Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A Year After Grant Park: Somewhere Between Cannery Row & Desolation Row, Standing at a Bus Stop on a Street with No Name

Cannery Row in Monterrey, California is a poem, a stink and a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream ... Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, 'whores, pimps, gamblers, sons of bitches,' by which he meant Everybody." John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they're quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can't read too good
Don't send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row
-- Bob DyLan, Desolation Row

A Year After Grant Park: Somewhere Between Cannery Row & Desolation Row, Standing at a Bus Stop on a Street with No Name

By Richard Power

Unsatisfied with merely denying adequate and affordable health care to their fellow citizens, the Cult formerly known as the Republican Party is now ramping up to thwart the rescue of our species.(See "The Audacity of Nope" at Climate Progress.) This is not ideology, it is pathology.

But worse yet are those who enable the acting out of this pathology.

For example, the Creigh Deeds of the Democratic Party.

For example, the Diane Sawyers of the US mainstream news media.

Did you know that Creigh Deeds, the defeated Democratic candidate for Governor of Virginia, was running ads AGAINST the President's climate and energy bill, and even argued that a health care public option was not necessary, and threatened to "opt-out" for Virginia?

By the end of his campaign, Deeds was running ads attacking Obama’s clean energy agenda, saying Obama’s “cap and trade bill” would “hurt the people of Virginia” ... During the final gubernatorial debate, [Deeds said:] “I don’t think the public option is necessary in any plan ... I would certainly consider opting out if that were available to Virginia ...” Think Progress, 11-4-09

No wonder it was a blow-out.

As for Sawyer, consider her interview with Al Gore, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, former Vice-President and global champion of action to mitigate the potentially devastating impact of climate change:

ABC’s Good Morning America host Diane Sawyer sandbagged Vice President Al Gore this morning ... Smiling, Sawyer introduced a mocking clip from the Fox News pundit. “Here’s Glenn Beck,” she said ... BECK: I’m siding with PETA on this one. Once again asking Al Gore if you really want to save the planet, Al, why don’t you put down the cheeseburger and pick up the veggie burger? Time for, maybe, soy milk and tofurkey?
Sawyer somehow failed to note that Beck denies the science of climate change and has claimed efforts to build a green economy are “fascism.”
Think Progress, 11-3-09

And how is Sawyer going to be rewarded for her idiocy? Why, she has been named the anchor for the ABC Evening News.

It has been a year since many of us wept with joy, and throngs of our fellow citizens gathered in Grant Park to hear Barack Obama's victory speech. Where is the nation now?

Surely, sometime in your life, you have been waiting at a bus for too long -- in the dark, in the cold -- trying to get to a hospital to visit a loved one, or trying to get to a job interview that you were going to be late for. And you were there, waiting, waiting, seemingly forever; waiting for a bus, not knowing if you missed it, not knowing it's still running. Well, that's where this nation is now. Standing at a bus stop on a street with no name, waiting in the cold and the dark ...

What will happen to this country if Obama fails because he listened to Geithner on the economy, McChrystal on Afghanistan and Rahm Emmanuel on health care?

Listen to the warning of Noam Chomsky, the USA's leading dissident intellectual:

Noam Chomsky, the world's leading dissident intellectual, has warned the grievances exploited by far-right extremists need to be taken seriously by their left-wing opponents.
Speaking at the annual Amnesty International lecture in Belfast, Professor Chomsky noted: "There is now a mass of people with real grievances who want answers and are not receiving them. A common reaction in elite educated circles and much of the left is to ridicule the right-wing ­protesters, but that is a serious error.
Dr Chomsky said history had shown it was a grave mistake not to answer the calls of people mired in poverty, who are susceptible to the argument that rich liberals are giving their money to illegal ­immigrants and the shiftless poor.
Herald Scotland, 11-4-09

Consider, also, the warning of Sy Hersh, the USA's leading investigative journalist:

The army is also “in a war against the White House — and they feel they have [President] Obama boxed in,” Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh told several hundred people in Duke University’s Page Auditorium ... “A lot of people in the Pentagon would like to see him get into trouble,” he said ... “If he gives them the extra troops they’re asking for, he loses politically,” Hersh said. “And if he doesn’t give them the troops, he also loses politically.” ... “He’s either going to let the Pentagon run him or he has to run the Pentagon,” Hersh said. If he doesn’t, “this stuff is going to be the ruin of his presidency." Herald-Sun, 10-14-09

Several months ago, I drove down to Monterrey to meet with a colleague. I arrived early, so I went down the road to Cannery Row to kill some time.

I reclined my seat and closed my eyes. My mind wandered to a wall poster that I hung in my room in the 1960s: it was a close-up of John Steinbeck's face, like weathered leather, wearing a sailor's cap, smiling with the grim happiness of a man freed from illusion.

In my youth, I read all of his books. The short novel Cannery Row, with its poignancy and its gentleness, was my favorite. What would it read like now, I wondered. So that afternoon, when I got back to San Francisco, I bought myself a copy, and read straight through it.

Remarkably, it struck me as even more beautiful, and even more haunting: Doc, the solitary proprietor of the Western Biological Laboratory. The homeless men who lived in the flophouse down the road. The prostitutes who lived in the brothel down the road. The gopher who lived in the garden down the road The Gregorian chants. The rattlesnakes in their cages ...

Rereading Cannery Row was a profound experience. I felt as if I had come full circle, as if I now knew from experience what I known then from ... from what? Memory? Full circle. Furthermore, it occurred to me that I had arrived at the age of the Steinbeck pictured in that poster hanging on my wall way back when. Full circle.

So I took stock, I was alive. And although Steinbeck has been gone for decades, his work clearly lives on. Even Cannery Row still exists; yes, of course, its physical reality is now that of a whitewashed, gentrified tourist site, but the ghostly imprint of another time is still there for those with ears to see and eyes to hear. Yes, you can still read Cannery Row, and you can even visit its sanitized vestige, but the America it belonged to is gone, long gone. Lost forever.

As I finished taking stock, I heard a song in my mind:

Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row
-- Bob DyLan, Desolation Row

Like first time I read Cannery Row, the first time I heard this song was in the 1960s.

Desolation Row was the defiant, joyful cry of an outsider. It celebrated the existential verities of the human condition, and it prophesied some of what was to come here in America.

(Sadly, in 1965, when this song was written, there was also Democrat in the White House, and his name was not Kennedy.)

The land in which we live now imbues the Creigh Deeds and the Diane Sawyers with great opportunity and responsibility, and they fritter it away.

This is not my land, this is not your land.

Unless ...

What should Obama do about Afghanistan?

What should Obama do about the Masters of the Universe who run the financial rackets, and have a stranglehold on our economy, our political system and our healthcare system?

What should Obama do about the global warming deniers?

I don't know.

I am not going to chastise President Obama. I think I can see where he is pinned.

No, I do not know what he should do.

But I do know what Doc, Steinbeck's protagonist in Cannery Row, would do.

He would drive 500 miles down the coast to harvest octopus. He would travel all night, stopping at diners here and there. Listening to the radio, listening to his fellow human beings. Always moving forward. But at his own pace. Then, before sunrise, he would wade into the surf, and roam the tide pools until he had collected enough octopus to fill the order.

And maybe that's what I should do too.