Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton


The “Benign” Domestic Violence of Kid Rock’s “Joke”

Tuesday, March 29th

“And the Academy Award for Best Live Action Performance goes to Will Smith.” The supporting actor award goes to Kid Rock, who actually deserved a punch and not just a slap. On behalf of everyone who has ever endured being skewered under the guise of humor, I applaud Will Smith, and only wish that the entire audience had chanted: “Encore! Encore! Encore!” in order to drown out Will Smith’s “script suggestions” for Kid Rock’s next set of jokes: “Keep my wife’s name out of your fuckin’ mouth.” I do wish I could have seen this altercation take place in “actual time,” instead of learning about it after Linda and I finished driving home from Laurel Ann Bogen’s apartment in West Los Angeles, where we had watched the first hour and a half of the Oscar presentations with a half-dozen of the friends she had invited over to celebrate her birthday. Since we had wanted to avoid driving at night, we left before the most coveted awards were handed out, and it was 40 minutes before I could find out if I had predicted any of the remainder of the winners.

My first thought after viewing the footage online that evening is that it was too bad that no one in the camera control booth did not have the presence of mind to shift a camera toward Troy Kotsur; it would have only been fair to give the hearing challenged community a chance to have access to the uncensored words of Will Smith by giving them close-ups of the ASL translation of what Will Smith said, and then have had Kotsur’s reaction in ASL. Given Kid Rock’s willingness to mock a woman struggling with a disease that alters her physical appearance, it’s possible that the next joke he was going to tell was going to be aimed at Kotsur. Why not? Anyone and everyone is fair game when it comes to being a court jester. For all we know, Smith’s slap was a fortuitous intervention that altered Kid Rock’s planned set of jokes and thereby saved him from making a faux pas about the “deaf” community that would have drawn a laser beam of fury from the disability rights community.

In any case, I am struck by how everyone in the next 24 hours piled on Smith for his “toxic masculinity,” decrying his act of violence with a salivating righteousness. Excuse me, but let’s shift the joke to another scene. Let’s imagine that Smith’s marriage wasn’t doing so well, and just before leaving for the Oscars in a limousine, the driver overhears Smith saying the same exact line to his spouse. Are you telling me that that “joke” wouldn’t be categorized as “emotional violence” when testimony is given at the divorce trial? Do you not think that journalists would be all over Smith in the aftermath of that trial, and that the late-night comedians would not be making jokes about his plight in which the barb he directed at his spouse was then turned against him?

So let’s call it for what it is: Kid Rock’s “joke” is the equivalent of misogynistic domestic violence that wanted to get away with any responsibility for the pain it inflicted by imposing it from a public stage, with an audience in the tens of millions.

Does Will Smith need “anger management”? Yes. Do Kid Rock and all his acolytes need to reexamine their complicity in fostering a toxic environment of comic entitlement? An equally emphatic yes. Kid Rock is just another bully on an adult playground, in another corner of which stands Donald Trump. If only Hillary Clinton had turned around during her debates with him and slapped him just as hard when he was stalking her.

And then slapped him a second time just to show that it wasn’t sloppy impulse, but long overdue retribution for all his transgressions.


In terms of expanding the discussion of this incident, here is an alternative commentary by Monica Hesse, “The misguided chivalry of Will Smith.”
“The memorable image from Sunday’s Oscars will be Will Smith hitting Chris Rock. The memorable image should be Jada Pinkett Smith in her emerald-colored gown, keeping her fingers crossed and her hands to herself.”



Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says Will Smith ‘perpetuated stereotypes about the Black community’ by slapping Chris Rock at Oscars

David Artavia (Tuesday, March 29, 2022, 7:55 AM)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s commentary is hard to disagree with, except that he says it was “a benign joke.” It was NOT a benign joke, and anyone who thinks it was does not comprehend what it means to be targeted by a bully. Why don’t we take a poll — and guess what? Only people so scarred by bullying that they never had children out of fear that they would have to endure the same experience get to vote on whether it was a benign joke. If that poll reports that the substantial majority of such people say that it was a benign joke, then I’ll retract my words. But not until then.

AND (highly recommended)

‘There Are No Heroes in This Story’: A Conversation between Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Roxane Gay, Charles Blow, and Esau McCaulley
(This is the best article I have read so far.)



MARC MARON: “I guarantee you Chris didn’t know she had alopecia. I guarantee you that Chris was handed a paper with a bunch of jokes by the writers… He had a writer, probably, for the awards show. He said: ‘I want to take some shots when I go out. What do you got?’ He saw a bunch of jokes and these were the ones he was carrying into his head when he went on stage.”

Apparently, Marc Maron believes that Kid Rock has no responsibility whatsoever to “vet” his jokes. It’s called “prep time,” Mr. Maron, and if a comedian doesn’t want to risk repercussions, then that comedian had better put in the time to vet the jokes. The sad part of Kid Rock’s failure to do a careful review of his prime time jokes is that he no doubt believes that a brief verbal apology the next day would have sufficed to cancel his lapse. Only if Kid Rock was willing to accept a punishment for his carelessness equal to that which is going to be imposed on Will Smith would I say that Kid Rock comprehends the gravity of his offense. It’s not just the the domestic violence of the joke that I find abominable. It’s the sloppiness with which Kid Rock toys with other people’s lives.

Autobiography Books Ground Level Conditions Poetry Presidental Election

A New Year’s Sketch

January 1, 2017

I have only a little time this morning to jot a few quick notes, for Linda and I are heading to Ramona, California to visit her sisters and their families. We saw Anita and her grandson Brayden on the day after Christmas in Thousand Oaks, at Sharon Cleary’s home, but we haven’t seen Pam and Earl and her family in quite some time, and we are looking forward to the visit. I must admit that I feel nervous about the trip. My extended family has been involved in two serious automobile accidents in the past month, neither of which was their fault in any way. My mother handed in her driving license, at age 92, of her own volition and without any prompting whatsoever, because she said that she’d never been in any accidents during 70 years of driving and wanted to keep that perfect record. I doubt that many people in urban areas these days will be able to make the same claim at the end of this century.

I have a particularly challenging year awaiting my immediate attention: if I am up at 6:00 and writing my entry to this blog, it is because there is a long list of things to do to assist in my mother’s care. At this point, I am the one with power of attorney for a 95 year old woman. Each and every day there is some detail or a distinct errand to bear down on. Sometimes it is only a matter of luck that things get resolved. I was at my mother’s home branch of her bank in Imperial Beach this past Wednesday, and in talking with Ms. Hernandez I found out about a certain financial procedure, which two days later someone at my local branch of the bank in Long Beach said couldn’t be done. I suggested she call Ms. Hernandez, and the issue got resolved, but if I hadn’t visited my mother’s branch of the bank (over 100 miles from where I live) on Wednesday, I would have been out of luck in a very crucial matter on Friday.

I will be meeting with my brothers, Jim and John, later today to talk about my mother’s situation and what she can afford in terms of assisted care living. One other brother and two sisters are either cut off from the family or live elsewhere. There is a chance tomorrow that I will have a day without having to manage as aspect of my mother’s life. I have packed a couple of books to take with me, if that proves to be the case. One of them is James M. Cain’s Serenade, a novel about a down-and-outer in Mexico whose view of that nation and its citizens makes Donald Trump’s tweets seem diplomatically astute. I’ve long been a fan of Malcolm Lowery’s Under the Volcano; and Cain’s book in its own way is as equally well written. On a technical level, the control of tone and the rhythm of his sentence is masterful. Whether you want the narrator’s company for 200 pages is another matter. He certainly wins the Ancient Mariner award in my recent reading.

I hope to post reviews and commentary on several poets in the upcoming weeks, including Charles Harper Webb (in part three of a series on his editing and writing), Michael Hannon, and Kevin Opstedal. Opstedal’s collection of poems, Pacific Standard Time, is probably my favorite book of poems right now. I recommend that everyone get a copy of it right now and spend the first week of 2017 strengthening one’s imagination through an encounter with a poet who will enable you to alter the reality proposed by politicians and their compliant bureaucrats.

Finally, while we seek each other’s comfort in the struggles ahead, let us not forget that the divisions within this country are viewed as opportunities by nefarious individuals for their private profit. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3,000,000 votes. I had predicted a margin of almost 5,000,000 votes, so I was off considerably, but nevertheless this was not a close election, especially considering the Russian interference and complementary activism by agents within the Federal Bureau of Investigation. More people believed that Clinton was qualified to be President than Trump. That President-Elect Trump wants us to “move on with our lives” is a bit ridiculous, given his insistence on the need to investigate Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server.

Of the many concerns we should have about Trump, not least is his policy on nuclear weapons. That these weapons are intended to kill non-combatants, and in particular women and children, makes them immoral and evil beyond the reprehensible scale of ordinary war. If Trump does not care to remember what his advocacy of an increased number of these weapons means in regards to his moral well-being, then we will need to remind him in no uncertain terms that it is time for a reckoning with his conscience that cannot be tweeted away.

Ground Level Conditions Presidental Election

The No Handshake Honeymoon of the 45th Presidency

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Art Theater on Fourth Street in Long Beach graciously hosted a screening of the second debate on Sunday evening, and the theater was about two-thirds full. It was much more enjoyable, but also more sobering to watch the encounter on a big screen. Trump’s inordinate pacing around and his hint of physically stalking Clinton stirred up a palpable sense of discomfort in the audience, and it was reassuring to realize that I was not imagining Trump’s imperiousness.

We knew as we took our seats that it was not going to be a pleasant evening, and the event began with unusual awkwardness. The candidates came out on stage. Hillary nodded as they were about eight feet apart, and Trump then pivoted, and did a little skip step to move more center stage, which only made their refusal to greet each other formally more comic. There was considerable laughter at the theater, confirming my decision about the advantage of watching it with a larger community.

In commentary published after the debate, Chris Cillizza bewailed the lack of a handshake between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as they commenced their second debate. “Maybe I am old-fashioned. But I thought it was tremendously depressing that Trump and Clinton couldn’t bring themselves to shake hands at the start of the debate.”

Call it an adumbration of the 45th Presidency of the United States: the no-handshake honeymoon. Why make a pretense of it? When Hillary takes office on January 20th, she’ll know what Barack Obama should have realized eight years ago: The GOP will do everything in its power to undermine her policies. Bi-partisanship is a bad joke at this point, and to expect anyone to act otherwise is being unrealistic.

Truly, Mr. Cillizza, why would you shake hands with someone who says that if he is elected, he will appoint a special prosecutor with the goal of sending you to prison? This is not a policy disagreement. This is a reprehensible fantasy of personal vindictiveness. The outrageous part is the larger context: how many bank officials have gone to prison after bankrupting the nation? The economy completely collapsed at the end of the Bush administration, and only the willingness of taxpayers to bear the burdens of redeeming this catastrophe saved the status quo. Bush and Cheney lied and started an unnecessary war, and yet no prosecution ensued. Does Trump want a special prosecutor to investigate Chris Christie for Bridgegate?

Let’s be blunt in reminding ourselves what we heard during the second debate. Trump called Hillary Clinton “the Devil” and said that she has “tremendous hatred in her heart.” The lack of a handshake is not depressing. It’s just common sense to keep your distance from someone who wishes you ill.

Post-script (Monday, mid-day): I am hardly the only one who is noticing that Hillary Clinton is preparing for a different kind of “First 100 days.” “The campaign against Trump seems to have deepened a trait of (Hillary) Clinton’s: a pessimism about the possibility of political persuasion.”

Ground Level Conditions Presidental Election

The “Stamina” Gap between Hillary Clinton and the American Worker

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The “Stamina” Gap between Hillary Clinton and the American Worker

Donald Trump has raised the question of the “presidential look” of Hillary Clinton. What he means by this is unadulterated sexist bullshit. Hillary is not a male; therefore, she is not “presidential.” Of course, even Mr. Trump knows the counterproductive limits of that crude dismissal, so of course he turns his attention to a claim that Hillary Clinton lacks stamina.

Her response in the first debate was defined within her personal capacity to serve as a public official with a very demanding schedule. Since she is the candidate under scrutiny, one could understand her inclination to keep the parameters individual; but in stopping there, and in only talking about her personal stamina, she missed an opportunity to diffuse the critique that Hillary Clinton’s campaign to be President is “all about me,” as if it were a referendum on her self-worth and how much she has endured in order to be a famous feminist.

If she is faced with the question of stamina again, she would be well advised to turn the discussion to the stamina of American working people, for it is we who deserve praise for our resilience. Privileged people such as Donald Trump, who had wealth handed to them as start-up entrepreneurs, have no idea of how much stamina is needed to endure a tax system in which real estate manipulation provides people such as Trump a domestic tax haven that is nothing short of scandalous. Trump is clueless as to what is entailed in trying to survive on unemployment benefits, or the psychological toll exacted on marriages in which one of the spouses becomes long-term unemployed?

If Trump is popular amongst some portions of the American electorate, it is in no part due to the exhaustion of American workers. Even those with immense stamina are not indefatigable, and I fear that the numbness of economic exhaustion has brought about a “thousand yard stare” – the look that soldiers get when they cannot take another step or even hear another order. Too many workers have been asked to do too much for too little reward for too long. The result is that any fast-talking con artist who comes along with jingoist promises has a good chance of securing their vote.

Clinton needs to address the needs of these workers with more than promises of job training. What are her plans, for instance, for the millions of truck drivers who will be unemployed after self-driving trucks merge onto the freeways of commerce? And what about the thousands upon thousands of people (especially in the Baby Boomer generation) who have never found any employment in the aftermath of the Great Recession?

It is not Hillary Clinton’s stamina that needs to be discussed, but the extraordinary capacity of American workers to do more than should be expected of them and to wake up the next morning and do it again. A temperament of self-discipline and willingness to consider the needs of others is at the heart of one’s capacity to endure and renew a community’s sense of shared prosperity. Without that sense of social stamina, the non-stop onslaught of social presentations by politicians is just a circus side-show. It is our stamina as working people that deserves to be touted, and then made the center of attention in every policy decision.

Baseball Poetry Presidental Election

Danny DeVito’s “THE RATINGS GAME” and the October Surprise Debate

Sunday, October 2, 2016

“THE RATINGS GAME” – Danny DeVito’s Minor Masterpiece and the Donald Trump Surprise Debate of October 25

One of my colleagues at CSULB, Charles Webb, has written a score of poems that seem likely to become pedagogical models of “Stand Up Poetry,” a mode he has promoted in several influential anthologies. Webb, however, is not the person who coined the term. Inspired by the title of Edward Field’s collection of poem, “Stand Up, Friend, With Me,” Gerald Locklin and Charles Stetler applied the term to a post-Beat, “reader-friendly” kind of poem that emphasized humor and popular culture. Among Webb’s best known poems is a paean to “low culture” art in which Webb bemoans (in a straight man fashion) his inability to recall the important signifiers of canonical literature and culture, and instead cackles with self-satisfied pleasure as he recalls the art that truly matters to him, which features nothing other than low, gross humor. On the surface, Webb’s rhetoric is beguiling; upon re-reading, one discovers its flaw in leaning too heavily on inductive logic. Nevertheless, it is a charming example of Webb at his best.

The narrator of Webb’s poem is a fringe-niche consumer of mass industrial culture. His protestations of a preference for low culture are dourly undermined by his acknowledgement of the social expectations of his imagined persona as a cultivated individual. While analysis of Webb’s poem calls for taking this ambiguous tension into consideration, the allegiance to low culture that the poem accentuates is at the heart of any media-based target audience. As ripe as that subject might be for comic display within popular culture, few efforts have been truly successful. One exception is Danny DeVito’s “The Ratings Game,” which came out in 1984. It is a minor masterpiece in its satire of corporate culture’s manipulation of the status quo.

The protagonist of “The Ratings Game” is an amateur auteur in the fullest sense of the term. Vic DeSalvo, played by Danny DeVito in his first directorial effort, is a successful businessman who yearns for cultural status, but is rebuffed by the Hollywood crowd. Undeterred by his initial failures, DeSalvo manages to get his cartoon show a slot on a nationally syndicated broadcast schedule. I haven’t seen this movie, which was a cable television project, for over 30 years, and yet I recall with a smile on my face — as wide as that of Webb’s narrator — the moment in which Established Power smirks at Underlings: “Congratulations,” the network executive says to DeSalvo, “your show will premiere on October 10, (pause) the first night of the World Series.”

To put it mildly, DeSalvo knows he is doomed. With bottomed-out ratings, his show will not likely make it to the second month, let alone a second season. DeSalvo won’t give up without a fight, however, especially after his fiancé, Francine (played by Rhea Pearlman), reveals how “ratings” are actually determined. As the victim of sexist politics in the office, she has no qualms about getting revenge, and they set about plotting to humble a system stacked against them.

I mention “The Ratings Game” (which has finally been released on DVD) because the current schedule of debates between presidential candidates includes an evening featuring the alternative choices of Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. The Free and Equal Commission has organized a debate to which all prominent candidates have been invited. The likelihood of Trump and Clinton both showing up for this debate and thereby according minor party candidates an appearance of being on an equal footing is about the same odds as the Chicago Cubs asking me to pitch the first game of the upcoming playoffs.

However, as I wrote this post, Trump’s habitually asymmetrical strategy gave me pause: might not Trump show up? It would be a couple of hours of free publicity in which he could harangue Jill Stein as the “real” Hillary Clinton, the “alternative” who represents the socialist agenda that lurks behind Clinton’s policy-driven campaign. Next to Johnson, of course, Trump would seem like a foreign policy maven, a wonk ne plus ultra. What’s to lose? Well, I suppose that Fox Sports would resent any distraction from one of its crown jewels, but the White House is at stake, and that requires sacrifices from all interested parties, doesn’t it?

By now, of course, you’ve guessed what Trump’s misfortune would be in choosing this “alternative” debate as a surprise outlet for his fulminations. Yes, this debate is scheduled for the first night of the 2016 World Series (October 25). Good luck, Ms. Stein. I can’t wait to see the Cubs finally begin to break the longest drought in American sports.

Ecology Ground Level Conditions Presidental Election

The Governance of Drought

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Governance of Drought: California, the Illusion of Plenitude, and the Presidential Election

The University of California, Davis maintains a website on which one can track the levels of water in California’s reservoir system. You can reach the most pertinent graph by scrolling down and noticing a rectangle on the right hand side marked “Reservoir Conditions.”


To say the portion of each reservoir’s rectangle that was filled in with blue was on the low side, back in February, 2016, is to understate the emergency that California faced after five years of harrowing drought. February itself had not brought predicted rains; instead, record heat had punished Southern California, and it appeared as if further rationing might be in store. For the record, here are reservoir levels on February 18: Shasta was only at 57% of capacity; Lake Oroville at 49 percent of capacity; Folsom at 64 percent of capacity, and Trinity at 33% of capacity. These levels, as a whole, were a full 25 percent below the historical average.

Fortunately, March brought enough substantial rainfall that the reservoirs returned to adequate levels to draw upon during this summer. The aquifers of the Central Valley, however, remain seriously depleted, and complete recovery is unlikely at any time in the foreseeable future. As is well known, the reservoirs depend to a great extent not upon direct rainfall, but upon the flow of water from snowmelt in the mountains. It wasn’t until the first couple days of May, therefore, that the largest reservoirs topped off at the highest levels in quite some time:
Shasta Reservoir was at 93 percent of capacity;
Lake Oroville was at 96 percent of capacity;
Folsom Lake was at 86 percent of capacity;
Trinity Lake was at only 58 percent of capacity, however.

In the three and a half months since that high water mark, these four reservoirs have been drained at a fairly steady rate. As of midnight, August 15, here are the capacity levels of the above quartet:
Shasta: 73%
Lake Oroville – 58%
Folsom Lake – 39%
Trinity – 45%

As one can see, Lake Oroville has had its contents put to work at a rate that bespeaks an unwarranted confidence in the winter to come; or should I say, the winters to come. It is unlikely that the storms we will have this coming winter will be even half as generous as the past winter. How is it then that Lake Oroville can plummet with so little concern about replenishment?

(I would insert an “update” note into this post, at 2:41 p.m. The Los Angeles Times, about a half-hour after I posted this blog entry, published an article by Matt Stevens about the lifting of water restrictions: http://fw.to/mh5PFyZ)

I would note that a trio of much smaller reservoirs further south along the Sierra Nevada, and more directly in line with the Central Valley’s pipelines, remains at more or less the same levels as they achieved in late spring, so obviously they are being held in reserve, should the ferocity of the drought prove to be planning a counter-attack on this illusion of plenitude during the coming winter.

In devouring the water at Lake Oroville this summer, one wonders if the people in charge realize that we still have at least two and a half months to go before we get the first storms of the 2016-2017 rainy season. That is, of course, if such storms actually show up. The past five years might be simply a foretaste of a challenging century in this nation’s most populous state.

One question relevant to the current presidential campaign involves these reservoirs, in fact. Hillary Clinton has spoken of an unprecedented investment in the nation’s infrastructure. Water is the crucial component of the Western half of the United States, and if Clinton wants to increase confidence in her ability to manage the coming water crisis, then it would behoove her to post some specific agenda plans on her website. I understand why it is unlikely that she (or VP nominee Kaine) will campaign much in person in California. That does not excuse not having already met with Governor Brown and other governors of the Western states and not having that dialogue’s outcome posted for public comment.

This leads me to today’s suggestion. What is needed at this point is not more debates between the presidential candidates, but a public meeting, at least three hours in length, at which each presidential candidate is in charge of a group of governors (no less than three, no more than five) discussing a major environmental issue and the direction that regulations should move in. It is time for the water levels of the reservoirs that are on display at the UC Davis website to stop being treated like polls of candidate preferences. First up, and then down, and let’s hope they rise again. Let the reality of ground level conditions be addressed in a thoughtful manner by those who aspire to determine the quality of our lives and of the environments we leave to our progeny. No more vague proposals about infrastructure, in other words!

Though I doubt that my suggestion will be enacted, I would suggest that if such a publicly broadcast meeting did take place, people would see that Hillary Clinton is the most qualified presidential candidate to be at a conference table in a meeting with oil company executives who want to increase fracking, alongside environmental representatives who are sitting to the other side of Governor Brown’s elbow. This is a dialogue, based on a grasp of ecological imperatives and acquisitive economics, that the American people deserve to hear. Please, we don’t need more rallies and fund raisers, but instead deserve the chance to see actual portrayals of governance. Yes, it would be make-believe, but no more make-believe than the promises we are asked to endorse with our votes.

Contemporary Fiction Poetry

On the Fiction and Poetry of Marge Piercy

Sunday, August 14, 2016

When the Insight of the Theme Is Less than the Sum of the Sentences: Marge Piercy and the Need to Write Less (and Better)

I first read Marge Piercy’s poems back in 1969, when I bought a copy of Breaking Camp at the UCLA Bookstore. Piercy was much younger than Philip Levine, whose Not This Pig had also been published by Wesleyan University Press the year before. I had purchased Levine’s book in large part because Glover Davis, his former student, had brought Levine to San Diego State to give a reading. It’s possible that Piercy’s book caught my attention because she, too, was born in Detroit and emphasized working-class themes of a struggle to keep one’s imagination intact in the face of numbing labor. In truth, though, despite the fact that I have been intermittently reading her poetry ever since, I have to confess that I would be hard pressed to name a specific poem of hers that I admire. I still buy her books, though, because there is something I admire about her gritty persistence. She is better known as a novelist than as a poet, though, so I will start with that portion of her body of writing.

I find myself writing about Piercy today because I have given myself a couple of hours of respite from the travail of assisting my 94 year old mother as she slips into dementia, and decided to work on my bookshelves, which are more chaotically organized than ever. One of the books I pulled off was Sex Wars: A Novel of Gilded Age New York, which was published in the middle of the last decade. Perhaps the coinciding hand of historical events guided my hand to the shelf with that book, for one of its primary characters is Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Woodhull faced an overwhelming number of obstacles in converting her candidacy into an electoral victory, not the least of which was her inability to vote for herself, since suffrage for women was still decades in the offing.

I wish I could say that Sex Wars is worth reading, but as I browsed its paragraphs, I recollected that I had had a similar problem with other novels by Piercy that I have looked at in the past. Her sentences, as sentences, are just not very interesting. I suppose it is the case that many readers don’t care about the quality of a writer’s sentences, but I fear that remaining silent in the face of mediocrity carries more of a penalty than I want to be held accountable for. I have no doubt that her readership will call me a male chauvinist snob and an academic elitist, but before any of the readers of this blog join in their assessment, I ask merely one question: why is it that I have no hesitation in calling P.D. James a major novelist of the 20th century? My indifference to Piercy’s writing is not an issue of the gender of the author. P.D. James writes marvelous sentences, one after another, and the cadences of her narratives are alluring and ooze wisdom and wit. I am not worthy to touch the ribbon of her typewriter. In the limited time I have on this planet, I want to spend as much of it as possible reading only work that has earned my attention to every syllable. It’s all in the coil and recoil of one’s sentences, and I do not want to settle for anything less. Nor am I alone in this. In saying all this, I do want to add that it gives no pleasure to write such a grouchy critique. But what can one do when what I call the Charles Dickens’ Syndrome is so actively sedating the very consciousness that imaginative sentences are meant to revivify?

Perhaps, of course, Piercy does not care whether she is remembered as a writer. She has had a career as a prolific writer, and she has continued to publish poetry as well as fiction. If she is satisfied, then I congratulate her on a life that has fulfilled her original impetus. Some of her best writing, in fact, in her most recent book of poetry, Made in Detroit, is about those days as a youthful writer. “Why did the palace of excess have cockroaches?” is a fine haibun in which youthful folly is mocked with rueful, disenchanted nostalgia, and “My Time in Better Dresses” decants the bittersweet discrepancies that branded one’s self-awareness from the days of one’s first job. On the whole, though, there are just too many poems with predictable or unsatisfying outcomes.

In thinking of Piercy’s writing, I suppose one might remember the distinction visual artists make between painters and illustrators, with the latter category not being particularly admired. Piercy does seem more like an illustrator, though when she is at her best, it is well done. In fact, better than well done. As a counterbalance, therefore, to the dismay I have reluctantly shared in today’s blog, I would like to end with the first stanza of “The Late Year,” in which the image lingers long after the words are read. To do that even once in a writer’s life is no small accomplishment. Piercy has done it more than once, of course. I just wish she had reached this level with more consistency.

I like Rosh Hashanah late,
when the leaves are half-burnt,
umber and scarlet, when sunset
marks the horizon with slow fire
and the black silhouettes
of migrating birds perch
on the wires davening.
(from “The Late Year”; Made in Detroit, page 93)

This is not as skillful or well rendered as Sylvia Plath’s “Black Rook in Rainy Weather” or Thomas Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush,” but it’s a like a small oil painting over in a quiet corner of a museum. I am grateful for the nearby chair and for the fact that the room is empty except for me. Maybe it doesn’t take my breath away, but it reminds me to breathe more slowly, and to be grateful for that breath. The rest of the poem is worth reading, too, and it will more than repay the time it took for you to find it.

(I wish to thank Bird & Beckett bookstore in San Francisco for having Piercy’s MADE IN DETROIT for sale on their shelves. It is always a pleasure to support such an enterprise.)

Ground Level Conditions Presidental Election

The President-Elect and the Inflationary Crisis of 2018

Saturday, August 6, 2016


The presidential election dial has been set to the volume level of “monotony,” and it is only early August. The thought of having to endure another three months of political posturing is more than cruel and unusual punishment. Does anyone really need a debate at this point between Trump and Clinton? During the GOP primary debates, the entire nation saw how Trump treated political opponents, and most of the nation should be able to vouch for how well Hillary Clinton held her own in debating Barack Obama, who has gone on to become a fairly popular president. Is anything to be gained from Trump’s attempt to impose a vitriolic conversation onto prime time?

My anguish is genuine. This election seems like an animal afflicted with a terminal disease. Please, I beg of the electorate, euthanize this election’s interminable, pointless campaigning. Hold the vote now. Declare a state of national emergency in which everyone gets two days off. On the first day, everyone should sit down and think about their vote, and then the next day vote.

With sanity restored, those who voted for Clinton can quietly celebrate and those who preferred someone else (which is, in fact, the majority of people who regard themselves as Republicans) can begin to figure out how to move forward from here. For the most part, in fact, the “historical” aspect of Clinton’s election will soon fade from the public sphere, and will primarily surface within the more private, domestic evolution of feminist history as it continues to affect the Millennials and their daughters and sons.

In electing a proud policy wonk, in fact, let’s cut to the chase. President-elect Hillary Clinton will face an unusual situation: she will be the first Democrat to be elected President in the past sixty years to have a fairly good economy in place on her inauguration day. Note that I didn’t say it was a “solid” or “vibrant” economy, but compare the economy of the past four years with the following Presidential terms:

1972-1976 – Presidents Nixon and Ford — Does no one except me and academic economists remember the WIN buttons of 1975? “Whip Inflation Now.” The recession of 1974 was the first economic punch in the gut of young baby boomers, and little did we realize how harder future punches were too get.

1980 – 1988 – The Recession of 1982 ended up with unemployment topping 12 percent. If anyone doubts that Reagan was born with a golden voice and an ability to make any critic look unpatriotic, then consider how easily he won reelection with a dismal economy squeezing every working person’s kitchen table. The savings and loan crisis in 1987-1988 just about torpedoed his vice-president’s candidacy, but negative campaigning won the day for the first President Bush.

1988-1992 – The first Bush presidency ended with an economy that was reeling so badly that Bill Clinton should have won much more handily than he did.

2000-2008 – When the second President Bush left office, he would have been thrilled if the economy of the country had only been as dismal as it was back in 1992, under his father’s administration.

All of this is to say that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all took office when the nation had experienced some degree of recession in the previous four years, ranging from a significant economic contraction to one so grave that it verged on catastrophe for the wealthy, and was an outright catastrophe for working people.

In contrast, President-elect Hillary Clinton will be called upon to manage a different kind of crisis, and I am puzzled as to why no one has yet brought this up. Jimmy Carter ended up serving as President for only one term in large part because the rampant inflation of the late 1970s was even more debilitating than the recession under President Ford. How will Hillary Clinton manage to help workers, whose wages have long been held down, gain a greater share of economic prosperity without initiating another round of inflation? In answering that question, she will need to remember the consequences of inflation on the baby boomer generation, a huge swath of which will be in peril of seeing their retirement years sink into the morass of ignominious poverty. Pay raises for working people are long overdue, but if the minimum age becomes $15 an hour, how will those on the fixed incomes of social security ever survive the inevitable inflation to follow?

These are questions that President-Elect Hillary Clinton needs to answer as soon as possible, if she wants to overcome the distrust that many people have of her, including those who intend to vote for her. I await her immediate response.

Ground Level Conditions Presidental Election

THE EVE OF NEO-DESTRUCTION: Bernie Sanders as Commander-in-Chief and the DARPA Budget of 2017-2021

February 16, 2016

THE EVE OF NEO-DESTRUCTION: Bernie Sanders as Commander-in-Chief and the DARPA Budget of 2017-2021

I remember leading a class discussion at UCSD’s Revelle College when the “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq commenced. It was difficult to stay on the subject; students were uneasy about going to war, but one young man confidently told his peers, “Don’t worry. This won’t be another Vietnam.” Over a dozen years later, with torture and murder still rampant both within the borders of Iraq, and in the adjacent region controlled by ISIS, the comparison with Vietnam is hardly adequate. American military power, deceived by its own flagrant capacities to put technology on display, is floundering yet again in another pathetic political debacle. It is not those who serve who lack resolve, integrity, courage, and commitment. Rather, it is those whose orders come from civilian quarters who lack the necessary virtues.

In the aftermath of criminal decision by the commander-in-chief at that time to launch an invasion of Iraq, U.S. soldiers, serving in good faith, have now been assigned the task of trying to stabilize a massive region in which a radical religious insurrection against modernity has taken permanent hold. How they will ever be able to return and reintegrate into civilian society is a question that neither Hillary Clinton, who voted to authorize that war, nor any of the Republican candidates in 2016 are ready to answer. For that matter, President Obama has no answer, either. Anyone who thinks they’ll find the answer in his Presidential Library is wasting her or his time. The saddest commentary on all this is that Bernie Sanders has no substantial answer to this question, either.

One question that no candidate, including Bernie Sanders, is willing to address in a radical manner involves the predicament of a nation that spends eight times as much as the next eight nations combined on budget expenditures for military hardware and software. Citing this fact, as Sanders has done in debates and speeches, is not in itself a critique. What is needed is an explanation for this perversion. This massive investment budget for the Pentagon and the CIA is at a ridiculous level because fewer and fewer Americans are willing to become soldiers. There is a direct ideological road between the elimination of military conscription and the use of drones to conduct long-distance murder. America had a choice in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the nation gave in to a technological addiction as the only possible alternative to maintaining a huge standing army.

The enormity of this transformation has yet to be raised in the presidential debates, though the issue of women registering for the draft was briefly noted in one recent forum. Whether any candidate, including Bernie Sanders, is even slightly aware of the full implications of this tidal shift is doubtful. At some point, though, the United States must address the disparity between the military service required of the earliest wave of the Baby Boom generation and the current laissez-faire of bodily procurement for posthumous military rites.

Let us dig back briefly into the culture of a half-century ago. In Called to Serve, a book written in the late 1960s that explains military service to young men, the claim is made that four out of five young men will serve in the military. In the decades since, a complete inversion has taken place. In contrasting proportion, I would be willing to bet that, in 2016, four out of every five young men between the ages of 18 and 25 have had no personal contact that amounts to even casual friendship with a person their age who has served in the military. The consanguinity of “duty, honor, country” is an even smaller percentage. In other words, there are very few people who would ever feel a tug to visit a war memorial for the Veterans of Endless War (which begins with the first Gulf War).

Of course, who can blame young people for not wanting to be in the military? Why should anyone endanger one’s life on behalf of corporate culture and the off-shore parking of profits? The malfeasance of global capital acknowledges no ethical boundaries. (FOOTNOTE: With enthusiasm to endure military discipline on behalf of the world’s “one percent” at a profound low, it comes as no surprise that professional sports teams allow displays of patriotic pageantry because the Pentagon pays them for the “air time.” The defense of the country has become simply another item in the advertising retinue of Endless Marketing.) Given this predicament of youthful cynicism about military service, the only way that the United States can retain its primacy on the planet is through a technological agenda that oozes delusional sweat through every pore of its full-metal paranoia. If anyone thinks that Bernie Sanders’s call for a political revolution is going to change this, please pause for a moment and consider the morning of January 27, 2017. A week after being formally inaugurated, President Sanders will be given his first, full top-secret briefing of DARPA’s drawing boards (DARPA is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Trust me on this: the frisson that Sanders will feel on being a glimpse of the robotic deployment of laser-guided weaponry will be enough to justify Sander’s willingness to endorse an increase in DARPA’s budget. The man who was a conscientious objector when the draft called his name in the early years of the Vietnam War will not hesitate to endorse a new generation of weapons systems that are intended to vaporize civilians even more efficiently than at Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and certainly more efficiently than at Dresden.

Bernie Sanders has called for a political revolution that takes our country back from the billionaires. That is a paltry first step, and wholly inadequate. In his current campaign for President, Sanders has not emphatically proposed and reiterated anything that addresses the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. As a member of the House of Representatives and as a Senator in recent years, Sanders has in fact pulled the hardest at bringing the world back from the brink of WMD obliteration that it seemed to be moving away from by the early 1990s. However, in his on-going campaign, I do not hear a truly progressive call for a reduction in nuclear weapons or a call for semi-annual global conferences that would concentrate on this threat to the entire planet. Let us remember that there are scientists and engineers who are hard at work, at the very moment you are reading these words, developing weapons that would result in the curtain call of the Anthropocene. I realize that in and of itself, that would not necessarily be an unfair penalty for the perpetrators. The tragedy is that it would probably take every other mammal with it.

War’s prevalence is too negligible an issue in Sanders’s primary talking points. In making a choice between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate for President in 2008, the key factor that determined my vote was the war in Iraq. Who voted for it? Who voted against it? I knew in my gut that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, and I would have been willing to bet my life on it. Unfortunately, there was no way to make that wager and have history change on the outcome. So the question in 2008 was: who had been willing to stand up against the war’s progenitors? Who defied Bush and Cheney and did not give consent to this war? Clinton was terrified that she would be portrayed in some future political campaign as too soft on terrorists to qualify as a commander-in-chief. Obama didn’t flinch: he said no to that war. Because Clinton did not have the courage to speak up against the war, I voted for her opponent.

One might think that the same distinction between Sanders and Clinton eight years later would be the deciding factor in my upcoming vote. Because of his unwillingness to engage in a critique of military power akin to his economic manifesto, however, Sanders has far from earned my vote. Let us remember: he claims to be a genuine progressive, not a radical progressive. Given his refusal to call for a radical evaluation of American military power, I see little ultimate difference between Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Yes, of course, Clinton will side with the worst elements of Trade Pacts and Credit Card Usury. We know that Clinton, like Obama, will fail to support any meaningful job training programs. The track record of Hillary Clinton’s husband as President was pathetically dismal, and why would she be different? He betrayed the people who made phone calls and walked precincts on his behalf back in 1992. If you are a working person and make the same kind of efforts in 2016, she will dump you on the economic sidelines in the next four year with similar alacrity. Economically, only Sanders can be half-way trusted by any working person who remembers the massive lay-offs of the 1990s and President Bill Clinton’s callous indifference to the plight of working people.

I am all too aware of how few people my age will feel my ambivalence. For one thing, most people born between 1940 and 1955 who lean towards the Democratic party are in favor of Hilary Clinton. I understand their preference, and in point of fact, if they are white, they are an admirable minority. Let it not be forgotten that the majority of white people in the Baby Boom generation voted for McCain and Romney in 2008 and 2012. ‘Tis pity tis true.

Such conservatism in my generation only reminds me of what a myth has surrounded the 1960s and early 1970s. The image is that of massive protests and social opposition to the evils of racist imperialism. The reality is that the cluster of young white people who actively spoke out against the Vietnam War and in favor of civil rights legislation was a distraught and passionately thoughtful minority. Little has changed. I remain in solemn vigilance.

(The above was revised on Sunday, February 21, 2016.)
POST-SCRIPT: As I have mentioned on several blog entries during the three and a half years I have done this blog on poetry, visual art, music, and superstructure of ground level conditions, I can be contacted at: William.BillMohr@gmail.com

While it may frustrate some people that I do not permit commentary, I will also say yet once again: I learned a valuable lesson from Ron Silliman’s experience of doing a blog; he eventually had to turn off the comments stream because it simply took up too much time to monitor the civility of the discourse. I have no desire to reinvent the wheel of his frustration with the perversity of internet trolls. If you disagree with me, please feel free to start your own blog and post your responses. Or write me at the above e-mail address.