Archive for November, 2010

Welcome to Potterville

November 29th, 2010

I keep on hearing how mad we are at Wall Street.  I hear this roughly as frequently as I get envelopes from Bank of America and Chase Bank and Citigroup telling me how much better my life could be if only I were to borrow bunches of money from them.  It is somewhat puzzling to me, to hear about how tight credit remains for small businesses, when these financial titans are eagerly willing to take a flyer on an underpaid public servant in the deficit-raddled State of Vermont.  Hardly a day goes by that they don’t tell me so.  The latest gambit is to send me envelopes full of checks that I can use almost instantly to buy things I can’t presently afford.  Apparently we’re not mad enough so that our collective disdain for such mass-marketing efforts makes them fail to be lucrative enough to repeat and repeat and repeat.

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Cajun magic

November 21st, 2010

Yesterday I went shopping at Healthy Living, our local (Burlington, Vermont) version of the alternative supermarket where you can buy local, grass fed beef and locally raised, free range chicken, and most of the produce section is organic, and the food bar sells stuff made with tempeh.  I’ve never liked tempeh.  But this time I was attracted by a bin labeled chicken and andouille gumbo.  Looked good, smelled great.  I got a bowl, and after waiting in line an inordinately long time behind a young couple who couldn’t decide between one panini and another – why, I ask parenthetically, can’t people make up their minds what to order BEFORE arriving at the register? – the aroma of my soi disant Cajun soup had me practically drooling.

Then I sat down and ingested a great big spoonful and it was the same old story.  Before I went to New Orleans this fall, I had tasted various dishes denominated “Cajun” or “Creole” here in the Northeast, and had not been impressed.  Lots of

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Invisible

November 16th, 2010

Here’s what we’re up against: I just looked at Amazon.com’s list of “100 best books of the year.”  There’s a sidebar which allows you to browse the editors’ picks by clicking on any of 23 categories, including “Business & Investing” and “Food Lit.”  Poetry isn’t even listed.  So bless you, hardy soul, who has found this web site.  Strike a blow against Corporate Cultural Hegemony!  Buy my freaking book.

Pakistan, bastion of democracy

November 14th, 2010

With the release of the indomitable Burmese freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, one’s thoughts naturally turn to the health of our own democracy.  (Yes, it really is all about us.)  Much too big a subject to venture an opinion on, as the veterinarian said about the whale.  However, one might observe symptoms.  I’ve been thinking about Justice Stephen Breyer’s recent remarks concerning the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, which resulted in curtailment of the 2000 presidential election and George W.’s disastrous tenancy of the White House.  Breyer implausibly denies that it was a politically motivated decision, and congratulates the country on having knuckled under to it.  The irony of purporting to preserve the rule of law by acquiescing in lawlessness seems to have escaped him.  Admitting that this was perhaps the worst decision since Dred Scott, Breyer posits that the alternatives were to accept Bush’s accession to power, or to take to arms, and he is glad that we didn’t do the latter.

Of course, there was a third option – nonviolent civil disobedience.  Lawyers could have refused to practice in a blatantly politicized Supreme Court until the “Justices” responsible resigned the positions they had disgraced.  Lawyers could have demonstrated outside the Court until it was cleansed from within.  In Pakistan, that is what lawyers did when the independence of their judiciary was on the line.  They shut it down.  American lawyers could have done the same.

Of course it would have been utterly unrealistic to expect that modern American lawyers would demonstrate their commitment to the role of an independent judiciary, to the institutional underpinnings of democracy, and to the rule of law in such a manner.  For American lawyers such commitments are mostly superseded by their ethical obligations to pursue to the exclusion of nearly any other consideration their clients’ interests, narrowly conceived in terms of pecuniary gain or loss and advantage with regard to the specific rights at issue in the instant litigation.  American lawyers do owe a theoretical allegiance to the rule of law and integrity of the judicial process, but refusing to acknowledge the authority of a corrupted court is not something they teach you to do in law school as a means of implementing this.

The end result is that Antonin Scalia, may he grow like an onion with his feet in the air and his head in the ground, will serve out his term with all the honors that normally accrue.  Meanwhile, I wonder whether the life has left our legal system.  Two hundred years or so ago, back when John Marshall, who merited the title of Justice, was inventing such things as judicial review, our legal system was animated by the necessity of creating its own place in a newly evolving system of government and ordered liberties.  More recently, in Pakistan, the lawyers showed what it means to love the law.  In modern America, not so much.  Our legal system has found its place and is quite comfortable in it, thank you.  I wonder if our inability to think outside that box, much less act upon such thoughts, signals a final sclerosis, the rigidity of decadence.

City with a wounded heart

November 7th, 2010

During my week and a half in New Orleans, I heard people talk about Katrina only once.  That was while waiting for the Everette Maddox Memorial Poetry Reading to begin.  This reading has been held weekly since 1979 at the Maple Leaf

Everette Maddox

Bar, except for a few weeks after the storm.  Now hosted by Nancy Harris, it was started by beloved local poet and legend Everette Maddox, who died  at age 45 the year the Berlin Wall fell.  Some of his ashes are buried in the outdoor terrace at the back of the bar, where the readings are held, with the epitaph, “He was a mess.”

I arrived at the bar at 3:00 in the afternoon, the advertised time for the reading, but the Saints game was still going on and it was clear that nobody would be reading poetry any time soon.  The Maple Leaf consists of a long, narrow wooden bar under a high, pressed tin ceiling, a long, narrow back room with a stage from which great music can be heard many evenings, another squarish room in back of that, and behind that the outdoor terrace, furnished with wrought iron tables and chairs and lush vegetation.  On the stage in the back room was an enormous TV screen, supplementing the TVs in the bar, all turned up loud, with a rapt and vociferous audience at every one.

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