Monday, October 24, 2016


Well, it is like someone playing keyboards, 
meditatively, way high on the scale, as high
as the the sound will go. Or like a steampunk
mosquito swaying at my ear. Or like 
a silver brightness, not quite seen.
It is what silence sounds like now:
the goddess of hazards who hums as she works;
or the sift of the sunrise between steel clouds.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Pledge Of Other Things

Start again: it's the morning walk,
the long slow flourish
of silver in the gray sky, the sudden
slash of rain across my face,
and the leaves scrambling on the street:
if I've forgotten the recklessness that matters
then I've forgotten everything.

Start again.
One painful step, the aching heels,
the flash of pain that runs from hip to calf,
the relief of closing eyes against the light,
so that the pulse knocks once, twice, thrice against the lids.

Start again.
Leave the brutal soldiers to their work,
leave Nineveh its overlaid, perpetual collapse.
Did I think there was no work for me alone to do?
But it's one stone at a time. This word:
its heft in the hand, its longing
for a throat to call its own.

Cup my hands and let them fill with light,
let the radiance dribble down my chin. 
I have forgotten, haven't I? I have.
No matter. Start again.

Straighten up, and the company of ghosts
shuffling at my heels 
falls back and falls behind: they can't keep pace
with standing still.

One prayer learned late or early
will make them flinch; and this light,
this rainwashed silver scarf,
is a pledge of other things
soon to be remembered in their turn.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Not Saying Things: Part Three

Well, sure. Let's talk about plutocracy and corruption, then.

There's such an array of stuff that Clinton is accused of that you can end up a bit dazed. This part is easier if you're old, because the stuff came at you a little at a time, and you knew where it was coming from. I don't even remember what the hell Whitewater was supposed to be about, but I know that I looked at it and thought it completely bogus. Likewise the murder of Vince Foster. In those days Bill Clinton was hugely popular, and attacking his far less popular, unladylike wife looked like a better shot than attacking him directly. They started making crap up to throw at her.

If you want to dive it and relive those wonderful days, be my guest. I'm done. The Clinton enemies have been at this for a very long time.

But there was lots of new stuff to sort through. There was the whatever-it-was she was supposed to have done or left undone in re Benghazi. She was supposedly giving all our uranium away to Russia. She was taking extraordinary amounts in speaker fees from Wall Street.

Michael Arnowitz -- a Portlander, I'm happy to say, though I don't know him -- did a nice takedown of the whole silly speaker fees thing. The guys holding the Benghazi hearings ended up with egg on their face and the question of whatever-it-was is as mysterious as ever. It turns out that, no, Secretary Clinton did not sign away the nation's uranium. What I ran into that was entirely new to me was the Clinton Foundation, presented as a sinister money-laundering operation.

So, the foundation? As it happens, I know a bit about non-profits and how to evaluate them. The Clinton Foundation is a good one, and it spends its money exactly as it says it does. It calls itself a foundation, but it's actually, mostly, a charity: they run their own programs, addressing things such as the availability of drinkable water and HIV medications in Africa. So Pence gets to say the Clinton Foundation takes in all this money and then only spends ten percent in grants. That's true -- because it isn't primarily a grant-funding operation. They do their own stuff, and they do it well and transparently, and they get good ratings from the people who rate charities.

Aha! But people get political favors if they make big donations! Well -- no, they don't. I spent a while chasing this stuff down as well as I could, and I found exactly one iffy-looking nomination to some board after a big donation. It wasn't really a very exciting corruption story. Okay, but -- if you make a big donation you get face time with Clinton, possibly at the State Department, and God knows what goes on in those meetings! No doubt some very sinister favor trading, so cleverly done that no one can detect it.

This is where we're finally getting down to what's real about the trouble with Clinton, and the Democratic Party, and money. Yes. Money gets you access. It generally always has. This is why so many big corporations donate to both parties. When they've got a political issue, they want to make sure they can stroll over and have a little talk about it.

Clinton thinks this is not a problem, because she is not going to offer a quid pro quo. I actually -- laugh at me if you like -- totally believe her about the quid pro quo. I think she's incorruptible. If somebody says, "here's thirty million for your foundation, will you get the State Department to approve our arms deal?" she'll say, "thanks so much! The State Department will approve it or not approve it on its merits!" And they'll go away thinking they've bribed her, and the State Department will approve it or not approve it on its merits, and some people in Africa will get HIV meds.

I have no doubt whatever that one of the benefits that the Clintons anticipated, when they started their foundation, was an extra reason to have face to face time with people in the donor class. Those are people with power, and the Clintons gravitate to power. Always have. They would probably have given these people face time anyway, because they like to keep in touch with powerful people. And *that* is a problem. Just that these are the people that Clinton sees, week in and week out. The people she talks with. The people she's tuned to.

It is not, however, corruption. Clinton is pro-business: she's hardly made a secret of that. She thinks corporation and businesses are the source of American prosperity -- I think that's true myself -- and that therefore they need to be supported and encouraged. As a far-left kind of guy, I think this is a problem. Clinton (and the Democratic party) are just too cozy with these folks. They're biased in favor of business from the git-go.

But being pro-business is not the same thing as being corrupt. It means you lean rightward. It means that you have no particular impulse to become well-versed in environmental issues. It means that you know all about business and corporate concerns about legislation right away, and maybe hear about other concerns later, if at all. It's the perpetual bias of both parties, and will be as long as politics is donation-driven.

Is this plutocracy? Well, yeah, kinda sorta, over the long haul it works out that way. But it's no particular fault of Clinton's, and she's no worse about it than anyone else. It's a systemic problem, and it's not one that Sanders or anyone else was going to fix from the White House. If it's to be fixed, it will fixed legislatively, and state by state -- almost precinct by precinct. It's very, very deeply inwoven in American politics. (And if you think it's worse now than it used to be, you really need to read up on American political history. I particularly recommend the first volume of Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power.)

The most important step at present, in reducing money's sway over politics, is overturning Citizens United, which Clinton is totally and publicly committed to doing -- she's even saying in so many words, if you don't plan to overturn it, don't apply for a Supreme Court nomination. Even if you think Clinton is crooked, I think you can agree it is not her style to renege on something that simply put and forcefully repeated: if she's president, Citizens United goes down.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Not Saying Things: Part Two

I came to have a higher opinion of Bernie Sanders, as I followed him in the primaries. My opinion of both candidates, in fact, was much higher at the end of the primaries than the beginning: I seem to be the only human being in the nation of whom this is true. I liked him. He was civil and respectful throughout the campaign. And of course I agreed in principle with a lot of what he was saying, because I am way off to the left of the American electorate, and he was saying a lot of lefty sorts of things.

In fact, I see that I have to back up a bit to explain my initial bias against him, which may seem a bit mysterious, at this point.

Once upon a time I was an opinionated young man -- even more opinionated than I am now, I mean; a really opinionated young man -- and like many young men I took my opinions very, very seriously. I measured politicians by how much they agreed with me. If you agreed with me about a lot of things, then I thought you were a good politician. If Bernie Sanders had been a national figure at that time I have no doubt he would have been my favorite guy. I was a sucker for third parties, in those days, and I was predisposed to like someone who bucked the parties. "Independent" and "maverick" were words that deeply appealed to me.

Well, time went on, as it does, and my respect for opinions -- mine, everyone's -- dwindled. Everyone's got them, and it doesn't actually matter all that much what they are. When it comes to things actually happening, it's not the politician with the right opinions who matters. It's the politician who can wheedle, threaten, beg, or bargain enough to get other people to go along. And those politicians were the people who took their party machinery seriously, and who worked to get their hands on its levers.

The other thing that became apparent to me, with the passage of time, and the reading of history, was that the two party system was not an accident or a happenstance. There will always be two parties, roughly equal in power, in the United States, apart from re-alignments once or twice a century. It's baked into the Constitution. (That's ironic, because the writers of the Constitution hated parties, and hoped we could have a political life without them; but hey. They were doing this democratic republic thing for the first time. Cut them a little slack.)

So anyway -- whether that's true or not, it was the way I was thinking by the time Sanders came to my attention. "Independent" had lost its charm for me. So had opinionated guys. I cared about legislation, and tax structures, and the composition of the Supreme Court.

Over the course of the primaries, I learned more about Sanders, and though I never learned much respect for his ideas about foreign policy, which were at best sketchy, nor about banking, which I thought were uninformed, I did learn to respect him as a politician. He did lots of progressive networking, and his relationship with the Democratic Party was nuanced and fruitful. He wasn't just exploiting the Democrats by staying outside the party and then running inside it. He was trying to move the party, and he understood how difficult it is to do that from the inside. So I liked him, and I like him still. I hope he's in the Senate another thirty years, and I hope someday we will have made the Democratic Party a place he can call home.

Saturday, October 01, 2016


A wind from the South, bringing rain.
The wires tremble, trying to remember
the art of winter and the arrangement 
of a thousand glassy silvery eyes: they knew it once
by heart.

My lady of summer glances back, amused,
but she doesn't bother to wave.
She's already thinking of a dalliance 
she might resume where the river Plate
freshens the Atlantic, and little fish
twinkle on crowded decks, 
and the southern lapwing calls.

Here, the ribs of the sky expand,
and every gutter runs
clean but tannin-stained. If I falter,
it is my age: a strong steady hanker
still draws me to the wind.
it is October,
when the greater gods and goddesses arrive.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Not Saying Things: Part One

I worried, as this year's presidential primary season was taking shape. The Democratic field was small and crap quality. Clinton was a center Democrat, with policies identical to Obama's in almost every regard; not brilliant, but someone who at least did her homework. She was of the great networkers and coalition builders of our time: but no talent for retail politics. Then there was someone whose name I could never remember, and still can't: Malloy? Never figured out why he was running. And then there was Sanders, the sort of fluffy-left politician I couldn't stand. He had never changed an opinion in fifty years of public life. He had one speech, which he made over and over, and his solution to any problem was to resurrect the 1970s playbook. Got a problem? Create a large new federal program! He was exactly the sort of politico that ran the Democratic party into a ditch, in my youth, and ushered in the Reagan revolution.

I didn't like any of these candidates very much. But any of them would do. I don't look to presidents for "the vision thing": I want them to take orders from their party and do the slogging administrative duties of the state. They were all neoliberals (though Sanders didn't seem to know he was), and none of them represented any significant change. Fine. With the Republicans in control of Congress, nothing was going to change anyway. Deadlock was the best we could hope for. I planned to vote for Sanders, since Clinton was obviously going to win anyway, and one likes to send a message to the Democratic establishment. ("Hey, there's still a vestigial Left in existence! Hey! Hey!")

But Sanders, improbably enough, started making a real play for the nomination. And I thought he'd be an especially ineffective president. Whereas the more I looked at Clinton the more liked her, especially for the scrappy, ugly fight that the next four years were going to be. I watched myself morph into a Clinton supporter, somewhat to my own surprise.

But my worry became more intense. The worry was simply this: that I knew the Republicans would try to make the Clinton and Sanders people hate each other. And I knew they had a shiny new tool for that: social media. So I resolved not to be played. I would just shut up. I would not argue with the Sanders people. Not a word. I would not open my mouth until well after the primaries, when they'd gotten over it. No wrangling from me.

I did it too. I just shut my trap. 

It was a bad decision, for several reasons. The main one: I overestimated what I could do. I thought I could just hold back everything I wanted to say, and still be the same person. That I could just let the lies and insults go by. It wasn't so. I came out the other end embittered, angrier at Sanders people than at Trump people. The Republicans hadn't just succeeded in making the Sanders people hate me. They'd succeeded in making me hate the Sanders people. I work every day to unwind that, to try to think of them still as allies. It's not working very well. I'd have done better to have brawled with them: I'd probably like them better now, if I had. Or maybe not. In any case, it wasn't worth it. Though I do feel that it gave me insight into Clinton's character. Clinton has spent a lifetime not saying things: I got a glimpse of what that's like.

Monday, September 05, 2016

September: Progress Report

Losing one's identity is, according to some Buddhists, a consummation devoutly to be wished. I have certainly lost mine. I used to be someone who was extraordinarily well-read. Now, well, I read sometimes, sometimes. Often I just look at silly old movies on YouTube, movies from my native country of the seventies, with the sound off. Or I refresh, monitoring my bets. I read 538 and religiously. I wander in and out of Facebook, far less conversational than I used to be: a mostly silent figure. When I do speak -- or rather type -- I am haunted by how often I have said exactly the same things, time and time again: Oh yes, I say that because I am a Buddhist, a Redistributionist, a Literary Man, A Person Who Looks At The Sky. But really, of course, I am a man who looks at his computer, and who feels that all these identities have grown into enormous suits, that dwarf him, like Byrne's suit in Stop Making Sense. And often I wander away now without saying anything, because what do I really have to say, I, this shrunken little old man gazing rapt at the shreds of his native, vanishing world? I have nothing to say. It was all a lot of silly posturing. I am surprised when I find that I can still speak those languages.

When I read aloud, I can hear my voice changing, the sibilants becoming wheezier, less distinct. When my brother, five years my elder, came out to visit, after many years away, that was was struck me most forcibly: he was hale as ever, but he had an old man's voice. And so I have been watching for the onset. And there it is: some faint loss of suppleness or agility in my tongue. No one else seems to notice it, but I do. 

This is real too: the watch I keep on my own physical decay. It is not quite what I would have thought. I welcome every loss: I am comforted by it. I feared I might be immortal, indestructible. I am not.

And, from someone who never gave a damn about money, I have become parsimonious, hypersensitive to the varied meanings of spending and withholding money. This small person I have become, darting from one hiding place to another, realizes only too well how much of his foothold in the world comes from being able to pay his own way.

In the bits and pieces of Spanish that I read, in primers and first readers and such, it is astonishing how front-and-center the passion of parsimonious grasping is. Over and over the lesson taught to the Spanish-speaking child is: the life of the grasping miser is a wretched one. Spend freely and be a man. Generosity is what makes a human life. I tell you, the takeover of American culture by Latinos can't come fast enough for me. Taco trucks on every corner, and a Church that takes its duty to the poor seriously? Bring it.

And I wander, barely here, redeemed by massage and human touch, when I am redeemed. And by the sky above me, when I am riding my bicycle: that still happens sometimes too.


The month of love and renewal, in my personal calendar. I am not sad, though I suppose I sound so: I am happy, confused, and young.