Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Occupying My Armchair

Just want to say a few things from the comfort of my home which won't make any sense shouted in the streets. I think two forces are at work in bringing the insane brutality perpetrated by the OPD and surrounding agencies last night. Look at the national news reports and you hear, verbatim, the "sanitation and threat of violence" excuse popping up all over the place: Georgia, San Francisco, New York... This rhetoric, and the tactic it purports, are being perpetuated, and likely created, from deep behind the scenes. Mayor Quan just admitted that she had little to do with the planning of these actions, and was only informed of them after they had been decided.

But that dynamic, where (soon to be ex-) Mayor Quan can't even participate in decision-making about a police action of this scale (assuming we can even believe this latest garbage statement out of her office) is a uniquely Oakland predicament. One the one hand, the protest of police brutality going back to the late 60's has institutionalized itself to a power base which Quan knows she cannot ignore. They essentially choreographed her isolation of former Chief Batts (can I just say, though I'm no fan of the guy, I can't imagine him conducting the OPD as poorly as his recent successor has. For whatever that's worth). On the other hand, Quan's gutting of several local programs merely to put another dozen cops on the streets, proves that she is desperately seeking the ascent of the OPD to her current young administration. Thus, with neither credibility nor authority, she was forced to let a deputy "make the call", which essentially meant giving OPD carte blanch to turn this into their fantasy of urban warfare. They even managed to shoot a soldier in the head- too bad it was a former US soldier.

So much for "the police are part of the 99%". The police would shoot the officer next to them if they smelled blood.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Post-30 Post

Some of my friends are in far away countries. Some are in different states. Some have jobs. Some have mysterious income sources. Some are musicians not playing gigs. Some are musicians playing jive ass gigs. Some are musicians making good music. Some are poets not writing books. Some are poets writing jive ass blog posts. Some are poets writing good books. I don't have any friends in fiction. All my friends are in fact friends, unless you count the ones who I just kind of know, and I don't know what they say about me behind my back. I don't want to know what my actual or former friends say about me behind my back.

Some of my friends have babies. Some of my friends are expecting to have babies. Some of my friends' wives or husbands or others' are expecting to have babies only to find out their counterpart is not. Some of the babies are expecting to be picked up and held when they cry. Some of my friends have dogs. I ignore the fact that some of my friends have cats (and I don't visit them).

Some of my friends rent in the area. Some of my friends move away because of the rent. Some of my friends have bought houses during the bust. Some are still looking for a busted house to buy. Some of my friends are embarking on careers. Some are in the middle of switching jobs for the nth time. Some of my friends are doing what they set out to do. Some don't remember what that was. Some of my friends take the drugs they took in college when they get together with their college friends. Some hang out until 9pm and then slink off to go to bed. Some of my friends lead enviable lives from the outside. Some of them lead lives that are impenetrable. Some of my friends lead lives that seem unsustainable for years and now decades. Thankfully, none of my friends has died.

Some summers I would curse my blue collar fate for the want of all the laziness and carousing I was missing, but I can't really trade in what I have now because some days past I hung out with some group of people and we all became each other at different times and here we are as the trace of whatever wasn't transient about those forms.

Monday, March 14, 2011

3 Photos

Saturday, March 12, 2011

on having a kid for real

Not a narrative about our baby's birth:

-At 7:53 the night of March 9th, 2011, Reginald Carter Westbrook emerged into the world. He weighed 8 pounds, 14 ounces, was 21.5 inches in length and his head had a circumference of 14 inches. These facts proved difficult for his mother, Corinne Humphrey Belew (Cori), but she was extraordinarily herself throughout.
-He was born one day before his Uncle, my brother, Lucas Francis Westbrook. (aka Uncle Luke).
- A family friend, Charles Ragen, my Father and their Chinese business associates came up with a transliteration of "Reginald" in written Chinese: Thunder Child, or Thunder Bean, depending on how literal one wants to read.
-25 hours and fifty-three minutes after Reginald's birth, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck the east coast of Honshu Japan. As I write this, millions of people are struggling with the aftermath of the quake, the aftershocks, and the tsunamis which followed. These facts are beyond our comprehension.
-We have seen 13 nurses at Alta-Bates Summit Hospital in Berkeley, California where Reggie was born. The vast majority of them have been extraordinarily caring and skilled. It's hard to express the feeling of being so indebted to, and intimately involved with, people you've never met.
-Reggie seems to like movement, jazz standards, Sam Cooke and his mother. He seems to dislike sudden change, having his diaper changed and whatever he sees every time he opens his eyes.
-Merconium is a phenomenon. Our nurse dooped me into changing his first diaper. That was some shit, yo!
-This is as close as I'll get to a horoscope reading for young Reggie:

On the date of his birth in the Gregorian Calendar, the following also occurred:
-Ornette Coleman was born.
-Samuel Barber was born.
-Chingy was born.
-C-Murder was born.

-Charles Bukowski died.
-George Burns died.
-Stan Brakhage died.
-Robert Mapplethorpe died.
-Bobby Fischer died.
-Notoriou B.I.G. was murdered.
-David Rizzio (Queen Mary of Scots' Italian Secretary) was murdered.

-Emperor Wu of Han assumed the throne.
- Teacher's Day (Eid Al Maolim) in Lebanon is celebrated.
- The U.S. Supreme Court rules the case of the revolt on the slave ship Amistad in the favor of the captive Africans.

-On the actual day of his birth, Hugh Martin the composer of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", died in -Encinitas, Ca., which is the next town over to one of Cori's childhood homes.
-On the actual day of his birth, the space shuttle Discovery made its final landing.

- On the date of Cori's birth Philipino poet Vincente Sotto was born, Albert Einstien died, and Paul Revere rode through the streets of Boston.
- On the date of Dillon's birth Duke Ellington was born, Ludwig Wittgenstein died and Roger Clemens set the single game strikeout record at 20.

-Some babies are small. Some babies are large. Some babies are squat. Some babies are long. Some babies are large headed. Some babies are small headed. Some pelvises are Gynecoid. Some pelvises are Anthropoid. Some pelvises are Android. Some pelvises are Platypoid. These facts, in the way they become actual, will determine how your labor progresses. These facts cannot be known ahead of time (despite what anyone may tell you to the contrary).
-As you make decisions upon the assumption of these facts, you are deciding in the dark. Every decision you make will give birth to counter-factuals which will haunt you like ghosts. We are lucky in that all our ghosts are worse than those facts which attained reality. Our hearts go out to those whose ghosts are better.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

on having a kid

Maybe this will post will both explain and end the drought of posts here. This is the only piece of writing I've done in 8-12 months. I wrote this in response to a query from Sean Manzano. I don't think he's going to publish it after all, so I'm finally putting it up here. You can tell from the Ecuador reference that this is old news- the question now is what is about to go down in Libya, when el Presidente Estados Unidos is calling for ouster (notice this is the only nation so far for which he's said that). Also, as of this morning, still no baby, for those keeping track...

I had stated repeatedly and for years that I would never have children, to family, to friends and to the woman who would become my wife. That woman merely rolled her eyes or ignored me, because she knew that she would have children and, after some time, she knew that she wanted those children to be mine. The first of them, a son, is due as of this writing in late February of 2011, a little over 10 years from the inauguration of George W. Bush, the election of Ariel Sharon and the creation of Wikipedia, my source for much of what follows.

When I taught briefly in 2006/2007 at the University of California Santa Cruz, a class of freshmen, I had the chilling realization that my students were in middle school, were not yet adults, when the West Wing of the Pentagon, the two towers of the World Trade Center, four airplanes, a swath of grass in Skanksville Pennsylvania and 2,996 human lives were destroyed. Which is to say they have not had a moment of their adult lives when they didn’t live in a country that was openly engaged in a perpetual war. The elementary school kids my wife began teaching around the same time were toddlers on that infamous date, and her latest classes had not yet been born. Some 40 million children have been born since 9/11/01 in the U.S. alone. This disproves one of my initial arguments, that ‘you can’t have American babies in the post-9/11 world’. In fact, you can, millions have and so soon will we.

The counter-argument I heard often, that ‘you, Dillon Westbrook, an educated, left-leaning, rational and moral person in a world of jingoism, profiteering and war-mongering must have babies, if only to counter-act the direction this country, the center of power in the world, is headed’- that argument is disproven I think as well by all these births, for the simple reason that a baby is not an argument for or against perpetual war. Neither babies nor wars are rational, and arguments are. Arguments are what we would be having if we, meaning the royal We of nations as singular agents, were rational- wars and babies are what we have instead.

Not only the core premise of the counter-argument is disproven, but the details as well. An educated, left-leaning, rational and moral person took the presidency of the U.S. in January of 2009, and he is bombing civilians in Pakistan from drone airplanes. In the interim, the U.S. ceased to be the center of power in the world. Now there is no center of power, or the center of power is in flux, in part because China had so many more babies, i.e. produced so much more capital, even when they tried rational schemes to limit those babies. The OPEC nations used to be our friendly petro-dealers, thanks in large part to George the Senior, and now they are a mass of feuding cousins whose allegiances we can’t predict or understand. Africa used to be a continent we could either ignore or stifle with charity, and now China is trying to turn Africa into its own petrol-and-mineral-dealer. Not surprisingly, neither China nor Africa wants to hear from an aging pimp like Uncle Sam: ‘just shut up and enjoy your iPad, grandpa- leave the economic expansion to us.’

But this too could shift, because wars and babies are what we have now instead of centers of power. Maybe that’s all we ever had. I’ve read that 1 in 200 men share a nearly identical Y chromosome, likely brought on by their sharing a direct, though distant, male progenitor- Genghis Khan. Khan was known to roll into town, line up all the men and execute them, then line up all the women and rape them. Now, some 800 years later, the babies are all that survived the war. The war is all that survived the historical record. Who knows what was going on in those towns before Genghis Khan showed up. They could have been educated, left-leaning, rational and moral people- lot of good it did them. If you read too much history, which I don’t, you can start to see why folks get caught up in starting another war- it becomes synonymous with all human activity, and people want to be known for doing something.

On the daily, though, what we do is hump economic hod up the scaffold. It keeps us distracted, because it doesn’t look anything like the war out there, in a mass of fueled-up vehicles pulsing towards destinations, Retail, Tech, Construction, Customer Service. You can tell from the statistics that the war never distracted us much from baby-making, 2007 had a surge in Iraq and on the homefront, with a record 4.3 million U.S. births. But a little dip in the road economically and we fall off by 2% in 2008 and beyond. If the lady and I had bought our house, married and conceived in 2005/2006, the grimmest years of the war, instead of 2009/2010, the grimmest years in the U.S. economy, friends and family would have applauded our timing, instead of questioning our sanity. Back then I was arguing about how another U.S. consumer was tantamount to a civilian death, or maybe ten civilian deaths, in Iraq or Afghanistan. But that’s not a rational argument. The unstable housing and job markets are “reasons” to hold off on the baby front. Wait another year until things pick up before committing to the $100,000+ liability that is a middle class U.S. baby. The two wars, or is it one war or is it 10,000, and their decades of destruction- no rational person would hold off giving birth awaiting their end. That argument actually persuades me, however, in the most cynical way- I don’t expect the wars to end before my wife passes child-bearing age. The two named wars we are in now may officially end, in the same sense they officially started, but that will hardly end the war.

“But wait!”, I hear you say, “Wars sure as shit are rational enterprises; they are instrumental to economic domination of one nation over others”. I am sympathetic to this argument to a point. It’s not hard to line up all the military interventions in the Persian Gulf and draw a line in the shape of an oil pipeline straight up to Afghanistan- mystery solved. But rationality requires that both means and ends are rational and are lined up through sound induction. From where we sit now, deposing the democratically elected Mohhamed Mossadegh in favor of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was a bad move, because it fermented the Iranian Revolution and its government and they don’t like to play baseball with no Americans. Aiding and abetting Saddam Hussein as a counterfoil to the Iranian Revolutionary Government seemed like a winner at the time, but low and behold, he no liked-a baseball either. In fact, I’ll bet you Reggie Jackson’s signed #9 uniform that you can’t name one of these interventions that swung the way we wanted it 10 years down the line. Yet, we’re still at it, most recently with President Aristide of Haiti, and what the fuck is about to go down in Ecuador right now, anyways?

Nevertheless, we keep at it, and while that might look like dogged American determination, it’s also a text-book fit for the clinical definition of insanity- doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. And what about the results- are they rational ends? Sure, we all enjoy and agree upon super-sized cheese burgers and iPads. And, as Fox news will point out several times daily, hundreds-of-thousands of people annually try to bust in, legally or otherwise, to the land of super-sized cheese burgers and iPads. China is building its own, much larger land of cheese-burgers and iPads, and they don’t even have to import the iPads. But the Greeks took pains to show us that everyone and their mother agreeing on something doesn’t make it true or right. Ultimately, consumption to the point of engorgement is a losing strategy and one that we no doubt will pursue to our ecological, and cardiovascular, demise. If it is even rational to live, and there is plenty ground to argue inside that question, it is not clear that it is thereby rational to prosper. It may turn out that we would be better off struggling and starving a bit in the long run, and though it is certainly horrible to be the war-torn; the burned, the murdered, the raped and the beaten, it is by no means inversely grand to be the warrior. As of this writing there are more U.S. military deaths this year attributed to suicide than to combat action in either theater of the war.

The politics of birth in this country are all defined around Choice, and I doubt whether any other country talks about it in terms quite so stark. Certainly I’m the first to say that I know damn-well how the biology works. If my wife has a bun in the oven I’m fully culpable. It’s a “choice” I won’t live down or, I hope, outlive. But the metaphysics are complicated in a way the political debate never seems to capture. If the choice is between a world that contains a new agency, the baby, and one that does not, in which of those possible worlds does that agency itself have any say about its own existence? If the agent is never-to-be and I or my wife exercise any of the various options my Catholic forebearers would disdain, did baby’s agency decide not to be or did that agency simply never exist? If we do nothing but what biology dictates, did baby agency ascent, or is it possible for the agency to decide post-facto that it would rather not have been? To put it another way, is it so obvious that every baby that is born wanted to exist?

What choice would my future son have made if I had explained the full circumstance to him- the depleted environment, over-population of the human species, the hegemony of private agri-business over food production, economic and social injustice, war, rape and famine, the A’s moving to San Jose? Would he say, ‘fuck that shit, I’m out’ and reabsorb into his mother’s blood stream? Or would he say this: “You’re barely 30 years old, Dad, and I know you think you’re a smart guy and you got it all figured out, but by the time I’m your age the entire game will have changed in ways you can’t predict now, no matter what statistical or historical analysis you invent. Don’t ask whether I should want to be a future agent, but ask what you, old man, are going to do to prepare the future for my agency, to make it possible for me to even make meaningful choices, whose possible outcomes outstrip your imagination at this moment when my mother is pregnant, the house I will come home to from the hospital is half-built, and you don’t even know whether you’ll have a job in the next six months.” Then baby would giggle at me and put my smart phone in his mouth and chew on it. Because babies, like wars, don’t give a fuck about you and your mental anguish- they’re coming whether you’re ready or not.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Let's Go Texas

yeah, I said it. If I've got any horse in this race, it's Tejas all the way.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Am I Doing Something Profound Right Now?

It's hard to say.