Sunday, December 13, 2015

Three Authors, Two Issues

My reviews of Chomsky's books, Power and Terror and Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe are recent blogposts (11/4 & 20/24). Chomsky's political books amass impressive evidence for the thesis that the right wing of the wealthy class of inherited and corporate wealth, primarily in the U.S., and their many minions, use its disproportionate influence on government and other institutional life to maintain and expand a nice threesome - power, profits and privilege. Ownership of the media and the funding of political campaigns are important aspects of their means of controlling the State in its domestic affairs, policies and foreign alliances. The latter build empire in that they are aimed at suppressing, at all costs, any questioning of or attempts to escape from the global corporate system, a system that favors their short-term wealth and threatens the well-being of the rest of humanity and the life system on which we, ironically including them, depend.

Naomi Klein's book, This Changes Everything, argues persuasively and passionately that we are speedily approaching extreme disruption of our civilization, possibly extinction of our species. The chief obstacle to addressing this grave threat is the system of capitalism that is devouring the planet's ecology, a system incompatible with what it will take to avoid catastrophe. Klein's sub-title, Capitalism versus the Climate, makes this clear and her book elaborates that point along with itemizing the threat and underlining the hope embedded in a serious activism.

A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle examines the psychological dysfunction at the root of the crisis described in Klein and Chomsky's books. Tolle's notion of ego, the excessive conceptualization that goes on in our heads, blocks us from presence in the world. Presence in Tolle's view allows us to plug into the intelligence that is self-evident in the sprawling reality surrounding us, the macro and micro cosm. We feel the interconnection of all things, dis-identify from the conceptual creation of ego with its fearful, competitive positioning for advantage and stroking, shifting identity to essence out of which flows what we call physical reality. what Buddhism might call illusion but which transforms in this shift from dismal arena of brute survival of the powerful to the beautiful and enchanting dance of life. This transformation Tolle encapsulates: “To feel, and thus to know, that you are; and to abide in this deeply rooted state is enlightenment.”

Well, make that four: Christopher Hitchens' posthumous, And Yet..., is a collection of essays, some of which more or less support the Klein/Chomsky/Tolle view, a few of which disturbingly do not, veering into a militant Islamophobia, and at least two that are paragons of wit – My Red-State Odyssey, a hilarious account of a trip through a few of the southren states, and On the Limits of Self-Improvement, a comedic poking fun at his own foibles and attempts to quit smoking, drinking and overeating, an endeavor doomed to a failure not of his personal will, though that certainly wavered, but by the scourge of cancer which killed him only a few years later. The other essays are also well worth the read if you take pleasure in an erudite person of letters at the top of his form.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Power and Terror: Conflict, Hegemony and the Rule of Force, Noam Chomsky

Dick Cheney, in an interview with ABC news, correspondent Martha Raddatz pointed out that a majority of citizens opposed the war in Iraq. Cheney replied, “So?” Martha asked, “You don't care what the American people think?” He said, “NO.” He then goes on to say that we can't be subject to fluctuations in opinion polls. A White House speaker was asked later if this meant the government didn't think the public should have input. The speaker remarked that the public has input every four years. Since they fund, so pretty much own the candidates in those 4 year elections (but not Bernie), that sums up the oligarchic attitude towards democracy. By the way, other damage that administration did to democracy was stack the federal courts with corporate conservatives and the news out of Paris this weekend is called blowback... violence begets violence.

Chomsky points out in this book a number of issues on which the citizenry holds an opinion, according to polls, in contrast to government ie, a large majority support a single payer health care system, a significant majority would prefer less military-focused budget priorities, strong human rights policies and real democracy... the government and mainstream media declare these positions not politically feasible. Since the majority supports them there must be some other criterion for politically feasible and of course that brings us to the disproportionate influence of the 1%... what the 1% wants the 1% usually gets.

Another related, revealing and disturbing factoid Chomsky cites is a worldwide study by Edward Herman looking at the relationship between U.S. aid and torture. The study showed a high correlation. A second study concluded that the key factor was “investment climate”. U.S. aid increased as investment climate improved, ie, a favorable investment situation for U.S. corporations = higher U.S. aid levels. How is a favorable investment climate created and maintained? Well, “One of the best ways is to murder union organizers and peasant leaders, to torture priests, to massacre peasants, to undermine social programs etc;” Not that the U.S. prefers human rights violations, that is just what accompanies the favorable business climate created by client governments.

In government and media discussion of the
terrible threat to the U.S. from Iran, the regime is described as dictatorial (though elected) and dangerous, no argument with the former, no evidence needed for the latter. No mention of course of the inconvenient fact that the U.S. and Britain in 1954 overthrew a parliamentary democracy in the country, installing the Shah's ruthless regime characterized by the usual offensive attributes. The U.S. has boots on the ground, as the saying goes, in Afghanistan and Iraq but Iran is “destabilizing” the area. Stabilization is when everyone is following orders and a favorable investment climate is created. This in fact is what is usually at the root of U.S. aggression - from Clinton's bombing of Kosovo/Serbia to the U.S. invasion of Vietnam, the embargo of Cuba and support for right wing dictators across the planet. Risking the sensibility of the blind patriot, Chomsky compares U.S. operations to the Mafia... the Don cannot allow one storekeeper to refuse “protection” payments. Total obediance is required or the system of domination is threatened.

Chomsky ventures where few will follow, or even comprehend, given the indoctrination system, conflicting as it does, too mightily with received wisdom – U.S. allegiance to Israel unfettered by human rights considerations. Israel is described as playing the role of a U.S. aircraft carrier, a military base in the midst of an oil-drenched prize sure to lure the attention of the consumption addict. Israel is allowed wide lattitude in its barbaric behavior around land grabs and oppression of Palestinians so long as they play out their proper military role. Anyone dependent on mainstream media for their notion of what's going on in the mideast would be flabbergasted to hear that it is the U.S. and Israel who have blocked a two-state peace settlement for 35 years. And it is these same players who block proposals for a nuclear-free middle east, something one would think highly desirable but since the
aircraft carrier has them, and U.S. ships in the area probably have them, then the ol' what's good for the goose is good for the gander cannot apply. The Don's dominance cannot be questioned.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Aesthetic Journal Excerpts, 1975 - 1985

Aesthetic Journal Excerpts 1975 - 1985, Tom Ferguson, published in Art Papers,
Vol 9. No. 5.
September/October 1985

(one can readily see from these writings why Eckhart Tolle so appealed to me, once I discovered his teachings. Kinda fun to review these entries groping for insight, stumbling on it now and then, veering off in the wrong direction, not quite getting it consistently)

    Interior 1969     Winter Has Its Influence, 1973      SF+CT+TF, 1967         Perhaps an Archetype, 1977
    all oil on canvas

The visuals roughly track the evolution of my paintings, here & below. For a more detailed view –

The Greeks, for all their brilliance, were not ready to build a just society. Instead they constructed architectural, artistic and philosophical edifices which have dominated the West for centuries. So today, for all our technological achievement, those who beg us to consider a just world as worthy of our energy are swamped by a stupid insistence on nuclear weapons, more weapons and now “star wars”. The Greek Gods groan. At least the temples were majestic. Their beauty was perhaps lost on the poor slaves expended in construction, just as we are offered as sacrifice to myopic megalomania.

Of the ideological strains in Abstract Expressionism, I identify with the existential – painting as series of decisions, record of action, arena where authenticity is sought and Zen contact – painting as means to self-in-the-world. The painting as object, as color organization, as itself – these more minimal factors also attract, as do conceptual isssues. Subject is one means to incorporate issues that interest me. Color/impasto is one means to assert the surface, not indiscriminately but in passages of authentic or interesting or beautiful acts.

I make pictures. Lately they allude to a real or fictive reality beyond the painting but they do not masquerade as holographs. They balance allusion against surface, they embed reference in paint. Not that I wouldn't push illusion. Nothing is forbidden save the unauthentic. Authenticity is not a product of subject or style or medium but an un-selfconscious coming together of interest, skill and insight.

Painting speaks via a shared vocabulary of form, a vocabulary both learned and inherited. Learning may distort one's aesthetic when it dogmatically insists upon certain values and arbitrarily excludes others. Learning is on the mark when it guides to innate response to form and expands the possibilities of form and subject.

There is a double-entente peculiar to the portrait genre. The painting is and if of entity. Portraiture emphasizes and balances that surface/allusion dichotomy, each of which vies for dominance yet yields, with great pleasure, to the other.

Painting is about ideas and emotion and individual physiognomy. The face, as subject, is a convenient means to dealing with all three:

Face as Subject has individual physiognomy (character, personality), implies ideas (identity, being, situation) and emotion (feelings about identity, being, situation).

Surface has individual physiognomy (rough, smooth etc;), implies ideas (decision, skin, chaos/order, sensuality, actuality, primal consciousness) and emotion (feelings about being, time, order/chaos, sensuality, fear, awe, primal consciousness).

Color has individual physiognomy (hue, saturation, brightness) and implies ideas (polarity, contrast, harmony, dissonance) and emotion (feelings about particular color experiences i.e., attraction/ repulsion, exhilaration, nausea).

With surface, and sometimes color, I try to assert a definite presence, to underline and underlie the various preoccupations of subject. Flatness is the premise which drawing defies. Impasto short-circuits the denial and reference transpires.

An arrangement of color is analogous to an arrangement of sound. Each medium addresses its peculiar sensory organ – speaking of delight, of death, of the range of emotion and value common to homosapien.

Subject provides structure, place for color. The end remains unknown. Piano, with its 88 possibilities, is another medium for unknown ends.

Jack Burnham suggests that art-making is myth, that the artist stands at the abyss. Leap (into synchronic time) or play end-game variations of the “elborate and beautiful game.” If synchronic time is what I think it is, painting is one of the means to pursuing it. Said another way, end-game is a means to leaping.

Content Analysis

Autobio: journal entries as subject/past drng books/letters/events i.e., Partial List of the Dead/excuse to paint but also to claim significance for all things and simply as one of the objects my interest fastens on, which is guide and criterion for subject and approach, stuff from my life I appropriate for painting and so comment on this on-going process

Impasto: surface assertion/primal/muck/skin/physicality/sensuality/fecal matter/surface beauty/ surface is asserted, is actuality which is being which is what surface assertion means – art object reality: person being, perceiving...

Signficant Image: sub-conscious resonance/primal/icon/... stirs primal consciousness and this is less a reflection on the past than an experiencing of the present as it genetically embodies that past.

Narrative: words/figuration/portraits/jounals/ also – narration of self as record of act the tension or cancellation which occurs between narration and the formal.

Collaborative: duets/trios/three lines each/gatekeeper/jazz influence the grid and/or canvas as net for catching events.

Appropriational: cold code/drng. Books/journals/songs/ asserts significance of all things in tradition of ready-made, still-life, assemblage, documentary photography, some conceptual art. Somethings stand for all things when they “strike” me, reminding me that everything resonates with being. This can be on a less cosmic level. The cosmic is one of the deeper layers of “neatness”.

Formal: the basis, the way in which the others manifest themselves – color. The painting as object, as itself.

Many of the sub-sets overlap. I think of significant images as color arrangements that resonate such that they stir being. Other characteristics may support the main concern but it is dominant.

There is an aspect of self which reaches roots deep, into pre-history, our inherited genetic reality, as it survives in us; that aspect of being which connects us with the evolutionary process through our concrete relatedness to it.

Surrealism evoked the novelty of being by citing the strange. Genre painting was political asserting the dignity of the common people. By transposing subject from the mythical to the common-place, neither importance nor myth were discarded. Instead it was declared that what myth attempts to address is present everywhere, that “creation” is astounding in every of its manifestations. Eventually the painting itself came to embody the myth, to be manifestation. This may always have been the case but abstraction took to emphasizing it.

Painting parallels arguments in philosophy. Materialism insisted that the artist decides and that is subject. Transcendentalism saw the artist as go-between, medium, shaman. Abstract Expressionism was existential. Minimalism was confrontation – phenomenological reduction. Pop, another manifestation of the genre, lightened things up. Process and performance art reacted against commodification, so the object refers not to itself but to the recent history of its production. Since performance is process, and nothing remains after, it seems most appropriate to de-commodification. Deconstruction calls for a vigorous analysis of intent.

There is a strain in 20th Century art that coincides with “bad art”. Cezanne's Bathers, Matisse's sculpture, Leger's images, Shapiro's block figures, Stephan's conical paintings... early Cubism... Marc, Schwitters... there is an awkwardness, a non-classical kind of proportioning and coloring. Something in this approach draws artists. Somehow articulation of the inarticulate is articulate, of some one of the multi-layers of meaning.

I pursue in painting, what seems significant to me. What makes for “success” is the confluence of interest 'twixt artist and the art world powers. A trend catches on because it excites some significant portion of this population. Some artists and critics disparage the trend. Some “bandwagon” as popularity and profits increase. So the movement becomes diluted, reaction sets in, other issues come to the fore. But an artist can at any time make significant art in any of the approaches. The rewards will however be limited - unless the timing is such as to begin a movement or revival.

Picture-making strategies involve subject selection, what I fasten on as alluring, given the present way of painting. It is a reciprocal evolving. Certain subjects mesh favorably with my present approach, others interest me enough to change my approach to mesh with them.

David Smith says that the art object is spark to fire the viewer's imagination. For me color is the itself of painting, not only spark but instance of imagination. The art-act is an intuitive act of conviction, according to Smith. Specifically it is unpredictable yet, since he claims it as an evolved language, it is recognizable as convincing or no. When it is genuine it expresses the uniqueness of its maker.

Croce: expression is the first form of consciousness.

There is the art object and its meaning. On one level these are not different. The object induces self-consciousness, as Kuspit says (Artforum, Jan. 81) “through its lack of meaning – but it does convey its physiognomy which consists in qualities which do or do not align with our own affinities.”

John Cage seeks significant form in random processes. Given a series of random tonal events one's attention shifts alternately from hearing them to self-consciousness. Traditionally the personality (the source of affinity) was evident in the composition. Cage's is in the system and parameters – apparently removed – that produce the experience. What is the value of this experience? Perhaps replenishment of “spirit” that in everyday consciousness a component is lacking, of intensity. There may be a need here akin to sleep. What were (are) the mystics, poets, painters, composers seeking? Then as now, being – the most curious and essential fact of existence.

God is thought to be elsewhere, or within, or both, or none. I exist. My being gives me access to the other, the infinite, to which I am connected. My awareness is of self. Where self ends and other begins is indeterminate. The God word functions to “sacredize” being, to emphasize the connection to and wonder of the unbroken expansive continuity. As anthropomorphism it is simply superstition.

Interesting Art in America article – Dec. 81 by Robt. Morris, cites Duchamp, Pollock, Hopper and Cornell as four seminal figures whose concerns represent four strains in art history: the difficult; formalist; alienated and the decorative. Morris dismisses the latter contemptuously. I share his nuclear and environmental concerns but I cultivate the decorative not as escape from but release into the world. We must work for nuclear disarmament but as our lives pass we must not forget to experience in essence.

The Surrealists cite the strange for it is strange, being, when suppressed daily for the sake of other delights. It is magic when contrasted with everyday consciousness. I cite the ordinary to claim for it, via the context of art, its place in the continuum of wonder.

Religious experience transposes the experience of being into something like – I saw God! It is all words, all valid – as myth. Being for me, refers directly to the experience without implying any dogma.

Kuspit uses words like transcendental, iconic, magical, transnatural sense of immediacy. His succinctness relies on dictionary members, pointers at the ineffable. “The sensuous and concentrated dynamism create an intensity which is read as a sign of interiority.”

Part of what both subject and object address is emotion. They stir emotion. Minimalism reduced the art experience in complexity, reducing not eliminating allusion. For there remains some emotive response to the sparsest work. And it is this sparse emotion that Shapiro and Stephan built upon.

Ritual – immediate enhancement of the experience of living. Science, religion, art... answer to the aesthetic need for satisfaction (exercise?) of the imagination. The close of an experience is the institution of a felt harmony (gestalt).

In a museum we bounce off art. We bring our intelligence and emotion to the work and, depending on the intensity of our attention, we experience. Our values determine for us what is cliché and what is profound. The variety of values make for similarity and overlap, dis-similarity and polarity.

Dewey: metaphor... an act of emotional identification, not intellectual comparison.

Alan Sondheim: autograph of reality, signature.

Awareness: pre-verbal pre-cognitive is of physiology and since we inherit genes from ancestors, recent to ancient, to deep history and pre-history, we experience that connection – call it primal or archetypal. The further back the more primal. Our inheritance does reach back into the muck and so portraying the muck (impasto – fecal?) is a way of referring to it. Just any muck won't do. It must work. There is a difference between a sleeping can and a dead cat.

In writing my object is to fill the page with words. In painting my object is to fill the canvas with paint. In either case I may have an object or preconception but it is the passages in the end which bring me to that object and which ultimately are the work.

I am what, 90% water? Do “I” reside somewhere between the water molecules? Am “I” the friction of water molecules rubbing against each other? Art is the rubbing together of molecules in the “I” and in the object.

Surface refers to itself, is otherwise meaningless. But that it is itself, experiencing it consists in a meeting.

With the portraits I had to consciously intervene to include minorities. It is not difficult to discern their place, - a gauge of the progress in the fight against racism and sexism. To comment on this I titled many paintings non-stereotypically i.e., Physicist in the Breezeway and First Violin. And the black man titled Jesus Christ goes against the current even, I think, of black christians.

Carter Ratcliff, Art in America, March '85 calligraph, hieroglyph... poetic cry... epic list – all the devices the self employs in imaging itself forth to itself... one reenacts one's birth endlessly in ritual that in turn gives birth to images so plenteous they evoke the universe, which is one's infinite, imaginary self.

The way to subvert intellectual and ethical dishonesty is not to mimic but to shun. I don't accept that the values of formalism, of making authentic passages in paint, is of a kind with tricking people into smoking cigarettes.

Perhaps the role of subversive art is not to convert the rich but to divert money which would otherwise go to the right.

Duchamp asserts that there is no essential difference between the choices made in art and selection from the racks of a new shirt.

A drawing of a wrench a la Dine is interesting in its novelty, in the initial surprise of encountering the commonplace in art's exalted context. The wrench serves as a continuing reminder of the profundity of any intersection of events, of electron-photon serendipity. I venture that there is no inherent superiority of painting to shirt design, that these are simply means to action, recipients of interest. Art by tradition has this philosophical aspect which Kuspit suggests is what remains when the art is stripped of reference and meaning – an encounter with meaninglessness and a subsequent scramble to make sense of it, which is to say one encounters consciousness without an object and one attributes that self-consciousness to the art.

And it is the art, which isn't to say that the infinite is only encounterable in art. The context of shirts is such that they do not stir consciousness. Their meaning is so insistent that heraclean efforts are required to get beyond. This gives context and tradition great responsibility for meaning in art. Context and tradition prep. Those who take an interest in painting have a philosophical bent perhaps, or a sensitivity to color or story-telling. They are encouraged and rewarded, more or less, by the greater and lesser instances of genius in painting's history.

Subject “occurs” to me, another way of saying that a particular subject interests me at one time and not at another. I could select subject randomly but I rather pay attention to the image emerging out of my consciousness.

One of the ways a work is powerful is when artist transcends teacher. We do not say, oh, a disciple of... we directly encounter the work.

Kuspit (again) suggests that self consciousness is arrived at by default, that minimal art has no meaning and thus leaves the patron on their own. But it seems to me that the art is about its own physiognomy and the artists's sensibility. The greater meaning consists in simply asserting that we are our own meaning, that there is no and need be no prior intent or intender, purpose or prime cause, beyond that of being ourselves, creating our selves. What characterizes all is individual physiognomy.

A painting is about what happens everywhere on the support.

Kuspit seems right, that any reflection is already memory. An art object can set up a “dialectic” where reflection occurs, on being. But I think there is immediacy, to experiencing sensation. Intensity is the primary factor. It isn't that consciousness is invalidated by the fact that reflection on it is memory. Great intensity of consciousness causes us to notice the fact of novelty. We are more or less continuously evaluating what we are experiencing. It is the increase in consciousness-intensity that reveals the world as infinite mystery. The confrontation with reality-instance provided by art is one way to raise this issue, to face one with being.

Coffee House Napkin Drawing, Sea Legs, Allegory of the Shower, Heads, installation Atlanta
1979 1982 1984 High Museum of Art, 1985

Tom Ferguson is an Atlanta painter who has recently exhibited at the High Museum, Nexus Contemporary Art Center and Fay Gold Gallery.

Reviewing this writing 30 years later, and having encountered the clarifying work of Eckhart Tolle, I can see that in that last paragraph I am groppingly using intensity to explain what I now see as cessation of mind-chatter or presence.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Bye Bye American Pie: Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe, Noam Chomsky & Laray Polk

In this collection of interviews and speeches the prolific Chomsky offers his insights on two critical items. Asked, what are the primary issues that should concern us?, he replies, “Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe.” There seems to be an idea in the air lately (see Naomi Klein's book on climate change, This Changes Everything) that capitalism is incompatible with democracy and survival of our civilization. Chomsky elucidates how the most ruthless in the capitalist game come to power and overinfluence the governmental and institutional agenda in the U.S., indeed the planet. Like other forms of addiction the quest for endless wealth is characterized by denial of information that might bring to light the addiction. And opposition to any policy that might infringe on accumulation behavior, especially sharing.

The possession of nuclear warheads, and their hair-trigger alert status are an extreme threat to our survival. An accidental launch is all too likely when only minutes are available to evaluate reports of a launch by some adversary. Numerous incidents have brought us perilously close to annihilation yet the decision makers refuse to move toward even discussing the issue. As Einstein remarked, “The splitting of the atom changed everything except the way we think... and so we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” We've been incredibly lucky so far. Even if we took these civilization-ending warheads off hair-trigger, we'd still have the dangerous situation of their existence. And since the nations who possess nuclear weapons fail to live up to their obligations under the NPT (Non-proliferation Treaty) to phase out the weapons, non-possessing states will sooner or later feel obligated, for their own security, to avoid intimidation from the armed states, to build their own. And since the U.S. seems to see nuclear weapons as essential to “security”, or should I say to the capacity to dominate, then obviously this stance contributes to proliferation.

A nuclear war, even a limited exchange, say between India and Pakistan, a real possibility, would probably end life, at least human life, in the northern hemisphere. A full exchange would likely create a
nuclear winter for the whole planet since the debris put into the atmosphere would block the sun for months. This has been common knowledge for years yet the powers that be continue business as usual, unwilling to risk the advantageous power, profits and privilege the present order bestows on them. The accumulation addiction trumps common sense. The desire to dominate rather than share leaves no room for non-violent conflict resolution for in that endeavor the sought-after end is win-win, not win-lose. Win-win would make war far less likely, maybe obsolete, but that would limit the addiction. Carl Sagan has said that if we were to encounter an advanced alien culture they would be peaceful, for those who survive the evolution of intelligence, with its inevitable splitting of the atom, will have ended war by mastering conflict resolution.

The other item, environmental catastrophe, consists of climate change and all its implications for the 6+ billion people subject to its effects. Also, the hysterical pursuit of profits means the expense of containing pollutants is avoided as much as possible, thus POPS (persistent organic pollutants) proliferate our air, water and soil. Our soil blows away due to unsustainable agricultural practices associated with this same profit motive. Related is the deforestation of vital rainforests, acid rain, desertification. And coming again to nukes, nuclear weaponry and commercial reactors release radiation into the air/soil/water, routinely and by way of accidents (you've heard perhaps of Fukushima, Chernobyl?)... something quite predictable when you locate dangerous technology on earth quake faults and on waterways, source of drinking water essential to life. Currently Fukushima leaks immense quantities of radiation into the Pacific on a daily basis and has been doing so since 2011. Just as it has been shown that no amount of radiation is safe for the individual, no amount is safe for the life system. As in the irrational relationship with nuclear weapons, dirty but profitable energy technologies are preferred over sustainable alternatives due to entrenched interests. The recent outing of Exxon's suppressing for years, studies that show climate change to be real, demonstrates that even without denial - they KNEW climate change was real - profits must come before science. Despite their knowledge they continued to fund climate-denying groups to muddy the waters, putting short-term profits above their own grandchildren and the rest of us. This is serious dsyfunction and the kind of economics that we allow to rule at our peril.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

20/20 Insight

Every now and again in our grand world history, magnetic personalities have had insights so stirring they just had to try to share. These sharings sometimes resonated broadly and created movements based on the master's teachings, as they understood, or misunderstood, them. The truth shall make you free, for example. MLK said it, not sure where he got it, Jesus? Dunno. This example so begs elaboration that all kinds of factions can get behind it. The truth for some is Jesus... or Yaweh, or Mohammad, Buddha and on through all the variations, usually blossuming out of some monumentally charismatic guy (few women... why's that?). His bad days may have produced grumpy proverbs and his disciples, not perhaps as enlightened, took literally what the poet meant as metaphor, maybe even making a few edits here and there to express some prejudice that they were sure the master must have overlooked.

The obvious question regarding this insight is, what is truth, what did all the prophets mean by that? And how will it make you free? Was Dale Carnegie onto the answer with his self-hypnotic hyper confidence? How to win friends and influence people... that strategy represents the material answer. The uses of friends and influence is in how much stuff it allows you to accumulate... and keep, so you can be “happy”, free of want, envied, fixed for life.

The interpretation that makes sense to me, since we all know by now, except perhaps the Koch brothers, the Walmart family and their minions (in the millions, hell, maybe billions), materialism beyond a point becomes meaningless. The “truth” in this view would be the eternal interconnection beneath the transient, passing illusion, out of which it manifests. Once one feels that interconnection, that truth (the point of meditation), one is free of the terror created by the illusion of separation. This is the insight the great mystics have tried to pass on.

I've been looking at some insights of another sort, writers that impress me with their analytic and literate skills, applying them to that area within the illusion called justice. The above view would claim that peace and justice comes out of enlightenment. When we are enlightened our behavior is consequently just, fair, compassionate. We don't need a check list. The writers I'm thinking of here, Parenti, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, see that desired state as not so automatic but something one must work at, overcoming dysfunctional received wisdom, educating others and organizing mass action.

Michael Parenti's Blackshirts and Reds takes a look at Fascism and Communism. He challenges the reader to rise above orthodoxy and examine the significant differences between the nouns in his title. Fascism he would argue, serves the existing elite, distracting the populace with patriotic fanfare, the cult of the great leader, light entertainment and, for those who don't buy in, who insist on another vision involving more sharing, why there are prisons, torture, execution and war. The intent is to serve the wealthy (and for the leadership to join them of course).

The intent of communism is (was) to create an egalitarian society where poverty, class and exploitation are non-existent, where food, clothing, shelter, education, health care are available for all. In actually existing or late communism (Parenti is writing in 1997) there is much to criticise and capitalism has spent a lot of energy doing just that. This effort been very successful at equating the word with the gulag and further attempting to associate their demonized version also with socialism. The word is so loaded that Donald Trump hurls it, socialist/communist! at Bernie Sanders to discredit the presidential candidate. There'll be more to come no doubt. Greed does not like limits. Those most successful in the greed game are anxious to stomp out all notions of fairness and sharing. This, at root, is their objection to communism and socialism but of course they can't say this out loud so they focus on issues such as secret police brutality and long bread lines, all the while doing what they can to force feed these attributes, like the arms race - remember the Reaganites boasting about “winning the cold war” by spending the USSR into bankruptcy? After the Russian revolution the U.S. and Britain sent troops to support those opposing the so-called Bolsheviks. This might produce a little paranoia. Similarly the monarchies around France rallied to defeat the French Revolution, fearing as always the falling dominoes.

Parenti argues that capitalist criticism has been dishonest, inflating numbers of purged, murdered and imprisoned citizens and burying the positive aspects. He isn't an apologist for he offers a scathing critique of the many problems of that experiment, laying out numerous instances of why it didn't work, not least outside meddling. He also adds that Soviet citizens took for granted what they had, thinking they were going to move into a U.S. style consumer paradise with the fall of communism. Many, very many, came to yearn for the days when they had guaranteed jobs, housing, medical care and education. Parenti claims 20% of the Russian population were “desperate for food and shelter in the new gangster-ridden capitalist paradise.” Even when communists have been elected in the aftermath of the ruthless theft of state property, power now resided with the oligarchy in control of the police, army and resources of the country. It reminds me of the U.S. union workers who supported the government against those who were questioning its values, as expressed in Vietnam and elsewhere, only to be systematically betrayed later, once the ground work had been laid for the counter revolution. The U.S. oligarchy nursed its grievances over the Roosevelt New Deal, biding its time until finally hiring Ronald Reagan to begin the serious business of roll-back. They will not easily give up what they have gained, neither in Russia and its former satellites, nor here.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Doctor Was Smiling but the News Wasn't Good

Paul Simon wrote that line. It fits the paralyzing disequilibrium that took me over as I was handed a game-changing diagnosis of tonsil cancer. I wrote the following note on the subway home for the worst case scenario. Fortunately it has proved, like Twain's rumors of death, to be premature.

This is that maudlin letter you dread from someone who
believes you would actually
maybe like to have a farewell note:
If you get this I have navigated a dark corridor
descended slippery stairs
to black water's edge
stepped into and pushed off waiting skiff
infinite night.

This calamity came upon me too unexpected and sudden to complete a proper memoir - you may be relieved but really, it would have been a good read. I'm not about to allow a newspaper to relieve my heirs of $900 for an obituary so please pass on this news to whom it may concern.

November 18, 2014

Lucy died this year of cancer – I saw her on Friday, she died Monday. Her husband Dick is fighting it as well, Wayne Klein, Ed Arnold, Herb Greecy, Stan Sharshall, Mildred Thompson, John Fenton, Tom Wells, all tucked into mortal coils of that awful finality. Donna has colon cancer, Genevieve Arnold died, Don Welch died, my Father died, his sister Murph and her daughter Phylis died, David had it, Lori died last year, Diane has it... according to John Robbins, these United States have the highest cancer rates on the planet, attributable in large measure, to the outlandish influence corporations have on state and federal legislators.

So with this ominous background... In June I noticed what felt like a hair in the back of my throat. I dismissed it as a new twist in my usual spring allergies. Months later I flipped on a flashlight for a look at my throat. I was appalled to see a prominent, gross growth hanging back there. I called my dental hygienist, asking if she had noticed. She asked me to come in. They thought it was tonsil with some kind of growth on it. Wouldn't be overly concerned but do have it looked at. Made an appointment with Dr. Turton to get an insurance-required referral which took about two weeks, and one week later a cancellation got me in Tuesday November 18th.

Dr. Moore said, “Open,” and immediately, “It looks like cancer.”... referred me to Dr. Patel, more waiting. Assistants Kelly and Martha called me in, examined with a mini-camera - I could see the monitor, looking at the tonsil and then down the nasal cavity (didn't hurt as I expected but was certainly uncomfortable), macabre objectivity to see the throat, the opening/closing flap as she asked me to stick out my tongue or say ah... she was quite sure, it's cancer, … in comes Dr. Patal, after one quick look says, “I'm 90% certain, a tumor - squamous cell carcinoma.” T2 (size) ... 70% of those so diagnosed are still alive 5 years later (very good odds for cancer he kindly says but I am in shock).

Options – after biopsy confirms: surgery - if this happens it means less radiation/chemo, daily for maybe 2 weeks? All this needs clarifying. Total treatment 6 weeks from start which is after meetings to agree on strategy - “team” approach … Patel and Martha attempted to be supportive, kind, empathetic, Kelly a more distant technician. If nothing is done: 3 months? 1 year? Unknown time-frame but the disease will grow, “explode” and take my life!!! Results of biopsy in 2-3 days... from there meetings begin and treatment, hopefully over by January and it doesn't exhaust our savings.

Side-effects: no hair loss but beard will fall out – weird, and weight loss but strategy to maintain, even a stomach feeding tube insertion as eating may become difficult (lack of appetite, sores in throat). Will also need physical therapy if surgery, if you don't use'em you lose'em (muscles)... sounds like maybe a rough road coming up. Patel stared sympathetically at me, giving me the opportunity to emote, and asked how I feel... I was sort of at a loss but finally said, well, it's bad news but ce la vie.... pause....what's next? Now, 3 hours after being hit with this, I'm assuming a 6 week treatment then back to status quo, maybe a healing time. But they did say 70% not 100% so anything can happen. This of course awaits us all, death I mean, but as I told the dentist, NOT YET!

I keep wondering who to brief on this, no one but Cyndia my first reaction but then have second thoughts. I'll just mull it over. It was hard to tell her that night, and hard for her to hear it.

Day 2.

The content of my mind-chatter of course heavily involves this unwelcome development but when I get into the now all that worry dissipates, I don't have a problem NOW and yes there are things to do but worrying, when I catch myself I try to become the observer... when I'm successful it dissipates and I'm ok... I tell myself that i'm going to go through a rough patch with some chance of being among the 30% non-survivors... after all, I can't expect much more than 20 more years anyway, hell, 15 according to social security guidelines... it comes sooner or later, I tell myself... helps some though the nagging fear returns.

Dentist called, encouraging, supportive... Clyde thinks they might be worried about being sued as it seems they should have spotted this, was so obvious when I looked with a flashlight... but i'm not interested in that... I could have looked much sooner too. I'm going to deal with what's before me. The hygenist asked if I'd goodsearched it but I said I was working on my memoir... she took that as fatalistic but that's my current project. She said radiation dries the mouth and saliva protects teeth so that's a side-effect to look into, see if anything can be done. Also supported the surgery-first direction if optional since it would decrease the amount of chemo/radiation.

Day 3.

Reminding myself to goodsearch squamous cell carcinoma... notified Betsy, asking legal advice, Glenn due to anti-nuke obligations... went to probably my last Wednesday music jam for awhile... didn't mention the Cancer - was pretty good jam, Emma and Stephanie have been coming and their singing is fine. Actually did one of mine, The Patriot,... did a Band song … it didn't have chords so I just sang and that felt pretty good... the disease would intrude occasionally in my consciousness but not overly, more toward the end when Todd, John and I were just chatting. As it turns out the treatment schedule was not as imminent as I expected so continuing to attend jams... went to jams at Mark's too... great fun... Mark and I went until 3:30 a.m.

During the night I wake preoccupied with it, fear... I take a breath, focus on that... seems a reliable way to dismiss the fear, transpose it into presence... some of it is telling myself that story, yes, going to go through a rocky patch here but 70% chance... like going in for a crown, more intense and serious (and expensive) but still, just a procedure... the main thing is switching from being fearful to observing the fear, usually a discomfort (pain) in chest and scary thoughts... observing, when I think to do it, usually dissipates or transposes.

Brother Dusty called last night, had a good talk. He sent a great snow photo. He also has a positive biopsy for prostrate cancer but confused by multiple negatives so they're just keeping an eye on it. Maureen, Steve and Gus all sent supportive missives, Steve mentioning Jimmer's completion of chemo and being ok – that was good to hear, that it can actually work. Willeye had a clever response also as did good ol' Joe, made me drop a tear... went to Sandler Hudson Gallery today, inquiring into stored piece. Debbie said she'd get it later and I said I wouldn't be available until mid-January, she asked where I'm going and I sheepishly told her, tearing up.

Day 4.

Disturbed sleep, trying to be the observer but not as effective as yesterday... fantasies and dreams not direct but obvious manifestations of worry. A 9 a.m. phone call scheduled a petCT scan for Dec. 4... I had forgotten they wanted to do those scans, head and full body so that must mean waiting those results before treatment. Next week is Thanksgiving so nothing prolly will happen then. I like having more time yet wonder whether the C. can be spreading....? I'm turning this over to the experts and getting advice from various people on second opinions, alternative treatment or accompanying traditional with alternative... Simpson Oil, derivative of pot... miracle drug according to niece Lisa... book recommendations from Glenn and Kevin... I keep thinking if the 70% is to be believed then to try some untested alternative, “snake oil” or not, would be fool hardy – it may actually be what it claims but I'm as yet unconvinced, not inclined to take that route. Most of the time i'm ok, much of the time doing something, like the memoir, music or running errands – but stabs of fear occasionally intrude and I remember, I have cancer... OMIGOD! Try to be the observer, dissipate it... stick to that strategy, like the song says, whenever you think to, take a breath, let it out.... here you are.

Dusty called just after I got the appointment... he was walking the dog and says it was cold cold and snowy, said he turned back toward home and now he's walking into the wind... brrrrr!... makes ya wanna move … weeks of below zero weather... he said maybe the Dec. 4 appointment is a good sign, no need for urgency. I said I'd put it in that column... but I actually don't know. Sister Gus called this evening... told a few jokes.

Day 5.

Sleeping better in terms of anxiety... it comes but is quickly met by awareness, being the observer. Watched a Tolle clip this a.m. where he equates ego with the unobserved mind. That's a slightly new twist to me. It's true that when i'm thinking about something I'm totally there (not here), like I was walking in the cemetery aware of being isolated, had a fantasy of a mugging and well into it realized/awoke from it... so it was only afterwards that I was aware and observant... during the fantasy I was “out”... unobservant, occupied by ego, unconscious... as Tolle says, keep NOW in the background.

Decided to create a list to send updates, asking people not to call me because my throat needs rest... tender from the biopsy... I don't like repeating this story over and over to people is another reason. I'm always more comfortable writing an email than speaking on the telephone... my preference... shyness part of that.

Day 6 - 11

Some impatience today (and yesterday)... panic attacks in the evening watching a movie then reading a disturbing book, Dog Soldiers... switched to some pleasant stories by James Herriot but even then mild panic attacks which is to say, fear not easily overcome with the observer. Wondering about the delay in treatment... are these folks on top of it? Cyndia on vacation this week but suffering a cold, maybe exhaustion, needs rest. Nug (me dog) has an engorged tick, tried to get it with tweezers but he got upset. Turns out not a tick - we have twin tumors, his quickly and expensively removed. Pretty much otherwise just awaiting the scan... Daniel (son-in-law, M.D.) dropped over this a.m. Had breakfast and I laid it out for him. The anxiety comes, as it has, in varying degrees of intensity, and I meet it with varying degrees of success but generally pretty well.

Day 12, - 16.

12/1 I called in late afternoon, Kelly confirming malignancy, saying Dr. Patel is talking about robotic surgery, probably early January. Wednesday next, 12/10, staff meeting after which, Thursday?, meeting or call with me to lay out strategy, answer questions etc; I was told 2-3 days for biopsy results but it was two weeks or more and I had to inquire. A glitch in their professionalism.
Folks from music, Kathy, Mark, Judy now aware of and supportive, Mark gave me a bottle of broccoli tablets which enhance synapses (?), Glenn recommended book Refuge and Love, Medicine & Miracles, Kevin book Opus 21 about someone with same kind of cancer, Dr. Ron there at the right moment more than once with the right suggestion, Janet recommending Chi Chong with testimonial that docs had given up on a patient who completely recovered with Chi and is envisioning healing, sister Patty has her group praying for me... all miracles welcome!, I say. Tolle is my reality-based strategy. Wing says studies have shown envisioning has a measurable effect. I like to think presence produces the same.

OK, so it goes on, day after day into the new year and all the way to summer 2015, thirty eight pages, so far. Early December I had a full body scan which showed spreading to one lymph node. This shifted treatment, ruling out surgery in favor of seven weeks of radiation with three chemo sessions over that period. December 23 I had the tube inserted, a procedure I expected was in-office but I was wheeled into the operating room just as I went under from the anesthetic and spent the night in hospital. My daughter happened to come to town that day so she and Cyndia visited. They said the room was really hot but I was shivvering, seeking more blankets. When it was explained to me what the procedure was I was grateful not to have been there for it.

They inserted a tube down my throat and could somehow locate it from outside, cut an opening just the right size, passed the tube out to the point where it was mushroomed and thus more or less held in place. Features to allow pouring and plugging were added and voila! Good to go. But very creepy. The first few weeks it was sensitive, I had to hold it against my body to keep it from bouncing as I walked but by the end of treatment I was hardly aware of it. Removal in April, however welcome, was painful – a burly orderly had to work pretty hard but he finally pulled it out, by hand. The mushrooming end had to be forced out through the smaller opening. Ouch! The feeding tube's function is as backup should treatment produce side-effects that preclude normal eating. It proved in my case to be a necessary supplement though I was never completely unable to eat.

Another pre-treatment item was a visit to the dentist. I was led to believe that there was a good chance I'd need some extractions because once treatment began there couldn't be any side issues. It was with great relief that my dentist pronounced extraction unnecessary. They fit me for “plates”, molds of my teeth into which I needed to insert a protective paste each night. Radiation/Chemo affect such that the part of saliva that protects teeth from decay is severely reduced. What saliva remains is very thick. Doing these plates each night turned out to be one of the most tedious aspects of a very tedious, sometimes painful regimen. Maybe because it was at the end of the day when I did it, exhausted usually. The dentist expected me to keep the plates on all night. I quickly discarded that idea, taking my chances. The paste was mildly distasteful and as treatment progressed it became ever more so, to the point of gagging. In fact I got to where I couldn't floss or brush, so susceptible did I become to gagging with the least attempt. Dentist was pleased, and so was I, to pronounce the ol' teeth in good shape later in May.

One last weekend before treatment began 1/6/15, and I was cautioned not to “party” since I'd need all the energy I had to meet this ordeal. I did attend a music jam, the last one for me of a regularly scheduled gathering until I cautiously felt up to it again in late April. I went in for the first day, had bloodwork and while awaiting results got the first radiation, about forty minutes (subsequent sessions ran about twenty minutes). Then in for the first chemo, a seven hour ordeal. Attached to an IV on wheels that allowed mobility, highly necessary as frequent urgent urination was definitely part of the deal. Fortunately chemo has evolved to where an anti-nausea substance is part of the “cocktail”. Anti-nausea pills were also available for the following days. This proved necessary only a few times over the three chemo sessions. At first I could read during infusion and I got as far from the ubiquitous and annoying television as possible. In later sessions I could only sit there lethargically, completely drained, dependent on friends and neighbors for transport. For the radiation I was fitted with a mask marked for the technician and strapped to the platform to hold me in place during “zapping”.

Cancer cells divide more frequently than healthy cells. This allows repeated radation sessions to kill more cancer cells than other cells, for they are only vulnerable when dividing. You lose healthy cells too, thus the side effects. The seven weeks of treatment has become standard for throat cancer, to get all the cancer without killing you. But it seems to come close, I can testify.

I concluded after awhile that everything I needed to know was offered up by the staff or in the hand-outs but the emphasis was lacking that I needed. They repeated as a mantra - hydration, nutrition, hyegeine, very important to attend to all three. The side-effects though, produced changes such that even ice cream tasted terrible. At first I just couldn't eat properly and soon I was experiencing the results. Psychologically this meant awful dreams, nightmares, despair, pessimism, suicidal fantasies. I thought of giving up, withdrawing from treatment and clearing up my “estate”. I ran this by Dr. Saba, the oncologist whose emphatic response re-ignited my survival instinct. “So your food tastes like cardboard, eat it anyway. This is your one shot.” That week I noticed blood in my urine and reported it. Bloodwork revealed a severe potassium deficiency. So I sat with the IV once again, seven hours. But the next day I felt re-energized, realizing the obvious, that mood, how you feel, is highly affected by what you eat, or don't eat.

This was the first of several crises during treatment. The next was when I became so constipated, no BM for over a week. Doctor Beitler, the radiologist, recommended a laxative called Senna, failing to mention that it's important not to use it too much, to avoid developing dependency. The bottle had a warning on it however. Also he suggested a softener. Doctor Saba recommended Pepto Bismal, a gentler, more natural product. I tried the softeners, no luck. Senna was next, no luck, even doubling the dose. Adding pepto bismal and drinking some apple juice seemed to do it. In fact it over-did it. Now I had the opposite problem.

Normal things, like listening to Garrison Keillor while cooking, or looking at a movie, were becoming high irritants. After fleeing a movie Cyndia was watching, The Hobbit, I climbed into bed, very discouraged, fearful, feeling once again like I couldn't deal with this stuff. The Tolle ideas that had helped earlier with anxiety weren't up to meeting this challenge. But lying there I realized, I can't just passively accept this deterioration. I got up and ate a whole banana, hard as it was to eat anything, knowing that bananas tend to produce constipation – it worked, the diarhea was almost immediately gone. My spirits lifted along with it. To an extent. All through treatment I had disturbing dreams and dream scenarios where I was doing repetitious, meaningless acts as though it were super important that I keep repeating them. Every hour, sometimes more frequently, I had to get up to pee. I would get into bed and say, OK, I'm warm (it was winter), I'm comfortable, now rest. This despite fits of coughing sometimes, very sore and sensitive throat and tongue, “sunburned” neck, beard loss, hair coming out in clumps (though I didn't completely lose head hair). I had to shave to be fit for the mask and it didn't grow back for months. Still have no hair under my arms and the beard is skimpy.

A throat specialist coached me to do daily exercises. She said that side effects can produce an inability to swallow properly, getting fluid into the lungs and risking pneumonia. White fungus-like accumulations grew in my mouth and throat and there was frequent rinsing and gargling necessary to keep this at bay. At first I tried to keep up my regular routine, songwriting, blogwriting, political cartooning, reading but gradually it became a full-time job, doing the hydration, nutrition and hygeine, along with rest. I could hardly speak toward the end and had to limit conversation, avoiding answering the telephone, relying on email – and of course it was just then that my email program crashed and I had to rely on a very clumsy alternative. The kindness and concern of friends and relatives astounded me during this period. I appreciated this but also, in the worst periods, avoided as much as possible contact with other folks. Because I just had no energy for it and also because I was worried about exposure, with my lowered defenses, to colds and flu etc; Somehow, fortunately, I avoided all that. I was determined, while I could, to take Marta into treatment. One day I saw a woman carrying an infant rush over to a trash can and throw up. I carefully avoided her and others on the train who could pass on their ailments. Eventually a pre-arranged list of my neighbors took turns transporting me to treatment, as I became so weak I couldn't do the walk nor driving myself.

I doubt that I've communicated the enormity of my nightmare, now mostly passed. Anxiety, fear, dread psychologically, along with physical discomfort, stress and pain. And I'm of course not alone. When I would sign in for treatment in the morning there were others waiting ahead of me, and soon behind me, a steady uninterrupted stream, all day. Some holding up better than others but all affected, worn down, sometimes to extreme fatigue. One day one person was on a gurny awaiting transport to hospital and this seemed hanging over all of us if we slacked off in our regimen. We were told that it really hits the third week and gets worse right up and beyond the last treatment (where you were awarded your mask as a mark of completion). This I can attest, was absolutely true. The staff, doctors, nurses, technicians, were all fabulous, nurturing and empathetic, coaching and encouraging all with a good natured humor. The chemo team rang a bell for my last treatment and insisted I do a little dance. I felt in good hands from day one. Of course they're not gods, they make mistakes, have bad days and there are often long waits for brief meetings, lots of picking and sticking, bloodtests, throat tests, scans, the rigorous treatment, depression and fickle weather, parking, transportation malfunctions... all often a trial. But it sure feels good to come out the other end alive.

Through a non-profit called 4th Angel I was assigned a mentor who had been through the same treatment I was about to undergo. Mike was an incredibly articulate guide who helped me navigate. His emails always cheered me up and helped me keep in mind that this too shall pass. I naively expected maybe two weeks of recovery after treatment ended February 27. Mike cast serious doubt on this estimate. By late April I began to attend music jams again but had to leave earlier than previously. My voice was easily strained but as it came back I noticed that it was now a step lower in register and, as others would comment, sounds amplified compared to before. I need an afternoon nap most days. My endurance is less but improving. In late May it was a grand thing to hear Dr. Patal say, “You don't know how good it makes me feel to tell you that your scan results show zero cancer.” I am apparently one of those susceptible to this viral form of cancer. I asked him whether, since I'm susceptible, isn't there a high chance I'll get it again. He said, “Very unlikely.” I suppose the incubation period is longer than I probably have left to live.
It took the longest time for the pain in my throat and tongue to clear up, still not 100%. That and taste are the lingering issues. It isn't that I can't taste food, it's that so much tastes really bad and the slightest seasoning puts fire to my tongue. For a long time I could only eat bland hot breakfast cereals. For some reason I could tolerate, even enjoy, cheese grits all through. Now anything cheesy, potatoey is good. I've had pesto and quiche to good effect recently, even pizza. Over the past two months I've seen great changes where a little salt was firey to where today I had some salted almonds and they were fine, some onion on a veggie hot dog. Soon I might be back to the wonderful jalapeno. But food invariably disappoints me, looking like what it is but never living up. I was told that I could lose as much as 20% of my taste permanently. We shall see. I'm interested in coffee once again and it is almost as it used to be. Maybe this is an opportunity to rethink some food choices. I'm vegetarian but still eat dairy and sugar. I've lost nearly forty pounds, something I could never seem to do under my own volition and I am determined not to backslide. I can drink a little wine if I water it down. And until my eating is closer to normal I'm still supplementing with energy drinks leaving me those, water and coffee, so far, as the only thing I can really drink. With this gradual return to normalacy (near-normalacy), I expect my harsh ordeal of the first half of 2015 will fade into its measured place, with everything else, in the great field of being – insignificance.

Monday, January 26, 2015

House of Outrageous Fortune, Michael Gross, a review

This is a book about the 1%, the billionaires, or some of them, who can pay $50 million for a condo they use a couple weeks a year while otherwise camped in one of their other lavish homes. Mitt Romney accused ordinary people of feelings of entitlement when they expect social security and medicare but Mitt was playing to his audience, the true practitioners of entitlement. But this is not a political book. The wall street protests are mentioned in passing but its focus is the acquisition of Fifteen Central Park West property, the construction of the outstanding structure and the selling of its units to the aristocracy of money. That oligarchy ranges from celebrities like Sting and Denzel Washington, Wall Street tycoons, rags to riches immigrant billionaires, heirs, Saudi Royalty, Jewish entrepreneurs and foreigners seeking a stable place to flee should their little dictatorship fall apart. Mini-bios of the developers, bankers, architects and many purchasers occupies a fair part of the book.

To demonstrate that this project cost some money and byzantine maneuvering, a section on the wheeling and dealing necessary to get the land and city permits, financial backing and partners in place is narrated. A sub-story of the last three hold-outs at the Mayflower Hotel, which sat on the otherwise empty lots, is included where two were given a million dollars each to vacate and the third held out long enough to be offered and finally accept $17 million. This is not just heady, this is stratospheric financial opera.

Whenever I encounter splendid architecture, whether the Parthenon or 15CPW, my response is always twofold: first admiration and then lament that the same energy could have gone into social justice. There was never any danger of that here. One of the billionaire occupants switched his allegiance from Democrat to Republican before 2008 over the single issue that Obama was calling for some minor regulation of the market rules. I express this over and over again, my befuddlement over people who have more money than they can ever spend worrying themselves crazy over a little tax, or a simple regulation designed to protect investors from predators. The idea that they are driven, at root, by fear takes on credibility in the face of such irrational behavior.

The architect, Robert A.M. Stern, modestly claims that city code created the building, requiring the lower “house” on the park and the tower behind. But it was the developers, brothers Arthur and Will Zeckendorf who backed to the hilt the architect's insistence on the expensive Indiana white limestone against the bean counters at Goldman Sachs, the chief financiers. Much ink is spent on the developers and their family history, descendents of famous developer “Big Bill” Zeckendorf, who went bust in his endless juggling of projects, meshing, or not, with economic trade winds. Bust of course doesn't mean penury for the super rich. Their father too went belly up when his ambitious plans met the wrong economic trade winds. The brothers thus developed cautiously yet with a persistence and ambition that, so far, has served them well. The profits on Fifteen Central Park West are enormous, the price-per-square-foot reaching unprecedented numbers, $10,000 and rising. One penthouse apartment went for $80 million. The term “flipping” is where purchasers sell their units. No one re-sold and less than doubled their investment. Some “flipped” without even moving in. One $9 million unit sold two years later for $29 million. The buildings cachet almost guarantees a never-ending value increase.

There are some smaller units but most occupy half a floor with many purchasers buying a “duplex”, meaning the whole floor. Then there are the penthouses on top of the House and tower, situated such and so expensively that one could claim, credibly, to be living on top of the world. Imagine spending millions on a brand new “apartment” then gutting it for redesign. Many did. The cartoonist Lurie for example ripped out all the walls and replaced them with glass so upon entering one has an immediate panorama view of the park and skyline. One of the tenants has signed the Gates/Buffet pledge to leave money to charity. Another sold his unit, pledging the profit to subsidize anti-poverty work in New York. Still another called for reinstatement of the Glass Steagle Act, the man who more than anyone else, was responsible for its repeal. So there is some conscience at Fifteen Central Park West, or guilt, but mostly it seems to be occupied by those who look through the reverse telescope, the distorting lens of Mitt Romney. But hey, they're pretty nice people once you get to know them, if you can afford the proximity.