This is more or less to catch up on some topics folks have been asking me about.
1) July 4th was the anniversary of Ted Berrigan's death in 1983. Anyone who knew and especially loved Ted remembers where they were when they got the news (I was in the kitchen of a house I was renting in Santa Monica with my second wife and two older children from a previous marriage when poet John Godfrey called from New York to let me know, followed shortly by calls from others).
It was a way too early death for a great friend and great poet. Not that it couldn't have been predicted. Ted, in fact, predicted it to me himself when we both first moved back to New York from various points in the mid-1970s. Standing outside St. Marks one night before a reading he told me he had come back to New York "to die."
His death had a great impact on me not just in losing a friend, but in losing one too soon and being angry about that which reinforced my only weeks old resolve to stop doing drugs for good (I had already stopped drinking, an earlier addiction). In fact, three deaths all close together that summer of '83 seemed like an omen for me, as Ted's death was joined by David Blue's (a singer/songwriter born David Cohen who was sort of the poor man's Bob Dylan, though in person he was much taller, handsomer and easier to get along with) and Tom Baker's (an actor who was predicted to be the Marlon Brando of the baby boomer generation but overdosed on heroin instead—he was played, if I remember correctly, in the Doors movie by Michael Madsen, though in real life Tom was much more classically handsome than Michael).
(For poet Terence Winch's take on Ted click here—Terry is the guest blogger at Best American Poetry this week and all his posts are illuminating, so check them out. For poet Tom Clark's take on Ted click here.)
2) Robert MacNamara's death (Tom G. got me going on this) drew an enormous range of responses, the most critical I read (thanks to poet and friend Bob Berner turning me on to it) was Alexander Cockburn's here (I don't always agree with Cockburn and there's stuff here I would argue with, but it gives you a pretty clear picture of MacNamara's critics from the left).
I had a visceral hatred of MacNamara during the Viet Nam war and my activist days trying to stop it, but when not many years after it ended I was in a book store near DuPont Circle in Washington DC where Terence Winch worked at the time, and I was in the stacks looking for some political tome I was interested in, I turned a corner of one of the tiny corridors between massive book shelves and ran smack into MacNamara. I was only inches away from him and had the instinct to at least smack him if not pummel him, but as I stood there staring at him, he looked so old and frail and deeply sad, even depressed, I actually had a feeling of sympathy for him, or at least pity, so I just moved on and ignored the man.
In reality he was at the time running the World Bank and according to his critics (see Cockburn again) using it to prop up murderous regimes and destroy poor people, or from the perspective of his defenders (see this editorial in today's NY Times from LBJ's nephew) doing more to help the world's poor than anyone else!
Someone should do a play or movie about MacNamara (not Earl Morris' documentary FOG OF WAR which exposed MacNamara's mistakes to some extent but also let him off the hook). It could be Shakespearean. This know-it-all brainiac technocrat who has all the statistics and educational wherewithal to analyze to death the last detail of war or money lending, but no instinct or higher intuition to grasp the realities on the ground and create a vision for progress and improvement out of those realities rather than the statistics the realities generate. In other words, as my dear old friend and mentor Hubert Selby Jr. used to remind me, MacNamara couldn't let go of the image in order to see the vision.
3) The Honduran situation and the irony of a leftist president being ousted ala the good old American imperialism days, only this time as far as we now know without the usual CIA push (though who can know for sure). Obama's decision to stay neutral, I'm sure comes partly from his usual pragmatic instincts but also out of fear of the right using any support for a leftist president intent on holding on to his presidency through changes in the Honduran constitution (ala Chavez in Venezuela) along with fear of the idea that the military can be used to oust a sitting president whose popular support might well have legitimized his attempt to hold on to his office (through the national referendum that the ouster precluded).
Like the situation in Iran, where the protesters could be said to be the left of the regime there (and the irony of our rightwingers wanting our government to somehow intervene on their behalf) the protesters in Honduras are to the left of the regime put in by the military. So if Obama were the "socialist" or "communist" or any other kind of leftist the rightwingers here keep saying he is, he would have intervened on behalf of his fellow leftists in both countries.
But in fact, he's a pragmatist and realizes that any intervention from the USA will only feed the opposition's justification for their actions. In the case of Iran, some US secret agencies were undoubtedly funneling support to the regime's critics and would be reformists. In Honduras, there may well have been some secret interference against the leftist president as well. Nothing on the scale of this country's imperialist interventions of the past (the democratically elected Allende's assassination in Chile and the installation of the dictator Pinochet, the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh in Iran and his replacement with the "shah" as dictator, or Guatemala in the 1950s or Nicaragua in the 1980s, etc.) and Obama may be doing his best to subdue our various secret agencies and their outside contractors etc. but not being a dictator unable to totally reign them in. Hopefully he'll have two terms and time enough to replace many of the rightwingers who now run and populate our various secret agencies and military. Hopefully.