Today’s intemperate rant

Outpost of empire

I’m really not an expert in anything except writing 900-word essays. I read things, and I think about things, and I lie back and let people who actually know stuff talk. OK, mostly I do that. But sometimes I notice something, and no one else is talking about, and I ask: “Am I delusional?”

There’s only one way to find out.

I’ve been noticing this big hole in the presidential campaign. I know it’s hard to focus on anything else with that big ol’ Trump weasel making everything crazy. But he is already disappearing, and I hope and expect that he will be gone well before that last ballot is counted.

Which means we’re stuck with Hillary. The lesser of two evils is still evil. Once the big evil goes away, we have a lot of bad ideas left to cope with. I mean, Bernie Sanders was right. Is right. He didn’t start soon enough, and he’s probably not a real good executive, but maybe if his coalition stays together and works for change in smaller elections, we might have a progressive wing of the Democratic party.

But, see, that’s not really my problem. We have Hillary and her well-known coziness with big money guys. It’s certain that a Clinton candidacy will be business-as-usual with the yacht-owning classes. Clinton doesn’t want to reform them; she wants to use them. She thinks she’s controlling them, and I think the opposite is true.

But that’s still not my problem. Bernie ran an insurgency campaign, and he talked about all sorts of worrisome trends. He identified an important nexus of corruption. Hooray. But he refrained from talking (except in the most general terms) about the rest of the world.

And that’s what’s missing from this campaign: the world.

Somewhere in the world


We all remember the world. Some of us have been there. Beyond our borders, all sorts of cool stuff is happening. Also lots of uncool stuff. War, torture, displacement, suffering, corruption, and I could go on. And we’re doing a lot of it, and are complicit in a lot more. We are a bastion of free market colonialism, and we have somehow arranged the world to make us stuff we think we need.

And if the factories are appalling and the wages inadequate, that’s on us. If tiny countries are being stripped of natural resources to supply our smartphone or toothpaste or bath mat needs, that’s on us too. Our good guy status (free speech! free elections! free balloons!) is somewhat undercut by our raging greed and supreme powers of denial.

Is the Clinton presidency going to fix that? Of course not. The Clinton administration would consider it the cost of doing business —and doing business is what this nation as always been about.

And then there’s Syria. As we know, Clinton wants to bomb them. Who would we bomb? That’s not clear. It’s never clear. And what would bombing them accomplish? What’s the end game look like?

Americans are id monsters. Let’s bomb ’em and it’ll all work out because we’re exceptional. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya — no plan but to make sure everyone gets rich. Everyone who counts anyway. And Clinton utterly buys into that. Bomb ’em and show ’em we have muscle, because why? Because Russia. Because terrorism. Because…

Look, there’s a refugee crisis to deal with it. Some 60 million displaced persons! The population of California is 38 million. Can you imagine how much that is in the currency of suffering?

So let’s take all the money we use for arms and armies, all the wealth we piddle away by invading random countries, and use it solve that problem. Give every refugee $10,000. Seriously. Money is the solution to poverty. Houses are the solution to homelessness. You know?

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Enjoying the blessings of liberty

And there’s two other wars we’re involved in. Iraq is now a fight against ISIS, and Afghanistan is still a fight against the Taliban, a fight that’s basically a stalemate. No end in sight in either place. I should mention that these are Obama’s wars now. I know he’s the coolest thing since Elvis, but he is doing the traditional “kill people” thing. I know he got Osama and all that, but what about all the other dead people? Dead bad guys only creates more living bad guys — that’s the mechanism of the social media jihad.

Obama can’t even say Congress blocked him from doing the right thing. If there’s one thing that the legislative branch and the executive branch agree, it’s the necessity of making war.

And not to mention all the repressive regimes that we are good buddies with. We support them because we think it’s in our interest, or it used to be — a lot of our alliances are left over from the Cold War. Turkey? Turkey was resolutely anti-Communist. Now it’s a dictatorship-in-training run by a grandiose cretin who hates free speech,  loves excessive pomp, and wants to kill all Kurds. And Turkey is our ally.

And who can forget Saudi Arabia, where women can’t drive and gays get executed? They’re spreading a creeping ultra-Conservative brand of Islam all around the Muslim world.  They encourage terrorists. Plus, they are fighting a bloody and senseless war in Yemen, and we’re providing the Saudis with “intelligence, airborne fuel tankers and thousands of advanced munitions.” More dead people, and thank you very much, Uncle Sam.

Saudi Arabia is our ally.

And so on  around the globe. I understand that Hillary has lots of experience in this area. Alas, her experience seems to have taught her that the conventional wisdom is right. Trust the generals; they know what they’re doing. And trust the NSA, because they have all these secrets.

This could be a secret

Of course, some of those secrets were obtained illegally. I can’t convince you of that, but Edward Snowden could. Hillary doesn’t like Edward Snowden. She denies that the information he provided demonstrated any unlawful behavior. She thinks he should be brought home to “face the music.” I think Snowden did something as brave and useful as what Daniel Ellsberg did. Hillary denies that he’s a whistle blower, but of course he is — and that whistle can’t be unblown.

I think maybe it’s time that Hillary Clinton answers some hard questions. Will the United States continue to support Saudi Arabia? Will it keep supporting the Muslim-murdering government of Myanmar? Will it keep increasing its burden of war and treasure in the Middle East?

She’s the first woman president, and millions rejoice. She’s also in charge of the army and the foreign policy apparatus, and there’s far less joy. Clinton wants to talk about the issues. Well, these are issues.

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The map is not the territory


Photography by Tracy Johnston

The large jonathan

New York Index:

Duration of trip: Nine days.

Number of Broadway shows seen: Four

Number of Broadway shows seen choreographed by Shana Carroll: One

Number of trashy books read: Four

Number of trashy books so bad I left them behind in the airplane seat pocket: One

Number of museums visited: Four

Number of polystyrene penises seen: One

Number of boroughs visited: Two

Number of Bed, Bath & Beyond stores visited: One

Number of weddings viewed in Central Park: One

Number of Metro Card swipes unsuccessfully attempted: Fourteen

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Near Lafayette and Prince: Summer in the city


The source of my infatuation

My mother went to Vassar in the 1930s, and many weekends she’d take the train down to Manhattan and go out drinking with Princeton boys. She was enraptured by essentially everything, the subways and the hotel bars and the nightclubs where you could get crazy to swing music. She saw Benny Goodman live! She told me that several times, and she played “Stompin’ at the Savoy” on the record player.

We were far away from New York, in a small bungalow on a small street in dumpy Pasadena, California. There were copies of the New Yorker piled up on the table, and books by John Cheever and John O’Hara and all those drunk-in-Connecticut boys. She read me Thurber’s Columbus stories as I was going to sleep — I knew “The Night to Bed Fell” better than I knew “Harold and the Purple Crayon.” When I was 10, I knew who Peter Arno was.

So Manhattan is, for me, is the island of romance. Every inch, every cross-street, every run-down diner and barren lobby. I was nostalgic for things I have never even seen. Even after all these years, even after working there and sweltering there and killing cockroaches there, I still think of New York as the pinnacle of civilization.

There weren’t any cockroaches in California, so I thought that they, too, were sophisticated.


Artistic conversations

“This would be a good photo, right here.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You know, essence of Brooklyn, food truck-based Cuban restaurant, Greenlight Books, diversity, strollers, those kinda hats that…”

“Yes, but not really a photograph.”

“Well, Jeez. OK. Jeez.”


“So this would be good. Fort Greene, Walt Whitman, Brooklyn Eagle, just a sense of the…”

“It’s a plaque.”

“Yes, but you could do something with it. Get a kind of, maybe, a young writer of literary fiction, with her baby, with two babies, multi-racial babies, and…”

“Not a photograph.”


“So this, this –“

“You could just take photos with your phone, you know. Use them in the blog.”

“But I didn’t take any photos in Brooklyn.”

“Use your skills. Word pictures, killer descriptions, metaphors, similes, evocative whatevers. You’ll figure it out.”

Only known photograph from Brooklyn (snapshot by JC)


Notes on a meme:

It is a commonplace now that Oakland is the new Brooklyn. I guess that means that the center of creative energy and youthful exuberance has moved from Manhattan (or San Francisco) to its less glamorous neighbor to the east, the formerly poor and clueless sister city now made relevant and hip by changing demographic times. Let us come together in this boutique of  hipitude.

Of course, that’s not true. Maybe it was true for 17 seconds in 2004, but now property values are inflated in both places and the inhabitants are the about-t0-be-rich looking for a nice condo in the colorfully changing neighborhood. The new rich are a little more multi-hued than the old kind, but they’re still the same breed, Mad Men of the 21st Century, flocking with others of their own species, secure in their uniform uniqueness.

But in both places, it is possible to squint at the older buildings and see the communities now vanished, ethnic affinity groups clustered in neighborhoods, changing with the waves of immigration that have defined America. Now it’s all the Culture of the Deracinated, a commercial potpourri of ideas from German minimalist poets and Puerto Rican muralists and Japanese cartoonists and Ghanian percussionists.

 Brooklyn has much more stringent height limits, so it will keep its lovely tree-lined brownstone-lined streets, as opposed to Oakland’s growing collection of grotesque condos. Which seems great, until the phrase “Potemkin village” occurs to you.

 Brooklyn is Oakland on steroids; Oakland is Brooklyn with a human face.


Trashy book report

“The Accident” by Chris Pavone: Someone writes a tell-all book about Rupert Murdoch. Complications ensue. Murdoch appears under a pseudonym, but it’s all very wink wink. Three cheeseburgers.

“Before the Fall” by Noah Hawley: Someone kills Roger Ailes (pseudonym again) and some other folks. Why? How? Who? And why is Bill O’Reilly (pseud.) acting like such a dick? Fortunately, one moral man and so forth. But still, what fun. Four cheeseburgers.

“The Nest” by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney: Look, if you want to write a movie, write a movie. Don’t make us read this dysfunctional family drama for 300 pages and then turn it into honeysuckle and balloons for the last 50 pages. Total betrayal. Why do people like this book? Maybe nobody finished it. One-half burger

 “The Second Life of Nick Mason (a Nick Mason novel)” by Steve Hamilton: Left on the airplane. Bad Lee Child. I entirely forget who did what to whom, but one moral man and so forth. The New York Times went nuts for this.  What? One cold half-eaten fry.


Skyline from Brooklyn side. Five cheeseburgers 


The persistence of hope

I was walking down 72nd street, planning to walk across Central Park to the Met, which is one of the great experiences available on earth. I was just passing the juice bar, what we had come to think of as “our juice bar,” when I realized: Politics is boring.

Sure the Presidential race is exciting, in a Harry Potter kind of way. Will Voldemort be defeated? We’ll have to wait until November. But really, there are a lot of interesting and complex issues to be considered, and none of them are being talked about in any real way. It’s all posturing. It’s all looking for the message that connects emotionally, which is exactly the opposite of intelligent discussion.

And intelligent discussion is kind of fun. Listening to people who know more than you do: Exciting. It’s stimulating to hear an idea you’ve never heard before.  And do we not crave stimulation of the brain? We do.

For instance: There are two popular musicals on Broadway that deal with aspects of the black experience. They are more interesting than the rhetoric of Donald Trump or Black Lives Matter. “Shuffle Along” is about reclaiming racist stereotypes, in much the same way the the LBGT community reclaimed the word “queer”. Minstrel shows were, after all, based on art forms created by slaves. Why not own them?

“Shuffle Along” is being criticized for being too didactic, but we need a good history lesson from time to time, particularly a history lesson that includes fabulous tap dance numbers and Audra McDonald singing ballads.

And there’s also “The Color Purple,” which has a mostly white audience cheering the triumph of a black woman. The ideas are commonplace, but Cynthia Erivo (holy God she’s good) and Heather Headly make it visceral. It’s a way into the heart of the matter; it’s a way of provoking conversation about the persistence of misery.

We went down to the Bowery to see the New Museum.  All five floors are devoted to women artists. They each had something to say about gender, and it went way beyond “sisters are doing it for themselves.” I thought idly that it would be nice to see an all-male show dealing with gender, but alas, my sex does not seem to be up to dealing with that yet.

And it wasn’t just gender. Nicole Eisenman (and she’s as good as Cynthia Erivo) has a complicated and fabulous vision of modern life, mostly on canvases too large for my little iPhone, but I did manage to capture a little meditation on narcissism called “Selfie”.


(Snapshot by JC)

Even stranger was a piece by Cally Spooner (called, unfortunately, “On False Tears and Outsourcing”) which features dancers miming acts of violence behind a glass wall — outside of which patrons sip coffee and chat.

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“Never mind her; look at my hand”


We went to the Whitney; same thing. I have one quibble: A lot of the art is political, and many of them have mission statements written in the purest artspeak gobbledygook. I think maybe that’s an artifact of grant writing, which virtually demands large quantities of horseshit. And I suspect that some of the art is pure impulse — hey, this would look cool; how can I get a Guggenheim to do it? For instance:


Excellent snakes, excellent pelican (snapshot by JC)

This is a detail from a huge floor diorama by Rochelle Goldberg called “No Where No Way.” The explanatory card talks about environmentalism in some murky way, but I deeply believe that Goldberg thought “I can make these amazing objects out of stainless steel and ceramic; what the hell can I say about them?”

Anyway: Ideas. Beauty. Musings about empire.

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Parental pride

So yeah, our daughter Shana has a show on Broadway. That was a nice sentence to type. It’s the new Cirque du Soleil thing, “Paramour,” and she choreographed the circus tricks and did some general mucking about. The show is a huge smash financially if not critically, and now she can go home and do her own projects, which is good news for truth and beauty.

Yeah, we went backstage and met the stars, and generally hung around the periphery looking exactly like visiting parents. They all called me “Mr. Carroll,” and I told them about listening to Lincoln at Gettysburg — because I am so very old.

So, you know: New York


The artist with the wonderful Eisa Davis (snapshot by JC)



Photography by Tracy Johnston

Ornamental marketing by Michelle Mizera

God those captions look ugly. Sorry about that.