Archive for February, 2011

Just Something I Sing To Pye Now And Then

The Romanian government, in its never-ending grub for money, first decided to tax the nation’s witches, fortune-tellers, and astrologers. Now it is contemplating fining them, too, whenever it is determined that their spells failed, or their prognostications did not move into the Real.

Romania is broke: the economy contracted by 7% in 2009, when the nation went into hock to the vampires of the International Monetary Fund for more than $27 billion. As I noted here, last autumn thousands of Romanians took to the streets to demand that the government rescind a 25 percent cut in all state employees’ salaries, and restore the “wage incentives” that constitute up to 60 percent of state workers’ incomes. In an attempt to placate these people, the government has vowed to funnel money collected from “tax evaders” into the depleted wage-incentive pool; creating more taxpayers—like witches, fortune-tellers, and astrologers—creates more tax-evaders.

The government’s “tax the spirit-finders” crusade followed new taxes earlier levied on fast food, the pittance old people receive in pensions, and even the allowances of children.

The Romanian witch tax, decreed in January, resulted in Outrage: multiple witches rained down curses on various and sundry government officials, employing such implements of destruction as dead dogs, the feces of cats, mandrake root, yeast, and black pepper. Jeebus knows what new assaults will besiege government toads if they actually follow through on this fining business.


Orwell Imposes Penance

I am writing as I promised, but can’t guarantee an even coherent letter, for a female downstairs is making the house uninhabitable by playing hymn-tunes on the piano, which, in combination with the rain outside & a dog yapping somewhere down the road, is rapidly qualifying me for the mental home.

I have spent a most dismal day, first in going to Church, then in reading the Sunday Times, which grows duller & duller, then in trying to write a poem which won’t go beyond the first stanza, then in reading through the rough draft of my novel, which depresses me horribly. I really don’t know which is the more stinking, the Sunday Times or the Observer. I go from one to the other like an invalid turning from side to side in bed & getting no comfort whichever way he turns. I thought the Observer would be a little less dull when Squire stopped infesting it, but they seem deliberately to seek out the dullest people they can get to review the dullest books. By the way, if you are by any chance wanting to impose a penance upon yourself, I should think you might try Hugh Walpole’s recent 800-page novel.

—George Orwell, letter to Brenda Salkeld, September 1932

Leis An T-Struth Bohr

To The Shores Of Tripoli

Muammar al-Gaddafi will not go gentle into that good night.

No one who knows anything about him, would ever have expected that he would.

Oriana Fallaci, who for years was the best journalist this world had, pretty much pronounced him, decades ago, a kook. During one of her several interviews with the Great Man, the Libyan potentate suddenly leapt to his feet and began maniacally shouting: “I am the gospel! I am the gospel! I am the gospel!”

“I had to quiet him down,” Fallaci told TV’s Charlie Rose, many years later, at around the time she was transforming into a crankified anti-Islamic jihadist.

Gaddafi is a sort of cross between a froot loop and a werewolf. He has been more or less allowed to roll like a loose cannon across the deck of this world for more than 40 years, solely because his nation is one of the most fertile petroleum-producing fields on the planet.

For decades the Soviets drank extremely heavily, and then went ahead and protected him. When there were no more Soviets, Gaddafi brooded darkly for a decade or so, then, post-9/11, bared to the Americans all the embarrassing details of his farcical “nuclear program,” which consisted of the functional equivalent of a brace of monkeys hooting over a block of uranium and some test tubes. His reward was forgiveness for his many real and perceived sins against the West—which in 1986 induced Ronald Racist Reagan to bomb unto death his four-year-old daughter—and the subsequent shoveling of vast sums of Western armaments and money his way in return for his oily crude.

When it came steam-engine time in North Africa, time for a lurch towards something approaching democracy—this time coming this month—it was inevitable that Gaddafi would be required to fall. But Gaddafi is not interested in falling. And so, he is killing his people.


“It Is Not A Significant Bullet”

Again the complaints that this site is too dour. This time the kvetching comes communicated in person, in ululations sounding from someone who is admittedly under serious assault by Mr. Ha-Ha. From embroilment in an endless ludicrous legal proceeding, like something out of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, to an epidemic of medical miseries plaguing everyone this person knows or in some cases has even just seen, all is not well in his land. Something uplifting, comes his call. Something soothing. Something nice.

But, you know, what can I do? Life is dour. Take this morning, when I awoke to a flood. The young’un cat, who is flirting with developing into a hardened criminal, has taken to standing and lying and sitting and dancing and prancing on the fish tank, to determinedly fishing with his long monkey arms through the filter-enabling hole in the screen-top, to try to get at the plastic astral babies that bob around the sea serpent, the tank’s living and ever-growing occupant. This is a Non-Approved Activity, but the young’un cat doesn’t care. He does it anyway. And because of his wanton, criminal, repeated Non-Approved behavior, I discover this morning, the tank has begun to leak.

Of course the tank sits atop a bookshelf, and of course it has piddled water from all its new urethras onto some of my most precious books, including Herzog On Herzog, which is more or less like the Bible around here. That tome is now so soaked with water it weighs more than a car.

I am frantically fighting to save any survivors, inventing new curses in all languages, while the cat just sits there, with that amoral gaze they have: “What? I’m not to blame. Whatever it is, it’s your problem.”

And people wonder why God made opiates, and why all those with Good Sense seek them out and gobble great handfuls whenever they can.

Werner Herzog understands things like this. He was simply standing alongside a road in Los Angeles one day, giving an interview, when, For No Reason, he was shot in the stomach with an air rifle. Herzog being Herzog, he surveyed the damage, declared “it is not a significant bullet,” and proceeded with the interview.

When things occur that Bother Me, like this fish-tank book-massacre, I try to remember to ask myself: was I just shot in the stomach? If so, was it “a significant bullet”? If not, shouldn’t I just continue with the interview?

So that, this day, is what I will do. Meanwhile, and to meet the needs of those who wish things in this space to lighten up some, I offer Sparks, and their plea to “Lighten Up Morrissey.”

Can’t Trust That Clay

Sometimes your computer runs so criminally slow, for No Known Reason, that it forces the invention of new curse words. That is happening here now.

Is this, mayhaps, a Monday? Thought so.

When my daughter, the award-winning deviant, was young, I cursed in bursts of fake words approximating foreign languages, primarily German and Chinese, so as not to sear her ears. Now that she has grown and gone, I have reverted to cursing in English, and these days pretty much belong in the Navy.

So I am reading this blurt in Slate that claims that blogs, “once the alluring ingénue of the Internet scene,” have now degenerated into a sort of odoriferous mumbling bag lady, whom everybody avoids. Old people, when they’re not in the hospital, apparently still shuffle their walkers into blogs, in order “to share dieting stories, rant about politics, and celebrate their love of cats.” But people in their 20s now live wholly on Facebook, while those younger are beginning to complain that even Twitter “has too many words.” And so they flock to Tumblr, which is mostly pictures: “This is just images. Some people write some phrases or some quotes, but that’s it.”

I already knew this, whining about it during the course of a generalized jihad against the limitations of language here, posted just about this time last year. And really, who am I to complain, if that Alphabet Vs. The Goddess dude is right? And the written word really is just a patriarchal plot that has deformed all of our brains? And the Youngbloods truly are Saving Us, by abandoning readin’ and writin’, for pictures? As I observed in my anniversary post here, the wordpress stats show that a lot of folks sure do seem to ride into this place on the pictures. So, in the meantime, since nobody is reading anyway, why can’t I post to this blog complaints about how my computer is Making Life Difficult as I try to post to this blog?

So is Gumby a fit subject for a blog? Or he is more aptly approached on Facebook? While Twitting? Or Tumbling?

I connect Gumby with Mondays and the invention of new curse words prompted by computer constipation because of my brother. He was once joined to a lover who took a peculiar and actually quite violent dislike to various people, figments, and foods that she considered Totally Wrong. These included Mr. Magoo, Jimmy Stewart, and parsnips. The mere mention of Gumby sent her racing to the knife drawer, and if she had been the Khmer Rouge, anyone even remotely associated with a Gumby would have been sent to a Camp.

In honor of her obsession, my brother transformed the lyrics of the song “Monday, Monday” to “Gumby, Gumby.” His new and improved version contained such wisdompearls as:

gumby, gumby
can’t trust that clay

And so is explained, sort of, why I am posting a German-language version of “Monday, Monday” below.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled twits and tumbles.

Peasant Palate: So Heat Up The Soup John B

For a while there, out here in California, it seemed as if winter had given up and gone away. Early February saw a ridiculous run of riotously warm weather, with temperatures in the 70s, encouraging everybody—animal, vegetable, mineral—to crawl cautiously out of their holes.

Then winter snickered, and came swaggering back. And now it’s all rain, snow, sleet, hail, ice, biting bone-chilling gales. All day, every day.

Which means soup. Preparing soup, cooking soup, eating soup. Gazing glumly through the steam rising from soup, gazing glumly at the rain, snow, sleet, hail, ice, biting bone-chilling gales.

After 40 or 50 straight bowls of the thing, I burned out earlier this season on my Moon-Eye Jook. I then tarried briefly with hot-and-sour soup. But I have since abandoned Asia for the Mediterranean, cleaving to soups centering around cheese. I think I may have mentioned previously that here in my dotage I am increasingly retreating to the three essential food groups: heat, meat, cheese. Of late, at least in soups, I am hewing to the latter. Te gusta sopa? Then journey cross the “furthur.”


Not A Worthy Occupation For A Human Being

Eight from my family went to the front. Three came back. We were a lucky family.

When my children ask, “Tell us about the war,” I can’t tell them anything. I don’t like this reminiscing. A lot of people, who lived after the war quite a long life, start to recollect. It was miraculous, wonderful, how brave we were then, how close together we were. It is not a worthy occupation for a human being.

Of my generation, out of a hundred who went to fight, three came back. Three percent. One should not ask those of us who remained alive what war means to them.

I live life as if presented to me. I’m surprised that I have it. A friend asked me, “What’s your attitude towards death?” It is absolutely zero. With much more surprise and excitement, I take the fact that I’m alive. I look at my children and my grandchildren and I think: only centimeters decided whether they should be on this earth or not. Whether the bullet went that way or this way. They don’t understand that they live on this earth quite by accident. It was quite natural that I wouldn’t be alive. But I lived and they happened. They can’t understand that.

I think the world is divided into two parts. Half is alive and the other half is in shadow. It doesn’t exist but in the mind. In my short story, I recollect a phrase: “The bullet that killed us today goes into the death of centuries and generations, killing life which didn’t come to exist yet.”

I was the only one from our class of all the boys who went to the front who remained alive after that war. What else is there to say?

—Grigori Baklanov, to Studs Terkel, “The Good War”

“So I Wouldn’t Have To Look At It”

(I posted this piece Wednesday to the Shriek Shack. Now I’m posting it here, by request. It’s an edited and abridged version of something Ken Conner and I wrote in April of 1980. More about it in the postscript.)

Before making his final statement, Butte County Superior Court Judge Jean Morony looked down from the bench to the two defendants, Marvin Dean Noor and James Thomas McCarter.

They stared back with the same vacant, emotionless expressions they’d worn throughout their attorneys’ final futile pleas. Sentenced to twenty-five years to life for the random, racially-motivated murder of Jimmy Lee Campbell, they remained impassive, outwardly cool, wholly unmoved.

Noor, his wavy brown hair flowing down over the shoulders of his black shirt, rocked gently, steadily back and forth in his chair, his dark narcoleptic eyes fixed upon the judge. McCarter sat still as stone, a blue bandanna riding across his pale forehead, pinning back his thin straight hair.

Morony faced the courtroom, and began to read.


In All Your Revelation

I’ve been waiting years for somebody to post this to YouTube, this, my favorite piece of recorded music. At last, somebody has. Pulled from vinyl, though, so it comes complete with the attendant snap, crackle, and pop. But hey: we work in the dark, we do what we can.

I wish I’d come across this in time for Valentine’s Day. But, like this fellow says: “if you truly love someone you don’t need a Valentine’s Day to express it.”

Lester Bangs, in Stranded, describes what this was like, back in the day: “After going through all the verses, he drives the song, the band, and himself to a finish which has become one of his trademarks and one of the all-time classic rocknroll set-closers. With consummate dynamics that allow him to snap from indescribably eccentric throwaway phrasing to sheer passion in the very next breath, he brings the music surging up through crescendo after crescendo, stopping and starting and stopping and starting the song again and again, imposing long maniacal silences like giant question marks between the stops and starts and ruling the room through sheer tension, building to a shout of “it’s too late to stop now!,” and just when you think it’s all going to surge over the top, he cuts it off stone cold dead, the hollow of a murdered explosion, throws the microphone down and stalks off the stage. It is truly one of the most perverse things I have ever seen a performer do in my life. And, of course, it’s sensational: our guts are knotted up, we’re crazed and clawing for more, but we damn well know we’ve seen and felt something final.”

In the same piece, Bangs describes another Morrison wonderment, that I know is out there somewhere, because Bill Graham used to run it on screens at Winterland before shows: “Van and his band come out, strike a few shimmering chords, and for about ten minutes he lingers over the words: “way over yonder/in the clear blue sky/where flamingos fly.” No other lyrics. I don’t think any instrumental solos. Just those words, repeated slowly again and again, distended, permutated, turned into scat, suspended in space and then scattered to the winds, muttered like a mantra till they turn into nonsense syllables, then back into the same soaring image as time seems to stop entirely. He stands there with eyes closed, singing, transported, while the band poises quivering over great open-tuned deep blue gulfs of their own.”

Someday . . . .

Sleepers Awake

How to become conscious? It’s very dangerous, you know. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have two automobiles and own your own home with a pipe organ in it. It means that you will suffer still more—that’s the first thing to realize. But you won’t be dead, you won’t be indifferent, you won’t be insensitive, you won’t be alarmed and panicky, you won’t be jittery, you won’t throw rotten eggs because you don’t understand. You will want to understand everything, even the disagreeable things. You will want to accept more and more—even what seems hostile, evil, threatening. You won’t have to answer an advertisement in the newspaper in order to find out how to talk with God. God will be with you all the time. And if I know what I’m talking about, you will listen more and talk less.

—Henry Miller, “With Edgar Varese In The Gobi Desert”

Soul-Ravaging Menace

There in Malaysia, sacred and profane poohbahs did not get jiggy with Valentine’s Day.

In the weeks preceding February 14, the central government warned Malaysian Muslims that Valentine’s Day is an insidious “trap” that could lure the unwary into engaging in behaviors that might cause The Prophet to shriek and pluck his eyes out.

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddan Yassin glowered that Valentine’s Day is “not suitable” for Malaysian Muslims. A nationwide “Mind The Valentine’s Day Trap” publicity campaign blanketed the land, with organ-grinders from the Malaysian Islamic Development Department churning out leaflets to press upon university students, urging them to eschew all things Valentine’s.

Muslim clerics in Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s capital, meanwhile sounded anti-Valentine’s Day screeds from the city’s mosques.

Officials in the northern states of Kedah, Penang, and Kelantan, as well as in the central state of Selangor, vowed that “immorality checks” would scoop up anyone who on February 14 devolved into Badness.

“We have identified spots in these states which are used by lovers and we are deploying local religious department officials as well as party members to stop such sinful acts like casual sex which violates Islam,” some bluenose named Nasrudin Hasan Tantawi, head of the Islamic PAS party’s youth wing, told AFP. “There have been campaigns promoting ‘no panties’ on Valentine’s Day and even free hotel room offers for unmarried couples. We must stop such practices here as these are sinful activities.”

And, sure enough, they did. Reports are now arriving indicating that at least 100 people were arrested in Malaysia on February 14 for daring to indulge in “khalwat,” which roughly translates as “close proximity.” Meaning an unmarried Muslim being alone together with someone of the opposite sex. Which these nimrods have pronounced Unmitigated Evil, punishable by law.


Roger: Wilco

It’s A Wonderful Life

is flowing
like ketchup
on a prune

—Garrison Keillor

Fear Of A Gay Pirate

Living in fear is a terrible thing. Sometimes, as with this fellow, it is justified—one is placed, either temporarily or for a sustained period, in a situation where fear is the natural response. And fear is natural: the life force on this particular planet has programmed we creatures to experience fear when confronted with something that might vacate us from the corporeal container. This is why all animals, from mice to men, instinctively flinch at a sudden loud noise: it could be a Doom, that means we might Die.

The trouble comes when people fear things that are not fearsome. When they create and maintain fear that is not at all necessary. In the US, this is particularly a problem with wingers. Too many of them live their lives consumed by fears that are vaporous. This is of course not solely a failing of wingers: the Shriek Shack, for instance, is infested with loud and unruly purported “progressives” (they won’t call themselves “liberals” anymore, fearful of what wingers have done with the word) who live in fear of a black planet. But, most often, it is wingers who win, place, and show, in the Unnecessary Fear Sweepstakes.

Many wingers, as an example, are possessed by the most peculiar fear of non-heterosexuals. They fear non-heterosexuals as a sort of demon—unnatural, predatory, voracious, probably Satanic, hell-bent on converting all and sundry to non-heterosexualism. Why this should be so: beats me. Except it is said, at least in cliché, that we fear what we do not understand. And the Prime Directive of wingerism is to refuse to understand anything at all that is not winger.

And so we have Eugene Delgaudio, a winger from out of Loudon County in Virginia, where he serves on the Board of Supervisors, who has quite publicly Gone Mad, insisting that lust-crazed gay pirates are rampaging through the streets of Tampa, Florida, wantonly non-heterosexualizing everyone in their path.


How High The Moon

How high the moon? the horns asked. Tables sat on circular tiers around the dance floor and bandstand, each table set with red cloths and candles, some with sweating pails of champagne. How high the moon? trombones wondered. Waiters in red jackets balanced steaks on trays. Wrought-iron scones lit the curved mock-adobe wall. Out on the hardwood, young officers advanced with women in full skirts and puffed shoulders, blondes coiffed like Ginger Rogers, brunettes like Dorothy Lamour.

The sax section reinterpreted the question as How high the moon? The lead sax stood to pursue the matter with a stutter of riffs. The clarinet argued in falsetto. The bass man thumped at the musical question, passed it on to the drummer, who tapped it on the top cymbal, let it slip out onto the snare drum and, when it bounced from there, socked it into the bass drum. How high the moon?

In front of a red plush curtain the band wore white Eton jackets, the music stands were white with glittering clefs and the piano was white as a tooth, although the pianist was in khaki. Joe caught the tune in his right hand way up the keyboard, as if everything had been delicate introduction. He went at the tune like Basie, like a chick pecking at a diamond, until he turned the hand to boogie-woogie, paused for a horn reprise, and at the horn’s last brassy gasp came down the keys in slowly assembling minor chords.

“One more time!” the sax section shouted.

This time, Joe played “Moon” with snatches from “Blues in the Night,” “Swingin’ the Blues,” “Blowin’ the Blues Away,” sliding across the luminous melody. He could feel everyone moving with him, as if a lid had been taken off the club and unveiled a starry, cerulean night; these people were ready for the impossible. “Blue Skies Smilin’ at Me,” he injected, and the entire club seemed to rise. If blue skies were going to explode on them, they were ready, so he made the melody ” . . . bluebirds singin’ a song” even as he brought the “Moon” down a chromatic descent, a chord at a time. The tunes merged and split again, accelerating until keyboard and crowd swung between flight and plunge and he cued the horns, who stood and hit the Charlie Parker riffs that settled the argument by demanding How high the moon? How high the moon? as if it were the sun.

—Martin Cruz Smith, Stallion Gate

Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love

In his autobiography The Court Years, former Associate Justice to the United States Supreme Court William O. Douglas didn’t slag many journalists by name. He made an exception for Paul Harvey, a man he denounced as a full-throated McCarthyite who “exploited innuendo to attack people and programs.”

Harvey befouled the public airwaves for 76 years, or more than a third of the lifespan of this nation. He was an agent of reaction and racism, wrapping toxic pellets in cornpone, and sending them out over 1200 domestic radio stations and 400 stations affiliated with the Armed Forces Network. For decades, his syndicated program was the only national radio “news” that people in many rural areas of this country received. He developed and perfected a truly mendacious style in which “news” and “opinion” were interchangeable and indistinguishable, and would also flow seamlessly into the pitching of products, so that it was extremely difficult to determine where one ended and another began. He is the father, in every way—including lying like a dirty dog while allegedly peddling “exposes”—of today’s rightbent poison merchants: Rump Lynchmob, Sean Klannity, etc., ad infinitum.

It might seem hard to believe that a guy who indulged in the most wretched and base excesses of the McCarthy era actually got worse as he got older, but with Harvey it’s true. As will be seen beyond the “furthur,” Harvey in 2005 managed, in just a few short minutes, to condone and justify slavery, the genocide of American Indians, and the needless nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then grouse that nukes ought to rain down on Saudi Arabia, too.

But the reason I am ranting about Harvey today has nothing to do with any of that. Oh no. Instead, I am here to celebrate one of those very rare occasions when Harvey went off the rails the right way: when he suggested that a person adrift in a search for the proper Valentine’s Day gift should consider purchasing a bong for his or her loved one.

Now, I don’t know if bongs are even still employed to burn marijuana these days. For all I know, bongs have gone the way of the buggy whip, the typewriter, and the ability to properly spell the abbreviation of “microphone” (mike). But, just in case bongs are still available, and anyone out there is still stuck for a Valentine’s Day present—here less than 36 hours from the advent of The Day—I figured I’d pass the Harvey along. Besides: it’s funny.


Turning Heads

It is easy to see why people, especially women, detested the picture. It presents a male nightmare of female puberty. Emergent female sexuality is equated with demonic possession, and the men in the picture—almost all celibate priests—unite to abuse and torture Regan, as John Boorman recognized, in their efforts to return her to a presexual innocence. Having Regan jam a crucifix into her vagina is intended to be a sensational and fiendishly inventive bit of sacrilege, but it is also a powerful image of self-inflicted abortion, whether the tool is a crucifix or a coathanger. The Exorcist is filled with disgust toward female bodily functions; it is perhaps not too much of a stretch to see the famously gross scene in which Blair vomits pea soup as a metaphor, Carrie-like, for menstruation. Indeed, The Exorcist is drenched in a kind of menstrual panic.

But for most people, the picture worked. It was terrifying. Like Bonnie and Clyde and other New Hollywood pictures, The Exorcist turned its back on the liberal therapeutic framework of the postwar period. (The psychiatrist in the movie is just befuddled, clearly inadequate to the task, and Burstyn has no choice but to call upon the Church.) In exchange, the picture substituted a kind of born-again Manichaean revolution of the right, to Reagan nattering about the godless Evil Empire. Satan is the bad dad who takes up residence in the household of the divorced MacNeil in the stead of the absent father-husband. Families who pray together and stay together don’t have unseemly encounters with the devil.

—Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

This Is Human

In 1940, we know we are losing the battle. The Germans are arriving in Paris very fast. My mother is preparing luggage because he are going to leave for Brest. Her family has a cafe there. My father was in the French army. I was sixteen.

We arrived in Brest three days after we left Paris. During the trip, we had German planes machine-gunning the train, diving down. We had to go under the train. Three days after the armistice, the Italians were machine-gunning all the civilians on the road. Many people were hit. Some women were on top of the children, for the children not to be killed.

My father sees other people and talks about resistance. They invite each other home, talk around the table: what can we do to push the German out? I said I can be of use. I’m going to be seventeen. I talked to several friends in school. So we joined our fathers.

I had a bicycle and the documents were in the pump. It was dangerous. We had some Jewish friends across the street. The father had been arrested. The daughter and her husband could not get out of Paris. We put a beret on them and passed them to Toulouse, the Spanish border, and to Free French. We passed thirty-five families from ’41 to ’43.

One of my friends was arrested. Very stupid. He had an argument with a German boy. He hit him. He was arrested and they found papers on him. They took him to the Gestapo and tortured him. He told names.

I was in jail four days and four nights. I had interrogation after interrogation. I was beaten black and blue with a rubber hose, on the muscles. They put me on a train and sent me to Germany. It was a forced-labor camp in Delmenhorst. It was now ’43.

We were in a trench, trying to put back the pipes. The SS is going back and forth with their bayonets. A middle-aged man was looking in the window of a camera shop, very near. He had a big package in his hand. Without turning, he talked to us in French. He said, “Boys, I am sorry for the way you are treated. I was once a prisoner of war in France during the First World War. I was treated by the people on the farm very good. They fed me and I will always remember. I will be here every day and I will feed you.” After the SS turned their back, he threw the package in the trench. He came for three days and he fed us. We were very, very hungry. I will remember always this man.

One of my friends was asthmatic. After maybe twelve or thirteen tours around the camp, he could not breathe any more. He had to stop. The SS come by him: “Go, go.” He couldn’t. He sat in the snow and they beat him, beat him. When they decided it was too cold for them, they left, and he was in the snow to die. We heard him all night. That is always in my mind. I have the impression I hear him still. We know he is dying and we cannot do anything.

The bombs were always coming by seven. In the trench, I was on top of this Italian. He had on a very heavy coat. Each time the bomb was coming, I put my teeth in his coat. It was all chewed up, the coat. You become so powerful when you are afraid.

We were liberated on the fifth of May, 1945. I was down to eighty pounds. I was in a stretcher, almost in a coma, at the military hospital in Paris. They fed me intravenously. My mother and aunt came to visit me. They were preparing my burial. After three months, it was all right. I said, if I recover, I will do something to thank God for what he did for me. I was liberated. I was alive and I was in Lourdes. I decided to become a priest.

It’s really difficult when I think about the war. If we answer hate with hate, it will never end.

Very often, you hear some German saying, “We didn’t know.” But who allowed the Nazi to take over? They were very, very happy when Hitler took France, took Europe. At Delmenhorst, we had these guards. They were married, they had families. Don’t tell me when they went back home, they were not talking about what is going on. The people of Delmenhorst for pastime on Sunday were coming around the camp. They were looking at us like we were zoo animals.

Is this uniquely German?

This is human. It happened before. The Spanish, in the Inquisition, under God, destroyed an entire population. What about the Albigenses? It can happen again. We are all good people, but if we are led a little too far, we are going to believe everything we are told. We are ordinary people, who can also be weapons for Hitlers.

—Father Jacques Raboud, to Studs Terkel, “The Good War”

You’re Going Home

Some musicians like the attention, the acclaim, the fame. Indeed, for many—watch me—that’s chief among the reasons they go there: please please me . . . see me feel me touch me heal me.

Others, they hate it. Hate it.

Van Morrison is one of those people. As he told, a couple years ago, a clueless screw from CBS “news”:

Fame is absolutely . . . it’s a total negative for somebody like me. It’s a complete negative. I’m a total introvert. And that’s who I am. And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. That’s just what it is. I do music from an introverted space. I’m singing from an introverted space. If I’ve got my eyes closed . . . that’s why I related so much to Ray Charles. You know what I mean? Because it’s all internal. It’s all internal. For me.

Morrison is so driven to create so much music that he has forced himself to learn how to make accommodations. For a while at each concert he would turn his back on the audience, until he had consigned them to oblivion, at which time he could attain his groove; sometimes dipping into great vats of Irish whiskey has pulled him through; other times, when he needs to, he simply stops, retreats back to Ireland, there to commune with folks like Marianne Faithfull, and/or the muse.

Other artists, like Gerry Rafferty, never attained any such space. Rafferty, like Morrison, lived to make music. But never could he consistently cross over into making music that would at least occasionally meet the demands of other people. Rafferty died a couple of weeks ago, his liver bottomed up from thirty years of bottles. He was so forgotten at the time that he died that I had to find out he no longer drew breath by pure accident.


Border Music

Occasionally in America one is besieged by Western white-people Buddhists, who earnestly and/or smugly declaim that theirs is a practice whose devotees are uber-evolved, having transcended the scourges of Attachment and Strife, that so bedevil bottom-dwellers who have not become suffused with the emanations of The Enlightened One.

Uh-huh. Real Buddhists know better. Aware of their history, understanding that getting oneself Guatamaed has never proved fail-safe in preventing a person from running amok and spilling buckets of blood.

In recent years we have been treated to the spectacle of Cambodia and Thailand, two Buddhist nations, dispatching soldiers to fire upon one another over a disputed temple that each state claims for its own. Perversely, the temple is not even Buddhist: it’s Hindu. I previously wrote a little about it here. Now comes word that Thai artillery-shelling recently collapsed a wing of the temple. Proving that it is not just Western white people who suffer from “we had to destroy the village in order to save it” syndrome.


Now Means Yesterday

First, the caveat that it is always instructive, how much of what is presented as fact, in the midst of a fluid, fast-moving, upbubbling situation, is later, when the histories come to be written, understood to be not so much fact at all.

That said, the moment when I accepted that the Egyptian revolution is Real and Irrevocable, was when the New York Times reported that among those who had taken to the streets were Egypt’s wealthy.

The protesters came from every social class and included even wealthy Egyptians, who are often dismissed as apolitical, or too comfortable to mobilize. For some of them in the crowd on Friday, the brutality of the security forces was a revelation.

“Dogs!” they yelled at the riot police, as they saw bloodied protesters dragged away. “These people are Egyptians!”

This is not good news for any autocrat. When even the people who have enriched themselves under your regime, are in the streets denouncing your hirelings as dogs, you are in terminal trouble. When the bazari of Iran shifted from covert, bet-hedging support of the implacable exiled cleric Khomeini, to open endorsement of that man and his people, the Shah of Iran was finished. So too, it appears, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.


Alone Together

Every technology becomes our partner, because we make it, and then it makes and shapes us in return, and it takes a little time for us to see how that process of mutual unfolding goes. Every technology gives us the opportunity to say: Is this technology serving our human values? I think there are ways in which we’re constantly communicating and yet not making enough good connections, in a way that’s to our detriment.

I interviewed lawyers, architects, management consultants, and businessmen. They talk about the volume and the velocity [of communications]. They’re never off; the communication is con-stant; and they talk in terms of 500, 1,000, 1,500 [emails per day]. It’s more life than they can even read, and they say things like, “I can’t even keep up with my life.” When you have that kind of volume and velocity, you start to notice that people ask you questions expecting a quick answer, and you start to ask questions that you can give a quick answer to. The questions can get dumbed down so that the answers will be quick. We’re not necessarily putting our investment in the ties that bind; we’re putting our investment in the ties that preoccupy.

If you get into these email, Facebook thumbs-up/thumbs-down settings, a paradoxical thing happens: even though you’re alone, you get into this situation where you’re continually looking for your next message, and to have a sense of approval and validation. You’re alone but looking for approval as though you were together—the little red light going off on the BlackBerry to see if you have somebody’s validation. I make a statement in the book, that if you don’t learn how to be alone, you’ll always be lonely, that loneliness is failed solitude. We’re raising a generation that has grown up with constant connection, and only knows how to be lonely when not connected. This capacity for generative solitude is very important for the creative process, but if you grow up thinking it’s your right and due to be tweeted and retweeted, to have thumbs up on Facebook, we’re losing a capacity for autonomy both intellectual and emotional.

I think it’s an interesting notion that sharing becomes part of actually having the thought. It’s not “I think therefore I am,” it’s, “I share therefore I am.” Sharing as you’re thinking opens you up to whether the group likes what you’re thinking as becoming a very big factor in whether or not you think you’re thinking well.

For some purposes, simulation is just as good as real. Kids call it being “alive enough.” Making an airline reservation? Simulation is as good as the real. Playing chess? Maybe, maybe not. It can beat you, but do you care? Many people are building robot companions; David Levy argues that robots will be intimate companions. Where we are now, I call it the “robotic moment,” not because we have robots, but because we’re being philosophically prepared to have them. I’m very haunted by these children who talk about simulation as “alive enough.” We’re encouraged to live more and more of our lives in simulation.

Somebody said of email, “It’s the place for hope in life.” It reminds me of how in Jane Austen, carriages are always coming, you’re waiting, it could be Mr. Bingley’s invitation to a ball. There’s some sense that the post is always arriving in Jane Austen. There’s something about email that carries the sense that that’s where the good news will come. I did a hysterical interview with an accountant about why he felt so strongly about his texts. He said he might get a Genius award! I said, “I don’t think they give those to accountants.” And he said, “But you know what I mean.” He was trying to express that anything could happen on email. Anything could happen! I try to figure out what it is that this little red light means to people. I think it’s that place for hope and change and the new, and what can be different, and how things can be what they’re not now. And I think we all want that.

Sherry Turkle

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When I Worked

February 2011