Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bard- and other -olatries

Those others of you who spend long hours each day trapped alone in the car with National Public Radio will not have failed to have heard by now that last weekend marked the 400th death-iverssary of William Shakespeare,  i.e., the man from Stratford -- a fairly arbitrary date to celebrate, but one that has given reporters and pundits a much-relished chance to dust off old lines and controversies about the bard -- the "second-best bed," whether Hamlet and Hamnet had anything to do with one another, and, of course, the conspiracy theory that won't die, that great "birther" and "truther" phenomenon of the literary cranks -- the "Shakespearean authorship question."

But take heart, gentle reader. If you are feeling the need for some thin shred of hope to cling to this political season, to prove that facts and reason and documentary evidence do still matter to some people, some of the time-- that, as someone once said, the "truth will out" (wait a minute! ...will! It must be an encoded plea for help from the true Shakespeare, warning of the impending conspiracy to deny his authorship of the plays two centuries hence!) -- as I say, if you are looking for a life-vest of sanity -- you can do no better than look to the changing receptivity of American public media over the past few decades to the Shakespeare-deniers and their theories. Compare, for instance, the delightful "Our Shakespeare, Ourselves" that aired this past weekend on On the Media, which takes it for granted that the persistent rumors that someone else wrote Shakespeare's plays have nothing to do with Shakespeare and everything to do with the theories' promoters -- to the lamentable 1992 episode of Frontline, "The Shakespeare Mystery."

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cross-Posting IV

My two most recent columns from the church newsletter are attached. Taken together, they form a documentary display of the inadequacy of language in the face of evil -- the first being a kind of involutionary spiral, leading into the near-breakdown of the final paragraph; the second, a tribute to the new hope kindled in the realization that action is sometimes possible when words fail. Joan Didion speaks in Slouching Toward Bethlehem of being "paralyzed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed." Well boo hoo. Try doing it in a world that contains presidential candidate Donald Trump. Of course, even that sounds like a joke, like a twinkle -- as any mention of Trump still does. But let me try doing this once more with a straight face, because Trump really is doing works of evil. Why, is anyone's guess. Whatever failure of family structure or loving kindness or neural chemistry pointed him in this direction, I do not know. But the result is evil. His long-anticipated "pivot" this week to the "presidential" Trump, the "serious" Trump -- signified by the candlelit dinners with party apparatchiks, the tele-prompted "foreign policy address," the secret assurances from his campaign staff that the whole thing has been an act, that Trump is playing a "part" -- just cinches the matter, to my mind, because now we know that Trump has not been shooting his wad at random this election season; he has known exactly what he is doing. He has been following a plan. He has acted with malice aforethought. And every dictator whose people once comfortingly told themselves "It can't happen here" went through a similar phase of proving himself to be "a man with whom one could do business."

Monday, April 18, 2016

An Update to the Previous Post

Okay, so this is now the second major news story in one week-- actually, in three days -- about a politician and would-be world leader trying to use the law to crush an artistic work primarily because (among other things) it alleges he has a small penis. Of all the utterly damning things that could be and have been said of Erdogan and Trump, the penis thing, it turns out, is the one that does it. The systematic documentation of Erdogan's violations of civil liberties and human rights, the apt comparisons of Trump to various fascist dictators and Third World strong men -- these seem not to phase either men-- perhaps, indeed, in their impoverished imaginations, they see both as a sign of "strength." Yet to suggest that either one is a little short in the dingaling department is to bring down the full force of their wrath and that of the law on the accuser.

It must be said that the dictators of the past, who exiled or assassinated Pablo Neruda or Roque Dalton, displayed what might be called (to borrow a phrase from Richard Hofstadter) a "higher standard of hating."

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Merkel's Teufelspakt Comes Home to Roost

Boy, that didn't last long, did it?  Usually Faust gets at least a few decades of grand living before the devil comes to collect his wages. In this case, the EU and NATO's refugee deal with Turkey-- which has converted open asylum reception centers into detention camps and interdicted and returned asylum seekers without a fair hearing -- is scarcely a month old, and already Erdogan has convinced Merkel to prosecute a German satirist for making fun of him in a mildly ribald way. Erdogan, whose feelings were genuinely hurt, I am sure, has criminalized opposition journalism in his own country -- a practice he means to export to Europe, it would seem -- mounted military campaigns that led to widespread civilian casualties in the Kurdish region, and shuttered Turkey's borders to Syrian refugees fleeing for their lives from the civil war (the only thing open about Turkey's current borders, in fact, is open fire; in the characteristically laconic opening injunction of a recent Human Rights Watch article: "Turkey should stop shooting at Syrian civilians fleeing fighting[.]" I'll say!) Yet it was not one of these actions, but rather a poem on a Daily Show-esque German comedy channel that accused Erdogan of, among other things, performing sex acts on a goat, that the Turkish deputy prime minister recently deemed a "serious crime against humanity" that demanded retribution. One assumes that Donald Trump is pricking up two porcine ears in interest somewhere. The man who has stated his intention to "open up American libel laws" must really be digging Erdogan's style.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

New England Rituals

New England towns still carry out their little rituals, still
March and fife their martial airs
Unbeknownst to the rest of the us (not because they're secret but because -- you know,
 who cares?) –
in this respect they are like
The Quebecois, Acadians, and the Confederátes --
In ways that I will presently enumerate.

To join one by accident—a displaced non-native
At the age of 26 –
is suddenly to enter a pageant of one’s grade school history books
Where familiar lines (“The shot heard round the world!”) take on a different hue
Like a child’s toy seen silhouetted at night
  so that it gives a kind of grue.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Question

I hate the feeling that this blog has become as much a slave to the Trump-centric news cycle as everywhere else, but this seems to be the case. It's a game that Trump has designed in such a way that he cannot lose-- even the complaining about the attention Trump receives is a kind of attention.  But his comments about abortion that made headlines last week have once again posed some questions about our political culture that I find it difficult to get off my mind.

First, it must be said that there are times when Trump's appalling remarks plainly obtain an order of magnitude of toxicity beyond what other people are saying. But there are also times when the media seems to draw this line in ways I find hard to predict. It's clear enough why a "total ban" on Muslim immigration is a more extreme stance than halting the refugee program, say, but it can well be said that both play to the same base elements of human nature. And I'll never understand why Marco Rubio can entertain a question about "closing mosques" in a GOP debate that is broadcast nationwide and no one seems to blink. With such precedents as these, it's hard to escape the feeling at times that Trump is penalized less for his outrageous views than for the failure of political deftness with which he expresses them.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

A Poem


One of those ideas from
The engines of progress and opportunity where
Kids come from the inner city and share
Their answers to a pre-selected prompt –
This one, though (I mean, its 2016)
Did seem to invite some spark,
  Some ember of the individual spirit:
“Tell us about U.S. foreign policy and how
  It has affected Latin America
    And many of the countries near it.”

Friday, April 1, 2016

Know Your Rights

Those who have seen their Buffy will know
That while the undead don’t obey every minor legal resolution
(Least of all the U.S. Constitution)
They do have, of their own,
A certain set of rules.
  So don't get fooled.
If a vampire comes to your door,
No matter how much he implores,