DECEMBER 20, 2012 9:54 a.m.

Hangzhou Series, Part IV

 

Feeding fish at Flower Harbor
Feeding fish at Flower Harbor
     After the symposium, amid flower gardens, wooden docks and walkways about on the shore of West Lake came another banquet.  I had learned to nibble.     Following that, a quick stroll to visit a few of the sites each of us had been commissioned to write about.   At last we stood on the site of Viewing Fish at Flower Harbor and watch the tourists feed hordes of  golden carp.  Indeed, golden carp in China act the same as carp in Pennsylvania.     Sure, it’s likely if Hershey Park carp and West Lake carp got together they would eye each as suspiciously different but beneath the color of their scales, carp are carp—something  for homo sapiens to keep in mind as we scream and holler over head scarves, skin color, and symbolic amulets.

***  

Tomb of the girl not there
Tomb of the girl not there
     Symbolic also was the empty tomb dedicated to the legend of the maiden who chose death rather than submit to her lover’s rival—a war lord she despised.     The Vietnamese legend of Nui Ba Den (Black Virgin Mountain),  also came to mind, another girl who threw herself from the mountaintop in anguish for her lost lover.     It does give one pause to wonder, why are their few legends for young men throwing themselves over cliffs and waterfalls in anguish for their missing maidens?    I am reasonably certain poets Louise Dupre and Pilar Espana Gonzolez pondered that question far more quickly than I did.
Nui Ba Den, Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam
Nui Ba Den, Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam

   ***

     Following the stroll in the park came, what else, another banquet.  This time put on by The City of Hangzhou, likely as much for the publicity provided by the television cameras to publicize their support for the arts as anything to do with love of the arts.   Here, came my great social faux pas of the trip.    With the exception of Billy Collins and book publishers, I suspect few American poets have been approached with a stack of eight-foot long banners decorated with photographs of themselves and asked to autograph each with a large black, magic marker.   As noted in an earlier post, banquet tables in China are usually round to facilitate conversation as much as to provide food.  I, being left-handed and wielding a large, liquidy magic marker for autograph purposes, could not find a place on a round table in which to curl my left arm enough so that I could sign my name and not smear the signature.   Had a lefty invented cursive first, likely we would all be reading right to left rather than vice versa.   Regardless, I was first in line, there were nine other artists waiting and a crowd watching.
     It occurred to me the only way I could this quickly was to place the stack of banners on the floor and scrunch myself on all fours and twist around enough so that I could sign downward from above the photo.  It seemed like a good plan at the time.  So down I went and began signing. Suddenly, a group of men rushed over and began lifting me up off the ground.  Bei Ta quickly informed me that I must not be on all fours in China—that dishonors me and (more importantly, I suspect) by extension the hosts who would be seen as treating a poet like a dog.     A group of waiters quickly rushed out with a slender, rectangular table and a chair and I was placed in it to finish my signing.  Woof!  Lesson learned.
     The other item of note from that banquet was the wine, a red, which all agreed was exceptional enough to demand to see the bottle which turned out to be a Woodbridge, California, red.   Perhaps the U.S. is attempting to level the trading field with the wrong exports.  Imagine a billion affluent Chinese with a desire for California reds.
One of series of banquets. Japanese poet second from right.
One of series of banquets. Japanese poet second from right.
***  
Big Screen and fireworks during introductions
Big Screen and fireworks during introductions
     Afterward we were feted with an evening boat ride across West Lake to the outdoor theater from which the final reading was to occur.   This is where things became a bit surreal.  This was not just a theater stage, but an outdoor rock concert stage complete with a giant video screen to show the largest audience I’d ever seen for poetry what was happening on stage.   Piped music sounding very similar to Jeopardy game-show tunes blasted from speakers, hostesses rushed down into the audience and ushered each group of 3 poets onto the stage to chat, morning TV show style, with two emcees who interviewed, in my case, Bei Ta, since I spoke no Mandarin.     Upon a signal, (in my case, I recognized my name) each of us recited our poem, and if required, followed by an interpreter, reciting the same poem in Chinese.    Between each group of poets, there were musical acts and dance acts.  But that was not all, as the above photo attests, when each group was ushered onto stage, fireworks exploded from the top of the stage.  Another first for this poet anyway.  Dodge Festival take notice. When not on stage, we all signed more autographs for young children, grandmothers and grandfathers, students and groupies, and people just like me because we signed not just books, but envelopes and note pads.    Hard to stage that.  This time, I stayed seated. As the evening dwindled away and all autographs were signed, the moon hazily bathed the lake in reflections.   This was an experience worth flying half-way around the world. Will American poetry might ever get to such a place?   But of course, we’ve only been at our craft for two-hundred-and-fifty years.  Give us a millennium or two to work on it, and likely we’ll  get some fireworks for a poetry reading too.
(l/r) Guide/interpreter Clara Z, blogger, poet Bei Ta, Canadian poet Louise Dupre
(l/r) Guide/interpreter Clara Z, blogger, poet Bei Ta, Canadian poet Louise Dupre
   ***

 
DECEMBER 19, 2012 9:52 a.m.

Sandy Hook

     When the raw wound of Sandy Hook turns the edges of every subject black, poetry is one of the few places to turn for solace. From “Asphodel,” William Carlos Williams:
From “Asphodel,” William Carlos Williams:
It is difficult
To get the news from poems
Yet men die miserably every day
For lack
Of what is found there. 
From William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act I, i (as Pistol, Nym and Bardolph grieve the death of Falstaff.)
Let us condole the knight
For lambkins we will live.
Oddly, over the years, Shakespeare’s lines subconsciously evolved so that I recalled them this week as:
Let us console the dawn
For lambkins we shall live.
     A quote from the series John Adams has also resonated.  This when Abigail Adams (Laura Linney) speaks only two words to her husband (Paul Giamotti) as he lays in his despair over the state of his nation: Up, John. Unwillingly, the painful gift of twenty-six poems has been thrust upon us. We not family, friends, and residents of Newtown, let us console the dawn, rise from the bed of despair, and make of these poems something worthy.

****

NOVEMBER 18, 2012 10:35 a.m.

Hangzhou Series, Part III,

At The Pagoda, The Symposium

        The terrain around West Lake is mostly rugged woods.  Early in the morning, I took a quick walk to see just how the landscape had been developed.    Like any dense suburb, residences sat back from the highway but most had gated driveways which indicated lots of disposable income to me—though these homes were built ion a smaller scale than say an American one-percenter.   I walked up one, paved, wooded path from the hotel and came to a fence which I took to mean parkland isn’t as public in China as in the U.S. but then again these woods may have belonged to a Chinese version of Donald Trump and I suspected English eloquence would have little better effect on a game keeper than English street slang so I decided to heed Robert Frost’s advice and not cross the fence—maybe were I younger . . . . I returned to the street and followed it to a tunnel into a hill rather than over it or as would have happened in the U.S  through the hill leaving a large gash.   All of West Lake has preserved its hillside silhouettes  by building tunnels –reminding me very much of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania– and then the woods lead westward to tea country whose teas I got to savor from waking until.  Where time not an enemy, visiting those tea plantations would have been high priority.  I suspect, from photos, a tea plantation serves the same niche as a winery in the U.S.—the politically pleasurable way to meld urbanity to nature without having to unduly burden oneself with nature’s unpredictability. After breakfast came the morning symposium at the top of one of the two pagodas above West Lake.    I also suspect the view minus the smog would have been enchanting, but blue sky is also not a priority here.
        It’s easy to be holier-than-thou on air quality because too many put little stock in the past.   I had been prepped that air quality would be bad, but, to someone from New Hampshire,  it was worse than  expected.   I could cluck my tongue, raise my nose and sniff, “How terrible” except I remember a childhood drive to the afore mentioned Pittsburgh at Christmas late in 1959 or early 1960 to visit a World War II  friend of my father.  Blue sky was a rarity there too.  One night it snowed clean white but in a few hours the furnace-tinged steel city smog turned the white snow black.  Like Whitman’s masses   riding Whitman’s Brooklyn ferries, the masses here teem with energy and pride.   Let those who are without sin cast the first stone.  When America was ready to listen, Rachel Carson played the right chord;  or as poet Wang Jiaxin noted in “Lei Feng Pagoda, Afterglow”:  “ . . .the best scenes always come from the baptism of thunderstorms.”   The poets who will strike the chord for China are evolving as we read.
        The symposium was planned around the question:  How does one write about a site one hasn’t seen.   Xi Chuan was of the opinion that the masters had already covered every possibility over the last thousand years and therefore nothing new could be said so he approached his assignment by writing poems against the grain of the masters.   I suppose that’s the Chinese version of the Shakespeare problem for any writer in English.   And if Chinese artistic language is rigid because of its calligraphic constraints, it may be a serious obstacle, but fortunately for speakers of English, our language is voracious in its ability to steal and manipulate and camouflage and so though the feelings of Shakespeare’s characters or Keats’  may be the same as those of our contemporary characters,  we play with language toys substantially different today than those Shakespeare played with; therefore our music can both resonate and differentiate simultaneously. 
Pagoda symposium site with most of us  outside viewing the hazy Hangzhou skyline
Pagoda symposium site with most of us outside viewing the hazy Hangzhou skyline
        My take on the question was to echo a comment filmmaker Charles Guggenheim had made at a conference in Woodstock, Vermont, many years ago, “There is no art without restriction.”   He asserted an artist is driven by the constraints a culture places upon him or her to create a way around the constraints.  It resonated then.  It resonates now.  It is why  attempts to control either man or nature are bound for failure—the tighter the controls, the more creative the forces finding new ways around the controls.   Our history is littered with failed attempts—slavery, prohibition, one “true” faith, marijuana, sex, ad infinitum.  Not that control freaks aren’t born somewhere every day and not that it can’t get very destructive, but in the end  the cult of control fails.
        George Orwell forsaw the control of the surveillance state coming.  What he didn’t see was just how unregulated the web would become and though corporations and governments are desperate to control it, by the time they do, some creative hidden genius will have found a way around them. My restriction was to create a poem about a location on a lake I did not know existed before August, 2012.
        Since I like to smell, hear, see, taste and feel a subject I write about, this created a major challenge.   The visuals were easy enough to come by and the history as well so I decided to approach the assignment from the perspective that human beings past and present, near or far hold within themselves common feelings and aspirations.  This allowed me to draw on my knowledge of things which felt similar to Viewing Fish at Flower Harbor, West Lake.     First, decades ago but still vivid in memory were trips to Asia—Vietnam, Hong Kong, Okinawa.  They could provide the foundation.     Second, I would draw on my quarter-century exchanges of editing and translation and visits with poets from China such as Bei Ta from Beijing,  Zhang Ziqing and Wu Kuming from Nanjing mostly by honing in to that sense of timelessness and patience which permeates Chinese poetry.   This could provide intellectual framing.
        Google photos of tourists feeding large golden carp did not come across as fertile ground for a poem—restriction, restriction.   Then it occurred to me that that gold fish are an American child’s iconic first pets.     Then came the memories of sitting on my sister’s deck next to which she had created an outdoor goldfish pond with the idea the fish would die over the winter.  Not so with global warming in southern Pennsylvania.  Not only did her goldfish live, they waxed large, healthy  and fruitful so today she has become a goldfish exporter with large, hungry golden carp family in a shrine–like setting off her back porch.
        This uncorked memories of carp fishing as a child and hungry,  giant, golden carp boiling out of dirty water at the old Hershey Park Zoo.  From there, it was a matter of adding a dash of politics for spice,  a dollop of rhyme and rhythm for sweetness, history for leavening, and  play off a Hegelian dialectic framework to create a poetic triangle with some tension—father/mountain, mother/lake = carp/children who must be fed. Whether anyone at the table will find the dish savory and palatable is now out of this chef’s hands.  The dish is there at the bottom of Hangzhou Series, Part I.
        What follows here is a poem which developed at the end of my visit and came out of a more traditional sense of writing from direct experience.   Hmmm, I see food has an important role there as well.  Well, the meal in China is prime.

Sunset, West Lake

                                            Sunset at West Lake, Hangzhou
The sun, a glowing copper disk,
Dips behind the silhouette of western peaks.
The city does not notice its loss.
The lake prepares its table for evening guests.
Platters circle before them: tongue, thigh, and breast. For as long as memory can remember,
No one has refused to taste.

***

NOVEMBER 12, 2012 7:00 p.m.

Hangzhou Series, Part II

        The Middle Kingdom I had hoped to try out the Maglev train between Pu Dong International Airport and downtown Shanghai and then a bullet train to Hangzhou, but with a guide and a taxi driver with my name in English on a placard waited for me outside customs The ride on a train that levitates will have to wait. As we left the airport In the evening drizzle, my immediate impression was how similar the highway system was to any expressway between New York and Newark or Philadelphia and Baltimore.  Remove the Chinese characters from the street signs and both traffic and atmosphere were just like home though eateries and  businesses appear to close down much earlier.
        We searched on and off the expressway for a place to eat after 9 p.m. and struggled to find one—at last finding the Chinese version of a truck stop about 30 minutes outside Hangzhou (pronounced Hang-JOE).     This drab curbside stand set out its eating bowls with all ingredients inserted—green vegetables, plus either a pre-cooked chicken, beef,  egg or other items I did not recognize.   I decided pre-cooked egg would likely be healthiest.  Once I chose, the ingredients were dumped into a boiling broth for a few minutes which produced a large, aromatic bowl of steaming broth, noodles, and ingredients.  I figured boiling would take care of any critters too small for me to observe.   Steaming broth on a cool drizzly evening eating along side truck drivers, young men in suit jackets, tieless,  collars out heading into the night, everyone chain smoking, put to work my Americanized imagination creating smugglers, opium dens and mob hangouts.  It’s still one of my favorite memories and meals.
        Here I got my first hint that meals last much longer than in the States.   As I finished my bowl of broth and prepared to leave, the truckers insisted we stay longer—it was not good to eat and run.  One must eat and talk.   Since I was the alien dropped from the sky,  it seemed the polite thing to do.  Clara had introduced me as an American  poet while taxi driver, Clara, and truckers engaged in lively conversation over this curious, odd-looking laowai.     The taxi driver insisted he let him take me to the bars.  That I had the good sense to honorably decline, explaining, I had been traveling for over thirty hours and was just too old to keep going.
The Lobby, Hillside Hotel, West Lake
The Lobby, Hillside Hotel, West Lake
        About midnight we arrived at my hotel—small but pure Zen—every inch of it designed to put peace into the soul—even the white sand in the cigarette disposal pedestals had been shaped into calligraphy.      My room was delicately furnished in the same fashion.  So much so that the flat screen tv felt out of place and I immediately put it to use providing Chinese instrumental background music if only to add to that Zen.
        By now it was two a.m. China time but my body indicated I was two p.m.  U.S. and so in a fortuitous sense, I had the entire hotel to myself.  I spent many post-midnight hours in my provided bathrobe and slippers padding about the water gardens, the tea room, the exquisite lobby and the small villas outside.    The first night the sleepy desk clerk worried something was amiss but after realizing I was one of the “poets” he went back to sleep.
        Apparently poets in China just as poets in the U.S. are suspected slightly off and therefore given greater latitude for strange behavior  than non-poets.   I grew fond of the post-midnight strolls contemplating the still water and the carved woodwork of the tea room.
 Interior hotel reflecting pool
Interior hotel reflecting pool
        In the morning, breakfast buffet, Chinese style:  Warm milk is big and something called milk soup which tasted much like a watery version of warm milk.   Lots of different vegetables, fruits, meats, juices, teas, and what became my staple—fried eggs.   No cereals, little sugar but pastries with a sweet syrup.
        Then came my only daytime free time of the trip and Clara took me to the old market where I picked up my obligatory artwork to bring home—some needlework embroidery of West Lake scenes.   Here bakers pounded their doughs with mallets, vendors cooked various snacks over charcoal fires, here was the ancient hospital—not where the sick stay but where residents brought prescriptions for herbal medicines, an herbal pharmacy or drug store.     Large and dark like an indoors farmers’ market, I suspect somewhere in one of those stalls was a vendor who could, for a suitable price,  procure ground rhino horn or tigers’ musk. At one point an old man picked me out from the crowd, stopped me and asked me, in  Chinese, for directions.  Ah to be clueless, sleepless and wordless at the same time.   This caused many pedestrians and my interpreter much mirth.   (At least that is what she said he asked me.)  But in one sense, I felt gratified that an old man in China could see through the differences of external trappings and ask anyway.
        It reminded me of a moment when I taught junior high students at a rural Massachusetts high school where diversity was only a word in the dictionary.  One year an African-American family moved to town and the boy played football.  His mother came to pick him up after  practice, saw a clump of junior high classmates and asked them if they knew where her son was.   One of the boys innocently said, “What does he look like?”   I still recall the wonder and gratitude in that mother’s laugh.  I like to  think that mother, the old man in Hangzhou, and I still share space in the same boat.
        Following this came the luncheon, the first of what became a non-stop series of banquets.  Here I met some of the Chinese poets and artists invited to this 11th year celebrating through art the beauty of West Lake.  Each of us was given a specific site on which to compose a poem or painting.   Mine was Viewing Fish at Flower Harbor.   Bottles of beer quickly eased us into a mish-mash of English/Chinese, Chinese, translated Chinese/English conversations.  Clearly in these next few days, pacing and nibbling would be of prime importance.
        From here our driver took us directly to another banquet and though I mentioned earlier the highways appear American if one avoids trying to read road signs, driving habits do not.   On multi-laned highways one finds not only trucks, busses, cars, cabs, but also pedicabs, bicvcles, as well as jay-walking pedestrians.   In China, the horn is not a warning device but a signal indicating the driver is about to cut over two or three lanes of traffic and squeeze into a space between two large trucks just wide enough for his car all while everyone moves at 40-50 miles-per-hour (oops, kph).    Stop does not appear to be word anyone connected with a highway in China recognizes.
        The interesting thing is after four days of seeing driving that would have led to one American pile-up after another, I observed no accidents, no traffic jams, no grid lock and no dead pedestrians or crushed pedicabs.
       It may be that driving in the Hangzhou/Shanghai corridor is simply a pure example of Darwinian evolution.   All those like myself incapable of maneuvering on these streets have been killed off years before and the only people left are those fit survivors who intuit how to squeeze three lanes into two or jay-walk a roaring highway without injury.  In fact the only traffic jam I observed was a pick-up truck crew moving a large wooden framed table with large pieces of glass, embedded from a house with no sidewalk, into their truck parked on a curve.   Trucks and busses ignored the restriction and simply squeezed another two lanes out of the middle and all appeared well until I heard a crash and breaking of glass—not from the traffic–but because the movers had dropped the table off their tailgate.   This was an event all drivers felt the need to stop, observe, contemplate, and then comment upon.    One driver politely produced a broom and dustpan and the spectacle was over, at which point all roared off as before.
        We then arrived at our next banquet, an old palace for one of the ancient rulers on West Lake which had been converted to a restaurant.   The hosts introduced us to the Chinese version of social eating—ten to a dozen people seated around large round tables, each with a giant glass Lazy Susan in the center.    Dished are placed on the Lazy Susan and one simply spins the wheel and picks off various edibles as they come around.  Beer, wine, and spirits (in this case twenty-year-old vodka) were important enough to remain stationary at each place setting.
        Again, I reminded myself  this is a marathon, not a sprint.   I tried some tidal vegetables which tasted like tidal vegetables.   Rice was not plentiful which surprised me.  Fresh fish and a type of prawn were also recognizable, though I confess, I had seen the fish market at the hotel where fish were kept alive in large tanks as we do with lobster.  These were big tanks with  some hefty, striped, mean-looking fish.  One had lots of teeth.  As I ate my fish, I wondered if it was the one with the teeth and would it come back to bite me.     (It didn’t.)  I also tried a favorite delicacy—duck tongue–the complete duck tongue which must stretch all the way to its tummy; it’s cured much like beef jerky.   Ah the perfidy of American advertising, I kept hearing, “Aflac!”   After that I stuck to sweet beef and vegetables.
        We then moved from this banquet to the next, an 85th birthday party for Taiwanese poet Yu Kwang-chung.
Poet Yu Kwang-chung
Poet Yu Kwang-chung
        From the attention Yu Kwang-chung received, it was clear he was a venerated poet—much like poet Stanley Kunitz here in the U.S.  Everywhere came old and young autograph seekers, photographers, tv camera crews, interviewers.  The U.S. press reports of strain between Taiwan and mainland China do not apply to poets.  This did not extend to Japan where the first invited Japanese poet declined to attend because of the dispute over tiny islands between the two nations.
      The party was at Shu Yu’s Café.  This surprised me.  I knew Shu Yu was a poet but I did not know she also was an expert player of an ancient Chinese instrument much like a lyre or large zither which she played with extraordinary skill.    She also owned and managed, in the heart of the old city next to a 400-year-old bridge and the thousand-year-old still functioning Grand Canal that connects Hangzhou with Beijing, a three-story restaurant devoted to the arts which bears her name.  Though my interpreter had voiced some frustration with lack of opportunity for women, here was at least one who had broken a few glass ceilings.
The entrance to Shu Yu's Café in old Hangzhou
The entrance to Shu Yu’s Café in old Hangzhou
     Shu Yu’s Café as a larger version of my favorite hang-out in New England, Del Ross’s Trattoria, in Dublin, NH, where good food, good art, good conversation, and good drink inhabit a two-hundred-year-old farm house.  True, we’ve a few centuries of catching up to do but it’s a start. Musicians played in Yu’s honor, poets read poetry, and lastly Yu read stood to read a poem himself.  Up to this point all had been in Chinese, but it mattered not, one could hear the music in the poetry.
     Then, in another highlight, Yu spoke directly to me in perfect English and told me he was going to chant his poem about an ancient battle in the Song dynasty in which three armies converged, two fought and destroyed each other, while the third army stood aside and after the battle rather than waltzing in like Fortinbras and taking over, simply marched away and left the battlers to their desolation.   Whether I could pick up the particulars or not I was moved by his chant because poetry, in the end, is about more than definitions of words–like music, one needn’t know the names of notes played, one only needs to hear them played.    It was a gift to have been there, two aging men, old soldiers who had seen the desolation and had been lucky enough to have been permitted to march away.
Poetry at Shu Yu’s Café, Shu Yu playing the guzheng
Poetry at Shu Yu’s Café, Shu Yu playing the guzheng
     This hotel bathrobe isn’t much— simple, white terrycloth, the zen of The Lake embroidered in blue stitching just above my heart. But each time its crenulated cotton brushes the breath of my skin I sit again, late at night, on a hassock, looking up from a window in Shu Yu’s Café, at a smog-tarnished moon over the Great Canal and its arched stone, centuries-old bridge where chugging barges boil the water brown, where factories puff their endless cigarettes. Again and again I listen to the concerts of words in a language I do not know and hear over and over their music as they weave a thousand millennia song.
Poetry at Shu Yu’s Café 
This hotel bathrobe isn’t much—
simple, white terry cloth, the zen
of The Lake embroidered in blue
stitching just above my heart.
But each time its crenulated cotton
brushes the breath of my skin
I sit again, late at night, on a hassock,
looking up from a window in Shu Yu’s Café,
at a smog-obscured moon over the Great Canal
and its arched stone, centuries-old bridge
where chugging barges boil the water brown,
where factories puff their endless cigarettes.
Again and again I listen to the concerts of words
in a language I do not know and hear over and over
their music as they weave a thousand millennia song.    
Poetry Pacific, Feb. 2013

****

  NOVEMBER 7, 2012 2:56 p.m.

Hangzhou Series, Part 1

West Lake, Hangzhou, China
West Lake, Hangzhou, China
         I should write about the election but I’d like to savor that a bit and let others celebrate or mourn as needed. Instead, I’ll post about a whirlwind trip to Hangzhou, China, a cultural center near Shanghai which had invited me in August as one of ten  international artists commissioned to write a poem about a cultural site on West Lake which since the Song Dynasty has served  Chinese rulers and artists as a spot they might retreat for contemplation.    As my contact put it, Hangzhou is just a “small city” because it only has eight million inhabitants.     I suppose in the Chinese sphere of influence that makes Manchester, N.H., a village and Hancock an outpost.
        Though I have had poetry and essays translated and published in China over the past two decades, the closest I had come to visiting was in 1967, on R&R from Vietnam to Hong Kong, where I stood at the base of the cliffs leading to the headlands above the city and thought  those rugged cliffs  symbolized all the isolation and mystery I had come to attribute to China.
        Not that in the four decades since any  mysteries have disappeared.   To start, the Chinese Embassy denied my visa twice before a very official set of letters from the City of Hangzhou  was delivered to my door via overnight mail which apparently caused embassy officials to reconsider and approve the visa.   Of course that happened only on Oct.9 and I had planned  to leave on Oct. 19.   Nothing like suspense to reinforce mystery.
        As for why, near as I can comprehend, poets make a government nervous but apparently the word  “journalist” is worse  and one can only surmise that a combination of the two:  poet/journalist creates enough  serious worry about the idea of order at places unlike Key West to deny entry.    I decided I should carry that letter as closely as I carried my passport. So with last minute rush and delay, I boarded a bus in North Londonderry, New Hampshire, on October 21, then boarded  a plane at Logan Airport which flew me to JFK while Hurricane Sandy remained just an apple in Mother Nature’s eye.
        Here is where one comes up against the limitations of language. First, I had a direct flight on China Eastern Airlines from JFK to Shanghai.  China Eastern was not an airline which triggered any concrete recognition so I googled it.  Not a smart idea since one of the entries was about four mid-1990s deadly crashes in one month attributed to bad maintenance.  Though the article indicated the government had taken over and brought the company out of receivership to the point it is now one of the world’s largest airlines, and (from all I could see) operated as efficiently as United Airlines (my original flier) which had just grounded its Shanghai/Newark flight for three days because of a mechanical malfunction, the googled entry had entered consciousness and the imagination does what the imagination will and four, twenty-year-old crashes danced like sugar plums around the fringes of my brain.
        Second, friends had forewarned me the fourteen-hour flight was “hell.”   “Hell” to me was the American version, not Dante’s version.  I’m American, I built this, right?  What’s fourteen hours on a plane without snakes?     Well fourteen hours in a seat no wider or leggier than a Jet-Blue shuttle, fourteen hours crammed  with 400 other outed souls in a 3-4-3 arrangement  brought to mind that this was probably something akin to a half-day with the galley slaves of the Roman navy.   Within the first few hours I had a literal pain in my ass and though I spent much time just standing and we 400 intuited a ragged rotating schedule wherein each of us got to stand in place long enough to soothe our angry butts.
        Still, moments arrived when all I wanted to do was punch out the portal with my left elbow and punch out the very polite passenger to my right with my other elbow.   For the record, I did neither though when I landed there were teeth marks on my fingernails.
        The cabin crew was laudable in tolerance and service, the pilots got us there without incident and despite the airbus sense of a chicken coup with the very visible exception being the one-percenters leering in First Class before us, there are benefits to this flight.   First, the alternatives which offer a lay-over or change of flight add 6, 10, 15 hours to the journey.  Second, these direct flights go straight over the North Pole.  Hudson’s Bay, the tundra, and Siberia had a place somewhere on my bucket list, and there was enough clear sky so that I got to see James Bay, Hudson’s Bay, the Arctic ice cap, (No there is not a flashing red  beacon saying North Pole.) and Siberia.   Here again words lose to reality–here the absence of human touch is first noticeable, then dwarfed by a sense of vast emptiness, and finally obliterated by the realization this is a place human beings ought not to be in any numbers above miniscule.   It’s not just the cold of the tundra below and ice and a landscape devoid of the tempering shapes of organisms,  it is a size-numbing awe that, at 500 miles-per-hour, it just doesn’t end.  One hour, two hours, three hours, four hours–the emptiness continued to unfold below.   Thirty thousand feet is as close as I want to come to that vacancy. And then, 27 hours after waking up at 3:30 a.m. to begin this journey, I landed in Shanghai at 8 p.m. of the next day and there among the hundreds waiting outside as I left customs was a young lady and gentleman holding a placard with my name on it.
         This would be Clara, a young English major graduate who would serve as my guide and interpreter and our driver.
My guide and interpreter Clara Z (Most students of English choose an Anglo/American name for themselves.)
My guide and interpreter Clara Z (Most students of English choose an Anglo/American name for themselves.) at one of the many banquets.
         Tomorrow or Friday I will post Part 2:  5 Days in China.
        What follows is the poem commissioned prior to my arrival.  As Charles Guggenheim has noted, “There is no art without restriction” so having to create a poem about a place I did not know was quite the restriction  But human beings, the harder we try to pretend we are greatly different only prove how similar to each other we are.   And Google, beside scaring one to death one moment  can also provide a window through which the imagination may fashion something fertile:
Viewing Fish at Flower Harbor
In dewlight before dawn the paling
moon can still cast shadows;
spring mist rises, gathers itself
and robes the awakening peaks,
great fathers, who guard
the brood within their waters. 
The lake is mother still
reposed in sleep. Bridges clasp hands
at rest
above the world of her dreams. 
The water remains quiet as vanishing night.
Within, golden fish swim silently;
like fire flies they flit among the lotus,
searching its warmth.  As the moonlight
fades, they school beneath the plum petals
which sense first the sun.  The flowers
let go, take air, waft before they alight
to kiss the face of the lake. 
A bell in a pagoda chimes softly.
Its notes reflect off the page of the lake
and become chorus, a song of morning
that ripples across the waters,
echoes through the caverns,
and quivers back from the mountains. 
Her dream ends with song and sun.
Because the fish are hungry children.
They splash the water fiery orange,
gather for their feeding,
great skeins by the bridges,
by the shrines: battalions
jostling, milling, restless, u
ntil they are fed—and then
they will swim away, hiding in rushes
as she tries to remember her dream.
Spring plum blossoms at West Lake, Hangzhou, China
Spring plum blossoms at West Lake, Hangzhou, China
 

***

SEPTEMBER 19, 2012 8:13 p.m.

A rose by any other name . . . .

       As the New Hampshire state primaries approached I had a vibrant discussion with a flatlander from Massachusetts about the recent reversal of name quality between Yankee elections and Granite State voting.
       It used to be that once the Lodges and Cabot’s went to heaven, one could always count on Massachusetts to provide a name worthy of the title “A Name, ”  a name like Dukakis.  And in those days, New Hampshire voters stayed loathe to vary from anything less Anglo-Saxon than Peterson or Gregg. And don’t get me wrong, I played softball against Walter Peterson for years and Michael Dukakis taught me civics. But somewhere the name-thing got itchy, new attitudes filtered into New Hampshire-ites, possibly because  all those Baystaters kept sneaking across the border to buy cigarettees and liquor.
       Whatever, soon it was clear all that smoke and booze had fogged Massachusetts’ brains and because we couldn’t afford either, rugged, independent “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire co-opted the names;  Sununu for governor,  Sununu for senator while Massachusetts slipped into mumblings like Swift and King (At least Maine has the good sense to run a King whose first name is Angus.) And look at the role-reversal by 2012—Democrats run Jackie Cilly and Maggie Hassan (That’s Ha-SAN to you flatlanders) for governor.  That is Ha-SAN if NH Public Radio is to be believed and when was Weee-Vo ever wrong?  Full disclosure here.
       I voted for Jackie Cilley but in my heart I knew  though people around Concord (Kon-krd as in Julius Caesar: “I came, I saw, I concord.”) like a good chuckle, there wasn’t a snowball in the Mount Washington Observatory chance that New Hampshire would live with a Governor Cilley so long as Fox-a-ganda, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert provide the rest of the nation with news . Still the name gap worried the Republicans so they rummaged around the party  possibilities and discovered their name:  Ovid Lamontagne  (That’s OH-vid LA-mon-TANE.)    You’d have to go back to an election for Consul of the Roman Empire to find any party with guts enough to run an Ovid.    Proves my point.   If you want to run for office in New Hampshire, unless you can produce a name that will wrap copperheads around a fencepost, you might as well move to Concord (KON-KORD as in “Can’t we all just get along?”).      
       When it comes to wrass-ling Massachusetts over names, we’ll tie one hand behind our back so as to give them a chance. I can still dream that had my candidate prevailed:  All those young Manchester volunteers chanting against each other across Elm Street,  the only major city thoroughfare in the United States that comes to a dead-end in both directions:  “Cilley-Ovid, Cilley-Ovid.”
       Meanwhile  what does Massachusetts come back with?  They retire Barney and give us a U.S. senate race between Scott Brown and Beth Warren.  I ask you, what possible kind of dirty politics can one get done  when opponents have names like that?     One can pour all the Super KOCH money in the world into Massachusetts but all you’re going to get is puff-ball pinky fencing.    With Scott Brown’s pedigree going back to Peanuts and Beth Warren reading Jane Austen,  what’s the worst anyone could do except find a Lucy to pull away the football from Brown and have Darcy leave Beth on the heath.   Somebody tried to make Beth a Native American, but it went nowhere because anyone with half-a-brain knows Beth is a direct descendant of two queens.   Small wonder the Patriots lost a football game, and the Sox are run by a Valentine.   The state has gone name soft.
       But up here,  north of that petticoated border, where the moose are giant and the beaver immense,  the possibilities are endless for Rahms and Rovians.  You will soon hear from all the Boston television stations the ominous rumbling of Satanic music and black-and-white commercials informing us Ha-SAN’s birth certificate is a forgery because  foxee investigator Orly Taitz has allegedly discovered in a bandaid tin she picked out of a dump in Somalia irrefutable evidence that Hassan was born in Yemen and attended a madrassa in the Phillipines (Indonesia and Kenya have already been taken for another race.)   She has also discovered all those years Maggie spent raising two children in Exeter and serving in the New Hampshire senate were deep cover to prepare for  the second coming of Mohatma Ghandi. Well if Ovid Lamontagne’s opponent was just another wimpy Massachusetts name like Billy Weld, the race would be over.  But not here where mountains have a tree-line, come to a peak, and are snow-capped some of the year.  Not here.   In their first debate, you’ll see Maggie Hassan begin with this:  “Well OH-VIIIIDE  . . .”
         And Ovid will begin to shrink, and Hassan like a genie free from the bottle will begin to grow.    And each time she begins his name, it gets longer, “O-O-OWE   VI-I-I-I-I-IDE and the longer it gets, the smaller he becomes until by the end of the debate she reaches down, plumps him in her palm,  and plops him on his podium so he can “briddeep” into the microphone.    Argentinians learned that hard lesson too–never mess with anyone named Maggie.
        By the way all you HAH-vd historians, the 14th President of these United States’s name was pronounced “Puhrse.”  Robert Frost knew that.

 ****

SEPTEMBER 8, 2012 4:00 p.m.

The Navy Blue Kitchen

       Sometimes an idea which scurries out of hibernation in a cubicle like a chipmunk in love with spring is best placed in a Have-A-Heart trap and quarantined to check for rabies.
       So it was with my father, attempting to raise five children alone after our mother died a few years earlier.   And his attempt, in retrospect, though not rabid, but certainly shall we say less than organized, still turned into the finest thing he ever achieved.   And this story is about one of those ideas, probably in the early sixties, when attempt after attempt to get us to wash our hands and not smudge dirt all over the kitchen walls and appliances had failed.
       But our father was a resourceful man and was not one to give in easily.  He decided if he couldn’t get five Mohammeds  to go the mountain, he’d bring the mountain to the Mohammeds, and at the same time make good Pennsylvania Dutch (translate: extremely frugal) use of two gallons of paint which had been on sale (for good reason as it turned out).   He announced over supper we would paint the kitchen Navy Blue and then the dirt would not show up.  He proudly produced two gallons of that on-sale Navy Blue paint (lead free not likely  an option in those days).
       Now I, psyched on all things military and historical, thought this idea brilliant:  Old Ironsides, “Damn The torpedoes, full speed ahead!” “I Have not yet begun to fight!” and “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.”  It was all I could do to finish supper.   Apparently my four siblings also shared my enthusiasm because I do not recall a single objection.   Our father left the next morning for work at the post office.  The plan was to paint the walls, leave the trim white.  But (and you can check our coloring books) none of us had been particulary adept at coloring within the lines.
       It soon became apparent to we five budding artists the smart thing to do, since staying outside the trim was just too difficult, was paint the trim blue as well and then use a razor blade to scrape the excess off the window and cabinet glass.     The wooden shelves around and around the sink soon succumbed to our enthsuiasm, followed by the doors.   The plan, too, if memory has not failed me, was to leave the ceiling in its current state–light blue.
       The plan worked like my plan once to teach 25 second graders how to create a Japanese renga poem, each placing three brush strokes (one from each primary color) onto eight-foot long scrolls of paper.   To continue the analogy:  There I was, having moved all chairs and desks out of the way, placed 25 small plates of blue, 25 small plates of yellow, and 25 small plates of red, with 75 brushes and 25 cups of water to clean the brushes on the floor next to 5 empty scrolls.  That plan:  Each was to do one brush stroke at a time and then wait for the next in line to complete one brush stroke and so instill great sense of philosophy and pride as we built a collaborative renga.  And so we began with the first brush stroke.
       Have you ever unleashed a tsunami?   It did not occur to me that second graders were not interested in order.  It did not occur to me that second graders did not yet have the best eye-hand coordination, nor the slightest interest in philosophy or collaboration.  It did not occur to me that second graders think painting anything and everything is the greatest calling on the planet.  And there it was, second graders sitting on paint plates, second graders painting the floor, second graders painting each other, absolutely engrossed in the beauty they were creating and oblivious as Lucy and Charlie Brown to the multi-syllabic entreaties from the adult male who had set this tide lose.
       The teachers kindly placed me in a Have-A-Heart trap and set me free in the woods, and I have seldom come near second graders since.  This off-topic catharsis will permit me to get back to the kitchen.   Since the oldest of  we five was perhaps 13, the light blue ceiling was deep Pacific in an instant.  And so, this culinary preparatory ocean was conquered.
       Only two promontories of land showed above the waves –the porcelain stove and the refrigerator.  Here at least one cooler head prevailed – the stove might catch fire if we painted it.  We, despite our age, all agreed probably not a good move.   But the refrigerator posed no such issue, particularly since it was the kitchen appliance where dirt and smudges most offended our father, and furthermore, besides being a greasy, grimy gray around the handles, it was also old-fashioned, its edges rounded and weary.  A facelift was just what it needed.
       Soon the white porcelain refrigerator too slept restlessly beneath a deep blue sea.   Our father returned at six o’clock that evening, appeared well-pleased and decreed a day of rest.   This was summer in the amish country of Southeastern Pennsylvania and indeed, for children, the living is easy.  But June turns to December and a 40 watt light bulb casts a different glow, one closer to Ernest Shackleton and his men huddling through Antarctic winters.
       I recall sitting one dark evening in the cold, dreary, December-Navy gloom, the yellow incandescence of the light barely able to find its way to the corners of the kitchen, and realizing perhaps my sense of color isn’t what I thought it was and wondered is that what it means to grow-up?   It was one of those later winter evenings when I walked in on my father as he rested on the sofa and listened to swing music of the 40s on the radio.  There were tears in his eyes.  I discreetly backed out of the room.  But that moment I learned he had lived through places far darker than our Navy Blue kitchen and somehow had gotten himself and all of us through to the light.   Sure enough, early that spring Uncle Bud arrived with a new, squared off, spanking white porcelain refrigerator freezer and the kitchen began its inevitable move toward the sun.

****

SEPTEMBER 1, 2012 5:50 p.m.

Musings on Choice–Well Mostly No Choice

       There seems to be disconnects not only in the logic but also the sincerity of so many public pronouncements by Pro-Life leaders and politicians.   If one were truly sincere in one’s Pro-life philosophy, particularly the Akin-extreme of “no exceptions,” wouldn’t one also, by extension of that belief, also have to be anti-death penalty and also a Conscientious Objector?
       Wouldn’t “No exceptions” mean no drones which likely kill multiple innocent bystanders for every “legitimate” target they render inoperative?      Wouldn’t “No exceptions” mean support of universal health care so that those without health care might not murdered by lack of access to quality health-care as surely as a fetus in the womb?     Wouldn’t it also mean no exceptions to carcinogens toasted into the air at coal-fired power plants?  No exceptions to fracking into water supplies or dumping drilling chemicals into streams to cause cancers to the living downstream who drink from those waters?
       Wouldn’t no exceptions also include the murdering of doctors, nurses, and visitors at abortion clinics?  Wouldn’t a sincere pro-life Chrisitan have to give up his or her weapons and the NRA?   Wouldn’t a sincere Pro-Life thinker also support infrastructure repair so that aging Minnesota bridges might not collapse into the Mississippi and kill 13 souls—or were they just unlucky exceptions to prove the rule?  Why is it each time a preacher, or bishop, or politician rants publicly about abortion or contraception, I hear a chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” and Isaiah in the background:  “And we like sheep, are led astray”?
       The sincere Pro-Life thinker who can support no exceptions to all life-taking scenarios strikes me as the kind of human being with whom Jesus Christ would want to sit, break bread, and reason, probably inviting a similar pro-choice diner to sup with them.   As for the others, perhaps they should carry this moniker instead:  PRØ Life.

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JULY 25, 2012 10:05 a.m.

Confessions of a Lapsed Luddite

    Forgive me, Wendell Berry, for I have sinned.  For two decades I have held to the gospel resisting the High Priests of Technology and refused to purchase a cellphone.
    Many times I have been approached by the Jezebels at Radio Shack and Best Buy, but until now have resisted their charms.       But alas, the flesh is weak and phone booths for a weary traveler non-existent so the day before yesterday I was seduced by my first on-line chat with Shazeena whose sweet typing of grammatically correct English was so inspiring, and then yesterday chatted with Glenn who also wrote flowing, errorless, English prose.  I could on longer resist their finely crafted sentences and now, nine hours later, await the delivery of a Gophone.
    How does one hide the shame?  Should I pretend to visit an ill sister for a few months until I first learn how to hide the device by wearing loose clothing and then how to turn off the ringtone?  I could then return and claim to the community it is a distant sister’s phone which must be cared for until she recovers from her life-long, debilitating illness.
    I understand this is my failing.   I was brought before the Inquisition and denied my faith in landlines and phonebooths.  My learning was no match for Cardinal AT&T and Archbishop Tracfone, though I did cause Bishop Verizon great consternation when I reminded him he had abandoned rural New Hampshire because our tithing didn’t meet his expectations.
    Were it not for Shazeena and Glenn pleading for mercy from Cardinal AT&T, I’m certain I would now be stretching on the rack.   True my companions are joyful and my daughter ecstatic, but what shall I tell my students who have revered me as the last bastion of the outhouse? the final font of the rooftop television antennae?  How can I explain to them that sometimes the gospel according to the phonebook was also written by a human and perhaps may not accurately proclaim The Word of the Great One Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned.
    But have faith, my fellow Luddites, I have learned many things from my failings.  Firstly that Cardinal AT&T employs literate on-line chatters, secondly that a Luddite should not engage in chat matches with non-Luddites, also that I still believe 95 percent of all texting is a waste of time and focus, but finally, most importantly, no longer will I sit at a restaurant table at Georgio’s in Milford while my daughter fumes at a table at Georgio’s in Merrimac.  Never again will I while-away an hour-and-half on the front porch of The Mount Washington Hotel while my dinner companion grows angry waiting for me at Stickney’s on the back porch of the hotel.     That is, of course, if there is coverage.

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  JULY 4, 2012 2:33 p.m.

Are We There Yet? That 236-year American Drive

      A quiet day to take a drive around Monadnock reflect on the state of our States.    
     Earlier this week an Alternet article by Sara Robinson, “Conservative Southern Values Revived:  How A Brutal Strain of American Aristocrats Have Come To Rule” resonated because of her distinction about how two groups of Americans define the word liberty:   Liberty as in the Patrick Henry quote where the emphasis is on me:  “Give me liberty or give me death.”   And liberty as understood in say the Declaration of Independence where “all men are created equal” with certain self-evident rights: “life, liberty,” et al.  This is more clearly stated in The Pledge of Allegiance where liberty is co-equal with the words justice and all:  “With liberty and justice for all.”  
     Robinson has articulated something important here, though I would argue we are not as far down the road as she indicates.  What is important is both sides of this equation have been talking past each other for decades, much like two cultures trying to agree on a number for the freezing point of water.  If one group is using a centigrade scale (0) and the other Fahrenheit (32) and neither group aware the other side is using a different measuring stick, they will never agree on a number and continually think the other side  fools and idiots; when in fact, both are right and simply ignorant of the other’s reference point.   The genius of 200 plus years of Constitutional governing is that it permits us to wobble as Joseph Campbell might say down the middle of a highway between the two killer poles—the extreme left which if left to its own devices penalizes initiative and rewards mediocrity until the culture, fat with clogged arteries, dies loafing on a couch—or the extreme right which if left to its own devices reverts to Darwin and Nietzsche in an almost fascist survival of the fittest race for “supermen” until the rest of the culture dies of starvation and the “supermen” commit suicide.
     Either extreme, the culture dies.   It’s time to call out definitions again so both views of liberty’s  definition can look for viable solutions where like the game of baseball, timeless, an individual can excel but only if there are two teams to support that excellence, or if one is more mechanically inclined, much like the speedometer in an American car whixh uses both mph and kph to indicate speed and though we may prefer one to the other, we understand it is a matter of preference, not conscience.  
     Who gets to work things out?  The institutions that comprise this republic:  its executive, its congress, its courts, and the unique way our founders permitted those institutions to be run: permitting voters to choose who fills the first two institutions and providing the third the freedom to act on what John Milton would call right reason, (ie:  God gave us a brain and expects us to use it).   There is another phrase in our Constitution that is too often overlooked:  to form a more perfect Union.  The Framers understood it wasn’t perfect then, it isn’t perfect now, and it won’t be perfect tomorrow.  It is the pursuit of that perfect Union that matters, not perfection itself.    And somehow, despite its messiness, we have made that pursuit work for 236 years and just when everything appears broken, something happens to remind us we are not broken if we keep quiet long enough to listen.
     Two of this week’s Supreme Court decisions may be examples of this—the Arizona immigration more so and the later Health Care decision, less so, where ideological predictions were wrong, and it is clear a majority of the justices began to use their intellect and independence to keep us wobbling about the middle.  It doesn’t mean they are right or wrong, it just means they have done what their particular institution requires them to do: Find a viable (but not any cleaner if one is a Centigrade/Fahrenheit or mph/kph idealogue) way to keep us wobbling left or right as needed while we move along history’s highway in pursuit of that Perfect Union.

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JUNE 13, 2012 11:34 a.m.

A More Modest Proposal

      Mark Twain once said, “If you  don’t like the weather in New England just wait a few minutes.”    
      Last week’s election results in Wisconsin are probably a good time to take that advice.   If one is an extreme progressive, one might think labor is dead.  If one is an extreme conservative, he or she might think, labor is dead.   But if one looks at Edison Research’s exit polls carefully, it is a clear why Gov. Scott kept his seat.   Over 60% of the voters indicated a recall should only be called for official misconduct. The vote had little to do with which side of the political debate one held.  Voters simply re-affirmed that an election is an election.  Rick Scott won his election and whether we like it or not, we live with him until the next scheduled election.   Had recall activists waited until the governor was indicted, maybe they might have had a different result.  
      And, now that some time has gone by, I’m feeling much better about democracy than I did the day after that election because the 60% of Wisconsin voters who said a recall should only be held for official misconduct are right.  If both majority and minority refuse to accept an honest election result as binding, we don’t have representative democracy, we have democratic anarchy.  Something that eventually ends up like Iraq:  We win, crush the minority.  We lose, blow up the majority.     Everything is about now.  Nothing is about tomorrow.
      Yesterday (June 12), 75% of the voters of North Dakota, a state awash in oil money and surplus, voted No on abolishing their property tax.    The most compelling reason why, according to CNN’s Blake Ellis and Aaron Smith, is voters want to retain local control over their schools, their towns, their police.   It may be the same reason why New Hampshire voters resist state-wide taxes and live with its high property tax and keep their state house crowded with 400 representatives—one for every 2500 to 3000 residents.  
    Are those 400 fairer, probably not, but if I have a problem, I know exactly who to talk to, and I don’t get put on hold because I can drive over to his or her house or see he or she at the grocery store.
      Therefore, if you are unhappy with the lack of response at your state and federal governments, I modestly propose there is another way to get their attention.  Double the size of The House of Representatives or your state house and double each party’s numbers in the House.    Since actual party numbers would not change, there would be no immediate political change (at the federal level we’d have 1070 reps instead of 535), but what would change is each representative’s district would have half-as-many constituents (approximately one for every 275,000 of us instead of every half-million), which immediately doubles the impact a voter has on his or her representative.  
      Every special interest organization would immediately lose half its impact and the cost of “buying influence” would double and lobbyists would have twice as much work to do.   Yes, it would cost money (doubling of House budget) – but the cost would be minor compared with say a few days outflow for the Defense Department and since representatives would have only half as many constituents to campaign for, they might actually be forced to respond to them rather than lobbyists—a cost, like the voters of North Dakota, I’d be willing to pay.

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APRIL 11, 2012 7:29 p.m.

It’s The Content, Stupid

       The back and forth over e-books, nooks, kindles, hard copy, publishers, writers, Amazon, Google, indies, blockbusters, Apple, and now the U.S. Justice Department’s no-matter-how-literary-and-just-it- is-gussied up, comes down to who gets to divvy up the cash.
      Each time the discussion flares anew, the images of two books reappear in my consciousness and imaginatively swim back and forth:  Farenheit 451 and 1984–very much like Winston Smith trying to configure how many fingers O’Brien is holding before him.  That image of those two floating books keeps telling me the current discussion about electronic literature keeps missing the mark.   The real problem is the new world of electronics creates only liquid content.   Nothing is permanent. 
       Content appears one moment to look like this and the next moment has been modified to look like that.  Oh electronic publishers can produce prodigious amounts of inexpensive content but none of it is permanent unless one prints out prodigious amounts of paper or copies prodigious amounts of bytes to a device that is never again connected to the internet. The recent controversy over an Amazon edited kindle version of Huck Finn is a good primmer.  The problem isn’t the edited version, the world is full of edited versions of Huck Finn.  The problem is this:  When I buy a physical book, I am confident that the prose or poetry I read in that book twenty years from now will be exactly the same as it was when I purchased it–not by one comma, not by one misspelling or typo will it have changed.   What I first saw was what I see now and what I will see tomorrow.  The content may be wrong or faulty, but it has not changed.  
    A culture expends considerable energy to alter a printed book.  Literally, Ray Bradbury’s firemen must drive to my home and burn the books.   That has happened before, it has happened recently, and it will happen again.  There are enough people who so fear the permanence of the knowledge contained in a physical book that every so often they gain a position with enough power to burn it.   But, as history in those books that survived such events indicates, burning books is a very public action and it gets people’s attention and burning lots of books is also not a cost-effective method of destroying them.   And here is where Farenheit 451 merges with Orwell.   The real danger Orwell alluded to in 1984 is not Big Brother looking into our every action.  It’s the mutability of history. 
      When all books or enough books are simply electronic files or websites stored via internet on a device either in your computer or in Google’s cloud or in Amazon’s back pocket, there is no longer a need to burn the book.  One simply retrieves the old content file and changes it the desired content and re-inserts it as if the new content had always read that way, and, unless you have created printed copies of the work, the new version becomes the old version.    And the old version disappears as if it never existed.  
      This happens already on the internet.   How many news sites broadcast a fast version of a story.  One reads it thinking this is the accurate version, then the source site discovers its information is wrong.  One returns a few hours or minutes later and the wrong story has disappeared, replaced by the “right” story and all references to any other version disappear with it.    The real damage is that to the new reader, the news source appears to always have gotten it right.   What is recorded is always “right,” the only account of what has happened.  The incorrect guesses, the incomplete estimates, the mistakes, all gone so that the site appears infallible.  
      Each time one logs onto the internet or logs into a site, that white-washing can be accomplished as easily as an update.   Sure newspapers used to do the same thing between editions, but the first edition didn’t disappear.  “Dewey defeats Truman” is still about.  How many wrong electronic headlines have simply disappeared, living only in the memory of the few who first questioned them.   Sure Amazon, Google, Apple, Verizon, or Microsoft say they won’t invade a computer, but they do it everyday to “update” something.   Maybe they haven’t changed a personal file yet, but they can–and they will, and most of the time the person on the receiving end of that change will have no idea it happened.  
      Today the enemy is Eurasia, next time you log on it’s Eastasia.  Yesterday Iraq, today the Taliban, tomorrow Iran.  Power corrupts corporations as easily as it does governments.   And that is why I am not ready to give up my books.  There’s something comforting in my 1958 edition of The King James Bible. The content I read in 1958 is still the content I read in 2012.  I might change how I think about those words, I might understand them differently,  but the change is within me not within the text.   “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in the kindle.”

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MARCH 25, 2012 4:43 p.m.

Food For Thought in The Hunger Games film.

     I was fortunate to get into this weekend’s opening of The Hunger Games at a Saturday matinee in a small mill city in Central Massachusetts. 
     I’ve not yet read the books, but a friend of mine highly recommended them and therefore it seemed wise to see the film before the books in order not, as so often happens, I might be disappointed in all a film invariably deletes from a book.   And though some critics have called it the replacement for Harry Potter, I saw something different in this crowded multiplex audience of not just young teenagers, but younger children, young adults, older teens, and far more “elderly” adults like myself than I anticipated.
      This crowd was nothing like an early Harry Potter matinee years ago where I found myself, nervously, the only middle-aged male in a packed audience of 400.  This audience appeared to have a generous sprinkling on other than just young adults paying attention.  
     Only a few minutes into the film, it struck me that Lionsgate Films may have just struck the most successful Occupy Wall Street blow of the year.  This is a film whose subplots brilliantly capture the politics of the past decades by nuancing the poverty of the twelve districts just enough so that most movie goers could think, “Yeah, if things keep heading in the direction we’re traveling, that might be me.”   At the same time the film exaggerates the fashion, entertainment, and attitudes of the one percent just enough so that the self-involved one-percenter would never see himself or herself being characterized as such while the children of those same one-percenters would see the connections perfectly.   Such is the delusion of wealth and power.
     The film is dark, but so are Robert Cormier’s novels.  I’m guessing that it is likely every advertising guru on the nation would predict if you provide young adults an action film whose subplot is current politics, those young adults would run in the opposite direction of a theater as fast as Tom Brady and his Madison Avenue Uggs could carry them.    Instead the theaters are jammed with young Americans and their older folks watching what is not Harry Potter philosophy with magic controlling the outcome, what is not Twilight with fictional creatures balancing the scales, this is real-life politics played in a world so eerily close to our present state it can’t help but seep into the national consciousness.
      Sure it is an update of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” or a take-off on William Golding’s Lord of the Flies,  but they were stories necessary for their time and place.  This story is necessary for this time and place and I am thrilled to see theaters packed with people and bookstores selling out of the books.   Let’s hope enough one-percenters are not so self-indulged in some variation of their Super Bowl gatherings or pseudo-intellectual Aspen retreats that they understand if you don’t provide just rewards to those that sweat to create your wealth, just desserts will follow.    
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MARCH 2, 2012 7:38 p.m.

The Bearcat that Ate Keene, Chapters Two and Three

bearcat_photo_left

The color of Keene’s Bearcat and this critter are same.
     This week two more chapters of the “The Bearcat That Ate Keene, New Hampshire,” were composed.
     The first occurred Monday morning when Keene Chief of Police Ken Meola agrred to a press conference with journalists and students at Keene State College. For a solid hour he patiently addressed every question posed him.   At the conclusion of his conference I thought if this man had presented the public whys and what-fors of this program instead of an apocalyptic salesman from Lenco and a mayor who still has a hunkering for tanks, this whole story would have disappeared into the Keene City Council minutes.
     Indeed the chief made sure to note this Bearcat has no claws—no armaments–unless one considers a radiation detector, (Keene is 17 miles from the Vernon nuclear power plant and an evacuation center) and a hazardous gas detection device as armaments.  He did concede it could carry tear gas and pepper spray and stun grenades but only the same ones a police officer would carry if the officer were in a cruiser.
     The two issues that remain sticky are the cost of the grant and the appearance of the  militarization of a police force.  We pay—whether now or later–we pay.    I don’t know how many Bearcats the apocalyptic salesman from Lenco sells but we pay for them whether it shows up in Keene’s budget or not.  That is an issue the Independents, Libertarians, Democrats, and Republicans will have to sort out, not a chief of police or a superintendent of schools. 
     Militerization is something else.  Appearance still counts and students have visions of the armor-clad police officer at Berkeley casually pepper-spraying kneeling students dancing in their heads.    The chief said he hadn’t expected the outcry over this. That is a good thing for a police chief to recognize—that maybe keeping an accurate pulse on a community is a regular and necessary component of service. 
     Recognizing that most of these opponents are not extremists is also a good start. The chief noted  that if there were a terrorist to worry about (and he took pains to say he has no monitoring going on nor expectations that there will be) it would be a home-grown extremist he was concerned about, not foreign threats. 
     And he emphasized to his questioners the police department would not be bringing this truck on campus, that should students suddenly decide to lose it, the truck would be used to block off Main St. to contain a situation not to subdue it.   He understands Keene is not Mad Max.  (As an aside, I wonder how many Americans understand that?)
        If anything, that hour educated both groups – the Chief saw a large group of college students who asked articulate, thoughtful questions, a group of young adults who are very concerned about how the community perceives them, a group that is just as sensitive to public perceptions of themselves as the police department.  And on the other side of the coin, the students saw a chief of police who was respectful, articulate and equally concerned how the community perceives him and his officers.
   That chapter ended well, and this week I saw two Brinks trucks carrying money to banks and thought, ah, Baby Bearcats. The second chapter ended predictably – on Thursday night, the Keene City Council voted 9-4 (down from 13-1) to accept the grant from Homeland Security, disappointing a large crowd of opponents.    Though the result may not have been in doubt, they should be heartened that the final vote reflected the divisions over the issue. 
     If I were city council, I’d be worried more about unintended consequences, and I suspect this story is not yet complete because in the editorial commentary of the Union Leader this morning were Bearcat opponents urging shoppers to boycott the Bearcat.  Should that happen to merchants on Main Street,  (How easy it is for a propagandist to jingo-ize a message.) the mayor will rue the day he met an apocalyptic salesman from Lenco and uttered the word “tank.”
     All-in-all, if this critter is used wisely, the first time it saves someone in a blizzard or rescues someone from a flood, all will be forgiven.  But if I were Chief Meola, I’d keep the mayor out of the dispatch office and next time Lenco sends a a salesman, send him back to the Berkshires.

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FEBRUARY 24, 2012 4:51 p.m.

The Bearcat That Ate Keene, New Hampshire

bearcat resting
Is a hungry bearcat this?

 

Or this?
Or this?
     For a number of weeks Keene, New Hampshire, has seen itself become the uncomfortable international epi-center of a debate about whether the city should, as its Chief of Police and majority city council members have indicated, accept the “donation” so to peak, of a $285,000 Homeland Security grant to purchase for the police department an armored personnel carrier called a Bearcat from a company in Western Massachusetts.
     We can go through all the pros and cons and gamesmanship and salesmanship on both sides but that to me obscures the central question that is gnawing beneath the gamesmanship, and that question is what should my community feel like.  I use that abstract, indefinable word because that is exactly what this is about, a feeling for community.
     One of the attractions of this region is that Keene is a community that on-the-whole operates pretty much on the feeling that if you have one hundred instances of interaction between people, 100 times a person will greet and treat another person honorably and with trust and expect the same in return.  People do this knowing full-well that one time out of a hundred, that honor and trust will be betrayed.   The Keene community accepts that betrayal as an acceptable cost so that day-in-and-day-out they can co-exist with their neighbors in an atmosphere free from suspicion and trust. An 8-ton armored SWAT vehicle flips that concept on its head and each time it shows its head in public it loudly reminds this community that its government and law enforcement people no longer operates on the premise that 99 times out of 100 honor and trust will work things out.
     The Bearcat is a clear public reminder that a new dynamic is at work–the reverse.  In order to catch that one betrayal, all 99 honorable people are suspect.     Imagine what that concept does to one’s quality of life. Yes, a terrorist might attack Keene, New Hampshire, but yes, a piece of broken satellite might crush onto my head as well.  Now I can wake up each morning worrying about the piece of space junk that might fall on my head and spend my entire life in a state of worry, a life closed down by fear and suspicion.  The end result of that is a suffocated, unhappy life, think East Germany in 1985 or if you wish an extreme version, Syria today. Yes, a terrorist might attack Keene, but as the salesperson for Lenco Company, Jim Massery, said, “Lenco doesn’t cause school shootings. Police officers don’t cause school shootings. But they are there to clean up the mess.”
     Massery’s statement holds more truth than he realizes.  The Walpole school shooting wasn’t a terrorist attack and the best that that 8-ton armored vehicle arriving on scene  could have done was clean up the mess.   Somehow I’d rather have human beings with all their frailty doing the cleaning up of our messes.
     So Mr. Massery and Lenco Company, I’d prefer to see that Bearcat go to Mexico where I’m pretty sure some beleaguered police department may need it far more in its war against drug cartels, and yes I can accept that my days are numbered (if not by terrorists then by accident, school shooting, disease, or old age), but I’d prefer to live those numbered days dealing with my fellow community in an honorable and trusting fashion and consider that one in a hundred betrayal a small cost for the pleasure of awakening each morning with the beauty and friendliness of The Monadnock Region filling my senses.

 ****

FEBRUARY 13, 2012 9:41 a.m.

My Child. My Car

        A most strange affectation came over me this week when I dropped my car off at the garage to have a new clutch put in.  
         My rational mind (Hmmm, is there a “rational” mind?), anyway, whatever day-to-day apparatus that is ticking inside my skull knows precisely and with certainty that an automobile is not alive, has no sentient ability, and no capacity for feeling pain or joy or boredom.  Yet, when the garage owner explained that to change the $200 clutch on my car, the mechanics would also have to drop the transmission, disconnect the 4-wheel drive and the drive shaft, leave my tires dangling unattached to the trans-axle, and remove many other little things I had no idea were ever there, well, suddenly I felt a pang of compassion and suffering, as if my car were about to have major surgery.  I worried that it might never be the same old reliable it had proved itself over the past 5 years.
            And so I prepared my little SUV for a trip to the hospital at the end of the week.  And just like any trip to the “other” hospital, the day before surgery, the mechanic called and explained, “Emergency has come up.  We will have to delay a week.”  A new part had not arrived and why, so-to-speak, since, said Doctor Mechanic, we are already inside the abdomen removing the appendix, ignore the gall-bladder which may also need work down the road, so-to-speak.
        I would no more ignore my mechanic, whom I trust, than I would my doctor, whom I also trust, so we postponed.  The troubling part was that each night I had irrational dreams about my car and all the things it had done for me over the years.  How, it had once belonged to my daughter when she got her first great job as a U.S. rep for a German company that made high-tech medical equipment–particularly the machines that spin one type of material out from another.  I want to say cyclotron but I know The Great Hadron Collector is supposed to bring on the end-of-the-world so that’s not it, ah, centrifuge, that is the word.     And that car had faithfully carried her up and down the Northeast Corridor, safely gotten her from the deepest inner-city hospitals to the undisclosed, and very rural, bio-labs of Massachusetts.    And every subsequent place she visited, there waited that shiny, black car, stolid as a Palamino, pawing the ground, patiently ready to carry her onward.
     The next night, it was me, and the great blizzard, cars going nowhere and I at work 25 miles away and a lonely, over-the-mountain-top road to travel to get home.  But there my car was again toasty, its four-wheel drive fully engaged as I passed tractor trailers spun out to the sides, cars spinning their wheels, and me, riding my heated version of a black musk-ox, pawing inexorably upward and forward, grunting away, “I’ll get you there.  I’ll get you there.  I’ll make this work.  I’ll get you there.”And it did.  But still it was now 3 a.m. and I was wide awake worrying what have I done to my good and faithful companion.
        The night before the operation, was the worst.  I had called the mechanic earlier in the day asking him if he was sure this would be ok.  He said,  “Not only will the car be ok, but it will drive better than when you brought it in.” I tried to sleep, but the dreams became disjointed, ominous.  At one point, two mechanics had removed everything inside the frame.  On the floor of the garage were seats, steering wheel, pipes, wires, gaskets, motors, hundreds of bolts and nuts.  I looked up inside the frame of the car suspended above me and there was nothing there.  It looked like a hollowed-out beetle.
        After a brief wide-awake respite to convince myself this was only a dream, back to sleep I went.  This time, the car was finished, shiny and black, and two grinning mechanics were handing me the keys and the bill.     Then I noticed on the floor a series of small unused bolts and gaskets.  “What are they?” I asked.
        “No big deal,” answered one mechanic, “just a few left-overs we couldn’t find places to attach. Happens all the time.  Old cars, we make them better.  Didn’t need that old universal joint anyway.”
        By morning, I wondered if I looked as haggard as I felt. Still after two days in surgery, the mechanic drove into my driveway with my car.  It looked the same.  No wan color, no herky-jerky sputtering or odd engine sounds.  We took it for a spin.  Indeed it did feel like a youthful version of my old car.  Pep had returned, gears shifted effortlessly, and the motor  purred.  I have been driving it for two weeks and even the gas mileage is better.  
       So the car doctor was right.  The surgery made my car feel young again.  And if my car feels young, then I feel better.  And I haven’t had a car dream since. Except, there was the bill neatly left in the driver’s seat.  Car doctors have to eat too, I remind myself.
p.s. On Aug 6, 2015, my faithful companion was rear-ended at a railroad crossing and pushed into the car in front of me.  Even in its demise it protected me–no discernible bumps or whiplash.  I miss you Old Paint.

 ****

JANUARY 28, 2012 12:04PM

To Cell or Not To Cell, That Is The Question

       I suppose it is now coming on two decades I have resisted, fended off, parried, rebutted, and avoided the purchase of a cell phone.     
      Despite the entreaties (nay, nagging) of my daughter and my significant other, I have resisted.   It’s not because I’m a martyr or luddite or desire to return to an aboriginal state.  In fact I’m not sure why I resist.  Certainly I know at least two or three times a year, usually when I’m trying to meet up with my daughter or significant other and life inconveniently interferes with “the best laid schemes o’ mice and men,” I would easily give $30 for access to one quick cell phone call to clear up the looming mess.     And I wouldn’t be-grudge the other $270 I would have spent on the nine months I didn’t need it.  So as cheap as I am, I can’t fool myself into thinking the cost is the only objection.   
     And it’s not fear of technology.  I do spend huge chunks of time utilizing the net and the computer.  I like a flat screen HDTV.   No, technology has permitted me to engage in the life around language I dreamed about as a teenager.   It’s not inertia (well not totally) since at least three times I have actually visited cell phone stores—one even last week, just prior to celebrating Robert Burns’s 253rd birthday (Just in case you thought the quote two paragraphs above came from John Steinbeck).  I even suggested to my daughter once, maybe twice, put me on your plan and I’ll pay you each month.  Inertia shifted then to her shoulders.  Or is that avoidance behavior?  
     No it’s something deeper, something I need to grasp on to.  What is it that subliminally flashes “danger, danger” every time a cell phone comes close enough to touch my hands?   It’s not the fear of microwaves birthing a tumor in my brain.  I figure my cordless phone will do that just as easily.  So it’s deeper than that.   Not spiritual since—well, I am from the amish country and cell phones would not be part of that spirituality, and I do harbor deep affinity for those and the Mennonites whose faiths are based on tolerance and peace.   But, alas, I am too worldly to  believe that is the reason because my Pats/Giants Super Bowl game would have to be watched at a bar which the amish and Mennonite also frown upon.  
     What does resonate in this feeble brain is a story my father-in-law told me fifty years ago when he still worked as a track man on the railroad.  Train derailments, emergencies with switches, boxcars came at all hours and the rule was, he said, “If the railroad makes contact with me.  I must show or lose my job.”   This man had a little cabin on a pristine lake in the woods and hills of Massachusetts.  For a boy from the farming country of Pennsylvania, this was a dreamland.   For a boy who was also still in the U.S. military, being on-call 2-47 also resonated. 
     His solution to that dilemma was to make sure no phone line was ever installed in his camp.   And for the railroad to make contact with him , it must drive up a half-mile, rutted single lane dirt track, then walk down a 45-degree embankment and knock on a door.   The Boston and Maine never did.  
      I think that is the hurdle I cannot over-come.   It’s something akin to faith in life and  fellow human beings.    On the whole, a cell phone doesn’t liberate a world, it constricts it.  Sure, if the car breaks on a lonely road in winter it can be a life saver, and we’ve all heard the stories about that.     But how many cell phone calls are not that but just about the normal inconveniences of living–inconveniences that in the past would have required one to get out of the car or the room and ask a stranger for help. 
      Has the world of technology so isolated a person from other human beings that we fear everyone not on the call list?   I recognize that among the six billion of us there are serial killers and frauds and cons out there  though I’m beginning to realize most of them have migrated to politics because the pickings are so easy there.   Yes dangerous things and people exist, but there are also asteroids that have destroyed the dinosaurs, there is Yellowstone waiting to erupt and wreck the continent, and somewhere a new plague waiting to feast on a good chunk of the humans on this planet.  
     Those caveats come with life.   I have had countless mistakes, scary accidents, and breakdowns of all sorts in my six decades on this planet and hard as I’m searching right now, I can recall only one or two interactions with  total strangers of all shapes, colors, sizes, languages, locations, and genders, in which I wasn’t treated honorably.        I like that feeling—call it spiritual if you will.  When I’m comfortable that cell phones haven’t taken that away, I’ll get me one.

****

 

JANUARY 20, 2012 7:43 p.m.

Time To Relearn The Meaning of “Public”

     It’s the Ides of January, a little snow lays on the ground, the skiing is good, the price of heating oil has dropped or held steady, and the Pats are on to the AFC Championship game. I suppose that means the winter which began with so much discontent has elevated itself to tolerable status.
     Classes began at college and it’s been a week of testiness.  Students trying to get added to a writing class that is already too large to effectively teach writing, faculty trying to accommodate without any accommodating support.  It’s a no-win situation.    I suppose when, according to the National Science Foundation, the New Hampshire legislature decides that for the public good state expenditures to support public higher education should drop far behind Mississippi, there is reason students and staff might be testy.  But then this legislature would be content to have everyone strap on a pistol and decide any differences in OK Corral fashion.
     The meaning of the word “public” needs re-examining.  With all this railing against public education, public utilities, public transportation and public government, note the funding where most of that railing comes from:  Private airwaves, private parties, private citizens, private corporations and private organizations.
     Just what does the word “public” mean?  According to Websters’ World Dictionary, its origins come from the Latin word populus: the people.  Its two primary meanings today are 1) of. Belonging to, or concerning the people as a whole and  2).  for the use and benefit of all  (Bolded italics are mine.)    That means I, who may have arrived by public transportation, am as entitled to sit in the seat of a public hall as the man who arrived by private limousine.  That means that I who enter the public highway in my KIA am as entitled to a lane space on that highway as the ten-wheeler tandom trailer and truck. Because the word public entitles all, it becomes anathema to the word private which entitles few or less, sometimes only one.   
     Without a healthy public structure to balance private control, any society becomes Darwinian.  It must end in fascism or tyranny or anarchy when the strongest inevitably collapses against the desire of some other private entity.    The only recourse a citizen without private wealth or power has against a well-heeled private entity like a corporation is public government; otherwise the strongest survives, all others either suck up or disappear. For three decades we have heard privatize this, privatize that and look what we have to show for it:  Is there a private bank in the country that offers any citizen the benefits or services that a publicly chartered bank used to provide? 
       If one is rich enough, one can purchase service but that’s about it.  Is there a private utility in the United States that  offers its customers, over the long term, services and service better than the old public utilities (Think Enron).   Is there a private drinking water corporation (Think cost of bottled of water.) offering customers anything like the water that public water boards offer to huge numbers of citizens everywhere in the country. How about public transportation?  Is there a private transportation operator in the U.S. that comes close to matching the affordability and availability of European public transportation?    Would any private courtroom, say one run in a nation like Syria or Myanmar work for anyone other than one with wealth or power?   No, private succeeds by concentrating power.  Public succeeds by sharing power. It’s time the word public revels in its true definition rather than the private definition of its greedy adversaries.

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JANUARY 13, 2012 6:52PM

Procrastinators Anonymous

Quiet has returned to New Hampshire. 
     The candidates have gone to get warm in South Carolina while Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert point out how Sir Corporate Emperor Citizen United has no clothes. Maybe Colbert needs to actually run and pick up the vote of human beings, even so Romney won’t get it because he knows corporations are people.
     Meanwhile on the reality front, I thought I might ski but cold wind is moving in and my living room is warm and my seat comfortable.  I need to empty the trash but my chair is still comfortable. 
     Yes, I am procrastinating, but a friend of mine who substituted for  some middle school students educated me about the true definition of the word. Apparently one of her students simply did not do his work, homework, classwork, anything that didn’t move him to action.  Finally she confronted him with his procrastination and the bad things that it does for his character and his future. His counter, “But I have discovered that if I procrastinate long enough, maybe I won’t have to do it at all.” And, as I recall the too many times I have jumped in to do someone else’s work rather than nag because it’s just easier if I do it myself, the boy has a point.
     True if one lives alone, that can be a problem, say living with wood heat—the cold can do marvels to one’s inertia so I understand there’s a limit to this truth as there are limits to every truth.  But taking out the trash is different.  I can procrastinate that days, even weeks, even get used to the smell, at least until the embarrassment caused when a visitor arrives.  Therefore I need to develop a 12-step process to help me control my not-emptying-the-trash-procrastination habit.  
Step 1:  Sit and ponder a plan or lay on the sofa and ponder a plan.  In this case divide the trash removal into stages that accompany other activities I would do anyway like eat and drink.  
Step 2.  The next time I enter the kitchen for sustenance or a cup of tea, or a nice single malt, pull the black, plastic garbage bag out of its container and let it sit in the middle of the kitchen floor and await step 3.
Step 3:  When I return to the kitchen to get another cup of tea or single malt or place the tea cup in the sink for someone else to wash, the trash bag will block my route so pick up the trash bag and place it next to the wastebasket that needs emptying by the end of the counter.  As I go back to my comfortable chair, empty the basket into the trash bag.
Step 4:  Since the bathroom is on my way back to my comfortable chair, drop the bag in front of the door to the bathroom.
Step 5.  Next time I need to use the bathroom, the bag will block the route so pick the bag up and place it next to the bathroom waste basket (also full).
Step 6.  After completing human needs that require a bathroom, empty the wastebasket into the garbage bag and carry it back to my chair and desk where a third waste basket will also be full.
Step 7.  Empty that waste basket and place the garbage bag next to the chair so that when I get up to move anywhere, I must pick up the garbage bag first.
Step 8.  Since I have garbage bag in hand, drop it at foot (or in my case, the top) of the stairs as I walk by (probably on my way back to the kitchen for another snack or perhaps a third single malt).
Step 9.  When bedtime arrives, garbage bag is blocking the way downstairs so pick up the garbage bag and carry it into the bedroom.   Since the bedroom heat is turned down, turn it up and while waiting for the room to warm, empty two bedroom waste baskets (also full) into the garbage bag.  Place the garbage bag in front of doorway to bathroom off bedroom.
Step 10.   At some point, the bathroom off the bedroom will again be required to satisfy human needs.  Pick up the garbage bag and take it into the bathroom.  After satisfying human needs, empty the bathroom waste basket (full) into the black garbage bag.  Since this is the last waste basket in the house, tie a knot in top of the black garbage bag and set it next to the side of the bed I get out of in the morning.
Step 11.   When I wake up, take the knotted bag with me, back into the bathroom, carry it down (or up the stairs in my case) and drop it in front of door to the outside of the house.
Step 12.  In order to head out to work, the bag must now be moved.  Pick up the bag and take it to the trash bin which sits directly next to the car.   Drop it in and proceed happily to work, deeply pleased with my ability to achieve needed cleaning without extra exertion.
I highly recommend this process for other unsavory obligations such as washing dishes or washing clothes.  Though in both cases one may need to purchase additional dishes and clothes to carry through the entire cycle.

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JANUARY 6, 2012 4:33PM

Nothing Goes Unrecorded; The Rest Will Be Examined

      Rick Santorum’s appearance at the New England College Convention for primary candidates raised some interesting in questions. His spoken words as he tried to defend his stance on marriage after a question from a student indicated that, “For 230 years the law has been marriage is between a man and a woman.”  He then proceeded to avoid further questions by asking his own questions, asking the students who questioned him to promote law change by saying if they believe a law should be changed, to do it the New Hampshire way in which the legislature changed the law.  
      Sounds good, but I thought I’d do a spot check on what the marriage law really states in places like Louisiana and North Carolina where a law most likely would state Santorum’s position.   It turns out those 230-year-old marriage laws had to have the words “man and woman” inserted in them during the first decade of the 21st century when legislatures started adding that language through Defense of Marriage Acts.  For example even up to the 1920s, Pennsylvania law doesn’t mention “man or woman” on its licenses, but “bride” and “groom.”   The only reference to gender is a request for father’s and mother’s names of the “couple.”     So much for Santorum’s attempt to expressly say that “man and woman” has been American law for 230 years.     Our ancestors may have been wiser than the candidates roaring around the Granite state give credit. 
      Then again, a handful of New Hampshire Republican representatives just entered a bill that requires any law produced in New Hampshire to justify itself by a direct reference to The Magna Carta in 1215. This reminds me of the memory of faux patriots who speak of “The Pledge of Allegiance” as if it was written by Thomas Jefferson when it actually originated in 1892 and wasn’t part of American government until 1942, with the additional words “Under God” added during the Senator Joseph McCarthy era anybody-who-disagrees-with-my-beliefs-must-be-a-Commie in 1954.
      Candidate Jon Huntsman at least had the common sense to publicly state the obvious in his turn at the College Convention:  “Corporations are not people.”   So much for his Citizens United money-trucks lining up to purchase him.      Huntsman later spoke for an hour to the editors at The Keene Sentinel and that interview is available on-line.  It would appear his sensible approach to running for President via the New Hampshire primary only is hopelessly Quixotic.  I asked a friend of mine who has worked with him why he was doing this and his answer, “He’s angling for a cabinet position.” Makes perfect sense, that’s what losers of a party’s nomination do, except I can’t buy it.   It doesn’t sit well with the man I’ve seen moving around the state. Then it struck me, Huntsman knows exactly what he’s doing.  This is a man who plans ahead.     This is not about 2012 at all.  It’s about 2016.   I’m guessing he sees a Republican party that will have self-immolated by November 2012, and a wide open field for 2016 because Joe Biden is not going to run for President.     
      Huntsman’s laying out the centrist groundwork a successful Republican candidate will need to replace Barak Obama.  And that makes me feel better about the future because the candidate from Utah has faith that there will be a wide-open election in 2016 and the American public will be ready for reason.
      Now that I see the attorney general of Montana is filing suit against Citizens United, 2016 may be the time for a Western outlook in the White House.

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