Wednesday, October 31, 2012

End Game



“There is no excuse for inaction.” - President Obama

Back in 1972, liberal Democratic candidate, George McGovern, suffered a landslide defeat (61 to 37 percent) against Republican incumbent Richard Nixon. McGovern was the anti-war, grass-roots, abortion rights, “food for peace” candidate; conversely, Nixon, the conservative, southern strategy, establishment option. The loss for McGovern -and, arguably, American liberalism itself- was devastating, especially for McGovern. Of course, Nixon’s victory was soon overshadowed by the greatest of all political mistakes - getting caught.

After Woodward and Bernstein published proof of Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal, Nixon would become the only U.S. president to resign from office. Whereas Nixon was forced to leave the White House in shame, McGovern would be re-elected Senator of North Dakota. In the Senate, McGovern continued building on his reputation as the noble fighter for food justice, agricultural issues, nutrition, and women’s health. Consequently, one cannot help but wonder what America might have looked like if McGovern had won the White House in ‘72?

George McGovern recently died at the age of 90.

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In less than a week, Americans will, as they did forty years ago, vote for president. This year, one could suggest that the tables have turned on conservatism and that liberalism now holds the upper-hand. However this attitude is dangerous for a couple reasons. Firstly, the same grim forces of ignorance and fear remain looming at our door and should never be taken lightly; moreover, the “liberalism” and “conservatism” that distinguished Nixon from McGovern (forty years ago) has become difficult to differentiate in our increasingly plutocratic political climate.

Nevertheless, there remains some very clear and significant distinctions between the choice voters can make this election.  

Those who vote for Mitt Romney on November 6th support a Republican party that seeks to dismantle social welfare, public education, medicare, social security, a woman’s right to choose, and the Affordable Care Act. After Romney and Ryan are done tearing-down what has been built-up, they will de-regulate, and “turnover” the role of the Federal Government so that it's functions are farmed-out and privatized to the highest bidders. Such a revolutionary and extreme agenda would thankfully face inevitable political resistance; after all, no administration can just come into power on “the first day of office” and make such sweeping change without being vetted by our established (often frustrating) system of checks and balances. 

Nevertheless, Romney and Ryan will seek to do everything they can to erase regulations so that corporate power has full and unabated reign to pollute and loot away our rapidly depleting natural and human resources. Romney is concerned with the corporate sector, he is a “businessman” that seeks to make a profit for those who are already profitable. He has admitted he is “not concerned with those people...the 47%.” Thus, the 47% should be unconcerned with him. Unfortunately, those who vote Romney cannot hear reason from the walls of their gated communities and Fox Noise bubbles. Such voters foolishly believe that their hard-earned money (even when they have none...) is going to be taxed and then “handed-out” to the moochers.

A vote for Romney supports a blundering and bullying foreign policy agenda that is still geopolitically placed in a Cold War mindset. As President Obama jokingly zinged Romney in the third debate, “The nineteen eighties called and said it wants it’s foreign policy plan back.” Yes, the same neoconservative advisors that brought us the massive troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan would continue to be deployed. Romney’s strategy is to have no strategy except to be, of course, exceptional. America will remain great if only the voter “believes in America.” This strategy will only fail. The military of the twentieth-century cannot be the military of the twenty-first, a more effective, precise, and strategic machine is required. Such mentality is unrealistic. 

Voters who vote for the Romney ticket are unconcerned with truth or facts, they prefer the illusions and lies of xenophobic nationalism, racism, and bigotry. They attribute much of the real suffering and problems we face as a country to the same misguided illusions that continue to be America’s undoing. Those who endorse Romney can only make the argument that “America is great and always will be.” However, America has only not been great these past few years Obama has been in the White House. Such voters have no historical perspective and will never listen to reason.

Admittedly there is a lot of fodder for the ignorant to consume. The political conversation continues to be filled with rumor, misinformation, and straight-up fantasy. But reality will win.

For me, the central argument in this election is the role of government. Romney sees government as the problem (even more so than Ronald Reagan, since he would never implement the same tax plan of his party’s patron saint). Obama realizes that the federal government is necessary and can be improved upon. Romney wants no government regulations on corporations. He would dismantle FEMA so that disaster relief would come from the states (or, even “better”, corporations), healthcare would also be privatized, environmental protection would be non-existent, etc. And (depending on which Romney you ask, or take a quote from his consistently inconsistent record...) would use government to impose the most draconian of laws dealing with marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose. 

The choice is clear. Let us continue to move forward and vote Obama on November 6th.     

Saturday, September 22, 2012

“Some Days we’re up. Some days we’re down.”





“Everything that is wrong-headed, cynical, and vicious in me today traces back to that evil hour...when I decided to get heavily involved in the political process...”
- Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72

This past week will be remembered as the one Mitt Romney unofficially lost the 2012 Presidential election. Of course the Republican's polls have been nosedive the moment this whole sordid ship took-off into the stratosphere in the primaries. Yet again, the Republicans have only been successful at spending enormous amounts of campaign funds while totally unsuccessful at communicating any clear and/or reasonable argument for why Americans should vote the incumbent out. They have only managed to communicate a message of divisiveness and isolationism, good show. 

One of the few things Republicans have been great at is providing the daily news cycle with an array of ignorant, offensive gaffes for the late night comedians to salivate and laugh over. For this, we’ll miss them. Of course, in politics, nothing is absolute, there’s still a little over 40 days until November 6th. Accordingly, it would be arrogant and unwise to assert the election is in the bag for Obama. 

But it is hard not to celebrate; especially when the weekly polls -even in the most unpredictable of swing states- have been showing President Obama with a comfortable 10 point lead for weeks. On the New York Times Five Thirty Eight Blog, the President has a 77% chance of winning re-election. Ouch! This weekend, Mitt Romney will appear on 60 Minutes to tell the viewing audience that his campaign “Doesn’t need a turn-around.” Romney will admit that not everything he says is “elegant,” but that he “wants to make very clear [he's here] to help 100 percent of the American people.” 

Yes, Romney continues to believe. (Even when many of his Republican colleagues don't.) As I’ve said throughout this campaign, the choice to “Believe in America” as the Romney campaign slogan suggests, is most apt; after all, to believe in anything means to also willingly ignore whatever happens in reality to disprove and/or challenge one’s ideology. Speaking on the Daily Show former President Bill Clinton said something great: “The problem with ideology is that it has the answer before it has any evidence.” Indeed. And yes, the reality is, Romney’s ideology has no evidence, only belief. Accordingly, he does not speak for, represent, nor, arguably, even care about the American people.      

The stilted speeches and soaring rhetoric from the heavily fortified conventions in Tampa and then Charlotte, are now so very far away. Yet, it was only a few weeks ago that Romney and Obama accepted their nominations. At the RNC, Romney’s speech was interrupted twice by protestors. Of course, it has been a tough election from the start for the presumptive candidate. Even back in the Iowa straw poll, Romney was heckled by a man in the crowd about his remark, “Corporations are people my friend.” The only time Romney has appeared comfortable in front of an audience is in the now famous leaked tape of Romney speaking at a closed-door fundraiser, which (as we now all well know) was a speech full of damning, politically suicidal, sound bites. 

Comments like this show Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama share completely different idealogical visions for our nation (something Mitt Romney himself has been correct in admitting). This election is between two dramatically alternative outcomes. Sure, both men have entered the same vicious and vile political game; nevertheless, the way they play it is in total contrast. As sports writer Grantland Rice once wrote, “When the Great Scorer comes to write against your name -he marks- not that you won or lost -but how you played the game.” How Romney and Obama play the game is totally different. 

What would a Romney administration look like? Romney would likely do everything in his power (including choosing more Supreme Court justices) to prevent women from their right to choose (something he, of course, used to say he’d protect; however, now finds politically convenient to oppose...). Romney would seek to outsource American jobs to the lowest bidders (as he has in places like “Bain-port” . Companies that have been grasped up and consumed by private equity firms like Bain Capital. Which is -as Matt Taibbi succinctly argues here- the economic model a Romney administration would promote. 

Taibbi writes, “Making money justifies any behavior, no matter how venal. The [new] owners of American industry are polar opposites of the Milton Hersheys and Andrew Carnegies who built this country.”) Romney’s foreign policy seems to be informed by the most ardent neoconservative hacks (see Romney’s treasonous response to the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi). On immigration, Romney would make it so difficult for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. that they would “self-deport” themselves (compare this with Obama’s “dreamers” and support for passing the “dream act”). Gay marriage? Forget about it. Romney's vision for America is contradictory to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Pundits on all sides have been suggesting that Mitt's problem is that he has never been able to relate to "average" American voters. He’s awkward and mechanical. Romney’s forced staccato laughter further plays to the depiction of him as a disingenuous, elite, plutocrat. At times, I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to sit and have a conversation with Mitt? After all, I never liked President Bush’s policies and decisions; but, nevertheless, I did feel like he would be the type of guy you would want to invite to a barbecue or sit beside at a baseball game. Bush had that folksy charm that is completely absent from the Romney campaign. Romney is not charismatic. The only thing Romney has going for him is an enormous amount of wealth and a large family.

Romney will lose. But no one should feel bad when he does; after all, Mitt will still be unconscionably wealthy and totally comfortable in any of his luxurious homes. But make no mistake, he will never be President of these United States. And with any hope, there will be some moment when Romney (and Super PACers, Karl Rove and Sheldon Adelson) will need to face the cold hard truth - you're not entitled to the office of the President. Money cannot buy votes.  

Politics is a stupid and tawdry game, but it is also, as Hunter S. Thompson once said, “The art of controlling your environment.” A vibrant democracy is based on discussion, debate, and decisions. American voters have a choice this November and despite how cynical and critical we can get, it is important to remember that despite the limitations of our current political system, freedom is a struggle that never ends.

“If you turn away now - if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn’t possible - well, then change won’t happen.” - President Obama

Get out the vote!

Monday, September 03, 2012

RISE


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It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” - Batman 


You have been supplied with a false idol to stop you from tearing down this corrupt city.” 
- Bane

I’m relieved I saw The Dark Knight Rises before news broke about the Aurora, Colorado massacre. No wacko with guns was gonna waste money I spent on a good time at the movies! Besides, gun violence in America, what’s new? So jaded. Of course, I wasn’t alone, there were thousands coast-to-coast, and around the world, also eagerly awaiting Nolan’s final installment of his epic Dark Knight trilogy. As I walked into the giant multiplex on Broadway at 1a.m. (the same theatre that hosted the world-premier a week before), I heard hoots, howls, and shouts from other over-excited bat-fans high above the 8 story lobby - “bats in the belfry.” Meanwhile, a time zone away, James Eagon Holmes would carryout a senseless rampage, that left 12 dead, 58 injured, and a morbid cloud hovering over an otherwise profitable opening weekend.

As my friend Aman and I settled into our seats, a fan dressed in a Bane costume stood-up and pumped his fists into the air, others flashed mini “bat-signals” onto the giant IMAX screen. The mood, positive, playful, happy - nothing could spoil this moment. The theatre darkened and the movie began, applause and cheers rolled through the crowd. Yes!

Unfortunately, in a Colorado theatre, miles away from New York, some fans wouldn’t make it through the end of this great film and that is heartbreaking. Christopher Nolan’s comments about the tragedy were apt, “I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime. The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.”

                                            *     *     *

The first line of The Dark Knight Rises is from Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) - “I believe in Harvey Dent.” Of course, Gordon “believes” in what we know is a lie he and Batman agreed to tell about former activist district attorney, Harvey Dent. Who, as Bat-fans well know, was turned into the deranged killer, Two Face, by another sociopath, the Joker, in Nolan’s The Dark Knight. This last installment concluded with Two Face trying to kill Gordon’s son. Predictably, Batman saves the day and agrees to take the fall for his friend Harvey Dent. 

Better Gotham believe in the lie Batman (a vigilante) tried to kill Gordon’s son instead of the truth; accordingly, the legacy of Harvey Dent is protected and mythologized as the hero Gotham deserves. Ultimately, this lie further reaffirms the larger message: vigilantes are bad, law is good. Justice is only achieved through due process, never senseless violence. It is best to work within the system, not outside of it.

Several years into this lie, Bruce Wayne has retired the Batman. But instead of living-it-up in the lavish high society that surrounds him (“phonies are still drinking all [his]free booze”), Wayne is a recluse who watches the city from a distance. All the while, the myth that he and Gordon share works, they’ve managed to somehow keep Gotham’s streets safe. Sure, there’s still petty crime, such as from sleek and sultry cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), but any real danger, like the total annihilation of the city by a maniacal super villain (a popular plot through previous bat-films), appears -at least on the surface- curbed.  

Of course, this is Gotham City and once we start to peal back the layers and look beneath, we see dualism and brooding characters weighted with heavy contradictions. For instance, Batman/Bruce Wayne isn’t that much of a hero at all. As Batman he has allowed his absolute goal of bringing justice to Gotham to be reduced to a lie. (Ra’s al Ghul reminds Wayne of this in the film’s bleakest moment, “You used all the tools I taught you... for a city that was corrupt, and a victory based on a lie. Now your failure will be seen...”) 

As Wayne the businessman, he has also ignored his company. Wayne’s philanthropy no longer focuses on noble causes, such as the boarding school Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character, John Blake (who represents the idealism once held by both Wayne and Gordon), grew-up in. In fact, Wayne Enterprises is tottering on the edge of bankruptcy. The governing board, eventually chaired by the wealthy heiress, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), invests all of the company’s resources into its special projects division, which has been busy building a machine that can harness fusion power to produce unlimited clean energy for the city; unfortunately, this machine has not been turned on, because it can just as equally destroy the city. The core of the machine is explosive and could be used as a nuclear bomb. Thus, that which can save the city can just as easily end it. And as if this theme wasn’t already evident enough, Bruce Wayne later expresses to Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) in the Bat-cave that “tools can either be used for good or bad.” A point, that remains the tragic irony of our postmodern existence.  

Eventually, we see how the tools in Batman’s arsenal (presumably always used for good) can just as interchangeably be used for bad. While the weak and injured Bruce Wayne hobbles around his mansion, mourning the loss of his love, Rachel Dawes, the sinister plan of the League of Shadows festers below Gotham’s streets. Yes, Batman may have defeated Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins, but that plan never vanished. The plan of the League must be fulfilled. This fulfillment is the sole intent of -arguably, the trilogy’s most frightening villain - Bane. Who says himself, “It doesn’t matter who we are, what matters is that we have a plan.”

Bane’s purpose is to, literally, smash through the pillars of civil society. Whether it be the sanitation department, which he uses to spread the explosive cement under the city, or greedy business tycoons who he manipulates to gain access to the stock exchange and then bankrupt Wayne Enterprises for a literal takeover of the company. The police department is in fear. Even American football is used by Bane to fulfill the League of Shadow’s goal. The plan itself is for the total destruction of Gotham; however, Bane uses revolutionary rhetoric that sounds like Robespierre. He attempts to convince the citizen’s of Gotham that this is all for the best. That this is liberation, “do as you please!” Thus, Bane is not here to disrupt the structures of society but to “unleash the people’s true potential!” 

I recently had a discussion with my friend, Mark Grueter, in which I compared Bane’s revolution to that of Lenin’s; after all, both Lenin and Bane co-opted revolutionary rhetoric to then unleash a more aggressive form of social suppression. You’re either with Bane, or you’re dead! Bane’s Gotham is Arkham Asylum in the streets. It is a city isolated and afraid.

One of the more interesting conflicts appearing throughout The Dark Knight Rises is whether to believe in the Batman, or not. Alfred Pennyworth explains to Bruce, that the reason Batman cannot beat Bane is because Bane has youth, strength, and most importantly real belief on his side. Bane’s soldiers, as well as many of Gotham’s citizens (as conveyed in the Robin Hood-esque character of Selina Kyle), want liberation. The people of Gotham believe they can be more; however, once they are granted this liberation, it is not exactly the utopia they had in mind. Invariably, Gothamites are tired of all the wealth and privilege enjoyed by the corrupt capitalists, see 1%. The city itself suffers while the rich reap the reward. Accordingly, the city doesn’t believe in the Batman, so now this need to believe is replaced by a more aggressive and ruthless figure, Bane. "Gotham's reckoning." 

Although revolution seems to be an integral part of the story line, redemption is the outcome. I agree with Manhola Dargis’s review that “Mr Nolan doesn’t advocate burning down the world, but fixing it.” Perhaps Batman represents a return to order, which is more mutually beneficial, optimistic, and constructive than Bane’s “next chapter of Western civilization”? I suppose, in order for Gotham to “rise,” it needs a hero and for the longest time, Batman was that lone hero; however, as we see in the the climax of Nolan’s film, in which “Gotham rages and all seems lost, the action shifts from a lone figure to a group, and hope springs not from one but many.” 

Nolan has been most successful at translating the Batman mythos, because his stories are sensible. His antagonists are just as sympathetic, emotionally complex, and psychologically torn as the hero. Nolan makes the unbelievable, believable. The villains Batman is against, reveal and reflect the hypocrisy and corruption of the protagonists, himself. Nothing is ever absolute, a true superhero story for the postmodern era. The responsibility for the next director of any Batman franchise will be great. Nolan has left his story satisfyingly "closed," but not enough so that it cannot be opened again by future storytellers.

Despite the subtle nuances between the Joker and Batman as both “freaks,” and of Bane and Batman being trained by the same League of Shadows - Batman still remains different from these villains in that he remains steadfastly attached to one moral imperative, to never kill. Batman may use the same tools as the League of Shadows (and those greedy asshole capitalists that control Wayne Enterprises); however, it is how he uses these tools and for what outcomes that make him the true hero Gotham deserves.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mt. Washington

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Mt. Washington hike = 6 hours. 6,288 feet.


Friday, July 13, 2012

The New International Center (...in Exile) @The NSPE

"The New International Center (...in Exile)", Spring 2012, NYC

After the International Center (IC) declared bankruptcy and subsequently vacated its location on West 23rd street, hundreds of immigrants and newcomers to the United States lost an invaluable resource for learning English, receiving advice on living and working in the city, and -most importantly- a sense of community. As a volunteer ESL instructor at the IC, both while earning my Certificate in TESOL at NSPE (and long after...), I discovered a unique place, which sought to “Make citizens of the world feel at home in New York.” So when I learned the IC would be closing, I joined forces with other dedicated volunteers and staff to ensure a “New” IC would persevere.

Like many newcomers who immigrate to the United States, we refused (despite the many challenges and let downs) to not quit on our dreams and aspirations. At first, we held a fundraiser, then we used social media sites to organize our efforts, and finally we reached out to former members and volunteers of the center for much-needed financial support (I even agreed to use my NSPE office as a temporary mailing address). Eventually, letters and checks begin coming in and we inched closer and closer to our intended fundraising goal.

While fundraising and logistical planning took place, the exiled members of the IC were still without a proper location to meet. Before the IC closed, many members wrote letters describing a center that felt like “a second home,” where “friendships were made,” and a place where people could go to not “feel alone” or “hopeless” in this new world - America.

To fill in this void, some volunteers began meeting with “exiled” members of the New IC in cafe’s and apartments across the city. At this point, I decided to e-mail Dean Scobey to gain permission to use one of our unused classrooms for two hours, a week, on Friday nights, so that fifteen students could continue to meet and learn English. I wrote Dean Scobey, saying I would take full responsibility for whatever happened. Fortunately (as you can see from the above photo), what happened was a Public Engagement success story!

For ten weeks, I met with fifteen students (sometimes individually to give advice on adjusting to life in New York, write letters for college applications, and to give ongoing encouragement to keep up the hard work and the good fight). Our class was called “English in Action.” Each week, the students came to the NSPE eager to learn English and (even more eager...) ready to present, discuss, and even debate the political issues, news, and cultural events of the week. Some of the topics students presented on were on stereotypes, the American Dream, Noam Chomsky's theories on mass media, Martin Luther King's "Dream", Grace Lee Boggs, etc.


Each class, I sought to out "English into action" by applying Scott Thornbury’s “dogme” approach to ESL language teaching and the results were always a success - our class was consistently lively, dynamic, and purposeful. Accordingly, during and after each class session, I was able to experiment and reflect on my own pedagogy as an ESL instructor. Thus this experience was not only useful for the students, but also for the teacher. It is my hope that more projects like this (and those that take place during our summer ESL outreach program) will continue to take place at the NSPE.

After all, although we often wish to pretend otherwise, our society is an unforgiven and ruthless place mostly concerned with profit and personal gain. Indeed (as Tierno, one student from class, observed regarding America), “Nothing is for free!” Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see a glimmer of hope in places like the New IC and the NSPE, where something is truly for free and where the only thing to gain from the experience is collaborative communication, educational enrichment, and a chance to engage with real world problems so as to reach real solutions.

(As of this writing, I’m pleased to report that the New International Center is no longer “in Exile” and is now temporarily located in the Catholic Charities building on the East Side. Where they will stay until moving into a more permanent location this fall.)

Friday, June 22, 2012

The General Election

by Nicholas Allanach

I had planned for a backyard barbecue with friends and coworkers. This afternoon, I was running around Astoria, picking-up supplies and food for an onslaught of guests; however “mother earth” had her own plans. The dark and heavy storm clouds already started gathering in the early afternoon. By the time I had all the limes, tequila, and ice, ominous lightening and thunder had already started rolling in. 


The rain would come and go all afternoon; ultimately, the barbecue and party would need to be postponed, which seemed to work out for the best since everyone preferred to party on Saturday. Admittedly, I had been on a two week “stay-cation” so the thought of having everyone make the train ride over to Astoria, didn’t seem like such a trek to me; after all, I had been sitting around the house for two weeks - completely disconnected from the proverbial rat race. Sure, I had been teaching and answering e-mails, but not having to report to the office, grumble through meetings, or click away at my keyboard, was a long-overdue relief.

Perhaps a party rain-delay was welcome? Of course, the rain would also mean that the Yankees would not be playing the Mets on schedule. Fortunately, I had a fridge stocked with booze and the time to revise my barbecue music setlist and, yes, more importantly, I'd have time to write. Ena and Yoshiko were making some sushi and speaking Japanese. I sipped down some  Flying Dog Ale and wrote...



*     *     *     *

In ways, it has been too long. I've had little opportunity to reflect on the General Election. But make no mistake, this column endorses the re-election of President Obama. I do not think Obama has been perfect, no one could ever be. Despite the setbacks, Republican obstructionism, and American cynicism, I believe Obama has done a commendable job as President. Obama has ended the war in Iraq (a campaign promise), passed the (against much obstruction and immediately, not perfect) Affordable Care Act, and made clear to the American people his position on abortion, gay marriage, and education. Do I want Obama to do better his second term? Damn right! I do not go to the voting booth blindly. 


I am also well aware how important it is to get out the vote. We cannot stand by and allow the Republicans to gain control of the White House. Agreed, I am disappointed with this administration's decisions: drone strikes, continued use of torture, ongoing war in Afghanistan, fracking, etc., etc. The current administration is not perfect; however, I pragmatically and logically think that the "commander and chief" of this Great American “crime family” should be Obama. After all, let’s be frank, the election (despite its failings) will be between an economic system that will either continue to bolster the same aggressive, union-busting, and unconscionable form of unfettered capitalism, or will (at least...) make (however lame...) attempt to push a mutually beneficial social contract for all. "Let's level out the playing field."

Sure, it's all senseless sentimentality, Obama has done “nothing” to push these agendas. But this is a cynical, false, and dangerous attitude to take. Obama has tried; however, he has also faced a constant onslaught of Republican obstructionists and unrelenting usage of the filibuster. Even the “Dream Act” was shot down by these techniques. Thankfully, Obama decided to use the power of the Executive Branch to at least begin taking steps in making our national immigration policy more reasonable and humane. Obama signed an Executive Order that allows undocumented children and adolescents, born in the United States to work and study without fear of deportation for at least two years. Fine. But is that all? Couldn't we do more? Despite my "support" of the President I can also rightfully criticize the administration's deportation of 396, 906 immigrants. This number is much greater than Bush ever deported. Presumably, we shouldn't be concerned by these numbers; after all, according to the ICE “55% of those deported were convicted criminals.” 


These figures are troubling. Why the round up? More importantly, what is the ICE's definition of “criminal”? 

And agreed, there are other issues as well: Guantanamo Bay, the continued and acknowledged support of super PACs, Wall Street, etc. etc. But ultimately, this is all a part of “the game,” right? Indeed, it is a horrid and ridiculous freak show. But, I suppose, it is the “best game going.” Until an alternative is effectively and usefully presented, consider this columnist, fundamentally "sold-out," “still humping the American Dream.”

Turn up the music, wait for the storm to pass, and enjoy our “first world problems” (while we can...) here in the “land of the weird.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

An Intermission

"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing."
- Macbeth (Act.V, Scene V)

Despite the gloom and doom, I suppose I remain cautiously optimistic about my own and our collective future. Or, perhaps, I’m just trying to “fit in” by being more realistic about things? Either way, it still seems easy to also feel hopelessly pessimistic and defeated by our ethos; after all, the conversation tends to encourage sentiments of victimization or is just reduced to downright trivial bullshit. 

News of an increasingly warming planet is presented besides celebrity gossip. Criticisms of ineffectual governing and economic power structures -incapable (or just unwilling) to alter their destructive policies- appear alongside sporting events and car commercials. Our collective discourse oscillates between the serious and somber to total farce. As this tragic human comedy continues to bumble along, we -every so often- notice a chasm opening before us and we run - scared. We try to medicate the anxiety and panic away. We sterilize the suffering, which comes easy when digested with the banal. We, as Chris Hedges argues, “escape into illusion.”
 
Indeed as Trent Reznor sang back in the nineties, “Everything goes away in the end.” Yes we may never have the power or ability to prevent the collapse of our civilization, much as we’re also unable to ever conquer our own death. Powerless to prevent this inevitability, the question then becomes - how long can we prolong our own survivalism? Moreover, how will we experience this moment and life when right now is the only thing we have ever really had any control over? Can we change our individual and collective experience to ultimately become more deep and meaningful for all?

Currently, we seek our fulfillment, enlightenment, and enrichment through cheap instantly gratifying and superficial mediums. Our commercial and consumer culture thrives on our inability to imagine or create new signs and symbols to re-imagine and remake our world for the better. In so many ways, our very identities are associated with the very products and ideals that have been packaged and sold to us. Of course, this is all nothing new, we’ve been aware of what ails us for sometime, but instead of replacing our addictions, we carelessly continue to consume the same corporate codes and experiences, incapable of creating new ones, because it is what comes easy.
     
Although we pretend otherwise, we cannot reject our own mortality. The fact of our own demise is such a troubling certainty that our cultural and religious beliefs were conceived to appease our fears. The concept of an afterlife, or eternity spent with our loved ones and close to god is a fantastic collective presumption. This idea is potent and highly intoxicating; however, it is also completely delusional. 

All that is real, true, and mutually beneficial has been bought sold and commodified for market value. We have lost our connection to the natural world. We have replaced our archetypes with hyper-real simulations. There is no going back; but perhaps there are ways to establish new codes and new modes of experiencing this quick and fleeting moment called “NOW” before we are truly “heard no more.”

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The New International Center (In Exile...)

By Nicholas Allanach

Last month, the International Center in New York closed. For almost fifty years, the IC was a not-for-profit organization that provided a place for immigrants and newcomers to gain advice on living in the United States, learn English, and network with others. Inevitably this established a unique international community in the heart of the world’s most global city. Before the center was shuttered, I asked a handful of members from the, now defunct,  Board of Directors - “Are you quitters? After all, isn’t that the message you’re sending to those who struggle here in hopes of achieving their dreams?” Predictably, none of the board members were able to answer this; instead, they sat stone faced and silent before moving on to the next pointed question from the many volunteers and students who had gathered to gain some explanation of why this important organization was closing down without a fight. Each question was met with a vague statement or empty reassurance that the board “had done everything it could to prevent the center from closing.”

Unfortunately, there was no transparency, no report showing where a (once robust...) endowment went, nor description outlining what efforts (if any...) were taken to prevent this closure from happening. The board admitted “facing financial difficulties before,” which leads one to believe that if they were able to overcome such challenges in the past, why give-up now? According to one board member, the center lacks “long term financial sustainability.” However, such observations of “a bad economy” seem to be a semantic crutch for quitters unable to accept that another world is possible. Those who believe are resolute in reestablishing this organization again, despite the seemingly insurmountable odds against us.

Accordingly, a group of devoted staff, former members, and dedicated volunteers, have decided to challenge the defeatism that suggests a place like the IC can just go away. Before being evicted from 50 East 23rd Street, staff members hosted a fundraiser to establish what is now being called The New International Center. At this well-attended fundraiser, members spoke about how the New IC had become a “second home” for them and that before enrolling in this organization some had “suffered from a sense of alienation and isolation” in America.  One member stated that without the New IC, “I wouldn’t have loved living in New York.”

Over the past few weeks, volunteers, members, and staff of the old IC, have been meeting in locations around the city to plan and consider our next steps. As we scout for a new location, reach-out to the media, and raise money, it is also important to maintain the ties that bound this group of immigrants and newcomers together. This collaborative network and vibrant community is what constitutes the New IC. So, while we seek out a new home and try to raise money we remain “The New International Center (In Exile...).” This community is accustomed to adapting to new places and challenges. We will persevere.

Of course, in order for the New International Center to find a new home and continue it’s mission, we still need to raise $100,000k. Fortunately, as of this writing, we are a little over halfway toward our goal. Once the center is reopened in its new location, members’s deposits alongside a more efficient and aggressive development team, will work together to ensure the mission of providing a place for “citizens of the world to feel at home in New York” continues long into the future.

Please consider contributing to this vital international organization. Check, money orders, and pledges can be mailed to:

The New International Center
c/o: The New School for Public Engagement
66 West 12th Street, Room 308
New York, NY 10011 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The International Center NY: Too Big to Fail?

By Nicholas Allanach

For almost fifty years, the International Center in New York (IC) has been an influential not-for-profit organization for immigrants, students, and newcomers to the United States. It is a place where people learn English, attend workshops on American culture, and receive guidance and support to improve their lives - some with the hope of ultimately becoming part of this country. Most importantly, the IC is a safe place to celebrate and strengthen New York’s ever expanding and diverse international community. For those who immigrate here (no matter their social or economic situation), this city is a challenging and aggressive place to call home. The IC, with its small support staff and many dedicated volunteers, is where newcomers come to ask questions, become confident enough to express themselves, and ultimately begin to actualize their own American dreams.

Unfortunately it is now more difficult for tomorrow's citizens to achieve these dreams.

Last week, the bad news broke that the IC would be declaring bankruptcy and closing its doors on April 30th. The news hit those who rely on this center for vital support the hardest. The e-mail sent out to students and volunteers from the director of the center was intentionally vague, but explained that the rent is too expensive for the center to continue operating at its current location (50 West 23rd Street, 7th floor).

After an emergency meeting with the director, staff, and teaching volunteers, I soon learned the real(?) story suggests a jaded board of directors and incompetent development staff who placed their own misguided priorities before those they claim to represent. Admittedly, as of this writing, there has been no official statement from said board; nevertheless, it appears as that the members of this (self-elected) governing body have given-up. The board has opted to desert the very people who count on the IC for something far more than another self-gratifying title on an already impressive resume. Instead of fighting the good fight, the board has decided to declare bankruptcy with no real genuine explanation of intent to the students, staff, and volunteers.

Since we're missing an official statement from said board, it is difficult to understand their reason for just quitting. Where is the IC's "bailout"? Instead of even trying to save the IC, the board has sent a clear message - it prefers to turn its back on the many who have relied on this center for vital support. I do hope the board will soon explain what efforts were made to raise funds or reduce expenses so that this closure could have been prevented. After all, why were these efforts (assuming there were any) unsuccessful? Too many questions and not enough answers, which has left many believing the board does not have the best interests of those it purports to support in mind.

For two years, I've been a volunteer ESL teacher and occasional “conversation partner” at the IC. It pains me to see this unique and significant place just close down without a fight. On Friday, in class, I looked into the faces of my students and wished that the board was here to answer our questions. Do they really know the peoples' stories and lives that their decisions effect? A sad time indeed.

Despite the bad news, many remain optimistic the IC will re-open under new leadership and renewed mission to “help citizens of the world feel at home in New York.” Whatever challenges we confront over the coming months, make no mistake, we do so together and there are many who are not giving up on the IC or the dreams of these people.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Football Season is Over...


"All things are possible for those who believe - we always believed."
-
Coach Tom Coughlin

“Super Sunday, dawn!” A few hours before kickoff of Super Bowl XLVI, I paced and pranced around our apartment in a state of giddy disbelief that "my" New York Giants had actually made it into the big game. Of course, I'd never doubted Tom Coughlin’s disciplined coaching, Eli Manning’s skills, nor the efforts of talented running backs Hakeem Nicks and (this season’s savior) Victor Cruz. But, it did once seem (at least, way back in November, after that nasty four game losing streak) that the Giants wouldn’t even make it into the post-season. But something changed, New York began fighting and playing like never before and, now, stood to win another Super Bowl title.

While I awaited the big game, there was little to do, but sip on cool drinks and mentally prepare for a New England clam chowder feast at Sung’s in Brooklyn. To appease my anxious pre-game anticipation, I drank cranberry and vodka with Ena, Denise, and Nadir. During such joyful moments, the Campaign Trail of 2012 was thankfully, far from my mind.

* * *

I suppose on Super Sunday, Feb. 5th, the Republican Primary was, as it had been this entire primary season, completely out-of-touch with America and continued to be unable to express any clear direction on where the country should go. And who would be the GOP’s presidential candidate? Mitt Romney, estimated to have earned more money in his lifetime than the past 8 presidents combined and "makes" about $57k a day, can certainly buy a lot, but seems unable to purchase Republican votes.

As last month ended, the stable ground that Mitt Romney once stood on - shifted. First, on January 19th, when the Iowa Republican Party Chairman declared Rick Santorum the actual winner of the state's primary; subsequently, altering what was previously thought to be a Romney win. A few days later, Gingrich (with the help of casino owner, Sheldon Adelson) won the South Carolina primary. Newt’s South Carolina victory rant ultimately characterized the fear and loathing agenda used by the feeble minded haters to whip-up a reliably racist conservative base. I would like to think the Republicans cannot win with a Culture War or on the stability of their “beliefs", but sadly, America is a stupid, stupid place. To drive the last nail into the stigmata Gingrich decried a “growing anti-religious bigotry of our elites.”

Admittedly, Mitt Romney was able to win (after buying...) Florida, but still not definitively enough to clinch the nomination. Corporate candidate Romney cannot seem to shake his base-bating loudmouthed family value “conservative” colleagues - Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Even Libertarian Ron Raul earned a close second place in Maine (even declared first place in Washington County). At this point, it seems very likely that the Republicans will roll into their convention in Tampa Bay with an undecided nomination.

Good. Nothing could be more boring than seeing Romney easily coast into the convention season with an easy victory. I'm personally rooting for Newt. If his victory speech in South Carolina was any indication of what’s to come, I want to see how inflated and insane Newt’s ego can get. Imagine Newt declaring victory in Florida? The debates between Obama and Newt would be great fodder for the late night comedians . But alas, these are the strange, sick, and sad fantasies of a hollow soul. At this point, we're left, as we seem to have always been, with nothing but speculation and little need to care about who gains the nomination. Big surprise.

* * *

On Tuesday, February 7th, as primary voters in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado went to the polls to ultimately pick Rick Santorum as their “non-binding” (still unclear on how this works exactly...) choice for candidate, I would wake up early. But politics was far from my mind.

Instead of reading, then listening to the news on my way to work, I decided to play hooky and go to the New York Giants Super Bowl victory parade. I took the train to Wall Street, sipped coffee and held my piss while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a million other shouting and howling Giants fans. As the streamers and confetti tumbled down the side of gray buildings, bagpipes blew, marching bands marched, and for, at least a moment, it felt good to celebrate a win - "Let's GO GIANTS!" The roar of the crowd reverberated down this “canyon of heroes” as Eli Manning held the Lombardi Trophy high above his head for all to see.

What a better conclusion to this football season? Yes, it was euphoric and epic for any Giants fans, but now, “football season is over...” and it is time to get to work.

While the Giants accepted the “key to the city” at City Hall Park, I sat in a bar with Denise and Calix (who was also skipping school for the day) drinking a Bloody Mary. I then used the bathroom and waited while the large crowd dispersed. Eventually, I made my way back to Wall Street and Broadway passing the clusters of t-shirt sellers. The ground was littered with confetti. There hadn't been a real winter in New York this season, but fans seemed content to roll in confetti and toss it around like snow. Ahead, I heard the beeping and rumbling of sanitation trucks. Workers in masks used leaf blowers to push debris up into the air along the streets that were already busy with a fleet of beeping and grumbling machines hauling away the parade's waste.

I shielded my face from the debris being kicked-up by the trucks as I walked toward Liberty Place to meet my brother, who was sitting on a firetruck patiently awaiting the conclusion of this entire logistical operation. We were standing besides, what had been - less than six months ago- the epicenter and origin of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. But today, only a few activists were there banging on drums, while another danced. The occupation had been replaced by Big Blue's victory day parade.

Certainly, OWS had not gone away for good; but, there was something bitter and grim about these NFL fans now chanting "Let's go Giants" in the same place we also chanted, "We are the 99%!" Some will say OWS is not as strong nor coalescent as it once was - I disagree. Certainly OWS has moved off of the streets, but they have succeeded in changing the narrative of the overall political discussion (one could use Obama's recent State of the Union Address as an example). But what will be the real comeback for OWS? Once winter is over, will the beast awake from hibernation?

After the NYPD forcefully removed the occupiers from Zuccotti Park in the early hours of November 15th, 2011, the Occupy Wall Street Media Team issued an official response, "You can't evict an idea whose time has come."

As Obama includes some, arguably, OWS talking points into his State of the Union and Chris Hedges writes about his concern of a radical "Black Bloc" element infiltrating the 99%. There is no doubt, OWS remains relevant. At first, I agreed with Hedges's concerns, there's no reason for this group to isolate. Then my colleague Mark Grueter reminded me the "Block Bloc" is not a group, but a technique. Thus, the current struggle of OWS is about technique and the way the message is, isn't getting out. OWS may survive the winter, but with the Spring approaching, OWS must plan its next steps. Is OWS more concerned with reform or radicalism?

Halfway through this past football season, the Giants looked like they would have no chance at getting into the post-season. They came back to win the Super Bowl. I want OWS to also have a big comeback. I believe they can win. Let's begin fighting and playing like we never have before. I believe OWS can creatively and effectively bring together these forces of reform and radicalism to really change America and the world. Unfortunately, there is also another team playing this game too and they are the Republicratic Party, so make no mistake, another "under dog" could also have a big comeback.

We are a long way from November.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams

“All I could do was Cry.” - Etta James (R.I.P.)

Saturday morning, 2 a.m. While I sit sipping another cool glass of Raging Bitch Ale, and try my best to shake the addictive urges inside of me for the illegal and ignorant chemicals that spark my receptors, I feel the “Raging Bastard of Privilege” seething, and he wants more! Nothing can appease this vile insatiable appetite. I should, nay I must, be “happy” and “content” with my life and “success” - but I’m not. I lash out, for more, more, more!

Of course, I’ve much to be thankful for; but nevertheless, when asked tonight (by the wife I love so much) “...what are you happy about?” I could not formulate a proper reply; instead I sat there stone-faced and silent. Admittedly, I felt like a shit for not being able to do so; however, anything that popped into my mind (at the moment) felt shallow, strange, savage, and -most unfortunately- contrived. Maybe I’m polluted? After all, contrived answers do seem to be the hallmark of our daily American discourse - whenever honesty is sprouted-out or sprayed from the lips of the crazed and confused citizens of this country, it is always interpreted as "rude, offensive, or hostile" to “the greater good”. So, when I couldn’t answer her question, I realized, that not only am I “not happy” (wah! wah! wah! - you pathetic whiner!) but that I'm -in all honesty- no better than that shallow swine of a man - Newt Gingrich; after all, I too am a megalomaniacal natural born villain, who -everyday- seeks immediate and instant gratification for his stupid pleasures, and all at the expense of those around me. I'm not a hero. My ego presents itself as a villain -the bad guy. "Don’t ever say I never warned you from the start."

Of course, ultimately, we’re not here (..even though I may be...) to engage in (yet another) narcissistic screed; after all, it is far too late for that. Besides, there has already been too many words wasted today/tonight (and everyday) on the trite and pious concerns of those who should be silenced for their spiteful and silly screeds. Then again, too many words have also been wasted today on the wasteful and unproductive back-and-forth of multiple bureaucratic processes that achieve nothing more than an empty benevolence.

No! This is not the time to waste on foolish personal musings (or sleep for that matter...)! Instead we’re here to discuss “where we are now.” Indeed, what is the “situation on the ground”?

Honestly, to engage in any autobiographical or masturbatory reflections at this point would only be -yet another- escape from what matters most. Or not... perhaps, I’m too addicted to the most vile of poisons? Politics. However, "there is no going back now." and, it’s true - “politics is the art of controlling your environment”; unfortunately, it seems as though our environment is truly beyond any of our control. Undoubtedly, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson was right - “The American dream really is fucked.”

I can feel the sickness seeping-in. I pretend these false speeches and lies matter, but they don’t.

And here “we” are, only a few hours away from the “blood sport” that is the South Carolina Primary and, unlike any other South Carolina primary, voters will have the “opportunity” to vote for satire. Good. Admittedly, this election is, no laughing matter. Thankfully, Stephen Colbert continues to educate (and entertain...) Americans about the ridiculousness of Citizens United (which, also celebrates it’s two year anniversary tomorrow), but why should any of this matter?

Tonight, as I sit here shaking off my needs and wants, until I grow too tired to care (listening to Bing Crosby and the Ink Spots) on the dawn of this second anniversary of Citizen’s United, I know voters will gather, tomorrow (likely while I’m sleeping...) in South Carolina to vet their choice for a Republican candidate to run against President Obama; but ultimately, the “choice” seems to be already made for them (and everyone else for that matter knows) -the corporations have won. Hell, even Rick Santorum got “the Shaft” when it came to his own party’s primary results in the Iowa Caucus. The only “hope” for any political future rests with the Occupy movement.

Tonight, while Berney Sanders (a politician I do respect) spoke on Bill Maher - saying, “Let me be clear, corporations are not people.” I knew he was right; however, Bill's concluding “New Rules” also made it abundantly clear - Americans like a bad guy. They want to be (or at least often support) “the villain.” Which is why most Republican candidates can be so unapologetic about acting and behaving like some hybrid of Gordon Gecko as a rap mogul - flaunting their money, bitches, and arrogance.

There is something sadistically savage about American politics that turns honest people into hacks and good writers into company stooges. But we still go along with it all anayway, playing "the game", as the good soldier who knows no other way to really live.

It’s hard to feel optimistic on this cold New York night -as the first snow of the season falls on the bitter streets outside- but I know, that once the spring arrives, a new hope will bloom that no candidate will be able to avoid - We are the 99%.

Etta James was right - “All I could do was cry.” And how poetic that she would die on the day before these primaries. After all, there is no reason to do any less than cry (or, better yet, lash-out in a show of force!) about this horrible, wasteful, and totally useless election of 2012, which will likely only bring a lot of futile chatter and dribble. But I don’t blame those who won’t lash-out; after all, I too am a “company man” (or “little Eichman” - if you must Ward Churchill), too tired tonight to do anything, but stay awake till 4 a.m. writing (for what it’s worth). Eventually, I will curl up and sleep.

But tomorrow, when I awake, I hope to learn that “Herman Cain” (a.k.a. Stephen Colbert) has won the South Carolina Primary, because, after all, we all need a good laugh.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fuck Politics... Football Season Soldiers On!

The 49ers beat the Saints in a dramatic fourth quarter finish securing their spot in next week’s NFC championship game. But the warmth and sun over Candlestick Park was soon replaced by the bitter cold wind and darkness that surrounded Foxboro Stadium, where the cult of Christian personality associated with the Broncos talented quarterback, Tim Tebow, would face-off against the Patriot’s Tom Brady. Saturday night’s game (at least for me) was a symbolic battle that pit nationalism (Patriots) against religious piety (Broncos). In a way, it felt nice to root for “the hometown team” - Go New England! Thankfully, the Patriots won in record-breaking fashion and ensured Tim Tebow would know once and for all - Jesus is on no one’s side!

Sunday would provide football fans with two incredible games. First the Baltimore Ravens against the Houston Texans. Once Baltimore won, we quickly flipped the to Fox and turned the AC/DC way up! (My new tradition is to play “Hells Bells” before every Giants game so as to “ensure” a win.) I suppose, for those of us without religion, it’s sometimes difficult to shake our silly human need for ritual. Admittedly, I - like most Giants fans- went into Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers prepared for the worst, but hoping with all hope for a much-needed revenge comeback. Fortunately, Big Blue didn't disappoint and gained an impressive win on Sunday and are now also on their way to meet the 49ers for a chance to win the Championship round.

As football fans watched their teams battle it out through the postseason playoff weekend, political junkies would be gearing up for a different kind of game - the Republican South Carolina presidential primary. It wasn’t just the Packers who lost yesterday, Jon Huntsman did also, finally dropping out of the primary race. Huntsman immediately threw -what little weight he had- behind Mitt Romney. This was of course a completely hypocritical reaction inspired by the predictable amount of Republican Party peer-pressure. After all, Huntsman has been out for Romney ever since he entered the race. In fact, the second he announced his endorsement for Romney, his website took down any and all Super Pac adds criticizing the Republican frontrunner.

But as anyone who lives in America (or anywhere under the guise of a capitalist social contract can attest) - competition breeds strange, shallow, and savage creatures.

It has been difficult to maintain my mission to write about this election year as actively as Hunter S. Thompson did way back in 1972. Of course, the life we live in 2012 is far different from back then, but nevertheless, I guess it's worth a shot. I hope to have a more cogent assessment of "where we are now" by my next column - but what’s the sense? After all, there is no sense being really made from the cast of racist, fearful, and backward thinking Republican Party candidates. Moreover, I'm personally reluctant to begin commenting at all on "my" President Obama; after all, it is difficult to really say I fully support a President who has not been as productive and liberal as I would have preferred him to be. But we can leave that screed for another day.

I suppose the only person really making any sense of this horrible election is a comedian. We have all heard of Stephen Colbert's campaign to promote the "rights" of corporations (after all, they "are people" - as Mitt Romney claims). If you have not, you should really look into Colbert's (excuse me... "the definitely not coordinating with Stephen Colbert" Super Pac - Americans for a better tomorrow, tomorrow. Colbert has been brilliantly and satirically educating his audience (and the American public) about the influence and sway Super Pacs have over the current electoral process.

So, for now, politics can wait - football season rages on.

Go Giants!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

2012 - Another Campaign



...politics is an art, not a science, you dumb bastards, and so the only real discoveries are made on the ground, amongst the contenders, the mobs and the chaos.” - Mark Grueter


Good advice from my friend commenting on Hunter S. Thompson’s, Fear and Loathing: on the Campaign Trail ’72; unfortunately, most of us are unable to really experience this art of politics “on the ground.” Instead, politics is experienced through the instantaneous and sterilized frame of the mass (social) media machine. Then again, isn’t this where we always make our decisions -through the media? The public square looks much different today than it did in 1972. So, is it possible to experience politics “on the ground” in 2012?
Forty years ago, as the Democratic primary season was gearing-up to select its candidate to run against incumbent Republican President, Richard Nixon, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson rented an apartment in Washington D.C. (where “life runs fast and mean”...) to fully cover the campaign. Ultimately, much of his coverage took place on the road, “amongst the contenders, the mobs and the chaos.” For twelve-months, Thompson wrote an ongoing column documenting his experiences and thoughts while on the campaign trail through his signature “Gonzo" journalism. Back in 1972, there were no iPhones, MSNBC, internet, etc. - writing was still done on typewriters. There was not much room for error. To get his writing to the editors in San Francisco, Rolling Stone magazine even purchased an early model fax machine (which Thompson would come to call “that goddamn Mojo Wire”) to expedite the process of submitting material for publication under an always looming deadline. “There was never enough time.” Indeed; however, I lack sympathy for Thompson’s predicament - the age of Twitter makes it very difficult (if not, arguably, useless...) to reflect - let alone write- on anything.

Ultimately, the Democrats chose Senator George McGovern from South Dakota as their candidate in the general election. Despite McGovern’s idealism and popularity with “the youth vote”, Richard Nixon proved too formidable of an incumbent to beat. President Nixon -much to the dismay of Thompson- won the general election in a landslide. In the popular vote, Nixon received almost 18 million more votes than McGovern -the widest margin of any presidential election.

Times were much different forty years ago and, in ways, one could almost nostalgically look back on these “simpler" times. Of course, the work and cult of personality that has now become “the legend of Dr. Thompson” did much to romanticize an, admittedly, grim chapter in American history (as if any chapter isn’t grim...). Thompson had a way of making things more exciting, poetic, and interesting (than, arguably, they actually were). Perhaps, my nostalgia stems from being jaded with the current political climate? Or, maybe it’s the picture Thompson paints of a life always on the move? He writes that Fear and Loathing: on the Campaign Trail ’72 was written “in airport bars, all-nite coffee shops, and dreary hotel rooms all over the country- there is hardly a paragraph in [his] jangled saga that wasn’t produced in a last-minute, teeth-grinding frenzy.” Such descriptions are an attractive alternative to an otherwise mundane nine-to-five reality of “experiencing” politics through the Huffington Post blog roll.

Although Thompson’s 1972 campaign was dramatically different than the 2012 election will likely be - what were the differences? Were there any similarities or parallels between the campaign of 1972 and the current political climate? Thompson was writing before Reagan and the birth of the “televised” presidency; accordingly, he precedes the Bush years, twenty-four-hour-a-day news-cycle, and Obama administration by decades. But what can be learned from reflecting on Thompson’s ’72 journey of “Fear and Loathing” and the election year that American political junkies are gearing up for now?

Thompson was not a serious political analysts and even admitted that his writings should be seen as more of “a jangled campaign diary than a record of reasoned analysis.” Although Thompson was a “political junkie”, he knew he wasn’t an expert; nevertheless, when flipping through the talking heads and pundits on every channel of the cable news networks or blogosphere, one asks - who really is an “expert” in this sordid game? Despite Thompson’s embellishments and exaggerations, there was something brutally honest about his take on the election of 1972. His purpose for traveling along on the campaign trail was “to learn as much as possible about the mechanics and realities of a presidential campaign, and... to write about it the same way [he’d] write about anything else -as close to the bone as [he] could get, and to hell with consequences.”

And so, why not?... Another campaign and, perhaps, another “jangled campaign diary” -far from the sidelines...so far in fact, I would say, I’m not even in the stadium, no... I’m comfortably and sedentarily ‘experiencing’ this campaign from the screen and my own domestic life. This is sheerly a writing exercise and personal experiment. So...“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” - Dr. Thompson

December 2011

I write this five days away from the Iowa caucus. (The MSNBC, yammering-on in the other room has a silly countdown clock in the corner of the screen...). Personally, I’ve been trying to avoid any and all political discourse these past couple of weeks; after all, “‘tis the season” and although I don’t religiously celebrate any holidays, I’m certainly thankful for the quiet time I have off from work and teaching to read, paint, eat, sleep, etc. - whatever my body wants, I give it. Indeed, there’s something marvelous and magical (one could say, miraculous) about this special time of year when celebration, relaxation, and reflection is encouraged. If only “everyday could be a holiday.

Then again, life tends to get a little dull when spent at home lazily sleeping-in and daydreaming the afternoon away. Although I loathe the subway commute, I do appreciate having to report to class and the office, such responsibilities compliment a more disciplined day. Such responsibilities give a man PURPOSE. And purpose, or perhaps, discipline is exactly what we’re here to discuss. Do I have the discipline to “get my head into the game”? To meet deadlines? To better discipline my body and being? Do I have what it takes to “campaign”?