Feb 20, 2010

Glenn Beck's key note speech at the CPAC conference caught the spirit of so many strands of American life and mythology. America, home of the brave and the unbrave. Willie Lowman's America. Where buffalo roam, along with the alcoholic; the psychotic, the hallowed out, the fascist, the founder, the failer, the enabler, the denier, the sinner, the spinner. It was the old moral majority returned, that old fear and anger, and that relentless old nostalgia to hear Ronald Reagan one more time, and see that awshucks-we're-America-shake of the head, to hear him pitch 20 Mule Team borax and the GE Theater hour. Sure, everything's gonna be okay. It's the desire for a mother, for a family no matter how dysfunctional. It's not the desire to live free or die, or even for smaller government, but just to be noticed at all, to be taken into the bosom of the past, into the lap of mother courage, as she strokes your forehead and tells you a bedtime story from when the family first came to America. When America was great and women worked in the B-29 factory and Dad was safely off Omaha Beach. Glen Beck is the master landscape painter of sentimentality and sanctimony and just pure nonsense, and anger that's not only deep but fun as hell to flaunt.

Feb 17, 2010

Sean Hannity asked this question today: "how does evil work?" The question had both a narrow and a broad context. The broad context was that the leadership in this country is becoming, to make up a word, 'evilized.' And by extention, the result is that the president and his administration are evil.

I tried to start a thread on Hannity's website, but it didn't take, for whatever reason. I would let it go but the question remains too evocative and provocative. Here's an answer that many of us might agree with....

"Here's how the banality of evil works. You become part of a group of disaffected people. You rail against immigrants and minorities. You find solace in xenophobia. You spread rumors. You have no desire to hurt anyone physically but you encourage gossip about your enemies. You respect 'the truth' but at the same time you make truth subjective. In time, you lose awareness of the power of words. You denigrate learning. You indulge paranoia. You excuse violence. You give hatred a pass. You avoid introspection. You accuse others of being 'ideological' just as you are exactly that. Above all, you fear the future and so seek refuge in the past. You accuse the president of being a socialist even as you sound like a fascist. In Germany, this particular kind of evil, a 'soft' evil if you will, characterized "The Good German". Here, now, on your show, you say to the callers, "You're a good American." Which has become the club handshake for 'people like us'. You, yourself, have become the 'good American' — not someone at the top of the media bureaucracy, but someone just under the surface, claiming a righteous position, even as you wreak havoc."

Feb 14, 2010

It's a troubled and weepy Valentine's Day at Puccini's. And during the height of the brunch hour there are no more croissants.

At a table a few feet away a young couple is hard at it. Black and white. In their early 20s. He's talking a blue streak. They could be from the Art Institute. She's wearing boots and a sweater dress. There's a portfolio at her feet. She's got great brown doe eyes, and once I glance over and they're filling with tears. It's not a breakup, she's revealing something. Her chin sinking deep in the palm of her hand. She does not look up. I am guessing she's Italian. I can hear the word, "family." A scandal of some kind, perhaps. He catches her hand, her head drops, he kisses her forehead. He's very tender. Yet they are probably not lovers. Not yet. There's something still missing, but maybe not now. After a few minutes, they desert their plates, stand up, put down some money and leave.

The restaurant is clearing out. The tea and the latte are excellent; the omelettes, not very good. The check is coming. I ask the proprietress what is this opera playing overhead. It's Manon Lescaut, she says, sung by the Maori sensation, Kiri Te Kanawa, with Placido Domingo. 1984. This is the part when Manon is out in the Louisiana "desert". Des Grieux has gone for water. Manon is recounting her life. Shortly, she will die in the arms of her beloved.

The proprietress moves away, and the man at the next table is revealed. Glistening bald head, mid fifties, black suit, no tie. A powerful rock face. Sensual lips. But lazy, sliding eyes. The woman to his left is in green. We noticed her come in earlier. So this is a rendevous, they didn't come in together. She's wearing large dark glasses. I can't see her face. She never utters a word. She is a large woman, a little fleshy, but not heavy. Large and he is large. Two large people. He's leaning forward, on his elbows, hands clasped. As though he were a lawyer or he's giving a lecture for the TED institute.

"You're a genius," he's saying to her. "No you really are. You are. There's no question and charming and no one can be more welcoming. But at the same time you know what you are. You are the coldest woman I have ever met. I don't know what it is. What is it? I don't think it was something I've done. I think you were always this way, but people don't see it. You project such warmth, but it really isn't there. It's just not."

At that moment he looks at me. I'm unabashedly watching him. I hold his stare. And then, without missing a beat, he looks back to her, the lawyer at the deposition trying to end the case right here and now.

"Isn't that true," he says, beating her with the words. "Isn't it."

Feb 7, 2010

At about 45th and Lincoln a woman put out her thumb. She had white hair, and what first came to mind, a press pass hanging from her neck. She wore glasses, jeans and black leather coat. I stopped.

It turned out to be Jeana Moore: 57, a life long advocate of various causes, and now walking across the country to promote a national bone marrow registry. Her grand daughter suffers from leukemia although it's in remission.

Jeana started out from Seattle on October 19th. She expects to be in Santa Monica on April 14th and in Washington, DC a year later. When I found her she was one day ahead of schedule. She carries a 35-pound pack, a Horizon cell phone and almost no cash. She survives on the generosity of strangers, as well as churches and like-minded organizations.

In Northern California, she’s walking close to 101. For the next couple of days you might be able to catch site of her on El Camino Real as she makes her way to San Jose.

She’s allowed herself time to help people in places along the way to set up centers where you can, with a mere swab, be included in the data base for bone marrow matches. She explained that the process of donating marrow is not so terrifying as it once was. Now, in the great majority of cases you take shots for five days, to spur the body to make more marrow, which gets in the blood and then you simply give plasma and you’re done. Or else, in a small percentage of cases, you may have a brief surgery, with anesthesia, that takes marrow from a rich source in your hip.

She was trying to get to a BART station to visit a relative in the East Bay. I took her downtown and on the way she talked about her adventure. In fact, it’s been a life of these kinds of adventures, including 7 years working on behalf of a Palestinian reconciliation project in Israel and Jordan.

But what about the walking, aren’t you a little afraid, I asked. She said she was a little afraid from time to time but in fact she had never had a bad experience and everyone she came in contact with was on his or her best behavior.

Have you ever had any bad experience, I asked.

She had. Without missing a beat she said she'd had any number of bad experiences, all with men and beginning with her father. She was quick to add that she held no grudge and that this was simply what people do when they’re frustrated in some way.

But she'd never had a problem with a stranger, only with people she had become, as she put it, intimate with. Which I took to mean not necessarily in a sexual way.

“I hope to find someone again in my life that I can be intimate with,” she said. My sense was that she meant intimate with a man, but perhaps not. She went on to say that she took heart and solace from various faiths, including Christianity, Buddhism and Sufism.

I noticed that she held a proud look on her face. Remembering it now it gave you the sense of having always faced the wind. I don't know how else to say it.

We were almost to the BART station at UN Plaza. I asked once more about how it was that she seemed to feel more comfortable with strangers.

“I get along better with strangers,” she said. “Whenever you become intimate with someone inevitably you reveal yourself and then you get hurt. It can’t be helped. We all do it. I do it. You do it. That’s not to say you should retreat. As I said one day I hope to have that kind of relationship again.”

She smiled, got out of the car and disappeared.

She never asked for any money and I forgot to offer any. You can follow her journey at www.stepstomarrow.com.

Feb 4, 2010

You know this anonymous teenager in New Zealand who is auctioning her virginity off, and by one report has been offered $32,000. She says she will use the money to pay for her university tuition. By one report 30,000 people have viewed her ad and more than 1,200 have made bids. Feminist groups and sex groups have offered all kinds of advice and counseling.

Now it turns out the transaction may not go through.

No matter. Today, Rush Limbaugh suggested, with a straight snout, that this woman was forced to this proposal by the economic policies of Barack Obama. I actually heard this myself. From Wall Street to the Parthenon it's all the uppity Barry's doing.


Whenever I see him lately, on MSNLSD, as Mark Levin would say, all I see is an impersonation of Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. The Rushbow, that face speeding out of thinning hair, a fleshy fist of zeitgeist, the consummate psychopathic desire to be recognized. Over and over and over. He has become the resident evil. But you'd never know it.