Monday, December 25, 2017
I finished reading today the 126 pages of Timothy Snyder's ON TYRANNY: TWENTY LESSONS FROM THE TWENTIETH CENTURY (timdugganbooks.com, 2017). In this pamphlet, RIGHTS OF MAN for our day, Snyder, professor of history at Yale, draws on the history of 20th-century totalitarianism to make analogies for our own time, especially since November 8, 2016, in the hope of saving us from a descent into autocracy similar to that in Nazi Germany and Putin's Russia. While this blog of mine has only 27 followers, and I contribute a new post only a few times a year, I want to thank anyone who takes the time to read my observations, and I recommend ON TYRANNY as the best gift I can offer you at this fraught time. Be brave, George
Saturday, November 4, 2017
Terror and the New Hedonism The Guardian reports today (4 Nov.) that “terror is the new normal,” so New Yorkers act “preternaturally calm” in the wake of the recent truck attack that left 8 dead in TriBeCa on Halloween (31), and along the afflicted bike path downtown are seen “cyclists back out with a vengeance.” Yes, maybe terror has struck so frequently of late that human beings just roll with its punches and quickly resume living as they had. But this account doesn’t distinguish between radical, ideologically driven acts of terror, like the one in NYC on Tuesday, and less explicable attacks like two of the worst, the Oklahoma City bombing and the sniper assault in Las Vegas last month, both carried out by domestic white men with Christian backgrounds. Our President quickly condemned to death the Isis adherent who struck in NYC, while deferring any comment about the Vegas sniper and even declaring it too soon even to discuss the role played by his firearms, adapted to fire like machine guns. But that act of mass murder, which killed 58 and wounded around 600 others, nevertheless adds to the mounting sense of terror and horror inflicted on the vulnerable public. Thus, the recent truck assault in NYC, reported on soon afterward and causing 8 deaths, six of them inflicted on foreign nationals, had less impact than the rush of live coverage of the Las Vegas shooting with its mass casualties. And I say that sitting just 2 miles north of the TriBeCa bike path where the truck driver ran down his victims. So, yes, part of the rapid resumption of daily life in NYC, including the annual Halloween parade a few hours after the truck assault, might reflect a sense that terror is the new normal, but other reasons might be identified. One is that much of Manhattan has become the playground of the affluent, and the bike path that now encircles the island is one of the public facilities for living a pleasurable semi-suburban life in the middle of Gotham, America’s “safest big city,” as its mayor described it today. Closely related to this view of the recreational city is the emergence of a new hedonism. The affluent and their adherents throng our major cities’ restaurants, sports clubs, entertainment venues, and recreation centers, living a life of pleasure while ignoring those without the disposable income to play along with them. When an act of terror occurs, the new hedonists resist feeling terrified or recover quickly to resume their pleasures. While terror might not be “the new normal,” it might help to desensitize our response to violent death and suffering inflicted by terrorists, and the new hedonism might help to welcome us back to the urban playground.
Friday, June 16, 2017
Hard Times “These are times that try men’s souls.” Yes, a Sanders Democrat shot some Republicans on a ballfield in Virginia yesterday and was shot and killed for his efforts. No, in this country we don’t want people shooting each other for any reason. But who is primarily responsible for easy access to firearms, people of the left like yesterday’s shooter or people on the right who have fetishized the Second Amendment to prop up the most liberal gun laws in the industrialized world? I’ve read and heard today (June 15) so much apologist hand-wringing by liberals in the press and on social media that I must remind my fellow lefties that just one leftwing nut job was guilty of yesterday’s shooting and that every day Republicans in office wage war on the common people of America. Who else but Republicans are conspiring in secret to write a partisan health-care bill that does away with our health care, abandoning protection of the critically wounded environment, designing a tax reform bill that redistributes wealth upward, denying women the right to choose how they manage their own lives and bodies, delaying the urgent need to repair our infrastructure, ignoring the daily toll of violence on black Americans, exacerbating the daily trials of Spanish-speaking immigrants working to better their and their children’s lives? In almost every area of government concern, elected Republicans pursue policies to aid the affluent and to hurt the rest of the country. They don’t need guns to prosecute their war on common people, because they have political power and loads of money to back it up. While we must deplore the use of weapons, the Left needs to be more militant in working to retake political power. We must not tolerate yesterday’s shooting, but we should not act as if we are somehow culpable for the increased violence in America, especially when Donald Trump on the stump egged on his followers to commit violent acts upon protesters in their midst. The rightwing has a disproportionately large role in the escalating violence around us, while we of the Left must continue the non-violent struggle for social, political, and economic justice for all.
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
While the Trump victory seems deplorable to some folks, it's a well-deserved comeuppance for the ineffectual and snotty crew who have been leading the Dems down this election losers' trail: D. Wasserman-Schultz and Donna Brazile, Robbie Mook and Joel Benenson, and Old Bill Clinton. Who are the strategists who saw to it that Hillary never visited Wisconsin, which she lost, during the campaign, who failed to insist that she offer a clear alternative to Obamacare, who let her endlessly and tediously attack Trump instead of offering her vision of the future (assuming she has one)? Why did she avoid the conflict over the pipeline in North Dakota and ignore the costs to the ecosystem of fracking? Also sharing the blame for her loss are the legions of feminists who put their desire for a woman president above the national interest and thus defeated the Dems' best hope, Bernie, in the primaries.
For years we have needed a new party, an aggregation of the “minorities” who reject the two-party system—and find Bernie and/or Trump attractive alternatives—the disaffected of all identities and persuasions whose focus is unity, not individual causes. And how about a parliamentary democracy, sans electoral college, as a form of government? Most free modern nations have one. Without multiple parties espousing essential issues, like our perishing environment, that the two-party system ignores or downplays, we will blunder on while the rich get richer, the poor poorer, under the status quo.
Friday, September 9, 2016
Below is my poem "That Tuesday Night," which I wrote not long after 9/11. It's in my chapbook Bleak Splendor (Muddy River Books, 2016) and first appeared in the anthology An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind: Poets on 9/11 (2002).
That Tuesday Night
That Tuesday night, after the towers
burned & fell down-
town, after watching them crumble—
unlike the one Paul Newman
saved in Towering Inferno—
from the plaza in front of Rosenthal
Library, after walking home
from the subway in the yellow
summer twilight, gagging
on the acrid air and looking
at the thick sooty column rising
downtown where the towers
had loomed Gargantuan on the skyline
for over three decades,
I went to wash my face,
as though cold water and soap
would wake me from this dream
of violence and violation,
and I saw that man in the mirror,
red-rimmed eyes, yes, but
the same sagging wrinkled
skin, the same thinning,
graying hair above the same lined
forehead, and I knew that he
was lucky to have lived
to sixty-five—too young for WW II
, too old for Korea — Viet Nam
lucky to have lived his soft
American life without much fear
from abroad, except spotting airplanes
as a kid and catching a breath or two
as JFK stood down the Russians in ’62,
and in the glare of the bathroom light,
the sirens screaming just up the street
I knew nothing
could ever make me
Friday, October 23, 2015
President Obama: Public Intellectual
The November 5 issue of The New York Review leads off with the first of a two-part conversation between Marilynne Robinson, the distinguished novelist and theologian, and President Obama. The setting is Des Moines, September 2015. The subject is American citizenship and the role of Christian thought in a democracy, now fraught subjects because of growing sectarianism and exclusiveness in this country.
As the President and Ms. Robinson converse, they sound earnest and thoughtful. Robinson speaks of “a terrible darkening of the national outlook” as a result of growing “in-group” distrust of “the other,” while Mr. Obama looks at the longer term: “I’m always trying to push a little more optimism,” and to allay her discouragement, he says, “Well, we go through these moments.” He shows an easy familiarity with Robinson’s writing, suggesting that the characters in her novels show that it’s not “easy for them to be good Christians.”
Early in their conversation, it becomes clear that both the writer and the politician, who is also a good writer, share a Midwestern low-Protestant background, so that that when she describes her upbringing in Idaho, he says it “sounded really familiar to me when I think about my grandparents who grew up in Kansas.” They share a “sense of homespun virtues.” This Obama is one that is often obscured by the snide, bigoted rejection of him as nonnative, Muslim, and black. But he is after all half-white and a Protestant. When he reads Robinson’s novel Gilead, he recognizes that she is “thinking about American democracy, or, for that matter, Christianity …” and treating “the issue of ‘the other.’”
I look forward to the continuation of this conversation in the next issue of The New York Review, and I heartily recommend this first part for two reasons. One is that it shows we have a President as conversant with the writing and ideas of his time as any president of France. Our Obama is an articulate public intellectual. And second, the conversational form allows him to be both professorial and empathic in talking with another prominent public intellectual, Marilynne Robinson. (Her initials, by the way, match those of Mrs. Obama, née Michelle Robinson.) As chief executive, President Obama sometimes falters by sounding too professorial, intellectually detached, pensive as Hamlet. But in conversation with an intellectual equal, President Obama reveals a compelling grasp of significant issues in our troubled republic and in doing so, deserves our attention.
Sunday, October 18, 2015
If you are still following me, I apologize for a long absence from this blog. I have read, by the way, that the blog is obsolete, superseded by social media. Do you agree? In any case, a new poetry chapbook of mine, Bleak Splendor, is soon to be released by Muddy River Books, in Brookline, MA, and two of the poems included are now up at Five Willows Literary Review:
Another pair of poems is at Literary Matters:
on pages 34 and 36 of this pdf publication. Please check them out.