I always like these occasional features in the NY Times Sunday Magazine about a mysterious medical diagnosis. This account, though, seemed particularly relevant at a time when the country is debating health care reform. [Spoiler alert] The patient, a sixty-four year old woman who is pretty clearly from the working class, loses her ability to walk because of weakness in her legs: she is suffering from a copper deficiency. It turns out that her dentures don’t fit properly and she has been piling on the denture cream, which contains zinc, which reduces the minute amounts of copper needed by the body. At the end of the piece we are informed that, while she “still cannot afford new dentures,” she has switched the brand of denture adhesive she uses and is going to physical therapy, though the nerve damage might me irreversable. So: an aging woman’s false teeth don’t fit and she can’t afford new ones — no insurance, you know — and as a consequence she unknowingly poisons herself and causes severe nerve damage in her legs. Still, in the end, she’s got the same old ill-fitting dentures. No insurance, you know. And the various mouthpieces of the medical-industrial complex and their political defenders are making up shit about a very modest healt care reform proposal creating “death panels” so as to quietly dispose of grandma on the cheap. One would like to ask them what they propose to do for people like the woman in the Times story, since they have such deep concern for the weak and unprotected.
. . . because most of the crackers [more here] who live in Alabama think that government is the problem. This is the end result of radical right-wing-attacks on government and civic life in general, in favor of a kind of he-man individualism. Well, at least most of them are armed so they will be able to settle their own disputes the old fashioned way. So close the jail and the schools and the DMV, bro, and don’t forget the fire department.
He really was as bad as we thought at the time. And Reagan comes across in these recent tapes as a bland and lawless vacuity without a shred of integrity of allegiance to anything but power. And Nixon and Reagan gave birth to George W. Bush. All the characteristics are the same. The idea that the executive is above the law; a world view built on the worst of 19th century social Darwinism; and utter incuriosity about other people and other places. I have a such a visceral reaction to these creeps, perhaps, because my step father was a sort of cheap knock-off version of the same cluster of attitudes. I take these sons of bitches personally. Which is why it’s such a relief to have Barack Obama as president, despite the fact that he has deeply disappointed me on civil liberties issues, particularly the half-measures he’s taken to do away with torturing people in my name. With Obama, I at least get the impression that he has thought through the issue and made a conscious decision based on what he believes to be the good of the country. It’s going to be very interesting to see how Obama works through health care reform. I fear that he will compromise away significant change and wind up serving narrow interests; whereas venality drove Nixon and Reagan and Bush, a dangerous idealism may turn out to be Obama’s weakness.
Following a link from A Practical Policy, I read this story, “Segundo’s Revenge,” by Joe Emersberger, a writer unknown to me. I had read some other things at Liberation Lit, but nothing that carried out the LL mission to combine the political and the artistic quite so deftly. It’s a terrific story, though I wish it were not quite reticent — I could do with a bit more characterization and description, but I kind of see why Emersberger keeps it simple, with a powerful through-line. I’ll be keeping this piece in mind as I work out how to make poems and stories of my own out of “political” material. When I was beginning as a writer many hears ago there was a strong bias in the classroom against the didactic and the political in literature and I absorbed that vibe even while having strong political convictions. I mean, I’ve already written plenty of political poems, but I don’t really know how to do it — I have no systematic understanding, though the frank admission in the Liberation Lit writers’ guidelines that there is some strongly perceived division between the political and the aesthetic is a healthy admission, I think. Perhaps at this moment in the West we are without a synthesis of the political and the aesthetic with the result that we have to make up a new method for each piece of work.
I’m trying to gather material impressions while I’m here in Vietnam that I’ll be able to turn into poems and stories — the story ideas I’ve had so far each take on the political situation of the sympathetic foreigner encountering the people and places and institutions of Vietnam. Nothing has gelled, but then I haven’t taken time to sit down and fill out my brief notes, which is how things usually begin for me.
Isn’t it just time to quarantine Pakistan? Clearly, the country has not yet figured out what it wants to be and I don’t think the US can really have much effect on that process. Pakistan has the bomb, of course, which makes things more complicated — the world does not need a radical Islamic state armed with nuclear weapons — but I think the current meltdown actually offers the US an opportunity to take a hard look at reality. The Obama administration has shown a real willingness to make pragmatic policy decisions and perhaps they will take a good look at Pakistan and tell themselves the truth. I’m sitting in a hotel room in Hanoi Vietnam as I write this and I’m thinking how American history might have been different had Lyndon Johnson taken a cold-eyed look at the Indochina war and decided to step back. Barack Obama has an opportunity for making a clear-eyed judgment that the US cannot effectively intervene in Pakistan or Afghanistan; that the best we can do is set a fence around those who would do us injury. That fence can be both diplomatic and military — I am not a pacifist — but it must not involve the escalation of the number of American soldiers. The administration ought to let it be known that Pakistan must decide its own direction, but that if one light is turned on in a nuclear facility, it will be instantly destroyed. Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan must all be confronted with existential choices — their choices, not ours. Had the US taken such an existential position during Vietnam’s civil war — for that’s what it was until the US and the Soviets made it a proxy war — Vietnam would probably be a much more democratic place today. Had the US not backed French intervention in 1945, but instead had acceded to Ho Chi Minh’s pleas for a guarantee of Vietnamese sovereignty, Ho Chi Minh might never have turned to the Soviets, whom he distrusted even while admiring Lenin’s treatise on colonialism. If the US had not supported the French return to Indochina in 1945, the Vietnamese would have had to work out for themselves what their political destiny would be. I heard no less an authority than the old revolutionary and compatriot of Ho Chi Minh Huu Ngoc say just today in a lecture that had the French not been allowed back in — with the blessing of the US — that Vietnam would have taken a “capitalist,” Western route, that that was Ho Chi Minh’s preference. As it happens, I think there is a huge dose of revisionist history in that statement, but it is certain that things would not only have been different, but better, had Truman simply told the French to back off after World War II. Now the US needs to tell itself to back off, with the realization that there is literally nothing we can do to determine what sort of society the Pakistanis and the Afghans want to have. Morally it’s none of our business; practically, it’s a hopeless quagmire. All we can do is protect ourselves, which we ought to do vigorously, publicly, and transparently. The Vietnamese posed no threat to the US, except in out imaginations; the Afghans and the Pakistanis pose no threat, except in the case of the Pakistanis’ nuclear arsenal, which ought to stand under the constant threat of annihilation should it be activated.