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July 17, 2012 - July 10, 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012


Time Out.

"I am what I am." Obama didn't show. But Laura thinks Romney's a wimp.

ELABORATION. Lake is writing his next rebuttal. Just talked to him. We both had stuff to do this weekend. I told him, don't hurry. 500 words are not to be rushed. They have to be the right words. So much harder than a gush. He protested he could post today, but I told him I had something else to post about and he agreed to make use of more time.

Which brings me to the current conservative tantrum. Tried to listen to Laura Ingraham today. Had to turn her off, right in the middle of a Jonah Goldberg lecture about everything Romney is doing wrong  (Though she was even more fired up than Jonah.) Tried to listen to Rush Limbaugh today. Had to turn him off. He was yelling from the very start....

Yawn. The inside baseball people are all out of their minds. They used to call it the Dog Days. Those weeks in August when the temperature soars, tempers fray, and even the mildest dogs might bite you because they're so damned uncomfortable with the weather.

This year, we're having an unseasonable heat wave (see my opponent Josh Lake for his succinct definition of the difference between weather and climate), and it's made all the people who are supposed to be helping to defeat Obama, uh, NUTS.

Laura Ingraham was so unhinged that she asked Jonah Goldberg, paraphrasing, "You know what's going to happen if Romney loses?"

Sure, doll, The end of the United States of America. Another Obama term is something we can't recover from. But that wasn't her stated concern. She said, "They'll blame us, the conservatives, for pulling him too far to the right, when that has nothing to do with what's happening." Oh? That's the real nightmare outcome? Sorry, Laura. No.

Goldberg was afraid that even if Romney does win, conservatives would be accused of having dragged him across the finish line by fighting his fights for him. Dear, dear, dear. Poor things. They both agreed that Romney must confront the Bain charges and turn them into a positive. He doesn't have months to do this, not even weeks. He has maybe three days.

Horseshit. Dare I say it? Dressage horseshit.

I've got news for them. Nobody cares about Bain, partly because it's too complicated to understand at a time when nobody's paying attention to the campaign and partly because it's summer, it's hot, and why is everybody so fired up before the conventions when everyone knows the real campaign gets underway? Why polls haven't budged in weeks. The truism is that negative advertising always works. Well, it didn't stop Romney from getting the nomination when a baker's dozen of Republican candidates were tarring him with essentially the same charges Obama is recycling now. He sailed rather Teflon-like through all of that, neither loved nor hated but more or less holding his fire, and now he's tied in the polls with the incumbent president of the United States of America.

It's as if the conservatives have forgotten entirely about Obama, his disastrous presidency, and his habit of alternating time between Hollywood fundraisers and the golf course while the economy continues to gutter into stagnation.

Romney really doesn't have to do something every day. He may be no Reagan, but his campaign is more Reaganesque than not. What the inside-baseball people forget. He doesn't look like a crook. Even his gaffes are rather charmingly disingenuous. He's kind of being himself -- a tall friendly rich man with good hair, a lovely wife, and, to some, a distressing tendency not to see absolutely everything as mortal combat. You might not want to have a beer with him, but you'd sure accept him as a seatmate on a commercial airlinel flight. He wouldn't intrude but he'd make pleasant small talk and at the end of it he'd remember your name and your wife's and probably those of your children. Which is to say he is, despite all the balls-to-the-wall conservatives, a good politician.

It's impossible to be a successful corporate CEO without being a politician. His gift -- like, the talents that enabled him to save an imperiled Olympics -- are that he can make people come together on hard things without being an asshole. That's a Reagan thing. And it's the part he's playing now. He's shrugging off the Obama desperation because he knows the state of the nation argues for a change. He'll pick a VP who can do the attacking he doesn't want or need to do himself. He's amassing vast sums of money for the campaign that begins after the convention. And he'll probably get very specific in his acceptance speech. In the debates, he'll be the pleasant, reassuring one, not the desperate smallball Truman simulacrum who continually ducks the state of the economy to level inflammatory charges against his opponent, and people will be reassured. All they have to see, when they are finally finally paying attention is that he's not a rapacious, racist, elitist.

The biggest thing the conservatives forget and the libs are desperately afraid of: Romney is smarter, better educated, and more experienced than Obama. Even if he is stiff, he has aplomb. He's knows who he is and he's comfortable with who he is. He hasn't claimed accomplishments he doesn't have. He doesn't compare himself to luminaries of history. Despite all the attacks that have been launched against him, there doesn't seem to be a trail of ruthless, vindictive, blindly ambitious, or personally corrupt behavior anywhere in sight, or we'd have heard of it by now from the Obama campaign. All they can come up with is that he's a capitalist, who ran a capitalist enterprise, and made a fortune.

Quit running scared and think Teflon. Get some unguent for the heat rash on your brains. Consider the possibility that Romney isn't just smarter than Obama; he might be smarter than all his critics and a rarity to boot: a politician who is not seeking love or adulation but an opportunity to apply his talents to fixing a country he loves. While pissing off as few people as possible.

No, not my ideal candidate either. But my ideal candidate never showed up. What other personality or character could you name that offers a better opportunity to heal the terrible wounds in the conduct of our republic?

Get a grip, Laura, Rush, and the baying hounds of the National Review. Maybe it's time to quit betting against the best horse in the field and to start trusting his training, discipline, and heart to win the day.
 




Friday, July 13, 2012


Rebuttals, Round 2

A bad movie because it understated their accomplishment. They
 didn't always get the privilege of arguing what they believed.

LAKE. I LOVE HIM TOO. Don't blame Lake if his rebuttal doesn't appear till Monday. I have family stuff to do. The Emotional Weather Report is severe around here at the moment. We'll get through it fine, but there's stuff to do.

Laird


My opponent has missed my principal point. I began with the "how," (education) and ended with the "what," (a new aristocracy of government and media that rules a new permanent class of dependents). He focused on the "how" and created an attractive distraction consisting largely of platitudes. His stair-step ridicule of the possibility that one generation can be lesser than another appeals to our general optimism. He conceives of the Internet as the Great Escape for all the victims of the public school system. Somehow, miraculously, they will reassemble all the missing bits and school themselves into a great new age of creativity and competitiveness. My noticing that they have none of the tools to effect this miracle makes me Clint Eastwood ordering people off his lawn.

But if they have not been taught how to write, how to think, how to do math and understand statistics, if they have been coddled and rewarded for just being there, if they have so little curiosity that their response to every challenging question is "Whatever" and their most frequent complaint is how bored they are and how boring everything is, if they cruise the main byways of their towns without realizing that anything was ever any different from the row of fast food joints they see -- or more interesting -- if they have no grand sense of the continuum of time and human history that brought mankind from the caves to the technocratic present, they are become the Gammas of Huxley's Brave New World. They have no place in their unformed minds to file the new information they are being exposed to. Their highest aspiration can take them no higher than a winning play at Trivial Pursuit. Without the context of systematic early education in the basics, they're done.

How will their internet wanderings take them from Facebook and Twitter to Bastiat or Franklin? And even if they stumble upon them, how will they relate that to a life in which they text their every meal and mall adventure without even being able to name the current vice president of the United States?

I want to say this as tactfully as possible. All of my opponent's examples of positive indicators about today's youth come from a school that is training the new aristocracy destined to crush us.

Crush us? Indeed. Look at the real figures about job growth, unemployment, and where the people are going who fall out of the unemployment statistics. New jobs are being outstripped (a lot) by people who are applying for disability. New claims for unemployment are still significantly larger than new jobs, even though the MSM won't report it in such stark terms. But the people who are no longer unemployed because they are "disabled" are disabled forever.

We are less than one more presidential term away from a dependent majority that our new aristocratic ruling class (government pay and benefits now significantly exceed private sector compensation on average) will be only too happy to placate with more and more handouts.
 
Lake


In his last rebuttal, my opponent supplied the "how" and "what" of despair, the transformation of the young generation into Gammas by the destruction of the educational system. In this one, I'll respond with the "when" of hope. You see, the grim picture that he paints surely leads to a dark chapter of America's story, but not the end. America rolls, and it will roll through this dark time again, as it has throughout its scarred history.

All along, I've been arguing that this is a generational debate. Older generations always want their progeny to have it better than they had it, and the new generation always reacts. This happens in a cycle, one that I'm sure you've seen or experienced yourself. The grandfather works hard, makes the money, builds the family fortune, and is respected in the community. The father grows up wealthy, coddled, and protected, lives a better life than his father had but never develops quite the same character. And the son? He's in prison. His act of rebellion is to lash out against his father's character weaknesses, the guy who didn't really ever raise him. He becomes the ne'er do well son of negligent parents, and that's the end of the story. Right?

No. Out of the ashes comes a new generation. Their rebellion is against the ruined lives of their families. They have to work as hard as their great grandparents, make themselves out of nothing, earn everything they get to spite their predecessors. Out of nothing, something, fiery and determined. Sound familiar? It's exactly the story of the Punks of the Boomer Bible. Written by you know who. And it was MY spark of hope. It'll take more than some vapid, misbehaving Y-Gen Gammas to snuff that out.

When will this new generation of thinkers, writers, readers, historians, artists, and real scientists arise? The answer is simple: when it gets bad enough. If you think things are bad now, hold on to your hats... but don't despair. A second Obama term may be the historically perfect ordeal that catalyzes a new greatest generation, the one that refuses to quit. America rolls, and it will roll into another cycle, count on it.

As to my opponent's question: "How will their internet wanderings take them from Facebook and Twitter to Bastiat or Franklin?" They won't, not directly, but these sources will be found by someone. They are not destroyed, they are backed up forever, and the very fact that you can link to and read these pages of magnificent quotes (not to mention the complete written works) instantaneously gives me great hope. The revolution may not start on Facebook or Twitter, but I guarantee you it will involve the internet. Robert himself has pointed to the incredible diversity and richness of the offerings on YouTube, and he's not wrong. One video leads to another on the playlist, and new discoveries and connections are made, constantly. And while much of the internet is junk, so are most of the books in the library. Don't be too quick to dismiss what hyperlinking and connection-seeking can do for the coming generation. All it takes is one spark in one life to get that fire going, and the internet is home to millions of sparks, however small.

*********************

Stay tuned. We may be at the end. All but Lake's concluding summary.




Wednesday, July 11, 2012



Opening Statements:

Hope vs. Despair

The Burr-Hamilton duelling set.

AS PROMISED. I'm not going to get pretentious about this with a big "Resolved" statement. What we're talking about is pretty clear. Lake thinks there's still hope for the United States, and I'm taking the position there isn.'t. As the guest, Lake gets the first word and the last. The Youtube pick is his own.

Lake


RL is pissed these days, ever since the long, hot blackout. I don’t blame him. A lot of things in America, the rest of the world, and our personal lives have gotten shitty. He’s about ready to hang up his gun belt, unsaddle his horse, and live out the rest of his digital life in “My Little Acre.” But he’s looking for one last shootout, one more slugfest in the ring, one final faceoff in the Metalkort. He called my name, so here I am.

My job is to defend the existence of Hope in the face of the supposedly failing American Experiment. He’s going to argue that this is the dark end of a great dream, the final chapter in a sad, twisted comedy. The events of today are unprecedented, he’ll imply, and will truly pave the way for the end of this noble country. I’ll argue instead that this is the middle of the story, perhaps the tumultuous end of an act, but that the story of American Hope continues and will not end here. No, it won’t look the same, just as it’s changed its Way with each passing generation. And as every generation says to the last… “Damn kids, get off my lawn.” This is the argument of Despair in a nutshell, remember that as you read the ongoing debate.

I don’t know exactly what he’s going shoot me with on the side of Despair yet, but I’ll grant that he has a lot of ammo.

If he comes with History, I’ll ask: “What point in American history wasn’t bleaker than now?” The Civil War? The Great Depression? The Great War or the even bigger one to follow? The halcyon days of your youth in the 60’s? And yet hope endured.

If he comes with modern Pop Culture, I’ll retort: “What are you watching?” Hell’s Kitchen? The Jersey Shore? Louis CK? (ahem)  Go ahead, try to make the case that television programs -- selected by a handful of execs trying to shock viewers weekly into making the biggest viewing audience -- somehow embody the actual soul of the American people. As we mid-30’s kids grow up and realize that almost all TV programming is shite, we move on. Unlike RL, we’re not watching TV all day to our keep our finger on the nation’s cultural pulse. Those that keep hope alive in this country don’t fill their minds with hours of dreck. They’re working and they’re putting in the time needed to actually raise their kids properly.

If he comes at me with personal anecdotes, I can match him one for one, but that’s not going to make for a good debate. If he comes at me, Lake, personally -- and his strikethrough text implies that he might (a soul sickness, really?) -- then he’ll have lost the debate right there. But we both know that low blows are the coward’s way, so he’s got his crosshairs on my jugular instead.

So be it. Since I get the last word, I’m looking forward to seeing what he starts in with. Or do my points above win the debate before it even begins?


Laird


The United States received its mortal blow during the Vietnam War. That's when the radical draft dodgers chose to hide out in academia. They realized the opportunity they had when they looked around and saw how many of them had chosen the same hiding place. Since then, they have annihilated the education system of this once great country. The End.

Oh. You wanted more? Well, every other systemic ill flows from this one. They have rewritten history, perverted and politicized science, eviscerated both religion and the law, and effectively amputated the nation from the cultural taproot that fed its virtue, vitality, and dignity. Their obsession with multiculturalism has destroyed everything that made America great. Striving individuals are from their perspective selfish looters. Capitalism is predation. The historically disadvantaged are not winners in waiting but victims. Those who believe in the God of our fathers are racist, sexist, idiot theocrats. What they teach the children whose tutelage is their prime responsibility. Meanwhile, their commitment to unions and affirmative action has ensured that the young minds they receive for so-called higher education are already fatally nobbled. I've lived through three phases of the dumbing down of the SATs. Today's kids -- and by kids I mean 35+ and under -- are mostly illiterate vulgarians.

I have said, not flippantly, show me what a company advertises and I'll show you what they're bad at. If they talk about service, they've been criticized for poor service. If they talk about quality, they've got a record of poor quality to expunge. If they talk about reliability, they've been unreliable. What do we talk about and endlessly promote in this country? The kids. Why? There's never been a sorrier generation than the current one. They don't know anything except how to operate gadgets. They don't know how to work. They can't concentrate on anything. We choose to call their scatterbrained doodling through life multi-tasking. It isn't. They're barely conscious. They're spoiled, selfish, foul-mouthed, inarticulate, innumerate, and so all-around stupid they don't have the slightest conception of how much they don't know. But they're still the future.

Why we don't have one in the United States of America.

Exceptions? You bet there are exceptions. But who are the ones who are still conversant with art and literature and classical music, who still know that "fat, drunk and stupid" is no way to go through life? They're the offspring of the draft dodgers who took over all the great universities. Why the vaunted "New Media" is a myth. It's a joke, a rowdy low-rent circus of misspelled, half-written crap you have to look up on your own. The entire blogosphere doesn't add up to the sum of writing and thinking talent at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the New Yorker magazine.

They win. They've succeeded in creating a new aristocracy to rule the rest of us morons. Proof? What do they advertise? Class warfare. The perfect camouflage for the new master class. Get used to your chains. They will only grow tighter in years to come.

**********************

Stay tuned for rebuttals.





Next Round

Ready to rumble?

WAKE UP.  Keeping you up to date on the groundrules. This time we both respond to the other's Opening Statements, still without seeing what the other guy is writing. (Oops. Change of plan. Lake wants me to post now and he'll post later. I can live with that.) Next time, I'll post a rebuttal that Lake will get to see before he responds. We'll keep that going till we're done. Meaning he always gets the last word. Fair enough?

Laird

Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. I've posted it three, maybe four times.
Nobody's ever written in to say,"Thanks for a life-changing piece of
sublime music." But, fuck, it's not Star Wars, is it? Not even close.

Let's see. Some quotes.

If he comes with History, I’ll ask: “What point in American history wasn’t bleaker than now?” The Civil War? The Great Depression? The Great War or the even bigger one to follow? The halcyon days of your youth in the 60’s?

The answer to his first question is "None." The bleakest time is now. The generations that faced those times of crisis had character, values, and families. Today we have kids who can't only not name a Founding Father but don't even know what a Founding Father is. As to the personal slap about the halcyon days of my youth in the 60s -- Really? Lake knows better. That's when I went to war against my own generation. There was nothing "halcyon" about any of it. It was like being a witness to the end of my country, which come to think of it, it was.

Go ahead, try to make the case that television programs -- selected by a handful of execs trying to shock viewers weekly into making the biggest viewing audience -- somehow embody the actual soul of the American people.

Specious reasoning, anyone? These shows are on the air because people watch them. I did mention Hell's Kitchen to him. Why? Because this year it's the women against the men, and it's a ludicrous exercise in role reversal. The men are whiny, backstabbing wimps who fold at every turn of ill fortune. The women are the crudest, nastiest, guttermouthed hags I have ever seen. They act like bulls pumped up on testosterone injections, constantly butting heads and bragging about who has more balls. Are they Everywoman? No. But their presence on primetime television says something about who we have become as a people. I try to imagine my mother watching such a spectacle. Can't. But everyone's used to it now. The bleeping, the bleeping, the bleeping, and, uh, the bleeping. Those of you who can't see this as something other than the work of a few misguided TV executives are part of the problem.

Unlike RL, we’re not watching TV all day to our keep our finger on the nation’s cultural pulse. Those that keep hope alive in this country don’t fill their minds with hours of dreck. They’re working and they’re putting in the time needed to actually raise their kids properly.

So much for civility. I watch the dreck because somebody has to. As for raising kids properly, convince me. I really really want somebody to convince me that kids are being raised properly. No, not your perfect kids. I mean all the others who are obviously NOT BEING RAISED AT ALL except as fat narcissist consumers of video games and Hot Pockets. My ear is cupped. What do I hear? Little kids yelling "fuck you" in the cell phone wilderness.

So be it. Since I get the last word, I’m looking forward to seeing what he starts in with. Or do my points above win the debate before it even begins?

In your dreams, son.

*************************

Lake's response to my opening statement will come later, perhaps this evening.

Lake

Every generation thinks it's the end of the world.

Ah, so we start with education. RL knows full well that I’m a high school teacher and would have a hard time denying his remarks about the educational system and the coming generation of students.

He’s not wrong at all… about the past. The higher education system was corrupted in the 60’s, and the effects trickled down to secondary schools via Education Majors who learned how to make lesson plans instead of actual knowledge. I know this from the inside, even better than him, and yet even I have a privileged spot at a privileged little private school, only hearing second hand what’s been happening at our suffering public schools. I just read the account of a high school chem teacher who really tried to be an excellent instructor and made it just two years: Schooled, by Dalton Jackson (a pseudonym). His stories paint a stark picture of the American public school system.

But RL is wrong about the future. This long-coming crisis in the system will bring a radical transformation. True learning will take place over the internet, where real students can find real teachers and learn asynchronously. It’s already happening. There will be severe growing pains, and it will look like the end of the world… and then it won’t be. Right now, it’s like the creation of writing getting criticized by Socrates, the printing press blamed for untruths being spread, and vehicles of every type getting hammered by prognosticators as the harbingers of civilization’s end. Centuries of change, both good and bad, came from all of those, but we adapted. As we will adapt.

As for the rebuttal to my opening, the argument did indeed boil down to, “Damn kids, get off my lawn.” Did you notice? But when has any generation ever felt hopeful and positive about the next one? Has any 50 year old ever looked at a group of 25 years olds and thought, “Look at how much smarter they are than we are”? Probably not, unless you count programming the VCR (or writing an app for the iPhone for that matter). I see this same phenomenon every single school year. Seniors, when they were freshmen, say they looked up to and respected the students four years ahead of them; but when their turn came, all they see are disrespectful punks who know nothing about anything. I felt it happen myself, in both high school and college. As an outside observer now, I see the unending cycle of it.

I have a question for my opponent. If each successive generation finds the next one to be worse, has it always been this way? If so, then it’s just an endless parade of one worse generation to the next, all the way to the Idiocracy. Or was there a cusp, a best generation, and then it all started going downhill? Was it the vaunted Greatest Generation who kicked ass in WWII and then came home to raise the Baby Boomers? Or was it the generation of the Founding Fathers (“Who are they again?”) and it’s all been bad to worse since?

I don’t see it that way. As a teacher, it’s the easy way out to see my students, the Internet Generation, as stupid, disrespectful, and going to hell in a handbasket. Some of them are, no doubt about it. But there are many exceptions, and exceptional students are the ones who will eventually be running the show. Just like America has been and is the Exceptional country.

*************************

The rebuttal is late not because of Lake but a bout of allergies on my end.




Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Happy Birthday to Me


BEGINNINGS. I'm 59 today. Which gives me license to indulge myself. Before I wrote a book about punks, before I wrote Shammadamma, I wrote this -- a waking dream I put to paper when I was 22. Only 37 years ago. But for anyone who cares about such things it was the beginning of punk writing. A turn away from all the modern rules toward ancient Anglo-Saxon rhythms. Raised on Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner, I yanked the wheel in a different direction. If you're a modern you try, like Fitzgerald, to write with verbs. If you're reverting to ancient templates, you write in prepositional phrases. In other words, dactyls. The title of this story is The Parade of Volumes.

I.

They measure day and night by the patch of light that changes shape on the concrete below the steps to the street. Mornings, the patch begins as a diamond sliver, stretches by midday to a perfect luminous square, then collapses to a red-orange diamond at sunset and disappears. Diamond, square, diamond, the cycle proceeds, following and followed by night.

Diamond, square, diamond, the pace has quickened of late, and for longer and longer intervals the concrete is lit solely by the fluorescent lights on the platform. The patch of daylight has become a luxury shared by turns, a momentary escape from the harsh and dirty glare of fluorescence. Colin goes first; he stands unbreathing against the foul odor from overhead, his eyes directed at the crack of sky between stairwell ceiling and steps. The others watch him, afraid he will bolt suddenly up the stairs and out of sight. Colin also observes this desire in himself, but each day he manages to conquer it and give way to the next in line. As he turns away from the stairs, the light slants across his face.

-- Parker sees this. He watches splinters of sun pierce the screens of anguish that are Colin’s eyes. For a moment there is an illusion of the old confidence, the fierce joy of living, will. But the eyes absorb the light, bury it in memory, and Colin, his face pale and ill in the yellow platform glare, walks slowly back to his bench.

-- Fairweather sees this. He watches sunlight silver Colin’s eyes to mirrors, in which the images of thirty men on a subway platform flicker, flicker and fade away.

-- Jake sees this. He watches sunlight stripping mystery from Colin’s eyes. The unmasked corneas are windows overlooking empty canyons. Jake knows that soon Colin will break, shatter like a glass sword used in combat by mistake. Jake waits his turn, the last turn, when he can stand alone, his face turned from the others toward the red line of the horizon, and smile.


II.

It is still safe here on the platform where the fluorescent lights cast a dirty glow over cement and track tracks and the hard benches where we wait. They are afraid of the light and as long as there is light on the platform they will not attack the platform, although they will come right up to the entrances of the tunnels on both sides. They will crowd and huddle the way they do, filling up the tunnels and creeping into the grey space between the lighted area and the dark area, filling the dark area completely, and we will see them bumping and murmuring in outline in that grey interspace. And then we shall have to beat them back.

We have always to beat them back, because if the lights on the platform should ever fail, they would come herding and muttering and swarming all over us, and we would be unable to escape. We would be overwhelmed. The crush would make our swords of no use to us, and though we could try to hack and slash them away, there would be too many of them and the dark area would be too vast for us to escape. So we must wait here for them and, when they come, jump off the platform onto the tracks and run at them, yelling and thrusting, forcing them back into the tunnels until we feel that we are being drawn in; then we must return at once to the light and wait again for the next assault.

It has been this way for quite a long period of time. We have spent a very long time now waiting under the fluorescent lights for them to edge up to the tunnel openings, and we have become tired, and though no one speaks of it, we are afraid. We were never afraid before, because we thought we were prevailing when we beat them underground into the tunnels and they could no longer crowd into the dark places in the city at night. Now we are afraid of them, I am very much afraid of them, because they are so many and so many things have gone so terribly wrong and the lights on the platform may fail, and we suspect that the lights on the platform must fail, as so many other lights have already failed.


III.

Through the lengthening night, they hear the city falling, down and down, stone breaking, glass shattering, rubble shifting and sprawling across the empty streets. Above, the avenues are already impassible; the lichen has taken them over, crawls even now across the shards of buildings to seal openings, weave grey-green lace over every surface. The smell of it seeps underground, heavy, miasmic, suggesting sickrooms where the only the ventilation comes from gaping, hissing throats that are themselves fighting for breath.

At night when the air is sulphurous with lichen, Jake paces up and down, his boots ringing on the platform, echoing off the tile walls. Colin crouches on his bench, his hands clasped tight around the hilt of his sword as if the weapon were an old man’s cane. Fairweather swears feebly through a torn veil of sleep, has nightmares, is succumbing to an unreasonable fear of snakes in the shadows.

Parker can get to sleep, with difficulty, by imagining a little girl wandering through the streets overhead.; she is not more than four years old, and her fine hair lies in braids on her back. She is lost but does not yet know it, maintains faith that time will bring her home, though her rag doll hangs, arms akimbo, trailing in mortar dust. Sometimes the little girl appears to be wearing a blue dress with plain white figures; at others Parker is convinced the dress is white, the figures large, blue, complex. When he resolves this question, either way, he falls asleep.


IV.

Madame Sapinaire, now lost, sat for days in a sidewalk cafe. She was not French, she was not young, and she was not clean. When she drank beer, the foaming liquid overflowed her mouth, spilling through the gaps in her rotten teeth and out the corners of her slack underlip onto her dress, where the spots dried stiff and yellow. She could not control the drinking and the spilling. She made no effort to control them. Instead, she sang bawdy songs to one young man after another, grabbing them by their shirts and breathing the fetid lyrics into their eyes. She sang:

There was a sailor who hailed from Marseilles,
And he drank and he drank all day and all day,
And all night and all night he sought lay after lay,
Till the lights went out and the girls went away.

On the bodice of her dress she wore a pair of peonies, one over each breast. Once the peonies had been soft, sweet-smelling, white brushed with pink. But they had died, and because of the beer and the songs and the sounds of stone falling miles or yards away, she did not notice they had died, did not remove them.


V.

In the shadows of the benches, the tracks, the angled corners near the tunnels, anywhere the light does not reach, Fairweather sees the snakes coiling, uncoiling, hears the scales slip-rubbing on concrete or grating on the oily gravel. It alarms him that only he can see them, hear their scales scraping softly in the shadows.


VI.

The churches were the first to fall. The collapse of them, one after another like dominoes, was dramatic and disheartening, especially to Colin, who had foreseen no such eventuality. Disaster so soon after the Parade of Volumes caught him by surprise. This is the way the churches fell, one after another.

Like frozen flowers exploding, the stained glass windows burst out of the peaked window frames, then tumbled to the street with the hollow pop and jingle of fluorescent tubes being broken. Next, the steeples toppled over, slowly and inevitably, the way old men fall downstairs. Crucifixes twisted grotesquely upon striking the asphalt, bent into humble, huddled shapes suggestive of remorseful prayer. Then the walls bulged outward, visibly yielding under an invisible weight that increased its pressure until the mortar dissolved to powder and what moments before had been a house of God was suddenly rubble. In the space where the house of God had been, moments before, the smells of church lingered for hours: the velvet aroma of candlewax, leather hymnal bindings, lilies from the altar, blessed and unblessed communion wine, drycleaned vestments, silver polish and shoe polish, and perhaps some residue of sweat left by an organ tuner.

It was after the churches fell and after the smell of them had drifted mildly and finally away that Madame Sapinaire, like a vulture descending from an arid sky, came to nest in a sidewalk cafe, to squawk her songs and slake her thirst while the peonies died on her dress.


VII.

Screaming, screaming, screaming, screaming, Fairweather has died in the tunnel.


VIII.

In the time between, that is, after the Parade of Volumes and after the churches, but before Colin fell into the hands of Madame Sapinaire, he had planned the victory parade.

There were to have been floats decked with flowers and fine silks, confetti, flights of doves, and a hundred marching bands wearing top hats, tails, and medallions commemorating the battles of Hartley Square and Olympia Park, the subway siege, the rebuilding of the churches, and of course, the Parade of Volumes. There were to have been balloons, big as buses, flying across the sky like perfect, colored clouds. And cotton candy spun out of machines in unbroken skeins that would wind through the streets, gossamer as memories, to feed and guide the children through the maze of celebration.

Colin was to have ridden standing, triumphant, in an open limousine, the better to receive and return the adulation of the crowds; on horseback, Jake was to have led the army, resplendent in new full-dress uniforms worn for the first and final time. And music was to have filled the air, drums and trumpets forging a clean new firmament to crown the city’s renaissance. All of this Colin had planned in detail.

But the battles did not go easily, and he did not plan on Madame Sapinaire, who grabbed and trapped him in her grip. The others rebuffed her. Colin rebuffed no one, rejected no one with a claim of need. So he let her hold him close and drench him with her alcoholic songs, until the words of them, the stench of her breath, the raw virulence of her voice gradually overpowered him. She attacked him like sickness, infusing him with dread, engulfing him in a fear that was shapeless, limitless, and resistless as fog. In a new grey world, he heard the call of duty and failed to answer. Parker Pleaded. Fairweather begged. Jake raged, On a rattan chair in a sidewalk cafe, Colin sat and watched victory retreat into dusk.

In the subway, stalemate came. In the city, days lost their power over night. And the buildings fell and fell and fell, with a noise like thunder underground.


IX.

There are tears here now. In the wake of Fairweather’s passing there are tears. For Fairweather? It is not clear. Salt water glazes vision, a blurred rainbow grief distorts the figures crouched, prone, kneeling on the platform. Colors thought gone forever have reemerged in the corners of wet eyes. Swords gleam, unreflecting, an internal illusory fire. Faces lose their lines, though wet lines score them, dampen dust-stained cloaks drawn tight around hunched shoulders. Movement is a breaking of the spectrum: Jake a prism pacing, all sharp edges and hard surfaces bouncing wounded light about him; Colin a palette propped against the wall, a haphazard smear of pink and gold, muddy reds, sea blues threaded with green tendrils.

Tears are being shed. For whom? Heads turn sharply, flattening colors. Heads turn inside a speeding cylinder, a carousel of dancing colors.


X.

Above, it is quiet. The last stone of the last building has fallen. Lichen swarms over the rubble like a net of camouflage softening the broken bone edges of the ruins. There is no sunlight to glance off splinters of glass or otherwise betray the buried polish of annihilated craftsmanship. Only a rilled, gray-green landscape remains in sight.

But underneath, artifacts also remain. The second rise at left was the library. Its columns are still there, askew, overlapping like a forgotten throw of pickup sticks, with Madame Sapinaire among them. She lies crushed where Fairweather hurled her even as he rescued Colin from her embrace. The peonies are black, curled and dry, her face obliterated by a cylinder of granite, her legs poking, also askew, from the hem of a rent, powdered dress, her final song trapped with her corpse under a tent of vegetation. All is in darkness. The song drifts and swirls and echoes silently in place.

The depression at middle distance right was Hartley Square, which once abutted the library and the Cathedral of Saints. Lichen adheres to the flat stones, forming a smooth and kelpy sea. No more signs of kneeling, marching, dancing. The hymns are gone. But the pine knots are still piled there where they were used for bonfire at procession’s end.

Olympia Park is the mountain range on the horizon. The trees never fell, though lichen smothered them. Underneath, the grass is brown and flat. Yet signs remain: bootmarks still pock the soft hidden earth where Jake screamed for war after the churches fell. The half moons of his heels spell out his polemic. And rows of round full moons are where the legions knelt, absorbing his rage.

And elsewhere there are pennons and fading flowers and sword-scarred subway kiosks and hacked-up limousines and broken ceremonial blades and dirty velvet cloaks and blood. And the lichen stinks over them, and the city lies underneath, destroyed and buried and yet there.


XI.

Colin has gone. While the others slept, he made his way up the clogged steps and escaped into the barren city. Jake curses his brother once, then takes unchallenged command. Parker tries to believe, but cannot, that Colin has regained some of what was lost and has embarked on a leader's errand.

Fifteen survivors prepare for battle. There is, in Jake’s eyes the gleam of Thermopylae. There will be an end soon. The tunnels loom large. The fluorescent lights burn on. There are murmurings in the tunnels, louder now that the city is silent...


XII.

Once there was, there was once, a Parade of Volumes, and I am almost sure I saw you there among the cheering and the living crowds. In darkness now, I seem to recall the special brightness of that day, the splendor of the long procession, the shine of your new eyes as you watched from your father’s shoulders. What has become of him, my child? Does he lie with the others, soft rubble of our broken dream?

You were too young. Who will now remember that Jake and Colin rode together then, twin lords who shared one throne and wove the city’s thousand thousand rhythms into one. Too young. All you saw was color, felt the brilliance of our city’s sun, feared the cadences of marching men, step by step together... Alas, you were too young.

So bitter. This darkness. We died. We fell by ones and twos, an army falling into a hungry darkness that swallowed all we thought and were. And you cannot recall.

Once, there was a Parade of Volumes. Where it started... Where it led... How it sang and shimmered... Gone now, gone, and gone, like all of us and you and you who watched and went away. In the tunnels, you cannot know that for years in the tunnels when we tried to remember and on the platform when the lights went out at last and we could not remember, we were fighting face to face with only Jake and gutted rage and a darkness to die in...

There was once, must one day be, a Parade of Volumes, bright dance of glory in old new eyes. Farewell my child, my murdered embryo, my blank and stolen monument and loss...

What always amazes me is that people who claim to care insist they have no real idea who I am. But the truth is, it's all here. I have laid myself out at InstaPunk like a pinned butterfly. The only excuse for not knowing who I am is laziness. Everything I am is in the archives, not concealed at all, beginning with About Instapunk:

We're libertarians. And conservatives. And radicals. We live outside of all your pigeonholes. We like Mozart's Concerto for Clarinet and Oboe, the Rolling Stones (all), Triumph motorcycles, P-51 Mustangs, Hookercraft speedboats, Frank Lloyd Wright, Edward Hopper, Matisse, and Picasso, Rimbaud, Ettore Bugatti, the Island of the White Peacocks, W.O. Bentley, the Jersey Shore, Jimmy Stewart, quantum physics, Philadelphia's statue of William Penn, Louis Armstrong, the Blue Angels, Don Garlits, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Monaco, Placido Domingo and Mario Lanza, Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, Mark Twain, Alexandre Dumas (pere), Oscar Wilde, farm fairs, Cuda Hemis, the Champs Elysee, the Clash, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Voltaire, Richard Petty, Benny Goodman, Dante, Jaguar XKEs, northern Italy, Alfred Hitchcock, broadway shows, Stirling Moss, Miles Davis, Austin Healey 3000s, 'Nessun Dorma,' Rita Hayworth, Richard Byrd's "Alone," George Gershwin, the street markets of Hong Kong, Bill Evans, Harvard-Yale, Baudelaire, Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, rodeo, Mallarme's translations of Edgar Allen Poe, Frank Sinatra, Ohio State-Michigan, the red roofs of Bogota, Ernest Hemingway (up to a point), St. Thomas Aquinas, GNR, the Chrysler Building, Hedy Lamarr, Muhammed Ali, St. Augustine, Bullitt, Winston Churchill, Eminem, Humphrey Bogart, the view from the Rainbow Room, Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor, Groton, the back roads of Ohio, Shakespearean Sonnets, Doris Day, the X-Games, the Gospel of John, the hills of San Francisco, Robert E. Lee & Ulysses Grant, Cary Grant, Beowulf, Lake Como, the Aenead, greyhounds, Die Hard, cats, Ducatis, Denzel Washington, the bridges of Portland OR, Verlaine, the United States Marines, and The Last of the Mohicans. We're also unintimidated by Richard Dawkins, fascinated by the Saturn moon Iapetus, and wide open to the possibilities of quantum computing and probable universes. Though we think George Nouri should be put in solitary confinement for the rest of his natural life. Got us figured out yet?

37 years later, I am a better writer than the author of The Parade of Volumes. But the story is the exact same story I'm struggling to tell today. Exact. Same. Story. You have to admit, I've put in the hours.

So wish me a Happy Birthday if you dare.

A few more years and I'll be an antique. Then you can buff me to a fine patina and claim you knew me when. Or not.





Debate!

Who else wants to enter the Octagon? Let me know.

BOUTS. I know you think I don't pay attention to the peanut gallery, but I do. The only commenters who still have the energy to weigh in are Helk, Joe, and Urthshu. The rest of you have given up. Not on me, it appears, so much as on things in general. Traffic figures remain much as they've always been. But the once mighty mouths have fallen silent.

So. I'm going to try to wake you up. The ever-valiant Lake has agreed to debate me on the question of Hope vs. Despair. I will be arguing what so many of you obviously believe, that the great American Experiment is well and truly done for and all that's left to us is waiting for the ignominy of final defeat, humiliation, penury, and tyranny. Lake will argue  that there's still hope for the clicheed American happy ending.

Here's how it will work. We'll each make an opening statement. He won't see mine, and I won't see his till he sends it to me --  and I promise to post it immediately without edits. Both opening statements will be posted together. Then we'll trade rebuttals, beginning with Lake's. These may be posted separately. We will go as many rounds as the point-counterpoint exchange requires. When we've exhausted our ammunition (by mutual agreement), Lake will get the last word because I always hate that talk show hosts get to hang up on difficult callers and do a victory dance over the dead phone line that can't answer back.

One more rule to keep things fair given my home court advantage. He's allowed to get personal with me. I'm not allowed to get personal with him. This one sounds like I'm being more gracious than I am; if I spent a whole day on it I couldn't come up with anything nastily ad-hominem to say about Lake. (Except for his perverted fondness for Tarantino and Louis CK. Which I won't mention when we get into the actual debate, even though it's obviously evidence of a kind of soul sickness that would be relevant if I weren't being so strictly non-ad-hominem. You know. Notice how the strikethroughs make everything look worse? Learned that from the MSM. Tee-hee. Lake doesn't stand a chance against me.) Although I AM allowed to characterize certain kinds of generational affinities I deplore that Lake might share. Are we clear?

Good. Fairness is everything.

If we're silent for a bit here then, it's because we're preparing our arguments. You're allowed to root for me or Lake, to kibbitz, and to flame either or both of us as you will. Because this really is all about you. If you're not interested, I won't be interested in being here much longer. That's the reason Lake was willing to enter my Octagon. He doesn't like my idea for a new and much milder blog called "My Little Acre." He also knows that this time I really mean it. I'm 59 fucking years old. I have to do stuff that makes me want to get up in the morning. Being a dancing bear for an audience of mimes ain't going to cut it.

If you want popcorn and soda, send me money. I've got enough yak fat, er, popcorn butter for everybody.

uh, go ahead and send me money even if you don't want yak fat on your popcorn. It's my birthday. I like money. Are we clear? Okay then.



If you don't like this clip, find something to put in your ears. I will be using it again. Why? Because I can.




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