Friday, March 17, 2017

Hell or High Water (or On the Moon)

The fine film Hell or High Water certainly is a bank-robbing yarn, and hidden under that a pretty slick scheme that apparently works so well that a detective (Jeff Bridges) can't prove it happened. But the film is also a portrait of the middle of the country, the western edge of the great plains, and although it's set in the southwest (filmed in New Mexico), set in the empty space and dying small town dust of the land above Amarillo, and the Oklahoma panhandle just north of that, the same place that Annie Proulx's That Old Ace in the Hole is located, it could happen anywhere there were Trump voters aplenty, including the far western side of Chatham County, NC. Lights of Cheyenne is further north still, the territory of Proulx's other great western book, Close Range, but it's still the same territory, set to the tune of Goodbye Old Paint, one of the sweetest and saddest of the old cowboy songs, where the cowboy even leaves his horse.

They might have put a McMurtry song in the sound track to Hell or High Water somewheres. They've got Ray Wiley Hubbard a couple of times, and Billy Joe Shaver, and Gillian Welsh, and even Townes Van Zant. The movie almost deserves Choctaw Bingo, but that song's just too much good times for the eventual plot turns that make Hell into a tragedy. Like Lance Mannion said in his review, this film should have gotten all the awards. If you want a happy ending to such a story, watch Peckinpah's The Getaway for a nightcap. Probably that's why Peckinpah hated his movie. He didn't believe in happy endings to such stories, and Jim Thompson didn't either. McQueen wanted to make some money, Peckinpah was broke. And damn if the happy ending they cooked up isn't a really happy ending, that leaves me every viewing with a smile and a little hope. It's the opposite of what happens in Hell, start to finish.

There's even an almost perfect parallel to the moment when Ali McGraw gives Slim Pickins more money than he asked for in the first place. In Hell, about mid-way, one of the bank robbers, Joe Pine, gives a waitress a $200 tip. Later on, but not much, Ranger Bridges shows up and tells her the money's evidence. She tells him it pay's her mortgage. It's still evidence. Law's the law.

That's how it is in Hell, all the way. The darkest funniest part is when the town takes out after the robbers in a convoy of pickup trucks. Everyone's armed now. That's what law is, pretty much, in our Republican formerly democratic republic. Get you a gun or three, eventually you may need it. When Ranger Bridges and his sidekick run up on a herd of cattle crossing a road to escape a range fire, Bridges says, "ain't no one to call about the fire out here. It'll burn out when it hits the Pecos." They watch the herd and the cowboys cross over the next rise and disappear. As William Holden says in the greatest of all modern westerns, The Wild Bunch, "these times are changing fast."

Yesterday I was watching the news and saw a real event. It looked like it might have happened out there in the middle somewhere. A cop had chased a guy down, and the guy was sitting on his chest and beating him up. After a while a driver who was stuck in the jam this was causing walked up with a pistol and told the assailant to stop. When he didn't, the civilian shot him, still sitting on the lawman's chest. No doubt Mr. Trump nodded in agreement, as did his pal Mr. LaPierre. The good Samaritan walks past the camera and out of the frame with a dazed, sick look on his face. Bridges best moment of acting in Hell might be when he releases a stifled, anguished cry right after he makes the kill shot on the brother who's murdered his partner from long distance.

I'm hoping that the people who have stolen our government are so stupid that they'll run out of friends. The defunding of Meals on Wheels might be one fulcrum, who knows. Then again, our Secretary of State has now said that we might take some sort of action against North Korea. Watch the skies to the west, after the sun goes down.

Regular folks are going to feel like they inhabit an outpost on the moon before the Trump people finish with us. When the next transport arrives, it'll be to pick up the next load of ore, period. When I flew out to Oregon last March I realized that western Nebraska and the moon look pretty much exactly the same. A cold, desolate beauty. Roads as straight as T-squares. Stars as bright as broken glass at the edge of the blacktop.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


Well the Old Vet seems to have descended a few steps further down into the darkness. It's a very slow-motion tragedy, and we can only watch it unfold. There are cheap answers, such as perhaps that people might in the light of this terrible fact that “old age ain't for the faint of heart,” my late great friend Bobby Barrett's quoted adage from his great aunt up in North Wilksboro, that he used to drive up once a week and attend to when she was in her late 80s—people with such an awareness might reconsider the mystery slogan on American Tobacco's most famous product: LS/MFT. I know of course that leaving with lung cancer is a horror too, but the Old Vet's fate may be even worse, and it stems in some part from the fact that he was a great believer in staying fit, in never drinking or smoking, plus he was a big church man and went not only Sundays, but Wednesdays, and sang in the choir (he loved music), and on Saturdays distributed Gideon Bibles to everywhere the group believed they might find people in need of spiritual succor.

This week, starting perhaps last week, there is on the Old Vet's face a new sense of worry, and worse, it's mixed with suspicion. For many months he's been unable to remember events and people and conversations that happened moments earlier. Now he isn't sure if anyone ever comes to check on him, to visit, to help with his bodily needs. More and more he lives in a dark mist of distrust and anger, together with anxiety and worry. He can't sleep, and awakes not knowing where he is. He's climbed out of his bed and crawled into the hall, yelling for help. He's of course fallen several times in this effort, although he hasn't as yet hurt himself. His bed is the kind that can be lowered so a fall is from less of a height. On the other hand, he ended up at his current lodgings because he had fallen and broken wrist and arm and was incapacitated to such an extent that he no longer fit the criteria for lodging at that facility. Even at that time he was suffering significant memory loss.

So my wife goes to visit every day, and his other daughter comes, and his son. But he doesn't remember any of it, and has begun to think he's been abandoned. There is also a tone of mental regression. My old fiddling buddy Malcolm Owen's wife Vickie used to talk to her son Jake, when he was three or so, about “Pig Will” and “Pig Won't.” It was a nice and subtle story to tell a child, about cooperation in the household. But at the moment she told this story, Jake looked at her and smiled and said, “I'm Pig Won't.” Last night the Old Vet had a BLT for supper. He usually likes the sandwich. He is still able to enjoy food, and much of the family visits involve giving him snacks. He eats them, say's “I shouldn't be eating this,” then immediately asks for more of the same. As we were leaving we said to him last night, “look, you've got one more piece of bacon.” “You eat it,” he said with something of a snarl. His Pig Won't side had won that tiny battle. There was another part of his mind that surely wanted that strip of bacon.

The attendants say he can't sleep. Literature on the progress of dementia report this as a deeper stage. The Old Vet climbs from his bed and rings the attendant call-bell, over and over again. A new procedure is being established: get him into his wheel-chair and just let him roll the halls all night. There are other clients of the home who are already well into this procedure. Now and then an old woman comes to his door and wants to come in. She thinks it's her room. A new wing of the facility is nearly completed. It's specifically for the demented. Apparently this too is a demographic trend. LS/MFT. Maybe Dean Martin, for all his sweet jolly persona of devil-may-care, had already made some decisions. (Then of course his beloved son crashed his plane into a mountain, and his heart was broken.)

The Old Vet has no idea of the larger stage, although once he was quite aware of public events, and was a life-long Democrat in a world of more and more right-wing Republican small town southern life, often withstanding a lot of unfair criticism for his strongly held beliefs. He often said that he'd rather give the tax money directly to poor people, rather than have the rich get even more of it. His old church now sports a “latino” ministry staffed with a preacher who is apparently of Guatemalan origin, and who writes missives to his flock suggesting that they invest in the stock market due to Mr. Trump's god-sent guidance. Hopefully when they are summarily deported they can still access their bulging portfolios from across the walled southern border.

The President's unhinged tweet storm of Saturday, 3/3, felt like something from the Old Vet. Everything is so unfair. Mr. Trump had spent last Tuesday doing the hardest thing he'd done in a very long time: acting a Presidential part so effectively that the media coverage accepted him as at last somehow coming into his own. It was a hard effort. We saw him practicing in the limo, over and over. It was real time acting. No re-takes permitted. And yet within two days Jeff Sessions had taken over the stage that was supposed to be his alone. Even his entrance at the construction site known as the USS Gerald Ford, heralded by Lee Greenwood's “Proud to be an American,” did not eclipse the breaking news of the moment, that Mr. Sessions had recused himself. No one cared that Trump had promised two more aircraft carriers of equal value, $13 billion each! Sessions had left the stage, and Mr. Trump had not been informed. Yesterday Sessions was summoned to a meeting at the so-called “Southern White House.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Trump's job is not to act Presidential for an hour, but to be Presidential, 24/7, for the whole term. It isn't fair. It must be Mr. Obama's fault, or Sessions, or Priebus. Someone. Before the tweets were done yesterday Mr. Trump moved on to another critique of the old show, The Apprentice,” where he'd graduated to real professional acting. He rode into the Florida mansion and golf club where he lives with his head up above the roof of the limo, red Great Again hat at full mast. The servants no doubt clapped and cheered as he rode past, like some NASCAR driver in the back of a pickup before the race.

The Old Vet has a new look in his eye. It makes me think of Joni Mitchell's song about her visit to Furry Lewis's place, in Memphis. He drinks her liquor, but then says, “I don't like you.” It's a small blessing that the Old Vet can't sit and listen to the teevee news any more. It would just make it all that much worse. Friday he told Libby that they needed to straighten out the Gideon Bible situation right away. It was worrying him in the night.

For those who read:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Milo's Game

The right wing is always about oppression, censorship, closeting, the smooth beautiful surface of things, the windless pond. Also about shame and guilt, when these tools can be applied to other people. And so an excellent applicator of shame, guilt and oppression is a first person account, a confession, which at least in some belief systems is a mystical incantation which removes shame and guilt in the telling. Milo grew up in such a belief system. And so he discovered the delicious rococo experience of being over and over again guilty and shamed and then immediately forgiven by his father-priest-lover. It is something Norman Mailer has also waxed poetic about. Mailer always said good sex requires some guilt. And just this morning I found (via Sheila O'Malley) W.H.Auden's remarkable stanza on the subject:

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

[From September 1, 1939, W.H. Auden]

O'Malley's whole essay on Auden, a birthday present from her to one of her poetic heroes, is worth reading, and several times. One of the larger features of her homage to Auden brings into focus the extent to which the poetic effort, which might be, along with it's twin masterpiece, Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, a kind of high-water mark of western thought, has been mostly obscured if not even entirely forgotten, by our sad contemporary culture as a whole. Auden saw in the work of T.S. Eliot what might be done by a capable poet. He worked at it. The culture, meanwhile, eventually produced Trump.

But all this early 20th Century clarity floats atop the cultural mud and silt of the authoritarian family, which founds the authoritarian church and the authoritarian state. There are always too many private interests to be nurtured. The teacher-father-priest finds it such a simple and easy task to re-seduce again the willing eleven-year-old, just one more time, in the quiet rectory, under the polished leather-scented desk, the pretty boy's cheek resting against the bristly upper thigh, the faint hint of urine, the hot hard shaft enfolded by the soft sweet mouth. Oh, did I mention as well, two world wars?

So Milo became a willing witness in the end, and for his own reasons, financial and otherwise. He could attack feminism, which is women un-closeted. He could attack the whole effort by gays and lesbians to get out of the shadow of guilt and shame by being himself a flaming homosexual who relished the shame and guilt, and suggested in the doing that all the others, the scape-goat caste, in fact were just what the priest always whispered as he came into little Milo's soft and open mouth--”perverted.”

Poor little Milo, protege to power, suddenly Bannon's successor, editor-in-chief at Brietbart, the journal of dirty tricks brought now into almost absolute power or so it must have felt in the heady post-election days of 2016. All of Milo's witness was, to the right, proof of what they always thought, and probably to a significant extent what they themselves actually experienced in their own lives. The effort to put an end to living the closeted life has been mightily resisted by much of the culture. Great battles have been fought over the definition of the so-called “institution” of marriage, over who can and who can't be married. The churchy complain of political correctness and demand, as part of their allegedly religious practice, the right to crucify on a cold dusty road in the vastness of Wyoming. The simplicity of love is immediately trampled in the service of the old institution of caste and repression. Auden, a gay man living in a closeted time, understood, but resisted. Milo saw an easier path, and Bannon laid his cape over the mud so that Milo wouldn't dirty his silver slippers.

As Edroso said today, Milo didn't realize that there were still a few hard limits, if he wanted to retain his unlimited pass.

Bannon didn't do quite enough vetting, and the horse was out of the barn before he realized he'd be ascending to the White House. Milo could invent child sex rings run by Hillary Clinton, and covens. He could say such vile things to a noted comic, Leslie Jones, that he could be banned from twitter. But as we have just seen, he could not take Plato's position on the seduction of boys by men, directly supporting the ancient idea that sent Wilde to gaol, without losing at least the bully pulpit of a conservative institution that also embraces fundamentalist Christians, who are the undefeated champions of American moral hypocrisy. If he was going to present a first-person defense of the indefensible, he could not also be a shining champion of American conservative thought. At least not to most of the notable conservative talking heads, or to Simon and Schuster.

But the repressive right-wing thesis about gay people has always been that they are fundamentally perverted. This is the “reason” the authoritarian part of society and culture wants homosexuals to remain closeted. This is the pseudo theological logic of the Fundamentalist church, and when missionaries go out to Uganda, gay Ugandans actually get killed. For that matter, now and then gay Americans get killed too. It's not exactly what Milo wants as he testifies to the fundamental perversion he enjoys personifying, and certainly he doesn't want anyone to kill him! But he's insulated. His sugar daddy is now a member of the National Security Council.

This was his game. Be a right-wing Mick Jagger. Hope the Hell's Angel you hired to protect you doesn't see through the shit-storm and smack you across the head with a pool cue in the middle of Street-Fighting Man. Turns out this little bit of his own perversion now floats in the middle of the punch bowl. Now he has to make a choice, poor little Milo. Send the manuscript to Grove Press, where he can join the list with Celine, not to mention Joyce and Terry Southern. A publisher he can find. Irony isn't dead. The Catholic priesthood is vivid testimony, and it's the tip of the iceberg. But if he lets his freak fly, what's a poor boy gonna do, sing in a rock and roll band. That train may have left the station.

The trouble is, authoritarianism is a great, centuries-old complicated lie. Milo got the threads crossed up. Our trouble is, almost no one reads Eliot, or Auden. The road maps have mostly been forgotten, or never even seen. It's all just too difficult. Voters think any change is Change. Tell it to the survivors of Hiroshima.

Monday, February 20, 2017

This Is Real

I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, February 20, 1942, Executive Order 9066

Some anniversary. Note that there is no mention in the order of the Japanese people. Note also that a few Jewish refugees were also rounded up, since there was a fear at that time that German Jews might be sympathetic to the Nazi effort.

Meanwhile, Bmaz at chronicles Mr. Stephen Miller's efforts to enforce the Muslin Travel Ban order. Some excerpts:

In the chaotic hours after President Trump signed on a Friday afternoon the sloppily written executive order meant to fulfill his Muslim ban campaign promise, Stephen Miller called the home of Robert Capers to dictate to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District how he should defend that order at a Saturday emergency federal court hearing.

That’s according to a federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the call, which happened as Department of Justice attorneys cancelled plans, found babysitters and rushed back to their Brooklyn office to try and find out what exactly it was they were defending and who was being affected by it — how many people were already being held in America, how many were being barred from arriving here and the exact status of each person.

Mr. Preibus was on the case yesterday, defending Mr. Trump's remarks last week that the press is an "enemy of the people." Preibus could find no justification for any un-sourced leak. (He must not realize that un-sourced leaks are a common method used by all Administrations to get information and misinformation alike out to the "volk.") He also attacked the press directly, citing stories with mistakes in them as "fake news." No mention was made of Trump's own most recent fake news story, the terrorist events that didn't happen in Sweden on Friday last. Chris Wallace gently questioned both Preibus and Rush Limbaugh about the path the Administration is taking. Limbaugh, who has spent almost all of his adult life working tirelessly for a totalitarian regime to appear in the US, where it will smite all of his enemies mightily, looked as though he believed his efforts have finally born fruit. He noted that the revolution now occurring is not between Republicans and Democrats, but between the "establishment" and "the people." He coyly whispered to Wallace that yes, most elected Republicans are part of the "establishment" too.

This what Stephen Miller said while defending the Muslim Travel Ban on TV:

“…our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

Mr. Trump praised Stephen Miller lavishly for his defense of the Ban. No doubt some lawyers are crafting a "better" ban for this week. They can copy the template of the Internment Order of 1942 perhaps.

Last night on AXS TV they ran the DVD "Roger Waters' The Wall Berlin Concert." Perhaps they were making a comment. I told Libby that if the Trump regime could manage optics as powerful as this concert we'd all be in far more serious trouble. We're perhaps luckier than we know that Trump's supporters are who they are. We can hope for a continuance of disaffected American youth, to the extent that such a term still has some reference. Around here the Trump signs were placed in the front yards of a few comfortable middle class brick homes, and one guy's retirement cattle and fruit orchard spread, with a nice pond in front. He'd had "Fire Obama" signs up before "Hire Trump" appeared. A whole lot of people believe at the moment that Trump really is going to "make America great." Danica Patrick thinks so. She's been racing cars since she was eight years old, and perhaps never had the opportunity to read any history or civics. She came in 4th at the pre-Daytona thing yesterday, one of her best finishes ever in NASCAR. Pretty much all of NASCAR was supporting Trump, including Brian French, who owns the whole show.

Note: If you were at all tempted by the silken tones of Mr. Preibus--and he's certainly a more competent salesman that Stephen Miller as long as Miller isn't holding a gun to your head--here's a link to reality from a credible source: