The River

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

A quintessentially American day

"America was never innocent. We popped our cherry on the boat over and looked back with no regrets. You can't ascribe our fall from grace to any single event or set of circumstances. You can't lose what you lacked at conception.” – novelist James Ellroy.

I was watching TV the other night. Yes, it was another one of my forays into TV land. I much prefer blogland, you know.

So anyways, I was watching TV. I had even looked in the TV week magazine thing that comes in the Sunday paper for guidance. Haha. I guess that’s kinda like asking the NRA for guidance on gun control.

The TV was tuned to PBS, which is not surprising, since it’s the only channel on the tube as far as our preschooler is concerned, and she’s usually the last to have watched. (no more than an hour a day!) A Ken Burns documentary was on, so no need to search. Ken Burns, great stuff, right? Well, yeah, as tepid entertainment. That’s what Curtis White argues in his latest book, The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don’t Think For Themselves. And he argues this entertainment is so bland and safe that we’re putting ourselves to sleep. Ken Burns presents facts as if they were nuggets you could pick up and put in your pocket, to paraphrase Curtis. I’d give you the direct quote, but I don’t have the book with me.

From the back of the book (this is on Amazon):

The Middle Mind is not about left or right, highbrow or lowbrow, academia or pop culture; in fact, it pervades society without discrimination. The danger is not in a specific point of view, but rather in how the Middle Mind thrives in the common ground of unquestioned mediocrity. All we seem to ask about the culture we experience is whether it's entertaining.
White argues that we have forgotten how to read, to watch, to think for ourselves. Because it is neutral, widespread, and easily digestible, the Middle Mind has lulled the American imagination to sleep. As we sit comfortably amused and distracted, just outside the door there is an immediate crisis of a nation blindly following the path of least resistance.

I’m only a third of the way through it, but I can highly recommend this book, especially for you academics and Adorno fans out there.

Hmmm. In checking out Curtis on the Dalkey Archive’s Center for Book Culture site (he’s the Center’s president as well as an English prof at Univ. of Illinois, I think it is. This information is maddeningly not present on the site), I see that most of the material he’s written for the site was gathered into this book. Here he lays out his Middle Mind thesis. (good thing I checked the book out of the library).

So, check this book out, or the source material online. Nothing’s happening at work right now, right, so why not?

But…back to the TV. The show was on The Battle of Little Big Horn. Sitting Bull. Custer. Of course, I kept thinking about Little Big Man – “You go down there, General. If you got the nerve.” But mainly, I kept thinking: this all sounds so familiar. War against another ethnic group to take their land and resources. Completely mendacious diplomatic efforts. View of another culture as inferior. Press (Bismark Tribune was only example offered) playing up the “noble U.S./treacherous savages” line, with the notable absence of the “terrorist” coinage.

Twas ever thus. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2003

I have a new theory

Cheneyisright, frequent commenter at thoughts on the eve of the apocalypse, is Phil Cubeta's most recent, most masterful --and most frigthening -- creation.

Friday, November 21, 2003

We had to destroy the freedom in order to save it

Gen. Franks Doubts Constitution Will Survive WMD Attack

By John O. Edwards,

Gen. Tommy Franks says that if the United States is hit with a weapon of mass destruction that inflicts large casualties, the Constitution will likely be discarded in favor of a military form of government.

[more] if you can stand it

via Screaming Points

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Thanks for coming out

You know how singers often give a little background, a little commentary before they play a song? That’s what this is.

And speaking of that, I went out last Friday night to see a rock-n-roll band, The Cash Brothers. Two Canadian (Toronto) singer-songwriter brothers who craft the kind of tight, pop/rock literate songs I’ve always liked. My friend Billy Ray Joe Bob Joe Willie Jones was supposed to meet me, or he said he might, but he didn’t. So it was me, by myself, at a 50s era formica-topped table in the back, with a tea light in a clear glass holder. The room was about the size of a large class room. A collection of mismatched tables, simple chairs, low lights with candles at most tables. A listening room, and that’s what the “crowd” of 30 or so people did.

A young singer, whose name I didn’t catch, was on stage with his acoustic guitar when I entered. His dark, near-shoulder-length hair fell across his eyes, and he strummed and sang earnest, mid-tempo songs about love and relationships and confusion. The room was quiet, save for this outpouring of music and words and pain and longing. The singer stayed within himself, rarely addressing the audience, except for the time he said with amazement and appreciation that he had never played to such an attentive group.

The Cash Brothers were a different story. One, wearing a maroon suit of some sort of suede material, suggested a mix of early Elvis Costello and Blonde on Blonde era Dylan. The other was reminiscent of Don Johnson during his Miami Vice days, if he’d let himself go a bit to seed. I don’t know their names, so I’ll call them Elvis and Don. Elvis played the lead, electric guitar, Don the acoustic rhythm. They’d brought along an electric bass player and a drummer. Classic four-piece. I felt like Mickey Rourke in Diner; if anybody asked, I’d say “I’m just here because I appreciate the fine music.”

And the music was fine, taut, crisp, loud, and I wasn’t the only connoisseur, apparently. The audience was again quite attentive. Elvis, who provided witty commentary between songs, joked about how in Canada he’d have to talk over the general chaos. He introduced one of his rockin numbers as "about those times when you're sitting in traffic and wondering how it all got like this."

But I digress. The piece below first appeared on July 17, 2002, on a blog called High Water, of which I was the sole proprietor. I’ve switched blogs in an attempt to mask my identity, however futile that may prove to be. In fact, when I’d first started blogging, in March of that year, I masked my identity in another way. I played it safe. That was until the company I worked for became one of the big corporate scandal enterprises, much like Enron, Global Crossing and Tyco. Worrying about whether I should be blogging in such a way as to reveal a whole person full of faults and communal as opposed to capitalistic ideals seemed trivial.

(he pauses to strum/tune his electric guitar)

So I began to post some original stuff. You know, writing. Like we all do. And I’d recently added the comment function. So I got some positive feedback. Yeah, it’s like heroin. What can I write for the people next? I wondered. And the ideas came. This one in particular came while I was soaking in the tub. As soon as I was out and dry I grabbed a pad and a pen and jotted down my idea, writing the first third and making a few notes on where it was supposed to go. Then I went to sleep. Driving in to work the next day, as I listened to a song off of One Step Up/ Two Steps Back, The Streets of Philadelphia, as sung by Richie Havens, I knew it would work in the finished piece. I wrote it all out as soon as I got to work.

But enough about me, this is about Richard.

At Tuesday Night’s Meeting of Corporate Workers of America Anonymous

Hi, my name is Richard (Hi Richard!) ….and…and…uh….I work for a large corporation. I’m 45, and this is my first time at one of these things….but I’m at my wits’ end.

I started working corporate right out of college. Some of my friends thought I should wait, that I was too young, but I didn’t listen. I thought I could handle it. My dad was an accountant, and he had a good life. He had it under control.

I started out, just, you know, adding up numbers, looking for ways to...cough…increase revenue. I really didn’t have a problem at this point. My PowerPoint presentations were clear and methodical and, I think, well received. My e-mails were crisp. I kept my nose clean. It’s not like I was a spineless yes-man. I even corrected my boss’s figures once.

Then I got promoted (murmur) . The pressure increased, but so did the pay. I bought a ten-bedroom house way up on the hill over town. Some of my friends mockingly called it a starter-mansion, but I put that down to jealousy. Besides, I rarely saw them. The mortgage payments were huge, but I felt certain a promotion and a big pay raise were coming. My boss kept praising my “creativity.”

Sure enough, I got promoted. I was VP of finance, reporting directly to the CFO (gasp). I’ll never forget that day. He handed me a cigar and the keys to a well-appointed office. I had Alice rearrange the furniture that very night. Of course, she hung my photo of President Bush on Air Force One crookedly, and I told her to go home to her apartment and three kids that morning.

"First you get the money, then you get the power..."

I hired a new secretary at half the pay the next day. And speaking of pay, mine was, well…ample. Our stock just kept going up, my stock options were priced extremely low….well, when all was said and done, I had enough to redo the bathrooms in my primary residence in solid gold and the best Italian marble.

Some were beginning to wonder at my behavior, but my boss called me a miracle worker, which is pretty much what Wall Street kept saying about the company when they saw our numbers.

Then this young VP of sales said we needed to meet. He seemed like a nice guy. I couldn’t figure out how he got to be VP. The sales force loved him though. He told me that his reps were finding it harder and harder to close deals. That companies were putting off buying decisions. In short, demand was softening. In fact, it had been for some time. Then he hit me with a tough question. Did I know what I was doing? Why were the company’s revenue numbers still so high? Then he asked the killer: what was my total compensation for the previous year?

He was so nice, and concerned, that I let him get away with the insubordination. That night, laying in bed, I thought…was that a business meeting, or an intervention?

By the next morning I was too busy preparing the target numbers for our planned…downsizing (grumble) to give it much thought. What did that VP know, anyway, we were addressing the problem in…uhm…a variety of ways.

The day of the layoffs wasn't pleasant, but a few minutes behind the wheel of the Jag helped. I paid attention to the superior ride, the sporty handling, the fact that it said “Jaguar” in gold script on the dash, just above the burled Walnut trim. I still need to get that trim waxed. Just doesn’t glow like it used to….

Uh…oh yeah. Actually, nothing was glowing like it used to. That’s when I knew I had a problem. It looked increasingly like I, and the company, had hit a wall. I kept running through investment schemes in my mind. I could get Fred’s company to buy us, and cash out. Then, instead of a yacht, I would buy my own shipyard. Maybe I could get into manufacturing in the Philippines or Mexico or China or even Burma. There were lots of ways to keep this going.

But that’s when we received the letter from the SEC. They were onto us. I…we, were screwed.

That night, I was watching CNN, or FOX or CNBC. I was such a heavy user of all of them that they started to blend together. The talking heads all morphed into one terrifyingly bland face with one droning voice…numbers were down today….Greenspan said….Ford and Mack Truck to merge, plan new SUV…

I started sweating and shaking, I had to get out of there.

I got in the Jag, slammed the door and was out on the streets. ZZTOP came on the radio and I thought about how simple it used to be. How good music, a good woman and a summer night were all I needed. Thank god for Classic-rock-formatted radio. Then the Streets of Philadelphia came on….I used to love Springsteen, and I remember when he won the Oscar for that song. Always wondered how much he got paid for it. I recognized it right away. Then Bruce’s singing caught me like a whisper in my ear. And it wasn’t just the premium package stereo.

I couldn’t say it any better, so I brought along this CD player. (Hits play…walks back to chair and sits down).

I was bruised and battered and I couldn't tell
what I felt
I was unrecognizable to myself
Saw my reflection in a window
I didn't know my own face

Oh brother are you gonna leave me
wasting away
On the streets of Philadelphia

I walked the avenue till my legs felt like stone
I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone
At night I could hear the blood in my veins
Just as black and whispering as the rain
On the streets of Philadelphia

Ain't no angel gonna greet me
It's just you and I my friend
And my clothes don't fit me no more
I walked a thousand miles
just to slip this skin

The night has fallen, I'm lyin' awake
I can feel myself fading away
So receive me brother with your faithless kiss
or will we leave each other alone like this
On the streets of Philadelphia

Friday, November 14, 2003

Drink, drank, drunk

Frank Paynter, in an evocative remembrance on his blog, mentioned Spec's bar in San Francisco. Hey, I'd been to that bar. It was one of the bar-bars recommended by Jim Atkinson in his book, The View From Nowhere, a funny look at good bars and the drinking life. A friend and I, on a visit to the city, had sought the place out. We both loved the book, and we both loved to hang out and have a few beers.

We stopped in in the afternoon, after visiting City Lights (the beats man! the beats hung out here!). It was almost empty. My beer was a bit warm, which, beat atmosphere notwithstanding, is annoying. The bartender told us we should come in later. More people would show up. That's when the bar achieved its special atmosphere. It's warm, he said.

So I was going to tell Frank about this funny book, which was the reason I knew about Spec's. I looked for it on the Net, and found that Jim had written an article for Texas Monthly that touched on his bar-bar book, but mainly focused on his battle with alcoholism. A great article that begins with...

It comes back to me in the strangest ways, at the strangest times. I took my last drink eight years ago and have even lost some of my sensory memory of the smell and taste and effect of the stuff. But just the other day I was idling at a stoplight on Lemmon Avenue in Dallas when my gaze happened to fall on a wispy street guy who was lolling on a bench at a bus stop. He was tippling from what appeared to be a brown-bagged quart of beer. It was a muggy afternoon, and when he held the bottle just so, I could see the beads of sweat on its amber neck twinkle in the sunlight, a tiny, esoteric image that apparently meant a great deal to my subconscious.

"Damn, that looks good," I said under my breath, startling myself. Then, just like that, the thought was gone, but it served as a reminder that no matter how far I think I've walked away from the Beast, he's always just a step behind me. I may have stopped drinking; I may have even stopped wanting to drink. I may, as I frequently do, feel so well that I forget I was ever sick. But I'll never stop being a drunk, not really.

Not that I was the worst drunk I've ever seen. I was what is called a "maintenance drinker," meaning that I tended to keep a healthy amount of alcohol in my bloodstream at all times. By healthy amount I mean, in my prime, eight, ten drinks a day—more or less evenly divided between lunch and the cocktail hour—or more, if somebody was throwing a party and invited me and sometimes even if they didn't. While my consumption definitely qualified as pathological, it produced, miraculously, only moderate damage to my life and none to my liver.

Don't get me wrong: My bottom was plenty low enough for me. But in terms of gross damage, I've heard and seen much worse. Guys who lost everything and wound up living in their cars—I mean lawyers and accountants. Guys who had to head off to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to escape the Beast. In rehab I met a heroin addict who, when she was temporarily discharged to get emergency care for a heart infection, dropped by her favorite dealer on the way to Dallas' Parkland Hospital, scored some scag, and got high. I later heard that she had died of complications from the infection—the ultimate way to escape the Beast, I guess.

[more] (sorry, you have to register, but it only takes a minute)

Don't look at me

Brian's doing the blogging right now:

Work, career, self.

Massive winds caused a power failure overnight and into the morning around here. When we got up we had no idea what time it was. Didn't know if the schools were open or closed. And so we, the family, sat around and discussed work.

I began with my normal bombast.

"Children, when you grow up, whatever you do, do not make the mistake of thinking that your work is something that is or should be an extension of your self, your being. Pick a career that pays well, but choose something that you enjoy just enough that you don't dread to the point of vomitting before going in in the morning, but don't care about so much that you bring that work home with you at night and of neccessity drink yourslef into oblivion."

General eye rolling, yawns, and snorts of derision.


Thursday, November 13, 2003

"I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar soaked fingers out of the business of these [Third World] nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own. And if unfortunately their revolution must be of the violent type because the 'haves' refuse to share with the 'have-nots' by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don't want and above all don't want crammed down their throats by Americans."

- General David Shoup
former United States Marine Commandant, 1966

Saw it on Another Day in the Empire

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Conservative 2000

For immediate release.

Washington, D.C., Nov. 11, 2002 -- Robotics has arrived! Robots can now perform much of the menial, tiresome labor of everyday life. And with the new Conservative 2000 robot from J&J Productions, you can even stop wrestling with complex, potentially disturbing, world events. Conservative 2000 has the answers! Keep this lifelike companion by your side and you will always have your position confirmed. With its advanced circuitry and servo-motor skills, it can even navigate stairways. It will take out your trash, make your morning coffee – even go to the polls for you on election day!

Feeling beset by limp-wristed liberals? Tired of running into situations where your worldview is challenged? Never fear, Conservative 2000 will deploy a barrage of talking points specially crafted by The Heritage Foundation. To keep the unit up to date, merely plug it into your cable or DirectTV outlet. The unit’s advanced sensors admit only Fox News and carefully selected pundit programming. (For best results, disable or eliminate C-Span from subscription packages.)

Take Conservative 2000 to parties and watch liberals scatter. For hours of entertainment, employ Moral Righteousness 3.0. One click on your remote control and Conservative 2000 kicks into overdrive, pretending to take the moral high ground while blocking undermining data at every turn.

For especially tenacious and/or judgement-impaired individuals, merely employ Conservative 2000’s Disablizer, a swift judo chop to your opponent’s larynx. Assault and battery? Not according to our trademark PublicMood research. However, should police be summoned by the weak, Conservative 2000’s Command&Control Affinity mode ensures law enforcement officers understand the dire nature of the liberal threat – guaranteeing your immunity to criminal justice!

Coming soon, Conservative 2000 upgrades: eyebeam lasers capable of detection and on-the-spot incineration of books by Al Franken, Paul Krugman, Molly Ivins, Michael Moore, Mark Crispin Miller, Todd Gitlin, Greg Palast, Naomi Klein, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Arianna Huffington.


No actual conservatives were harmed in the production of this product. No actual conservatives of the everyday variety were consulted. No research was performed. No marketing studies were conducted. To be honest, two guys had a blast at a party joking about CheneyIsRight. One thought he must be a devious software program designed by an evil genius in the Bush administration (take your pick). From there, it was one easy, alcohol-fueled leap to…Conservative 2000! The Hertiage Foundation was only too glad to help. Funding was absurdly easy to obtain.

Liberal 2000 has stalled in development due to lack of funding, plus a lengthy, debilitating and seemingly endless debate as to whether the words "confederate flag" should be a part of the programming. Look for it sometime in 2005, if we're lucky.

Conservative 2000 is a copyright of J&J Productions. Patent pending. For more information, call 1-800-000-0000. Industrial models available. Call for a fact sheet on prototype Dennis Miller 2002.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Away notice

I'll be off in the North Carolina mountains until Monday. Have a good weekend.


Tore Down A La Rimbaud

Showed me pictures in the gallery
Showed me novels on the shelf
Put my hands across the table
Gave me knowledge of myself.
Showed me visions, showed me nightmares
Gave me dreams that never end
Showed me light out of the tunnel
When there was darkness all around instead.

Tore down a la Rimbaud
And I wish my message would come
Tore down a la Rimbaud, you know it's hard some time
you know it's hard some time.

Showed me ways and means and motions
Showed me what it's like to be
Gave me days of deep devotions
Showed me things I cannot see.

Tore down a la Rimbaud
And I wish my purpose would come
Tore down a la Rimbaud, you know it's hard some time.
You know it's hard some time.

Showed me different shapes and colours
Showed me many different roads
Gave me very clear instructions
When I was in the dark night of the soul.

Tore down a la Rimbaud
And I wish my writing would come
Tore down a la Rimbaud, you know it's hard some time.
you know it's hard some time.

~ Van Morrison

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Highly recommended

Politics. Big picture. Your part. My part. One- and two-word sentences are about all I can manage right now (but can still handle the hanging hyphen. go figure). Don't ask me why. Me Bruce. You...who are you, anyway? Part of this? Yeah, no, maybe. If you're reading this, you are. part of. something.

Steve Gilliard points out that Iraqis could be reading this. That Iraqis are just as aware of the criminal U.S. military enterprise to make a boatload of money the easy way, the way of the murderous dictator, as you and I. Whoever you are. You're connected. I know that. On the Net, I mean. Right now. We both are. Close. I could be whispering in your ear. OR I COULD SHOUT. Whatever. It's demonstrative. Of something. Connection. Mine to you. Iraq to the U.S. Why we must do a dance of death is beyond me. Well, no, it isn't.

Steve Gilliard (highly recommended) has the straight dope on how it's playing out. Interesting comments on his blog too. (and, no less, a great piece called The Perfect Breakfast. No permalinks. Look for it. You know I have good taste.)

There's isolation. There's the media mirage. The echo chamber. And then there's the Internet. A percusor to the people's globalization that is coming. Any day now. We are oh so connected, my friend.

Found Steve at The Smirking Chimp, which for some reason I haven't visited very much. Until now. That's where I found Peter Lee too. Chlora reminded me of the site. Maru has recommended it at times as well. Now me. Go. See ya. Come back though. I might miss you. Whoever you are.