Monday, December 30, 2013

Responses after a long absence

I have been away for some time, preoccupied with work and dimmed by persistent depression. In that interval, a number of people have been kind enough to post comments, and I will endeavor to respond to them here...

On my essay about NSA snooping:


Interesting article. I was reading about how NSA's hacking unit TAO, have recently obtained significant intelligence. Would like to see what foreign intelligence was collected. It's crazy to think how vulnerable we have become as a society allowing outside threats to alter this nations foundation. If another country was caught doing what we're doing, there would be war. Mr. Rivele, can your books be found on amazon?


I tend to agree. I continue to be amazed at the efforts among politicians and in the press to rationalize or at least to minimize this business of massive government surveillance in the name of national security. We know that Benjamin Franklin warned us that people who trade their liberty for security deserve neither, yet we are doing precisely that. That the president colludes in this horrific mistake does not in the least surprise me, since I regard him as a genial incompetent who neither understands nor trusts foundational American values; but is, in fact, doing his utmost to dismantle them. 


Regarding my books: Yes, you can find most of them on Amazon. Thank you for asking.

On my post, Poetry and Power:

Tupac sought out to find his dreams as a young teenager facing adversities in the harsh streets of inner cities ghettos'. He wrote poetry as a child and as a teen his poems became an aspiration for his love of Hip-Hop music. The new movement Hip-Hop would thrive highly, Tupac envisioned becoming a part of it. But he'd deeply seek towards his inner dream as a revolutionary. At nineteen nature laid a wonderful serendipity upon Tupac, his poetry began to prophesy his life. Tupac's adversity turned into ambition quickly after he was discovered as a phenomenal Hip-Hop artist. He saw through music to incite a new revolution. However the reality of fortune and fame forced him into temptation that blurred his inner dream. The tragedy of an icon and Hip Hop hero, it was fate that led to his death. 

Thank you for your thoughts on Tupac, about whom my writing partner and I completed a film script some years ago. It now appears that, at long last, that film may be made, though it has been rewritten so many times, I don't know whether it will have anything to do with the one we wrote. 


On my post, Bad to Verse:

Your poems are very beautiful. I was introduced to you, relatively recently, by my wife, who suggested I watch The Men Who Killed Kennedy. In that movie, you're so articulate and well-spoken that I followed up on you, and that, if you're at all interested in knowing, is how I discovered Desert Songs.

Thank you for that. The only two professions I ever hoped to follow were orchestral musician and poet. Its pleasant to hear that you think I have succeeded at one of them. (By the way, some of these paragraphs are highlighted in yellow; I have no idea why.)


There were a number of other comments prompted by the fiftieth anniversary of the JFK assassination, but I shall refrain from responding to them now, since I have long since left that subject behind. Thanks for them in any case.

There were also a couple of posts relating to the Tupac movie. Please let me repeat: I have nothing to do with the casting of this, or of any other, film.

I expect to resume posting on my blog shortly. 



Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Everybody Else...

Some years ago I was doing research for a book about domestic CIA activities (significant since the CIA charter forbids the Agency from conducting operations inside the U.S.), and I had the opportunity to speak with a retired, but once very important, CIA contract officer. He told me that at one point in his career, he was approached by the Savak, the secret police under the Shah of Iran, whose ruthlessness is exceeded only by the current Iranian secret police.

The man with whom I spoke - let's call him Burt - was a well-known electronic surveillance expert, who had made his name by bugging the Ho Chi Mihn Trail during the Vietnam war. One of the ingenious ideas that Burt came up with was to disguise miniature microphones as insects and seed the Trail with them. Lyndon Johnson had said, with typical color, that he "wanted to hear the Vietcong pissing." Burt managed to accomplish this for him.

Burt met with a high-ranking Savak officer who told him that there were two groups within Iran the government wanted bugged. One, he said, was the Iranian Air Force officer corps, within which they believed there was a plot to overthrow the Shah. Since their leadership was localized on an air base near Teheran, Burt assured them that it would be no problem. He could tap all of the phone lines at the base, and record every call made from or to it. The Savak man was pleased.

"Who's the other group?" Burt then asked.

To which the Savak man replied, "Everybody else."

The Savak wanted the central phone exchange in Teheran bugged, so that they could monitor every phone conversation within the country. Burt told me that he was surprised by the request; but he assured the Savak officer that it could be done. And, according to Burt, it was done. Every phone call in Iran during the last years of the reign of the Shah was recorded, and the tapes turned over to the malicious, murderous secret police. Of course, the Shah was deposed despite (or perhaps because of ) this and forced into exile, and a new era of medieval darkness and brutality overwhelmed Iran. But that is another story.

Now, in the past few days, we have learned that the National Security Agency, tasked with protecting the security of the United States, has been secretly acquiring records of virtually every cell phone call made in the U.S., and perhaps every email sent as well. It is Burt's Savak commission on a much larger and more pervasive scale, and it is being done in this nation by our government, in the name of our own safety. The operation is, of course, stunning in the extent of its intrusiveness. It is, I think, the most egregious assault on American liberty, and certainly on American privacy, in the history of the nation.

Edward Snowden, the young man who alerted us to the massive clandestine violation of our privacy known as the Prism program, is now living in exile, and will shortly be prosecuted for his actions. This, too, we have seen before. I am old enough to remember Daniel Ellsberg's leaking of the Pentagon Papers, which made it clear to one and all that America had been dragged into the morass in Vietnam under entirely fraudulent circumstances. That revelation was one of the triggers of my own opposition to the war.

Ellsberg was persecuted and prosecuted by the Nixon administration with characteristic venom. If Nixon imagined that he had enemies everywhere, in Ellsberg he could point a finger at a real, not an imaginary one. And so he and his thugs went after Ellsberg, even going so far as to stage a break-in at the offices of Ellsberg's psychiatrist, in order to steal private medical records that could be used to denounce the leaker as a lunatic. That was a very dark time in our nation's history; part of the nightmare landscape of Watergate.

But the fact remains that both Ellsberg and Snowden were simply telling the American public something we needed to know, and that the government would not tell us. What has surprised and troubled me most about this incident, however, is not the surveillance itself, since I suppose we ought to have suspected it and seen it coming. As our government grows ever larger, more secretive and more imperious, what is to stop it from snooping on anyone (although the idea that it was snooping on everyone is a bit surprising). No, what troubles me now as the story unfolds is the reaction of both leading political figures and the public in general.

Many prominent politicians, including the president and members of Congress, are actually defending the NSA program. No less a figure than our own Senator Diane Feinstein, a liberal relic of another era of politics and hairstyle, has insisted that the program is both necessary and legitimate. And polls seem to indicate that the majority of the public do not seriously object to having their phone records and emails confiscated in secret by the federal government, as long as it is being done "to keep us safe."

The truth they seem to be missing is this: What is the point of securing the safety of a society by altering its fundamental principles? If we now submit to such pervasive government violation of our rights in response to the threats of the terrorists, then have we not admitted that the terrorists have won? To put it simply: If the terrorists can force us to stop behaving like Americans, then they have already beaten us.

Under any circumstances, and notwithstanding any argument about national security, the Prism program is an outrage against our rights and our privacy, and a chilling lesson about the dangers of a government grown out of control. Yet, much of the media remains subdued in its coverage and evaluation of it. Why should this be so? The answer, as it usually does, lies in the politics of the matter. Had this program been revealed under a Republican administration, there would have been a media meltdown such as we have not seen since Watergate. But the media by and large cheer-leads for the Obama administration, and, of course, he is the first black president, and so, despite the fact that this scandal touches the lives of every American, even beyond the reach of the IRS scandal, the media mutes itself, for fear that it might taint, or even threaten their favorite son.

However, in my view, this matter is so serious in its scope and its implications that it rises far above the quotidian concerns of mere politics. We are all being targeted now, my fellow citizens - not just conservative groups. The other day, a Hollywood celebrity announced that she was not bothered by the targeting of the Tea Party; in fact, she was pleased because she did not like the Tea Party. By a coincidence, this celebrity is Jewish, and I could not help but wonder, as I listened to her rattle on: When will she learn? There were those once who were not bothered when government targeted Jews, because they did not like Jews; nor were they bothered when it targeted homosexuals, because they were uncomfortable with homosexuals; and neither did they object when government targeted the retarded and mentally ill, and gypsies and foreigners. Only when the government targeted them did they awake to the danger, and by then it was too late.

Well, now Edward Snowden has revealed that the government has targeted all of us, and we had better wake up to the fact that we may be very close to it being too late already.




Monday, May 6, 2013

Poetry and power

I recently had the opportunity to hear the young Chinese pianist Yuja Wang perform at the Disney Concert Hall. I had never heard of her, and I went only because of the program, which included Debussy, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, and one of my favorite Ravel pieces, La Valse. I had no idea what I was getting into.

To say that this 26 year old is a major artistic talent is a vast understatement. She is one of the most brilliant, engaging and exciting musicians I have heard in recent years (the violinist Hillary Hahn being another). She played the opening Scriabin sonata (a last-minute substitute for the Debussy) charmingly and insightfully, but as she played, it very quickly became apparent that she is possessed of a truly extraordinary technique. Added to that is her charisma and onstage presence, which, for one so young, is nothing short of masterful. Whenever any young artist undertakes a program as ambitious as hers, one always experiences a kind of anxiety, an empathetic concern that he or she may have overreached, and may be in for a fall. Not so with Yuja Wang; she is completely in command of her instrument and her material, a fact that she makes clear from the very first phrases.

Her second Scriabin piece was every bit as mysterious and even mystical as one could hope, but it was in the Ravel that she simply took one's breath away. La Valse, Ravel's pitiless lament for what Ezra Pound called a botched civilization - 19th century Europe, annihilated by World War I - which is most often heard in orchestral form, is, in its original piano score, diabolically demanding and difficult. And so, as Yuja Wang began her presentation of it, the old empathetic anxiety returned. But only for a moment.

She was magnificent: powerful, technically dazzling, ideationally brilliant and, above all, poetic. And that is the thing about her playing that impressed me most deeply: She is, above all, a poet. Her monstrous technique, the like of which I do not think I have ever encountered before, is always in the service of poetry. How she manages this marriage of muscular technique and poetic delicacy I do not know. I do know, however, that I have never heard La Valse played with such sheer self-confident mastery on a technical level, nor with such breathtaking comprehension of ideas, implications and insights as she presented. She dominates the keyboard just as surely as she commands her audience; her talent is a stunning combination of poetry and power.

La Valse was merely the end of the first half of her program. She returned, smiling and radiant, to undertake a full cycle of Rachmaninoff which, by itself, would have daunted most other pianists. Yet once again she took control of both the score and the audience, and brought light, depth, potency and poetry to the pieces, with what seemed to me to be an intense, joy-filled ease. Rachmaninoff has never been one of my favorite composers - the best of his music sounds to me like very talented film score; the worst, like bombastic post-romantic self-indulgence, as if Tchaikovsky had lived in Culver City and composed for Columbia - but, in Yuja Wang's hands, I found myself really understanding and admiring his work, perhaps for the first time.

Not surprisingly, she was recalled, and played a total of five encores. The audience simply did not want to part with this stunningly gifted young musician. And among the encores, there was Chopin. Now, I had been hoping to hear her play Chopin, just as a reality check to my senses: Did she truly have the delicacy of touch and the poetic intricacy of execution which much of Chopin requires? The answer, from the first notes, was, Yes. Her Chopin, like everything else, was powerful, technically impeccable, and emotionally complex, lyrical and beautiful. It was simply hard to believe: This young woman brings the same mastery of execution and insight to everything she plays. Listening to her was, for me, a variegated revelation: that one young person could possess such power, such poetic insight, such personal charm and such a wide range of repertoire. And everything is done in a spirit of performance brilliance which I have very rarely encountered.

If you ever have the chance to see and hear Yuja Wang perform, take it. The experience will change your perception of the art of the piano in vast and subtle ways.





Monday, February 18, 2013

Droning on

President Obama's choice for CIA Director, John Brennan, was asked about his position on drone attacks on U.S. citizens abroad. He defended them, and elaborated that, under the administration's policy, drone attacks had no territorial restrictions. This was a horrifying statement. When he was asked, in writing and in person, whether that meant that the president could order lethal drone attacks within the United States, he declined to answer. When the president was asked the same question, his response was that he "had no intention" of doing so. This is an even more horrifying evasion.

Is it necessary to point out that, had any Republican president made such an assertion, he would have been skewered mercilessly in the mainstream media? Obama's policy on murderous drone attacks on American citizens goes far beyond George Bush's Patriot Act, which merely sanctioned the monitoring of communications for purposes of detecting terrorists (with a judge's order). When that was announced, the media had conniption fits. Yet, President Obama is implying that he has the authority to order the murder of American citizens anywhere in the world, including within the United States, if he has a finding that the targets represent a threat to American security. Not that they are actively involved in violence against the United States (the 16-year-old son of an alleged American terrorist who was killed in a drone attack had no record of terrorist activities), not even that they are in a combat zone, but only, in the judgment of unnamed Administration officials, that they pose a threat.

May I humbly submit that this is the most egregious breach of United States law by a sitting American president since Richard Nixon ordered the break-in at Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office, and is, in fact, far more serious.

And yet, Obama seems to be getting away with it. And why? Because the media is so biased in the favor of liberals that they will not blanch at a blatant violation of the most basic of American liberties - the right to due process of law when the government judges that one had committed a crime. That pillar of Constitutional rights is being regarded as extraneous, by both the president and by the media which slavishly supports him.

Is one not reminded at this juncture of Michael Moore's clinical analysis of the dozen-or-so minutes in which George Bush hesitated before responding to the news of 9-11? And yet we now know that during the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, in which four Americans were killed, President Obama was unaccounted for for eight hours. And that the White House steadfastly refuses to account for his whereabouts. Yet no one on the left is making a documentary about Benghazi, and demanding to know where the president was and with whom he talked while the consulate in Libya was under attack, and news of it was being relayed to Washington in real time. Instead, what we got from the administration was weeks of equivocation and lies about what had happened. Nor is anyone in the mainstream media conducting an in-depth investigation to get at the truth. Instead, so-called reporters on ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, the Washington Post and the New York Times, dutifully sustain the official story, and pillory, as David Gregory recently did, anyone who dares to challenge it.

Meanwhile, our nation remains 16 trillion dollars in debt, while administration apologists blandly assert that the deficit doesn't matter, and we face another imminent fiscal crisis in Washington with no presidential leadership. And where is the president? Playing 27 holes of golf - which took him eight full hours, exactly the amount of time during which he disappeared while the American ambassador in Libya was being murdered and his body dragged through the streets.

Upper Crust

I had not been to Crustacean in Beverly Hills for about four years, but I had always kept in mind the fact that I had at that restaurant one of the best meals of my life. The lobster salad, for which they were famous, was wonderful, An's noodles with garlic was a justifiable favorite, and their seafood, among the freshest and best-prepared I have ever known. So impressed was I that I asked to meet the chef, since I know little about cuisine and admire anyone who masters that - to me - alien art form. She turned out to be a Vietnamese woman in her seventies, who, with her family, owned the restaurant. Far from being haughty or self-important, she was genial and had a ready smile. I congratulated her, and she invited me to come again.

I did, recently, on a special occasion, after my years-long absence. The place was as I remembered it, on a corner of South Santa Monica Boulevard not far from Rodeo Drive. They still had the sinuous aquarium under the floor, which gives you rather the feeling of walking on fish as the hostess leads you to your table. It is interesting to see how many people sidestep to avoid the enormous koi with which the sub-floor is stocked. As we were taken to a table on the mezzanine, I was looking forward to a repetition of my last memorable meal.

It was not to be.

The place has declined in quality, I am afraid. The lobster salad, which had been marvelous, was now, as my companion said, "interesting." It was true. The greens were slack, the dressing rather conventional, and the lobster meat somewhat haphazard and badly presented. An's garlic noodles were as I recalled them, zesty and plentiful, but the snapper I ordered was dry, flavorless, and, frankly not entirely fresh. Crustacean was crowded that night, but, nonetheless, I found the service slow, and at one point the waiter asked whether someone else had taken my order. Clearly, he had not.

Now, let me be clear: The meal was far above the average, and the ambiance is lively and tasteful, but this was not the Crustacean I had enjoyed four years before. Perhaps it is under new management - I didn't ask - or perhaps it is simply not possible to maintain so high a standard over so many years. However, whereas on my previous visit, I would have rated it in the high nineties (out of 100), it has in my estimation, slipped to the high eighties.

While I am on the subject of restaurants, I suppose I should mention some of my favorites in the LA-Pasadena area. Perhaps my favorite of all is Restaurant Shiro, in South Pasadena, which I have been patronizing since it opened twenty-five years ago. It has maintained a very high standard over that time, and if you are looking for truly wonderful seafood, I think you would do better to try Shiro than Crustacean. It is smaller, more intimate, the staff is friendly, the service is always expert and attentive, and the prices, while not meager, are still relatively affordable given the quality of the cuisine. I rate Shiro in the low nineties.

The Parkway Grille is, justifiably, rated Pasadena's best restaurant, year after year. The cuisine is eclectic but fairly conservative, and while it is a bit pricey, it is worth it, particularly for a special occasion. The atmosphere is open and delightful - it is located in a converted glass-blowing factory, which is decorated with brilliant floral designs by, I think, Jacob Maarse - and it boasts its own herb garden, and a lovely open-faced brick oven. There is also a piano bar with very comfortable seating for while you are waiting, or after the meal for conversation and a brandy. Parkway has always been reliable and makes for a relaxing and enjoyable evening, and for me it rates in the high eighties.

Our favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant has for many years been La Divina Cucina in Montrose (just north of Glendale). The food is always tasty and well-prepared, and the staff are very cordial; indeed. they have become family friends. Like Shiro, Divina does not advertise, yet the place is usually crowded with a faithful clientele. Mi Pace in Old Town Pasadena is also an Italian favorite; the food is uniformly and reliably delicious, and, though it is usually crowded and noisy, it has the benefit of remaining open till two-am on the weekends, which makes it one of the few quality places in Pasadena to dine after a concert or play. I have known the owner, Armand, for twenty years, and he is always genial, and generous with his time and attention.

I think the best sushi restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley is Yoshida on Huntington Drive in San Marino. The fish is the freshest of any I have found, and there is always a wide and surprising variety. The atmosphere is rather basic, but the place is entirely unpretentious and the prices are very reasonable. Closer to home is Kabuki, which, while not offering as fresh a menu as Yoshida, is nonetheless consistently good and very inexpensive. I also love the staff there.

I offer these observations in the hope that some may find them helpful, but please bear in mind that I am no expert, and that the techniques of fine cuisine remain to me as abstruse and impenetrable as Washington politics or the implications of quantum mechanics. If any of you have suggestions for other places I should try, please let me know.






Saturday, February 16, 2013

News...

My new novel, "Singer in the land of night," set in occupied Paris in 1941, is now available on Amazon.com., and will shortly be available in a Kindle version. I do hope that you will take a look at it, and let me know what you think.

A collection of my poems entitled "Desert Songs" may also be found on Amazon.com.

Thanks. I look forward to your comments.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

2/14

As Valentine's day approaches I reflect that there is nothing so wondrous as love. Love has the power to transform the commonplace into the unique, to find light were there was merely pallor, depth where there was shallows, and artful shapes within the shadows of existence. All of us are born with the need and ability to love, though some of us kill it in ourselves; but for most, it seeds within our souls, ready at every touch of warmth to grow and blossom and flower. Love it is that reminds us we are human, that flesh is not a barrier but a bridge, that calls us from the isolation of ourselves to find the possibility that life contains of joy and understanding and release from loneliness. Loneliness makes life shallow and small and sparser; love makes life deep and big and richer. Loneliness is a sheet of sandpaper, flat and dun and dry; love is the ocean, heaving with life, profound with mystery. How can we hope to know anything about life without love; how can we truly understand who we are and why we are if not in the light of love? Embraced by its warmth and reassurance, we do understand, not intellectually but instinctively, that there is more to life than our solitary selves.

When I look for the next word or phrase of this reflection, I need think only of the face of my beloved, have only to summon to my mind her soft and rounded features, her half-moon arch of brows, the russet flood-tide of her hair, the mild expression of her brown eyes, and the subtle smile that says so much more than I could ever write of what it means to love. Such is the transformative force of love: that in her eyes and the gentle, consoling light of them, I find myself reflected not as I habitually see myself, grim and flawed and alone, but as she sees me; and in her wordless gaze I find myself reborn as I once was, a child wound within the light of love.

People say that god is love, and while I do not agree with it, I grasp the intent of it. It is extrapolation, a natural hyperbole of our fondest, rarest experience, the experience of love. Love releases us from the confinements of ourselves, connects us up with timelessness, and convinces us in every vein and cell and pulsebeat of our bodies that something pure and ineffable resides within our minds and hearts and souls. And so, quite naturally, we expand this vague and delirious sensation out beyond the universe and deposit it with something we call god. That apotheosis of the highest sense of self is instinctual and perfectly understandable. We do it because we know deep in our souls that it is only in the eyes of the beloved, in those breathless,  wordless moments when our inmost selves are seen and cherished by another, that we truly are alive, and that the birthright of innocence and joy we all possessed can once again  be new. And so we wish those moments to be melded into a fluid eternity of regard in which our souls can breathe the pristine atmosphere that is unselfish love.

Thus do we hope to live forever, not as we love but as we are loved, by that which has no flesh or eyes or words; thus do we aspire to be eternal, in the breathless, timeless silence of  the other. And whether such ethereal embrace is possible or not, we still may find it dwelling in the moments when, in wonder and in longing, we find ourselves reflected in the eyes of those we love, and who love us.

Monday, January 28, 2013

And recently...

Though I watch the news less and less because I find it increasingly silly, shallow and tendentious, I suppose I should comment on recent developments.

--On the current furor over gun control: I am no partisan of gun ownership (though I do own two shotguns for skeet shooting, which the president, apparently, today endorsed as a wholesome pastime), I am a great respecter of the Constitution and the wisdom of the Founders. There is a reason that the Second Amendment is the SECOND amendment after freedom of speech, assembly, the press and religion,  and that is that the Founders had a great fear of the power, not of guns, but of government. Madison, who wrote the amendment, held that the surest way to oppress a people was to disarm them. The amendment was not about forming a militia; it was about enabling citizens to retain that measure of security against the tyrannical thrust of government into their lives that ownership of guns provides.

Now, it can be argued that today the government possesses F-22s and nuclear weapons, but these are unlikely to be loosed on people in Missouri or Connecticut, even in the direst of circumstances. The fact remains that an unarmed citizenry is entirely vulnerable to a government grown out of all proportion to its necessity in our lives (which it has become). I see the increasing size and intrusiveness and authoritarianism of the central government as precisely that which the Founders feared 250 years ago. To my mind, this militates for, and not against, the right to gun ownership. The Second Amendment is a symbol of the ascendancy of individualism over collectivism, and as such, given the historical potency of symbols, it should not be abridged.

Having said that, I agree that assault weapons and supplemental ammunition magazines should be banned as unnecessary to a civilian populace, and that universal background checks should probably be instituted (depending on how and by whom), if only to keep weapons of mass slaughter out of the hands of the mentally incompetent. But Sandy Hook and Colorado notwithstanding, very  few crimes are committed with such weapons (though they get the most publicity), and the fact remains that our society is so awash in guns that no legislation can prevent such tragedies. If a gang member (and remember, I wrote a book about Compton) wants to get a gun of any kind, he can do so in a matter of hours. Legislation always follows, and does not prevent, crimes.

What can be done to stop another school or mall or movie theater shooting? Nothing, by legislatures. This can be done only by responsible, caring parents. In every case I can think of, the guns used in mass shootings were acquired legally, and then used illegally. (Remember that the weapons on the planes on 9/11 were entirely legal under the regulations of that time.)  Requiring more onerous checks and extensive forms and government scrutiny affects only those who obey the law, when what we are trying to stop is those who do not obey the law. Mass shootings are a mental health problem, not a firearms problem.  And so why are people clamoring for new gun laws? To make themselves feel that SOMETHING has been done, when, in fact, nothing will be accomplished.

This is the reflexive instinct of the modern electorate that must be reversed: If something is done I feel better, even though nothing has been accomplished. This is narcissism -- what matters is not what can be accomplished, but, rather, how good I feel about what the government does. Such is the road to submission to tyranny. The real issue is not about the feelings of the electorate, but, rather, about the safety of the populace. And if that is the true goal, then everyone should be issued a gun and trained in how to use it. For every statistic shows that states and foreign countries where gun ownership is easily achieved and responsibly regulated have the lowest rates of gun violence, whereas in places like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and the nation's capital, which have the strictest gun laws, the gun violence rate is the highest.

Any rational person would therefore conclude that increased gun ownership actually deters gun violence, while stringent gun restriction encourages it. This is true simply because, as I said earlier, only those who routinely obey the law will comply with gun legislation, while the others will have their guns and use them and disregard the consequences. That is why we call them lunatics and criminals.

--Hillary Clinton, about whom I have made my opinion clear, is finally leaving office as Secretary of State. (Though, given her history, that does not mean she is leaving public life. I fear that, like the ghost of Hamlet's father, she will return to haunt us for years to come.) In her exit interview with 60 Minutes, she was accompanied by no one less than the president, and this was, far from being a signal journalistic event, in effect an endorsement for her future ambitions.

The so-called reporter who conducted the interview may as well have gone down on his knees and either a) worshiped at their feet or b) sexually serviced them both. It was as disgraceful an exhibition of journalistic servitude as I have ever seen, and the man should be ashamed. One question on Benghazi, which was about how Hillary "felt" in the wake of the murder of an American ambassador. No probing, no demands, no examination of the contradictions in the official story, no insistence on truth -- just typical left-wing groveling and slobbering in the presence of progressive celebrity. If there was ever an argument to be made for liberal prejudice in the mainstream media, this was it. "Do you feel guilty about the fact that an ambassador and three other Americans died?" Nothing more. Shameful.

--The proposed reform of illegal immigration is being touted as a milestone in bi-partisanship. To that, all I can say is that the word bi-partisanship contains the letters b and s, as does another word I can think of. The sponsors now admit that there are 11 million illegals in this country (that means that about one out of every 28 people in this country is here illegally), while at the same time a recent study shows that nearly half of them are receiving government benefits. This means over five million illegals are living at the public's expense, when the economy is struggling and we are 16 trillion dollars in debt. This, in a word, is madness.

Yet tonight, MSNBC (that propaganda outlet for the far left), parades pictures of weeping children, and stories of families rent by deportation. Can I make this any clearer: They are here ILLEGALLY! "But they are here," the liberals argue. Well, they should not be here at all! If their families are torn apart, it is because someone in them broke the law and sneaked into the country! Their suffering is their own fault! What is so difficult to understand about that?

"But they are here," the left intones. Well, sorry, but no one invited them here, and they broke our laws to get here and stay here and live off the public dole at a time when we are going bankrupt. To put it simply: They have no legal right to be here, and any sane, rational, well-regulated society would not permit them to remain here, let alone reward them for having come. Charity aside, largesse aside, we simply cannot afford it. "But they are here," the left insists. And I say again that if burglars break into your house and take up residence, and eat your food and use your water and electricity, you do not agree to let them remain because "they are here." They broke in, they violated your space, they are stealing your property. And it does not matter how many weeping children or torn families they represent, they should not be allowed to remain here.

If times were different - if this were the 1780's or even the 1880's - and we needed the surplus population, I might be persuaded. But our economy is on the verge of bankruptcy, and there is not a politician in office today who has the courage or foresight or principle to say: Let them go home, let their own societies care for them, and let us put our fiscal house in order before our children and grandchildren, who were born here and have a legal right to be here, inherit an economic disaster beyond their ability to repair.






Friday, January 18, 2013

Handeling Perfection

Every morning now I wake up to the Bach French Suite (played by Glenn Gould). I do so because it is as close to perfection as I have found in this world. Every piece in the ensemble is a gem, exquisitely cut and faceted, perfect in its proportions, delightful, profound, intricate, yet breathtakingly simple in significance and execution. It is for such things that I consider J.S. Bach to be the greatest artistic genius of our culture. That he could produce hundreds of these masterpieces, exhibiting such variety and surpassing beauty, is nearly impossible to comprehend.

Reflecting on this made me realize that there are other moments of perfection in my life. For example, every night I put my ten year old to bed with a practiced ritual, at the end of which he always asks me to leave his bedroom door open just enough to let the cat come in during the night and sleep on his legs. The door must be ajar sufficient to admit the cat, but not so far as to allow the nightlight from the hall to disturb him. Getting it just right is, in its own way, a question of perfection.

There is perfection, too, in the lull of rainfall on the sun-room roof which never fails to put me to sleep, and to the bark of the coyotes on the foothills behind my house. The dimensions of the giant ficus outside the back windows, moonlight on the paperwhite narcissus on the slope above the garage, the utter silence which descends brittle with the January chill in the middle of the night, the deep sleep of the cat curled within its tail and orange tiger stripes before the fire... all make for a kind of perfection. Not the abstract and asymptotic idea of perfection implied by Plato or insisted on by Jesus, but a quaint quotidian completeness which means so much more, is so much more real and moving in its proximity and spontaneous calm. Perfection, more often than not in this life, is not to be striven for, but, rather, to be glimpsed in unsuspecting moments of the clear and patient mind.

Which brings me to Handel. He was, I long have known, Beethoven's favorite composer. Late in his life, someone gave Beethoven the complete scores of Handel, and he was so moved that he wept. Though I have listened to Handel's music all my adult life, I never understood until recently exactly why Beethoven, whom I admire so, so admired him. Handel was a genius, unmistakably, comparable to Bach (though it is unfair to compare anyone to Bach, as I suspect Telemann, a contemporary and truly great composer, must have felt), but in its own way, the work of Handel, too, is perfect. Where I find in Bach a gem-like perfection, that of Handel is more brittle, more latticed. If Bach is diamond, then Handel is ice.

I was listening today to a trio sonata, which I had never heard before, and I was struck by its marvelous complexity, together with its fluid clarity of execution. It was a perfect confluence of idea and expression, a faultless blending of breadth and depth, of meaning and structure. The Opus 6 Concerti Grossi are masterpieces, as are the Water and Fireworks music, the keyboard sonatas (which I am only beginning to explore) and especially, of course, the miraculous Messiah, which I understand he wrote in only six weeks.

I must spend more time with Handel, I have realized, in my declining years. Beethoven understood that there was a world of meaning and beauty to be gained in the appreciation of his music, and as my grip on the world relaxes, there is, perhaps a vision of eternity to be glimpsed in its timeless light.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

NFL Hours

I needed a good laugh this morning and fortunately, quite by accident, I found "The Hours" on TV. I had never seen this film, which has a marvelous cast and won many awards. It is a dense, multi-layered drama about depression and suicide and art, and I couldn't stop laughing as I watched it. The characters are hilarious. Nicole Kidman's Virginia Woolf, who never lifts her chin from her chest and never smiles, speaks in a whispered monotone throughout the entire film. Indeed, I started humming along with her lines - duh, duh, duh - always the same note but with slightly varied cadence. At one point she actually says: If I have to choose between Richmond and death, I choose death. Now that is a funny line. And what is in Richmond? A beautiful house, where she feels a prisoner, with servants whom she fears, a husband who adjusts his entire life for her sake, total freedom to work, and a writer's study which I would give worlds to have. Virginia, it seems, is a deeply troubled novelist who is married to a saint, but appears to be in love with her best friend, whom she kisses on the mouth with great passion.

John C. Riley's husband to Julianne Moore's character is simply too good to be true. The only insight we get into his imperturbable character is that he is a World War II veteran who, reading between the handful of lines in which he tell us this, had a rather bad time of it among the atolls and Japs. And so at every moment I expected him to go nuts, screaming at his chronically depressed wife to snap out of it. But he doesn't. And why? Because he is so utterly clueless. He's a like a character in a cereal commercial, cheerful, sincere, and reflexively devoted to his family. No wonder his wife is a lump of depression - no one could match such witless happiness. She has a son, and another on the way, and all she can do is think about her deeply suppressed lust for her female friend, whom she kisses on the mouth with great passion, when she is not planning to kill herself. What is her problem? Is it the drear of suburban 50s life, the utter predictability of it, the soul-stomping conformity? No. She's reading Virginia Woolf, which would be enough to send any blue hausfrau over the edge. And so she zombie-walks through her life, like Virginia herself, unsmiling, monotone-voiced, and so utterly self-absorbed that it is an act of bravery for her to bake a cake with her five-year-old.

Now we come to Ed Harris' character, The Poet. I capitalize it because he is supposed to be what everyone imagines a poet to be. Except he is dying of AIDS, lives in a graffiti-crusted loft in Manhattan, and has just won The Carruthers. The Carruthers? What is that? A poetry prize. And that's the problem - it sounds like a poetry prize. If he had won the Schmelman Prize I might have believed any of this, but he didn't. In this movie, nobody does anything that a human being might actually think, feel or do. It is all so contrived - so much about what wealthy, elitist  film-makers think such people ought to be like, that none of it is believable. Instead, it is laughable.

The Poet's first line in the movie was my tip-off. The Meryl Streep character goes to see him in his scabrous loft to tell him she's taking him to the award ceremony and giving him a party. She sees he has been troubled by unreal visitations. "Were your friends here?" she asks, and when he says they were, she wants to know what they were like. "They were like black fire," replies The Poet. OK, that was when they truly lost me. No poet talks like this. Not only is that a clichĂ©, boring metaphor, it is the way that the writer and all the other elitists who made this film think a poet should talk.

It is writing about character types in the way the film-making elite think they should talk and act, presumably because they think the public thinks they should be this way, that so turns me off in what passes for serious drama these days. I remember, in the awful film, "Contact," by Zemekis (whose recent film "Flight" also turned me off) the philosopher, played by Matthew McConaughey, talks in a contrived, stilted and pretentious manner for the sole reason that this is the way the film-makers think really intelligent people are supposed to talk.

And then there is Meryl Streep's character. She is an editor who lives in a Manhattan apartment that could exist only in the imagination of a Hollywood art director and could scarcely be afforded by the Sultan of Brunei, in contrast to The Poet's filthy loft, reachable only by the seediest elevator in New York. Note the implied class distinction: The Poet, who pours his blood into his work, lives in sunless squalor while the editor, who merely corrects the grammar of what poets write, lives in high-rise luxury. Is it possible that an accomplished poet cannot afford a decent apartment? I mean, he did win The Carruthers after all. And when he topples himself out the window to his death (I say "topples" because he does not merely fall and is too ill to throw himself), we are left to wonder whether he has finally found life unbearable, or he just cannot face another trip in that repulsive elevator.

Now don't get me wrong here... I think that Meryl Streep is one of the truly great actors of our time. But in this film, in this role, she is off her game. Her normally fluid and spontaneous seeming gestures here are forced, the timing is off, and some even seem inappropriate to the moment. In short, she is bad in this movie, and as a friend of mine says, it takes a lot of work to make a great actor bad. Ed Harris, too, is bad in this movie - the only time I have ever found his work unconvincing. And Nicole Kidman, while the best performance - and the best nose - of the lot, is given so little of light and self-revelation to work with, she, too, is below par. Why? Because there is nothing at all authentic about the characters in this film, or the way they act, or the way in which they express themselves. This is pretentious pseudo-drama of the worst sort - made by elitists to condescend to the general public while impressing the members of their pretentious clique. Pretension - that is the word that kept running through my mind. "The Hours" is, ultimately and implicitly, about pretentious, self-absorbed people who merely got older without ever growing up.

Julianne Moore's character attempts to make a cake for her genial husband's birthday. It is a centerpiece of her role in the film, for she has to do it with her little boy. They struggle through a dreadful looking blue and brown concoction only to have her throw it in the trash, drive her son to an obese nightmare of a sitter, check in to a hotel where she finishes reading Virginia Woolf... and decides not to kill herself and her unborn baby. In a scene that comes from nowhere in this film, at the critical moment, the room floods with water, nearly flushing her off the bed. Now, just yesterday I had to have the drainpipe outside my house replaced since the toilets and showers clogged irreparably, and all I could think was, not that this benighted woman has reached the end of a meaningless existence, but that the hotel needs a good plumber.

The point here, which no one connected with the making of this film understands, is that the cake is the meaning. Making a birthday cake for daddy with your five-year-old is what life is about. But not for the penthouse-dwelling artistic elite who made "The Hours." The baking of that cake with that child for that reason gives life meaning. But they can't see that because they can't talk about such things at their parties and in their interviews. Let me be clear: I think that life, essentially, is meaningless. But it can, as no less a pessimist than Samuel Beckett has said, possess a meaning with which we have to power to invest it. None of these characters has that power, because they are all so pretentious and self-absorbed. And we are supposed to take them seriously and become absorbed in their drama. Not me, sorry; all I could do was laugh.

Meryl Streep's character, who lives with her female lover (whom she does not kiss on the mouth with great passion, presumably because they have been together ten years), is The Poet's one-time lover and now his only remaining friend. This is so because, as a poet, he of course drives everybody crazy, never bathes, and lives in a filthy loft reachable only by a grimy elevator in a graffiti palace on the Lower East Side. (Though he does have the most truthful line in the film: They only gave me the prize because I have AIDS!) Nonetheless, he has won The Carruthers and must be fĂȘted despite himself, which the Meryl Streep character is determined to do, because, if she fails to give a good party, her life will be without significance. ("You give parties to hide The Silence," The Poet says, and we all cringe.)

I won't spoil the endings for you (there are several, cascading on one another with relentless gloom, and culminating in Virginia Woolf doing a bad impression of Ophelia). However, I will say that the Julianne Moore character, who, it turns out, is The Poet's mother, comes back for his funeral, leaving one to wonder, not why she did not kill herself, but how the hapless husband managed with two kids on his own. Not very well, one supposes, since his older child contracted a fatal disease and toppled himself out the window of a filthy loft. (Though what, I can't help but ask, happened to the other one who was nearly flushed down the hotel toilet?) But you may ask: What does all this have to do with the NFL?

During the commercial breaks in the movie, when I was being induced to buy pizza rolls and an Accura, I switched to the playoff game between New England and Houston. (The game is still on, though the Patriots seem to have things under control ((Houston's quarterback, Schaub, is one of the worst I have ever seen))). As I watched the game, in contrast to "The Hours," I could not help but notice that the NFL players, all vigorous, healthy young men, work so well together, clearly like one another very much, and, given the amount of hugging and butt slapping, seem, indeed, to be in love. And so the following occurred to me:

"The Hours," I was beginning to think, was the best argument I have yet heard against gay adoption, a question on which I am undecided. None of these women seem to care much for their children, indeed, are prepared to abandon and even to kill them or themselves. But then I reflected that the NFL players appear to have a healthy, productive attitude toward life. They work brilliantly and easily together, support each other, and appear to care a great deal for one another (though they do not kiss on the mouth with great passion, at least not on camera). And so my conclusion could not help but be that gay men should be allowed to adopt, but gay women should not.

So there you have it: another cultural dilemma resolved by a casual confluence of elitist drama and professional sports. Now that that is off my chest, I shall toast a pizza roll and go find out who made it to the AFC championship.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Two New

I have two new books coming out shortly. One is a collection of poetry, entitled Desert Songs; the other is a novel set in occupied France in the summer of 1941, entitled Singer, in the land of night. Both will be available on Amazon.com. I hope that you will take a look at them.

Thanks, SR

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Life and Faith

In The Calendar of Wisdom for today, Tolstoy states that "The life of a person without faith is the life of an animal." I am inclined to agree, though that raises the question: What is faith?

In the broadest sense, I think that faith is the acknowledgement by the individual that there is more to life than that which is natural and observable. To put it more succinctly: that essence precedes existence. Faith means accepting the truth that what lies at the heart and origin of life is something that is not itself alive; that existence arises from that which does not exist, yet which gives rise to existence. It is the willingness to admit that our existence is founded on, and depends upon, that which does not itself exist. Yet this non-existence is the essential nature of all that exists.

It is at this point that logic and reason must give way to faith. For any logician or scientist will tell you that something cannot be generated by nothing, and that non-existence cannot give rise to existence. In an attempt to accommodate this apparent truth, theologians and philosophers have long posited the concept of the First Cause. Most of Thomas Aquinas's proofs for the existence of god, for example, depend on the proposition that if things exist and are in motion, then something must have originally put them in existence and motion. This "something" becomes the first principle in a long chain of causation, of which the reality we experience is the direct result. In short, it becomes god.

That this cannot be so should be self-evident. If the First Cause is merely the original link in the chain of existence, then, while it may be a motive force, it cannot be qualitatively different than the existence which it puts into being and motion. This primal cause is, therefore, of the same, or at least of similar, character as the effects it generates. God thus becomes nothing more than the first principle of existence, and yet, if god exists, then something must have put god into existence, by the subsequent logic of the proposition. The god which is said to create existence must be embedded in existence and share its nature, which subjects that god to the inconsistencies and vicissitudes of existence; to its qualities and characteristics, with all their contradictions and shortfalls. Thus god is portrayed as jealous, angry, loving, forgiving, and at once the source of all good and of all evil. God is, in effect, superman, possessed of all of man's faults and virtues.

It is for this reason that I argue that any concept of god, as a generative cause or primal principle, must inevitably lead to contradictions which cancel out the concept itself. God cannot be both loving and vengeful, cannot be the origin of both goodness and evil, and, at the source of the concept, god cannot logically be a form of existence that was not brought into existence by something else.

For this reason, the concept of god becomes itself a contradiction which cannot be sustained by the very process of logic which coaxed it into being. Such a concept of god must, therefore, be rejected, not least of all because the conceptual god makes faith unnecessary. This is ironic, to say the least, but it is, nonetheless, inescapable. For if you posit god as the First Cause, or as the primal link in the chain of existence, then reality can be traced logically back to god, and no faith is needed to accept god's existence.

No, oddly, what is required is an acceptance of the illogical proposition (in conventional terms) that existence arises out of non-existence - that everything, in effect, comes from nothing. Only in this way can we find a ground for the exercise of faith. Anything less is merely musing on an idea, regardless of how complex it may be, that negates the possibility of faith. To put it simply: It is necessary to reject the concept of god in order to discover the possibililty of faith.

The Cliff vs. the Abyss

At some point over the holidays, I stopped watching the news. I simply could no longer stomach the frantic reports on the "fiscal cliff," combined with fatuous commercials and the customary idol worship of news anchors who have achieved positions of importance in our culture with, apparently, no qualifications whatsoever.

Now a purported deal has been reached, within hours of the deadline, to postpone, though not to avoid, our great national falling-off. Leaving aside the fact that the president and the congress have behaved in a manner which we would not permit our children - Don't wait till the last minute to do your book report! - they have, yet again, utterly failed to address, or even to acknowledge, the real problem facing the nation; namely, that we are spending ourselves to death. The raw fact remains that every day the federal government takes in one billion dollars in revenue, and spends three.

The president, in his unrelenting socialist ideology, has demagogued the current crisis as one not of spending, but of revenue - specifically, that the rich are not paying enough in taxes. This kind of cynical class warfare may play well with the masses (most of whom pay no taxes), but it utterly ignores the truth that even if the federal government were to confiscate all of the wealth of the wealthiest Americans, doing so would pay not even two weeks' worth of the debt. But as with everything else leftist, punishing success makes the "progressives" feel good about themselves, the facts be damned. Liberalism is narcissism, pure and simple.

We are broke. To paraphrase Walter Mondale: The president won't tell you that - I just did. The national debt so far outstrips the gross national product that it will take generations of sacrifice to begin to put our fiscal house in order. The media farce about the "fiscal cliff" was meant merely to distract us from the fact that we face a fiscal abyss. The left will do anything to obfuscate in the face of this reality, and the Republicans are too tongue-tied by years of failure even to object in a coherent fashion.

Now the debt ceiling crisis looms again in sixty days, and the buffoons in congress and the amiable incompetent in the White House will burble at one another again for our entertainment, and to the further detriment of the nation.  And what will be accomplished? Nothing of any substance.

What is needed, first of all, is a national figure who will tell the truth to the American people - the truth about the crisis we face and the sacrifices we will have to make in order to fix it.  Such a one does not, and dare not, exist at the moment. Beyond that, certain structural reforms are essential. We must impose terms limits on elected federal government officials: four terms for House members, two for senators. We must cap federal spending at a fixed percentage of GDP - certainly no more than 20, I should think. We must adopt a flat income tax, again, fixed at a reasonable rate (I would say a maximum of 17%). And we must have a constitutional amendment requiring the congress to balance the federal budget. Only then, I think, can we begin even to hope for a resolution of a crisis in the history of the nation that threatens its very life.



Six-toed Health Care

I watched with amusement and dismay a report today concerning the cats of the Hemingway House. My son and I visited the house in Key West on our vacation last summer, and he was charmed and fascinated by the population of felines, many of whom had six toes on their paws, and some, even seven. These cats were a special favorite of Hemingway, and he mandated their care and the maintenance of their kind in his will. Now, his house, which is a museum open to the public, is a haven for them - dozens of them.

Today Fox News reported that a federal government agency has been sending undercover agents to the house disguised as tourists to follow and photograph the felines. This was done, the government declared, in order to enforce a 1966 animal protection law which it is alleged the Hemingway estate is violating by, the bureaucrats argued before a court, using the cats to lure tourists to a commercial enterprise.

Now, as I understand it, the 1966 statute was intended to protect animals that might be in danger of exploitation. Specifically, it was meant to ensure that animals used for commercial purposes such as circuses, petting zoos, television commercials and movies, are not mistreated. But in this case, the law was stretched by anonymous and officious government bureaucrats to include a historical museum, where no less than People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals examiners found the cats "fat, happy and relaxed." (My son and I saw this ourselves: They just about run the place, and seem perfectly comfortable, even in the presence of gangs of tourists, who wonder at them and dote on them.) Not so the purveyors of big government and more official intrusion. They went to court and secured an order that would require that the Hemingway cats be rounded up every night and put in cages, rather than being given the run of the house, which they have had for decades.

This is pernicious nonsense, of course. But what is really disturbing about it is that at no point in this process of government meddling and spying (on cats!), did any bureaucrat in the hierarchy ask: Are you kidding? The cats own the house (as all cats do), they are well fed, lovingly cared for, allowed their liberty, and even PETA has given its blessing to the Hemingway estate for the quality of their care.

But we are not dealing with care or reason or even reality here: We are dealing with government bureaucracy. And that means that nothing - not facts or truth or humanity - can be allowed to interfere with the enforcement of regulations. And so, unless the court order is overturned, Hemingway's beloved cats will become wards of the state, which means, among other things, they will be rounded up routinely and caged for their own good.

You can, I suppose, see where I am going with this. These are the same kinds of people who have just been given responsibility for the nation's health care system. And if these brainless bureaucrats, secure in their anonymity and freedom from firing, will do this to cats, what do you think they will do to human beings? We will, no doubt, be rounded up and caged (metaphorically) for our own good by functionaries who are accountable to no one, and for whom regulations trump reason, and compliance substitutes for conscience.

Congratulations, America: You are about to get the "free" health care you so eagerly desired. I just hope that the cats survive.