Archive for March, 2016

March 29, 2016

Black Lives Matter2

“Black Lives Matter”

There is very little news, but an awful lot of politics.

 Most people, when they are looking for a safe neighborhood to live, don’t visit the local police station.  They do not check out the operational state of the police motor fleet or their effective fire power, nor even research the level of officer training, minority representation, nor their level of community representation, nor the sheer number of officers on the street.  They do not travel to city hall for a run down on the applicable laws in place so that the neighborhoods behave and whether Federal Law might come into play.  If they inquire, it’s about tax and sewer rates, and proximity to good schools and medical aid.  When normal people judge the safety and desirability of a neighborhood, they do so by going there and looking around.  The laws in Ferguson are pretty much the same laws as in Pocatello or in Buffalo.  And if you see a lot of police activity or bars on the window or pit bulls inside of cyclone fences, you don’t want to be there.  And if you don’t see an active police presence and the homes and the lawns are kept with pride, the fences are picket, and a lot of idle groups of young males aren’t giving you the eyeball, it’s more than likely a good spot.

However, when there is a ‘newsworthy’ problem, reporters generally do just the opposite.  They interview the police, city hall, victims and onlookers, and sometimes either the victim or the perpetrator’s neighbors.  Then they interview the experts.  Until finally we get to the talking heads and the national pundits, if the level of interest should climb so high.  Eventually the politicians chime in.  Because in the final analysis the news is showing us the politics of what is going on: claim and counter-claim, heading into to the jury trial.

In short, a lot of the news is not the news of what it purports to be.  The average Joe, given a brief glimpse of the situation, could often deduce that there is no news here, that things are pretty much as they would expect and move along.  They could resolve the issue just about as quickly as they could decide whether to move to the neighborhood.  And that would probably be a big, “No”.

It would seem that nowadays most of the news is politics.  The facts themselves are shared, only in so much as they would affect the public temper.  And depending upon the particular tenor of the media source, these facts are revealed either sooner or later – or not at all.

So herein lies the disconnect.

The signs say, “Black Lives Matter”, but the visuals say, not so much to us (the majority) – “what with the way they dress, the way they act, the way they talk and the arguments they pitch”. Angry  pundits say the police are “out of control”.  But the more complacent visuals say, “I’d hate to patrol this place” and moreover, “How can they find people to do it?”

Best move along.

What is interesting about the ‘news’ nowadays is that with the advent of the internet search engines, we can actually see how the ‘news’ is assembled.  There has been talk in the media of how the internet has fractured the ‘news’ into slivers of self-referential fiefdoms with each audience ‘bubble’ opting to hear what is most comfortable.  What is also interesting, I would say, is that we can now see what the ‘news’ is and how the narrative has been assembled.

Many years ago I added some Adobe movie software.  Afterwards I found that some other Adobe software wouldn’t work, though I hadn’t connected the two issues.  So I went to the Adobe help link to find why my software had these problems.  The offered help was not helpful.  But Adobe said on the link that if the offered help was not sufficient, that for a certain price/hour you could talk to a technician for further assistance.  This seemed like buying a pig in a poke.  So instead I Googled my problem using a quotation technique offered me by a friend.  Soon, the nasty underbelly of the software industry was revealed!  Here I found that the very problem Adobe was going to charge me to help fix, was a problem the new addition of their software program had caused and that they very well knew this, but weren’t saying.  I was astonished!

Flash forward to our current conversation:

A narrative is created in one prejudiced ‘news’ agency, which is countered by facts from another prejudiced ‘news’ agency, so that these later facts must now be incorporated into the narrative of the first.  We can see the ongoing battle for narrative that occurs throughout the life of a news ‘story’ displayed on the internet right before our eyes.

We can now witness what the ‘news’ is, and how it is assembled from a meticulously controlled release and spin of information.  But, we are forced to do at least twice the research and reading to discern some truth.

There are other complications.  As the news entities become more polarized so do they attract more prejudicial, polarized readers.  This in turn allows these more advocating journals leeway to spin and to slant their information – all the way to downright fabrication and lying.  This leaves the discerning reader in a quandary.  As the poles of advocacy journalism and their chosen audiences separate further, it can happen that the polarities become so estranged as to ignore one another.  And a discerning reader can wonder whether they aren’t reading a story published in two separate parallel universes.  There is less and less of the common tale to compare!  What to do?

Keeping up on the news has gotten a lot harder than opening the newspaper over coffee in the morning with June Cleaver.

Another complication ensues within the competition for audience i.e. market share.  “Life is not fair,” Jimmy Carter re-iterated famously.  Life is rarely balanced.  There is usually a winner and a loser.  Such is the case with the media.  Currently the liberal sources dominate.  Studies of the political bent of journalists shows that the liberal majority of them vastly outnumber the conservative.  A liberal slant controls the news, which in turn controls the narrative.

This, in turn, has created oppositional sources such as Fox News, Rush Limbaugh etc. which are not sources in themselves, but doppelgangers to the dominant established media.  That is, they exist as an oppositional slate of faux conservatism which respond like zombies to the established liberal narrative.  (And to my mind, perform about as graciously also.)  These faux sources have no ‘being’ in themselves other than opposition.  (“Only a head shot will take them down.”)  They are exactly such ‘obstructionists’ as the liberal media intended.  In a sense, the prejudices of the dominant media create ‘hate-groups’, of which Donald Trump is the most recent conjuration.

The authentic conservative sources currently fight as an insurgency.  Their position is described in weekly periodicals, such as “Commentary”, “First Things”, “The New Criterion”, “The National Review”, books, and think tank publications such as “Cato” and “The Discovery Institute”.  But fighting from these rag tag positions, it is almost impossible for them to influence the narrative.

So.  Sadly…

With this current election cycle we are determining which side of the progressive/liberal narrative we chose to follow.  Their direction, however, is the same.  This election is like a dysfunctional family.  You can chose to align yourself with either the mom or the dad.  But it’s still the same screwed-up clan.

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March 23, 2016

John Ashbery1

The Confusion of Poetry / John Ashbery

 

Americans like things which are clear and make sense.  I share this proclivity.  But poetry is the source of many problems in this area.  Some poets are provocatively vague, others are sophomorically vague, still others are vague because this aspect of reality speaks to them, others just can’t manage a coherent thought, and then there is one who is scrupulously confusing as he believes reality is an experience rather than a description, and that his crafted perplexity can stimulate a ‘visitation’.  Such is John Ashbery.

‘That’s all very well,’ many Americans are wont to think, ‘but I have no time for that.’  Like the American philosopher, William James , they are very much interested in the “cash value” of an idea.  They feel the experience of it can wait for later but generally do not have a slot free in their day timer.  “Call me back in a few months.”  Or, they have tabled all conversation about mystical value, and suffer a sort of hay fever around poetry of any sort and must immediately leave the area.

Enter the translation.

As Google defines it, to translate means to “express the sense of (words or text) in another language”.  And right away, we can see the differences in the mission statements between “translating” and “poetry”.   Which is, as Google defines it, “the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative or elevated thought.”

I’ve often wondered if the wonderful simplicity and clarity of Chinese poetry were due to its nature or because I have only read it in translation.  Perhaps it’s a bit of both.  But with it came the notion that people who object to the confusion of modern poetry – might try reading it in translation.

You don’t understand Chinese; can’t make heads or tails of poetry?  Try this poem by Meng Jiao Tr. Graham:

“The thread in the hand of a kind mother
Is the coat on the wanderer’s back.
Before he left she stitched it close
In secret fear that he would be slow to return.
Who will say that the inch of grass in his heart
Is gratitude enough for all the sunshine of spring?”

Easy enough, huh.  Now try this Rilke from the German:

“His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.”

Clear enough, and enjoyable!  Don’t you think?

But…  it’s probably plain that we can’t tell if the poem in its original language is confusing or not.- since we don’t know the language.  Perhaps the translation is no clearer than the original,  or even worse!  So what I’ve done here is to write us all down a rabbit hole where I am searching in the dark for a turn around where to re-direct this poetry tour bus of mine.

Still, it was an interesting notion and remunerative in that by following this line of thought I fortuitously bumped into what amounts to a good primer about “How to Read John Ashbery” :  http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_highbrow/2005/03/the_instruction_manual.html  In which we find that one of the strategies you might take with poetry is to just scan for those portions which clarify the mind.  It’s like snitching the pepperoni off a pizza.  No one’s watching and wouldn’t mind if you do.  Here’s some entertaining lines popping from the clutter of  John Ashbery’s  Houseboat Days taken from “Daffy Duck in Holly wood”:

 

…“Where Pistachio Avenue rams the 2300 block of Highland

Fling Terrace.  He promised he’d get me out of this one,

That mean old cartoonist, but just look what he’s

Done to me now!  I scarce dare approach me mug’s

attenuated

Reflection in yon hubcap, so jaundiced, so de’confit

Are its lineaments – fun, no doubt, for some quack

phrenologist’s

Fern-clogged waiting room, but hardly what you’d call

Companionable. …”

 

And here’s a truth widely witnessed everyday:

 

…”Enough vague people on this emerald traffic-island, no,

Not people, comings and goings, more:  mutterings,

splatterings,

The bizarrely but effectively equipped infantries of happy-

go-nutty”…

 

Ashbery can get hilarious.  But also serious.  Again, from Houseboat Days:

 

“… he

Said, that insincerity of reasoning on behalf of one’s

Sincere convictions, true or false in themselves…”

 

Who says we have to understand everything we read?  I certainly don’t understand everything about a beautiful spring day, or a woman (for sure).  Nevertheless there are these moments.  So perhaps it’s best to think of poetry as a woman, and enjoy the confusion.

Take her out for just the evening.  Enjoy the evening.  Glance at her now and then.  Go ahead, high-grade the pepperoni.

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March 20, 2016

Carl's Eyebrow

 Old Age

 Most of my life I have been looking for a certain place, a locale… maybe a milieu where I would be welcomed to speak and to think spontaneously, nourishing friendships that transformed  into fully realized community, rather than a plodding bus driver’s sort of life that froze awkwardly into a revolving Groundhog Day of bored greetings.

As it turned out, it was not a place I was looking for but an age.

Old age has become that place in life where in many respects, I fit.  And I enjoy it.  Not that this early idea I’d had of a friendship utopia has ever come to pass.  The completed vision itself still eludes me and may elude a final release date.  But I have made outreaches and created small settlements where the inhabitants and I are welcome and enjoy one another in a somewhat circumscribed way.  Which, as you age, suits the personality of old.  I haven’t either the energy nor the neural fortitude for any buddy trips, beer-addled nights out, nor intense philosophical inquiries nor romance.  Instead I Facebook interesting people in neatly digitalized encounters.  I meet to read and discuss poems with a regular crowd.   I enjoy activities with my wife and son, and spend a large share of time reading or writing.  I walk my dog around the neighborhood, now and then stopping to chat with a neighbor.  We all have to do a little upkeep on our homes and we discuss the ups and downs of that and exchange a bit of the very local (within a block) news.  And modern TV is a dream realized!  I can download my favorite series to watch at my pleasure, uncut by advertisers and without the interruption of unruly patrons at the theater.  Very few gripes to my life, you bet!  And it settles in every day around 3pm with a cold beer.

As for my earlier years, I re-create those early days as I make sales calls each morning in my ‘retirement’.  For this work you must be friendly, confident, keep the conversation quite direct, on track and goal-oriented, while giving the semblance of a relaxed but knowledgeable representative of a prominent, prosperous business.  You don’t waste their time with idle chatter.  You talk but listen more.  And an older voice with a bit of gravitas, a mature sense of humor and a knack or historical recollection for the right comeback is valuable.   People trust an older person more than they do a younger.   Any conversation lasting longer than 3 minutes usually goes south for me as my thoughts wander; my imagination opens its mouth.  I like having conversational fun too much.  So, all of this, plus the fact that I’m just missing many of the puzzle pieces to a successful chat makes the grit and slog of cold calling ideal.  For three minutes I’m a young Turk and in the game and I can obey life’s rules.

So currently, it’s my ‘new and improved’ youth in 3 minute stints for 3 hours a day, and then a lot of old age which is my New Age – as I’ve found old age to ‘exuberantly’suit my temperament.  Old people are rarely listened to, but I was rarely listened to when I was younger.  Besides, I’m often wrong, and this just keeps me from making a fool of myself.

Not much is required of old people.  We’re left to wander the grounds.  Old people are not required either to shine or to play at athletics.  Younger people don’t want answers or trouble from old people.  They certainly don’t expect miracles – at least, from me.  And they don’t ask where I work.  And they evidently feel they have a pretty good take on what I do by noting the grizzled chin hairs.  (Which I leave long primarily for that purpose – and because I’m lazy.)  Older people are even allowed to be eccentric or a bit silly.

Among ourselves the narrative has all been cherry picked for the best possible life’s story until we really get to know each other, and by then it doesn’t matter – either to me, or to them.  We laugh about all that.  And us older people are left alone to pursue our interests, while included by the relations.  Nobody asks me what I intend to do with my life, or if there is a special ‘somebody’?  And I can call a halt to most any conversation just by mentioning a death – and giving them the gimlet eye as I do so.

In short, when I was young I never realized that the best career I could have hoped for would to have been a has-been and to have rested on my laurels.  I’ve always loved the idea of a has-been.  To have been there!  To have accomplished!  And then, to be done with all of that.  Pure heaven!

(I feel Kevin Costner, especially, has pulled this role off very well in his movies.)

That’s how I see it.  And if I could have had my wish, it would have been to have been old sooner, while I still had all my physical abilities and mental capacity!

Unfortunately, I could never develop any laurel to rest upon.  So I’ve just had to age.

Carl working out

March 6, 2016

MSNBC

It Is Very Dangerous to Control the Conversation

 About Donald Trump.  Plainly, a large portion of the electorate want a different conversation than is currently offered, and this matter would seem to ‘Trump’ all other considerations in their selection of a political candidate.  Do they care that Trump swaggers with braggadocio, insults candidates and citizens?  Apparently not.  Do they care that he makes outrageous claims?  “I will build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.”  Apparently not.  Do they care that he seems to have done little or no homework regarding the job he is applying for?  “I will cut the Medicare budget by 300 billion.”  (When the Medicare budget is only 78 billion?)  Apparently not.  His approval numbers just keep climbing.  What is going on?

The people I’ve seen voicing support for Trump seem intelligent enough, look to be running their own lives successfully, and give no signs of mental instability… aside from polarizing a conversation very rapidly.

It seems a large portion of Trump’s support has materialized out of a disparate electorate as if precipitating from a clear American solution.  Or at least from the clear solution as it has been presented to us by the dominant media and cultural outlets: a Progressive rainbow coalition of answers which are relayed to us as having no serious contenders – that are not ‘beyond the pale’ of accepted thinking.  And yet, all of a sudden, all this collective animus?

Conservative thought would seem to have made no inroads in breaking the Progressive grasp of our politics and culture.  The universities are increasing learning institutions devoid of Republicans, as are the Arts.  The press is near wholly in the grip of the Democratic Party.  The few bastions of vocal resistance, like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh’s Talk Radio, are more demonic Id dominated doppelgangers of a Leftist psychological condition than original entities.  Small periodicals, think tanks, editorial boards in the fly-over states and the Wall Street Journal still produce reasoned, considered and temperate conservative argument.  But they garner little traction in the national conversation.  And the Church, possibly the most conservative of all institutions, is on its heels from attacks on all sides.  Sometimes I wonder if the Church itself doesn’t wonder if God hasn’t “left the building”.  Current conservative reasonableness has been given the brush off in the media so many times that it has the traction, in the public’s mental landscape, of a fly.

It’s been said that Donald Trump represents the current American Id.  I’d say that’s a fair assessment.  Trumps platform wants what it wants when it wants it and that may change on a moment’s notice which makes no difference if Donald says so…  I would take that to be a reasonable assessment of the basic Trump position.

The overweening objective among political strategists in these post-modern times has been to “control the conversation”.  The Left has been extremely successful at this.  And I would hazard that this is a very dangerous thing to do.  When you deny reasonable disagreement at the table, what you reap is unreasonable disagreement from off the table.  The Left is very good at summoning creatures like Trump, whose outrageous nature is to make the Left look like the reasonable party.  Getting these summoned demons back into the box can be a lot harder.  And when they appear, they injure us all.

My advice.  Pull back from these extremes.  We need a Conservative/Liberal coalition which will restore reason to the national conversation.  Conservatives and Liberals are like man and wife.  When behaving properly they can become the best friend they will ever have, and more productive than either alone.

When politicians demonstrate great respect for their opponents’ positions, personas such as Donald Trump will dissipate like the smoky huffing apparitions they are.

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