Thursday, November 13, 2014

11.13 Thursday (Lamentation of St. Genesius)

Saint G., patron of comedians

Last week, shortly after deploying another 1,500 American troops back into Iraq, Barack Obama received a letter, purporting to come from the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which began thusly:

It was late in the evening when we first learned of your decision Friday to deploy an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq. Sorry, we were catching up on the latest episode of “Lilyhammer.” But, seriously, is that a tradition in the States? Releasing such news late on a Friday with the fatuous hope people would forget by Monday? But on second thought, after perusing the American media, it’s possible such schemes may be effective. There appears to be more concern over one Ebola patient— in a country of 316 million people— than the news that your administration is invading Iraq all over again.

The committee concluded by castigating itself as a group of "delusional dupes" for giving Nobel Peace Prizes to both Obama (2009) and to Henry Kissinger (1973), a former Secretary of State with a considerable record of lethal malevolence and bloody meddling around the globe. "That is all," the committee added. "Now, back to 'Lilyhammer.'"  

I mention this, not because of any special animus I may have against the President (Kissinger is another matter entirely), but because it was reported as fact on several creditable websites though denied as fact on Snopes.com. Yet whether fact or parody, either way it makes perfect sense. It clearly reads as parody, but any functioning adult can see the justice in it. What's more, it typifies the dilemma of any ironic soul who looks askance, obliquely and skeptically at the world, hoping to raise a laugh - namely, the dilemma that nothing seems funny any longer; that what might be the stuff of parody is actually the truth, or, if it is parody, that it seems utterly convincing. I have to admire the people at The Onion these days, obliged as they are to construct a parodic realm arguably funnier than the quotidian.

I mean seriously - this is an age in which the Hon. James Inhofe, senator from Oklahoma, whose grasp of science is roughly that of a twelve-year-old home schooler and who believes climate change is a conspiracy of MoveOn.org, George Soros and Michael Moore, is the next chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. It isn't the Onion any longer, but the Koch Brothers, who write the funniest scripts. The White House has just announced an "historic agreement" with China on emissions reductions in which the U. S. reduces its greenhouse gas output to one-quarter of its 2005 level, while China is required to do virtually nothing. This is touted as a partial solution to "an urgent global challenge."

 Greenhouse gas: Peter Griffin & Michael Moore

In Texas, a schizophrenic named Scott Panetti who, while acting as his own attorney at his trial donned a purple bandana and a cowboy costume and called witnesses such as John F. Kennedy, the Pope, and Jesus Christ, is scheduled for execution.

Theatrical producers in Las Vegas are planning to stage a musical, "The Duck Commander Family Musical," based on the Duck Dynasty characters, presumably avoiding the shoals of the family's historic attitudes towards your stereotypical theatrical producer (remember Roger Debris in Mel Brooks's "The Producers": "Quick darling, back in the closet!"), many of whom are aghast at the idea of their professional colleagues having any hand in this, if I may use that expression. It may be, as the New York Times puts it, "too bayou for Broadway," meaning that now when the Rat Pack visits Las Vegas, they bring their pet rats.


The problem for a wag is that the targets have become too broad and too easy to skewer. Gone are the palmy days of 2012, when Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich strewed their ample comic benisons over the comedic terra cognita. Now suddenly, it's all become real. When humor is indistinguishable from fact, when it's all too funny, then nothing's very funny. We are all gone through the looking glass.

St. Donald, patron of comedians
(by DonkeyHotey)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Summer in Oklahoma: No Man's Land

I have come aground again in one of the Midwest's more curious zipcodes, Texas County, Oklahoma, midway between Goodwell and Texhoma in the panhandle, a mere tenth of a mile from the former Confederate state of Texas where the heady smell of hog barns braces the air. Goodwell is home to both Oklahoma Panhandle State University and the No Man's Land Museum, the latter of which I have seen no reason to visit. Less than a mile up the road from where I'm camped lives a fellow who's in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame for bareback bronc riding.

What the landscape lacks by way of trees it compensates for in regularly spaced pods of eight or ten turbines cranking electricity into Texas's open-competition energy market - cowboy wind farms selling to the highest bidder. I can see them in clumps off to the the east and south from the farmyard where I'm camped.

Sunrise on the Oklahoma-Texas line

Strictly speaking it isn't summer here any longer, but the daily temperatures are in the upper 80s and low 90s, so it feels like summer could last all through December, even though I know what's coming. To get groceries, I have to drive 16 miles to Guymon. The trip takes me through Goodwell, six miles away, where the local police camp out in eight-hour shifts in the town's picnic area along US 54, which runs on into Liberal, Kansas. As the sole commercial endeavor in Goodwell, so far as I can make out, is a solitary convenience store/gas station which sells no donuts or similar baked goods, I surmise that Goodwell is a hardship posting for the freshly minted graduates of institutes of criminal justice. There is perverse pleasure in the thought that (considering the immobility of a parked car, the bleak landscape out the windshield, the complete absence of life about the place) working for the gendarmerie in Goodwell must be one of the most boring occupations on the planet. The photo files of Goodwell provided by Google's mapping service show this very park complete  with cop cars.

Park with cops, Goodwell, OK, from Google Maps

I've made myself as self-sufficient as I can out here in my private RV park behind the wind project's field office. I've done the wind farm one better, as you can see, by installing a solar emplacement on a modest scale to charge my auxiliary batteries and heat my solar-powered shower facility.


There's a farmhouse along the road with a kitchen, bathrooms and several bedrooms, but until the weather turns I prefer the fresh air, the coyotes and owls at night, and sunrise through the plastic sidecurtains. The sandhill cranes are still flying over on their way to the Gulf of Mexico and the Bosque del Apache for the winter. Right now there's a scaled quail rasping away atop a fencepost along the driveway. I reckon the winter will drive me at last into the farmhouse, but for now, Oklahoma is, as the state's license plate used to say, OK.


I figure I won't venture into the barn. I know it's full of pigeons in the rafters, and I'm betting (this being the Rattlesnake Belt) that it's full of snakes too. But everybody has to live somewhere, and it's usually easier to mind your own business.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

8.2 Saturday (Expostulation of St. Hilarion)

Last month, I received a summons for jury duty. When I espied the errant document in my daily ration of paper recyclables, I did what every true-hearted patriot does - I smote my breast, I rent my garments, I bemoaned the day of my birth, I imprecated whatever gods and sprites of the metropolis, the marketplace and the hearth had failed to forestall this nuisance, this blight upon the daily life of an unoffending, right-thinking American. 

My household god and favorite party guest

When at last Reason regained her throne and I fully appreciated the gravity of my situation, my best thoughts turned promptly to how I might avoid the necessity of answering the summons. Then, remarking the inescapability of it, how to insure that I might seem sorely unqualified to sit in judgment on any of my peers, either by the prosecution or by the defense attorney, and so be summarily dismissed with scarcely a glance or an afterthought. My helpmeet suggested that my red spectacles might be sufficient to set me off as eccentric in some indefinable and slightly disturbing way.


I knew I needed stronger stuff. But in the event, my imagination failed me. At the appointed hour I appeared at the county court with about a thousand of my fellow citizens, prepared to take my chances in the lottery and, if need be, improvise some peculiarity which might absolve me of further meddling in the affairs of any of my fellow citizens. Should I sit in judgment on a civil case involving some paltry sums of money, I was prepared to proffer capital punishment as a universal panacaea, even though it leaves the creditor no recourse (in that single item it is perhaps inferior to debtor's prison). If it were a capital case such as murder, kidnapping, or default on a student loan, I was prepared to maintain that the death penalty is morally repugnant in any circumstance whatsoever. I thought, this country being what it is and treating its criminal element as it does, that I had my bases covered and was probably due home before lunch was cold.

In the large auditorium where prospective jurors were herded, everyone was handed a questionnaire to complete with the usual information, plus an additional personal section in which you were asked to list hobbies and interests, what TV shows you enjoy, what radio programs you listen to, what you read, and so on. I sensed the opportunties this afforded me to compromise my eligibility ("Well, right now I'm just finishing Mein Kampf"), but my morale was undermined badly enough that I omitted the section. Large crowds tend to undermine my morale anyway, and this one was no exception, down to the staple character of the large gathering, the guy wearing shorts to show his prosthetic leg to advantage.  

"I was just gonna walk around the mall all day but I got jury duty."

I had nearly reached the lowest, dampest point in my emotional puddle when I spied him standing in the line at the counter to get his questionnaire from the jury commissioner. I knew it was a fateful moment, an avatar of true genius, the convergence of role model and disciple, a Svengali to my gormless acceptance of my unpleasant fate. He was the Kafka-esque Ubermensch, a hero with a thousand possibilities, one not to be trifled with by either prosecution or defense, in a word, the answer to all my questions, the end of my jury time. It was just a guy with a pony tail, a baseball cap on backwards, wearing a freshly minted black T-shirt, white Gothic script across the front, each letter terminating in gorgeous pink flames, that spelled "hatebreed."

Brilliant. My heart surged with a newfound hope. Why, I asked myself, hadn't I thought of that?

"Uh, sir, you're free to go home."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Kayaks: Where Prostitution Meets Art

The Japanese artist Rokudenashiko was arrested earlier this month under Japanese pornography laws for distributing "indecent material" after she mailed artistic patrons 3D-printer schematics of her vagina in exchange for donations intended for the construction of a kayak. The artist built her new kayak with a top modelled after the same schematic, an elaborate "selfie" of sorts.

Megumi Igarashi ("Rokudenashiko")

One is forced to acknowledge, I think, that the token of gratitude she sent out to her community of patrons was more than just a token. But by the same token one must confess that the item is a less-than-prepossessing prize for the undoubted satisfaction of "supporting the arts" (as they say on NPR). Put your vagina (or for that matter, its masculine counterpart) through a 3D printer and it's going to be pretty much unencrypted when it comes out the other end. Which means that it will never look all that good on, say, the wall in your office or family room.

The 'artistic process'

Nevertheless, Japan being what it is and not being, say, India, the artist could spend as many as two years in prison and pay a fine of up to $25,000 for distributing printed materials. Given the traditional Japanese preference to formalize their vices, as in the institution of the geisha house, she may have been better advised to offer the genuine article in exchange for her kayak. 

And as marvellous as the notion of printing real things in a 3D printer may seem, I still wonder about it. I mean, what would you do with a 3D vagina? Look at it? shoot it?

"Uhhh . . . lemme think about it."

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

4.29 Tuesday (Apparition of St. Cuniculus)

Culled from "Harper's Weekly Review" for April 29: "Children celebrating Easter in Richmond, Virginia, collected eggs stuffed with white-supremacist propaganda."

White supremacist

Residents in a Richmond suburb who put Easter eggs on their lawn for Easter morning noticed that their private cache had been seeded during Easter eve with alien eggs bearing messages inside like the little paper slips in fortune cookies. A bald attempt to overtake the plastic minds of children ab ovo, quite literally. 

Richmond of palmy memory was the capitol of the late and apparently lamented Confederate States and home to all sorts of nostalgic, plantation-themed nuttiness like Sons of Confederate Veterans costume galas, battle reenactments (a.k.a., a chance to get it right) and myriad opportunities to get togged out like a Confederate general.

White supremacist

What could the little missives inside the plastic eggs contain that might send a parent scrambling to wrest it from the sticky hands of a curious little seeker after God's own truth? Everyone knows that the Easter Bunny is a white rabbit. But this isn't really about Easter, it's about access to young minds. Santa is also white, but we think about Santa during a season when educational opportunities are scarcer. A dog can leave things on a lawn, but it's harder to get inside someone's house to fill the stockings with instructional materials. 

 (Ate an Easter egg)

Monday, April 28, 2014

4.28 Monday (Diminution of Agia Elisaveta)

"The Elizabeth Warrens"

This past week, on one of my endless daily drives through the Rattlesnake Belt, having reached that point of blank distraction at which even the basest form of cultural diversion would suffice, I turned on the car radio. The instant jackpot was a political talk show, the topic was banking regulation, the sympathies of guest and host alike were conservative free marketeering. 

The  guest was a spent intellectual force from American Heritage Action who began reasonably enough by pointing out a shared perception that the "banking industry" has perpetrated high crimes and misdemeanors with no consequences to itself. But if anyone were hoping for a bit of home truth about rigorous new regulation or strict oversight of an institution gone haywire, the speaker quickly volunteered that he did not agree with "the Elizabeth Warrens." A palpable relief emanated over the broadband (which Miguel still thinks of as "the airwaves.")

Now I confess I was ignorant of any other Elizabeth Warren in political life or in the public notice, not to mention several of them. Who were these other Elizabeth Warrens, I wondered, that he had even heard of them, could know their views on regulation, could know of their universal agreement on the question? And why would these women, all sharing a name, necessarily agree in questions of banking policy? Isn't it at least conceivable that, of the set of all women named "Elizabeth Warren," at least one might have landed on the side of the free market angels?

Oh, Miguel (I chided myself), always too literal minded. I had at last spotted the rhetorical coup de grace, the trick of diminishing a policy or argument by reducing it to the name of its proponent (Marxism, Keynesianism), then reducing the proponent to a type; the implication is that there is not a single individual named EW, no such person exists in her own right, no one individual capable of advanced and clear thinking.

There are only "the Elizabeth Warrens," which is to imply a set of clones or nested Russian dolls or kittens, all singing the same monotonous mechanical tune without a single functioning consciousness. An ideology requiring no counterarguments.

In a more positive vein, one might speak of "the Ronald Reagans" as a single functioning consciousness.

 "The Ronald Reagans"

Saturday, April 26, 2014

4.26 Saturday (Ecstasy of St. Teresa)

St. Teresa at the vending machine

From Miguel's home state of Colorado comes a further innovation in marijuana dispensaries. American Green, an enterprising vending company, has recently installed the ZaZZZ in Montana’s Smokehouse, a barbecue restaurant in Avon, the speed trap of Eagle County (this post includes a bit of news and a driver alert). 

It’s the nation’s "first marijuana edibles vending machine," explains a company officer. “Many people could look at this and say that’s just a vending machine, and they’d be right, but mostly wrong.” Which sounds very much like what you might say when you're like totally bombed, dude.

 
 A photo in case you . . . ummm, like . . . get lost.

The machine will soon be stocked with happinesses from Herbal Elements, probably wrapped in those maddening cellophane pouches that try the forearms of the strongest, the patience of the meekest, and could completely flummox an amateur stoner. Maybe herbally enhanced favorites like brownies, pretzel bits, Tootsie Rolls, "space cake," Rice Krispie treats, banananananana bread and other cannabis classics for the krispie fried set from the Stoner's Cookbook.

The Dude abides, although in a pale and attenuated way. Users of the new vending service will need a valid medical marijuana card and be verified through what the company calls the machine's "active biometrics." Still, what better place than a barbecue outlet for vending medical marijuana? The analgesic properties of cannabis are well-documented, and one prevalent source of chronic pain in America is overeating. It's a win-win, though it's named the Smokehouse, so God only knows what might go on in the rest rooms. . .


. . . or the kitchen

In another food-related note, adding to the proliferation of choices on grocery shelves is another variation on Hershey's chocolate syrup. There's the old favorite, then the special dark chocolate version, and now the "calcium" version. So what has been from childhood a reliable source of triglycerides is also an important nutritional supplement. It's like buying health care at the Piggly Wiggly. It's all good news today.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

4.24 Thursday (Apotheosis of St. Cunagunda)

If only to feed my penchant for gentle raillery, our great states of Dixie have once again hoisted the banner of evangelical fervor on a truly African scale. Two recent instances of legislative zeal, the first from South Carolina, where a legislative amendment has been proposed to another bill that recently passed the state House to designate the Columbian mammoth as the state fossil. The initial bill is stalled after Republican senator Kevin Bryant added two verses from the book of Genesis. (That would be the Republican senator Kevin Bryant who posted the now famous Osama/Obama photo on his campaign website a few years back.)  

Bryant's amendment was ruled out of order, but senators rallied to debate his addendum to the bill, which adds to the original text that the mammoth was "created on the sixth day along with the beasts of the field." (Which would include dinosaurs.)

The original measure came in response to a letter to elected officials from Olivia McConnell, an-8-year-old resident, who pointed out that there is as yet no South Carolina state fossil. Funny, I always thought the state fossil was Strom Thurmond.

The great state of Mississippi, much to the premature delight of a few enlightened teachers and parents who should have seen this coming, mandated that schools now must provide a state-wide curriculum of sex education. As it happens, the state commissariat of education was neither interested in sex nor in education. A central prop in the standardized instruction is a Peppermint Pattie, which is unwrapped and handed about the room until everyone has handled it, whereupon it is displayed to a horrified classroom in all its sweatyfingered, deliquescent moral torpor. "They're using [it] to show that a girl is no longer clean or valuable after she's had sex — that she's been used," explained an outraged parent who is also a public health worker.
No shame

I wonder what the Africans are up to these days. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

4.5 Saturday (Nativity of St. John Chrysostom)

Culled from a recent episode of Harper's "Weekly Review": "[F]ormer American president Jimmy Carter offered advice on evading government surveillance to panelists on NBC’s Meet the Press. 'When I want to communicate with a foreign leader privately,' he said, 'I type or write a letter myself, put it in the post office, and mail it.' "

 "Bit of a dustup last night I expect."

Reading this bit of sage counsel I was touched - by its commonsensical soundness, by its elegance, by its very simplicity. The day has not dawned (yet) in this country when ordinary citizens, upon retrieving their mail, find that it has the rumply appearance of having been steamed open in a government basement, redacted with a black Sharpie or pair of sharp scissors after passing under the grim scrutiny of the warden's office or some mysterious Commissariat of Domestic and International Communiqués. The facilities at the National Security Administration and its ancillary operations at Google and AT&T are all too high-tech to open envelopes and scratch things out, or even to read nonsearchable, nondigitized character matrices in fonts which, far from being uniform, are more often impressionistic at best.

I was also touched by that image of a beloved former president, seated at his wooden writing desk, a patch of Georgia sunlight falling through the study window, fountain pen in hand, a studied frown on his brow as he considers how he will begin (prolepsis), how continue (excursus), how argue or cajole, how raise up or cast low, admonish or praise. Then, folding the letter, licking the envelope and trundling off down the sidewalk with it to the local post office to buy a stamp, exchange pleasantries and how-dos with Hazel Mae the postmistress, to the soda fountain for a quick one before ambling back to Rosalind and the wire-haired terrier, Suleiman Omar ibn Rashid.

But still, something puzzled me. I thought a moment, thought again, and puzzled yet again - why would the NSA have any interest in a note to the likes of Clement Atlee, John Major, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Linda Ronstadt, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher, Yitzak Rabin, Imelda Marcos, Pope John Paul II, Strom Thurmond, Everett Dirkson, Claire Booth Luce, President Sukarno, Robert McNamara, Ralph Abernathy, Shimon Peres, Harold Stassen, Konrad Adenauer, Betty Friedan, John Maynard Keynes, George Kennan, Shirley Chisholm, Thich Nhat Hanh, Averill Harriman, Anwar Sadat, Nelson Rockefeller, Adlai Stevenson, William O. Douglas, Wendell Wilkie, Menachim Begin, Martin Buber, John Foster Dulles, Dean Acheson, Alger Hiss, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Zbigniew Brzinski or Racquel Welch?


Well, it beats me. But like he says, it pays to be careful.

Friday, April 4, 2014

4.4 Friday (Feast of Torquemada)

 
 Your tax dollars at work

Congress has ordered the release of a report on the CIA's 'enhanced interrogation' techniques, a document which to no one's astonishment does not redound to the honor of the agency. Saxby  Chambliss (R-Absurdistan), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee (I will not stoop to pick the low fruit in that phrase) is already whingeing that the report is biased, distorted and relies for its gobsmack on 'cherry picking.'  Nonetheless, urges the Hon. Senator, it should be released anyway so that 'the American people can make up their own minds.'

This last, of course, is the soapy sanctimony of cant. When Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld were huddling with John Yoo to refine the extralegal notion of enhanced interrogation, you can bet that neither Saxby nor any of his Congressional colleagues was informed of anything that could have helped them to 'make up their own minds.' Nor was that sacrosanct fiction, 'the American people,' ever asked what they thought at the time.

Saxby is no Pericles, but must political speech always be the sort of disingenuous drivel that only the viewers of 'Duck Dynasty' can hear without gagging?

To make matters more trying, I came across a magazine lying on my cocktail table, evidently left there by a soul of a more rarified bent than mine. It was a New Age-y literary/media/art photog production of unpredictable and irregular valence; on its inside cover, the various 'contributors' each supplied a brief precis of themselves, a thumbnail to help the subscribing public understand who they think they are and where they think they're 'coming from.' It was instructive and humbling.

The first one off the mark says that 'after years of having stumbled down long corridors of philosophical mystery, he has learned that spaghetti can make you happy." (This is from the  Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten school of hastily acquired wisdom, generally bleeding over into the glib smart-assery of the unschooled. It will surprise no one to learn that the first word of this author's contribution is 'I'.)

The next contributor notes that she 'recently married the woman she's essentially been married to for thirty years.' (Is being 'essentially married' different in some important respect from just being married - more authentic, more fun, less expensive? Is this merely self-congratulatory or will it contribute to our understanding of her written opus?)

Yet a third notes that his teenage son 'has recently discovered he's a spoken-word poet' whom you can watch on YouTube, depending on how much you figure your time is worth. (Which begs the question what sort of poet this prodigy may have been before his discovery that he was a 'spoken-word poet.' I presume it means that he just starts talking without writing anything down beforehand, which seems more an affliction of adolescence than an art form. This is what gives New Age-ism a bad name, this fudging of artistic categories - are there, for example, poets in farina, feces, pharmaceuticals or any other medium? News to old Miguel.)

A fourth (I'm merely taking these in order of appearance and they each in turn set a new standard of fey) is 'an adoptive parent to the monarch caterpillars that metamorphose into butterflies on his patio.' What more could one add to this coy neo-Romanticism?

"Think what you like, mate, you're not me dad!"
 
A fifth, 'along with every third person he meets, is working on a novel. His goal is to spend more time on writing than he does on fantasy baseball and the stock market.' (This seems to be one of those 'three-legged stool' financial plans that money advisers recommend so lushly. Consider the genius of it - a three-pronged scheme for financial success, every prong guaranteed to fail.)

There were more, but I was too exhausted to persist, feeling (as I was) the weight of my own prosaic drabness. Still, I felt grateful not to be a writer and so under no obligation to limn the trackless wastes of the 'I'. Any way you want to take it, the power of speech is at best a mixed blessing.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

4.3 Thursday (St. Bernard's Day)

A dog where it belongs

Periodically I stray from the palmy precincts of the chateau and go down among the neighboring peasantry to outrage it by complaining about its dogs. Nearly everyone owns at least one such animal, and they all, to a man or woman, regard it as a 'pet' rather than as a (more fashionably democratic) 'companion.' This may seem a fine point, but it has wider legal implications: a 'companion' is possessed of rights in its own person, viz., the right of uncontrolled and pointless barking; a 'pet' on the other hand is chattel, and as such has no rights, while its owner has the unconditional right to allow the animal to bark perpetually and without purpose. My complaints, then, are taken as an attempt to trammel a human right, not merely a right extended by courtesy or regard to another species.

So, as I say, I am forced by circumstance to shoulder unwillingly the mantle of civilization and totter out on a quixotian errand. My years of knight-errantry on this particular fool's errand have taught me that the sprawling cowtown in which I reside has loaded the dice against the man who would live in peace and solitude, and in favor of the flea-and-tick brigade. A man may file a noise complaint free of charge, so to speak, and the offending dog owner will receive a warning. Subsequent complaints require at least one witness resident at another address, or a video "ten minutes or longer" of the lathered and yapping animal. ("Ten minutes - seriously?" I asked, to which the official did not deign a reply.)

Now, a video of that length would require a camera which I have no wish to own, require the considerable directorial skills of a flea circus impresario, not to mention the stealth of a Navy SEAL, in the execution. But, as I have also discovered, it is by far the easier alternative; a willing witness is impossible to come by.

It should be obvious that a code of omerta is implicit among the dog owners of any neighborhood, a sort of 'golden rule' of complicity: I'll never complain about your yapper and you'll never complain of my barker. If any third party (like the old crank at the chateau) should raise a demur, we will unfailingly close ranks on the question though we may despise one another on nearly every other point of humanity. 


What is not immediately obvious is how far this understanding has reached its tentacles into the larger society. It has formed a network of unbroachable silence that extends even to those unencumbered in their own households by the canine thrall. It is, by now, an essential thread in the social fabric.

I had engaged the consent of a near neighbor (one whom I have considered a friend of many years) to witness my recent complaint of a party keeping a roisterous kennel in their backyard, just beneath the belvidere above the north lawn of the chateau. His curiosity invariably leads him, in some destructive, technology-enabled spiral, to the internet, where he discovers from the city assessor's database that the owner of the property in question is his next door neighbor, and that the tenant about whom I have complained is this man's near of kin.

Now, as the owner of the property himself keeps a pack of noisy dogs, he has been a longstanding source of irritation to my friend, who I will call Lorenzo. But Lorenzo has, for the past quarter-century, harbored dreams of refurbishing his residence to the point of putting some sheet rock over his naked wall joists and adding an outbuilding or two on the property, all of which would require him to get a building permit from the city. And getting a building permit would require him to notify all the neighbors within a stated perimeter and, should there be objections, submit to a public hearing of his petition.

In short, Lorenzo spied a possible snag in his plans, decided not to give any possible or imagined ground of offense to his dog-owning neighbor, and (even though Lorenzo himself has no dog) to slink off in uncomplaining silence, withholding his testimony, offering neither aid nor succor. It is a tale older than time and sadder than humanity.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

3.26 Wednesday (St. Aeolus Day)

Have just driven along the scenic 'southern tier' of Kansas on my return to Colorado, through a maelstrom of March wind in a light rental car. Crosswinds at 50 mph bearing an allotment of Oklahoma topsoil in the upper air, in the lower aether the contents of countless farmsteads, including wheat chaff, cottonwood limbs, barn shingles, ductwork from a (ca.) 1901 Acme combine, a dead Angus calf, several cats, and a large rural mailbox replica of a John Deere 830.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

3.25 Tuesday (Martyrdom of SS. Euphonius & Euphonia)

I was reading aloud to my helpmeet a piece from a recent issue of the London Review of Books, a bit of social commentary titled "The Public Voice of Women," in which the authoress makes a cogent case that women have been historically silenced, in the Western tradition, in ways that are subtle or (more often) not so subtle. It all started when Homer had Penelope descend from her loom to the hall where the suitors were gathered, intent on showing them the door, whereupon her stripling son, Telemachus, sent her back to her weaving with clear instructions to leave household affairs, specifically mantalk, to him.

The premise of the piece is an old cartoon from the British satirical magazine, Punch, in which several men and a single woman are gathered about a conference table in a boardroom, the chairman saying, "That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.’"


The argument is about 'voice' in both its accepted uses. In the first place, "public speaking and oratory were not merely things that ancient women didn’t do: they were exclusive practices and skills that defined masculinity as a gender." And secondly, "in speaking out, what are women said to be? ‘Strident’; they ‘whinge’ and they ‘whine’." Other accusations come to mind as well - hormonal, menopausal, or (in  stranger worlds like the one Rush Limbaugh inhabits) even a decayed virtue.

By contrast, consider "the ‘deep-voiced’ man with all the connotations of profundity that the simple word ‘deep’ brings. It is still the case that when listeners hear a female voice, they don’t hear a voice that connotes authority. . . ."  It was this second point I fastened on, the part about the voice as sound. I remembered the mellifluous, deep voices of an older generation of newscasters, voices like those of, say, Edward R. Murrow, or Walter Cronkite or Eric Sevareid, the old stable of CBS broadcasters. The clear enunciation of Howard K. Smith, the dignified modulations of Huntley and Brinkley. When they spoke, the sounds they made lent credibility to everything they said.

Consider the current crop of announcers - take the lot on NPR, for example (many of whose names I don't know because I only hear the radio if I happen to walk through one of the rooms in the chateau) - I much prefer the sounds of the women's voices to those of the men. Lakshmi Singh, for example, could say that the Republicans had come up with a workable single payer mandated universal healthcare plan, or that the President had levied a fair tax on every U.S. corporation, and I'd believe her just because she'd said it  . . . you know, in that voice of hers.

I said as much to my wife, who promptly wondered what it was about the male voices in the broadcast trade. Well, I answered (in so many words), they all sound so effeminate. Think about what you just said, she shot back. I took her point - I couldn't in fairness say that I liked Lakshmi Singh's voice because it's manly. But she doesn't mince and take on mannerisms and wheeze - in short, she renders the feminine voice pleasant as well as authoritative.

No, take a guy like Scott Simon, I thought. Thin, the tone a bit wheezy, overly mannered. Enunciation a little precious, the general timbre of the voice not inviting extended exposure. And the males on the local NPR affiliate either lightly mince through their scripts about which-nonprofit-with-website-just-funded-the-following-program, or they talk as though they had just taken a mouthful of wet dough.

Generally, if a woman speaks like a woman and not a Valley girl, as admittedly many of them do, I can listen to her for hours. But when most of the men speak I want to take one of those wrapped sets of balsa wood restaurant chopsticks and poke them in the side of the head until they desist and leave the microphone. Which, I suppose is evidence enough that I could never own a radio. Or a gun - I wouldn't know what to do with it, nor would I if I did.

Monday, March 24, 2014

3.24 Monday (Dinah Shore Day)

An epic drive today, from the middle of Colorado across half of Kansas on Interstate 70 and south into Oklahoma. In a word, halfway across the romantic purlieus of the Great Dust Bowl. If there were, aside from amendments to our agricultural practice, any existential lesson to be learned from that grand meteorological chastisement, it seems we have been put on permanent notice that one cannot take it with one, wherever one happens to be going.

Nonetheless, historical memory is short, our acquisitive hubris is long. The Joads are still afoot along every highway in America: double-axle pickups loaded with all manner of essential household detritus under madly flailing tarps - cast-iron Chinese bicycles, garish plastic lawn furniture, childrens' toys, hot tubs, euthanized sofas and BarcaLoungers, plywood china closets - everything en route to a new and presumably worse abode. Not that I blame them for wanting to keep what they have in this downward national spiral.


The prize haul was a big yellow Ryder truck towing a trailer with a rusted, disfigured and partly dismembered cadaver of a '57 Chevrolet Bel Air ("a classic!") aboard. I'd guess (considering the size of the cargo hold) they were moving house with their worldly possessions stowed, perhaps looking for a start somewhere ( let's be charitable enough to suppose they weren't going back to live with parents), but fundamentally unable to disencumber themselves of what in essence is a boat anchor - the obligation to restore a bit of automotive design which someone has probably dragged about with them now for a considerable amount of time, long enough for this peculiar weight of history to become insensible, a part of the family's own history of acquisition and prestige.

The happy injunction of our late lamented American Epoch was always, "See the USA in your Chevrolet." Not with your Chevrolet.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

3.23 Sunday (Apotheosis of Senator Inhofe)


This diary entry, arriving on the heels of a silence enjoined by the hereafter mentioned vow of ignorant indifference, was occasioned by an urgent telephone call from a representative of my longtime publisher, Smallwood & Heep (principal offices in Bournemouth, Dorset). I was at first impervious to his entreaties that I resume my literary and cultural endeavors, and resolved not to be prevailed upon in my unwillingness to resume my satirical lucubrations. 

He persisted, I began to relent; he threatened, I bristled; he cajoled, I was touched; he flattered, my vanity was touched. He offered no promise of emolument but urged that I had left a public bereft. I scoffed, he mentioned my 'page hits'. I agreed then, but only to this, that I would attempt a modest diary, some daily record of reflections, bonn motts and what-have-you's calculated to puzzle and stun the most ingenious of our race.
*******

Awoke late to another day of abominable soul-destroying weather, snow and sky of a uniform and depressing gray, a textbook spring day in the Rockies. As I was taking a second coffee my neighbor Zeno knocked, brimful of geriatric urgency which spilled through the front door with a gust of snow, all to inform me that my meager livelihood was further imperiled by the unprincipled caddishness of the bodies politic of Kansas and Oklahoma.

In a word, the legislative bodies of these cultural outposts have proposed legislation to curtail the development of wind energy in their precincts. In the case of Kansas, the state's current legal requirement that energy providers include a mandated percentage of renewable options in their commercial portfolios is under the gun; Oklahoma is anxious to preserve its dubious scenic beauty by a moratorium on wind farms east of an arbitrary line along the Interstate 35 corridor, damning their brothers and sisters in the west to the unsightly if lucrative prospect of wind turbines along the endless brown horizon.

It can't be a coincidence that the statesmen and women of these two provinces are in the backyard of Koch Industries' Wichita offices, where the brothers Koch are known to do a brisk trade in gas and oil, fertilizers, commodities, and a sizeable stable of hacks in statehouses and congressional seats.

Having lately taken a monkish vow of indifferent ignorance, I was loathe to be reminded again of a world at large. Zeno's news sent me into a brown study, an unsatisfactory reverie on the nature of America's best and brightest. A professional politician, being readily available for purchase, is most often likened to a sex worker - unfairly in my judgment, since the only thing you can buy from a sex worker is his or her services, and a sex worker's success and reputation relies on giving professional satisfaction through the mastery of certain tangible and defined techniques. But a politician can be purchased whole and entire, body and soul. A sex worker's motivations might plausibly be some mixture of both commerce and philanthropy, but the motive energies of a politician are unvaryingly singular and pure. What passes for a democratic election these days is little more than a Craigslist complete with 'pics'. For the convenience of your further engagement in the processes of democracy, they all have a Paypal account.

Democracy at Work