Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Poetry of My Own

Since I am so snarky about other people's written words, namely poetry, I thought I'd put my own rather feeble attempts on the perverbial chopping block. Most poetry I write, like most people, comes out of soured relationships but I will spare the two (close friends) who are kind enough to graze my site with their eyeballs. These are about the general absurdities of every(day) life.

small, white, lies
escape from my lips
like pearls
they come bouncing down to the floor.
rolling around on the ground
these meaningless fabrications
slide around my feet
making shinier
my lovelife or my carrer or my age
whatever particular insecurity
manifests instelf that day.
though i'll try not to step
on one of these small, cracked jewels
i know eventually one will get caught under my shoe.
i'll wind up on the floor
looking like a fool: my dress torn, my hell broken,
scrambling to get up, my mouth wide open.

on a porch one cold summer night
listening to stories
of your memories.
tales of people i don't know
history, so much, history.
names that signify something to you
but not to me
laughing on cue, sighing when need be, crying if you want me to.
above all - i am listening
to your past being glorifed, the present seems to terrify.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


I don't have television and not because I don't, sometimes, really crave a comfy night at home in front of the flickering blue lit box. I miss my "ER" and I would love to, occassionally, veg out in front of the pretty people who break up and make up and then break up and make up on "The OC". I'd like to have Jon Stewart deftly guide me through the new's of the world with humour and insight. However, I don't have the box and no overriding desire to go out and buy the box so my television viewing is severly limited. I'd like to think it's absence, generally, makes me a happier and saner person too.

However, I usually end up watching the television when I am at the gym because, god forbid, you just, you know, excersise. At my gym, Crunch, there are, at minimum, twenty televisions blaring and flickering as people run on treadmills whirling and stairmasters squeaking. The usual fare playing is, generally, MTV on one channel and CNN on another. At any time, you can look up and see "Laguna Beach" on one set and Lou Dobbs on the other reporting on "Broken Borders" and the "Disappearing Middle Class" or TRL Live on one set by a Headline News update on a soldier's death, just one more carnage filled scene of a roadside bomb in Iraq. Needless to say, it's a very, very odd mix of the frivilous and the fatal.

Last night, as I was doing my usual cardiovascular routine, feeling the "bbbuuuurrrnnn" in other words, when I looked up and caught a clip of the Cyclops, Dick Cheney, giving a one-eyed speech attacking the Democrats for questioning his rationale for going to war. He really is beginning to look more and more like that monster in Greek mythology who lived on an Island and, basically, terrorized citizens, with its rage and its one eye. It was really incredible to watch him give this speech, green bile coming out of one side of his mouth with his one squinty eye boring holes into the soul's of men. Everytime he speaks, I swear I see snakes and toads come slithering out of it but then I remember it's just the well-crafted lies that are handsomely cloaked in a rhetoric of rigtheousness and fear.

As the years pass, five to be exact since George Dubya Oedipus took office, the country seems to be living is some giant real-life, real-time version of The House of Atrius. Don't you wish someone would just hand Junior and Cyclops-Cheney a copy of a Sophocles play and tell them to read it? Their hurbris is so-over-the-top it almost seems like dramatic fiction. This Christmas lie to your children and tell them if they don't behave Dick Cheney will kill Santa and deliver coal to your door. The Cyclops would wholeheartedly approve of your manipulation; he knows sometimes you have to lie and terrorize to get children (and adults) to behave themselves.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Big Grinchin'

Another reason to hate Christmas -- Getting a job posting sent to you by well meaning friends that reads something like this:

"Macy's seeks adults ages 18-40 to play Christmas elves. Must be under 5'5 and love children."

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Soon, the airwaves will be filled with commercials for Macy's and Target instructing us (us, the American consumer) to get ready for the mooooost wonderful tiiiiiime of the yeeeaarrrr. The most wonderful time of the year for retail giants, like Wal-Mart and the like who are, now, predicting their fourth quarter earning profits, mouths-a-watering with forecasts of what the numbers for "Black Friday" might be. Cable news anchors, supremely coiffed hair moving nary an inch, will report if "consumer confidence" was up or down this year. Starbucks will sell gingerbread lattes and Bill O'Reilly will devote large segments of his informative, fair and balanced programming, to the widespread attack on Christmas.

Ahhh yes, when I see the giant Christmas tree go up in plainview at Rockerfeller Center and every major department store decorated like some sort of oversized Candy Land board I cannot help but think that Christmas is, clearly, doomed. Of course, anything Bill O'Reilly does or says at this point can be promptly filed under "parody". It really is too bad Saint Nick can't come crashing down upon his fat-head but, sadly, father Christmas is probably too busy being taken to court by those anti-Christmas meanies, the ACLU, and, heretoforth, is being prohibited from shimmying down any chimneys to deliver toys. Thank baby Jesus we have a serious man like, Fox news contributer, John Gibson to list the widespread attack on Christmas and the endless indignities so many Christians will, no doubt, face next month.

Don't believe Christmas is getting the shit kicked out of it? Read this, America:

Yes, Virginia, there is a war on Christmas. It’s the secularization of America’s favorite holiday and the ever-stronger push toward a neutered “holiday” season so that non-Christians won’t be even the slightest bit offended.
Traditionalists get upset when they’re told—more and more these days—that celebrating Christmas in any public way is a violation of church and state separation. That is certainly not what the founders intended when they wrote, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
John Gibson, a popular anchor for the Fox News Channel, has been digging up evidence about the liberal activists, lawyers, politicians, educators, and media people who are leading the war on Christmas. And he reveals that the situation is worse than you can imagine. For instance:

• In Illinois, state government workers were forbidden from saying the words “Merry Christmas” while at work
• In Rhode Island, local officials banned Christians from participating in a public project to decorate the lawn of City Hall
• A New Jersey school banned even instrumental versions of traditional Christmas carols
• Arizona school officials ruled it unconstitutional for a student to make any reference to the religious history of Christmas in a class project
Millions of Americans are starting to fight back against the secularist forces and against local officials who would rather surrender than be seen as politically incorrect. Gibson shows readers how they can help save Christmas from being twisted beyond recognition, with even the slightest reference to Jesus completely disappearing.
The annual debate will be hotter than ever in 2005, and this book will be perfect for everyone who’s pro-Christmas.

No one likes it when their friends forget their birthdays and all you atheists and jews beware: Jesus is gonna be mad when he comes back and finds out you were trying to shut down his birthday party. And, if the Jesus who comes back is anything like the one described in Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" books you are in for a major ass kicking: the son of God will take one look at you and your face will explode, then your blood will curdle and melt. I am not making this up, in fact, the books apparently go into gross detail about what happens to unbelievers after the rapture, and it sounds like a scene most fans of slasher and gore movies (you know, the ones that are sullying our nation's youths?) would die to see. In fact, the Left Behind series, with it's uplifting scenes of a thousand year war and an ultra-violent Jesus who lives not to forgive but to avenge might be the perfect gift to give this Christmas.

I know, I know, Jesus is the reason for the season but it doesn't hurt to buy, buy, buy too especially if it's from your local Mega-Corporate Christian Publishing house. I doubt Pat Robertson or Tim LaHaye would discourage their Christian flock from, say, shunning gifts altogether and just, you know, celebrating the birth of Christ with nothing but prayer, no presents, no chintzy decorations, no elaborate show, just simple remembrance and a deeply personal day of faith.

But, wait a second, that doesn't sound like Christmas!!?!?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

La Vie en Rose

I am one of those Americans that Henry James was talking about when he said "Good Americans, when they die, go to Paris." Luckily, I have already been to the City of Lights and, in fact, lived there for some time and, subsequently, have gone back to visit. The most time I spent there was as a jeune-fille au-pair before I started college. I lived with a real live French family that did eat two feet long baguettes every night and had cheese after every meal and I looked after their two enfants terribles, a boy and a girl. I had French friends, a French boyfriend, studied at the Alliance Francaise and, generally, had , the quintessential "Girl Abroad" experience. It was a memorable year and I left with a great love of France in all it's sophistication, and beauty, and, yes, in all of it's arrogance, too.

Now, even when I lived in la belle France over ten years ago (loathe as I am to admit I am actually old enough now to say things like "over ten years ago") there were signs that this was a culture in the midst of a major transition. I can remember hearing many of my French aquintances and some of my French friend's mutterring about "les arabs." "Les arabs" were to blame for everything from crime and unemployment; les arabs were to blame for someone being rude to you in the supermarket; "les arabs" were to blame for the coarsening of their society; the other, the uncivilized, "les arabs". Funny sentiments for a country that has, traditionally, prided itself on tolerance and, often, chided the United States on it's ugly history of rascism. Afterall, France was Josephine Baker's escape and Nina Simone's final resting place (not a surprising choice for a woman who sings about"Missippi Goddamn!!!"). My parents who lived in Paris from 1968 to 1971 recall that they were often asked by the French about the ugly spectre of American rascism.

Now, right-wing pundits in this country are already sneering and wagging their fingers and, gloating, that now the French have their own "muslim" problem. Don't listen to them. The fact is that after World War II, France had an economic resurgence for about thirty years, those years are called "Les trents glorious" (literally, translated to mean "Glorious Thirty"). In a nutshell, there were not enough workers in France during the Post-war boom years so the French solicited workers from their former colonies, namely Algeria. The French, by all accounts, were brutal in Algeria and most of the other North African countries where it planted its flag so, you can imagine, that there is already a legacy of resentment in these places towards their former rulers (read George Orwell's "Shooting the Elephant" about the insidiousness of colonialism or just look at the news footage of American troops in Iraq). Now, all these North African immigrants have moved to France to work, and when the work is there it's fine, but, eventually, the boom turns into a bust, and unemployment rises and suddenly there is a sizeable immigrant population. You know what comes next, right? The resentment sets in and the mainstream population begins to whisper "Get the fuck out" but...sorry, it's a little late for that.

By now, all of these immigrants have moved to France, started families, live in slums (les banlieus) outside of Paris, and are regarded with bitterness and distrust. Their kids are born into a country that, essentially, doesn't want them even as it claims to uphold the mantle of "liberte, egalite and fraternite." In short, you have a country with a naked case of xenophobia not unlike what we have here with Americans shouting about the illegals taking good jobs (or, shitty jobs that no American, quite rightly, wants to get paid $5 an hour for. Too bad we don't blame the greedy corporations and not the desperate workers but that's another blog entry).

The situation in France, as far as I can tell, is the burning, seething, anger that the children of these immigrants, born in France, feel toward their birth-country. The kids of the banlieus (the slums) are an uncomfortable hybrid; they don't feel French but are too western to feel Algerian or Morroccan. Now, it is naive and just plain dishonest to simply chalk this up to another case of "Islamic extremism" as if it were a virus that is airborne and not caused by other mitigating factors. Obviously there are other mitigating factors which I've just described - the legacy of colonialism, the politics of globalisation, the rise of fundamentalism, the failure of modernity, all of these get ignored, completely ignored, by the opinion-makers in our press, researchers in think-tanks, neo-cons and the like, who simply boil it down to "jihadism."

I wish it were that simple. Don't believe me? Check out some of these statistics:

Despite the large number of Arabs and Muslims living in France, there is not a single Arab or Muslim politician in the French parliament.

Or what about this? (A recap of what I described).

The only story that obtains here is that unrest began as a reaction to the suspicious deaths of two teenage boys who were fleeing the police yet had done nothing wrong; it intensified after a mosque was tear-gassed; and it has spread as Sarkozy has barked out veiled threats and insults. Further, eyewitnesses suggest that the police are deliberately provoking violence.The backdrop is not mysterious either. These kids are growing up in squalid banlieues, where their parents and grandparents were deposited upon arrival. Doug Ireland notes that they are in France largely due to state and industrial policy. During the 1950s and 60s, when France was experiencing an economic boom, a policy was initiated to recruit from the former colonies labourers for menial and factory work, because two successive wars had killed off much male labour power and lowered the birth rate. There was a similar policy in Britain: it was Enoch Powell, he who later drowned in rivers of his own froth, who encouraged residents of the Commonwealth to migrate to the United Kingdom and take up roles in the NHS. Generations of largely North African Arabs were abandoned to the banlieues, pushed to the bottom of every available pile, blamed for being there.

Now, I don't support the rash outbreak of violence. I certainly wouldn't want to come out of my house to see a masked teenager torching my Peugoet. However, I don't think human behavior or history for that matter can be neatly sliced up into little categories of "good" and "evil." I hardly think, Bill O'Reilly should bloviate about the French and their problems when we have so many of our own. Sorry, Bill Bennett but I don't think white, western, judeo-christian societies hold the moral highground in the world.

What's the solution? I don't know and I don't think anyone does, not anyone who is a nuanced thinker anyway, and that's the very scary reality of the world we live in right now. I guess you could say that this is a case of history repeating itself or as the French might say "la plus ca change, la plus ca reste la meme" (the more things change, the more they stay the same).

C'est la vie, non?

Friday, November 04, 2005

If you see something, say something.

We've all been there, right? In those public spaces, a mall or a supermarket browsing the aisles, when you notice a child severly misbehaving (because that's what children often do) and you see a parent smack or scream at their offspring in such a violent, uncontrolled, rage-filled manner that it leaves you slack-jawed. Mouth agape you wonder: what should I do? Should I say something? Should I call the police? Should I interfere? Sometimes there's another single, childless, adult in the supermarket with you who has seen this bit of domestic violence play itself out by the cereal boxes and you both catch each other's eye, all brows furrowing, wide-eyed, you silently acknowledge what you've just witnessed, reading each other's minds, both thinking: should I get involved in this shit or just grab my Grape Nuts and run?

I, sad to say, more often than not take the coward's way out. I walk by the parent who has just, visibly, lost it, glaring at them, passive-aggressively telegraphing that I do NOT approve of them pulling a Joan Crawford in the SuperFresh. But, I've seen too many incidences of people interferring in a parent-child moment and getting yelled at by the mother or father and being told, rightly or wrongly, to mind their own " goddamn fucking business." You could say I'm a little hesitant to get involved; afraid, I will get my ass kicked by this parent like their five year old just did.

This morning on the subway, a mother and daughter got on the 6 train going uptown, a very crowded rush-hour train. A good-natured passenger stood up and gave the child his seat and the mother pushed her daughter onto the plastic subway seat, a little more roughly than seemed... normal. Then the mother instead of protectively standing in front of her little munchkin, her baby, turned away and ignored the kid. I silently take stock of this scene because I am standing right next to this odd little family duo. I notice the other passengers have noticed that there is something slightly off about this little family. One other passenger, in particular, is rolling her eyes, and, passive-agressively staring at the mother in a way that I find all too familiar because I realize I am probably doing the same thing.

A few stops go by when the kid starts to yell "Mama, Mama, Mama" but, Mama, looks to be having some kind of minor breakdown and continues to ignore her child, covering her face with her arm, looking like she wants nothing more than to lay down and just give up.

The community on the train looks confused and the feeling that, obviously, prevails is: what should we do? I am spared the moral dillemma of "to get involved, or not to get involved" because the train has reached my stop and so I leave. I leave as most of us do, knowing we saw something that wasn't right, but didn't have the courage to say something, didn't have the time, couldn't because it was too inconvenient, or might get ugly and "really who am I to interfere?"

And, as I march to work, trying to shake off the image of this unremarkable but disturbing scene, I can't help but think of this Philip Larkin poem:

This Be the Verse
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn

By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Hmmm, Do I sense a theme here?

Suddenly, the Bush administration has a new raison d'etre: the bird flu. Now, I am hardly suggesting that this isn't a genuine threat and there was an excellent article a few months back in the New Yorker about the possible devastation that the avian flu could cause (this is fascinating but, apparently, most pandemic flu's originated on the Asian continent) if it spread worldwide.

However, it is hard, post-Iraq war, after being repeatedly lied to, and manipulated a la George Orwell's 1984, by this group of Thugs to believe anything they have to say. Everything seems like it's being manufactured and endlessly spun to distort, distract, and strike fear into the hearts of men.

Cockle-doddle-doo: Libby's nothing not when the sky's falling down or so says Commander Chicken-hawk-Little Chief.