Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holidays and New Year

I visited my relatives in Miami this Chrismas. My husband, two kids and I drove there and back. On our way there, an enormous sheet of ice flew off a truck and hit our car in Virginia. We spent the night in NC and the next day, in Georgia, noticed the gauge in the dashboard indicated the engine was very hot. It was December 23rd and staying in a hotel would have been out of the question. We exited out of I-95 and into what looked like a very shady neighborhood, pulled into a gas station where repair men were called to help us out.

Two toothless men with very thick southern accents showed up, it was almost impossible to understand what they were saying. They looked at our car and asked us to follow them to their repair shop which was an enormous junkyard about a half a mile away. At the entrance there was a dog, pictured above, that barked furiously until he realized we weren't scared. He watched us roam around taking pictures for awhile and then decided to take a nap.

The two men told us the cooling system had been damaged - most likely by the impact when the ice hit the car - then poured a sealant into the engine. They asked for $45 dollars and sent us off, telling us maybe we'd make it all the way to Miami. It was already getting dark and the thought of our car breaking down halfway was a bit scary.

But we made it alright, arrived at our hotel at 2 am that night. During our stay, the weather was warm and sunny, and the family reunions even more so. Miami is a place where Starbucks can't compete with all the great little restaurants and "cortadito" shops where Cuban coffee abounds. We got the car fixed and returned to NYC energized by a lot of love, interesting and lively conversations, and the fun we had. We'll hold on to all that for a long time.

All the best from us at The Tempest for 2009,


Sunday, December 28, 2008

The genius

demands quiet.

He shouts down ten stories at the jackhammers,
shakes his fist at the crosstown bus.

Call him too late and he won't answer;
too early,
and you'll wish he'd never picked up the phone.

These are his requirements:
a pot of Earl Grey, six pencils (sharpened),
one blue ballpoint, a pad
of college-ruled notepaper, a bowl
of rice pudding, with a tablespoon.
No television.
No radio.

He never begins until almost midnight,
and then he'll stalk barefoot and mad-haired
until the garbage trucks snort and grumble in the street
and he crumples up half-sonnets and
aborted triolets to throw at them.

Don't you dare bang your broom on the ceiling.

And don't waste words reminding him of the days when poems leapt
from his pen so quickly that he would write in subway cars
and at deli counters, and even if you jostled his elbow
or poked your umbrella in his back
you couldn't stop him from scorching page after page
with hymns of fire and the pink tragedy of a winter sky.

Mark Aiello

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Gone are the Days of Careful Foreshadowing

Three quarters of the way through this blog post, I will get to the point of the post. I am telling you this now so that you keep reading the post until that point, and then I will hope that my main point will keep you reading until the end, when I will tell you once again what I have told you.

Actually I am not sure if the above will hold true. But I do know I have noticed that the older a book is, the less likely it is to have a "prologue" or an italicized section designed to give you a reason to read the first 250 pages, or a first chapter that seems to come from a different, more piquant story than the one you soon begin to read; until you realize that the chapter you just read actually comes from somewhere in the middle of the book.

Seems like this is a crutch for the modern writer. Does it mean the moderns are less skillful? I am not one to say (or at least not one to write). But I do know I have a tough time imagining Flaubert needing to spill a few beans about Madame Bovary at the beginning, only to spill the rest of them later.

Movies have indulged in this for quite some time--or anyway, it seems they started doing it before authors took it up. Maybe that's because movies have long been made for a busy audience--folks who don't have that much time and who need to be reassured that, if they spend some time on this story of yours, they will be rewarded later.

Gone are the days of careful foreshadowing: when, just by telling the tale very skillfully, the author was able to convey a sense of what was to come. Here are the days of blunt propositions: step right up--have a peep inside! We won't disappoint!

We get bored so easily today. We feel left out and lonesome if we discover ourselves reading a book that has not already given us every reason to believe we will have made good use of the time we've spent. The prospect of having spent an hour alone, risking the failure of our reading investment, seems to shame us into leaving books closed that have not early made us secure.


Woods for the words below

I looked among my pictures for an image of snow that would go with JC's beautiful post below but I think this one is the most fitting.


Friday, December 19, 2008


Snow is falling here in the Northeast, not blanketing the streets but slowly drowning them. Do you have a mind for winter? Francois Villon, that fine French ruffian-poet once asked, "Ou les neiges sont d'antan?"("Where are the snows of yesteryear?") They are here today, those snows. Does the snow resemble an assembly of angels, atmospheric confetti, a cosmic grammar assault, with commas, semi-colons, and question marks whizzing about and down? Think of any literary description of snow and invent something even more clever. Take that idea, remove it from your mind, and place it on a warm surface so it melts and is never known. After all, snow is not a symbol or invested image; snow is erasure, the dissolver of material, the begetter of the unknown, the unknowable, the dissappeared. J/C

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On Art - trA nO

Jim Dine once said: "My real ancestors are artists of the past. I am comforted and excited and soothed and inspired by them." For those of you that love art, making it, viewing it, thinking about it, its history, here are some thoughts from various artists throughout time and around the globe.


Art is dangerous and if it is chaste, it isn't art.
-Pablo Picasso

Look at nature, work independently, and solve your own problems.
-Winslow Homer

Art disturbs, science reassures.
-Gino Severini

There is no 'must' in art, because art is free.
-Wassily Kandinsky

If a man devotes himself to art, much evil is avoided that happens otherwise if one is idle. -Albrecht Durer

The ugliest spectacle is that of artists selling themselves. Art as a commodity is an ugly idea..The artist as businessman is uglier than the businessman as artist.
-Ad Reinhardt

Follow the masters! But why should one follow them? The only reason they are masters is that they didn't follow anybody.
-Paul Gaugin

The exhibition has now become no more than a bazaar where mediocrity spreads itself out with impudence. The exhibitions are useless and dangerous..they ought to be abolished.
-Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

When we are no longer children, we are already dead.
-Constantin Brancusi

Between my head and my hand, there is always the face of death.
-Francis Picabia

Personally, I believe very much in values of savagery; I mean: instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness.
-Jean Dubuffet

What am I in most people's eyes? A nonentity or an eccentric and disagreeable man..I should want my work to show what is in the heart of such an eccentric, of such a nobody.
-Vincent Van Gogh

Just as Leonardo da Vinci studied human anatomy and dissected corpses, so I try to dissect souls.
-Edvard Munch

The job of the artist is to deepen the mystery.
-Francis Bacon

Art does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see.
-Paul Klee

Why do people think artists are special? It's just another job.
-Andy Warhol

Things are not difficult to make; what is difficult is putting ourselves in the state of mind to make them.
-Constantin Brancusi

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Shoe-in for the Low Point

Last Sunday, as all the world now knows, an Iraqi journalist at a news conference threw first one, then the other of his shoes at President Bush's head.

Smirking, Bush ducked both times and later said "So what?"

No doubt comics the world over felt a week's worth of material had been written for them, and "the Arab street" has made the journalist a folk-hero. But for any American who cares what the world thinks of his/her country, the act becomes--once the chuckling has died down--a deep humiliation. Worse is the clear sense that Bush was asking for it (having invaded the journalist's nation on a liar's dare).

Perhaps more wretched than any of that is the apparent fact that Bush neither understands the sadness of the moment (not for him but for his country), nor cares.

"So what?"? Is that the best you can come up with? Having been subjected to the worst insult an Arab can throw, you, Mr. President, as the representative of your people, can offer no more reflection nor care than "So what?"?

How many years of good will and intelligence will the next President have to muster before the damage to our national image can be repaired?

It is all of a piece, sadly for us all. You're doing a heckuva job, Bushie.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008


As the economy begins to plummet (oh wait, the recession began last December, according to lazy, late-in-thinking market analysts), it is important to invest in wishful thinking on a grand scale. A utopian scale even. Since it's imperative that we preserve the present for posterity, we need to establish a historical record that will appeal to the senses and sensibilities of our descendents. And how best can we enable them to savor the immutability of corporate culture's mendacity and predatory boorishness? The arts, of course.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could get the federal government to bail out the arts instead of the corporations? With the hyper-infusion of financial endowments, we could elaborate a multi-media expose of our present conditions. What about WALL STREET: THE MUSICAL? Garage rock bands touring with names like "Day Trader," "Powder Blue Shirts," and 401Kaput"? Perhaps we could get Bill Viola to do a video piece entitled "Autoworkers and Helicopters." Just think of it: Video pornography could inaugurate a series entitled "My Nasdaq is Up!," a sensual and exceedingly idealistic melding of erotica and market trends.

Already, as of this writing, I'm landscaping an abandoned lot in preparation for a sculpture garden which will contain a statue of King Midas in the midst of projectile vomiting (a geyser of sewage water will be propelled through the statue's mouth at the opening and closing of the stock market each day).

Perhaps we could have Spielberg or Scorsese do a blockbuster film called GREED? Wait, that was made over eighty years ago, five years before the Wall Street crashed, burned, and greatly depressed. Well, perhaps they could shoot a re-make. What better way to reflect the Hegelian, hellish cycle of history? J/C

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hudson, Dec 08

Last week, on Thursday, there was an ice storm in upstate NY and western MA. It lasted an entire day and left thousands of people without power and everything covered in ice.

On Sunday, I went into a patch of woods across from my house and shot ice against the sun.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

A red poem

I will ask you once more to count the days
back to the one when we fell, burning,
into the strange atmosphere of this world
where the weight of every object is wrong
and the distances between everything are fickle.
The night rain falls like sofas and anvils
and in the morning mountains have sprung up
in impossible places towards the horizon.
Our clocks here spin like the eyes
of cartoon characters struck on the head,
in our laboratory where none of the devices
do much but beep, and click, and beep.

Look up – to arrive we had to bisect
that lurid sky, swarmed with the very stars
that guarded the night of your birth,
though now they've been turned on their sides
and made false to even themselves. It is too bad,
but we are here and this will always
be the world where you held your neck out patiently
and let me taste your cupric skin
while we clenched each other inside our failing machine
and wondered what was howling
and banging at the hatch all night.

No matter – this is the mission we flew on,
and where we fell to, you and I, and perhaps
either one of those vicious suns, or maybe
the heat of our craft burning behind us
will scorch the shadows of us holding hands
forever and away across the rusted sand.

Mark Aiello

Saturday, December 13, 2008


A day late and a decade early: Fridays and Tuesdays are the normal days of operation for this realm of rants, chants, and thieving poets but this last month of 2008 has me prancing on a peninsula of pain in the rain (alas, not in Spain). Forgive the slippage, but perhaps it was person was gravitating toward this day in history, the occasion of lexicographer Samuel Johnson's death in 1784 at the age of 75. Doctor Johnson's English Dictionary (the first!) came out in 1755 and it is a masterly museum mosaic of words, archaic and useful, and definitions at once perceptive, polemical, comical, and droll. Several years ago Ashgate Press published a selection, nicely edited by Jack Lynch. On this Saturday, I urge you, dear Reader, to pick up any edition of Johnson's Dictionary and read in and around it for your pleasure. Yes, read a dictionary for pleasure! It sounds like a put-on but put paid to that sentiment, Reader. You will enter this dictionary with a delight that just doesn't come from thumbing through thesauruses, examining encyclopedias, gleaning grammar books, or dipping into other dictionaries. In memory of Dr. Johnson and meaning, get thee to his Dictionary now! J/C

Skilled at Photoshop?

In the age of Photoshop, so-called "photographic evidence" has all but lost its power to prove anything more than the digital dexterity of its presenter. And in the case of a borderline crank subject like the study of UFOs, it has simply made for some very cute, very silly pictures of obviously home-made, very carefully photographed models of craft pretending to be evidence of who-knows-what.

And then there are pictures like the above, which to a skeptic like myself (who also happens to have made a living for a time being really pretty good at Photoshop), presents an intriguing prospect. The photograph and its companions were allegedly taken at Green Bay Wisconsin in 2007 and can be found at

There is every possibility the photo is doctored, so let us begin with that premise. However, it would have required the skills of someone who is at once truly masterful (Hollywood level at least) at creating verisimilitude--take special note of flares of light ovetaking thin branches as the craft apparently "moves" during the exposure; truly motivated to deceive the public into belief that the sighting really took place; and truly inept or truly not interested in gaining notoriety or payment for the deployment of their considerable skills.

And yet, if we take the position that the photo must be doctored, because of course UFOs are not UFOs at all, but always a hoax, then what are we saying? We are making several assumptions about human character and skill that begin to equal or surpass in their collective unlikelihood the possibility that something inexplicable (to wit--an Unidentified Flying Object) was recorded by a photosensitive device behind some trees in Green Bay not long ago.

The rest is for us to ponder.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ground Zero is No Joke (Unless You're Talking About Construction Schedules)

None of the following should be construed to minimize the catastrophe that took place at the site of the former World Trade Center several years back. I was certainly close enough to "the events" to know it was all shock and awe and nothing at all funny.

However, seven years on we still have this enormous hole in the ground. It is the size of the downtowns of several notable cities I have visited: Portland, Oregon, for instance--a city large enough to have a AAA farm club; or New Orleans--certainly the French Quarter is not much bigger than this acre of hell in Lower Manhattan. Simply put: it's a big hole and lots of buildings were destroyed.

Now comes the joke: they keep saying they are putting up buildings there. This is probably because it would hurt too much to admit the turbaned enemy can awake each morning knowing that, where he knocked down skyscrapers, no skyscrapers now stand. It may also be due to the interlocking nature of dozens of business deals that have been made over the ashes, and to admit that one is not putting up buildings would be to scuttle those deals and all the money that rides upon their progress. All that said, here is a fact: they are not putting up any buildings at Ground Zero.

Sure, there is the Freedom Tower. The Freedom Tower, which will be the tallest building in the United States when built, is a two-story high concrete stump surrounded by a moat of pilings and mud. In no way does it resemble a skyscraper and barely resembles a building. Three or four years ago, they put six girders in the ground--and then stopped. There are two mighty construction cranes towering above the stump, and they both have big American flags on them. But they are mostly silent. A handful of hardhats poke around the site each day, perhaps hammering a nail or two. The site was broom clean and ready for construction in 2002. No other buildings have laid even a foundation (except for the memorial, which is destined to be largely underground).

Folks, they are not putting up any buildings at Ground Zero.

Don't let any computer rendering make you believe otherwise.

There are no buildings now. There are no buildings getting ready to be built. There are no buildings on the horizon. There are only the computer renderings.

I believe this is because Larry Silverstein, the lease-holder of the site, knows that, since he received billions for the loss of the twin towers, and since he is not compelled to build, and since there is no market at all for any office towers he would conceivably build, he would be mighty foolish to waste all those billions on a clutch of very tall skyscrapers that will cost him all his billions and sit empty and make him go broke before the paint is dry in their corridors. I believe there was a limited market before this fall's financial meltdown and that now, only a crazy person would put up an entire city's worth of buildings just blocks away from the epicenter of that meltdown. Heck, it is a wonder that the nearby Goldman Sachs tower is continuing towards completion.

There's no hope for any construction at Ground Zero. And that is a sad sort of joke: the terrorists won.

By the way: I hope I am proven the world's worst prognosticator, and that they have everything tall and shiny by 2012 just like they keep promising. But I am not feeling optimistic.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Forgive the late posting, I was re-reading parts of PARADISE LOST by the poet celebrating his 400th birthday and turning back to Ronald Johnson's poetry gloss/renovation/reinvention of that epic, RADI OS. You would do well to read them respectively.

Onwards to other matters...

The predicament of the word leads the consideration of the disturbing state of bookstores. Ron Silliman's site has tracked the tragic closure of independent bookstores throughout the country. Awful news to add to the awful news of the world in general. The loss of bookstores is lamentable for many reasons, especially since there is nothing to replace them. 'Tis true: Amazon, Alibris, and any other online book-buying service will never replace the text enclosed in book covers. Although there has been much speculation about online book-producing services superseding the print copy found on shelves of stores and bookcases, this is a forecast that will forever be predicted and never really happen. Downloading novels? Possible and luridly so. But this kind of service will always serve an ancillary function to that mastodon of material, the published Book. As many critics and pundits have mentioned, the Death of the Book has been long been prophesied and has never happened. Dear Reader, it never will, at least in your lifetime or the next four or five generations. Lest one feel comforted by the assertivess of this prediction, keep in mind that most books are shite. Seriously, computers will never become bookstores and books will never be read by computers. Books are not yet Paradise Lost; nor, for that matter, are bookstores. But let's hope the book chains go under and the mom and pop's renew their leases of life.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Morandi's Silence

The Metropolitan Museum in New York is currently having a retrospective of Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964), the 20th century Italian painter.

Morandi studied art in the Accademia di Belle Arti, Firenze, and lived his whole life in Bologna with his three sisters. Early in his artistic career, he met with Carra and di Chirico and aligned himself briefly with the Pittura Metafisica movement. But Morandi was not interested much in isms, nor in external events, though he is now considered one of the most important forerunners of Minimalism. He was in fact deeply introverted and held a detached perspective on common events, as evident in his work.

All alone in his studio, he never stopped painting, drawing and engraving a deeply personal universe: vases, bottles, bowls and boxes, stripped of all trivial detail. When looking at these small compositions of silence and meditation, one can clearly see the influences of the great masters: Giotto, Massaccio and Piero de la Francesca - from the simplicity of his palate to his focus on the eternal through geometric form. He once said: "Nothing is more abstract than the visual world", a profound statement, and with personal restraint he concentrated on form, color and space to capture the eternal in objects. He is considered the quintessential artist’s artist, but even someone not finely tuned in to visual artistic processes, may appreciate his efforts.

Morandi lived during WWII, extremely difficult times. Perhaps during these trying days, the calm, yet fully alive work of such a master, someone whose lifetime dedication was the investigation of reality through the familiar with profound integrity and simplicity, would be inspiring. The stillness of these paintings might open the viewer to a sense of serenity and infinite possibilities.

The show is only the second retrospective of Morandi ever held in the US and closes on December 14. There are over 100 still lives, but Morandi painted the same subjects repeatedly and there's really no need to see them all. Fully focusing on two or three that capture your eye, and joining him in his meditative quest, is all you need to do in order to gain a great deal more than you ever thought you needed. It's that simple.


The Metropolitan Museum
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, New York 10028-0198
Information: 212-535-7710

Sunday, December 07, 2008

why the business traveler reads bukowski

for starters, his poems are just the right size
for a short hop flight. much better than, say,
anna karenina. in a half hour wait (not including delays)
you still feel like you've gotten somewhere
moving with him through exotic zipcodes
and several soul-crushing jobs.

i guess we're lured by the romance
of such desultory days, maybe headed to the diner
or to santa anita (where I've never been,
and wouldn't know how to go about even placing a bet
but I picture a parking lot of red dust, palms standing lonely
in the distance like desert prophets,
sun making a yoke of the horizon)
or to the corner store for an impromptu beer,
any of these preferable to waiting for the 7:35 to san jose,
another expensed cab-ride to an oatmeal conference room,
with its inoffensive art, those phones and flipcharts,
all those rehearsed handshakes you'll face.

others find nobility in his demotic concerns;
making rent, or the six horse in the fourth race,
or the egyptian eyes of the night waitress
at a diner you would never really set foot in.
me, i just like the way all those lower case letters feel
so modest and cool on my eyes, after rummaging in my bag
for the right powerwords for my presentation.

Mark Aiello

A Small Plea for Transportation Parity

I am told President-Elect Obama has an on-line suggestion box. If this turns out to be true, it will soon contain at least one note from an Eastern Seaboard voter who would very much like to see a change in the way our nation orders its transportation priorities.

We know already that Obama wants to pump up our "aging infrastructure" (as it seems always to be called) with billions of dollars worth of patches and struts. I say, how about a whole new system? One that relies far less on the resource-squandering, city-destroying, strip-mall enabling automobile; and far more upon one that has been successfully embraced by what a former cabinet-member once referred to rather contemptuously (in a more headstrong time for the U.S.) as "old Europe"?

I am talking about high-speed rail.

As an occasional traveler to Washington, I can attest to its attractiveness on a limited scale: the Acela, a slow-poke among the world's high-speed trains at about 150 mph, gets you from New York to DC in less than 3 hours. It feels like no time at all if you have even a moderately good book to read. Why can't this be speeded up, and why can't it do more than serve the Boston-Washington Corridor?

Can't we build a fast train that extends to Florida? If that is too much, a line from New York to Chicago is certain to be heavily utilized--and if the rails are laid well and the train moves at European-level speeds, the trip would probably take about five hours. It would easily compete with air travel, considering the deep circles of hell that our airports have become. What's better, trains are so much more fuel efficient than cars, this becomes almost a case by itself--for national security, even (if you want to stretch it).

Once, my family and I missed a flight from a city in southern Spain to Madrid, and we had a flight out of Madrid later in the day. It seemed we were in no position to make that flight back home. But we got on the Spanish "Ave" train, and it sped us to the capital at over 200 miles per hour. We ended up beating the missed plane by about half an hour. I have long regarded this as a stupendous achievement.

So, President Obama: all I want for Christmas is a promise that you will build a comprehensive high-speed rail system. Note, please build them as follows: Boston-Richmond; New York-Chicago; San Diego-San Francisco for starters.


Friday, December 05, 2008

All Poets Are Thieves!!!

Today we wonder whether the financal chaos will consume us financially, emotionally, psychologically. Artistically? No, we don't think much of that dire descent into aesthetic despair or even madness. But many writers have indeed. Today is the anniversary of American poet Vachel Lindsay's death at the age of 52. He drank Lysol to kill himself, not the most aesthetically or palate-pleasing beverage with which to pull the plug. In any case, Lindsay, a basement-bargain Walt Whitman, a middling, perhaps even mediocre poet, died when his personal indigence was not equivalent to the nation's. When those around you are boisterous successes, it is surely demeaning to be the economically failed and frustrated pen-man. Now we face a capitalist fiasco where everyone, including the artists, will take a real hit. Will artists and/or citizens decide to drink Lysol? I hope not. If they cannot, as radio commentator Tavis Smiley encourages, "keep the faith," then perhaps they will experiment with red wine and sleeping pills, a finer means to construct a death. In celebration of Lindsay I will encourage Tempest readers to read his work. You might like it. Since I haven't a clue whether the poems from Lindsay's THE CONGO AND OTHER POEMS are still under copyright or if I am permitted to quote an entire poem in this space, I will simply recommend that you take a gander. But if one is to drink while reading, try wine, whiskey, fabric softener, Lestoil, or--dare I say?--water. Lysol should only be consumed within several feet from a toilet or a defecating child. J/C

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Iris Murdoch on Philosophy and Literature

I found this interview in a literary blog somewhere and had to post it. For artists, here are some brilliant psychological insights into the creative process such as the distinction between fantasy and imagination.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Whither Pontiac?

In 1763 the Native American Chief Pontiac led 300 men in an attack on Britain's Fort Detroit. Circumstances intervened (an Anglo-French peace treaty was signed) and he never carried out the attack. Many years later, he was paid homage by an automobile company that took his name, and for a time used a profile of him as its logo.

Now with America's Detroit under attack and no sure treaty in sight, General Motors suggests it may shut down the line of cars bearing the great chief's name. As a going concern, Pontiac will be no more.

This should come as no surprise. Pontiac as a brand lost its purpose long ago and we should perhaps not be sorry to see it rest peacefully alongside the Oldsmobile, the Jordan and the Stanley Steamer.

At the peak of its fearsome might, General Motors had five distinct brands, each built to satisfy a slice of the American consumer public. In order of social ascendancy, they were as follows:

Doughty Chevrolet was for the working stiff, the young couple, the thrifty, and was often a family's first second-car. The cars had a rugged flair that made them almost ridiculously popular.

Second from the bottom was Pontiac. When you got that promotion and wanted a little lift, you traded up--to Pontiac. It was, most of the time, a Chevy with a few extra gadgets and chrome. In the 1960s it was "wide-track" and developed a taste for speed: it was gutty (think GTO).

Oldsmobile was for the man who'd made it to the solid-to-upper-middle: clearly luxurious, the Olds had a sobriety and solidity appealing to those who were as close to the bottom as to the top. It also had a reputation for technical advancement--first with power-steering; first with (a disastrously poor) front-wheel drive in the Toronado.

Buick was a sumptuous, heavy ride, the natural choice of the professional who wanted all the luxury of the best a motorist could have, but without the extra dollars associated with a very fancy nameplate. But make no mistake--this was a fancy car: for the doctor, the lawyer, the self-made man.

Cadillac was the paragon of motoring. If you had to ask the price, you couldn't afford it. Truth to tell, the least expensive Caddies were less expensive than the most expensive Buicks (but don't tell anyone). This was the car for both the arriviste and old money; it spoke plainly of wealth, of opulence, of raw power. The cars were extravagant, often stunning and immensely powerful. Few would have refused one had they been given a chance to own one. The hurtling behemoths enjoyed extraordinary popularity.

Now the culture is more fractious. For whom is the Mazda Protege? The Saturn Astra? The Aztec? We know who drives the Hummer, but their type are going the way of the Great Auk.

Several years ago, GM retired Oldsmobile. Could anyone have saved a brand that had the name "Old" in it? I used to love the Olds--but that was then.

Now GM must sacrifice its weakest offspring and today that is Pontiac. The reason it's such a weak brand, I believe, is because it has no public. It's not thrifty, brawny, wide-track, sporty or even interesting in any way shape or form. As a brand, it lost touch with its buyers--and must go.

GM will still have Saturn, Hummer and Saab (!) kicking around. They will probably end up with just Cadillac, Buick and Chevy. It makes sense: fancy, mid-price, and cheap. These are not elegant slices of the pie, but in GM's chastened state, it needs to keep it simple.

Good-bye Pontiac--we hardly knew ye.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008


I am a week early and so be it. But to celebrate prematurely is preferable to being late and, when a celebration calls not only for lighting birthday candles but also countering the darkness of poor taste, one should rise to the occasion. Next Tuesday, December 9th, is John Milton's 400th birthday anniversary. I rarely find Milton enthusiasts in my midst; he tends to be dismissed or, worse, unread. The old saw by students at Western universities in the early 20th century went so: "Malt does more than Milton can/To justify the ways of Man." At the overripe, over-priced university I attended, the Milton course was tossed like a hot potato or hell-fire ember around the relevant faculty. No one wanted to teach Milton. Several goodly readers have acknowledged boredom or indifference with Paradise Lost. How can anyone be bored or indifferent with a narrative about Satan? Hail, Milton! The political pamphlets, dealing with topics such as divorce, censorship, and regicide, are supremely sharp and eloquent. All the poems, some commemorative, some polemical, burn with a fiery passion, akin to the burning precincts of Satan's Pandemonium. So happy anniversary, fair poet! If I can get just one Tempest reader to discover you, I just might go to heaven and look down at your creation. J/C

Monday, December 01, 2008

Better World Books

This holiday season, I would like to promote an online retailer with a positive message about the role a company can take in the world: Better World Books. I think it's a good idea to support the competitors of huge monopolies like Amazon and more importantly, companies like Better World which embody a shift in corporate values. Better World Books immerse themselves in the community they serve by supporting libraries, colleges and literacy programs around the world while striving to offset the environmental impact of their operations. It is a for-profit enterprise that sells new and used books and donates part of the profit to charities; they also promote literacy around the world. You can click here to read about their three bottom lines.

Like Amazon, Better World Books has a website that's attractive and easy to navigate. Consumers can choose between new or used books (if available in a particular title) as well as compare prices across online booksellers. But most importantly, it's a socially conscious company and this is a paradigm shift worth supporting. Through the site’s “online sidewalk sale” it’s possible to connect with, for example, The New York Public Library and buy a book they can’t keep on their shelves. The money spent helps the library support its mission.

I hope this season, with all its problems and hope for more socially and environmentally conscious ways to navigate transactions, inspires you to try a company like Better World and others like it.