Friday, June 30, 2017

Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire

photograph: Suricata
What a wonderful thing to be on the verge of exploding, of telling the sonofabitch what you think of him or her and then not doing it! What a joy it is to have projected a whole series of thoughts that may or may not be true but to have the chutzpah to not express them. Yes, chutzpah—since while it may seem like the rant you were going to give requires fearlessness, the ability to not give vent to emotions is a steeper hill to climb; it requires a perseverance that’s the equivalent of being able to survive the most challenging elements. Sometimes the amount of time involved is relatively short, say the seconds it takes to count to 10, yet in that time you begin to free yourself from the negative effects of hyperbole. Let’s say that the complaint is bad and that the person you experience rage towards has literally done something that’s insensitive and dishonest. What does the explosion achieve? It starts off being all about them, but now you’re entwined, enthralled and even enslaved by an individual whose behavior and personality you could just as well have done without. If personality is like a pond, you dove in head first. By telling them off, you're ultimately asking for approval and vindication. Where it was once about them, the tables have been turned; now it’s about you. And when your cry is met with silence and you fail to get what you have been looking for all your life, you will be as hooked as a fish whose mouth is caught on a line and struggles futilely to avoid the literal and metaphysical skillet.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Lost in Space

Ed Markey made the following comment on CNN, “Vision without funding is a hallucination.” As Markey is a senator from Massachusetts the remark obviously refers to healthcare and government programs in general. But it’s a rather pregnant idea since it relates to the disjuncture between what people claim they want out of life and what they're willing to do to get there. Translating this concept to a territory that might be closer to home, it’s a little like people who dream of wanting to be writers and artists and aren’t willing to do the work to attain their desires. That was the problem faced by the alcoholic character of Don Birnam (Ray Milland) in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (1948). Birnam dreams of glory as he drinks, but is too soused to produce anything. Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” was the result of an opium infused dream, but in art as well as politics, this isn’t usually the case. Everyone from President Trump on down claims they want the best for Americans. However, how can cutting 834 billion dollars from Medicaid over ten years while covering 22 million less people be considered a way of providing the best possible care for the majority of the population? The Republicans originally wanted to call for a vote on their proposal before the July 4th holiday, but it’s really the kind of pipedream O'Neill's barroom fixtures might have entertained as they waited for Hickey to arrive in The Iceman Cometh.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Final Solution: Democrazy

There are oligarchs, theocrats and autocrats. Russia has been defined as a keptocracy with the behind the scenes arrangements giving new meaning to what we used to define as graft. It should be noted that modern Russia dating from the time of Peter the Great and encompassing both aristocracy, Communism and the current regime which is something between a post-Romanov Czarocracy and a simple dictatorship (some might call it a massive cult of personality under Putin) has always been defined as a bureaucracy. People get lost in the shuffle in all societies, but everything in Russia seems to be larger and more anonymous for those who aren’t being heard. Akaky Akakievich the titular counselor of Gogol’s The Overcoat is the typical small guy lost in the shuffle whose fate is oblivion and finally rebirth as a spirit that haunts the Russian capital of St. Petersburg. Nothing changes for the Akakys of the world and they seem to be overlooked no matter what the regime. Gogol’s Overcoat becomes a stolen bicycle in the postwar Rome of Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. The Manchu Dynasty was overthrown in l911 and China flirted with notions of democracy under Sun Yat Sen before becoming a Communist state, but it’s hard not to see the legacy of dynasty in the party’s self-perpetuating elite. The only difference with regard to America is that it’s a work in progress. It’s dynastic (to the extent that it has its Kennedy’s,  Bushes and Clintons), certainly bureaucratic and increasingly dictatorial (due to the free ticket given to Trump by the plurality of Americans who support him), but it’s almost frightening to realize that the drama that’s currently being played out in Washington is, for the most part, unprecedented.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Your Top Ten Terrorist Drive-throughs

Terrorists have a pervasive presence on social media. They publish recipes for lethal and explosive cocktails. They exhort their followers to take actions and sacrifice their lives for the cause. But every publication has to have its lighter side. Every publication worth its weight first of all has comics and then there are leisure time activities. Some of the 9/11 bombers apparently partied at strip clubs in Florida in their off hours from the flying academies they attended. Even the most hardened revolutionary has to take a day off. So it wouldn’t be surprising to find that terrorist networks contain within their ranks book and movie reviewers, along with theater and restaurant critics. Your typical executioner is much like a surgeon who will perform five or six procedures on a given morning. You need to be well-nourished if you’re going to behead lots of people. Many executioners who work for ISIS and other terrorist organizations undoubtedly fuel their activities with particular diets. Could it be that they gobble down some chicken necks before they take off for work in the morning? And what if you’re visiting a terrorist capital like Raqqa? Take me to your leader is the operant expression. You’re going to want to go to restaurants, coffee bars and hookah cafes where you can rub shoulders with the likes of an Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Anthony Bourdain might not have visited the Islamic State on Parts Unknown and there aren’t likely to be segments about terrorist watering holes on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. But is all you have to do is look up the food section of one of the terrorists sites on the Dark Net and you’ll know where to go.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Beauty is Not Only Skin Deep

Grays Peak (Continental Divide, photo: Chris  Keller)
The beauty of nature is almost too much to bear. It can be like a reprimand, if it’s disconsonant with one’s inner condition. But beauty is also a challenge. What's one to do with or about it? No matter the state of mind, it dominates the conversation. You go to the Grand Canyon or the Alps, to the South Shore of Long Island or the Great Lakes and you’re dumbfounded and dwarfed by it. Wherever it appears, it tends to be the only show in town. There’s something about beauty that's almost like watching too much TV. It makes you passive, since you defer to it and realize there’s nothing you can do in the face of it. Also, it can be boring. How long is one going to go on about a star filled sky or about the Aurora Borealis? In some senses beauty lacks dimensionality since in its purest form it's lacking in conflict or that kind of  turbulence which might be equatable with human intention. When you’re caught in a storm, which can be beautiful, you, at least, are put in the position of a competitor who now has his or her work cut out for them. During hurricanes and typhoons nature shows its dark side and anthropomorphizing it, you find yourself in a battle where  you have to escape its supposed wrath. But nature in its most beauteous manifestations is benign and leaves one feeling like the beneficiary of unearned wealth. You have inherited something you’ve done nothing to earn, that, in turn, creates an inherent feeling of helplessness.