Sunday, May 31, 2009

Thanks, Walt Whitman (b. May 31, 1819)

For freeing poetry from Vatican caves of orthodox canon,
Singing American verses to still-youthful ears,
Teaching two centuries of poets, still.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Cut the cheese, please

(for G.K. Chesterton's birthday)

Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
Gilbert K(eith) Chesterton b. May 29, 1874

With ease the novice rhymes of cheese,
And fills his master with unease:
     No big cheese writes a cheesy poem.
     He cuts the cheese from stately tome.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stupid is as stupid does

There is one thing on which I agree with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: Court opinions should be made and written based on pre-existing texts — US federal or state constitutions, statutes passed by legislatures, and pre-existing opinions, or precedents. He differs from Justice Stephen Breyer who maintains that other texts — non-US legal documents, for example, or even relevant scientific documents — can be used to guide the thinking process in arriving at an opinion, while agreeing with Scalia on the main point that the opinion itself derives from US legal texts. That is why I call Scalia a raging homotextual, Breyer a heterotextual.

(But Scalia is really hoisted by his own petard. He ignores the clear reading of texts in the US Constitution itself as needed to fit his own conservative Catholic beliefs — he is, in fact, one of the most "activist" justices in history. Case in point: The Fourteenth Amendment states "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall [...] deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." He goes "outside the text" — to some concept of "originalism" he creates in his own mind — to find that this cannot possibly apply to homosexuals, and why he finds the 1996 case of Romer v. Evans which explicitly identified homosexuals as a "protected class" as "unconstitutional" and should be overturned. What constitutes a "person" — unqualified in the actual text as any normal reader can see — is to be defined narrowly by Scalia, of course.)

Now we have the 175 page opinion from the California Supreme Court:

The first 140 pages (agreed to by 5 justices) are the majority view that California Proposition 8, which denies the right of gay couples to get a marriage license, stands. The next 10 pages are from a lone justice who concurs with the decision but not the reasoning in the first 140 pages. The last 25 pages are from the sole dissenter. (How can one reconcile Romer v. Evans, which is the US constitutional precedent that identifies homosexuals as a protected class, with the opinion that Proposition 8 does not radically change the California constitution's equal protection provision? Kind of stupid, huh? [See pages 151-175 for the dissenting opinion — the one that avoids the tortured reasoning in the preceding pages.])

The majority opinion (everyone should at least read some of it to get a taste of its Kafkaesque tone) is this, if I could possibly boil it down. The opinion of the court is that:
  • Proposition 8 doesn't really matter anyway, since by statute gay couples can get a civil union license that has all the rights that a marriage license has, based on California's equal protection provision. In other words, Proposition 8 is only about how a single word can be used ("marriage"), and really isn't about anything substantive in a legal sense.
  • Our hands are tied, since the California constitution allows for a simple majority referendum to amend the constitution, and Proposition 8 changed the constitution from what it was one year ago when we originally ruled in favor of gay marriage rights.
On the last point, you get the feeling that the Court is giving the judicial finger* to the California public and legislature: You are the ones who gave us this ridiculous constitution that allows a simple referendum to change it! What are we do?

In other words: Stupid is as stupid does.

* Included in this "finger pointing" is to leave intact a separate class of gay-married couples which, now, no one else can join. Equality? Take that, California public and your stupid constitution.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

O, to write some fiction

O, to write some fiction,

beginning serenely, and then dissolving
into conflict and crises until resolving
and then ending keenly.

But is life like fiction?

Or, is it random snippets of stories mixing
conflict and crises, never fixing —
fragments in search of a proper home?

In other words, very much like a poem.

posted to Read Write Poem prompt #76: changes (on the thought of a writer changing from writing poetry to fiction, or how the changes-in-life isn't like fiction)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Keep the Other out

The witch's recipe for Democratic rout?
A brew of fear: Keep the Other out.
Feed this brew to the hapless horde,
The hicks out there who know the Lord.
Protect the corps that feed the war,
Undermine the poor's economic floor.
This is the way to make the GOP sell;
Tell them This is the Democrat's way to hell:

     Free Muslim prisoners from Guantánamo Bay.
     Let Mexicans destroy the American way.
     Force you go to government docs.
     Turn your sons into suckers of cocks.

Force them into a Dobbsian Choice.
Let Limbaugh lead the Party's Voice.

re: The Republican Rout, The Stanford Review

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Kirby Dick, Outing Deconstruction

I think that I have now seen only one actually entertaining documentary film with a philosophical subject: DERRIDA (2002). DERRIDA, of course, refers to Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), the "father" of deconstruction. (There is a companion book, Derrida, with the film's screenplay and some additional material from director Kirby Dick, and co-director/interviewer Amy Ziering Kofman.)

We have all been exposed to deconstruction (a process of analysis, not a systematic philosophy) in snippets, or glimmers of understanding:

There is nothing outside the text. (or There is no outside text.)

Every text contains the seeds of its own deconstruction.

When the One diminishes or excludes the Other, therein lurks the beginnings of the up-ending the One.

Deconstruction is not neutral; it intervenes.

Texts, freed from the altar of Platonism and absolutism, are unstable, and reveal their true and natural meaning through the process of deconstruction.

And the film is really about exploring the field of deconstruction, not the man, Jacques Derrida himself. He says right off, If you want to know about the life of philosopher, read his texts. Everything else is mere anecdote. This point is driven home at every turn by Derrida dodging every question about himself as opposed to his philosophy.

At one point, in his home library filled with books stacked to the ceiling, the interviewer (Kofman) finds a stack of Ann Rice books. "Have you read these?" No, I was given these when I was giving a talk on vampires, but I haven't read them. I'm not really a story person. "How many of these books have you read?" About four of them, but I've read those four very well.. In another segment, Derrida is asked what he would like to know about famous philosophers. Their sex lives. But when asked to say anything of his own, he dodges.

Perhaps the most revealing statement about deconstruction is made when Jacques is asked, "If your mother had been a philosopher, who would she be?" It is difficult for him to answer this question, since he can only imagine a philosopher as a man. This is one reason I 'invented' deconstruction: so that my granddaughter could be a philosopher.

True to the spirit of deconstruction is that to find out more about it, turn instead to the writings of its critics. Max Goldblatt's, in a National Review review of the movie, is typical. Goldblatt, of course, takes the point of view expected from NRO: anything that deviates from orthodoxy of inerrant truth given from on-high, outside the mere province of mere mortals (e.g. the Bible or Papal Decree) is the work of fools. It represents a textual fascism or Catholicism — Plato, remember, was no friend of democracy — that stands up for defending "truth" against the pagans of deconstruction. (The only philosophers that matter to NRO, it seems, are Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas.) Some conservatives go to the "logical conclusion" of Goldblatt and actually equate deconstruction with homosexuality, which does make sense from their point of view. (See the last reference.)

This Kirby film is now followed by two others: This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006) and OUTRAGE (2009). (I haven't seen these two yet, but plan to.) The first, about the double-standards in the movie rating business (violence is OK; sex, not ... heterosexual sex can get a PG-13 or R rating, but any hint of actual homosexual sex is in ratings trouble), turned out to not being able to get an R-rating — and hence is "not rated" — in its "director's cut" since some the clips it examined in its analysis and included in the film were not able to get even a an R-rating themselves. The second, about gay politicians and staffers hiding out in the Republican Party, the party that officially stands against any gay social acceptance and believes homosexuality can be cured by Jesus, exposes the mind-numbing hypocrisy of it all. Both of these films, apparently, apropos follow-ons to the subject explored in DERRIDA.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The poetman always rhymes twice

The postman rings once when mail is in,
Perhaps twice if special bulletin;
The couplet alone is mighty nice,
But the poetman always rhymes twice.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What if Warren Buffet

(for Ogden Nash)

What if Warren Buffet were a Muppet
Who had to rough it
In a trash can dim lit where he would stuff it, —
All, that is, that he could fit —
A bottomless pit,
With nowhere to sit?

(Would anyone give a ... whit?)

posted to Read Write Poem prompt #75: rhyme time?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: Angels & Demons

The movie: Nothing like The Da Vinci Code's religious mythbender about the bloodline of Jesus upending the very foundation of Christian belief. This one is a pure thriller about a plot (with a devious "surprise" twist at the end) to blow up the Vatican, albeit with some science-fiction anti-matter mumbo-jumbo. Comical dialog and action, but it is so well executed by Ron Howard that the 2 hours and 20 minutes breeze by. Quite fun.

The good news: Robert Langdon, professor of symbology, gets to check out a "missing" book by Galileo, long hidden from the public, from the Vatican archives and take back to Harvard to study. Makes it all worthwhile — for him at least.

The bad news: The Catholic Church survives.

  Directed by Ron Howard
  Written by David Koepp
        and Akiva Goldsman
  (Novel by Dan Brown)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Spock's Sonnet

My human side so kindles yet my dreams
Suppressed within my calculations. Still,
My gain — forego all pains but lose the gleams
Of ecstasy — is not a bitter pill.

My mother, lost, — my father holds his pride
Within — my Vulcan home was turned to dust.
And love? I pass like beggars on the side
Of streets I walked so filled with grime and rust.

What I have left of mother's love is turned
Toward one I serve: my captain, who projects
All that I lack — the lust for life; and learned
A love for him that logic does perplex.

This solace quiets my tormented soul;
This simple poem restores my self-control.

posted to Totally Optional Prompts: Opposites

08/15/2011 - placed in imaginary garden with real toads

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hikaru's Haikus

bridge: front-row seating;
all the real action's behind
(just my lucky day)

chekov: the playwright?
no, he just sits on my right
(we exchange glances)

photon torpedos?
would rather play with my sword
(you know what I mean)

helmsman's log: stardate
twenty-two sixty-nine — signed
lieutenant sulu

posted to Read Write Poem: hyperlink your poetry

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Poetical prisoners

A recently published book, The Stalin Epigram, and a recently released film, Little Ashes, remind poets that poetry did matter, in that poets were seen as significant characters in the political discourse of a country. This is, no doubt, still true today in repressive regimes. But we, I think, have lost much in the way of poets as mattering to politics and society.

The book is about the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) and his suppression by Stalin. The film is about, in part, the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (1898-1936), whose poetry was suppressed by the Franco regime after his death (although the connection of his death with politics is muddled). Two poets with overlapping life-spans, each playing a historical role in their own countries.

Some say if you have an opinion (especially of a political nature) then write a letter to the editor or an op-ed column, not a poem. After all, how many poems with a "point" do you see on op-ed pages in place of prose?

But this is a loss, I think, both to poetry and society. Maybe I should have written a poem instead.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Don't tell me something I don't know

       a WHCA after-dinner poem

White-housed words, mixed with laughter,
Ease the loss of truths sought-after,
Respites from the angry blows:
Don't tell me something I don't know.

The sleuths within the halls of power
(Where have they gone? Why do they cower?)
Once were fed by newsstand rows:
Don't tell me something I don't know.

A public's purse once payed for texts
Now read for free with no regrets —
Thou doth reap what thou doth sow:
Don't tell me something I don't know.

Don't trouble us with hard reports;
Suffice to pub tabloid and sports.

The public needs not the right to know:
Don't tell me something I don't know.

from White House Correspondents' Association Dinner 2009:
       Barack Obama [], Wanda Sykes []
from WHCA Dinner 2006, Stephen Colbert []
"The American Press on Suicide Watch" []

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Dissonant Cognitions: Trekkies and Tea

Star Trek, the futuristic myth first spun on 1960s color television, stands in strong competition to The Bible as — as Manohla Dargis puts it in Movie Reviews[1] — "a source for some of the fundamental stories we tell about ourselves, who we are and where we came from": the latter as myth of where we came from; the former as myth of where we would like to go. (It is also an alternative myth to the one futuristic book of the New Testament, Revelation. However that particular myth is a source of horror movies, not ones of inspiration.)

Star Trek (2009), the movie, really needs no explanation. It rebirths the 40-plus year-old myth with a shot of twenties-something characters playing people old enough (some, sadly, gone) to be their grandparents. We've known them for that long. The myth lives long, and, like biblical epics, prospers.
But what does this myth really tell us about ourselves?

To find that out I turned from Movie Reviews to Blogging Heads[2], where "David Corn of Mother Jones and James Pinkerton of Fox News discuss what the new Star Trek film says about American society." Here I found David Corn, the Mother Jones lefty, to be a bit of an agnostic regarding the whole Star Trek religion, while it was Jim Pinkerton, the Fox News righty, who was the true Star Trek born-againer. Jim lamented "how much we've lost since the sixties" when we had a vision of a such a "progressive" future, a loss he blames on "environmentalists" and "nihilists" (i.e. liberals, forgetting, of course, it was John Kennedy who lit the fire under NASA, a government program by the way, to get us to the moon in the first place.)

And it is here, I think, we do begin to learn about ourselves: Pinkerton, representing the Fox News more-or-less Republican view that we need a much smaller government (except for the military sector) while preemptively exerting military power for anything that could be fabricated a threat, is the one on the side of Star Trek and, consequently, the United Federation of Planets, an "interstellar federal republic, composed of planetary governments that agreed to exist semi-autonomously under a single central government based on the principles of universal liberty, rights, and equality, and to share their knowledge and resources in peaceful cooperation and space exploration."[3]

If it is one thing the Pinkertons (speaking generally) of Fox News, Inc. hate more than "big government", it is anything that is an international governing body with any real powers over its members. And who does Jim Pinkerton think funds the whole Starfleet and its Academy? It's the USS Enterprise, not the Pizza Hut Enterprise. And, by the way, who pays Jim Kirk's and Spock's salaries? (And guess what? They happen to have universal health care.)

What we learn is that many Americans (I'll call them the Pinkertons) live in contradiction: They dream the Star Trek myth of the future (and will go to the movie), but go (at least in spirit) to the Tea Parties — the mindset that government is too big, an international entity fostering cooperation and common purpose is "anti-American", and universal health care is "evil socialism" — of the present.

* [1]
* [2]
* [3]

Thursday, May 7, 2009


"Winston" & "Salem" nicotine-stained smokestacks
leaking menthol out factory doors
down town streets.

Old Salem's sugar cakes
dripping milk and honey
into her giant Coffee Pot.

Soft, distant Blue Ridges
touching my lips.

Pilot Mountain weaning me.

for Totally Optional Prompts: going home again for the first time

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Waiting to see ... Little Ashes

"Little Ashes (2009) is a British drama film, set against the backdrop of Franquist Spain as three of the era's most creative young talents meet at university and set off on a course to change their world. Luis Buñuel watches helplessly as the friendship between Salvador Dalí and the poet Federico García Lorca develops into an unusual love affair." []

Dali, Lorca's love-crush, is played by Robert Pattinson (Twilight). Javier Beltran, playing Lorca, is a new name to me, but that just reminds me that I need to catch up on my pop culture.

The main thing for me, though: According to the official site's schedule, it's supposed to be in my area next month.

a fan's blog:

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


On those border days — not too hot,
not too cold &mdash it's Shorts or pants?
that precedes my going-out. But pants
boost (boosts?) my IQ by ten points
at least, I know.
                         And so I ponder: Why
is a pair of pants also called a pant?
And shouldn't it be a pair of pant legs
anyway? But it wouldn't be an identical
pair, right? No, that would look silly.

That's what I get for wearing pants.
Next time, I'll wear shorts, so I don't

                                   have to think.

posted to Read Write Poem #73: revision

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Breakfast Channel

Good American Morning, John Roberts and Kiran,
            with your news-room wizarding giant iPhone-touchscreen,
            tables and graphs power-pointing presentation.
It's too early for lectures,
            but Sanjay is so cute
            with his stethoscope.

There's Steve and Gretchen, and that brown-haired guy,
            with their dumb-blond point-of-view
            after all those CNN charts.
The FOX & Fiends menu:
            Scrambled brains for breakfast.
            Up channel!

Morning, Joe and Mica ... and Willie too,
            you set just the right balance between dumb and smart;
            just the right table, Joe-bozo and Mommy.
I'll sit down to have breakfast with you:
            Poached eggs? Thanks, Mica.
            Pass the grits, Joe Scarborough!

[ ]
[ ]
[ ]

Sunday, May 3, 2009

How do I compare to a summer's day?

An invention that could change the internet for ever
Sunday, 3 May 2009

The real innovation, however, is in its ability to work things out "on the fly", according to its British inventor, Dr Stephen Wolfram. If you ask it to compare the height of Mount Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, it will tell you.

> How do I compare to a summer's day?


Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Watchmen Rewound

I watched Zack Snyder's Watchmen[1] in a theater, alone, on the third weekend of its release along with a single stranger sitting rows and seats away. Given the box-office fallout[2] after the second weekend, it was appropriate that the venue was a five-screen "arts"[3] instead of a fifteen-screen "plex" theater.

What I knew going in about the movie was that it took place in a parallel-1980s world where: the US won the Vietnam war; Watergate didn't happen; the Twenty-Second Amendment had been repealed (allowing Richard Nixon a third and fourth terms); and there was some sort of big blue muscle-bound superhero saving America by speaking softly and swinging a big stick.

I had glanced through the "graphic novel" based on the quarter-century old comic strips of the same name in a bookstore before seeing the movie, but had no real interest in reading it. Turns out, there was no point in doing so. The movie stands perfectly on its own, and its adherence to or deviance from the book is irrelevant in judging the merits of the film.

The first realization is that it isn't a superhero-genre movie — like Spider-Man, Batman, or even X-Men — at all. It's a deft deconstruction of the entire genre of Superheroism (i.e., proxy Gods) and its entanglement with American-wayism. (What else do you make of the soft spoken Dr. Manhattan — the aforementioned muscle-bound blue man — winning the hearts of the American people by blowing up as many Vietnamese as he can?) It makes all of those other movies look ridiculous now. Not like a comedy spoof, as I suppose Superhero Movie[4] was supposed to be (though Watchmen is severely, darkly comedic), but as a philosophical bulldozer razing American-hero iconography and morality. And, as pure cinematic art, it triumphs. "It is the superhero movies to end all superhero movies" is perhaps a good way to put it.

Perhaps that's why its could-be audiences have fled in droves — away from this movie. It's not just the "moral dilemma" posed by the killing a "few" tens of millions to save hundreds of millions - the movie uses that "ridiculous" plot diversion merely to reinforce its "superhero" and "making war is peace" deconstruction. The American audience wants its superhero the American-way, and when this myth is undermined — there were really no superheroes in the first place, and there never will be in the future — they are baffled and confused. (And it's perhaps, being a "student" of Derrida[5] and Rorty[6], why I look forward to watching Watchmen again. And, given the box-office numbers, it should soon be out on DVD.)

Nietzsche's "Madman" said "God is dead. And we have killed him." Snyder's "Dr. Manhattan" says "Superheroes are dead. And we have killed them."

Like Rorschach's constantly morphing inkblot mask, Watchmen invites multiple "readings."


Friday, May 1, 2009


xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Around may·pole
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx      the rib·bon's wound
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx                        to    fit    into
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx                                          the dance·a·round
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx                                                                       :·
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx                                          A Trojan® horse
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx                        with sea·men hid,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx      inside the trunk,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx beneath the lid.