Rip Van Winkle and the Changing Political
In Washington Irving’s short story Rip
Van Winkle published in 1819, Rip fell asleep for twenty
years. This after drinking some purple magic liquor from the
Ghosts of Henry Hudson and his crew, following a game of nine
Twenty consecutive years of slumber in the life of a person
would seem like an eternity, as Rip discovered upon his awakening.
But twenty years in the course of political history, is a
relatively short period of time. And yet?
With that in mind, imagine if Rip Van Winkle, had fallen asleep
in 1992 following Bill Clinton’s election and awakened,
at the tail end of this 2012 campaign season and right on
past election night.
Here’s just some of the questions, musings and comments
he might have had, as he tried to get his bearings on what
had transpired on the political scene during his slumber.
“I see Bill Clinton
is still campaigning hard. Did they change term limits?
He did WHAT while in the White House? Where’s Hillary?
Guess that marriage broke up.”
“She’s Secretary of State?
Front runner for a Presidential nomination in 2016? She
got as many votes in the primaries in ’08 as did the
current president, did she?
“Where’s Al Gore? Quit
politics? His marriage broke up? With Tipper after 40 years?
Who would have figured? Won the popular vote in 2000? How
come he didn’t become president? Won an Oscar for
a slide show?”
“BLACK PRESIDENT??? No way!
And he is going to be re-elected according to the polls?
“His name is wha-a-a-t? Now
I know you’re joking. Had me there for a while. No.
Seriously. It really is Barack Obama? Where did he come
from? Sounds like some kinda’ African name. I guess
he was born here, but did anybody check his records to make
“I know why I was sleeping,
but why was this President Barack guy sleeping during the
first debate? And why did he keeping saying, ‘You
didn’t build that?’ Did we ever find out who
“Hussein is his middle name??
No! (Rip laughs out loud). Say, what ever happened to Sadam
Hussein? Drove his butt out of Kuwait during Desert Storm,
“What’s Colin Powell up
“Speaking of storm…who’s
this here Christie fella? Boy he really loves the president.
Must be a diehard Liberal Democrat. Could lose a few though.”
“Almost 30% of the voters are non-white? Used to be
that 85% of voters were white.”
“20 women senators? Hey that’s
great! But come to think of it…there were 19 when
I fell asleep in what was called the Year of the Woman.”
“Lilly Ledbetter Act? To prevent gender discrimination
in pay compensation? Thought we did that in the 70’s
during the feminist movement.”
“I can’t believe that
woman in Wisconsin was elected to the Senate even though
she told the world she was a lesbian, before the election.
Shoot, Barney Frank didn’t come out until six years
after he was first elected in ’81.”
“Speaking of women, what was
all that talk about rape? That ‘a pregnancy during
rape is something God intended.’ Or that ‘If
it is a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to to
shut the whole thing down.’ The darnedest thing.”
“People voted in a few states
for people of the same sex to be able to get married? Well
I’ll be. To think it all started one night at Stonewall
“Ya gotta’ be s------ me on this marijuana thing.
Coupla’ states voted to legalize weed for recreational
purposes? A Woodstock Nation coming to pass? My word.”
“Why do they keep harping on
George Bush. I mean Clinton beat him soundly before I dozed
off. What? His son? Two terms? Guess his stopping drinking
musta’ really helped.”
“Speakin’ of fathers and
sons, this Mitt man is the son of Governor George Romney,
a Mormon who marched with the NAACP through Detroit suburbs
and forged a bond with Martin Luther King. Why is his kid
writing off 47% of the people? Ain’t easy to get elected
“Why was Clint Eastwood talking
to a chair?”
“General Motors and Chrysler were going broke? What
next, banks going under? Sheesh.”
“And the unemployment rate is
7.9%? That’s not much worse than in ‘92 when
it was 7.5% (‘It’s the economy stupid.’)”
“With a national health plan
finally in development called ‘Obamacare,’ it
must be universally loved to have been named in the president’s
“Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
I guess it’s a long story.”
“Who’s this Osama bin Laden guy that Obama and
Biden are so proud of killing?"
“Biden. Heck, I remember how
controversial his leadership was in heading up the Judiciary
Committee on the Clarence Thomas nomination to the Supreme
Court. He was kinda’ walkin’ on eggs there.
A lotta’ malarkey if you ask me.”
“Then that whole plagiarizin’
flap many years ago. Who’d thought he’d one
day be a heartbeat from the presidency.
“And why the crazy laughter
during the debate? What was so funny? Two Catholics too.
They must believe in the same things no?”
“Hey, where’s this tea
party? Do you need an invite to go? Is this like a theme
park sorta’ Alice in Wonderland thing?”
“Is Donald Trump no longer in
“What ever happened to Ross
And so on, and so on, and so on.
Quote of the Month
Wilson/Getty Images; The New York Times; November 6, 2012
T’was The Night Before The
Night Before Christmas...
…when A Visit from St. Nicholas
was first published in the Troy, New York Sentinel
on December 23, 1823. Anonymously.
It would take nearly twenty years before Clement
Clark Moore would come forward to acknowledge authorship of
that poem, now more commonly known as The Night Before
Christmas. It is arguably the best known of American
verses of all time. Yet he had written it for the delight
of his children (shades of Lewis Carroll), not for publication.
A family member had submitted it to the newspaper unbeknownst
With Christmas once again rapidly approaching,
and with my having recently passed by Clement Clark Moore
Park in the Chelsea area of Manhattan, it got me to thinking,
just who was this guy with this tripod name that
falls so trippingly from the tongue? And what about that
Googling him later that night, I would read
that he might not even be the real author. Heresy! It has
been suggested by some, including an expert on textual content
analysis, that Henry Livingston Jr. really wrote it. Whoever
that is. Though there has never been any physical evidence
to prove this theory.
Yet even if that turned out to be true, Mr.
Moore’s name would still not be taken off that playground
in Chelsea. Turns out he was a "1%-er" who owned
a humongous amount of real estate in the neighbor, including
an estate the city had to go right through when it started
laying out its street grid in the area. Moore fought it tooth
and nail, but then having lost, did ok dividing up land lots
and selling them to well-heeled New Yorkers.
He was a professor of classics at the General
Theological Seminary, a staunch Episcopalian, and a writer
whose works included, of all things, a tome entitled A
Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language. This might
all further explain his reluctance to originally claim authorship,
of a poem that spoke of “a right jolly old elf,”
and then a belly and jelly rhyme for good measure.
Yet whoever did write A Visit from St.
Nicholas—and I’d bet my antlers it was Moore…
is largely responsible for the conception of Santa Claus
from the mid-nineteenth century to today, including his
physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode
of transportation, the number and names of his reindeer
and the tradition that he brings toys to children. Prior
to the poem, American ideas about St. Nicholas and other
Christmastide visitors varied considerably.”
New York Times, December 25, 1930
St. Nicholas of Myra
Santa Claus of Clement Clark Moore
December 6, 346
Clement Clark Moore re-imagined Christmas
legends that trace all the way back to the Fourth Century.
And he developed one that will no doubt live forever.
One dour academician and one inspired poem.
As unlikely a story as a sleigh ride through a winter night’s
we need to have snow
to see silence
in the making
each flake falling
on city drums
A rather ghostly figure without legs (or an
ET under a Martian sky?), he seemingly can’t take it
anymore. He lets out a scream that reverberates in the loudest
decibels that the mind can conjure. It’s that painting
by Edvard Munch, and it is now on loan to the Museum of Modern
Art through next April. And we flock.
Who has not had a moment where you just want to let out a
scream, because it just has become all too much? And we flock.
And there it hangs, a sketchy piece of art composed of pastels
on cardboard, that you imagine could have been done by any
professional artist, in what, maybe forty minutes? But as
only can happen in that sequestered world of art collecting
that no outsider can ever comprehend, it sold for $120 million
at auction this past May. It is of course…
Simply framed and under glass,
it has a wall to itself, opposite that of Van Gogh’s
Starry Night (both depicting a fantastical sky).
And it comes with a hand-painted plaque affixed by Munch,
that contains a poem he wrote describing his inspiration for
was walking along the road with two friends — the
sun was setting—suddenly the sky turned blood red
— I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the
fence — there was blood and tongues of fire above
the blue-black fjord and the city — my friends walked
on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety — and
I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.
Some would call this a primal scream. One
that is lodged deep within, resulting perhaps from some traumatic
childhood experience. Say like, being left home alone?
The painting itself has seemingly
undergone its own trauma, as Munch toyed with several variations
of it over the course of a seventeen year period. So he did
spend considerably more time on it than the work at first
glance would seem to have required. It’s always surprising
to learn how much “noodling” around artists will
do, before they feel they have gotten it right and can just
let it be.
Then there have been the thefts
and theft attempts along the way with resultant damage requiring
repair and restoration, to add to the pain. The last retrieval,
made by Norwegian police (along with Munch’s Madonna),
occurred in August of 2006.
The Scream. We get it. Instantly! We’ve all been there.
Yet despite its ubiquity in the pop culture—often parodied,
imitated, appearing in unexpected places as it once did in
The Simpsons, made into dolls and Halloween masks,
affixed to mugs and T-shirts, and even silk screened by the
master of pop art, Andy Warhol— it still draws crowds.
It’s as if we need to file past it to pay our respects
to high anxiety.
Freshly cut and carted off
to Any County, USA
this Douglas-fir might be said
to begin the business of dying.
To be or not to be is not
an option for the designated tree.
Yet in its severed and uprooted state
it clings to itself
by the will of its very own branches;
summons up the plasma reserves
of its own sweet sap;
glories in its own
How long denied of mother’s milk
and God’s green earth
could you go on?
A question perhaps for St. Thomas Aquinas.
For even the chicken
headless and running amok
quickly runs out of time.
But the tree stands tall in our living room—
a miracle in the making —
guzzling water from the bottom up
while weighted down
by our baubles and beads
and bubbling lights.
One less noble would have long ago yielded
to the ghosts of Dickens
to the yuletides past
at the very first whack
of the woodman’s axe.
But the tree as if cast
in some passion play
Don’t forget to set your Mayan Calendars
back one decade on December 21st at 2 AM, the first day of
the winter solstice. Or else we might not be around later
that day or ever again. (JANUARY,