Showing posts with label Trump. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Trump. Show all posts

28 June, 2018

All along the multiverse/Traversing the Big Empty, Part 3 ( Consequences of a Nation)

[continued from Part 2]

[Somewhere in Satan's Taint, NM]

The absence of etiquette and the abandonment of common sense is what has placed The United States in the position it's in.

Not (just) Republicans. Not (just) Democrats. Something more fundamental in human nature is at work in all of these goings on -- children placed in cages, used as pawns to justify putting their parents in cages, too. The Supreme Court upholds Trumps travel ban and upholds the manipulation tactics of a California-based "pregnancy clinic" that doesn't have to pony up to the truth that they are anti-abortion. Regardless of your stance on abortion, the fact is that the Supreme Court has legalized the absence of transparency... and so has the Trump administration, as a matter of fact. We're being told we're going to be more free... free from those pesky regulations that protect (sort of) public water, help protect (sort of) public wild lands, and help protect the citizens of the United States (sort of) from being the targets of usury and economic piracy.  We're going to be so free because we won't know any difference. We're going to be so free because that's the only information that we will be told. 

And we will eat it up like a quart of Ben & Jerry's.

We'll eat it up because it rings "true" based on all the Neoliberal propaganda we've grown up with. Staunch individualism + capitalism - NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). We are such a large country, and there's still a lot about it that's beautiful. But we're a large country and as much as we say we're all Americans or whatever, the fact is we are basically clannish, provincial and paranoid. 

One of the things people learn in AA is that alcoholism is, in part, a response to unaddressed fears. My sponsor harps on this all the time. "We're afraid of either losing what we have or not getting what we want."  I want to suggest that this isn't just part of what drives alcoholics, or addicts of any stripe.
This is what has driven our foreign policy since World War II and driven our domestic policy (at least) since the Nixon Administration. And certainly the argument could be made that it was a causal factor in the American Revolution (though it was about taxes, not freedom), the Civil War, and every folly dating back to the crucifixion of Christ. We're scared that someone's going to take away something or we're scared we won't get what we want. 

Don't worry. We're not unique. It's an essentially human condition. We're biologically hardwired for fight or flight. The good news is we are capable of doing better. 

On a related note: 

Remember that toilet problem I mentioned in Part 2? Remember how I said they spent time trying to fix it and put us an hour behind schedule? 

Well the Assistant Conductor just announced that the toilets in Coach 11 are out of commission... because someone put something down there that wasn't supposed to go. Again.

The good news is I'm in coach 13. The bad news is, it could still cause the entire septic system go offline.

Progress is sometimes slower than I would prefer.

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27 June, 2018

All along the multiverse/Traversing the Big Empty, Part 2 ("Foreign Objects" and the San Bernardino Jerk)

[continued from Part 1]

[Northeast of Albuquerque NM, 26 June 2018]

So the thing about traveling by train is that there is at least one other inevitability you must embrace: you will (probably) not be on time. it's not that it can't happen. it's just that the odds are against it. Other than the near guarantee that I'll be within earshot of a crying child on an overnight trip (This is true on buses, trains, and planes. I always carry gun range quality ear plugs, just in case.), the only other thing I can promise is that, at least ONCE on any leg of a train trip, I will overhear someone complain about the train running late.

It's also not uncommon for the same person who complains about the train running late to be a smoker who also complains about not getting enough time to smoke.

The lesson here? If you're contributing to a problem, you're in a good position to be a part of the solution. In the case, shut up and be grateful for what smoke breaks  you get because, seriously, they don't have to. THEY DON'T HAVE TO. They cut a fresh air stop at San Bernardino because someone jerk thought the All Aboard call meant he had time to take his time and finish his cigarette and apparently didn't like it when the train left without him.

What's the take away there, Dear Friends and Readers? It only takes ONE jerk to ruin it for everyone.
Being part of a community -- even a temporary one created because everyone is on the same train -- means there are larger concerns. For example, when some person or persons unknown puts paper towels or other ... to quote Conductor Justin ... "Foreign Objects" down one of the vacuum toilets, it can cause the ALL THE TOILETS ON THE TRAIN NOT TO WORK. That happening can really affect the air quality in an enclosed coach. Larger concerns define -- or impact -- every aspect of travel, from the rule against "foreign objects" to the prohibition of pocket knives on air planes and Greyhound buses, to the limits on baggage size and weight, to [fill in the blank.] Yes, everyone wants to get where they're going. But that means EVERYONE WANTS TO GET WHERE THEY'RE GOING. EVERY ONE.

Contradicting or impeding common purposes -- those things that are bigger than any one of us -- naturally has consequences. The San Bernardino Jerk (as he is forever named) caused the cancellation of a fresh air break. Who ever the person or persons were who tried to flush "foreign objects" down one of the toilets caused a delay in Albuquerque (of all places) for repairs that has put the train a about an hour behind. 

And how will they make this time up? That's right. THEY WILL CUT THE FRESH AIR BREAKS.
It's not rocket science. It's just common sense and... etiquette.



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30 August, 2017

Retreat, Renewal, and Arrival: From Gethsamani to Trumplandia

The Wild Man doesn’t come to full life through being “natural,” going with the flow, smoking weed, reading nothing, and being generally groovy. Ecstasy amounts to living within reach of the high voltage of the golden gifts. The ecstasy comes after thought, after discipline imposed on ourselves, after grief.― Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men 


It's good to get away. It's good for me and it's good for my family, too. It's not that they don't love me or that I don't love them. But sometimes I go away for a bit BECAUSE I love them, and I'm very lucky that they understand this part of me that has cost me jobs, relationships, and respect.

Not that I've gone out on a proper jaunt in a while. I haven't, really. And it's not that they would hold it against me  (much) if I did. But it's difficult for me to plan a jaunt with an end point. Jaunts, for me, are by nature open-ended.  Sure, there's some kind of end point -- or a break point, I should say. Generally when I jaunt, it's simply a way to amble between stops, as I traditionally break up traveling with visits. And while the visits are always wonderful, my jaunts more about the motion. Travel is it's own kind of meditation.

But there are other forms of meditation. At least twice a year, I try to get out to the Abbey at Gethsemani, outside of Bardstown, Kentucky. If you're not familiar with this Trappist monastery's significance, beyond the religious, it was also the monastery where Thomas Merton lived and worked and wrote. His hermitage is still off limits to non-Religious folk. But as a retreatant there, you can walk the same woods, soak in the same silence. It's not necessary to be Catholic, or to be particularly religious at all. They operate the retreat house based on the Benedictine Rule of Hospitality. This rule is one of five Benedictines base their daily spiritual practice around.

I go there for the silence. There's a special quality to the silence there. While the monks don't actually take a vow of silence, they do try to cultivate silence as part of their practice of  active listening and worship.

There are some kinds of silence that are empty. This kind of silence works like a vacuum, a black hole in the brain and in the heart just eating everything around it, never to be sated.

Then there's another kind of silence. This silence fills and pushes out the constant white noise that seems to fill every part of contemporary life. I go and wander the west trails, or sit in the chapel during the singing of the The Hours or when it's empty. There's a rejuvenative quality to the silence that I find helps remind me of things. Like how important daily practice is. Like how important it is to work to cultivate silence in my daily life... not just for the sake of practice, but so that I can actively listen. The Benedictine rules of prayer, work, study, hospitality, and renewal aren't as easy to apply to life here. But I think they're good rules to live by. They echo the language I've read from other spiritual leaders, including Buddhists like Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

The challenge for me be active in my practice, especially when I feel so pulled by events out in larger Trumplandia. I left for retreat watching people fight over unnecessary monuments to people who were not heroes and should not be treated as such, and wondering if the solar eclipse was itself going to be eclipsed by nuclear war with North Korea.

It made a certain amount of sense to me, since Trump doesn't do anything new. It's natural that he would take up an old war to make his own (and to avoid possible impeachment) because that's how he's made his way in the world -- copying other people.

I came back to find out that he's decided to make Afghanistan is war -- which actually makes more sense because North Korea, while a credible threat, doesn't quite measure up to his hubris. He made some noise towards Venezuela, too. But that, too, doesn't have the grandiosity that, say, stating his intention to march into Afghanistan does. This puts him on par with every other deluded historical leader who has had the same intentions.

Whether a person is religious or not, whether a person is spiritual or not, whether you don't believe in the historical existence of Jesus, the fact is that the idea of a Living Christ (in the vein discussed by Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ) isn't a bad one to use as an example. The monks at Gethsamani practice the elements they see in the life of Jesus as an active, spiritual practice. And even if you're not spiritual, there's nothing wrong about being mindful (a kind of prayer), as well as focusing on good and useful work, practicing hospitality, and being open to renewal. As a writer, I see a lot in common between renewal and revision. Life is constantly under revision. If it isn't, then it's not a life. It's a dead, useless monument.



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14 July, 2017

Language front: from which all wars really begin.

The relations between rhetoric and ethics are disturbing: the ease with which language can be twisted is worrisome, and the fact that our minds accept these perverse games so docilely is no less cause for concern. ~ Octavio Paz

To handle a language skillfully is to practice a kind of evocative sorcery. ~ Charles Baudelaire

Less is always more. The best language is silence. We live in a time of a terrible inflation of words, and it is worse than the inflation of money. ~ Eduardo Galeano


 In spite of the historical precedence dictating the fighting a war on multiple fronts almost always leads to disaster, nearly every war we are in is fought this way.

The culture war is no different. The New Wave Fascists have been at it for longer than most of the centrist Left realizes... and only now,  when it looks like the Nazis popped out of the closet all of a sudden to attack anything they consider liberal -- whether it's funding for the arts, free speech, higher education, or the previously sacred privacy of the voting booth -- do they decide that maybe, just maybe, something ought to be done.

Back when there were rumblings of a budget proposed by then newly elected Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin that would de-fund the Kentucky Arts Council, I reached out to artists groups online, asking if it wasn't the time to begin organizing a response.

I was called a reactionary and told that the then Democratically controlled legislature would protect the arts. Then the mid-term election came and the Republican Party, with it's New Wave rejuvenation, took the legislature away from the Kentucky Democratic Party. Then, the people who previously called me reactionary, who said there was nothing to worry about, were suddenly faced with the realization that MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, THEY OUGHT TO PAY ATTENTION.

By then, national politics were on everyone's minds, and the thought of a Tin Pot Fascist in Frankfort and a Fascist Godhead in the White House was just too much. And we saw how that worked out.

But the truth is that Bevin didn't win because of a sudden surge of conservatism in Kentucky. Except for Louisville, Lexington, and Frankfort -- and, thanks to Kim Davis, my heart's home Rowan County -- Kentucky is largely a conservative state. It has been for years.  The reason Bevin won, other than the KDP's decision to run a cardboard cut out for Governor, is because he embraced a language and a rhetoric that was already in place. That language and that rhetoric was established by early right wing culture war veterans like Pat Buchanan, Richard Nixon, Dick Armey, Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, and Rush Limbaugh... language that later picked up and funded by the Koch Brothers, spread by the likes of Bill O'Reilly Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, Richard Spenser, and others.

The same is true of Trump's election win. I have written before that Trump did not create the New Wave Fascism that carried him into the White House. I'm not sure that Trump is particularly ideological -- as opposed to Bevin and Vice President Mike Pence, both of whom walk the social conservative culture war that they talk. Trump has been successful not because he's an innovator, but because he's had a good nose for where the trends are. He saw his chance and took it, and in the process took the GOP, the electorate, and the entire country for a ride.

Neither Bevin nor Trump invented the language of nationalism. Neither one of them invented the rhetoric used by creationists, anti-choice activists, or those opposed to marriage equality, LGBTQIA rights, racists, and other bullies.  To suggest they somehow crafted their messages in some For White Men Only vacuum gives them entirely too much credit and ignores history. It also lets everyone else who insisted that these folks were too marginal to ever impact the larger culture off the hook.

The ugly has always been there. And now we have to face it on every front before it consumes everything.

Part of this means that those of us who are word workers -- writers -- have to start taking the language back. We cannot speak of democracy, equality, peace, and love if we do not have the words.

from libcom.org



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01 May, 2017

Letters from Trumplandia 9: The May Day Special

 Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.  -- George Orwell


I wasn't sure where I was supposed to be this past Saturday. Part of me wanted to be in Pikeville this past weekend facing down the early break of this New Wave of American Fascism.  Somewhere in me lurks a reactionary, even still. The reactionary me wanted to go to Pikeville and punch Nazis and bring to bear on their heads the considerable anger and violence I feel towards the baby fascistas who vandalized my son-in-law's car and terrorized him and my daughter.

There are days when the lines are very clear and I know where I'm supposed to be. But as the plans started to come together for an insurgent reaction to the TWP having their little Nazi picnic, I found myself feeling not entirely sure of  how it was all going to pan out. Any time you walk into Eastern Kentucky like the Grand Pooh-bah Savior of the people, you are walking into trouble. If you think they need you (even if they ask) you've got to tread carefully. Regardless of your thoughts about the book, Jesus, fishes and loaves, the banished money changers, or Golgotha, you ought to expect to be crucified by the very people you think you're going to save if you intend to march into Eastern Kentucky.
Martyrs ... have to choose between being forgotten, mocked or used. As for being understood - never. Camus

Because there isn't an Eastern Kentuckian, devout Christian or no, that demands anything less. They have what you might call a high standard.

As I write this, today is May Day. The first of May has historically been a labor
holiday pretty much everywhere except in the United States, where our early robber baron overlords gave us Labor Day in September in order to try and steal thunder away from the radical labor movement. Of course now, The Big Orange Meanie, our Fascist-in-Chief  Donald "The Don Don" Trump is trying to recast this historic and global radical holiday as "Loyalty Day."
The Don Don

Yeah. Let that one sink in and tell me again that he's not a fascist.

For months, Memeworld has been all a-twitter about a General Strike -- or, as I like to call it, the Wobbly Rapture. They've already started one down in Brazil. I don't expect to see much in the way of a general strike around here simply because there isn't the will or the numbers for it. Memeworld has it's own warriors, though, and I realize I am not one of them. I'm an opinionated sometimes activist and organizer who's really more of a poet than a protester. I'm all for it, of course... protesting and pushing back against Nazis, a General Strike. All of it. But one of the things I've learned is that just because you're in a room full of folks who might agree with you, that does not mean you have a cultural quorum.

That's not to say that the anti-fascists can't win out the argument. Tyranny always betrays itself in the end, and even now, the mask is starting to slip off the figurehead for the New Wave, our boy Don Don. The mistake that most traditional liberals are making right now is they act as if getting rid of Trump will stem the tide. It won't. His vitriol has unleashed something that's been a part of the American character since the first settlers came here.*

If the Pikeville Rally shows us anything, it's that there is absolutely nothing new about hate. It sometimes takes on a slicker facade, like Richard Spenser or Steve Bannon. It sometimes takes on the mask of an arrogant bully, like Donald Trump. Sometimes it takes on the mask of the true believer, like Kentucky's own tin pot fascista, Matt Bevin. But it's nothing new.

Something else the rally made clear, if it wasn't already: the powers that be are complicit in protecting the ability of hate to spread itself like cancer. The cops didn't try and shut down the fascists for making verifiable threats to peaceful protesters. The cops shut down the peaceful protesters by relying on fear and the implied threat that the cops would not be there to protect them.**

I was not at the Pikeville Rally. In the end, I decided it was more important to be here with my family and the community of folks I work with in homeless outreach.

But that shouldn't confuse anyone into believing that I've gone anywhere, or that I'm backing down. It's true, I've been a little quiet of late.

That's over now.
___________________________________________________________
*Note: the Puritans did escape England to pursue their own religious ideals, but they were not then, now, or ever, martyrs for religious freedom. These are the ones who burned women for witches, remember?
** This, too, is nothing new. See Also: The Kent State Massacre, The Cripple Creek Massacre, the Ludlow Massacre, The Haymarket Affair, the murder of Joe Hill by the state of Utah, and The New Testament. 

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05 April, 2017

Letters from Trumplandia 8: il mostro dentro di me

Now is the time of monsters. -Antonio Gramsci

Sometimes it tries to kid me/ that it's just a teddy bear /and even somehow manage to/ vanish in the air. /And that is when I must beware/ of the beast in me that everybody knows. - Nick Lowe

My daughter's mother used to tell me that my face changed whenever I lost my temper.

"It's like you turn into a different person," she would say.

We were a marriage of monsters. Of course, neither one of us realized that at the time. We were young and stupid and had no clue what love was or what we were doing. It wasn't entirely our fault, either. I grew up denying mine and she grew up trying to run away from hers. Our monsters have very different origin stories. I don't propose to talk much more about hers here, since it is her story to tell and ultimately her burden to carry. I only mention hers to point out that monsters come in all shapes and sizes and that most of them, contrary to all the folk tales, wear vaguely human faces and walk through the world completely unaware that they are, in fact, monsters.

I also want to point out that in spite of all that, we managed to somehow create the least monstrous, most talented, and beautiful daughter that any two monsters could manage during an Eastern Kentucky winter blizzard.

There was a point a few years back that I thought I had my monster under control. My tactic was to starve it out. My theory was that if I simply didn't feed certain aspects of my personality that eventually the it would starve to death. Cage it off, chain it to the wall, and starve it. I'd been at it for several years, and believed I'd nearly conquered the raging bastard.

And to be honest, I'm not really sure what happened, except maybe that little shit of an Id, that part of my brain that's always getting me into trouble, was sneaking it food while I wasn't paying attention.

Puckish little fucker, that Id. (Actually, his name is Clarence.)

I suppose it could be argued that there's a lot to be angry about. The ugly monster that is the underworldly underpinning of America has given birth to a beast and elected him President. And he is unleashing all manner of monsters on the world in his wake... as well as legitimizing the lesser monsters that heralded his arrival. He's doing what all monsters do. He's eating everything he can. The environment. The poor. The arts. The disenfranchised. The dumb ninnies that prop him up. Everything. All things. Until there is nothing left.

The unfocused and unorganized rage of the Resist 45er's is starting to fade. Socially activated liberals and frustrated progressives have fed all of their steam to the monster and are starting to settle down and talk about the next election. The short-lived union of the left is starting to fracture under the inevitable weight of hubris and the usual rounds of King of the Mountain, each of them sure that they are more right than anyone else.

Moreover, Kentucky's Little Fascista, who is also another teeny tiny monster, is trying gobble up all he can. The environment. Education. The poor. The arts. The disenfranchised. The poor dumb ninnies that prop him up. All things. Until there's even less left than was left before.

Monsters gorge themselves, rage, and destroy, and that is all they do.

So while I know there's plenty for me to point to and say "This is why," the fact is I am, after 44 years on this planet, still confused as to why I have something like this in me, anyway. If you believe the comic books and great literature of the ages -- and really, who doesn't-- all monsters have an origin. But mine is just there. It's always been there. It will always be there.

Amanda has told me as much. She knows me better than anyone and has known me for a long time. She tells me that while I'm generally not monstrous, that it's always there, just under the surface. Waiting. I try to keep it away from the people I love and I do okay with that. I'm learning that in order to do that, though, that sometimes I have to let the monster out to play.

And that, Dear Readers, will take an entire other lifetime of practice.





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24 March, 2017

Letters from Trumplandia 6: Clockwork Eternity and Daylight Savings Time (Delayed)

 Certainly, it seems true enough that there's a good deal of irony in the world... I mean, if you live in a world full of politicians and advertising, there's obviously a lot of deception. -- Kenneth Koch

Nations are born in the hearts of poets, they prosper and die in the hands of politicians. -- Muhammad Iqbal



Digital watches were all the rage when I was in second grade.  They were new. They were Clunky. And they were completely modern. However, in order to get one, I had to learn to tell time.

In spite of my clear articulation of the argument that old fashioned watches were going the way of the dinosaur, The Old Man insisted that I learn to read a clock.

"But someday no one will know what they are!"

"You will," he said. And there was no arguing.

I don't know if my obsession with time pieces started there. But I still know what a clock is, even as each generation forgets how to read them just like they're forgetting cursive writing.Clocks are funny extensions of an abstraction. Man's attempt to not only own the world but to control how it moves through the universe, and by extension, how we move through the world.

The thing about writing is there's always something that needs doing that will inevitably take you away from your desk. In these, the dark days of Babylon under the mighty Trumplandian flag, there is more so.

There are days to be lived and ways to go about it, and always ... and always... there is something to distract you from the things you really ought to be doing. When they are things we embrace and decide they're worthwhile, we call them obligations. When they are things we'd rather not be doing, we call them duty.

When they are things that are forced upon us under the guess of personal choice, we call it a career.

And it is always this career business that ends up defining us -- by how we choose it, or by it how it chooses us , or by how we choose not to choose it.

Daylight savings time is another one of those fake ideas that we give credence to out of habit. There are places in the world -- in the country, as a matter of fact -- that live without having to turn the clock forward one hour in the spring, only to have to turn it back one hour in fall. Arizona, with everything it does wrong (and there is an epic list) does that one thing right. Not changing the clock twice a year has absolutely no impact on daily life except the absence of jet lag.

Yes, yes. The story goes that the government instituted Daylight Savings Time to help farmers. It's supposed to help because it gives them more daylight in the winter. Never mind the fact that the sun is still in the same spot in relation to the Earth, the days get shorter until Winter Solstice and then begin to get longer as the the Earth spins and the sun is, as a result, in a different position in relation to equator.  Never mind that the length or lack or available sunlight doesn't really change what a farmer has to get done.

As a matter of fact, I haven't met a farmer yet who gave a good gawd damn about the length of daylight in relation to the chores that have to get done. Those people are some of the most rock-hard people I've ever met, precisely because they work regardless of the season, regardless of the weather, and regardless of what time the clock says in relation to where the sun in in the sky.

Daylight savings time is nothing more than an absurd delusion that we can control the time. We can't. Time is the current that carries us. The only difference is that we can choose whether we're going to sink or swim.

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20 March, 2017

Letters from Trumplandia 5: The doghead comes to town (with apologies to all dogs, great and small)

A man can be in two different places and he will be two different men. Maybe if you think of more places he will be more men, but two is enough for now. ― Elmore Leonard, Valdez Is Coming

You don't fight fascism because you're going to win. You fight fascism because it is fascist. - Jean-Paul Sartre 


River City is all a twitter because the WWE is coming to town. Trump is going to be at Freedom Hall this evening, giving his supporters, followers, worshipers, and the underbelly of bigots, racists, white power inbreeds, and generally all around delusional people a chance to catch a glimpse of the Mighty Orange Man himself.

There will also be protesters, I'm sure. Trump attracts a lot of attention, and he has done a lot to stir the pot in the last week. In releasing his budget proposal, he has done pretty much what he said he would do. He's proposing to eliminate funding for PBS, NPR, the NEA, Amtrak, and Meals on Wheels. The first three he talked about copiously on the campaign trail. That anyone is surprised now is only proof that
  1. they didn't REALLY pay attention, and
  2. they lulled themselves into complacency because that's what most liberals do.
And of course, the calls to call our congress people -- most of whom are Republicans who have had a grudge against PBS, NPR, the NEA, and Amtrak for years --  have been put forth like mighty beacons. Now, they say, is the time to act. Now, we can save democracy. Now we can protect the arts and the cultural soul of America.

Please.

If those hatchet men and warmongers want to put cultural institutions under the ax, they will. They have been for years.  The only difference is, now we have a president who, for all of the oozing evil he's unleashed, is an honest representation of who we are as country. There's no more delusion. As Plato pointed out in the mouth of his state-murdered teacher, Socrates, democracy most often falls back into dictatorship. In our case, we've got a festering form of fascism that's been part of the American psyche since the Puritans came here believing God gave them this land -- in spite of the fact that there were well established cultures living here already.  This same fascism bubbled to the surface in the mid 1800's (See also: The Know-Nothings). It's bubbled up other times, too.

We've allowed the oligarchs to hold power by turning a blind eye to the exploitation that has made them wealthy and let them control the language and the narrative by which we could condemn them. Those in the best position to truly articulate what is wrong with all this -- artists -- have always been the cross hairs. This too, is nothing new. The moneyed elite always seek to control the arts, whether it's by making it commodity, or by controlling purse strings.

If you're angry about these things, please consider the words of poet Robinson Jeffers , written in 1941:

Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you. Watch the wheel slope and turn,
They are all bound on the wheel, these people, those warriors.
This republic, Europe, Asia.


Our hope -- the only hope really -- is knowing and having faith in the fact that art lasts longer than culture as long as we keep making art and keep passing it on. Art will outlast the dictators as long we pass on the knowledge to make art. Art will outlast because art always does... because someday, art eventually becomes the true historical record of a culture... not manufactured propaganda.

Just remember: your art is more than just a hobby. It is more than a weapon against fascism (which it absolutely is). Your art is part of the long memory. It is bigger than all of us, bigger than the institutions that were supposed to safe guard, and bigger than the engorged ego of one orange fascist and his fans. 

Get to it.



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14 February, 2017

Letter from Trumplandia 3: art as memory/ memory as subversion

 Life is subversive. - Ernesto Cardenal

When you are forced by circumstance to focus on survival, it can be difficult to remember that it's as important to nourish your soul as it is to feed your stomach.  Arts-based organizations are poised for a fight that they may very well lose simply because the numbers are against them. Grant money is already being squeezed and if the past budgetary actions of the Republican Party are any indication, the arts will have to find other revenue streams in order to survive.

The squeeze has already been felt here in Kentucky, where our tin pot little fascista Governor Matt Bevin cut money to the Kentucky Arts Council (and everything else) in his first budget. Granted, he did not, as was widely feared, eliminate funding for the KAC entirely... for which they puckered up and kissed his New England ass. There will most likely be another budget cut next year, too. Bevin, like every fascista before him, refers to the arts and things like it* as "nonessential services."

And most likely, when he does, the folks still remaining at the KAC will again express gratitude for Herr Governor's

As Trump's overblown inauguration began to loom as an inevitable reality, The Hill reported that undisclosed sources within his transition team said some of his budget cuts included privatizing NPR and eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts .Naturally, that would be catastrophic for many arts organizations, including educational arts organizations.

Though really, part of me suspects that the announcement was leaked, not so much as a statement of
intention but as a misdirection. 45 has time and time again proven to be a master at misdirection. His entire professional life up to and including his 2016 POTUS election win has been nothing more than an extended game of 3 Card Monte.

The biggest danger to the arts, though, really isn't coming from Trump (yet) or Bevin (yet.) The biggest danger to the arts comes from inside an arts community that has gotten so comfortable that it has forgotten how to innovate.

Without the arts, there is no such thing as civilization. I've said before that society rests not on laws, but on the arts and simple etiquette. In these, the rising days of the new wave, this is especially true. Art is more than entertainment. The arts are our collective memory. And it's been nice to have a government that acknowledges -- albeit grudgingly and not without malice** -- the arts.

It's been nice. But we need to start deciding what to do if it ends.

Over the weekend I listened to David Marcus -- Sr. Contributor to The Federalist and Artistic Director of Blue Box World in Brooklyn -- on NPR's Saturday morning journal show talk about why the death of the NEA would be good for art in America.

His essential argument is that the arts existed before government and don't really need the government, and that the arts need to be competitive in a free market. I'll deconstruct the problem of commodifying art and how free markets are a myth in another post.***

Part of what feeds his argument and gives it validity is the strain of elitism in the arts and how arts organizations go about doing what they do. There was a time when you preserved the arts by opening a gallery, or a theater, or creating a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving a particular art form. These organizations operate on membership dues, donations, patronage, partnerships, and grant money. In the absence of grant money, non-profits have a really difficult time sustaining themselves -- or, if they don't have trouble sustaining, no one knows they exist, their membership stagnates, and eventually the organization disappears because most of the membership dies.

In order to survive, artists and arts organizations have to reinvent themselves, not to try and break into or maintain a market, but to remain the living memory of a civilization at risk. There's more at stake than ticket sales. Democracy is at stake. In addition to the obligation to speak out against the tyrannical new wave, artists are obliged to be the memory of what is happening. We record. We remember. We are the storytellers, the bards, the players. The job is ours, because if we leave it to the historians, the narrative will be an extension of the same manifest destiny bullshit they still teach kids.

In order to survive, artists have to understand that even they haven't declared war, even if they don't like the language of war, even if they believe it has nothing to do with them, that war has been declared on them. In order to survive arts organizations have stop thinking like bureaucratic machines and start being strategizing like a guerrilla army.

In other words, start thinking like a tagger and not the cops who arrest taggers.


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______________________________________________________________________________
* literature, foreign languages, health care, social services, public education, roads, bridges, and clean rivers.
**GOP deity Ronald Reagan wanted to start phasing out the NEA in 1981, but he was advised by no less than gun and 'MURICA lover Charlton Heston that it would be a really bad idea
*** To prepare, if you haven't already, bone up on Karl Marx. 

03 February, 2017

Day 13 into the Burning of Rome (poem)

We are digging around for answers.
smoke and ash make it difficult to read the etchings.

Somewhere over the ridge
a child is drinking dirty water.

Pale hate marketeers are pedaling contaminated snake oil
to combat the accompanying stomach illness.

Only the preachers and paleontologists know
the answer is in the dirt.

The Sisters of Perpetual Consummation are in the temple taking on new parishioners
for less than the usual market value of pearl-esque flesh.

Corporate Grand Wizards whisper their secrets into the ears
of corrupt mistresses who, for a few strips of half-rotted meat
and a few sips of stale beer
will sell your soul to the highest bidder
and auction off your testicles
for mothballs and a mouthful of pre-apocalypse scotch.

Teflon-suited oligarchs march forward
carrying on their war against the unsightly poor:
they declare new operations against Appalachia

while self-appointed store-front charlatans
(posing as holy men) proclaim their gospel
for a perpetual tithe of ten percent
and the choice of congregants' virgin daughters to bed.

The preachers and paleontologists make some progress.
They've called in a small group of esoteric linguists
and neo-formalist poets to aid in some of the translations.

But the work is slow and filled with delays.
The road between the dig and the camp is littered with shrapnel
and the giant rusted bones of all our fallen deities.
And every few miles there is a new toll to pay.

There is talk of moving the camp
but all the translators have gone on a hunger strike
and no one can establish a quorum.

And no one has the audacity to simply stay.
(They exchanged their backbones for exit visas.)

The truth is in the dirt.
Every morning is spent removing the mud
from the previous night's damage
and tracking the inevitable erosion.

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31 January, 2017

Letters from Trumplandia: laying the groundwork

Self-erasure is a harsh religion. - from travel journal


I have to remind myself sometimes that in spite of what I think of my general sense of discontent, my own life is pretty good.

When I was younger, and probably smarter though not as wise*, I told myself that my sense of discontent was what drove my writing.  I blamed a small town childhood filled with social isolation and religion. I blamed the death of my father. I eventually cast wider nets and blamed my discontent on the state of the world, the sense of decay I saw in everything around me. I blamed my high school guidance counselor for the Three Card Monte fashion in which she preached about the importance of a college degree to achieving the American Dream. I blamed the American Dream for being fake.

Something in me when I was younger insisted on seeing the worst in things, and I would silently condemn my elders for acting as though nothing was wrong when everything seemed ravaged, burned, and abandoned. I wrapped myself in anger and discontent and I wrote about it. When I was writing about how angry and discontent I was, I would drink and think about how I'd somehow missed the train that every American boy was supposed to catch. At times, I blamed my father for having the audacity to die before imparting any of the wisdom I thought I was entitled to before being pushed into the world.

Yes, pushed. I was pushed. 

Because left to my own devices, I would have cloistered myself off years ago, wrapped in my self-righteous blanket of anger and discontent, ranting to the silence for its own sake. I would not have faced the world on my own because I'd drawn such a dim view of it that it I would have dismissed it out of hand.

Next month I turn 44 years old, and the world has become the world of monsters I imagined it was when I was young.  The culture wars are on fire, thanks to the gasoline poured on by our Fascist-in-Chief.  His supporters are loving him now because he has moved on pretty much every single campaign promise he made. To be fair, I don't know if he's signing more executive orders in the first 100 days than any of his predecessors or if he just signs them in front of television cameras. But I do know that politics is a three ring circus and Trump is the Ringmaster of all Ringmasters; and whatever is going on, I feel like making him roll up his sleeves to check for an arm full of aces.

The art of the deal is pretty much the same thing as the art of the con. It's all slight of hand and misdirection. And while Trump and his lackeys embolden the Proud Boys and Alt-Reich Evangelists to do the dirty work of cultural purification, he is slowly whitewashing America with one hand and jerking off with the other.

In spite of all this, however, I think it's important to remind myself that even as monsters walk the earth in human skin suits, that my life is pretty good. My primary goals have pretty much always been the same since I was 19 or 20:

  • write,
  • reject workaday time clocks and the masters behind them,
  • walk through the world at my own rhythm,
  • try to be useful,
  • work to be honorable, and
  • stand up for what I believe.

Along the way I've also found the love of my life and figured out how to be an ok father.

One of the most challenging parts of it all is to accept that while I could easily cloister myself and ignore the world, that my desire to do so is fueled by ego. To turn away and dismiss everything would mean that I have it all figured out. There's an arrogance to that notion which is toxic to not only the world, but to myself and to the life I am continuing to build.

The internal workings of my life are actually pretty good, and I'm grateful for that. I am lucky to be married to someone who loves me as I am and who I adore with all my strength and the marrow in my bones. I'm still writing.  I have clients and deadlines, but these are things I establish and set for myself. I am trying to be useful and I work to be live an honorable life (although it's more challenging for me than maybe for some other people I know).  Because the internal workings of my life are what they are, I have the ability to stand up for what I believe and do what I think is right.

These are the rights and privileges of a free person, and I have taken my freedom back from those who would take it from me -- bosses, politicians, punks, thugs, and lackeys of powermongers. And it's only because I understand that freedom is something we must take back -- not something that is conferred upon by the high offices of human institutions -- that I know it's not just about me, and never has been.

___________________________________________________________________
*Not that I'm all that wise now. Most days I vacillate
between feeling incredibly stupid and three steps behind enlightenment.

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20 January, 2017

Il est Trumplandia: No quarter given

With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost.  -- William Lloyd Garrison

I should have taken that bet with Kenny Rose, a former colleague at U of L who I shared office space with in the basement. I should have taken the bet, but I didn't want some messed karmic consequence for calling the election a year ahead.

I should have that kind of luck with the horses.

Back when people -- mainly centrist liberals and conservatives --  were insisting that Donald Trump could never win a presidential election I pointed out that national elections are, for the most part, popularity contests. I also pointed out that Trump had made a career of selling everything from overpriced real estate to himself.

Still, I was told: it would never happen.

Well, we're here now, working on how to move forward in this, the Grand Republic of Trumplandia.

I have friends, comrades, and former colleagues who have taken to the streets today in Washington,
From Reuters
D.C. I wonder why I'm not there with them. When I'm being honest, I'm not sure I have much faith in the actual impact of street protests. I do believe that direct action works best, and sometimes that many require taking to the streets.  For me, though, the work is here. I don't know what kind of impact I could have on the street in D.C.  I do know what kind of things there are here in River City to do. We have our own little fascistas here. We have people who will be targeted by them after being emboldened by a new President who cares nothing for already targeted communities. We have mountains and trees and already polluted rivers that will need stewardship in the wake of President Trump's disdain for climate change science.

We have the poor. We have the homeless. There are battles here.

And if the early reports are true and Trump intends to eliminate The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, then I really have work to do.

And so does everyone else who writes, who plays music, who creates art of any kind. The work is wherever you are.

_____________________________________________________________________________

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10 January, 2017

A question of faith and the problem of a proportional response

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. - John Adams

When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be! - Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

 

Lately I've been thinking about my father, and what he would say if he were still alive to see the state of the world... or if he would say anything at all.

He was a retired Air Force Master Sargent. When I talk to people about him, I most often begin with that detail. This sometimes gives people the impression that I grew up a military brat. But I did not. It would be incorrect to assume, however, that just because the old man managed to get his walking papers* that his 20 years of military service had no impact on him or his family.

He was also 16 years older than my mother. He was born in 1935, and grew up in a very different America than the America most of the parents of most of my school mates grew up in. He grew up during the end of the Great Depression World War II. He entered the military -- the Navy first -- when he was 17 years old, during the Korean War.** He entered the Air Force in time for Vietnam.

The Old Man never really talked about his military experience, except for a few funny stories. He didn't talk about a lot of things. He was waiting for his sons to be older, I think.

He never said much about his politics, either. I did ask him once about how he voted and he told me he was a Republican but didn't always vote that way. Another time, during an intensely religious phase of my life***, we spoke about abortion. He posed a question to me that has continued to inform my thoughts on the matter. That question was "How many women AND children died from back alley abortions?"

My father believed in a nation of laws. He believed that democracy meant something and it was worth defending. He believed that you didn't have to be the loudest in order to stand up for what is right. And even though he took a very practical approach to the world, he believed that some things were right and some things were wrong.

I try very hard not to paint him into what I would prefer him to be. He was not, in a way, a radical. He was not a simple man, either, because he understood that life could be very complex. He strove to be a simple man, I think. He lived based on a set of ideals, and he lived quietly in as much as his large personality and his considerable vanity would allow. He loved his family. He did what he thought was right.

The most difficult part of being a son is forging yourself away from your father's shadow.  As a son, I want to live in such a way that were he still alive, he would be proud of me. This takes me down some interesting paths. I may never know if the Old Man would like who I am now and the ideals I strive to live my life by. Like him, I strive to be a simple man. A man of substance. A man of use. A man who holds certain principles as absolute, but is willing to embrace the idea that life is rarely as absolute as our ideals.

I find myself looking the America I am living in now and I cannot help but think the core ideas my father lived by have no place here. I live in a state where its elected officials have proven they have no regard for people's lives, people's safety, or people's health. I live in a country that has embraced a cynical lack of faith in democracy and our natural rights by electing a egotistical megalomaniac that has set his sights on fighting personal vendettas, fueling hate, and pushing people on with pyrite delusions and calling them the golden future.

I find myself in place where I am worried about my family, my community, and my country.  If I were a solider, I would fight. But I am not a soldier. I am an artist and a a dreamer.

These are fronts I understand.

_______________________________________________________________________
* It took him a long time to get released from the reserves after he left active service. 1975, if  I am remembering from his records correctly. Apparently the military didn't want to let him go.
** He was "asked" by his high school principle to leave.
*** To paraphrase, I was far more interested in the letter of the law than the spirit of it. 


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29 December, 2016

Resurrecting dead machines, new year resolutions, and other powerfully mixed cocktails

Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man. -- Benjamin Franklin
 

Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut. -- Ernest Hemingway

Last night over dinner with my father and mother-in-law, the topic of new years resolutions came up. I am, not uncharacteristically, close to the chest about those kinds of things. It's not that I don't want to share; it has more to do with my lagging cynicism about them. Most people make resolutions they have very little chance of fulfilling. This isn't because of a lack or absence of resoluteness, fortitude, or good intention.

Generally, people box themselves in when they make resolutions. My wife pointed out the other night when we were talking about this very same topic at home that a large part of why people tend to fail at resolutions is because they word them in a punitive way.

  • People proclaim their need to get a bikini body before warm weather (in spite of never having a bikini body by the usual unrealistic and self-loathing driven standards) and swear they will undertake a strict dietary and workout regiment. 
  • More than one member of the midnight choir has proclaimed that THIS YEAR, BY GAWD will be the year they stop drinking and act like an adult.* 
  • Some people swear off destructive relationships before running off into the night with their heretofore nameless NYE fuck buddy.
The last time I made any NYE resolutions and actually SPOKE them aloud on NYE, I believe I was three quarters of a case of beer and a bottle of cheap rye** into a night that I still, to this day, don't really remember. For all I know, I promised to quit drinking and join the Hari Krishna's.***

I am grateful to this day that social media didn't exist 20 years ago.


And while that annoying cynical voice keeps telling me that resolutions are ridiculous, that it's nothing more than setting myself up for an inevitable feeling of failure and dissolution at the end of 2017, the optimistic part of me that has been resurrected over the last few years**** reminds me that setting goals is a form of forward thinking. It helps to have a general direction you want to go before setting off on the road, and if that tired old cliche about life being a journey has any validity at all... which it probably does, or it wouldn't be a tired old cliche... then I need to set goals for 2017.

A couple of those things are in process. Thanks to my amazing wife, I received a punching bag and gloves for Christmas. Over the last year, I've had to come to terms again with the fact that I do, actually, in spite my best intentions, have a bit of a temper and a few anger issues that aren't all that easy to resolve. So, rather than turning all that anger internally -- which will hurt me -- or externally without focus -- which hurts other people, usually people I love -- I will direct it at a punching bag. I'll never be a boxer, but that doesn't mean I can't feed the pugilist in my soul.

I also decided to resurrect my old manual typewriter. It's a 1957 portable Olympia, which was Sears' market answer to the Smith Corona. It was a gift from my brother and now-ex-sister-in-law. I used it when I lived in New Orleans in a "reconditioned" crack house^. I hammered out two complete drafts of my master's thesis in graduate school. I've written more on that typewriter than I have ever shown the world. And while it will never replace this blog, or my various projects in the digital world, there is something about coming back to the machine that makes me feel good. And if feeling good is wrong for a resolution, I don't want to be right.

I'm also reaching an important mile marker in that I will turn 44 in February. I've considered every year since 27 dumb luck and every year after 33 an undeserved blessing. So here's mud in yer eye, 44.  In spite of myself and a short list of people with questionable taste, I'm still alive and kicking. Ninny- ninny-boo-boo.

2016 has been an up and down year for me. I finally and officially was divorced from higher education. I spent 6 months trying to find another gig, only to find one that, while the pay was decent, the hours took me away from all the things I was working to maintain. I lost friends. I pissed people off. I stepped back from my obligations to speak out and agitate. I hope to spend 2017 building bridges and repairing relationships, spending more time writing and creating and speaking truth to power in these, the waning days of Babylon.

I'd also like to take a dancing class. So there.

_______________________________________________________________________
* "Adult" is a subjective term. Hence, most underage drinking is the result of cultural taboo and the notion that it's so fucking grown up to chase oblivion.
**Yes, there was cheap rye once upon a time... before the Hipsters got a hold of it and wanted to be all ironic and annoying.
***At least one of those was a prediction in my high school graduation yearbook. If you've known me that long, you know which one it was.
**** Life has been pretty great to me, actually. I'm luckier than I deserve.
^ When trying to picture this in your mind, use the word "reconditioned" liberally.  In theory the rooming house was supposed to be renovated. In reality... well, let me put this way. I had roommate. His name was Gregor. He was a cockroach. He was there first. He was there when I moved out.

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08 November, 2016

Notes from the bunker, #9: tandem teaching and election 2016 ruminations

I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit. - John Steinbeck

Wars and elections are both too big and too small to matter in the long run. The daily work - that goes on, it adds up. - Barbara Kingsolver 


Tandem Teaching




This past weekend I had the opportunity to tandem teach with Amanda. We facilitated a workshop about creating 5 minute Moth-style slam stories at the Kentucky Storytelling Association's annual convention. This workshop was the first time I've done anything like teaching since separating from the University of Louisville this past April. We had a great time with some really great people. The KSA is a great organization I am proud to be a part of, and I Amanda is a great teaching partner.

 I was excited at the prospect of teaching again. But I was a little sad, too. Don't get me wrong. I like the work I'm doing now and I definitely feel grateful to have a job that pays me enough to help make ends meet. But I miss teaching. I don't miss the bullshit that is strangling the art and the craft of teaching; but I miss being in a classroom setting.

The nice thing about teaching is that, for the most part, it's easy to pick up the feel again when you've been away for a bit. I wasn't nervous at all about what we were presenting, to whom. But I realized as I was preparing for the workshop that it would be the last time for the foreseeable future that I would have the opportunity to be back in the saddle. Amanda had her own reservations, but she did an amazing job. We work well together. We always work well together. I knew she'd be great.

When I think about how many times I've revised myself, sometimes I get a little dizzy. I recently recounted most of the jobs I've had to a coworker. Most of the time I refer to them collectively as My 10,000 Useless Jobs. As a bigger, generally hairy guy, I ended up doing a lot of factory and warehouse work. These days, when people meet me an hear that I used to be a "professor", they assume I've never held any kind of physically demanding job. As I was going down the list of different jobs, it occurred to me just how odd it is, even in a day and age when people change careers an average of four times in their lives, for a guy like me to have done all of the random things I've done since the age of 18.

The other thing that's odd about all of it is that even when I was teaching, every other job I've ever had was somewhere in the back of my mind. When  I tell people that all work is noble and deserves respect, I mean it. The color of your collar makes no difference. And while I derived a lot of satisfaction from teaching -- I think it's one of those things I was hardwired to do -- the fact is I never felt like I was better than anyone, except maybe the exploitative administrators and political hacks that have sucked all that's worthwhile out of higher education. But hey, no one's perfect.

Election 2016 ruminations



After tomorrow, the future unfolds. I can't bring myself to be optimistic about our chances if either major party wins. A win for Donald Trump will embolden the fascists, the xenophobes, and bigots, and the sexists who have decided they need a megalomaniac on the scale of Franco and Mussolini to make their displeasure known. If Trump loses, there is no putting all of the focused anger and discontentment -- which has real life roots in spite of how the far right has hijacked it -- back in the bottle.


No matter how much Hillary fans crow about history being made and feeling good about keeping The Donald out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if she wins, we will not rewind back to early June 2015, before he first declared his intention to run. Trump did not create the anger or the conditions that caused it's growth. To be fair, Hillary didn't, either. Neither did Obama. The conditions that have created the sense of disfranchisement are rooted deeper in late stage capitalism, stagnant wages, an economy that favor investors over workers, and organized capital's long time strategy of getting half the of the working class to take their anger out on the rest of the working class and poor.

But anger feels good. There is power in it. There is focus in it. That's not what we need to move forward. But it's what we have.

By the time this post goes live, the polls will have been open a few hours. If there's any power left in the democratic experiment, the polls will show what direction that power leans to and whether we slide headlong into fascism or take a long slow slide through a Neoliberal nightmare into fascism.



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26 July, 2016

Evolution for the hell of it

Pliny the Elder, who when Rome was burning requested Nero to play You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille, never got a dinner! - Red Buttons 


The problem with most revolutions is that they end up crushed under the weight of their own sense of nostalgia.

If the political season has reinforced anything for me, it is that I should be leery of political leaders crying out for revolution -- especially leaders calling for "revolution" within the structure of an institution (read: voting) that was meant, from the beginning, to avoid the previously aforementioned revolutions.

One friend of mine, whose political astuteness I respect even if I don't always agree with him, has been talking about the problem of ideological purity in the DNC. I was not able to make it to Philadelphia for the donkey circus like I did  to Cleveland to sit sideline and watch corporate media facilitate the very frenzy The Orange Il Duce described in his 75 minute prophesy of doom (read: nomination acceptance speech). The Bernie or Busters are busting a gut and threatening to go Green.

This is bringing the Nader bashers out in Memeworld -- poor, statistically inept souls who think somehow that Bush II only won the first time because Nader had the temerity to run for President in spite of the two party system. Claims by Bush I supporters that  Texas billionaire crack pot Ross Perot cost Bush a second term have been roundly debunked.  The problem with any recent third push, as far as a I can tell, isn't in the desire for a viable response to a broken two party system. The problem is that they never try and build from the ground up. The Green Party doesn't spend money on local, state, and federal elections. They go for the Big Chair on Pennsylvania Avenue. The problem isn't that Jill Stein will split the progressive vote. The problem is that the Green Party lacks a strong enough base to knock either corporate party off it's feet.

There are a lot of calls for unity behind the now coronated presumptive Queen Hillary, whose only smart move has been to pick a VP who at least knows how to play the harmonica. Meanwhile, journalists are arrested the DNC -- which, for all of it's circus and foreboding fascist themes, did not happen at the RNC.  Having seen how local law enforcement tone can have an impact on these situations, I am more inclined to put this off on Philadelphia's Police Department than I am the Democratic Party. Then again, corporate media outlets, the blogosphere, and memeworld have been brewing up a fight since Bernie Sanders first conceded the race and endorsed Hillary Clinton.

I'm more inclined at this point, rather than calling it for one political hack or another, to pick up my guitar and play a little music. Then I'm going to go write a poem. Then I might weed the garden. I could get angry at politicians behaving like politicians, or at corporate media acting like corporate media. I could sacrifice my ideological stance in the name of being on the winning team*.

Or, I could go camping.

Yeah. Camping sounds good.

______________________________________________________________________________
* #GoTeamFascist


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19 July, 2016

Dirty River on the road: selfie activism

Quality is the greatest enemy of mass-leveling. -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Polar Protesting: Near Quicken Loans Arena
I spent yesterday in downtown Cleveland trying to find the dire narrative the political extremists on both ends and all major media outlets have been pedaling. True to the old adage "If it bleeds, it leads," it seems as if FOX, CNN, and MSNBC are determined to create a causal connection between the recent killings and the implosion currently happening inside the GOP.

I saw one mini van full of guys in olive drab who were clearly not military, not police, and not connected to any government agency. There were a few people taking advantage of Ohio's open carry law, and if you follow the media story about the "rally"*  in the Public Square, it would be easy to believe that downtown Cleveland is looks like the setting for a Phillip K. Dick novel.

People deserve better than the narrative they're being fed about the actual state of things. 

Yes, there were a lot of cops around. A few of them were wearing bullet proof vests. Most of them were wearing their regular uniforms and carrying their normal firearms. There were also the usual brand of Jesus freaks, megaphone doomsday preachers, and political protests. As I mentioned in one of my video updates yesterday, the polar bear is probably my favorite. Not only is it on message, but I have to give kudos for the person in the suit's dedication to the cause, because not only did that person walk around for several hours in a hot polar bear suit in July, but that person did so around Public Square and E 4th Street -- the hub of activity outside Quicken Loans Arena.

There were a few radical speakers at the free speech mic, some hate mongers posing as Christians, and
two other protest marches against Trump and the GOP: a pro-immigration march that made creative and not market intended use of a sex blow-up doll, and a parade of women wearing pink in protest of Trump's outright misogyny. There were some lone protesters, each with their own cause, ranging from a call to treat Syrian refugees fairly to one of the sanest people I saw, an old man with a t-shirt that read  "END POVERTY NOW."

I was also hoping to find a few of the more radical left marches to include. Tom Morello showed up to wear his IWW hat and punch the air with the Northeast Ohio Wobs... but the march took place at 7pm -- long after any delegates, GOPers, and major media outlets had filed into the Quicken Loans Arena compound to listen to Chachi spout and Trump's wife plagiarize. Moreover, the march took place from E 47th to E 12th Streets.

The hub of pre-game activity for Day 1 of the convention happened between 8am and 1:30pm at the Public Square and E 4th Street. 

Free speech is crucial to a free society, and dissent is the marrow of a healthy democracy. But I have to wonder about the purpose of a protest no one sees except those who would know about it anyway.

I've participated in marches and protests before because while voting is a civic duty, it is the exact opposite of revolutionary action. When people are organized and have a unified message, dissent can change the direction of The State run amok. But the most successful protests, the most successful forms of dissent, also take risks. 

If the radical left is serious about changing the direction of things and taking on the damage done by late stage capitalism, then it's not enough to march somewhere "safe" because they buy into the media myth of a militarized zone at Public Square. Having a radical message means doing more than bird calling it back and forth with people who agree with you. That's the failure of social media activism. 

People deserve better than dissenters who don't want to take a risk for what they believe. If we leave the megaphones for the hate mongers, we are enabling the hate and violence, not standing against it.

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*If the media outlets covering the "gun rally" had used a wider camera angle, they would have had to tell the story of five people that no one paid any attention to. But a close camera angle is the best way to create a crowd to fit the narrative they walked in wanting to tell.
 

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13 July, 2016

My Last Sermon; or, why I don't play Pokemon GO

 Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. - Book of St. Matthew, 5:6 (DRV)


Lately I've been thinking about the last sermon I gave. I was 14 years old. The minister of the church I attended while growing up supported my decision to dedicate my life to the ministry* by working with me to explore the nature of the vocation. I studied biblical and theological texts; I went on hospital and home visitations; and I was allowed to give a couple of sermons.

Let me add that stepping up into the pulpit for the first time is a uniquely terrifying experience. There is a kind of invested authority there which does not exist anywhere else. There also a special kind of isolation there, too. People generally do not like their preachers to suffer from the same human failings everyone else does. It's as if those who hear the call are supposed to be suddenly touched by the divine in such a way that all manner of arrogance, fear, greed, hatred, and ignorance are washed away like a hard day's won dirt.

Clearly, that is not how it worked out for me.

I chose Matthew 5:14** as my subject -- what is referred to as the "City on a Hill" section right after the Beatitudes***. The verse is one that gets a lot of treatment and a lot contextualization and re-contextualization. My focus was on how, after the Beatitudes earlier in the chapter and before the call to action that comes after, that it isn't enough to simply identify as a Christian. Mere existence and religious self-identification is not enough. Through his life as recorded in the New Testament, Jesus helped the poor, broke down the false caste system that elevated Pharisees above tax collectors and prostitutes, and preached against greed, hollow words, and empty works. He also acted out in righteous anger at the money changers in the temple. To be the light of the world is more than wearing a name tag, and more than walking into a building on Sunday. To be the light of the world, the salt of the earth, the city on a mountain means DOING, not just BEING. Being a follower of The Christ is an ACTIVE VERB, not a PASSIVE one.

As a student of history, I watch current events through the lens of someone who has read not only Pliny's history of the fall of the Roman Empire, but also about the rise of Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy, and Pinochet in Chile. I've also read about and watched the long history of nationalism in America, the violent power play of capitalists, as well as the divisive and violent racism and sexism that have long run the undercurrents of America.^  I have made my position clear about certain current events: Trump's neo-fascism, Clinton's neoliberalism, and Sanders as NOT a revolutionary figure.

The violence last week with the death of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and the five Dallas Police Officers make one thing very clear: the rhetoric is far more important to the powers that be than any of the blood spilled.  Wisconsin is next in line to suggest "Blue Lives Matter" Legislation -- which would make the killing of a cop a hate crime. The very same people who rally against increased gun legislation, pointing out that more laws won't solve the problem, are themselves calling for more laws.

And, true to form, the far right is trying to co-opt the wording of protest in order to change its meaning.^^ Blue Lives Matter laws not only insult the purpose behind hate crime laws, but is an attempt to negate the essential message behind the Black Lives Matter -- that systemic racism puts Black Americans at a higher risk for violence at the hands of The State.  While it's important to keep in mind that economic violence impacts people of all ethnic backgrounds, there is nothing wrong with people within the black community trying to organize and defend their community.

The other big ticket media item over the last week, besides Bernie Sanders' capitulation to the Clinton Political Machine, is the Pokemon GO explosion. Between the phenomenon surrounding the new hunt for Pokemon in real time and Samsung Galaxy's VR goggles, augmented realities are becoming... well, a reality.

Not that augmented reality is anything new. Italian writer Umberto Eco wrote about hyper reality in 1973. Reality TV and the myopia created by being able to fine tune our online experiences to a specific and individual reality have already cemented our cultural interest in being distracted by an augmented reality. Simply retreating to the movies or to television -- streamed or otherwise -- is not enough.

I don't have anything against playing games. I probably majored in Grand Theft Auto in graduate school as much as I did writing. There's a lot in the world that drives me to want distraction and avoidance. I'm an expert at avoidance. And there's a lot I'd rather avoid.

But there's no action in avoidance. There is no beauty in passivity. There is no flavor when there's no salt.

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*I've written about this time in my life at length in other places, so I don't feel like going through all of that again here. Let's just say my life took a different turn.
**You are the light of the world. A city on a mountain cannot be hid. (DRV)
***What I like to call The Revised Ten Commandments.
^They were here in the beginning. They have always been here. "Before the settlers. Before the Indians. It was here. Waiting." - W.S. Burroughs.
^^ See also, Pat Buchanan's upending of the Reform Party. See also, the "Trump Revolution." See also "All Lives Matter." 
 
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