Archive for 2012 May

Around the world with Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg

Today was Walt Whitman's birthday.

"Good day for DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act] to be ruled unconstitutional," remarked poet friend Robert Peake from London.

A look at how Walt became a poet at all shows the truth of what Robert said:

[Whitman] was working as a carpenter, his father's trade, and living with his mother in Brooklyn, when he read Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "The Poet," which claimed the new United States needed a poet to properly capture its spirit. Whitman decided he was that poet. "I was simmering, simmering, simmering," Whitman later said. "Emerson brought me to a boil."

Whitman began work on his collection Leaves of Grass, crafting an American epic that celebrated the common man. He did most of the typesetting for the book himself, and he made sure the edition was small enough to fit in a pocket, later explaining, "I am nearly always successful with the reader in the open air." He was 37 years old when he paid for the publication of 795 copies out of his own pocket.

Many of Whitman's poems were criticized for being openly erotic. One of Whitman's earliest reviews had called the book "a mass of stupid filth," accusing Whitman of "that horrible sin not to be mentioned among Christians." But rather than censoring himself, Whitman added 146 poems to his third edition.

Of course, many of Whitman's poems were openly erotic, but Whitman's most famous line ever, arguably, is his tribute to his mentor, which is also the simplest and best encapsulation of Emerson's philosophy:

"Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)" 
Which to me is about the most useful line of poetry ever. In speeches, in therapy, and sometimes, in remonstrating discussions with one's own self, it's true and consoling, and a reminder of our possibilities.
So let me celebrate this discoverer, this Whitman, with a personal fav from amongst his poems, called Facing West from California's Shores
Facing west from California's shores,
Inquiring, tireless, seeking what is yet unfound,
I, a child, very old, over waves, towards the house of maternity, the land of migrations, look afar,
Look off the shores of my Western sea, the circle almost circled;
For starting westward from Hindustan, from the vales of Kashmere,
From Asia, from the north, from the God, the sage, and the hero,
From the south, from the flowery peninsulas and the spice islands,
Long having wander'd since, round the earth having wander'd,
Now I face home again, very pleas'd and joyous,
(But where is what I started for so long ago? And why is it yet unfound?)  
A century or so later his foremost follower, Allen Ginsberg, wrote an equally searching (if much longer) poem, also worth celebrating. The 92nd Y has a spectacular 1973 recording of Ginsberg reading Mind Breaths, and explaining how he had been inspired by his meditation practice.
It's fascinating, and quite inspiring in its own right. It's as if Ginsberg has evolved Whtiman to a new level, taken his spirit, and put it into practice.
Let me quote a few lines from the Californian part of the journey: 
…out towards Reno's neon, dollar bills skittering downstreet along the curb
up into Sierras oak leaves blown down by fall cold chills
over peaktops snowy gales beginning,
a breath of prayer down on Kitkitdizze's horngreen leaves close to ground,
over Gary's roof, over temple pillar, tens and manazanita arbors in Sierra
    pine foothills
a breath falls over Sacramento Valley, roar of wind down the sixland freeway
    across Bay Bridge
uproar of papers floating over Montgomery Street, pigons flutter down
    before sunset from Washington Park's white churchsteeple —
Golden Gate waters whitecapped scoudding out to Pacific spreads… 
If memory serves, Rolling Stone published this poem, back in the 70's. Wouldn't do anything like that now.             

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Spring hottest ever: Greenhouse gas emissions on the rise

Acerbic lede from Dino Grandoni in the Atlantic Wire

In case, you know, you haven't been outside in the past three months, it's about to become official: unless a freak blizzard blankets the country by Thursday, the spring of 2012 will go down as the warmest for the U.S. in 117 years of record-keeping.

Meanwhile CO2 emissions resume their upward rise, after a brief hiatus, according to the latest report from the International Energy Agency

John Cook says in The Conversation (from Australia) that we are at the crossroads, and if we as a species reduce global emissions dramatically starting now, as we are attempting to do in California, we can barely avoid the agreed-to be "dangerous level" of 2C warming by 2050.

Currently, by the way, we are closest to the A2 trend-line, which is one of the higher emissions scenarios that the IPCC has been charting for years.   

The good news is that we are making some progress. Despite its rapid development, China’s per capita emissions are still just 63% of the OECD average. This is thanks in large part to its efforts to improve energy efficiency and deploy clean energy. OECD emissions declined in 2011, albeit by a small amount. And there is still time to reduce our emissions sufficiently to avoid dangerous global warming.

The bad news is that time is running out, and the longer we wait, the more difficult and expensive it will be to achieve the necessary emissions cuts. The elusive binding international agreement to reduce global CO₂ emissions approximately 80% by 2050 must be signed, and soon, or the necessary emissions cuts will become too steep to be practically achievable.

John Cook, the writer, is a story in his own right: He's come out of nowhere and done wonders in climate change communicaiton. 

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The moment when our leaders gave up on saving the world

Not my words, but those of Die Spiegel, the leading German publication, which released a recording of what was said inside the room among top leaders from around the world in Cophenhagen, in December 2009, in negotiations to save the climate. Their reporters wrote:

The West, [then French President Nicholas] Sarkozy said, had pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent. "And in return, China, which will soon be the biggest economic power in the world, says to the world: Commitments apply to you, but not to us."

Sarkozy, gaining momentum, then said: "This is utterly unacceptable!" And then the French president stoked the diplomatic conflict even further when he said: "This is about the essentials, and one has to react to this hypocrisy!"

A hush came over the room. Even the mobile phones stopped ringing. It was Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at about 4 p.m. That was the moment when the world leaders meeting in Copenhagen abandoned their efforts to save the world.

The long story reveals that first India, and then China, angrily refused to agree to emissions reductions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a necessary step towards the agreed-upon goal of slowing the acceleration of global warming. But the world's most powerful leader let it go:

Obama reminded his fellow leaders that the industrialized nations are also dependent on the will of their citizens to contribute to saving the climate. "From the perspective of the developed countries, in order for us to be able to mobilize the political will within each of our countries to not only engage in substantial mitigation efforts ourselves, which are very difficult, but to also then channel some of the resources from our countries into developing countries, is a very heavy lift," Obama said. Then, speaking directly to China, he added: "If there is no sense of mutuality in this process, it is going to be difficult for us to ever move forward in a significant way."

Finally, Obama addressed the diplomatic snub the Chinese prime minister had delivered with his absence: "I am very respectful of the Chinese representative here but I also know there is a premier here who is making a series of political decisions. I know he is giving you instructions at this stage."

But then Obama stabbed the Europeans in the back, saying that it would be best to shelve the concrete reduction targets for the time being. "We will try to give some opportunities for its resolution outside of this multilateral setting … And I am saying that, confident that, I think China still is as desirous of an agreement, as we are."

For Die Siegel to use the phrase "stab in the back" is striking, given German history

Via The Duck of Minerva

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Romney: “Believe in America,” Donald Trump, and debt

In California this Memorial Day in my neighborhood, the house signs for the GOP presidential candidate are pleasantly blue, and they read: "Romney: Believe in America." 

Also on this day, we learn that the candidate has no intention of cutting the deficit upon taking office, and will be happy to add to the national debt with a stimulus plan, in total contradiction to what he has been saying on the campaign trail for months. 

Jonathan Chait, quoting Romney himself, and referencing two reporters' work, eloquently describes Romney's conversion to the liberal faith in spending as "a big fat wet kiss to Keynesian economics:"

The real news in Mitt Romney’s interview with Mark Halperin, as Charles Pierce points out, is that Romney openly repudiated the central argument his party has been making against President Obama for the last three years: that he spent too much money and therefore deepened the economic crisis. Indeed Romney himself had been making this very case as recently as a week ago (“he bailed out the public sector, gave billions of dollars to the companies of his friends, and added almost as much debt as all the prior presidents combined. The consequence is that we are enduring the most tepid recovery in modern history.”) But in his Halperin interview, Romney frankly admits that reducing the budget deficit in the midst of an economic crisis would be a horrible idea:

Halperin: You have a plan, as you said, over a number of years, to reduce spending dramatically. Why not in the first year, if you’re elected — why not in 2013, go all the way and propose the kind of budget with spending restraints, that you’d like to see after four years in office? Why not do it more quickly?

Romney: Well because, if you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5%. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression.  So I’m not going to do that, of course.

Of course not. Regardless of the flip-flop and the assurances to the right. Sure Romney will cut spending. Just not now.  

Also today, Romney said to to a reporter on his campaign plane that he will happily overlook the birtherism of Donald Trump because "I need to get 50.1 percent or more."

So, to recap, "to believe in America" is to go along with Donald Trump, birtherism, and debt. 

Does this not sound as cravenly political as Richard Nixon?

That's who Romney's neighbors see him as, wrote Christopher Benfey earlire this year: 

When I ask locals about their impressions of Mitt, I get a recurring response: Nixonian. “The overriding passion of his life seems to be to become president,” a conservative economics professor tells me. “I can’t think of a single issue over which Romney would risk reelection in order to stick to a principle.” A University of Massachusetts journalism professor puts it more positively: “He can be as cagey as Nixon, and he can be almost as smarmy, but he is also able to think strategically.”

But you must admit, he looks a lot better than Richard Nixon. Merrill Markoe tweets

A photo of Romney and wife shows she may be human but he looks like he stopped at carwash to have his head detailed, then sprung for the hot wax.


Markoe (a former Letterman writer) has a point, even if she sounds a bit like left-wing Sue Lynch.

Sue (to Will): I don't trust a man with curly hair. I cant help but imagine thousands of tiny birds lying sulfurous eggs in it. 

 Sue, the winner on Glee, supports Romney, surely. 

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Is climate change impacting real estate in the Southwest?

In the United States today, according to the real estate site Zillow, the two cities in the most trouble are Phoenix, where a little more than half than half of all homeowners are underwater — where debt outweighs the equity — and Las Vegas, where an astounding 70% of homeowners are underwater. 

Is it a coincidence that these are the two biggest cities in the Southwest, where climate change is expected to hit brutally hard? Could climate change be contributing to this mega-downturn now?

Until someone goes out and starts doing some serious interviewing of folks in the real estate market, we're not going to know for sure, but we do have Tom Ashbrook's show on the subject from January, On Point: Can the Southwest Survive Climate Change? which was especially good. (To give an example of its quality, when an author of a book about the grim future of the Southwest claims he's not "in the prediction business," Ashbrook has a little fit, and forces him to answer.)

Ashbrook points out that we had record wildfires, record drought, and record temperatures in the Southwest last year He looks at two books, A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the future of the American Southwest, by William deBuys, and Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City, and talks to the authors. 

William deBuys points out that the predictions for temperature change in the Southwest have been underestimates, and that this century Phoenix will get 4-6 degrees C hotter. Andrew Ross points out that the growth in Phoenix and the Southwest has been largely driven by growth itself: People making money on construction, buying their own homes, buidling more. Growth has stopped now, and — as Ashbrook said — developments have been all but abandoned. Ross doubts it will return, and points out that Phoenix in our times has yet to experience a mega-drought (of sixty years or more) which are shockingly common in the long-term record. Could the suburbanization of the desert be over? 

Included in the discussion s a notable figure in Phoenix, Grady Grammage, an attorney, developer, and believer in climate change, who sees high temps as the factor most likely to bring down his business. Yet Grammage insists that Phoenix is accustomed to planning for drought, that the region could support many millions of more people, and that growth will return. 

Grammage in my personal experience is a more thoughtful and reflective figure than one usually encounters in real estate, but even so his claims that Phoenix is "fine" fails to convince. 

"We call these places deserts for a reason," as Ashbrook said, "because they are often deserted." 

From on high, NASA looked at a related issue — the urban heat island index in Phoenix — and by cross-referencing satellite data with sociological data found that the rich were clustering in areas of vegetation and permeable soil (green), while the poor were shunted towards downtown Phoenix, with impermeable surfaces and buildings reflecting heat (blue). 


This week it reached 108 in Phoenix — 12 degrees above average for May. 

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The sexiness of a stupid woman, according to science

In Slate, a science reporter specializing in sex, Jesse Bering, reports on a new study that finds that women who look drunk and/or stupid are especially attractive to straight men.  

The study has problems — for one, a lack of a good control sample. For another, the hypothesis (that men find women who appear out of it more attractive because the guy thinks he's more likely to get laid, for example) surely has limits, to which the study seems blind. 

All this Bering discusses ably. He notes the flaws, but concludes: 

All else being equal, would you really have thought that the average man would subjectively perceive such women to be physically more alluring than their sober, bright-minded peers?

Actually, yes. But that's because I remember a great quote from the sexy, brainy Hedy LeMarr:

Any girl can look glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid. 

Lamarr was an extraordinary woman: a great scientist and inventor in her maturity, a movie star and sex symbol in her youth, and a woman who knew something about men. (She married six of them.)

 Here's a pic of her in her early movie star days: 

Carrie - Lamarr, Hedy_01

I wonder if Lamarr came to this realization because she couldn't look stupid if she tried, and maybe sometimes wished she could. 

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Poetry vs Oil (and bulldozers)

Vancouver poet Stephen Collis writes about the poetic resistance to another pipeline planned to transport oil sands slurry from inside western Alberta to market in Poetry vs. Oil

Right now, one major pipeline carries the goop to Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet, where it is loaded onto supertankers tourists can wave at from scenic Stanley Park. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, south, to Texas, has been (temporarily, perhaps) blocked. So now there are plans for a “Northern Gateway” pipeline to carry massive amounts of crude over 1,170 kilometers of forested and river-crisscrossed Northern BC—to the still largely undeveloped coast of the Great Bear Rainforest. Charming.

Into the fray steps a poetry anthology—The Enpipe Line (Creekstone Press 2012)—edited by a diverse collective that includes poet/activist and project founder Christine Leclerc…Originally conceived as a 1,170 kilometer long line of collaborative poetry (matching the proposed pipeline’s length), the project eventually grew to over 70,000km. The poetry in it is diverse, to say the least, and includes contributions from widely published and recognized poets to children and “professional” activists (such as Greenpeace co-founder Rex Weyler).


Here’s an example of the range. Eleven-year old Ta’Kaiya Blaney of Sliammon First Nation wrote the song “Shallow Waters” (the performance of which has become a popular mainstay of demonstrations in the province over the past year) when she was ten:

In shallow waters, I can’t see
Your clear waters lapping at my feet
The lifeless ocean, black not blue
I didn't help but deep down I knew


From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, some readers might find some of the work in this anthology “lacking.” However, the precise point this anthology raises—the very fact of the concatenation of art and revolution that it works—is the disappearance and impossibility of the “purely aesthetic” in today’s world. Rex Weyler, writing in the Forward, asks—“Can poetry stop ecocide?” I would have to answer no. But I would also say—it’s not not going to stop it either. 

A similar point was made in a striking essay in Poetry a couple of years ago by John Kinsella, an Australian poet, about resisting the destruction of the natural world:

A pacifist, which is what I am, can be the strongest resister, and pacifism the most defiant form of resistance. Same with language usage: I mix the old and the new to engage with a debate about protection, preservation, conservation, and respect of the “natural” world. I am aware of the problems these words carry in terms of implying complicity, because I am a poet rather than a speech writer. For me, because of this, poems can stop bulldozers. Not because they just say “stop bulldozer,” but because the intricacies of language challenge, distract, and entangle the bulldozer. I am using a semantics not of analogy, but of opposition. My words are intended to halt the damage—to see what shouldn’t be seen, to declare and challenge it.

Resistance, in this case, is not futile — it's a belief in life. Here's the enemy, in an astounding photo essay from, of all places, Business Insider, called The Oil Sands Mines Refused Us Access, So We Rented This Plane to See What They Were Up To


via Fountain, not Mountain

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The Way: A Catholic movie for non-Catholics

My old friend and equaintance Lance Mannion wonderfully appreciates that small but touching movie, The Way, which came out last year. He captures so many aspects of the film, from Martin Sheen's ability to carry a movie with sheer grumpiness, to the underlying beauty of the story. 

The Way is a sweet, sad, funny, joyful movie that asks its audience to accept that intelligent, humane, educated, thoroughly modernized and basically liberal people can, although lapsed, still be Catholic enough to find solace in their faith or to miss it if they’ve lost it enough to walk a thousand miles to chase it down and get some of the feeling and comfort it used to give them back, if only for a few moments…

Gary Wills has written about the divide between the church of the People of God and the institutional Church.  It’s a divide I’ve always seen as being between the church of St Francis and the Church of the Pope.  In the latter, the priests stand between you and Christ.  In the former, you go out into the world like Christ in order to join him in the company of other sinners.  The one approach is institutional.  The other way is purely personal.


For some of us, faith is a journey, not a destination; a search, not a knowing. 

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When 1 + 1 = 3: Ken Burns on Story

A fascinating short film (in the Burns style) on what the documentarian thinks makes a good story

Sez Burns:     

Abraham Lincoln wins the Civil War and then he decides he's got enough time to go to the theatre. That's a good story. When Thomas Jefferson said "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal", he owned a hundred human beings and never saw the hypocrisy, never saw the contradiction, and more importantly never saw fit in his lifetime to free any one of them. That's a good story.

From Kottke.

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Robert Creeley: A Prayer

A Prayer

something small
but infinite
and quiet.

There are senses
make an object
in their simple
feeling for one.

Robert Creeley
February 1966     

[Editors note: Spelling corrected, pic removed — inappropriately pretty. Search continues]                                                                                                                         


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