Notes for a Manifesto

The mere removal of Donald Trump from office through impeachment as per Article 2 of the Constitution, or even simply relieving him of his Presidential duties as per the 25th Amendment, would be insufficient remedy.

  • The flawed electoral system that allowed him to assume the most powerful elected office on the planet would still be there.
  • The corrupt socio-political-economic system that produced him and made him a “success” would still be there.
  • The cynical power brokers who thought it would be a good idea to install him as President would still be there.
  • The greedy, shortsighted economic interests that thought his Presidency would be a good thing for their bottom lines would still be there.
  • The ideologically driven right-wing media/propaganda system that deceived and beguiled Americans into supporting him would still be there.
  • The deliberately-crippled educational system that produced the people that either supported him or apathetically stayed away from voting would still be there.

They could do it all again. And next time it could be even worse.

They must all be repaired, reformed, transformed, replaced, or demolished.

National Anthem (revised)

Oh say can you see
In the morning’s stark glare
What a horrid mistake
We have loosed upon the world?
At whose hair and broad ties
We can do naught but stare
On the TV each night
As each headline is unfurled?
And his raucous mad blare
As he punches the air
Gives proof if you look
That the man’s not all there
How long will that star spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the deceived, ruled by the depraved?

THE MCADOOIAD: Book 4

 

It makes no wake, no waves lap the shore ahead of its arrival –
For so swift is its advance, and so massive its bulk appears,
That were it to set a wave in motion, they would all be washed away.
It looms before them, still some distance off, but to McAdoo
It seems he might be flying into obsidian cliffs.

Consider a great thunderhead, first seen low upon the horizon
While you are picking strawberries.
And you think, no, it’s fine, I have plenty of time
Before the storm’s arrival… Time to search and pluck,
To fill my basket to overflowing

So you resume your task, admiring each luscious berry,
And then you look again, and the cloud is nigh upon you,
And the wind stirs, and the birds fall silent,
And you run to seek shelter – so was the ferry’s
Swift and silent advance towards the river’s shore.

The great ship stops its forward progress. Looking up,
They can barely see the prow, so high and far away it is.
Then with a great creaking the bow opens,
Fanning out into a thousand gangplanks reaching towards the shore.
It opens like a peacock’s tail, spreads out like a black cloak across the water.

“One coin is for when you embark, another for when you leave,”
Said the Guide. “Hold the biscuits – you’ll need them on the other side.”
“And the third coin?” asked Smith (A.) – the Guide in answer cleared his throat.
“Ah,” said McAdoo, reaching into his pocket. “Thank you for your help.”
He handed the Guide a coin, which he accepted with a bow.

“It has been my pleasure,” said the Guide. “Now – Watch your step.”
McAdoo turned, and walked toward the nearest gangplank.
Several shades moved in front of him, several fell in behind.
He turned, concerned for his companions, but the Guide waved him on
He saw them all behind him, lining up amongst the spirits.

Slowly the queue moved forward. Ahead of him he saw a brief flurry
Of motion, and it seemed that something fell from the gangplank
Into the dark but shallow waters below.  A shade emerged,
Walked back to the shore, and resumed its place among the crowd,
There to wait, thought McAdoo, for another millennium or so.

Then he was at the gangplank’s end, before an inscrutable face.
“Welcome, mortal,” said a voice. “Your presence has been anticipated.
Payment, please.” He handed the wraith his second coin, and stepped aboard –
And found himself astride a small rowboat. He stumbled, pitching forward,
As the tiny craft yawed dangerously under his weight.

“Sit down,” said the old man at the bow. “You’re rocking the boat.”
McAdoo sat, bewildered, struggling to comprehend. “The ferry -”
“Come now, McAdoo,” the old man chided. “Do you not know
That though all must take this journey, and many at the selfsame time,
Nonetheless each and every one must go through it on their own?”

“Charon,” breathed McAdoo. The old man bowed. “The same,” he said.
“There are none who cross but it is I who take them there.”
McAdoo looked about him, but only water, endless, returned his gaze.
“But this – this is your trip. Sit back, relax, let your mind be calm.
I cannot answer all your questions, but I can answer some.”

But even McAdoo, whose mind leapt like a leopard towards gazelles,
Could find no words to speak, or sort through the many thoughts
That clamored for attention in his mind. For there beyond the rugged bow
A shoreline’s shape he saw emerging, and knew it to be his goal,
And that he soon would step upon the well-worn shore of Hell.

Some of my favorite classical pieces

  • Philip Glass, “Evening Song” from SATYAGRAHA (Act 3, Scene 3)
  • Arvo Pärt, “Cantus (In Memoriam Benjamin Britten)”
  • Kronos Quartet, PIECES OF AFRICA (album)
  • Terry Riley, IN C
  • Steve Reich, DIFFERENT TRAINS
  • Philip Glass, “Funeral of Amenhotep III” from AKHNATEN (Act 1, Scene 1)

THE MCADOOIAD: Book 3

BOOK 3

A beach it was indeed – but like no beach he had ever seen.
For this is the shore that has no condominiums,
Where suntan lotion never sells. No brochure
Advertises that view, no agent (save Stavros) offers package deals –
And there is no romance to be found there, nor souvenirs for sale.

There must have been light, for he realized he could see –
But there was neither sun nor color. He took a handful of sand,
And watched it run between his fingers, black as coal.
He looked around, and saw his group arrayed about him,
Slowly coming to their senses. He stood quickly in their midst.

“My friends,” he said, “do not fear. Unless I miss my guess,
We have been spared that arduous trek
Once trod by Hercules and Orpheus, Dante and Aeneas.
Instead, our friend Stavros has sent us off in style
And let us take – shall we say – the express rather than the local.”

At this they heard a cry, and looking up, saw white-haired Stavros –
Standing, it seemed, upon a tall and distant cliff –
Though he might also have been in a hot-air balloon,
So little of him could they see as they strained to hear his words.
“Good to see you all made it through!” be called.

“I apologize for the nature of your trip, but I know your time is precious
And so I could not accompany you down the long and ancient way.
Remain where you are, and be not afraid – your presence
May cause some commotion amongst the shades,
But your escort will arrive shortly. Check your pockets – and again, farewell!”

Their wallets – gone. Passports – gone. Watches, cell phones,
All had disappeared – save for three gold coins, and several Milk-Bones,
Their pockets had been emptied. Alarmed, they looked to McAdoo,
Who had answers at the ready. “No photography allowed,” he said,
“And down here, believe me, reception is lousy anyway.”

“Your personal possessions are of no further use,” said a voice.
“As you already know, you can’t take it with you.” They turned as one,
And saw – a man? A boy? An ancient, long beard and all?
His form shifted, sometimes radiating youth, sometimes sallow age,
Sometimes both at once. Only his eyes remained constant.

“Upon your return to the upper sphere, your goods shall be restored,”
He said. “In the meantime, rest assured that they are protected
More securely than any vault on Earth could ever promise.”
“We thank you,” said McAdoo, and all the others added their assent.
“Where are we, and if it is permitted, may we ask who you are?”

“I may have had a name once,” he said, with something like a smile.
“But here no one ever asks for it, and in truth I do not miss it.
Here I am but one of many guides for the newly arrived,
Whom I escort to the shore you see before you, the banks
Of the Dark River – for that is where you are.”

And now their eyes had adjusted, they looked shoreward once again
And became aware of movement along the river’s edge.
Indeed, there was nothing but movement,
For the entire shore was densely packed with jostling shades
So tightly crowded that they seemed to overlap.

As a field of wheat ripples in the warm Midwestern breeze,
So did waves of motion play across that ghostly mass.
But there was no sound, no cries of “Hey! Watch it, buddy!”
Nor polite whispers of apology, as spirit nudged against spirit,
Slowly swaying along the obsidian shore.

“They do not yet know,” said their Guide. “They are as dreamers,
Or babies newly born, or surgical patients emerging
From Morpheus’ painfree embrace. As you are discovering now,
Other senses come into play here, senses deadened
Under the weight of flesh and air, senses that must be learned anew.”

He gestured to them to follow, and turned toward the shore.
“Stay close,” he said to them. “Answer no question, make no comment.
Be as they are – still, quiet, and patient. I will make a way for you.
Oh – but do guard your pockets.” So saying he walked ahead,
turning now and then to check their progress.

When young boys break into an abandoned house,
Their imaginations filling each room with dread,
They advance in a clump down the creaky hallways, not daring to breathe,
Their flashlights swinging wildly at every wooden creak,
Jumping out of their skins at the sight of the dead man’s cat.

So how did they manage, these mortal though powerful men,
Advancing through real and actual ghosts to that most final of shores?
I would like to tell you that they kept their cool,
Facing these specters with the same kind of bravado
They used on conference calls with investors.

And they tried their best, in truth they did,
But each one felt his knees give way, his heart race,
Felt fear like he had never felt – save McAdoo,
Who was too busy looking at the faces of the shades
To think about the fear he felt within.

“Oh Guide,” he said, sotto voce, so as to not disturb,
“How long have these shades been here, how recently have they died?”
“Depends,” said his companion, with a hint of surprise at the question,
“Some have only arrived this very instant, some have stood here
For much, much longer. Do you seek someone?”

“Oh – no,” said quick-thinking McAdoo. “My parents died
Some time ago, and I am certain that in this great crowd
Even were they present, I should never find them here.”
“Just so,” said the Guide. “A shade could wait here for millennia,
As passes Earthly time – but never know the difference.”

“Remember,” he said, “this is Eternity’s shore you stand upon,
The boundary between your time and timelessness. You still retain
Your sense of Time’s flow – but to such as I the truth is clear,
That all that happens or will happen there has happened.
Not everyone is willing or able to make this crossing.”

And now a great horn sounds, and the companions jump as one,
Sending ripples throughout the assembled ghostly horde.
“Fear not,” says the Guide, reaching out to steady them,
And to calm their quivering shoulders.
“That is the sound of the Ferry arriving – look, and see if you can see.”

From the dark grey fog, across the dark grey waves,
Their eyes discern an enormous shape emerge. A ferry – or a cruise ship,
Indeed, a ship much like to those they saw upon the Aegean waves,
But with a mountain’s bulk and height. A mountain, or a mountain range,
Perhaps, peak piled onto peak – but made all of black glass.

THE MCADOOIAD: Book 2

BOOK 2

 The baklava was sweet as profit and twice as sticky,
And the ouzo and dark coffee flowed as the dishes were cleared
And the tables rearranged. The musicians struck up a tune
And the hosts gestured eagerly for the strangers to rise.
The waiters, smiling, joined their hands to demonstrate.

As a newborn colt first tries his spindly legs
And wobbles beneath his mother’s watchful gaze,
So did these men, first haltingly, then more assured,
Try the simple dances.  Slowly did their restraint dissolve,
Caught up in the spirit, the ouzo, and the bouzouki’s strings.

 Yes, soon they dipped and swayed like experts,
Stomping like true sons of the island’s shores.
Cries of “OPA!” ringing down the streets
The old men in the roadways, eyebrows raised
Exchanged amused and knowing glances. “Those tourists…!”

The dancing and the drinking, the drinking and the dancing
Carried on through unknown hours, until it seemed
That the very house might be loosed from its ancient stone foundations.
As the level boat deck, seeming solid, slowly begins to stir
As the storm approaches, so did the floor gently weave and rock.

But suddenly the musicians stopped. And when they stopped,
The dancers stopped.  And when the dancers stopped,
The deep bass rumble that had underlied their dance became a solo voice,
Taking on new meaning.  For now the house itself was dancing –
To a tune of ancient vintage, one written by Gaia Herself.

 “EARTHQUAKE!” cried Delaceur, and the newcomers
Looked about themselves in horror. The islanders had vanished already,
Alerted by some primal instinct – save for Stavros their host, who caught
The eye of McAdoo and serenely nodded, as if to say
“Ah yes – I believe your request has been granted.”

 A wave then passed across the landscape
A graceful wriggle, a sinuous crest
As a cobra when it raises itself to strike,
Or as the belly of the Lady Asta undulates
When she does the hoochy-coochy at the Monroe County Fair.

As that wave passed beneath the house of Stavros,
The ground rose, and the floor cracked across like an eggshell
And as the wave passed, the floor collapsed
Opening an unfathomable pit below. The lights went out,
But not before McAdoo saw the roofbeams and the plaster fall.

 Put a blind man with depression in a coal mine at midnight
And he would not see such blackness as yawned now beneath them
That blackness took them in, these men of wealth and power
It swallowed them like so many sardines, like minnows,
Like plankton down the gullet of a whale.

For how long he swirled down that sea of nothing
McAdoo could never say. The darkness took all, light,
Sound, thought, time itself… and then he was again.
He lay, it seemed, upon a beach – felt sand against his back,
And heard the gentle sound of lapping waves.

 “Ah,” he thought, “They saved me from the house,
They must have taken us all to the shore
Away from falling buildings.” Then thought of his companions
Brought his eyes full open, and set him bolt upright
To find his fellows, and gaze upon his new surroundings.

 

PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: HEAVY THOUGHTS ABOUT LEITKULTUR

(My column for May 2017)

I have “gone to ground” for the time being in Krefeld, a city of about 225,000, near Düsseldorf in western Germany. I am staying with my cousin and his wife while I figure out what’s supposed to happen next.

Cities like Krefeld throughout Germany have become the endpoints for the journeys of many conflict-displaced refugees (“Flüchtlinge” in German) – around 3500, I am told. There is also a much larger number of economic migrants who have come looking for work, some of whom have set up businesses. Turkish barbershops, convenience stores (“Kiosks”), and pizzerias are everywhere; the latter frequently also serve “Döner,” a halal variation of the Greek gyros.

Döner has become so popular in Germany – as has, say, Mexican food in the US – that one could almost say it’s become part of the culture.

And as you might guess, that kind of development bothers some people.

The German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, set off a bit of a stir here recently with an op-ed in which he attempted to articulate some basic values of what Germans call “Leitkultur.” This word means “leading culture” or “guiding culture” – though sometimes it gets translated as “dominant culture.”

Minister de Maiziere’s essay generally makes unsurprising and not-particularly controversial points about the important roles played by history, philosophy, and the arts in the shaping of modern German society, and the value of hard work and education. (He gives special shoutouts to Bach and Goethe, for example, though not Nietzche or Wagner.) But a couple of his suggested principles seem specifically intended to be direct swipes at certain aspects of Muslim culture. “We are an open society. We show our face. We are not Burka,” he writes.

To this last point, the Gruenen Jugend, the youth wing of the Green Party, responded curtly: “We are not Lederhosen, either.” De Maizere’s piece has drawn similar scoffs and critiques from other politicians and organizations. (If you’d like to explore further, I suggest the English-language website Deutsche Welle, which has many articles on this topic.)

My cousin thinks that the whole kerfuffle is a pre-electoral stunt – there are state elections coming soon, and Federal ones in the fall – and the discussion will wither away thereafter. He’s probably right. Issues of culture and identity are hot buttons, after all, guaranteed to touch a nerve and bring out the voters. But it’s a critical discussion that should not just be kept alive, but expanded.

Part of de Maizere’s problem, I think, is that in stopping at the national level he fails to take the next logical step. He writes, “We remain, non-negotiably, part of the West, proud Europeans, and enlightened patriots,” but it doesn’t occur to him that there might be another layer, a global “Leitweltkultur” if you will, a set of common human values that can guide the relationships between nations, cultures, and individuals alike. This would include not just the already largely acknowledged values of human rights and mutual respect, but a clearer articulation of the rights – and responsibilities – of both “hosts” and “guests.” In the unsettled times to come, as more people are uprooted by cultural and climactic unrest, this will become increasingly important.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, we’re about to go grocery shopping. We’ll pick up some currywurst, maybe… perhaps some hummus and falafel… After all, it’s all good.