Thursday, November 06, 2008

Guthrie's "This Land" with Seeger's last verse

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
Saying this land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking on freedom's highway
Nobody living can make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Wrapped in the flag

Note: I wrote the following to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on Sunday mostly because I really do like the idea of constitutional government, but also because so much of the political discourse from the Right has been wrapped in the flag in recent years. I wanted to frame Impeachment as a patriotic action, and I'm pleased with the way it turned out.

The Sun-Sentinel is published in Rep. Wexler's congressional district.

At,0,916824.story, the Editorial Board published an opinion piece which begins:

Issue: Some in Congress want an impeachment

And concludes:

BOTTOM LINE: Get on with REAL issues.

It is not only some people in Congress who want impeachment, and feel it is a "REAL" issue. We want impeachment for the reasons that this nation's Founders went to the trouble of of establishing the United States in the first place: in order to form a more perfect union. If we settle for Bush and Cheney's theory of a Unitary Executive acting above and outside the law, then we will no longer live in Lincoln's "nation of laws". The Constitution of the United States, which Mr. Bush has twice sworn to protect and defend, will have indeed become what Mr. Bush has also described it: "just a god-damned piece of paper!"

My third-grade son knows that the Constitution is the foundation of the Republic of the United States. It doesn't take a constitutional attorney to work this out. If you would pledge allegiance to the flag and the Republic for which it stands, then you must take the defense of the constitution seriously: and the extra-constitutional declaration of war against Iraq is just one of thirty-five charges of high crimes and misdemeanors that Representatives Kucinich and Wexler brought to the House of Representatives this week. They,like Mr. Bush, take an oath of office, to preseve and protect the Constitution. They have no higher duty as our elected delegates. We know that Mr. Bush lied to us about the reasons for going to war, and has sacrificed the lives of over 4,000 US troops for what is still no good reason. We are not safer: the danger we find the Republic in has not diminished, but persisted and grown under this administration's leadership - to the Constitution's cost.

The bottom line, then, is that Kucinich and Wexler are dealing with the very real, basic, issue, which is worth every minute of their time, ours, and yours: the continuing, constitutional, existence of the foundations of the United States. Perhaps you think gossip, tittle-tattle and turf wars matter more than the real Constitutional issues Mr. Bush's presidency has raised: if so, you are free to call in your editorial pages for a Continental Congress which seeks to recognize that the Republic is defunct, and a new Constitution establishing a new form of government is almost eight years overdue.

I, for one, would not wish you success in such an endeavor.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Three From Britain show, Rose Gallery, Santa Monica

This is from an email I wrote to my friend Ian Macdonald, a very fine photographer, about a show of photographs by three British photographers, Graham Smith, Chris Killip and Martin Parr. Ian knows Graham, and kindly got me an invitation.

My invitation finally came this week, and the show closed yesterday, so I went down and had a look. I couldn't afford any of the pictures, the Killip pictures were priced at $4500, but I bought a couple of books: Graham's photo essay of pictures by him and his father in Granta, and Killip's 55. I recognized Martin Parr's work very quickly, from New Brighton, and from the books he has out I think he's had a lot of commercial success and doesn't need me to buy anything.

I was down there at 10 AM when the gallery opened. Because I had an invitation in my hand, I got a personal tour from the only gallery assistant who'd turned up on time. She was wide-eyed, blonde, informed but not very knowledgable, and deferential: for example, there's a picture of The Commercial pub which has a billboard with a poster advertising paint. Henry Cooper is holding a paint can and a roller, and smiling. The slogan for the paint is something like "step back and admire the view", and Graham takes Henry at his word: a grey morning, foggy, damp, people in motion, all the windows dark. The assistant didn't know who Henry Cooper was, so I explained. There's a boxer here who's retired and sells stuff, George Foreman, he has five sons all called George, and he sells a grill, like a grilled sandwich grill, but at an angle, so that you can grill a hamburger and the fat all drains out.

I like Graham's pictures a lot. They're very clean, visually he doesn't seem to intrude, but the stories which go with the pictures show a deep intimacy with his subjects. He's funny, too, "I thought I saw Liz Taylor and Bob Mitchum in the Back Room of the Commercial" is hilarious. They also remind me of Camden Town in the '60's, when there were still Peabody Buildings at the end of the street, and the rag and bone man came with his horse and cart once a month. The first one I looked at was of a lock-in at the Commercial, with three decades of fashion - a '60's Rocker singing, '70's shaggy haircut on the guitar, and an '80's New Romantic with a pint in her hand. A bare lightbulb, peeling paint, and lino tiled floor. Brilliant. The maintained surfaces are on the people, more or less.

His pictures of prostitutes show similarities with Brassai, though his prostitutes don't have the security of a brothel, and they don't have the same standard of living that Brassai's Parisian prostitutes did. He's also strongly social realist.

Chris Killip, on the other hand, is very hard scrabble. His politics is completely overt in the seacoal pictures. Graham was a gentleman about it, but Chris rubs my nose in my smug bourgeois comfort. Beautifully, too. It's hard to believe that seacoal could still be a way of life, but there it is. Graham's working class could buy a pint in a pub; Chris' sniffs glue on the beach. Graham's pictures are mostly open to friendship; Chris has people's backs to the frame, in one case, looking at a wall. The clearest political statement, though, is the Alcan fence, keeping the seacoal pickers from a beach owned by Alcan: here is a corporation stiffing the little man, again.

Martin Parr, then: all his pictures in the show were from 1988. Chris and Graham's pictures ranged from the mid-'70's to the mid-'80's. So almost all the show was from the Thatcher years. Parr's pictures were mostly of the south west, the middle class, and the tories. Looking at his pictures is like looking at Durer: there's something cautionary about them, I think he looks for naked Emperors and points at them, laughing.

Monday, December 17, 2007

letter to Chris Dodd

Dear Senator Dodd,

I am spurred to write to you by a request at the Crooks and Liars web site, where there is an invitation to provide you with material to read on the floor of the senate today during your filibuster of the FISA bill with the section on immunity for the Telecommunications corporations which plainly broke the law by allowing the NSA to tap network communications wholesale, without a warrant, with no more than a verbal assurance that it was OK to do so.

I am an immigrant to the United States from the United Kingdom. I was drawn in no small part by the ideas embodied in the Constitution: the promises it holds for all mankind are not only Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, but the Bill of Rights, and a form of democratic government designed to keep tyrants' hands off the machinery of power.

I viewed the United States historically as a nation striving to make itself more perfect by bringing about the realization of these promises. I cannot think of a time in U.S. history when more of the promises have been broken, and so much of the progress undone.

You are standing today for the people, and for the promises of the Rule of Law, and the protection against unwarranted search and seizure. When the people's delegates take their oath to support and defend the Constitution, the purpose of the oath is to uphold these promises against those who would seize power from the people and their delegates: I commend you for your courage today in standing for these promises, and urge your colleagues to come to your side and rally to the cause of that which gives the nation its form and structure: that without which government of the people, by the people, for the people, might well perish from this earth. I give you the Constitution of the United States of America.

Do not let this bill pass today, or any other, with immunity for the Telecommunications Corporations. The Constitution should not be subjected to this assault in the Senate, and it is your duty, truly discharged today, to oppose it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Inquiry: language

Language is a luxury. What a privilege!

Someone told me we live as fish in a sea of language, unaware of the substrate around us. It's not quite right: languages evolve and mix, like different kinds of soil. Every now and then there's a flood of language, enriching the culture.

But what is language? I'll go back to basics, and start with Saussure. I disagree with him in a couple of areas.

First, the arbitrariness of the sign for the signified: when language first takes hold, a child - who typically has been encouraged to make sounds by the older people around them - makes some rudimentary sounds related to food - Mm, mm, good - which it hears itself, and sees that they create a response from the primary sources of food and comfort: typically, mama, mother, maman, mater, madre.

I'll ignore the rare reports of exceptions like Macauley, whose first words were reportedly "What ails thee, Jock?"

Second, Saussure's definitions also seem static: language evolves, and the sounds in words have textures - soft, grating, rough, and so on. Poets know this and use it; and where a word, the signifier, ends up over time can fit the signified. At the same time, the signified is affected by the signifier: there are neologies which create things in the world.

The differences between words for the same thing in different languages reflect different contexts. Saussure contrasts boeuf and cow, but boeuf/beef, porc/pork show the opposite - that when words move their meanings change as they become located in a semantic topography. They do not stand in isolation. It is crucial that the meanings of words are not isolated to the arrow of signification: words exist in relation to other words, as well. These relationships modify meaning.

A forest is a thing: a collection of trees. A tree is a thing: composed of roots, trunk, branches, twigs and leaves. A leaf is a thing: composed of cells. But where is the edge of the forest? What defines its boundary? Perhaps more tellingly, the roots are embedded in the soil, drawing nourishment and water into the tree. Where does a molecule of water leave the soil and enter the tree? when does it become part of the tree? What I'm thinking is that the signified is arbitrary: before any person could speak of a particular tree, what was there in its place? A tree? Or un arbre?

This is perhaps what gives language its greatest power, which is to create by naming. The properties of the thing created exist in weighted relation to the name, the signifier, not the thing itself. In this model, language (or Saussurean langue, at any rate) is present in the brain as a network of related signs. It seems to me that the structure of the brain - an evolving network of connected neurons with different weights applied to signals passing between them - is a perfect vessel for this model of language.

Inquiry: What question?

I don't know. I know there are things I want to write, things I've puzzled over for a long time, and things I've learned.

Inquiry: prologue

Over the course of the first act of Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, Winnie laboriously reads the words on her toothbrush. What she finally reads is "Fully guaranteed, genuine pure, hog's setae." When she makes out the last two words, she puzzles: "A hog? A sow of course I know, but a hog?"

I like this for two reasons. First, the interesting word, the rare word, is setae; but Winnie is only interested in hog. Second, she knows that ontologically a hog stands in direct relationship to a sow, and she knows what a sow is (of course), yet she does not, or cannot, or will not make the entire link.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Thich Nhat Hanh in Pasadena

The guided meditation was excellent, and the UNESCO statistics on US food production were jaw-dropping. I'd like the cite, but I well can believe what he told us: that the amount of food eaten by animals which are slaughtered for food consumed in the US is greater than the food required to feed 8 billion people. That our civilization is dying, and will die, and that therefore we should accept and prepare for that death, is a timely and gentle reminder to prepare. The manner of its death can be of our choosing, and I'd like it to be gentle and comfortable. For all our sakes, and all our childrens'.

This was where Nhat Hanh ended. He began well too; but I think he's lost touch with his American audience, when he should know us better. After all, we've bought his books, and he's been visiting the US to teach since 1960. In that time, Zen has had a growing impact on American society. The opening section of the lecture about falling in love with a cloud was good (that it becomes rain and we drink the cloud when it has gone), the section on loving Christ unnecessary; but the worst of all was the miracle of cures for cancer.

No, no, no! Please, I don't want the Buddha to tell me that accepting the inevitability of death means I can hope to postpone my death, I want my inevitable death to happen with the inevitability of death. There are enough whacky nut-job cults that pretend they can cure fatal diseases. Death is an illusory transition. There is no time of death: life is an illusion, and self awareness doubly so.

The Monks of Deer Park Monastery showed me that the Monastery needs a shakeup. They are not grounded, they have too much "because" and "why". The monks are allowed to be far too earnest for my liking. I'd hit them upside the head. KATZ!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Misheard News (2004)

This just in

Local poetry producers
Are finding it hard to compete
With subsidized poetry
From industrialized nations

A spokesman said
These subsidies undermine the competitiveness
Of locally produced poetry
It is hard to see how we can sustain
A modern poetry industry in the long term
When the market is flooded with cheap poetry products
From overseas

(The spokesman
And some poets no doubt
Called for a ban on imports of
Frozen chicken)

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