  But, as a nation we are collectively selfish, mean, greedy, callous towards and inordinately fearful of each other.  Perhaps I'm writing this because I've spent days in places where people of color, and I don't mean it as a euphemism, but literally, are few and far between.  I am back in places where I turn heads, and not for flattering reasons, where if there is a greeting exchanged I'm often the first to speak.  Also, my friend and I are an odd pair -- one white, one black, both middle-aged, both short-haired.  It's hard to know what we are, which disturbs people, but we are pros at being incandescently non-threatening.  And still I often sense a wariness that isn't specific to me (or us) but that seems to come from the social isolation we Americans suffer from.  Too many of us only know the other through television and movies, through sensationalized crises and the accompanying superficial and portentous analysis that is on-air news reporting.  It gives us a false knowledge -- "those white people do ...", "black people always ..." and other iterations that lead to illogical, and incorrect conclusions about others' behavior.  And reinforce prejudices, the ones we need to keep to justify how we live as a divided nation.

Others have written well and extensively about the decimation of the American landscape as the interstate system grew and micro-cultures and towns either vanished or were absorbed by consolidating industrialization and retail.  That's so apparent to me on this trip, too.  In the cities we've made a fetish of authenticity, historical preservation and artisanal living in a Hans Brinkerish attempt to stave off rapacious ecologically destructive modernity.  We pick and choose what parts of our lives will be lived in the 19th century as opposed to the 21st.  In other places that don't value or cultivate creative tension (which brings uncertainty and the threat of upsetting order) there is less dissonance.  It seems as if the denaturing of American's beauty and distinctiveness meets little or no objection.  And when there are attempts to revive places there is an air of contrivance (cf. the restored downtowns of many small cities).

I brought reading with me, the kind that I never seem to have enough time to do while at home.  I finally started Taylor Branch's At Canaan's Edge, the last of his magnificent trilogy of "America in the King Years".  No accident bringing this, although at the time I pulled it from my shelf I really didn't know we've travelling south, and it is a fantastic counterpoint to being in places like Louisville, Nashville, Memphis.  I am as intrigued reading modern American history as I am in how it is depicted.  I'm always looking to see how a matter like segregation is presented on the placards that explain the significance of a once-grand hotel, or movie house or a prominent business.  The elisions, the absence of photographic evidence, the galloping prose that brings us to the present.

Our present:  the shooting and police response in Ferguson, MO and the Tea Party and the 21st century strain of anti-immigrant nativism that manifests itself as callousness towards the fate of children and youth coming from Latin America and the delegitimization of the Obama Presidency with talk of impeachment and the shit sandwich that goes for cultural and political discourse on the media and a civic culture so fragile that a committment to universal, public education is imperiled and the siphoning upwards of political power and wealth.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Gone to the store ...

... to get cigarettes.  Will be back in approximately 14 days.

I'm off for a vacation where there is no fixed destination, no reservations, no sure itinerary, and no guaranteed return date.

One reason I don't care for vacations is that you have to plan them.  I don't care enough about frequent flyer miles, or hotel and auto discounts to be that organized about it.  All I want to know is where I can get my morning coffee.

Flying to Chicago on Tuesday.  All the rest is TBD.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Lately I've been getting e-mails from Michelle Obama asking me, beseeching me, really, to sign Barack's birthday card.  I've been thinking about it.  Ordinarily, if this was an office situation and I'd been asked to sign a card for an executive who was way way above my paygrade, I'd decline.  Chances are I wouldn't know him or her, and to sign the card would be to insinuate myself into their personal life for no other reason than I wanted to score points or just get-along-to-go-along.  But I admire the man, and might make an exception to my own rule.  Perhaps more than any president in my lifetime I wish Barack Obama as many birthdays (happy or otherwise) as he can have. There is such derangement in this country that every day seems to offer up a fresh opportunity for some aggrieved and put upon fin de siecle white guy to imagine himself the hero assassin of the President.  Can't cut more food stamps for the poor?  Shoot him.  Can't win the war in Iraq?  Shoot him.  Can't stop the tide of brown children from Central America who are coming here to take our jobs, and, as soon as they grow up, rape our women?  Shoot.  Him.  All of that to say that birthdays are not preordained for that man; so I hope he'll have his next one.

But Michelle's request notwithstanding, coming as it does in the midst of a slaughter in Gaza, I can't sign the card.  Because really, I've been so over Israel for decades.  Back in the 1980's, June Jordan and other leftist academics (who are so fashionably lampooned by smug libertarians and the unctuous assholes who love them) were publishing works about Israel as an apartheid state.  And Israel's support of its sister regime in South Africa.  This is Israel:  they spy on us, they have such power in the halls of Congress that both the Senate and House passed unanimous resolutions in support of this phase of the war.  (Now, I ask you, where else in the history of the Obama's presidency have House and Senate Republicans unanimously agreed with him on Anything?  Makes you wonder how that's even possible.)  They are the recipient of billions of US tax dollars that purchases weaponry (and no doubt intelligence) that advantages them to wage asymmetrical, brutalizing war based on any rationale that suits Israel at the time.  (See Gulf of Tonkin attack, Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction, the kidnapping and murder of 3 Israeli teenagers.)

And now -- what? almost 30 years later -- we have to listen to the likes of Barack Obama, a man who certainly knows better, trot out all that hum-de-hum-hum about Israel's right to defend itself.  Our stalwart friend in the Middle East, yada yada yada.  (If I paid a man to have sex with me on a regular basis and laugh at my jokes do I also have to stand in front of mikes and call him my friend?)  It would be insincere of me, Mr. President, to sign your card.  I wish I could say the same for your support of Israel's actions; but I can't.