Sunday, November 22, 2015

Happy Birthday, Monsieur Voltaire!

‎"Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.”

― Voltaire


 Voltaire is one of my first tier heroes. Reading about him today, this little ditty from childhood popped into my head.

"Chantons, chantons, sing a little Paris song...
 Chantons, chantons, everybody sing along...
Let's all sing when any little thing goes wrong!
Toodle oodle oo, toodle oodle lay
 Everyone chantez, chantez
Tooodle oodle oo, toodle oodle lay
Everyone chantez!"

    It's a silly song, nonetheless imprinted indelibly on my cerebrum, never to be erased.

It was odd, but after the disaster in Paris on November 13, my first thought was that I was not where I was supposed to be, that rather than rejoice I wasn't in Paris that night,  as one might expect, I felt misplaced, as though I'd abandoned that city I adore, let it down somehow by my absence.
  I adore the French for a number of reasons, some of which were nobly exemplified by several citizens  interviewed on the streets soon after the disaster; so very French in their determination to endure and carry on without bitterness or rancor, no "dead or alive" threats of vengeance ... preserving that joie de vivre even in mourning, and this from a people who in the last century have known brutal oppression, who have good reason to be bitter, but instead choose to sing in the lifeboats.

Alors: Vive la France! Je t'aime.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Encore, L' hero

Still my guy, Yanis (and the new Pope, of course – who called money "the devil's dung", I mean, seriously, this guy is cool, but that's for another day... Though the two of them should rule the world).  Below: powerful language, right on the money, from a recent speech to French citizens by the ever brilliant Yanis Varoufakis, the entire text of which may be found here.

Now wonder the financiers are so afraid of this guy.

"It is not true that our creditors are interested in getting their money back from the Greek state. Or that they want to see Greece reformed. If they were, they would have discussed seriously our proposals for restructuring Greece’s public debt in a manner ensuring that they get most of it back. But they could not care less. They instead insisted on our surrender. It was the only thing they cared about. They cared uniquely about one thing: To confirm Dr Schauble’s dictum that elections cannot be allowed to change anything in Europe. That democracy ends where insolvency begins. That proud nations facing debt issues must be condemned to a debt prison within which it is impossible to produce the wealth necessary to repay their debts and get out of jail. And so it is that Europe is turning from our common home to our shared iron cage."

.... whew!.... "shared iron cage" indeed.  Bernie Sanders could borrow that phrase when he talks to debt- ridden Americans, college students, their parents, and those who've lost everything because of greedy bankers, politicians, and loan sharks. Treat yourself to Yanis' entire speech, linked above. This is the kind of powerful, honest language we never see from leaders anymore. The kind of language that stirs a nation to take off the blinders, see problems clearly, and act to remedy them. (If you want to see a perfect example of the opposite, try the Steve Jobs documentary and iPhone users reactions to the Foxcomm worker revelations). The Greeks did, to the tune of 62%, before they were betrayed.  

Listening to a recent panel discussion (you can find many posts of Yanis' lectures, etc, here on his blog), I was gobsmacked to hear him describe the current economic argument among the euro countries in terms of Catholic versus Calvinist. Yes! thought I.  These terms perfectly encapsulate the political tensions among Americans, or, more accurately, between old school Repub/ Democrats and the new breed of neocon/neoliberals who occupy what the media refer to as the (formerly actual, now well right of) center.  The entire argument between the haves and have nots is absolutely religion based: the Catholic position being one of wealth that should be widely shared (late-arriving immigrants' cultural tradition), and the neo-Calvinists (early arrivals, stern, Puritan types, etc., now with a modern "I've got mine" twist), a philosophy rooted in the idea that you are poor because you're not among God's chosen, i.e., you're a sinner, not "saved" (by Southern standards) therefore, poor.  Therefore, irresponsible, can't be trusted with anything, especially money.

Once Reagan had everyone drinking from the "greed is good" trough, putting the ol' Christian notion that "greed is bad" to rest, the 90s Republican party kicked the neo-Calvinist ideal into high gear, The Bush team made it part of the "legitimate" political argument. Throw in a dose of Rovian stage direction and a few years of Faux News and you have a whole new idea of what it means to be a Christian.
So I get what Yanis means when he employs the Catholic versus Calvinist metaphor. And I think he's onto something there. I never could figure out why the neo-cons claimed ownership of the Bible as rationale for punishing women and the poor, when if Jesus was kind and loving and generous to and non-judgmental of anyone it was women and the poor. Not to mention "suffer the little children" and all. And does anyone really think a roaming philosopher who traveled around with twelve male devotees  would have a problem if one of that clan was gay?  Or, more likely, two? Gimmie a break. Jesus liked the gals... you could tell.  He loved children, he was most compassionate toward those who had nothing, most forgiving toward the fuckups, he said they'd all inherit the earth. That the last will be first. Not once did he ever mention or imply that financial success was the measure of a human being. In fact, isn't it more difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle? (He sure had a way with a simile, didn't He?) And I seem to recall he didn't think much of money lenders either.... 

I've had it with all this neo-Calvinist crap. It's been nearly four decades of this baloney argument here in America. It is no sin to be poor. It can be one to be rich, depending on how you got there.

So, Bless you, Yanis. Yanis for President of the World!  Pay attention, folks. This guy ain't goin nowhere. He'll be back. (sigh....)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Thood For Fought

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country; corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in High Places will follow, and the Money Power of the Country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the People, until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed.” –Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Encore La Neige

 The cat is snoring, more a kind of low, listless, desperate sounding whine, really. She's clearly despondent, sprawled atop the sofa, suffering with Cabin Fever, staring out the window as yet another half foot of those infernal white flakes descends over the cat door and her yard. It's been months since she could come and go freely, just step out and take a lap, for godsake, a quick spin around the field, torture a vole or two – yes, she thinks, I'll never be allowed outside again, ever.  And she blames me. No wonder she whines in her sleep.

 Who rents a house here for the winter? And it's not the first time either. You have to wonder what it is that draws freaks like us to the inclemency of a Maine winter. Is it the drama of solitude? The peace and quiet? The occasional thrill that all this beauty, that view, all those stars, it's all for me?  Or have I a cantankerous nature, a contrarian streak? (Don't answer that.) It's not like we're getting lots of writing and painting done (the ostensible reason for our presence here).  Aside from jaunts to the gym and the odd tennis game, not much really gets accomplished. Copious hours of reading everything, watching HBOgo documentaries. (The one on the Fed is quite good, try the one about former fashion models.) I could certainly fill you in in some detail on what's happening with the Greek situation, probably other worldwide events as well. And why are the Israelis not paying to rebuild Gaza? What happened to "You break it, you buy it?" Complaining about lack of cultural activities amongst ourselves eventually gets to be tiresome. So much nobler to keep chin up, carry on.  At that point you simply endure, no escape to a warm southern beach. For a fear lurks beneath that option, a fear of capitulation to age, of loss of hardiness, of nascent flaccidity. An admission that you can no longer hack the New England winter, cause you're getting old. And 'old' is just another word for 'on your way out'. God freakin forbid. Stubbornly we carry on.  We shovel, split wood, we make cake.

There's a skylight in the bedroom of this house, one of its few saving graces.  The skylight sits at about head height if you're standing in front of it. I sometimes wake in the middle of the night, my eye drawn to that black rectangle on the sloped beige (way too much beige BTW) ceiling where the sight of stars winking overhead sends me, reassured and sighing, back to sleep. On a clear day in winter, you can catch a distant glimpse through that same skylight of the blue Harbor, and a charming harbor it is, through the bare trees. But not this morning. Because, yet again, my wee window on the world is covered in snow. So your first thought of the day is one of having been buried alive. Noyce.

You have to wonder what life was like here in the North before the advent of giant snowplows, snowblowers, folks you could pay to plow you out and helpful neighbors willing to dig in and dig out. No wonder snowshoes were a thing. I've never seen snow like this, so deep and pervasive. The thought of having to somehow carve your own escape route through the ever-accumulating white stuff is why my housemate is out there now, shovel in hand, before the snow even stops falling, every single time the white stuff descends – an almost daily event lately. He speaks of "getting ahead of it" as he adds to the impressive height of white walls surrounding our pathways from door to driveway. As a native New Englander, a lifetime of experience informs his diligence. I speculate guiltily that he was out there, a small boy shovel in hand, digging his frosty way to freedom, around the time I was building sand castles on the beach in southern California, my experience of snow then a Christmas trip to Santa's Village, that snow covered locale just a short mountain drive away from my warm, sunny Los Angeles home. In other words, I grew up thinking snow was an option, easy on, easy off. This winter has disabused me of that notion for good.

Here's the thing: there's something really creepy about this much snow, about such unrelenting cold.  I mean, we had no February thaw! There's always a February thaw! (whining now)
And it's not just Maine, not just New England. It's freeze ass cold everywhere. The Great Lakes are frozen solid. It's snowing and seriously cold in Texas. Philadelphia reports record cold. Could this be that climate change the scientists are on about? Perish the thought, says the Republican Congress, only yesterday another wacko took to the podium to denounce the notion of global warming in the face of so much cold! The world's scientists are in cahoots with the Devil Left Wing Nature People, their intention – to DESTROY THE OIL INDUSTRY!  wait... what?  am i missing something?   


I sense this Republican may have given the game away with that remark, revealed his true mind:  to Protect the oil industry at all cost, kowtow to those who pay for his re-election. Politicians who defend Big Oil and Chemical companies, denying the obvious result of a century of air and water pollution, cowardly politicians unwilling to concede or examine the downside of so-called "good" revolutions, industrial and technological, are their own peculiar brand of Lame Duck, rationalizing unconscionable votes as dutiful representation of what they know to be an angry and ignorant constituency.  And here's the kicker: for these Romeos of the Right, the real agenda seems to be keeping the very jobs working in the very government whose destruction is their stated agenda! In no other job I can think of would you continue to be employed by the same employer whose destruction was your avowed aim.  Back in the day they used to tell us: Work within the system! Make it better! Well, these guys have that down.  Like termites, they will eat at it from the inside, one civil right, one accepted norm at a time, until it collapses. You wanna be a revolutionary  – fine. (Bear in mind, one man's revolutionary is often another man's terrorist.) But don't expect a paycheck and free government gold star health insurance paid for by moi while you're at it. 

We're all to blame for this mess. Despite my decades of recycling, driving gas efficient cars, refusing to buy grapes or disposable diapers, or shop at Walmart, now Target, now Home Depot, now God knows, all of them, despite walking when possible, trying my best to reduce my carbon footprint, I am as responsible as anyone for the mess the planet's in. Why only last week I bought clothes made in the same country we destroyed with Agent Orange.  Am I doing them a favor? Isn't that a bit patronizing? How are they not still relying on us then? Why can't that shirt be made here? It was once. We need a rebuilt manufacturing base here, a green one; people need to buy less, buy better quality, buy american. A service economy makes everyone servile, poorly paid and without choices. Without real freedom.

Like we used to say in the 60s: Bring the struggle home. Fix the railways, roads, bridges, refund higher education to the levels of say 1966 so young people don't start their lives burdened with a debt monkey on their back limiting their freedom to choose, create, and pursue a life they want. We should be leading the way to a saner planet. And we're not.  It's taboo to even have conversations about this stuff, considered impolitic, impolite, rude, people edge away from you at parties, or don't invite you at all. That's just not right. The weather is sending us a message: get together, get it together, don't be afraid of the New Enlightenment. It will require consistent, mindful sacrifices of convenience and egomania, but that's really all. Not much to ask in return for the survival of the human race.

It's a windless morning. The snow is still falling. Billions of large, soft flakes drifting side to side, Like shredded tissue, landing gently, one upon another. Accumulating they become something massive. Beautiful. I feel lucky to have eyes.

A few months ago, just as the cold was claiming this territory for the season,  I was driving to the store, listening to the radio and grouchy about the coming winter. A tune came on, captivated me completely, I pulled over, called the DJ, and asked who it was, thanked her. The melody captured the beauty of winter so essentially, so utterly, I sat, entranced in the parking lot for ten full minutes, just listening. It changed everything for me, my view on not only the weather, but on life as well.  It's good to remember that many things are both frightening and sublimely gorgeous. Nature. Love.

Here it is.  (click on "here it is" to go to youtube link) Turn it up.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Whiteout & Ranting, Inc.

For the last the twenty or so years I've been a resident of what I've often called, and for good reason, The Godforsaken State. It's possible that I've become the victim of my own joke; I fear the 'godforsakenness' of the place is beginning to rub off. According to the Farmers' Almanac, upon which one supposes farmers rely, this was supposed to be a mild winter. So fire those guys, and fire that ridiculous groundhog while you're at it.  Because I've never seen a winter that felt this long, this arduous, this incessantly and monotonously white. Not chic white, not White House White, not the white of innocence and purity that lifts the spirit, feeds the soul during, say, meditation. It's flat out Madhouse White. Cabin Fever White. There Will Never Be Anything But This White.  Ben Moore, a company known for serious color naming, might call it DefCon Four Threat Get The Fuck Outta There White – or maybe a shorter name, but you get the idea.

I came downstairs this morning and, glancing out the window as I do each day on my way to tea, could not see a single shadow anywhere, so devoid of contour had last night's additional few inches left the distinctions between everything, the walkway, the drive, the steps, the five foot high white behemoth piled against the window by the front porch. Just white, no distinguishing lines of any kind except up in the tree limbs, but nothing nada on the ground... just vast unending two dimensional white.  Trippy White. Down the Rabbit Hole White.

There's an unparallelled beauty and stillness in serious snow, but enough is enough. The thermometer has hovered twixt -5 and 20 for days. Too cold to walk. Ordinarily we get a nice February thaw, say, a few days in the high 30s when lots of snow melts, to get us through, give us hope. It has snowed nearly every day for the last month or so. No melting has occurred.  Just lotsa grey skies. Sadly, this weather pattern and the forecast that it's likely to continue leave one too listless to even plan a getaway to a warm beach, much less actually get there. It leaves one a bit tetchy, as they say, whoever they are.. lingering .. out there.. in the white...  Contact with the real world diminishes slowly, an aperture closing as the inches pile up,  despite the reliability of the plow guy, who, he announced yesterday, may be taking off for a week of skiiing!? Whither then, Plow Guy? And leave your loyal, grateful clientele trapped here for a quick schuss? The very thought scares the pants off me, the pants I would put on in the event I were to leave the house; no, I've not sunk to the level of wearing these sweatpants to the grocery store.... yet.  But I've missed appointments, more than one tennis game, trips to the gym (yes, you'd think that one would go in the thumbs up column, wouldn't you?), am now at the point where the thought of shopping once more at The Godforsaken Grocer,  a task that leaves me borderline suicidal in good times, to come home with yet another strangled looking, overpriced bunch of kale or giant plastic carton of  "baby romaine", which I then have to bother recycling, leaves my reasons for living seriously undermined. And don't get me started on the new local "boucherie"/ cheese- and- wee- packages- of- overpriced- crap vendor. It's just NOT, okay? Do these folks, these New York transplants, not expect me to comparison shop? Is that notion just too declassee for the clientele they court, the well heeled locals, so much so that I'm treated rather snootily for even mentioning he charges four times what the Portland Italian Deli charges for the very same item? In fact, I think the Italian Deli is his supplier. So, seriously?

That's not very New York of him, you ask me. He's probably faux New York, you know, Long Island or some suburb. Everyone in New York comparison shops, don't they? Isn't that a matter of pride, not to say identity, in New York? In most real cities? BTW, Portland, Maine, is not a real city. The one redeeming feature of Portland, and the ONLY reason I shop there, aside from Micucci's, is Standard Baking Company, an authentic French Boulangerie/Patisserie where folks know what they're about, charge a fair price, and are nice in the bargain. All this hoopla about The Maine Foodie Scene – what the hell is a 'foodie' anyway? – is baloney. Just a lot of fairly untalented cooks calling themselves chefs (Erin French the one inspired, brilliantly stellar exception, and she's way up north where she cooks for real people) and charging four star prices for their half star food. And they think they're "political" about food. Humbug! They'd sell out to Marriott in a heartbeat. If the average person can't afford to eat there a few times a month, your only 'politics' is feeding those who are already eating well, and that's shyte politics. Chef is a meaningless word these days. Utterly meaningless. An electric guitar, a Marshall and an audience do not a Jimi Hendrix make. Don't even make a Jimmy Page.

Bright spots this winter: Just the ones that come quickly to mind.

Books by Rachel Cusk, an amazing writer I wish I knew personally.  Inhaling her books.

HBO Documentary: George Harrison, In a Material World. Just fabulous.

Season 6 of Justified on FX.

Grantchester on PBS

The new WOW airlines? $99 to Iceland? REALLY?!!! cool.

The odd email from folks i love who are far away.

P has just come in to inform me the birds are back. Sadly, he's wrong. They're not back. They've simply of necessity come out of their frozen coma denial state long enough to notice the feeder that has been hanging chock full of seed for a month now sans visitors. I don't know whether to celebrate or mourn their misguidedness. Well, I could feign ignorance, believe "they're back", but I know better. Who knows? Maybe he's right. Maybe they are back. Maybe it's a sign of good things to come. It could also be that they're just plain stupid.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Hero....( sigh )

              Yanis Varoufakis for President of the World!

Be still, my heart! At long last, someone brave enough to really stand up to the Banksters! He's smart, educated, beautifully and intelligently spoken, logical, independent-minded. Did I mention well-spoken? Such clarity of thought! a refreshing change from the dimwits we must usually endure. Listing the various pains inflicted by the IMF and ECB on an already smothered Greece he referred to them as "ultimata" – didn't bat an eye. Who talks this way anymore? Actual smart people, that's who.  Folks who've studied Latin. Liberally educated Thinkers.  Folks who know the meaning of the word classical.  I positively swoon at the poetry and good sense that pours from his mouth.

And, well, just look at that photo! Does the man look like he's gonna take any crap?
Yeah. .. You go, Yanis. You just might save the world from itself. How many other economic minsters keep a blog, for godsake. Find it here.  

Gawd, he made that twit of a gal reporter at the BBC (see link above) look like an idiot, while behaving as a perfect gentleman, giving her far more credit for brains than she deserved.

 Wonder how long he'll last... 
The world is rarely kind to brilliant minds, the ones that ask us to really think.
For now at least, I'm glad to know he's out there trying to put things right.


Someone sent this along to me today, it's such a wonderfully human story I simply had to post it. A lovely example of kindheartedness in the world.