Jul '02 [Home]

. . Free Expression

The Idea of a University
Robert Klein Engler

The Idiot's Guide to War…or…War by Numbers:
     'Extrapolate Them All'
     'Apocalypse Now Syndrome'
by Paul Murphy

America Will Be
by Margo Berdeshevsky

Many Sleepless Over Brooklyn's Law School's Too-High Dormitory Plans
Report and Appeal from Alyssa A. Lappen

~ . ~ . ~

The Idea of a University
Robert Klein Engler

Thank God there is no Truth. Postmodern thought
forced all the pious dogmatists to eat
their words, and patriots, the flags they bought.
What crumbs are left, sustain the gay effete.
We really showed those damn Republicans,
And all those Catholics at the bingo hall.
Too bad Bill Clinton couldn't run again.
We got diversity, except in basketball.
So what if all our teaching is a fraud.
The pension checks are big enough, and dad's
estate means every summer we go abroad,
escape the creeps who mix their stripes and plaids.
     Then finally free from deans and rabid wives,
     we pull the earth across our dismal lives.

(Robert Klein Engler teaches at Roosevelt University in Chicago.)

~ . ~

The Idiot's Guide to War…or…War by Numbers
by Paul Murphy

Extrapolate Them All

PRESIDENT GEORG WILHELM BUSH: Here's the deal. We go into Afghanistan. Every time 200 or so Afghans appear, we send 3000 Marines to chase around after them. The Afghans melt into the terrain, one of our men steps on a landmine, another one contracts dysentery, he dies. Now, after a dozen or so times, we don't withdraw, no, we stay there for 40 years.

Now, here's the stroke of genius. Steven Von Spielberg makes the film, and in it we win. 'The victors write the history books.' And El Binzer sneaks away from the caves of Tora Bora to become Sharif El Binzer, chief psychologist to the Stars in Holywood Cal-ee-for-ee-ah.

Someone find the tweezers. I'm choking. Hurry up! ... It's okay. I'm all right. Now, let me see that graffiti you've written. It says:

Drop the pound of spuds. Extrapolate them all.

You see, it's that simple: 'Extrapolate them all.' Hold on. Where's my toupee? Everyone look for my toupee. Hold on. I think it's over my mouth. I'm talking through my toupee! Sorry, it was my ass.

Apolcalypse Now Syndrome

CIA CAPTAIN: Clearly bonkers, Sir!

GENERAL: This man has Acropolis Now Syndrome. Look. The rednessitchyfeet and combatfatigue.

CIA CAPTAIN: We're willing to forgive everything Sgt. Murphy, but we want something in return.

SGT. MURPHY: What's that, Sir?

CIA CAPTAIN: We want you to be the King of Uzbekhistan, but you get blown up.

SGT. MURPHY: Blown up!

GENERAL: This is a recording of our operant in Labuk area. Your predecessor is no longer taking our orders. Can someone pass the shrimp? Hey, this shrimp is off. Christ, it stinks! Take this back to the kitchen, Captain.

(Plays a crackly tape.) Get meeee ouuuut of heeere, for Chriiiist's saaaake.

SGT. MURPHY: He stole the spicy McBeanburger recipe!

CIA CAPTAIN: Fucking savages!

GENERAL: There comes a time in everyone's life, Sgt. Murphy, when they make a complete ass of themselves. As Lincoln said, 'A trip to the theatre is sometimes better than routine surgery.'…He's out there operating beyond the bounds of any acceptable human behaviour, establishing freemarket franchises and cheap fastfood in downtown Labuk.

CIA CAPTAIN: When you get to the airport, your best hope is if our Special Forces in Lubak are so high on the local hashish that they mistake you for the Defence Minister.

(Just an Oscar ceremony later…)

KILJOY: What's Marlon Brando's stomach doing in this? He has a Bronx accent too. Why doesn't he have an Italian American accent?

PRESIDENT GEORG WILHELM: The longest revision, a revision too far. What happened to the days when good was bad and men were women? All this ambiguity, it's just treachery.

KILJOY: Okay, son. For you the war is over—get yer can of Ace lager for this.

PRESIDENT GEORG WILHELM: I've got it. How's this? The parallel lines of evil. The parallel lines of evil: them slantyeyedChinamen them Russians and them RedIndians.

(Irishman Paul Murphy edits Engine magazine. He lives in Belfast.)

~ . ~

America Will Be
Margo Berdeshevsky

Susan Sontag: enfant terrible of my growing up days, I loved her. Sontag: star of the cogniscenti, I loved being critical, especially of her know-it-all and everyone - presentation. Sontag: doing a book reading, crowded to the rafters reading, at Paris' Village Voice Bookstore, last Spring, a humbler woman gone larger and greyer and more intelligent than even I remembered. She's a better star than she used to be. A writer's writer. At peace, it seemed, with being loved and hated. As the French like to say, "Chapeau!" So I bought, not the new essays that she was touting, but her © 2000 National Book Award creation, "In America" (Vintage, 2001).

I waited until I arrived back in the America that I inhabit, to begin the book. The America that I inhabit: a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific, far from the Paris of my Autumns and Winters. (And far, I grimly hoped, from the America for whom I have my moments of despairing insights, for the generic hatred it has won.) Patriot is not my name, hasn't been, to be honest, since the Viet Nam war. But these days, it had been harder than ever to hold up my head in face of the daily reports of George W's grief management of America's recent destiny. The Europeans whom I listened with, are more realistic and critical of our world, and of America. They have learned, it seems, to live with war and threat and the vagaries of history without waving flags and insisting that they are better than everyone else in the universe at destroying evil.

It seems to me that civilization has been contemplating good and evil for longer and with greater philosophical success than departments of homeland security. The practical success of protecting our collective innocence against evil has only blips on the graph of human accomplishment. Mostly, we are warriors who insist on being on top. All nations. All patriots. All patriarchs. All wars. And, we are souls who insist on performing as though we were only bodies. And, the time line is heavy with wars and their occasional pauses. The human race is rarely a spiritual exercise I am proud to participate with, I will admit that as well. But I do. Of course I do. Kicking and screaming, some dark nights of my soul. And, smiling at a ten year old ballerina doing her damned best for her daddy, once in a lovely while. The human game bewilders, no matter what the rules. If I meet someone who is doing it absolutely right, "Chapeau." But that is rare. It's been a helluva year. Yes.

So I begin Susan Sontag's "In America" : The epigraph provokes me. "America will be!" attributed to Langston Hughes. Before I even begin the book, I am engaged. How ironic, I consider, for that writer who belonged to one of the set pieces of humanity that America once loved to hate, how ironic, for him to express such beautiful optimism, about America. It will be. We shall overcome, so many of us once sang. Yes, I remember. It's harder to remember, this year. Who shall overcome? But Hughes' quote is able to envision a land that deserves optimism, based, I surmise, on hope.

(I retreat to another more ironic quote "God has bestowed two gifts on man: hope and ignorance. Ignorance is the better of the two." -- Victor Hugo, journal entry from May, 1842. I readjust my inner lens. No, no! Hope. Let me hear it for hope.)

So, I read Sontag's "In America." A marvelous exploration of immigrant Poles, circa 1876, led by Maryna Zalezowska, Poland's greatest actress. They emigrate to this land, first, to live a utopian communal experiment, then, integrated into the American landscape, each with their dream of what it "will be," they remain, or they run away. Their star, who becomes Marina Zalenska, was a theatrical star, a diva of beauty and intellect, a woman who died well, in most of her starring vehicles, a woman who was beloved on the Warsaw stage, and who surrenders her initial utopian dream, to the call of the bright lights that lead her into stardom in America. No need to explain how stardom and the American dream are linked. No need to do more than tell the wonderful story of an actress and her struggle with illusion.

The book ends with a grand soliloquy, deftly invented, in Sontag's hand, delivered before he drunkenly tries to seduce the diva, by America's brooding dark Actor, with a capital "A," Edwin Booth. His final words, and those of the book, "We have a long tour ahead of us," toll with metaphor. America does. (Have a long tour ahead of it.) Star, hero, heroine, or villain, the actor bears a particular burden, borne since the earliest days of the theatrical art form. Once, the actor was a high priest or priestess whose calling was to exorcise the demons of our humanity. No need to reiterate the link between this book's play of themes and the wannabe star, America. We have a long tour ahead of us. Or, Que sera.

(Margo Berdeshevsky lives in Haiku, Hawaii, and in Paris.
[Text appears as received. Eds.])

~ . ~

Many Sleepless Over Brooklyn Law School's Dormitory in the Sky
Report and Appeal from Alyssa A. Lappen

Dear Friends and Neighbors—

Unfortunately, the New York City Planning Commission on Wednesday June 26 approved the Brooklyn Law School's application to violate new 120-foot zoning with a 265-foot dormitory at State Street and Boerum Place.

The Planning Commissioners chose to ignore the zoning law as well as the unified opposition of the Brooklyn Heights Association, Brooklyn Heights Protection Coalition, Cobble Hill Association, Boerum Hill Association, Atlantic Ave. Betterment Association, Community Board 2 (our local board), and the Friends Meeting House, who all oppose the Law School plan.

For those who are unaware, the Brooklyn Heights Protection Coalition, formed by yours truly in 1998 or so to fight construction of the illustrious "argyle sock" (aka the Court Street movie theater), earned for that effort the assistance of the Brooklyn Heights Association and Brooklyn office of the Planning Commission to pass a new zoning law special to downtown Brooklyn in July 2001.

This Special Downtown Brooklyn Zoning District created several blocks of business districts along Livingston and Schermerhorn Streets from Smith east to Flatbush, in which 495-foot buildings may be constructed. In a compromise with the historic district residents of Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill and Cobble Hill—who objected to the tall new buildings on Court and Montague Streets as well as the new 495-foot height limits, we also obtained a "buffer zone" from Smith west to Court and Livingston South to Atlantic allowing for buildings of no more than 120 feet.

The Law School purchased the site at State and Boerum five years ago after turning down several other properties across Boerum Place and despite the fact that the zoning there was a floor area ratio of six—basically meaning they could construct 6 storeys. The new zoning did not change their floor area ratio. In other words, they bought the property originally, fully planning to violate even the original zoning.

Law School Dean Wexler will no doubt now take her lobbying machine to the City Council, where local Councilman Dennis Yasky has recused himself from the vote, substantially weakening the position of the community in this battle for our neighborhood. The City Council has 60 days to vote on the matter, after which it will go to Mayor Bloomberg. In the face of Yasky's weak-kneed position, we MUST also apply pressure with City Council Land Use Chairman Melinda Katz and Mr. Avella, a subcommittee chair.

Please also ask for help at the City Council from Borough President Markowitz at Marty@BrooklynBP.org, Dennis Yasky at Yassky@council.nyc.ny.us and Mayor Bloomberg (fax) at 212-788-8123; in addition please THANK Representative Joan Millman milmaj@assembly.state.ny.us for her assistance to date and ask her to help us with the City Council.

Many thanks for your kind assistance.

Best regards,
Alyssa A. Lappen
for the Brooklyn Heights Protection Coalition