Friday, September 17, 2010

In Rockford, irony was once alive

One of life's wonderful pleasure is to have friends whose company you enjoy. I first met Tom and Raeanne when they were students in one of my bridge classes. They had come with another couple, Lynne and Bill. After going through several of my eight week programs, Tom spoke this complaint to me - that they were all the worst card holders in the world. I said "this is impossible," but he persisted, so I took the bait: "How about if I come over and watch to see if this is true." They eagerly agreed, and so I observed them the very next Friday night.

Tom dropped an "F" bomb, but that just meant, I was among my own kind. What was stunning was that Tom had spoken truth: they all were individually and collectively the worst card holders I had ever seen, and I had to tell them as much. Which somehow soothed and reaffirmed their convictions. Thus, continued to sign up for my classes. Tom particularly loved the class on preemptive bidding - or, how to bid a lot with a little.

"It's all about shape," Tom was fond of saying (and still is). "Fits take tricks baby." Yes, that too.

After Raeanne and Bill retired, and they invited me to play a regular weekly afternoon home game with them and a partner of my choosing. Thus I had an opportunity to invite many of my students to join us.

After Bill and Lynne split up, I was the logical replacement for their regular Friday night game and leaped at opportunity; we had a lot in common, and as wonderful as it was being a weekend warrior dad to my son and his three cousins, I needed to expand my social horizons. Tom and I decided that in our health interests (and acknowledging the lack of will power we both shared) the snacks had to go, so, it was just bridge, beverage, competition, and laughter.

Three of Tom's stories have become my favorites, and I periodically asked him to retell them because he does it so well, even though Raeanne eyes invariably roll. One is about the Christmas tree his fraternity commandeered one year. There is another fraternity story, the specifics of which I can't divulge, other than to say that as outgoing fraternity treasurer in his senior year, after a boisterous toga party, Tom left a short memo to the incoming treasurer to faithfully pay a certain $5.00 monthly bill, and to ask no questions about it.

My favorite is the story about how Tom and a buddy got the idea (and almost had it implemented) to pay for putting up a sign on the West Jefferson Street Bridge, in Rockford, Illinois. The sign, initially approved by the "powers-that-be," contained this warning: In Rockford, suicide is redundant.

Eventually, someone must have determined that this was not an anti-suicide slogan. But if nothing else, we know that for one brief shining moment: In Rockford, irony was alive.

Went a'walkin' tonight

Went a'walkin' tonight
And the moon looked just like
A tangerine slice
Standing ripe and upright
on a phantom table top
above the house tops
and the tree line
in the Western sky

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Meditation: We always have the choice

We always have the choice:

To let life's circumstances
make us hard,
make us increasingly resentful
and afraid,
or to let them soften us,
and make us kinder.

This wisdom is always available
but we often block it out
with habitual patterns
rooted in fear.
Beyond that fear lies
a state of open-heartedness
and tenderness.

Awaken innate basic goodness
and connect with others;
cultivate loving-kindness,
compassion, joy and equanimity.
Accept all complete with their
faults and imperfections.
Stay in the present moment.
Confess your hidden faults.
Approach that which repulses you.
Help those you think
cannot be helped.
Those things you are attached to,
let them go.
Go to places that scare you.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why democratic candidates are allowed to sometimes hold the office of POTUS

Phil Rockstroh has written an elegant, poetic, beautiful must read piece titled, Part Tinker Bell, Part Predator Drone: The Fantasy of the Presidency as Deus ex Machina which explains and indicts the presidencies of Obama and Clinton and their embrace of their true constituencies - the corporate oligarchs.

Obama and the Democrats do not move. They do not act. They do not govern. They do not serve their constituents.

Although, in reality, they do serve their true constituents ... the corporate elite -- the forces behind the rising level of authoritarian control over the lives of the people of the nation, both of ordinary citizens and the political class.

In situations of veiled coercion, where unspoken threats to one's economic security and social standing are the primary motivating factors determining an individual's response to an exploitive system, there is no need to threaten potential dissenters with crude, old school totalitarian methods of repression such as forced deportment to labor and reeducation camps. In the class stratified, debt shackled US work force, where the personal consequences of financial upheaval are devastating, the implicit threat of being cast into the nation's urban gulag archipelago of homelessness coerces most into compliance with the dictates of the corporate oligarchs.

The effects are insidious. In such an environment, there is no call for the Sturm und Drang of mass spectacle, replete with blazing torches and blown banners hoisted by serried ranks of jut jawed, jack-booted ubermensch: corporatism establishes an authoritarian order by way of a series of overt bribes and tacit threats. This social and cultural criteria causes an individual to become cautious. A Triumph of the bland reigns. Obama's bland, non-threatening charm was cultivated in this hybrid, corporate soil.

As is the case with Obama, corporatism demands employees (and Obama is first among us underlings) render themselves fecklessly pleasant. This is the mandatory mode of being demanded of corporate hires -- self-annihilation by habitual amiability. And Barack Obama has perfected the form.

In his memoir, Dreams From My Father, Obama stated that he learned early: Never scare old, white people ... that is a good description of how he has dealt with BP and the banksters, and all the other old white men in their perches of privilege and power.

Obama, as was the case with Bill Clinton, will not challenge the corporate oligarchs. Both he and Clinton are gifted, intelligent men, but are products of their time. They are men of, what was once termed, "modest birth" who -- out necessity to rise past the circumstances of their origins -- studied, internalized, and made allegiance to the corporate structure. Why? Because, in the age of corporate oligarchy, they knew the only way to rise to power would be to serve its interests. In contrast, FDR came from the ruling class; he knew their ways ... wasn't tempted by the rewards and adulation that come with privilege. He was born into it, could never lose its advantages, and it held no novelty for him.

I'm not positing Clinton was simply a shallow narcissist, as was a fashionable invective aimed at his hulking frame and over-sized persona during his tenure as POTUS ... such palaver was so much shadow projection on the part of the vampiric careerists of the Washington-New York nexus of blood-sucking media undead. Rather, Clinton was a big talent. He was Byronic in his expansive nature. And like Byron he could claim, in all honesty, he could love a thousand women (and not only women, but varieties of constituents) in a thousand different ways, all at once. He was a romantic at heart in an age of crackpot realists. He was a large presence in a small-minded time. And this is how his trouble in the 1990s, and ours, in the present time, began.

When the Cold War ended, and the arrogant fantasies of neoliberal capitalism were ascendant, virtuoso of the zeitgeist that Clinton was, his prodigious wings caught those heady updrafts and he took the nation on an Icarian flight of Reaganesque economic deregulation, that would, later, contribute to the spiraling fall -- known, at present, as "the economic downturn."

Clinton could have used some saturnine apprehension regarding the dark side of capitalism, rather than the intoxication gained from the provisional, mutually serving alliances he made with his Wall Street bubble salesmen buddies, Rubin, Summers, and Geithner.

For anyone with eyes to see, the reason democrats are permitted to become presidents is primarily so that they can continue to dismantle the support programs put into place to shore up the poor, the elderly, the disabled, by FDR and LBJ. Watch Obama reduce social security benefits (by raising the age). It's virtually a done deal, whether or not the democrats retain their majorities in the house and senate.


It's Okay if a democrat does it.

Setting a dangerous precedent in dealing with non-substantive issues

Writing at Counterpunch, Esam Al-Amin makes some essential points about the current controversy created by a pipsqueak of a pastor of a pipsqeak of a congregation threatening to burn the Qur'an. Al-Amin cites further examples of how insulting acts committed typically by obscure figures of the West have been seized upon and exploited by Muslim leaders to inflame Muslims around the world.

Western officials, from Gen. David Petraeus, NATO and UN Secretary Generals, to Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and Obama, all rushed to condemn the Qur’an burning threat, further raising the profile of the fanatic pastor. While it’s commendable that such high government officials would issue strong denunciations, their involvement sets a dangerous precedent in dealing with a non-substantive issue.

Muslim leaders need to realize that Obama cannot stop the burning of the Qur’an on constitutional grounds, but surely he can reverse many policies that have been in place since 9/11 that trample on the civil rights of American Muslims. Preemptive prosecutions, government-concocted conspiracies, shutting down legitimate charities, the use of agent provocateurs, infiltration of mosques, and the establishment of fusion centers and communication management units are but few examples of the real war on American Muslims.


The U.S. was neither attacked by Islam nor by a global Muslim conspiracy on 9/11.It was attacked by Al-Qaeda, a fringe group condemned by the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world shortly after the attacks. At least 64 American Muslims died on that day. Their families and friends felt as much pain as every other victim’s relatives. American Muslims have thus been victimized twice, once by Al-Qaeda, but more so every week by the Islamophobes and their political hacks. These political opportunists must be exposed and rejected.

The threat to burn Qur’ans exposed everyone. Muslim leaders must change their approach and not confront every foolish insult coming their way. These are tactical distractions that waste energy and resources. If they have to demonstrate they should protest against policies that target their communities and violate their civil and political rights.

Esam Al-Amin's article reflects an important sense of proportion, similar to that cited by Bob Somersby at the Daily Howler.

Choose your battles wisely. You can't win them all, many you don't even have to fight.

Deferring on non-essential matters

At the Daily Howler, Bob Somersby, arguably the most important voice of the Progressive left, explains exactly why building of the Muslim Community Center at the Park51 location (the so-called Ground Zero) might be a very bad idea. Arguing with an unyielding logic and citing precedents set by Martin Luther King, Somersby writes:

Some people think that building at the current proposed site could lead to years of cultural warfare. They think this could put the lives of Muslim-Americans at risk. They think this could undercut the vast amount of good the proposed community center could do at some other site.

If those people are right, building at the proposed location might set back the efforts of people like Imam Rauf to continue folding Muslim Americans into the broader American fabric—a very good goal. If they are right in this assessment, why would we want to go ahead with the proposed location?


If you read Stride Toward Freedom, you will see that Dr. King endlessly deferred, on points which weren’t essential, to people who were massively wrong on the larger questions. He repeatedly deferred to leaders of Montgomery’s white community—to the mayor; to the police commissioner; to the bus company; to white business leaders. He deferred on non-essential points, even as he kept pursuing the larger goal of defeating legal segregation and “social oppression.” He didn’t choose to stand and fight every time the other tribe annoyed, offended or opposed him. He didn’t do that because he was a deeply serious person. ...

Dr. King knew that, if you fight every non-essential fight, you will likely lose out in the end, especially if you’re opposing entrenched power. And Dr. King wanted to win. He wasn’t trying to please the rubes by accepting every possible fight.

(my emphasis)

Thank you, Bob Somersby.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Snap shots from the family album

The weather here has been so nice this past week or so. I've started walking again and decided to put in five miles split into two halves, two and a half miles each. I'll probably cover less distance than that, almost certainly less, but ever since I started walking seriously for exercise back in the early 90's, I've been a counter of paces; one, two, three, four; two, two, three, four; ... three-hundred-seventy-two, two, three, four; etc. There was a time when each of my steps was a yard. I verified by pacing off yardage markers on golf courses, and would also check out my walking mileage thus calculated with the car's odometer. But I'm far heavier now, my legs are thicker, and I'm much older. Time takes its toll. So, what I'm really trying to do is work up to 10,000 paces each day.

I saw and heard this as I approached the crest of a hill about 3/4 miles (660 paces) into the jaunt. Two dogs came running and barking from south side of the house on the Northwest corner of that intersection where a woman was doing yard work. The sound of a car approaching was enough to convince me to stop, and besides, a yield sign for me sealed the deal. The car made a sharp turn into the driveway of the house and I could it was being driven by a boy, probably late teens. The dogs switched course no longer running towards me but circling back towards the car. The tone of their barking had changed too, from one of annoyance, to one of joy. The woman was calling to the dogs to come back to her.

A soldier exited the passenger door and walked around the front of the car heading to the south side of the house. The car's driver had a huge grin on his face. As the woman turned the corner and could now see the driveway and the soldier, she shrieked with joy and gratitude, "Oh my God!"

"Hi mom," the soldier gently said, as they rapidly walked towards each other and embraced.

I smiled, feeling very happy for them both.

The scene reminded me so much of the story my mom has told about the first time my uncle, 1st Lt James Raymond Hockett returned home from his first tour of duty in Vietnam. Jimmie made the secret plans with the youngest of the sisters, my mother, to pick him up at O'Hare Airport and then drive him home. He gave strict orders that this was to be a secret operation, and mom obeyed. Grandma Verna was startled, overjoyed, excited to see Jimmie, all the while ANGRY at mom. "Why didn't you tell me he was coming home?" she wanted to know.

Only within the last five years or so did I learn from my mother that later, when Grandma Verna had become a gold star mother, that she told mom that if I got a low lottery number, she should send me to Canada. Having lost her only son to the war. She was determined to lose none of her grandsons to the war.

Clearly, what she most feared was not that if "we" didn't fight "the commies" over "there" then "we" would have to fight "them" "here." Nor did she fear the stigma that would attach to her oldest grandson being a draft evader as much as she feared losing another of her boys to god-forsaken, god-awful war.

Only the American people have the power to end invasions and occupations of the middle east (and Africa, and South America, and the beat goes on and on and on and on and on). This is reality. Only the American people can amass the political will to stop the fighting. When a majority of the politicians come to fear getting voted out of office then these cruel, brutal, destructive, criminal wars against an enemy that has no army, that has no navy, that has no air force, that has no tanks, that has no air planes, will end.

Armies win wars, and armies lose wars. But governments start wars, and governments end wars.

The enemy most feared by the US government is the people of the United States. Interestingly, this is the enemy most feared by the corporate elite. It is enough that most of the population is very much aware of how close they are to losing their job, to losing their home, to becoming poor, and thus that the majority internalize their fear, or direct it at "radical Islamsts" or "immigrants" or "liberals" or "the homosexual agenda" or those who would preach or practice "social justice."

Divide and rule, as effective a means of governance as has ever been hatched to permit the rich to get richer while the poor get poorer; while the have's and the have not's and the have more's ultimately are robbed by the have-lots-of-yatchs (otherwise known as the never-will-have-enoughs).

The road to serfdom is being paved upon long forgotten dreams of people whose fathers were able to support a family of 6, own a home, and be the sole income provider while holding down a decent-paying union job with good benefits, or, whose fathers were able to support a fmily of 6, own a home, and be the sole income provider because of the job he was able to get based on the college education he got that was paid for by the G.I. bill.

Those were the days my friend
When and where did they end?
And why did not the dirges sound
The day, the music, died.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Before we engage our military power

In Diplomacy For a Crowded World, George W. Ball cited the following as a lesson that should have been learned from the American invasion and occupation of Vietnam:

Before we engage our military power in a foreign land, we should make quite certain that we comprehend the nature of the struggle and the play of the forces it represents. More over, we should appraise our actions not only as we see them but also as they are likely to be viewed by other nations - and particularly our friends and allies.


Even if we had given our military a free hand, our effort would still have failed because there was no adequate indigenous political base on which our power could be emplaced. And that provides another lesson we must learn if we are to avoid the same mistakes a second time.

South Vietnam was never a nation but an improvisation - a geographical assignation for what Charles De Gaulle once described as a piece of "rotten country."

Snippets of dialoge from Babylon V

I used to watch Babylon V with my son and nephews. J. Michael Straczynski wrote 92 of the shows' 110 episodes. Week in and week out, the writing soared with a force achieved only by the best poetry.

While engaged in the continuing spring clean up of the Black Hole of Calcutta, otherwise known as my bedroom, I found these snippets of dialogue from a show I watched on 17 August, 1995.

All life is transitory, a dream.
We will come together in time.
If I don't see you here again,
I will see you in a little while,
in the place where no shadows fall.

Faith manages.

As a young man, you were quite amusing.
You treated every situation as if it were a test.
Sometimes, the test is not to find the answer,
but to see how you react when you find there is no answer.

We honor the memory of those who are no longer with us.
We reach out in faith and hope and charity.
In that way, their passing will have meaning.