National Combat Tape Archive

Some years back, my father and I started a nonprofit group called the National Combat Tape Archive. The idea is that we would gather, digitize and store recordings made in combat areas by members of the United States Military, as well as people associated with the military. This began after I listened to a series of tapes my father had sent home to our family during the year he was stationed in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy.

We registered as a tax-exempt organization and struck an agreement with the Vietnam Project and Archive at Texas Tech University, to conserve and store the physical media.

Due to personal issues (jobs were in short supply at the time), we were unable to go forward with this project at that time. I’m currently involved with a non-profit undertaking, The Blogswana Project. But given the fact that the new social software and hosted web applications have boomed, it seems to me that the NCTA is viable again. We could use Odeo or Evoca to host the audio recordings and YouTube or one of its competitors to host any video. We could create a blog to act as the interface with the digital archive as well as a place to gather and publish the experiences of the recorders.

If anyone out there is interested in getting involved with this project, please let me know by writing to me at bobfolder [at] gmail [dot] com. I’m uncertain whether or not the original nonprofit still legally exists, though I doubt it (I’ve got an email in to ol’ Regular Navy about it), but it could be brought in under the auspices of the Committee to Protect Bloggers, an active 501(c)3 U.S. tax-exempt organization that I run.

National Combat Tape Archive Mission Statement

The objective of the Combat Tape Archive is to create a repository where audio and video/film recordings made by members of the U.S. Armed Forces or by those attached to them, either in combat or in-country during hostilities, can be safely held, given proper conservation and made available to students, scholars, and interested lay persons.

Our desire is to communicate the most human element of the most inhuman events, the voice of the men and women who strove and endured in war. Using The Vietnam Archive’s state-of-the-art institutional storage facilities, library technologies and methods, and audio software we will make these recordings available via listening stations, physical media, including audio cassette tape and compact disc, and online. Using social software and web-based software applications, we will make the digitized recordings available to the world.

We will raise funds from government, business, educational institutions and individuals to drive our mission forward. We will solicit sound recordings from Veterans, their friends, families and organizations. We will also raise awareness of both the individuals whose voices will grow this chorus of witness and of the Archive itself through media coverage, presentations, exhibits and personal appearances.

Gathering the Recordings

Service records and medals cannot capture the men and women who fought in a war. No book or essay, no matter how insightful, no matter how well researched, can express a war’s reality. No documents nor maps can show a war’s brutality or import. But a human voice, speaking out of time, from the place where the conflict played out, from the time and place where the violence, boredom, beauty, bravery and trauma of war were real, can open a window into the lives and experiences of the men and women who endured it.

The National Combat Tape Archive will be the only national repository we are aware of that is devoted to the voice of war.

The NCTA seeks to collect tapes by the men and women of the US Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, and civilians serving with them, made while in-country during hostilities, either in combat or behind the lines.

In other words, we want to hear voicesyour voice, the voices of friends, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandmothersand we want to preserve and share them both with those who were there, and those who weren’t, including those generations who have yet to even be born.

We have established a partnership with The Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech University. This institution has temperature-controlled vaults and other equipment, personnel and know-how to preserve and store the tapes. We at the National Combat Tape Archive will act as the gatekeepers to the collection, advertising, gathering and cataloguing the collection, promoting it in person and online and coordinating presentations, speakers and exhibits.

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Pile Up in Pomona

(This was originally published in a short-lived sports portal called Quokka. It was originally written for an aborted online magazine on Autoweb.com)

It was the last day of the Los Angeles County Fair, perhaps the largest of its kind in the country. Long gone the piles of gleaming produce, the largest squash, the heaviest pumpkin, the corrals of sheep and draft horses that such an event featured back when its rural nature was still discernible. The county fair has always been a reflection of the country at large and here in this place, the country’s portrait was painted, in all its cupidity and cheap thievery, its desperation and want. Here, shabby, dangerous thrill rides, synthetic almond slurry, plastic doodads from Taiwan and games of chance told whoever wanted to listen the true tale of America.

As we pulled into the fairgrounds, we were blinded, the dull glint of smog-filtered sun winking dully off two solid miles of parked cars. Before we could turn out of harm’s way Eric and I were shot forward, as though in a log flume, into the middle of 100,000 teenage mothers with bawling kids and the kids’ sloe-eyed fathers-of-record, in grimy Bulls tank-tops and prison tattoos, slowly, slobberingly grinding down lengths of stale, overpriced corndog and following us with eyes like bottle caps, as though fearful we’d steal the bologna they had cooling in the toilet.

Finally, after negotiating this modern Labyrinth, we wound up at Gate 12, staging area for the ”Pile Up In Pomona,” styled as the California State Demolition Derby Championship. It was styled that way by Bob Basile, son of the “sport’s” founder, Don Basile.

Don stood on a rickety picnic table behind a chainlink fence at Gate 12 speaking to the assembly of pot-bellied, t-shirt-clad Magnums and their peroxided mates who made up the drivers, crew and well-wishers of the 26 teams.

“We don’t want nothing like in Chico!” he bellowed. “In Chico they had the naked ladies up on the cars dancing. I’m still getting letters. This did not go over big in Chico. Remember, this is a Best-Appearing Car contest,” he said, referring to the pre-smash-up part of the derby. “A Best-Appearing Car contest, not a dancing contest.”

It was the elder Basile who first officially introduced the world of motor sports to “crash derbies” back in 1946, although they had been done unofficially at county fairs since the 30s. After watching the blood lust of stock car racing audiences, cheering each time an overheated Mustang kerranged off the sidewall, Don figured they’d like demolition derbies just fine.

To call this event a “championship” is misleading. Unlike every other “sport” from curling to jai alai, demolition derby has no officiating or regulating agency. The mere idea seems to run counter to the spirit of the sport, which is anarchic, extralegal, destructive, with the demented joy of boys falling out of trees.

In fact the boyish nature of the sport was the dominating note. As the 26 cars – big American cars all – were pulled ceremoniously out of the staging gate, uncountable hands were thrust out windows in the electric SoCal autumn dusk to feel the warm silky winds, as though the men had in fact become boys again for the evening, boys for whom only the fun of it all – the mere experience of being and feeling and laughing and driving – really mattered. Left behind, if only temporarily, were all the acrimonious divorces, the out-of-wedlock children, the alcoholism, poverty, lack of opportunity, the dirt, danger and humiliation of work, the traffic and crowds, the inevitability of death and the uncertainty of meaning.

The atmosphere in the erstwhile horse racing arena where the event was to be staged was that of a high school football game – I was transported back in time to Grants Pass, Oregon, watching the Hidden Valley Mustangs take on the Grants Pass High Cavemen. Opposite the east stretch of the track was the towering stack of bleacher seating that mounted up to the deepening blue of the night sky. Klieg lights came on, bathing the track in a hard-edged white light. The crowd filtered in and began to fill up the seats.

The audience mirrored the competitors. This was not a basketball or baseball game, the fan with a 25K income, the player with 25 million – these people were each other, tough Oakies and Arkies who came out West in eternal hope for something better and found it was the End. No Pilgrims here, no money, old or young. This crowd was male, white and worked with its hands. This was not the new racially integrated world of the university, this was how it really was.

In the foreground, in the middle of the track, a man in a highway grader dug out the pit, while other men driving forklifts placed concrete barriers around the pit. In the tunnel beneath the track the surreal warble of the National Anthem sputtered and banged. A spider as large as a baby’s hand hung from a single glistening strand, tensed for the start.

After a preliminary that featured an “Homage to Gallagher,” a local radio DJ exhorting audience members to get into the destructive spirit via rage-driven mallet-blow to clock radios, old TVs and china, the Best-Appearing Car Contest began.

In the staging area before the move we had met Al Rocha, number 77, a concrete man from Chino, who had connived Yellow Cab into sponsoring his second attempt at derby fame. His rig, done up in fact like a Yellow Cab, down to the lit up “on duty” sign, was stock derby, which is to say he and his lead pit man Randy Wolfenbarger (a veteran of 10 derbies himself) had torn out the windows and replaced the windshield with metal mesh, had traded out the metal gas tank for a plastic one (less chance of explosions) and moved it inside the cab (counter-intuitively, the safest place); had torn out the passenger seats and braced the driver’s seat with a five-foot section of pipe. He’d also designed some kind of Frankenstein transmission device with the fluid passing through a cooling chamber.

Al was one excited man. He was here to play and he was going to play hard. He was going to take in the $500 Best Appearing Car award as well as the $3,000 for first place. He marched around like a boxer about to go into the ring.

Well, the crowd loved the Yellow Cab and our man Al, but they loved another more. Namely, Mike Mora’s number 55, a black ’76 Chevy with red flames. No matter, Al was there for the long-run. Al was going home to Chino a winner. He already knew where in the window of his concrete contracting shop the trophy would stand.

The first heat featured 12 cars crowded into the small pit. Exhaust rolled out, engines roared, sparks flew as bumper ground into door and side panel into headlight. Burning transmission fluid rolled over the field to settle in a thick fog on the roof of the empty beer concessionary where we stood. When the smoke cleared and our eyes could focus again, there, alas, was Al, a victim of his own ingenuity, stalled out due to transmission troubles and getting the unholy crap beat out of him by the cars that could still run. The refs sounded two air horns and that was it. Several cars had made it to the final, several would have to roll the dice in the Last Chance heat. That’s where Al would be.

In the crew pits, torches bit blue and orange sparks out in sheets from damaged fenders and crippled bumpers. Men with eight-pound mauls strove to beat out stove-in doors and hoods where they interfered with movement.

The second heat benefited from the experiences of the first. The first group looked like a special ed class let loose in museum – all wander and wonder. This heat focused on technique and strategy, both of which seemed to consist of running backward (heartiest part of the car) into other cars’ front ends (the easiest to damage). Although it was more skillful, it was less bracing. Still the occasional 50-yard, 40 mph run from one end of the pit into a stalled car on the other side would evoke a Roman shout of approval from the crowd in the bleachers. In the distance the neon lights of the Ferris wheel rotated in the dark night sky.

The third heat was not competition. The third heat featured local media personalities in a celebrity derby. Men (and one woman) from SoCal radio and newspapers strapped themselves in and went at ‘em. Strangely, this heat was the most exciting so far. These people had no strategy. They rammed crazily at one another front end-first like enraged motorists, making hellish shrieks and shooting flames from the blow-holes in the hoods. Ultimately the unstoppable Judy Croon of KFRG was double-teamed by jealous male colleagues and pounded from both ends with a ferocity whose sexual nature, though possibly unconscious, was not lost and the screaming bleacher monkeys, leaving X103.9’s Pete Fox the victor over the previous year’s Jorge Jarrin of KABC.

Next was the Last Chance heat and if, may He forgive us, we doubted Al before, we were made to see as with new eyes. Al was the lance, the arrow, the sword. He was three places at once in the arena. He was the Alexander the Great of smash-up derby. He was, for a time, It – The Man – King. and no one could gainsay him. Three cars at once would descend on the Yellow Cab like the mighty hammers of an ancient god, but Al would absorb the blows without flinching and without damage, and simply drive away. Again and again they struck. Again and again, Al drove away. As the air horns sounded a cheer went up. Al would go to the final.

In the final heat 21 out of the 26 cars that started would fight it out, each and every one of them battle-scarred, limping and damaged. Except one. One 1974 purple GM station wagon had played cautious in previous heats – just stay running, he must have thought, and get into the final undamaged. This was Mike Doyle, number 70, a veteran of 200 demolition derbies and the winner of 100. As car after car succumbed in the explosive echo of crash after crash, fender folding in to pierce radiator, crankcase cracked and bleeding oil, bumpers smashed so far in they bit into tires – somewhere in the melee Al too gave out. But he kept trying to the end, pinned between two also-rans on the north wall.

In the meanwhile “Defending State Champion” Robert Rice’s number 50, Billy Altfather’s X-13 and all the rest were taken out one after another. Mike Doyle’s number 70 was as unstoppable and merciless as a Mongol of the Golden Horde loose in a nunnery, or a Cosa Nostra hit man berserk in a North Beach pizzeria. All that mattered was the win. It was over.

A few stayed for the trophy ceremony. But most filtered out to pack the highways around the fairgrounds with their Volares and K Cars, El Caminos and Eagles, to make their way back home to West Covina, Riverside, Canoga Park, Ontario, El Monte and Bellflower.

Later that night I stood out in front of our hotel on Hollywood Boulevard and watched the busses roar by, the bums dig noisily in garbage cans, the local “characters” wearing sandwich boards and Batman costumes and scuba flippers, a never ending parade of embarrassing dreams squashed into the gritty roads by the coke-fueled Lexuses and Mercedes.

Tonight, I thought, if I had to trade places with any of these would-be stars and starlets sleeping on carpet remnants or in pee-stained walk-ups, or with Al Rocha of Chino, tonight I’d rather be Al. Al has something these people lost long ago, I thought. Al’s got Next Time.

Easy Answers to Complicated Questions

The recent election showed a citizenry split almost equally down the middle between two apparent sets of approaches to domestic and international issues. But it’s not just the citizens of the United States who are polarized. It is also the world as a whole.

According to common wisdom Americans are supposed to fall into one of two camps.

Camp one: I believe in the use of unilateral force by the U.S. I believe Iraq was invaded to bring it freedom. I believe in fundamentalist Christianity. I believe in absolute truth. I believe in the U.S. as world boss. I believe in global capitalism. I am conservative. I am from a “red state.”

Camp two: I believe in multilateralism. I am an atheistic humanist. I believe globalism is evil. I believe Iraq was invaded for its oil. I believe the Europeans the source of the shining light of reason. I believe in relativism. I am a liberal. I am from a “blue state.”

Well here’s a shock to the whole world: I do not fit nicely into either of these camps. And I can’t possibly be the only one. But all around the country and the world, people are people. They like tidy answers, straight lines and easy answers:

The U.S. is evil.

The U.S. is good.

Europe is indecisive.

Europe is enlightened.

Honestly. That’s full-on retarded.

The only mental algorithm available today is apparently: if A, then B.

To wit:

If I don’t believe that unilateral action should never be an option, then I must believe in U.S. hegemony.

If I believe in the necessity of individual responsibility, then I must believe Affirmative Action should be abolished.

Who made up these rules? Who decided to divide the world into two columns and then act as though those columns were logical absolutes? Well, as I said, people like easy answers and newspapers and television news editors and programmers are happy to provide them.

Here’s what I believe:

Prosecuting a war in Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban was the right thing to do.

The prosecution of the war in Afghanistan was dropped when it became difficult.

The Administration was looking for a reason to invade Iraq. Bush had a family score to settle and his neo-con cronies were looking for a test case for their theories on U.S. power.

The Administration ignored any information that ran counter to their justifications for making war against Iraq.

The desire to find “cheap oil” was demonstrably no part of the equation. Anyone who thinks so is incapable of doing simple math. This was an ideological war, not an economic one, and certainly not one waged out of national self-interest.

The war was not waged with a good faith desire to bring freedom to the Iraqi people. If that had been the case, long-term plans, realistic logistics and sacrifice would have been part of the planning. It was waged to prove that the unilateral use of U.S. military force would be more effective in changing the world for the better and making it safer and that the U.S. alone was responsible for, and had the right to, determine which actions to take and which changes to make.

The avowed reasons for waging war against Iraq were obviously false: no weapons, no terrorists. Even if the Administration had been sincere about the “second-string” reasons for waging the war — freedom, self-determination, stability — this group of people was incapable of producing those results. This Adminstration is duplicitous, self-justifying, drunk on the entitlements of wealth and position, unused to sacrifice, incapable of long-term thinking, poor at organization and unsubtle.

Bombing the living daylights out of anyone who looks at us cross-eyed is not going to make the world safer. It is far more likely to scare the shit out of Americans than their enemies. (This fear is what allowed the Patriot Act to pass and, in part, what allowed Bush to be – barely – reelected.)

“Democracy” consists not just of mob rule but of checks on power and guarantees of the rights of minorities. Neither of which the Administration has the patience or vision to assist in creating.

Real economic freedom consists not simply of unregulated markets but also of guarantees to protect all the participants in it and to protect the environment and thereby the resources necessary to grow a functioning economy that not only accumulates wealth but also distributes it.

Short-sighted pro-globalists are attempting to foist all on developing countries around the world a kind of democracy the U.S. has never tolerated (mob rule) and a kind of capitalism we got rid of over a hundred years ago (unregulated). Globalism has become a kind of pseudo-religious faith. It is not incidental to the kinds of people who support it that it creates new markets, provides cheap labor and cheap resources.

Short-sighted anti-globalists’ gauzy dreams of Oaxacan shamans gathering herbs in the forest and everyone living in the middle of an Henri Rousseau painting is just that, a dream. “Indigenous” agriculture and handicrafts cannot take care of the burgeoning needs of the population of the developing world.

Europe, the font of international violence for two millennia, did not suddenly get religion and see the error of its ways. It exhausted itself. It’s like a smoker who gets hospitalized, quits out of necessity, then starts telling everyone else how they should stop and denying they ever smoked in the first place. Maybe nobody remembers, but when England and France and Germany were working their enlightened will behind the scenes in the Middle East before, during and after World War I, they laughingly dismissed Americans as sentimental for their “immature” moralizing on the rights of the oppressed to self-determination. Congratulations Europe, we learned how to play ball. We’re now doing things in the European manner so kindly shut the fuck up you hypocrites.

However powerful the U.S. is, for reasons of international amity, not to mention economics, as well as in the interest of building peace that lasts, our government needs to make every effort, all the time, to make as many of its moves as possible – not just military ones – in concert with the nations of the world.

Diplomacy and dialogue are not tools to be lightly dismissed when attempting to create a safe world. The threat of violence alone is not a threat, it’s terrorism.

The U.S. should not rule out all unilateral action in all situations. We’re a sovereign country and we have our own interests. Not to mention, under some circumstances, waiting for Europe, in particular, to coalesce around an emergency would be foolish, considering their response to the death camps in Bosnia and the current situation in the Sudan.

That while all violence is evil, not all war is avoidable. There have been times in the past when a war’s evil was less than peace’s. Left in peace, Germany could have finished its program to exterminate every single Jew, Gypsy, homosexual, communist, modern artist and physically and mentally handicapped person from the face of Europe.

That a government has a responsibility to shape the society as an instrument of the collective will of the governed. That opportunities should be guaranteed and safety and rights assured by the government.

That everyone has their own personal responsibility.

My point is simply this: You beggar the truth when you yield to the impulse to reduce it. Don’t let some hen-witted talking head, some thumbtack-dicked politician, some European blowhard or some home-grown hillbilly preacher delude you into thinking the unnerving but beautiful complexity of our world can be solved by a prefabricated slogan or one-size-fits-all posture.

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He Who Cannot Be Named

It is pro-business, in that It has, after ruining businesses, now succeeded in ruining business. It is “Christian,” in that It lives Its “life” in direct contravention to the precepts, example and message of Christ. And, like other “social conservatives,” It disregards the Gospel of Christ and replaces it with the Gospel of Conventional Morality. It uses the certitude of faith in the service of Its own impotence, rage, fear of non-existence (failing to realize It already not-exists). It is military, in that It evaded service out of a sense of privilege, selfishness and cowardice, and then paraded around in the uniform. (Sense a pattern developing?) I think that It may be the first true Anti-President. It is the locus through which nothingness escapes non-being.

And, of course, someone will try to kill It. If they fail, it will be the end of all civil rights. If they succeed, it will not matter. I heart Europe but if the U.S. fails Sweden will not point the way to the future. The only hope is to hide in a hole and gouge out the eyes of anyone who approaches. Maybe we’ll hide in a hole in Paris. Maybe in Yachats. The only guarantee now is money and a trowel sharpened on a brick.

Claiming the Victims

Since the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center there has been a insistent effort to excuse perpetrators of violence against innocents. Not simply by conservative Muslims, but by many Westerners. The line of Muslim thought has been examined exhaustively. (Whether it has been examined competently is another matter.) This line of Western thought, however, has been either ignored or reacted to with frenzied flag-waving.

The line of Western thought I’m speaking of goes like this: Every action, especially by people or peoples with less power, is a function of historical forces. Identify the historical forces that have “caused” an event and you will explain that event. The US has made political decisions (specifically in the Middle East) and these decisions have “forced” other groups or entities to do what they have done (kill 3,000 people in the Trade Towers, for instance). There is no personal will, therefore no responsibility. The US, it is reasoned – despite, presumably, being itself no more than a function of still other forces – is therefore guilty of its own victimization. Perhaps the desire to be fair to those with less power has blended with the desire to identify with “victims,” thereby ironically absolving oneself of guilt.

An example of this thinking is from a British reporter who was attacked by a mob of Afghanis in a village just inside the Pakistan border. “I later found out,” he was later quoted as saying, “that the village housed lots of Afghan refugees, whose relatives had been killed just last week in the American bombing of Kandahar. It doesn’t excuse them for beating me up so badly but there was a real reason why they should hate Westerners so much.”

It was perfectly reasonable, the reporter testifies, for a mob of people to attack him, because they had been attacked previously, by a polity to whom the reporter did not belong but to whom they believed he bore some resemblance.

But the “real reason” the reporter was attacked was not due to his guilt, not due to historical forces. He was attacked because the particular individuals that constituted that particular mob did not possess sufficient reason, self-restraint and perspective to allow them to stop their own base impulses. They attempted to murder a man they had never seen before not because they were compelled to by historical forces or by the policies of the United States but because they chose violent retribution; they believed it to be more desirable than restraint.

On the larger world stage, the fiction is also larger, but essentially the same: Because of America’s policy decisions, it brought about the murder of its own citizens. The wives, husbands, sons and mothers of the 3,000 murdered secretaries and attorneys, stock brokers, chefs and fire-fighters have only their own government, and, by association, themselves and the deceased, to blame for their loved ones’ deaths. The men who hijacked the planes and crashed them into the buildings, those who planned, funded, trained and arranged for this event to happen, are victims.

That political decisions contribute to political atmospheres and that political atmospheres effect those in them, is beyond argument. To assert however that political decisions by a polity justify the murder of innocents (or in the language of the times “make it understandable”) is faulty and should attract more critical attention than it has, especially when those political decisions are objected to based not on their effects but on their ideological appropriateness.

The two most commonly referenced excuses for the attacks are America’s support for Israel and American military presence in Saudi Arabia. However, America’s support for Israel is objected to not because it is hurting Arabs, which it may be, but because Israel is thought of as a ritually unclean intrusion into the Arab world. Likewise, American military presence in Saudi Arabia is not objectionable because it has compromised Arabian sovereignty but because it is ideologically undesirable.

But regardless of the nature of the objection, the murder of innocent people, non-combatants in the clearest expression of the term, is not “understandable” as a function of historical forces. Historical forces do not excuse the guilty or indict the innocent. And, naturally, this is a knife that cuts both ways.

America Vs. Europe

I wonder why I find the notion of living “simply” in a place like Eugene or Taos or whatever unappealing. I thought the isolation was unappealing, and the inability of doing some things I like (traveling, not living in a “subculture” fashion) due to lack of money, the sense of being outside the swim of things and therefore producing things (writing) that betrayed that lack of sophistication.

Then I realized that although those things are important, that was not really it. If I could live in Paris, say, and Be A Poet, at the cost perhaps of money, I might very well do it. Well, why? It’s not just the romance of it, which is a factor. It’s because just like Cowley and Stearns and his crew thought (then later backtracked on), America is a simply terrible place to be a writer. Why? Because if you say, “I am a poet” then Americans will think — even if you truly are pretty good — that what you really said was: “I am a fool, a nobody; I have no real role in society; poet is just another word for someone who lacks the self-awareness to do something with himself.”

The problem is that this is usually right. In France though, and in Spain, and probably other countries, if you say, “I am a poet” what they hear is: “I have dedicated my life to understanding our humanity, God and death, and making beautiful things that improve people’s lives; I will act out of the ordinary — bohemian — because that’s necessary for me to do my job, for me to fulfill my socially-recognized role.” And they nod. Ah, ha. I see, that makes perfect sense. It’s sensible.

That’s not to say that you are the same as an insurance salesman. Far from it. But you are not a bum. Those societies are much more likely to recognize what you’re doing as worthwhile and allow you latitude. Maybe that’s because unlike America you didn’t have to work-or-die, society developed more slowly, letters were part of the sense of self of peoples across Europe. I don’t know. But I know that no matter where I was I would want the capacity to live like a human — buy clothes, food, travel, have savings — but here in America you do not have an identity — well, not one that I would want — without money. Also, as a grown up, I am unsatisfied merely imagining. Still, I would be more satisfied somewhere that imagining and imagination were not so perilously smeared together.

In other words, what I need is significance. It is impossible to gain significance from writing that no one ever sees. It is possible to gain significance in America through your work, your clout and the way you physically manifest your culture. The problem is, significance has two sides, outer and inner. Work in America — well the work I currently do anyway — can only provide the outer significance. When I told S.P., for instance, who is a smart fellow, that the job I interviewed for in Seattle could lead to a permanent job with Microsoft he thought that sounded top drawer. Why? Because it had outer significance. Working at Microsoft was something someone who had their shit together did, not something a loser did. But since I don’t find a reward in the work itself, it is only half the necessary daily requirement of significance. However, as I said, there is not outer significance in writing stuff that no one sees, and after a while the inner significance fades, then fades out. Why? Because although writing is an internal art in its composition, it is external in its use. One writes in order to be read. Now, I write for myself as well. Why? Because it straightens out my thoughts, releases pressure. That’s useful to me. But its not significant. I cannot in good conscience face the wind at sunset and proclaim (in voice over to a swelling Mendelsohn concerto): I am a writer! I am not a writer. I wrote, that’s demonstrable. But I’m not a writer. A writer is a position. I do not have that position.

Well, I could go on and on. My point again, distilled, is, yes, I hear what people are saying about not trading one’s health for money (No Blood For Oil!) and I will watch out. Unfortunately what I really want — a good living or maybe “life, lived well” — is only available in America with proof of purchase. What do I like? Travel, wine, good shoes, conversation, good food, music, nature. In the Europe I imagine it does not cost much to get these things. In America, it costs a great deal. Except for real conversation. That is unavailable for any price.