Monday, December 31, 2018

The Garden of the Seasons: Some Philadelphia Stories

            The rubber hit the road last week, some days before Christmas, when dearly beloved Anne, ma femme, displayed her urban road-skill game by turning into a tiny cemented parking apron off a highly trafficked road stretch in the kind of neighborhood people these days are calling "sketchy." Even in a car as comparatively small as ours, which can U-turn almost anywhere, I would not have chosen this improbable off-road sanctuary to pause for a "recalculation" since a reversal of course lay clearly ahead in our immediate future.
            Recalculation over: Yup, gotta go back the way we came and turn either left or right at the numbered-road intersection of Nothing and Nowhere-but-traffic.
            Several backs and forths get the car eventually pointed down the drive toward the a now crowded roadway, having missed our light.
            Tongue firmly between my teeth, I swivel my noggin left and right to catch portents of doom while Anne inches out into the traffic and waves at drivers. Drivers in Philadelphia are more likely to be nice than elsewhere (such as New York and Boston), but even the lady who stops and waves us out eventually gives up since the lane next to her keeps moving past us.
            After we finally emerge onto the road, heading the wrong way, a reversal of course is somehow managed and when make our way back to the Intersection of Indecision the "voice of the machine" firmly sends us one way, the wrong way, and immediately calls for a U-turn.
            My tongue is well chewed.
            Utterly dependent on The Voice in this new city, we slowly slink our way into a West Philadelphia residential neighborhood of numbered streets, and everything just gets friendlier and friendlier.
            Having found The Street Where She Lives (our daughter) we now hunt for the four-digit number. I point out that the number in the hundreds column goes up by one after each intersection, so that when we intersect 48th Street, for example, the house numbers on the avenue now begin with 48(00), instead of 47.
            Everyone's urban skills are on display today.
            Anne begins the deeper game of looking for a parking space. And finds one -- exactly in front of Sonya's door. Eureka! Our luck is definitely changing.

            Sonya's apartment is the lower half of a single house built as one of the semi-detached, mostly brick houses that run throughout this large up-trending neighborhood -- up and down all those numbered streets and tree-named avenues. The buildings strike me as structurally attractive and they're all appropriately (and some lavishly) landscaped with ornamental grasses and shrubs.
            Everything's lovely and personalized and somehow cool. Holiday lights. Lots of independently, probably locally, owned shops, cafes and restaurants. We explore on foot for an hour as light fades, seeing parks, streetcar tracks where the brightly colored rail cars take you down to Central City, and an ad-hoc corner Christmas tree lot has popped up with offerings we vow to inspect the next day.
            Our first business the following day, a Sunday, is to explore the historic district in ur-Philadelphia, home of the Founding Documents. Lots of history here, especially in those first American centuries and even more pointedly in the days of the creation of an independent American nation.
            But, guess what?, business is closed. By order of the so-called President of the United States. His Phoniness has shut down the part of the government that owns and oversees places such as the hall where the Declaration of Independence was approved, declared, and announced to the world.
            Two uniformed personnel, whom I can only think of as "federal cops," whatever their uniform was actually supposed to connote. They stood behind a long ad-hoc symbolic fence, consisting of a single chain length and lots of silly black posts, which they appeared to be guarding -- against what or whom I cannot imagine.
            Would angry hordes be expected to rush the doors of the closed establishment and damage the sacred artifact within by banging on the portal?
            Actually, the only horde around was me... 
            Between me and the fake-fence lay a strip of ye old cobbled roadway, created long after the fact to lend ambience. As I approached the fence, the two officers, one female, began waving me away as if to protect my safety from the terrors of urban traffic, of which there was absolutely none because no driver in his right mind takes a cobbled road when smoother roadways are available.
            Somehow I'd forgotten to take my camera along so there is no visual record of this interesting moment when I am confronted by authority.
            "It's closed," the female guard shouts. The male one repeats this interesting news.
            "I know it's closed. I just want to look at it."
            "Get out of the road!" she calls. "You're not safe."
            "I'm extremely safe," I reply. "It's this stupid government of ours that's not safe."
            Things go downhill from there.
            I can't recall everything they said, or I said, but I do remember saying-shouting something on the order of...
            "Maybe if we had a real President the building would be open to the public! I'm the public! Why can't I see my building?...
            "We need a real President and a decent government!" I added.
            The uniforms are kind of staring at me, I seem to remember, as if expecting me to throw a bomb or something, and at this point my loving spouse feels an urgent summons to rescue me from encounters with authority. It's a recurring theme in our relationship, from the time I ran away from an enraged fish monger pursuing me with a raised cleaver in Boston's fabled Haymarket.
            These two federal cops were not raising their cleavers, and I'm not sure I needed rescuing, but Anne is shouting at me to withdraw from my position in a supposedly hazardous roadway while in close encounter with uniformed personnel and shouting uncomplimentary remarks about their ultimate employer, the Faker-in-Chief. And to shut up, which is probably her main point.
            Naturally I accede to these words of wisdom, since I am a well brought up citizen of these United States and am a product of a middle-class upbringing, in which I was taught from childhood not to make a spectacle of myself.
            My country's so-called leaders, however, let the record show, make unedifying spectacles of themselves whenever they open their mouths. Still, I suppose there is nothing much I can accomplish by insisting on my First Amendment rights to a couple of federal cops, who presumably are still getting paid.
            Damn, I should have brought my camera.

The rest of the day in historic downtown Philadelphia is wholly pleasant, adult and gratifying. We ever learn some good history about the early days of the independence movement from a volunteer in historian in another building -- happily not owned by the federal government.
           Called Carpenters' Hall, it's the site of the First Continental Congress. It took place in 1774, a time -- our volunteer told us -- when the delegates were looking for ways to temper their dispute with British authorities. They penned a long list of grievances, and hoped for what today we would call "a dialogue" on how to repair relations between the colonies and the 'mother country' and removed some of the causes of a rift that threatened to grow larger. Under the belief that the King was sympathetic to their position, and that the biggest problems stemmed from acts of Parliament, they sent the petition directly to him.
            But the king simply ignored their petition, and did not reply.
            Carpenters Hall, we learned, originally a meeting place for the Carpenters Guild, was also leased for other uses. Benjamin Franklin used space there to set up the first American post office, the first lending library, and first 'fire insurance' incorporation so that neighbors could help one another after a serious loss of property from fire and know that they would receive help in turn if it happened to them.
            When the Second Continental Congress convened in 1775, again in Philadelphia, they met in the larger building now called Independence Hall. Relations between the colonies and Great Britain during this time, especially in Boston, where the port was closed and the city occupied by armed soldiers. By the time the delegates finally took a vote on independence, acts of war had already taken place: the battles of Lexington and Concord, and then the bloodbath of Bunker Hill. I would have been happy to discuss these points with the two cops in the front of that hall in a civil war, but they simply wanted to make the problem (Mr. Public me) go away.
            The Carpenters Hall guide also suggested a few historical attractions to us that would be open, including the Museum of the American Revolution (which we didn't make) and the historic Christ Episcopal Church (more about that below).
            My advice is to the inquiring tourist. Always talk to the guides, volunteer or not. They know stuff. And don't bother with the uniformed, weaponized arms of the State. they don't know shit.
             We three celebrants declared our own independence from our previous family custom that evening by acquiring a modestly sized Christmas tree at the little corner lot, carrying it on foot with a two-person carriage-technique back to Sonya's apartment, and inserting it into the stand. We trimmed it that evening with an interesting red and white motif consisting of stringed popcorn garlands and a box of copious and variously patterned red balls, plus and a few oddballs such as the orangey-tan "matzoh ball."
            The next day we visited the nation's oldest surviving botanical garden, Bartram's Garden, located on the banks of the Delaware River, and offering a good view of the city skyline (photo above). A famous botanist named John Bartram founded it in 1728. A National Historic Landmark, the garden is looked after by the John Bartram Association today. Which means, of course, you can get married there.
            The site includes some lovely old buildings, closed naturally for winter, some planting grounds where hardy herbs and vegetables were still growing -- the cabbage and cauliflower family plants were still green; and Sonya found a single flowering pansy-- and also a medicinal garden of healing plants, a boardwalk trail that takes you down to the riverside, and specimen trees including (according to a sign) the oldest ginkgo tree, an Asian import, in America.
            It was fun to prowl around there and walk the trails in the dead of winter, and the place must be amazing in summer.

            That brings us to Christmas Eve (just one more day until "The Twelve Days of Christmas" begins). Since we had glimpsed the interior of Christ Church downtown and found that it was not only a beautiful church but reminded me so much of the church I attended as a child and of the decades of Christmas Eve services we attended there with my mother, I decided we should go there for Christmas Eve service. I understood that the early timing (5 p.m.) meant this was a family service. Still, I thought, Episcopalian churches always have good music.
            Well, there was some music, but more essentially, the business was built around a pageant. High points: The famous mismatched couple spend a night in a barn in the company of animals, the narrator tells us... long pause while the one-year-old set is rounded up and brought to the manger scene in their woolly sheep costumes. I don't know if I've ever seen so successful a sheep costume (or any sheep costume) before. They are memorable. One little girl, so costumed, wanders down the aisle with her lambkin ears flopping until some keeper (as in the New Testament parable) is dispatched finally to go after her. Stars are introduced; white shift, tinfoil on stick. Angels intrude, twitchy little girls with glittery headpieces and wands and other angel-gear. The shepherds, two slightly tubby seven-year-old boyos, miss their cue. Repeat cue. They miss it again... "Hey, guys..."
            A friendly chaos of nursery school types lightly supervised by their gentle keepers ensues as some more parts of the famous story are read -- the choir sings softly behind -- and certain members of the congregation -- late comers, we're leaning over the front row of the balcony (having been delivered initially by our Lyft driver to the wrong Christ Church) -- and nearly falling over themselves in laughter -- a conceivably bad idea in balcony seating -- in pure amusement over the spectacle.
            Different, but fun.
            I don't know what the national reputation makers are saying these days, but personally speaking, Philadelphia may be our new 'fun city.'  

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Garden of the Seasons: "The Seven Days of Christmas"

         We have to make the season last. My sort-of-silly memoir of  Christmas week last year, titled "The Seven Days of Christmas," is published on "Beneath the Rainbow." 
         Written last year, the story references family events in the first half of that traditional "Twelve Days of Christmas" period observed in days of yore in many countries. The twelve days run from Dec. 25, the conventional birth date of Jesus, to Jan. 5, the last day before the celebration of Epiphany on Jan. 6, marking the revelation of Jesus's divinity to the three wise men. 
          That is to say, you can celebrate in a festive Medieval way, feasting, drinking, and hiring players to perform entertainments -- one of Shakespeare's comedies was called "Twelfth Night" because it was written to be performed at a Twelfth Night celebration at the English court -- until Epiphany. Then you have to get serious for a while.
          Nothing so grand happens in my little remembrance of the trials and triumphs in our last year's "Seven Days of Christmas": A sudden snowstorm fouls up plans. We almost miss a ferry. I have a briefly tempestuous exchange with a brat suffering from an excess of self-esteem attempting to keep us off the boat. 
         A very brief excerpt:  

                “You’re way over cut-off time,” he said
            Cut-off time? The phrase was new to me. I pondered it.
            Is that the time when I cut off his ear?

          Once we get on the water, however, everything goes swimmingly. 
           You can see for yourself at this link taking you to the story posted on "Beneath the Rainbow," an active online journal, putting up new stories every week.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Garden of Verse: December's Verse-Virtual Is Alive with The People of Verse

Some appreciative thoughts on a few of the many poems I loved in the December issue of Verse-Virtual. 
            You can read any or all of these at
            On first encountering Robert Wexelblatt's poem "After Three Glasses of Slivovitz Mrs. Podolski Explains What She Believes In," I went straight to Google to look up 'Slivovitz.'
            Then I had to say, 'I'm having what she has.'
            This poem is like a semester course on the concept of belief delivered in sharply amusing  poetic language, whether fueled by that "fruit brandy made from damson plums" or some other elixir of the gods, as in this tart observation:
            "People want to know what you believe in
as if the answer were going to rip
open the bag of skin in which we’re all
sewn at conception. "
            Then I remembered that I once actually took a semester philosophy course in 'The Concept of Belief.' This poem is a hundred times better (with an incalculable savings in time) and very timely because people keep saying things like 'I don't believe in X or Y' -- and pollsters keep asking questions like 'Do you believe in evolution?' or 'global warming.' These are not matters of 'belief.' They are matters of fact.
            Mrs. Podolski is quite philosophical in addressing questions put to her by a 'believer':
"Do I believe in religion?  She wanted
to know if I believed what she believed,
of course.  That’s what the question usually
signifies, not always.  Do you believe
in me is just about as common.  Do I credit your existence as one might, say, God’s, I ask as politely as I
            The poem also quivers with sharp social observations: "Oh, I guess
belief is enlarging and a comfort
to those who manage it; still, I seem to
find it most among the gullible and
            These excerpts just scratch the surface of a remarkable performance, a contribution to the poetry once called "the dramatic monologue," in which the drama takes place in the minds of those who read the poem.

            December is alive with the people of verse. Another is the title character of Joan Mazza's poem "My Mother Returns," in which I am stopped short by this image:
"She reappears as a tomato, hiding
oozing rot where it meets the counter."
            That's exactly how my tomatoes behave. (Mom? Is that you?)
            And then this arresting demonstration of maternal knowhow: "She demonstrates how to smack the garlic/ clove with the flat blade of my largest knife."
            Any poem that teaches us how to mince garlic is a work to be reckoned with.

            Kate Sontag offers another look at people in her broadly characterizing "Women At Sixty," who
"learn to love themselves
in a new way—
like thirty, forty, and fifty
but more immensely."
            That adverb struck me as just right. Human personalities grow larger as we age.
            The poem puts it this way: "At sixty they
have more plot twists
to add to stories..."
            A strong poem that convinces this reader that our plots are still twisting.

            Mary Makofske's poem "Signs" gives us quick incisive portraits of two men whose actions tell us something important about them. The conduct of one is correct, but that's all. The second man, as the observant eye of the poet realizes, is a deeper sort. That plastic saint on the dashboard, the poem tells us, "wasn’t yours, exactly, but a gift from your mother..." Keeping and displaying it is an act of kindness and consideration for another.
            Steve Klepetar has three beautiful and moving poems about his father, who was "driven" from his home by the "storm" that took the lives of his parents and so many others. In the poem "This Land" voiced in a first person narration, we learn that after the storm broke...
"I lived behind a curtain of rain.
I was hungry and ate shadows for sixteen days.
I came to this land carrying nothing, not even a history or a voice.
I had no language but the one I learned on these wild streets.
I came to this land with my fists and my blood.
I came with people who had no home,
who were torn from their lives, who were broken and sad..."
            Written in a strong, declarative style -- the repetitions above suggest a chant; the language calling on both particulars and universals -- the poems amount to a biography of the soul.  

            It was hard to open December's issue without finding strong and moving evocations of human life and remarkable images. In Joan Colby's "The Heart of a Woman" we are commanded:
"Consider where love resides: In the red pumphouse where fires are continually being lit And being put out."

            Her poem  "A Woman Scorned" goes straight to business:
 "A woman scorned sets fire to the tent
Where the new wife is celebrating.
Carves her name and yours into a tree
Then chops that tree down with her nail file."
            What an image. How much determination -- and anger -- would it take to do manual construction (or destruction) with a nail file? We get the point.

            Alive to the magic of meter, Marilyn Taylor's "Contingency" plays a happy tune on a sad predicament. This is intentional, as she tells us in her note, because a "bouncy triple meter" is unexpected in a poem on this subject. I'm caught by the image of "another pale-blue moon" for the daily-dose morphine tablet a fading mind stores in hiding against some inevitable "contingency." Then  -- knock, knock! contingency calling! The magic of the metrical dance lifts us above that final sadness.

            The "Novel," the title of the first poem in Donna Hilbert's "Six Genre" sequence, fittingly focuses on human lives and their crises. The poem gets right to it: "Anna under the train,
Emma’s apothecary poison,
and my late-twentieth century
life meanders, lacks plot."  
            Each of these six not-so-easy pieces offers pleasingly genre-fitting images and details. In "Short Story" the end comes, the poem notes coolly, with no further chapters
"in which the piper appears
demanding to be paid..." The piece titled "Opera" tell us "
Every night while I cook dinner
Mimi dies..."
            In poems, of course, we're all immortal. Or something near to it. Reading the poems in December's Verse-Virtual I come away with intimations of the sort. 

to read these, and many other poems to choose from.  


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Garden of Literature: In Defense of Reading -- Especially Good Books

         A book reviewer, critic, and novelist in his own 'write,' William Giraldi writes longish magazine pieces for The New Republic and other mainstream journals. That occupation, unfortunately, is a ceaselessly declining niche, so his new book, titled "American Audacity: In Defense of Literary Daring," is particularly deserving of attention. Leaving aside the question of "daring," what I took from this book was a learned and insightful defense of good literature, period. It's a book full of memorable quotes and judgments, those of writers and other critics, and some assessments offered by Giraldi himself.
            Of these last, the one that meant the most to me is this:
            "Storytelling was, remember, the first entertainment and our earliest font of information, our around-the-fire manna for those wide-eyed Paleolithic persons who became us."
            This comment appears in his lengthy essay on novelist William Gurganis, whose best known book is "Oldest Confederate Widow tells All." I haven't read that book -- some who have confided that 'all' rather more than a reader needed -- but Giraldi's assessment of the seminal role of the storyteller in human evolution appears to me to be worth repeating, and restating as often as possible.
            Those of us who read fiction, especially literary fiction, know why we do it: to confront once the nature of human existence, with all its secrets, endless variations and unplumbable depths. We need to plumb them anyway. We will die trying.
            Of course, not only do we get our fill of stories by reading books, we attend theatrical performances, and gorge ourselves on cinematic, televised and digitally streamed narratives of the actions and fates of human beings much like ourselves simply by being human. And we talk (some of us too much; others perhaps too little) about what happens in our lives.
            Because we need both to tell. And to listen.
            Storytelling saves us from isolation. It gets into our heads. It gives us ideas about how to cope with that terrible burden the 20th century gave us a name for that we are still using -- the "existential burden" of the human condition. Yes, it's a condition -- though people make fun of the term -- and yes, we're dying from it.
            In the meantime, we're here. What do we do with ourselves? How do we do it? And, just as important, how do we think about everything -- good, bad, and indifferent -- that happens in our lives and in our world?
            Stories give us models, examples, new horizons, ancient reinforcements, challenges, voyeuristic lives to live.
            Since the many-sided usefulness of stories and storytelling is an endless subject, I will arbitrarily cease pursuing it in order to offer a few shining moments from Giraldi's collection of commentaries.  
            Some of these are quotations from the literary canon that also prove endlessly useful, such as this brief, but perfect description of one of the most commonplace events in human experience: "the violet hour, the evening hour that strives/ Homeward." This comes from (of all places) T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland."
            The violet hour does arrive everyday, and it's always a wonder. If we lose sight of its magic, we are forgetting one those "fundamental things" that, as the song says, "apply."
            Critic Wendy Lesser supplies the phrase "the serious pleasure of books." Often in the course of his essays, Giraldi references the idea that the major inducement for reading is 'pleasure,' and near his volume's end he suggests it is life's greatest source of enduring pleasure -- an explanation for why people go on reading on their death beds. Since, clearly, there no longer appears to be any practical advantage to it. "(T)he knowledge of literature still gives the most pleasure of all," he writes.
            Human life offers many different kinds of pleasure. So even a simple adjective like 'serious' may go some way to explaining the uses of reading, literature, essays, stories, poetry -- the whole bookish shebang.
            At another point in his consideration of literature and death, Giraldi quotes from Walt Whitman: "Let me glide noiselessly forth." Whitman was old when he wrote that, but when he was young he had much to say about death as well, including these famous lines:
“All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,/ And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”
            A famous tome from the Middle Ages (not mentioned in Giraldi's essay) is titled "The Consolations of Philosophy." The consolations of poetry may be even better.
            Many of the longer pieces in this book are essays that justify the book's subtitle "In Defense of Literary Daring" treat writers of our time that the author admires. Among these are contemporary writers such as Gurganus, Padgett Powell, Barry Hannah, and a half dozen others that I have not sampled at all (I tend to stick to my favorites). His insights into writers I am familiar with -- James Baldwin and classic 19th century masters Melville and Poe -- are interesting, and I found pieces on these authors well worth reading. 
           Giraldi's assessment of some contemporary fiction writers I have read -- such as Dennis Johnson and Cormac McCarthy -- were interesting, though I think limited. His two essays on McCarthy struck me as narrowly hung up on the issue of violence in that author's work, especially since Giraldi acknowledged not having read the author's highly praised "Border Trilogy" which I found to be among the most affecting works of fiction published in the last three or four decades. The acts of tragic violence in these three books did not put their other virtues in the shade. Oedipus dies at the end of his trilogy, but that does make his story less engaging. So does Hamlet at the end of his short life -- but long-lived play.   
            The book ends, anticlimactically, with a negative review of a book by Richard Ford that I've never encountered. Ford is capable of duds, and I read one (though not the one reviewed here), but for a period of years I waited eagerly for each new title by this prolific author. His works engaged contemporary American life in the latter decades of the 20th century in a meaningful, engaging way. I'd call them 'a serious pleasure.'
            And then there are the essays about 'the critics.' 
            While I recognize the names of those to whom Giraldi devotes essays, I haven't read their tomes -- with one exception. And I whole-heartedly agree with Giraldi's assessment that the undisputed chief divinity of our era's literary critics is Harold Bloom, a good number of whose books I have read with pleasure and astonishment.
            Giraldi's summary of Bloom's career and his role in our era's academic controversies (where critics live) is intriguing, perceptive, and highly useful to anyone who is not a career academic in this field. Bottom line: in Bloom's view great literature is about love, beauty, and aesthetic pleasure.
            Some quotes from Bloom: "you will not become a better or more moral citizen by reading Emerson." You may, however, Giraldi summarizes the argument, "learn how to be yourself." Pursuing this point, he asks why is the "aesthetic" pleasure of literature essential? Because, Bloom answers, "we live by and in moments raised in quality by aesthetic apprehension."
            Our goal in life, as many have answered, is "more life." It's not a quantitative evaluation. Literature, and the other arts, offer us that "more."
            Bloom's early, groundbreaking criticism was encapsulated by the phrase "the anxiety of influence." Great writers, Bloom believed, were supremely aware of the works of the great writers who preceded them. But it's not writers suffering the burden of looking over their shoulders at the intimidating greatness of a Milton or a Shakespeare that is meant by "anxiety" in this theory, but the notion that something happens in their work to make it more original.
            "In this, my final statement on the subject," Bloom has stated, "I define influence simply as literary love, tempered by defense."
            Another of Bloom's contributions is the notion of "creative misreading" by "strong" poets of their predecessors' works. "Without Tennyson's reading of Keats, we would have almost no Tennyson," he states.
            Bloom's defense of the literary canon against narrow political interpretations of great works by those academics he christened "the School of Resentment" is clearly and strongly defended in turn by Giraldi. Again, this book offers a good explanation of the controversy for readers who may not have come across these terms, ideas, or academic battles.
            A few other judgments from Bloom out of the many major insights that Giraldi happily chose to share with us. On the first English Bible, produced and written by printer and literary genius William Tyndale: "Tyndale's New Testament affected all subsequent expression in the English language." He's responsible, scholars now say, for the beloved language of the famous King James Bible.
            Bloom's theory on Shakespeare's invention of the modern idea of a literary 'character' is summed up in this pertinent quote: Shakespeare's "characters change while overhearing themselves."
            Finally, Bloom's love of the pioneering American poet Walt Whitman is evoked in this beautifully learned encomium: "As Adam early in the morning, Walt is the unfailing God-man, our androgyne."        
            I'm giving the last word here to author Giraldi. Keep in mind that you're hearing this from somebody who in addition to his critical essays writes works of literary fiction:
            "Publishing is a business in which writers of ironclad intelligence and integrity must watch in paralysis as second-rate crowd-pleasers are lavishly lauded and feted, and so these writers cheer themselves up by imagining that their laurels will arrive after their deaths, when society finally gets wise and realizes the injustices it heaped upon genius." 
            For the record, he doesn't believe it happens often.
            "American Audacity" was published in 2018 by Norton. You can find it on Amazon. I found the copy I read in my library.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Science and Politics: Trump is Not the Biggest Issue, He’s Only the Biggest Distraction. Climate Change is the True Apocalypse and Americans Are Limping Toward It Like Lambs to the Slaughterhouse

Anyone who doesn’t have his head up his posterior has probably noticed that humanity’s lease on Planet Earth is running out fast. Cataclysmic atmospheric warming, as a direct result of human activity, is the singular life-and-death threat the human race faces.      
         That understanding, repressed or sublimated into comic book 
nightmares, is the reason why so many of our arts and entertainment narratives deal with apocalypses and dystopias, planetary disasters of all sorts: We know this. It’s in our dreams, our movies, and our books. Our time is running out, and our lease on Earth shortens every day in which we do nothing to change our ways. This knowledge is lodged firmly in our subconscious, even if the leaders chosen by fear of change refuse to acknowledge it.
          Our political and corporate leaders have known about the threat posed by rapid climate change for well over 30 years now. Our leaders simply behave as if denying the truth will somehow cause this reality to shrug and go away. It will not. No superhero can suck the greenhouse gases out of our atmosphere and our oceans. The aliens will not arrive to save us. The ‘rapture’ will give way to The Rupture, and our planetary lease will be permanently broken because we couldn’t be bothered to take care of the place.
          Face it, folks, barring some apparently super-human course correction we are living in what may prove to be the human centuries. Our descendants in subsequent centuries, if there are any, will no longer be living in the "Anthropocene," the era of human domination the planet. But in the era of human diminishment, as they struggle to survive increasingly hostile conditions. And even before the 21st century gets too much further along, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will likely be struggling with conditions those of us born in more fortunate (though careless) times would regard as unbearable and unimaginable.
          What are the countries of the world doing to mitigate the disaster? Making inadequate promises they fail to live up. What are our political and business leaders doing? Sticking their heads in the sand, on which they build their mansions of narcissistic self-absorption. “Vanity of vanities,” sayeth the preacher. “All is vanity.”
           We have known about the science of greenhouse gases and global warming for a long time. The recent death of George H.W. Bush puts our societal self-deception into perspective.
           The last Republican President with the semblance of a working brain, Bush helped create the ongoing governmental research project called the National Climate Assessment. The fourth edition of this assessment was issued (as required by law) a few weeks ago by the administration of a POTUS who believes his innate self-regard is a surer guide to policy than science, fact, or the requirement of an empirical basis for proclaiming truths about nature that Western Civilization has accepted since the time of Newton.
          This latest Climate Assessment basically confirms that human civilization is doomed in the absence of what amounts to the political miracle of a worldwide crash program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
          In 1988, the year Bush senior was elected president, the New Yorker published an essay titled “The End of Nature,” spelling out the predictable effect of continued rapid greenhouse gas poisoning of the earth’s atmosphere. Thirty years ago, that is, anyone who could read was likely to draw the conclusion that rapid atmospheric warming spelled major trouble for that planetary ‘nature’ of which we are all a part and for all the natural systems on which human society depends.
          The corporation in that day with the tightest hammerlock on the upper reaches of the American government, Exxon, had understood the seriousness of global atmospheric warming directly caused by the human burning of fossil fuels since way back in 1977, when one of its senior scientists told Exxon’s top execs that fossil fuels were driving up average global temperatures at a rate likely to produce disastrous consequences. Further research sustained this conclusion.
          Five years later Exxon scientists told company leaders that “potentially catastrophic events” would require “major reductions in fossil fuel and combustion.” []
          Exxon corporate execs did what corporate execs always do. They hid the facts and spun the issue in a way to keep government away from the problem, the public in the dark, and industry profits as high as possible.
          Earlier this year the New York Times devoted an entire issue of its weekly magazine to a story titled “Thirty years ago, we could have saved the planet.”
          Detailing the many opportunities industry and government leaders had to make policy choices to reduce the pace of global warming during the decade after scientific findings showed that human society was in trouble, the report offered this summary of the consequences of inaction:
           “Since 1989, the global mean temperature has increased by one degree Fahrenheit. By 2030, the number of people worldwide affected by floods is expected to triple. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected cause the deaths of roughly 250,000 people each year. By 2050, the Arctic Ocean is expected to be largely ice-free in the summer. By that same year, a million species will face extinction… By the turn of the next century, global sea levels will have risen by to four feet, potentially turning hundreds of million of people into refugees.”[]
          Those refugee numbers will spike even higher when croplands parched by rising temperatures can no longer feed us. In fact, world agricultural output is already on the decline.
These are impacts that well-meaning individuals cannot deal with by recycling more and driving cars with better mileage, or even electric cars. This is a crisis that requires a full national and international mobilization of human effort and resources such as that required to win a world war.
          To plan, initiate and organize that sort of effort, a large representative democracy such as ours relies on its leaders. Individuals can neither study the full extent of a life-or-death planetary crisis nor provide a solution. That’s what governments led by elected leaders are for.
          Our elected leaders have failed us. They go on failing us today.
          Becoming President in 1989, Bush senior supported legislation creating the National Climate Assessment, a project that brings 13 different federal agencies into play. The fourth iteration of that Assessment was issued on November 23 by the administration of a POTUS who claims for political reasons not to see what the problem is. In fact, no one can be quite that stupid. What he believes is that it will be someone else’s problem long after he’s gone.
          Frankly, that’s what everyone appears to believe. But ask the Californians whose homes went up in smoke last month. Ask the people of Florida, or Texas, or Puerto Rico who suffered similar losses in last year’s record-setting hurricane season. Ask the citizens of the Pacific island nations who watch their country washing away. The effects are already here, and they will inevitably get worse.
          After a good start on climate assessment, Bush senior ran away from the clearly identified problem by failing to support a government mandated program to reduce greenhouse emissions.
He’s had plenty of company ever since. No carbon tax, calculated to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and make sustainable alternatives more attractive, can achieve political traction in Washington so long as the fossil fuel industry retains its hold on government by employing its financial power to influence the public and bribe fossil-fuel friendly Congresses against it.
          The environmental researcher and writer Alex Steffen describes the successful industry conspiracy to block efforts to reduce carbon emission as “perhaps the most consequential deception in mankind’s history.”
          The consequence being, of course, the undermining of human civilization.
          Cornering the stock market, or dumping bad mortgages on little banks, is child’s play in comparison.
          Human beings survived an Ice Age that ended a mere 12,000 years ago. Perhaps a few of our species will survive the current man-made polluting of the atmosphere and consequential cataclysmic disruption of the climate to which we contemporary humans and our societies have adapted — i.e. a livable planet, which soon we will make unlivable. It’s a slender hope.
          Bush senior’s son, Bush junior — H.W.s biggest single mistake — played his predictable dunderhead role in leading America down the garden path to environmental hell.
          When world leaders woke to the looming global warming disaster and held the Koyoto Convention in 1997 — twenty years after Exxon scientists identified the problem — they reached an “accord” on limiting carbon emissions from fossil fuels. But back in these United States lobbyists went to work on our weak-kneed politicians. George W. Bush, a dilettante in every field he ever entered, surrendered his thread-bare political manhood to the evil mastermind and oil-industry stooge Dick Cheney, who cared more about oil futures than little consequences such as the future of humanity.
          Cheney had a word with the newly (and falsely) elected President, and Bush junior obligingly dropped his election-year 2000 promise to back laws to reduce carbon dioxide pollution. In American politics, facts that get in the way of profits are simply made to go away. Now we are in thrall to a POTUS who does not believe in facts, except those alternate realities of his own invention.
          Total political irresponsibility in the face of an increasingly obvious threat of catastrophic climate change continued until Obama — America’s last legitimately elected President; will we ever have another? — signed the Paris Climate Accord, committing us to do something. The agreement’s goals were not stringent enough, and most countries have already failed to meet them, but at least the Paris Accord committed us to an international effort to mitigate the worst impacts of a looming societal breakdown.
          Ah, but this level of responsibility proved too much for self-indulgent Americans to bear.
          Our failing democracy promptly enabled the fraudulent election of a dunderhead and schoolyard bully, who straightway tore up the agreement and called for more drilling, digging, and all other means of rapid environmental desecration.
          But global warming is not simply a ‘political’ issue and you can’t put all the blame on the current POTUS since a long string of lies, obfuscation, greed and political corruption have undermined action on this singular crisis for the future of humanity for a clearly documented 40-year history.
          It’s a problem that won’t go away, because facts don’t. Since we can’t go back in time and change things — the only truly satisfying intellectual solution is time-travel; a theme on which we also keep getting screen and literary narratives — the only thing we can do now is kick away the obstructions and distractions.
           De Trompe, whose government is all obstruction and distraction, certainly has to be yanked off stage by the hook of rational self-interest. His supporters have to be invited to resume their displaced humanity, if they can find where they left it. And Americans have to elect and support leaders willing to tell corporations and other wealthy funders what to do, rather the long-endured other way around.
           I’m not sure our democracy is up to this job. Anybody know a good candidate for benevolent dictator?