Thursday, April 30, 2009

Happens every spring. I receive two requests for new poems. One from editor of long-running local print 'zine, other from long-running webzine. This year, when the requests came, I was polishing a short anecdote for a memorial page, it was important to do it well. I'd get to the poems afterward, in a few days. That was weeks ago.

When I'd finished & sent the anecdote, I procrastinated with the poems. I knew why. I opened the file on the desktop titled "poems" & looked inside. I throw unfinished stuff in there along with revised older poems. There was nuttin' I wanted to finish or send. I checked blog entries tagged as "poems." A couple of old ones posted since last spring. A few oddball pieces that didn't qualify as poetry. I won't submit less than five poems, editors deserve choices. Both of them are broad-minded. They don't require writing visually identifiable as "poetry." A few times in the past, I've rush published work these guys liked but I later regretted sending into the world.

I've got the structure of a new web book set up, haven't touched it in a months, but it's a matter of moving poems that fit the concept in there from other places. A photographer friend is planning a coffee table book of Jersey shore photos, mostly Asbury Park, & has been poking at me for appropriate short commentaries; she hasn't collected the pictures together yet & I'm hoping they suggest excerpts from my many pages of shore prose & poems. The photos I've seen are lovely, moody, visually self-sufficient, I don't know what words could add to them. I write lots of prose. Making poems has usually requires that I deliberately try to make poems, writing my way into the creative mindset. Otherwise, one pops out only occasionally. Hand me that parchment, quill pen, & lamp burning midnight oil.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fort Dix Terrorists

Muslims get long sentences for U.S. Army base plot

PHILADELPHIA, April 29 (Reuters) - Two Muslim men convicted of plotting to kill soldiers at a U.S. Army base received long prison sentences on Wednesday for a plan prosecutors said was inspired by holy war against the United States.

Three others in the plot were handed life sentences on Tuesday.

Mohamad Shnewer, 23, a Jordanian-born taxi driver from Philadelphia, was sentenced to life plus 30 years for his part in the plan to attack the base at Fort Dix in New Jersey using automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Serdar Tatar, 25, a Turkish-born convenience store clerk from Philadelphia, was given a 33-year sentence in federal prison for his role in the planned attack, which was never carried out.

The two men, together with ethnic Albanian brothers Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka, planned to kill as many soldiers as possible at the base in retaliation for what they saw as U.S. oppression of Muslims around the world, prosecutors said. The five were convicted in December.

The Duka brothers, whose family moved from Macedonia during the 1980s, were sentenced on Tuesday to life in prison without parole by U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler in federal court in Camden, New Jersey.

I don't agree with the Feds that this was "the most frightening terror plot ever hatched in America," as one prosecutor put it. The story is easily skewed as a tragicomedy. But five characters more unsympathetic would be difficult to find.

The Duka brothers are illegal immigrants, sneaking in through Mexico. They have family here. They had a roofing business. Shnewer is a citizen, his family owns a food market. Tatar's father was an honest businessman with a pizzeria near Fort Dix, soldiers as customers. Our soldiers, our National Guard, who get called up for active duty in Iraq. What the f*ck were they thinking? They said it was entrapment, that it was a joke, they were just a bunch of guys playing paintball, drinking beer, mouthing off. Hey, we've known men like that. They blew up a Federal building in Oklahoma City. Later, we managed to overlook some immigrant buddies learning to steer jets but not how to land them.

None of these Fort Dix plotters has owned up to being a radical jihadist; if they were authentic terrorists, wouldn't they be proud of their beliefs & aborted plans? They're stupid. They're ingrates of the worst sort. They're loathesome. They deserve prison time. Their plans weren't far advanced & had no hope of succeeding even if they were completely serious; I remain unconvinced they were in earnest. Their families ought to be deeply ashamed of them. But I hope their sentences are reduced on appeal, an unpopular sentiment, I'm sure.

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Burning Spear

Revisiting his 1980 album, Social Living. I can't say enough, or much of anything at all, to describe the spiritual depth & grace of this wonderful artist. His early recordings were relevatory for me; I couldn't have imagined anything so touching, in a form so perfect that when he finally gets around to verbalizing the message here, we already know pretty much what it is. This performance features Spear's "heavy" band. Later, he experimented with a relatively lighter sound

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Democrats probably couldn't keep him out, but they'll regret letting Arlen Specter through the door. They lose an opportunity to elect a bonafide liberal in PA next year.

The Repugs lose a lot & Dems don't gain much in the long run from Sen. Arlen Specter's party switch. This wasn't an act of conscience & principle, like Jim Jeffords a few years ago. Arlen just stands in place & says, "I'm Democrat." That so? Specter only wants to be reelected in 2010. Good chance he'd be defeated from the right in the primary, & Democrats would then beat the fringe candidate, winning the seat anyway. Except for lacking the 60 seat super-majority in the senate, Democrats are doing fine without him, & stand to pick up a few more senators next year.

Perhaps Arlen is no more conservative than Sen. Jim Webb or Gov. Brian Schweitzer, but those two worked their party grassroots & then won over a lot of independent voters to get elected in fairly conservative states. They're true "big tent" Democrats.

Of course, political parties prefer unity. But the Repugs cannot handle any kind of dissent. The more they are reduced to a bunch of reactionary white males from the Deep South, the less they tolerate any diversity at all. Having long ago divested themselves of African-Americans, they threw away Hispanics - a demographic inclined toward traditional social values; they alienated smart, suburban women who couldn't take the Bible thumping, gay bashing, & hypocritical moralizing on private, family matters; & Repug support among the younger folks hovers around 30% at most (much of it must be for Ron Paul).

Repugs keep on mentioning the chimera of "Reagan Democrats." The average age of those Reagan supporters must be around 75 now, & they supported Reagan not because he was supposedly an economic conservative but because they considered Carter & Mondale liberal weenies (they liked Hillary, who isn't a weenie). They had their UAW retirement packages locked in, nothing to lose.

The problem Repugs have is summed up here in Jersey. Our unexciting Democratic governor ought be on the ropes. The Repugs have a "moderate" Bush appointee lawyer with baggage who doesn't stand for much of anything, & a yappy wingnut ex-mayor who thinks a McDonald's billboard ad in Spanish is unamerican.

The irony is that Specter was first elected as a "big tent" Repug in 1980, & Ronald Reagan had no gripe with that.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu

Swine Flu is the news today. According to the Center for Disease Control, it isn't all that different any other virulent form of flu. We catch it from other humans the same way. We try to avoid it the same way. We treat it the same way. It's especially dangerous for the same categories of humans; young, elderly, & others with weak or undeveloped immune systems. The panic seems to be fixated on the word Swine rather than on Flu, like if we catch it we grow hooves & oink, & the fact that current vaccines probably don't immunize against it, . But reasonably healthy people get it like any other flu, become sick, & recover. It isn't transmitted by eating pork. If you eat undercooked pork, you should stop anyway, it can make you very ill.

Pandemics are disruptive as well as deadly. Hospital emergency rooms overflow (which spreads the disease); schools close; day care centers, senior housing & nursing homes are at great risk; workplace absenteeism rises; & everyone tries to avoid crowds. Although the mortality rate in America would be low, the deaths & costs add up. & poor countries would be devastated.
News website founded by Star-Ledger writers who took the buy-out last December. Lean & easy to navigate. Like it or not, this is one form of news journalism in the post-print world. Although local weeklies & smaller market dailies may hang on (with websites), the era of the huge, big city newsroom is coming to a close. I don't know what these writers will do when their buy-out money runs out. The Star-Ledger was visibly weakened when they left.
N.J. Supreme Court will not hear appeal of beach-access ruling

On principle, I'm not crazy about this ruling against the NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection, which sought more public parking & rest rooms in tony Avalon NJ. But it would have cost Avalon millions, & it would have constituted a heavy, unfunded local mandate. Some other shore towns are far more exclusive, & they all owe us for beach replenishment. Even where there is reasonable access, I've noticed that Jerseyans are not packing the beaches in shore towns with no convenient snack bars & amusements. Beaches in those places are sparsely used on weekdays, & there's plenty of space for a blanket on weekends. Boardwalk towns attract the big crowds, for good reason. But avoid Sandy Hook during the summer. Besides being crowded, noisy, & dirty, I've seen people brazenly digging up plants & shellfish beds, not a Park Ranger in sight to stop them.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

92 degrees

A pleasure of the Mid-Atlantic climate is that there are two long seasons neither hot nor cold. We do not want to install or turn on our air-conditioners until June 1 or later if possible.

Recent reads
John Evangelist Walsh: The Hidden Life of Emily Dickinson (1971). Dickinson as plagiarist. Silly; what Walsh considers stealing, few others would. Does convince that Emily avidly read a lot of long, dreary Elizabeth Barrett Browning poetry, like the 350 page poem Aurora, quite a hit in her day. Stick with the sonnets.
Dana Milbank: Homo Politicus (2008)
Roxanne Orgill: Dream Lucky (2008) Count Basie in 1930's. Anecdotal. Short & sweet. Like Basie Band 78's.
Sarah Vowell: The Wordy Shipmates (2008). Puritans. Contemporary writer I'd most like to find sitting alone at an adjacent table in Elmora Dunkin' Donuts.
Cynthis Stokes Brown: Big History (2008). Teaching human history by starting at the scientific beginning - the Big Bang. Good idea.
Donald Clarke: All or Nothing At All, a Life of Frank Sinatra (1997). Too much in too few pages. Not enough music or scandalous detail.
John Adams: Hallelujah Junction, Composing an American Life (2008). Entertaining, particularly his childhood. Made me want to hear his music, which has rarely thrilled me. After reading it, I again tried listening to Adams' opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, & it was still unlistenable.

Michael Connelly: Brass Verdict (2008). Second book about lawyer who works out of his Lincoln, chauffeured by a client playing off a bill. Connelly writes terrific prose.
Laura Lippman: Butcher's Hill (1998). Third of Tess Monaghan series, set in Baltimore, & the first P.I. series I've read in sequence. Excellent pacing between personal life & detective work, & this P.I. clearly needs clients to keep up with her bills, & likes her junk food, a character reminiscent of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone.
Val McDermid: Clean Break (1995). Manchester P.I. Kate Brannigan. Good way to learn British vocabulary. Kate's longtime boyfriend is an aging provincial pothead rock critic & they both survive on Chinese takeout.
Robert Crais: Chasing Darkness (2008). L.A. P.I. Elvis Cole & friend Joe Pike seem at first like west coast versions of Robert Parker's Spenser & Hawk, the investigator & his mysterious killer friend. But Cole is more appreciative of scenery (as California detectives usually are), & unlike Spenser doesn't need to surround himself with a posse of loyal, homoerotic sociopaths. More verbosely philosophical, too. & Pike has enough backstory to get his own series. Cole & Pike exist in the same fictional universe as Connelly's lawyer.
Tim Dorsey: Nuclear Jellyfish (2009). Likable homicidal maniac & historian of Old Florida, Serge A. Storms, & his sidekick, doper "Coleman." Enjoyable, but the series has jumped the shark.


Cape May NJ

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Exciting walk downtown

Bought two pillows & a pair of khaki pants. If I'm not gonna wear shorts much in warm weather, at least I'm getting out of the habit of wearing jeans. Since the crazy glue seems to be holding on my old sneakers, I had no excuse to check out black canvas low tops, locally available again in brands other than overpriced Converse All-Star. Pants are cut a little long, probably shorten up after a few washes.

What you'll never see in the Morris Ave. retail & cafe district: Hispanic women wearing baggy jeans. No matter what size their butts, their jeans look sprayed on.

Discovery: Hard, large, inedible supermarket strawberries soften up, acquire some juice & taste, & can be blended into smoothies when they're sliced up & nuked for a minute. Cheap experiment, they were on sale at Shoprite. Otherwise, I wouldn't touch them.

There was an immigration reform rally somewhere in Elizabeth today. wasn't around here. An estimated thousand showed up. Poor attendence considering the city's population has a large percentage of native-born & naturalized Hispanics. That didn't stop a poster in the comment section at the news report from suggesting that a bomb ought to be dropped on Elizabeth, where I happen to reside. The word for this language is eliminationist. Which means, usually, killing the opposition, & is a growing characteristic of right wing rhetoric.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

haiku spelled backwards

Some years ago, a friend moved to a small town near Ukiah, California. The change was good for him & he responded by becoming an accomplished author of haiku. But he was there for a long time before I saw that Ukiah is haiku spelled backwards.. This Sunday is the annual one-day Ukiah haiku festival.

It bothers me that I didn't make the Ukiah/haiku connection on my own; it had to be pointed out. My language synapses are just not geared that way. I'm not a natural at Scrabble, & when I play it I always have to turn the board around because upside-down writing is a visual abstraction. On the other hand, I can obsess over the sound of words, where syllables break & accents are placed. Rather than reverse the letters in Ukiah, I amuse myself by saying Yoo-KI-ah, OOH-kee-ya. In my writing, I have to resist dialect & phonetic spelling. I know it comes from an aptitude more musical than literary, a desire to notate language like a music score. I came to poetry from music, which my poet mentor noted was opposite the prevailing trend; other young poets thought they'd make money reciting in front of a band, like Patti Smith. All it meant to me was that you'd have to cart a lot of equipment to showcase night at a club & perform a fifteen- minute set at 1 AM for a crowd of drunk, abusive punks. You only got paid if you learned a minimum of 50 cover songs & played drunk, abusive frat parties in New Brunswick NJ.

Today, I'm puzzling over a poster at another website who identified himself as a "Zen-Anglican." I know there's a joke in there someplace, possibly in the form of a nasty haiku, maybe about the Queen's corgis, but I can't find it.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dear Mets

You're 6 & 9, five games behind the Marlins, & have lost four straight. Is it too early for me to feel concerned?

your loyal friend,
bob from jersey


At the brink & over they go

When President Obama took office, I was ambivalent about what attitudes or measures he should take toward the criminals & incompetents his administration was replacing. He had his hands full, & I just wanted Bush to go away. If Americans preferred reform without retribution, that might not be a bad thing. But Cheney would not go away, & the miserable bastard kept showing up on TV, lying & trying to undermine the new president - who had the kind of broad electoral mandate Cheney & Bush never had. Cheney's statements during the Somali pirate crisis were infuriating. Despite warnings from within the party by conservatives like Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Repugs will not tone down their extremist, apocalyptic language. They turned to two professional entertainers, Rush Limbaugh & Glenn Beck, for leadership. (As if those jerks' followers were capable of delivering 280 electoral votes.) Torture memos were surfacing, Condi Rice was implicated. There's no way the Prez can keep the lid on the scandal now. As long as the Repugs are in complete self-destruct mode, at the edge of a precipice & shouting, "Push me," they might as well receive the shove they desire.

Americans wanted to believe that the extreme methods of interrogation not considered torture were necessary, infrequently applied, successful in extracting verifiable information, & not a daily obsession of people at the very highest levels of the Executive Branch. We're learning (as if we didn't know already) that none of these are true. Justice wants its hour. I was wrong to think a reckoning for the crimes could be avoided. Hurricane Katrina proved the indifference & incompetence of the Bush adminstration, but torture is the darkness at its heart. They would have - had they believed it necessary - waterboarded you or me.

Republicans are a minority party, & now they are a regionalist party, too. Democrats unseated a sitting president in 1992 with an unexpectedly great candidate, nearly did so again in 2004, before Hurricane Katrina, with a mediocre one, & decisively won the popular vote in 2000, all without Howard Dean's visionary & practical "50 state strategy." To win outside their remaining pockets of strength, Repugs need a lot more votes than they receive from a core of white bread homo bigots, young Earth creationists, & unreconstructed secessionists. America is becoming less bigoted & more secular, & provincial divisions are breaking down (every day we're now in direct contact online with people from all over America).

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

Round-leaved Sundew, New Jersey Pine Barrens

A tale of two plumbers

A shout out for Repug gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan's Cinco de Mayo event featuring Joe the Plumber.
May 5th, Deutscher Club in Clark, NJ, on Tuesday, May 5th starting at 6 pm.

(includes Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Veggie Burgers, Bratwurst, Baurenwurst, Herbed Chicken, Pasta Salad, German Potato Salad, Baked Beans, Sauerkraut, Coleslaw, Fruit Salad, Corn on the Cob, French Fries, Watermelon) ONLY $50!

VIP ADMISSION (includes above and Book Signing)
ONLY $125!

GOLD TICKET (above and photo op with Joe and Steve) ONLY

DIAMOND RECEPTION (private meeting before the event)
ONLY $1000!

Buses will be departing from all corners of the state for this once-in-a-lifetime event. For those traveling from far and wide, hotel accommodation information will be forthcoming.

Joe the Plumber 2009 Lonegan Endorsement Tour tee-shirts, hats, and pins will be available on site.
The bratwurst at Deutscher is reputedly quite good, but you'll have more fun if you wait & wrangle a guest invite to Oktoberfest at the club. Joe The Plumber could never outshine Sam the Plumber in Jersey. Joe is famous for being famous, but like some celebrities on Dancing With the Stars, it's difficult to recall how he became famous the first time. Sam was the local organized crime boss who provided much of the inspiration for the character of Tony Soprano. Sam hung out at a popular Italian restaurant, Angie & Min's. Didn't cost you anything to meet Sam, provided you didn't owe him money, although he probably wasn't enthusiastic about having his photo taken. I used to patronize a Dunkin' Donuts near Sam's office. In fact, my step-brother met his lovely wife when she was working the counter at that Dunkin'. Sometimes there were wise guy types in there, but lots of guys in Jersey act like wise guys, it's difficult to know the real ones. You just learn to mind your own business.

Joe's neighbors in Ohio must be very amused that some people fork over a grand to meet Joe & have their picture taken with him. Joe the Plumber is a magnet for a certain type of angry white man. These men are like male chimpanzees: They think if they jump up & down, pound their chests, shriek, & show us their rumps, we'll believe there's twice as many of them as there actually are. They'll be displaying themselves at the Deutscher on May 5th like monkeys in a zoo.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Damn runty little dog down the street attacked me again tonight. You can't get away from it, it follows you into the street, & it's a nipper, meaning it's a biter. But a dog is what it is & what really pisses me off is that whoever is out there minding it never makes a serious attempt to call it off & leash it, or reel in the leash if it's on one. There was a woman holding a leash, & she kept talking on her cellphone, & I yelled, "Goddamit, (I rarely curse like that) I love dogs but I swear I'll kick that thing in the head if it bites me." Does she even understand English? It forced me to the side of the street with the half-built house with no sidewalk, which I forgot about & stepped into a muddy puddle in my good lightweight Omega walking sneakers. Needless to say I was plenty aggravated.

I know the fenced in front yard dogs around here, the pair of yappy little poodles that egg each other on but would run if you challenged them, & the yowling beagle that makes a lot of noise but wags his tail to let you know he's just doing his job. They surprise me sometimes but they're harmless.



Gustav Holst, The Planets, transcribed for organ & performed by Peter Sykes (Raven).
A disappointment. Like the "1812 Overture," Holst's astrologically-inspired masterpiece became one of the big classical crossover hits with the introduction of the long-playing high fidelity recording. Everyone knows "Mars" & "Jupiter," if not the source (A snippet of "Jupiter" is currently heard in a TV candy commercial). There are many fine orchestral recordings. Japanese composer Tomita made a silly space opera synth adaptation in 1976 that still sells. The Planets would seem ideal for a grandiose organ arrangement. So what went wrong with this one?

Holst's own entertaining piano transcription is for four hands & two pianos; I assume that's what the composer thought was needed to do justice to the bare framework of music that relies so much on his wonderful orchestration. Peter Sykes limits himself to two hands & two feet with occasional assistance. It's an earnest, thoughtful transcription, & it may be adequate. But I can't tell. Because for the recording, Sykes chose a large, lush organ in a very resonant room, The Great Skinner Organ at Girard College in Philadelphia. From the outset, with the famous skewed, ominous, martial rhythm of "Mars," too many rhythmic & melodic details are sunk in the ambient mush of Girard Chapel. So all the emphasis placed on the history & grandness of the instrument in the liner notes is pointless. It was the wrong organ for the task. Clarity is lost where it is most needed. Instead, we get a thick fog of sonorities, & a sluggish wind machine that can't keep up with the performer. Does it matter which stops & couplings he's using? Perhaps Sykes could have rescued some of those passages (big problems in "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" & "Uranus, the Magician") with a more creative use of rests & silences. It's unlikely he could hear himself very well as he performed. He couldn't simultaneously be at the console & out front where all this pipe organ sound blended together. Of the 7 movements, quiet, ethereal "Neptune" most impresses me, although the fade is too drawn out.

Any keyboard transcription of an orchestral work qualifies as a novelty. Here, the novel aspect wasn't pushed far enough. The Planets might sound terrific performed on a restored Wurlitzer theater organ with all the stops pulled out, so to speak. Sykes, an accomplished classical organist, put his heart into this thing, & it's an admirable effort. But I wish he'd stretched more, risked more, & reached for an offbeat pop masterwork, like the original has become. This needs the spirit of George Wright.

Beethoven, Symphonies Nos. 4 & 6 (Pastoral), transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt, performed by Konstantin Scherbakov (Naxos).
Liszt transcribed the Pastoral early in his concert career, & was persuaded to complete all of them - including the choral 9th - after he had retired from touring. Although difficult to play, the transcriptions weren't made to show off. Liszt idolized Beethoven. It's likely that few in his provincial recital audiences had ever heard Beethoven symphonies performed by a full orchestra. Liszt was doing them & Beethoven a service by playing all or part of a symphony.

The Pastoral is Beethoven's most cheerful symphony. Peasants sing & dance during a day in the countryside, a thunderstorm arrives, then blows away. That's about it as a "program." This is very familiar music. No. 4 is filled with mischievous humor from the first bars through the last. Both are good candidates for piano transcriptions, & Liszt does them up with musical intelligence, respect for the originals, & an ear for the piano's capacities - & limitations. Liszt's necessary use of tremolo & arpeggiated chords to convey string parts sounds to our ears like corny music for old silent movies. Many of those movie theater pianists did incorporate classical orchestral music, which was taken up by Hollywood composers with the arrival of "talkies." We still hear syrup & thunderstorms in soundtrack music. I just laugh it off. These transcriptions are meant to entertain. I really enjoy this recording. I can't compare Scherbakov with how other pianists have handled these works. He sounds fine to me, & he's received uniformly warm reviews for his set of all nine on Naxos. I don't plan on collecting them.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Leave the Rolex, take the Blackberry

State Senator Ray Lesniak lives not far from here in a nice neighborhood on the other side of busy Morris Ave. & the Elizabeth River. Lesniak is powerful politician who brings home the bacon, so that makes him a pretty popular Democrat in a Democratic district. Very early Saturday morning he was awakened by two robbers in his house. They entered through the basement window & may have thought no one was home. Lesniak often spends weekends at the Jersey shore. The robbers threatened him, then became fairly civil, took some money, his Blackberry & car keys, & left, declining his offered Rolex & not stealing his Lexus hybrid. One of them said, "We're good people, we're just in a bad place right now." Which is a lie. Good people may fall far enough to steal, but they won't carry guns when they do it. Strange as that was, the tale becomes really peculiar.

Lesniak has no landline phone service or backup cell. He hadn't turned on his alarm system. He apparently had no spare car keys. He got dressed, & rather than awaken neighbors he walked at 2:30 am to Elizabeth Fire Dept. Headquarters, which would have taken him near or directly past a notorious housing project, Oakwood Plaza. Good chance Lesniak's robbers came from Oakwood & went back there.

There's some speculation about the Senator's personal lifestyle. He's a lifelong bachelor. But that's his business. My impression is that he's 98% a political creature, has some strong religious beliefs; over the past few years he's moved to more enlightened positions on capital punishment, gay rights, & environmental protection. I know he hosts a kind of political salon in his home, where politicians have free-wheeling, off-the-record discussions. But he reputedly spends a lot of nights at his Tribeca condo.

The whole episode has an odd quality, something about it doesn't quite hold together. Maybe it's just as he says.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Margate NJ

Meral's Bar and Lounge

Margate was a really cool town - home of Lucy the Elephant - & I had planned on purchasing a bayfront home there & settling in with a Boston Whaler after I got rich playing rock & roll. In that alternate timeline, I became freaked out by Atlantic City & also discovered that waterfront property was an expensive pain, so I sold it to a local drug dealer & moved to an old farmhouse in Cape May County, with Lawn Doctor grooming the front yard while I puttered around a goldfish pond in back.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Blessing of the Baskets

Fifty ot sixty people outside St. Peter & St. Paul Church, at least that many Easter baskets on the small lawns, some colorfully decorated, & filled, I suppose, with Easter goodies [Easter break-fast food, I've been informed]. A small choir stood off to one side, answering the chanted prayers of a man wearing an embroidered white robe. The people occasionally crossed themselves. After these musical preliminaries, the chanting priest or deacon walked around the lawn & shook incense on every basket. When he was done, the people collected their baskets. Beautiful spring afternoon. The chanter was not the pastor, an elderly man in a black cassock sitting in a folding chair next to the church door. Tonight they have a midnight vigil*, with the big Pascha / Easter service in the morning. Nice to see life in the church. Most of the people were older, a few children with their parents. In most of those families, grandma & grandpa provide the "blessed" basket on Easter. Lovely tradition. I watched from across the street.

* Rachmaninoff composed beautiful vigil music.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Eavesdropping the church

Stood outside the St. Peter & St. Paul Russian Orthodox Church around the corner, listening to the Good Friday liturgy. I've seen the inside of the church, never been by there during a service with a view up the center aisle to the altar. It was call & response, in English, someone chanting (I suppose it was the priest, I couldn't see his lips), & two or three women & one man out of my line of sight singing the simple harmonized, short cadences, mostly "Lord have mercy" while I was there. All the parishioners were standing, hard to tell how many. A woman in the vestibule saw me loitering, I thought she would frown, but she smiled & waved for me to come through the door. It was a solemn occasion, I had a backpack of groceries & could feel the Dunkin' Donuts coffee starting to work it's way through me, so I listened a little longer outside & went home. I think these special services are quite lengthy. An Eastern Orthodox joke is that when they sing the part about the service is ending, you know there's an hour to go.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fighting words

This kind of talk by a sitting governor (even of Texas) is outrageous:
QUESTION: What do you think about the idea of secession or sovereignty for your state?

PERRY: Oh, I think there’s a lot of different scenarios. Texas is a unique place. When we came into the Union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that.

My hope is that America, and Washington in particular, pays attention. We’ve got a great Union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it.

But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what might come out of that.
Did over 600,000 Americans die to settle this matter, ending slavery while they were at it, or is it a lie all the history books perpetrate?

Rick Perry is creating an illusion of a reality that encourages violent hard cases to come crawling out of their basements, attics, & desert compounds to advance The Cause.
Article III, Section 3. Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.
Texas receives a return of about .97 on every federal tax dollar. By contrast, New Jersey receives .65. An imprecise measurement, but I'm surprised Texas isn't making a profit when one considers all the government facilities & contracts Texas has, funneled there by powerful Washington politicians including three Texan presidents holding office for 17 of the past 45 years, not to mention Speakers of the House & Majority Leaders going back to the New Deal era There's more than a little sour grapes in Perry. Texans don't have the clout they had only a few months ago. The wide open spigot of federal money that long watered a state already wealthy from its own resources might be twisted back another turn, although it's unlikely. Someday the governor of Texas may again represent & speak for all the state's constituents (now 45% Hispanic & African-American) instead of a right wing white minority gerrymandered into power. Perry himself was re-elected governor in 2006 with only 39% (Kinky Friedman received over a half-million votes).

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

At the Old Ballgame

NEW YORK (AP) — A baseball fan who says he was ejected from Yankee Stadium by police after he left his seat to use the bathroom during the playing of "God Bless America" sued the New York Yankees and the city on Wednesday.

Bradford Campeau-Laurion says in his federal lawsuit his rights were violated at an Aug. 26 game between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox when he tried to pass a police officer.

The lawsuit said the officer did not let him take a step before grabbing his right arm and twisting it behind him. It said two officers marched him down several ramps to the stadium's exit, where he was pushed out as one officer told him to leave the country if he didn't like it.
The problem isn't that the song is played during the 7th Inning Stretch prior to the tradtional "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Some parks do, some don't. The problem is that Yankee management thinks their ball club is our designated national team & behaves accordingly toward fans - who pay big bucks for the privilege of witnessing Chien-Ming Wang & Hideki Matsui. So hurrying to take a piss or buy a slice of pizza during the prolonged stretch break is as nasty as burning an American flag outside the gates of Fort Bragg. Outside the Fort, the civilian authorities can arrest you for a number of reasons, but not specifically for burning an American flag. What happens in the stands at the Stadium is thuggery.

The issue is who ultimately controls the property & what rights this does or does not confer upon management. But what is permitted the Yankees is not necessarily what is permitted the City of New York. The Yankees claim their lease allows them to bum rush those they deem insufficiently patriotic. If the court sides with the Yankees, there isn't much anyone can do. Then the Stadium is no different than a right a restaurant has to insist patrons stand up & recite the Pledge of Allegiance between the salad course & the entree, & leave the premises if they refuse.

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Iced tea

I like unsweetened iced tea served with a lemon wedge. I add just a sprinkle of sugar. Mister Apple Pie Restaurant in Rahway NJ & a stand in Keansburg Amusement Park midway serve good, plain brewed iced tea.
"No taxation without representation" began as a slogan in the period 1763-1776 that summarized a primary grievance of the British colonists in the Thirteen Colonies. In short, many in those colonies believed the lack of direct representation in the distant British Parliament was an illegal denial of their rights as Englishmen, and therefore laws taxing the colonists (the kind of law that affects the most individuals directly), and other laws applying only to the colonies, were unconstitutional. In recent times, it has been used by several other groups in several different countries over similar disputes. Wikipedia entry
Residents of the District of Columbia lack representation. Residents of our territories aren't subject to federal taxes. So what's with the tea bag thing? I wouldn't have a problem with a tax protest if I thought the tea baggers were true fiscal conservatives. But other than Ron Paul, they've disappeared from the Republican Party. Paul points out that the whole set up is rigged to feed both parties. The biggest racket of all is war; government makes, profiteer takes. Where were these protestin' clowns the past 8 years? So what do the bail outs & stimulus packages mean?
Curiously, the only organization in Boston re-enacting the original tea party -- the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender group -- was not associated with the partisan movement. But instead of tossing tea bags overboard, it planned to dump federal tax forms into the harbor on Wednesday night to protest the unequal tax treatment of married same-sex couples. New York Times
If that kid makes it to Disney, hope it's on Gay Day.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Patelson Music House

Joseph Patelson Music House, a venerable sheet music store near Carnegie Hall, is going out of business. One might think that a music store in that prime location would have ready supply of loyal customers, shopping there to honor tradition. But even an online catalogue couldn't rescue Patelson. I've been in there a number of times. Musicians generally know what they want or need to play, there isn't so much impulse buying in sheet music, but having the music in stock means everything. Good sheet music stores, even small ones, carried enormous inventories, most of it sat there unsold. I clerked at a record/sheet music store in New Brunswick that competed with a second, larger sheet music store one block away. Many of our customers were desperate Rutgers music students searching for (& often finding) classical music the other store didn't have. Might be a sonata for trumpet or oboe.

When I taught piano, I used to go with my piano teacher girlfriend to a large music warehouse in South Plainfield NJ that allowed us to browse, we always had a shopping list . We received a small discount, reselling the books to students at retail - the profit probably covered our time, gas, a couple of extra items, & lunch at Wendy's. We enjoyed the trip. Even then, a few years before the internet became important, mail order sheet music catalogues were gaining in popularity as publishers went to direct sales, continuing online. Strangely, an old-fashioned sheet music store clings to life around the corner from me, in what is now a Colombian retail district. Although the street is more lively & prosperous now than it was when I first became aware of the music store (back then there was a large, used paperback bookstore nearby), it has no connection to the neighborhood except longevity. I don't know how the guy stays in business; maybe he knows every church choir director in three counties. He always wears a jacket & tie.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Pirates yo ho ho

We (& Capt. Phillips) were very lucky that everything turned out alright. But it will happen again, & the United States can't assign an entire fleet to protect individual ships sailing alone under our flag only. Arming merchant ships is also an invitation to tragedy. Dealing with Somalian pirates is in no way comparable to dealing with the government of a sovereign state. The pirates can't be negotiated into good behavior nor can they be bombed into submission or conquered by land invasion; the Somalia coastline is too large. Somalia has no government capable of restraining them. Maritime nations have to resolve to collectively protect the shipping lanes for a few years, convoying ships, & in effect starve them out of existence. Pirates could blow up an oil tanker & execute crews to demonstrate their power.

The United States won't solve the problem unilaterally by threatening pirates with missile cruisers & Navy SEAL sharpshooters. The task of the Obama adminstration is to find an international consensus for shared responsibilities, gain cooperation from shipping companies & insurance underwriters, & assemble a multinational fleet to act as a security force. Then the United Nations has to focus on Somalia, which has had no effective central government for two decades & is a place of incalculable suffering.


Send Chris Smith to Rome

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican is denying that it has rejected several candidates for U.S. ambassador to the Holy See because of their support for abortion rights.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Friday that he checked the reports in the American and Italian media and there is no truth to them.

The rumor is that Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg was being considered.

I'm throwing a name into the hat: Congressman Chris Smith, NJ-4. Roman Catholic, 100% right to life, Republican, not totally wingnutty, & he's been impossible to unseat in a district that has a good chance of going Democratic without him. Wins by landslides, but has resided in Virginia since 1983. After 28 years in congress, he might not enjoy being a lockstep "nay" guy when the current president is obviously a vast improvement over the previous one. Maybe he'd like a change of scenery. Heck, it's the Vatican. How many oil wells does the Pope have?


Sunday, April 12, 2009


Every Easter I get the crazy idea of going to church. In Rahway NJ it was Second Presbyterian, the town's only reliably liberal congregation, but like most mainline protestant churches hereabouts one that's been declining in membership for a long time. In Elizabeth, it would be Epworth Methodist, two long blocks away, the sole remaining UMC in the city, & a rather forlorn looking place - I've been inside for rummage sales & it was unpromising. In both churches, even on Easter you couldn't go & remain relatively anonymous, sit through the service, say hi to the pastor on the way out, & skeedaddle. It's hard to know how to dress, too. On ordinary Sundays, only African-American churches seem to encourage the kind of clothing that was de rigueur through my parents' generation. Except women's hats; black churches have always done hats better. On the few occasions I attended my sister's church, she insisted I wear a tie even though a lot of men went tieless. The tie was alright with me, I have no preferences. But do congregants still dress special for Easter? So I never go, it's too much of a social stretch. I'd have to attend an evangelical church or Catholic mass to be part of a crowd. You never know what the evangelicals will do - you might get people waving their arms & rolling in the aisles & a preacher railing against Darwin. Catholics just figure you're from out of town, & the service might be in Spanish.

I suppose the impulse is similar to going to the boardwalk. I have Jersey boardwalks so internalized that I can summon up the sights & sounds instantly in my mind (I did just by writing that sentence). I'm only reconnecting with memories of pleasant feelings, & I guard those feelings to keep them pleasant. I've had a few unpleasant experiences around boardwalks. But the boardwalks are still there. So are the churches.

I remember the Easter crowds at Community Methodist. They had to open up the folding doors to the side chapel to accommodate them. Who were all those people? The lilies spread across the church, along the communion railing, on the side tables, behind the pulpit, everywhere. Even my parents went to church on Easter. Everyone dressed up swell for the occasion, new suits & sports coats, bright colored dresses, hats both frilly & conservative. The great opening anthem, "Christ the Lord is Risen today!", the organist cranked it up, had all kinds of special transition fills between verses. Afterward, the long line past the pastor, the whole congregation wanted to exit his door. The milling around outside, had to show off the clothes & the kids. Everyone was nice to everyone else, & it was always springtime, early or later. Of course, in memory, I'm small & looking up at grownups, & there are strange men & women looking down at me & smiling, mister this & missus that, I had no idea who they were because, like my own parents, they rarely showed up for church, & I rarely saw the inside of the sanctuary myself, because I attended Sunday School, not worship services. Except on Easter & another springtime event called Children's Day when the service was geared to kids & had cutesy participatory stuff for the amusement of the adults. The day the very little children sang "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know." I had to do it. We all had to to do it. It was an embarrassing rite of passage & you had no choice but to get it over with, & if you were lucky you were so frozen with fear that the whole thing was a blur, as it was for me. I wasn't traumatized, so I guess that means I didn't burst out crying. The child who cried was part of the entertainment.

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Keansburg NJ

St. Ann's Church

"There is no proof of it; we can only choose to trust in it or not. But it is my story, and I'm sticking to it. As they say in Greek, Christos anesti! Anesti Christos!"
Pastor Dan Schultz, Salem United Church of Christ

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Blog Against Theocracy

This weekend is Blog Against Theocracy blogswarm. I recommend visiting the website. There are always good links to individual blogs.

I don't participate directly in the event. A number of my posts throughout the year are tagged with the theme, & I do a lot of commenting on the separation of church & state elsewhere. I also disagree with Blue Gal's timing. Many progressive Jews & Christians are focused on very important spiritual observances this week involving religious community & family, so it's probably the least convenient time to invite their participation. Although the BAT website says it is "not a blogswarm against religion," it does seem to skew in that direction because it loses articulate voices from the "faithful" left.

This week, I've been thinking about the rediscovery & resurgence of Christian heterodoxy, & how wonderful & organic that is, with the decline of creedal Christianity because it is no longer enforceable on any wide scale in Eurocentric culture. This process has been gaining presence for well over 100 years, but only recently begun to find community, inspired by the earliest forms of the Jesus Movement, before the "reforms" of Constantine narrowed what had been a broad spiritual path with many lovely expressions of Jesus' teachings. Perhaps that was necessary to insure the survival of the movement. But since the Reformation, & especially since the possibility of a real global community began emerging (theoretically, at least) in the mid-19th Century, a return to heterodoxy was inevitable, & it is this very natural impulse toward religious diversity, as much as secularism, that fundamentalism resents & resists.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Bleak Friday

I did not grow up in a religious home. Religion was at church.

I was grateful we weren't Catholic on Good Friday. It was just a day off from school. It was a big deal for my Catholic friends. Good Friday observances varied from family to family, but it was a serious day, & in some homes a very serious & somber day. They all went to church, a special liturgy. Beyond that, most of my Catholic friends were lucky if they were allowed out at all. Some homes were decorated for mourning, black drapes, black crepe around the framed picture of Jesus. Minimal talking, no joking, no playing. Meager supper.

When you think about what Christians believe happened on Good Friday, that's not so much. There are cultures where men flagellate themselves with barbed whips, & even have themselves nailed to crosses on Good Friday. Yes, nailed.

On Good Friday I always think about the practice of capital punishment; state execution. There's few crueler, more unjust examples of it than the passion story & Golgotha on Good Friday. We get an especially barbaric means of execution, crucifixion. The condemned died by asphyxiation - slow hanging. If he didn't die fast enough, if his legs kept him propped up, the executioners broke his legs. When he passed out, they stuck a spear in his side to see if he was dead. The execution was carried out in public, so the condemned was humiliated & served as a warning.

On Golgotha we find two thieves on crosses, one afraid & one bitter. We used to kill thieves in America, too. In the middle is a man being executed for - for what? He angered some influential, upper crust local leaders (nowadays they'd be self-righteous pastors, church deacons, & important Chamber of Commerce types) with peculiar behavior & wild claims. The Roman governor, a sophisticated man with some regard for Roman law, had never heard of him & didn't consider him a seditious threat to Imperial power or a criminal. But there was a spirit of unrest in the land, & if killing the troublesome guy would shut up the indigenous bosses it was no big deal to Pontius Pilate. Life was cheap in Judea. Pilate washes his hands of the matter, Jesus goes into the Roman execution routine - only the Roman occupiers were permitted to carry out death sentences. He gets knocked around, whipped, mocked, & forced to drag his own means of execution to the death site. He's just one more pathetic, condemned man to the tough Roman soldiers (probably local recruits), perhaps more passive than most. They all got the rough treatment.

The soldiers nail him up on the cross, he suffers terribly, he resists - he's a strong man, a man who had walked long distances & slept outdoors, who loved life & had led a rugged existence. But after awhile he surrenders & dies. His few remaining friends - several women, one disciple, & a couple of thoughtful men - take him down, clean him up, & put him in a borrowed tomb before Sabbath. & that's where the Good Friday story ends. Nobody figures he's coming back in any way, shape, form, or spirit. As far as they're concerned, he's dead.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Call any vegetable

Call any vegetable, call it by name
Call one today when you get off the train
Call any vegetable and the chances are good
The vegetable will respond to you
The Mothers of Invention

There are some serious vegetable gardens around here. If you live in an established neighborhood with backyards, you probably know a few. Two local gardens are in sideyards, so I see them start to come alive in early March or a warm day in late February when overnite the the soil is roughly turned over, preparations have moved outdoors. In fact, those gardeners are gardening year round. They organize the garden for maximum production, & I watch the various crops grow as the season progresses. One of the gardens includes cauliflower & broccoli. The other does a wide variety of peppers of many sizes, shapes & colors. Specialties. Beans running up fences. They grow enough of some vegetables for freezing or canning. The Obamas aren't garden people. Nobody in that family is into pulling around a little wagon filled with dirty garden tools, or fighting with muddy, leaky hose nozzles. The White House groundskeepers either resent having to care for a vegetable garden they can't consume, or they enjoy the change of pace from tending flowers & lawns.

A lot of folks are learning this year that starting a veggie garden from scratch is neither easy nor economical. Small gardens never pay off. The only reason to dabble is to have a few fresh easy-to-grow veggies for taste. At the same time you harvest a measly crop of string beans, dig up woody carrots twisted into lewd shapes, & lament the shrunken, wormy eggplants, those same veggies & more arrive at the Jersey Fresh farmer's market downtown, grown by real, professional Jersey truck farmers, who need our support. You might find little new potatoes & crunchy soy beans in the shell, also grown in Jersey (both tastily microwavable).

There are a few things worth growing, & fairly easy to cultivate. Tomatoes, of course, if no friends or relatives supply you with them when the bumper crop comes in. If there's a bumper crop. Leafy lettuces don't need much help once they're spaced out & weeded, & you can snip off leaves for salads & let the plants keep producing. If you like radishes, they're worthwhile because they taste incredible fresh, & leaves the beetles haven't found are spicy salad garnishes. Birds love sunflower seeds; grow a few sunflowers & dry the heads or just leave them on the stalks as natural feeders. & kids love pumpkins & gourds if you have the vine crawling space. But you can get miles of vine & leaves & nothing else. Don't let anyone talk you into planting raspberry bushes, you'll be sorry. They'll take over your yard & spew out hordes of mosquitoes at dusk.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

White Heat

White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson (2008) by Brenda Wineapple

New York Times review by Miranda Seymour.
The Nation review by Ange Mlinko.
This blogpost is not a review.

I like White Heat. I like the wily, unscrupulous, manipulative Dickinson of White Heat. I like her, & would have liked to have tried to correspond with her. Of course, she would have brushed me off as unworthy of her attention, thought the New England branch of my family beneath her, the kind of folks who played the fiddle at barn dances (they still are).

With Dickinson, I read & studied what was required in class, & later I read & enjoyed. She helped convince me that if I was going to insist upon ampersands & ambivalent cases, tenses, & punctuation, I ought to give the little 'zine editors a break & stick to the left margin. (archy the cockroach concurred.) The only poem I've written I might consider Dickinsonian has three short unrhymed four-line stanzas & is comprised entirely of quotes from Pearl Bailey. Had I written twenty more like it, I would now have a fine reputation for craft & wry humor.

Dickinson lived the way she did because she could. If leaving the secure haven of home made her anxious, if she was becoming agoraphobic, she didn't have to resist it. If her shyness made interacting with any but the most familiar people around her a painful encounter, if she was overly sensitized to spoken language, too inclined to hear unintended meanings, she would choose her company & communicate with others via letters & notes. She became very eccentric, to be sure. She also happened to be a genius. She certainly wasn't crazy. She pulled away from the world to keep from going crazy. She knew what was going on in the world, & she knew what it could do to her art & sanity.

Like Dickinson, I don't travel well, physically or socially. This is not unusual for writers, you don't have to be a genius. Genius is a darned good excuse.

If Emily Dickinson hadn't been a genius, she would have been merely a local eccentric ("The Myth" they called her while she was alive) & author of peculiar verse, perhaps even now a minor legend in the environs of Amherst. But she was a kind of genius & the great miracle is that she so desperately wanted to be one that she worked hard at it. If she hadn't reached out to & won over Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a popular writer & well-known advocate of progressive causes, decades might have passed before her poetry fully came to light, & much of her poetry may have been lost. Who would've successfully promoted her & turned her into a literary star within years of her death? Her sister? Her unhappy sister-in-law? Her brother's mistress?

We owe a lot to Higginson, he was basically a good guy. In the context of his era he was a fine writer & enlightened man. What's more, Higginson was able to stand apart from the bizarre dynamic of those three women, whose mutual devotion to Dickinson wasn't enough to make them trust each other. Each of them had a piece of Emily, & added together they didn't make a whole. Only Higginson, cautious as he was, understood that he was opening the door to the unadulterated Emily Dickinson, dashes & all, that she couldn't be watered down & cooled off in posterity. He took the long view, doing for Dickinson - when she could no longer object (sincerely or not) - what Walt Whitman did for himself. & while she was alive, he was her primary connection to the literary world of the day. After awhile she pretended he was the "Master," he pretended she was the "Student," when she was actually his High Priestess in her temple & he was the devotee. Emily frightened Thomas when he visited her, unnerved him. But he probably wasn't so surprised.. Who else was so immediately astonished by the apparent brilliance & newness of her poetry? Judge Otis Lord? He was the old fart Emily convinced herself she loved romantically after Higginson married a younger woman who apparently liked sex.

If we take Dickinson & Whitman as the two pole stars of American poetry in the 19th Century, we find that we can't follow either of them. They both have cultish admirers, & they both baffle. They magnetically attract & repel us. Their poetic "tricks" become predictable, their rhythms tedious. Emily's opposites & paradoxes, sung to the tune of "The Church's One Foundation.'" If we omit the dashes. But she produced more "good" poetry than Whitman, by certain standards of self-containment. Walt was constantly changing Leaves of Grass, trying to fix it, complete it, but only changing it. He had a grand scheme. By not publishing, Dickinson could put aside the concept of "finishing" a poem. Also a grand scheme, & a modern one in our culture.

They also represent the two poles of literary self-aggrandizement. Good poets are always getting nudged aside by the local Whitmans. Even the local Dickinsons are really Whitmans, with their small entourages & votaries at readings, sighing inside all the proper pauses like an Oprah studio audience.

At the height of her minor pop star fame around 1970, Diane Wakoski, a poet I love, went on the road & did something like 200 reading gigs in a year, earning less than a comparable folk singer. Read her poems & you know why she couldn't keep that up. What poets must do to establish & maintain even a modest reputation would make them well-to-do in just about any other endeavor. Emily Dickinson couldn't be Emily Dickinson now; she'd be diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder & medicated.

In conclusion - do I have one? Brenda Wineapple has written a marvelous dual biography, & it's an excellent way to read a large number of Dickinson's poems. The thought of Emily listening & perhaps approving while her brother Austin boinked Mabel Loomis Todd on the dining room table is priceless.

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What was it the Buddhist said?
There is winter
& then there is spring.
One doesn't become the other.
Today is winter, tomorrow will be spring.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Why not?

With the Iowa court decision & the Vermont legislature vote, it's been a good week for supporters of legal same sex marriage.

I have never heard an argument against same sex marriage that was not based on religion. Take away religion, & it becomes a matter of tradition & convention. Do we use tradition & convention to defend discrimination?

I was a gradualist, pragmatic on the issue. Domestic partnerships seemed to be the solution. Marriage was just a word. I believed marriage as a central societal concept was so degraded that it was hypocritical to claim the civil & moral aspects were inseparable. Still do. See Newt Gingrich. But from that view, I initially concluded it didn't matter what the equivalent collection of legal rights was called. I was wrong.

There were problems. The religionists resented & opposed having to acknowledge that homosexual relationships had any legitimacy at all. Now, some of them are creeping around to the idea that there's a right to have these relationships, to love who you love, & maybe some civil rights could be extended to them. The Rick Warren position. But he's so 1980's. Like needing to hear Ellen DeGeneres say, "Hey, I'm a lesbian." Because when gay people do that, you have to stop pretending they aren't gay. See her talk show? That's middle America now.

The generation born in the Reagan decade is all grown up. They don't care if gays get married. They hold the view earlier generations arrived at by asking "Why?" But the question is really a rhetorical "Why not?"

Take away religion & it's nuttin'. Can't argue against gay marriage from reason.
It's not murder. It's not theft. It's not even speeding in a 25 mph school zone.

A state here, a state there. Just a matter of time. America is growing up to it.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

A local tragedy

We've had a banner month for male rage:
Three dead in murder-suicide in Piscataway
A man who forced his way into the Piscataway home of his ex-girlfriend Sunday night fatally stabbed her and her friend before killing himself, authorities said today.

Andrew Krisinski, 44, repeatedly stabbed his ex-companion, Christa Wahler, 45, and Dennis Marko, 41, in Wahler's home on South Randolphville Road, Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan said in a joint statement with Piscataway police Chief Kevin Harris.

Walher and Krisinski had lived together for about 18 months, but separated when Wahler obtained a restraining order against him on Feb. 22. Court records show the order was dismissed March 10.

On Sunday, Wahler called police call at 10:09 p.m. Sunday to report Krisinski was attempting to break into her home, authorities said.

Within an hour, both Wahler and Krisinski had been pronounced dead at the house.
Report doesn't say how long it took police to respond. Too long, obviously.

They all had their "motives" - Krisinski, James Harrison, Poplawski, McLendon. Raghavan, Robert Stewart, Jiverly Wong. They were all one heartbreak, one broken shoelace away from going totally ballistic. They were all invisible except to those close to them. I've met these kinds of men, read their anonymous comments online. Maybe they refer to their ex-wives & girlfriends with vulgar, degrading language. Maybe they think politicians go to sleep every night & dream of how to screw them personally. Maybe the sound or sight of an unfamiliar or undesired, demonized other makes them cringe. Maybe they brag about their private arsenals. Maybe they hear black helicopters hovering overhead. They must have been swimming in reservoirs of bile long before the dam shattered. America produces these lunatics in abundance, whether they're born here or not. Rage is a human trait, & can be useful. But what happens when rage is enabled by a culture of rage - misogynist, bigoted, cynical, apocalyptic, nihilistic? Not just weeping Glenn Beck & shouting Limbaugh, our versions of mullahs counseling others (metaphorically, they claim) to strap on a bomb & reach for paradise. Poplawski lived it. His act was, he believed, political. But what of the others? Where did they come from?

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palm Sunday

Each Palm Sunday the youth choir was invited to join with the adult choir to belt out "The Palms" by Jean-Baptiste Faure:
O'er all the way, green palms and blossoms gay
Are strewn this day in festal preparation,
Where Jesus comes to wipe our tears away,
E'en now the throng to welcome Him prepare
Dunkin' Donuts 99 cent latte sale convinced me the same beverage is NOT worth $2.39.

After I go through the checkout line at ShopRite, I have to take all the items out of the yellow plastic bags - always double-bagged, place the food in my backpack, then hang the plastic bags back on the bag rack. Too much trouble to ask the cashier to bag em any other way.

Encounter with short Hispanic man who spoke not a word of English. He had a cellphone. First, he seemed to want to know where he was. El-Mora? Yes, Elmora. Then he wanted to know something about cafe Americano. I couldn't tell if he meant Dunkin' Donuts or some other place with that name. Then he asked about Elizabeth Ave. From where we were, it was a long way off. I could only give him general directions & try to describe the county courthouse, a landmark impossible to miss. We were both amused by our attempts to communicate, & I'm sure he was glad I didn't just brush him off a street after dark. But if he had talked to just about anyone but me, walked back a block to the Exxon station, odds are at least 50/50 that person would speak Spanish. What the odds on him being here legally? 1000 to 1?

Applause for South Florida winning the WNIT, & Louisville's furious 2nd half comeback to beat Oklahoma in WNCAA semifinal. For all the attention given the men's Big East this year, I thought the women's side of the conference was also the first or second strongest in the country, just that there was such a large gap between UConn & rest of the teams. Big 12 was overrated. Now Louisville plays UConn. Okie All-American Courtney Paris promised to play back her scholarship if the Sooners didn't win the championship. Bad precedent, but she can afford it when she signs her WNBA & endorsement deals.

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Plainsboro NJ

The Walker-Gordon Rotolactor

I went on a grammar school class trip to a big dairy farm, & it's a little fuzzy but I'm fairly certain this was the main attraction, I recall glass windows overlooking the milking area. If I was unimpressed, it was because I wasn't allowed near the cows. A few years later I got to stay at a real dairy farm with a barn, stalls, hayloft, & manure.

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Saturday, April 04, 2009


Roman police find sewer children

Italian police have found more than 100 immigrants, including 24 Afghan children, living in the sewer system beneath railway stations in Rome.

The children range in age from 10 to 15 years and are now being looked after by the city's social services.

They were found when the railway police followed up reports of children living near the city's stations.

The police say they do not speak Italian and broke into the sewers by removing manhole covers.
A nonsequitur. I was going to comment on an epidemic of mass murder. Does it make any difference if we know the murderer's motive? Anger at injustice actual or imagined; a drug deal gone bad; revenge on family, kill the father, the mother; the failures of God; the commands of God.

It is the sewer children we should fear. They are real, invisible, beneath our feet.

Friday, April 03, 2009


The final episode of ER aired last night. I forgot to watch. I meant to. That pretty much sums up my relationship with the show. I never watched it during the George Clooney/Dr. Ross era. Then I began watching late night weekend reruns. I may have picked up the show in primetime during season six or seven & followed it - though not faithfully - through season 11, when Dr. Carter & Dr. Elizabeth Corday left. I enjoyed Dr. Robert "Rocket" Romano, the insufferable, bigoted yet brilliant & oddly vulnerable surgeon whose tragic accident & decline (& death) became maybe the show's most bizarre minor storyline. But I skipped episodes. As a new ER staff took over I lost interest in learning new characters. As with M.A.S.H., there was too much sanctification of older characters. & because of how long it took the years of reruns to cycle through & pick up at the beginning, I never had a clear grasp of the backstories & the sequence of events & love affairs. When (in rerun) nurse Carol quit & went to Seattle to reunite with Dr. Ross, the whole bit was so fuzzy & romantic that I concluded she'd had a complete psychotic break & it had been a hallucination. They could've kept churning out episodes of ER for seasons to come. It was a gold mine for actors & writers on their way up or capping careers. The ER itself was terribly abused with explosions, fires, murders, crashes, hostage situations, epidemics, & radioactive leaks. It should be turned into an amusement park ride.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

From A to A

From A to Morris Ave, to Broad St.
Left on Jersey, clinic four blocks past Trinitas Jersey Ave Campus (now closed). See doctor. About 1 1/4 miles to this point.
Over to Elizabeth Ave. Up Elizabeth, stop in Salvation Army store, bought really nice flannel shirt for $4.
Continue to Main Library corner Elizabeth & Broad, checked out book of Chilean poems in translation, & bio about Emily Dickinson & Thomas Wentworth Higginson from new shelves. Crossed street to restroom in Dunkin Donuts. Decided next restroom too far to risk a latte.
Through downtown, left on West Grand. right on Chilton over old railroad bridge, paused to look at track bed & remember Jersey Central trains. Left on Westfield Ave to CVS, filled prescription. Up Stiles Street to Cherry. Home.

I was stupid, not seeing Dr. G since last fall. There's no one at the clinic to notice when I haven't showed up in awhile. No excuse today, the weather was too nice . I walked. A lot. Thursday is good day for "walk in" without an appointment. Bring a book, pick up the weekly sales flyers off someone's stoop.

The receptionist looked me up the 'puter & said my file had been closed. It's a very thick file, My therapist used to let me peek at it, the doctor doesn't. It's 75% standardized forms & paperwork. She said I'd have to fill out a a form & see a social worker. So I filled out the simple form. Check applicable boxes. I don't use cocaine or heroin or abuse alcohol, & if I smoked a little grass at a big party a year ago to be sociable I don't think that's any of their business. I handed in the form. A few minutes later a familiar, attractive social worker came in & said, "Robert? We know you. Doctor G. can see you as soon as he finds your file." Then she crumpled the form & threw it in the garbage. When she left, I fished it out & ripped it up. It had my SS# on it.

Dr. G gave me 20 minutes, a long time for him. I told him about the nurse I met at the supermarket who remembered me from the hospital 5 years ago. "Well," he said, " you're pretty articulate & educated ...." He probably didn't want to add, compared to the demented wife beating meth heads the courthouse sends me. I said I was stupid getting off the program of showing up at least every other month. I also said I thought I needed a therapist or group through the summer. They prefer groups at the clinic. Anyway, I've had my chance with a solo therapist. He fished around in a pile of papers on his desk & came up with a list of groups. From last October - groups are always changing. He suggested one therapist who ran a few different groups, said she was "sort of spiritual, you like that." Then another group that was mostly women & had been together for several years, rare for a group, so it was "like a family." That one didn't sound so promising. I asked if I could see the paper. The latter was run by an MSW, the former by a Ph.D. An MSW is usually grounded in practical stuff, excellent for advice, they have a good Rolodex & know how to use it, they're big on staying focused, & sometimes the client has to say, "Whoa, stop pushing, I gotta talk about this some more. " A Ph.D is fascinated by thought flow, & sometimes the client has to push them in order to deal with something now. Dr. G said he'd think about it, talk to some people, & I'd get a call. I said fine, but only afternoon groups, in the morning I'd bring coffee & not talk. Group leaders at the clinic do recruit members for their groups. I was recruited into one about six years ago, personally lobbied, in fact, my last experience, & it was fine until a large, angry woman prone to violence joined it, bullied everyone, & I told her she ought to be strapped to a gurney & shot full of thorazine.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

CBS pulls plug on Guiding Light

I thought this headline from Variety was an April Fool joke. It is not.
After 72 years and more than 15,700 episodes, “Guiding Light” will shine no more.

CBS informed the show’s cast and crew Wednesday that the long-running serial will be broadcast for the last time on Friday, Sept. 18.

Show’s demise reps the latest downsize to hit the once-vibrant daytime soap genre. “Guiding” consistently ranks at the bottom of the daytime ratings, and its demise isn’t a complete surprise.

Its ratings with younger viewers are so bad that it has no future, & when the producers slicked up the show's look, the older devotees didn't like it. I've been told that if you're really into the soap genre, you should learn Spanish.
Got lucky. Walked to library in a spritz, stayed that way while I was in Dunkin' watching the Obamas meet the Queen (who looked as pleased as a corgi with a bacon treat), but began pouring as I reached supermarket. A guy from my building was shopping & gave me a lift home. Like me, he lives quietly here. But when his girlfriend stays over, he has to go out into the hall for a smoke, which is where I usually encounter him.
Note to old friend now new friend on Facebook: Surely you know if you're friends with me, you can't just pronounce Marlene Dietrich "the greatest singer of all time" & leave it at that. I'm still a boss music guy.

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The Last Three Miles

Steven Hart, The Last Three Miles: Politics, Murder, and the Construction of America's First Superhighway (2007)

If you want to read a book on bridge design & construction, this ain't it. Steven Hart tells us what is necessary to the tale. But the Pulaski Skyway - obsolete from the day it opened to traffic in 1932 - provides Hart with an iconic landmark on which to base a superb, unflinching, unsentimental look at the long, harsh reign of Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague.

Past Jersey political bosses like Enoch "Nucky" Johnson of Atlantic City & Frank Hague of Jersey City are too often recalled with humor, nostalgia, & even affection. But their power was maintained through fear & brutality. They were gangsters. Johnson even felt it beneath him to run for office, preferring to control his city from a palatial suite in the Ritz-Carlton.* Where the affable & personally generous Johnson ran a wide-open island resort town - its sole business was entertainment - that offered every conceivable vice, for a price, & cops directed visitors to whorehouses & gambling joints, Hague's Jersey City was a large, tough railroad & port city, dissent suppressed by a fascistic police force & a network of spies & informers. Hague's roots were in the puritanical Jansenist Catholicism of poor Irish immigrants. What the two men had in common were a taste for expensive suits & a will to crush opponents by any means necessary. Hart reminds us that the "good works" Hague did were for power & profit, not the gestures of a progressive Rooseveltian Democrat.

The Last Three Miles is also the story of every major highway in Jersey; the Turnpike, Parkway, Expressway, the interstates, bulldozing through working class neighborhoods, splitting towns in half, destroying farms, woods, & wetlands, endlessly widening, enriching politically connected construction companies, banks, & large landowners. The never to be completed Route 18 extension in New Brunswick is currently filling the pockets of its planners' grandchildren, perhaps the most successful pork barrel highway project in Jersey history. The Skyway was the prototype. Accidentally inadequate due to the limited railroad experience of the designers - they had no other model, the Skyway demonstrated that a closed design without room for "improvement," was bad for future business.

The labor war that poisoned the building of the Skyway was waged on twisted principle; the added expense for union labor was nominal compared to what the builders spent to secure the construction sites for scab workers. Hague was anti-union - if he didn't control the union. But the Ironworkers boss, Teddy Brandle, was a power-hungry wheeler-dealer who predicted the style of the management-friendly fatcat union leaders to come after World War II, the ones who negotiated deals on country club golf courses.

Long ago, my rock & roll garage band was driving home from Hoboken, where we'd gone to eat the famous pizza & cruise the hundreds of pretty Italian girls on Washington St. We'd missed the Turnpike entrance & were on the Pulaski, five of us, all 17 or 18 years old, our lead guitarist driving his beloved Chevy. We were teenage rowdy, not drunk. Suddenly, the bass player sitting in a backseat threw his jacket over the driver's head. Why he did this is unexplainable. I was also in a backseat. As the driver yelled & struggled to remove the jacket, the car drifted to the right, then the left, across two narrow lanes, other cars swerving & honking. I was terrified. Two days later we had a band meeting & kicked out the bassist. He had been my friend since 2nd grade. His sin was that serious, tempting death on "Death Avenue."

Two quibbles: A map would have been helpful. & this baffling sentence gave me pause in the middle of the book: "As to which player had the best interests of the men at heart - Teddy Brandle or his National Erectors' Association opponents - that is a question for posterity." 75 years later is posterity. & the answer is Brandle, even though the best interests he had for his men were incidental to those he had for himself.

* Dean Martin would hustle the Gin Rummy crowd on the Ritz-Carlton patio when he & Jerry Lewis needed pocket money during their early 500 Club gigs.

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"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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