Saturday, May 31, 2003

They Came from Outer Space

Today, I took my son to see a revival of the old (1953) War of the Worlds film at the Loews Jersey, a restored 1920s movie palace in our town. I had only seen it on TV before, a long time ago, and this was a real treat. The special effects, stunning for their time, are still quite watchable, and it's a decent adaptation of H.G. Wells's story. I found some of the dialog and acting to be far more dated than the effects, actually, especially the way the female lead carried on--screaming and crying and fainting and so on. It's interesting how much the way we expect women to act (in both senses of the word) has changed in the last half century. It's accepted and admired for women to act like the men in 1950s movies today (i.e., tough and heroic), though no similar change has come about for the male population.

In a way, I think our country has been taken over by Martians, only these aliens are called NeoCons. I was remarking to a friend the other day that it feels like we're now living in Bizarro World--that mirror universe from the old Superman cartoons in which everything is topsy-turvy. Cut taxes for the rich to deliberately bankrupt the government, invade countries for what they maybe, perhaps, could do to you (even if you're secretly none too sure that they could), appoint people to head government agences who want to destroy them, and on and on. An alien, Bizarro World country.

In the movie, it was the "littlest creatures"--bacteria--that finally defeated the Martians, after all else, including an atomic bomb, had failed. I'm wondering what the equivalent of bacteria are in our socio-political culture today. Something to ponder on (another!) dreary, rain-soaked day . . . .

Friday, May 30, 2003

Quote of the Day

"It was then, staring into the moonlight, that my fears first became obtenebrated."
--Z. Hazel Ballantine, O My Knowledge

This quote has been driving me crazy, since I have no idea what "obtenebrated," means, though I like the sound of it. Finally, I broke down and looked it up--and it wasn't in the dictionary. (And I have one of those big, thick ones.) I suspect it has some relation to "tenebrous," which means "dark and gloomy." Or maybe Ms. Ballantine just made it up. . . . Next time someone asks me how I am, maybe I'll say "obtenebrated."

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

I Want You (She's So Heavy)

My short story, "The Burden," has just been published by

Monday, May 26, 2003

Am I living in England?

Or Seattle? I'm sick of all this cool, gray, misty weather we're experiencing in the northeastern US, which seems to have been going on for weeks. Every day the weather report is the same: clouds, showers, "12 degrees below normal for this time of year." It's all caused, the apologetic weathercasters tells us, by a "slow-moving low-pressure system" parked over the Great Lakes. I wonder how many millions of people are barbecuing in their garages today.

Shiny streets and a sky the dull color of concrete--day after monochromatic day. Break out the Prozac . . . .

Saturday, May 24, 2003

More Poetry Outtakes


As the phone begins to ring,
half-remembered dreams

transport me to the winter streets,
recall to mind your hysteria.

Consider this the price of admission
to my interior barricade.

Your words appear as balloons in the sky.

Quote of the Day

"When we look weak in a time where people feel insecure, we lose. When people feel uncertain, they'd rather have somebody who's strong and wrong than somebody who's weak and right." --Bill Clinton

This is from a speech last winter by Clinton, more of which can be found here. (Original link via Silliman's Blog--see sidebar.)

Whatever you think of our former president, he does have some valuable insight into politics. The quote above is not a flattering comment about the US electorate and its aversion to complexity, but its an accurate one I think (fear). As Silliman points out, the right wing has simplicity on its side, which is why attempts to counter "conservative" talk radio and Fox News with a "liberal radio network" or some such media entity are doomed to failure. What progressives need more than anything right now, it seems to me, is a leader (and, realistically, it would have to be a white male) with both dynamic public-speaking skills and the ability to project sincerity: a Clinton without all the baggage or a bullet-proof Robert Kennedy.

Quote of the Day

"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the US of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named 'Bush', 'Dick' and 'Colon'. Need I say more?" --Chris Rock

Haiku 5876

A pale reflection
Of my face as it was then
Drifts through the mirror

Friday, May 23, 2003

Quote of the Day

"Truth has a way of asserting itself despite all attempts to obscure it. Distortion only serves to derail it for a time. No matter to what lengths we humans may go to obfuscate facts or delude our fellows, truth has a way of squeezing out through the cracks, eventually. But the danger is that at some point it may no longer matter. The danger is that damage is done before the truth is widely realized. The reality is that, sometimes, it is easier to ignore uncomfortable facts and go along with whatever distortion is currently in vogue." --Senator Robert C. Byrd

This is from a speech on the floor of the US Senate; you can read the entire speech here.

Some random thoughts:

It's seems odd to me--alarming, even--that Byrd (who's what--pushing 80?) is the only politician who is talking this way, given all that's happening. There used to be a lively political debate in this country. Eloquence used to move people; truth used to matter. Now a sort of rhetorical paralysis has set in, and lies are shrugged off. The climate in this country is very weird right now, like nothing I recall in my lifetime. All because of 9/11, I suppose. But it's interesting that that event seems to have traumatized the rest of the country--in political terms--far more than the New York area, where I live and where it happened.

Another quote:

"It is expected that despots can force the blind allegiance of their people to falsehoods. But it is frightening in the extreme when lying matters not at all to a free people. The only plausible explanation is that the tragedy of September 11 so traumatized us that we are no longer capable of the outrage expected of a patently deceived citizenry. The case for connecting Saddam Hussein with that tragedy is increasingly revealed as false, but it seems to matter not to a populace numbed by incessant government propaganda." --Robert Scheer

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Fender Bender

Another right of passage: I had my first auto accident (as a driver) yesterday. Nothing too serious, nobody hurt--someone plowed into me as I was turning left at a "blind" corner. I ended up with a dented fender, which can probably be fixed. She was going way over the speed limit, so I don't feel it was my fault, though it doesn't matter anyway in this state. Curiously, the incident didn't put me in a bad mood. I felt much crankier the day before when someone sold me a cup of coffee that turned out to be no hotter than room temperature. It's often the little things that set us off . . . .

I was once a passenger in a car than flipped over on the New York State Thruway. Now that was a car accident.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Haiku 1461

One lingering star
Brushes a hastening cloud
And I run away

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Quote of the Day

"Stories are for children, lawyers and indie-film producers," writes Joel Stein in Entertainment Weekly. "The rest of us don't have time. I can't even sit through my friends' anecdotes without wanting to fast-forward to the part where they either have sex, embarrass themselves, or mention me. Yet some people are convinced that reality television will wane because people crave narrative . . . This argument is usually made by writers. . . . Like Einstein before me, I shall prove my theory that people don't want stories with a simple experiment: You can stay up hours past exhaustion flipping channels, but 30 minutes of reading a book will put you to sleep midday, even with two Jolts in your system."

I found this quote from Stein on a website (I don't read Entertainment Weekly). It depends on the book, doesn't it? But he may have a point (an overstated one) about the modern attention span. Sometimes I think the whole world has ADD.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Unknown Celebrity?

Last night, my wife dragged me to see Canadian singer/songwriter Jann Arden at Studio 54. (Yes, that Studio 54, where Andy and Liza and people of that ilk used to shake it and snort it 30 years ago. It's a theater now, not a disco.)

Arden has a great rock voice, beautifully introspective songs, a talented band and a hilarious sense of self-deprecating humor. So how come I've never heard of her before? (I got the impression that she's well known in Canada.) Maybe it's because she's not a glam 20-something sexpot--she actually wore a trench coat throughout her performance. And maybe her songs are a bit too arty for the current state of robotically pre-programmed US pop radio. (Although, my wife did become aware of her because of a song she heard on New York mega-station WPLJ.) In any case, she deserves more attention "down here" I think.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

The Ties That Bind

My short story, "The Knot," has just been published by The Fiction Warehouse.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Truth or Consequences?

The journalist as pathological liar: Reading about the reporter at The New York Times who made up sources, quotes and entire stories, over a period of years, inspires nausea.

I labored at bottom-of-the-barrel journalistic jobs for several years--at trade publications and an alumni magazine--and never once made up a quote or intentionally misstated a fact. Being a reporter for a less-than-glamorous publication is pretty much thankless work (it pays less than teaching, for cripes sake), but I still felt an almost sacred responsibility to “get the fact straight.” I can’t imagine working for a prestige outfit like the Times--or the New Republic, which suffered a similar scandal--and making it up as I went along.

The fellow who did so at the New Republic was interviewed on 60 Minutes last Sunday. He got a big advance from a publisher to write a book about his adventures. Appropriately, it’s a novel. He specializes in fiction after all. Of course, on the program, he was contrite about his deceptions.

One of his former editors described him as engaging in “contrition as a career move.” That seems spot on. It used to be that fame was rewarded; now it seems that infamy is equally lucrative. The distinction between the famous and the notorious seems to be eroding. What does that say about us?

Here's an interesting take on this whole mess: A sorry twist to liar's quest for adulation

Saturday, May 10, 2003

Hey clack-dish!

Whenever I'm in a cranky mood, I like to read through my collection of genuine Shakespearean insults:

Thou gleeking milk-livered fustilarian!
Thou artless elf-skinned clack-dish!
Thine horrid image doth unfix my hair.
May the worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul.
Thou lumpish ill-nurtured vassal!
Thy bones are hollow; impiety has made a feast of thee.
Thou warped rump-fed maggot-pie!
Your face is as a book, where men may read strange matters.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Where There's a Will

My wife and I signed our wills today, leaving our substantial fortune (irony is not dead) to our son or, if he's not around, various siblings. One of those grown-up things you just have to do, I suppose. I swore I was of sound mind and disposition. Ha!

"A man's dying is more the survivors' affair than his own."
--Thomas Mann

"Unable are the Loved to die
For Love is Immortality."
--Emily Dickinson

"When we die we simply shed our corporal shells and become pure spirits that float in the air, like a cool summer breeze that blows off a river. Bad people become the dust that collects on TV screens."
--Brian Crowley

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Haiku 59

A bit of paper
Becoming part of the wind
Is that all there is?

Monday, May 05, 2003

That Which Must Not Be Uttered

Lake Superior State University has issued its famous Banished Words list for 2003. These are words and phrases, often illogical ones, that are used ad nauseam in the media, and some of them are rather obvious: weapons of mass destruction, homeland security, material breach, etc. One of them, "untimely death," actually comes from Shakespeare originally, though the LSSU committee doesn't seem to be aware of it: "O, untimely death!"--King Lear, Act IV, Scene VI. (I just looked it up . . . . Someone on the LSSU page comments, "Has anyone yet died a timely death?" Well, yes--so although this phrase may be overused, I don't think it's nonsensical.)

By the way, has anyone ever heard of Lake Superior State University in any other context? This annual list must be their claim to fame.

Saturday, May 03, 2003

Quote of the Day

"It is a paradox. Like when you have something to say to the world-at-large, something desperately important, but everyone is babbling according to their own language game and besides, words and concepts only point and inevitably distort. What is the use of utterance?" --Brad Turner

I often feel like I'm screaming into a hurricane--no one can hear me (little old me) above the howling, spinning winds of cant, confusion and propaganda. And if they could, would they care, or even understand? I don't think I could live with myself if I didn't at least make the attempt, though. This dilemma reminds me of a saying from the ancient gnostic Gospel of Thomas: "That which you have within you will save you if you bring it forth from yourself." Commenting on this saying, the Jungian analyst June Singer wrote: "It serves no purpose to conceal who we are or what we know. Knowing ourselves and being willing to stand for who we are makes life authentic. If we can do this, then we can move freely through life because there is no dissonance between our sense of our own nature and the way we behave. But whoever is unable or unwilling to do this stores up poisons that will eventually destroy his or her own integrity." But is the utterance of what we "know" enough? What if no one listens or comprehends? This is the dilemma, as I see it.

Friday, May 02, 2003

G.I. George

I never thought I'd see the day when a sitting U.S. president would appear in public in a military uniform (OK, "flight suit"--still a military get-up) like some South American despot. What makes it even more disgraceful is that W cynically avoided the Vietnam-era draft by joining the National Guard and then failing to show up for his assignments. (Daddy Bush's prominence apparently allowed him to get away with that.) What a shameful display! I'm sure we'll see the video footage over and over again in upcoming campaign commercials, complete with genuine soldiers providing the backdrop, essentially used as props.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Today's Sermon

On an errand, I traveled from Jersey City to Newark yesterday via the PATH train, which clatters along above ground from Journal Square (where I got on) to Newark-Penn Station (where I got off). Observing the bleak, industrial landscape between the two cities--composed of derricks, tanks, factories and what look like giant Erector Sets--I tried not to have a stereotypical reaction. Instead of focusing on the ugliness, I tried to appreciate the complexity of it all. Instead of critiquing the rusted girders and peeling billboards, I looked around and beyond them, at the trees that grow, defiantly, between the shabby warehouses and at the green hills that form a soothing backdrop in the distance. You can find nature and beauty anywhere if you're of a mind to look.