Sunday, March 31, 2013

Can't You See?

I got a new haircut and I said to my wife it makes my face look rounder and shorter and she said no it makes it look thinner and taller. I have plenty of company. The women with the catastrophic cosmetic surgery aren't seeing what I'm seeing. The starlets shrinking each day on camera are not seeing what we're seeing. We can't even tell if a shirt makes us look fat.

How much harder must it be then to see properly our character, our spirit . . . our nature. I thought I was laid back but I wasn't. How do you miss that? The therapist or friend or enemy or spouse or mentor or student can help us see. Sometimes they do the opposite. You can learn from imperfect experience if you are smart or brave enough. Enlightenment moves us out of the darkness, out of perceiving existence the wrong way. Awakening is a matter of seeing, of opening one's eyes. I was blind but now I see. Whatever it takes to see more accurately is sacred, even if it hurts a lot.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Emerson & Henry Miller: Strange Bedfellows?


Henry Miller, circa 1959

Who knew that Henry Miller was an Emersonian? I don't think Ralph Waldo put too many descriptions of orgies or bathroom sex down on paper, that's for sure. But here we have Miller, in Sexus, nearly plagiarizing the great Transcendentalist.
Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines by the hand of the master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we only have to open up, only to discover what is already there.
In "Self-Reliance," written many decades before Miller was writing, Emerson makes the same case, albeit without Miller's tone of existential despair.
To believe in your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, -- that is genius. . . . In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.
I love that: a certain alienated majesty. Now, the Miller-Emerson connection actually isn't so strange, since both men were aligned in varying degrees with 19th century Romanticism. In fact, in Sexus Miller reveals the nature of his allegiance in a scene that takes place at the studio of his artist friend Ulric. Another group of people is visiting the studio, too, and when one makes some disparaging remarks about Walt Whitman, Miller just can't contain himself.
So when the cultured young gent from Durham tried to cross swords with me about my favorite American writer I was at him hammer and tongs. As usual in such circumstances I overshot the remark. The place was in an uproar. Apparently they had never seen anyone so earnest about an unimportant matter.
I've seen no better description of the Romantic temperament than being earnest about unimportant matters. I know where he's coming from. For the Romantic, mere ideas and poems and interactions do matter greatly. The subjective and aesthetic experience of life is paramount; a life and death matter, truth be told.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Good Kind of Globalization

Masao Yokota and Winston Langley on the Tokyo subway, March 2013

Masao Yokota is former president of and current senior adviser to the peace and dialogue institute I work at in Cambridge. Winston Langley is Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at UMass-Boston. Masao is escorting Winston while he is in Tokyo to deliver the commencement address at Soka University of Japan.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Poem: The Cairn

Walden Pond in Autumn

I.
Rocks upon rock.
Maybe the best we can do
Is opt for simplified order
Carved out of Gaia's splendid
Self-organizing complexity.

II.
I'm at the place where the trail ends
Atop Emerson's Cliff at Walden Pond,
Concord, Massachusetts,
Standing in the dim, late October light,
With the highway humming beneath
The rustle of the remaining leaves
Quivering on twigs in the breeze.

I place a fallen pine cone
Next to the smooth and rounded stone
Crowning the cairn
Other visitors have built there.

Our own organic graffiti.
Our own unpublished poem.

III.
Now descending I hope
No wind will sweep my cone away
Before a blessed witness might arrive.
And now, there -- Thank God! -- is a hiker
Ascending the other side of the hill.

Let him say, yes, they altered this place
In a way that was good. Let him add
His own pine cone, or stone.

IV.
Turning my attention back to the path
I place my foot on a root grabbing
Tight over protruding stone,
Securing it in place . . . for how long?
Ten years? Or fifty?

Longer than the cairn will stand I think --
Those rocks placed upon rock
Which embellished but did not destroy,
Which made us unshakably happy
For one beautiful, eternal day.

Mitch Bogen
2006 / 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

Thoughts on the 10th Anniversary of the Iraq Invasion

1. There was no intelligence failure. The good intelligence was there, but purposely ignored.
2. Memo to George W. Bush: You don't get to be called a war president if you are the one that started the war.
3. Memo to Donald Rumsfeld, who said that you go to war with the army you have, not the army you want: That sounds very wise and it's true enough -- if you are the one being attacked. Not true at all if you are waging a war of choice.
4. A war of choice, regardless of motivations, is by definition an unjust war.
5. If you don't have a back up plan for when things go wrong you don't have a plan.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Kyoto Rocks: Lonesome Dove Woodrows


When I was in Kyoto a couple years ago, I saw that this band, Lonesome Dove Woodrows, was playing at a local club. I didn't make the gig, but later looked them up online. What I missed, to my regret, was a killer roots rock band -- Japan's answer to the Blasters and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. I have no idea what the band name means. It's some kind of reference to the Larry McMurty book and/or mini-series. Both the band name and the lyrics are stellar examples of Japanglish.

Skinny storm rider
Skinny storm rider
Skinny storm rider
Samurai!

Rock on, my brothers.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Interview with Myself

Would you have done anything different?
Wrong question. Could I have? No.

Has it all been worth it?
Now that's a good question, one that must be asked. The wise person, however, admits only one answer.

What does the future hold?
More of the same. Or maybe I mean less of the same; the same intensity in smaller doses. Adventure. Boredom. Joy. Mystery. Tears, and more tears. And love. Laughs. Loads of lovely love. Oh, and how could I forget? Art and argument.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Provincetown Artists: Michael Mazur

Michael Mazur, Pond Edge II, 1999, oil on canvas, 33" x 31.5"

I was feeling like it was time to get some more color up on the site. Now that, my friends, is color. The late Michael Mazur (1935 - 2009) was most known for his lithograph and monotype prints, but he also worked in oils and other media. He split his time between Cambridge and P-town, where he taught and served on the board of the Fine Arts Work Center. Indeed, he was revered as much for his teaching as for his art making. My wife and I own a print from this same period, done in the same style, which nods in its abstract way to the tradition of Chinese landscape painting. It's fair to say that he was one of New England's finest artists, and perhaps one of our nation's, too.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

It's Happening Fast Now

Today Andrew Sullivan articulated something I've been giving a lot of thought to lately:

How amazing that marriage equality, once wielded by Ken Mehlman and Karl Rove as their key weapon in winning Ohio and the presidency in 2004, now threatens to kill the GOP as a national brand. With every year that passes, every attack on gays is now felt by growing numbers of their own family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors. There’s a multiplier effect here. 

I'm proud that so many people of my Baby Boom generation had the courage to come out and that enough of us hetero folks were happy to welcome this profound development. My life is enriched in so many ways because of it. We laid the groundwork for a younger generation who are transcending the old stigmas of sexual orientation in a really big way. In the same post, Sullivan reports that recent polling shows that 81 percent of people under the age of 30 favor marriage equality. Quite simply, this is a stunning development.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Words Fail

Earlier today I saw a remarkable -- no, I mean mind-boggling -- bumper sticker on the back of a Ford pickup truck. It featured a Confederate flag and read: Reparations for the Descendents of Southern Patriots. The license plate was from South Carolina, and the motto was: In God We Trust.

It's not a good thing for a blogger to confess, but I don't even know where to begin.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Daniel Larison and the Antiwar Conservatives

When push comes to shove, I'm a liberal. Which means I can tolerate the abuses and inanities of liberals more than the abuses and inanities of conservatives. I call this the aversion theory of allegiance. Nevertheless, I enjoy reading thoughtful "conservative" analysis, which is another way of saying that I like the kind of conservatives that conservatives don't like, who have little favor in the Republican Party as currently constituted. RINOs, I guess.

One such conservative is Daniel Larison, who writes and blogs for the American Conservative magazine and website. I found him by following links from the blog of Andrew Sullivan, himself another heretical conservative (although gay marriage, which he has forcefully championed for 25 years, is now gaining traction in right of center circles).

A few weeks ago, on February 27, Larison outlined the conservative objections to reflexive militarism. Antiwar conservatives, he said,
have been arguing for over ten years against aggressive foreign policy, preventive war, and military overreach on explicitly conservative grounds. We make arguments against the wastefulness and fiscal irresponsibility of unnecessary wars. We highlight the harm that war causes to military families, we make direct appeals to pro-life conservatives about the evils of unnecessary war and condemn the disdain for human life and dignity that go with it. We point to the strains that perpetual war puts on the military and on the men and women serving in it. We call attention to the damage that the warfare and security state does to our national security and to our constitutional liberties, and we rail against the growth in state power that perpetual war causes. I believe that there are many conservatives and Republicans still open to these arguments, provided that they are able to hear and read them on a regular basis.
The other day I told a friend that I don't want to engage in too much politics at this site, unless it was implicit in a philosophical argument. I think my ongoing thread about the folly of war and revenge fits into this framework. But maybe what I also meant was avoiding partisanship. When I read this post from Larison, I added a comment that these are the same arguments that I as a liberal also make. Larison responded that he agreed that these aren't necessarily conservative arguments but rather arguments that conservatives should find convincing.

That got me thinking: What are the arguments that a liberal might make in addition to those above, arguments a conservative might not accept? Let's think on that! More to come.

Peace out.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

South Beach

South Beach, late afternoon, March 13

I'm in South Beach and you're not. Are you? The beach here is really amazing, considering that this is an urban beach. In most spots, it's as wide as a football field is long. And it is separated from the boardwalk and hotels by a wide area of natural dunes. Like this.

South Beach pedestrian and bike path, with dunes


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Stuart Davis: Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors

Stuart Davis, Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors - 7th Avenue Style, 1940

This iconic abstraction from the fantastic American modernist Stuart Davis is part of the Lane Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Davis is known for capturing in paint the bright energy of jazz. This is no small part of the reason I love his work so. I've noticed that the MFA is not as strong in American modernism as other museums, for example, the Art Institute of Chicago, but the Lane collection is a well constructed gem, with works from O'Keefe, Dove, Stieglitz, Adams and so many more. The MOMA website has a good intro essay to Davis' life and work.

UPDATE: January 2015
In this new post I look at a detail from this iconic painting . MB

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Amazing and Eye-opening!

I recently saw two of the best TED talks ever. One was called "Snot: The World's Most Incredible Substance," and the other featured Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 performed on a kazoo.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Beloved Old Books: Gandhi on Nonviolence

New Directions, 1965

How my heart thrilled at the sight of those black and white New Directions paperbacks! New Directions communicated the essence of a certain mid-century vibe, melding avant garde, romantic, and Beat voices in serious yet inviting publications. The New Directions website says that ND was "intended 'as a place where experimentalists could test their inventions by publication,'" and that "ND anthologies first introduced readers to the early work of such writers as William Saroyan, Louis Zukofsky, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Kay Boyle, Delmore Schwartz, Dylan Thomas, Thomas Merton, John Hawkes, Denise Levertov, James Agee, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti."

The book above is interesting for how it combines literary and spiritual impulses. It was edited and introduced by author Thomas Merton, who left the New York cultural scene in the early 40s to become a Trappist monk, thus entering into a "contemplative" practice. He continued to write at an amazing clip. His work portrayed his own spiritual seeking at a time when such seeking was becoming widespread. Consider me one of those seekers. Among many other achievements, he became one of the foremost Western writers on the Zen tradition.

Mr. Gandhi you know. However, Merton makes clear that Gandhi wasn't an absolutist when it came to nonviolence. He quotes Gandhi as believing that injustice must be resisted. "No doubt the nonviolent way is always the best," said Gandhi, "but where that does not come naturally the violent way is both necessary and honorable. Inaction here is rank cowardice. ... It must be shunned at all cost." Merton says that Gandhi's nonviolence was meant to be "the highest form of bravery," and never a cover for passivity or surrender.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Dear Language Police

Is it OK to say you're "making hay while the sun shines" when what you are doing is clearing snow on a sunny late-Winter day?

Poem: Refugee

The universe was born
Just a moment ago, as I melted
Into my favorite chair.

There by the window
Of my sunlit music room,
With snow drifted high outside,

I found refuge
And took up residence
In the primordial vibration.

Upstairs at the keyboard now,
Wondering how it is that words
Always lure me from home. 

M. Bogen, Jan. '05 / Feb. '11

One of Mine: Biomorphic

Biomorphic No. 3, Markers on Posterboard, March '00