-F. Keith Wahle
We have been humongously inspired by - (a friend of Mrs Smith's) - poet F. Keith Wahle's five word poems, called Fivers. The first two:
Write a five word poem.
O.K., now write another one.
Mr Wahle has hundreds, filling many type-written pages. Mrs Smith used them in her interpretation of artist-composer Mark Applebaum's The Metaphysics of Notation, a beautiful graphic score, in the Cantor Art Center at Stanford University this last Friday (there are different musicians interpreting the piece every Friday at noon for a year. Mrs Smith performing it is pictured in the photo below.)
-F. Keith Wahle
Look for these posts every even numbered day! for hundreds of days to come!
& please submit more itwaslost fivers in the comments.
It's already set up to be a grand decade in the development of portmanteaus (Humpty-Dumpty's theory of word-combination & the adaptability of language.) Mere seconds after Jon Stewart dropped "newsfotainment", he coined a second one, asking "Is synergasm a word?"
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Fox News Covers Scott Brown's Victory|
It's taken me a couple days to transition away from my initial shock and nausea at the special election news from my home state of Massachusetts. I (like, apparently, a lot of other people) was not concerned that Ted Kennedy's senate seat would go to the GOP. Despite harbingers of this upset in recent poll numbers, in the lackluster Dem candidate, in the populist groundswell indicating an agitated right wing in the Bay State, I just didn't think this would happen. I guess that's why they're calling it an ambush. We now find ourselves, unexpectedly transported overnight to a dramatically altered political landscape. What did Harry Reid say? The math in the Senate is different. Bye-bye filibuster-proof majority. So long, punitive measures for carbon emissions, and very importantly, who the fuck knows what's going to happen to Health Care reform?
My hope is this: We will still get, in place of the above, government incentivized R and D for green technologies and huge government support to private sector initiatives to get them off and running (lord knows there is enough going on in competing economies to make Private Sector USA want to invest hugely in green technology, like, yesterday), and hopefully we will still get the regulatory measures for the insurance industry that are the meatiest part of currently drafted health care reform legislation. It's the incredible shrinking legislation, but these regulatory measures might still happen mainly because there is public awareness that has been growing for a couple years now of how ethically unacceptable the current business practices of the insurance industry are. My guess is that those in Congress probably sense that awareness at their doorsteps and will see it as being in their best personal interests to support increased regulation and penalties in this case. Of course, it also depends what the insurance industry has decided is in it's best interests at this point, and how much they are willing to offer to who to further their agenda. So we'll see.
The two reasons I really decided not to light myself on fire, though, are as follows:
One, I am not a fan of political dynasties, or entrenched, taken-for-granted seats of power. Though I am an admirer of the Kennedys (Boston Irish, so in a way, I can't help myself), I think there is a problem in my home state of Massachusetts with adulation of that clan and their annointed successors, which to me is a sad indication that the good people of Mass are still getting a much-too-shitty education, in Civics, if not in other things. I might have supported Hillary Clinton for president in 2008, but I didn't like the stink of dynasty that was all over her. I relished the election of Obama (and worked for it), in part because it was an ambush, and as such, the best evidence of the health of our Democracy. I would be a hypocrite if I didn't give Scott Brown (pictured above in his now-famed Cosmo centerfold photo) the same nod of appreciation that I give the President and his team. In what very well may prove to be a more important election than that of Nov.4, 2008, on monday Massachusetts gave us a pop quiz on the lesson we all should have learned about this Political system back then: Expect the unexpected, take nothing for granted, and if you want to win, you have to work harder than the other guy. If the other guy beats you, you concede, you mope about it for 24 hours, and then you get back to work with a newly sharpened awareness of the degree to which you cannot let yourself get so fucking lazy if you want to accomplish anything. Another thing about our Political System; a lot of people in Mass are dissapointed right now, but they had a chance to participate, and they will have a chance to participate again. They lost this time, and they're not happy, but nobody is shooting all his Republican neighbors and burning their houses down. That's called participatory democracy and peaceful transfer of power. Which brings me to my next point.
even taking it's huge flaws into account, we are incredibly lucky to live in a participatory democracy, and we shouldn't take it for granted. A couple days after Scott Brown won his senate seat, four Vietnamese Democracy advocates were sentenced to between 5 and 16 years in prison for daring to state publicly that they think it would be good if Vietnamese people could participate in the political life of their country. These guys were charged with subversion and attempting to overthrow Vietnam's one-party Communist state simply for mentioning that they like the idea of democracy, freedom, and human rights, and they are just part of a larger crackdown on pro-democracy Vietnamese people that's been going on lately. Maybe if Vietnam gets what we have they'll realize how infuriating it is and they won't want it anymore, but as for me, I'll take Scott Brown over Nguyễn Phú Trọng any day.
goes, without a doubt, to Weatherproof. Weatherproof, a manufacturer of men's outerwear, started the New Year by putting up a giant billboard advertisement in Times Square featuring a photograph of President Obama wearing a Weatherproof coat while visiting the Great Wall of China. The photograph was lisenced to the A.P, and Weatherproof, it alleges, dotted it's legal i's and crossed it's legal t's before putting the billboard up by purchasing rights to the photo from the A.P. The White House responded to the ad by requesting it be taken down, not surprisingly, since Obama has always been vocally opposed to his image being used for commercial purposes. Weatherproof agreed to take down the billboard, but not before recieving nation-wide media coverage on the billboard, the presidential response, and- lets be honest- the coat. A spokesman for Weatherproof said they weren't implying that Obama endorses their coat- just that he wears it. "It's just a great looking jacket on a great looking president" he was quoted as saying, in many publications which, combined, reached a huge number of people.
I'm posting some quotes for the primary benefit of Mr Quill. An amazing story, actually, is that after conquering the (long-in-the-butt) novel War & Peace--, (by Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy--, not to be confused with Crime & Peace by that rapscallion Tolstoyevsky), in which the author (Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy) repeated drums into the reader repeatedly his theme (that one man doesn't make history, many men make history), Mr Quill then sat down to take the GREs, and the essay question he received was basically exactly about that question.
Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design; --and posterity seem to follow his steps as a train of clients. A man Caesar is born, and for ages after we have a Roman Empire. Christ is born, and millions of minds so grow and cleave to his genius that he is confounded with virtue and the possible of man. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man; as Monachism, of the Hermit Anthony; the Reformation, of Luther [...with more examples...]; and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and ernest persons.
Eliot's change of the word "institution" to "history" is justifiable, for Emerson is here supporting the so-called great men theory of history, a theory which must have seemed as preposterous to Eliot as it did to Tolstoy. Tolstoy attacked the theory by deliberately assigning "great men," most notably Napoleon, a small significance in determining historical events. "The life of the nations is not contained in the lives of a few men, for the connexion between those men and the nations has not been found." For Tolstoy the independence of the individual personality was severely limited; historical events are the doing of all the participants. Perhaps Eliot's attack on the great men theory in "Sweeney Erect" is in line with these ideas: Emerson spoke of his Luthers and Caesars, not realizing that the Sweeneys too cast their shadows.
I started watching the American version of War & Peace. I've yet to make my way through it, but I was impressed with how quickly it became clear that the director of the film had not, in fact, read the book. It takes about 10 seconds, actually. Lo and behold the first SENTENCE in the film:
"As the 19th century began, a darkening shadow moved across the face of Europe. This shadow was propelled by one man: Napoleon Bonaparte."
One man? One man?!!? If anyone could make it through War & Peace and miss Tolstoy's refutation of that very premise, his skull would have to be thicker than the novel itself.
This day in the Judiciary:
There is a case currently being argued before the U.S Supreme Court, brought against the NFL by American Needle, an Illinois maker of souvenir caps that is pissed about what it alleges is a violation of the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act- this because the NFL sold a 10-year monopoly license for making souvenir caps (for all teams except the Dallas Cowboys, who opted out of the license, choosing to continue to license their logo separately) to Reebok. The oral arguments that took place before the court on Wednesday turned out to be pretty funny, and actually made me sort of regret that I didn’t go to law school a few years ago when I almost went to law school. The tangle everyone kept getting into was to what degree individual teams should be viewed as separate entities, and to what degree the existence of the League as a collective body that has common commercial interests (and commonly held responsibilities to set game rules and playoff schedules etc.) trumps the actual (and legal) identity of individual franchises as competitors of one another. The lawyer for the NFL argues that NFL souvenirs and the licensing for the production of them could not be considered as ordinary products subject to competition laws (and thus, anti-trust suits) because they are a promotional product for a sport, rather than an independent source of profit for any one franchise. The license to Reebok was granted by the league, and thus, by an embodiment of the sport of Football, furthering it's own footbally interests in the name of football. So far this argument had held up well in the lower courts. It ended up at SCOTUS after being handed up without a trial after multiple appeals from American Needle.
The Justices of our highest court seemed to be quite enjoying this case. Justice Stevens wondered aloud about a hypothetical situation in which the NFL decided to sell houses instead of small merchandise. Justice Roberts added “he is just saying that selling logos is closer to selling houses than it is to playing football”, and suggested that a trial was the place to sort out the facts. Justice Breyer however, made possibly the most relevant point when he noted, quote: “Okay. I don’t know a Red Sox fan who would take a Yankees sweatshirt if you gave it away”.
This day in the Legislature (and the Executive too, kinda):
Guess what? We might actually get health care reform legislation signed into law before the State of the Union! Apparently, Pelosi, Reid, and their attendant mafias are working so hard on coming up with a joint bill for Obama (who also apparently spent a good deal of time in attendance at these meetings) to sign that “Lawmakers shed their cell phones and blackberries” (quote from the Bay Area News Group’s Morning Report) while meeting to hash out the legislation- and we all know about Congress and their crackberries. They’re always tweeting instead of listening to each other spew bullcrap from the podium. The thought of Congress-people actually leaving their ‘devices’ off, or outside of the room they’re occupying does lend a note of gravity to the proceedings. It’s almost like they’re actually working.
It is quite interesting what they’re getting hung up on, though, at this stage in the game. Abortion coverage in Federally subsidized health care programs? Nope. Expansion of Medicare and Medicaid? Nope. A ‘Public Option?’- Nope. Many of these things that were included in the House bill and scrapped from the Senate bill will, in my opinion, never find their way onto the President’s desk. The big hangup in crafting a joint bill is a tax that Obama himself has asked for on high-cost private insurance plans. House Democrats don’t have a reputation for being particularly centrist, and are most certainly beholden to certain interests, such as….hmmm…who could be behind wanting to block this tax? That’s right, it’s Organized Labor. We’re talking serious muscle old-line huge labor unions. AFL-CIO, UAW….those dinosaurs of labor. Why? Because the rank and file of these Unions gets the best fucking health insurance out there, and they don’t want their Union Members to pay a tax on their sweet insurance coverage. Problem is, those old-time Union members with the 50 dollar and up an hour jobs and the swell pensions and the A-plus benefits are a dying breed, and a growing number of us are part of the next paradigm of proletariat- the paradigm that currently is underpaid, unorganized (in many cases unorganizable) and without any benefits (health, retirement, anything) at all. And we need the re-structuring of our healthcare system (and government subsidies for the health coverage of a huge number of previously vulnerable people) to be Financially viable. The tax on high-cost private health insurance plans that Obama wants is one way of taking from those who are currently making out like bandits because they’ve basically been grandfathered out of the current ‘fuck the worker’ labor market, and making the future for all of us more than a totally untenable idea written in a book that can never be balanced. So, Old Line Labor Unions and your big muscly lobbies, I love ya, I mourn your demise, and I do hope you can negotiate this tax down from the 40% Obama is proposing to something more reasonable like a 15% or 10% tax (probably what Obama was expecting and why he aimed high in the first place) but for christ’s sake, get on board, think about the world after and outside of you and open your minds to the possibility of a world in which we need good healthcare for everyone, not just amazing healthcare for a few.
A note about the health care bill that is almost certainly going to be signed into law within the next couple of weeks:
The left is pissed about it, I know. Many have called for this bill to die rather than pass. Though this bill is far from ideal, I am not among them. First of all, this bill is not the end-game. It is the toehold, and much progress should come incrementally in it's wake. This bill is not going to include lots of nice things that would make me stop being jealous of Dutch people. Yes, it is retarded that this country will never have a single-payer system because a majority of Americans will never agree to pay the taxes needed to make such a system possible. However, this bill is going to make it illegal for the Health Insurance industry to fuck us all in the ass like it has been doing, totally unchecked, for all of my lifetime and back into the days when I was just a twinkle in my mother’s eye. Artificial price-gouging, excluding people from coverage because of pre-existing conditions, dropping people right when they need coverage or rejecting claims for laughable and unfair reasons (“we won’t pay for your Chemo because you had Acne when you were 15”), these will all be straight up illegal. And regulated. Which they currently are not at all. To me, new regulation and new laws governing the practices of the private health insurance industry alone is enough of a reason why it would be tragic for this bill to have died in either chamber of Congress. This is an industry that has criminally abused the American People for decades and which desperately needs to be smacked back into line. The political moment to smack them is upon us and almost past. I am sure that the pending legislation will do much (if perhaps not enough-remains to be seen) smacking of those who should be smacked. I’ll keep it at that for now, but I plan on saying more about this whenever the joint bill becomes available on these interwebs and I can get a look at it.
Some of you who have looked at my book ‘Beautiful to forget, more beautiful still to be forgotten’, which I created this summer while travelling in Eastern Europe, may have noticed (or very much failed to notice) a particularly boring page near the end. You will be surprised then, to learn, that this drawing of the signing of the Nabucco Intergovernmental Agreement on July 13, 2009 is almost certainly the most interesting page in my book.
I will now break my months of silence (laziness) on the subject of the Nabucco agreement. What we are talking about here is what I consider to be the core of real global politics- that is, geo-politics, where borders, leaders, military might- the whole clusterfuck of elements that make up “political” entities like nation-states and governments- exist essentially to manage (or mismanage) resources. We are in the realm of resources and power; the prime question of power being, who really controls the resources?
What was happening behind closed doors and beneath our feet while we wandered around Romania and Bulgaria this summer was an ongoing and extremely important struggle between Russia and the European Union over who will control the flow of Natural Gas from the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East to the European Union.
Let’s start with Gazprom. Gazprom is a State-owned Company with close ties to the Russian Government. It supplies ¼ of the gas imported to the EU, and of the EU’s 27 member states, 7 are almost totally dependent on Gazprom to meet their energy needs. For the past few decades Gazprom has been essentially the sole buyer for crude natural gas from nations such as Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, which were former Soviet Satellites. The gas from these countries, as well as gas from within Russian territories, has always run west towards the European market through Soviet-era pipelines which are owned and controlled by Gazprom, and which run through (former Soviet satellite) ‘transit countries’. The outcome of this situation has been enormous political leverage for Russia, which acts as the sole broker for an essential source of Energy for Europe. Ever wonder why Western European Politicos grumble a lot about Russia under their breath, but won’t say shit to Russia’s face?
The European Union has made getting it’s nuts out of this vice grip a priority, partly because it wants to be able to openly condemn Russia for corruption, state-sponsored violence for instance against journalists, activists and ethnic minorities, lack of openness in the political system, and so on, but mainly because it is concerned about it’s own long-term energy security; the EU has been pushing since 2004 for a pipeline to be built from the Caspian Region to Austria which would carry gas from the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East, and which crucially would not go through any Russian Territory. This pipeline, which has the advantage of consolidated political support from practically all of Europe, is called the Nabucco Pipeline. (is this starting to come together for you?).
Gazprom (i.e., Russia) is, of course, supremely pissed. In June the chairman of the company, Alex Medvedev (perhaps no relation to Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, but then again, we are talking about Russia here) basically issued a direct threat to Europe, saying publicly: “ Only three countries can be suppliers of pipeline gas in the long-term; Russia, Iran, and Qatar, so there is no other choice than to deal with these suppliers. Europe should decide how to handle this situation, and if Europe doesn’t need our gas, then we will find a way of selling it differently”. In addition, Moscow has openly said that competition for energy supplies in areas including Central Asia and the Caspian Sea could lead to military conflicts along it’s borders over the next decade.
Gazprom has proposed the construction of two new Russian pipelines which are essentially a direct and not particularly friendly response to the Nabucco plan- Nord Stream, running from Western Russia, under the Baltic sea to Germany (it is under construction and set to start delivering gas in 2011), and South Stream, which would run from Russia’s south coast, under the Black Sea to Bulgaria and on to Italy. You will notice that Russia is eager to pump gas under seas in order to avoid price disputes with “transit countries”. Such a price dispute with the Ukraine in January 2009 left Bulgaria entirely without gas for two of the coldest weeks of the year; during those weeks an estimated 800,000 homes were left without proper heating and vital factories were forced to shut down or cut production, leading to a roughly 300 million dollar profit loss. Another side note here- Gazprom’s Nord Stream line is being built by a consortium which includes top German and Dutch Energy companies and which has former German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder as chairman of it’s shareholder’s committee (yes, you can feel free to laugh out loud here).
Western Europe is anxious to play it’s hand right, and is justifiably concerned with it’s long-term energy needs. Russia is almost always half a step ahead- for instance, while Gazprom plays aggressively to kill Nabucco on it’s offensive tack, on its defensive tack it is also investing in strategic gas storage facilities throughout Europe. Meaning, if Europe wants energy security in the time of crisis it hopes to avert by investing in infrastructure for long-term uninterrupted supply, it may find itself once again paying Russia out the nose.
Now, the question of supply side. This is probably my favorite part of this story. So, the main problem with the Nabucco pipeline is the concern that the EU will not be able to secure sufficient supply, and the pipeline will actually only be used at half-capacity. This is because there is limited supply from the proposed supply countries, and Gazprom has been viewed as having the upper hand in the fight to secure supply because of it’s pre-existing relationships with the suppliers (combined with it’s willingness to issue direct and indirect threats, including threatening the use of military force). As Alex Medvedev rightly, and smugly indicated, the EU may just find itself looking to Iran to fill the pipe to capacity, or find itself forced to negotiate with Iran in order to arrange transit of Qatari gas, and that would put Western Europe in an even more awkward political position globally, now wouldn’t it?
But the coup de grace in the latest chapter of this story, at least for me, has to be Turkmenistan. Ah, Turkmenistan. You are so scrappy. Turkmenistan claims to possess the world’s 5th largest reserves of Natural Gas. It is basically a one-party state run by President Kurbungaly Berdymukhamedov since 2006 when he became the successor to Soviet-era dictator (made “President-for life in 1999- what a title!) Saparmurat Niyazov, whom he once served as ‘Presidential Dentist”, before being crowned minister of health, and then running for the executive office. Berdymukhamedov won the election in ’06 with 89% of votes. There were 6 candidates in the Poll, all from the same party, and exiled members of opposition parties were not permitted to compete. Turkmenistan has an absolute government monopoly of media and the State controls Internet access. Almost all it’s citizens are extremely poor.
So…. while Russia and the EU were aggressively courting Turkmenistan, trying to secure gas supplies for the South Stream pipeline and the Nabucco Pipeline, respectively, what did Turkmenistan do? It opened a pipeline from it’s Dovletabad field to the Khangiran refinery in Iran, thereby doubling it’s exports to Iran, AND it built a pipeline to CHINA, stretching 1,100 miles through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, which was opened in December 2009, and which will supply ½ of China’s current annual demand for Gas. Chinese President Hu Jintao indicated at the signing ceremony that China views the opening of this line as a major advance of Beijing’s influence in the region. In one of the most mind-blowingly oblique and thought-provoking statements ever made, President Hu added “China is positive about our co-operation, and the opening of this gas pipeline is another platform for collaboration and co-operation between our friendly nations”.
President Berdymukhamedov responded to Hu in a similarly eerie tone, saying “This project has not only commercial or economic value. It is also political”, adding; “China, through its wise and farsighted policy has become one of the key guarantors of global security”.
I'm happy someone has a perfect video on youtube of the hookah-smoking caterpillar from Disney's Alice In Wonderland. It's one of the great smoke-ring-blowing shisha moments in American movie history; or, should I say, one of the only ever hookah-smoking moments in American movie history. I love that mouth, which looks like the same genius animator who did the Queen of Hearts & Peter Pan's Red-Man-Reds. And the dialog from this scene is fairly loyal to Carroll's original, with its philosophical logic about identity & growing-up, &c:
UPDATE: I mentioned the (blatantly racist) Red-Man-Red scene from Peter Pan above, but there's also a great peace-pipe smoking moment in that scene too:
And, finally, here's a full-on 2010 revival of the Father Drank Himself To Death "Snake Handler" version. This is all to be included in the Friends Around The Campfire Stuck Home Syndrome. Thanks to Friend-of-Friends Around the Campfire, Minnie Molly Mary, for her guest vocals.
2009 was the year the media freaked out about Twitter. The inner/outer community of itwaslost writers & artists, & many choice comrades, also occasionally wandered around the tweetosphere. In Twenty-ten, we recommend you follow @itwaslost, @ssandrigon, & the rest of us, subscribe via sms on your motherloving superphones, follow our community lists (@itwaslost/community), & ride this fad hard till it passes a kidney stone.
it came And wept at our wintry Door: Look! look! behold! Gwendolen Is become a Clod of Clay! Merlin is a Worm of the Valley!