Unscramble

One day when the prime lending rate jumped thirty percent, unexpectedly and without precedent, all the capitalists in the world began to float. These were not bush league capitalists, however, not mere consumers or dabblers in the game, but the true die-hard believers who had planted capitalism like a finely pliable hunk of plastic deep in their vacuous hearts. Slowly they rose at first, just a few inches or feet, buoyed by the market rate like ducks in a lake, like gnats in an updraft, though by evening their levitation had brought them all, a good 16.7% of the population, somewhere about ten feet above ground level. Everyone seemed to notice but they, who went about their business and bobbed home for the night as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. So it went for a week or so, when the mortgage rate shot up and so did they accordingly, another fifty feet or so. Still they kept their blue teeth charged and had sundries and luxuries delivered by an army of drones. After that is was the NASDAQ, pushing them to about three hundred, then inflation, then income taxes for everyone but them. People began to suspect a collusion, though after a month or so the capitalists settled at about a mile up, and were difficult to reach for comment (let alone see). Planes were rerouted and satellites kept track. Meanwhile the economic situation below became more and more desperate. Prices had risen so high and wages so low that people were actually accepting pay to dig their own graves. Everyone scrambled for a buck, a bird, and a TV set. Mob-robs and loot-fests became the daily news. Then finally it happened. People just stopped buying things. Initially most folks simply took what they needed, and nobody around them cared. They took, and cheered, or abstained, and starved. Millions died. Still there was less and less to take, and less and less to take from. So they started making things and trading for what they needed. They had no choice – money was just no good any more. They began to barter, and in what seemed like days, a whole new system sprang up, frugal but vibrant. Soon they forgot the capitalists existed, and began to till what was left of the blighted land. A hard road, a teeth-gritting road with small fulfillments sprout by stingy sprout, scant but no other road there was. Then came the first thud, then another and another. Capitalists were falling from the sky. Many wailed, threw up their arms in horror and dismay. But only briefly, for they soon realized what the fallen capitalists were good for, and set about to fertilize the earth.

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ANNOUNCE  ::  I’m proud to have the very first piece in the very first anthology by Naked Bulb Press. The press has grown out of the Naked Bulb reading series, which has been running for seven years mostly in the East Oakland backyard of Missy Church, impresario and host extraordinaire. My poem, entitled “Cannibalism”,  is only five lines long, but it’s a true story and it’s one of my fave poems ever. AND it’s followed by work by twenty-two of the best SF Bay Area writers working (and drinking beer in backyards) today. It’s not listed on the site yet (it’s just that fresh), but you should be able to get a copy by writing to Missy Church via the site (look under About). And if you wanna be that fresh, I highly recommend that you do. More deets on the Anthologies & Journals page.

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The puzzle of the human heart is not so much figuring out how others feel, whether they feel the same as you or if things feel the same for them as they do for you, but that some don’t feel at all. Nothing – numb. It seems impossible to some of us who do – shocking to some – but in a sense it’s not much different than lacking one of the attributed senses. It’s certainly analogous, and maybe it could or should be considered exactly that, literally a disability, as these people are born without the ability to empathize, to feel anything for those around them. Statistics vary – and who cares about statistics, they’re their own broken field. The simple fact is that sociopaths are here among us. Some of them are reading this right now. The puzzle is, for me at least, how do these people realize their condition, and when, and how do they function with it? I’ve read that most who live with sociopathy are unlikely to tell anyone about it, that some consider it a source of weakness or embarrassment – which is sad, since any congenital disability is in some ways simply a roll of the genetic dice. I’ve read that maneuvering in social interactions for them is more like a game than instinct, more a matter of learning behaviors and patterns and manners and their effects than understanding why they exist and how, more manipulation than interaction. The question for me is whether or not these manipulations in any given case are guided by ethic or an adherence to ethic – I’m sure many are – or by self-interest, and whether the latter cause harm to others on an interpersonal level, or in a broader sense, or even broader. This leads me to put together ideas crafted by four other writers. Kurt Vonnegut wrote in A Man without a Country that he believed sociopaths had incrementally taken over many sectors of government. (Vonnegut’s statement, which was originally published as an excerpt in The Guardian on January 21, 2006, is so beautifully Vonnegut, and so much more eloquent than I could writerly muster, doing not much more than mimicking him here, that I’ve reprinted part of it it below.) In this famous quotation, Gustave Gilbert, the U.S. Army psychologist assigned to study the defendants at the Nuremberg Trials, posited, “In my work with the defendants, I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” ‘Nuff said there. Michael Moore makes a conjecture in Bowling for Columbine, oft debated, I’m sure, that the remarkably high level of gun violence in America is in some part a result of the prevalent ideology of individualism which supports our rampant capitalism (or Late Capitalism) oh so well, the poorly propped-up American Dream (made of cut-rate materials, of course) that so easily crumbles and devolves into an Every Man for Himself survivalism. Which leads pretty naturally to the five forms (and devolution) of government cited in Plato’s Republic, in which democracy is the second most corrupt form, not because Plato disdained the notions of rule by vox populi, but because he believed democracy to cater to and foster the basest desires of people, namely materialism, hedonism, and self-satisfaction, and to undermine our more noble predilections. Well spoke, Plato! So if all of this means anything, and it might not, I might just be gibbering in my soup, it seems to paint a pretty bleak picture of our present-day conundrum. With a legion of sociopaths calling the shots, can we expect an easy time of it for the duration? Probably not. Can we expect the so-called “Democrats”, so compromised by corporate interests, to rescue us from the actually heartless people? Kinda doubt it. Besides, they’ve probably had their lives and families threatened if they say too much. Can we expect empathic people to govern again? Probably, though with some level of corruption, at least in this system. Will we survive this regime? Some of us will, but certainly not all. Can we consider these sociopaths accountable for the damage and death that they’re causing? Absolutely. Anyone with a disability chooses how they deal with and manage it. It doesn’t matter whether or not these people care that they’re causing harm to others; they choose to do so. Will they be arrested and punished accordingly? What a beautiful world that would be, and one that is most likely an idealist’s fantasy, but one that contains a germ of potential, in the same way that the goal of becoming human has potential. Should we enact a series of laws requiring rigorous mental health testing for anyone running for office? Might not be a bad idea. Are we about to witness the end of democracy as we know it? Who the fuck knows, but hey, that might not be a bad idea either.

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— excerpt from A Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut
originally published in The Guardian
January 21, 2006

I was once asked if I had any ideas for a really scary reality TV show. I have one reality show that would really make your hair stand on end: “C-Students from Yale”.

George W Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.

To say somebody is a PP is to make a perfectly respectable diagnosis, like saying he or she has appendicitis or athlete’s foot. The classic medical text on PPs is The Mask of Sanity by Dr Hervey Cleckley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia, published in 1941. Read it!

Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort that is making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays. These were people born without consciences, and suddenly they are taking charge of everything. PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!

And what syndrome better describes so many executives at Enron and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while ruining their employees and investors and country and who still feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say to or about them? And they are waging a war that is making billionaires out of millionaires, and trillionaires out of billionaires, and they own television, and they bankroll George Bush, and not because he’s against gay marriage. So many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick. They have taken charge. They have taken charge of communications and the schools, so we might as well be Poland under occupation.

I was once asked if I had any ideas for a really scary reality TV show. I have one reality show that would really make your hair stand on end: “C-Students from Yale”.

George W Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.

To say somebody is a PP is to make a perfectly respectable diagnosis, like saying he or she has appendicitis or athlete’s foot. The classic medical text on PPs is The Mask of Sanity by Dr Hervey Cleckley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia, published in 1941. Read it!

Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort that is making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays. These were people born without consciences, and suddenly they are taking charge of everything. PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!

And what syndrome better describes so many executives at Enron and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while ruining their employees and investors and country and who still feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say to or about them? And they are waging a war that is making billionaires out of millionaires, and trillionaires out of billionaires, and they own television, and they bankroll George Bush, and not because he’s against gay marriage. So many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick. They have taken charge. They have taken charge of communications and the schools, so we might as well be Poland under occupation.

They might have felt that taking our country into an endless war was simply something decisive to do. What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive. They are going to do something every fuckin’ day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don’t give a fuck what happens next. Simply can’t. Do this! Do that! Mobilize the reserves! Privatize the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody’s telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!

There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: only nut cases want to be president. This was true even in high school. Only clearly disturbed people ran for class president.

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REFLECT  ::  Quieter than last year, working on better health not necessarily to live longer but to be in less pain while I do. Seems like a worthwhile pastime. Riding the bike on trainer in my living room and taking walks and hikes with Victor. Cutting down on glycemic foods and enjoying lots of greens. Going out to some readings and events, and yes have continued to enjoy them, but mostly inward-focused and not much up for writing frequent reviews and kudos, however deserved they are. Time to take care of self. Maybe I’ll have more to say about things next month, but this post is coming out super late this month as it is (latest monthly post ever, not counting those that didn’t get written at all), and it sure contains a lot of other ranting. So that will have to do. Please enjoy your May.

REFLECT  ::  One final note – toward the beginning of April, somebody sent me a gorgeous bouquet of tulips for National Poetry Month, and I still don’t know who! There’s a pic of them below. Who sent them? Who? Who?

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To unscramble an egg is the dilemma of the millennium. Yeah no not a matter of re-Dumptying, but one of retraining the horses, of de-childing the men. How many children past the age of thirty ranting and tantruming because they want the ice cream, they want a turn in the batting cage. My ball! My ball! And round the wheel turns, pretending chance and flooding the lungs with deceit. Brains stifled, axons cracked, we make our way to the edge of the playing board, edge of the live-long world. What a mighty! What a stead! – ready to be worshipped and fed. So crawl and clamor, kneel and mewl, or make your way through the labyrinth, the daunting maze of mindmesh and the saw, and let the wide world in again – not the taught fraught, not the net, but the splendid cellular beat of soil and wind. Then grin.

Sincerely,
Richard

Poetry Month Tulips

 

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