Saturday, October 25, 2008


Witnessing the same
evidence, we derive the same
conclusions, with uncanny (and unwarranted)
likeness. Quine calls it the scandal
of induction. Shackle the stars in electric chains
of imagination, name an outline
a horse with wings,
or a scorpion’s tail,
and humanity cannot
fail to fill in
the rest.

The lessons we
plagiarize from the night
sky, headlines from the scandal sheet
of record, how sure are we
their tense is not
fixed in the archive,
where here and there are
nothing but the remove
of centuries? How sure are we
that eternity can be measured
by the billions of
lightyears the present is past
or that the future, having happened
yesterday, will arrive
when it was supposed to?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Picture of the Day

At first you don’t even notice
the absence of red in the sunset
over the Gusev crater. Caused
by the absence of
air I presume; our home star,
pure white. Made so
small and so
cold by its
extraterrestrial distance. But

beneath the missing ear
of the Cape
Buffalo (it’s been gnawed off)
the ruby carnage of the split
ribcage, the small
squirt of blood drying near
the lion’s whiskers, red
abounds. And although they call the turtle

green, the thin coat of
algal slime on its
ovoid carapace as it ballet-dances
through the transparent
ballast of blue ocean resembles
the color of rust,
even as its tesselated
head and flapping
(or are they paddling)
forelegs (or are they arms) verge
to purple.

It is because of not despite
the fact there are so many
places I will never
know, that I am so
jealously grateful for these
copylefted pixelmatrices,
these photospassports to
Sochi in 1915 Abkhazia,
to the alluvial
fans of the Taklamakan as seen
from a satellite, the half-buried
dust-bowl jalopies in Dallas,
South Dakota, the
psychedelic paisley
of the mandarinfish’s garish

Beauty asking
nothing in return;
for a femtosecond, revealing
the permanence of difference
and the differences of recorded

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Burn Babies Not Flags

It's the end of the world as we know it,
it's the end of the world as we know it,
it's the end of the world as we know it,
and I feel fine.
--- REM

“No blood for oil,
no blood for oil,
no blood for oil,”
no war for oil, they say
no killing for oil, they say
this war is about oil,
they say this war is about
SUVs, they say this war is about to destroy
the country, they say
the economy will
collapse, they say it is already
collapsing, they say
the stock market hasn't gone down like this since the
Great Depression, they say the stock market is
going down farther than
Monica Lewinsky, they say
we're losing hold of our
moral compass, they say that we have to stop
behaving like international criminals,
they say think of the Iraqi babies, the Iraqi
children, the Iraqi mothers,
they say we're going to destroy … ourselves,
they say there will be nothing but
war once Saddam is
gone, Shiites versus Sunni,
Sunni versus Kurds, and
insurgents from Iran
against all three, vendettas everywhere,
grudges against Saddam and his ruling elites,
they say we can't afford this,
they say the dollar will plummet,
they say there won't be enough money for jobs,
for health care,
for AIDs research,
for schools,
they say the schools have already started
shutting down one day a week
and they've already cut
funding for universities,
they say the military is already
running out of money,
the military will need
more, they will need
more because they always want
and more
and more
and more and more, they say they will
protect us until we've got
nothing left to protect, so we can keep our free
elections even if there's no one left
to elect,
and I say, I say, I say,

Bring it on bring it on bring it on.
Because if it takes a victory in Iraq to destroy this
country, if it takes a victory in Iraq to destroy America then
let's go get Saddam. If it takes supporting
Bush to destroy this country, if it takes supporting
Bush to destroy a country that spends trillions on weapons
while billions starve, that covets millions of
megatons, so they can drive giant trucks to replace their giant
cars, if it takes an unremitting and blind patriotism
to destroy this empire that will live
in infamy, then let me salute,
call me yankee doodle dandy, and
enlist me in the infantry so we can put an oh so
patriotic end to this offensively offensive pretense of
defensive invasion and the lip service praise of the sanitized
storebought history of a nation
boxcutting the poor to taxcut the
wealthiest of the wealthy and to subsidize their trans-national-
corporations. Call me an uber-patriot,
because I want this sickness
to end.

I want us to be so poor we can't afford so much as a
butter knife for a weapon. So poor we will never again
threaten the country next door much less one ten thousand miles
away because we won't be able to afford the
bus fare, and we'll just have to forget about the
computerized, ballisticized,
mansion-priced remote control
explosive devices that smash
the orbits and globes of young children's
eyes into blood dried shreds
spattered across carbonized torsos
their mothers can't

If our schools haven't taught us by
now how to stop this slaughter let them
fail, for they have bought us nothing worth calling
an education. If our doctors have no tonics to stop this
then smile when they shut down the hospitals
for they surely possess no cure for what most truly
ails us. If this is what we've made of freedom,
that we murder and enslave for the almighty dollar
a gallon, let them jail us
for from such lips the word freedom
will most certainly corrupt not just the
ears that meet it,
but the air that carries it

It's the end of the world as we know it,
it's the end of the world as we know it,
it's the end of the world as we know it,
and I feel fine.


What follows, or through the weird timing of blog posts, what precedes, is a poem I wrote in January 2003, about two months before the invasion of Iraq.

The alarming title was inspired by the artist Barbara Kruger.

In the years since it was written, it has been very interesting to compare it to the times.

Although it is wrong in several details, the general picture presented here is alarmingly true, although events have unfolded much more slowly than they are portrayed.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Russert, Springsteen, Steinbeck, McCain, Obama all pullin’ outta’ here to win

As my mom tells the story, she was doing light chores at her mom’s house shortly before I was born.

When her sister Gayle, a registered nurse, asked how far apart her contractions were she said, “five minutes.”

Gayle, whose temperament was mercurial in the laziest of times, went apeshit. “GET, TO THE HOSPITAL, NOW ”

This was a second pregnancy, and my mom who had had a long delivery with her first didn’t realize that second pregnancies are a whole different animal. Express delivery.

But there was no car. My dad was out buying a surprise (washing machine, two in diapers.) So the only thing to do was to get a lift from the neighbor, Mr. Toohey.

By trade he was an undertaker. His car, a hearse.

I was ferried into this world in a shiny new hearse.

It was my birthday. Friday the thirteenth.

I was reminded of this juxtaposition when, on my fiftieth birthday, I heard the news that Tim Russert had died at 58. Another Friday the thirteenth.

To tell the truth, I was never much of a Russert fan: too centrist for my taste, too obsequious to power. If you want to see the world from a viewpoint of about six inches distance from a politician’s ass, he’s your political genius. But if that’s an aroma and an ambience that fail to entice you, Russert holds little charm.

Nonetheless, I think his demise pinched a nerve in the body politic, a sense of the ubiquitous proximity and unpredictability of death. How you can go out even when you’re at the top of your game.

In the final analysis, I could easily have forgotten the whole incident had I not chanced across the follow-up report on his funeral on the evening news, where John McCain and Barack Obama were forced to sit side by side, shoulder to shoulder, at his funeral. Two men vying for what soon will seem an inevitability, the title of the most powerful man on the globe, forced to submit largely in silence, by the power of the grave.

As they rolled the credits on the NBC Nightly News, they played a clip from the funeral: it was Bruce Springsteen by satellite hook-up performing “Thunder Road.” The payoff for a lifetime of political butt-aroma: Springsteen performing at your funeral, and the most powerful men in the world pretending to be friends, or at least behaving civilly.

It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to Springsteen, and I got the idea of checking out “Born to Run” from the local library. But they didn’t have it when I went, and so I made due with what they did have: “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”

From the first incredibly poignant wail on the harmonica, steel wool tumbleweed with spangles of silver, he had me. And the echoes of Steinbeck’s original...

“Now Tom said Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries...
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me.

... I was just enthralled. And I started wondering, why hadn’t I thought about Tom Joad in such a long time? “The Grapes of Wrath” was such a wonderful book, why has it been almost completely forgotten?

And I was reminded that despite a couple of decades of Steinbeck’s being surveilled by the FBI for possible communist sympathies, he ended his life as a prominent supporter of Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the Vietnam War. He actually wrote dispatches for the Long Island newspaper Newsday from Vietnam, and provided intellectual cover for Johnson at a time when intellectual cover for the war was sorely lacking. The creator of Tom Joad as cheerleader for the napalming of millions of Vietnamese Okies.

The switchbacks of history are truly myriad.

Which brings me back to the National Cathedral with John McCain, and Barack Obama, how McCain the war hero and POW would not be who he is but for America’s invasion of Vietnam, how he was, at least to some small degree, the product of Steinbeck’s political cover.

How Obama had the foresight to try and head off another Vietnam, George Bush’s Vietnam, by opposing the invasion of Iraq.

And I ask myself, when I look in their eyes, do I see Tom Joad?

Nothing of the sort.

These ideas have been rambling around in my head for months now, but just a little short of complete, as if the jigsaw was missing just one piece. And then this past week, it hit.

After 80 years, the specter of the Great Depression has risen from the rubble-pile of history lessons and paraded onto the theater marquis of front page headlines, and evening newscasts. As the sons of Vietnam’s Steinbeck vie for the presidency in Tim Russert’s lee, Tom Joad, the son of Oklahoma’s Steinbeck, stirs from his stock-market-crash grave.

Who will foreclose on the Joad family farm? Who will bail out the billionaire bank-sters?

Of course, in the end, it wasn’t “The Ghost of Tom Joad” that Springsteen was singing, but “Thunder Road,” a different Springsteen altogether : “it’s a town full of losers, I’m pullin’ outta here to win.”

Perhaps, in a hearse.