30 May 2007

It's too late to be up.

Last night I was up really late, or at least really late for my post-30 life, trying to take care of things like bills and laundry and the like, and the television was on, first to David Letterman, then to Craig Ferguson, and then to this trashy show called "The Insider." This show is basically a video tabloid, nothing more than gossip, and amazingly devoid of any actual information.

In fact, it seems the show mainly consists of chopped up segments of other interviews, patched together by horrific canned patter by Pat O'Brien and the woman who used to be on Antique Roadshow. How sad for both of these "presenters." Pat O'Brien used to be part of the CBS sports department, a one-time fixture of the NCAA tournament. It's any wonder he went into rehab. Can you imagine sitting around after taping one of those shows and reflecting on your career?

Luckily I also found out about CBS's latest addition to the retarded reality show genre: "Pirate Master." What the hell is that all about? Some idiot was talking to the camera about how he would "cut someone's throat." Let me explain something to you, you winner of a casting call: if it were a real pirate ship, you'd be dead before the ship hit open sea. They don't shoot heavily edited "reality" shows on real pirate ships. To make it more of a reality show, they should have the constant threat of the British Navy capturing them and hanging every single one of them, allowing their bodies to rot in the sun as a lesson to other pirates.

Ugh. I suppose I should really go to sleep.

29 May 2007

How we save ourselves though I haven't gotten to the part about how we save the world.

Activism is a stressful activity. It's far more comfortable to go about your daily life going to work, taking lunches, sipping cappucinos in the late afternoon, and preparing for the evening's television lineup. It's also far more easy to invest your time in the also-very-pressing needs of your children or career.

I'm not much of an activist, because activism takes a hell of a lot of time and sad to say while I'm willing to go to marches and write letters, I'm not willing to join organizations and do the hard work of organizing a movement, recruiting members, and god forbid become some sort of leader -- if only of a local group -- who would be called upon to give speeches and go on tours and otherwise take on another full time job.

I sort of did that -- minus the touring -- when we worked to organize a graduate student and adjunct union at the university. I was involved in that effort for four or so years, and when it fell apart, I was exhausted (the movement regrouped and eventually won, but I was not involved in the final organizing drive: I'd burnt out and decided I would concentrate on finishing my dissertation). It's hard work.

So I respect Cindy Sheehan for pulling out of the anti-war movement. It has been depressing for me, at my rather shallow level of involvement, to watch the betrayal of this country by its leaders, to every day be faced with more and more evidence that BushCo ignored and undermined any warnings about this hubristic war in Iraq and then sought to punish those government workers who as part of their jobs raised warnings about the administration's predetermined course of action. This attitude of blind loyalty has spilled over to all facets of this corrupt administration's governance, from installing anti-science administrators to block scientific studies of the environment and human biology to installing religious-right ideologues in the Justice Department to "sanitize" even the career positions (illegally of course).

Yet you turn to the supposed opposition party, the Democrats, and while you see some hemming and hawing, it's mainly because they're the ones getting screwed out of positions and lucrative lobbyist monies and not because there's been a tremendous miscarriage of justice. The true ideological opposition to the Republican onslaught on the Constitution and our system of governance comes from the outsiders who are mainly ignored and outcast from their own party. Let us not forget that of the Democratic senators, 29 voted in 2002 to allow BushCo sweeping war powers in Iraq. 21 voted against.

Of course, now it turns out that of the 100 senators in our esteemed Senate, 94 of them didn't even bother to read the Iraq intelligence report before they voted for the war. Of course, the report was wrong, the product of an intensely partisan effort by the Bush Administration to massage the intelligence to misrepresent and inflate Iraq's threat, so it's not like the senators would have learned anything useful from it, but you'd think they'd take a bit more seriously their duty toward the nation in such matters as, oh, let's say, getting us involved in war.

So as I said, I respect the decision Cindy Sheehan has made to return to a more private life, because it's hard work banging your head against brick walls and the solid rock that occupies much of our legislators' craniums, let alone the unfathomably irrational and incompetent stuff that lies between the ears of our current President.

The stories of the end of empire are never uplifting: they are filled with corruption, incompetence, and callousness. Still, I have hope, like Lawrence Ferlinghetti did so many years ago, that we can somehow overcome this morass and "await a rebirth of wonder":

I Am Waiting
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the
Of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the
American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the second coming
And I am waiting
For a religious revival
To sweep thru the state of Arizona
And I am waiting
For the
grapes of wrath to be stored
And I am waiting
For them to prove
That God is really American
And I am seriously waiting
for Billy Graham and Elvis Presley
to exchange roles seriously
and I am waiting
To see God on television
Piped onto church altars
If they can find
The right channel
To tune in on
And I am waiting
for the last supper to be served again
with a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for th eliving end
and I am waiting
for dad to come home
his pockets full
of irradiated silver dollars
and I am waiting
for the atomic tests to end
and I am waiting happily
for things to get much worse
before they improve
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the human crowd
to wander off a cliff somewhere
clutching its atomic umbrella
and I am waiting
for Ike to act
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the great divide to be crossed
and I am anxiously waiting
For the secret of eternal life to be discovered
By an obscure practitioner
and save me forever from certain death
and I am waiting
for life to begin
and I am waiting
for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and TV rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am waiting for
Ole Man River
to just stop rolling along
past the country club
and I am waiting
for the deepest South
to just stop Reconstructing itself
in its own image
and I am waiting
for a sweet desegregated chariot
to swing low
and carry me back to Ole Virginie
and I am waiting
for Ole Virginie to discover
just why Darkies are born
and I am waiting
for God to lookout
from Lookout Mountain
and see the Ode to the Confederate Dead
as a real farce
and I am awaiting retribution
for what America did
to Tom Sawyer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for Tom Swift to grow up
and I am waiting
for the American Boy
to take off Beauty's clothes
and get on top of her
and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth's dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeting lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am waiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

25 May 2007


First, we had the "Axis of Evil." Now Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has coined the term "Evil Trio." Is it coincidental that both groups contain three characters?

As terms go, I think "Axis of Evil" is a better term. "Evil Trio" (which al-Sadr defines as the US, the UK, and Israel) sounds sort of lampoonish, something you might find in a Mel Brooks or Mike Myers film, although who knows what it actually sounds like in Arabic. But neither of them are very good terms, because "axis" is so derivative, and it's pretty obvious that "evil trio" is a derivative of Bush's term. It's very sad to be a derivative of a derivative.

I blame Bush for being so unoriginal in his terms to use "axis," a word that simply reverberates with World War II allusions to the alliance between Germany, Italy, and Japan. I chalk that unoriginal usage up to Bush attempting desperately to make a pathetic two-bit dictator like hamstrung Saddam Hussein out to be Adolf Hitler. Saddam wasn't even a Mussolini. He was more like a cardboard cutout of Mussolini.

But the trinity resounds in world politics, doesn't it? Opposed to the Axis of WWII, you had the "Big Three": FDR, Churchill, and Stalin. And then in WWI, you had the "Triple Entente": the UK, France, and Russia.

23 May 2007

It used to be relaxing to read the morning paper...

I don't know, but the newspaper just made me depressed this morning. First, there's the front page story about the Democrats caving in to Bush yet again and gutting the bloated Iraq War funding bill of any checks on this Imperial President's powers. And the Dems really want to know why anyone left of the moderate wing of the Republican Party (I think there might be one person left in that wing, I'm not sure) calls the Democrats "Republican Lite"? Do the Democrats think they achieved massive gains in the midterm elections because voters were drawn to their well-thought-out policy papers on education reform? It's almost inconceivable, until you realize that this party voted, nearly unanimously, to give Bush almost unlimited war powers in the orgy of Nationalism that was the prelude to the Iraq War.

Then you have the story of lunatic Senator Tom Coburn, already a notorious moron, holding up a resolution -- a resolution mind you, one of those things that Congress passes by the wheelbarrow-ful for some feel-good publicity -- to honor Rachel Carson, the author of Silent Spring, a book that for all its flaws (written in the early days of "better living through chemistry," the book is full of conjecture, some of which came true and some of which is shaky) is still credited with launching the environmentalist movement and raising awareness of the dangers of pesticides, specifically DDT. And that's what Coburn is pissed about: he apparently believes DDT is about as harmful as play-dough, and he blames Carson for "stigmatizing" the chemical.

Coburn is one of those nuts who believes that the banning of DDT has led to millions of malaria deaths, but those nuts generally forget the inconvenient fact that DDT -- outside the US -- has never been banned for malaria control; Carson herself warned very strongly against the chemical's overuse, especially in agricultural settings. However, you can't confuse utter morons like Tom Coburn with the facts -- he simply ignores them.

And then, just when you think you're safe, it's the letters to the editor page. Ugh. Most of the time the letters are sort of bland, but sometimes you have to wonder what particular neo-nazi subgroup meeting the letter writer came from before sitting down to pen his/her missive...

Here's a short example, with the classic "reverse racism" twist favored these days by everyone from David Duke to libertarians:

Solidarity or Racism?
Wednesday, May 23, 2007; Page A20

Regarding the May 18 news story "Can Old Loyalties Trump Racial Solidarity? Top 3 Democrats Tied Strongly to Black Voters": What is the difference between racism and "racial solidarity"? The Ku Klux Klan, too, believed in racial solidarity.

It's a classic: create a seeming similarity between the oppressed and their oppressors. Seriously, Rhona, if you need to be told the difference between long-standing community-based mechanisms to cope with institutionalized and extra-legal racist oppression and an organization based solely on white supremacy, then you've got more problems than can be answered by the Post's editor, and it's high time you dropped your Post subscription and subscribed to some thinly-veiled racist press products, like the Washington Times or Reason.

21 May 2007

Pedagogy, Part 2.

Now I've graded a number of essays in my time, and I've written a few as well. One thing that you always stress as a writing instructor is that you should back your assertions up with evidence; technically, we call that a "supporting argument."

Today, though, the Washington Post published an op-ed by Mike McConnell, Bush's "director of national intelligence," that contained absolutely not a shred of supporting argument for its assertion that the FISA law was outdated. Doesn't anyone read over the content of these opinion pieces just to see if they're credible (OK, the very existence of lunatics like Charles Krauthammer on editorial pages indicates a negative on that account, but...)? Leaving aside for the moment that the Washington Post continually opens its pages up to right wing shills without allowing for any sort of commensurate left wing rebuttal, we should at least expect the paper's editors to demand their pieces contain some argumentation.

But anyway, on to the McConnell dreck: McConnell begins his piece with an anecdote about the old timey days of computers, the 1970's, when computing power was much smaller, the Sovite Union was our biggest threat, and cell phones didn't abound. It also happens that during that time, FISA was written and enacted into law. In writing classes, we call this an introduction, and the introduction sets the stage for the rest of the piece: it sets the scene for the reader and explains the argument. A reasonable reader would expect that McConnell would go on to show how new technology makes the old law obsolete (especially since the title of the piece is "A Law Terrorism Outran").

Here's what you might call McConnell's thesis:

If we are to improve our ability to protect the country by gathering foreign intelligence, this law must be updated to reflect changes in technology and the ways our adversaries communicate with one another.
And given that McConnell has spent a few paragraphs telling us about the good old days of the Cold War and no internets and no cell-u-lar tel-e-phones, you'd expect this thesis would lead to a demonstration of how the law simply can't account for today's realities. And you'd finish the article still waiting for that demonstration, because McConnell fails to do anything other than assert his thesis in slightly varied wording throughout the rest of the piece.

Mr. McConnell's first "proof" of his thesis is a marvelous example of the old "bait and switch," because he's asserting one thing and arguing quite another:

To state the facts plainly: In a significant number of cases, our intelligence agencies must obtain a court order to monitor the communications of foreigners suspected of terrorist activity who are physically located in foreign countries. We are in this situation because the law simply has not kept pace with technology.
Umm...so the main complaint actually isn't that FISA can't account for today's communications; it's that you have to obtain court orders to perform surveillance. [If this were a student paper, the comment would run along these lines: "Your thesis indicates that technological advances make the law obsolete, but your support focuses on the legal procedures...change one or the other so they can work together."]

That, by the way, is the closest McConnell ever actually comes to arguing his point. Read the article yourself if you don't believe me. It's mainly repetitive assertions that "we must update the law" and appeals to pathos ("protect your children and grandchildren"). In other words, it's a bunch of icing with no cake.

17 May 2007

Tomorrow is bike to work day.

In celebration of bike to work day, I'm going to bike to work...like I do every day.

Seriously, if you live in the city and you don't own a bike you are missing out on one of the quickest ways to get around: no parking hassles, no sitting in traffic jams, no waiting for yet another delinquent L2 bus.

Sure you have to wear a helmet unless you have a deathwish, many motorists are less than happy to accomodate you on the road, and occasionally some asshole steals your bike or tries to, but bicycling is environmentally friendly, good exercise, and generally convenient.

16 May 2007

Psst. I have a hot tip for you.

OK. Yesterday I did something I haven't done since I was a young punk in high school. I tipped a waitress 10%.

Sure, you're saying what a goddamned cheapskate asshole I am, and maybe you're right, but I do generally tip between 18 and 20 percent. It looked so damn low, this 10% tip. It was $3.90 on a $39.30 bill (so technically I tipped even less than 10% -- I tipped 9.92%), but I can assure you it was more than this waitress deserved. Don't believe me? Let me state my case, please.

Item 1. While the restaurant was busy, but not so busy people were waiting for tables, we waited for ten minutes after we sat down until our waitress brought water. It was hot yesterday, and with two children it's not a good idea to sit still anywhere with no distractions for ten minutes. After several "I'll be with you in a minute" delays, she finally took our food and drink orders.

Item 2. The drink orders were simple: two unsweetened iced teas and one lemonade. Granted, we debated with our son over what he wanted, but he did finally settle on lemonade, a choice that should have stuck with our waitress as she reminded us that there was no refill on the lemonade. Yet when his drink came out enshrouded in the plastic kiddie cup, it was not lemonade, but chocolate milk. A minor detail, some might argue, but there's a wide gulf between the sharp tartness of homemade lemonade and the syrupy sweetness of chocolate milk. To put it in adult terms, it's like the difference between a Corona with lime and a Guinness.

Item 3. I ordered a turkey burger with blue cheese. Blue friggin cheese, ok. Yet it came out with something that may have been swiss or provolone or cheddar or maybe even american on there. It was a thin, completely melted film of pale yellow cheese that was definitely not blue. When I brought that to her attention, she did bring me a side of blue cheese (by the way, WTF do I do with a side of blue cheese crumblies and a lukewarm burger? I can no longer enjoy the half-melted gooey cheese, as the burger's temperature will not really melt the cheese so well, and the crumblies just roll off). And she told me that "it may have been her fault." May? Who the hell's fault could it have been? Don't blame the kitchen, because you should know at first sight coming out of the kitchen that the order was wrong. Oh, maybe you didn't because you actually didn't serve us the food, instead allowing some other dude, who clearly had no idea what any of us ordered, to auction off the food to us.

Item 4. By the end of this ordeal, the children were getting restless. So while you were clearly close by and watching, my wife got up with them and left -- a pretty good sign that you should bring the check around. Yet I had to flag you down to request the check. I admit it's a minor issue, but it does show a lack of perception. Then, after I asked for the check, I waited at the table, debit card in hand, for you to come back with the check. A full five minutes and then some passed as you first disappeared completely, then meandered back through the patio, stopping to pat a dog and chat up your friends for a good long time. Finally, the busboy/food auctioner noticed that I was going either to pull a dine and dash or fall asleep, and he actually interrupted your conversation to ask you for my check.

Truly, I have not given such a nasty tip in twenty years. The hard-hearted among us might say I should have given no tip, but I haven't reached that point yet. The main question is whether the waitress will have understood the ten percent tip as an admonishment, or will she simply chalk it up to my being a cheapskate?

15 May 2007

Following up on the oppressed Paul Wolfowitz...

Last week I wrote a post about the plight of poor, downtrodden Paul Wolfowitz. Now it turns out that Wolfowitz himself has taken that tone in defending his corrupt practices as head of the World Bank. Truly, the architect of the Iraq War is a delusional man, a man who can tolerate no blame for any of the evils he visits upon the world. He is actually arguing that the World Bank forced him to give his girlfriend a raise -- drove him to it -- because they wouldn't do it themselves. What's even better is that he's throwing his squeeze under the train in an effort to save his own skin. It just looks so bad:
Wolfowitz effectively blamed Riza for his predicament as well, saying that her "intractable position" in demanding a salary increase as compensation for her career disruption forced him to grant one to pre-empt a lawsuit.

I don't think this excuse will have the same longevity and broad applicability as the popular "I can't recall" defense used by so many of the Bush Administration officials when they are discovered to be lying through their teeth and undermining the U.S. Constitution, but you have to admire its brazenness. Imagine the trouble Wolfowitz thought he was saving the World Bank by paying his partner some hush money...

The more you roll around with these Bushites -- many of whom are holdovers from the Nixon and Reagan corruption scandals -- the dirtier you get.

14 May 2007

Let's start Monday with some thinkifying.

Busy weekend, man, busy weekend. Here's a pop quiz for your Monday:

Which public employee will not have a job in the very near future?

A. Tennessee Elementary School Assistant Principal Don Bartch, and perhaps a few of his teachers, who led a simulated gun assault on a group of elementary school children and didn't tell the children it was a drill.

B. DC Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso, who copied someone else's work word for word and turned it in as his own work (32% of his report was plagiarized).

C. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who flat-out lied to Congress about his involvement in the US Attorney firings, details of which continue to leak out...

Remember, this quiz is not about who should be fired, but rather who will be fired...

12 May 2007

Here's a chance to support a great DCPS school.

If you have nothing else to do today, you might want to wander over to Ross Elementary School, on R Street between 17th and New Hampshire NW, for their Spring Festival Fundraiser (held between 12 and 5 p.m. today). The school is trying to raise money to support things that DCPS doesn't find important enough to require, like PE and the arts (Ross students take part in the Fillmore Arts Center, and this year the PTA provided funding for that program). There will be a silent auction with some incredible items and various activities for young and old alike. Additionally, the Fillmore jazz ensemble will be playing.

I believe tickets are $10, and all money goes to the PTA and school funding.

11 May 2007

This never would have happened twenty years ago.

I've been out of it since Wednesday, when I messed up some muscle in my neck playing basketball. Just running down the court, minding my own business and it seized up on me. I'm guessing it was a combination of not stretching beforehand and a poor night's sleep. At any rate, I've been on this muscle relaxant for a few days and it makes everything seem like I've just woken up.

The good news is that the pain is going away steadily. The bad news is that I'm not really energetic enough to write much. Or maybe that's still the good news.

09 May 2007

I've got a pedagogical question to pose....

I'm in a quandary. Suppose a student turned in a paper and you discovered, rather easily it turns out, that the student copied maybe 32% of it verbatim from another source, basically lifting entire passages from someone else's published (!) work and incorporating it into his or her own work and claiming credit for having written it.

Now suppose you confronted that student and his reply was as follows:
"In my eagerness to compile a compendium of successful reform initiatives, plans and best practices, I didn't properly attribute educational sources."

In other words, I was trying so hard I didn't notice I was stealing other people's ideas wholesale and passing them off as my own.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think that student passes the course.

Now, suppose that student wants to run your education system...

08 May 2007

It would be nice to be so sure of oneself even when proved the fool.

Pity poor Paul Wolfowitz. Even as current World Bank President, he's still remembered less for his corrupt hiring practices than as the "architect of the Iraq War." That's a mighty burden for anyone to bear, being the architect of what may go down as the United States's most stupid war ever: no threat, no provocation, no plan (hey and we've waged some dumb ones...remember the invasion of Grenada to "liberate" the medical students?).

Of course, Wolfowitz has a long history of political blundering, but all of it has been in the service of expanding the military-industrial complex and asserting a "we'll bring you democracy even if it kills you" foreign policy. Wolfowitz opposed the Nixon Administration's pursuit of "detente" with the Soviet Union. After all, it's hard to justify continuous expansion of military contracts when you're moving back from the brink. As bagman for Senator Henry Jackson -- who was himself a bagman for Boeing -- Wolfowitz worked to "massage" intelligence data to inflate the Soviet threat and justify continued overspending on military contracts.

Sound familiar? Fast forward to 2001, and it's Wolfowitz leading the charge to massage Iraq intelligence data to justify a completely unjustified invasion. For a decade, Hussein had been hamstrung in his own country: the northern and southern thirds of his country designated "no-fly zones," his imports and expenditures under intense scrutiny, and the subject of occasional bombings, ostensibly against military facilities, from US forces. So it's hard to conjure up a threat from such a pitiable, weakened dictator, whose best days -- the heady days when the Reagan Administration poured millions into the dictator's coffers and provided logistical support for his chemical attacks and Rumsfeld cozied up to him -- were long behind him.

So you have to give Wolfowitz incredible credit, for being such a magician. Sure, not everyone was fooled, and hundreds of thousands marched against the trumped-up war to no avail, but the "architect of the Iraq War" spread his vision of jubilant Iraqis dancing in the street and throwing flowers at the feet of the invading US soldiers, and the US press, the Congress, and most of the public ate it up like it was the best damn apple pie ever baked.

It's hard even to say that he lied, because a lie would mean he understood how utterly deluded he was. Unfortunately, the neocon outlook is so hopelessly ungrounded in reality, so simplified and myopic in its range, that I would argue Wolfowitz actually believed that a US invasion would cause "spontaneous uprisings" against Saddam Hussein and that Iraq -- in the wake of a power vacuum mind you -- would suddenly blossom into a working democracy. These are the morons in charge of foreign policy in the United States.

Now, as head of the World Bank, at least for a little longer, Wolfowitz, a man who claimed as his personal World Bank agenda a crusade against corruption, can't understand how arranging promotions and pay raises for his girlfriend can be seen as corruption...Sure it's not the multimillions skimming corruption of third world dictators, but when you're emphasizing running everything above the board, even taking a free lunch looks bad.

But don't be too sad for poor Paul Wolfowitz, a man who's brought death and destruction to so many. As it has in the past, Johns Hopkins University will probably open its doors to him should he want to return to academia, and there's always the next change in the political winds waiting to carry random pieces of trash to loftier resting places...

07 May 2007

You don't build trust roughing up the neighbors.

Back in the days of Vietnam, they called it "winning the hearts and minds of the people." At least that was the program, but even Colin Powell recalls in his memoirs shooting at civilians for sport (he doesn't use those words, but let's just say he recounts shooting at civilians because maybe just maybe they weren't civilians). Needless to say, massacres like My Lai didn't do much to win too many hearts and minds.

Now in the days of Iraq (now in its fourth year...it's a far cry from the "roses strewn at the feet" beliefs of Cheney and Wolfowitz) we don't really have a name for it. But we do have abuses and massacres (though none, so far thankfully, on the scale of My Lai), and it's not unsurprising given the recent survey of ethics standards among the US troops. It's sort of hard to get the populace to trust you and work with you when your attitude toward them is pretty bad:
In addition, about two-thirds of Marines and half the Army troops surveyed said they would not report a team member for mistreating a civilian or for destroying civilian property unnecessarily. "Less than half of Soldiers and Marines believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect," the Army report stated.

War is hell, sure, but is there a need to make it more hellish? Who actually thinks you get further by terrorizing the general populace on the one hand while claiming to protect them on the other? However, while the low-level infantrymen and marines will most likely be the scapegoats, these attitudes and actions are the result both of poor training and poor policy on the part of the military higher-ups. Repeated and extended deployments are limiting the troops' abilities to recuperate, straining military families and individuals who are trying to cope with the daily stress of combat deployment.

And the military's not doing its veterans any favors, either. As The Nation reported a few weeks back, the military's new game is to deny medical claims for post-traumatic stress disorder by arguing that the claimants are suffering from "pre-existing personality disorders." Here's a sample:
A six-month investigation has uncovered multiple cases in which soldiers wounded in Iraq are suspiciously diagnosed as having a personality disorder, then prevented from collecting benefits. The conditions of their discharge have infuriated many in the military community, including the injured soldiers and their families, veterans' rights groups, even military officials required to process these dismissals.
They say the military is purposely misdiagnosing soldiers like Town and that it's doing so for one reason: to cheat them out of a lifetime of disability and medical benefits, thereby saving billions in expenses.
I should hope that only the most blindly nationalistic proto-fascist could fail to see the cynicism behind the cost-saving mechanism of discharging soldiers for "pre-existing conditions." And what's more, they're discharging these veterans untreated into the general population, where many may end up homeless, sunk into deeper bouts of mental illness, or violent.

It's the height of arrogance and symptomatic of the "gated community mentality" held by the power brokers in this country that the flag-waving cheerleaders for war such as G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney, their own children safe with "other priorities," can talk out one side of their mouths about "supporting the troops," while on the other side, the money side, they close their fists tight to the veterans.

These are sad times indeed.

03 May 2007

We have overlaps and sutures and it all blends together.

What did Dante write? Something about halfway along the journey on the road of life or something like that. Perhaps the Divine Comedy was an outburst of well-directed mid-life crisis. Where is our mid-life anyway? I suppose you could take average life span, but other than that, we aren't really too sure of the hour of our deaths, and therefore none too sure of the midpoints of our lives.

I'd like to think I haven't reached the midpoint yet, and to tell you the truth I'm not so sure the midpoint of one's journey is terribly meaningful, because we've had so many lives, first as children, then as adults, then as parents, perhaps one day as grandparents. The strands interweave to form continuities that existed before you were born and will continue to exist once you are dead, and not just as wikipedia entries or dormant myspace accounts. Sometimes these continuities crystalize and ossify into dogma, like nationalism or "tradition," and we forget the living changes to glorify a stagnant never-was.

Maybe I'm feeling this way because I'm re-reading Sharon Olds' The Wellspring, a tremendous book of poems that hit me much harder in 2000 after our son was born than it did in 1996 when I bought it.

"Bathing the Newborn"
by Sharon Olds

I love with an almost fearful love
to remember the first baths I gave him–
our second child, our first son–
I laid the little torso along
my left forearm, nape of the neck
in the crook of my elbow, hips nearly as
small as a least tern’s hips
against my wrist, thigh held loosely
in the loop of thumb and forefinger,
the sign that means exactly right. I’d soap him,
the long, violet, cold feet,
the scrotum wrinkled as a waved whelk shell
so new it was flexible yet, the chest,
the hands, the clavicles, the throat, the gummy
furze of the scalp. When I got him too soapy he’d
slide in my grip like an armful of buttered
noodles, but I’d hold him not too tight,
I felt that I was good for him,
I’d tell him about his wonderful body
and the wonderful soap, and he’d look up at me,
one week old, his eyes still wide
and apprehensive. I love that time
when you croon and croon to them, you can see
the calm slowly entering them, you can
sense it in your clasping hand,
the little spine relaxing against
the muscle of your forearm, you feel the fear
leaving their bodies, he lay in the blue
oval plastic baby tub and
looked at me in wonder and began to
move his silky limbs at will in the water.

02 May 2007

The Lives of the Saints.

This morning I was coming to work and I passed a woman talking on her mobile with tears streaming down her face. Not happy tears, but sad tears. It was a beautiful morning, sunshine and mild, and she was walking, dressed for work, with tears on her flushed face. I was by her in a flash, going the opposite direction on my bike, but she stayed with me a bit longer, because I thought we've all got our particular dramas unfolding daily on this shared stage.

Maybe it was a relationship suddenly shattered, and she was recounting the details to a close friend, seeking both catharsis and reassurance. Her boyfriend -- or girlfriend, who knows -- had cheated on her, left her looking foolish at a dinner party among friends, broken off the engagement. Maybe.

Maybe a death in the family, one parent calling her to tell her the other had died, suddenly, tragically, or maybe finally after long illness. And she was stuck in this city hundreds of miles away and wanted only to remember their family vacations and dining room table all over again. Maybe.

Maybe she herself received diagnosis of a serious illness, the long road of life suddenly becoming much shorter, several futures closed, and freedom constrained by beds and tubes and machines. Maybe.

Maybe she just couldn't take work anymore, the long days spent in anonymity for accomplishments and beration for shortcomings, another beautiful day that she wouldn't see again until the sun had fallen below the level of the taller buildings and the shadows were lengthening along the sidewalks, doing work she didn't like for someone she didn't respect. Maybe.

I don't know. I passed her by and she was gone, lost in the flow of my life.

01 May 2007

If my house were to catch fire, there's plenty of fuel.

Happy May Day to all!

I unearthed a whole folder full of horrifically embarrassing song lyrics that I wrote twenty years ago. Before I turned to poetry in my college years, I would write song lyrics obsessively, and I would date everything. Ostensibly, the lyrics were for the band my best friend and I hadn't yet formed, but by the time we'd graduated high school we'd actually recorded a few of them on a little four track recorder. I have no clue where any of that recorded material is, and my musical talents at that time were so primitive that I didn't play any of the instruments or sing on the recording. So my contribution in the studio -- aka my friend's bedroom -- was as lyricist.

Song lyrics are of course meant to be set to music, and they sound far better with a backing beat to take some attention away from the inanity of their content or the obviousness of their rhymes. There are of course exceptions; I think The Decemberists are incredibly inventive in the construction of their lyrics...I am in love with lines like "You come from parents wanton, childhood rough and rotten/I come from wealth and beauty, untouched by work or duty," from Picaresque's "We Both Go Down Together." Still, even their lyrics don't always scan well singled out from the music:
Here on these cliffs of Dover
So high you can't see over
And while your head is spinning
Hold tight, it's just beginning

They aren't bad lyrics -- in fact, they're incredible with the music driving behind them, but standing alone they're kind of naked. The proper music behind something can transform the words from bland quatrains to overwhelming angst (see: Smashing Pumpkins).

Looking over my contributions to the field of song lyrics, I'm getting the feeling that pretty much any teenager who writes a journal/diary/poetry/lyrics can seem in retrospect like a pretty despondent and maladjusted loner. I don't exactly remember it that way, but I do think that teenagers, for better or worse, have a good bit of trouble turning off the immediacy of their emotions. It's everywhere, hence the Nirvana lyric, "Teenage angst has paid off well, now I'm old and gray." Or Bart Simpson's offhand remark, "Making a teenager depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel." So from 1-23-1986, I offer the following:
I've had too many chances
at too many dances
but the chances weren't right
I sat around all night

It's a sad thing to put your faith in the ceremony of the high school dance especially when you can't stand 85% of the music the DJ plays (and you can more or less guess the exact playlist for the entire year beforehand). I was the very definition of a wallflower. However, I do remember looking forward to going, if only because it was one of the few things to do in a small town on a weekend night.

I continued to write lyrics up until the early years of graduate school, at which point I ran out of spare time to sit around and play with words, and I often recorded them in a primitive way and having to sing the lyrics myself, a task I do not enjoy since my voice makes Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Tom Waits sound like the Three Tenors (don't get me wrong: I love Bobby, Neil, and Tom). Which is to say that it remained an obsession and an outlet until replaced by other writings: the dissertation and this exercise I'm currently engaged in called blogging.