Today, Friday, June 24, when Roe v. Wade died an untimely and grotesque death. The Supreme Court, the “law of the land,” what a mockery. My god, has it come to this? Yes, it has. It is.
How can we so amazingly destroy ourselves ? What is wrong with us? Our curiosity drives us to unravel the inside of an atom and our madness uses the knowledge to destroy the planet, mad enough to bring it all to a horrifying end?
I think of Dylan’s Masters of War.
My god how rapidly our world approaches the brink.
I’ve written a play that deals with the insanity of so-called civilized society. We’re done an initial readthrough and are planning a full full production for early this fall.
Also planning a talk on James Joyce’s Ulysses along with actors reading excerpts from the work in celebrating of the Joyce’s incredible work. It will air on Bloomsday June 16 at 7PM.
So we keep on doing what keeps the heart going during these incredibly stressful times.
Ricia was a wonderful friend. It was a pleasure to work with her husband Bill to create this video of her show at Newfane’s Moore Library this November.
I take a small dose of reality by reading the paper for a few minutes in the morning with my coffee and muffin.
Today’s news was the UN’s report on climate change.
Oh, and, if that weren’t enough there was the article on how the US thinks Russia may be attacking CIA agents and diplomats (there’s a difference?) in Havana, with illness somehow done via microwaves.
I definitely felt I’d overdosed on reality and I attempted, unsuccessfully, to escape to a jigsaw puzzle.
Is our species hell-bent on its own destruction?
Who the hell left us humans in charge of the planet?
Sometimes I think the world’s leadership has seen too many sci-fi movies and are bent on transforming this world into their version of totalitarian triumphalism.
Sci-fi can never match scaring us as much as reality can.
In addition to all the terrible blow of the pandemic and its handling, the separation of artist from audience is a form of damage that the human spirit finds hard to bear. Yes, thankfully, new modes of artistic communication emerge. But it is not a simple matter.
To put it a different and perhaps more scary way, the struggle of art to express itself and for us to express ourselves through art, to satisfy our own need to creatively communicate, is being suffocated not only by the pandemic, but by our culture giving up on itself.
Theater, music, dance, painting, sculpture, literature, poetry and every other human creative endeavor are there to challenge, to open the mind, when it is so much easier to just not bother. Why open a book? Why act in or go to a play? Learn an instrument, join a band? So much easier to let one’s pod take over a la The Body Snatchers and let creative energies fade.
And to exist in more than the creator’s ego, there must be an audience, a community of those who appreciate what the creator strives to do.
And here is the great struggle for us in the pandemic. Not just to exist but to do something that satisfies the soul. For most artists that means doing something that affects someone else, that moves the other, the unites people through the act of creation.
We let go of this too easily. We take its loss too lightly.
Many, many artists, at the same time as fighting for their health and economic survival, suffering these days. Many find outlets, moments of expression and sharing. We must find more.
…in order to breath
Not easy these days
The project has already afforded me and others and I am thankful for that regardless of what happens next in a reality that sounds more like science fiction than James Joyce’s wildest phantasmagoric moments.
We need as much art as we can absorb as the best known antidote to hard, cold reality.
So the project proceeds. If it isn’t advised to gather in theaters come June (What a thought!!!), we’ll perform in the street! The word must go on!
We have so limited ability to shift the frightening direction our government is so committed to do. I know that voting itself can feel painful, yet it’s one of the few things we can do. PLEASE VOTE!
It’s said that it’s better to light a candle than damn the darkness, but I say, do both! DAMN those who would deprive others of their humanity as the current administration (not just Trump — the whole lot of the them!), but also let our own candles glow ! VOTE!
Remembering the Dylan line from Masters of War:
They throw the worst fear that can ever be hurled
The fear to bring children into this world
Hooray for all you out there for your courage!
As a child, I dreamed of being an old man. I think lots of kids had dreams like that, fantasies, even reveries. I think of the first character I played on stage was Giles Corey (an old man who’s a victim of the witch hunt in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible). I think of “altacocker,” the Yiddish word I remember hearing my father say and “Der Alte,” what they called the German politician Konrad Adenauer.
Now, as I get older, I dream of being that kid again, of being that kid who dreamed of being an old man.
Also: Added new thought on learning lines/music from actor/musician’s perspective.
American Democracy at the Crossroads
When I was in college many decades ago, I remember being struck by what Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about what had emerged as the United States’ “experiment” in democracy. He saw in the U.S. governmental structure an interpretation of “majority rules” that frightened him. He saw the possibility that an electoral majority might so dominate that it could do whatever it wanted. An electoral majority could then abrogate nearly all rights and needs of everyone else. He foresaw that the “winner take all” aspect of our system could have drastic consequences to those who lost key electoral battles, so that a relatively small electoral majority — a problem amplified yet further by the separation of electors from the popular vote — could so dominate governance that the people as a whole could be largely disenfranchised and a small elite could run roughshod over the needs of the many.
The Constitution attempts to ameliorate this danger with two key elements: The doctrine of the separation of powers, embodied in the three branches of government, and the inclusion of the Bill of Rights. Recent events, beginning with the overall domination of the Republican Party over such a long stretch of time that the Supreme Court is only marginally an “independent” force, gerrymandering has all but guaranteed control of the House of Representatives, and the removal of all fetters on the ability of wealth to determine electoral power, has left vast numbers of people who live in the United States with nearly no control over the governmental decisions that most crucially shape their lives.
Decades of struggle for the rights of women, for racial equality, for worker unification in unions, for humane reactions to those whose political and economic necessities have driven them to immigrate without government approval, for liberalization of draconian drug laws, for quality education regardless of wealth, for health care as a human right — all this and much more has been either driven back or is more threatened today than ever before. Some causes have fared better than others, but overall, we, the people, are less free, less able to control our own destinies, have less confidence that our children will have greater opportunities than we had, and on and on, all because of the ability of a small group to leverage its wealth and power into utterly dominating the masses of people. As bad as this has been for the majority of the American populace, it has been yet more devastating to the most vulnerable members of our society.
Much as people who consider themselves progressives, including me, focus their fear and outrage on Donald Trump. This is, I would say, appropriate, as he is more than merely a symptom of how far our “democracy” has sunk. Each day, he strikes out against all who stand in his way. He goes beyond exploiting a narrow-minded worldview, but actively incites hateful attitudes toward women, towards immigrants, toward environmentalists, towards “liberals,” toward poorer countries of the world as though they were the cause of every person’s miseries.
This is not the democracy “of the people, for the people, and by the people,” but increasingly an oligarchy of extremely wealthy people. Sadly, a very large percentage of the most privileged seem to measure their wealth by increasing the gap of wealth and privilege. Our democracy becomes still more of a “corpocracy” where the magnates of corporations maneuver to control everything from abortion rights to gun laws to immigration.
The struggle is not over. People of good will continue to fight for human dignity. No, it’s not just about Trump — though he certainly epitomizes and leads the charge for the value system that puts accumulation of wealth and privilege (including the “privilege” to disparage others) first and everything else cast aside. It’s about trying to make U.S. democracy truly democratic.
We all have a lot of work to do.
I am upset to see Vermont’s recent legalization of marijuana is being used to justify a giant step backward in terms of personal rights.
I am afraid, I admit, that a deal was struck: that all along, some said, “Yeh, I’ll vote for this, but I’ll also let you dig another step deeper into my life.
My first attempt at writing on this appeared in VTDigger yesterday. Here it is (link at bottom of page):
Legalization of Marijuana Does Not Justify Saliva testingLegalization of marijuana is a significant shift in the state government’s role in “regulating” cannabis use. In Vermont, the first state to legalize marijuana by legislation as opposed to referendum, the major change is in mentality: shifting marijuana use from a governmental concern to one of personal choice. Moving from decriminalization to legalization, however, is not at all certain to significantly change the actual consumption of marijuana. Marijuana, legal or not, has been widely available for decades. Visions of the state being overrun by the drug-crazed is an assumption that ignores the fact that cannabis use is widespread not only in Vermont, but throughout the country.
Unfortunately, legalization is being used by some to argue for far more aggressive state police policies, specifically taking saliva swabs and, potentially, blood samples. This turns a law enacted to free citizens from governmental interference into a rationale to seriously limit the liberties of all, since even those who have never used cannabis could be detained and tested.
Under the proposed legislation (H. 237), officers who “reasonably” believe that a person may be under the influence of marijuana are authorized to begin a series of steps similar to those used for alcohol, but more invasive in both length of time being detained and in deprivation of personal privacy.
Saliva-testing for cannabis is not at all the same as a breathalyzer testing for alcohol. On what objective standard is an officer’s judgment based that a person may have consumed marijuana? At a sobriety checkpoint, for example, the driver may have given no indication in impaired driving and may have no signs in their breath or demeanor. But if the officer doesn’t like the look of the person’s eyes, or the “normality” of the person’s responses to questions, the officer can then detain the subject until the proscribed tests have been administered.
No one, including the manufacturers of the saliva or blood tests themselves, even attempts to argue that the tests can accurately determine the recency of use or amount of ingestion, let alone the degree of impairment. Thus a person who is “presumed innocent” may be held, have their saliva checked, be vulnerable to the abuse of such a test to collect DNA, and, then, if THC is found (as would be expected, for example, in anyone using marijuana for medicinal purposes), further held until a blood test is taken. Even testing advocates acknowledge that neither test can be considered “evidentiary.” Neither test can distinguish a person who is seriously impaired from a person who legally ingested many hours or even days before sitting behind the wheel of a car. When a person is held to be tested by an assessment that has no validity, one’s liberty is being encroached for no reason that would hold up in a court of law. The fact that some other states enforce such a parody of justice is no justification for its use in Vermont.
I was pleased to see the ACLU has taken the stance, based largely on similar arguments, that saliva testing based on an officer’s subjective judgment of cannabis use is unacceptable. It is my sincere hope that the Vermont legislators who were insightful enough to see the value of legalization will also be insightful enough to see that validating a deprivation of everyone’s rights to be a poor “balance” to the change from decriminalization to legalization.
Jonathan Mack, Ph.D., professor emeritus of Psychology of the State University of New York, is the former Chair of the Selectboard of Newfane, VT. He currently manages the Hooker-Dunham Theater and Gallery in Brattleboro.