Monday, March 28, 2005

165. Gore Vidal on the Undoing of America

Gore Vidal stands apart from the American mainstream (he is, in fact, related to the former vice-president Al Gore and also to the late Jackie Kennedy) in that he turned away from the land of his birth and upbringing and in the manner of a much earlier generation of East Coast intellectuals (Whistler, Sargent, Henry James) sought and found a more congenial setting for his art in Europe. Although living in exile - in a comfortable villa in Italy, as it happens - Vidal, like Joyce before him, never took his eyes off his native country and has written a series of novels concerned with American social, historical and political themes.

While still living in America in the 1950s and 60s he was a provocative figure who got up the nose of the Great and the Good. He was both physically attacked by Norman Mailer and verbally abused (on live television) by William Buckley, Jr. He deplores the imperial overreach of his homeland - and has done so consistently since the early years of the Cold War - while maintaining his own form of awkward, clear-eyed patriotism. He fought as a soldier in World War II and characterises his life's work and outspoken opinions (those familiar with Roman history will recognise the analogy) as a last-ditch defence of the American Republic. I would urge you to read the full interview by clicking on the link at the bottom of this post. (dedalus)

The man himself Posted by Hello

In an interview with Steve Perry of the Minneapolis/St Paul City Pages Gore Vidal speaks on war for oil, politics-free elections, and the late, great U.S. Constitution.


CP: Clearly Bush does represent something radical and new, and there's been an understandable tendency on the part of people who don't like where the country is going to focus their outrage exclusively on Bush and the Republicans. But don't the media and the Democrats come in for a great deal of blame for creating the political vacuum in which he rose?

Vidal: Well, the media is on the other side. The media belongs to the big money, and the big money, their candidates, their party, is the Republican Party as now constituted. So everybody is behaving typically [in media]. What isn't typical is a Democratic Party that has also sold out. There are just as many lobbyists and propagandists there as on the other side. They're never going to regain anything until they remember that they're supposed to represent the people at large, and not the very rich.

But they need the very rich in order to be able to run for office, to buy television time. I'd say if you really want to date the crash of the American system, the American republic, it was in the early '50s, when television suddenly emerged as the central fact of American life. That which was not televised did not exist. And any preacher, because religion is tax-free--I would tax all the religions, by the way--any evangelical who wants to get up there and say, send me millions of dollars and I will cure you of your dandruff, he gets to spend the money any way he likes, and there's no tax on it. So he can have political action groups, which he's not supposed to have but does have. So you have all that religious money, and then you have the enormous cost of campaigning, which means every politician who wants to buy TV time has got to sell his ass to somebody. And corporate America is ready to buy.

CP: Likewise, there's a great tendency among his detractors to call Bush stupid. You've called him "dumb," albeit not as dumb as his dad. But I'm recalling what you wrote about Ronald Reagan years ago in your review of the Ronnie Leamer book about him: that no one who's stupid aces every career test he faces. The same is clearly not true of George W. Bush, who had failed in a lot of things before he entered politics. But he hasn't failed in politics. Do you think Bush possesses a kind of intelligence akin to Reagan's in that regard, or is that giving him too much credit? How do you think his mind works?

Vidal: I should think very oddly. He's dyslexic, which means--it's a problem of incoherence. I have some dyslexia in my family, and they can be reasonably intelligent about most things, but they have problems with words, the structure of language. Not really getting it. There's an inability to study anything. Sometimes they also have an attention deficiency and so on.

I would say that he is undisturbed by these things. His is a mind totally lacking in culture of any kind. I'm not talking about highbrow culture, just knowledge of the American past, and our institutions. He's got rid of due process of law, which is what the United States is based upon. Once you can send somebody off and put them in the brig of a ship in Charleston Harbor and hold them as long as you like uncharged, you have destroyed the United States and its Constitution. He has done those things.

Full article here

164. Covent Garden

What YOU lookin at, mate? (click to enlarge) Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 26, 2005

163. an unforgivable lapse of attention

here I sit, drawing
elephants for another man's child,
recalling, with pain, the death
of my daughter, when was it,
eleven years ago?

she would have been seventeen

seventeen, sweet and lovely,
convinced she was ugly,
worried about pimples,
horrified, yet very attracted to boys,
glued to her mobile phone;

it's not so hard to imagine

that day, crystal clear
in memory, I will never forget;
it was all so casual, my wife
simply wanted to get her hair done,
asked me to care for the child;

if only days could be lived over, taken back

the sun shining, I thought,
sweetheart, let's go for a walk,
would you like that, alanna?
and she, all smiles and trust,
put on her coat and took my hand;

why, oh why didn't we stay at home?

down on the street, as usual,
the traffic went whizzing by;
I held her hand, tightly,
and we talked about important things,
her school, her friends, her questions;

fathers can love children they do not physically bear

a friend, John O'Farrell,
hove into view: well, is it yourself
I asked, loosing my grip
on the child to shake his hand,
and that's when it happened;

no blame to you, John, but stay out of my sight

the police, sympathetic,
say the death was instantaneous:
when she stepped off the kerb
the driver, a Pakistani immigrant,
had no chance to stop;

mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

eleven long years, not one
day goes by when I don't relive
each moment: my wife, tight-lipped,
never blamed me; the divorce
came through six months later.

Note: This poem has received a number of shocked and sympathetic responses on an Internet poetry forum where it was posted last week. I would like to reassure readers that the events in the poem are not biographical; I was just trying to write from the position of every parent's worst nightmare.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

162. Beannachtai na Feile Padraig!!

A pint o' plain is yer only man Posted by Hello

A very Happy St Patrick's Day to friends and yet-to-be friends everywhere, including Sassenach, and also enemies and the indifferent, and the yet-to-be enemies and the yet-to-be indifferent ...!!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

160. Hearts and Minds

copyright Ricardo Martinez of El Mundo (Madrid) - click to enlarge Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 05, 2005

159. JAPAN

 Posted by Hello

is a neon tangle
of buildings and streets
and black-haired people
scuttling among
indecipherable signs
flashing flashing
with vending machines
on every city block
condoms and coca-cola and coffee
beer and cigarettes
farm-fresh eggs
whatever you want but don't really need
in a never-ending
mechanical amoral hedonistic

when you step off the plane
for the first time
overwhelms your senses
and makes you
think seriously
you are on some other planet
nobody understands a word you say
but when you
leave the "gaijin" cocoon
tentatively, slowly
full of misgivings
as when you first do something unusual
you can't help smiling

sucks you in
even Tokyo
a frenetic urban nightmare
with a whiff of drains
your roving imagination
your sliding divorce
from familiarity
this country
this whole damn archipelago
Disneyland on wheels
and when
you get food drink and shelter
(a job)
you start to think
hoo boy!

revolves around you
you are a drop-in from Mars
you can't understand
you can't speak
you can't read
and you sure as hell can't write
you wander about like
an amiable impressionable
and this is when
the first great decision comes
you either
seek out other exiles
to complain to commiserate
to criticise
or else you
jump into the strangeness

is surprisingly
of opinionated loudmouths
from overseas, but
when you crawl out
from under that shell
you start to discover
a different country
in which delicacy
of feeling
and a strong reverence for ancient traditions
still exists
in a quiet restrained
understated way
as if the people
were shy to share
age-old convictions
with yawping barbarians

is umbillically attuned
to each passing season
festivals and family gatherings
are faithfully observed
from generation to generation
but done so casually
so confidently
you sense
with a surge of sudden knowledge
that you are walking
in the presence of the past
and the long-dead generations
look down benignly
and with fond affection
on the children of the present
you can feel that
and after a while
want to be part of it

is almost wilfully
we think of them
as a nation of worker robots
in a way that repairs our pride
and appeases the pain
of Pearl Harbour
Bataan, the Bangkok Railway
and puts them down
belittling the fangs of a former enemy
(a formidable people when aroused)
who scared
the living bejesus
out of our grandfathers
but you wouldn't know it
now, with everything
so clean so polite
so efficient
you can drop your wallet on the street
and pick it up next week

begins to open
its inner doors
after fearful painful struggle
when you start to crack
the hard nutty core of language
in the first three years
sweating blood
you think you are doing well
in the next three years
you come to realize
you know nothing
so when I saw
that fashionable movie
Lost in Translation
I thought: what these people
are doing is celebrating
their own incomprehension
their alienation
in the hope
of getting back
to the Real World soon

equally real

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

158. Yesss!! Ireland 19 England 13

Brian O'Driscoll tiptoes along the touchline in the 58th minute ... Posted by Hello

At Lansdowne Road last Sunday Ireland held off a determined onslaught from Andy Robinson's England team to maintain their unbroken streak of wins (Italy, Scotland, now England) and stay on course for their first Grand Slam in 57 years. They are now three-fifths of the way to breaking a jinx that has lasted since 1948, provided they can overcome the French in Dublin on March 12 and beat Wales in Cardiff on March 19. Wales is also off to a brilliant start this season with three wins of its own (England, Italy, France) and this year's Six Nations championship could come to a Celtic Showdown with Ireland on the 19th.

... and grounds the ball for a try seconds later. Posted by Hello

The Irish supporters, who had been on tenterhooks all afternoon, roared out their relief and joy and headed for the pubs and clubs of Dublin -- there to celebrate the victory of the Boys in Green, and perhaps raise a quiet toast of gratitude to the referee, who had disallowed two questionable English tries. The English are still in an uproar over this, but their first try had been pretty shaky as well, when O'Gara had been tackled off the ball. Ah, sure, that's what's called the 'rub of the green': some days you get the decisions; others you don't. The lads played a blinder and they deserved to win.