Sunday, August 26, 2012

Another one over the side, alas

Connie, Gail Coney's cherished pooch, died early in August after a brief bout with a wasting disease (she is pictured here in July, shortly after its onset was first observed). Connie was a loyal dog, adored by all who knew her and particularly by our own Ravi, who will not again get to lick her ears.

A Dog Has Died

My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I'll join him right there,
but now he's gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I'll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Ai, I'll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.

No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he'd keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea's movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean's spray.

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.

There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don't now and never did lie to each other.

So now he's gone and I buried him,
and that's all there is to it.

—Pablo Neruda

Friday, August 24, 2012

“The crowd loved it!”

He went there!

“No, no, not a swipe,” Romney said. “I’ve said throughout the campaign and before, there’s no question about where he was born. He was born in the U.S. This was fun about us, and coming home. And humor, you know, we’ve got to have a little humor in a campaign.”

Yaaa-suh massah!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bad Moon Rising: Annals of Batshit Crazy

In the news today (is it a full moon? —no, not until month’s end) we have a New Hampshire candidate for sheriff who proposes to use “deadly force” in defense of the unborn, a tactic formerly the exclusive province of freelancers, and a Texas “judge” (the title is apparently understood differently in this part of the state) who wants additional funding to arm the good people of Lubbock County for the coming insurrection against the Kenyan Usurper.

All very droll, of course. But this is what the modern GOP is slowly becoming as, behind the personable faces of its 2012 standard bearers, it begins (in Martin Amis’ marvelous phrase) visibly to fizz with rabies. I remember catching Pat Buchanan’s disastrous address to the red-meat crowd at the Republican convention twenty years ago, and thinking that I understood for the first time the sentiments underlying the Yugoslavian civil war, that it was mutually intolerable to Pat’s people and to mine that we should be compelled to share a national identity in common. This was half-jocular on my side, but not more than a fifth part, I suspect, on Pat’s. These jokers, though, make Buchanan sound (in someone’s online formulation today—I forget where) like “Kindly Old Uncle Gestapo.” As a young Nixon staffer, incidentally, PB explicitly recommended shattering the nation’s social and political consensus, such as it ever was, on the grounds that Nixon would be in a position to grab most of the pieces. This was, of course, the tactic employed by Milosevic in Yugoslavia after Tito’s death, and I think it has been the GOP’s operating procedure ever since Bush the Elder lost the election (largely courtesy of mad Ross Perot, with KOUG giving a kind assist). In practice the Republicans have ever since practiced tyranny in power while attempting to make the country ungovernable during their periods of opposition. Now we see officeholders openly discussing Second Amendment remedies to the intolerable spectacle of the Other in office.

Milosevic and his confederates worked for ten years to undermine the consensus and institutions that held Yugoslavia together before they were able to launch the bloodbath they yearned for. We are fortunate here in that our principal blood feud goes back only three or four generations (I have a sister-in-law whose grandfather fought in the Civil War), whereas the Serbs, Croats, Muslims and Albanians sipped well-fermented thirteenth-century grudges from their mothers’ milk. And yet, and yet. In my lifetime our artificial two-party duopoly has more nearly resembled the post-Stalin Soviet Union, with its facade of choice, than the lively multi-party democracies of postwar western Europe, but until recently this constrained system performed the signal service of locking the lunatic fringe out of the action. Now that lunatic fringe—or rather, its violent  offspring—has eaten out one of the parties from within. I should rejoice that my old complaint that the parties were indistinguishable from one another in the main particulars has been addressed. We now have a true two-party system. Unfortunately, one party is led by timid opportunists, and the other consists of a motley coalition of lunatics, plutocrats, demagogues, grifters and criminals. In a perfect world this wouldn’t have been my choice, but it is a choice, by God, and these frothing God-botherers need to be put down hard at the ballot box, unless you want Sheriff Szabo and Judge Head to be calling the shots.

Cripes. These people make Lyndon LaRouche look like Bob Dole.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Martian Chronicles

Something about the homely detail of pebbles and dust kicked onto the surface of this American spacecraft, so improbably delivered intact to within 1.5 miles of its intended target on another world, rouses in me a sense of pride on behalf of Homo sapiens and, more surprisingly, of Homo americanus. I was not quite seventeen at the time of the first manned moon landing, and I’m sixty now. Given that the first successful US automated soft landing on the moon had been just three years earlier at the time of Apollo 11, I and many others still imagined in 1976, when the Viking probes landed on Mars, that a manned follow-up would be at most a couple of decades away. There's talk now about doing this sometime in the 2030s, but I suspect that by then our empire will have dissolved into regions devoting their limited energies toward trade and territorial skirmishes, and that the Chinese will have the appropriate honor of planting their flag on the Red Planet. 

And yet, and yet. For all Grover Norquist’s snark (now there's someone I wouldn't mind seeing drowned in a bathtub), I regard the present mission as a worthy expenditure of our per capita pennies, am moved by these preliminary panoramas from the surface, and look forward to several years of vivid images from the CCDs of this extraordinary robot. I have little patience with “American exceptionalism” and claims of US “greatness” (USA numbah one? Prison population; gun homicides among developed countries, and sundry other dishonorable metrics), but it should be observed to the credit of this savage former republic that while other countries or agglomerations of countries might have been capable of this feat, none have to date contrived to accomplish anything close to it. Much of what this country has done is a bloody stain on the record of the human species, but its program of planetary probes should be honored and emplaced as a starry tiara on the troubled brow of this jumped-up race of carnivorous, aggressive, highly territorial apes.*

*The image is intended to evoke Kubrick's 2001. Imagine how close to that vision we might have come had the treasure expended on the instruments and appurtenances of armed conflict and “defense” these past forty years been thrown instead toward the cosmos...