Autumnsongs: U2

30 10 2014

You knew this one was coming.

I thought I’d get to it earlier, but this whole month has been unusually warm, and when I think of “October”, I think not just of a fading sun through fallen leaves, but sweatshirts and collars pulled up and knuckles reddened from the chill.

Some New York Octobers, yes, but not this one.

Still, it wouldn’t really do to play this in November, and today the wind did smack me around a bit, so why not now?

It’s lovely and melancholy not too much, in the way that U2 is often too much.

I loved that about U2, actually, that they were so often too much, too hot—never cool. I loved the righteousness and the politics and the absolute emo—a term nowhere in evidence back in the day—of the joint.

U2, in other words, were never cool, and I was all right with that.

Still, “Seconds” was about as cool as they got, in terms of perspective. It was angry, yes, but in a kind of can-you-fuckin’-believe-it way.

Why is this an autumnsong? The detachment, perhaps, but more so that I associate this song with that first semester at college, when the air in Madison was definitely chill, and I was running around trying to soak up all of the politics my skinny 18-year-old self could handle.

One weekend just about tipped me over: a Mondale/Ferraro rally (with which I was very involved) at the Capitol on Friday, an anti-nuke march in Chicago on Saturday, and a speech by Gloria Steinem in Milwaukee on Sunday—bless that skinny little heart, but I made them all.

The Chicago rally was a bit odd. I went alone (on the bus), wiped out, broke, and marched with I don’t know how many thousands of others through the foggy streets of Chicago, before we we emptied ourselves into a park to hear, oh man, was it Helen Caldicott? could Petra Kelly have been there? It seems like it, but thirty years on, and memory, like the sun, fades.

Well, except for Jesse Jackson, hometown son. I remember him, up next to the stage, I remember him. Man, the man could speak.

So, “Seconds” is a foggy Chicago Saturday in October, thousands, tens of thousands of us marching against the bomb, against our annihilation, and for our lives.





You’re the top!

30 10 2014

So it was the Statue of Liberty’s birthday the other day—and I missed it.

Sorry, big copper statue that lacks a central nervous system and thus cannot feel bad that I neglected to wish it a happy birthday!

It may or may not (see the photo heading up this blog) surprise you that I fuckin’ love the Statue of Liberty. I have no idea why.

I did fall, hard, for New York City when I was a theatre-mad teenager, but my ardor was focused on Broadway, not the harbor. And yeah, my bitter little heart swells a bit at The New Colossus, but the poem wasn’t added to the site until 1903.

Maybe it was print of the magnificent work of the Pail and Shovel Party, submerging the Lady in Lake Mendota:

Photographer unknown/(surroundedbyreality.com)

I’ve got a color print of the original incarnation (it’s since been recreated) that I’ve been meaning to frame and hang.

For all of my troubles in Madison, I loved the town and the university; maybe it was the merging of the two places (Montréal was yet to be for me) where I felt This is where I’m supposed to be that fixt the Statue in that bitter little heart.

Or maybe it’s just watching it get taken out in all of those disaster movies that made the impression.

Anyway, I’ve probably mentioned once or thrice before that I think the Statue is the bee’s knees, but why not use the occasion of missed birthday to once again send my regards to the Old Broad.





Just slip out the back, Jack

28 10 2014

There oughtta be an app for that.

That’s never a sentence I thought I’d write, given that a) I don’t have a smart phone or tablet, and thus b) don’t use apps.

Still, after reading about California cops who nicked nude photos from women’s phones, I thought, well, wouldn’t it be possible to create an app which, when you entered a particular password, would present a Potemkin version of your phone?

I mean, this already must exist, right? Somebody who was upset by TSA or border patrol or law enforcement snooping of laptops must have figured out a way to get around directives to lay bare their files by coming up with looks-so-real dummy drives, a kind of fronting which makes it seem as if some (real) files represent all files.

I know fuck-all about either hardware or software, but I have heard of mirror disks and disk partitioning, so shouldn’t it be possible to fake out a snooper by calling up a bland version of a phone or table in place of the real one? Or by asking that question am I just demonstrating that I know fuck-all about hardware and software?

In any case, a decent Potemkin app would also have to dummy up the data on storage space, and, unlike the infamous villages, appear from all angles to be real. Users, too, would have to include enough info in the bland version to make it seem real, so the app would have to make it easy to assign anodyne status to photos, messages, and whatnot. And given that many people don’t lock their devices between active use, perhaps the app could be have a default version, such that the bland drive is what appears after the phone is aroused from sleep.

It wouldn’t be foolproof, regardless, especially in cases when one’s device is confiscated: with enough time, techs could presumably figure out how to get around the false front.

But sometimes fronting is all you need to get past the nosy cop with your privacy intact.

So, app-people, if you haven’t already done this, get right on it!

And if you already have, well, never mind.





All things weird and wonderful, 47

27 10 2014

If you asked me my favorite color, I’d say “green”. It’s a lovely, color, green.

But lovely as green is, there is something about blue, something which can make me hold my breath and go, Oh oh oh!

A blue like this:

Hitachi Seaside Park in Japan by Hiroki Kondu/Nat Geo

Back when I still wrote poetry, I wrote of a “gaspingly pure blue sky”, and tho’ the poem wasn’t all that great, that line stayed with me.

Yes, the green is lovely, but it serves mainly to allow us a breath from all that gaspingly pure blue: the blue sky, the blue flowers, the blue shadow beneath the lovely green tree.

Maybe that is why I prefer green: it gives me respite.

But that blue, oh that blue—it is good sometimes to gasp at our world.





Fever

24 10 2014

As is not-unexpected, New York has its first case of Ebola.

Am I worried? Nope, not even a little—at least, not for myself. For the doc who got it, on the other hand. . . .

My students have asked me, a not-MD, about Ebola, and I have been vigilant in cutting down any fears about the disease. I even went after a colleague who said she was hesitant to fly due to Ebola.

It’s not airborne! I barked at her. You’re not going to get it.

And that is the crucial piece for those of us who a) do not live in Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone, and b) are neither health care nor mortuary workers—i.e., those of us who are unlikely to come into contact with the bodily fluids of infected persons.

Those who are likely to so come into contact are at great risk: the virus is highly infectious, so tremendous caution must be taken to avoid contact with any fluid. But, again, for the rest of us—something else will get us before Ebola does.

Laurie Garrett introduced me (personally!) to Ebola in her terrific book, The Coming Plague. The cases she discussed had a very high kill rate—over 90 percent—which was both terrifying and, oddly, a kind of insurance against its spread: it killed people so quickly it could sweep through an isolated population before anyone had a chance to travel and transmit it elsewhere.

That kind of virulence-insurance would crumble once it reached more densely populated areas, which of course, it has. The death rate in some cases has fallen to “only” 50-60 percent, which is still appallingly high, and this microbe will kill thousands more people before health officials get ahead of it. That these outbreaks have occurred, and that the world health community (WHO, CDC, pharma, health ministries & depts, etc.)—with the exception of MSF—have, shall we say, underperformed in response to initial reports of its spread, is appalling in its own way, but there does seem to be a fair amount of confidence that the spread can be halted.

Or, to put it another way, Ebola may terrify us for its fast-moving virulence, but those old standbys HIV and malariaand flu—will likely kill far more people this year and next than Ebola.

This could change, of course: as Ebola spreads, it’s changing (as infectious microbes are wont to do), and epidemiologist Michael Osterholm has written of his fears that, via combination with other microbes, it could—could—become airborne.

Now, it’s possible that any mutations which lead to Ebola becoming a respiratory illness might also mean it becomes less virulent, but it’s also possible that it could join its mighty virulence to easy transmissibility to become a super-bug, much like the (misnamed) Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.

If that happens, then, yep, I’ll be afraid.

But until then, I’ll be more worried that the kid sitting next to me or the guy standing in front of me on train will give me the regular old flu (due to my egg allergy, my doc advises against a flu shot) than a deadly hemorrhagic fever.





Everybody knows the deal is rotten, 11

21 10 2014

Work don’t get no respect.

That sounds wrong, doesn’t it? Don’t we goodstrongproud Americans value hard work and honest living? An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work and all that?

Yeah, no.

Work, like every other goddamned thing in this country, has become tribalized: tell me how you vote and I’ll tell you what you think about what counts as work and how much it’s worth.

It’s not quite that simple, of course, not least because this late tribalization a) has a long history; and b) is laid over all other kinds of fights, presuppositions, prejudices, and disorientations. And, to be fair, there are folks on all sides of the political spectrum who are uneasy with the disappearance of decent working-class jobs.

Still, there used to be at least a veneer of agreement that wage-work, at least, should be respected, and that a person was performing something of value even in low-wage work. The problem that Ronald Reagan had with so-called welfare queens, for example, wasn’t that they worked at McDonald’s, but that they didn’t work at all. Only when they (and it was always “they”, never “we”) worked, it was argued, would they learn the habits required for achieving a decent life.

Yes, there was a lot of bullshit packed into this argument, but I mention it to highlight how the long push for welfare reform hinged on the presumption that all (paid) work, even low-wage work, was worthwhile both to the worker and to society at large.

Now, however, low-wage work is a problem, and not in the way that you’d think, i.e., the “low-wage” part. No, to a dismaying number of political and economic elites, the problem is with the work itself, and thus also with the worker.

Exhibit A: Brad Schimel, the Republican candidate for Wisconsin’s Attorney General:

“I want every one of our neighbors to have a job again, a well-paid job, so we don’t have to argue about minimum wage for someone working at Burger King,” he said. “Let’s get them a real job.”

Precisely so, because busting your ass to get cheap food fast to hungry people is fake-work.

Exhibit B: That lovable lug, Governor Chris Christie!

I gotta tell you the truth, I’m tired of hearing about the minimum wage, I really am,” Christie said during an event at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, according to a recording of his remarks by the liberal opposition research group American Bridge.

“I don’t think there’s a mother or father sitting around a kitchen table tonight in America who are saying, ‘You know honey, if my son or daughter could just make a higher minimum wage, my God, all our dreams would be realized,” he added. “Is that what parents aspire to for their children?”

The governor went on to say that parents aspire to an America where their children can make more money and achieve greater success, according to The Hill. He said those aspirations weren’t about a “higher minimum wage.”

It’s true, I wouldn’t want my imaginary children to work for minimal wages, but I damned sure would want the work they do perform pay them well enough to live a decent life.  And if my kid were only capable of flipping burgers, that s/he were not able to perform more highly-skilled labor wouldn’t make flipping burgers somehow not-labor.

Work is work, and deserves compensation.

Exhibit C: My favorite governor, the union-buster Scott Walker, who doesn’t see the point of the minimum wage nor, apparently, of the jobs which pay minimum wage:

“Well I’m not going to repeal it but I don’t think it serves a purpose because we’re debating then about what the lowest levels are at,” Walker said during a televised interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I want people to make — like I said the other night — two or three times that.”

Walker went on to say that the policies his administration has been pushing are meant to raise Wisconsinites above the minimum wage level.

“The jobs I have focused on, the training we’ve put in place, the programs we’ve put in place is not for people to get minimum wage jobs,” Walker continued. “It’s the training whether it’s in apprenticeships, whether it’s in our tech colleges, or our UW system —it’s to try and apply the training, the skills, the talents, the expertise people need to create careers that pay many many times over.”

Again, the idea of increasing education and training is a fine one, and I think both the federal and state governments should do more to provide free life-long training opportunities to all workers.

But, again, the idea that because some work doesn’t pay well that work isn’t worthy, may not be real work (as per Christie) at all, attacks the notion that work qua work has any value at all—and thus not even deserving a mandated minimum wage.

It’s a nice tautology: Real work pays real (i.e., high) wages, so any work performed for a low wage isn’t work at all.

And you can add another loop to this vicious, vicious circle when those low-wage workers require food stamps or other forms of public assistance to make it through the month: they’re moochers who, because they need assistance, clearly don’t deserve to make more money for the not-work they do.

As a Marxisch, I should perhaps welcome this open hostility to work as capitalism finally showing its true face, such that what matters is not the work, but the wage, always the wage—and the higher the wage, and the greater the accumulation of wealth, the more the person matters.

But I am not orthodox, and while a part of me is glad that some elites are abandoning useless paeans to the “inherent dignity of work”, a part of me knows this abandonment will only increase the burden on those who do labor for little, and further degrade what dignity they deserve to have as human beings.

After all, if you don’t respect the work, you ain’t gonna respect the worker.





Autumnsongs: Joni Mitchell

12 10 2014

Young Joni Mitchell is late spring, early summer.

That high, high voice streaming up clear like water from a bubbler, so pure your heart stills as your breath is pulled out of you. If you’re not given to tears you close your eyes to keep them in, but that voice, that high, high voice steals them from you anyway, the song carrying them away.

It took Prince to make me appreciate Joni Mitchell. I was a horrible music snob when younger, and by horrible I mean: I missed so much good music because the artist did not fit into what seemed to me ought to matter. I wasn’t quite sure about Prince, either, but when that small, strange genius said that Blue was one of his favorite albums, I thought, Well.

And oh, is Blue a genius album. I generally favor low voices, but Joni was one of the exceptions.

Was is the operative word, here: time and cigarettes have sunk her soprano into the sand, and instead of singing the clear blue sky she sounds like forests and falling leaves and a retiring sun.

She sounds like October.

I was reminded of this as I listed to a Tierney Sutton rendition of “Woodstock”—which is lovely, but I wanted to find a late edition Joni, to hear her sing herself back to a song that was wistful even in her youth.

If you are no longer so interested in keeping the tears in, this version of “Both Sides Now,” from 2000, is for you.

I’m still in my summer, perhaps my late-summer, years. And all this regret and wisdom and that voice, that incredible charcoal voice, makes me yearn for all I didn’t learn in my spring, and all that autumn will bring.








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