generosity in the age of trump

I’ve been reading a new translation by Emily Wilson of the Odyssey  —language straightforward, down to earth despite the ever- presence of Zeus, Athena and Poseidon et. al. Not to mention Olympus or Mar a Lago. I’m enjoying it and am reminded once again how much things change yet remain the same.

In fact I found in that 3000 year-old tale in a few lines about midway through the rationale for the smug cruelties of congressional Republicans (the governmental arm of the unconscionable rich) and the far right in general. We may have come far in many ways but in matters of who gets what of all there is Republicans can claim a long, classic tradition.

At one point in the Odyssey King Alcinous offers the wandering Odysseus hospitality with a bon voyage accompanied by many gifts. The gifts came from Alcinous himself and other of the rich elites in Alcinous’ kingdom. In his appeal to the others to give generously Alcinous says:

“Our guest has clothes packed up inside a trunk.,
and other gifts that we have given him.
Each of us now should add a mighty tripod
and cauldron.

Right there, from 3000 years in the past, echoing through the ages, you have the engine that has driven the earth’s millennia of poverty. It has also given us the just-signed Republican “tax reform” bill which has showered even more riches upon the rich and will be paid for by the people by means of a “levy so that none of (the rich) will suffer from unrewarded generosity.”

To wit: cuts to Medicare, SS, health care coverage, public education and on and on and on…

Jim Culleny



November 4, 2017

CONGRATULATIONS US Citizens!! The 2018 ACA (Affordable Care Act) enrollment period is just 45 days (Nov 1-Dec 15). You’re not seeing advertising about the enrollment window online or on TV because the Affordable Care Act’s advertising budget was cut by 90 percent. Fortunately, your friends are posting this and using the word “congratulations” so it gets posted more frequently in Newsfeed by FB algorithms. Many of my friends depend on the ACA marketplace to get affordable health insurance.

Massachusetts: November 1, 2017 – January 23, 2018
New York: November 1, 2017 – January 31, 2018

but I personally don’t trust this, so I’m doing it before 12/15 if not sooner.

A truth to consider:

October 31, 2017

chief seattle 2 . Chief Seattle

Chief Seattle speaking at the signing of the Medicine Creek Treaty …recognizing how it doomed his people.

“It matters little where we pass the remnant of our days. They will not be many. A few more moons; a few more winters—and not one of the descendants of the mighty hosts that once moved over this broad land or lived in happy homes, protected by the Great Spirit, will remain to mourn over the graves of a people once more powerful and hopeful than yours. But why should I mourn at the untimely fate of my people? Tribe follows tribe, nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless. Your time of decay may be distant, but it will surely come, for even the White Man whose God walked and talked with him as friend with friend, cannot be exempted from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see.”

Decay so distant? We shall see.

Unlikely we’ll listen and actually do, but nevertheless, here is Chief Seattle’s poignant address in 1952 (a truer, less destructive view of Man’s relationship to the earth that that of Christian myth and theology):


October 19, 2017

Creation 01

I’m reading an excellent book I happened upon at Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls (great bookstore BTW). It’s title is God is Red, which I found intriguing. Long story short: the author, Vine Deloris Jr., explores the divide between native American religious ideas and those of Western European Christianity. The excerpt quoted below is from the chapter, The Problem of Creation, which examines how native American and Western European attitudes about nature lead to certain outcomes. Deloria makes a case that the western Christian view of Man over nature, Man apart, Man at war with nature, is integrally bound up with a theology that pits man against nature from the very beginning (from the Bible’s Genesis). He shows how Man’s fall (into nature) is woven into a theology of salvation and fundamentally necessary to it. This brought many things into focus for me. It helps explain (especially) American capitalism’s virtually complete self-destructive disregard for the damage it does to the ecosystem of which we are integral. Underneath it all is a centuries old, deep-seated doctrinaire religious myth.

“We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and winding streams with tangled growth as “wild.” Only to the white man was nature a “wilderness” and only to him was the land “infested” with “wild” animals and “savage” people.. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery.. Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us and the families that we loved was it “wild” for us.. When the very animals of the forest began fleeing from his approach, then it was that for us the “Wild West” began.”
…………………………………………………………………………… —Chief Luther Standing Bear

Jim Culleny, 10/19/17

God is Red: here, herehere

Pied Beauty

September 1, 2017


The other day I again read “Pied Beauty” a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins which, despite its period, speaks to America’s present national moment of racial angst.

This is it:

“Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim. 

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; a-dazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.”

To parse that poem for what it may mean to us, but to avoid a 21st century hate-fueled American “discussion”, we should set aside the divine patriarchal reference of its last line as well as its opener either of which might draw us into a fruitless religious debate. Regardless of who or whatever brought this world into being, what the poem clearly suggests is: beauty is intimately entangled with diversity. If you believe in God, he suggests, the world’s diversity is integral with its beauty. If you don’t nothing’s changed, it still is.

In his poem Gerard Manley has said a manly thing.  It’s manly to stare truth in the face and say, I see it! It is! It’s also womanly. It’s even gender-neutral, any of which should not scare off gun-brandishing-swastika-waving white supremacists —nor presidents for that matter. It’s cowardly on the other hand to lie in the face of truth. But, in this American moment such cowardice seems to be the apogee of careers, especially in high places.

But I digress.

In Pied Beauty Hopkins calls out diversity in colors and species —beautiful! he says. Brindled cows, stippled trout; landscapes of every configuration —beautiful! he says. Human trades countless as invention itself, all one with the world’s beauty!

And who would deny that if the world were colorless, if species were indistinguishable, if landscapes were featureless and predictable as fake firings on reality TV, if trades where such that we all spent eight hours a day or more at identical tasks —if all were as homogenized as milk ugliness would reign supreme and dreariness would be a kind of hell —though in our ego-drive to desiccate the planet and destroy its diversity this, sooner rather than later, may actually come to pass.

But I digress.

God (or not) in His (or Her’s or Other’s) wisdom has laid out for every being on the planet a smorgasbord of diverse beauty and has given only to humans the power to wreck it, yet, in the main, we remain clueless of our destructive potential and what it even means to be truly, beautifully human.

What I like most about Pied Beauty (in light of the sudden public eruptions of festering discord due to our differences) is what it says in its last stanza, how it embraces the “counter, original, spare, strange” how it wraps them in the arms of beauty. What it implies about American pluralism is that the range of our ethnicites, our skin tones, facial variations, sexual identities preferences and differences, our religious beliefs and that which runs counter —that which we may find strange, fickle, freckled… all are expressions of beauty; in fact, as Hopkins believes, of God’s beauty; because, as our myriad religious doctrines insist and as any open mind can see, God (or whatever unknown) has brought forth this diverse beauty. 

However, if you believe God did not, you may have a valid but bigoted leg to stand on. In which case you may howl ignorant hate at the moon until bronze monuments collapse of their own historical weight and no one could call you hypocrite; just please do not run through streets waving or quoting Bibles or Korans, or any other religious scriptures for that matter. Your supremacy and superiority would then be only in hypocrisy and ugliness …and in making grotesque electoral choices.

But I digress.

Jim Culleny

Change of State

April 30, 2017


Ten years ago I wrote a poem of an afternoon spent burning brush. At its center was a metaphor of tending a change of state; of an afternoon witnessing the moment solids become gas; the point at which enough heat is attained to transform limbs into flames which dissipate in air, slowly first until: Poof! Nada.

FYI: here’s the poem “Much Occurred”:

………. Yesterday I burned some brush
……………….. took all day
……………….. dragging piles I’d cut
……………….. during two previous weekends
………. What a workout
……………….. ticker tickin like crazy
……………….. head in a straw fedora outwitting melanoma
……………….. generating smoke, much occurred

Witnessing the events of the past year, especially here at home, I think a similar thing is happening now, not only in our politics but in the general state of our intellects, morals and ideals: personal and national.

Nationally at least, much occurs as we generate smoke morphing from something solid into stuff as amorphous as gas. In the brush pile we’ve been building we’ve heaped things like thoughtfulness, generosity, caring, ideals of justice and fairness, intellectual curiosity, adherence to principles, egalitarianism, genuine spirituality, community, tolerance, acceptance, truth, love and so much more of what makes us more than beasts (although even the animals we call beasts, hold some of these things more dear than we do).

We’ve been dragging the stuff we’ve cut over the previous thirty or forty years, building critical political mass until, with the last election, we struck our match and relegated truth and fact to that which may be politically burned. Raising ignorance to official status we’ve watched truth go up in smoke as we’ve danced around the bonfire of 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue (or gold-gilded Mar-a-Lago) as if such combustion was not only normal, but good.

Every day we’re pounded by some new assault on the value of truth which is the foundation of enlightened governments and nations. The attack has been so intense and relentless many of us go around scratching our heads as we sift through new junk in our effort to find the thread of truth that’ll make sense of things. Without that compulsion to get at the facts of the matter democracy doesn’t matter. Without truly informed people democracy’s a flaccid joke.

Politicians will always wield lies. That’s not news. Like a mechanic’s wrench and a carpenter’s level, everybody loves their tool. But yesterday getting caught utilizing a lie had some consequence. Today it gets you the presidency and an opportunity to run your businesses from the White House with all its high-value contacts and leverage.

As David Brooks said in a recent NYT column, “While running for office, Donald Trump violated every norm of statesmanship built up over these many centuries, and it turned out many people didn’t notice or didn’t care.”

The stream of fabrications and contradictions spun from the lips of Trump and his enablers are many and insistently beyond belief, but he seems to have tapped the mother lode of our reptilian brain which, unlike the sweet juice of sugar maples oozes fear and loathing and has over-ridden in many of us the essential love of honesty. The national disaster is that Trump is so good at it.

So, we may be undergoing a change of “state” in more than one sense of the word. We may be well into the process of burning bridges at both ends stuck center span peering into a chasm. The longer we tolerate the empty essence of Trump the closer we come to existential collapse.

Is this all over the top? I don’t think so —at least no more so than the trump-headed Republican truth-mincing apparatus.

In a recent issue of The New Yorker editor David Remnick quite accurately called out the danger implicit in the rhetoric and behavior of Donald Trump and his truth-starngling renegades.

Remnick said, “The clownish veneer of Trumpism conceals its true danger. Trump’s way of lying is not a joke; it is a strategy, a way of clouding our capacity to think, to live in a realm of truth.”

When Trump began his campaign of deceit, half-truths, obfuscations, deflections, destractions, smoke screens, and rhetorical shell games (all delivered in a blatantly hyperbolic, buffoonish way) I, like many, thought of him as a clown —and still do. The difference now is I see he’s a clown closer to the jealously demented clown of the opera Pagliacci or John Leguizamo’s Violator in the movie, Spawn.

Clowns can be terrifying especially if given the elbow room to be catastrophic. With the right director, someone like the president’s buddies Steve Bannon or Vlad Putin, fantasy cinema can be transformed into cinema verite and wreak real havoc.

This presidency’s unfunnyness (again characterized by Remnick), “… has become the demoralizing daily obsession of anyone concerned with global security, [with] the vitality of the natural world, the national health, constitutionalism, civil rights, criminal justice, a free press, science, public education, and the distinction between fact and its opposite.”

This is the change of state we’re on the brink of, one in which we’re held in normalized suspension between truth and fiction when no one knows who or what to believe so that, in the end, no one believes anything or anyone. I’d call this state chaos in which nothing you’ve counted one works—not your retirement funds, SS, banking, food distribution systems, courts, legislatures and ultimately, not your government; the entity by which we pool resources to protect and regulate what may or may not be done in civilized society, one that relies on the belief in the veracity of institutions to maintain civility.

But that’s not the state of Trump’s world. Trump’s world is that of Bob Dylan’s Everything is Broken:

Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties, broken vows
Broken pipes, broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken

Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground

Jim Culleny