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A poem for our night & times, by Carolyn Forché

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Halloween greetings, and a pre-midterm reminder of what demagoguery brings ]
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The box is a box of Halloween humor, a slight thing and entirely innocent, designed to delight with a nostaligic frisson on Halloweens past.. Spooky Halloween Feel Boxes for Adults: Put your hand in — preferably with eyes averted or blindfold — and feel, as in touchy-feel..

Among the sensations you are invited to feel.. cold spaghetti.. worms in a fishing box.. you get the idea.

**

My first association, when I saw a pointer to this article was the Gom Jabbar in Dune — a box containing pain, increasing pain. Should the candidate withdraw his hand from the box, he dies by cyanide needle, and the only means of survival is the ability to overcome instinct, which Paul Atreides manages by recitation of the Litany against Fear:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

**

Here’s the movie version:

**

Black boxes..

The very idea of boxes filled with feelings is, to my mind, a fine one to explore, in humor, as in the New Yorker piece, or in deadly earnest, as in Frank Herbert‘s masterpiece, Dune.

**

But then, reading Colin Stokes and Ellis Rosen‘s NYorker humor piece, I came inevitably to this image:

I said inevitably, perhaps unavoidably would have been keener to the point. I couldn’t avoid my second association.

**

That second association was to Carolyn Forché:‘s prose-poem The Colonel from her second volume, The Country Between Us.

On reading her poem itself again after so many years, after reading it aloud to audiences on various occasions, after one miraculous night in the early eighties when I heard her read in LA, after reading her American Poetry Review piece about the experiences inn Al Salvador that lead to this particular poem and others — The Memory of Elena with its unforgettable paella among them — that second and more powerful association was to:

The Colonel

What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

**

Shattering.

Humor has darkened to tragedy — tragedy does not suffice to speak of this horror — the box of touchy-feelies has become the Colonel’s grocery sack spilled on the floor, dried apricots are dried peach halves — despite the differences, the associative leap was, for me, inevitable.

And far too All Hallows Eve appropriate for comfort..

Far too apt for the upcoming midterms, too..

Sports metaphor & politics, and much else besides, 2, post-Flake

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — after Sen Jeff Flake’s elevator epiphany and meet-up with his friend Chris Coons ]
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**

Jeff Flake’s Deal With Democrats Puts Kavanaugh’s Nomination in Limbo

A deeply divided Senate Judiciary Committee advanced President Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, but final confirmation will depend on a reopened FBI inquiry.

Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court was all set to move unimpeded through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday morning.

Then Jeff Flake had a sudden change of heart.

Hours after declaring his support for Kavanaugh, the Arizona Republican simultaneously voted to advance the nomination in committee while warning party leadership that he would oppose President Trump’s nominee in a crucial floor vote unless and until the FBI conducts a further investigation into Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high-school party in 1982.

**

MTP Daily, 9/28/2018:

This is a Republican who’s retiring, this is a Republican who’s more free of the political calculus ..

In the political calculus of the moment ..

“We respect her” is the new “thoughts and prayers” ..

**

The Beat, with Ari Melber:

Within hours of that confrontation, Senator Flake did something we rarely see in this choreographed, partisanship era ..

Barbara Boxer:

Time is a friend of Justice ..

Margaret Judson:

How Do You Play a Porn Star in the #MeToo Era? With Help from an ‘Intimacy Director’

In this moment, we are watching Hollywood take the high ground over the United States government. That’s a huge red flag. That’s not how this should work.The government should be holding the higher moral standard, and Hollywood it.

This guy shouldn’t be allowed to drive a car.

Ari:

That was the Twilight Zone A Few Good Men. It’s like, he thought he had the closing speech in A Few Good Men, but for a lot of the country he was in a different movie ..

Hardball:

Tell me how the sequence worked that led to this overtime in the game, so to speak ..
It does seem they’ve got the fire power, the candle power ..
what kind of pandora’s box ..
You get two supreme court nominees in the ideology of your liking, that’s sort of like a pitcher in the major leagues winning over 20 games, i mean that’as a hell of a season, and now that season’s in real jeopardy ..
the tip box is big, and it’s open ..
next up, a hairline fracture in the partisanship that has come to define American politics ..
he’s not intimidated by the 9 out of 10 republicans who back trump in every single thing; the others are hog-tied ..
i was struck by a profile in democracy — here was a guy who held an elevator door. senators have their own elevators in order to keep those people out..
battle of the genders looks like a draw ..
sen klobuchar: the constitution does not say, We the ruling party, she constitution says, We the people..

All In with Chris Hayes 9/28/2018:

Sen Hirono: the FBI investigation has to be complete. It can’t be some cursory kind of investigation that gives cover to some wavering senators. It’s got to be real ..
a lot of people felt like something was wrong and breaking, i mean, wrong in that it felt like there was a kind of torture being imposed on dr blasey ford .. profound legitimacy crisis that we’re watching happen in slow motion ..
it does feel as though something is fundamentally breaking, and I almost appreciate the fact that in the end the republicans took the mask off, and stopped allowing their prosecutor to ask questions, they decided to turn it into a big political show you saw what their endgame was, not really getting to the truth, but doing whatever was necessary to try to jam him through ..

**

Maya Wiley:

like inside baseball with no fans ..

A bit obvious, but the title is worth noting:

The Hidden Moral Lessons in Your Favorite Childhood Games

They should have started with hide & seek, which is the topic of the Krishna Lila, love in separation & union..

Elon Musk vs. the SEC: The Tesla billionaire gears up for the fight of his career

He has fought back viciously by calling his opponents names like “saboteur,” “idiot” and “pedophile.” Now, Tesla chief Elon Musk is embracing the same kind of combative approach to wage the fight of his career against the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Musk is as close to sainthood as one can get in Silicon Valley, a sci-fi virtuoso who has captured imaginations with gambles on soaring rockets, electric supercars and brain-computer links. A critical element of his cult of personality: He rarely backs down from a fight.

That last paragraph has an interesting four-part evaluation of Musk: close to sainthood .. sci-f- virtuoso .. cult of personality — fight. If I was setting that para to music, it would definitely be on a descending arpeggio..

hit man .. sabotage

History doesn’t rhyme, it DoubleQuotes?

Shady Watergate Reporters Target Trump

Imagine a replay of Watergate –only worse.

In both the original and the replay, the same Washington D.C. reporter, whose parents were Communist Party members connected to Soviet atomic spies and who were under FBI surveillance for decades, teamed up with the same second D.C. reporter, who was outed as an “FBI asset,” to take down a sitting Republican President of the United States.

In both instances the “unnamed source” leaking information to these two reporters turned out to be the Deputy Director of the FBI.

This is a remake.

Some of the players have even reprised their old roles.

[ .. ]

This is stunning – decades apart in time two separate FBI Deputy Directors leaked information about the then-sitting President of the United States to a pair of reporters, one of whom hails from a family intertwined with the Soviet spy ring that handed America’s nuclear secrets to Joseph Stalin and the other of whom was an “FBI asset.”

Both of these FBI Deputy Directors had to know with whom they were dealing.

**

A brace of interesting articles, both by John Seabrook:

  • New Yorker, Don’t Shoot: A radical approach to the problem of gang violence [2009]
  • New Yorker, Operation Ceasefire and the Unlikely Advent of Precision Policing [2018]
  • Some high spots from the former:

    Captain Daniel Gerard, who took over Vortex in the fall of 2007, didn’t put much stock in their ideas. As he said, “Academia and law enforcement are at opposite ends of the spectrum. They like theories, we like results.”

    Kennedy was tall and slim, and in the dark clothes he favored there was something about him of the High Plains Drifter -— the mysterious stranger who blows into town one day and makes the bad guys go away. He wore a grizzled beard and had thick, unbound hair that cascaded halfway down his back. “What’s some guy who looks like Jesus got to tell us about crime in Cincinnati?” was the line around police headquarters.

    Kennedy had been approached by Dr. Victor Garcia, the head of the trauma unit at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, who was seeing almost daily the effects of the city’s violent gangs: the stabbings, shootings, and beatings, and the injuries to innocent children caught in the crossfire. “Children with their eyes shot out, children paralyzed,” Garcia told me. “I started to wonder, instead of treating injuries, how can we prevent them from happening in the first place?”

    Often, much of the violence is caused by gang dynamics: score settling, vendettas, and turf issues, all played out according to the law of the streets.

    Whalen explained to me the C.P.D.’s distinction between social workers and cops: “Social people hug thugs. We kick their butts.”

    I particularly appreciate the echo of ““Academia and law enforcement are at opposite ends of the spectrum. They like theories, we like results” in “Whalen explained to me the C.P.D.’s distinction between social workers and cops: “Social people hug thugs. We kick their butts.””

    **

    Movie correlates:

    High Plains Drifter – A Shave and a Shootout:

    You Can’t Handle the Truth! – A Few Good Men:

    Storm special, surf’s up

    Friday, September 14th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — Jimmy Buffet, also complexity and ecstasy in words]
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    Given the horrific storm now — and with effects lasting a week or so before the worst is really over, depending on where you live — I’d like to introduce the appropriate musical backdrop, Jimmy Buffet‘s Surfing in a Hurricane, and point you to a New Yorker article, a brilliant long read for those hunkered down by the fire with their laptops at the ready..

    First, the Buffet:

    In passing, let me note the authenticity of the lyric, which no landlocked poet could possibly capture. And yes, Buffet surfed the advance of Florence — Jimmy Buffett Goes Surfing in Hurricane-Fueled Waves: ‘I Ain’t Afraid of Dying’

    What a life!

    **

    Then, William Finnegan, Off Diamond Head.

    I’ll just give you a couple of tastes, the whole thing is a marvel of fine writing. The first paragraph I’ve chosen because it culminates in a description of complexity, which the arts reach from a different angle than complexity theory in math, and the second para continues that evocation. Finnegan is describing the area known as Cliffs:

    It was an unusually consistent spot, in the sense that there were nearly always waves to ride, even in what I came to understand was the off season for Oahu’s South Shore. The reefs off Diamond Head are at the southern extremity of the island, and thus pick up every scrap of passing swell. But they also catch a lot of wind, including local williwaws off the slopes of the crater, and the wind, along with the vast jigsaw expanse of the reef and the swells arriving from many different points of the compass, combined to produce constantly changing conditions that, in a paradox I didn’t appreciate at the time, amounted to a rowdy, hourly refutation of the notion of consistency. Cliffs possessed a moody complexity beyond anything I had known. [ .. ]

    And yet the place had a growling durability that left it ridable even in those battered conditions. Almost no one else surfed it in the early morning, which made it a good time to explore the main takeoff area. I began to learn the tricky, fast, shallow sections, and the soft spots where a quick cutback was needed to keep a ride going. Even on a waist-high, blown-out day, it was possible to milk certain waves for long, improvised, thoroughly satisfying rides. The reef had a thousand quirks, which changed quickly with the tide. And when the inshore channel began to turn a milky turquoise—a color not unlike some of the Hawaiian fantasy waves in the mags—it meant, I came to know, that the sun had risen to the point where I should head in for breakfast.

    Ah, and then as the coup de grace, this:

    Leslie Wong caught and pulled into the wave of the day, his back slightly arched, his arms relaxed, making the extremely difficult—no, come on, the ecstatic—look easy.

    **

    Over here in California, our concern this year was flame, not wave. Just how you surf a wildfire escapes me.

    Extended chess and baseball metaphors

    Sunday, September 9th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — a light-hearted look at Trump Chess, and an umpire explains millisecond decision-making ]
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    The first of two pieces I’ll explore here is from the New Yorke, Rules for Trump Chess by Andrew Paul. It’s a humor piece, but not without its satirical effect, as you can tell from Rule #1:.

    Each turn is referred to as a “news cycle.”

    At times, the hunmor gets a bit sour, as with Rule #4:

    A handful of new pieces will be introduced during game play, scattered haphazardly across the board. They include: two overcooked macaroni noodles (Kushners), a shrivelled white raisin with lint on it (Sessions), and a washcloth soaked in warm Johnnie Walker (Bannon). Their permitted moves are unclear, but every news cycle, players must select one to put in their mouths until they gag.

    Links to an earlier (and more balanced) form of chess are not entirely absent, as exemplified by Rule #11:

    Knights still move in that ridiculous two-squares-up, one-square-over path. They think they are being very clever. Their creepy horse faces must always be turned to face the king.

    You can read the rest at the New Yorker site

    **

    Of deeper interest, though with less immediate application to politics, is Jim Evans‘ WaPo piece, Sorry, judges, we umpires do more than call balls and strikes. Here’s the setup:

    I don’t remember when I first heard the popular analogy comparing judges to umpires calling balls and strikes, but recently it’s been everywhere. When Brett Kavanaugh was first nominated to the Supreme Court, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council called him “a constitutionalist — someone who will call balls and strikes.” This past week, as Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings began, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) described him as “somebody who calls balls and strikes and doesn’t come up with his own strike zone.” Supposedly a judge is, and should be, as mechanical as an ump.

    Mechanical, eh?

    It’s true that there are similarities. Umpires have always been considered authority figures, like judges. Both are subject to a lot of scrutiny, and we do what we think is right by rule and tradition. Umpiring is a special calling and a learned skill that requires extraordinary mental toughness. When you put on your uniform, you are supposed to leave all your subjective feelings in that dressing room. Personal integrity and respect for the game are at stake.

    I’ve seen similar said about judges when they put on their robes.. But even the simple “calling balls and strikes” level of analogy lacks subtlety:

    Seeing the televised rectangle that allegedly represents the strike zone, you might surmise that any 3-year-old should be able to tell whether that little white sphere is in or out of that box. Replay has reinforced the feeling that it’s simple and obvious.

    Yet there are many intangibles when it comes to calling balls and strikes. What the umpire’s actually doing is gauging a baseball’s relative position as it travels 95 miles an hour into a three-dimensional area. You’re judging a pitch as it leaves the pitcher’s hand and goes to the catcher’s mitt in less than half a second.

    Getting into greater finesse:

    For example, the rule book states that a runner must avoid a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball. If you collided with a shortstop who was bent over in the act of fielding a ground ball, you would be guilty of interference. But if the shortstop had completed the act of fielding and was attempting to tag you when the collision occurred, there would be no penalty. Among elite athletes, this all happens in milliseconds, and to the untrained eye, the plays look the same — both violent collisions with the ball on the ground. This requires an interpretation of when one act ended and another began, and whose rights are in effect. This is a judgment call.

    Interesting final sentence, that.

    Okay, it would be neat if an appellate or superior court judge could write a similar piece on the niceties of judicial judgment..

    **

    Umpires and referees..

    I’ve always tended to think of umpires as the cricket equivalents of referees, and referees as the soccer equivalents of umpires, but what do I know?

    Chair Umpire Carlos Ramos arguably interfered in the match, bringing both repeated champion Serena Williams and first-time winner Naomi Osaka to tears.

    Match Referee Brian Earley holds his fists in, exemplifying both the passion and restraint in play in the US Open final

    In the Serena Williams objection to penalties allotted her during the second set of her finals match with Japan’s young winner Naomi Osaka, I’ve learned today that in tennis, the umpire, usually seated in a high chair at center court makes unassailable rulings of fact, while the referee can overrule him in matters of tennis law — effectively making the umpire analogous to the jury, and the referee to the judge, in a trial by jury.

    And thus the analogical web widens..

    Journal — Illuminatus! trilogy, QAnon!! and more..

    Monday, August 20th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — a dayalong cabinet of curiosities, really — the essence of creativity, paradox, and America, via conspiracies this way and that, contrasts between clearances, and key Rwanda para from the NYorker ]
    .

    Here’s a Diary — a miscellaneous catch-all for today :

    **

    **

    Robert Anton Wilson, The Illuminatus saga stumbles along:

    Wilson and Shea derived much of the odder material from letters sent to Playboy magazine while they worked as the editors of its Forum.[19] The books mixed true information with imaginative fiction to engage the reader in what Wilson called “guerrilla ontology”, which he apparently referred to as “Operation Mindfuck” in Illuminatus!

    Wilson and Shea mashed up the ten thousand conspiracies and facts of their times to create one fact-spattered fiction, the Illuminatus! trilogy — one from many, e pluribus unum ahem! — whereas in our own day the inventors of QAnon invoked a massive outpouring of different conspiracies within conspiracies:

    In November 2017, a small-time YouTube video creator and two moderators of the 4chan website, one of the most extreme message boards on the internet, banded together and plucked out of obscurity an anonymous and cryptic post from the many conspiracy theories that populated the website’s message board.

    Over the next several months, they would create videos, a Reddit community, a business and an entire mythology based off the 4chan posts of “Q,” the pseudonym of a person claiming to be a high-ranking military officer. The theory they espoused would become Qanon, and it would eventually make its way from those message boards to national media stories and the rallies of President Donald Trump.

    From many, one, and from one, many — Pythagorean sacred mathematics, America, expansive and synthetic thinkjing, the origins of paradox, essence of creativity — between one and many, it’s all there..

    **

    Quick thought:’

    We’ve seen Jared Kushner having his clearance restored, and John Brennan having his clearance withdrawn, but just fr the record, they bear considering in tandem, DoubleQuote style.. Right here I’m making the connection.

    **

    Rwanda:

    Key NYorker para on Rwandan warning to Kofi Annan, upon whom be the peace, requiescat in pace, a reminder:

    Annan then wrote, “We do not recall any specific reports from Kigali to this effect.” A review of the peacekeeping files, he wrote, had turned up only four cables from Kigali in the months preceding the genocide that mentioned “ethnic tensions as being possibly related—or not related—to specific incidents of violence.”

    But, in reality, one of the four cables Annan listed consisted of an alarmingly specific report of preparations for the genocide, sent by his force commander in Kigali, the Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, in January of 1994. Dallaire had heard from a trusted informant on the payroll of Rwanda’s ruling party, who described plans to “provoke a civil war,” and to kill Belgian peacekeepers in order to scuttle the U.N. mission. The informant himself said he was involved in drawing up lists of Tutsis in Kigali, and Dallaire wrote, “He suspects it is for their extermination. Example he gave was that in twenty minutes his personnel could kill up to a thousand Tutsis.” Dallaire asked for permission to act on this information by raiding and seizing illegal arms caches. Annan’s office replied at once, in a cable under his name, and signed by his deputy, telling Dallaire not to act but, rather, to follow diplomatic protocol and share his information with Rwanda’s President—the head of the party that Dallaire wanted to act against. Three months later, in April of 1994, everything that Dallaire described in his warning took place, and in the course of a hundred days around a million Tutsis were massacred.

    **

    Ordinary:

    Lovely prose, extraordinary normalcy in the New Yorker, Hearing Aretha Franklin’s “I Say a Little Prayer” in the Soviet Union

    I was gazing ahead, out the half-shaded window, sitting in the diffuse circle of warm light from a tall floor lamp to the left of me, with my elbows propped on the table and my head resting in the palms of my hands, in front of a half-empty bottle of an acrid, half-dry Bulgarian red called The Evening Bells and a white faience teacup with a chipped rim. In the boreal darkness outside, there was nothing for me to perceive but an irregular checkered pattern of blue- and yellow-lit windows in the apartment building across the way.

    Beyond those windows, perfectly and naturally unaware of my existence, ordinary Soviet citizens like me silently lived their ordinary human lives: hugging or ignoring one another, standing still in their kitchens in tank tops and nightgowns and saying something silently to someone unseen, flinging angry words at one another, gesticulating broadly and opening and closing their mouths, drinking tea, eating something greasy from an aluminum pan on the stove, or just staring into the night’s emptiness with unseeing eyes, their foreheads pressed against the windowpane, a slow-burning cigarette squeezed between their pressed lips.

    It is into such lives, among so many, that Aretha’s voice penetrates. Whenever we consider any of this world’s painful pasts, dire future threats, and potent presents, we should quickly run them up against all those audiences, normal and overwhelmingly influential, who may be affected.

    **

    I’m reminded..

    Okay, I saw that New Yorker piece today on the penetration of Aretha‘s voice into a bloc of Soviet flats in Leningrad, Hearing Aretha Franklin’s “I Say a Little Prayer” in the Soviet Union, and reading it, I’m reminded of the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo and its interest in nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

    You’ll remember they attained world notoriety after attacking the Tokyo subway system with sarin gas.. Specifically:

    Aum dabbled in many different biological agents. They cultured and experimented with botulin toxin, anthrax, cholera, and Q fever. In 1993, Ashahara led a group of 16 cult doctors and nurses to Zaire, on a supposed medical mission. The actual purpose of the trip to Central Africa was to learn as much as possible about and, ideally, to bring back samples of Ebola virus. In early 1994, cult doctors were quoted on Russian radio as discussing the possibility of using Ebola as a biological weapon.

    So, here’s my take:

    Some journo sending an early report on the Ebola outbreak was read by someone involved in the Aum Shinrikyo chemical weapons team, who thereupon suggested a trip to Africa to Aum’s guru, Shoko Asahara. I’m sure the journo concerned wasn’t thinking that some member of a a relatively obscure Japanese cult would read their report! — but news ripples out to obscure corners of the world, Aretha‘s voice reaches Leningrad, news of an outbreak in Africa reaches Tokyo, more generally the world is porous, and these things have consequences…

    **

    The world is porous, and there are causes and consequences…


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