Friday, October 07, 2005

young Allen Ginsberg Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

"What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls
and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable
dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys
sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare Moloch! Molock the loveless!
Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone
soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose
buildings are judgement! Moloch the vast stone of war!
Moloch the stunned governments!"

Allen Ginsberg, from his poem, HOWL,
first heard in public in San Francisco
October 7, 1955

The City Lights edition. The one I still have
(my second) was published in 1969, and there
were 186,000 copies then in print. Posted by Picasa

October 7, 1955

The Answer was HOWLing in the Wind

From the San Francisco Chronicle article by
Heidi Benson, Chronicle Staff Writer [excerpts]

Practically the first thing Allen Ginsberg did when he hit San Francisco was to seek out poet Kenneth Rexroth, whose Friday night literary salons were legendary.

"What's happening? Who's interesting? What's going on?" asked Ginsberg, 29, fresh out of Columbia University in black horn-rim glasses and a sack suit.

It was 1955. The San Francisco Poetry Renaissance was in full swing, with the erudite Rexroth and poet Robert Duncan of San Francisco State at the white-hot center.

Fueled by various stimulants, fellowship and a near-mystical belief that the world must change and poetry was the way to do it, this group coalesced and staged a reading on Oct. 7, 1955 -- at the Six Gallery on Fillmore Street -- that has gone down in history as the moment of conception of the Beat movement.

No photographs of the evening have turned up, but by all accounts, when 150 to 200 people showed up at this low-ceilinged former auto-body shop in response to hastily printed postcards, the size of the crowd astonished everybody.

Rexroth served as master of ceremonies that Friday night. Kerouac, who had declined to read, brought jugs of burgundy to share. First to take the orange-crate podium was San Francisco-born Surrealist poet Philip Lamantia, who read poems by John Hoffman, a friend who had just died.

Next up was Michael McClure, reading "Point Lobos: Animism" and "For the Death of 100 Whales," both presaging the animal-rights movement. Then came Philip Whalen, a friend of Snyder's from Reed College and later a Zen monk, reading his poem "Plus Ca Change."
(On this night, McClure first met Whalen and Snyder.)

Then Ginsberg took the stage, drunk, some say, and visibly nervous. Kerouac urged him on, hollering "Go! Go! Go!" as the poem gained momentum...


Evil empires, evil ideologies...their work is never done... Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log

Howl Again---The Fifties Reduxed

Bush begs for support to fight ‘evil radicals’ waging war on humanity,” was the headline in the Times of London report online.

Tim Reid in Washington wrote, IN AN impassioned plea to America to hold its nerve, President Bush said yesterday that Islamic radicals were trying to take control of Iraq as part of a plan to “enslave whole nations and intimidate the world”.

Facing dwindling support for the Iraq war and growing calls for a troop withdrawal, Mr Bush said that terrorists had made Iraq the central front “in their war on humanity”, and that defeat for the US would be a catastrophic setback in the broader war on terror.

"Facing dwindling support" is for sure. CBS reports that its poll shows Bush's approval dropping again to 37%, with 69% saying that America is seriously on the wrong track. The numbers on Iraq are no better, and support for Bush's version of the war on terror is below 50%.

Bush continued in this bleeding vein of extreme rhetoric in his speech on Thursday. Though he characterized the intentions of certain Middle Eastern terrorist groups in the starkest, most extreme terms, this wasn’t the major flaw of his analysis. We’ve heard rhetoric to support the assertion that “The militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region and establish a radical Islamic empire that expands from Spain to Indonesia.” (Though the “ expands from Spain to Indonesia" part sounds more like a carried-away speechwriter than a carried-away political visionary, possessed by “evil ideology.” )

No, it’s not the intentions or at least the rhetoric as we hear it translated that’s at issue, but the realities. Could these militants even come close to these objectives? Is the American military occupation of Iraq the way to stop them?

Bush offers only parallel inflated rhetoric to support his policy of “staying the course” in Iraq. He combines language that conjures the Domino Theory of southeast Asia ( and since the US lost in Vietnam, that is of course why all of Asia is now enslaved by Communism) with the threats of Communism in the Cold War and fascism in World War II. Perhaps the American Civil War is apropos as well, but he didn’t bring that up, yet. The war between the red states and the blue states lacks something in the morality claims.

This is scare rhetoric at its worst and most desperate. Bush is using the military occupation that caused Iraq to become a haven for terrorists as the solution for holding back terrorists from taking over the rest of the region. The analysis is perversely correct: a radical Islamic state, or a vicious civil war, are now the most likely fates for Iraq, and they both threaten what passes for stability in the region.

But the military occupation is not working and will never work. The truth of the situation is summed up in nothing more complicated than a bumper sticker, a tragic traffic koan:
“We are creating enemies faster than we can kill them.”

According to a
Booman Tribune post, Robert Pape in his book Dying To Win performs a statistical analysis of suicide bombings in the modern world, and concludes that what they have in common is they are perpetrated by natives of a country against a foreign power occupying that country---especially when the occupier does not share the same religions or culture.

In other words, it doesn't have much to do with ideology, let alone evil ideology. Which is what a lot of experts having been saying all along, and it certainly suggests that the solution is not going to be found with bombs, guns and torture.

It’s hard to tell what Bush really believes the U.S. is doing (see following story.) But the intention of his speech is clear, and that is to create the spectre of a scary enemy that threatens the world. It may be his mission from God, but it conveniently worked for him politically in 2004, just as it conveniently supports his corporate friends on the war dole.

The template is straight out of the Cold War. After World War II, America built a huge military apparatus, including a cancerous nuclear arsenal. But how could they do that without a war in progress? "In order to make the country bear the burden," said President Dwight Eisenhower's secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, referring to the Cold War arms race,
"we have to create an emotional atmosphere akin to a wartime psychology. We must create the idea of a threat from without."

The threat must be disproportionate to reality, to justify the military machinery. Now we know where Cold War rhetoric goes to die. Into the mouth of G.W. Bush.

Kind of says it all... Posted by Picasa
George Bush: 'God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq'

President told Palestinians God also talked to him about Middle East peace

Ewen MacAskill
Friday October 7, 2005 The Guardian [excerpts; emphasis added]

George Bush has claimed he was on a mission from God when he launched the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a senior Palestinian politician in an interview to be broadcast by the BBC later this month.

Mr Bush revealed the extent of his religious fervour when he met a Palestinian delegation during the Israeli-Palestinian summit at the Egpytian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, four months after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

One of the delegates, Nabil Shaath, who was Palestinian foreign minister at the time, said: "President Bush said to all of us: 'I am driven with a mission from God'. God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did."

Mr Bush went on: "And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East'. And, by God, I'm gonna do it."

Soon after, the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz carried a Palestinian transcript of the meeting, containing a version of Mr Bush's remarks. But the Palestinian delegation was reluctant publicly to acknowledge its authenticity.

The BBC persuaded Mr Shaath to go on the record for the first time for a three-part series on Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy: Elusive Peace, which begins on Monday.

At the DC demo Posted by Picasa
More G.I. Rights Hotline: What They're Hearing Now

(A sidebar cut for space, originally for the GI Rights Hotline story in the North Coast Journal.)

I asked Steve Morse of the Oakland Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors and several Arcata volunteers what kinds of calls they noticed as being more frequent, especially most recently. Barbara Goldberg and Fred Adler talked about the recruiting of high school students (see other sidebar). Here are three other responses:

Steve Morse: AWOLS.

“ I’m seeing an increasing percentage of AWOLS. A lot of people would like to be conscientious objectors if the process were done the way it’s supposed to be, but since it’s not, a lot of people who feel that way just end up going AWOL.”

Helen Jones (Humboldt): Mothers.

“It’s amazing how many calls we get from mothers. They’re worried about their kids in the military. They say they sound bad, or they sound depressed, or they aren’t themselves anymore. They think it’s having an effect on them, and they worry a lot. We can talk to them, but we can’t really do anything---the kid in the military has to call us. ”

Rick Campos (Humboldt): Women.

“ The military is about 40% women now. They joined up to go to college, same as men. A lot of National Guard are women. We’re getting more calls than usual on sexual harassment and rape. The military lends itself to those types of situations---because of the chain of command, it’s really easy to prey on people. Women get picked on by upper echelons of command who can shut down any protest by the victim—the victim can wind up getting prosecuted. That’s a real crisis situation. When we can’t handle it we refer them to the military task force of the National Lawyer’s Guild... Sometimes we have to refer them to a suicide counselor first.”

First Bush Veto Will Be To Allow Torture

Daily Telegraph (excerpts)
By Francis Harris in Washington

The Bush administration pledged yesterday to veto legislation banning the torture of prisoners by US troops after an overwhelming and almost unprecedented revolt by loyalist congressmen.

The vote was one of the largest and best supported congressional revolts during President George W Bush's five years in office and shocked the White House.

"We have put out a Statement of Administration Policy saying that his advisers would recommend that he vetoes it if it contains such language," White House spokesman Scott McClellan warned yesterday.

The administration said Congress was attempting to tie its hands in the war against terrorism.

The veto would be Mr Bush's first use of his most extreme legislative option. But senators pointed out that a presidential veto can be overturned by a two-thirds majority in both houses.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Prisoners at Abu Ghraib, waiting to be released. AP photo. Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

"History is not 'was.' History is."
William Faulkner
Being Peace at Guantanamo Bay

War in Iraq has revived feelings and memories of past wars, particularly Vietnam, as it repeated particular elements and tragic patterns. These have resulted in types of activism with roots in prior wars, such as peace demonstrations and the G.I. Rights Hotline. But one facet of it has been starkly different---so much so that reaction has oscillated between shocked outrage and benumbed denial.

The first round of photographs from Abu Ghraib prison led to revelations that American soldiers and perhaps civilians took part in torturing prisoners, and that acts that are internationally defined (and banned) as torture as well as severe violations of human rights were to an as yet unknown extent matters of policy. Certainly, the President’s counsel, who is now the U.S. Attorney General, sanctioned torture as an instrument in the war on terror. The Geneva Conventions, previously sacrosanct to all armed forces, at least officially, were violated with impunity.

In one way or another, people have voiced their disbelief, their despair and their anger that they should even need to oppose torture conducted by their own government.

So to actively oppose torture and violations of human rights and civil rights at Guantanamo Bay Prison as well as in Iraq perhaps requires a different set of skills and attitudes than other forms of protest. It may require a particular kind of commitment.

There is a very small group here in Humboldt County, California, who are trying to do something that’s never been done: to go to Guantanamo Bay prison for a week. They want to visit with the prisoners, and their captors.

They represent an important though often overlooked source of strength and activity for various peace-oriented efforts locally: the Humboldt Friends Meeting, part of the Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers.

Senate votes to restrict treatment of detainees

Bush rebuffed in 90-9 vote to bar ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading’ treatment

From AP (excerpts) full story here

The Republican-controlled Senate voted Wednesday to impose restrictions on the treatment of terrorism suspects, delivering a rare wartime rebuke to President Bush.

Defying the White House, senators voted 90-9 to approve an amendment that would prohibit the use of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” against anyone in U.S. government custody, regardless of where they are held.

The amendment was added to a $440 billion military spending bill for the budget year that began Oct. 1.The proposal, sponsored by Sen. John McCain, also requires all service members to follow procedures in the Army Field Manual when they detain and interrogate terrorism suspects. Bush administration officials say the legislation would limit the president’s authority and flexibility in war.

But lawmakers from each party have said Congress must provide U.S. troops with clear standards for detaining, interrogating and prosecuting terrorism suspects in light of allegations of mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay and the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

“We demanded intelligence without ever clearly telling our troops what was permitted and what was forbidden. And when things went wrong, we blamed them and we punished them,” said McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “Our troops are not served by ambiguity. They are crying out for clarity, and Congress cannot shrink from this duty,” said McCain, R-Ariz.

The Senate was expected to vote on the overall spending bill by weeks’ end. The House-approved version of it does not include the detainee provisions. It is unclear how much support the measure has in the GOP-run House.

Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, is supporting McCain’s legislation. Murtha could prove a powerful ally when House and Senate negotiators meet to reconcile differences in their bills.

The confrontation by members of the president’s own party shows how reluctant some lawmakers are to give him unchecked wartime power as the conflict in Iraq drags on and U.S. casualties mount.

Also pending is an amendment by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would distinguish between a “lawful enemy combatant” and an “unlawful enemy combatant.” His proposal would put into law the procedures for prosecuting them at the Navy’s Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. “We have let the troops down when it comes to trying to give them guidance in very stressful situations,” said Graham, an Air Force judge for 20 years.
The G.I Hotline: Answering the Call

From the North Coast Journal

The woman on the phone was angry. It's disgraceful, she said, for an organization to encourage soldiers to desert or go AWOL. "No one in this office has ever done that," said Barbara Goldberg from the taut windowless room that serves as the Humboldt G.I Rights Hotline headquarters in the Peace and Justice Center on F Street in Arcata. "I'm absolutely certain of it."

It turned out that the caller's husband was deployed in Iraq, and she was scared. She didn't want soldiers deserting and placing her husband in even more danger, or devaluing his service and sacrifice.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bush's extensive search for the new Supreme Court
Justice ended with his choice of--his lawyer,
Harriet Miers. AP photo Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
Upton Sinclair

Bush at Tuesday's press conference. AP photo. Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log

Eternal Vigilance

Two news stories I noticed—each of them also flagged by a prominent southpaw blogger—contribute to a disquieting trend in recent proposals from the Bushcorps White House.

The first was Bush’s own suggestion, made at his press conference Tuesday. It was significant enough for an AP report to lead with it. He was speaking to the concerns of a possible global pandemic if something like the Asian bird flu mutates, which the UN estimated could kill as many as 150 million people worldwide. Bush chose to talk about a new role for the military in such an outbreak.

Jennifer Loven reported it this way: “President Bush stirring debate on the worrisome possibility of a bird flu pandemic, suggested dispatching American troops to enforce quarantines in any areas with outbreaks of the killer virus.

Bush asserted aggressive action could be needed to prevent a potentially crippling U.S. outbreak of a bird flu strain that is sweeping through Asian poultry and causing experts to fear it could become the next deadly pandemic. Citing concern that state and local authorities might be unable to contain and deal with such an outbreak, Bush asked Congress to give him the authority to call in the military. The idea raised the startling-to-some image of soldiers cordoning off communities hit by disease.

"The president ought to have all ... assets on the table to be able to deal with something this significant," Bush said during a 55 minute question-and-answer session with reporters in the sun-splashed Rose Garden.

As Lovin noted: The president has already indicated he wants to give the armed forces the lead responsibility for conducting search-and-rescue operations and sending in supplies after massive natural disasters and terrorist attacks — a notion that could require a change in law and that even some in the Pentagon have reacted to skeptically.

She quotes Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the Columbia University National Center for Disaster Preparedness, as calling the president's suggestion an "extraordinarily draconian measure" that would be unnecessary if the nation had built the capability for rapid vaccine production, ensured a large supply of anti-virals like Tamiflu, and not allowed the degradation of the public health system."The translation of this is martial law in the United States," Redlener said.

Bush is not alone in believing that the military should have a larger role in disasters, as apparently they already will have in something like a terrorist biological weapon attack. There are some reasonable arguments for this, as there are for an armed forces role in public health emergencies, because they have the manpower and some applicable resources, the ability to transport quickly, and other capabilities. But that’s really not the issue.

First of all, Bush proposes the troops for “security,” not general response. That’s what supporters miss (and I found myself in the unusual position, watching the PBS News Hour last week, of disagreeing with the representative from the Center for American Progress, and agreeing with the man from the Cato Institute, on this issue of the military’s role in disasters.)

And even stranger, I think Bush is right about one thing---the military would be most useful in security, because that’s what they do. They carry guns, and shoot them. They are trained in various methods of mayhem. They use force, and that’s what they know best. They simply aren’t trained well or at all for the tasks they would be most useful in performing in a domestic emergency.

This is not the World War II army. They don’t provide support even for themselves. Halliburton feeds them in Iraq. They pay corporations to do just about everything except fight, and they pay some corporations to do that as well. When the armed forces were given peacekeeping duty in Kosovo, their commander got himself a few weeks training, and the rest of them had none. The National Guard gets some training in disaster relief, and they are more experienced in it.

The lack of training shows up in the pattern of alienating and often brutalizing civilians in Iraq, and it certainly showed up in the prisons there. Until the military is trained for these new missions, they are going to be nothing but a blunt force, and if deployed in America, a potential threat to the lives and liberties of American citizens. (On that threat, I was interested to see that
Plutonium Page of Daily Kos agrees.)

Now ask yourself, why is it that the first thing Bushcorps thought of was the military---the security issue---rather than the public health tasks? Is it a fixation on the wrong thing, like thinking the solution to terrorism was to invade Iraq? In the Katrina postmortems, there seemed to be the sense that a major reason that the Red Cross wasn’t allowed into New Orleans sooner was security concerns---which have turned out to be much less of a factor than first thought. When the federal government did show up, they showed up in force, literally: with thousands of troops and mercenaries armed and read to secure a nearly empty city.

But there might be more to it that this. Which brings us to the other story, as dug out by
BooMan of the Booman Tribune blog . He focused on this paragraph from a report in the congressional newsletter, the Hill, concerning Bushcorps efforts to convince conservatives to support Bush's new nominee to the Supreme Court, his lawyer:

Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, yesterday held a conference call with conservative leaders to address their concerns about Miers. He stressed Bush’s close relationship with Miers and the need to confirm a justice who will not interfere with the administration’s management of the war on terrorism, according to a person who attended the teleconference.

BooMan interpreted this phrase “who will not interfere with the administration’s management of the war on terrorism” as code for support for the Patriot Act and everything else Bushcorps wants, including abrogating civil and human rights at Guantanamo Bay, and a freer hand to use torture there and elsewhere, and to keep evidence of it out of the public eye.

It’s certainly something the Senate needs to ask Miers. What about the Bushcorps policy of not allowing Americans to be sanctioned by the world court or other courts of international law? Does the U.S. have a responsibility to obey the Geneva Conventions? And so on.

To be appropriately blunt about it, put these two stories together and you have the outlines of a military dictatorship in the making. Now maybe Bushcorps would be sincerely scandalized by such a thought, but it wouldn’t be entirely inconsistent. In some ways, it’s not even inconsistent with our history.

In the early 1890s, the Pullman Company was one of the largest and most powerful corporations in America. They made and maintained the train cars for America’s long-distance travel, especially by the wealthy. They also forced their workers to live in a company town, where they fleeced them for much of their wages. Then they used an economic downturn that didn’t affect them directly as an excuse for cutting wages by a third. The union went out on strike, and other railroad unions joined. Then before the strike could disrupt the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago---where American corporations showed off their vision of the future to the world---President Grover Cleveland sent federal marshals and half the standing army for “security,” to break the strike.

It wasn’t the first time that the military was used to benefit the ruling oligarchy, and it wasn’t the last. This one happened in George W. Bush’s great-grandfather’s time. It’s well within memory of the perpetual ruling class the Bushes belong to. None of this has to be conscious to be a factor.

It makes a scary kind of sense from their point of view. They've enriched the rich and impoverished the middle class, and eventually that could lead to trouble. The rich might need additional "security" for their gated universe.

When Thomas Jefferson said “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” he wasn’t talking about vigilance directed outward, to foreign powers. Nor did he mean the 18th century equivalent of environmental activists, or even pinko subversives. He was talking about bad laws and big time tyranny. He would not be surprised either if the party that promises to get government off your back is the one who winds up giving you government’s bayonet in your face.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Blessings on World Animal Day. Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

"Most human experience of nature comes through a narrow window. It opens midway between molecules and the Milky Way. It is astonishing that our limited view makes any sense."
Paul Shepard

Sputnik 1, beeping us into the future on October 4, 1957. Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log

The Sputnik of October

It is October 4, 1957, after dark in western Pennsylvania. At the end of a long, multi-jointed arm, a green-shaded lamp focuses light on the surface of the heavy, dark-grained wood desk, a hand-me-down undoubtedly older than I am. The rest of my room is in shadow.

I often had my radio on while I did my homework—a “short-wave” set with a slate gray face and exposed, glowing tubes in the back, that sat on the bookshelf above and to the right of my desk, next to the globe. My father had put the radio together from a kit, and despite its impressive dials it seldom pulled in more than the local AM station. But for some reason the radio is off. I am absorbed in my homework, or maybe the story I am writing in my brown school notebook, a tale of alien invasion called “The Desert Menace.” I’m not even noticing the hum and murmur of the television set on the other side of the far wall, in the living room, where my parents are watching. They’ll call me when it’s time for “The Life of Riley.” I am safe in my room.

So when my bedroom door flies open I am startled. My father leans in, asks if I’d been listening to the radio. I say “no” defensively, but he isn’t checking on my homework diligence. He tells me the Russians have launched a satellite into space. It’s orbiting the earth right now. It’s over the United States. They just announced it on television, and broadcast the actual sounds coming from the satellite. It’s called Sputnik.

When he leaves and shuts the door again, I turn on my radio. Eventually I hear the eerie, even- toned beeping sounds from space. I am shocked. Fascinated by anything about space, I was always looking for news about the satellite the U.S. was planning to rocket into orbit as part of the International Geophysical Year-- this year, 1957. I’d even heard one of the smartest men in America, the quiz show champion Charles van Doren, talk about it on a television documentary about the IGY. The newsman asked him if the Russians might orbit a satellite first. He just chuckled.

So as I sit there in the pool of light surrounded by darkness, listening to the grim monotone from above, I open my brown notebook and write down my thoughts.

"The Russians, Conquerors of Space. Oct.4, 1957. I have just heard some news which will affect my whole future. Russia has just successfully launched the first man-made satellite into space…How did the Russians do it? Out of their own ingenuity? Did they get information from a spy in America? A traitor? All the work our scientists and top brains did, what for? Will the Russians take advantage of this and use it to start a war?"

I am eleven years old. So is Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Steven Speilberg will turn 11 in a couple of months. George Lucas is 13.

I was living at the edge of a small town in western Pennsylvania. Clinton was growing up in a poor family in Arkansas, Bush in a rich one somewhere (Connecticut?) Speilberg and his family had just moved to suburban Phoenix from New Jersey. Lucas was in Modesto, a town in central California. But Sputnik was orbiting over all of us, and would change all of our lives. We were at the leading edge of the baby boom. There were a lot of us, and there would be a lot more. We were the children of the future. And the future just got real.

Oct. 4, 1957 changed our lives, though in some ways it simply gave new impetus to the prevailing Cold War paranoia. The Blacklist was already in force, and the fear of the Russians had already led to the first alien invasion and bug-eyed monster movies, expressing the new fear of sudden apocalypse from atomic bombs. We knew that one atomic bomb could destroy a city, and one hydrogen bomb was many times more powerful. Until then, the nightmare was a wave of bombers, a Pearl Harbor over Pittsburgh. But if the Soviets had missiles that could orbit a satellite, they could reach the U.S. And within days the world would learn that Soviet rockets could carry a very large payload. Large enough to carry nuclear bombs. So now apocalypse would arrive in rockets, and by the time we heard them we'd be toast. What made this even scarier was that U.S. leaders were clearly surprised. Shocked, in fact.

So there was even more paranoia, and many more monsters from space, and other sudden terrors in the Saturday double features. But there were other outcomes of that day in October 1957, not all of them so drenched in doom. Suddenly the country woke up to a “crisis in education.” The clamor in the newspaper, magazines and on TV was for “more science in the schools.” (So everyone who was a kid in these years immediately got the joke when the late 1960s comedy group the Firesign Theatre recorded a parody of Archie and Jughead comics about two rival high schools, “Communist Martyrs High School” and “More Science High.”)

This insistence on getting serious resulted partly in attempts to tighten the organization man grip, and additional fears of “juvenile delinquency” and the dangers of rock & roll music, which helped build up the pressure that got released in the 60s. But it also made being smart maybe not such a bad thing, and kids with a desire for knowledge got a little more leeway, even in Catholic schools. We were allowed---we were required---to value intelligence, science and critical thinking.

Perhaps the best outcome from my point of view was that the very next year, 1958, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act which earmarked millions of dollars for loans to college students. Colleges were especially feeling the pressure to make sure America had the brainpower to win the Cold War.

Neither of my parents had gone to college, and even with scholarships, they would be hard-pressed to send me. But now I could make up the difference in loans. So thanks to Sputnik, in the fall of 1964, I went off to college.

August Wilson Posted by Picasa
Appreciating August

From "The Cycle of August Wilson's Life Over Two Decades And 10 Plays, He Spanned The History Of Black America"
By Peter Marks Washington Post Tuesday, October 4, 2005;

The death of August Wilson does not simply leave a hole in the American theater, but a huge, yawning wound, one that will have to wait to be stitched closed by some expansive, poetic dramatist yet to emerge.

To say that Wilson was the greatest African American playwright the nation has produced -- as some inevitably do -- is to limit the scope of his significance as a contributor to the country's dramatic heritage. Wilson wrote scathingly about racism, yes, in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," and the indelible scars of slavery, in "The Piano Lesson" and "Gem of the Ocean." He also wrote about the Oedipal conflict of fathers and sons ("Fences") and the universal quest for the easy score ("Two Trains Running"). His concerns were as multifaceted as the hard-pressed people he wrote about.

Over the past 20 years, Wilson had staked a legitimate claim to the title of nation's most important dramatist. During that time he won two Pulitzers and a Tony, and among his plays he polished off at least three that will rank among the classics: "Ma Rainey," "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" and "The Piano Lesson," along with what will perhaps endure as his favorite with audiences: "Fences," the story of an embittered former baseball prospect, played on Broadway by James Earl Jones.

All this may not have meant as much as it did in the days when playwriting giants roamed the countryside, when a new play by Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller or Eugene O'Neill had the power to galvanize public discourse, and even land an actor on the cover of a national magazine. We've moved away, sad to say, from the era of the stage as a truly vital pulpit. In the commercial realm, Wilson's plays were usually not moneymakers. But the fact that he could consistently count on clicking the "send" button and having a play end up in the in box of Broadway -- even in this lean and inhospitable time for serious drama -- stamps him as a theater man of nothing but consequence.

Wilson died ludicrously young on Sunday, at the age of 60 in his adoptive home town of Seattle, where he wrote plays, big, garrulous, angry, lyrical, ponderous, often beautiful plays, in an office in his basement. He went public with his terminal liver cancer a little more than a month ago and when he did, he came forward with a breathtaking serenity. He pronounced himself prepared for what was coming. "I've lived a blessed life," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the paper of the city of his birth, the metropolis that served as backdrop for many of his major plays. "I'm ready."


Monday, October 03, 2005

August Wilson in Pittsburgh in 2001. Bill Wade photo
posted on Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

"CANEWELL: Having a nice guitar don't make you play no better.
FLOYD: Not if you don't know how to play. But if you already know how to play good, a nice guitar will make you feel better about yourself. If you feel better about yourself, quite naturally you be able to play better. People see you with a nice guitar they know you put the music will work its way to the front. I know. I tried it many a time. I say, 'Let me put this music down and leave it alone.' Then one day you be walking along and the music jump on you. It just grab hold of you and hang on. Ain't too much you can do then."

August Wilson: Seven Guitars

August in St. Paul in 2002, where he became a playwright. Posted by Picasa
August Wilson 1945-2005

August Wilson, one of the great playwrights in American theatre history, died on Sunday. He had been diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer in late summer, and began telling friends that he’d been told to expect only a few months left of life. He died in his home city of Seattle, surrounded by family.

It was a shock to me, for I’d missed the news of his illness. If I still lived in Pittsburgh, I would have seen it in the newspaper there. Chris Rawson, the Post-Gazette drama critic, was one of the first people August told.

I can call him August because I knew him a little. I met him at the Eugene O’Neill Center in Connecticut during the summer playwrights festival, where he had developed his first commercially produced play, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” and where he returned several times afterwards with new plays.

He was there that summer as a dramaturg, and I was writing a story for Smithsonian magazine. I interviewed him for an hour or so, and we soon got to just talking. We had a surprising amount in common, especially having grown up in western Pennsylvania at around the same time.

The O’Neill program lasts a month, and I was there for two weeks of it that summer. So for half of July, I saw a lot of August. We had us a time or two. Even though I wasn’t there as a playwright or actor (many came up from New York---real pros who you see on New York dramas like “Law and Order” but who care most deeply about theatre), I got a taste of the O’Neill bonding. So when I would run into August after that, always in Pittsburgh where I lived then, we always picked up where we left off.

I saw him after the world premiere of “Jitney,” his early play that he rewrote to be part of the grand cycle, which of course we all called the Pittsburgh Plays (all but one are set in Pittsburgh.) In fact, the locations are so real that the actual neon sign of the bar in this play was borrowed from the real bar in another part of the city.

The last time I saw him was in downtown Pittsburgh, just after a dinner at which he’d gotten one of his many awards. I drove down there just to say hello. Even though he was always surrounded by important people in those settings, he never failed to talk to me. That night he told me proudly that he’d quit smoking. This was an O’Neill thing---everyone there had pledged two goals: to get Lloyd Richards and August both to quit smoking. As it turns out, August didn’t really quit. Chris Rawson reported that in 2004 he was “down to two packs a day.” But he knew it would make me happy to hear it.

He mentioned one or two people we knew in common from the O’Neill, and said he’d lost track of others. “They write me letters, and when I don’t write back, they stop,” he said sadly, with a touch of proper Catholic-school guilt. (Something else we had in common.) So now I feel bad that I never went to see him in Seattle, and though I think I did write to him once from here in California, I may not have actually mailed that letter.

As for the achievement of August Wilson, it is first of all historic. No other American playwright set out to accomplish such an ambitious cycle of plays, and kept those creative energies working until it was done. To combine an acute understand of history and culture with great drama and dialogue is simply unprecedented. Though the earlier plays in the cycle are better known, the later plays establish connections with each other and with these earlier plays, so the ten are a true cycle. Even in the sense that the location of the play set in the first decade is the location of the play set in the tenth.

By his example and by his insistent voice, August Wilson did more to bring African American culture into the precincts dominated by ruling class and upper middle class white culture than anyone else in the past 30 years, and more than any other playwright in the 20th century.

And of course he provided wonderful moments of drama, laughter and song for those of us who experienced those plays, mostly as audience in the theatre, but also as readers. He worked with the rich rhythms of speech, capturing the cadence of black American talk and infusing it with a magical lyricism. He transformed the emphatic repetitions and insistences of people who had to use every device to be heard into incantations with the power of memory, tragedy and soaring spirit.

Even before he was diagnosed, August Wilson’s thoughts had turned to death. In a wonderful interview in 2004 with Christopher Rawson, the drama critic of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Wilson admitted that turning 60 was affecting him, and that he thought about death every day, and felt he had to expect its possibility.

But even though he saw the end coming, and at that time was literally seeing the end coming for his cycle of 10 plays about the black experience in America in the 20th century (one play set in each decade), he was still full of ideas and plans. He had several plays planned beyond this cycle, which he described to Rawson. It was something he loved to do. I sat one dinner time at the O’Neill with one or two others and listened mesmerized as he told the story of his next play, doing the voices and the dialogue.

His creative energies were unabated, and his work seemed to be changing with his final play, “Radio Golf,” set in the 1990s. He’d written and performed a one-man show, and one of his planned plays sounded wildly comic. He told Rawson it would make a great movie. He’d also expressed the desire to write a novel, and he always wrote poetry.

The loss of the work he would have done is a loss to us all, and for those of us who knew him, even briefly or in a series of brief experiences, we’ve lost the chance to encounter again all that warmth and vitality, that dangerous fire and that amazing generosity.

But we do have the ten plays, an unprecedented achievement in American drama. And he had the satisfaction of knowing it. “Yeah, man,” he told Rawson, with a big smile, “I did it!”

His sixty years---and especially the last twenty or so---were full and fulfilling. He loved his children, and his last marriage in particular seemed to make him happy. He had the good fortune to find terrific people to work with, and the good sense to stick with them. He was very loyal, and people were loyal to him. I don’t know of any writer who had a better life in the theatre, even in recent years when financing for serious plays got difficult, even by a multiple Pulitzer Prize winner.

He often started his plays at the O’Neill, where he reveled in the participation of actors and everyone in the summer community, gathered from all over the country. He saw and heard his play begin to come to life there, and began rewriting---honing, adding, subtracting—a process that continued in the parade of productions (at Yale, the Huntington in Boston, etc.) that took him to the official premiere.

He took such pleasure in this process. (It’s easy to understand---words and characters that had been only in his head, only written down on pads of paper in coffee shops—walked and talked in front of him!) Everything became part of the process. An actor’s suggestion might become an immortal line. When he saw the costume sketches for several characters in his 1990s play, Radio Golf, he said, “so that’s what they look like!” and this gave him more ideas for changes in the play. It was a magical exchange---the writer and the people who brought his words and dreams to life, all of them grateful for each other.

There is mourning among theatre people all over America tonight, and already there is a Broadway theatre to be named after August Wilson. Even more than to his achievement, it is a testament to to his personality, poetry and vitality that Pittsburgh (where he grew up) and St. Paul( where he lived for over a decade) and Seattle (where he lived most recently) will all be claiming him, as will the O'Neill, and Yale, and the Huntington and all the theatres where his work will continue to be seen. We wish he could have lived longer, but he lived fully while he was here, and we must be grateful for all that he gave.

August Wilson at a 2005 rehearsal of his last play, "Radio Golf."
Pittsburgh Post Gazette photo Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Whirlpool galaxy as photographed from the Hubble telescope. Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log


Dreaming Up Daily has evolved over the past month or so. Though there has been some intelligent design involved, the concentration on Katrina news especially was a response to very important events. Very important for the present and the future.

One of this site's core readers commented once on the "dreaming up daily" title that it reminded him of Shiva, the Indian Hindu goddess whose daily dance is the world. So the dance of events and especially the dance of stories make up our reality. But that dance, that reality and this site should be made up of more than so-called news. That's why there were posts here on books, DVD movies, and broader cultural issues, and there will be again.

Dreaming up the world also means finding meaning and direction, and that requires getting beyond the lockstep of events. "Dreaming up" was also always meant to be paired with the "going down" or the "Dark Ages Ahead" (Jane Jacob's book title) or the coming or current nightmares. The positive elements we need especially in such times come from purpose, spirituality, conviviality, memory and humor, among other possibilities. And they come from developing a better future, which is the great work of the present.

While I hope these elements have been here, to concentrate on these levels requires spending a lot of time writing and seeking out information, more time than the Captain has been able to devote. But I hope there's more balance possible here in the future.

It's been fun using the resources of the Internet to essentially publish a little newspaper or magazine every day. It seems to have attracted more visitors to the site. But I hope I can come up with a good combination of that, and what the site was originally intended to be.

There's a very interesting post over at daily kos, here, that in a way is a post I've been waiting for. It takes on the obsession with daily events, with political strategizing and so on, and demands some focus on the problems that are threatening people's lives---like the fatal costs of healthcare and now the extra pressure of high prices for the necessities of gasoline, heating oil, natural gas and electricity. Here in northern CA, our utility bills are set to nearly double.

We all need fun and games, and that's the level of a lot of discussion. While things like DeLay and the Plame investigation have real political meaning and consequences, let's face it---people are getting off on it. It's theatre and its revenge drama and all that, and it's fun, but we need to keep our eye on the ball as well.

This diary concentrates on the place where the rubber meets the road: real life. We do need to relate everything to this level, but we also need to look at the future. This is going to be the challenge of this generation, and generations to come.

Harry Hopkins told FDR about the long-range benefits of one of his programs, "People don't eat it the long term. They eat everyday." We need to be mindful of this.

Yet AT THE SAME TIME we need to be mindful of how things relate, and of consequences for the future. The example that immediately comes to mind right now is the oil issue. We're going to be hearing more and more about the high price of gasoline and heating oil and natural gas, and the additional pressure on peoples' ability to make it, because this is the latest and newest pressure. It's very real.

So inevitably we're also going to be hearing that the way out of this is drilling more oil wells where they haven't been allowed, and building more refineries fast, and damn the environmental regulations. And if all people are focused on is their current need, this will be listened to.

It happens to be wrong: wrong for the present, because it won't help, and wrong for the future. We need to be strong, demand financial relief, demand that windfall profits of oil companies be controlled and prices be controlled in some way. But we need to blow these pro-oil company proposals out of the water immediately. A major reason our health care bills are so high is because the environment is so full of toxins already. We continue to damage our present, and we are ruining the future.

We can't fall for the panic that the Repubs are already starting. We need to keep our heads, demand real solutions, for the clear and present needs of now, and of the future.

Left behind? Maybe not. One Sunday talk
show host suggested Fitzgerald may be
looking at both the prez and v.p. in
the Plame investigation. Posted by Picasa
The Plame Blame Game--bottom of the ninth?

From "Role of Rove, Libby in CIA Leak Case Clearer/Bush and Cheney Aides' Testimony Contradicts Earlier White House Statement" By Jim VandeHei and Walter Pincus
Washington Post [excerpts; emphasis added]

As the CIA leak investigation heads toward its expected conclusion this month, it has become increasingly clear that two of the most powerful men in the Bush administration were more involved in the unmasking of operative Valerie Plame than the White House originally indicated.

With New York Times reporter Judith Miller's release from jail Thursday and testimony Friday before a federal grand jury, the role of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, came into clearer focus. Libby, a central figure in the probe since its earliest days and the vice president's main counselor, discussed Plame with at least two reporters but testified that he never mentioned her name or her covert status at the CIA, according to lawyers in the case.

His story is similar to that of Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser. Rove, who was not an initial focus of the investigation, testified that he, too, talked with two reporters about Plame but never supplied her name or CIA role. Their testimony seems to contradict what the White House was saying a few months after Plame's CIA job became public.

What remains a central mystery in the case is whether special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has accumulated evidence during his two-year investigation that any crime was committed. His investigation has White House aides and congressional Republicans on edge as they await Fitzgerald's announcement of an indictment or the conclusion of the probe with no charges. The grand jury is scheduled to expire Oct. 28, and lawyers in the case expect Fitzgerald to signal his intentions as early as this week.

Many lawyers in the case have been skeptical that Fitzgerald has the evidence to prove a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which is the complicated crime he first set out to investigate, and which requires showing that government officials knew an operative had covert status and intentionally leaked the operative's identity.

But a new theory about Fitzgerald's aim has emerged in recent weeks from two lawyers who have had extensive conversations with the prosecutor while representing witnesses in the case.

They surmise that Fitzgerald is considering whether he can bring charges of a criminal conspiracy perpetrated by a group of senior Bush administration officials. Under this legal tactic, Fitzgerald would attempt to establish that at least two or more officials agreed to take affirmative steps to discredit and retaliate against Wilson and leak sensitive government information about his wife. To prove a criminal conspiracy, the actions need not have been criminal, but conspirators must have had a criminal purpose.

One source briefed on Miller's account of conversations with Libby said it is doubtful her testimony would on its own lead to charges against any government officials. But, the source said, her account could establish a piece of a web of actions taken by officials that had an underlying criminal purpose.

Conspiracy cases are viewed by criminal prosecutors as simpler to bring than more straightforward criminal charges, but also trickier to sell to juries. "That would arguably be a close call for a prosecutor, but it could be tried," a veteran Washington criminal attorney with longtime experience in national security cases said yesterday.