Wednesday, December 21, 2011


By all accounts (or most accounts), he was a bastard. An intellectual assailant; a pompous, backstabbing, turncoat with a tremendous vocabulary and a dogged allegiance to writing. That last aspect, the commitment to language and the written word, redeems him partly, in some eyes.

Listening to him read his memoir, Hitch-22, is a pleasure. Listening to his various debates with fundamentalist Christians and other religious charlatans is always amusing, even if he's taken to task by Chris Hedges for his louche behavior when the two met to debate religion. Hedges' critiques and grudging praise seem worthy and apt.

There is no love lost, nor respect either, between Alexander Cockburn and Hitchens. Once fellow columnists at The Nation during the 1980s, Cockburn's  piece at Counterpunch  rings with disdain. Even the title of the piece is dismissive, failing, as it does, to accord the man his name:  Farewell to H.C. No grudging praise to be found there.

Yet still. Hitchens was a lion of sorts, a public intellectual who was often brazenly and refreshingly candid. Even when misguided or, as with his support of George H. Bush and the invasion of Iraq, inexcusable. Mavericks are rarely likable through and through.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Adieu, Mr. Whitman

George Whitman, bookseller extraordinaire, friend of writers and travelers, mischievous raconteur, proprietor of the iconic Shakespeare & Co. in Paris (so named in honor of Sylvia Beach's original Parisian bookshop), has passed on.

Many Parisian travelers, writers, artists, wayfarers have personal anecdotes of their encounters with George Whitman. As do I.

In 1990, my traveling companion and I found ourselves in a Paris we couldn't afford and were on the cusp of having to abandon the city. A friend of mine had told us before going that sometimes the Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore put people up for free. Being a bookseller myself at the time, we thought it was worth a shot.

                                                       Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

The unmistakable George Whitman sat behind a cluttered desk in an entire room of cluttered bookshelves. I approached him.

"Hello," I said, "I was told that sometimes travelers could stay here and I was wondering ...."

"NO!" he shouted before I could even finish my sentence. "That's a lie! You can't stay here!"

I was so taken aback, I didn't argue and instead just turned away. So much for that idea, I thought.

But being in such a jumbled, ramshackle bookshop had its charm and my companion and I stayed and browsed, fading into the background chaos of the towering stacks, the stacked pillars of books, the jumbled variety of printed matter. This was a serious bookstore, there were no postcards or souvenir Eiffel Towers or T shirts for sale.

I've been a collector of Beat Generation literature since I was a young man and so always look for works by the Beat writers, the famous - Ginsberg, Kerouac, Corso, Burroughs; the not as famous - John Wieners, Lew Welch, Philip Lamantia; and those on the periphery of Beat - Brautigan, Rexroth, Kesey, etc. That day, in Shakespeare & Co., in a box of broadsides and various pamphlets and small press publications, I came upon a stapled edition of poems by Jack Hirschman, one of those peripheral Beats whose actual work I didn't much know but whose name I did. I've forgotten what small edition it was, some chapbook, but it did not have a price in it and I knew that I didn't already own it so I thought if they didn't want too much for it, I'd buy it.

I took it over the George Whitman. "How much do you want for this?" I asked, and handed it to him.

He looked at it. "Hirschman?" he said, "you know Hirschman?"

Without another word, he opened the top drawer of the desk, took out a key on a brass key chain, and handed it to me.

"The key is to the small library, top of the stairs, 1st floor, to the right. You can stay there. See me after you get settled, you'll have to cover the desk while I go out later."

Just like that.

For three days, my companion and I slept in a tiny narrow bed in the "library," a room packed floor to ceiling with not-for-sale books, mostly first editions of the greats - Hemingway, Joyce, Pound, Baldwin, Burroughs, Miller, Nin, Stein. It was like sleeping in a rare book vault. And it was free - excepting the few hours I sat behind the desk and did what came naturally at the time, selling books.

For George Whitman's generosity and his tireless encouragement of literature and the avant-garde (even in the smallest gestures such as rewarding my interest in a writer he, George, deemed worthy, by helping me and my friend), I will always be grateful.

Out the small window of our room we could look down on the sidewalk in front of the shop and the Seine and, to the right, the weighty face of Notre Dame. I will never know Paris again as I knew it then, in 1990, sheltered under the creaking eaves of George Whitman's book palace and writers' refuge, the magnificent Shakespeare & Co.

Adieu, Mr. Whitman, and merci beaucoup.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rare Howl Discovered

It's not often that a rare howl is heard or a rare Howl discovered, but ... so one has been. An extraordinary surfacing at the Rauner Library of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire - a copy of the mimeographed true first edition (of 25 purportedly produced) that Ginsberg sent to Richard Eberhart, fellow poet (and, at the time, soon to be chronicler of the San Francisco Poetry scene 1956).

Read this extraordinary account of its discovery at the Rauner Library Blog.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Infinite Vocab 101

There are a lot of amazing and interesting words in Infinite Jest. I wrote down a bunch of the ones I didn't know. Not every one, of course. I skipped all of the anatomical & pharmaceutical terms and there were times when I just didn't bother. IJ is big enough for that: for weeks you can read through thickets of pages and not write a word down, and then more weeks come and more huge chunks of pages and you find yourself jotting down every wild word you've never before seen and underlining sentences and whole chunks of prose that surge like tides and resonate and enthrall like 4th of July sparklers and meat on a grill.

enfilade – 13                   fitviavi - footnote 56, 996     
magisculed – 24                 ephebic - 170                  
anfractuous – 39                fricatives - 174
phylacteryish – 47              formication - 177
pargeted – 51                   sephenoid - 182
nystagmus – footnote 5A, 983    callosum - 182      
apocopes – 57                   laryngeally - 182
synclinal – 75                  treillage - 185
leptosomatic – 79               rostral - 185
calliopsis – 80                 lamina - 185
quincunx – 80                   piameter - 186
aleatory – 82                   sulci - 186
candidiatic – 87                chiasmae - 186
pedentive – 91                  oblongata - 186
pedalferrous – 93               meatus - 186
gibbous – 109                   triviumoid - 188
guilloche – 120                 papuled - 190
apercu – 121                    aminating - 195
osseously – 122                 gonfalonish - 208
eidetic – 127                   mucronate - 208
amines – 142                    tumbrel - 225
putative – 142                  wopsed-up - 234
erumpent – 155                  afflated - 235
parping – 159                   squunches - 236
rutilant – 159                  strettoing - 240
narcelle – 170                  acclivated – 241
apotropiac – 243                     ascapartic – footnote 110, 1016
lacuna – 245                    falcate - footnote 110, 1019
coccyges – 257                  bradyauxetic - 313
egregulous – 272                     ablated - 316
mokus – 273                     venulated - 362
Spont-Dissem – 274              cunctations - 368
nystagmic – 281                 arachnodactylic - 376
deafflatusized – 284            mucronate - 376
lordotic – footnote 98, 1003       chyme - 379
felo de se – 286                     aigrette - 380
strabismic – 289                     agnation - 382
ascapartic – 290                     adipose - 383
elisions – 290                  fulgurant - 387
apical – 290                    glabrous - 388
attar – 290                     carie - 410
auracopia – 298                 mafficking - 429
habiliments – 301               cuirass - 431
formicating – 304               dewimpled - 437
bilirubin – 304                 cognomen - 448
candent – 306                   nacreous - 455
quadrivial – 306                misprision - 465
wimples – 310                   ablative - 470
convolved – 310                 mysticetously - 476
xerophagy – footnote 110, 1006  propinquous – 479
anechoic – 503                  phocomelic – 901
coprolaliac – 621               achondroplastic - 901
mobiusizing – 622               entr’actes - 933
saltire – 632                   sinciput - 950
anaclitic – footnote 269, 1048       finial - 950
furcated - footnote 269, 1051        guilloche - 952
deuteragonist – 688                  kyphotic - 953
restenotic – 752                     ciquatoxic - 967
gonions - footnote 324, 1067         fuliginous - 971
colposcope - footnote 324, 1070      
lalating – 788
malcathected – 791
Hal Brushed
actaeonizing – 793
nictitater - footnote 332, 1074
shunpike – 796
quoins – 797
diglobular – 801
inguinal – 803
strigil – 832
anhedonia – 839
skirling – 866
parotitic – 871
ebubblient – 893

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

1,079 Pages, in Paperback

Let's get the adjectives out of the way first: sweeping, confounding, maddening, enormous, sad, absurd, unparalleled, astonishing, preposterous, cringe-inducing, inspiring, awesome, phat, brilliant, mind-boggling, unique, over-the-top, fucking amazing.

Infinite Jest, at 1,079 pages in the Little Brown paperback edition, the one with the inexplicable blue sky cover (overall a rather insipid cover that in no way grabs your attention or does justice to the novel it embraces) is the longest novel I've ever read. Reading it spanned summer 2011 and went deep into the fall, from early June to late November.

I read the endnotes. Everyone who cares pretty much already knows there are a lot of
endnotes. 388 over ninety-six pages. There will always be debates about DFW's endnotes and footnotes. How many graduate school dissertations will be written on David Foster Wallace's use of footnotes? Scores. But there's no debate here. The endnotes for Infinite Jest should not be skipped. Read every one.

Confession: it took me a long time to really get into it, I had to struggle through at least two hundred pages. I couldn't keep track of the characters. The narrative thread was a jumpy melange of absurdity and surreal realism that was often confusing and sometimes confounding. The completely weird  and disparate parallel 'stories' - the elite tennis academy with its twisted creepy family founders, the desperate interns of Ennet House (note: not "the Ennet House"), and the downright bizarre Quebecois wheelchair terrorists - were all off-putting in various ways. But I persevered.

The momentum really shifted when I got to the Eschaton part (page 319). Nearly synchronous with reaching the section that introduced Eschaton, I read in the New York Times that a band named the Decemberists had re-created the Eschaton scene for their "Calamity Song" video. I'd never heard of the group before but I found the song compelling, and the visual depiction of the teenage tennis players in their mundane tennis court environment somehow helped bring Infinite Jest into focus, made it suddenly tangible and truthful in a way I hadn't grasped before.

From that point on, I read it in great chunks, awed and completely taken with it. Not quite lethally, of course, (heh heh heh), but absorbed and convinced of its genius. The rhythm became more apparent, the characters became familiar, the weird tics and quirks and opaqueness were no longer bothersome but became endearing. And the writing was just plain extraordinary. Not that a single quote or passage from the 1,079 pages might possibly be representative or somehow indicative of the prose in any adequate way, BUT - how about this description of the Charles River?

"The Charles rolling away far below the windowless bathroom is vividly blue, more mildly blue on top from fresh rainwater that had made purple rings appear and widen, a deeper Magic Marker-type blue below the dilute layer, gulls stamped to the cleared sky, motionless as kites." pg 237

What about the professional building "... the one with bricks the color of Thousand Island dressing"? (pg 252) Or "...a sky the color of dirty glass."? (pg 621)  Or "...the hot slack facial intensity of a sleeping baby."? (pg 925)

Like The Pale King, wherein is an abundance of stupefyingly good sentences and paragraphs, the prose of Infinite Jest at times soars and roars and stuns.

And then there's the vocabulary (list of words I didn't know the meaning of coming soon).

Friday, November 18, 2011

J. Michael Lennon on Why Mailer Matters

J. Michael Lennon, he of long friendship with Norman Mailer and now a Mailer scholar and biographer, gave an address to the Norman Mailer Society on November 10, 2011 entitled "Why Mailer Matters: Three Reasons." The address is short, some 900 words, and brisk in the characteristically sharp and clean prose that Lennon writes.

One of Lennon's provocative assertions is that Mailer's "... actual novelistic achievements, while brilliant, sit in the second row behind his successes in the polemical essay and several kinds of nonfiction narrative  ...". Would Mailer himself agree with that? I think of Peter Matthiessen who has said that he thinks of himself as a novelist (Far Tortuga) first and foremost. How did Mailer view himself? Lennon will no doubt engage this topic in considerably more depth in his forthcoming massive Mailer biography.

The name that comes to mind when considering who else might have made it into Lennon's assertion that:
"Mailer was the most important public intellectual in the American literary world for over 30 years, and along with other figures such as William Buckley, Saul Bellow, Gore Vidal and Susan Sontag, helped establish the creative writer as important a commentator as politicians, pundits and professors." ? How about Allen Ginsberg?

Mailer, Ginsberg, Burroughs, 1983
photo by Jerry Aronson

Mailer, Ginsberg and Ashly Montagu
on the John Crosby Show, late 50s?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Shame in Oakland

The shameful police assault against the Occupy Oakland citizen action deserves widespread condemnation. Email the Oakland Police Department and tell them as much:

They also have a "Quality of Service" page on their website where citizens can report police misconduct (among other things):

Sample Text:

"Mr. Howard Jordan and all members of the Oakland Police Department,

"Appalling" comes to mind when reading accounts of the Oakland Police Department's aggressive and punitive actions against peacefully-assembled United States citizens. "Shameful" and "disgraceful" seem apt as well. That your assault critically injured an Iraq War Veteran simply deepens the shame your department deserves. Millions across the nation have seen and read about your debased conduct and we decry it.

This citizen's voice urges you to refrain from further violent actions against fellow citizens practicing their constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of assembly. You should be protecting these people, not attacking them."

Don't remain silent. If you can't join an Occupy action, speak up using the technological means at your disposal.

Oakland Police Assaulting US Citizens, October 26, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's How You Frame It

George Lakoff, in his October 19th article "How To Frame Yourself," gives words to what I've been trying to articulate in my own mind about the Occupy movement and what needs to happen in America. He uses the idea of frames and framing as in "Frames are just structures of thought that we use every day."

Responding to the media and punditry that cares about the movement having "no demands," Lakoff says:

"I think it is a good thing that the occupation movement is not making specific policy demands. If it did, the movement would become about those demands. If the demands were not met, the movement would be seen as having failed."

Exactly. Because the Real Work is not changing policies. The Real Work is about changing the frame, changing the reference points we use to define our society.

What we need to do in America is rid ourselves of the notion that money is everything; that the making of money, the accumulation of money, is the goal and the yardstick of success; that everyone is a rugged individualist who must either stand on his/her own feet, or fall. This is the narrative, the ideology, the taken-for-granted aspect of American life that must be replaced with a narrative of diligence, modesty, reverence, empathy, compassion.

It's an outlandish idea, that a movement could focus on re-calibrating the moral fabric of a nation, particularly one as debased and poisonous as our own, and not spend all its moral capital and human energy wrestling with policy. Changing policies will not change the essentially corroded and corrupt national ideology.

Read the Lakoff piece, it's brilliant.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy October; Todd Gitlin the Fart

Todd Gitlen did not distinguish himself today on Tom Ashbrook's broadcast that focused on the Occupy Movement. The former SDS president, while guardedly encouraging of the movement in general, ruled out the idea of a third party, belittled Ralph Nader (see Chris Hedges' The Death of the Liberal Class on the 'Nader cost Gore the election' canard and obfuscation) and urged the Occupy Wall Street movement to throw its weight behind the Democrats and electoral politics within an established two party system. Gad.

By contrast, the Occupy Wall St guests/representatives Bre Lembitz (NY), Jon Phoenix (Northeastern, Boston) and Peter Kuhns (LA), demonstrated vision and integrity, collective mindsets not yet closed and determined. We need imagination and vision, not faith in the Democrats.

See also: James Howard Kunstler's second pointed rant in as many weeks.

Dewey Square Sunday, October 9 Boston

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Occupy Boston

The young will lead, the middle-aged with means must provide support. This is how change might come.

Donations for the New York City group:

Declaration of the Occupation of New York City:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Occupy America

Could this be the beginning of real resistance to the Corporate State? Can the Occupy Wall Street movement which, by now, has spread to other cities across the country, be the spark that sets in motion real mass resistance? Could it possibly re-configure the Red/Blue, Dem/Rep divisions and coalesce into a movement that unites the 99% of the population who are being ongoingly fucked by the moneyed class and their courtiers in government?

It's too soon to consider this incipient movement in terms of the Arab Spring or the collapse of Communism. To do so would be to underestimate the remorseless and unchecked State Security apparatus that has been assembled in this country since 9/11. When drones can target and assassinate an American-born citizen abroad, how big of a jump would it be for something analogous to occur here, in America?

Nevertheless, the Occupy movement, at least in this chilly moment in the wasteland of autumn 2011, stands out as some glimmering flicker of idealism and possibility.

Chris Hedges certainly thinks so.

As does James Howard Kunstler.

Further commentary and updates to follow, including links to sites that support the movement, screeds that elucidate the principles, goals, and tactics of the protests, and various other comments and reflections.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

J. Michael Lennon

J. Michael Lennon, longtime friend of Norman Mailer, a master editor and writer himself, Mailer's authorized biographer, and this last week of August and first few days of September the facilitator of the week-long creative non-fiction workshop at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony. A man of stentorian voice, "thunderstorm eyebrows," and the most expressive face I've ever seen - if you watched Mike talk but couldn't hear him, you would still get a very good idea of the emotional content of whatever it was he was talking about.

J.Michael Lennon, Mailer Center, Provincetown, MA September 2, 2011

Yet fear not - despite bearing a small resemblance to Boris Karloff & despite the suggestion of a latent volatility in his stern countenance, J. Michael Lennon is a generous, encouraging, perceptive instructor who conducts a hugely positive workshop. Thanks and praises to this man. Go hear him read, buy his books, study with him if you can.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ai at the Asia Society

Allen Ginsberg, Bluefields, Nicaragua, 1986
Ai Weiwei's New York years, the early 80s, documented and on view in an exhibition of his photographs at the Asia Society.

Well worth a look too, Ai at the Allen Ginsberg Project.

A photograph of Allen Ginsberg, January 1986, Bluefields, Nicaragua (1986 being one of the years during which Ai lived in New York and knew Ginsberg).

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Way? Weiwei!

In a surprising move, China has released Ai Weiwei.

Asserting that Ai had confessed to "tax evasion" and has promised to pay what he allegedly owes, and suggesting also that an unnamed health condition that Ai suffers from contributed to the decision, the Chinese authorities freed Ai last week. Further, four of Ai's associates (his driver, accountant, studio assistant and designer), detained at the same time,  have now also been released.

China, not known for its impartial justice system nor its lenience in handling so-called 'dissidents' and perceived enemies of the state, insists the releases did not come as a result of international pressure (as many of those who contributed to that pressure following Ai's detention aver). According to Chinese officials, China's "judicial sovereignty" was never at stake.

Regardless of why the decision to release Ai and his associates was made, the huge international uproar at his detention some three months ago certainly took China by surprise.

Ai's future is uncertain, however. He has been barred from using social media, he cannot discuss his case with the media or comment on it in any way, and he cannot travel abroad. So while he is no longer physically incarcerated, it remains to be seen to what extent China manages to control his Art.

In addition, as Britian's The Independent points out, it's important that the west remembers "... the other 1,426 individuals known to be languishing in Chinese jails for political or religious reasons." The international furor over Ai's detention was an admirable and sustained response but, the paper warns, those concerned for China's other dissidents cannot become complacent.

Jerome A. Cohen, writing in the Wall Street Journal, condemns the Chinese judicial system and states that "This was no ordinary tax case but a politically motivated investigation designed to silence an increasingly popular critic."

(Stencil image from the Drains to Bay Stencil Gallery)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

David Foster Wallace, Interview

Check out a previously unpublished interview ('A frightening time in America...') with David Foster Wallace at The New York Review of Books blog.

Interestingly, despite the basic absence of references to food in DFW's fiction and despite the fact he seemed to indulge in fast food with little remorse (see David Lipsky's Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself), in this interview at least he seems pretty cognizant of the problems of modern meat-focused agriculture, proposing that the method employed in the US in raising livestock is "one of the great unspoken horrors of modern capitalism." Among other things.

It's a wide-ranging and intelligent interview.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Vocabulary from The Pale King*

The Pale King is a labyrinth, a meandering path with no promise of destination or purpose, a journey of farce and ennui. Not to mention interesting words. Such as the following list of vocabulary words I didn't know the meaning of that I jotted on the blank rear fly leaf of the 1st edition hardcover (April 2011) from Little, Brown. I started writing them down after reading a couple hundred pages so this in no way represents all the words in the book that I didn't know.

word - page #

banausic - 229
perdurance - 231
peplum - 234
guilloche - 255
swivet - 258  (footnote) (later on pages 411 & 41(footnote))
logorrheic - 259
impetigo - 263
tonsured - 275
baize - 274
costive - 277
anodyne - 280
celadon - 282
blebular - 286
diffraction - 292
preterite - 292
pemphigold - 300
amortized - 303 (footnote)
nancing - 314
empaled - 320
otiose - 336
recondite - 338
muumuus - 357
caliumoid - 362
obtundated - 365
caul - 368
eremia - 383
dextrorotated - 395
dyspnea - 395
inedia - 402
ephebe - 412
neotenous - 412
appositive - 414 (footnote)
defilade - 422
cathexes - 427
intubatory - 444
semion - 445
monopsony - 481
hypoxic - 515
clonic - 516

* This blog entry created while listening to Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" from the Captain Fantastic album (1975). 'Irrelevent' Chris Fogle** would certainly know the song well, though whether he would have liked it or not, I'm not sure. Probably not. He probably would have dismissed it at the time because of its ceaseless airplay and popularity. But twenty years later after it had largely been forgotten or was simply ignored when considering, for example, Elton John's greatest singles from the 1970s, he would probably have recollected the song with a sentimental pang and a warm spot in his heart, bringing back, as it did for me, memories of 8th grade dances, shy love, birthday parties that evolved into awkward and hesitant make-out sessions in darkened living rooms with brown shag carpeting and vinyl bean bag chairs. "Butterflies are free to fly, fly away, high away, bye bye"

** "I remember feeling the actual physical feeling of hatred of most commercial rock -  such as for disco, which if you were cool you pretty much had to hate, and all rock groups with one-word  place names. Boston, Kansas, Chicago, America - I can still feel an almost bodily hatred. And believing that I and maybe one or two friends were among the very, very few people who truly understood what Pink Floyd was trying to say."
~ pg 162

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ai Zodiac Heads

No sign of Ai Weiwei yet. Two months now, almost. He's disappeared into the Chinese gulag. It's important to keep manifesting energy toward his safety and his ultimate freedom.

Today, the New York Times writes about the unveiling of his twelve Chinese zodiac heads outside the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.

Free Ai Weiwei!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Mailer on the Corporation

Chris Hedges, in books like Empire of Illusion and The Death of the Liberal Class, and in articles on, warns of the tyranny of the corporation. In his view, we have undergone "a coup d'etat in slow motion" and we are now, as a nation, in the grip of the soulless and merciless claw of the Corporate State.

Chris Hedges' Feet, March 19, 2011
One would be excused for thinking this idea of the corporation as tyrannical entity was a recent development, an analysis and perception emerging in the last ten years or so on the Left. But that would be a mistake. Allen Ginsberg, for one, in The Fall of America: Poems of These States 1965-1971, raised the alarm by merely pointing out, in any number of poems within, the omnipresence of the corporation in American culture and daily life. Ralph Nader has raised righteous hew and cry against corporations for decades.

Another longstanding and prescient anti-corporatist was none other than Norman Mailer. Mailer, too often derided by those with limited knowledge or familiarity with his work, was a principled intellectual, a ferocious defender of the art of writing ("the spooky art"), and an acutely insightful observer of America. Consider these comments from an interview on the Charlie Rose show in 1996.

The topic of the conversation was Bill Clinton and his second term. Mailer took exception with Clinton's avowal to move the country to a "vital dynamic center", complaining that he (Clinton) hijacked the Democratic party ("My party is now the party of Nelson Rockefeller!") and that "... he does not have a vision that will move out of the center."

Norman Mailer circa 1996
Rose: You don't think leadership can be found in the center, you have to have some kind of vision of where you want to take the country and it's not to the center if you'e gonna' change things?

Mailer: I know it can't be found in the center and for a very simple reason - the center is the U.S. corporation and the U.S. corporation is in my modest opinion wrecking America. They're wrecking America aesthetically. They're putting up the ugliest buildings in the history of Christendom. The ugliest buildings in the last 2,000 years have been put up in America since the 1950s and now it's all over the world."

Mailer adds, after some interim comments: But let me go back to the point. I'm saying the "vital center" cannot solve anything in America because that's the corporation and the corporation is the root of our evils at this point. You know we have, eh... the discrepancy between the wealthy and the poor in America is now the greatest of the 15 major nations in the world. That's something to be ashamed of.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rushdie for Ai

Salman Rushdie, whose article in the Telegraph calls on the Chinese government to release Ai Weiwei, knows from first hand experience what it's like to be persecuted for one's art. His article raises other cases of authors and writers disappearing into the Chinese security apparatus and posits gloom for the future of free expression in China.

The lives of artists are more fragile than their creations. The poet Ovid was exiled by Augustus Caesar to a little hell-hole on the Black Sea called Tomis. He spent the rest of his days begging to be allowed to return to Rome. So Ovid’s life was blighted. But the poetry of Ovid has outlasted the Roman Empire. The poet Mandelstam was murdered by Stalin’s executioners, but the poetry of Mandelstam has outlived the Soviet Union. The poet Lorca was killed by the thugs of Spain’s Generalissimo Franco, but the poetry of Lorca has outlived Franco’s tyrannical regime. We can perhaps bet on art to win over tyrants. It is the world’s artists, particularly those courageous enough to stand up against authoritarianism, for whom we need to be concerned, and for whose safety we must fight.
~ Salman Rushdie, 2011

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ai On Point

This is an interesting On Point radio show with Tom Ashbrook on Ai Weiwei and the current crackdown on dissent in China (from 4/11/11). The Chinese authoritarians are keeping a tight reign on any form of opposition. They're afraid that what has happened in the Middle East could happen there. Perhaps they intrinsically realize that their oppressive policies toward personal liberties might be cause for resistance.

Ai WeiWei

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Blackjack and Ai

In an interesting development, it turns out that the blackjack-playing community knows Ai Weiwei as one of its own and is expressing its displeasure at Ai's detention in China.

Since his disappearance the news has spread among the international blackjack community, who know WeiWei betters as a top notch blackjack player rather than a world renowned artist or a human rights activist. There are currently talks between multiple casino insiders to hold a series of fund raising blackjack and poker tournaments to lobby the US government to impose trade restrictions against China unless Mr. Ai WeiWei is released.

Solidarity sustains community.

Ai Weiwei Global

When was the last time an artist commanded this much attention on an international scale? Ai Weiwei has still not been heard from or released, and China is indignant at the world's outcry of protest. Why the fuss for one lowly criminal? seems to approximate the Party line .

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei says Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is a suspected criminal and foreign support for him has confused and angered the Chinese people. (article)

Blaming "foreign support" is the indefatigable accusation made by unwanted, corrupt, and despicable regimes of repression the world over. It's always "foreigners" fomenting uprising and revolution, it couldn't possibly be that people are sick and tired of living under the ruthlessly dangerous rule of megalomaniacs.

Instead of persecuting artists of Ai's stature and global awareness (instead of persecuting artists of any stature!), we as civilized nations should celebrate artists.

Interesting related material:

Allen Ginsberg knew Ai Weiwei in the 1980s when Ai lived in New York City.

The New Yorker has published a profile of Ai in the past and blog entries by Evan Osnos continue to inform on Ai's situation and fate.

Dollars Against the Wars, Frame #11

The last frame. The last three dollars of $33 against the miserable fucking wars. This is the unexpurgated post, the rant piece, the unfettered invective, as in;

Fuck Obama and his Afghanistan War expansion;

Fuck Bush & Co for Iraq, that cataclysmic crime against humanity, he and his people should be tried before an international court of justice and compelled to answer for their depravity;

Fuck both cowardly political parties for endlessly hand-jobbing the military industrial complex (a term that, come to think of it, obscures and obfuscates the true nature of that 'industry' which is, in reality, the industry of war profiteering);

and yeah, and Fuck the "security contractor" mercenaries employed by US in Iraq and Afghanistan;

and just for good measure, Fuck the covert & overt drone operations murdering people in Pakistan and Yemen and elsewhere.

Three last dollars that went into the great yawning hungry maw of homelessness in D.C. and across the country, this permanent fucking war economy is killing people.

Dollars Against the Wars

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Infinite Study

David Foster Wallace's unfinished, posthumous novel The Pale King has just been published. The web is awash in articles about the new book, about Wallace himself, and about the legacy of the writer who, since taking his own life in 2008, has been almost universally acclaimed as one of the most important American writers of the last two generations.

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin acquired DFW's archives, including manuscripts, notebooks, and many books from his personal library, all of which is available to scholars and enthusiasts. Coinciding with the release of The Pale King, the Ransom Center presents material associated with the writing of the book, accessed here.

One of the plethora of articles that have emerged since Wallace's death  is "Inside David Foster Wallace's Self-Help Library" by Maria Bustillos. When I came upon this piece, my first reaction was 'Gad, this whole DFW scholarship thing sure got excessive and pointless in a hurry.' And then I read the article. It's fascinating and anything but trite or pointless and offers what the best of these sorts of articles can, a unique and considered insight into the life and thinking of an artist hailed, admired, and read by many, many people, any number of whom themselves are serious working artists. The Bustillos article is first rate literary journalism.

Dollars Against the Wars, Frame #10

Still no word from China about Ai Weiwei, except the announcement that he was being investigated for "economic crimes." Additional news reports suggest the Chinese government is attempting a smear campaign by alleging that he's a plagiarist and by accusing him of producing "obscene art." Whatever the rubric under which Mr. Ai has been arrested, few doubt that the real reason is China's desire to intimidate and silence dissent, particularly in the wake of the Middle East uprisings and similar calls for rebellion across China itself.

In this second to last frame of Dollars Against the Wars, we suggest a link between the three ongoing wars the United States is enmeshed in, and the vast network of arms sales and munitions trafficking. The US, it should be noted, is the world's leading arm's dealer. For more on the role of the US in supplying the world lethal weaponry, link to this page at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

Here's just one fun fact you can find from the above link:

Foreign Military Financing:  Foreign Military Financing refers to congressionally appropriated grants given to foreign governments to finance the purchase of American-made weapons, services and training. Since 1950, the US government has provided over $91 billion in FMF to militaries around the world. The vast majority of these funds goes to Israel and Egypt to reward them for making a cold peace in 1979.

This is just great, isn't it? Some "free market." The US gives money to foreign governments to buy American-made "weapons, services and training." Well, fuck! We're using tax money to pay other governments to buy weapons made by private US companies. What a racket!

Nevertheless, it's a safe bet that these three dollars will not end up in a wad of bills exchanged in some back alley in Cairo for the purchase of a RPG.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ai Weiwei

Two images from Ai Weiwei's "Finger" Series.

White House

Eiffel Tower

His Sunflower Seed installation at the Tate Modern in London last year captivated and astonished. Read Adrian Searle's essay on the show in the Guardian (Oct, 2010).

Numerous international media articles, like this one from Aljazeera, report that the artist was detained by Chinese authorities on Sunday, April 3rd at the Beijing International Airport as he was boarding a flight to Hong Kong. Later, his studio was raided by police. He has not been seen or heard from since.

Call the Chinese Embassy in D.C. and demand that Ai Weiwei be released from detention - (202) 495-2266

Dollars Against the Wars, Frame #9

Today's post is in honor of Ai Weiwei, an artist of grand scale and prodigious energy, an artist who has unfortunately been detained by the Chinese authorities and whose exact whereabouts at this moment are unknown. See a short slide show of images from the New York Times here.

Meanwhile, the wars go on and these three domestic dollars cycle in and out of hands and pockets and cash registers.

Dollars Against the Wars

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dollars Against the Wars, Frame #8

In 2009, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison took home $84.5 million. For the 2010 Major League Baseball season, Alex Rodriguez was compensated for his labor to the tune of $33 million. The net worth of the richest 400 Americans in 1910? $1.37 trillion. Bill Gates tops the list at a modest $54 billion fortune.

Three cheers for the Free Market!

These three dollars will never navigate the free market beyond street level, the urban equivalent of the subsistence farmer.


Dollars Against the Wars

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Waitukubuli Trail End to End

Great news out of Dominica. The first two native Dominicans to hike the entire Waitukubuli Trail end to end have finished their trek. Congratulations to Jerry Brisbane and Clement Rabess.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dollars Against the Wars, Frame #7

According to Forbes Magazine, in 2008, the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan consumed 25 million barrels of oil. By the time the aggregate costs of supplying a gallon of gas to troops in the field are added in, the average price to the US military of a gallon of battle gas is $45.

These three dollars won't get you a gallon of gas at the pump in D.C.

Dollars Against the Wars

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dollars Against the Wars, Frame #6

In Nader's address to the March 19, 2011 rally, he noted that at present the United States is spending $700 million PER DAY on the "occupations" of Iraq and Afghanistan.

These three dollars not among them .....

Dollars Against the Wars

Lessons from Nader

Ralph Nader was one of the key speakers at the anti-war rally on March 19, 2011 in Lafayette Park in front of the White House. Dressed in a dark overcoat, collared shirt and tie, he waited like a burdened prophet behind the stage for his chance to speak. Ever serious, ever the heavy-browed activist, Nader, though a political candidate for president in the last election cycle, is not a politician. He's too candid to be a politician. He is a grim realist, a man who for decades has been the messenger with the upsetting news and dire pronouncements.

Ralph Nader (r) waiting to address the rally

Mainstream Democratic politicians and their courtiers (to borrow the term used by Chris Hedges to describe sycophants like network TV anchors and White House press beat journalists who dutifully and unquestioningly disseminate the party line) long ago cast Nader out of the club. Many people with political views left of the centrist Democrats demonize Nader for, in their interpretation, helping ensure Bush's 2004 re-election by siphoning off votes from the feckless corporate Democratic candidate, John Kerry. For a strong rebuttal of this analysis, see Hedges' Death of the Liberal Class (pages 173-182), wherein he begins:

"The descent of Ralph Nader, from being one of the most respected and powerful figures in the country to being an outcast illustrates perhaps better than any other narrative the totality of our corporate coup and the complicity of the liberal class in our disempowerment."

Nader's address to the rally covered some of the usual anti-war and anti-corporate criticisms but also included practical instructions and considerations for the progressive Left.

Lesson #1. Because funding of the wars must go through "... those 535 men and women in Congress who put their shoes on everyday like we do ..." as a Movement we must focus our attention on them. But how do we get them to pay attention, to listen to the demands of the progressive anti-war Left?

Lesson #2. We must learn from other successful citizen action groups, in particular the most successful such organization out there today, AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee), an organization now so successful that they "get over 95% of the members of Congress" to support their causes and issues. "That is the kind of citizen action to learn from!"

And this is where Nader's address got a little personal and duly critical of those to whom he was imparting these thoughts:

"How do they do it? First of all, they don't blow off steam unless it's focused, laser-like, on every member of Congress ... I can't emphasize enough that we can have massive rallies - there was one of 200,000 that some of you were at in 2003 - but if we do not take that energy and zero it in on each member of Congress ..." and relentlessly bombard them with our demands and our message then we won't succeed.

Lesson #3. Organize and fund raise and "connect with that general public sentiment" that is overwhelmingly against the wars and focus that sentiment on the members of Congress. The task must be to get Congress to shut off funding of the wars.

"Cutting off funding is what Congress can do. You see, the Executive Branch, the Imperial Presidency, has a momentum of its own and it can do whatever it wants - until the money runs out."

Finally, Lesson #4. Find some rich people sympathetic to the public sentiment because "it takes money" to hire organizers, pay for transportation, etc. "You've got to go back and assume that at least 1% of the really rich people where you live, some of them veterans, are gonna' put some money in - but they're never asked! Because they're just written off with the stereotype of 'rich people' ..."

Watch and listen to Nader's address:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dollars Against the Wars, Frame #5

Three dollars circulating the nation's capital since 3/19/2011 .... meanwhile, since 9/11/2001, $1.15 trillion have circulated OUT of Washington and into the great insatiable maw called "the war on terror."

Dollars Against the Wars

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hedges, Hope, and Spectacle

Chris Hedges has often stated that hope, real hope and not the packaged hope of political sloganeering, can only come now in individual and collective acts of direct resistance. In his article No Other Way Out from, he indicated that the March 19, 2011 protest at the White House would be just such an act.

Partially on his passionate and reasoned words, and partially out of a sense of personal shame for having done essentially nothing to voice my opposition to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan since taking part in the huge protests that lead up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, I went to the action at the White House. I carried a homemade sign that read "Another Citizen Against the Wars." And I met Chris Hedges there.
Chris Hedges, 3/19/11

But hope? I can't say that I came away with any or generated any. Maybe I did. It didn't feel hopeful. It was definitely moving, exhilarating, passionate.  But as I observed the scene even as I participated in it, I saw, outside the perimeter of "the event," people going about their business - tourists, clerks, service workers, teenagers, bureaucrats - and I could see that, in our circus-like costumes, our provocative banners and our shouting, we were hermetically sealed off from the world around us. We were a Spectacle.

It occurred to me then that spectacles don't communicate, they distract. Such a spectacle as ours delivered up stereotypes. We were predictable so no one had to pay us any serious attention. In that moment it seemed obvious that we (the opposition) need to rethink the use of this type of spectacle for resistance because it is clearly no longer effective (Ralph Nader said as much but more on that in a later post).

Yet I agree with Hedges when he writes:

"We will not stop the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, we will not end this slaughter of innocents, unless we are willing to rise up as have state workers in Wisconsin and citizens on the streets of Arab capitals. Repeated and sustained acts of civil disobedience are the only weapons that remain to us. Our political system is as broken and dysfunctional as that once presided over in Egypt by Hosni Mubarak. We must be willing to accept personal discomfort, to put our bodies in the way of the machine, if we hope to expose the lies of war and blunt the abuse by corporate profiteers. To do nothing, to refuse to act, to be passive, is to be an agent of injustice and to be complicit in murder."

These are hard words and difficult assertions. I wanted to get arrested with the 113 other people who did but it was too inconvenient, I wasn't prepared despite imagining that I was. But it's alright. I was there, I did something. There will be many more opportunities for "personal discomfort" in the months and years ahead.

Lescaret in Bowler Hat, March 19, 2011, D.C.