Saturday, October 09, 2010

Lennon at 70

"How terribly strange to be seventy," sang Simon and Garfunkel in 1968, when they were 27 (Paul will turn 69 on the 13th of this month, and Art on the fifth of November) and John Lennon was 28. It's hard to imagine John Lennon at 70. But that's what he would be today--October 9-- had he not been shot and killed in 1980, a couple of months past his 40th birthday.

But maybe it's not so hard to imagine the writer of "Imagine" at 70. If he continued to master his demons as he seemed to be in the last years of his life, the decades since might have been quite different. Apart from the flash of the 60s and the tumult of the 70s, John Lennon was that rare combination of an inspiring idealist and an inspired ironist, who wrote lines like this: "sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun/If the sun don't come you get a tan from standing in the English rain." In the middle of the surreal "I Am the Walrus," those are lines they could be teaching in poetry courses.

It's tempting to think of him as the spokesperson and lightning rod for causes, the role he sought at times, and which got him shadowed and harassed by the Nixon police. That's a role that's difficult if not nearly impossible to sustain, especially with the increasingly low boredom threshold and the ageist attitudes that survive virtually unchallenged. But he was able to break so many rules, so who knows? He might have been the champion for Climate Crisis awareness say, and Lennon Saves would be a legacy instead of a fondly recalled button from the 60s. Although Lennon, first among equals, saved many a rainy day, English and otherwise in those years.

We would undoubtedly have more Beatles music, and now that we know that you can still rock when you're supposed to be in your rocking chair, we might still be hearing from Lennon. His absence did create room for his former band mates to shine in their own light--Paul McCartney is a global figure, Ringo Starr has found peace on the road, and it took George Harrison's death to reveal so clearly that his talent and accomplishments were major and lasting, and that at his best his song-writing was equal to Lennon and McCartney.

But I have to say that in the last Paul McCartney tour video I saw, the lack of any reference to the other Beatles, particularly Lennon, began to stand out ever more prominently as it went on. And the lack of any Lennon representative at the wonderful memorial concert for George Harrison (which featured McCartney and Starr) was eerie and sad.

It would have been very interesting to observe Lennon as he aged. The anger that seemed to have fueled that incredible energy--and together with his wit and high spirits, made him the model of charming insolence--seemed almost to destroy him, but in his late 30s he seemed to have come to a different place. The energy was different, but it was there in those last songs. What would have come next? There's only 30 empty years to contemplate.

But in those 40 years he left us music to express almost everything, from the vision of "Imagine" and "All You Need is Love," and the social vision of "Working Class Hero," to the bitter ironies of his version of "Nobody Loves You"; the involvement of "Give Peace a Chance," and the detachment of "Watching the Wheels"; the surrealism of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" to the raw pain of "I'm So Tired." He wrote and sang about being a son and a father, and all the emotions of relationship from young passions to Starting Over.

For those of us who were just a few years behind him, our aging was unaccompanied by new tunes and insights from him, and this absence, this void, was felt, though as one among others. But we always had what we still have, the songs, the images, the words he produced in what amounts to less than 20 years. That's more than most get, but it's a lot less than we wanted, or that we could have used.
click collage to enlarge

Friday, October 08, 2010

On 10/10/10

On Sunday, which is this portentous date--a very powerful one, if I remember my basic numerology--Bill McKibben's 350 organization is holding a Climate Crisis Global Work Party, which McKibben explains:

"On 10/10/10 we'll show that we the people can do this--but we need bold energy policies from our political leaders to do it on a scale that truly matters. The goal of the day is not to solve the climate crisis one project at a time, but to send a pointed political message: if we can get to work, you can get to work too--on the legislation and the treaties that will make all our work easier in the long run."

The event has been announced and in the process of being organized for months, and I hope that come Sunday the participation is high and the media notices. And maybe by Saturday all the progressive and enviro blogs will be reminding everyone that it's happening. But as of today, the online silence is eerie. I was about to say that it isn't even on the homepage of, but between the time I started this post and now, it has appeared!

But in a quick click-through of the relevant sites on my "Climate Crisis Future" bloglist, it's prominently mentioned only on Climate Crisis Coalition , the Environmental News Wire, Environment at, Grist and World Changing, which is not nothing, but still... Let's hope that the rest of the sites get to this Saturday, along with the social media tools.

For this is a test not only of participation but of the environmental movement's ability to work together effectively. There are a lot of organizations--some very large ones--with their own agendas, who don't seem to work together much. And there are a lot of sites with smaller organizations clustered around a key figure and his/her (actually, almost always his) books and speaking engagements.

But if this is a transcendent moral issue, a crisis that threatens civilization and portends hardships that some are already suffering and many more will in a few short years, then it is long past time for everyone to transcend their agendas and egos and make one big voice.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Our Common Wealth

From the first day I stepped into a library, as a gradeschooler entering a fairly modest brick building on South Main Street, to pretty much every time I walk through the stacks, following the coded numbers that will lead me to the magic of an unknown book in the (public) university library some three thousand miles from there, I've felt it all as a kind of miracle, outside the normal rule. How could I have such free access to all this wealth? I suppose I always knew they were going to take it away.

This wealth has been the birthright of Americans for generations now. The public library in particular was once a mark of the progress of our civilization as well as a shining product and exemplar of our democracy. I suppose part of what made it so unlikely to exist, even in my child's mind, was that it was supported by so many people who seldom if ever used it. But it was valued and supported. And they were right--for their children may have used it, or others who used it and the knowledge there would provide for the town in many different but ultimately substantial ways.

But municipalities of all sizes are cutting back on services, and libraries are often victims. So it happened that some hard-pressed towns heard the siren song of privatization--you know, since it works so well in health insurance--and the library was put in corporate hands. Then the next step--and a financially healthy town in California privatized, leading to some cries of outrage.

If I ever had any doubt about the effect of privatization on libraries, I only would need to listen to the CEO of the company taking over, which specializes in libraries, as quoted in the New York Times:

There’s this American flag, apple pie thing about libraries,” said Frank A. Pezzanite, the outsourcing company’s chief executive. He has pledged to save $1 million a year in Santa Clarita, mainly by cutting overhead and replacing unionized employees. “Somehow they have been put in the category of a sacred organization.”

Yes, somehow they have. Somehow they are sacred organizations. That seems to make him pretty mad. He mocks the idea. He sounds like somebody out of Dickens--if I might make a literary allusion to a fellow who lives chiefly in libraries.

I don't know the specifics of this union situation in Santa Clarita, but this doesn't sound like the librarians I've known:“A lot of libraries are atrocious,” Mr. Pezzanite said. “Their policies are all about job security. That’s why the profession is nervous about us. You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement. We’re not running our company that way. You come to us, you’re going to have to work.”

The Mayor says this is not true privatization, because the library stays open to the public. Privatization always seems sweet at first, however, until the real profit motive shows up--usually when a corporation gets control of enough of the "business," that is, the libraries. Then watch out.

The consequences of the corporate predation known in corporatespeak as privatization has more obviously cruel consequences than taking over libraries, as the recent situation I mentioned at the end of the earlier "Follow the Money" post--the family watching their house burn, with their pets dying inside, because they hadn't paid the $75 fee for fightfighters, who stood beside them and let it all burn. While perhaps not precisely a privatization example, it suggests where it is going.

But while the cruelty of closed or restricted or profit-oriented libraries may not be so obvious, the example of libraries makes one aspect of privatization crystal clear: it is a corporate threat to our common wealth, to profit a few.

There are other pressures on the library, like this machine I'm using at the moment. But that's more a result of human folly, a little more correctable and open to argument than the corporate grip. I suppose if the library goes, I won't actually be surprised. I'm too surprised it's still there every time I'm there. It's lived not only because people dreamed it and worked to build it and keep it going, but because people like Mr. Pezzanite were restrained by at least some strong belief in the library and what it stands for as, yes, a sacred--public--institution.

Election 2010: Follow the Money

There's a lot to be said about the politics and the psychologies involved in this upcoming electoral expression, and of course a lot is being said and will be said. But a lot of it will be disproportionately evaluated, because a lot of it may be less relevant than the cold hard cash silently changing hands. Right now as Dylan said, money doesn't talk, it swears.

So before I meander down those roads, let me state what should be obvious: the super rich and the merely rich are trying very hard to buy this election for the Republicans.

The general approach is ancient, as old as oligarchy. The rich stir up the fears and prejudices of the poor, and flatter them with attention temporarily by making a few stars from their number to voice their platitudes and mockery of their enemies. They do it to serve their own interests, not at all the interests of those they inflame and flatter. And they do it with money. They use money to bribe and buy people. Money to fund institutions that buy people, and buy them influence. Money to buy media, to buy media time, and to fund political campaigns. And of course, they do it chiefly for money. The kind the Tea Partiers they finance will never see.

This year they are empowered by a Supreme Court decision that both allows unprecedented amounts of money into the political system, and hides where it is coming from. Odd that it should come at such a propitious moment, after the Obama campaign showed how much cash as well as energy could come from the grassroots, and the Democrats as a party began to raise money more effectively than the official Republican party. They're doing so in 2010 as well.

But the evidence is growing that the secret corporate and rich folks money is overwhelming, and applied to GOPer candidacies. First a little exposing of a shadowy tax-exempt group operating in Alaska and elsewhere. Then another phantom in Oregon. Then articles exposing the billionaires behind the Tea Party movement. President Obama called it an insidious attempt to take over democracy.

Now the closer we get to election day, the more obvious it is--though only if you pay attention. At First Read Tuesday: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said he expects labor unions will be outspent 20-to-1 by corporate groups aligned with Republicans. The CS Monitor focuses on the infamous Karl Rove, and his funneling of millions to GOPer candidates--the Monitor wonders if it is legal, but when has that stopped Karl Rove before?

Update 10/7: President Obama continues to hammer this issue, noting that Democrats are being outspent 6 and 7 to 1 in many races, usually by outside groups--including at least one race in which an outside conservative group is outspending Dem and GOPer candidates combined, on behalf of the GOPer candidate. He also pointed to evidence that some of this money is coming from foreign corporations--something he warned might happen at the State of the Union where one member of the Supreme Court that allowed this was seen to disagree. Some of the evidence of foreign money was turned up by Think Progress.

"A note to Tea Party activists: This is not the movie you think it is. You probably imagine that you’re starring in “The Birth of a Nation,” but you’re actually just extras in a remake of “Citizen Kane.” So begins a column by Paul Krugman, noting the other strategy of corporate interests funding institutions and people to press their case--especially the phenomenon of Fox. As Politico recently pointed out, every major contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination who isn’t currently holding office and isn’t named Mitt Romney is now a paid contributor to Fox News. Now, media moguls have often promoted the careers and campaigns of politicians they believe will serve their interests. But directly cutting checks to political favorites takes it to a whole new level of blatancy." But that's hardly all that Fox does. While still claiming to be a news network, it relentlessly pushes one point of view and now, particular candidates, with no respect for accuracy or fairness, and with relentless distortion and innuendo in its daily toolbox. As Krugman and others note, the Tea Party movements owes much if not most of its rise to Fox News.

This simply adds new money, new muscle and new megaphones to old sleaze, and there's no better symbol of that, writes Bob Herbert, that the GOPer who could become Speaker of the House, John Boehner. Herbert recalls that he was the guy who literally gave out money from Big Tobacco to sympathetic members on the House floor. Boehner is even more of a tool of corporate interests today, he writes. "Both major parties have, with great enthusiasm, turned more and more of the government over to corporate and banking interests. But the G.O.P., with Mr. Boehner currently the point person, is fanatical about it, has barely tried to hide its willingness to offer up the government wholesale, no questions asked." He concludes "The U.S. is in terrible shape right now because far too much influence has been ceded to the financial and corporate elites who have used that influence to game the system and reap rewards that are almost unimaginable. Ordinary working Americans have been left far behind, gasping and on their knees. John Boehner has been one of the leaders of the army of enablers responsible for this abominable state of affairs."

The America the GOPers want is what their patrons want: very low taxes for the super rich, to be paid for by the cumulative poor of future generations; incomes for the super rich rising into further obscenity while most Americans slip back and more fall into poverty; corporations allowed to pollute their way to higher profits, to sacrifice the planet and life as we know it to their further financial enrichment and temporary power. And they will tell the most outrageous lies--pleasant ones and vicious ones--and with their own network, and others too scared to contradict them, they are given the legitimacy to do so.

They may get the country back all right, to be further exploited and despoiled, thanks to invisible money financing campaigns, and their visible shills--such as the failed actor Glenn Beck, noting with approval the spectre of a family watching their house burn down, killing their dogs and cat, alongside the fire fighters that refused to put the fire out, because the family had not paid their $75 fee to the privatized fire company. This is the GOPer future, and it could be coming to your town, too.

So when I write about other aspects of this election, other kinds of portents, please don't forget that politics and psychology may be potent factors, and ultimately the psychology involved may be the most basic. But for the winners and losers and what it all means, don't for a minute forget to follow the money.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Emerson for the Day

“The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself.”
(Or maybe this Magritte painting is better to illustrate the Village Voice story, White America Has Lost Its Mind...)

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Green Comet

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird, it's a plane, no--it's a green comet! The recently discovered Comet Hartley is coming to a sky near you. Right now it's visible through backyard telescopes and in some places (with very old-fashioned darkness at night) with the naked eye. (This is one skywatcher photo among many already.) It's a fairly small comet with a long tail, and it makes its closest encounter with Earth on October 20, so eventually it will be visible through binoculars at least in a lot of places. Then in November, a NASA craft has its close encounter with the comet, but just for photos . So from now on, look up (towards the constellation Cassiopeia) and think green.