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tearing the rag off the bush again
Greece: From the Future #6 PDF E-mail

“What is the holiness of empire?
It is to know collapse.”


I’ve thought it was a day ahead all week, that is, Monday was Tuesday, which only made me feel a day behind, that is, I felt time was racing ahead and I was lagging behind.  Perhaps it was the weekend young folks encamped who didn’t leave until Tuesday, we wandered about gathering wild flowers.  So I discover that no, I’m not a day behind but spot on, only I have a hard time realizing it.  It’s Wednesday, not Thursday, and the Lakonian Wednesday, Te-tar-tee, is playing out as it always does.  The farmers are in the market and the fishmongers tables are iced up and laden.  We were talking about travel and the young man said, “I will travel to South America last, because I don’t think I’ll come back.”

They threw a parade to celebrate Greek national independence, but they restricted access to it.  This is the state of the nation.  The citizens loathe the political class and they, in turn, are terrified of the citizenry.  The disconnect is near complete.  In previous years across the nation the VIP viewing stands were assaulted by angry citizens and the politicians had to flee, chased down the street by enraged mobs.    

I was born in Olympia, Washington with Mount Olympus visible to the north across the waters of the Puget Sound and to the east Mt. Rainier, floating in the sky and much bigger than life.  Use the indigenous name, Mount Tahoma, the Anglo name is dumb.  Captain George Vancouver named it after his old buddy Rear Admiral Peter Rainier, whoever the fuck he was.  Shouldn’t be allowed.  The native name comes from Talol, which means mother of waters, which it certainly is.  An alternative meaning is ‘larger than Koma’, the native name for Mt. Baker to the north.  Again, c’est vrai.  I asked my old friend Joseph Murphy, whose bailiwick is this very turf, about these names.  He replied, ”Yeah, that pretty much covers it but for the Southern Lushootseed speakers, whose views of the Mountain stressed the wide girth given by "Little Tahoma" behind and to the East, used the pronunciation, roughly transliterated,  of , "TacoBud"  (No, not a SoCal Chicano cannabis dispensary).  The universal appreciation of a well formed bosom in play here, as the 'bud' suffix an indicator of the feminine body in fullness. It is the mountain of ten thousand views, vector of light, placeholder of Gaia's full erotic charge. South Sound injuns often reported erotic dreams with the Mountain as succubus.” It’s good to know those who do.  These mountains have snow year round.  Better yet, Tahoma could blow any day and devastate an enormous area, entire human settlements wiped away, dust on a window, whoosh.   It’s good to live on the cusp of natural disaster, whether Seattle or New Orleans.  Here in Greece we have earthquakes all the time.  Just to remind us that the next moment could be our last.  Three months ago I was at the Sparti movie theatre midst a good crowd watching James Bond destroy lots of cars and humans when we had a real good ten second shake, followed by a faint geoecho, appropriately enough, during a big bang & boom scene.  We all looked around at each other looking around, but nobody even got out of their chair.  Hey, it was looking bad for Senor Bond at the moment.  He didn’t give a shit about the quake, and needed our attention.

I like to keep in touch with my inner peasant, know what I’m talking about?  Getting out there working with the earth and what the earth throws up.  I got this from me pater, who couldn’t keep his hands out of the dirt.  That he was a structural engineer was an excellent fit.  He knew that all of us aren’t very far from the bog, as they’d say in Ireland.  Go back a few generations and all our predecessors were ankle deep in the muck, or deeper.  So I’m digging around, putting in plants and scattering seed.  Neither of my wives have had this instinct, nor me mum, for that matter.  Sure, everyone likes a garden, but not everyone feels inclined to bend over and do it.  I’ve found, the dirtier the better.  I quite enjoy breaking up that dried goat crap with my hands.  Let me tell ya, that shit is gold.

And I got my dog with me.  Toni, a volunteer, just a ratty village mutt.  She showed up pregnant while I still had Amal, one of best I’ve had.  He got too sick and I had to put him down.  Though that phrase is a euphemism, a way to avoid the word ‘kill’, I find it clear and accurate.  You have to put ‘em down, no bullshit there, they ain’t getting up.  It’s not soft focus such as putting them to sleep.  My sister prefers, crossing the rainbow bridge, but that implies verdant pastures on the other side, or, at least, something.  Though I suppose if you believed in ideas such as heaven, why not one for our canine friends?  And the cats, next stop, feline Valhalla.  It swiftly gets ridiculous.  Toni, named after one of our favorite novelists, had six puppies and, heeding the animal welfare folk, I put them down too.  There’s lots of blood on my hands, how ‘bout yours?  I didn’t have high hopes for Toni, but damn if she isn’t giving more than full value for the crap I throw in her dish.  And here she is, entering my writing, a sure sign she’s in.  She alerts whenever anyone approaches the house, which, living four hundred meters from the nearest abode, is a good thing.  Lately she’s been very aggressive with Yianni, the physical therapist.  She doesn’t want to let him pass.  As though she’s saying, Boss, it ain’t right.  You shouldn’t be allowing another male to enter your space and put his hands all over your naked mate.  That’s my bitch.  I talk to her.  Toni, I say, we’re humans, homo-fucking-sapiens, we like to pretend we can rise above, or, at least, not be utterly controlled by our instincts.  And less pain in the wife is a good idea.  I don’t think I’m getting through to her and it might be the paucity of my argument.  She, on the other hand, is quite articulate and doesn’t mince words.  I have to call her off each time the healing hands arrive.  She slinks away shaking her head.  Maybe she’s right, but misery lies down that path, without a doubt.   So it’s not really a rising above but a letting go.  Even if that letting go led to betrayal, it would be the way to go.                                 

Buried under an avalanche of periodicals, I won’t bore you with a litany, I pull Jacobin from the pile.  A magazine of culture and polemic.  This is a new one, glossy, nicely produced.  I love subscribing.  Only two years into their run they say this about themselves and their aims. 

“Jacobin is not an organ of a political organization or captive to a single ideology.  Our contributors are, however, loosely bound by common values and sentiments:

·       As proponents of modernity and the unfilled project of the Enlightenment.

·       As asserters of the libertarian quality of the socialist ideal.

·       As internationalists and epicureans.”

In other words, they’re a new generation of dialectical materialists well-verse in Marxist analysis.  The second statement on the list is interesting.  Freedom of action is good, and a more equal (financial and opportunity-wise) society would almost undoubtedly function better.  How do we move towards that?   Are they necessarily opposed?  Social justice demands equality.  Fair reward for enterprise and achievement demands inequality.  And freedom?  John Berger says, “Freedom without actions does not exist.”  Which I take to mean, freedom must be exercised, like a muscle.  Certainly the current situation would indicate that something outside the established electoral politics is required, if only to shove the entrenched interests aside.  Which brings us to the occupy movement. I don’t look at the occupy movement as a failure but an opening salvo of new ways of thinking about how to organize society.  The long view is important, and victory impossible.  What would it look like?  As Abe Osheroff, an Seattle veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War said, “If you need victories, you’re not a fighter, but an opportunist.”  He was in his nineties and organizing against the invasion of Iraq when he said this.  The long view.  Who can forget Chou En Lai’s response when asked on the 200 year anniversary what he thought of the French revolution, “It’s too soon to tell.”  We like to think this a brilliant example of an Asian sense of time, when actually, it probably represents the survival skills required in the court of Mao.  Be like the turtle, comrade.  When the glorious leader sticks his head out, so do you, only not as far.  But we’re not in that nest of vipers and can crane and contort our necks with abandon.  What do we see?  Where’s the new idea?  Where’s the long term thinking?  There has to be a radical possible alternative; otherwise everything is pulled towards a failing neo-liberal orthodoxy and its attendant oligarchies.  “We do not vote on who owns what.”[ii]  The shouting matches between the Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. drown out near everything.  The late Christopher Hitchens called the system two cheeks of the same ass.  Hitch was great, but I still don’t think we should forgive him for supporting the invasion of Iraq.  Perhaps continuous power struggles are inevitable, a given?   More than likely.  This seems to indicate that, if regular folks want to influence these struggles for power, they better get organized.  Take the ongoing dance in Cyprus.  It’s a bank rescue.  A bank rescue.  Short-term thinking feels so ego driven; as though only self-reflective decisions that carry the possibility of immediate personal reward are valid or worthy.    

“The current fiscal debates in Congress do not even recognize that free trade globalization is a core source of America’s diminished prosperity.”[iii]  Meanwhile the Obama administration busies itself negotiating more free trade agreements, because there should be no limits on profit, regardless the severe limits on who shares it.  Tis a selected private affluence.  

So I did this reading in Olympia during my recent State-side dash at my favorite Anarchist bookstore, Last Word Books.  The audience was peopled with folks I’ve known all my life.  One friend, Jim, lemme see, we first met at Mrs. Bell’s nursery school, so say the age of four.  Jim had a wedding to attend and arrived just at the end of the reading all spiff in suit.  He worked in the State government at the decision making level for many years and now works the same territory from the private side.  After the reading we’re standing in an open space near the front of the store yakking, Jim and Jerry, another childhood friend, and yours truly.  The subject may have been old Olympia but there’s some young folks lingering around trying to hear what we say or join the conversation and finally one young woman puts ten chairs in a circle around us and says, let’s all sit down and talk.  What a good idea!  Jim, Jerry and I look at each other and shrug, why not?  So for the nearly the next hour we have a wide-ranging round table kinda talk.   We could tell them how it was, little white Olympia of the 50’s & 60’s, a soft focus American vanity, nary a student of color in a high school of 2000.  The huge parking lots for the students cars.  A rural world only minutes away.  Back then people such as Jim’s mom and my father were deeply involved in the decisions concerning how the town would develop.  We’re not talking tense meetings behind venetian blinds with a guy named Vito at the door here.  Jim’s mom was in electoral politics, occupying what would be the far left wing of the Democratic Party now, while my father operated within the power structure in what I’m sure they felt was benevolent crony capitalism.  No need for a public hearing when a phone call would do.  “Harold, they want to build offices on that bank above West Bay Drive.  Is that ground stable?”  “No it isn’t, Bill.”  “What would you suggest?”  “Denying the permit would be a reasonable first step.  Who are these guys, anyway?”  “I don’t know.  Some cowboys from California.”  Sounds like the way things work everywhere.  Our talk mates were encouragingly interested in local affairs which now feature lots of hearings and public meetings.  So yes, we could tell ‘em how it was, hell, Jim could even tell them how certain bills facing the legislature would fare, but we didn’t have an idea of the way forward.  Let’s face it, the new galvanizing idea isn’t going to come from people in their sixties.  We had our shot, we’ve done our damage, and are now just completing the finishing touches on the Potemkin democracy and faux market system we were handed, that we snatched with both hands and ran,

it off the cliff.

Our contribution at this point can only be analysis of what went wrong.  We parted fondly, laughing.  Each evening is only one, but when you’ve known someone sixty years the common ground is firm, you can pivot and know the horizon in every direction.

This condition we find ourselves in,

thought into a corner

or no, rather, to a precipice where

everything is greater than we imagined,

a chaotic universe

pushing around and through.

We can’t go back,

it is up to us

to wring meaning

from pain and loss,

from random shattering crash and splinter,

dark shards stiletto the drama,

stun dogs drooling miracles patrol the perimeter,

that imaginary arc of influence,

the edge of what seems reasonable to require,

acquire, or say it like it is, desire

compulsion that scorches,

want combustible elixir.

The best stuff burns

all the way down,

which is its only meaning,

fire without flame.

The way out is in.

I like to carry around enough money, coin and small bills, to hand out as I make my way down the sidewalks of the world.  In Sparti, where sometimes the gypsies are so nastily aggressive that you have to stiff them, which should always be an option, and the States, where I like to pass around pictures of George Washington.  It doesn’t cost much and is certainly a vanity on my part.  In Portland this year I must have bought six or seven copies of the same BIG ISSUE.  I ask you, what other newspaper features poetry so prominently?  Lots of it.  My core response to begging is: How dare I walk by someone asking when it is a cold stone guarantee that I have far more than they, and no matter how much I give them, the equation will not change.  (On the other hand, Mirella returns from Sparti and says, Katerina would like some manure for her garden if you have some.  And some compost.  Compost?!  This turns me around.  Compost!  I may have had too much fun occasionally in this life, but I ain’t never had too much compost; not here, where you have to make it yourself.)  My nephew, six years working as a cop on the streets of Tacoma, a tough town, tells me that every street person he’s ever had to deal with has been an addict.  The implication being that giving them money won’t help them.  Help them, that’s a tall order.  But really, they are providing me with the opportunity to give, so I should be thanking them for allowing me my pathetic benevolence.  Nobody says no.  Perhaps my contribution will enable a fix within the hour, an understandable gesture if you’re living on the streets, although certainly, it will more than likely ensure that you stay there.  As we have seen, long term thinking is thin on the ground in the twenty-first century.

5 April 2013



For a current take on the Greek situation:
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