Friday, May 30, 2008

Quote du Jour

The following is a paraphrase of the best line I heard on the cable TV talk shows last night. If anybody saw it, and knows the name of the guy who said it, please give him credit in the comment box.

With regard to the Democratic nomination process:

It's over. And by next week Hillary will be like the runner-up in the Miss America contest, standing off in the wings somewhere, just waiting for the nude pictures to come out.

That, folks, is the stuff of poetry.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Reflections: Boomer Gold

I went to the public library this morning to return a book (Cion) and came home with Annie Leibovitz’s coffee table book, American Music. In addition to the expected genius photography of many of the icons of blues, gospel, bluegrass, country, rock, hip-hop and jazz, this book also contains short essays on the music and its cyclical inspiration written by the musicians themselves. The first such mini-essay is by Patti Smith, a singer-songwriter of my generation whose music never fails to totally eviscerate me when I can muster the guts to listen to it.

I am going to quote below one paragraph from Patti’s essay. This paragraph provides a snapshot, as if made with a pin-hole camera, of the shared experience of every post-WWII kid who came to self-consciousness in the 1950s:

It was difficult reconciling the images of Hiroshima with the image I had of our country. When I questioned my father, he would say, “I did my duty, but the rest is man’s inhumanity to man.” He seldom talked about the war, but on Memorial Day he served in the color guard, and after the parade and a prayer for fallen soldiers we would celebrate in the field surrounding the Veterans Hall. Our mothers served hot dogs and potato salad. Our father played horseshoes. When the sun went down, we gathered around a bonfire, roasting marshmallows and singing. We sang of the railroad, the Dust Bowl, and the Erie Canal. We sang “Heart of My Heart” and “Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?” We sang about Jesus and Davy Crockett. It was the end of the fifties and everyone seemed happy.

Just in time for Memorial Day. Dig it.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Reflections: A Gaff Too Far


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Reflections: Faith in Existenz

In the Edifying Discourse entitled “The Expectation of Faith”, the great Danish religious philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, assures us that “the expectation of faith…is victory.” The dark forest of myriad contingencies, through which the quest of the Knight of Faith must progress, harbors a “crafty” adversary, known as doubt:

In its secret way [doubt] sneaks about a man, and when faith expects victory, then it whispers that this expectation is a delusion. “An expectation whose time and place are not determined, is only an illusion; thus one can always continue to expect; such an expectation is an enchanted circle from which the soul cannot escape.” Certainly the soul, in the expectation of faith, is prevented from falling out of itself into the manifold; it remains in itself; but it would be the greatest evil which could befall a man if he escaped from this circle.

Kierkegaard goes on to assert:

It is true that he who expects something in particular, may be disappointed; but this does not happen to the believer. When the world begins its sharp testing, when the storms of life snap the vigorous expectations of youth, when existence, which seems so loving and so gentle, transforms itself into a merciless proprietor who demands everything back, then the believer looks with sadness and pain at himself and at life, but he still says: “There is an expectation which all the world can not take from me; it is the expectation of faith, and this is victory. I am not deceived; for what the world seemed to promise me, that promise I still did not believe that it would keep; my expectation was not in the world, but in God. …I have still conquered, conquered through my expectation, and my expectation is victory.”

This essential sadness and pain which dwells like a heart worm at the core of existence, which impels the Buddhist toward the refuge of oblivion and the consumer of the material toward the abyss of insatiable acquisitiveness, is for Kierkegaard the impetus toward the mysterious and paradoxical victory of the Cross. This is an existentialism without nihilistic despair: victory over existence.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

WWWtW-Watch #14: Projectile Posting

Dedicated to the proposition that it can happen here.

Q: What do you get when you mix an ounce of race-baiting with a cup of gay-bashing and blend into an illiberal dollop of intellectual arrogance?

A: Something like this:

Pot: Yo.

Kettle: ‘Sup?

Pot: You one black m****rf**ker!

Kettle: Yo mom-ma!

See the full treatment here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Riffs: Totally Jazzed

Check out this New Yorker Magazine article about a jazz aficionado whose unique powers of memory place him somewhere on the boundary between obsession and genius: a musical ascetic; a saintly, flesh-and-blood, encyclopedia of jazz.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Readings: A Cultural Nexus

I was sorry to see in the New York Times an obituary of novelist, Oakley Hall. Hall was the author of one of the very few western novels I have ever read--especially with any kind of pleasure--an off-beat re-imagining of the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral, entitled Warlock. If you will read the obit, you will learn that Warlock was lauded as a major American novel by the radically reclusive, post-modern novelist, Thomas Pynchon. It may, therefore, have been something written by Pynchon that turned me on to Warlock. I certainly would never have picked up a western novel unless it had been recommended by somebody in whose endorsement I had complete confidence.

Pynchon is the author of three novels that I read in what might be called my “formative years.” In chronological order they are: The Crying of Lot 49; V; and Gravity’s Rainbow. Pynchon is an inventive and difficult writer whose major works have gotten longer and longer, and more and more obscure, over time. I have read a couple of his works since these three, but never with as much pleasure and sense of awe as these earlier works inspired in me at the time I read them, in the late 'sixties and early 'seventies.

Strangely enough, until I read the Oakley Hall obit with its mention of Pynchon, my memory had been that I read Warlock based on an endorsement of it in an interview with rocker, Lou Reed. Now I’m not sure. I would have trusted Lou Reed's opinion of a contemporary novel, due to his history as a devoted acolyte of writer, Delmore Schwartz.

I am sure, however, that I bought a CD entitled “Nobody’s Cool” by a band called Lotion, because I read somewhere that Thomas Pynchon had written liner notes for it. This was around 1995, and any contemporary rock album being promoted by a famous novelist of Pynchon’s age was too intriguing not to check out. I bought it “sight-unheard” and was not disappointed.

So here we have this strange nexus: Oakley Hall, Lou Reed (?), Lotion, and Thomas Pynchon. I have enjoyed the works of all four. I encourage anybody reading this, and who has not already done so, to give them all a try. (You might also try Delmore Schwartz, although he is not technically an element of this nexus. Recommended--by both me and Lou Reed--In Dreams Begin Responsibilities)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Quote du Jour

As we are now well into baseball season, I offer (via my friend Jim) this familiar gem, usually attributed to the legendary pitcher and purveyor of folksy wisdom, Satchel Paige:

Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Reflections: Whatsit?

It's a tenterhook. You didn't know that, didja? That said, Ouch! It looks like a painful thing to be kept on! Give it up, HRC. Let a grateful nation off the friggin' hook!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Interlude: My Used to Be

Reflections: Elite Lite

If the current consternation among Democrats – I speak of the quandary presented to many by the necessity of choosing between Hillary and Obama – is indicative of anything, it is indicative of the fact that, with regard to class, we Americans don’t know wtf we are. Our children will grow up confused by the contradictory ways in which we use words to characterize, and thus dismiss as viable choices, our political opponents. Let’s take a look at two words that have acquired significant political weight from being distorted and abused by our peculiarly American form of Newspeak: “middle-class” and “elite.”

As a card-carrying Effete Intellectual Snob, I track the manipulative, merino-herding mischief being done through usage of these terms by the political class back to our loss of the term “bourgeoisie” and its accompanying concepts of quality and class. There was a time when H.L. Mencken could coin the term “booboisie” and score points against his ideological opposition: As a nationally syndicated columnist and book author, he notably attacked ignorance, intolerance, "frauds", fundamentalist Christianity and the "Booboisie," his word for the ignorant middle classes. No more. Today, every American, no matter how grease-stained, no matter how privileged by birth, wants to be considered “middle-class.” The neologisms coming into currency today, deployed by Madison Avenue-trained political consultants of every hue in the political spectrum, are designed to deconstruct the traditional connotations of the words “middle-class” and “elite” in favor of an elusive and illusory concept of egalitarianism which has no stable definition, because it represents no objective reality. This is also what is going on when Hillary Clinton, in her menopausal desperation, tries to label bi-racial, single parent, up-by-his-bootstraps, super-achiever, Barack Obama, as the purveyor of an “elitist” message.

Everybody wants to be middle-class, but nobody wants to be a “bourgeois.” Be that as it may, a bourgeois is nothing other than a member of the middle-class. Accordingly, as the Wikipedia article states: In common usage the term has pejorative connotations suggesting either undeserved wealth, or lifestyles, tastes, and opinions that lack the sophistication of the rich or the authenticity of the intellectual or the poor. It is rare for people in the English speaking world to identify themselves as members of the bourgeoisie, although many self-identify as middle class. To keep things simple, the battered Webster’s pocket dictionary that I got free (along with a thesaurus) for subscribing to Time Magazine many years ago, and still use multiple times-per-day (along the Time subscription lapsed many moons ago), defines “bourgeoisie” as: the social class between the very wealthy and the working class; middle class. Middle class—there you go. The same dog-eared tome defines the adjectival form of “bourgeois” thusly: of the bourgeoisie: used variously to mean conventional, smug, respectable, etc. “Smug,” huh? In other words, to be bourgeois, which is to be middle-class, is to be as Obama has been called “elitist” by Hillary Clinton for allegedly being. As will become clear below, Obama is being accused of acting uppity-classy, as demonstrated by his blatantly middle-classy behavior. Go figure.

It is even more hypocritical when the forces of conservatism who will be backing John McCain throw the word “elitist” around as a pejorative term. Conservatives are not egalitarians and never have been. They represent the interests of the national moneyed, entrepreneurial, social, and cognitive elite and always have. Their American guru, Russell Kirk, says in his seminal work, The Conservative Mind: “I think that there are six canons of conservative thought.”

The third of these six canons reads: Conviction that civilized society needs orders and classes, as against the notion of a “classless society.” With reason, conservatives have been called “the party of order.” If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum. Ultimate equality in the judgment of God, and equality before courts of law, are recognized by conservatives; but equality of condition, they think, means equality in servitude and boredom.

So Kirk preaches that egalitarianism is the road to oligarchy. Evidently, then, those at the top of the hierarchy constructed by the free play of those “natural distinctions” are not to be oligarchs. An oligarchy, as defined in part by the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary is: Government by the few: a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes; also : a group exercising such control: an organization under oligarchic control;... . Is not this Kirkian upper-class, if it is not to be the embodiment of an oligarchy, accurately characterized, then, as an elite? Merriam-Webster on-line defines elite as: The choice part: the socially superior part of society: a group of persons who by virtue of position or education exercise much power or influence: a member of such an elite;… . Every fan of the NCAA national basketball tournament knows that to make it to the “Elite Eight” is a good thing: “elite” is a positive adjective. And a positive noun. So, when enthusiastically hierarchical conservatives use the word “elite” as pejorative they are cynically and blatantly playing to the cheap seats. Their deployment of this false egalitarianism is nothing but rabble-rousing of the crassest kind.

God help the bleating merinooisie.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Readings: Gangstagenesis

The story is told that the wizened old woman taught mothers never to love their children. She walked from cabin to cabin dispensing her wisdom. Because her message must be infused through the veins of the earth, the sciolist* even makes her walk from plantation to plantation, silent as the air we breathe, without attracting the attention of the owners. Mothers eagerly lapped up her words, for they knew the dire consequences of loving. Those who were weak enough to love in spite of themselves received special lessons on how to cease confusing love with ownership. Invariably they failed to appreciate the fine distinction and ended up regretting that they loved at all. Some women imbibed the lessons so well that they went beyond just not loving their children; they developed a deep hatred for them. They hated them for being the children who could not be loved. If they had had the power they would have strangled them in the womb.
~ Zakes Mda, Cion
*the novel’s omniscient narrator

Friday, May 9, 2008

Reflections: Think Pink

As translated from the sixth chapter of Luke by Richmond Lattimore, a partial, but fundamental, rationale for a progressive social contract:

Woe when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers treated the false prophets.
But I say to you who hear me, love your enemies, do well by those who hate you, praise those who curse you, pray for those who revile you. When one strikes you on the cheek, offer him the other; if one seizes your coat, do not keep him from taking your shirt also. Give to any who asks you and from him who takes what is yours ask for nothing back. And as you wish men to do by you, so do by them. And if you love those who love you, what thanks do you have? For even the sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope for a return, what thanks do you have? Even sinners lend to sinners so they may get an equal return. But love your enemies and do good and lend without hope of return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Highest, because he is good to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be compassionate as your father is compassionate; and do not judge, and you shall not be judged; and do not condemn, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given you. They will pour into your lap good measure, pressed down, shaken down, running over. For by the measure by which you measured it will be measured back to you.

And a few verses prior to this, we have read:

But woe to you who are rich, because you have had all your consolation.

It is necessary to equate the outside with the inside; to end discrimination rooted in self-love; to see that no-thing in isolation partakes of Reality: Peter’s poverty is Paul’s debt.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

WWWtW-Watch #13: An Immodest Proposal

Dedicated to the proposition that it can happen here.

One can often not be entirely certain that "Zippy Catholic" (my own personal Bill Richardson) is being completely serious in the stuff he posts for public consumption. My guess is that most people find much of Zippy’s output to be patently tongue-in-cheek. I’m here to say it’s not.

Zippy’s latest proposal is that divorced individuals should be required to pay a surtax since, by dint of having divorced, they constitute a pollutant of “the commons.” Zippy peers into the plate, gets the sign, goes into his windup—there’s the signature high leg kick!—and casts the first stone.

Ball one.

In reiterating my belief that Zippy is dead serious here, I also want to point out that, like a dog returning to its vomit, Zippy’s superficially amusing metaphorical theme of divorce as pollution turns back upon itself rhetorically to identify with its eagerly probing snout the true agenda embedded in this steaming pool of nonsense:

Environmental regulations can of course be a subterfuge, a political tool used on false pretenses to sieze [sic] power for other purposes.

When you’ve stopped chuckling, then, it might be prudent to consider just exactly what are Zippy’s “other purposes”…?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Readings: Identity and Time

I fought with my twin
that enemy within
‘til both of us fell by the way

~ Bob Dylan, Where Are You Tonight?


Money won’t change you
But time will take you on

~ James Brown, Money Won’t Change you


So let it be the City of Lights and Thomas sixty, eager as a colt for love, even though getting out of bed some mornings he feels like a condemned prisoner mustering for roll call. Well, maybe aging’ s not quite as bad as all that but you do get tired, awfully tired of sharing a tiny cell with a dying stranger whose stink and noises you abhor, whose whining, constant neediness and selfish demands appall you. Who could love anybody like him, the drool dried on his chin, the earwax, toe jam, wild hairs in his nostrils and ears, the leaks and nasty stains, nasty habits. Who wants to listen to his nattering. This twin who either grumps around belligerently silent or chatters way too much in a language more and more opaque each day whether someone’s willing to listen or not. Your cellmate.

Enough about growing old, Thomas complains. You could just say old’s a rerun of youth, of feeling ignorant, sidelined, inadequate. Reexperiencing childish terrors you spent a lifetime trying to put behind you. Painfully eager and willing to please, unable to comprehend why no one seems interested in what you have to offer. Except, back when you were a kid, you believed in time. Believed you had time to grow. Time to prove yourself. Time to hurt others who hurt you. Believed time on your side and the world would change if you just hang on, keep pushing.
~ John Edgar Wideman, Fanon

Saturday, May 3, 2008

WWWtW-Watch #12: Tuskegee Experiment Exposed--as Good

Dedicated to the proposition that it can happen here.

I’ve been very lax in tending this regular feature of Rodak Riffs of late. To tell truth, I’ve been impeded both by lack of stomach for reading the stuff, and by the evident lack of interest on the part of what I sardonically refer to as my ”readership.” But today, finding myself in a bit of a rut elsewhere in the blogosphere and in a bit of a funk emotionally, rather than resorting to cutting myself with a dull blade, I gave WWWtW a glimpse. I found that my old friend Maximos has been a busy lad. Maybe he’s off the decaf -- who knows? But it was a post by his colleague, Steve Burton, that prompted this latest installment of WWWtW-Watch. Mr. Burton’s revisionist justification of the notorious and shameful Tuskegee Experiment (yes, you read that correctly) I just couldn’t let slide without comment.

I’ll let interested parties read Burton's post for themselves. But briefly, it seems that the Tuskegee Experiment was actually a “progressive” operation (those damned liberals again!) staffed largely by African Americans, undertaken with the full approval of “black medical authorities,” and designed to provide compassionate help to blacks, since they were a group particularly plagued by syphilis.

Oh. Well that’s very different. Never mind.

If you will check out the comment section following this retroactive exoneration of those involved in this peculiar investigation, you will note that it has drawn more than the usual amount of dissent for a blog whose comment sections routinely consist of self-congratulatory circle jerks.

The most emphatic of these dissenting opinions was a long one posted by a reader signing as “Jean.” Here is an excerpt:

In the face of such evil, labels like "progressive", "conservative" and "liberal" would laughable if the tragedy weren't so dark. These are your brothers, and they were wronged. Did you hear yourself? You are disregarding evil (the experiments) because you say those who are ideologically opposed to you supported it back then (progressives), and it is pointed to by liberals today. So it doesn't matter. It doesn't count. Kings's X.

I urge you to read Jean’s entire comment, as it hits home hard. And, predictably, it was immediately followed by this lightly veiled threat from WWWtW’s resident Thought Patrolman, Paul J. Cella:

Jean, please confine your disagreements to the substance of Mr. Burton's argument, rather than imputing malice to his motives. Thank you.

Uh, excuse me, but I think Jean’s central point was that Mr. Burton’s intent is malicious on the face of it. I concur. One suspects that the rehabilitation of Dr. Mengele lags not far behind.

Readings: Strangely Prescient

In his novel Fanon, about which I posted below, John Edgar Wideman’s protagonist, Thomas, is reflecting on the aftermath of the Southeast Asian tsunami in a section entitled “Counting.” His musings turn from the counting of the human dead in Asia, to the counting the dead in the inter-species war between humans and the birds:

It’s almost funny, Thomas thinks. Counting up the countless number of chickens humankind has consumed. In that war of attrition between species, we must be way, way ahead of the birds. No contest, he guesses. How many chickens wiped out just yesterday by the smiling Colonel’s legions or troops marching under the banner of the fabulously rich chicken farmer who ran for president a couple campaigns ago. Birds may never even the score. But they keep on pecking. If chickens destroy every single human person this time around with the flu arrows grasped in their scaly feet, will the birds still be far behind. Who’s counting. Who keeps score. What’s funny or almost funny anyway is that we know and knew all along no matter how many battles won, how many we fried roasted broiled plucked eviscerated boiled chopped penned in coops fricasseed barbecued crushed and pulped for sausages or ground into mealie meal so they could make a Happy Meal of themselves, no matter how many of their eggs we sunny-sided up or scrambled or sucked or deviled or painted on Easter, we know that sooner or later, just as Malcolm X famously warned – though Malcolm’s words were quoted out of context to seem as if he approved of the president’s murder – we know those motherfucking chickens are coming home to roost.

Chickens coming home to roost. Hmmm. Words taken out of context, huh? Now where is it that I’ve heard something like that recently?

And, indeed: who’s counting?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Interlude: Another Obit

Middle East strife: A look at square one.