(June 6, 2005)
Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young PoetTo the Editor:
Once more, I am sending readers to your "Letters to a Young Poet (Letter Ten)" (Rainer Maria Rilke) from the May 24th issue of my IBPC Newswire column called "Poetry & Poets in Rags," which will have its weekly update tonight, including that link to your item.
Thanks for doing this excellent series.
Lowell, Massachusetts, USA - May 24, 2005
Actually, Galloway only did what a representative of the people should do. This happening highlights just how puerile & pathetic contemporary politicians are world wide. God help us all. Bush goes from worse to worsest.
Sydney, NSW, Australia - May 24, 2005
Pedantically European: Jan Baughman's Spinning Out Of Control: US Transgressions In The NewsTo the Editor:
Please permit this pedant's pedant to indulge in his pedantry. Jan Baughman referred to the Times of London. Possibly she means The Times, a once-great newspaper before Murdochisation.
Here in Europe, we are aware that some regional newspapers in the United States use the word "Times" in their titles, presumably in the hope of aggrandising themselves by dropping their strong regional affiliations.
The Times was founded in 1785 and assumed its present title in 1788. The New York Times was not founded until 1851, while the Los Angeles Times arose from the ashes of the Los Angeles Daily Times, founded in 1881.
Of course, it could just be laziness...
Amsterdam, Netherlands - May 24, 2005
Honest News: Charles Marowitz's Chris Matthews, The Interviewer As MuggerTo the Editor:
Just wanted to thank Charles for his mention of Keith Olbermann in his Matthews/Muggers article.
Of all the news anchors he mentioned, KO is certainly the most trustworthy too. That's a good thing for America! In fact, KO and Jon Stewart are the only people reporting honest news.
Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA - May 23, 2005
The "Greatest" GenerationTo the Editor:
July 2, 2005 I will see my 84th birthday. I am particularly gratified that I have been included in "The Greatest Generation." I also note that the media is not only going to great lengths to present war as a normal state of affairs, and that my service in WWII is getting the attention it so richly deserves. We were tough but the present generation, (it has to be conceded) is not only tough, but downright callous . . . or as many international observers have noted: somewhat lacking in intelligence. This generation has a plethora of technology that does everything for them but, in spite of that, manage to work two jobs. Those that aren't engaged in this arduous exercise spend many hours in freeway traffic getting to and from work. Soon they will have to have their food piped to them . . . This generation even has its thinking done for them by over 300 think tanks.
Many of my buddies in WWII became prisoners of war by the Germans, but even the Nazi practitioners of genocide did not torture prisoners, (they shot them occasionally) but did not subject them to officially sanctioned torture. It is true that we were caught unprepared for war in 1941 but we soon illustrated the fact that a giant industrial country could soon remedy this. The present generation has twelve aircraft carrier battle groups to fight terrorism with and has used this military might to attack a small Arab country in the same manner as did the Japanese that attacked us at Pearl Harbor. We even had a nice corporation logo to celebrate it with . . . Shock and Awe.
In my day we didn't have Amnesty International or a Center for Constitutional Rights to face down a president and his whole administration. We didn't need them. President Roosevelt or any of his generals, including General Eisenhower, who later became president, would be horrified at today's use of torture and the fact that the American people have allowed an administration to get away with it. This generation, (your generation) has at its fingertip means of communication that we didn't dream of . . . Television and the personal computer, hooked up internationally to other personal computers, is science fiction come to life.
It is true that there are many voices of resistance on the web but I have to conclude by saying that; if our generation had this kind of information there would be rioting in the streets.
John H. St. John
Spring Valley, California, USA - May 31, 2005
John Steppling's Review of Swans' May 9 Edition
To the Editor:
I must start with Charles Marowitz's hugely amusing, but also quite trenchant, take on the talking heads of the uber-medium. His descriptions have kept me laughing all morning. Katie Couric IS the bad seed...and I've not heard better takes on the likes of O'Reilly and Hannity anywhere.
I would add that we probably all have our personal loathings -- and personal guilty pleasures (mine being, like Charles, Keith Olbermann...who I loved even more when he did sports, but he is still alright -- sort of a post-modern talking head, commenting on the commenting) but I think a note on a personal abhorrence of mine is in order. Brit Hume...he of the badly carved jack-o'-lantern face, he of the pursed bloodless lips and dead reptilian eyes, best embodies the zealotry of the right wing and of its smugness. Here in Europe we get CNN World and BBC World -- and both are replete with empty suits and dresses. Zain Verjee.....or Vain Zerjee as we often call her, is so visibly stupid that it's painful to watch her even try to sign off. Walter Rogers is another one I simply find intolerable. One of the "embeds" during the recent invasion of Iraq, Rogers likes to fancy himself a Hemingway-esque grizzled combat reporter when he is really the most craven of sycophantic worms -- his pancake #6 dripping down his several chins as he leans against a tank in the hot Iraqi sun (does anyone remember Koppel trying to fit a helmet over his rug during his embedded trip to the combat zone?). I caught Rogers covering one of the last appearances of the late Pope -- obsequiously going on about "piety".....god, where is the vomit bag? Anyway, a wonderful piece by Marowitz.
Phil Rockstroh is again great. Here is part of his piece:
"What we are witnessing is the desperation of empty egoists -- bereft of vivifying experience and tempering circumstance...whose human hearts are drawn to the eros of the world, but are thwarted and tricked at every approach by stultifying, religious moralizing and soul-numbing uberculture artifice...Hence withers passion, intimacy and hope...And the ensuring emptiness creates desperation...which leads to selfishness and aggression -- manifestations of the carelessness inherent to 'the ownership society' and its attendant exploitive workplaces, substandard education of its young, abysmal health care for all but its ruling classes, and its ceaseless need for imperial wars."I think this is quite resonant. The empty egos. Indeed, though perhaps it's no ego at all? We have all been writing around this recently, and I think there is still the definitive gloss waiting out there -- the shrunken ego, the lost or abandoned ego, and all tricked out in the finery of a hyper-ego. The usual excellence from Phil.
Philip Greenspan writes of the erosion of news veracity. It's a terribly depressing subject I have to say, and his example of the Florida courts and FOX News is particularly depressing. Still, this has been going on for quite a while -- only now is it reaching levels of dada. Greenspan makes a salient point when he speaks of the need to dig for the truth -- and this is absolutely true. Want the truth about Milosevic? You better dig past Marlise Simons at the New York Times. Want the truth on Rwanda? Dig past Samantha Power. Want the truth about Castro? Dig past the anchors at CNN or CBS. The truth in Iraq? You won't find it in ANY US paper or TV newscast. The truth is illusive, I admit, but there IS something out there resembling truth -- and for those under the falling cluster bombs and in the sights of speed freak teenage Marine Corps killers, it's a real thing. The wars of Empire are simply not spoken of with anything like reality in mind. The collapse of our ecosystem is clear to anyone with open eyes, but how much real coverage does one find these days? I have a small quibble with Greenspan's list of the trusted -- and that's only that Amy Goodman was horribly wrong about the Balkans -- nattering on about genocide and what not when nothing of the sort had happened. Still, she is mostly pretty good, I guess. I would add Gary Leupp and Stan Goff, Arundhati Roy, Michael Chossudovsky, Greg Elich, Neil Clark, and, well, the "wedge" here at SWANS to the list of those who can be trusted.
Here is quick note on the people of the shrinking ego and expanding waistline.
Our fearless leader's blips are particularly good this time. I want to take a second to comment on George Galloway and his appearance in D.C. Galloway (a good pal of Harold Pinter by the by) was wonderful -- but it's amazing how little it takes to provide inspiration. I've been a bit of a fan of Galloway for a while, notwithstanding his basically mercantile mindset. His finest moment (as Joe Davison reminded me) was this appearance. He ate Coleman's lunch and sent Levin out for more. A great bit of political theatre, but how pathetic that no American politician will do the same. Gilles points out that the latest version of Hillary, asshole buddy with Newt -- and Sasha Cockburn recently noted he would rather vote for Laura Bush than Hillary, and I think that's about right -- is now courting people of faith (whatever that means) and seems bent on taking whatever position is most expedient. The Democrats are so useless and despicable at this point that I want them all to just disappear....wait, they have disappeared, forget I said that.
The real point of these Blips is the Downing Street Memo. I suppose this could be seen as the absolute nadir in terms of public discourse, or lack thereof. I am not, I have to say, surprised. A memo from....oh....a while back is just not sexy. Who cares, because I mean, you know, one would have to read the damn thing and that's.....uh....so boring. People don't read, and people try hard not to think, and the talking heads (referred to by Marowitz) certainly aren't going to bring such stuff up. Voila, no story, no traction, no legs, no nothing.
Look, the US public is addicted to their fictions. They want to be lied to, they have to keep telling themselves these lies, for to even for a second entertain the possibility that, oh, we went to war for profit and domination (or that Pat Tillman was shot by friendly fire, or Jessica Lynch was cared for by decent Iraqi medical staff, etc., etc., etc.) is to fracture the very fragile sense of reality everyone is living with. Lives are so empty, so without meaning and so filled with a sense of futility and powerlessness that fiction is all that gets folks through the day.
A note on Uzbekistan... Now I add this because it relates both to Gilles's blips and to Philip's piece. Laughland is pretty right-on here, and it's hard not to find most coverage in the US press on this subject anything but surreal. And Gilles concludes with, I think, a really telling statistic: 80% of Americans think we should be exporting our values. Eighty ...effing percent?!?!?!?! I mean what does this say? Seriously, what does this say? What degree of profound, near-cosmic hubris does this reflect? More Big Macs, more SUVs, more Britney Spears, more Ricardo Sanchezes, more Tug McGraws, more Cheez Whiz, more faith-based rehab, more bread in cellophane, more American Idol, more video games about car jackings, more Katie Couric, more marriage counselors, more Star Wars (both film and defense project), more FAT, more NED "revolutions" in places with natural resources, more Bechtel and Lockheed Martin, more Thomas Freidman and more Pricilla Owen. I suppose I could be getting this "values" things wrong; and I really do wonder what most of that 80% think these American values are? Probably stuff like "democracy" and "the freedom to do business and make lots of money"....right? The right to exploit the wogs and towel heads....the right to drop bombs on poor people and steal their water and oil.
Wait, here are some American values...
Paranoia is setting in, and I see and hear it even among a lot of smart and critical people. Fear of losing jobs, fear of the witch hunters and right-wing zealots, fear of fear itself. Well, I understand, and if I lived in the U.S. I might suffer this kind of anxiety a lot more than I do. However, I want to say, when they come to knock on your door at two in the morning, the rule of law will mean little. Fascism has little use for the law, so it's probably just as well to tell these people to fuck right off, because you won't fool them anyway, they know you aren't with the program, they know and can smell a deviant commie from a mile away. Hell, my right arm is covered in tattoos, shoulder to wrist, and I suspect that in itself justifies me for Gitmo. When Ann Coulter makes the cover of Time, you know you passed through the looking glass. So a big cheer for Galloway, a man with the right badass attitude, and that is something we rarely see in public life. His insult of Chris Hitchens on the way in was also tasty! I don't want to live in fear of the new thought police, sorry. The hell with them and the deformed horses they rode in on.
Milo Clark has a very timely review of Charles Glass, writing on the Middle East. Such lessons in history are essential reading and Milo covers it all with his usual excellence.
Finally a quick note on Jan Baughman's piece. Jan nicely lists some of the recent administration screw ups; ending with the photos of Saddam in his jockey shorts (clean, though they seemed). Now, after this man was supported for a decade, during which time he gassed Kurds with American made helicopters, and was encouraged to go to war with both Iran and later Kuwait.....and after a decade of heinous sanctions on the tyrant's country by his former pals, and then watching his sons executed and trotted out in death like hunting trophies -- I guess the idea of Geneva Conventions seem, uh, a little beside the point when applied to a photo op in his underwear. From the fatuity of Scott McClelland on the Newsweek Koran story, to Rumsfeld's remarks on same, to Saddam's pics, I get the feeling that I am living in a really bad third-generation dupe of a really bad surrealist montage made by someone who was sold bathtub acid. Here is a postscript of sorts to Galloway and to Saddam and to the oil biz.
Nice piece by Jan.
In Krakow...well, it's been quite warm and the tourists are here in hordes. It's not a pretty sight. It seems Americans are changing physically; bigger jaws and a more lumbering gait. I can't quite put my finger on it, though....but they do stand out in a crowd. A group of Italians can be seen, having fun, eating of course, the men probably a bit too well groomed, and the Germans might be seen to be marching instead of just strolling, and the Japanese will be in big groups with cameras....but the Americans, I don't know, it's a strange sort of overweight and too heavily medicated feel, combined with this new generation of equine-faced cranial over-development (or is it a Rondo Hatton thing? Too much protein?) -- it's unpalatable, whatever it is.
Still, it's gorgeous over by the Wisla, and Boris is shoving his wet large nose in my back, so it must be time to go chase the swans.... The Jankowski sub species of the Mute, that is...not my colleagues.
Krakow, Poland - May 31, 2005
[ed. Steppling is a LA playwright (Rockefeller fellow, NEA recipient, and PEN-West winner) and screenwriter (most recent was Animal Factory directed by Steve Buscemi). He is currently living in Poland where he teaches at the National Film School in Lodz. You can find more about his writing on his personal Swans' cove.]
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