Saturday, August 19, 2017

#BarcelonaStrong

Terrorism has paid another visit to Spain. Another version of the same, sad movie, playing over and over, never reaching the end because it lacks a conclusion. Fueled by fanaticism and a hatred of the other, people who have nothing to live for bury themselves deeply into a cause that gives them something to die for. And they are only happy when they make others die for it, too.


You will never win. Never
-bill kenny

Friday, August 18, 2017

Huh?

Amidst all the noise this week of the most recent edition of American Nazis in the News, I thought (at first) I'd only imagined a story about the Governor of Arizona publicly stating his state's Confederate statues would NOT be removed (as the one of Robert E. Lee was slated to be in Charlottesville, Virginia, before all those brave Aryan warriors took to the street). Like so many (POTUS 45, I'm looking at you) public officials, he offered no explanation. And didn't need to.

As I said, I thought I'd imagined it because Arizona was hardly more than a territory much less a state at the time of the Civil War (I didn't think it was much of anything) but I hadn't. Seriously. So the state song has lyrics like "I wish I was in the land of cactus, where our cowboys don't need no practice. look away, look away, look away, et cet era?" Actually, nope, not at all.

I pictured Rhett telling Scarlett, "Frankly, I don't have any chaps, or spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle, as I go antebelluming along" but that's NOT how Arizona came by its Sons of the Confederacy club membership, sadly. Turns out, for an area west of the Mason-Dixon line, Arizona has a bunch of Confederate memorials and I can't claim to have a peaceful heart as to why.

I appreciate Curt Tipton's reaction, quoted in that story, to taking the memorials down since, without putting too fine a point on all of this, Arizona was on the wrong side of that history. I lived a long time in Germany and don't recall any parts of the autobahn being named for the Linz Lunatic from the more recent German past, but the list of US public spaces dedicated to the Confederacy is lengthy.

I certainly hope that assertive desire to preserve and remember "our past" means the Equal Justice Institute can count on the generosity of hearts as well as wallets as its project continues. After all, history never looks like history when you are living through it.
-bill kenny  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Uncelebrated Holidays

Last Friday was the 3rd anniversary of the death of Robin Williams about whom never enough can be written or said. I want to expend a few words on someone else who died almost a decade ago earlier in the month of August. Indulge me as the two would be the first (I believe) to agree they complemented one another.

Actually, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died on 3 August 2008. He was a gaunt, humorless fiercely angry man who looked like someone out of the Old Testament. When I was going through college, in the early Seventies, as we were raising hedonism to an Olympic event, he was writing books that I found utterly fascinating and assumed had to be fiction as I had no context in which to place his writings.

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich wasn't just a grand and rambling story in the tradition of The Brothers Karamazov or Dr. Zhivago, it was a full frontal assault on what a glow in the dark white preppie from Central New Jersey knew about the world. It wasn't interested in discussing my experiences within its context--it reported the facts as it saw them and left me to rebuild my world view. 

The First Circle and The Cancer Ward were amazing and then came Gulag Archipelago, of such sweep and scope and overwhelming cynical horror that any notion, no matter how misguidedly romantic I might have had, about 'all power to the Soviets' disappeared as I turned the pages. How ironic a devoutly Russian Orthodox writer, practically from the century before mine, could have served as the incentive to persuade me, no longer a faithful son of Holy Mother Church, that Evil was palpable and real and not only deserving of a capital letter but of a vigilance that will drive me the rest of my life. 

So eloquent and beyond refutation were his indictments of Russian Communism, that the Soviet Union had no choice but to kill him or expel him. Realizing we in the West have short memories and shorter attention spans, they wisely chose to dump him rather than make him a martyr. One need look no further than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for proof of failing memories. 


In remarks accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970 that he dared not leave the country to accept from fear the Soviets would bar his return he wrote while an ordinary man was obliged “not to participate in lies,” artists had greater responsibilities. “It is within the power of writers and artists to do much more: to defeat the lie!” He spent nearly twenty years in Cavendish, Vermont, growing less happy with his port in a storm and remaining unhappy about his own country.

Nothing that went on in the Soviet Union, the Confederation of Independent States or any of various permutations that the USSR splintered into ever convinced him that those who chose personal gain over common good had been eliminated (I always loved Tank McNamara's imaginary nation of 'Carjackistan). The longer he lived, the more of a scold he became-and included us, the USA, in his growing circle of unhappy disappointments. We were spiritually weak and materialistic and vulgar, he said thirty years ago and if the shoe fits..... 

He had no use for either Gorbachev or Yeltsin and when he returned home in 1994, he seemed even angrier than when he had lived in exile. He was unwilling to bend and unable to break and so he came to be inconvenient in our lives, where we take a stand against terror and injustice by looking away ('look at all the schools armed faction X has built') and there he was, until the end of his days at 89 years, unblinking and unwavering. 

How lucky he was to be able to spend all those years living here in the USA, where we never persecute tists, but just ignore them. There's a Russian saying, 'we believe in peace and flowers-in the grave' so I hope the flowers that were placed in his memory were lovely and that if there was peace to be found, perhaps Solzhenitsyn did. He deserved it.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Healing a Case of the Apolitical Blues

I do a large amount of walking. That I continue returning to my point of origin often creates some strain in my circle of acquaintances but you can't have everything. And that was actually what I was thinking about last Wednesday walking home from last week's Rock the Docks show at the harbor making my way towards Chelsea Parade up Broadway because, as I always joke, it's as close to Broadway as the likes of me are likely to ever get. 

I threatened mentioned last week that I would serve as a one-man reminder/countdown clock for our municipal elections and on my way home I encountered a fellow-passenger here on the spaceship who mentioned he'd seen my words and offered Mark Twain's alleged quote, "if voting made any difference, they wouldn't let us do it." 

I didn't argue his point (I know, 'how out of character') but only because I don't respect the perspective it purports to offer. I never can figure out who the 'they' in these situations is supposed to be, except it's always (supposedly) someone other than us. But if not us, then who? And if not now, then when?  

How about instead, a little something to think about while nodding in desultory agreement with a neighbor on something we both know requires vastly more than just a thirty-second quip or quote to rectify? And if any of this angers or annoys you just remember I was walking up hill towards home and your mileage may vary.

Does anyone vote for anyone any more or do we project our hopes, fears, desires, and anger on to those seeking office, forming alliances of convenience on what we choose to define as issues rather than on life principles and then exacting our vengeance on these same candidates when our interests diverge? 

I'm not a historian but many of my points get old in a hurry but I can't help believe that there's never been an easy time to serve on a City Council or a Board of Education, be it here or anywhere else across the state or the country. 

We tell one another these times are the toughest our city has ever known, and then realize we've been telling one another that for years and years. Maybe we need to focus more on the blessings than the blame of how we have come to be here, in this time and in this place.

I have no illusions that, by myself, I can save the world. I have trouble saving to buy a soda--but, humor aside (yeah, that was an attempted joke)--the best I can do, the best any of us can do, is to save the piece of the world upon which we and our loved ones stand. 

And if enough of us are doing that, those pieces knit together forming a whole greater than the sum of its parts and we raise up one another and cannot only reach for but also grasp, the stars because we are standing on one another's shoulders. 

How about this November we concede this time our vote does matter and spend half as much time looking at candidates as we do when we buy a car. Or studying the dessert menu. Does that sound fair enough? 

I'm willing to agree I owe you that much time and courtesy, candidates for office whoever you are because we need all the good ideas we can get. We are taking on water at an alarming rate and instead of navigators and visionaries we keep choosing to heed angry and fearful voices who do little more than rearrange the deck chairs. 

We are all we have so grab an oar and put your back into it. It's a long way to shore and we dare not let our arms tire in this dark and stormy sea.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Approximating Zero to No Good Purpose

I first offered these words seven years ago. I have the feeling the need to mark today will outlast my 'best buy' date by a wide margin. Not knowing something, in this case, history, isn't bad but it's not good (see American Nazis, in Virginia, over weekend). Being proud of your ignorance is arrogance and that is not good. Let's hope it remains a point of pride to not forget today, ever.

Today is the seventy-second anniversary of the ending of the war in the Pacific, often called VJ Day and that image is what many Americans, even the unborn at that time, think of when we speak about the end of World War II in the Pacific. If you're of Japanese ancestry your visual is more than a little different but the beginnings are of more consequence, if less visual than the endings. 

My mother and father raised six children in the aftermath of the Second World War (the first having been fought as the War to End All Wars fell a little short in that regard) and their children, my brothers and sisters, in turn, had children of their own, some of whom now also have children (I'm getting a little dizzy from the math of it all) as well.

In the years immediately following the end of World War II there was little reason for optimism to believe your children's children's children would be alive in a world with a mushroom cloud. But perhaps of more significance is despite some close calls (Korea 1949; Hungary, 1956; Cuba, 1962) there's not been a third use of atomic weapons.

Historians argue the seeds of the next war are always planted in the waging and conclusion of the previous war. Perhaps that means we learned something, maybe not much, from the calamity and destruction we unleashed upon one another during World War Two. It's certainly not a bright and shiny world in which we live in the ever-dwindling days of the summer of 2017, and sometimes it seems the LWH, Lunatics Who Hate, are multiplying like hobgoblins.

More and more of the world, despite our efforts to the contrary, born, live and die without a chance.  We must, as a civilization, apply the same ingenuity and steadfastness of purpose that created Little Boy and Fat Man to shift the shape of the society in which we all live if not for humanitarian then for the most pragmatic of, reasons--those who have nothing to live for soon find something to die for. And then they want everyone else to die for it, too. 

Between the desire and the spasm; between the potency and the existence; between the
essence and the descent falls the shadow. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang
but a whimper.
-bill kenny

Monday, August 14, 2017

Aus Aktuellen Anlass

I'll get to what today's title means in a second unless all the persecuted little, white boys both at and NOT at Charlottesville Virginia this weekend already looked it up. Okay, you win, here you go. These are the same folks, the exact same folks, whose calendar assures them every morning that Tomorrow Belongs to Me and have 20 April and 11 May circled and are always angry that the Hallmark stores don't have cards. Blut und Boden, mein arsch.  

Remember when we all used to live together in a shared country? (Together being the operative word) We didn’t always get our own way (some of us spent a long time trying to figure out exactly who voted for McGovern, and then, later, for Dukakis; then, even later, for the SECOND Bush), and there was that birther kerfuffle over Obama and then the car crash of the 2016 Pick Your Poison, Krebs oder Cholera Election.

It was awkward, NEVER close to okay that as the years have accelerated in this decade and the reach, though not the depth of Social Media has created bubbles and cocoons that no longer overlap in any way, but we're waaaaay beyond that now. This was the chum in the water that brought the scum to the pond. Admit it: We no longer disagree with one another in the abstract, we kill each other in the physical universe. 

Heather Heyer was flesh and blood; NOT an abstraction
We have clenched jaws and hard eyes and hardened hearts, but that shouldn't mean we can't talk-it just means we won't, I fear. Somewhere we decided two diatribes now equals one dialogue and I GET TO GO FIRST! (sorry). If we yell AT one another long enough, from a distance somewhere in space it will look like we are talking to one another. 

Respectful disagreement has gone the way of the dodo bird. If you don't agree with me you are the most awful person in the history of the planet, as are everyone else related to you, everyone else related to them and everyone any of you know. Wait a minute-when I do that much finger pointing some of the fingers on that hand point back at me. Hmmm.

Labels such as 'liberal' and 'conservative' are now pejoratives hurled like discount store invective at opposing viewpoints, appropriate or not, and the reaction to such labeling obscures quite nicely any opportunity to see the person we've just tagged. 

Now all we are is disagreeable when we disagree. And we engage in preemptive shouting matches with one another in forums supposedly designed to let us exchange ideas and views. The longer the meeting, the louder the yelling and don't even get me started on the understanding.

We once talked things out and arrived at consensus through reasoned discussion and debate. Now the line between gee-willikers and jihad makes it almost impossible to discuss anything. And when you have a President of some of the people not sure how to lead all of us in moments of crisis, like this one, so he doesn't lead at all and forfeits not just the moral high ground but all ground, we're heading jaw-jacked and head lowered directly into a catastrophic calamity.
-bill kenny

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Feels Like a Prayer

Not all prayers involve kneelers, church pews, organ music, and stained glass windows. At least I hope not.




I'm told, of all the words of a prayer, the most powerful is the first one.
-bill kenny