Saturday, February 28, 2015

Spock’s gone home

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Leonard Nimoy is dead.
This comes on the same day that Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was murdered, proving that we haven’t even time for a deep breath and a moment of mourning before we plunge back into the insanity we called human existence.
Nimoy – or more commonly known as Mr. Spock – became an icon of sanity in the mid-to-late 1960s when I struggled to find myself. If not quite a father figure, then an example of male sanity I could not find in my own family.
I could not model myself after him partly because I am too much like another character in the Star Trek universe, Captain Kirk – somewhat reckless, often irresponsible, known to leap off tall buildings with a single bound and no parachute.
Like Kirk, I needed someone that was grounded, even if that someone happened to be floating in the imaginary universe of a future outer space.
Spock-like characters did not exist among my friends – although one or two liked to think so, leaving me to rely on the same character as Kirk did for some of this.
I never became a Treky or Trekker (as Nimoy liked to call them), no more than I could become a Deadhead, unable to give myself up to any cult like following. I believe too much in Groucho Marx’s philosophy that I would not belong to any cult that would have someone like me as a member.
But there is a kind of collective sadness with his passing that even I can’t avoid, this huge sense of loss the universe will not make up for, like a black hole in wisdom that can’t be filled up again, and must be lived with, existed around, with those of us who temporarily survive, forced to rely on memory as a poor consolation.
This news came also when I learned that my step mother (who until a few years ago I didn’t even know I had) had suffered a set back in her recovery from cancer – and I once more ache for the relief that Bones McCoy once offered in bringing us advanced medicine that did not leave people worse off than when they started.
We are born to our own period of time, forced to live with the good and bad of what technology offers during that period when we live. (this a rip off idea from Lord of the Rings, of course) and so we must make the best of what we have, and hope that our children will have better to offer.
In some ways, the Trek world offers more hope than most of the other futuristic fantasies of our generation.
Lord of the Rings is about a past we can never get back, Harry Potter, a party we are not invited to attend, Star Wars, a universe beyond our ability to achieve. But Trek was always a world view we could share because it was never so alien to us that we could not connect with the characters – even someone so apparently alien at Spock. Even had his character not been half human, we would have connected to him because we needed that part of him to balance the insanely human part inside ourselves we cannot control or will not or must not. For ever Kirk, we need a Spock.
And now we don’t have him.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The cogs who would be wheels

January 3, 1984

Eighty four?
Lord, how the years have passed!
Twenty years ago, I was suffering in the seventh grade under the stern gaze of Sister Cecilia (for the second year in a row).
Steven was my best friend. David was the strange kid down the block who I always saw running to and from the coffee shop near Vernon and Crooks.
Back then, and even before, I always looked ahead to the 1970s as “the future,” and constantly pondered what it would be like. Would we be traveling around in air cars and space ships?
The reality of those years (now firmly behind me) proved a sad disappointment with gas shortages, meat shortages, the loss of the war in Vietnam.
Few of us ever believed a president would step down; but then, who in our generation thought one might get shot?
For most of us of my generation, the shooting started a transformation process that we still have not fully recovered from – and which led to a change in America that America hasn’t yet recovered from, leading inevitably from one iconic moment to the one which the president gets on a plane for the west coast only to step off on the other side no longer president.
Most of my friends felt vindicated although enraged a short time later when the vice president pardoned Nixon making it impossible to hold him accountable for what many believed were war crimes.
Hank and others think Nixon and his associates got away with murder.
They want his kind punished.
Few believe as I do that there is little worse we could have done to him than to strip him of the office he loved so much.
Forcing him to step down as president humiliated him in a way no jail could have.
This is not as true for his compatriots such as Kissinger – who should be in shackles or at least, an iron mask.
The best punishment is to deny a person the power he most craves.
This would not be adequate for someone like Reagan, who is merely a mask for a corrupt and greedy society – and it is impossible to strip them of their power without a revolution.
The problem is they have already brought about a revolution of their own, putting the final nails in the coffin of a free society, and we plunge ahead into an Orwellian future where spy guys and fascists protect us from enemies they deliberately create in order to keep us from seeing just who the real bad buys are.
This is the year of Orwell’s most famous book, and most people misinterpret its message, taking it too literarily. It is a book without hope, of a social order in which we have no place except as cogs in an ever consuming machine. It is a testimony to greed run amuck.
And not a new concept at all, just made more powerful by technology that tightens the chains around us.
The concept has been around since before Christ.
It is based on one very simple and nasty concept: if you do not feed the greed machine, you have no value – and have very little value even if you do.
Christ, Napoleon, Gandhi and others have tried to change this through various means and for their own purposes, but always the masses revert to the same dismal condition, partly because we are like sheep and need to be herded, fearing to step too far out from the flock at risk of becoming vulnerable.
The saddest of these are the sheep who believe they can become herders, or the cogs who believe they can become wheels.
This is the real sales pitch Reagan has brought to America; convince ordinary people that they can share in power when they can’t.
It was not a popular uprising that brought down Nixon, but his own actions – and not the ones we associate with Watergate.
Nixon betrayed the masters, the wheel-turners, the ghosts in the machine. He gave back land to Native American Indians; he supported and enforced affirmative action; he mistakenly believed he was a wheel, when like Reagan; he was merely one more elaborate cog.
This is not a mistake Reagan will make.
Reagan knows his place, and his duty to keep us in ours.
Reagan will never have to leave office in shame.
Shame requires a certain level of morality Reagan lacks, and must lack in order do perform his required function – that all real powerful people also must lack.
True independent power scares the shit out of the powers that be.
This is why the Kennedys had to die (they had their own network). And why Christ, Gandhi, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Napoleon and others died.
And why Nixon’s survival puzzles me.
Perhaps by letting him live in shame sends a message to other potential upstarts that there is a punishment worse than death.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Cave Dweller

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The snow came as a surprise, throwing me off my routine for the weekend, just as mother nature tends to do. So as human kind has always done at times like this, we flee back to our caves until the storms expire.
This is true for internal storms as well.
I have always been a cave-dweller, someone who relied on a private space to protect me when threatened by external and internal forces.
The last three or four years have been a lesson in life, and how easily, we get caught up in other people’s webs.
I am a powerful person that puzzles other people.
This is not a boast.
Most people get their power from position, and thus become vulnerable to a number of factors, not the least of which is people with more powerful a position.
People who use position for power cling to it desperately, and are easily seduced by any thing that will allow them to maintain it (often with the illusionary promise that they might get more.)
These are the most easily corrupted because they soon come to realize just how little power they actually have.
The truly powerful – whether from personal or position – use these petty power people to maintain their own power, often playing one against the other so as to eliminate any threat to their own position.
In organizations where the most powerful person on top is relatively weak or indecisive, petty people create fiefdoms and operate their own little hives.
What few people truly understand about me is that I always defy authority when I think authority is corrupt.
It is the nature of who I am.
Even at risk of losing my job or getting killed, I’ve done so.
Somewhere in the back of my head, I can’t live with the idea that evil goes unpunished – and will do everything in my power to stop its being rewarded for ill deeds.
Early on, I was openly defiant – and more than once was fired over it. More than once beat up or threatened with more serious violence.
In most cases, especially in jobs I’ve worked, I somehow managed to position myself in a way that I was more or less immune to the ebb and flow of ordinary power – such as when I was a baker and changing ownership would not risk losing me.
So I was in these cases, always able to speak my mind, when other people, who feared the loss of their jobs, could not.
Just as I remain a cave-dweller, our so called liberated society largely remains a serfdom, where bosses dictate not merely how jobs are accomplished, but also the pattern of people’s lives.
In these cases, it is hugely important for someone to keep them honest when in most cases, they are not.
Personal integrity and power rarely co-exist in the same person or even the same work place. Since our society is based on the pursuit of wealth, corruption is a natural byproduct – even in the smallest institution.
The most ambitious people leap frog from one institution to another, and slowly work their way up the power chain to higher and more significant positions. But as in all such societies, they must live by the ruthless rules of survival of the most vicious. The problem in that scenario is that there is always someone more ruthless that you are, and others just like you seeking to edge you out of.
Over the long years, I’ve learned patience is one of the best defenses against this aggression. Sooner or later, these types – especially the ones who have less to offer than they think they do – undo themselves.
While working hard does not protect anyone in this game, competence generally does. The secret to surviving backstabbing is to not give these petty power people anything they can use against you. In most cases, they are simply trying to use your own weaknesses against you.
Of course, I am as flawed in many ways, so I have many chinks in my armor. – and part of the life lesson over the last few decades is trying to keep from letting others use these against me.
My biggest weakness, however, is my biggest strength – my inability to let evil people thrive.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The powerful and the powerless

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The last few weeks became a lesson in street theater as traditional political forces garnered their strength in an attempt to push back again the black lash of radical protestors.
This was not a 1960s kind of radical protest, but had a lot to do with the spirit of underground press I was weaned on, the irreverent, even mean attacks on powerful people through satire, sarcasm and humor.
The East Village Other and the LA Free Press, even my much later Scrap Paper Review were always designed to strike at the heart of corrupt power in a way corrupt power was helpless to stop.
Back then, printing costs and paper were cheap and almost anyone with access to a mimeograph machine could issue political satirical diatribes.
For a time, mafia-owned newspaper and magazine distributors and corporate controlled media – along with FBI informants – nearly shut down the underground movement, making it too expensive or risky to continue.
Even my humble newspaper had its FBI informant who kept trying to get close to us to that they could keep an eye on us. He eventually went on to spy on WBAI, partly because the inner circle of our little revolution was too small to accommodate him, and we suspected his intentions from the start.
Controlling media was a huge part of halting the social revolution, and for a good part of the 1980s and early 1990s, the power brokers were able to shut us down, leaving people like me to print news letters and later magpie call up internet sites (my publication was on line in the late 1980s).
The revolution reemerged when the web exploded on us, and we had an early page in 1995-96.
Liz Smith, of course, criticized this recently, saying that this exposure had eroded the quality of celebrities. She has always been part of the mainstream and her power has always rested in being one of those allowed into places like Club 54 while the rest of the humbled masses remained out in the cold.
The biggest complaint I’ve heard this week about the trial of internet bloggers who attacked their enemies on their websites is that they were offensive and vulgar.
Indeed, they often are – just as we were back in the heyday of the 1960s when we could say nothing nearly vulgar enough to attack the outrages of political power killing millions in places like Vietnam.
People are upset by these bloggers partly because the bloggers have touched nerves and are able to mouth truths (even if by accident) that traditional power is unable to silence. Powerful people can control traditional media – as they did in destroying the old school underground movement and as they are trying to do in the fight against internet neutrality, but as long as there is an open free press that is not controlled by mobsters or corporations, they must resort to other means.
Corrupt people tend to hide their mean behavior behind the mast of civility, saying how outraged there are by the radical behavior. This is passive-aggressive. While they pretend to be holier than thou, they secret pull the levers of the old style political machine to maintain their power, manipulating traditional press, political institutions and sometimes even the legal system. And while shooting from the cover of anonymity, they complain about the Revolutionary War-like radicals that shoot back from similar positions, often more effectively showing just how corrupt the system is.
The legal victory over the last week is a temporary reprieve by radicals fighting the corrupt system, of course. Eventually, corruption wins, simply because like rust it never sleeps.
But sometimes – as one famous orator from the 1960s pointed out – we can stick something in the gears and stop the machine for a short time, at least long enough in this never ending conflict to readjust and find new ways to defy the corrupt forces that control traditional institutions such as media and government. Sometimes, the little guy actually wins,

Monday, February 16, 2015

A fool’s dream

May 17, 1984

Tom Campos came today
He saw me on the highway yesterday and stopped to tell me how things went with him.
It’s hard for a man like him to be caught up in position of labor. Tom is used to an easier life, but tells me how easy I have it.
“37 ½ pounds of yeast? That’s nothing,” he says with envy in his voice.
He has spent the last three and half months learning how to be a slave again.
It’s hard going from being a boss to being bossed.
I told him how well I understood how he felt, and I felt a bit of shame for feeling so satisfied by his fall from grace.
I’m tired as hell when I come home from work, too, and when he was on top I had to take guff each time a new owner took over and installed his own management.
I thought about him a lot after I left him, wondering if his showing up again meant trouble.
After all, he might find a way to slip back into the mix and create havoc now that things have settled down for me again.
He assured me this morning when he came to work that he doesn’t want my job.
This is somewhat startling since I never mentioned my being afraid of that when I saw him yesterday.
It is possible that he does, and has some way of getting me fired.
I hear the siren call of the unemployment line even as I jot this down. The last few days have made me ache for freedom again, the way a whiff of salt air makes me wish for the sea.
Tom misses the mall.
He also still resents his mistreatment by Phil, his own cousin who edged him out of the store and cast him out to find his way in the world of labor after giving him a taste of management.
But Tom should have known better than to get between Phil and money.
Phil will sell his soul for a quick buck, sell this store for an exaggerated price to buy two elsewhere. This time he bought one in Hackettstown, out in the world beyond me, beyond reason.
Tom seems almost to be feeling me out, to see if I will go with him to this new paradise – rather than he trying to worm his way back into mine.
Still, he wanders through our empty kitchen, sighing with nostalgia for the time when he was master here.
It amazes me how things have turned: once with me on the outside, walking around the kitchen, taking in its scent and sights, bring back a whole different life to me. Now it’s him.
How it hurts to lose part of one’s life to memory, to realize until too late how good those times really were.
But you can never go back – at least not to what it was.
I wanted to tell him that. But I sensed he already knew it. He had that tone in his voice which gave him away.
This isn’t Phil’s place any more, and won’t likely ever be again,
And without Phil – his cousin – to give Tom status, the place isn’t the same, and Tom isn’t important.
For me it’s different.
I’ve been through other owners. I’ve seen the change before. My coming back in time for another change was fate, but not something beyond my imagination.
The night is always the night.
It was me and these four walls. The smells and the silence are the same now as they were then, even three owners later.
Sometimes, I feel like a slave that gets sold with the land.
Other times, I feel beyond these people, above them, like a tall pine looking down not with contempt, but with pity. These petty humans trying to make their fortunes on schemes like these. Fools, whose schemes always come to naught.
I think Tom understood this as well.

It is only the desire for it that remains, not the possibility.