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States of emergency…

February 16, 2019

When I was a boy, I often pestered my grandfather to talk about his experience as a soldier in the Second World War.

All I knew, from my mom, was that he had been “on the lines” in Italy, and I think also later, in France.

Having grown up with cowboy movies, I asked him all the nonsensical questions a boy would ask, from a age where such things as war and killing and dying were not real, but merely some abstract projection of magical adventure.

“Did you ever shoot anyone?” for example.

My mom, flipped at that question, and yelled at me to leave my grandfather alone, and go outside and play.

My grandfather never talked about the war.

He never answered my questions. The most I ever got was a stony stare of silence, as he pulled softly at his pipe, the smoke coming out of his nose like he was a great dragon.

One time, after some grade-school class on WWII, I made mention of the idea that “thank God, someone like Hitler won’t happen again.”

“It’ll happen faster than you think,” he said to me. “Every generation forgets the foolishness of their fathers.”

His statement has always stuck with me. By the time I was a History major in university, it had seemed like an epiphany, or a prophecy.

At the time I asked my father about what grandpa had said about there always being Hitlers lurking in the shadows and he concurred – telling me about Stalin, Mao, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the fact that the US was in a war with the communist boogieman in Vietnam.

“War is in our blood,” he said, indifferently.

“But another Hitler?” I wondered aloud.

“Every generation has its Hitler’s,” he said matter of fact.


Image result for picasso's guernica

It seems that war only haunts the dreams of war refugees, artists, and historians. Trump declares a “state of emergency”, but the people still go to work, there are still plenty of groceries on the super-market shelf, the TV was still talking about sports at the gym…

Vietnam, the killing fields of Cambodia, the torture chambers of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, eastern Europe, the genocide in Rwanda – the collective forgetting among the masses baffles me.

Image result for photos angry trump rallyHow docile the Germans must have been the day Hitler declared a state of emergency in Germany.

How quickly the same rage surfaces among the young men – the Brownshirts of Trump’s nationalists – the blind rage to make America great again.

Image result for photos angry trump rallyI am reminded of my grandfather this morning, listening to this false declaration of a national emergency – after which Trump goes off to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend to play golf .

Trump trying to supersede both Congress, the Senate, and the Constitution, to declare his “emergency”.

(Stating, after his declaration, that that the 25th Amendment is unconstitutional. The amendment that gives Congress the power to throw out a tyrant – last used (threatened) against Nixon.)Image result for make america great again

I think of how America is one step closer to declaring democracy “outdated”, “unwieldy”, an “obstacle” to popular governing. One step closer to installing a “ruler for life”.

In 1933, Hitler declared a state of emergency (six years before he invaded Poland), suspending the German Constitution for the duration of time he was in power.

He blamed communists, and Jews, for his need to declare an emergency.

Trump blames Mexicans.

The examples of democracy’s fall from grace go back to the ancient Greeks.

Image result for plato bustPlato: Democracy is where freedom is the supreme good but freedom is also slavery. In democracy, people are free to do what they want and live how they want. The democratic man is consumed with unnecessary desires. Necessary desires are desires that we have out of instinct in order to survive. Unnecessary desires are desires we can teach ourselves to resist such as the desire for riches. The democratic man takes great interest in all the things he can buy with his money. He does whatever he wants whenever he wants to do it. His life has no order or priority.

Democracy then degenerates into tyranny when leaders have no discipline and society falls into chaos. Democracy is taken over by the longing for freedom. Power must be seized to maintain order. A champion will come along and experience power, which will cause him to become a tyrant. 

The tyrannical man is the worst form due to his being the most unjust and thus the furthest removed from any joy of the true kind. He is consumed by lawless desires which cause him to do many terrible things. He comes closest to complete lawlessness. He believes he is above the law. The idea of political moderation does not exist to him. He is consumed by the basest pleasures in life, and being granted these pleasures at a whim destroys the type of pleasure only attainable through knowing pain. If he spends all of his money and becomes poor, the tyrant will steal and conquer to satiate his desires, but will eventually overreach and force unto himself a fear of those around him, effectively limiting his own freedom. The tyrant always runs the risk of being killed in revenge for all the unjust things he has done. He becomes afraid to leave his own home and becomes trapped inside. Therefore, his lawlessness leads to his own self-imprisonment.

But we have already forgotten World War II, so there is little hope that we will remember Plato or Aristotle and the foolishness of dictatorship and war.




Let’s play a game…

February 9, 2019

Let’s play a game indeed.

It has been so long since we saw an actual Socratic-style politician willing to expose the truth of how Washington runs we don’t entirely know how to feel as we watch Ms Ocasio-Cortez in action.

Canadians watched Justin Trudeau pretend to talk with such forthrightness – though with more vagueness as to an actual commitment to policy (which we now know, he was merely practicing forked-tongue bullshit on the masses) – we watched Obama speak of change, only to watch as he maintained the military-economic status quo – so, many of us are unsure as to how honest Ocasio-Cortez will end up being.

But, given that she has only been in office a month and it has already leaked that the DNC is looking for ways to make her a one-term Congresswoman – that the upper echelons of her own Party wants her out – gives me pause to think she is the real deal.

Nancy Pelosi – one of the dinosaurs of the old guard – who, like Trudeau, likes to make sound bites saying the right things, but much prefers superficial adjustments to the status quo while lining her pockets with corporate donations – has already begun to dismiss Ocasio-Cortez’s (and the other young women recently elected to Congress) as being amateur’ish, as being unrealistic, over-enthusiastic.

Pelosi is the House of Congress gate-keeper – only she gets to allow legislation to make it to the floor that she wants on the floor of the House – it is only a matter of time before she marginalizes Ocasio-Cortez’s enthusiasm for creating her “socialist democratic” legislation – a term that corporate media has already begun to use to dismiss Ocasio-Cortez, as if this implied that she was somehow a “communist” (as suggested on Fox News), or as Trump calls her, “a radical socialist anti-capitalist”.

Of course, the last true “radical” democratic-socialist America had in office – who had real power, and not just Bernie Sanders pretend power – was Franklin D. Roosevelt. His New Deal, which was fought tooth and nail by corporate interests at the time, dragged America out of the worst effects of the Great Depression, and was so popular with the people Roosevelt was re-elected to the presidency 4 times – the Republicans actually had the constitution amended because of Roosevelt’s success, now restricting a President to only two terms in office.

But this is America, where we have watched as very bad things happen to good people who want to make real political change – and for that, I fear for Ocasio-Cortez.

Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, and the hundreds of unknown civil rights activists killed immediately come to mind. Suffragettes were beaten, tortured, imprisoned, and in some cases murdered, simply for asking for the vote.

America has assassinated four presidents and there were real attempts on the lives of nearly every other president of the 20th century.

So, I have reason to fear for someone like a simple Congresswoman like Ocasio-Cortez.

Well-padded feathers in Washington don’t like to be ruffled. It took all of the whit and cunning of the DNC to make sure that Sanders did not get the presidential nomination in the last election – there have been accusations of vote rigging within the party – whom, you may have forgotten, was polling (by far) as the most popular politician in America at the time.

Ocasio-Cortez’s popularity at the moment takes Sander’s polling numbers to entirely new levels. She already has a 60% recognition in national polls. (By contrast, a recent poll revealed that 12% of Americans don’t know who Vice-President Mike Pence is.)

As the structural contradictions of unregulated neoliberalism continue to play out their inevitable consequences – record income disparities, record profits, record debt loads among the people, a $10 minimum wage, record poverty – all the while corporate capitalism and mass consumption is burning the planet to a crisp – people like Ocasio-Cortez realize something has to give, before it is too late.

Not surprisingly, this new fire for change is coming from the younger generation of change makers – who have the most to lose if things are not changed.

For, while some baby boomers truly care and fight the good fight, too many boomers have profited from the system the way it is, and will run the planet into extinction – as long as they can continue to drive their 7-seater SUV’s, fly to Australia for $600, and continue to eat 66 billion chickens a year. Watch as every politician who stands in Ocasio-Cortez’s way – both DNC and GOP – they will all come from the wealthy, established, older generations.

In the most recent polling numbers – 80% of Americans approve of the Ocasio-Cortez  new Green Deal – a ten-year plan to save the environment. (Pelosi dismissed it in an interview as a “green dream, or whatever you want to call it” (last Wednesday.) – listen below to Ocasio-Cortez’s perfect response to Pelosi’s comments, when asked by the press what she thought of Pelosi’s dismissal).

I want all of Congress and the Senate to be as willing to fight for real social-economic-environmental change as Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of the young women recently elected to power. But that is unrealistic.

I fear for Ocasio-Cortez.

I fear for her life…

Why we don’t protest…I mean, like the French protest…

February 3, 2019

I think it is hard for Americans (and Canadians) to understand how complacent (fearful?) we are when it comes to standing up to authority.

Why indeed, are our youth not taking to streets and demanding that something real be done about climate change, as they are increasingly doing in Europe?

During the recent American government shutdown when government workers not only did not get paid for more than a month, many of them were also expected to still show up for work – I was thinking about how the French workers would have reacted to similar expectations?

For not only would they be expected to work for no pay, they would also have to swallow the reality that the politicians were still getting paid throughout the shutdown.

There would have been rioting in the streets of Paris. The government would have been forced to find a fast resolution.

Yet why not here? It was not even thought of in any of the media I watched. It was so beyond our imagination, we could not even think of it.

In the early part of the 20th century when miners, or slaughterhouse workers went on strike (Colorado, Chicago) the government simply shot some of them and put the strike leaders in jail.

After the Great Depression, the New Deal insured that White middle America would be protected from the worst extremes of capitalism. After the War, America emerges as the new leader in global capitalism, and until the 1970’s economic growth allowed the average American worker to grow fat and complacent.

And, like the early part of the century, when Black leaders rose up to challenge the white-privilege status quo they too were shot, or thrown in jail.

Today is the American Superbowl. Will any athlete carry the Colin Kaepernick flag and kneel during the national anthem? I doubt it.

Kaepernick’s kneeling during the anthem now almost two years ago got him expelled from the NFL at the height of his athletic career.

Multi-million dollar athletes don’t want to be seen as trouble-makers.

I’m sure some of you baby boomers reading this will ask “what about the protests of the ’60’s?” Surely something good came out of the civil rights marches and the anti-Vietnam marches?

Absolutely! For a brief moment, Americans glimpsed the power that they held in their own hands.

But as most historians will tell you – the actual change that occurred was slight – cosmetic at best. But that is a debate for another day.

Now, on two fronts the masses grow increasingly restless. Climate change is upon us and economic inequality grows by the day.

Image result for andreas malm books80% of Americans now agree that climate change is real and something needs to be done. But the catastrophes are not yet large enough to put boots on the street.

The divide between the rich and the poor has now, again, with almost all aspects of the New Deal eliminated or castrated, reached pre-Great Depression levels and are on course to be soon those levels seen during the lifetime of Dickens and Marx.

And any historian or economist knows that when such imbalances happen, collapse is inevitable. The crash of the late-1800’s was followed by the decade-long crash of 1929. We are now on track for a similar catastrophe.

But we are still a far ways away from acting like the French.

Americans mumble, but they do not gather. For unlike the French, popular uprisings are not in our mythology.

“We the people” is a mythology about hard work, overcoming personal adversity, patriotism.

Our strengths have become our weaknesses, when they are manipulated for other people’s advantages.

the old polar vortex routine…

January 30, 2019

If there is a silver lining to having to endure windchills in the -50 to -55F degree range, as is expected here in Chicago tomorrow, it is that Mother Nature is reminding us – and we do need reminding – of who exactly, is still in charge around here.

It is too easy living in big cities, as many of us do, to forget all about the weather most days. Sure, we may look to see if we need a coat or a jacket, an umbrella or gloves, but for the most part we give the weather little regard.

Yes, we know that climate change is upon us; we know that after 10,000 years of mostly stable weather patterns, we have raised the carbon content of the atmosphere to dangerous levels and have let a Genie out of the bottle – a Genie over which we will have little control (if any).

But that is mostly in the abstract for most of us. In the same way we talk about ending the patriarchy, or the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup. We think about it, but it’s not something we think will ever happen. Not really. An abstraction.

Of course, it will be the poor – as always – who will bear the brunt of tomorrow’s cold. There is so much sub-standard housing in Chicago’s poorer neighborhoods. I am dreading out next gas bill. I can’t imagine how those on fixed incomes, minimum incomes, no incomes, will be able to pay their January heating bill. And then there will be February after that.

How many homeless will unnecessarily die tonight and tomorrow in the wealthiest nation on the planet?

Australia is melting under record heat. We will freeze under record cold.

Welcome to climate change.

Until we actually come to terms with our fossil fuel global economy and the mass consumption it generates, the weather ride only gets worse, year to year.

Welcome to the new reality.

The horrors of being a chicken…

January 27, 2019

Level 1:

Sixty-six billion chickens were harvested – slaughtered – last year in the world. That number is expected to increase this year, and increase over that in 2020.

At current rates of growth in chicken consumption the world is expected to hit 100 billion chickens a year by 2025.

The immensity of these numbers are little more than abstractions for most of us.

What does a number like 66,000,000,000 even mean? It’s 14 chickens for every mile, in a row, from earth stretched to Pluto. It’s more than a chicken per dollar for every dollar of Luxembourg’s GDP in 2018.

It is 9 chickens for every human being currently living on the planet.

Agri-business currently lobbies the United States Department of Agriculture to be allowed to double line-harvesting speeds of chickens – currently limited to around 70 chickens per minute. (In the video below the line speed is said to be 1000 chickens an hour – on the very slow end of current speeds.)

125,000 chickens have been slaughtered in the time it has taken you to read this far into this essay. By the time you are done more than a million chickens will have been slaughtered.

Sixty-six billion is a number so large, so abstract, one cannot see the monstrous grotesqueness of it.

Level 2:

Chickens make up 99% of all animals harvested each year in America.

The 400 million cattle, 120 million pigs, 19 million turkeys are but a fraction of the number of chickens killed each year in the US.

Think of it this way: in our solar system 99% of all matter in it is contained in the sun. All of the planets, meteors, moons, and space dust combined, only make up the remaining 1% of the matter contained.

That is chickens relative to all other slaughtered animals.

Our appetite for chicken is that of an addict – insatiable, maddening, destructive.

Level 3:

The US Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which creates the barest minimum standard of government intervention regarding what amounts of pain an animal should endure while being shipped and slaughtered – minimums based on the self-interested recommendations of agri-business – excludes the treatment of chickens.

Chickens have no government rights – not even minimal rights – as it pertains to their treatment in a slaughter-factory.

Level 4:

Of all the antibiotics used in the world last year, 85% were used on factory farm animals – 75% of which were used on chickens. (Turkeys were the next highest.)

Chickens don’t do well when there are 100,000 to 200,000 chickens crammed into a barn. Barns with no windows or doors, 100% climate and light controlled for optimum growth.

Even with antibiotics, an estimated 5-10% of all chickens will die in these conditions.

18% of all chickens grown end up dead and discarded before ever getting to harvest. (Approximate 11 billion chickens worldwide.)

In the United States only Chipotle and Panera received A marks for lack of antibiotics in their chicken. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King received C ratings, while numerous fast food outlets received F ratings for the amount of antibiotics in their chicken.

Level 5:

A CBC investigation in Canada found that fast food chicken burgers contain, on average, only 80% chicken, with Subway chicken only being 53% chicken. On average, they also contained 10 times the recommended levels of sodium.

Level 6:

Many scientists, cultural critics, animal rights activists, and regular people are now calling what we do to chickens (and all factory farmed animals) are Frankenstein version of genocide.

For we are not only using all of the technology at our disposal to disappear a living-breathing species, but we are also reproducing these animals in unfathomable numbers in order to perpetuate this form of hell-on-earth for these animals.

Level 7:

Factory farming is now known to be one of the greatest environmental hazards the planet has ever seen. Almost one hundred percent of Amazon deforestation is used for animal production; either as pasture (1/3), or to grow crops to feed animals (2/3).

Nearly half the crops grown in America are for the sole purpose of feeding animals. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that eighty percent of all agricultural land in production in the world is used to feed animals.

Almost all drinking water in America is contaminated with fertilizer or animal effluent run-off, nearly all supermarket meat contains growth hormones, antibiotics, and other hormone-altering chemicals and carcinogenics.

The number one recommendation for addressing climate change put forward by the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change Report released in October of 2018 is that we need to change how we eat meat and consume dairy. No other human activity is contributing more to climate change – not cars, not jets, not factories – than producing meat and dairy for human consumption. Yet, as Fredric Jameson famously quipped, “it is easier for us to see the end of the world, than it is to see the end of capitalism”.

Level 8:

In 2018 Americans set a new record for the amount of meat we ate: 222lbs per person.

This is double the amount of meat we ate in 1960.

This cheap and plentiful industrial-produced food has come at a cost. The Center for Disease Control reports that seventy percent of Americans are now overweight, with forty percent of us obese. At current rates of growth, seventy-five percent of Americans will be obese by 2030. Accelerated cancer and heart disease trends are now also directly attributable to our over-consumption of meat.

Our meat-eating habits are literally killing us.

Yet, we cannot stop.



Sunday morning…

January 20, 2019

fullsizeoutput_cf2Sunday morning

and the sun has returned

from travels which took it away

these past two weeks.

Sunday morning and I sit

with the lounging cats, preening,

stretching languidly in this

travelling light, 83 million miles

through the cold and the dark,

still warm and fuzzy against their fur.

Sunday morning and the house does not stir,

just me and my coffee and my book

and my cats, of course.

The collected poems of Adrienne Rich,

pulling me like water, like a dream,

into a space where God visits,

when he remembers we are here,

that the experiment carries on.

Derrida said he lost his breath

when he read that God had asked Adam

to name the animals.

Watching, listening, wondering what

Adam would say.


The thing that arrests is

     how we are composed of molecules.

     arranged without our knowledge or consent

           like the wirephoto composed

          of millions of dots

          in which the man from Bangladesh

          walks starving

                                    on the front page

                                    knowing nothing about it

           which is his presence for the world.


_DSC8015The tragedy of sex

lies around us, a woodlot

the axes are sharpened for.

The old shelters and huts

stare through the clearing with a certain resolution

—the hermit’s cabin, the hunter’s shack—

scenes of masturbation

and dirty jokes.

A man’s world. But finished.

They themselves have sold it to the machines.

I walk the unconscious forest,

a women dressed in old army fatigues

that have shrunk to fit her, I am lost

at moments, I feel dazed

_dsc4255by the sun pawing between the trees,

cold in the bog and lichen in the thicket.

Nothing will save this. I am alone,

kicking the last rotting logs

with their strange smell of life, not death,

wondering what on earth it all might have become.


All night dreaming of a body

space weighs differently from mine

We are making love in the street

the traffic flows off from us

pouring back like a sheet

the asphalt stirs with tenderness

there is no dismay

we move together like underwater plants

Over and over, starting to wake

I dive back to discover you

still whispering, touch me, we go on

streaming through the slow

citylight forest ocean

stirring our body hair

But this is the saying of a dream

on waking

I wish there were somewhere

actual we could stand

handing the power-glasses back and forth

looking at the earth, the wildwood

where the split began.

                                                (Adrienne Rich, Waking in the Dark (1, 3, 5)

Sunday morning

and the living is easy,

even if, we are over here,

far from home…

Oh, a final sad note: we lost Mary Oliver this week. I know nothing of her poems, save but one, that I have carried in my bag these last twenty years…

IMG_0913Who made the day?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean—

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wing open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is,

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

IMG_0219how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?


So, at what point do we accept that the system is broken…?

January 12, 2019