The River

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"It's not such a bad little tree"

"Auggh! I've killed it!"

Back in the 1960s, when social consciousness was rising, Charlie Brown represented every kid who looked out at the world and said, “I don’t get it.” Never more so than in the 1965 network TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

It’s the big holiday, and all the “perennial loser” sees is a desperate rush to get all you can, to have the fashionable, manufactured Christmas tree, to put up Christmas lights for cash prizes and bragging rights.

Peanuts creator and writer Charles M. Schulz doesn’t engage in any 60s-style, blanket condemnation of market-driven society. But with his first foray into TV, he’s been given a soapbox in the middle of the marketplace at the busiest time of year. Apparently he decided, like Bruce Springsteen a decade later in producing Born To Run, to swing for the fences. He broke a number of conventions of the time: no laugh track, child actors instead of adults, a jazz score, and use of biblical text, which today would be encouraged for cynical ends, but then ran counter to the rising sensitivities to American diversity.

In this 25-minute cartoon, Schulz uses satire and gentle humor to address the problem of commercialism and marketing coming to dominate our lives and to crowd out the civic aspects of society. And although Schulz keeps the focus on the Christian tradition, the piece can be appreciated no matter your view of the existence of God or the divine, the great spirit (or spirits), the creator or however you want to think of it. Maybe it comes down to something as simple as your relationship with your fellow man and woman – how you treat them and what you can contribute to the well-being of society.

The Peanuts kids, other than Charlie Brown and Linus, represent the cynical adult view – they speak like adults and have adult problems. Especially Lucy, who realizes the game is corrupt (“it’s run by a big, Eastern syndicate, you know”) but finds the answer in real estate ownership, observers of her specialness, and pop psychology. The rest of the kids engage in consumerist fantasies and casual cruelty. They’ll grow up to be perfect serfs to Queen Lucy.

Charlie Brown feels “let down” by it all. The cure is “involvement” by directing the Christmas play. But that requires that he conform, and he can’t do it. The kids are too self-centered and self-indulgent. They aren’t the least bit interested in working together to pull off the nativity play.

When Charlie Brown’s frustration boils over, Lucy diffuses the situation by sending him and Linus to get a Christmas tree – a big, shiny, aluminum one. "Yeah, do something right for a change, Charlie Brown," sneers one of his tormentors.

What confronts Charlie Brown and Linus at the tree lot is the spectacle of shiny surfaces and fake stand-ins for the real thing. (Ironic that Coca-Cola sponsored the initial airing of the special).

Charlie Brown is troubled by a loss he doesn’t understand. However, when he sees the small, natural tree among the mass-produced ones, he knows it to be something simple, humble, and authentic, something that doesn’t demand your money or your attention, but just waits to be discovered.

But no one else can see it, just as they are not bothered by the trampling of the simple message of love and giving that is at the core of the Christian holiday, and, indeed, all religions. So of course when Charlie Brown and Linus bring the tree back to the auditorium the Peanuts laugh at them, and it’s like they are laughing at the notion of Christmas ever having anything to do with spiritual values.

But right after that laughter from the crowd, you have the lone voice of Linus reading the bible passage, unafraid of being laughed at.

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the City of Bethlehem, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men".

(It’s the voice of the child reading it that gets you, just as it was the barely suppressed smirk that got to me in a completely opposite fashion when Bush used the same phrase --“good will to men” -- to end his speech Sunday, injecting a little “we’re killing for Christ with God on our side” reminder to the faithfully brainwashed.)

In any case, Linus affects the peanuts. They realize they’ve been caught up in the commercialism – and they’ve been having a good time, the film doesn’t begrudge that – but they realize they’ve also given in to cynicism and casual cruelty. So they see the tree in a new light, they are able to see its value and its beauty. And their love of that, of the tree, rescues it. They even find a creative way to incorporate the commercial aspects of Christmas – Snoopy’s doghouse decorations – into the spiritual – the tree. And the tree and the kids become stronger and more beautiful for it, and so they break out in spontaneous, joyful song, having not only realized, but enacted the meaning of Christmas. When they yell, "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown," they mean it.

Or as Linus says, “that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Monday, December 19, 2005

Is it tyranny yet?

Novelist Jane Smiley says BushCo isn't incompetent, but methodically instituting a ruined economy, an American dicatorship and a rogue state.

Meanwhile, in an NPR interview Rumsfeld warns of the "dark world" that would result from a "defeatist" retreat from the central front in the War On Terror (formerly known as Iraq). Projection from the Secretary of War. Yet. A. Gain. Projection.

A Ten-Step Program

By Jane Smiley, Huffington Post

Is Bush in a bubble? Is Bush a dry drunk? Is Bush a drunk drunk? Is Bush a narcissist? Is Bush an idiot? Is Bush a madman? Does Bush have an “Authority Problem”? Theories abound about why Bush does the things he does, but most of them assume that he is making mistakes that he could or would correct if he understood how misguided he was.

On Monday, there was an editorial in the New York Times lamenting the apparent indifference of the Bush administration to the rebuilding of New Orleans, the levees in particular. On Tuesday, there was another editorial, excoriating the shameful behavior of the Bush negotiators at the Montreal conference on global warming. The gist of both editorials was that without national leadership, two chances are about to be lost--the chance to rebuild the city of New Orleans and the chance to mitigate the effects of global warming. Then at the end of the week, we learned that Bush has been wiretapping the phones of his own citizens--an impeachable offense. The Times writes as if it is possible still to alter the direction of Bush administration policy, but obviously it is not. The Bushies have a pattern and they stick to it in spite of every apparent reason to change course. It’s not as if we don’t know what pattern it is, and it’s not as if they haven’t advertised what the pattern will be--it is to break down the government so completely that it can’t be put back together again. Let’s take a look at the “mistakes” the Bush administration is said to have made, and, instead, ask ourselves if they are actually realized intentions:

1. Hobbling the government with debt by combining an expensive, prolonged war with perennial rounds of tax cuts.

2. Destroying the bureaucracy by making it impossible for neutral, expert, or objective bureaucrats to keep their jobs, replacing them with incompetents.

3. Destroying the integrity of the election system, state by state, beginning with Florida and Ohio.

4: Defanging the media by paying fake reporters, co-opting members of the MSM (why did the New York Times refrain from publishing stories unfavorable to the Bush administration before the 2004 election?) and allowing (or encouraging) huge mergers and the buying up of independent media operations by known conservative media conglomerates.

5. Destroying the middle class by changing the bankruptcy laws and the tax laws.

6. Destroying the National Guard and the Army by deploying them over and over in a futile war, while at the same time failing to provide them with armor and equipment.

7. Precipitating Iraq into a civil war by invading it.

8. Accelerating the effects of global warming by putting roadblocks in the way of mitigating its effects.

9. Denying healthcare and prescription medication to an increasing number of Americans, most specifically by ramming the prescription drug legislation through Congress, but also by manipulating Medicare and Medicaid so that fewer and fewer citizens are covered.

10. Encouraging the people in the rest of the world to associate the US with torture, military incursion, and fear, by a preemptive attack on a sovereign nation, by vociferously maintaining the right of the US to do whatever it wants whenever it wants, and by refusing to accept international laws.

Or, to put it another way, the Bush administration apparently wishes for and is working toward a chaotic Iraq, a corrupt American election structure with openly corrupt influence-peddlers like Delay and Abramoff in charge of policy, a world in which people suffer and die from weather-related catastrophes, a two-tiered economic structure in the US (with most people in the lower tier), and the isolation of the US as a rogue state from the other nations of the world.


One more thing for Jane to consider: Was 9/11 was also "realized intentions"?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Supply your own caption

Thursday, December 15, 2005


A VietNam Veteran: His Name Was Earl


His name was Earl. He spent his days in a wheel chair, hand propelled, sitting along the sidewalks of the seawall in a Victorian city along the coast. He kept all of his possessions in a shopping cart, while his valuables hung from the handles of his chair. I met him one night while walking on the beach. I walked past a hollowed out part of the rocky seawall, and something moved. It was Earl, and a blanket. After going across the street and returning with cups of coffee, I sat and listened while Earl talked. He was a Viet Nam veteran. He'd done three tours in Viet Nam; he was an honorable man, torn by his experiences and yet sure of himself and what he believed.

He had been told that he was fighting for freedom, the freedom of his country. But with every tour it seemed that he, and his country, were a little less free. He gave with honor; he fought because he had been told it was right. He fulfilled his duty to his country, but he sacrificed his duty to himself in the process.

Earl returned from the war to his family and to work in the oil industry. No matter whom he was with, he never felt whole. No matter what he did, he never felt free. He gave and gave, a generous man, but everything was taken and never replaced, and the aching grew more painful. No matter how hard he tried, the world seemed to take advantage of him, and he couldn't say no because he thought giving would be the way to redeem his actions in the hidden swamps of Viet Nam.

Earl had lived on the beach for ten years. The pain grew too great and he could no longer face those who demanded his life. He'd given all that he had.

I returned for many nights, and between sips of coffee and nibbles on dark chocolate, Earl told me his feelings and showed me his world.

I asked him one night if he thought Peace would ever come. Earl responded, "It's here, people just can't see it because of all the traffic lights."


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

These people are sick

And they’re given a platform to poison the minds of the impressionable daily

It just doesn’t get any sicker or more ridiculous than Sean Hannity’s radio show. I’ve been tuning in periodically on the ride home from work. Some of the most ignorant bits are when college kids call in to complain about the persecution they must endure from their liberal professors. One young girl complained that a paper she had sourced heavily to a Sean Hannity book had received such a low grade. (I often have to watch that my chin doesn’t interfere with the operation of my clutch, brake, and gas pedals.)

In reaction to this, as with everything, Hannity was astounded at the depths of depravity of the liberal menace. In his fantasy world, the good, god-fearing people are perpetually under attack from the liberal elites. For someone who is so into machismo, he whines like a four-year-old at bathtime, as do the other demagogues clogging our airwaves.

Mostly, though, I listen to CDs and Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!” on the drive home. Last night I listened to Amy Goodman’s piece on Stanley Williams. Here’s part of it:

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Stanley Tookie Williams in his own words, hours before he was executed, recorded at WBAI, Pacifica Radio, on "Wakeup Call," an interview that he did with WBAI's Kat Aaron, as she asked him for his thoughts as he faced what turned out to be the last day of his life.

STANLEY TOOKIE WILLIAMS: Well, I feel good, and my redemption signs, I got up this morning, I cleansed myself, I prayed, I exercised, and now I'm talking to you -- or prior to talking to you, I was talking to my mother. Of course, she is quite encouraging, spiritual, and so am I. And my lack of fear of this barbaric methodology of death, I rely upon my faith. It has nothing to do with machismo, with manhood, or with some pseudo former gang street code. This is pure faith, and predicated on my redemption. So, therefore, I just stand strong and continue to tell you, your audience and the world that I am innocent and, yes, I have been a wretched person, but I have redeemed myself. And I say to you and all those who can listen and will listen that redemption is tailor-made for the wretched, and that's what I used to be. So, I can answer one more before I go.

KAT AARON: There are millions of people all around the country and, indeed, the world who are standing in support of you and doing everything that they can to ensure that your life is spared. How would you like the world to imagine your legacy, one that we all hope does not begin tomorrow, but begins in many years from today?

STANLEY TOOKIE WILLIAMS: I appreciate you making that statement. But I have been asked the same query not too long ago, and I said just one word, just one word can sum it up [inaudible] in a nutshell, and that is: redemption. I can say it no better than that. That's what I would like the world to remember me. That's how I would like my legacy to be remembered as: a redemptive transition, something that I believe is not exclusive just for the so-called sanctimonious, the elitists. And it doesn't -- is not predicated on color or race or social stratum or one's religious background. It's accessible for everybody. That's the beauty about it. And whether others choose to believe that I have redeemed myself or not, I worry not, because I know and God knows, and you can believe that all of the youths that I continue to help, they know, too. So with that, I am grateful. So I thank you for the opportunity, and I say to you and everyone else, god bless. So take care.


It doesn’t get any larger, any truer or any more basic than that. This is what one would hope for anyone – redemption, transformation.

It was almost six p.m. and I was almost home. I hit the am button for the Atlanta station that so thoughtfully provides the area’s four million plus with Hannity’s rants. After that incredible interview, here is what assaulted my ears:

Smarmy, breathy, preening voice of Sean Hannity (loose transcript): later I’ll talk to [a media representative, didn’t catch name] who got to see the execution of Tookie Williams.

It felt like a sucker punch to the gut.

I’m not excusing Williams’ past, and neither was he, but tell me again who the sick, twisted, gangster fuck is here?


See also, from the same Democracy Now show: Angela Davis: "The State of California May Have Extinguished the Life of Stanley Tookie Williams, But They Have Not Managed to Extinguish the Hope for a Better World"

Monday, December 12, 2005


Ask not for whom the blog rings...

"Something . . . happened to me during the late 1980s," Derrick Jensen reflects in his new book [The Culture of Make Believe], "I thought I was insane. Then, as now, so much of what I saw around me made no sense. Our culture is killing the planet, yet most of us don't seem to care . . . What seemed profoundly important to me seemed of no importance whatsoever to most people, and what seemed important to so many people seemed trivial to me. I couldn't wrap my mind around it" (pp. 139; 141).

Amazon marketplace discussion


the personalities of the people who surround us, debord believes, are not their own, but are acquired through images made by pop culture, which replace whatever the person might have become free from these mediated images. they identify (and this usually happens unconsciously, so maybe this isn't as 'radical' a thought as it might at first seem)with characters on television, in movies, and believe that the cultural lie of this or that period is the absolute and metaphysical truth of existence, ie, everyone goes to school, tries to fit in, is happy, gets a family, tries to have a lot of friends, etc. the reason people reject debord's ideas is because they think of them as too radical and abstract, like marx. and yet all this is chillingly consistent with the concrete, everyday reality of our lives.think about most of the people you know and see if you find any of these herdlike qualities in them, and if you're looking at things truthfully, a bell rings.

different Amazon marketplace discussion

I dunno, maybe I'm obsessed...

Friday, December 09, 2005

Communique from the Bureau of Public Secrets

Yes, we get mail. This one came in today:

Translations of over 200 graffiti from the May 1968 revolt in France are online at

A few examples:

Power to the imagination.

Be realistic, demand the impossible.

It's painful to submit to our bosses; it's even more stupid to choose them.

No forbidding allowed.

When examined, answer with questions.

The more I make love, the more I want to make revolution. The more I make revolution, the more I want to make love.

Boredom is counterrevolutionary.

Run, comrade, the old world is behind you!

On a personal note, I perused my copy of Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord the other night, just flipping through a bit, and I said to myself, "hey, he's talking about me." It wasn't interesting theory anymore; I understood it as something true not only about life, but about my life. There's a distinction there that is hard to explain, but for me anyway, comes from having lived a good while since I last picked up the book. The Bureau's knabb offers a translation of the book at the site. She, or he, calls it the most important radical book of the twentieth century.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Just in time for Christmas...

Cavalcade of Bad Nativities

all I'm saying is, you could think about changing a diaper once in a while

Mary looks really pissed off here.

much more, if you dare

Blogging, explained

In order to snake its way into the Black Iron Prison, "the true God" must mimic "sticks and trees and beer cans in gutters." [Philip K.] Dick's God "presumes to be trash discarded, debris no longer needed," so that "lurking, the true God literally ambushes reality and us as well."[7]

Where you will find bloggers.
Pictured: Happy Tutor's abode.

Here Dick suggests a kind of liberation info-theology, a set of guerrilla tactics for our saturated data age: stick to the fringes of the spectacle, pay attention to marginal or discarded information, and never let your beliefs get in the way of surprise. Dick knew well that the political and metaphysical search for secret orders of power invites the black iron prison of paranoia, but he also recognized that "Surprise is an antidote to paranoia."

-- Philip K. Dick's Divine Interference, by Erik Davis

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Note: This post is in response to Frank Paynter's "how do you blog?" question. See his site for a compilation of answers to be posted on a yet-to-be-determined date.

How I blog

I blog at work. In other words, I blog instead of working.

So how I do it is, first I shirk my official duties, I drink my coffee and read my favorite bloggers, progressive sites, and other assorted weirdos. I follow links. I read news stories.

Then I turn my attention back to work and don’t do anything blogwise.

Then I take a break and remember that I really should post an excerpt from that great piece I read this morning. So I do.

While I’m at it, and since the work can wait, I open up Word and start writing something that I’ve been meaning to write -- for the blog. Usually the day’s reading has stirred up my ill-formed thoughts to the point that I overcome inertia and put words to computer screen.

I type out some leaden, pedantic crapola you can get anywhere on the web. I go to lunch.

I come back from lunch with a good idea! (yes, every once in a while). I glance at the earlier effort and scrap most of it, if not all. I type furiously. I edit even harder but not extensively. I wonder, briefly, if it’s good enough yet. I decide what the hell, it looks like a blog post to me. I copy and paste it into blogger. I do my necessary hotlink work. I hit publish.

And briefly, once again, I am a blogger and a legend in my own mind.

Then I go back to work, if I can bring myself back, checking periodically to see if the post has garnered any response.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Letters at 3AM

The million mile commute

BY Michael Ventura, The Austin Chronicle

Smoking a cigarette in the parking lot of a Super 8 motel somewhere in the West. Across the street, Ronna's Video for Adults – Private Video Booths – Open 24 Hours. It's about noon, a chilly day. An old car and then a new car pull up at Ronna's. Out of each, an average-looking guy gets out and walks quickly into the joint. Private Video Booths. What loneliness. Jerking off to porn in a closetlike space on your lunch hour, then going back to work. Or maybe you told the wife you were going to the store (one of the guys was older, probably retired). And who wants to imagine how those booths smell?

Beside Ronna's, an old motel has been converted into cheap apartments. You know they're cheap because the cars outside are little tin-can putters – just enough of an automobile to get you to and from work, where you make just enough or just less-than-enough to keep the car running and live in the cheap apartment, with its minimal construction, thin walls, and scant insulation. A phone, a bed, a little table, a TV, probably a microwave and a waist-high fridge. Car-engines revving at Ronna's next door 24 hours a day. And the constant sound of the highway, tire-rasp on the pavement, trucks rattling the windows, motors, motors, motors.

(it's good and you know you want to keep reading, so go

Thanks to American Samizdat for this discovery. A list of Michael Ventura's columns here.

UPDATE: Ventura is a powerful, aware, down-to-earth writer. I particularly liked the conclusion of his four-part series Things to Come:

Look ... I'd like my cozy, convenient writer's life to continue as uncharacteristically tranquil as it's been lately, writing my novels and poems and columns, downsizing as gracefully as I'm able, living with a truly delectable slowness, testifying to the truth of Caroline Casey's sentence "Beauty is abundantly available to the unhurried mind." But I look at the facts as I understand them and can come to no conclusion but that these too-convenient days are numbered, and I'd best enjoy the present, behave alertly, and be ready for a storm, always remembering the three qualities that Henry James noted were most important in a human being: "Kindness, kindness, and kindness."

Life is about to become both slower (with more opportunities for beauty) and more urgent, governed by necessity rather than desire. The unexpected will happen – in the context of "tough history." We will be called upon to do more, and be more, than we thought ourselves capable of. So ... OK, Universe, call on me to be more and do more than I thought myself capable of!

Once upon a time, wasn't that all I asked of life?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Did Bush Really Want to Bomb Al Jazeera?

[that's a rhetorical question if I've ever seen one -- ed.]

By Jeremy Scahill, The Nation


A handful of unembedded journalists, most prominently from Al Jazeera, were providing the world with independent, eyewitness accounts. Al Jazeera's camera crew was also uploading video of the devastation [of Falluja] for all the world, including Iraqis, to see. Inspired by the defense of Falluja and outraged by the US onslaught, smaller uprisings broke out across Iraq, as members of the Iraqi police and army abandoned their posts, some joining the resistance.

Faced with a public relations disaster, US officials did what they do best--they attacked the messenger. On April 11, with the unembedded reporters exposing the reality of the siege of Falluja, senior military spokesperson Mark Kimmitt declared, "The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and that is lies." A few days later, on April 15, Rumsfeld echoed those remarks calling Al Jazeera "vicious."

It was the very next day, according to the Daily Mirror, that Bush told Blair of his plan. "He made clear he wanted to bomb al-Jazeera in Qatar and elsewhere," a source told the Mirror. "Blair replied that would cause a big problem. There's no doubt what Bush wanted to do--and no doubt Blair didn't want him to do it."



courtesy of Dave Pollard

In the meantime, if you're underpaid, under-appreciated, subjugated, underemployed, working too hard and bored to death in your job, and if your creativity has no outlet, take heart -- you are in excellent company, and you should be outraged, not bored, by your situation. An elite of the rich and powerful have stolen your dignity, your opportunity, your joy in exercising your genius, your self-esteem, your value in our society. This is a disservice to the vast majority as citizens, as useful workers, and as customers looking for products and services made well and with pride. It's destroying the social fabric of our society, our environment, and the middle class. We need to create a new entrepreneurial economy, one driven by creativity and curiosity and by passion and respect. One that is in the service of people and not profits.