Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt: Some choices aren’t America’s to make

I'm no fan of Ross Douthat, but this rings true:
But history makes fools of us all. We make deals with dictators, and reap the whirlwind of terrorism. We promote democracy, and watch Islamists gain power from Iraq to Palestine. We leap into humanitarian interventions, and get bloodied in Somalia. We stay out, and watch genocide engulf Rwanda. We intervene in Afghanistan and then depart, and watch the Taliban take over. We intervene in Afghanistan and stay, and end up trapped there, with no end in sight.

Sooner or later, the theories always fail. The world is too complicated for them, and too tragic. History has its upward arcs, but most crises require weighing unknowns against unknowns, and choosing between competing evils.

The only comfort, as we watch Egyptians struggle for their country’s future, is that some choices aren’t America’s to make.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Keyport NJ

Raritan bayshore  town. Still has some charm.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

The Kill Switch

Egypt Flips Internet Kill Switch. Will the U.S.? by Dan Costa, PC Magazine

The legislation was first introduced last summer by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), and the former has promised to bring it to the floor again in 2011. It isn't called anything as obvious as the Internet Kill Switch, of course. It is called the "Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act." Who could be against that? Anyone who's watching the news on TV today, that's who.

The proposal calls for the Department of Homeland Security to establish and maintain a list of systems or assets that constitute critical cyber-infrastructure. The President would be able to be able to control those systems. He or she would have ability to turn them off. The kicker: none of this would be subject to judicial review. This is just a proposal, mind you, but it certainly warrants concern. Particularly given the heavy-handed example being provided by Egypt.

Reports of Egypt's grand disconnection came first from James Cowie of Renesys, a New Hampshire-based firm that tracks Internet Traffic. As he watched Egypt drop off the grid, Cowie wrote:

"Every Egyptian provider, every business, bank, Internet cafe, website, school, embassy, and government office that relied on the big four Egyptian ISPs for their Internet connectivity is now cut off from the rest of the world."

Keeping citizens off the Internet is becoming standard operating procedure during civil unrest. The Iranian government slowed Internet access to a crawl during last year's civil unrest, but the country online. Myanmar has a little more success blocking its citizens. Egypt's move, however, is unprecedented in its scope.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

 (about 6 a.m.)

This city getting some of the heaviest snowfall again in the New York area. Bands of snow coming in off the ocean, the center of the storm just south of here. It'll end in a couple of hours. It is heavy, wet snow, great for snowballs, bad for shoveling.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Storm over Asbury Park

Click pic for animation.

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State of the Union

Just read the transcript. I never watch the SOTU (sometimes the part before to see who the president schmoozes as he walks in). It's nice he's sort-of in his inspirational mode again. I've wondered where that guy went - it's why I voted for him. But my complaint too often is the same: How can one dream big dreams while pissing away The People's Money in wars waged not for national self-preservation, but mainly for the profits they generate through waste of lives & treasure we don't have the nerve to honestly examine?

How did I get on the Heritage Foundation mailing list? Large envelope in mailbox today with wasteful ten-page (printed on one side) appeal for membership.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Got the  diminutive African-African lady for city inspection today (anyone 4" shorter than me is diminutive). She likes to go through as quickly as possible. Makes sure the toilet flushes,  radiators have heat, & smoke alarm indicators are green, scans the ceilings for leaks & floors for tangles of cheap extension cords, & asks for any complaints. If I have 'em, I say so; violations get stuff fixed. I'm just one of her mild eccentrics; Lord knows what she sees elsewhere. Her comments today on the lousy weather: Since nobody wants to do anything about it getting crazier & crazier, might as well just get on knees & pray. & griped about nobody being neighborly anymore, folks in too much of a rush even after a blizzard (Because everybody including me complains about this as they get older, we must conclude the world was perfectly neighborly a few generations ago). She recalled the Blizzard of '96 as worse. I also thought it was, but we handled it with better humor.   She doesn't seem to care that I shut off my gas stove. I have electric cooking appliances all safely plugged in. I don't like gas & am especially wary of older stoves.

I didn't mention that I just ordered a Victor Electronic Mousetrap

Monday, January 24, 2011

When you're a Jet

New York is a baseball town.  We have no major college football here, & none of our three Big East basketball schools have done much lately. When the other professional teams aren't winning, baseball rules here from March to - usually -the Yankees post-season, & off-season news like trades & contract negotiations get lots of attention. Had The Jets missed the playoffs, sports pages & radio would now be turning toward baseball, serious hot stove talk, with an eye on The Knicks & Rangers. Ryan kept The Jets on the back - & often the front - pages of The Daily News & Post. That is a remarkable achievement. We haven't had so much trash talk & general weirdness since the '86 Mets. But those misfits won a memorable World Series.

As a team & brand, the Yankees have, over the past 15 years,  moved into class unto themselves. There's no parallel to their success.

The Giants, Knicks, & Rangers are storied, history-laden teams with  fiercely loyal fans. The latter two play in Madison Square Garden.

The New Jersey Devils &  New York Islanders, both of which have had their moments,  are actually suburban hockey teams, although the Devils are now in Newark NJ.

The Nets, originally The Americans, were an ABA franchise -  a good one -  that wandered from Jersey to Long Island & back to Jersey, & is now in Newark until an arena is built in Brooklyn. When they do move, they'll shed most of their Jersey fan base. They're in flux.

The NY Jets, formerly The Titans of the AFL,  came to Jersey from the Polo Grounds, then Shea Stadium. They share a stadium with The Giants &, except for the Joe Namath era have always been the second football team here. Their fans - a geographically diverse bunch -  have an inferiority complex. To understand why Rex Ryan has so many defenders, you have to understand this complex. Rex Ryan does.

Although I'm not an NFL fan, The Jets kept me amused until they became the sole focus of attention over recent weeks. I was most fascinated by wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, A soft-spoken native of Alabama out of North Carolina State,  articulate & intelligent. I've never heard anyone so consistent at substituting a "d" for "th" in the words the, these, those, there, them.  Den,  he  sounds like William Bendix playing da guy from Brooklyn in a fox hole in a World War Two movie - if Bendix also had a smooth, southern voice.

When the Giants made their improbable run to the Superbowl & Championship in 2008, nearly the entire New York area jumped on the bandwagon. I doubt that would've happened with The Jets had they won yesterday. I resented all the references to "magic carpet ride,"miracles," "star dust," "sports gods," etc. The Mets, by tradition & the example of their  two championship series, are the only team in New York requiring supernatural intervention.  They needed it as underdogs in '69 & as arrogant alpha dogs in '86. They pay dearly in other years for this rare other-worldly assistance. All the other local teams win on talent & the residue of design called "luck." The Jets had their two revenge wins over The Colts & Patriots, then went to Pittsburgh as if a game plan were sufficient without will, intensity, & hunger. They ran into a tough, experienced team, one that reminded me of the 2009 Phillies, reigning champs that swatted aside the Rockies & Dodgers before losing to the Yanks in 6 interesting games.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Montague NJ

Pioneer Grill

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Keith Olbermann


Nothing I'm reading really explains it. Keith has to explain it, & I think he will.

The guy is a big, profitable media star with a huge ego. He carried MSNBC for years. Being treated in such a subordinate, public manner by his bosses over a few campaign contributions - prohibited by contract, not by law - infuriated him. Comcast purchasing MSNBC brings with it a byzantine tangle of corporate relationships that include FOX. Keith may have felt increasingly trapped in his show's format & the part he was expected to play. He's now wealthy enough & famous enough to believe he has some career options.

When he looks at his right wing counterparts, he sees guys like Bill O'Reilly - numbingly shrill & repetitive, & Glenn Beck - whose demogogic over-reaching is losing audience & markets (including New York & Philly radio).

He might have looked at Rachel Maddow, with her generally calm demeanor & the intimate relationship she has with her viewers - the lovely smile that shifts ever-so-subtly into a smirk, & who isn't expected to produce mighty You Tube-ready sermons of moral indignation.

If Keith wanted to exact some revenge, denying MSNBC the ratings & ad revenue bonanza of "farewell shows" is a pretty good.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fifty Years Ago

I recall the comparisons with Eisenhower & Nixon; Kennedy's youth & vitality, good looks, TV presence, intellect. With a Republican dad setting the tone at home, Kennedy was not greeted with enthusiasm. JFK was a child of privilege, & Joseph Kennedy, Sr. had a terrible rep - there was no romanticizing him. The New Frontier & Camelot stuff didn't make much of an  impression on me. I disliked the folk music thing happening at the time - a lot of words & silly people playing banjos  Most rock & roll was pretty crappy. I wasn't looking forward to being a teenager.

The few years between Kennedy's Inauguration & assassination were  a period of transition for me - I  entered  puberty. & when I came though that passage, Kennedy was gone & the Beatles were here.

Despite television, rock & roll, baby boomers, the spread of suburbia, & the civil rights movement, 1960 probably wasn't all that different from 1950 for most middle-class Americans, & there was good reason to expect the Sixties would flow by in the same more-or-less orderly manner - just a torch being passed. By 1970, much about America was unrecognizable to me, I didn't like it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Regis retiring

Regis Philbin say he's retiring. From "Live with Regis and Kelly." But is he retiring from television? I used to tune in on occasion after Kelly joined, before she became anorexic. She always looked great right after she had babies. I learned about the first 9/11 attack when I turned on the TV just before 9 am to watch the show.

Camden Falling

Camden set to lay off police, firefighters

CAMDEN, New Jersey (Reuters) – The New Jersey city of Camden was to due lay off around a quarter of its workforce on Tuesday, including almost half its police, to close a $26.5 million budget deficit.

The impoverished south Jersey city, rated as one of the most dangerous in America, plans to fire 180 police, or 43 percent of the force; 67 firefighters, and 150 other workers to balance its budget.
Bad day for New Jersey. Even worse for residents of Camden & adjacent towns. The poor are the most victimized by crime.

Camden is a city in need of the radical downsizing proposed for Detroit; not the downsizing of services, but of the city itself. Whole neighborhoods abandoned & bulldozed (cleaned up & leased for urban farmland is the suggestion for Detroit), population concentrated. It won't happen as an orderly process. Probably the most cost-effective, long-term plan for Camden is to move people out of the place. Not that any other community would welcome them.

Comparisons with Hoboken or Jersey City don't hold. Hoboken is two sq miles in size, Camden 10 sq miles. Hoboken had a strong, prominently Italian-American working class population right up to the time the city gentrified. Jersey City is larger & still has grinding poverty. But both, along the waterfronts - so-called "Gold Coast" - are now part of New York City, extensions of Manhattan. Philadelphia is not Manhattan. Philadelphia isn't a magnet for the best, brightest, most ambitious, & most talented. There's no overflow from Philly, no demand for less expensive real estate across the river.

Even if the sliver of Camden along the Delaware became more than a collection of state-supported tourist attractions, it would have little effect upon the rest of the city. If affluent people resided there, they'd have to be fenced off  & guarded.

Camden isn't the most dangerous town in Jersey. That unsavory distinction belongs to, I think, Irvington.  Now like a beaten step-child of Newark, Irvington  has nothing to which it can hitch its future - not even a train station. Its tax base is gone; there's no reason to believe it's going anywhere but in the direction of Camden.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ten Other Things Martin Luther King Said

I was too young to understand what was meant by "prophetic voice." My middle class, all-white Methodist Church in Jersey didn't emphasize it in Sunday School or from the pulpit. Why risk making too strong a connection with the more comfortable, complacent inhabitants of ancient Israel & the contrarians they raised up in their midst?

I discovered the "prophetic voice" in American poetry & had to backtrack to the sources. The voice isn't always loud, preachy, & obvious. It can be subtle & enigmatic. It can make you squirm in your seat or make you want to stand up & walk away, hands clasped over ears.

Establishing a national holiday for Dr. King required making him seem less radical.  The religious right has tried to appropriate him, although that "movement" was galvanized by court decisions & federal policies regarding racist policies at Christian schools. Dr. King (like Robert Kennedy) was assassinated after he began speaking out against the Vietnam War & for economic justice.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Budd Lake NJ

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

How WFAN's Steve Somers is dooming The Jets

Boardwalk pizza (& food generally) is almost always overrated. You paid too much for it so it has to taste o.k. You're where you want to be when you eat it, & one magic of the boardwalk is that it quickly distracts you from your disappointments.

Now, to our main topic: Why Steve "The Schmoozer" Somers on WFAN will be responsible for The Jets losing to The Patriots tomorrow.

For a week now,  radio host Steve has been calling down the sports gods to curse The Patriots. But only one  team in New York  requires supernatural intervention to win, & that team is The Mets. On the very rare occasions the intervention has occurred, it was astonishing. It also required much careful ritual on the part of Mets fans, like not changing seats during rallies, the placement of magical souvenirs in proximity to the television, deciding which topics are Taboo during a game.

To call down a curse upon a team from Boston is an act worthy only of  Yankee fans - they wouldn't be satisfied with 9 future Hall Of Famers on the field  -  & triggers the karmic rule that whatever you send out returns three-fold. Teams & their fans curse themselves.

So when The Jets lose, blame Steve Somers.


Friday, January 14, 2011

The Mermen: Ocean Beach

Opportunity to use some photos from Point Pleasant Beach & Sandy Hook.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

N.J. lawmaker withdraws proposal to require license plates for bicycles

If the proposed bill had been enacted, riders or their parents would plunk down up to $10 a year to register them with the Division of Motor Vehicles. And anyone caught riding a bicycle without a license plate on public property could face a fine of up to $100 for each offense.
Like the DMV  needs more business.   Not really "news." The bill didn't have a chance of being passed. As it is, bikers don't get ticketed for riding on sidewalks, against traffic, & at night without lights & reflective devices. Nobody inspects bikes. Few towns are really bicycle-friendly. Special bike paths & trails are also a pedestrian paths.

Local registration programs are good. But they're mainly to help in recovering stolen bikes.

Aside from the idiots who ride junky bikes at night (on foot, you can sometimes hear them coming from their squeaks & rattles), only the bike clubs that meet in county parks bother me. Rahway River Park has a one mile, one way road lapping it, & a group of 20 or more bikers gathered there late every afternoon. After a few laps the bikers tended to stretch out, So when you wanted to cross the road , you waited for a break in the car & bike traffic, stepped into the road only to be nearly run down by a pedaling straggler. You had to fight an an urge  to kick at the bike, hopefully sending it & the rider careening down an incline, into the stinky pond.

The Tucson Memorial

Enjoyed President Obama's Tucson speech tonight (transcript). He was probably penciling changes all the way on the flight from D.C. QUite different from  two other fine post-tragedy speeches; President Reagan following the Challenger disaster & President Clinton after the Oklahoma bombing, All three were gentle, uplifting, & touched the right notes. I didn't even mind the image of the little girl jumping in puddles in heaven, the kind of easy sentiment that usually makes me cringe. But this speech was also to honor survivors & heroes, & needed to dance cautiously around the passions stirred up by the shootings. I appreciate that one of the issues being raised is the treatment of mental illness. These disturbed killers, with their incomprehensible reasoning & agendas, display their deteriorating mental states in advance to family & acquaintances, who don't know what do, because no crimes have yet been committed or perhaps even suggested.  Police, though concerned,   have no legal power or cause to intervene.

The college student audience was too exuberant.  A little more somberness & maybe sobriety was in order - the place sounded like beer concessions  were open,  but the President, as an invited guest,  had no control over that.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

typical Jersey snowfall

We had a typical Jersey snowfall last night, amount didn't matter. The city had two noisy plows running every 15 minutes on the two streets here that didn't need more plowing. Which doesn't explain why one plow couldn't make two passes during the blizzard two weeks ago. Maybe the city just can't cope well with a 30" blizzard the day after Christmas. The blizzard exposed serious deficiencies in planning for & quickly getting up to speed in emergency services: good plowing on main roads, at least adequate plowing on side streets. Blizzards need their own plans. A lot of towns, counties, & maybe even the state probably bogged down because they put their regular snow plans into effect & couldn't adjust & re-prioritize as the severity of the storm became obvious. The legit complaint is that the Dec 26/27 storm was forecast for blizzard conditions plus locally extreme snowfall amounts - it wasn't the usual semi-accurate National Weather Service watches & warnings being ratcheted up into weather hysteria by media, which occurs here all the time. Last night, at midnight, radar was already showing the well-defined back edge of the storm would clear Jersey by sun up. There was nothing behind it.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sister Jean Webster

Sister Jean Webster, the Atlantic City resident who made it her life’s mission to feed the hungry, died Monday afternoon at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus. She had turned 76 on Friday.

Webster had been feeding the hungry for about 25 years, first from her modest home on Indiana Avenue and later from the First Presbyterian Church, which shares a facility with the Victory Deliverance Church, where she was a member. She received national recognition for her efforts.

“My mother was full of compassion for the people,” said her daughter, Cecilia Woodard, pastor of Win International Ministries in Meridian, Miss. “She called them her guests. They were not homeless, they were her guests, and right up to the end, she was concerned about her guests.
Press of Atlantic City
Extraordinary soul. Her kitchen feeds  as many as 400 each day, Monday to Friday. Photographer Noah Addis has a Sister Jean's Kitchen photo series at Corbis. Photographer Joel Gordon also has a Sister Jean's kitchen photo series.

Such single-minded commitment to alleviating one kind of suffering, one day at a time, meal-by-meal. Certainly, early on, people were telling her (I probably would've been one) she couldn't go on trying to  feed all comers out of her own home, breaking city codes & no doubt driving some of her neighbors crazy. I suspect she was not an easy person to be around, that she just said to help her or get out of her way. There's a similar woman in Elizabeth, a nun compelled  to do something about homelessness, & she got started in much the same way, & eventually had to get herself organized.

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You know a bad snowstorm is coming when the weather forecasts won't give you a reasonable estimate of how much. 6" to 20" inches? Come on! What kind of forecast is that? It's not even science. It's  shaking a Magic 8 Ball.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A gun target symbol is not something else

Political language - rhetoric - is generally awful. Think of how few really articulate, inspiring presidents we've had, who knew how to use language. I've written that John Kennedy was the most recent president who really understood metaphor & was a great speaker (Carter understands it, Reagan used it well but unsubtly). For a lot of Americans, a  gun target symbol is a gun target, not something else.  It does not signify something else. It is not pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.

Most of the 20th Century in the United States was notable for the absence of noxious language in our mainstream politics. In Lincoln's time, language was incredibly foul, violent, & incendiary. Lincoln didn't discourage his supporters' use of it. He simply refused to indulge in it himself. When necessary, he denied that it represented his views. 20th Century America didn't lack demagogic media characters & politicians.  But journalistic standards improved & congress was relatively civil.

On the other hand, we haven't the patience for the kind of lengthy, detailed debates organized by Lincoln & Stephen Douglas, or for speeches that fully explain a politician's views.

A direct cause & effect cannot be drawn between right wing talk radio or Sarah Palin's gun-love & the Arizona shootings. The talk show hosts have plenty of deniability. But one nationally-broadcast host can hardly utter the word "liberals" without placing the word "disgusting" in front of it. His shows are word-streams of casual vileness, & violent words, & he assumes the vast majority of his listeners agree with him. Over & over he repeats the word "facts" - everything he says is a fact. That liberals are disgusting is a fact, period, no argument. What's to argue?

I reside in one of the most liberal radio markets in America & I can't find a liberal talk show host on the AM dial. It can only be worse elsewhere, where fundamentalist religious broadcasting is added.

Our major local newspaper, The Star-Ledger, no longer has the staff or resources to fully report the news. Weekend reporting seems to consist of a single person sitting at a keyboard while monitoring The Associated Press & Newark emergency services radio transmissions. When the bare bones of a news story are reported online, bigoted, anonymous comments fill in the "facts." There's no reporter in the field asking questions.

I knew someone able to speak civilly, even kindly, of Bill Clinton & Al Gore. She was no great fan of George W. Bush. She was sensitive about environmentalism & slowly moderating her views on gay rights. But she loathes Barack Obama & now sounds like an obsessed "birther." Why she so hates Obama is puzzlement unless I attribute it to a barely suppressed racial bigotry she is now allowed to focus on a single symbolic black man with real power. The right licenses her vitriol.

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

“Go up to Gilead and take balm...” Jeremiah 46:11

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.

Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.

If you can’t preach like Peter,
If you can’t pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

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Bayonne NJ

Open Air Theater, Melville Park

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Saturday, January 08, 2011


Here's one of the  election graphics that was hastily "scrubbed" from many right wing websites today. Palin herself says she didn't intend them as crosshair targets.   May well be the shooter was psychotic, a paranoid stew of extreme, contradictory political views. Can those types really be stopped? But  crazies tune into prevailing attitudes & take them as permissions. Outrageously loose, violent & vulgar language is common now. Violent images & rhetoric are acceptable on the right the way they never are with liberals; it's one of the reasons liberals are considered "wusses" by the right. The right empowers a rhetoric of violence. Even at Kos website, the fringe characters stand out. On the right, you have to sound like a sloganeering lunatic before anyone will listen to you. So a real lunatic feels at home on the right, among ordinary folks with their posters comparing Obama to both Hitler & Stalin.

Friday, January 07, 2011

It's a Raggy Waltz

George Wright on Wurlitzer pipe organ.


Thursday, January 06, 2011

Oy. Looking for a printer/scanner in $100 range.  Comparing is such a drag, compounded by the fact that most buyers  who bother to post user reviews hate their printers, all makes & models, even the ones highly-rated on tech sites.

I know what I want. 90% plus of my printing is b&w text, so I need REAL BLACK in final copies, not gray, with black ink in XL refills. Don't mix those damned color cartridges in so they run out faster. Bad enough most books now are printed in gray (compare an old book with new one).

Professional reviews are suspect anyway, helpful if you remember the reviewers don't actually rely on the machines.   Years ago I bought a very highly-rated Okidata b&w LCD printer. Great home use substitute for laser, they all wrote, cartridges pricey but very low cost per copy.  It worked beautifully for about two months. Jammed easily.  The expensive image drum went bad before the cartridge ran out.  That's why I read user-reviews that begin, "I've had this printer for two weeks and....." they go on with a litany of honest complaints like constant jamming, eating up ink, murky text print.  The same printer the geek reviewers set  up at the office, used   for an hour,  mesmerized by the bells & whistles.  "A bit noisy" they write,  "otherwise excellent, as good as more expensive printers."  Yeah, sure.  I'm tempted to buy whatever is on sale for $50 at CVS drugstore, or maybe Shoprite, which was selling large screen HD TVs before Christmas.

The Chartmakers

The meaning of their gifts was
the tenderness with which they gave.
They gave their sadness also,
knowing his short life,
yet they traveled so far.

Their hearts were filled in return
with wonder, astonishment, love!
They were more than satisfied.
So they led their camels over the hills
by another way, back to the stars.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Repugs take over the House of Reps today. But to put a somewhat positive spin on it, the  several dozen loud, yappin' crazies amongst the new ones could well be  paving the way for the reelection of President Obama. & there's no reason to believe the Repug leadership is any less avaricious then they were the last time  they ran the House. After  four years out of power, those puppets  owe an awful lot of payback to their K Street  masters. The  earmarks we hate are the ones you get.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Cab driver

I recognized the cab driver.  The "I Love Jesus" thing hanging from the rear view, Bloomberg radio station blaring financial news on the radio. & he still hadn't learned the best route for getting from there to here at 3:30 PM. So we crawled through the streets around downtown Elizabeth as he made little grunts of annoyance at the long traffic lights & school buses delivering kids at every corner.   Smart  cabbies  know all the options, & options within options.  But I knew it was getting late in  his 12 hour shift, so I gave him an extra buck anyway.
I'm starting to wonder if one of my Facebook friends might be a fictitious creation with perfect hubby, wonderful kids, great job, beautiful home, complete with faked pix. Every real person posts a bad day in their status once-in-awhile.

I "defriended" two people. One was  popular artist whose work I love, but he has nearly 5000 friends & posts too much.  I was automatically notified of the other person's birthday, went to write greetings on his wall &, saw he never posted anything & couldn't recall why I even "knew" him.


Monday, January 03, 2011

He was a friend of my older brothers

He was a friend of my older brothers, hung around the house, I didn't know him well. In fact, he was pretty annoying back then because he was a big  guy who never cut me any slack in the casual, all-ages touch football games we played in the street. But clearly he was curious about the location & mental state of my oldest brother, who is not inclined to acknowledge much less exchange Christmas cards. "I'm sure you made him smile," I wrote. I also wrote, in brief, a couple of anecdotes, about my brother's lifelong patterns of behavior & the sorry state I found him in 8 years ago & was helpless to alleviate.  What help I could offer, my brother wouldn't accept.

"I'm a poet," I wrote, "we deal in memories." Which isn't true. There are great  poets that never reference personal experience in their art.  My own poems, so far as they are appreciated,  aren't known for  probing, autobiographical  insights they don't contain,  but  for their variety of topics & how I end them, my "dismounts."

I learned long ago that myself & three siblings have very different memories & interpretations of people & events.  All siblings do. But these vary more widely for us because we are all Adult Children of an Alcoholic, & only two of the four acknowledge  it is true & accept what it means. I also believe my oldest brother has two layers of PTSD, one from childhood & the other from Vietnam. The latter derailed him from dealing with the former. He needed more time to grow up.  Because of the draft & its system of deferments, Vietnam was selective in who it ruined. If you skipped college  or dropped out to think things over, you had make up your mind about that war, & do it fast. The first, painful choice -  you had to set aside your parents  WWII memories to make a decision, My brother was drafted before the lies were exposed &  anti-war feelings took hold in our part of the middle class. Subsequently, to protect his own hard experiences in a losing cause (being "shit-scared for a year" is how I put it). my brother concluded we could have won the war. I still disagree.  Now I feel the same way about Afghanistan. I've felt that way about every war since Vietnam except The Falklands, which I considered worth fighting over only as a British favor to the Argentine people, to discredit & undermine a military-fascist government that had been torturing &  "disappearing" thousands of their own citizens.

My "poetic" sense of memory coexists with the historical, supposedly more "objective"  sense I osmosed from my dad. His method  - which was then rarely used by academics - was to recreate historical conditions as much was possible, & re-imagine events from the ground up. But the intellectuals were beginning to catch on. The movie Patton, which I watched again in part yesterday, incorporates this kind of thinking. Patton may have known more "book" history than any other field commander in WWII. But for  decades, as a hobby & for self-education, he had been walking himself through history's great battles on the very terrain they were fought. That was how my dad studied war, although he never fought in one. Considering how he thought, I was baffled that he never projected his insights on Vietnam & came to the same conclusions I  had. Nationalist hubris  trumped reason. It still does.

A family is a battleground of competing "scripts," with one entrenched, dominant script, an intertwining  of maternal & paternal heritages two or three generations old.  All four siblings in my family have them. but I'm the only one who routinely put mine in writing.  I favor the paternal script, the Catholic side. My sister, while she personally prefers our dad, mainly uses the maternal, protestant one.  I claim accuracy only in the broadest details, in poems, letters & diaries, not all of which I have anymore. I burned a large cache of letters over 20 years ago, in a fireplace in Wheeler Park, Linden, NJ. Those letters were to & from a former girlfriend in the early Seventies, while she was away at school (I usually carbon copied my typed letters, she hand wrote, often late at night when she was exhausted & unburdening herself with brutal emotional honesty). The letters documented not only my own screwed-upness, but also my mother's worsening alcoholism, my oldest brother's increasingly strange behavior, & my sister's shaky first marriage. Later lengthy letters to & from poet David Cope, with  few family details & lots of  literary chitchat,  are  deposited in the University of Michigan library storerooms, unlikely to pique any scholar's interest. My typed journals are obsessively about me, interesting only for also being scrapbooks of newspaper clippings & concert stubs. My many small hand written notebooks are unreadable  even to me, mostly scrawled WFMU music sets, grocery shopping lists I forgot to tear our & bring to the supermarket,  & poem "prompts."

I reassured my brother's old friend that he was safe & well-provided for. A harmless soul, a high intelligence that never found creative outlets.  I'll never understand why.  I read through his library, listened to his records,  & they became part of my early education in the arts.    His current friends, underclass retirees,  probably consider him quite special.

I wrote, "He needed the kind of tight embrace our family didn't provide, where someone is not permitted to escape."


Sunday, January 02, 2011

Entertaining angels

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Hebrews 13:2
We don't know who wrote this down;  it must have been a common saying long before the author appropriated it. There was a "code" of hospitality in much of the  pagan world.  But angels are another matter. The Jews had been entertaining them for centuries. Jacob wrestled one to a standoff, & the angel had to "cheat" to get loose.

Our opportunities for hospitality occur most often outside our homes. I'm not by habit a person who looks for those opportunities, not out of deliberate indifference but because I'm usually wrapped up in my own thoughts. But I believe in what Carl Jung called synchronicity: "...the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner. To count as synchronicity, the events should be unlikely to occur together by chance." I'm inclined to allow "chance" a greater role. One may see the synchronicity only by letting the chance encounter unfold.

 My patron saint, Martin of Tours, has such an encounter, with a coatless beggar. 

I have been served by angels. All of them were human. Only one had an other-worldly quality. Met him toward the end of a cross-country bus trip, in upstate New York, when my girlfriend & I were financially tapped out & concerned we wouldn't eat anything until we reached a friend expecting us in Bar Harbor, Maine.  We asked him for nothing. He sized us up & just happened to be carrying a large shopping bag of goodies from a Trader Joe's kind of store. He got on the bus in Rochester & was dressed  in black, wore a straw boater kind of hat, & departed the bus the middle of the night somewhere around Syracuse.

The problem with serving as an "angel" is that one might have to approach what one finds repulsive, whatever qualifies as the "leper" to us. Repulsive is not the same as vulgar. I find vulgarity everywhere. Sometimes it amuses.  I enjoy it on a boardwalk or at a traveling summer carnival, dislike it in downtown Elizabeth, & when used too often & too casually in speech. Repulsive is something else.

Wildwood NJ

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Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year


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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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