Friday, August 29, 2008

Barack Obama: It's About Time!

Barack Obama is as "American" as a political candidate can possibly be and painting him as anything other than a patriotic American is a blind alley. His story is an American success story because of his varied background and heartfelt desire to help the underdog. Republicans, no doubt, will attempt to portray him as something other than one who intends to preserve the rule of law as expressed in the Constitution, although he has sworn to do so. He took the oath as did John McCain.

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God."

I’ve heard that after a presumptive candidate accepts a party’s nomination he or she is subject to a briefing that outlines party goals and reveals certain details regarding national security that aren’t provided beforehand, because the candidate is considered officially in the game and therefore provided with a higher security clearance. This is conjecture, but the rationale that a candidate should be as knowledgeable as possible before the debates is a no-brainer. Often I’ve heard friends or relatives comment that political figures cannot reveal their true intentions because they have the national security of the United States to consider and nothing is more important, and that average citizens would not understand. We’ll never have a truly transparent government, but the level of contempt for honesty shown by Bush and Cheney reached new lows. As we’ve all seen with Iraq, when the American people are misled then our “blood and treasure” is squandered, which destroys our credibility and hinders our ability to drum up support among our allies when we truly need their help in a genuinely dire situation. This is what has nearly run us aground. Obama seems ready to provide new solutions to the disproportionate influence of the military-industrial complex that put us into a situation like Iraq and nearly crippled our economy. It may be years before we really understand the billions lost in Iraq on a nation that doesn't even appreciate, or want, our influence.

In his speech last night Obama proved to be sympathetic to the plight of middle-class Americans struggling through recession by providing real-life examples. This is a great thing, because for the last eight years it’s been obvious that George W. Bush, with trickle-down economics, is not sympathetic to the needs of those who aren’t millionaires. McCain seems poised to take up this myopic neo-con mantle by his recent comments that those who make $250,000 a year are still middle class. This puts him in the category of those who are completely blind to the struggles of average people in this country.

What Obama seemed to focus on the most was the idea of restoring “America’s promise.” He’ll be attacked by the Republican smear machine on his perceived lack of experience (although Bush had zero experience in Washington before his presidency, a fact that doesn’t seem to be heralded often enough by Democrats) and he may be able to defend himself against that by the force and experience of Joe Biden. By choosing Biden, Obama bolstered his position in that department and it seems certain that Biden will bring a working-man’s perspective to the ticket, as well as years of hard-won, foreign-policy experience.

The real question is how Obama will sell the idea of change to the American people. His die-hard supporters seem ready for an Obama presidency no matter what that might mean, but those on the fence are listening closely to the details offered. Middle-class, Bible-belt Americans for example who have experienced the downside of Bush’s misguided policies would seem to be an easy sell, but they will not like the idea of any government interference in their daily lives. The key issue raised by Senator Clinton--healthcare--seems to have been put on the back burner somewhat by Obama. This may work in his favor because, although it’s obvious that change is necessary to jump start the vitality of our economy and to bolster our position on the world stage, middle-class Americans will not appreciate a government program that doesn’t allow them to choose healthcare providers. When Obama says

“Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who’s willing to work.”

I’m glad to hear that someone who may possibly win the presidency is attuned to the needs of regular people, but it will be difficult for him to sell the idea of change to fence-sitters if he presents his idea in a way that can be labeled as “big government” by his opponent. It’s ironic that the Republicans gleefully strip away our privacy rights while championing themselves as supporters of small government, but that irony is lost on the masses. Obama will probably defend himself well against accusations that his perceived inexperience is a liability, but he should tread very carefully when explaining how his brand of change would affect average Americans in their day-to-day lives. Tax cuts are a great start, as long as Obama repeats this mantra tirelessly--that he won’t raise taxes on the middle class. This illumines the fact that there is a huge chasm between how the super-privileged (e.g., McCain) perceive the definition of what’s “middle class” and how Obama perceives it. Obama’s version rings true, while McCain is living in a fantasy land of the fabulously wealthy. McCain can't remember how many homes he owns. Where Obama could lose much ground, however, is in the area of social programs. If he hammers home the idea that conversion to green energy will create job growth through “green collar” jobs then he’s got a winner. That would involve a transition that would be somewhat painful but entirely possible. Any job losses experienced as fossil fuel companies switch to promoting wind, solar, and electric power could be balanced by new jobs created as a result of these new technologies. And it’s clear that we must get out of Iraq--a huge money pit. The Iraqis themselves are clamoring for our departure.

It’s the idea of change that could present the real problem, which is another irony. It’s obvious that we are in need of change, but middle America is historically resistant to it, unless they’ve witnessed it and can see that it works. Convincing this huge cross section of voters that Obama's brand of change is what’s needed will be difficult, and last night’s speech probably wasn’t the appropriate time to do so, but I hope that Obama and his advisers realize that there are probably many of those suffering from the economic aftershock of eight years of a Bush presidency who would vote for him if his plan provides genuine relief--without government intrusion. Younger voters embrace change but older voters on both sides of the aisle typically won’t.

Obama’s vision of America might put us on equal footing with the European Union who realized early on that social programs can help workers, but the wealthiest 2% of America, with their deregulation and hands-off economic policies will do what they can to stop the leveling of the playing field because they are directly profiting from the policies that have created our current economic fiasco. By “closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don’t help America grow”, Obama is putting himself in direct opposition to corporate America. (Although it’s been so bad lately that Wall St. has embraced Obama knowing that change of any kind is needed now.)

So, Obama 1) is a patriotic American, 2) with Biden he has the experience necessary to do the job, 3) he was right on Iraq from day one, and 4) he’s sympathetic to average Americans.

It will be how he explains his plan to change America that will either give him the momentum to win or sink his aspirations entirely. He made it clear last night that he is decidedly pro-choice, which was no surprise. Expect McCain to use this as a wedge as he caters to the evangelicals who already dislike him intensely. So, that point can’t be used to persuade any fence-sitters. Once again, it’s the economy, stupid. If Obama can find some middle ground on issues like abortion (implement a plan to reduce teen pregnancy) and gun control (by considering the issue on a case-by-case basis, what works for Cleveland might not be necessary for Scranton, Penn.) and present himself as tough on national security with a genuine intent to “cut taxes for 95% of all working families” then we may be on the verge of witnessing the election of the first African-American U.S. president.

It’s about time!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Elizabeth Kate Switaj comments on Rob McLennan's poems up at milk magazine.

Thumbs up or thumbs down for my Urban Dictionary entry?

Francesco Levato designed a wonderful page for the Meltzer/Rothenberg reading coming up at Myopic . Many thanks to the Poetry Center of Chicago.

Celebrating Larry Rivers .

What's my favorite Ashbery line? "In a far recess of summer/ Monks are playing soccer." Now you know.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Maybe we should ask the Most Trusted Man in America .

Have you tried the Word Cloud Generator ?

Bill O'Reilly, back to school? Great idea.

More on the strange world of Francis Bacon .

BlazeVOX books needs help.

Bill Knott is still pissed.

Theories and explanations about the much debated [sic] .

Scientists say we can "see" sound and "hear" light.

Are you an apple or a pear ?

Feel the love: Celebrities and John McCain .

Friday, August 15, 2008

Once again will participate in the Poetry Foundation's Printers' Ball at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. Thanks to Fred Sasaki for making this happen.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Amy Winehouse and fake authenticity pay a visit to my other blog ... Environs. [pictured: "Jazz" by Karel Appel.]

"Art is a secret script that you can only read with your instinct."
Karel Appel, 1962

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Spliced Suddenly to a Closeup

What happens in poems
trains graze upon the prairie,
hours fall from the sky,

which is unlike anything except
horses speaking in autumn voices.

Beheaded table littered with night
into the mirror swim.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Our Meanwhile

If I were missing a hooray, saying
wake up and car it, you’d gaze a map of
moments and explore the thick foliage of
sleep. Who sent a laugh wrapped in morning?
Under the cypress trees a compass dreams.
Plot caught us deadpanning about the
after and grackles upon pine needles cackle.
But we are thoroughly neither where the
pointing shadows undress themselves and
sway. Our meanwhile, which made one so
Copenhagen, dealt us a pocket of knives.
Have you seen the horizon, without its
Lacan, giving birth to light? Wretched and
magical we return to conquer happy.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

“I was astonished at the closeness of his speech with its hesitancies word by word the forms of his writing. It seemed that, in his specialized – i.e. personal, unique, home-made, close to the nose, close to the grain, actual – world of writing and speech, the forms he wrote were precise notations of the way his mind thoughts occurred to him, as he noticed them, and the way they’d be uttered out loud. ... The main principle seemed to be that his mind moved syllable by syllable – as if his basic unit of thought was the syllable – as if thought-forms could be broken down further than picture image, further than thought-breath or whatever larger unit Kerouac or Olson or Duncan or Williams or others have used, could be broken down below words themselves even, to syllables, one by one moving forward in time, one by one at a time left on the page to tell what change mind went thru in the head at the desk or with pen in hand on the lap on a ship or a plane or in bed, slow as a live clock, monosyllable by monosyllable ... here Creeley was exhibiting his own personal objective yoga as it were of speech-mindfulness, a completely unique universe uncovered by awareness of the syllable as basic atom or brick of poetic mind. What was rare to experience was how much the entire set of mind, the set up, represented in the beginning of the poem, was modified by each new single-breath’d syllable. So each one word syllable modified by hindsight all the previous words. Of course that’s universal in speech, but to hear speech so bare that the modifications of mind syllable by syllable were apparent, were the theme and play of the poem, was like raw mind discovery to me anew, like rediscovering Cezanne’s method of creating space, or Poussin’s arrangement of planes or Pound’s quantity of vowels.” (‘On Creeley’s Ear Mind’, 414)

—Allen Ginsberg


Hearing Robert Creeley read at the University of Chicago years ago is one of the high points of my time spent as an audience member at poetry readings. It was only after hearing Creeley read that I began to fully understand the pacing and musicality of his poetry. I understood the importance of the parts to whole as never before. Because of his relatively simple diction my previous tendency was to read the poems quickly and then to reread them as quickly. After hearing them presented by Creeley himself, I slowed myself down and thought of their timing as I hadn't before. Creeley seemed more attuned to this than most other poets I've heard——famous or otherwise. After hearing the intonation of Creeley's poems I realized that many of them are brief enactments of a human drama, re-lived in the telling. They seemed to be less of a language experiment and more of a lyrical document of a psychological gesture. As Ginsberg hints above, Creeley was the master of set up.

His asides also provided such monumental context that I literally forgot where I was while listening.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn has died.

Along with Elie Wiesel's book Night, Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch showed the horrors of Hitler's and Stalin's regimes to the world. After criticizing Stalin in a letter in 1945, Solzhenitsyn spent 8 years in a Russian gulag as punishment. He was a literary celebrity after publishing One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch but then found himself out of favor again and by 1974 he was stripped of citizenship and expelled from Russia. His death yesterday was heralded as a huge loss for literature worldwide.

And here’s the TIME magazine story and the The New York Times obit.