Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

July 29, 2008

This Month's Moment of Beauty–From John Cheever

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 2:14 pm

I don’t know about you, but Cheever gets to me. Maybe I’m a sucker for beautiful melancholy or melancholy beauty. I don’t know which the following passage is, but it always had a kind of power over me. The first words of Bullet Park:

‘Paint me a small railroad stattion, then, ten minutes before dark.”

Paint me: it suddenly occurred to me that he was addressing this to someone specific, to a painter. To Edward Hopper, the Cheever of the visual arts?

Because what follows is pure Hopper through the lense of Cheever:

Remember, the station ten minutes before dark. Ten minutes all too exactly!

“The architecture of the station is oddly informal, gloomy but unserious, and mostly resembles a pergola, cottage or summer house although this is a climate of harsh winters. The lamps along the platform burn with a nearly palpable plaintiveness. The setting seems in some way to be at the heart of the matter.”

The heart of the matter! Not an accident, I think more likely a conscious tribute to that other master of melancholy: Graham Greeene, in the title of (I believe) his greatest, indeed his most beautifully melancholy work.

And “the lamps along the platform…”. Kills me The palpable plaintiveness! Just so. I feel it all too often. For a while after my intitial enchantment with Cheever, I allowed the disenchantment, the alcoholism of the journals, etc. make me think he was “merely” the poet of the hangover. But he’s so much more. His hangovers like Greene’s are painfully spirtual, or rather trials of the spirit. Agony of the soul that no Alka-seltzer can salve.

“You wake in a Pullman bedroom at three a.m. in a city the name of which you do not know and may never discover. A man stands on a platform with a child on his shoulders. They are waving good bye to some traveler, but what is the child doing up so late, and why is the man crying?”

Unbearable. But unbelievably beautiful in some sad way too: the masterful compression of that station platform tableau. A novel in itself.

And as if to numb us to the pain he draws back:

“On a siding beyond the platform there is a lighted dining car where a waiter sits alone at a table adding up his accounts. Beyond this is a water tower and beyond this is a well-lighted and empty street.”

Whew.The journey through the hell of melancholy is over. You’ve come to the “well lighted and empty street”. A tirubte to “A Clean Well Lighted Place”? A respite from darkness and the sorrow of human being.

I don’t know. I think it’s somehow beautiful if only in its truth.

July 23, 2008

Bloggers Should Spread the Word: Boycott the Fascist Olympics

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:42 am

I know this is the fourth or fifth time I’ve done a post saying basically the same thing in different ways, but nobody’s done anything about it and there’s still time, but time is running out.

The jailing of a blogger/dissident yesterday by Chinese authorities as part of their on- going pre Olympic dissident-cleansing campaign is somethiing that should be of particular concern to all bloggers of all ideologies in addition to free speech and human rights activists.

Once again: follow the money. The networks and advertisers are betting they’ll cash in big on the fascist Olympics (a phrase I use because the hysterical worship of physical perfection has always been a characteristic of fascism, and because China is a police state regime which demands idolatry of the party, another key fascist trait).

If enough millions of people register displeasure at the networks and advertisers becoming enablers of police state terror with the advertisers and networs, and threaten to boycott their products in the market place as well as their tainted spectacle on tv, the result might at least force the release of dissidents such as those in the article I linked to. Maybe more. Maybe less, but shouldn’t we try?

What is needed is a central website for citizens to make their boycott pledge, asap. Where are the wizard techies who could put this together?

July 18, 2008

Where are the advocates of "even handedness" in the Middle East: Please Defend Your Child Murderer

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 6:32 pm

I’m so glad my colleage Emily Yoffe at Slate called my attention to this column by Mona Charen about the Israaeli Hezbullah “exchange. You know all the ones the defenders of “even handedness”, diplomacy, moral equivalence were all so excited about. A real breakthrough for peace.

The Israelis got back the remains of two dead bodies kidnaped by the Lebanese wing of Hezbullah, the loathesome band of psychopathic murderers sponsored by Iran. The Israelis gave back alive this unspeakable excuse for a human being who—in 1979– snuck into Israel invaded a family’s home, killed the father in front of his four year old daughter’s eyes. Then oh-so-bravely–a real credit to his faith–killed the helpless four year old (the coward was obviously threatened by her) by smashing her head with a rifle butt.

And when he was returned to Lebanon he was greeted as a national hero by a nation of cheering crowds. As Mona Charen asks, “What kind of people celebrate a child murderer?”

One answer is: this is the kind of people Israel is supposed to trust its security and its children to by bargaining as if they were dealing with human beings. To all of those who call for “sacrifices on both sides for peace”, and blame “both sides” for the endless conflict think about your own moral stance. You are arguing we should be treating cold blooded child murderers and the nations who celebrate them them as your equals.Until you dissociate yourself from them, metaphorically, they are.

I Won't Go See Batman Because I Can't Stand " Super-hero Movies

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:45 am

Sorry, I don’t care how “dark’ and “deeply sophisticated” pop culture critics” call it, how deeply darkly and darkly and deeply serious they want us to believe it is, so they can reserve both their aura of intellectual sophistication and their pop cult street cred, . I don’t care how “iconic” comic book heroes have become. At a certain point even super aware cultural critics like myself who revel in rock and tv have to draw a line, however lonely it is on this side of it. I’ve always thought one sure way of spotting a pseud when it comes to cultural critics is the over-praise he or she devotes to comic book super hero movies.

Have you ever in your life seen alleged cultural critics mimic each other or try to out do each other in terrifiedly telling us how horrifically dark the new Batman: The Dark Knight will be. (it opens today). Why it even has “dark” in the title Knight(Knight=night, get it) for the clueless, but the air off over-over excitement, over statement, over-gush that has preceded this film is vritually sickening in its athletic self mimicry.

Oooh. it’s a comic book franchise but it’s like, really, really dark. Scary kids! But (don’t tell the kids) it’s really made for subtler sophisticated adults like us our nations staunch and hardy pop culture critics who can look into the heart of darkness and see…Batman.

Oh right, it’s got Heath Ledger and he plays a scary clown. Whoever would have thought of it before, a scary clown. Clowns are suosed to be funny! So ironic!! He’s already been handed not just a posthumous Oscar but pretty much a Nobel prize for Scary Clowns.

Jeez. go read a book or something (remember them). or see a brilliant smart, truly dark movie (Double Indemnity, Chinatown again. It’s sad to see desparate critics so undernourished by crap international CGI fare and super advanced cartoons that they clutch for dear life onto something that is marketed to them by clever studio as “dark”. You could watch the advance hype build and the suckers all climb on the choo choo to “darkness”. Sad that one has to depend on something like this to be the intellectual high point of your (writing) summer. At least the audiences have, you know, lives. It’s not their profession to take this seriously. (That’s dark.)

But it goes beyond just this film, which by the way, I’m sure is very, very dark. It probably makes Dostoevesky look like Archie&Veronica. But why not give the big D. himself a try first, (or at least Conrad) then you might get a sense of proportion. Wouldn’t be blown away by a comic book movie.

Still I must admit that it’s not just Batman or super hero movies: I hate all super heroes in general, in particular the cult of super hero comics as Something More than they are, fun for kids. Don’t get me wrong I read Superman comix as a kid, but the only thing I took away from it that was anyway original or thought provoking was the concept of “Bizarro world”–the badly drawn, cracked mirror image of the comic book “real world”. In Bizarro world super powers are all a joke.

Let’s face it we all livein “bizarro world”. That’s the way the real world is! That’s the thing that those who worship the “darkness” of really, really, really, “dark” Batman movies won’t admit. That the movie I’d like to see.

If I want truly scary this summer I’ll go see the Abba movie. Meanwhile the only super hero movies I’ll watch are the ones (re)done by “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. Anybody seen their Santa Claus Versus the Martains? Unbelieveably hilarious. Far more brilliant than any Batman movie you’ll see even if they take dark to the nth power. I won’t spoil the ending for you.

July 13, 2008

Typos and iBooks

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:53 am

A commenter justly calls me to task for typos and and asks why. (In the last post I left the second “p” out of purportedly. I won’t make any wisecracks about people not being able to figure it out, the commenter is correct in that it looks “unprofessional” and I’ve corrected it. (Or “unrofessional” as I originally had it.)

The mechanical reason is that the “p” key on my iBook has come unmoored and all “p”s require a greater effort to make them register. (Does anyone else have this experience: that iBooks begin to fall apart after 3 years and the extended warranties run out, and the best option then becomes not to repair, but to buy a new one? Wonder why?

But I have been negligent in using spell-check in part (originally “in art”) because I’ve been trying to do shorter posts, thinking that I’ll do them more frequently. But I think I only have a certain number of ideas that I don’t think are obvious, run of the mill and are worth bothering readers with. Many bloggers don’t allow this to inhibit them, I just can’t write anything for the sake of writing something.

And so when I do get an idea I think is a blog item I race to get it on the screen, on to the site in the improvisational, yes sometimes unprofessional way, that I thought was part of the spirit of blogging. Different from journalism and book writing that goes through layers of copy-editors, editors, proofreaders, all to the good for the most part. But different. More considered obviously. I think the form is designed for the not-too-over-considered and subsequent re thinking. Sharing first draft thoughts with readers and getting their reaction. I maintain that my misspellings are a sign of this blog’s un mediated authenticity! (only half-serious here)

Nonetheless I don’t think this is a widely shared attitude, or anyway when misspellings become frequent, some people’s tolerance for what I regard as the Kerouac-like immediacy of the blog can become irritating. So I will give in to The Man, if that’s what you want and go back to spellcheck, however much it inhibits my spontaneous creativity. (Kidding!) But interesting that Safari spellcheck still considers : “blog” and “bloggers” misspellings. And as I point out in discussing the blogger morphing of “teh” from misprint to deliberate alternative specifiersometimes typos can take on a life and dignity of their own.

BTW, iBook users, I’d like to hear if your machines start falling apart like clock-work after three years.

July 12, 2008

The First E-mail of the Apocalypse? What Will You Say?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:40 am

Have you been following the hacker-caused furor over the latest manifestation of the “Stormworm” virus? It seems that they’ve devised an ingenious temptation to click on their virus-infected video link. They send out mass emails with subject lines that seem to be news stories about the beginning of the Third World War, purportedly a U.S. invasion of Iran that has already involved nuclear detonations. If you open it, inside they invite you to click on the infected video link to see the mushroom clouds.

A list of “stormworm” World War III subject lines has been circulating among cyber security websites. It includes the following:

Here are some of the subject headings:

Iran USA conflict developed into war
More than 10000 Iranians were murdered
Negotiations between USA and Iran ended in War
Occupation of Iran
Plans for Iran attack began
The Iran’s Leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared Jihad to USA
The World War III has already begun
The begining of The World War III
The military operation in Iran has begun
The secret war against Iran
Third War in Iran
Third World War has begun
US Army crossed Iran’s borders
US Army invaded Iran
US army is about 20 kilometers from Tegeran
US soldiers occupied Iran
USA attacked Iran
USA declares war on Iran
USA occupeid Iran
USA unleashed war on Iran
War between USA&Iran
War with Iran is the reality now
Washington prefers to shoot first

The following is a selection of the body text:

20000 US soldiers in Iran http://xxxxxxxx.com/
Iran USA conflict developed into war http://xxxxxxxx.com/
More than 10000 Iranians were murdered http://xxxxxxxx.com/
Negotiations between USA and Iran ended in War http://xxxxxxxx.com/
Occupation of Iran http://xxxxxxxx.com/
Plans for Iran attack began http://xxxxxxxx.com/
The World War III has already begun http://xxxxxxxx.com/
The begining of The World War III http://xxxxxxxx.com/
The military operation in Iran has begun http://xxxxxxxx.com/
The secret war against Iran http://xxxxxxxx.com/
Third War in Iran http://xxxxxxxx.com/
Third World War has begun http://xxxxxxxx.com/
US Army crossed Iran’s borders http://xxxxxxxx.com/
US Army invaded Iran http://xxxxxxxx.com/
US army is about 20 kilometers from Tegeran http://xxxxxxxx.com/
US soldiers occupied Iran http://xxxxxxxx.com/
USA attacked Iran http://xxxxxxxx.com/
USA declares war on Iran http://xxxxxxxx.com/
USA occupeid Iran http://xxxxxxxx.com/
USA unleashed war on Iran http://xxxxxxxx.com/
War between USA&Iran http://xxxxxxxx.com/
War with Iran is the reality now http://xxxxxxxx.com/
Washington prefers to shoot first http://xxxxxxxx.com/

it’s almost an incantation of tribal fears. Almost like the EKG of that subdomain of the collective Unconscious where we collectively repress our nuclear war fears.

So here’s my question: what would be your first e mail of the apocalypse.How would you imagine the start? What would you say to a friend or lover, if you’d just heard a bulletin that nuclear detonations had begun? What would you put in the subject line? And/or what would you put in the body of the text, if it looked like the long goodbye was upon us?

July 7, 2008

"We must love one another or die" versus "We must love one another and die."

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 4:04 am

The question–one of the most vexing in literature and literarry studies–and life itself goddamit–has been troubling me of late. It’s about a much debated line (and revision and escision of a line) in W.H. Auden’s famous World War II poem, “September 1, 1939”.

it’s a heartbreakinly despairing poem, but in Auden’s original version there was this ambiguously uplifting line: “We must love one another or die”.

At first I heard a variation of the phrase on an NPR flashback to the voice of LBJ in the famous 1964 presidential camaign ad, the one known as “Daisy”, the one featuring a child child picking flowers that ends with a nuclear explosion filling the tv screen and the ominous voice of LBJ intoning: “We must learn to love each other or we must die.”

Then I saw another variation of the line used as an email signature by a commenter on Daily Kos. This one read: “We must love one another and die.” (ital. mine).It was not a careless error. (at least I don’t think so).

The back story to this variation is that for some reason Auden took an immense disliking to the original phrase, struck the verse in which it appeared from subsequent reprints of the poem and refused to allow the poem to be rerinted at all.

Then in one instance he did allow it to be reprinted as “and die”.

What are we to make of this? The general assumption is that Auden thought the original version too treacly, too faux uplifiting. In a poem otherwise devoted to bitter despairthere’s this line that could have been lifted from “All We Need is Love” and probably made a college dorm poster in the 60s.

“We must love one another and die” certainly avoids being too chipper, but does it suffer from the obverse flaw of being too rigidly despairing: we are condemned (that’s how “must” reads in this context) to love each other and die which makes death all the more horrid. Love is not a choice but the first act in an inevitable tragedy. True the first version implies in a certain respect that if we love one another we will not die, which is a lie or a delusion.

My personal investment inthis longstanding question deepened when I was googling around and I came across these two remarkable quotes from an obscurely named website:

“. . . the celebrated line from September 1939 is revised thus: ‘We must love one another and die.’ Did Auden know that I proposed this revision – in print – over a decade ago? If so, how unkind of him not to mention it.”
– Ken Tynan, Diaries 1974

“Flo Whittaker had once gently reproved Dr. Rosenbaum for his attitude toward politics. She had done so by quoting to him, in tones that rather made for righteousness, a line of poetry that she had often seen quoted in this connection: ‘We must love one another or die.’ Dr. Rosenbaum replied: ‘We must love one another and die.'”
– Randall Jarrell, Pictures from an Institution, 1954

Wow! Dr. Rosenbaum! It kind of sounds like the downer thing I’d say.

What say you readers? Which version speaks to you, for you. Both or neither?

July 5, 2008

Shame on Madame Tussaud's! Bravo to the Hitler Beheader!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 3:03 pm

After a while you get inured to the trivialization of mass murder, tired of trying to police or shame those who persist out of idiocy (Roberto Benigni) or opacity (Charlie Chaplain in The Great Dictator) in doing it. And so I found myself too weary to comment on the fact that the Madame Tussard’s new Berlin branch featured a life sized wax figure of Adolf Hitler.

After all “market research” had shown there was a demand for such an exhibit as long as it was done “with sensitivity” a spokesperson or Madame Tussard’s said. (I’m being ironic here just in case it wasn’t obvious).

But now that some bold and justly outraged soul has taken eminently appropriate action and ripped the head off the cultural monstrosity the wax figure represented, I don’t want to negelect offering my gratitude for the moral clarity of the act.

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