Tuesday, February 27, 2018

If Truth Be Told


I asked a man in prison once how he had happened to be there. He said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator.   Mother Jones


By latest count fifty-one members of Congress will call it quits in November, most of them Republican. They have done the indefensible, allowing a man to subvert our democracy. As in Nazi Germany they have un-caged the beast. If we’re lucky they will get book deals and tell all. A book, said Kafka, is the axe that breaks the frozen sea within. And for these guys there is much ice to be axed. Lies have a way of clotting one’s bloodflow that feeds the mind and the heart.

If they are not still on the take they may even start squealing in their waning days. Free from their puppeteers the ring of truth can occasionally be heard. It didn’t take John Boehner very long to spill the beans. After he left as Speaker of the House he was asked how he dealt with all the sniping within his own Republican party. He replied that garbage men soon learn to put up with the smell of garbage.

John McCain, in his decline, speaks like a maverick … now and then. At least in his rhetoric he calls for a more bi-partisan approach which is tantamount to heresy in today’s polarized climate. Jeff Flake, his colleague, having announced his own departure went so far as to write a check for his own Party’s opponent in the Alabama race.

Truth-telling is something we’ve grown not to expect from Republicans, particularly what emanates from the executive branch. In-your-face, frontal lying has become the norm. Donald’s truth is to be found in the diametrical opposite of what he says. When he proclaimed that he won by a landslide it meant that he lost by a landslide but got elected by the fluke of a senseless, antiquated Electoral College. When he now claims that he would have confronted the Florida shooter the truth is that he ran away from such an armed man in an incident years ago.

On a good day we may get anything from mere spinning or obfuscation to laying the blame for everything on Obama. I’d love to be a fly in his confessional booth.

A man like our inspirational leader who lies to himself begins to believe his own lies. He is then unable to recognize truth either in himself or anyone else. So said Dostoyevsky. 

Trump would do well to read Crime and Punishment or at least listen to the Mikado (Mueller) whose object so sublime / I shall achieve in time / is to have the punishment fit the crime, the punishment fit the crime. We’re not in Titipu or Oz any more, Toto, we’re back in Kansas…and Washington. Truth will out.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Daily Miracle


It happens every morning between 10 AM and 11 AM. A white paper comes flying out of the printer like some gull swooping. Peggy has written her daily poem. From out of the newspaper, scraps of a dream (up so floating), a memory (many spells down), a word or idea out of our breakfast conversation, or something seen from the window and lifted: a garbage truck, dog-walker or nesting dove. She transforms the base material of life, alchemically, to poetry. My constant amaze!

Robert Graves describes poetry as a visitation by the muse; what he calls the White Goddess from the moon rather than the Apollonian Sun God. He suggests a kind of trance. One with an inner-critic present to hone the craft. It is not willed but received. Not rhetoric however elevated but words and images allowed to mingle, merge and be reordered. There is a suspension of time. One writes as if in another dimension.

I’m not so sure I subscribe to the Graves construct. I see it more as a deep focus with both hemispheres of the brain in some sort of improvised tango. As for sources of inspiration I leave that as a happy mystery. Just as Peggy brings together disparate images in her poems so too does she call upon widely different voices resounding in her head. I can’t think of two poets further apart than the corporate insurance man from Connecticut and the revolutionary from Spain. Wallace Stevens say hello to Garcia Lorca. She regards both as mentors.

I’ve been there now and then for brief glimpses. To write as Peggy does every day is to live metaphorically on that plane. To breathe that rarefied air yet with her feet on the ground. It is not only a way of seeing and saying; it’s a way of being, how she lives each day.  Her antennae are on alert at the ready for a divine reception. She writes with urgency of the immediate. She halts the clock, notices, listens, finds connectivity and re-frames the picture with leaps of language. The world is met and reconfigured, not wrestled into submission but released as what happens when falling in love.

Her emotional inner life (inscape) is profoundly engaged with the geopolitical landscape to compose its own rhythms and unexpected couplings. It is as if images enter by the back door or even through the walls. 

In the hum of murmations / every bend adjusts astonished air. / Clouds contort, these mindless wheels / in the world without allegiance / Horses, round-rumped, dare me / to look away.

In the past five years Peggy has had about 140 poems accepted for publication in literary magazines. Her work appears in six continents (none in Antarctica, so far). Approaching her 97th birthday she is still in her prime…and that’s not the only reason I married her.

What continues cannot stay the past. / Each moment you and I must leave the static, / arrive at all the free wind / brings unlike the last. / Only spacious spirit reaches each to each / in a longing on and on.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Winter Olympics Seen


I watch these Winter Games, off and on, and it never fails to raise my hackles… wherever hackles might be. Two years from now I’ll feel the same way about the Summer Games. There is something unnatural about the events. It’s the precision, the exactitude, slavishness to the clock, the scale and the rigidity of the straight line. There are no straight lines in Nature. Think trees and rocks. It’s enough that we hang our pictures level and have to look at rectilinear cereal boxes and boring buildings.  

Why punish the body to fit the ideal?  I want to scream, bring on the Deviationist, the Revisionist! Why does a young person train 12 hours a day for years and return home in disgrace having been nosed out by four-one-hundreds of a second? Why must we quantify mastery of the body? Is life and death a matter of calibration? Does a wobble or a bobble signify the measure of a person?  I raise my glass to messy humanity. And how is it a nation of gifted and devoted athletes can bring their resources and passion to excel but cannot find the will or concern to serve their homeless and disadvantaged citizens?

I watch and they all look wonderful. I still can’t tell a toe-loop from an axel from a Salchow. They spin, they split, they soar and sometimes they spill. So what? They are artists with abs and pecs. Artists shouldn’t be in competition and be scored. Did we give a numerical rating to Nureyev, Ulanova or Baryshnikov? I hope not. Virginia Wolff declined an O.B.E. reminding the committee that mother taught her never to accept candy from strangers.

Of all the measurements of speed, endurance and accuracy the least defensible has to be the Biathlon which combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. After the spate of massacres we have endured one wonders how the hell this para-military exercise is to be prized and honored.

The spirit of comraderie at the opening soon gives way to Nationalism for flag and anthem. The map of the world is itself a construct of dividing lines, some perpendicular, mostly jagged but all artificial. Athletes train and even live in one country and compete for another. In fact, each event is its own universe.

Celebrate them all and skip to the closing ceremony. Melt the medals. The winners are those who made new friendships, who found kindred spirits in distant lands, embraced their rivals; for everything beyond the judges hyper-critical scrutiny.

After a couple of hours I can feel the Bulgarian judge over my shoulder scoring the way I tie my shoes or cut the morning melon into lop-sided quadrants. Next event: Tooth Brushing.

I’m done now with five minute eggs. In protest I’m going to make them scrambled and probably burn the toast just because.

That was my slalom down the white page. Here’s comes my wobble-bobble……….

So why do I watch? Fair question. Possibly because the whole enterprise is of no consequence and I have a penchant for such matters. I’m a sucker for the tension. It stirs my reptilian brain. I love rooting for Norway (named after me) or Lichtenstein (we went there for lunch and their museum of stamps). I get juiced by the back-stories. By the craziness of the decimal points. It could be that friendly competition is a far better way to sublimate aggression than a shooting war.....but a food fight would do just as well. Those arctic winds and what obstacles we humans put in our way to test our threshold of punishment.... which includes watching the spectacle.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ill-Wind and the Gust

I can think of a dozen reasons, off the top of my head, why to despise and fear that man in the oval room. But what is on the top of His head is the least loathsome thing about him. Yet a funny thing happened, last week, on his way to the gentle breezes of Mar-a-Lago. A mischievous gust of wind swept away his cover-up to reveal his bald-face lies.

My mother, in her infinite wisdom, could read the mysteries of air. She could tell the ill-wind that caused my whooping cough, mumps and even scarlet fever from that benevolent, reinvigorating fresh air which swept away the forces of malevolence.

That revelatory blast of air which parted Donald’s ample hair, like the red sea, has stirred a national debate whether he has had scalp reduction surgery, transplant or a world-class wig. If the former one wonders if something else was reduced in the procedure. No president has worn a wig since James Monroe and the three preceding him. I don’t subscribe to any of the above choices. I think he is wearing his own bumper crop which has been encouraged to grow, willy-nilly, like unfettered capitalism.

The Greeks had a reverence for the winds. Not just any old wind. They named them. A north wind was attributed to Boreas and the west wind to Zephyrus. Favorable flow moved their ships; still air kept them in port which got cursed Agamemnon in so much trouble.

So it was that this zephyr, in one fell swoop, came along to accomplish, metaphorically, what Robert Mueller has been laboring over since last June. It blew away his other-worldly, highly coiffed, nearly-orange, daily-mowed comb-over. As if we didn’t already know it, the gust displayed his vanity and ruffled his peacock crown. It was as if Hitler’s fake mustache had blown away. Of course there is nothing wrong with bald.

We have just one bald president and he ran and won twice against his bald opponent. No one could say Ike’s victory was by a hair. Adlai Stevenson was smeared as being an egg-head but, somehow, Dwight Eisenhower’s head was more round than oval. And out of that head came his cautionary farewell speech warning against abuses by the Military–Industrial Complex. Adlai couldn’t have said it better. But I’ll never forget his quip upon an ordination by Norman Vincent Peale when he said, I find the apostle Peale appalling but the apostle Paul appealing.

Never could such quickness of mind be attributed to Donald. Our current White House resident, with his lame incoherence, seems to have found the perfect balance between arrogance, ignorance and malice. No matter the crop on top, his amber waves of grain are insufficient to distract us from the pseudo-majesty which lies beneath. Would that a godly gust from Olympus grant us a make-over or just whisk him and his miasma away.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

February Fourteenth

Love Day. What a concept! To set aside a time to declare our love out loud. Yes, I know it is a promotion from Hallmark, chocolatiers and the flower industry but still... Love is the opposite of death. With all the noxious air expelled from Washington and Fox News, all the insults, abuse, saber-rattling, nonsensical parade, indifference to asylum-seekers and general cynicism…….love, in all its permutations, is the answer no matter the question.

Call me a romantic. The word is well-traveled, even a bit exhausted after such a long and labyrinthine journey. Before it meant junk novels and date flicks it referenced, not quite the Latin language as one would have expected, but the vernacular tongue of those countries adjacent to Rome. The suffix, tic, made it Vulgate (colloquial), a step down from the Latin. Over time it was absorbed into its motherland and languages such as Italian, Spanish, Romanian and French were designated as Romantic.
In the 17th century the word became a literary term describing tales of chivalry. Unlike liturgical writing or other matters of gravitas which remained stuck in Latin, the stories of knights and damsels in distress were relegated to the more common speech or romantic language.

 A frog he would a-wooing go, mm mm, mm mm
             A frog he would a wooing go,
Whether his mother would let him or no, mm mm, mm mm.

The frog and the mouse they went to France mm mm, mm  mm
             A frog and a mouse they went to France
And this is the end of my romance, mm, mm, mm, mm

By 1800 the Romantic Movement was regarded as an assertion of Individualism as a reaction to the growing Industrialization which had littlepatience for eccentricities or dissent. Wordsworth described Romantic poetry as a spontaneous expression of emotions recollected in tranquility. He became rich and irrelevant while others died too young, Keats (25), Shelley (30) and Byron (36). The latter two lived defiant, Libertine lives thumbing their several nostrils at the conventions of British society. What may sound like flights of fancy to our ears was revolutionary in its day.


Romantics today are folks you might expect to find smelling the flowers, preparing a Valentine dinner with candlelight and violins…. or writing poetry and blogs.

My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Unphotographable
Yet you're my favorite work of art

But don't change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is Valentines Day.   *

I’m happy to keep the romantic legacy alive with its roots in the low-born, common tongue, idiosyncratic and openhearted with the imagination given full sway. That allows me to be mad about Peggy, crazy in love.

And I ain’t no fool for love songs
That whisper in my ears.
Still crazy after all these years.
Oh still crazy after all these years  **


·           *     My Funny Valentine, Rogers and Hart, from Babes In Arms,     1937

** Still Crazy After All These Years, Paul Simon, 1975

Monday, February 5, 2018

Big

Big Business. Big Game. Big Mouth. What’s the Big Idea?  Small word, big thoughts. We get the idea and we love / hate big targets like Big Pharma and Big Government.

The concepts are so big we don’t know what to make of them. Our brains are too small. We tend to conflate conspiracies with pharmaceutical companies instead of evidence-based Science and bureaucracy with government rather than an institution designed to serve the people.

During my fifty-three years as a pharmacist I witnessed more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies, including Squibb, Upjohn, Schering, Lederle, Wyeth and Parke-Davis swallowed by larger conglomerates. Big fish got bigger raking in billions of dollars with me-too drugs, patent shenanigans, data distortion and physician inducements. Research continues to be tilted or withheld. Marketing inflated. Unconscionable profits.

And yet…

The products brought to market are largely the result of rigorous FDA measures including peer-reviewed science after extensive regulatory procedures with double-blind studies including a wide population, special care given for age, demography, race etc… None of this can be said of the other  small b-- pharma establishment of homeopathy, herbs, nutritional supplements and all the shelves of remedies based on anecdotes, testimonials, superstition and old-wives tales (bubbe-meise). It thrives on false hope and nostrums in which the wish is father to the thought.  

The fact is most ailments including rashes, eruptions, mood-swings, inflammations, respiratory symptoms etc.. are self-healing or episodic. Any substance which has a therapeutic effect will necessarily also have side effects and contra-indications. Symptoms come and go. The mysterious brew you took when it disappeared had as much to do with its cure as the color socks you were wearing. One is Science. The other is Nescience.

I am continually amazed how many otherwise enlightened, counter-culture people have unwittingly rejected science in favor of alternative medicine. As if the words Natural and Organic implicitly confer safe and salutary. Opium is of course, natural along with digitalis and strychnine, all far from harmless. I would argue that synthetic is far better than natural because it can be assayed with precision. For a hundred years whole thyroid tablets were marketed by Armour but the active fraction of levo-thyroxine in each batch varied widely. The synthetic version now comes in at least eight strengths enabling the correct dose to be titrated. They are not striking a blow against big anything but in favor of Big gullibility.

The baby has been discarded with the bathwater. Big Pharma is a worthy adversary but the corrective is not the dubious  berry-of-the-month industry. Less costly and more rational would be closer scrutiny of the healthcare protocol. It is not rejection of Flu vaccine for pseudo-scientific reasons. It calls for an engaged participation in health sciences.

To be fair one good reason for OTC products of botanical origin such as Valerian, Ginkgo-Biloba or Saw Palmetto is that Big Pharma won't touch them. The reason being that they are so ancient no exclusive patent can be obtained. Should this give them a free-pass as to purity, safety and efficacy? I think not. 

Take the case of the plant, St. John's wort. It is a natural source of an anti-depressant S.S.R.I. (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor) but one has no way of knowing if one is taking a therapeutic dose, an overdose or no dose at all.  In fact if one wishes to militate against Bigness one might consider the twenty-five billion dollar domestic dietary supplement market which Sen. Orrin Hatch has been pandering for over the past forty years much to the benefit of his son (lobbyist), grandson and son-in-law (family business).

Government is so massive with so many levels of operation it has become the favorite whipping boy of disgruntled voters inflamed by right-wing politicians. It gets attacked for inefficiencies, ponderous regulations, cost over-runs and calloused indifference. Yet much of the problem is due to budget short-falls and on the federal level, politically appointed, ill-equipped department heads whose mission it is to destroy or undermine their office. The Republican agenda has, at its core, the dismantling of government except as it pertains to so-called Defense.

In fact the Federal Government stands as the only institution powerful enough to stand up to unbridled corporate-greed and monopoly Capitalism. Big is necessary to fight Big.

Big government provides us with retirement income (our own money), with healthcare, safe water, air traffic control, breathable air, regulation of medications, subsidized education and housing for the less advantaged, National Parkland, support for the Arts, highway system, first responders and many more public services. It is called Civilization. It may be hard to embrace because it is so big. It’s a Big Deal, the sort of deal our president does not understand.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Dictatorship, American Style



There is a specter falling over America. A menace. The man elected by fluke is a fake. A fraudulent populist who lost the popular vote. A stuffed, hollow man who inhales Hannity and exhales something Hitlerian. A miasma has spread over the heartland. He stumps and harrumphs stirring the brew and serving the grapes of wrath from a poisoned cup.

He has trampled on Madison, Hamilton and Jefferson whether by ignorance or malice. We are witness to a usurpation of power. An overthrow of the justice system. The high court is stacked. Congress has been bought and bamboozled. The Brothers Koch are the American version of the family Krupp.

The man who would be king doesn’t look toward the Constitution. He looks to the Hapsburgs, Bourbons and the Czars, particularly to the present one. He demands flattery and fealty. He rules by privileged breeding. By superlatives and decrees.

He crushes the opposition with his infantile vocabulary speaking in two voices: a soporific drone read from a teleprompter or a petulant chirp-blurt in fluent locker-room language revealing an arrested development. He is naked of compassion and humanity. His mind is open like a sieve, all ideas falling through. His mouth is open at all times to celebrate himself. The emperor has no close.

Without a trace of nobility, our monarch rules from his throne of a golden toilet seat in Versailles Tower high above 5th Ave. Below are burst bubbles, a wreckage of deported hopes and dreams. America has taken a knee. The shambles of our precepts are unrecognizable to our Founders. The inscription on Lady Liberty gurgles under water.

One day Mar-a-Lago, literally from sea to lake, with its thirty-three bathrooms, will also be submerged under a rising ocean. The bloated billionaire ship of state will run aground like a beached whale. New wind will pass through the bones and the poet’s voice will emerge making an Aeolian harp* of the harpooned Leviathan... strung with Donald's corn-husked hair. It will beat to the rhythm of the Imperial President pacing back and forth and Robert Mueller’s gavel.

·     
       *Robert Graves from his Collected Talks and Essays On Poetry