April 13, 2009 - April 6, 2009
. A friend
of mine died today. It's no big deal. He wasn't interested in living
any longer, and I, who had spoken with him via cell on his deathbed,
realized there was no there there when we talked. An on-again off-again
friendship of close to 40 years was unequal to the shell of charm that
was the calcified residue of what had made us friends in the first
place. Not even the imminence of death in a hospice could precipitate a
breakout from that shell. It was cool to the touch, even over the
phone, and it poisoned my memory of what I used to think of as good
times. I mourn his passing. He was brilliantly talented. I'm prepared
to believe he inspired other people with that talent. But in his death
he reminded me of my own father, a desiccated ruin who welcomed the end
of his disappointments.
I have had an extraordinarily fortunate life. I was raised to be part of the prep school, Ivy League elite who rule the world with their minds. By an accident of geography I was also raised in a pair of predominatly rural counties that take hold of your soul with an anti-rational mix of vistas, smells, sounds, people, and pursuits which become part of your blood. The salt smell of the marshes and the burning rubber smell of drag and motorcycle tires cutting swaths through the moonlit silence. Serpent roads and internal combustion engines that slice through the mist of back roads, back woods, the river, the ocean, the bay, and the back streets of villages, towns, and even Philadelphia.
So I was always divided. Thomas Wolf said "You can't go home again," but he was an asshole. Going home again was the only thing that ever had the chance to save my soul. I had been brought up to be one of the Paper People, those whose province in life was supposed to be ideas but is instead the pillorying of all ideas, in the name of bookish superiority, a continuous demonstration of the power of wit and learning over the native creativity that is supposed to animate our best efforts. The only thing I learned from the Paper People was a certain superciliousness, the kind of preemptive dismissal of all things philosophical which is responsible for the exceptionally high percentage of our so-called 'best and brightest' who go to law school and business school and occupy the empty wastelands of stock trading, investment banking and corporate law.
I went so far as to go to business school myself. I actually did better at statistics and business case analysis than I had done at Dickens and Shakespeare in college, but there came a day when I realized that I was in danger of becoming a certified public accountant or a banker.
That's when I returned home -- to the grave disappointment of my father, who had lived most of his life in a town whose people he had never met, unless they were the right sort.
Now I know how wrong he was AND how right he was. In a curious way John Edwards is right. There are two Americas. But the difference between them is not what government can do to reconcile them. There's only what they both need to learn from each other. The Paper People think they have figured out everything important. They have their books and their goddamned smarts, and they have certain gifts at administration, organization, discipline, and rectitude. But they almost always make an unholy mess of their own lives. They're always the person tapping the outside of the aquarium thinking they can make the fish conform to their irrelevant will.
Then there are the real people. The ones who live in their senses and the moment. The ones who never have any money but always know where the best party is being held tonight. They don't have any books. They're the ones who know how to cut off dangerous tree limbs, pump your septic tank, put the power back on after an ice storm, catch the snake in your crawlspace, and reshingle your roof. They're also the ones who shoot bullet holes in road signs, think stripping is an okay profession, and will kill you in a barfight because they didn't really imagine what life in prison is like.
My PRIVILEGE in life is that I'm both these people. The blood of the Real People makes sense of the Paper People. I've lived in both their worlds. Real People are more fun but they repeat the same mistakes so endlessly you reach a point of wanting to be done with them permanently. (No, you really don't need to slash her tires and bust all her fenders just because...) Paper People are genuinely enthralling -- they know so much and can be so charismatically captivating -- but they live their whole lives without the slightest idea of what life is about, and they're actually proud of that fact. Their wit and intellect can kill you stone dead over a decade, and if you don't believe me, look at what happens to their children.
My ARTICLE OF FAITH is that most Americans are more like me than unlike me. We believe in the virutes of both Real People and Paper People. We subscribe to a sublime if naive notion that the ultimate of our breed is someone who knows how to live AND how to think.
To be honest, I go back and forth. Sometimes I can't stand Real People. Other times, like now, I positively hate the Paper People. What's the point of all that intelligence and talent if your only response to the sound file on this post is that it's "boring"? What I DO know is that Europe has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Paper People. Their entirely rational refusal to reproduce is the purest possble refutation of the rightness of their philosophy. They won't exist in another fifty years. America will. Because even though bipolar examples like me may seem like victims, in reality we are simply evidence of the roiling process that continuously rejuvenates our nation. When you get sick enough of the Paper People, you will stop buying their newspapers and magazines, and you will demand some combination in your leaders. Maybe that's Obama's real role: the reductio ad absurdem of the Paper People. Learn fast, my friends. Four years of superior platitudes is a lesson. Eight is a cataclysm.
You can see that nothing is going to be resolved in this post. Perhaps that's why I'm obsessed with the promise of Christianity, which does not conflate intellect with virtue. Intriguingly, the story appeals to all facets of human experience. It befuddled George Bernard Shaw as much as it does your local bartender. That's why I love it so.
Sleep well, my friend. You don't like this music, but I do. We'll argue the point later.
I'd be more geographically specific, but I have no clue what country
I'm in, or if I've ever heard of it. After the fiasco in Jakarta, I
just ran for the first train I saw. Didn't have the luxury of knowing
where it was headed, other than "away."
I'm the only American I've seen in three days. My cell doesn't work here. Their coinage AND bank(?) notes are shaped like heptagons. When I ask my local guide where I am, he only says "Amakakhlakhbakhkakhlakh, Meester Zoni," which I hope isn't the name of this place. I asked him to write it down, but their alphabet looks like a cursive Korean, with lots of umlauts. I could solve this mystery in a flash if I hadn't left my Regional Ethnicity Color Wheel in the hostel back in Bangkok.
Luckily the gentle Bakalakhaberkaberkatalakh people and I get along well, because I'm stuck here for only the FAA knows how long. Here's a picture of me with my guide (couldn't spell his name if I knew it) chatting up the locals, who turned out to be every bit as lost as we were:
Sorry about the hair. They don't sell gel here. But their McDonald's
has shish-ka-bobs! Can you believe it? Gotta take the good with the
bad, I guess.
What am I doing backpacking in the ass-end of rural India (Bali? Sri Lanka?) when there's terribly important news stories in America to blog about? Here's the gist: I won 50 percent of the publishing royalties for the music in the first Mario game on a bet, and had to fly to Tokyo to collect. I had a day free, so I figured I'd fly in, catch a rickshaw or whatever to Yamamoto-san's brownstone, get the paperwork, have a couple rounds of sake, a few laughs, and fly out. Solid way to spend 24 hours, right?
I must be jinxed. I bought my (first) return ticket on discount carrier BlueFlush (I may be a young, sexy jet-setter, but I'm not made of money) the day before they declared bankruptcy and ceased operations. Every discount airline I booked with that day folded almost immediately after my credit card went through, one after the other. Finally I got fed up, and decided any trip that costs this kind of scratch needs to net me more than a measly Shinjuku pub crawl.
I bought a backpack, some clothes, a hackysack, turned my yen into traveler's cheques, and became an unwashed American youth painting the Orient red on five dollars a day.
First stop: Burma. Or, on odd numbered days, Myanmar. Everyone, and I mean everyone, I met told me all the coups and protests and riots you've heard about lately were all staged, to shoo away all the unwashed backpacking youths.
They seemed cool with me being there, though. Let me tell you something: The dollar still floats like a motherfucker on this half of the globe.
From there I hit all the typical tourist spots: Thailand (always, always check for penis. It's a cliche for a reason, folks), Seoul, Singapore, Fiji, all those temples in India with tons of short candles and finger cymbals lying everywhere, and I spent exactly 47 minutes on what I'm pretty sure was a real life Kong Island. I took a picture, but the big black blur at the top left looks like my finger over the lens. I'd tell you where it is, but my Taiwanese street vendor GPS has worse reception than my cell. Total blind luck I stepped on that ferry in the first place.
Ooh! Almost forgot Micronesia-- like the rest of the world, ha ha. Speaking of funny currency, the tiny island of Yap uses giant rocks for money! Which almost makes sense, when you think about it... and sort of squint. The more expensive ones are heavier. See?
Cool people, though. Cool people everywhere, mostly (just stay away from the Muslim countries. Jesus). And I heard Russia hates us again. And stay away from every non-English speaking country in the Western hemisphere, except for Tijuana, whose economy depends on the safe partying of rich white kids, and one or two cities in Brazil.
I tried to do the responsible thing and book a flight home 2 days ago. Done being burned by cheapo airlines, I picked a real one: American. Whoops. Told you I was jinxed.
You know what? I'm in no hurry to come home. I may be the only chance these people have of seeing an iPod in person before they die (and screw that, they'll break it), but they get CNN on satellite. I'm watching Lou Dobbs Tonight as I eat my big bowl of plain rice for breakfast. You ever watch this calvalcade of sham conservatism? He's enough to drive a man to fill his hollowed-out cat skull with rice wine before morning harvest.
. Somebody got offended that we responded to
a commenter who accused us of being obsessed with 'boobies' by posting
a Google search of the term. What they didn't realize was that we had
employed the rarest stratagem on the Internet for finding interesting
content -- the 'Strict Safe Search.' You see there really is a whole
bunch of stuff that's completely SFW and fascinating to boot.
Worse, these are subjects no one ever learns anything about because
they're too sophisticated to screen out the flood of vulgarity that
ensues when they are tolerant enough to think they're better than the
censors of the Info-Gush called Google.
Tell me. Honestly. How many of you knew there were these extraordinarily beautiful birds out there called boobies? Have you ever discovered the Wikipedia entry?
They sound something like Coleridge's
But damn, they're
intriguing. And a lot more charismatic than most of the boobies we seem
to spend so much time looking for.
Well, end of lesson. Filtering isn't necessarily censorship. It's just
discrimination, which has -- oddly enough -- become something of a
dirty word in its own right. But if you practice it, you just might
find, for example, that even a relentless search for 'tit'
can yield something other than dirty thoughts:
Yup. You ultra-sophisticates miss a thing or two along the way. Me, I
feel sorry for people who never had maiden aunts. Try a few 'safe'
searches of your own. You might be surprised.
P.S. Mrs. IP has more or less ordered me to stop (over)using the audio clip I added to this post. I think she'll forgive me this time. Maybe it isn't rationally relevant, but it seems kind of right. Somehow.
Yeah, I know it's probably premature to believe that Randi Rhodes is
really off the air at Air America. The Not-Ready-For-Profit radio
network has been pronounced financially dead a score of times and come
back with refinancing schemes that would make most South American
governments green with envy. If liberals were as creative with their
social solutions as AAR has been about staving off market disasters
like no audience, no advertising, and no clue about the radio business,
one could almost believe in the Dems' too-good-to-be-true promise of
free universal healthcare. Still, this does sound like a big
step toward an official parting of the ways:
I won't pretend that I've ever liked her. But it's also true that
politics in this country is a game of savagely violent chess.
Randi Rhodes was always a pawn in the game. I don't think she knew that
because she carried real arms and took her habitual one step forward
with real passion. Like her colleagues, she began the Air America
experiment with a two-step move that gained her lots of national
attention (the original link is gone, but I quoted
it fairly at the time).
Was that opening gambit really so much different from the non-broadcast
outburst that got her suspended in recent weeks? Here's what we have of
the offending performance:
Has anyone complained about
her calling the Vice President of the
United States an anti-semitic racist? No. Anymore than anyone seriously
complained when she sponsored a radio skit declaring John McCain a
sodomite because all 'prisoners' automatically become homosexual.
Perhaps she thought that wasn't offensive because she assigned the
notion to Mitt Romney's Mormon supporters. (And if you're planning to
defend her by pointing out that her voice doesn't appear in the bit,
then acknowledge that you don't hold Limbaugh responsible for this or this.)
She had also convinced herelf, like a lot of other, uh, progressives, that the mass media were somehow in the pocket of the Republican power structure. Something about Reagan.
How could she possibly have known that she would eventually become the
victim of a double standard? She couldn't. After all, do pawns ever
understand that they're merely cannon fodder? That when they confront
knights or rooks or bishops, they're dealing with people who have more
exotic and deadly moves than they do? There's no question Rhodes
she had scored a signal victory when she announced her desire to "kick
Ann Coulter in the nuts."
(And here she is swapping
spit with another college drop-out know-it-all.) Problem is,
Coulter isn't a pawn. She's a knight, at least, endowed
with the ability to skip spaces and strike from unexpected angles.
Which is why Coulter is still standing and Rhodes is headed for minor
syndication. So I do feel sorry for Randi. Unlike Coulter, she has no
law degree, not even a college degree, no real connections. She was a
useful tool of the Democratic Attack Machine until she attacked the wrong targets.
But, as I said, I'm feeling sorry for her. She's a radio guy, schooled in the same bruising arena as Limbaugh and Hannity. Here's her Wikipedia bio.
Limbaugh knows the wisdom of the truism, "Be careful who your friends are." Rhodes apparently doesn't. (Who knows about Hannity? We have our doubts about him, too.) She thought she had carved out a special place for herself. She hadn't. Unlike even the oh-so-vulnerable Hannity, she never acquired an audience big enough to protect her from random execution.
But that doesn't mean we should celebrate her downfall. She's an ordinary person who did her best to make a difference. I disagree with almost every political opinion she's ever expressed, but I don't think she's as revolting as, say, Michael Savage.
Here's what I'll say for her. She is a veteran. She is passionate. Sometimes she's funny, whether I like it or not. And every once in a while she is right. She was right about the Republicans fawning disgustingly over the ghost of Ronald Reagan. And she was right during her ominous calm in handling this caller:
She shouldn't have been drummed off the air for doing to Democrats what
she routinely did to Republicans. If the one is okay [applause, applause, standing ovations], so is the other [boo, hiss, disgust, revulsion, shock].
Conservatives aren't made of glass. Liberals shouldn't be, either. Thing is, they are.
Radio is a big wide field. [Choke.] We wish her well in her future gigs.
A Penny's Worth:
. It seems the big new fad of the moment is
YouTube clips of girls fighting. We're not going to link that crap
here. What you may not know, though, is that there also seems to be a
building trend for people making Greyhound Music Videos. The production
values vary, but they're all more fun to watch than that other fad. The
video above is "Daisy
the Greyhound," and here are some others: "Bandit Dreaming," "Born to Run," "Run Cecil Run," and "Harvey the Lurcher &
Glen the Greyhound." (If you want to see what they look like going
flat out in a straight line without the music, go here. It's stunning.)
Of course, we can't mention greyhounds without doing our bit for rescue. "Running for Their Lives" is a short vid about the thousands of dogs who need homes after their lives at the racetrack. It's British, but still informative. We have the same problems here. The good news is that there are many active rescue organizations doing a good job of placing greys. But there are always more new dogs. End of commercial.
We've got a few more feel-good stories for you, too. So take a break from Hillary-Obama, the congressional hearings on Iraq, and the Chinese Olympic mess. Take a look at this picture:
There's a nice story that goes with it. Jeff Guidry works at the Sarvey
Wildlife Center near Seattle. About four years ago, the Center received
a bald eagle fledgling that had fallen out its nest and suffered two
broken wings. Guidry explains what happened subsequently here.
You can guess part of what happened but not all of it. Read the link
above and then take a look here..
Our next item is quite a puzzler. It concerns a young woman who
received, at death's door, a heart-and-lung transplant from a young
(above) she was obviously told almost nothing else about. Her
after that were remarkable enough that she felt obliged to write a book
about them. You can read the short version here
and draw your own conclusions.
By now you've probably figured out that most of our "good news" isn't all quite new. But that's the way of things and why screaming headlines are usually screaming about something bad. Some stories just take a very long time to develop and the end result doesn't make the front page of the New York Times. I discovered the long-developing tale of 'Charlie Brown' at the Snopes.com website, which routinely researches viral Internet legends that usually turn out to be all or mostly false. In this case the legend went all the way back to World War II, where Charlie Brown was supposedly the pilot of a very badly damaged B-17 trying to limp back to England from Germany with half the crew dead and no remaining ability to defend itself. According to viral versions of the story, a German fighter pilot was ordered up to finish the bomber off but instead escorted it back to the channel, saluted, and flew away.
Well, this time the legend is true, and there was a second chapter many years later. Chivalry may be dead, but not quite all the chevaliers.
Another story of dire mechanical urgency actually did make headlines this week. It happened in Cleveland. A bus full of children began rolling out of a gas station down an adjacent street toward inevitable collision. Fortunately, there was someone on board who knew what to do.
Read the whole thing. For awhile there, he thought he was going to get
Our final item takes us all the way to the other end of the age spectrum. It's about a rock and roll choral group consisting entirely of very senior citizens. They're having a blast. Here's the background. And here's one of their music videos.
That should put a smile on your face for a few hours.