Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Time For Talk — An old short story explaining the Trump/Putin Nuclear Policy

A Short Story by Tim McMullen

The glass sparkled as he held it up to the light. He poked the towel into the mouth with his fingers and wiped it again; then he reached up and placed it on the shelf beside the other glasses. He quickly picked up a fork and began to rub it.
"Sure," he said, scratching with his fingernail at some unidentifiable crust of food, "I know everybody's making a big deal about it, but it's mostly just bull."
"What do you mean by that?" the woman said as she lifted her hands out of the water and rinsed the soap off a saucepan.
"I just mean that we've been through it all before. The scare stories…the tests ...the drills. You remember, when we were kids, the plan we had to follow?"
She placed a newly rinsed spatula in the drain rack and raised a quizzical eyebrow.
"You know the rule ...but then, maybe you don't ...being a hick and all," he grinned and then ducked the water which he knew would be flicked in his direction. "All us city kids learned the four magic rules: When you see the light," he chanted, "turn your back to the windows, get under your desk, put your head between your legs, and KISS YOUR ASS GOODBYE!"
"That's disgusting," she giggled and flicked both water-drenched hands in his direction. He caught one stream on the right cheek before he grabbed her hands and pulled her to him. He clasped both her wrists in his left hand and lifted them above her head as he encircled her waist with his right arm.
"AH-AH-AH! You'll lose your kitchen help," he said.
He kissed her playfully. She kissed him back, saying: "Hmph! Some help you are." She wrinkled her forehead and looked into his face.
He looked back at her for a second and then peered intently at the fistful of forks in his hand, inspecting each one carefully as he placed it in its proper slot in the drawer.
"I'm catching up!" he laughed as he reached for the last item in the drain rack. The muffled clank of pans rose from the dishwater as she submerged her hands.
"Besides," he said finally, "What do you want from me? It's just not that big a deal. I mean we've been through it before. Everybody gets all stirred up for nothing. Nobody's stupid enough to start something ... Not even the Russians. Gimme a break! They know we'd blow hell out of 'em if they ever tried to hit us ...and we're never gonna' start it, so why get all excited?"
"How do you know we'll never start it?" Her fine, brown hair flipped from her face as she looked at him over her shoulder.
"We just don't do that kind of thing. We stop wars...We don't start them. That's a fact."
"Maybe, but there's only one country that's ever used an atomic bomb on people."
He looked at her, slightly puzzled, then mumbled, "Oh." Then he brightened. "But, like I said, we didn't start that one ...we finished it!"
"All the same ... " she muttered and pulled the stopper out of the basin. She watched the swirling vortex whirl down the drain. The sink sucked loudly as the last of the soapy water disappeared. With a faint but reassuring smile on his lips, he dried his hands on the dishtowel, folded it neatly in thirds, and threaded it through the handle of the stove.
He put his arm around her shoulders, and they walked into the living room. She watched him settle down in the new armchair and fold his hands across his stomach. She stood at the end table, idly riffling the pages of a magazine with her right hand.
"You know," she said finally, "we're less than ten miles from downtown."
"We're sandwiched between the oil fields, naval base and a huge metropolitan area." "Yeah, so?"
"We're a target. It would hit us before we even knew it. Don't you ever wonder what you'd do.... what it would feel like ...really?"
"You mean what it would feel like? Yeah, I suppose . . . " He spoke hesitantly, his voice and eyes raised unison. "Well, no. I guess I haven't really wondered. A bit too morbid for my taste. But we have Civil Defense. We'd know ahead of time ... We'd be prepared." He shrugged his outstretched palms upwardly in a "you-know-what-I-mean" gesture.
She gazed over his head through the hazy, lace curtains, at the darkening sky. This view out her living room window was her favorite. Her sudden reverie was so deep that she was startled to hear his voice again. But it was his voice, the voice she loved, and she pulled herself back to hear him finish his sentence.
"...to worry about," he said. "What good does it do? You only scare yourself. Wondering what an atomic explosion feels like is like asking what it’s like to be dead. Who knows?”
She shrugged her shoulders and smiled slightly. Having won her tacit agreement, he continued enthusiastically. “I mean, one second you’re sitting here talking, and

©1985 T. McMullen

All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 10, 2016

My First and Last Word on the Election of Trump followed by a Letter From Elizabeth Warren

This graphic from George Takei was posted on a Facebook friend's page. My answer follows. 

Yeah, but we thought that we had the electoral system in our pocket. There is plenty of blame to go around including the "Anyone but Clinton" liberals and so-called "Progressives" who viciously bashed Clinton with radical right-wing perfidy everyday until the election, but it also goes directly to the Clinton campaign and undoubtedly Clinton herself, who, when she had the chance to choose a running mate, effectively thumbed her nose at nearly half of her party (the energized half) and chose a middle of the road, formerly anti-choice, Southern governor/senator rather than any number of well-qualified progressives who might well have added many millions of votes, especially from those disgruntled white, poor and working class voters who feel shafted by the system.

I admit that I am mystified by the choice of nearly half of this country who chose a dishonest, narcissistic con man with NO ACTUAL PLAN to represent them, but I am more appalled by the fact that they have handed the Presidency, the Supreme Court, the Senate, and the House over to the party that wants to eliminate Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and nearly all other sections of the social safety net, while handing ever increasing power and money to the oligarchs.

They have embraced a party that gleefully applauds the destruction of the environment as being good for business; a party that scapegoats people of color and immigrants (whether documented or undocumented); a party that has pledged and tried to dismantle health care for many millions of people while handing the system back to the very industries (big insurance and big pharma) that have decimated the system that we have; a party that openly attacks the rights of women, of LGBTQs, of other religions all in the hypocritical name of "religious liberty”; a party that has vowed and repeatedly attempted to destroy a woman's right to abortion and even restrict or outlaw contraception. And all of this may now be accomplished because hopeless people are demanding a radical change to the system that has failed them.

I know that I am omitting the blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic miscreants who made up a significant amount of his base, but I am talking about he other 40% to 60% who were simply aggrieved at the nebulous loss of status and livelihood and who have no real understanding of how their losses happened.

Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Bush 2, were directly responsible for those losses, but Bill Clinton and Barack Obama (as much as I respect him as a person and a President) were also responsible for their despair by continuing to enable Wall Street, the Banksters, and the Corporatocracy to dominate the American political system and pillage the American economy. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and (ignoring every repugnant and regressive thing that he said) even Donald Trump represented the voice of those who have seen that the system IS rigged against them. The tragic irony is that the angry and aggrieved have empowered the party that is at the heart of rigging that system.

At this point, perhaps our only hope for the next two years is that a President Trump will be so petulant and vindictive as to deny Paul Ryan's and Mitch McConnell's attempt to destroy all remnants of the social safety net and the environment. Perhaps Trump will have a radical change in his approach to doing business and will actually attempt to enact many of those Populist concerns that he echoed during his campaign. We can hope that both Trump and his inevitable Supreme court nominees will accept the solemnity of their responsibility and overcome their own partisan bias to actually care about what is best for the entire country.

Such an outcome is an extremely unlikely longshot, but until the House and Senate elections of 2018, there will be little that can be done to prevent the onslaught of right wing assaults on the basic integrity and goodness of this nation except to raise our voices in opposition. We must continue to stand strong for progressive leaders and demand that they do everything in their power to oppose and prevent the radical Republican and Libertarian visions from further harming the United States of America.
What follows is a long e-mail that Elizabeth Warren sent today to those of us who support her campaign. It is very similar to Bernie Sander’s statement about the election and the President-Elect. It also echoes much of Michael Moore’s predictions that were taken out of context and used as right wing propaganda, but they all speak to the justifiable (if misplaced) anger of nearly half of this country. Here is Warren’s letter:


This wasn’t a pretty election. In fact, it was ugly, and we should not sugarcoat the reason why. Donald Trump ran a campaign that started with racial attacks and then rode the escalator down. He encouraged a toxic stew of hatred and fear. He attacked millions of Americans. And he regularly made statements that undermined core values of our democracy.

And he won. He won – and now Latino and Muslim-American children are worried about what will happen to their families. LGBT couples are worried that their marriages could be dissolved by a Trump-Pence Supreme Court. Women are worried that their access to desperately needed health services will disappear. Millions of people in this country are worried, deeply worried. And they are right to be worried.

Today, as President-Elect, Donald Trump has an opportunity to chart a different course: to govern for all Americans and to respect our institutions. In his victory speech, he pledged that he would be “President for all” of the American people. And when he takes the oath of office as the leader of our democracy and the leader of all Americans, I sincerely hope that he will fulfill that pledge with respect and concern for every single human being in this country, no matter who they are, no matter where they come from, no matter what they believe, no matter whom they love.

And that marks Democrats’ first job in this new era: We will stand up to bigotry. There is no compromise here. In all its forms, we will fight back against attacks on Latinos, African Americans, women, Muslims, immigrants, disabled Americans – on anyone. Whether Donald Trump sits in a glass tower or sits in the White House, we will not give an inch on this, not now, not ever.

But there are many millions of people who did not vote for Donald Trump because of the bigotry and hate that fueled his campaign rallies. They voted for him despite the hate. They voted for him out of frustration and anger – and also out of hope that he would bring change.

If we have learned nothing else from the past two years of electioneering, we should hear the message loud and clear that the American people want Washington to change. It was clear in the Democratic Primaries. It was clear in the Republican Primaries. It was clear in the campaign and it was clear on Election Day. The final results may have divided us – but the entire electorate embraced deep, fundamental reform of our economic system and our political system.

Working families across this country are deeply frustrated about an economy and a government that doesn’t work for them. Exit polling on Tuesday found that 72 percent of voters believe that "the American economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful." 72 percent of ALL voters – Democrats and Republicans. The polls were also made clear that the economy was the top issue on voters’ minds. Americans are angry about a federal government that works for the rich and powerful and that leaves everyone else in the dirt.

Lobbyists and Washington insiders have spent years trying to convince themselves and each other that Americans don’t actually believe this. Now that the returns are in and the people have spoken, they’re already trying to wave their hands and dismiss these views as some sort of mass delusion. They are wrong – very wrong.

The truth is that people are right to be angry. Angry that wages have been stagnant for a generation, while basic costs like housing, health care, and child care have skyrocketed. Angry that our political system is awash in barely legalized campaign bribery. Angry that Washington eagerly protects tax breaks for billionaires while it refuses to raise the minimum wage, or help the millions of Americans struggling with student loans, or enforce the law when the millionaire CEOs who fund our political campaigns break it. Angry that Washington pushes big corporate interests in trade deals, but won’t make the investments in infrastructure to create good jobs right here in America. Angry that Washington tilts the playing field for giant corporations – giving them special privileges, letting them amass enormous economic and political power.

Angry that while Washington dithers and spins and does the backstroke in an ocean of money, while the American Dream moves further and further out of reach for too many families. Angry that working people are in debt. Angry that seniors can’t stretch a Social Security check to cover the basics.

President-Elect Trump spoke to these issues. Republican elites hated him for it. But he didn’t care. He criticized Wall Street and big money’s dominance in Washington – straight up. He supported a new Glass-Steagall. He spoke of the need to reform our trade deals so they aren’t raw deals for the American people. He said he will not cut Social Security benefits. He talked about the need to address the rising cost of college and about helping working parents struggling with the high cost of child care. He spoke of the urgency of rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and putting people back to work. He spoke to the very real sense of millions of Americans that their government and their economy has abandoned them. And he promised to rebuild our economy for working people.

The deep worry that people feel over an America that does not work for them is not liberal or conservative worry. It is not Democratic or Republican worry. It is the deep worry that led even Americans with very deep reservations about Donald Trump’s temperament and fitness to vote for him anyway.

So let me be 100% clear about this. When President-Elect Trump wants to take on these issues, when his goal is to increase the economic security of middle class families, then count me in. I will put aside our differences and I will work with him to accomplish that goal. I offer to work as hard as I can and to pull as many people as I can into this effort.  If Trump is ready to go on rebuilding economic security for millions of Americans, so am I and so are a lot of other people—Democrats and Republicans.

But let’s also be clear about what rebuilding our economy does not mean.

  • It does not mean handing the keys to our economy over to Wall Street so they can run it for themselves. Americans want to hold the big banks accountable. That will not happen if we gut Dodd-Frank and fire the cops responsible for watching over those banks, like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If Trump and the Republican Party try to turn loose the big banks and financial institutions so they can once again gamble with our economy and bring it all crashing down, then we will fight them every step of the way.

  • It does not mean crippling our economy and ripping working families apart by rounding up and deporting millions of our coworkers, our friends and neighbors, our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters. And if Republicans choose that path, we will fight them every single step of the way.

  • Americans want reform to Obamacare – Democrats included. We must bring down the costs of health insurance and the cost of health care. But if the Republicans want to strip away health insurance from 20 million Americans, if they want to let cancer survivors get kicked to the curb, if they want to throw 24-year-olds off their parents’ health insurance, then we will fight them every step of the way.

  • Americans want to close tax loopholes that benefit the very rich, and Donald Trump claimed to support closing the carried interest loophole and other loopholes. We need a fairer tax system, but if Republicans want to force through massive tax breaks that blow a hole in our deficit and tilt the playing field even further toward the wealthy and big corporations, then we will fight them every step of the way.
The American people – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – have been clear about what economic policies they want Washington to pursue. Two-thirds of people support raising the federal minimum wage. Three-quarters of Americans want the federal government to increase its infrastructure investments. Over 70 percent of people believe students should have a chance at a debt-free education. Nearly three-quarters support expanding Social Security. These are the kinds of policies that will help level the playing field for working families and address the frustrations felt by millions of people across the country.

The American people sent one more message as well. Economic reform requires political reform. Why has the federal government worked so long only for those at the top? The answer is money – and they want this system changed. The American people are sick of politicians wallowing in the campaign contributions and dark money. They are revolted by influence peddling by wealthy people and giant corporations. When Bernie Sanders proved his independence by running a campaign based on small dollar contributions and when Donald Trump promised to spend his own money, both were sending an important message that they could not be bought. And once again, if Donald Trump is ready to make good on his promise to get corruption out of politics, to end dark money and pay-to-play, count me in. I will work as hard as I can and to pull as many people as I can to end the influence of big money and return democracy to the people.

Donald Trump won the Presidency under a Republican flag. But Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and the Republicans in Congress – and their way of doing business – were rejected – rejected by their own primary voters, rejected during the campaign, and rejected in Tuesday’s election. Regardless of political party, working families are disgusted by a Washington that works for the rich and powerful and leaves everyone else behind.

The American people have called out loudly for economic and political reform. For years, too many Republicans and too many Democrats have refused to hear their demands.

The majority of Americans voted against Donald Trump. Democrats picked up seats in both the House and the Senate. And yet, here we are. Republicans are in control of both houses of Congress and the White House. And that makes our job clear. As the loyal opposition we will fight harder, we will fight longer and we will fight more passionately than ever for the rights of every human being in this country to be treated with respect and dignity. We will fight for economic opportunity, not just for some of our children, but for all of our children. We do not control the tools of government, but make no mistake, we know what we stand for, the sun will keep rising, and we will keep fighting – each day, every day, we will fight for the people of this country.

The time for ignoring the American people is over. It’s time for us to come together to work on America’s agenda. Democracy demands that we do so, and we are ready.

Thank you for being a part of this,


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Roz and Howard Larman: A Letter of Reminiscence and Gratitude on the Passing of Roz Larman

Though not professional musicians themselves, Roz and Howard Larman and their Folkscene Radio Program (http://www.folkscene.com), which has continued on the airwaves for well over forty years (as well as on the internet in more recent years), had a profound effect on many thousands of musicians. Many of my "Facebook friends" have known the Larmans, and many have performed on their radio show. The gentle, but irrepressible, Howard and Roz Larman are truly irreplaceable. Below is the letter that I sent to Roz and the Larman family when Howard passed in 2009; it has been modified only slightly to acknowledge Roz's passing as well.

Dear Allen Larman and family:

My wife and I send our deepest condolences.

Just this morning (2009) I was searching to see if Mark Spoelstra had put up a myspace page so that I could "befriend" him, and I discovered that he had passed away in February. He was a significant inspiration to me; I not only bought a twelve-string so that I could learn to play it like him, but my decision to turn in my draft card and refuse induction during the Vietnam War was, in part, due to his example. Along with Phil Ochs, he was one of my musical idols. I had the chance to see him and spend some time talking to him in 1970 and again last year (after 36 years) in Claremont. I was grateful to have a chance to tell him what an inspiration he had been and to congratulate him on his return to performing.

Now, later the same day I find that Howard, too, has moved on, and though I know that many thousands of musicians have continuously made it clear what an inspiration and joy you and Howard have brought to their lives, I regret that I never adequately shared what a huge impact he and you have had on my life.

I quit teaching to attempt to play music in 1974. I played the local hoots at the Golden Bear, McCabe's, The Troubadour. I had gotten to the point where I could call up the Troubadour and not have to wait in line. After a series of unpaid gigs at The Ice House (it was Bob Stane's way), I finally got a couple of gigs doing the opening set. I was a semi-regular at The White House and UC Riverside's Barn, and a regular at The Penny University. Through all of that, my biggest goal was to get on Folkscene. I had listened to both Les Claypool and Skip Weshner, and a little later, John Davis, and they had introduced me to those great, out of the mainstream players like Bert Jansch, Pat Sky, and Steve Gillette. But when the Larmans began their Folkscene in 1970, folk music in LA truly blossomed: here was a couple with inexhaustible knowledge, unquenchable enthusiasm, and eclectic taste similar to my own (I still own about 6000 vinyl LP's, mostly solo acoustic songwriters). Suddenly, the opportunity to hear great live performances by singer-songwriters, both obscure and well-known, was simply amazing. 

Howard's wonderful, gentle presence in his interviews was unmatched, and you could tell it in the comfort with which each week's guest spoke and performed. I still cherish the remembrance of shows you had with Danny O'Keefe, Casey Kelly, Jesse Colin Young, Jim Post—amazing performances that would have never been heard elsewhere.

Then, in 1976, you coordinated the KPFK music festival fundraiser. In the off-chance that you might be willing to consider a complete unknown, I went down to the studio and auditioned. You were both very gracious. Having not done many sit down, office auditions, I played a couple of my best tunes, as well as a pastiche of Mike Nesmith's Joanne (Rodan) the opening line of which I had heard him play on Folkscene a few months earlier. Then, and I don't know why, I played a brand-new song. As soon as I finished, you, Roz, pointed out that the melody was extremely reminiscent of Steve Fromholz's "Dear Darcy," which, of course, it was. At that time, I doubt if even a handful of folk radio hosts would have recognized the source, but you nailed it.

Although I still like my lyrics, I have never found a suitable alternative to the quirky Fromholz turns, so I've never performed it again. Despite my glaring musical faux pas, you not only booked me for the KPFK fair, but you also asked me to come back and record an interview for the show. That radio show and my subsequent performance on the main stage of the festival, in front of four or five thousand people and just before another of my idols, John Hartford, performed, was a personal and professional highlight of a very brief, semi-serious musical career. Within a year, nearly all of the major LA venues had gone rock (Troubadour, Golden Bear), comedy (Ice House), disco (Penny U), or simply folded. I scampered back to teaching, none the worse for wear. Although I did nothing significant with the opportunity you afforded me, I am still eternally grateful for the shot that you gave me.

None of that begins to capture what was so marvelous about Howard's and your graciousness and generosity. You folks offered another of the major highlights of my brushes with fame. Having only met you those two times, and after not seeing you for two or three years, I and my wife were at the Roxy to see Townes Van Zandt. Diane Davidson and Tracy Nelson were also on the bill. I saw you folks there, and I walked over to reintroduce myself and tell you what a great inspiration you and your show continued to be, but before I could say anything, Howard reached out his hand and said, "Tim McMullen, nice to see you again." It had truly been years, and as far as the number of musicians with whom you had daily contact, I found his and your recollection of me from a fleeting forty or fifty-minute interview years earlier to be nothing short of astounding. After we spoke for a few minutes, Howard asked if I had met Townes. Van Zandt, like Ochs and Spoelstra, was one of my musical idols. I had been a fan for ten years, but I had never seen him perform. You folks said, "Come on in and meet him," then proceeded to take my wife and I back to the green room. You guys left after a few minutes, but Townes and I talked for twenty or thirty minutes before his set, and he invited us to stick around afterwards to talk a little more. The next night I came back to the Roxy and spent a couple more hours talking to him. I have you to thank for that experience.

Through the years we have seen you at various events, most recently, though several years ago, Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen at Caltech, and Bonnie Raitt and Paul Brady at a local college (can't remember which one—we were actually dining with Paul and Dillon O'Brien that night, so I paid less attention to the venue). Despite the flurry of musicians around you two, you were still gracious in recognizing and acknowledging us.

I realize that this was very long winded, but I wanted to share with you the importance that you have had for someone like me with whom you have had such minimal contact and yet upon whom you have had such a profound effect. I am only sorry that I could not have shared with you and Howard what you have meant to me through all these years. I hope you know that there are many thousands of others whose lives you have touched in a truly meaningful way.

My heartfelt condolences to Allen, to Peter, and other family and friends. Howard and Roz Larman's professional greatness and their personal goodness will soon convert grief to joy in remembrance of the meaningful but fleeting encounters that I had with both Howard and Roz; I trust the same is true a hundred-fold for the family and friends who knew them well.

Deepest regards,
Tim McMullen

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Howls From the Wasteland: Prophetic Analysis from 1998

What follows is the introduction that I wrote to my creative writing student's magazine, Howls From the Wasteland, in 1998. It now seems more prescient than it did then, 18 years ago, pre-9/11. We only published the hard copy one more year before the magazine was published exclusively online; this was also six years before Facebook and its progeny changed social media forever..................

In 1920, T.S. Eliot published his poem,"The Wasteland," chronicling the nihilism, despair, and confusion of his "Lost Generation." In 1950, Allen Ginsberg published his poem, "Howl," chronicling a similar malaise of the "Beat Generation." 

Now, with the millennium fast approaching, we are experiencing a new cacophony of fear and loathing—dark and disturbing evidence of disintegration—disgruntled employees, anguished children, disenfranchised loners—a generation whose hopelessness soars in the face of scientific advance, whose loneliness grows in the face of a burgeoning "communication" technology, whose spiritual emptiness deepens in direct correlation to its economic success

This is the generation whose perceptions of the world have been shaped by an ever-spiraling cynicism. Every administration of the last two decades has been accused of involvement in high level malfeasance. Political discourse has been replaced by unmitigated vitriol in the hands of masters like Rush Limbaugh, James Carville, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Clinton. Mischievous Dennis, “The Menace,” became impertinent and ill-mannered Bart Simpson, who, in turnbecame the nihilistic, antisocial, cruelly malevolent Bevis and Butthead.

And what of the two Jerry's, perhaps the two most influential TV shows of the decade: Jerry Seinfeld and Jerry Springer? The former show's ensemble spent nearly ten years introducing ever more graphic discussions of bodily functions while competing as to who could be more cruel and disdainful to each other, to their loved ones, and to total strangers. Jerry Springer upped the ante. He brings us the absolute dregs of society and allows us to wallow in and relish their aberrant behavior and mindless violence while, with a few show-ending homilies, he encourages us to pretend that our slack-jawed awe and our taunting guffaw is simply spirited, audience participation and not the self-degrading, culturally-damaging, mind-numbing voyeurism that it actually is

Pop stars have become paparazzi fodder, creating a feeding-frenzy mentality that has killed public icons and altered our perceptions of ourselves. The ever-present video camera has made its contribution. It has captured racist cops beating a black man and going free; a black star found guilty in the press of killing his wife, then acquitted in a media circus trial; religious fanatics challenging the government to a game of chicken and getting blown up in Waco and gunned down in Ruby Ridge; other fanatics blowing up clinics and killing doctors and nurses tosave lives” in God's name; the government and the United States being retaliated against in the New York Trade Center, the Atlanta Olympics, and the Oklahoma City Bombings; and the now almost daily litany of lonely, loony losers who grab a gun (Thank you, NRA) and kill their parents, children, spouses, bosses, co-workers, teachers, classmates, fellow commuters, and absolute strangers. 

This is the milieu from which the following pieces arose. Many of them are dark; some are violent; most are harsh. Some smack of self-indulgence and self-absorption, but isn't that the source of a great deal of timeless art? Ultimately, they are honest. They offer the artist's struggle to understand and communicate. Some even offer a glimmer of hope and a ray of sunshine. Still, they are all, in one way or another, “Howls From the Wasteland.” 
Tim McMullen, Creative Writing Advisor 

©1998 Tim McMullen
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Fallacy of the Ironically Claimed "Vote of Conscience" in this Election

I would argue that this graphic shows exactly the opposite of what they think it does. Yes, America is filled with millions of people who, for whatever reason, choose not to vote. Having voted in EVERY election, from local to national, since I became eligible to vote over 46 years ago, I do not understand their refusal to participate in the only chance that we have to create a working democracy, but I accept it as a given. In large part it is the direct result of the machinations of the oligarchs who have an interest in breeding despair and apathy fomented by a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. It has worked on too many.
On the other hand, let's look at the pie chart. Just how many of those Nader voters do we suppose would have supported the Republican candidate? Nader's people were not middle of the road fence sitters. These were committed liberal and progressives who placed their bet on an an outsider to push their progressive dreams. Again, as with our current alternative candidates, Nader never had the inkling of a chance to become president. Not ANY chance AT ALL. He was supported by only a tiny fraction of the American people, both the voters and the non-voters. So, if even half of those Nader voters had voted for the Democrat, and it is a given that almost NONE of them would have voted for Bush, the Supreme Court could not have intervened with Gore winning by over two million votes. The argument that Nader had no impact on the outcome just doesn't fly.
In the subsequent 16 years, the move to dishearten and disenfranchise voters has increased exponentially, aided by corporate media and that same radically regressive, politically motivated, 5-4 Supreme Court majority that stole the 2000 election with the help of Nader voters. Were we foolish enough to waste a vote on Stein, or Johnson, or Sanders while Republican governors and legislatures all across the country attempt to disenfranchise many millions of likely Democratic voters from students to seniors, we could very well face a debacle so much worse than the Bush presidency that could have an impact for many generations to come. The Supreme Court offers lifetime appointments. Two to four nominations could occur in the next term.
To pretend that a vote for Jill Stein or Bernie Sanders, or much worse, Gary Johnson—each of whom certainly have their own significant drawbacks—is a vote for "conscience" or "purity" is tragically misplaced in this election.
For the record, I have supported Sanders for decades both monetarily and philosophically, having given to his campaigns many times over the years, having given several times prior to this election's primaries, and having given to his new "movement" after he lost.
Voting for someone who has no chance to win, like the Nader vote in 2000, is precisely what those Republican operatives have dreamed of and worked for these past two presidential elections. Thousands of them trolled the Sanders campaign, enflaming the NEVER HILLARY lies that they have been perpetrating and perpetuating for thirty years.They have fomented the anti-"Democratic Establishment" vote that would hand total control of the country to the corporatocracy.
Hillary Clinton, like most people, has swallowed the "magic free market" fallacy for the last thirty years (including not merely all the current Republican politicians and most corrupt corporate management, but most Democratic politicians including Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama). However, like Obama, she also has progressive tendencies that need to be constantly prodded and pushed toward more progressive goals both socially and economically. A Trump win will NOT accomplish any of this. In fact, it is much more likely to entrench the power mongers and consolidate their stranglehold for many decades.
This is not an attempt at fear-mongering. It is an attempt to analyze clearly that chart and the argument proposed above. It is an attempt to reveal the likely outcome of the ironically claimed "vote of conscience" which elects Trump and renews the Republican legislative majority.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Intolerance Does NOT Breed Tolerance: We need to talk

I and a vast majority of people in this country would choose to defend ourselves and our loved ones by making it impossible for individuals to buy or possess weapons designed for military use. Unfortunately, the absurd misreading of the 2nd Amendment by a 5-4 majority of the Scalia court and the irrational shilling for arms manufacturers by the once reputable National Rifle Association (read their history—they only went crazy a few decades ago when greed, marketing, and outrageous right wing ideologies took hold of their national leadership) has caused the dangerous proliferation of weapons in this country.

I am approaching 70 years of age, and I guarantee that this horrific proliferation of gun deaths and mass murder is a very recent phenomenon that is spiraling exponentially. Rational, civic dialogue and reasonable restraints on access to firearms must occur. Play out in your own mind the actual scenario as espoused by the NRA, congressional Republicans, and Donald Trump. Guns in the hands of every teacher, every administrator, and every student in every school from kindergarten to college; guns in the hands of every employee and every employer on every job; guns in the hands of every driver on the road; guns in the hands of every passenger on every bus, train, or plane; ad infinitum. This will make us SAFER?

It is an absolutely absurd and unworkable vision, foolish in the extreme, yet just this kind of argument is trotted out whenever some horrendous tragedy occurs.

I actually encourage complex analysis, nuanced positions, and civil discourse. Put simply, we shouldn't tar whole cultures, religions, races, or nationalities with the brush of a violent few, yet we have to find ways of limiting or eliminating that violence as best we can.

Of course, we will never completely or permanently eliminate violence from any society; still, it seems clear that we have actually done a worse job than many. The proliferation of personal weapons and the increasing deadliness of those arms has certainly not made us safer. Our interventions in the affairs of other countries since WWII have had little to do with "protecting freedom"; in general, they have had much more to do with maintaining or increasing political domination of a region for private profit.

I do find that an alarming number of violent incidents (especially mass murder outside of war), are performed by those who I would characterize as having a fundamentalist point of view—the particular religion is irrelevant. They justify their actions on the grounds of a religious or political view that both encourages and justifies deadly behavior, whether attacking a black church, burning a clinic, killing a doctor, attacking a gay gathering, blowing oneself up in the middle of a crowd, or flying a plane into a building.

Intolerance is at the heart of most of these inhumane acts; a few are simply the work of some tragically unhappy or disgruntled person whose rage at "the other" has overcome his own self-pity, humiliation, loneliness, and emptiness. The problem with intolerance—whether factions, sects, or other “us vs them” groupings—is that intolerance does not breed tolerance. On the other hand, tolerance, in the long run, may actually confront, confound, and convert intolerance. The problem, of course, is that it can take decades, even centuries, to accomplish. Still, although so many of our compatriots do everything that they can to discourage tolerance and encourage intolerance because of their identification with their "team," this country, despite all its historical flaws and contradictions, really has moved slowly toward wider acceptance of others, from Roger William's "Bloody Tenent of Persecution" in the 1600's to our current battle for women's rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights, et al.

As to the NRA’s advocacy of gun proliferation and Trump’s cheerleading for violence and discrimination, do I think that “good” civilians armed with AR-type rifles or most other weaponry will make us safer? Not on your life or mine. I feel quite certain, both intuitively and intellectually, that more and deadlier guns will make us much less safe; neither do I consider those who purchase these weapons on the pretense of defending or protecting this country to be heroes by any definition.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Rise of Donald Trump is Remarkable, but Not Surprising.

The rise of Trump is truly remarkable, but not surprising. This is what true tribalism looks like, and those who control this society have been marketing this premise for forty years. Ever since Nixon sent Agnew after the "liberal" press (and even before with his "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore"), the implication was created that the press is just "out to get people.”

Then, since deregulation under Reagan and his, “Government is the problem” and “it’s your money, NOT the government’s,” the hypocrisy has been unrelenting. The news media truly did become “infotainment” and "the game” became all that mattered.

The greed and selfishness and the mantra of “it doesn’t matter how you win just as long as you win” became the steady media diet in commercials, game shows, sit coms, and celebrity worship. Remember “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”? With the help of Jerry Springer turning “lowlife, wretched behavior” into popular entertainment, we moved directly to Paris Hilton, the Kardashians, Duck Dynasty, and Honey Boo Boo. Nearly every show on the Food Network, which used to actually demonstrate cooking, is now competition with only one winner, including several shows where you get to literally sabotage your competition or pay to screw them up. We conspire to “kick people off the island” or “out of the house.”

It has become the same in politics. Term limits eliminate knowledgable public servants and replace them with ideologues and corporate shills. The media provides very little actual background or context for any statement, nor does it actually refute even the most egregious and obvious lies. It merely plays the “he said/he said” game; it’s the outright proliferation of falsehood in the guise of fairness. The "US against THEM” mentality in politics has risen to a fever pitch to the point where people can honestly comfort themselves with the idea: "I don’t care what they say about my guy or what my guy says, our team picked him, so I’m for him. Also, I don’t care how specious the attacks on our opponents; even when I know they are false, I will repeat them incessantly. More importantly, the second I vote, I’m done and can get back to 'reality TV' and complaining about the government.

This tirade is not just aimed at Republicans although it fits them most completely, but it has come to apply to most of society, who only vote at about a 40% rate or even less in non-presidential years.

Trump is, in part, the result of the philosophy of Ayn Rand pushed by Ronald Reagan, Paul Ryan, Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Justices John Roberts and Clarence Thomas, and the corporate oligarchs. Trump is an absurdly wealthy man with a populist, jingoistic, simplistic message. He is the radical right wing’s answer to FDR, except he has the added appeal of racism, sexism, ignorance, belligerence, and arrogance. He is nearly the perfect package. It's about time that we demand much better from both sides.

If Clinton is the nominee who faces Trump, those who want to make things better need to start today to defeat Trump, who is unquestionably the least qualified, least prepared, most reprehensible individual to stand for the office in any of our lifetimes.

Then, the second that Clinton wins, we need to work for greater transparency and limits on campaign spending; we need new and more effective regulation of the banks and Wall Street, including actually incarcerating wrongdoers instead of letting them merely write off fines or pass the costs to customers; we need to engage in much greater diplomacy and seek a significantly diminished role for the military in international affairs; we need a demilitarization of our local police forces; we need to bolster our social safety net, including Social Security and health care; we need to much more aggressively pursue alternative fuel sources; we need a serious effort to rebuild our infrastructure; we need to enforce and improve our environmental protections; we need to counter the 30 year push to privatize education, the military, government, public spaces, etc.; and we need to bring civil dialogue and negotiation back into our civil society. 

NONE of this will be easy, but hopefully Warren, Sanders, Franken, Clinton and many millions of dedicated citizens can begin to accomplish the changes that most of us know we need. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Wake UP Call? If Not Now, When?

With the crude, crass, vacuousness of the Republican debates now behind us, it is Donald Trump's rallies that have become the focus of his campaign. Empty catch phrases, sometimes meaningless, rambling non sequiturs are met with loud applause and chants. These displays, however, have very little traction. 
The media has now turned its attention to Trump's gleeful cheerleading of violence at his rallies: his offering to pay legal fees for those who might be arrested for using violence against protestors; his saying from the podium about a protestor that he'd like to "punch him in the face"; his encouraging the crowd to "knock the crap" out of protestors. These are simply escalations of his mocking of women, mocking of his Republican opponents, mocking of Democrats and President Obama, and his mocking, early in the campaign, of a handicapped reporter. A recent graphic showed a picture of the crippled reporter juxtaposed with a picture of Trump imitating him. The text asked, "Is this 'Making America Great Again'?" Here is my response.
It's called "playing to your audience." Remember, they laughed and cheered when he did this. Trump didn't make these people—he just empowered them to be as ugly as they really are and then encouraged them to compete to one-up each other. 
We are who we have allowed ourselves to become, and we have allowed the worst among us to drive our national narrative for the last thirty years. Selfishness, greed, self indulgence, ugliness, coarseness, baseness, violence: In the hands of our consolidated corporate media they have come to redefine our national character. From Jerry Springer to Seinfeld (the show, not the comedian), from waffle and ice cream commercials to hotel commercials, these traits are not ridiculed or vilified, like they generally have been in our own past; no, they are championed as the means to success.
So often it goes under the guise of "values"—traditional values, family values, conservative values, religious freedom, PATRIOTISM. The tragic irony is that most of us have stood by while our language, our values, and our country were co-opted by liars, swindlers, cheats and thieves whose ironic double-speak has led to unfathomable hypocrisy, cruelty, greed and violence in both domestic and foreign affairs. Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, Ryan, McConnell, Palin, Bachmann, Gohmert and the hundreds of other little wannabe conservative extremists are the result of our own national apathy, ignorance, and complacency.
We need to WAKE UP, and just possibly, the vile and repugnant Trump campaign will be our wake up call although the ugliness of the similarly themed McCain/Palin and Romney/Ryan campaigns were not. More important than merely waking up, however, we need to fight this pernicious moral cancer and restore honor, integrity and a true sense of freedom and justice for all. That just might "make America great again."

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Game Needs to Change—We Need to Put the Civil Back into Civil Society

I am deeply tired of the "who can be uglier" race that we currently have going on in both parties. On the Republican side, it is the candidates themselves that have tried to prove that they are MORE racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and greedy than the next guy. On the Democratic side, we have the spectacle of the candidates being relatively cordial and actually talking about (to be honest, rather minor) differences of opinion while their partisans on social media bend over backwards to be the most offensive, outrageous, hate mongers and conspiracy theorists, outdoing the Republican machine in their trashing of the other's candidate. It's like the idiotic anger and elation at a mindless and meaningless sporting event except, in this game, the opponent is, obviously, the Devil incarnate.
This election is serious, perhaps the most serious in my experience with politics, and I remember the Eisenhower/Stevenson contest in 1956. The first time that I was eligible to vote for Governor was 1970, and I voted against Ronald Reagan. I have voted in every election since then. I have also watched the intentional dumbing down and incivility of the electoral process since the Republicans lost so badly with Goldwater in 1964. The rhetoric of Nixon but especially Agnew took the discussion to a new level of vitriol. Reagan continued the all out assault on "liberals," but it was the election of Bill Clinton that ushered in the new era of Conservative talk radio and, with the deregulation and consolidation of media, the advent of NEWSCorp, FOX News, Clear Channel, and and the no-holds barred, partisan, mischaracterization, distortion, and outright lying that has simply come to be accepted as spin. The media, including social media, has been not merely complicit but instrumental in this negative transformation. Just like Scalia's court decision about innocence, the actual truth is completely irrelevant. The news no longer presents actual perspective or context. They don't even try to find and present the truth. They merely offer a "he said/he said" paraphrased report or 3-seconds of edited footage with whichever slant their corporate masters have demanded.
Unfortunately, most people have not demanded better; instead, we have bought into their game. We do not find ourselves talking about what really matters and our vison of what this country should be or how we might get there. We simply post ridiculous graphics with false quotes and sarcastic gibes to make the other side look foolish or corrupt and then gleefully attack the other side for their obvious ignorance, stupidity or evil.
I posit the following. I don't care if you are for Sanders, Clinton, Warren or Obama, Trump, Cruz, Kasich or Paul. The only way that we will ever crawl out of the miasmic mire in which we have sunk ourselves is to begin to actually think deeply, discuss civilly, and listen carefully—repeating the process indefinitely—until the fog of corrupt corporate control has lifted, and we can return to the business of creating a civil civil society (This is not a mistaken repetition—"civil" needs to be at the heart of a progressive civilization).

Monday, January 18, 2016

Frost—Lovely, Dark and Deep—An Explication

Frost—Lovely, Dark and Deep
by Tim McMullen

A critical analysis and explication of the poem, “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening,” by Robert Frost

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

At first reading, the circumstances of “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening” seem highly uneventful. A man traveling down a road stops by woods. There is nothing else around, and he is struck by the beauty of the scene. Though inclined to stay, he realizes he has commitments and must proceed on. We might suggest that the conflict is between duty and beauty, or “work before (or instead of) pleasure.” This characterization, however, fails to account for the emotive penetrability of the poem. This poem touches the reader, almost unconsciously, and suggests somehow that there is something going on: some deep tension or struggle that, though not readily explainable, is nevertheless imposing and significant.
Much of this affective response comes from two sources: one, the tone and mood of the poem; the other, the specific images employed. Frost, in the midst of mood, hides the conflict of his images. The initial picture one gets is that of beauty, a snowy woodland scene; it is unblemished by farmhouse or farmer, nature in its pristine state. “The woods are lovely...”— we can almost hear him sigh after each word, dark and deep. He must, however, move on; he cannot remain in this idyllic locale.
At this point we might identify the significance of the poem as the conflict between man and nature. Nature is seen in the symbols of the woods, the snow, the lake, the wind. The symbols which set man apart from nature are houses, village, farmhouses, reins of the horse (which are man-made) and promises (which are also man-made). Man is a part of Nature; that is, he is part of the organic whole. He is born into nature in its undifferentiated whole, but as he becomes Man, he is severed from the rest of Nature. By recognizing or experiencing his uniqueness, he becomes “wholly other” than the rest of nature. One of the attributes of the uniqueness of man is that he cannot return to his natural beginnings. Notice that he lies between the woods. He may go into them in a spatial sense, but he cannot be part of them in a substantial sense. He must, therefore, remain with his promises to men (Man) and exist outside nature. He has miles to go, and these must be in Man's world.
(Note: I recently read an article on Frost's poem by Earl Daniels, in The Creative Reader, by Stallman and Daniels, on Page 932. His comments, I think, are so significant that I must include them here. Daniels begins with a paraphrase very close to the one I offered in the beginning, identifies this as a real experience, then further states:

“…[P]oetry, reduced to its simplest, is only experience...Experience moved the poet; he enjoyed it, and wanted to put it down on paper, as experience and nothing else [my italics] partly because writing is a self-contained action which is fun for the writer, partly because he wanted the reader to enjoy the experience with him. If we are to learn to read, we must begin with elemental, irreduceable facts [mine also] like this” (P. 934).

I find this definition of the creative process and the creative goal as appalling as it is useless. Daniels' was responding to the attempt to find philosophica1 or intellectual meaning in Frost's poem. It is a call to pure literalism; in his use of experience, he denies both the poet and the reader any derivable insight, but deals specifically with the phenomena. He further implies that if an author meant his work to have any social or philosophical meaning, it would be obvious and explicit. He gives as examples of such writers Milton and Lucretius. I don't feel the need to refute this absurd claim, but merely to ask the holder of this view to point to any great poet that can be thoroughly entombed in this Procrustean Bed. I offered this note in order that I may continue examining the intricacies of the poem, because, using Daniels' criteria, I had completed my only legitimate exegesis of the poem in the very beginning.)
We have, then, suggested two levels on which the poem may be read, but neither of these fully explains the emotive quality of the work. This limitation occurs because, as yet, there has been no analysis of the specific images that lend the feeling of depth. Several of the symbols were enumerated before in differentiating between nature and man. These images when viewed deeper may illumine the whole.
Woods are the first image we see; they are a part of nature, and the image is one of life. By the fourth line, however, we find that the scene is not the exultation of life, but the intrusion of death through the winter and the snowfall. Rather than joyful seclusion, there is a hint of desolation: the village is far from this place; there are no farmhouses, farmers or other people; the only sound other than the sleigh bells is the whisper of the wind. Reinforcing the specter of death is the frozen lake. What is more barren?
Further, water is, like nature, usually a symbol for life: the endless flow of the river, or the life-giving moisture that is essential to existence; but frozen lake water is useless; it is a complete denial of the life water brings. Also, it is “the darkest evening of the year.” Surely, the initial image of a pleasant halt in the woods is negated by this foreboding scene as it now takes shape. It is desolate; the evidence of nature on every side shows the presence of death. Whereas, previously, man would have been an intrusion on the simple, peaceful, scene of life, he is now the only symbol of life. Our use of life is the same as when we say, “there's no sign of life.” Life means human life, and nature is distinguished from it.
We obviously recognize, though, that the tone and feeling of the man (and the poem) is not of dread and repulsion but rather of fascination and attraction. Somehow, the peace and the void of death are especially alluring, and the sighs of “dark” and “deep” are even more real than when directed merely at the virgin beauty of the woods. Now, they emphasize the longing for the peace and rest of death: the woods are lovely, dark and deep. And, of course, the final image of repose is the sleep of the last line. The first sleep is a transitory state from which we will awaken, but the last line is a final sleep, and sleep related directly to deep, indeed the last and deepest sleep of all.
Despite the presence and the lure of death, the man does not acquiesce to its inducement; he recognizes that he will sleep, but that sleep is in the future. At present, he has a responsibility to life; that is his promise. It is a pact to fulfill the nature of man, which includes a predisposition to keep on living. These images of life and death are the symbols which develop the tensions found in the poem. They are not, however, a cohesive and complete explanation; we still require a final interpretation in order to understand the poem as a unified whole.
To apprehend the unity and to include all the symbols, we must make an even deeper and more extensive study. The setting for the poem now is not the roadside wood but the mind of man. “Whose woods these are I think I know” utilizes woods to indicate thoughts of death. “His house is in the village though” speaks of where man resides; that is, the village (or life) should be the realm of man's thoughts, but they sometimes steal over to contemplate death. The stealth or hiding is implied in “he will not see me….” To rephrase it, the woods are thoughts of death; the speaker is the owner of the woods, but he belongs in the village, not in the snow-filled woods– that is, not with thoughts that are full of death. We have already acknowledged the death symbols in the vacancy of other human life (“no farm houses”); “the woods and frozen lake”; “the darkest evening of the year.” To complete the full concept of the poem, however, we have one more major theme: that of the horse.
If we remember that our present context is within the human being, we can integrate the horse symbol into our schema. To do this we must view the sleigh as a total machine, a single entity; the horse and driver are part of the whole. The driver cannot drive the sleigh without the horse; the horse cannot have direction without the driver. We must, of course, discard the desire to see the horse as just a part of nature; he is too much a part of the integrated whole. The middle two stanzas, one-half of the poem, are directly concerned with the horse. Lines six, seven, and eight explain why he would think it queer to stop; and nine, ten, eleven and twelve explain his desire to go on. Literally, a horse shakes his head not in question, as is ironically assumed, but in apprehension and anxiety from the foreboding desolation of the woods. As for the sleigh as a unit, the horse is seen as the physical impulse or instinctive part of man, biologically disposed toward maintaining life; the driver is the mind of man, the steering intellect, the part of the unit that can contemplate, accept and even desire death.
The life instinct suggests pushing on by pulling at the reigns, that “there is some mistake” in stopping, but the intellect offsets this with listening to the “sweep of easy wind and downy flake.” The sweep of downy flake evokes the image of a shroud being gently laid. What follows is surely the most evocative and intense image in the poem, an image which leads to a peak of emotion and then a swift climax and conclusion. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep” is an exquisite image, acute in its conflict. “Lovely” emotes warmth and attractiveness, whereas “dark and deep” woods suggest the gloom and despair of death. The words, due partially to the alliteration, seem almost to echo in the brain, “lovely, dark and deep”!
But he will not sleep yet, the life-force, the insistence of the horse, the will to live, remind him of his solemn obligation to fulfill his role as man. “His house is in the village”; his promise is to life, the village and the company of man. He rejects the isolation of death and thoughts of death and returns to his journey. The journey being an obvious allusion to the “road of life,” he still has miles to go (and time to spend) before he ends his journey and rests; and more places to go (things to do; life to live) before his final sleep.

Submitted to Dr. Philip B. Nordhus, English Professor, English 101, Chico State College (now CSU, Chico) in 1970.

©1985 Tim McMullen
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