The dotard and the rocket man

The office of Dear Leader of the DPRK is traditionally endowed with a lot of not-especially useful superpowers (all three of them were apparently adept at finishing up golf outings with 18 hole-in-ones)…but not even the most loyal and/or terrified North Korean could have predicted that wee rolly polly Kim Jong-un could have out-flash-memed the Trumpster on his own virtual turf. Such a bizarre development could indeed suggest he just might not be the man they think he is at home. Oh no no no.

Because love him, hate him, fear him, and/or mock him, the rocket man in the platform shoes wins this round decisively, while the larger campaign of pre-nuclear dick-measuring rages on. He and Trump squared off, eyed each other, and launched tactical nicknames. Trump’s attempt probably sounded good in his head, but all he did was put an awfully enjoyable song in all of ours.  But when Kim that magnificent bastard returned fire, he sent half the English-speaking world scrambling for dictionaries.

Dotard. He called him a dotard. Donald J. Trump please click here for a directory of reputable burn clinics near you.

Our conundrum is this: no matter how you feel about Trump, if you have a spark of human dignity in you, you never ever want Kim Jong-un to be right about anything, ever. But then he goes and calls Trump a dotard, and either you looked it up or you already knew what it meant (sure you did), and then you sat and thought about it. Trump. Dotard. Dotard-Trump.

Uncanny, Kim. Uncannily on the nose.

You have to dig deep for it, but there’s a glimmer of hope in all this. Kim wins the internet, so we laugh. Laughter is unexpected yet so so welcome in the midst of intercontinental tandem temper tantrums. That pair of man-children both salivate over the idea of a war that neither will have to fight, but as long as they’re hurling names, just names, maybe we can enjoy a laugh or two before the dotard and the rocket man kick things up a notch or ten.

Or it could be better even than that. Neither of them shows any sign of being easily deterrable, but both give every sign that they loathe being laughed at. The opportunity is ripe—they’re acting like clowns after all. So let’s laugh at them and see where that takes us.

I can see a future where both are laughed from power: Trump free to schlump further into his dotage, and Kim eagerly sought after for Hollywood parties, where he exhibits his limitless skill in summoning the perfect obscure OED ephemera to hand out as nicknames. Dennis Rodman emcees.

You never know, and it’s never too late to hope, and it should never be too grim to laugh. So give it a try. Just laugh at those twits.

First though, we’re gonna need a funnier name than Rocket Man. Thanks, dotard.

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Public service announcement.

Hey. I’m a little worried about you. I think you need to take a breath.

I know you hear that a lot. Someone’s always telling you that, or versions of that. Chill down, chillax, get your bloomers out of their uproar. Fifteen thousand curveballs and fastballs life’s been throwing at you, big ones and small ones and ones that seem like they’ll shake apart the universe.

It’s enough to make you lose your breath.

And that’s one solution I suppose. You can overrule the autonomic til you turn blue. Stamp your foot. Shut your eyes and shake your head. Or you can breathe.

Just breathe. Slowly, to a count of four, thinking about nothing except breathing. Pull in your breath with your abdomen, use your muscles, fill your lungs for four beats. Hold for a tic. Breathe out four beats.

Then do it again.

Whatever life you are going to live, whatever fate has in store for you, your time here is going to be bookended by breaths. You drew your first one upon arrival, you’ll let out your last just as you leave.

And whatever life you live, you’ll always share a few common features with the flame: it needs to breathe just as badly as you do. It consumes, it propagates, but it’s going to sputter. Best it can do is leave some kind of mark before it goes.

How bright you burn, and whatever makes you burn, and whatever you do next is something only you can determine. Be a candleflame or conflagration. Either way, make your mark

Just take a breath first. Relax when you do. Draw in the air slowly, let it out slowly, and push away all other considerations. Just for a while.

Then go ahead and get busy immediately thereafter. You’ve got plenty to do, and there’s plenty that needs doing. You’ll lose yourself in that maelstrom, in what’ll seem like mere seconds. You shouldn’t fash yourself, it happens to us all. We all get swept back in. And we stay there, turning and churning—

until we remember to take a breath.

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Labor’s next heavy lift

It’s probably the right thing, the duly deferential thing, to observe Labor Day (America’s tempered version of May Day) by reflecting on the successes and legacies of the U.S. labor movement. The forty-hour workweek, job-safety regulations, even this very holiday itself were all created by, for, and likely wouldn’t have been conceived without a thriving American labor class.

But it’s hard to resist, in the course of these Labor Day reveries, not reflecting also on the contemporary state—the current muscle—of American labor. It has atrophied, it is on the wane, and it is on the run. Even as wages stagnate and union rolls shrink, an ascendant conservative polity, hostile as ever to organized labor, wages a multi-front campaign against the movement. State by state, unions’ reach and scope are being legislatively eroded, while in the marketplace of ideas, the right-wing canon preaches an anti-labor gospel that has been frighteningly effective in shaping the opinion of socially conservative, low-wage workers—ones with arguably the most to gain from a strong, vibrant labor movement.

It’s a chronic condition, even if it’s feeling particularly acute. Labor’s back has been up against the wall for well more than a generation now. And since it’s clear that the counterpunches thrown thus far have, at the wildly optimistically best, only somewhat slowed the trend, I’d argue it’s time to rethink strategy.

Fortunately, conditions have aligned themselves in support of just such a shift. We’re seeing a completely organic grassroots resistance movement, independent of party politics, spring up in resistance to the hostile, unstable, cryptofascistic national leadership, and the cronies and hangers-on that support it. This movement is vibrant, growing, effective, and as yet hasn’t been co-opted by any of the usual political suspects, who could be counted on to turn it into just another exploitable constituency. Here’s hoping it stays that way.

Labor very much has a role to play in this phenomenon—probably multiple roles, in fact. And while it can be, should be, incumbent upon every union, local, and individual worker to formulate for themselves how they can best dovetail with the resistance already underway, I humbly put forth my suggestion for a strong, nation-wide Blue-Green coalition.

The concept is deceptively simple: a synergistic alliance of organized labor and environmental activists. Common ground between them is more evident than ever before—high-paying green-tech industry jobs now outnumber those in the fossil-fuel extraction sector, while a focus on fair trade is understood to be protective of both jobs and the environment.

But there are, of course, areas of disagreement. Most recently, unions and environmental groups clashed over projects like the Keystone Pipeline—that very disagreement led to the breakup of at least one blue-green coalition. As more such projects move forward, this friction is sure to increase.

The answer is to view the alliance with the tactical urgency it deserves. Alliances under fire are never perfect, but the immediacy of their struggle necessitates working around, even temporarily tabling areas of non-alignment.

And make no mistake—this is precisely that urgent. Climate change is a looming existential threat. American leadership, even engagement on the issue has been abrogated. The vacuum after Paris has left not just an opportunity for groups like organized labor and environmental advocates to seize relevancy, but an absolute obligation for them to do so.

Our labor movement has, at its core, always been about preserving and protecting the future of the voiceless multitude. It pools its strength and its industrial clout not to seize the means of production, as Marx proclaims and conservatives believe, but to turn those means into a more fair pillar of modern society. That clout might have been diminished but it’s never disappeared. And the time is right, right now, to apply it to a cause that doesn’t just serve labor, but potentially saves us all. Happy Labor Day.

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Feeling a little morbid, are we?

Well no, not really. It’s really just a convergence of events: haven’t posted in a while but don’t yet have the energy to take on the drowning of Houston or the marching of nazis or the deep foul bucket of other pressing current events. Plus I have in my possession some interesting graveyard snaps to share with you. Plus I have in my possession a couple pieces o’ poesy that more or less take place in graveyards. Since they gel with the aforementioned then they also I aim to share with you. We’ll circle back another time to current events fair and foul, and arts & culture most definitely fair. The verse is only an interlude, and at times an unwelcome but still needful reminder of those rotten things to which fate binds us…

Everyone’s Speeding to the Same Destination

Boneyard requiem, that final wormy dance

from birth to death, cradle to grave

poor bastard never stood a chance.

From embalmed flesh to forgotten dust—coffin nails long turned to rust

until

No one living recalls his name

He might not have ever been.

.

Late Embrace

I waited five weeks to find where she lay - embraced by the soil, wrapped in decay.  - Every turn of my spade was wrought by my heart. No terrestrial boundaries could keep us apart.

The world scorned my yearnings, labeled me mad. I sought her sweet favors, her family forbad. Some fever then took her, it stole her from me. But the black veil of sorrow would ere set us free.

When my spade finally found her I sobbed my delight. I seized her, embraced her, and dragged her toward light. Did anyone see us? I never did care; there by her graveside our love laid us bare.

Our union was perfect, a coda to woe: I wouldn’t be sated, she couldn’t say no. We stayed there together til the rise of the moon, then I kissed her and told her to expect me back soon.

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RIP Jerry Lewis (March 16, 1926 – August 20, 2017)

We were lucky to live, for as long as it lasted, in a world co-inhabited by Jerry Lewis. That funny, funny man lived to the most venerable age of 91, and he died at home—these are blessings by anyone’s measure. But tomorrow the sun will be blotted from the sky and it might as well stay that way, because tomorrow begins the age without Jerry. I think laughter itself died today.

I know not everyone feels this way. Not everyone thought he was as funny as I do. But there, again, is the blessings of the existence of this extraordinarily complex man—if he failed you as a comedian you might be duly impressed by his turns as a dramatic actor (The King of Comedy with De Niro in 1982, as well as the highly underrated Funny Bones in 1995). Or, quite notably, his unrivaled humanitarianism; he hosted the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon for an astonishing 45 years. Generations of desperately ill children have been known, probably always will be known, as Jerry’s Kids.

Or, if nothing, else, just let yourself appreciate his distinction as a true and selfless friend. That’s been a common refrain in the memoirs and public statements of those who knew him. But you could see it for yourself, plainly and hauntingly, during the live-aired reunion between he and Dean Martin during the 1976 MDA telethon. It was palpable. Business and artistic differences had split them apart but they still cared as deeply for each other as two human beings were able. They remained close until Martin’s death in 1995.

And still he soldiered on. Ages removed from his biggest commercial successes in the late 1950s and early ’60s, he kept acting, writing, and directing well into his twilight years. Ill health hardly slowed him down. He suffered through prostate cancer and a pair of heart attacks, and kept on working, long past the point where lesser men would retire. He was on stage and in his zone as recently as last year.

His rest, then, is most well deserved and it is only through our fondness and grief that we regret his passing. It is through our memories that we celebrate all that came before.

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The gift of movement

My city, Akron, boasts a myriad of ways to deliver art and culture to we, her lucky citizens. Our local arts scene is thriving beyond all proportion to our size, geography, and, I’d guess, our reputation. Much of that is a grassroots phenomenon, driven by people like my own better half—embedded artists doing much more than their own fair share to serve us all by serving up the arts.

But due credit must go to the municipality as well, which puts as much effort into that same noble cause that some towns devote to rib fests and hot-dog eating contests (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those). The city’s summertime Dance Festival is one example among many, but it’s at top of mind for me at least as I’ve spent the last two consecutive Fridays taking in the dance performances that my city has worked so hard to bring before me.

These weren’t my first such exposures—a couple years ago I reported on my attendance at a truly stunning performance by Ballet Hispanico. It was transformative; at the time I noted that dance was (and is) a performing art about which I know little, and with which I’m least engaged. Yet I saw something there—felt it—that let me know that here was an art with depth and breadth of meaning, of subtext, of storytelling.

I felt that again, I confirmed it, these past two weeks, with outdoor, under-the-blazing-stars performances by Groundworks DanceTheater and Urban Bush Women. Their styles, approaches, methods, and stories are vastly different, and I haven’t the words or aptitude to try to interpret or contrast or even to describe them. All I can say was that in each case, in equal measures, I was rapt, fully pulled in, fully experiencing each nuance of motion.

What I hadn’t understood, what I’m still coming to terms with, is that these dancers do very much tell a story; they take the stage in order to encode a message. It is sometimes an anecdote, often an entreaty, not infrequently a desperate demand.

The music that gives fluidity to their movements are elements of story, but—and I suspect this is key—silence is too. There’s something strangely unsettling in seeing a long stretch of choreography unaccompanied by music. The audience becomes supernaturally still, and all that can be heard is the slap and stomp of the dancers’ feet, and the sounds of their exertions. The music goes missing, the dance goes on. There are obvious theses to what they’re telling me from the stage, but there are much more subtle revelations hidden within the nested layers, some of which I’m not entirely sure I was meant to understand. That is a reminder and a constant of life writ large. In dance and in everything, I come to terms with it.

So dance, I say, is cerebral beyond anything I ever suspected or would have posited.

Or…maybe it’s just dance. Let us all be the judge:

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RIP Glen Campbell (April 22, 1936 – August 8, 2017)

We lost one of the good ones today—a superb musician, a star, and a gentleman. There’s solace in knowing he had the time and the ability to tell us all goodbye. But there’s sadness because Alzheimer’s disease is a gold-plated bitch.

Thanks for the music, Mr. Campbell, and goodnight.

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Sessions wants names, does he?

Limp A.G. and unloved sycophant Jefferson Beauregard Sessions announced this week that he was going after leakers like nobody’s business. Whether or not the man with the Most Confederate Name Ever truly believes this needs to be a focus of DOJ’s wrath, or it’s simply an attempt to elicit slightly less hurtful presidential tweets, he took the opportunity to slip in some not-so-veiled threats against the reporters who’ve been busily sopping up the spillage from this very leaky White House.

Howls about the sanctity of our free press inevitably followed, to which I say: Spare us. Not because I don’t agree with the sentiment, but because the sentiment is utterly irrelevant. First amendment schmerst schmamendment—do you really think Jeff Sessions won’t put you in jail? A previous Republican administration locked up Judith Miller for 12 weeks…to find a leaker they didn’t really want to find.

So I have a suggestion for the Fourth Estate. Spoiler: they won’t like it.

But to understand it, you have to understand a little skulduggery that’s been going on in D.C. for a few months now. It’s not something that’s been overtly reported on, and it’s not something I know about due to all my Deep Throat-ish connections (which I do have, but they have nothing at all to do with politics). No, I know about this because you have to be a goddam fool not to see it.

See, someone in the administration got the bright idea to begin leaking bullshit—as a way of baiting the media, making them look like idiots, and maybe even getting a few reporters fired. And in a few cases, it actually worked. Remember back in June when a handful of CNNers lost their jobs over a poorly sourced story about the now-hilarious Scaramucci, and his supposed Russia connections? The White House’s press shop, in their delight over the fallout, couldn’t keep a poker face to save their lives, and in the following days touted this story as proof positive that the press was the enemy. They’d laid a trap, and it worked.

But this strategy mirrors so many others that the Trump White House tries on for size: it is limited in its effectiveness and lacking in its shelf life. What exactly did they gain? They thinned from the herd a few of the more credulous members of the press corps, and put the rest on notice as to which whisperers could be trusted, and which could not.

So here’s my suggestion: If Sessions wants names, give him those. Give up those crafty devils who seek to turn leaking into a tactical assault. They might be carrying their president’s water, but a leak is a leak. Let Sessions explain why he won’t prosecute them.

This, I suppose, would violate the reporters’ canon of ethics. But holding to that canon, with these people, is very much like bringing a quill to a gun fight. They have declared you the enemy. They will certainly honor no ethics in their zeal to cut you down—they’ve already shown that, and they’re about to show it quite a lot more. Sessions is about to put many, many of you behind bars, and he’ll be a happy little elf indeed to leave you there as long as he possibly can.

So yeah, you can hold your ethical head up high as you enjoy your three hots and a cot for months on end. Or you can begin fighting fire with fire, against a gang that doesn’t know any other way to fight.

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Satisfaction

These are strange and unsettling times, and do please sing out when I start telling you something you don’t already know.

What can we do? It seems irresponsible somehow to completely unplug from it all, and besides we haven’t yet found the Heisenberg who can cook up drugs strong enough to make this tempestuous shitstorm go away.

So yeah, stay plugged in, stay mad, keep doing what you do. But also do yourself a solid, by treating your brain and nerves to the kind of respite that our most intrepid meth makers and ganja growers could only dream of and never aspire to.

Some call it eye candy, I call it mind balm. It’s just that special species of sensory stimuli that, for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on, make you feel like it’s all going to be okay.

And—what a time to be alive!—we now have this stuff in abundance, and within the easiest of reach.

So when you’re feeling low (and poor lamb, that’s often, isn’t it?) you can go hunting for this kind of digital pick-me-up…or you can dig right into the already-curated variety. Keyword: oddly satisfying; there’s almost no end to it and that, again, is reason to shout your grateful praises unto the world wide intertubes.

Or just scroll down, click play, and get yer well-deserved satisfaction….

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The long history of :)

Thanks to the ubiquitous emoji, we’re now communicating more than ever in semiotics, and most specifically with some simple yet telling arrangement of two dots for eyes, and some visceral version of a frown, grimace, or smile.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this emotive shorthand predates the PC age—after all, the Kool-Aid man has been knocking down walls since the Seventies, wearing not much more than a smile. (How does an anthropomorphized glass pitcher bust through bricks, anyway?)

But how far back does it go? Several hundred years seems a stretch, yet the legal document at the top dates from 1635, and seems to clearly include a less-than-smiley face at the lower left, incorporated into Slovakian notary Jan Ladislaides’ signature.

Perhaps the 17th Century was the onset of the emoji era, because here we also see what was arguably a bit of clever typography aptly integrated into Robert Herrick’s 1648 poem, “To Fortune” (my highlighting) —

Indeed, until very recently these were thought to be the earliest usages of our beloved :) and :|

But then…

Say hello to the self-evidently friendly Karkamish Smile, recently unearthed at a Hittite site in Turkey, which pushes back the Age of the Emoticon about 3,700 years.

Researchers are cautious, admitting that the design was intentionally drawn on the jug but saying they can’t be sure what exactly the ancient potter meant by it.

But we know, don’t we? We who so easily and frequently dash off a wordless update as to our current emotional state, with little more than a colon or semicolon, and an array of punctuational rictus options. We even know how the potter was feeling that day. He wasn’t :\ … he was :) .

We like to think our technology has isolated us from our ancestors. Think that no longer. We now know something we share with them, something that transcends language and media and time itself. And that, more than I can express in words, makes me very, very :-]

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Send me art

You already know what a sizable percentage of humanity’s wit, wisdom and culture is readily beam-downable to that device you keep in your pocket (and that might not be the safest place to keep it, by the way). But what if, on those (hopefully frequent) days when you’ve a yen to browse some art, you didn’t need to risk the hit-or-miss of an amorphous image search, but instead could just invite an already curated collection onto your phone, and into your heart and soul?

All praise, then, to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. SFMOMA has harnessed the twin progressive pillars of cellular technology, and their own collection, to make artwork more accessible than ever before. They call it Send Me SFMOMA, and it’s a way of making their entire catalog (only 5 percent of which is on display at any given time) yours for the texting. Works like this: Send a text to 57251; include the message “Send me”– followed by anything you intuit is the proper prompt for the artwork you need to see. Could be a name, a description, a color, even an emoji. The guesswork is half the fun—I tried Send me brilliance, Send me insight, and Send me horror, only to be told by SFMOMA’s fast-acting AI that matches could not be found. The request shown here for Dada, though, yielded a surprisingly apt piece, albeit one surprisingly anachronistic. Likewise the Send me America result at the top of this page might have been enough to spin the cranium of one of our newly minted chest-thumping nationalists. A timely reminder that Vespucci lent his name to not just one country, but actually a pair of continents? A teachable moment initiated by that aforementioned AI? Why not.

Because art does teach, and exposure to the wide realm of cultural inspiration changes minds, broadens perspectives, and forges oh-so-necessary connections. We become a community of appreciators, and a tribe of seekers after understanding. Or at the very least, we seize an opportunity to see something we’d never seen, which in turn must make us think of things that’d otherwise never come to mind.

The kind of art that induces this marvelous effect is all around—it’s in your local gallery but also on the mural down the street, and maybe even on the paper or canvas before you that you’d limn if only you could find the time. You are the creator and the consumer, and the seeker and the learner, if only in the potential state. Perhaps for your sanity, for all of ours, you need to find a way to turn potentiality to actuality.

Could the start of that journey be a mere text message away? That seems trite and unlikely…but still. The number again is 57251. Hadn’t you better check it out?

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Whisky business

SOME whisky business
slowed our trek
it slowed the way we
share our throes.
.
We ran our road
we had our wreck
we have still more
and on it goes.
.
I cannot say I
miss our start
or missed a chance
to spin the wheel.
.
Our broken thoughts
our secret art
is all that works
and all I feel.
.
You’re careless now and
I’m without blame
while whatever was
goes behind the wall.
.
Whatever is next
has its own shrill shame
and what we were
may survive our fall.
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When in the course of human events

The course of human events can be a harrowing run, and even in the best circumstances the road takes you, eventually, to landscapes you did not expect.

The act of political estrangement that began on the Fourth of July, 1776 was a spark lit in darkness, and it serves us well to remember just how complete that darkness was. The framework of representative democracy was still a decade and a war away—the document signed that day didn’t create a new society, it just began to chip away at the dross that encased the old one.

The powerful and necessary reminder here is that destruction is the inevitable precursor to creation. Old growth is cleared to make room for the new, tarnish is abraded to reveal the gleam. Old institutions become tired, corrupt, self-serving; an act of removal is their only redemption.

These theses are timely, and not only because today is America’s birthday. Today is also America’s crisis, as was yesterday, as will be tomorrow. For reasons we all know, which aren’t even necessary to enumerate, the organs of American governance are being tested like never before. And they’re not acquitting themselves well in response.

Maybe that’s for the best. Maybe the presence of a lunatic at the helm and of enablers and sycophants all around him remind us that it is our responsibility, ours alone, to right our own ship.

Either the foundations of our society survive the present assault, or they don’t. In any case rot is revealed, and a course of remediation is suggested. How we react—what we create in response to this destruction—will be the true measure of our fitness as a people. The destiny of America is being written by our action and our inaction, for good or for ill.

The course of human events has brought us to this critical, horrific juncture, and the anniversary of our Independence is as an appropriate time as any to reflect upon that, and upon all its many implications.

But let us not reflect too long. Let’s get busy saving our country.

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Rhapsody

Because sometimes only verse will do…

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Summer Solstice 2017 – fiat lux

Whether this particular day marks for you a simple celestial event unique to our solar neighborhood, or a sacred quarterpost within the wheel of the year, it remains unarguable that something special is happening right now.

We in the northern hemisphere experience the longest day (in terms of daylight hours) of the year. Our friends in the south experience the shortest. In either case the day culminates a pattern of the season that’s been building, that now stands still, that next begins to subtly shift the other way.

It’s orbital mechanics, the tilt of the poles. And it’s magick. It’s both.

The dichotomy doesn’t matter. What matters is that the seasons change, and we change. And it could just be that we’ve never needed that more.

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