Saturday, September 29, 2012

My Views

I'm simply too busy these days, or too tired, to provide Sid with any kind of detailed itemized confession of my beliefs.  Besides, I would simply be restating a lot of what I've already written.

So, if Sid and others want to take a look at what I believe and why, then you can read this here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I would add these 4 posts on Equality here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Is Spain Cracking Up?

It sure looks like it.  Here's some striking video footage from Madrid.

There's rioting in Madrid and massive demonstrations in Barcelona calling for Catalan independence. This is probably the biggest turmoil in Spain since at least the death of Franco, and perhaps since the Civil War of 1936 - 1939. It never ceases to amaze me when I listen to economic authorities discuss unemployment numbers hovering around 25% in strictly actuarial terms. It never seems to occur to them that the inevitable consequence of unemployment on that large a scale is political crisis and even national disintegration.

 Not very many countries survive 25% unemployment. The United States did, but just barely. Germany didn't.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Meek As Chinese Peasants

I've always said that Americans these days are as meek as Chinese peasants.  My immigrant students complain that Americans quietly accept mistreatment and abuse from employers that would never be tolerated in other countries, not even in developing countries.

Americans may still be meek, but the Chinese peasants aren't anymore.  There was rioting in a Foxconn plant in northern China yesterday.  Both the government and the company say that the fighting was a result of a provincial rivalry between workers from Shandong and workers from Henan.  Both emphatically deny that the violence has anything to do with unhappiness over working conditions.   Unofficial sources, such as China's burgeoning internet underground, tell a very different story.  They claim that the rioting was provoked by heavily armed security guards.

There is a growing pattern of labor unrest in China, most of it spontaneous and disorganized.  Independent labor unions are illegal in China (something that some American politicians would like to bring here by repealing the 1935 Wagner Act).  Any kind of organizing is extremely difficult in so heavily policed a society as China.  That incidents like the Foxconn riots and other uprisings in China since 2010 happen at all testifies to the courage and initiative of Chinese workers.  They must face far greater obstacles to airing their grievances and risk far worse penalties for doing so than any American employee.

The late dissident Fang Lizhi took a very jaundiced view of China's much praised economic triumph (praised especially by American right wing pundits).  The whole point of the expansion, according to Fang, was for China's rulers to get rich, and that for all their much vaunted modernity, China's rulers were enriching themselves in traditional Chinese fashion, on the backs of millions of toiling workers who would have no share at all in China's alleged new prosperity, and certainly no say in the decisions that would affect their lives.

 Striking Chinese workers at an Hi-P International factory in Shanghai.

There is an old East European joke that goes "Under capitalism, man exploits man.  Under communism, it's the other way 'round."  To my mind, that is the epitaph of the Cold War.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

30 Years

I was too busy to mark an important anniversary last week.  I officially became Episcopalian on September 19, 1982 at Trinity Church, St. Louis, MO.

I've been attending Episcopal churches since Easter 1979.  Here are some of the churches I either joined or frequented in all of those years.

St. Mary's in Kansas City, MO; the very first Episcopal church I ever attended and still the most beautiful among all those that I joined or frequented.

Inside St. Mary's with its brick arcades, wooden vault, and Tiffany altar.  The organ behind the altar is new since I went there.
Young long-haired art student lapsed Texas Methodist me was very surprised, and very pleased, to hear Kierkegaard quoted from the pulpit here for the first time in my religious life.  I had no idea that clergy could talk to people as if they were adults up until that time.

All Saints, Pontiac, Michigan;  fond memories of the kindness of Father Derby here.

St. Paul's Cathedral, Detroit; good choir, and the Detroit Institute of Art was next door.

Trinity, St. Louis, where I was confirmed and where I was a member for many years.  There's a painting in the chapel by me that I made in memory of Fr. Charles Bewick.  This church was a big part of my education, religious and otherwise.  I have fond memories of the kindness of the late Fr. Bill Chapman and his wife Ellie.  Charles Bewick was an extraordinary man of great courage and patience who founded the first housing organization for AIDS patients and the HIV positive in St. Louis at a time when landlords regularly evicted people upon diagnosis.  He died of the disease himself.  I consider people from that parish like James and Janice Harbaugh, Jeff Bessler,  Peter Monat, and Harry Weber to be my mentors in what theological and ecclesiastical knowledge that I have.  I'm ever grateful for their learning, their insights, their great good sense, and above all, their generosity.

Saint James, Florence (La Chiesa Americana); I was a regular here when I lived in Florence in 1988.  At the time, only a handful of Yanks went here.  The rest were Koreans, West Africans, and Brits unhappy with the very high and very conservative C of E church in Florence.  Now, Italians make up enough of a presence in the congregation to require bilingual services.

No picture to be found, but I was a regular at Christ Church in Richmond, Kentucky when I taught at Berea College.  I found out that I had two relatives who went to that famously radical college that charges no tuition and was founded by abolitionists in the middle of a slave state to serve black and white together.

St. John's in the Village, New York City, where I served as Mother Barbara Crafton's acolyte for the Monday evening Eucharist for about 5 years.  As many people are  aware, Mother Crafton is a woman of extraordinary talents, kindness, and courage.  She's spent her life ministering to down and out sailors through the Seaman's Church Institute, first in Newark and then in New York (in our ever more competitive free market world, some once discredited practices are coming back to the high seas, like flogging; Mother Crafton knew several victims) .  She ministered to actors and theater people; she herself has a theater background and a fine singing voice.   And she ministered to the needs of the homeless and the friendless for years.  She helped rescue friends of mine from sleeping on the cold streets of New York.

St. Luke in the Fields, New York City, where I am currently a member.
I take tremendous satisfaction in knowing that this church founded by Clement Clarke Moore sits halfway between the old Westside piers and the Stonewall bar, on Hudson Street right off Christopher, in the middle of historic New York gaydom.  It also sits at the end of Grove Street, two blocks from where Thomas Paine died.

I am still happy after all these years to be part of a church that is happy to have the likes of me, and to make me welcome in a community that over time included George Washington, Sojourner Truth, King Kamehameha IV, Fiorello LaGuardia, Fred Astaire, Amelia Bloomer, Cecil B. DeMille, Eleanor Roosevelt, WH Auden, Phillip K. Dick, and Edward Albee (I don't know, but I like to think Margaret "I'm a Christian you fuckers!" Cho might be among us or at least with us).  Above all, I am overjoyed that this church found the courage and grace to make Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool, both openly gay like me, bishops of the Church, leaders of the community.  The Episcopal Church willingly took upon itself the scorn, and even the hatred, that my kind have always endured.  I will always be grateful and I will never forget. 

Ring Dem Bells!


I'm too busy with college shit to go to church this morning.  Everything comes marked URGENT! with flashing lights, buzzers, sirens, and with a note that says "Get this in the right order with the right form or we kill the hostages!"

I miss church

So, here is something properly Anglican if not quite entirely Episcopalian; Kings College Choir sings a beautiful old Pentecost favorite harmonized by Ralph Vaughn Williams.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

For Sid

While I am preoccupied for a few days, you can ponder this passage from a sermon preached by Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis on March 18, 1968 to striking sanitation workers:
"You know, Jesus reminded us in a magnificent parable one day that a man went to Hell because he didn't see the poor. And his name was Dives. There was a man by the name of Lazarus who came daily to his gate in need of the basic necessities of life. Dives didn't do anything about it. He ended up going to Hell.
"But there is nothing in that parable that says that Dives went to Hell because he was rich. Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth. It is true that one day a rich young ruler came before him talking about eternal life. And he advised him to sell all. But in that instance Jesus was prescribing individual surgery, and not setting forth a universal diagnosis.
"If you will go on and read that parable in all of its dimensions, and all of its symbolism, you will remember that a conversation took place between Heaven and Hell. And on the other end of that long distance call between heaven and Hell was Abraham in Heaven talking to Dives in Hell. It wasn't a millionaire in Hell talking with a multimillionaire in heaven. Dives didn't go to Hell because he was rich. His wealth was an opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus.
"Dives went to Hell because he passed by Lazarus every day, but he never really saw him. Dives went to Hell because he allowed Lazarus to become invisible. Dives went to Hell because he allowed the means by which he lived to outdistance the ends for which he lived. Dives went to Hell because he maximized the minimum, and minimized the maximum. Dives finally went to Hell because he wanted to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.
"And I come by here to say that America too is going to Hell, if we don't use her wealth. If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty, to make it possible for all of God's children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to Hell. I will hear America through her historians years and years to come saying, "We built gigantic buildings to kiss the sky. We build gargantuan bridges to span the seas. Through our spaceships we were able to carve highways through the stratosphere. Through our airplanes we were able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. Through our submarines we were able to penetrate oceanic depths."
"But it seems that I can hear the God of the universe saying, "even though you've done all of that, I was hungry and you fed me not. I was naked and ye clothed me not. The children of my sons and daughters were in need of economic security, and you didn't provide for them. So you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness." This may well be the indictment on America that says in Memphis to the mayor, to the power structure, "If you do it unto the least of these my brethren, you do it unto me."…
"Now you're doing something else here. You are highlighting the economic issues. You are going beyond purely civil rights to questions of human rights. That is distinct…
"Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now, that it isn't enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't have enough money to buy a hamburger? What does it profit a man to be able to eat at the swankest integrated restaurant when he doesn't even earn enough money to take his wife out to dine? What does it profit one to have access to the hotels of our cities, and the hotels of our highways, when we don't earn enough money to take our family on a vacation? What does it profit one to be able to attend an integrated school, when he doesn't earn enough money to buy his children school clothes?
"So we assemble here tonight. You have assembled for more than thirty days now to say, "We are tired. We are tired of being at the bottom. We are tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. We are tired of our children having to attend overcrowded, inferior, quality-less schools. We are tired of having to live in dilapidated, substandard housing conditions where we don't have wall to wall carpet, but so often we end up with wall to wall rats and roaches.
"We are tired of smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society. We are tired of walking up the streets in search for jobs that do not exist. We are tired of working our hands off and laboring every day and not even making a wage adequate with daily basic necessities of life. We are tired of our men being emasculated, so that our wives and our daughters have to go out and work in the white ladies' kitchens, cleaning up, unable to be with our children, to give them the time and the attention that they need. We are tired."
"So in Memphis we have begun. We are saying, "Now is the time." Get the word across to everybody in power in this town that now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God's children, now is the time to make the real promises of democracy. Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God's children, now is the time for city hall to take a position for that which is just and honest. Now is the time for justice to roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Now is the time."


A sign from an Occupier:

Here are links to a couple of very thoughtful reflections on Romney's 47% gaffe and what it reveals about him and about issues of class and race in this country.

Here is an essay by Ezra Klein from Bloomberg News.

And here's a money quote:

The thing about not having much money is you have to take much more responsibility for your life. You can’t pay people to watch your kids or clean your house or fix your meals. You can’t necessarily afford a car or a washing machine or a home in a good school district. That’s what money buys you: goods and services that make your life easier.
That’s what money has bought Romney, too. He’s a guy who sold his dad’s stock to pay for college, who built an elevator to ensure easier access to his multiple cars and who was able to support his wife’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom. That’s great! That’s the dream.
The problem is that he doesn’t seem to realize how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, or the agonizing choices faced by families in which both parents work and a child falls ill. The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it. 

Then, there is this essay by Tanehisi Coates in The Atlantic.

And here's a money quote:

You can paint a similar history of the welfare state, which was first secured by assuring racist white Democrats that the pariah of black America would be cut out of it. When such machinations became untenable, the strategy became to claim the welfare state mainly benefited blacks. And as that has become untenable, the strategy has become to target the welfare state itself, with no obvious mention of color. At each interval the ostensible pariah grows, until one in two Americans are members of the pariah class.


Economist Paul Krugman weighs in.
And here's the money quote:

Should we imagine that Mr. Romney and his party would think better of the 47 percent on learning that the great majority of them actually are or were hard workers, who very much have taken personal responsibility for their lives? And the answer is no.
For the fact is that the modern Republican Party just doesn’t have much respect for people who work for other people, no matter how faithfully and well they do their jobs. All the party’s affection is reserved for “job creators,” a k a employers and investors. Leading figures in the party find it hard even to pretend to have any regard for ordinary working families — who, it goes without saying, make up the vast majority of Americans.
Am I exaggerating? Consider the Twitter message sent out by Eric Cantor, the Republican House majority leader, on Labor Day — a holiday that specifically celebrates America’s workers. Here’s what it said, in its entirety: “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.” Yes, on a day set aside to honor workers, all Mr. Cantor could bring himself to do was praise their bosses.

And here's Eugene Robinson in the WaPo.

And here's his money quote:
But Romney’s ignorance is not as shocking as his callousness. Here’s what he says next about the 47 percent: “And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”To all the single parents holding down two minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet, all the seniors who saw their savings dwindle and had to go back to work part time, all the breadwinners who lost their jobs when private-equity firms swooped down to slash and burn — to all struggling Americans, it must come as a surprise to learn how irresponsible they’ve been. And it must be devastating to learn that, try as he might, Mitt Romney will never be able to show these unfortunates the error of their ways.

And finally, another sign from another Occupier.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Happy Birthday Grandmere!

Who knew that my hard earned tax dollars would be going to fund the indolent life of this freeloader in Thibodaux?  I assume Grandpere keeps the air conditioned Cadillac running while she spends all those food stamps and welfare checks.

But then, I should talk.  I'm one of those unionized public employees dragging this great nation into ruin.  Damn teachers and police and firefighters!  And lets not forget those sanitation workers!  And this woman is a retired librarian!  The unmitigated gall!

Well Of Course I Went Downtown to Visit

 After a long day working in my studio, I decided to walk downtown and check out what, if anything, was going on in Liberty/ Zuccotti Park on the first anniversary of Occupy.

These are all my pictures taken with my trusty little digital camera.  It was a beautiful evening yesterday with just about perfect weather.

Center Street with the old Police Headquarters.  Where Theodore Roosevelt once worked as police commissioner is now ultra-high end luxury condos for celebrities and international plutocrats.

The San Genaro Festival was going on in Little Italy.

Foley Square, usually full of lawyers during the day, was empty in the evening.

I followed the regular streams of police vehicles down Broadway, always traveling with sirens blaring and lights flashing, down to Zuccotti/ Liberty Park to see the last night of the Occupy protests.  There were so many cops around including police helicopters that I thought the Soviets were invading.

When I arrived, it was like old times.  Lots of people in the park; lots of small groups like this one having intense conversations.  The mood was earnest, but happy.  For many of these folks, it was a reunion.  I saw lots of hugs of recognition.  Kids in their early 20s acted like 60 year olds at a high school class reunion seeing old friends after decades.  And yet, it's only been a year.

The speakers returned to their old platform next to the diSuvero sculpture.  The human microphone was back.

A German Expressionist Lady Liberty pleads on behalf of Bradley Manning.

My favorite sign of the evening.  Someone reads Eschaton.

The Guy Fawkes masks were everywhere once again.

And the drum circle was back and louder and more enthusiastic than ever.

Lots of remarkably media and tech savy folks at this event, just as a year ago.

And one last look at the speeches before I left for home.

This was definitely a much smaller crowd than last year, and it seemed that a lot of these folks were veterans coming back for a reunion.
People complained now as they did then about all the hippies, eccentrics, and disruption, but I think the Occupy protests were the happiest events this park ever saw.  People then, and people yesterday, were happy to be there and to find each other.

I wish I could say that I was optimistic about where all this will end up.  It was a great time for like minded, and even not so like minded people, to find each other.  Certainly events like this are desirable and necessary.  But I wonder if they are enough to build a sustainable and effective force for a long hard struggle ahead for changes in policy, let alone for the changes in the culture of politics and economics that Occupy represented in its beginnings.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Happy First Birthday

At least they're still making great posters.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Oh what joy, in the open air

Freely to breathe again!

Up here alone is life!

The dungeon is a grave.


We shall with all our faith

Trust in the help of God!

Hope whispers softly in my ears!

We shall be free, we shall find peace.


Oh Heaven! Salvation! Happiness!

Oh Freedom! Will you be given us?


O Welche Lust, in Freier Luft

Den Atem leicht zu heben!

Nur hier, nur hier ist Leben!

Der Kerker eine Gruft.


Wir wollen mit Vertrauen

Auf Gottes Hilfe bauen!

Die Hoffnung flüstert sanft mir zu:

Wir werden frei, wir finden Ruh


O Himmel! Rettung! Welch ein Glück!

O Freiheit! Kehrst du zurück?

Is Occupy a Fizzle?

Occupy is one year old this weekend.  As quickly as it appeared, it seems to have just as quickly dropped off the radar.  What happened?

Certainly heavy handed police tactics played a role, and they seem to have been effective, culling participation down to the hardcore few by scaring off sympathizers who might not want to go up against teargas, pepper spray, and clubs.  The NYPD might not have been the worst, but they were the most effectively brutal with their eviction of Occupiers from Liberty Park in the wee hours of the morning, and their raids on the homes of Occupy activists in Brooklyn on the morning of May Day. And now, some Occupy activists are facing trial here in New York and elsewhere.

Intimidation works.

I also think disappointment played a role.  Occupy was born out of disappointment; disappointment with the cautious watered down progressivism of the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party.  From what I've been able to observe, the Left is too easily prone to discouragement (and I include myself here).  We expect the Masses to rise up and rally round the Torch of Liberty at the opening shot, and that Social Democracy will arise like the morning sun.  And when that doesn't happen, we all go home and sulk.  Our anarchist sympathies prevent us from setting up structures and building institutions for sustained struggle.

I remember when shortly after Occupy began, all these fired up formerly middle class white kids descended upon neighborhoods like East New York in Brooklyn to fight home foreclosures.  They arrived to find neighborhood activists who were neither white nor middle class who had been fighting this struggle for a long time.  At first, the residents resented the enthusiastic intruders, but eventually became their mentors, teaching them skills and resilience necessary to fight foreclosures back in their own formerly middle class neighborhoods.  Indeed if the movement survives and continues, it's in thousands of smaller local efforts to tackle the excesses and criminality of a too powerful financial industry that go unnoticed by the media or the cops.

Will we see Occupy or its like again?  Who knows.  We still have our system of legalized corruption.  Our country still steadily transitions from democracy to oligarchy.   The grievances that caused Occupy are still there unabated.


The media frequently compare Occupy and the Teabaggers, part of the conventional media truism that both left and right are equivalent, a truism that says more about the media than it does about reality.
Media experts frequently point out how Teabaggers got involved in electoral politics and Occupy didn't.  What's missing from this analysis is a crucial distinction.  Teabagistan got lots of corporate funding (I once joked that a Teabagger occupation in the winter would take place in heated pre-fab huts donated by one of Karl Rove's pacs).  Occupy operated on  shoestring budgets and relied heavily on contributions, not just of money, but of supplies and services.  The teabaggers got appropriated by the GOP, but they wanted to get coopted.   I've always argued that the Tea Party is nothing more than the same old right wing of the GOP that's been around for 60 years.  Its fury is not driven by the Lesser Depression, but by the fear of demographic and cultural change.

Occupy really did come out of the economic collapse of 2008.  Media experts noted how late after the collapse Occupy appeared.  It took all those young white middle class kids raised on rugged individualism awhile to figure out that they were not alone in facing huge amounts of debt with little or no employment prospects, or while working long hours for tiny wages.  It took awhile for people to realize that they were not alone in seeing the equity on their homes collapse while their mortgages continued to rise, or in losing their homes to foreclosure, sometimes arbitrary and mistaken foreclosures by banks in actions that in other parts of society would be called crime.  My friend Weiben Wang always pointed out the very white and middle class nature of Occupy, even while attending Occupy events.  Indeed, a lot of people who always counted on being enfranchised, respected, and secure found themselves disenfranchised, dissed, and in peril after 2008.  Professionals found themselves reduced to salaried employees.  Students found themselves shut out of the professional class, even if they had exceptional skills and graduate degrees.  Home owners who counted on the security of their property found themselves with broken nest eggs.
People who for 3 or 4 generations took for granted that they would be the beneficiaries of The System, now found themselves rejected and outside of it.  They awoke and found themselves the losers in what turned out to be the largest redistribution of the nation's wealth in history.  Since 1981, Uncle Sam has been robbing from the poor (and the middle) to give to the rich.  We now have effectively a tax-payer subsidized plutocratic oligarchy. Those who long thought they were the System's beneficiaries discovered that they were only its chumps.

Occupy emerged out of those very bourgeois virtues of independence and initiative, and in reaction against those very bourgeois vices of greed and hypocrisy.

White middle class people suddenly found that they had common cause with those not-so-white, not-so-middle class people that they feared and resented for so long.  Fortunately, people on all sides of the color and class divide found the grace to come together and to work toward common ends.  But these efforts are small and vulnerable to demagogues always willing to stir up ancient bigotries and fears for their own ambitions.

I hope Occupy returns and becomes something more durable and effective.  They accomplished in one year what the Progressive Caucus in Congress tried to do for 30 years, reshape the terms of the national debate over economics.  Occupy more than anyone else took issues of social justice, fairness, and equality out of the realm of private conversation and into the public forum where they belong.  I hope they can come back and influence real policy change that would make our country once again a just, humane, and truly democratic republic of free men and women.

If nothing else, Occupy produced some great posters.

Scott Lively's Fondest Wish

The Iraqi government and a variety of paramilitary groups are hunting down and killing Iraqi gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendereds.  And the West turns a blind eye.  The BBC did a series of reports on this.

To paraphrase George Orwell, I don't think the Christianist right fears the Islamists so much as they envy them.

Friday, September 14, 2012


I heard on the radio yesterday my favorite comment on the current violence in the Middle East.  Alas, I cannot remember who it was.  She said that Christianist fanatics and Islamist fanatics live in a kind of symbiosis.  They need each other and help each other.  One foments provocation and the other exploits the reaction.  Without each other, they could not exist.  That is a symbiotic relationship.  They need each others' hatred like air and water to survive.

It is the rest of us who must suffer their presence.

Terry Jones burning a Quran in Florida

Islamist fanatics burning the American flag

All of this madness cost the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens.  Stevens was not the usual Imperial American Proconsul appointed to oversee oil company and military interests in the Middle East.  He played an active role in helping the Libyan opposition to topple Qaddafi, and he was probably responsible for saving the city of Benghazi from a certain massacre at the hands of Qaddafi's forces.  The Libyans deeply regret his death.  It looks likely that organized Islamist militants exploited the rage over the anti-Islam video to stage an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi in retaliation for the recent death of an Al Qaeda chief at American hands.

The Middle East is a tinderbox of accumulated and long repressed resentment over exploitation and humiliation by the USA for many decades.  The region swarms with cynical opportunists eager to exploit that resentment for their own purposes.
By the same token, the USA itself has become an increasingly polarized and volatile place with growing inequality, declining standards of living, diminishing prospects, legalized political corruption, cultural and demographic change, and the transition from democratic to oligarchic rule.  We have our own growing population of violent religious fanatics who have political and financial influence, and easy access to weapons.  There are cynical opportunists here eager to exploit people's fears and resentments to gain power.  For them, a flare up of ancient Christian versus Muslim hostility, together with insulted American nationalism, is a golden opportunity.

One side gains nourishment from the other, a true symbiosis.

Fanatics are all alike.  It doesn't matter what they believe, the mindset, the actions, and the consequences are always the same.


Secretary of State Clinton speaks out forcefully against fanaticism for the feast of Eid al Fitr.

We can pledge that whenever one person speaks out in ignorance and bigotry, ten voices will answer. They will answer resoundingly against the offense and the insult; answering ignorance with enlightenment; answering hatred with understanding; answering darkness with light. ...

In times like these, it can be easy to despair that some differences are irreconcilable, some mountains too steep to climb; we will therefore never reach the level of understanding and peacefulness that we seek, and which I believe the great religions of the world call us to pursue.  But that’s not what I believe, and I don’t think it’s what you believe… Part of what makes our country so special is we keep trying. We keep working. We keep investing in our future.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Bush Kept Us Safe..."

Well, according to this article by Kurt Eichenwald in today's NY Times, no he didn't.

According to still classified documents, the CIA attempted to warn the administration about a major impending attack for months, and were thwarted in their efforts by the NeoCons under Paul Wolfowitz who controlled the Pentagon.  Apparently, the Pentagon was already planning the Iraq invasion and considered Al Qaeda to be a distraction, perhaps even a tool of Sadam Hussein.  Wolfowitz and company insisted that the very conspicuous preparation by Al Qaeda for an attack on the USA was a hoax, a ruse to distract attention from Iraq.  The CIA issued detailed memos pointing out the absurdity of these claims, pleading with the administration to take the warnings of an imminent attack seriously.  Bush sided with the NeoCons at the Pentagon, and the rest is history.

I never believed any of the elaborate conspiracy theories by left-wing paranoids that the Bush Administration did the 9/11 attacks.  I can't see how an administration so ridden with corruption, conflict, and incompetence could have brought off anything as elaborate as the schemes cooked up in paranoid imaginations.  I'm 100% sure that the whole responsibility for the attacks lies with Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

A less involved and elaborate conspiracy theory popular here in New York is that the Bush Administration knew these attacks were about to happen and that they let them happen to build public support for the planned invasion of Iraq.  Part of this is an updated version of the old Pearl Harbor conspiracy theory, about Roosevelt deliberately letting the Japanese attack in order to bring the USA into World War II.  Part of this is local resentment in New York; "the response would have been different if Houston was attacked," I heard over and over in the months just after the attack.  I'm 98% certain that this conspiracy theory is false.

Monday, September 10, 2012


My post for September 11th

Here conducted by Leonard Bernstein

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fellini's Roma

I don't know if this a great movie, but I really enjoy it and I've enjoyed it for many years.

I suppose this movie is now best known for the famous ecclesiastical fashion show, a remarkable piece of anticlerical satire that is as unsettling and haunting as it is funny.

What I think people mostly miss in this scene these days is another dimension which is there throughout the whole movie, the complicated relationship between Roma Antica and Roma Moderna.  The show takes place in the grand palazzo of the Principessa Domitilla, one of the survivors of the dying Roman nobility, now living alone in her great ancestral palace with her aging servants.  She lives grieving over her fading memories of an irretrievable past.  History and personal memory become all tangled together in the Eternal City.

The same is true for Fellini himself who appears repeatedly in this mostly plotless movie.  Part of the movie is about him making the film.  His own memories of his youth in Rome are woven throughout with his larger meditations on the city's history and its present.  He contrasts his own personal memories of arriving in Rome as a young man in the 1930s in a crowded and chaotic Stazione Termini with today (the movie was released in 1972).  In this scene, we are arriving in Rome in the present (1972) by way of the Autostrada.  This is probably the most dramatic and visionary traffic jam in the movies.

The city's ancient past and its messy present collide in one of the most poetic scenes in the movie, a tour of the city's ever-under-construction subway. The construction stops as they discover a huge hollow that turns out to be the remains of an ancient Roman house.

And how do the Romans themselves come across in this movie? Well, they don't come off very well, whether in the 1930s of Fellini's memory or the present of 1972. They are rude, crude, and comic. Here's a collection of scenes from Fellini's memories of Rome on the eve of World War II. There's no translation, but I don't think you will need it. Some of the scenes take place street dining during holidays (this still takes place)  and in a Roman music hall on amateur night (a tougher crowd than The Apollo).

As rude and lewd as these folks from Fellini's younger days are, his attitude toward them ultimately is one of deep affection. The music hall scene turns out to be taking place on the very day of the Allied invasion of Sicily. The announcement stops the show. The night at the theater ends with an air raid, a reminder of the terrible suffering all of these same people would endure after Mussolini was toppled in a coup and the Germans invaded.  There are little hints here and there of the underlying menace of state surveillance throughout these scenes.  One man is unobtrusively removed from the theater by the internal security police in plain clothes.  There's a chilling scene in an air-raid shelter when an off-hand comment at the expense of Il Duce is ruthlessly and publicly squashed.
The scenes of hippies, tourists, and protesters in Rome of 1972 present both a contrast and a continuity with the scenes set in the 1930s. People, Fellini suggests, are more estranged from each other now, but ultimately, Romans remain the same as they were in the 1930s and throughout the city's long history. If these scenes remind me of anyone, it is the photographer Weegee. His screaming high contrast flash photos of New York life in the 1940s can be every bit as grotesque as anything in Fellini's movies, but also full of affection for the very eccentric people he photographed, and for the city's unstoppable vitality.

The movie ends with this tour of the city's monuments at night from the back of a motorcycle.  Veduti di Roma ...

Piranesi, up yours!

I've loved and obsessed over Rome my whole life.  I've only visited the Eternal City once.  I spent 4 days in Rome in 1988.  I loved it.  I hope to go back some day and spend more time there.

It is fashionable these days to describe Rome as a palimpsest, a text that is continually erased and rewritten.  I think that's a better description of New York than Rome.  New York is always erasing its past to create its present.  I like the description by Kenneth Clark, the late art historian and director of the National Gallery in London.  He called Rome a great compost heap of hopes and ambitions.  And indeed you can see the layers on the pile in Rome to this day, from the imperial ambitions of the ancient  Emperors to the hopes of medieval German Emperors to somehow bring back the old glory to the global ambitions of the Popes to Napoleon to Vittorio Emanuele to Mussolini to today.  They are all piled together in a great magnificent heap that continues to nourish imaginations all over the world.  And Romans have survived the worst from Nero to Hitler, dancing on their graves, knowing that they will still be around long after the old tyrant's monuments are crumbling and sprouting bushes, long after the Cause for which they stood is discredited and forgotten.

"When the Colosseum falls, Rome falls, and when Rome falls, the world falls."

Piranesi, The Arch of Constantine and The Colosseum

Does Religion Need the Supernatural?

Does religion need the supernatural?  Is there a distinction between the transcendent and the supernatural?

Buddhism seems historically conflicted over this issue.

Some forms of Buddhism like Zen (Ch'an in China) consider themselves philosophies, not religions, and are largely indifferent to the question of the supernatural.

Zen Buddhist works of art, like the famous sand garden at the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, are hardly recognizable as religious art.

On the other hand, other forms of Buddhism have entire cosmologies swarming with deities and semi-deities.

A Heian Period mandala from Japan

The Buddhists haven't resolved this issue after 2500 years.

Does religion need what more militant atheists dismissively call "fairy tales?"  Does the word "spirit" mean basically spooks, invisible beings?  Some of the more conservative religious seem to depend on the existence of an entire invisible dimension of spiritual warfare between the forces of good and evil.  They dismiss exclusively material explanations of evil as superficial and inadequate, as though evil could be eradicated by improved education and better hygiene.
Or, does "spirit" designate something more philosophical, something at the heart of being?  Is mortality a boundary that circumscribes everything that is, or is it simply a horizon beyond which we cannot see from our present place in this life?  Or are the 19th century Positivists right and there is nothing beyond what we can see with our eyes and grasp with our conscious reason?  If that's true, then what of the imagination?  Would the 18th century philosophes be right in dismissing it as just a source of delusions and hocus pocus?  Or is imagination, as William Blake would insist, a faculty of perception?   

If the Positivists are right, is that really the end of religion?

A Baptist minister might say yes, a Zen master might say no.

What do you think?

Amor Vincit Omnia

Love conquers all, even destitution.  A story from the NY Times about a young couple (both 22) originally from Albany, getting married after being jobless and living on the streets for 2 years.  They panhandled the $35 fee for the license bureau.

I suppose this is meant to be heartwarming, and it is, but it is also very sad.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

We Had A Tornado

This is not footage taken by a storm chaser in Texas or Oklahoma.  This is footage from Breezy Point east of Coney Island in New York City ( I painted a mural out in Breezy Point years ago).


 A tornado formed about 11:15 this morning over the Atlantic and moved inland over Coney Island, and then eastward to the Rockaways. I was far away in the Bronx at the time teaching class. We don't usually get weather like this. I wonder if the Texas weather followed me here.


Here's a photo of the thing, one of many posted today.

In this city full media whores, everyone is ready with their cameras, though I don't remember Texas with all of its storm chasers and photographers to be that much different.

More tornado pics from today:

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Other Clinton

I just love this.

Yeah Baby!

I thought The Speech last night was a grand slam. It did everything it was supposed to do in spades. It laid out a clear distinction between the 2 candidates and the 2 parties. It rallied the faithful, and presented the central themes of the campaign.

I never thought I'd go all tingly over the word "citizenship."

The left, Digby among others, is not happy because of his apparent embrace of the terms laid down by the Simpson-Bowles "Catfood" Commission on the debt.   The right, as is to be expected, complains about "lack of substance," especially Charles KrauthammerAndrew Sullivan, on the other hand, gushed over the speech, "I loved him. But I'm biased. I think he's been the best thing to happen to America in a long time and he has achieved more in tougher circumstances against historical odds than anyone has a right to expect."

This was not supposed to be the State of the Union speech.  This was supposed to be part pep rally and part revival with a large amount of sales pitch thrown in.  This was not about laying out a detailed policy proposal for the next term.  This was supposed to be about framing the contest as a choice between 2 sharply different visions for the future of the United States.  This was about about presenting the case for why he should get another term, as a champion of an older vision of the USA that sees liberty bound up with citizenship and community, not as some kind of rat race.  The speech was about rallying the ground troops who are going to work phone banks, ring door bells, pass out literature, work crowds, and host events in last and hardest 2 months of the campaign.

Unlike some pundits, I do not miss the old party conventions where delegates argued and struggled over who would be the candidate.  There are good reasons why the primary and caucus system replaced the old "smoke filled room."  The party convention is now a necessary spectacle and revival meeting for the faithful, as well as a sales opportunity to those outside the hall.

I have my issues with Obama certainly.  But that central theme he laid out of liberty guaranteed by the duties of citizenship certainly pressed my buttons.  He's not a perfect President by any means, but he's the best we've had in decades.
Here's hoping all's well in November.


James Fallows has the best take on the speech after a day's reflection on it.  He gives it far more credit than did The Conventional Wisdom.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

An Old Friend

Now that the Reverend Moon is dead, I wonder if anyone out there on the Internet has seen or heard anything from this person in the last 30 years.  Laura Hanley was a close friend of mine in high school.  She joined the Moonies sometime around 1980 in Providence, RI.  I last heard from her about 1981, and I haven't seen or heard anything from her or about her since.

I wonder if anyone out there has any news about her.

This is a high school photograph from 1976.

I'm apparently not the only one* still carrying a torch for Laura.  The Laura Hanley described in this link is definitely the one I knew, though I never knew Mr. Turnage.  He was deeply in love with her.  For me, she was a very dear friend who helped me through a very dark period in my early life.  I hope the both of us find her, or at least some news about her.  I just hope that all is well with her where ever she is.

* For some reason, Blogger refuses to recognize the link.  So copy this into your browser if you want to see it:

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Messiah Dies at Age 92 and Leaves Behind an Empire

Messiah Moon died yesterday in Korea.  I wish I could say that I'm sorry to see him go, but I'm not.  I lost a good friend to him about 30 years ago.

He turned his religion into an immense and powerful international corporate empire.  He became a force to be reckoned with in right wing politics through his newspaper, The Washington Times, through his other publishing and broadcast holdings, and through his lavish financial support.  Right wing Catholic and Evangelical Congressional Reps bent their knees before Moon's crowned head.

It always amazes me how mortal enemies, like close friends, so frequently end up looking like each other.  Here are two mass spectacles in Korea honoring respective god kings.  Both are magnificent and barbaric.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Did a little cooking tonight, and it occurred to me that of all the senses, the one that gets the least attention is smell.  The eye has art and scenery.  The ear has music and birds.  The tongue has food and wine.  The skin has sex.  But what about the nose?  Are there any sensations through my schnozz that make me glad to be alive?  And the answer is yes.

My favorite is the smell of rain.
Then there's the smell of mint, especially wild mint that I remember growing in mountain meadows in the Rockies when I was a boy.
I love the smell of a fresh clove of garlic when I chop it.
I love sniffing fresh ground pepper, sneeze or not.
Frying bacon is a lifelong favorite.
I love the smell of a freshly opened box of tea.
There are any number of flower smells that I love, but I particularly miss honeysuckle from my Southern days.  Up here in Yankee-land, I always stop to smell the lilacs in the spring time.

Is there anything that ever wafted up your nose that made you feel glad to be alive?

The Future That Was

This is the closing credits theme from 'The 21st Century', a Things-To-Come show by CBS News that ran from 1967 - 1969, and was narrated by Walter Cronkite.

Little did Walter Cronkite or CBS News, or anyone else in 1967 - 69, have any idea just how trashy the future would be. Sure we got The Internet, fiber-optic technology, laser surgery, etc. But we also got Internet porn, botox, Honey Boo Boo, and Facebook memes.

The only reason we never pursued space exploration any further was because we're too lazy and cheap, not because it's any more difficult than it was in the 1960s.  Besides, we don't want to miss 'American Idol.'