I receive every day, as most of us do, more email messages from those looking for contributions for political campaigns or organizations than I care for. Give once and you're on the list. In my case, a left-leaning group, whose identity I won't reveal, as anonymity would be more flattering. In listing the crimes of the Trump administration, the writer asked "how many more shoes will drop?" Good question. Traditionally the options are limited. So the answer to the rhetorical question, in this case, would be just one. Which would be fitting, as I believe the original metaphor is "waiting for the other shoe to drop," Meaning that one, telling, damning incident has happened, and it is apparent that a subsequent, equally if not more incriminating event is more than likely to transpire. But through everyday use, as happens in language, but it would seem particularly through the internet, words and metaphors, catchphrases and jargon proliferate spread, more rapidly than ever. Hardly a novel observation, but when it comes to how many shoes we allegedly now have, perhaps we should remember that shoes fall from feet, and I don't know about you, but I still have just two.
Two different radio talks caught my attention recently, and both, in their ways, to my way of thinking, summarize the somewhat retrograde times we live in. Or perhaps they reflect a natural cycling through of thought, one indicative of the multi-tasking immediate gratification culture common to our IT dominated times, and another which displays perhaps the desperation of academics to find new material, or new spins on old material.
A TED talk late one night a few weeks ago while driving across the Dumbarton Bridge, the moon burning orange through Wine Country smoke, caught my attention and irked me more than a little. The speaker – male, and I never quite caught his name – asserted that collective research, I guess like agile development, fast, shared, done in weeks or months rather than years, had demonstrated that individual, years-long research had been relegated to the dustbin of history. I have tried to track him down on the TED website, to verify what I heard, but have failed. He was adamant, assured that collective intelligence had outstripped the ability of the individual. I refer to it as “agile thinking,” cribbed from the idea of agile development in IT, which stresses collectivity, chunking projects into small segments, adaptability, and above all else, speed. No multi-year projects here: think weeks or days, not months. And no DIY: that is hopelessly retro, the sign of an out of touch mind. Google, which by its own admission has all knowledge in its domain, is the new research platform – fun, collaborative, pompous, and more than a little impressed with its own importance
Then, probably a little over a week later, I listened to Neal Conan, in a Sunday night rebroadcast of “Talk of the Nation.” He hosted Yale Professors Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro, discussing their new book The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World (Simon & Schuster), in which the co-authors posited the early Enlightenment Dutch political theorist Hugo Grotius as guiding light of liberal politics, stemming from his thoughts on natural law, and international law. The authors contend that it was Grotius, not later Enlightenment or 18th-century thinkers, who laid the ground for outlawing war, and recognizing states’ right for existence, and self-determination. No mention made of Rousseau’s denigration of Grotius as little more than an apologist for monarchy, and a then-recent champion of the concept of might-is-right. Conan offered no challenge to this neo-con revisionist spin on the Enlightenment. Perhaps he didn’t know much about Rousseau or the Enlightenment. But the idea that a states’ might validates its right to rule would mean that most of the 20th- and 21st-century independence movements of colonial countries were invalid, and that imperialist Europe of the late 19th and early 20th centuries formed the most natural state of government. Or that Tibet and Catalunya, for example, have no right to independence. Or that Thoreau’s arguments against the Mexican American War, or against the imperious power of the majority, should be ignored, as they run counter to a states right to power.
Just some random thoughts I wanted to finish jotting down ….
Reading various media reactions and opinions on the passing of Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner, reactions vary between lauding the man as a pioneer of liberating sexuality in America, to condemning him as the paradigmatic sexist pig. I would judge him as more of the latter, because he succeeded in mediatizing an image of himself as the former, while monetizing a rigidly male-heterosexual sexuality into a minor empire.
Did his magazine offer substance along with the primarily white, very middle-class vision of male heterosexuality? Just enough to validate the magazine. Did this intellectual substance bleed over into other Hefner enterprises? Aside from charities, no. Did Hefner himself generate any of this intellectual material? No, like any media mogul, he just knew how to use other people, and their ideas, to his advantage.
And what about his, and Playboy’s role, in liberating American sexuality? Playboy, seen in other countries like France, was still a fairly prudish and conventional magazine. If Hefner hadn’t done it, someone else would have – he just beat everyone else to the punch. When the real sexual liberation movement of the 60s came around, Playboy quickly looked like a straight-laced relic, a phallocentric empire serving to publicize a very limited view on human sexuality. And Playboy, and Hef pretty much stayed frozen in that limited public space since then, with Hef becoming a parody of himself. And that’s how we should remember him and Playboy. Much like any media mogul, he found a niche and exploited it for as long as he could, and stayed with it far past any point of relevance, and surrounded himself with young, beautiful women, some of who had successful lives thanks to the leg up he had provided them (pun intended), and some who died. Like Dorothy Stratton. Other, more adventurous explorations of human sexuality, in media, happened throughout the 20th century, and before. Hef was just the first who figured out how to make a media empire out of sex, a Marquis de Sade minus the BDSM and any philosophical trappings, and a Marquis made for timid, puritan, WASPish 1950s American middle-class sexuality.
The Washington Post - thank god for the WaPo and the Times - ran an article this morning on the Mnuchins, Steve and his wife Louise Linton. For those not following the continued foibles and attempted larceny by various Trump administration stooges, Steve-o is the Secretary of the Treasury, worth 300 million thanks to his hedge fund and Hollywood producer background. His wife, Louise, a trophy-blonde and roughly 30 years his junior, makes Marie Antoinette look nuanced with her tone-deaf, ultra-elitist faux pas. She mocked the less fortunate than her (which would be around 99.9% of the population) on social media, topping it off by commenting sarcastically on criticism of her using government funds for personal use, "Adorable! Do you think the U.S. govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol.” Turns out she wasn't joking - according to the Post, the couple did request use of a private US government jet for a honeymoon trip to Scotland, France and Italy at $25,000 an hour.
That's entitlement for you, and the Trump regime to a T. The Mooch, Mnuchin, gold plated toilets, weekend golf, grab-'em by the you-know-what: has there ever been a more reprehensible collection of con-men, grifters, sycophants and capitalist pigs in charge of a country? This collection of thieves makes the court of Louis XIV look like a worker's collective (I know Marie Antoinette was Louis XVI's wife, but by that time the Bourbon court was actually more sympathetic to the commoner that was the Sun King and his entourage). Here's her original Instagram post flouting her lifestyle of the rich and famous, payed for by the citizens of the US:
Turns out we've been paying for all of this, while her husband hides millions in off-shore accounts and is in charge of the administration's efforts to re-write the tax code. You better believe that all corporate America, and the uber-wealthy, will get off like thieves under his plans. No way - we need to make sure that the wealthy pay more than they have been, with fewer loopholes and keeping the estate tax in place.
The photo below shows hurricanes Irma, Jose and Katia all fully formed in the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Hurricane experts say that they have never seen three such large and powerful hurricanes all at the same time. The sheer forces of nature and energy needed to form three such large and powerful weather systems at the same time, all in one area of the world's seas, points to larger fores at work, as many experts have noted, and warned of.Climate change is making hurricanes more powerful for longer periods of time. They need the energy from the warm, humid air above tropical oceans to keep up their strength. A hurricane begins as a tropical storm, when winds coming from different directions converge. Warm air rises around the storm’s center and cools, and the moisture condenses to form clouds and rain. Condensation releases latent heat, which powers hurricanes. If the layer of warm water isn’t at least 200 feet deep, a tropical storm could die before gaining hurricane strength.
The potential for destruction is also greater because warmer temperatures mean the air can hold more moisture, so hurricanes produce more rain, causing more floods. Rising sea levels also lead to greater and greater surges after a storm.
Now it looks like Tampa, a city that many have warned is a hurricane disaster waiting to happen, will bear the main brunt of Irma, after she slams first into the Keys, which will be completely submerged. God speed Florida.
Never before in our history has the occupant of the White House cared so little for the well-being of the country, and its citizens. The incidents at Charlottesville, and Trump’s initial reactions, then his follow-up to his feeble attempt at salving these new wounds caused by alt-right American fascist violence, left no doubt about his moral compass. He has none. He sees the world as a reflection of his ego, his entitlement, his small world of white businessmen who only accept women and minorities when they conform to his narrow world view, and stay in line. Trump’s ridiculous attempts to smear the protestors who came out to denounce American Nazis, his line that they were also guilty of violence, show that his small mind cannot fathom ideas like tolerance, peace, fraternity and equality. That he would attempt to justify a march by torch and weapon-wielding fascists, and claim that some of them were “nice” or “good” people, is repugnant, and ignorant. Ignorant of our history, of the Civil War, of slavery, of what our parents and grandparents, and great-grandparents fought against in the past century. And that he would lump Jefferson and Washington together with Lee, Davis and Stonewall Jackson because the two founding fathers also owned slaves, is not just ignorant of the differences between late 18-century America, and the Confederacy, but of the great attempts, however imperfect they might have been, by the US to eradicate racism, and bigotry. Yet here is Trump, indignant, angry, that he feels he is being forced to denounce white privilege, anti-Semitism, the US’s long and sad history of slavery and oppression of blacks, and other acts of intolerance and hatred – many of these acts which have flourished under his administration.
Some Republican leaders denounced any attempts by Trump, or others, to assimilate white supremacist views into the mainstream. The Chief Commander of the Marine Corps issued a statement that in that branch of the Armed Forces, there is no room for bigotry, hatred, racism or prejudice. The 82nd Airborne Division of the Army, upon viewing on of the Nazis in the rally at Charlottesville stated that individual might be able to buy the cap, but he had nothing in common with their values. And, just as damning of Trump’s tone-deaf embracing of the alt-right, General John Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, could be seen on videos and photos shared on the internet, hanging his head in disbelief as Trump went off the rails at the press conference today. The military, usually any President’s staunchest supporters, are showing signs of disaffection, at the least.
And that’s just the latest iteration of his utter incapacity as leader of our Union. Russia-gate, nepotism, the attempted deregulation of environmental protections, the appointment of Betsy De Vos, an utter fraud and shill for the privatization of all education (and a loan shark for student debt), his appointment of lifetime racist Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, Trump’s willingness to take North Korea to the brink, his war of words with European allies, his utter lack of knowledge about the world, about politics, about history, and on and on …. I could go on, but I will cut it short with one last plea.
Please, Robert Mueller, make it quick, and decisive. We can’t wait too long, and we all know that the crimes committed by Trump, his family, members of his campaign and administration, and perhaps even GOP leaders will warrant prosecution, and perhaps also warrant removing Trump and others from their held offices. Let it begin. Soon. The life-line of our democracy suddenly looks very tenuous.
Sometimes you take people for granted. Those around you, and those who have served as inspirations, as guiding lights, and voices for a generation, or generations. For me, and I suspect many Americans, Sam Shepard filled these descriptions, and more, often by just his appearance, that rough-hewn, generous but taciturn face, with probing wary eyes and jutting brow, not unlike one of his (and my) favorite writers, Samuel Beckett. Sam, iconic yet familiar, humble yet always a little distant, the shaman/poet of theatre who eventually transmogrified into one of Hollywood’s most dependable actors. A certain gravitas, maybe that’s part of it too. As I waded into theatre as an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz, worked as a professional in NY, SF, LA and elsewhere, continued my grad studies at UW-Madison and at UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and Television, Sam—I can only call him Sam as I felt almost like I knew him—formed part of the bedrock of my existence as an artist, a givens, essential, in some sense almost primordial, part of the very terra firma of American theatre, and later, film.
But his plays, and prose…I can’t imagine my life without them, and thank god they’ll always be there. By serendipity, or more probably by probability, I lived and went through many of the places he described. The suburban LA home of True West could just as easily have been my home: from the description, basically the same area, setting, even the same familial tension, rational brother versus less rational brother (me being the latter). Sam lived for a while in Star
News Country (if you don’t know what that means then you’ll just have to Google it) as a child and adolescent. I grew up there. In the Motel Chronicles, Sam described the childhood adventures of riding bikes and climbing Camel’s Hump in the Arroyo Seco of Pasadena, and hunting for crayfish in “the Wash”, which was the concrete channel of the Arroyo which sluiced down from Pasadena, through South Pasadena, down towards the concrete towers of downtown LA. I lived the same adventures, so with Sam, I felt a real bond. Fool for Love, set in a seedy highway motel in the high Mojave Desert? God knows how many times I drove through there, on my way to and from adventures in the High Sierra, that rolling asphalt ribbon of Highway 14, baked by daylight, cool and mysterious at night, the endless desert and clear air a shout of freedom, liberty from the oppressive sprawl of LA and the endless arm of urban America. Like his mind, a space for exploration, he echoed and refracted the space of the American West, a personal rebellion against the mindless materialism the characterizes so much of the recent past: the individual rebelling. Often against themselves. He caught the zeitgeist of the sixties and seventies, and his plays sang, riffed, improvised, rolled through the psyche and expanded the possibilities of theatre. Buried Child might well be the best American play of the latter part of the 20th century in American theatre.
He's gone now. Patti Smith wrote a lovely essay, or reminiscence really, in The New Yorker on some of her last moments, days, with Sam. On his farm in Kentucky, the familiar silence of two old friends, icons of American culture. One of my favorite pictures of Sam is the one of him and Patti, early seventies, both with long hair of the non-gray variety, outside the Chelsea Hotel (stayed there once as well), comrades in rebellion. Young, beautiful, wildly talented, committed, unorthodox badasses totally outside the system, fashioning and tearing them down as soon as they became a form, before they could die. He’s gone now, hopefully to a place with horses, theatres, and maybe a little bourbon as well. Or tequila. The horse dreamer now lives with his dreams.
Muir's study on the second floor
The Muir home, exterior under construction
First floor music room, joined by large sliding French doors to the sitting room
The sitting room, not the salon ...
Muir's bed, coat, and hat in hat box. Did he really wait 'til bed time to take them off?
Storage in the attic
Orchard of unknown provenance
The Martinez Adobe, part of the Muir Historic Site. The original owner of the land, descendant of the de Anza expedition from Mexico into California.
As others pointed out - online or not - yesterday, Trump gave a speech to Boy Scouts where he stated that the popular vote in the Presidential election was stolen from him, and then in his usual early morning Twitter derangement, revealed a covert CIA operation. Now maybe with the Boy Scouts he felt he could open up, as this group of young boys formed his ideal audience, people he felt a certain sense of shared experiences and outlook on life with. True, but if he was a Boy Scout, Trump would have been kicked out of the troop by now for committing various unspeakable acts. But the revealing of CIA operations via Twitter, as he lies in bed, in his bathrobe, alone or with a hired companion, as his wife wouldn't touch him with a ten-foot pole, this really again illustrates how he is mentally incompetent, and poses a grave danger to national security. I cannot encourage the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Robert Mueller, enough to expedite their investigations and bring charges, which there will undoubtedly be, against Trump and other members of his administration, and his family, and the GOP. The health of our republic demands it.
When visiting this exhibit earlier this week, I noticed this late-twenties hipster dude, shorts and work boots, wife beater and de rigeur beard, with a red baseball cap, really poring over some of the printed materials. Like the manifesto which accompanied The Trips Festival, and the same for the Human Be-In manifesto. He was parked right in front, and really taking his time, to the point that I assumed that he was from outside the country and that English was not his first language. After a while I got a little annoyed because every time I wanted to read one of these manifestos, there he was, not budging or sharing, reading these wonderful poetic exhortations to love, compassion, altered consciousness, free everything. anti-capitalisn, anti-imperialism, tune-in, drop out, and so on. Then I looked at the guy again, and the cap, and it all made sense. He was wearing a "Make America Great Again" cap. He was obviously having a hard time understanding what all this drug and love stuff was all about - it was probably a foreign language for him....