Friday, June 25, 2010

Sure Thing

I remember when dollars-to-donuts used to mean
a sure thing. Now,
it’s just a mosquito’s eyelash
from even money, and
you don’t need the Palomar observatory to see
where this is heading. Of course

I have always preferred
the donut, its spongy luxury and
silky goo, the
stubbled sweet intensity of sprinkles,
the raucous variety of frosted and jellied
stickiness; the donut is a universe of
transcendant pleasure and you can
have that empire of ice cream.

All those years when I never heard anyone
make the inversion: donuts
to dollars. The unstable dilemma of its
proposition: long shot
or someone just being
clever, or just a subtle way of
anticipating the inevitable
reversal of the unexpected and the dead
certain. Getting great odds,
on a sure thing.

As if words were designed
to unsay themselves. Unmean
themselves. Un-
donut themselves.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dear Osama,

I strongly oppose answering violence with violence, and so do not personally approve of your vile sponsorship of the attacks of September 11, 2001, despite the fact that you and the entire Arab world do have justifiable grievances against the US Empire.

But as long as you are determined to be, all the terrorist you can be, I think you should consider an entirely different approach to the terrorist ... biz.

Have you heard of "Epstein's doctrine of regulatory takings?" I know it sounds sort of dry, but hear me out. Richard Epstein is a professor or law at the University of Chicago and Osama, forgive me for being so bold, when it comes to terrorism you don't hold a candle to the leading lights of American jurisprudence. I'm sure you did your best to learn from the CIA agents we sent to train you and your forces during the good terrorist war in Afghanistan, but they were strictly --- minor league.

Well, to cut a long story short, Epstein got the idea that a lot of big US corporations could make a fortune if, instead of being forced to obey or even minimally cooperate with US environmental regulations, they could just sue the government for having the gall to try and limit them. The practical upshot of this is that if, say, a US mining company dumps poison into the water supply of some community which then passes a law to make them stop, the mining company can sue the government for the lost profits that have been "taken" by this "regulation". Do you see where I'm going with this?

If you want to kill huge numbers of Americans with poisons, or bioweapons, or chemicals that would melt a cockroach, all you've got to do is --- become a corporation. As long as your cash flow is in the tens of millions, you won't have any problems.

Look at the beauty of it; you get to kill tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of Americans, and nobody will dare to touch you. The courts will be on your side: the police, the FBI, the chamber of commerce, most of the endowed chairs of the top universities in the country, they'll all be outraged at any hint of someone trying to restrict your free trade rights (they might even call this your free speech rights) to poison however many people you want in the patriotic pursuit of being, if not filthy rich, then, filthier richier. You get rich terrorizing the country you hate, and its poor pay extra taxes to reward you for killing them.

My motive for giving you such good advice as it were, gratis? Honestly, and this is the God's honest, I figure that if you start a corporation that gets government subsidies to kill people, well, (and Osama I hate to be the one to break this to you but you are really not very popular here; your image consultant has got to go) people might finally... connect the dots, and realize that corporations using NAFTA's Chapter 11 are just as guilty of terrorism as you are, and we should be putting them in jail just like we should be putting you in jail.

And that wouldn't really be such a bad bargain even from your perspective. OK, sure, you go to prison for the rest of your life. But without these corporations and the governments they've had in their pockets for the last 200 years or so, your country could learn how to govern itself in accordance with its own culture, without the interference of a greedy superpower.

And free from the Pravda-style corporate-controlled news, my country might start to regret its role in violently dominating others. You'd have to go to jail, but you'd get to be a martyr, and somehow, that seems like something you've been aiming for.

As that famous American philosopher Hunter S. Thompson once said "when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." And when the going gets terrifying, the terrifying… incorporate.

The only thing I ask is that you let me use you: as an example.

Friday, June 11, 2010

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 marquee 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.”

Friday, June 04, 2010

Seen at the War Protest, April 20, 2002

I believe there is no place for two people in our country… Palestinians are like lice. You have to take them out like lice.
---Rehavam Ze'evi, Israeli Minister of Tourism, assassinated by Palestinian extremists in October, 2001.

Someone has removed the Star of David
from the center of a
light blue-on-white Israeli
flag, and replaced it with a Nazi
swastika. Accustomed as I am to
the gruesome inversion
of Palestinian cobble-slings
and the underdog King
of the Jews --- Goliath now
a battalion of Israeli tanks ---
this new semeiotic
violence succeeds
in shocking even

certainly, I tell myself,
there must be a difference of degree
and kind
between the exterminations of
the Master Race
and the depradations, universally
denounced, of Sharon's
invasion of the West Bank.
Not just
the numbers,
smaller a thousand times,
not just
the culpability of terrorism's
not just
the lack of any attempt to kill in-
But attaching to this Hitler and Auschwitz
the atrocity
of the Shoah.

But the facts of the matter,
the revanchist facts
on the ground, testify
with cartographic eloquence,
from Ma'ale Yisrael, Ma'ale Adumim,
Givat Ze'ev, Kiryat Safer, Gush Etzion,
and Har Homa where 90%
of Umm Tuba/Sur Bahar has been
disappeared, settlements
spliced to mesh net into noose.
With holocaust
survivors rising in the Knesset to denounce
the use of identity tag tattoos on
Palestinians being mass arrested,
while the XXX pornography
whip-pans from satellite to TV screen,
jump-cutting the whirlwind
scene to obscene
from the Passover massacre in Netanyu
to the rubblecadaver that once was
Jenin, I keep asking,
why? Why, why, why, why does it take so much
slaughter, to continue to lie,
to yourself?

Cut down in high feast
as the shards of their self-
detonating assassin
penetrated them at their Seder,
what in the hell were they
celebrating? The deliverance
of Moses? The Divine
infanticide of the first born
of Egypt?

What type
of Promised Land
is this? AB-? O+?
Or Texas light sweet?
I am tired of having my collar tailored
with the blade of Abraham.
I am tired of having Jerry Falwell and John Ashcroft
play George Orwell's Big Brother.
I am sick to death of having Never Again
being used to excuse
it Never Ends.

Isn't it time,
hasn't that midnight tolled,
aren't we too old for that pumpkin
to still be a carriage?
Isn't it time
for the horses of this apocalypse to turn
back into mice?
Isn't it time
to admit that the One True God
with the Three True Multiple
Muslim-Christian-Jewish Personality disorders
needs to be worshipped freely
in any way
that isn't
or lethal?

There is no more room
for faith based initiatives
launching passenger jet missiles
into the occupied territories
of downtown Manhattan.
There is no more room
for faith based initiatives
bombing gay night clubs
and family planning centers.
There is no more room
for faith based initiatives
engaging in pre-emptive retaliations
to colonize the land of God.
And there is absolutely no more room
for faith based initiatives
launching bunker busting nukes
from Dimona, Lop Nor, Islamabad
or the nearest B-52 to service
the insatiable 4x4 god of
Caspian basin crude.

Somebody has replaced the Star of David
with a Nazi swastika,
my God my literalist fundamentalist God
I say from the protest in Washington,
I wonder who.