Thursday, July 31, 2008

Despair is a Luxury... (Rebecca Solnit)

In the construction of our forthcoming anthology of peace poems, I've been invited into thinking the beyond of resistance...

Despair is a luxury. If I despair I can drive a Yukon and watch bad television. Despair makes no demand upon us; hope demands everything. For people around the world, in places like Burma and Chiapas, giving up means accepting hideous conditions of life, or death. Despair is cheap for us, expensive for them. What does it mean to be radical, to tell radical stories in our time, to win the battle of the story? The North American tradition seems to focus its activity on the exposé, the telling of the grim underside of what we know: the food is poison, the system is corrupt, the leaders are lying, the war is failing. There is a place for this, but you cannot base a revolution on the bad things the status quo forgot to mention. You need to tell the stories they are not telling, to learn to see where they are blind, to look at how the great changes of the world come from the shadows and the margins, not center stage, to see where we’re winning and that we can win something that matters, if not everything all the time.

from "Our Storied Future" by Rebecca Solnit, Orion Magazine. January/February 2008.

Are You A Hopehead?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Aleatory Geometries: A Review of E.J. McAdams' 4 X 4

E.J. McAdams' new chapbook, 4 X 4, published this year by Twin Cities-based unarmed journal (publisher Michael Mann), is a delight, drawing upon the visual and concrete poetic trajectories represented by such figures as Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Aram Saroyan and Robert Grenier. Each poem, such as the one shown above, follows a rigid structure of four words composed of four letters, thus creating a kind of hallucinatory effect of language squared off, words framed. In "SAME/SAME/SAME/SAME," for example, the spaces between the letters reasserts the alienating materiality of letters themselves. I kept wanting to read "SAME" as anything but "SAME"--"say me," for example.

"SAME" also happened to be the cover for my particular version of 4 X 4--but not for anybody else, apparently. 4 X 4 is also a remarkable study in aleatory publication; each published version of the chap is unique insofar as it has randomized the page orders. In this way, it hearkens back to foundational aleatory material texts such as Robert Grenier's Sentences, a box of 500 note card sized poems, with no particular order. (Bill Howe's recent talk at Orono about Sentences is suggestive of how aleatory orderings offer a geometrically explosive number of possible iterations, such that reading the text in each of its possible ways would be impossible for a single reader.)

McAdams' poems sometimes approach public signage--if public signage were to ask for the impossible:

In an age of the Security State, such a command does not feel entirely out of place. Yet to "hand over your hell"--in addition to its alliterative beauty--is just the sort of beautiful sign (both funny and ominous) that I'd be pleased to read just about anywhere, not just above a confessional. Such a text also invites a vertical reading--I keep wanting to say "A(B)OVE" is part of the poem somehow.

In his sameness of form, McAdams' 4 X 4 presses against the purported transparency of language, re-pressurizes words, threatens explosion, as in:

"BOOM/BOOM/BOOM/BOOM" could be a sign of the ongoing wars (and their endless detonations), but it also could be read as a lyric from the great John Lee Hooker. (This particular poem also had life as a broadside card published by Ugly Duckling Presse).

Given its aleatory publication, chance also leads to some brilliant juxtapositions:

The plaintive eros of the left panel, laid against the graphic language of sex and defecation, invites us to see these as a couple split in bed, as opposites in sudden attraction/repulsion. It also invites reading horizontally across the split, as in "ARMS SHIT / LEGS FUCK / SOFT COCK / EYES CUNT." If there ever were a solidified non-aleatory version of this text, this happy chance meeting must not be parted.

McAdams, a longtime urban ecologist who played a key role in the preservation of the hawk Pale Male's nesting site on a city building in New York, might be playing with the urban grid in his formal structures, and how it both becomes a place of habitation and absence, as all cities simultaneously control and exist in spite of nature:

This collection is an auspicious debut, and I look forward to seeing what comes next from McAdams.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sleater-Kinney's Dialectical "Jumpers" and "Modern Girl"/An Elegy to the L.P.

I miss the LP.

No, I'm not one of those audiophiles hoarding records and hi-fi stereos because "the music sounds warmer" on LP's. Actually, I never owned many records (having been born too late or grew up too poor), but even in my cassettes and CD's, I could still feel the structural footprint of the LP.

Those old enough to remember the "LP" will recall how a certain formal structure solidified, somewhere in the late 1960s or 1970s. If at first albums were built upon a couple hits at the front and filler for the rest, at some point the album became a form in itself, in which each song fulfilled some part of an overall concept.

If I were to generalize this form, it would go something like this: one might expect a rousing opener, something to mix it up for the second song, a real hit on the third, and then, toward the end of the record, something a bit softer, maybe acoustic, maybe drumless. The album's ebbs and flows, at times, would be made even more powerful by stark juxtapositions between songs in the middle.

Sleater-Kinney's The Woods (2005), fuzzed-out post-riot-grrrl punk rock with no pretensions to "rock opera" concept album status, nonetheless benefits from such dialectics. Notice, for example, how "Jumpers," a song from the point of view of a suicide from Golden Gate Bridge, is followed by the most blissful of S-K's songs (though not without its own self-war), "Modern Girl."

"Jumpers" by Sleater Kinney

I spend the afternoon in cars
I sit in traffic jams for hours
Don't push me
I am not ok

The sky is blue most every day
The lemons grow like tumors
They are tiny suns
Infused with sour

Lonely as a cloud
In the Golden State
"The coldest winter that I ever saw
Was the summer that I spent..."

The only substance is the fog
And it hides all that has gone wrong
Can't see a thing
Inside the maze

There is a bridge adored and famed
The Golden spine of engineering
Whose back is heavy
With my weight

Lonely as a cloud
In the Golden State
"The coldest winter that I ever saw
Was the summer that I spent..."

Be still this old heart
Be still this old skin
Drink you last drink
Sin your last sin
Sing your last song
About the beginning
Sing your song loud
So the people can hear
Let's Go

Be still this sad day
Be still this sad year
Hope your last hope
Fear your last fear
You're not the only one
You're not the only one
You're not the only one
You're not the only one
Let's Go

My falling shape will draw a line
Between the blue of sea and sky
I'm not a bird
I'm not a plane

I took a taxi to the Gate
I will not go to school again
Four seconds was
The longest wait

Four seconds was
the longest wait. [4x]

Today, I can "rip" and "burn" and "download," but I miss terribly that old consumer experience of opening up a new album (or CD), with cover art, and lyrics pages, of sitting in someone else's sound/mind for an hour--nothing but pure immersion, no persons from Porlock to interrupt the composition. Call me old-fashioned, but what's art when no one has the time to return to a thing, to live inside of it, to slough off something of the self into it?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mairead Byrne's "The Russian Week"

We've been on the road, and sorry sick of it, but finally back in our nest. We were like nesting dolls, matryoshki, little mothers, giving birth to diminished versions of ourselves, nested in ourselves, wooden, painted with expressions, unable to move but moved by whatever moved us. So here, upon return, I come across dear Mairead's poem, which I'd heard some time ago, and it's grown, it's given birth to something else. Everyone has had these weeks.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The latest from Ali Abunimah

The latest from Ali Abunimah...

What Obama missed in the Middle East

Barack Obama's visit to Israel and Palestine this week seemed
designed to appease pro-Israel groups in the US

By Ali Abunimah
23 July 2008

When I and other Palestinian-Americans first knew Barack
Obama in Chicago in the 1990s, he grasped the oppression
faced by Palestinians under Israeli occupation. He
understood that an honest broker cannot simultaneously be
the main cheerleader, financier and arms supplier for one
side in a conflict. He often attended Palestinian-American
community events and heard about the Palestinian
experience from perspectives stifled in mainstream

In recent months, Obama has sought to allay persistent
concerns from pro-Israel groups by recasting himself as a
stalwart backer of Israel and tacking ever closer to
positions espoused by the powerful, hard-line pro-Israel
lobby Aipac. He distanced himself from mainstream advisers
because pro-Israel groups objected to their calls for

Like his Republican rival, senator John McCain, Obama gave
staunch backing to Israel's 2006 bombing of Lebanon, which
killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and the
blockade and bombardment of the Gaza Strip, calling them
"self defence".

Every aspect of Obama's visit to Palestine-Israel this
week has seemed designed to further appease pro-Israel
groups. Typically for an American aspirant to high office,
he visited the Israeli Holocaust memorial and the Western
Wall. He met the full spectrum of Israeli Jewish (though
not Israeli Arab) political leaders. He travelled to the
Israeli Jewish town of Sderot, which until last month's
ceasefire, frequently experienced rockets from the Gaza
Strip. At every step, Obama warmly professed his support
for Israel and condemned Palestinian violence.

Other than a cursory 45-minute visit to occupied Ramallah
to meet with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud
Abbas, Palestinians got little. According to an Abbas
aide, Obama provided assurances that he would be "a
constructive partner in the peace process." Some observers
took comfort in his promise that he would get engaged
"starting from the minute I'm sworn into office". Obama
remained silent on the issue of Jerusalem, after boldly
promising the "undivided" city to Israel as its capital in
a speech to Aipac last month, and then appearing to
backtrack amid a wave of outrage across the Arab world.
But Obama missed the opportunity to visit Palestinian
refugee camps, schools and even shopping malls to witness
first-hand the devastation caused by the Israeli army and
settlers, or to see how Palestinians cope under what many
call "apartheid". This year alone, almost 500
Palestinians, including over 70 children, have been killed
by the Israeli army - exceeding the total for 2007 and
dwarfing the two-dozen Israelis killed in conflict-related
violence. Obama said nothing about Israel's relentless
expansion of colonies on occupied land. Nor did he follow
the courageous lead of former President Jimmy Carter and
meet with the democratically elected Hamas leaders, even
though Israel negotiated a ceasefire with them. That such
steps are inconceivable shows how off-balance is the US
debate on Palestine.

Many people I talk to are resigned to the conventional
wisdom that aspiring national politicians cannot afford to
be seen as sympathetic to the concerns of Palestinians,
Arabs or Muslims. They still hope that, if elected, Obama
would display an even-handedness absent in the campaign.

Without entirely foreclosing the possibility of change in
US policy, the reality is that the political pressures
evident in a campaign do not magically disappear once the
campaign is over. Nor is all change necessarily for the
better. One risk is that a President Obama or President
McCain would just bring back the Clinton-era approach
where the United States effectively acted as "Israel's
lawyer", as Aaron David Miller, a 25-year veteran of the
US state department's Middle East peace efforts, memorably
put it. This led to a doubling of Israeli settlements in
the West Bank, an upsurge in violence and the failed 2000
Camp David summit where Clinton tried to pressure Arafat
into accepting a bantustan. A depressing feature of
Obama's visit was the prominent advisory role for Dennis
Ross, the official in charge of the peace process under
Clinton, and the founder of an Aipac-sponsored pro-Israel

Whoever is elected will face a rapidly changing situation
in Palestine-Israel. A number of shifts are taking place
simultaneously. First, the consensus supporting the
two-state solution is disintegrating as Israeli colonies
have rendered it unachievable. Second, the traditional
Palestinian national leadership is being eclipsed by new
movements including Hamas. And, as western and Arab
governments become more craven in the face of Israeli
human rights violations, a Palestinian-led campaign
modelled on the anti-apartheid strategy of boycott,
divestment and sanctions is building global civil society
support. Finally, the demographic shift in
Palestine-Israel toward an absolute Palestinian majority
in all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be
complete in the next three to five years.

Making peace in this new reality will take leaders ready
to listen and talk to all sides in the conflict and to
consider alternatives to the moribund two-state solution,
such as power-sharing, confederation or a single
democratic state. It will require, above all, the courage,
imagination and political will to challenge the status quo
of Israeli domination and Palestinian dispossession that
has led to ever more violence with each passing year.

Ali Abunimah is the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal
to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and a fellow with
the Palestine Centre in Washington, DC.

On the Beating of Mohammed Omer

I recently received this Action Alert from the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs regarding the recent assault of Mohammed Omer, a Gaza-based Palestinian journalist whose articles and witness have been courageous and humanizing portraits of life under military occupation. Please read on and consider signing the petition to ask Israel to protect all journalists and others traveling to the occupied territories.

Here is Pilger's account via Omer:
Last Thursday, on his return journey, he was met at the Allenby Bridge crossing (to Jordan) by a Dutch official, who waited outside the Israeli building, unaware Mohammed had been seized by Shin Bet, Israel's infamous security organisation. Mohammed was told to turn off his mobile and remove the battery. He asked if he could call his embassy escort and was told forcefully he could not. A man stood over his luggage, picking through his documents. "Where's the money?" he demanded. Mohammed produced some US dollars. "Where is the English pound you have?"

"I realised," said Mohammed, "he was after the award stipend for the Martha Gellhorn prize. I told him I didn't have it with me. 'You are lying', he said. I was now surrounded by eight Shin Bet officers, all armed. The man called Avi ordered me to take off my clothes. I had already been through an x-ray machine. I stripped down to my underwear and was told to take off everything. When I refused, Avi put his hand on his gun. I began to cry: 'Why are you treating me this way? I am a human being.' He said, 'This is nothing compared with what you will see now.' He took his gun out, pressing it to my head and with his full body weight pinning me on my side, he forcibly removed my underwear. He then made me do a concocted sort of dance. Another man, who was laughing, said, 'Why are you bringing perfumes?' I replied, 'They are gifts for the people I love'. He said, 'Oh, do you have love in your culture?'

"As they ridiculed me, they took delight most in mocking letters I had received from readers in England. I had now been without food and water and the toilet for 12 hours, and having been made to stand, my legs buckled. I vomited and passed out. All I remember is one of them gouging, scraping and clawing with his nails at the tender flesh beneath my eyes. He scooped my head and dug his fingers in near the auditory nerves between my head and eardrum. The pain became sharper as he dug in two fingers at a time. Another man had his combat boot on my neck, pressing into the hard floor. I lay there for over an hour. The room became a menagerie of pain, sound and terror."

And here is the ACTION ALERT.
July 7, 2008 Contact:

Washington Report Correspondent Mohammed Omer Released From Hospital Following Detention by Israeli Soldiers at Allenby Bridge Crossing

More than 2,300 people have signed a petition drafted by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs calling for the Israeli government to protect journalists and end its harassment of journalists, academics and other travelers to and from the occupied Palestinian territories.

We are requesting a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the U.S. State Department at which we plan to submit, along with our petition, Omer’s medical report detailing his injuries. We will call for an investigation of Omer’s treatment at the Allenby border crossing, as well as assurances from Israel that it will not target journalists, especially Omer, working in the occupied territories.

Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer, Gaza correspondent for the Washington Report, Inter Press Service News Agency contributor, and co-recipient of the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, was hospitalized with cracked ribs and other injuries inflicted by Israeli soldiers June 26 at the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan into the occupied West Bank.

Omer was returning home to Gaza after a European speaking tour and the June 16 London ceremony at which he accepted the prestigious Gellhorn Prize.

Omer was detained, questioned by a Shin Bet agent, strip searched at gunpoint, assaulted and dragged by the heels to an ambulance after he began vomiting and going in and out of consciousness. When he finally came to, he was in a Palestinian hospital in Jericho, where he was treated and allowed to return home in the custody of the Dutch diplomats. See the following article by John Pilger in the July 2 Guardian:
Unable to eat and still in pain, Omer was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Gaza on June 28, re-examined, treated, and fed on an intravenous drip. He was released over the past weekend, but is far from recovered.

In his article in the August 2008 Washington Report, “A Voice for the Voiceless,” Omer defines his life’s mission as “to get the truth out,” and describes himself as “not pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli, but simply…an eyewitness on the ground, reporting what happens and why.” Palestinian journalists risk their lives on a daily basis to tell the world what is happening in their homeland.

Please visit the Washington Report website,, to sign the petition condemning Israel’s attacks on journalists, both Palestinian and international. We urge you to forward this petition to everyone you know. Add your voice to Mohammed Omer’s on behalf of voiceless Gazans and Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation—an occupation made possible by American tax dollars.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Visiting Walden/Thoreau's Legacies

My wife's sister lives just around the corner from a monument to the lost soldiers in King Philip's War, and down the road from Walden, which--even when we don't visit when we're here--brings me close to Thoreau.

I'll always be thankful to Professor Charles Reilly for his enthusiastic teaching of the 19th century; in some ways, I find myself more drawn to those writers than to the 20th century--I'm more fond of Whitman, Dickinson, Emerson and Thoreau, Melville and Douglass than Eliot, Hemingway, Faulkner, etc. There is a sense, at times, of pessimism and diminishment, of dread and specialization, in 20th century literature that sometimes leaves me cold. It is the age when literature became an institutionalized object of study, and poetry anxious about mass culture. Perhaps because I did my studies in the 20th century, when I teach the 19th century in my introductory survey class, "Major American Writers," I do so primarily as an enthusiast rather than a scholar.

It's difficult to imagine how such a minor literary figure as Thoreau would later become the touchstone to so many movements (both social and otherwise)--communitarians, Back to the Land-ers, ecologists, vegans, war resisters, birders, inveterate walkers. My admiration for Thoreau is partly in expressed in his own doggerel: "My life has been the poem I would have writ,/But I could not both live and utter it." There is something to be said for people whose lives are poetry, who don't need to be architects of another kind of language when they live that language.

On my drive to Orono early this year, I listened to a decaying audio version of Walden, and found the fragmentation--when only certain words or phrases would emerge from the tape's hiss--a Cagean tonic for Thoreau's occasionally didactic tone. (The drive poem, flecked with Thoreau, is forthcoming...)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Guided by Voices' "Back to the Lake"

We're taking apart / twenty years of summers / a house on a lake / no one can care for / a loon pokes up for a look / a last call for sunset swims / politics & poetics will have to wait

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cluster Bombs Save Lives (And if You Don't Agree With US, We'll Take a Couple Limbs)/Thinking About Cognitive Mapping and Situating Poetry

In the 1980s, Terrence Des Pres wrote a remarkable essay in which he wondered why, despite all the nature poetry out there, more poets were not confronting the fact of the militarized nuclear grid, perhaps the predominant "pressure of reality," to quote Wallace Stevens. Pace Richard Wilbur's "Advice to a Prophet" and a handful of other poems, contemporary American poets have been terribly good at avoiding, rather than pushing back, against the various "pressures of reality."

Perhaps the dominant "pressure of reality" concerning many poets that I've been reading and talking to, is the globalized economy and all its entailments. A touchstone in this conversation is still Fredric Jameson's notion of "cognitive mapping," one that I myself have found enabling. From Barrett Watten's recent talk on language poetry at Orono (not to mention a host of others at the conference), Joshua Corey's blogpost today, poets are trying to situate their practice in the backdrop of this globalized economy:

In some ways what preoccupies me most in poetry is navigation: the poem as cognitive map; the poem as an imaginative attempt at orientation, in and through language. Jameson’s Postmodernism appeals to me most of all for its notion of cognitive mappig and what it suggests for postmodern poetry as a series of attempts to navigate and make palpable the capitalist world-system that is rarely if ever visible to the naked eye.

If you were to google "cognitive mapping," don't be surprised if a number of poetry sites pop up, never mind Jameson's own scant consideration of it via Bob Perelman's "China" in Postmodernism.

This sort of thinking-through that poetry might allow (as Corey puts it, a poetry emphasizing the "YOU ARE HERE" rather than simply the lyric "YOU ARE"), is exciting and also vertiginous. To navigate the global always comes at the risk of the particular and the local, even as both are embedded in the other. (This may be another way of saying that I'm not happy with the self-satisfaction of Badiou's argument that a non-imperial art is necessary an abstract art).

I'm thinking of this, as news has come that the U.S. will not be joining a treaty to ban cluster bombs. The U.S. issued a policy memo which essentially justified its non-signing of the international cluster bomb ban treaty, with the notion that cluster munitions are "legitimate weapons with clear military utility" and can "save U.S. lives". Apparently, because U.S. lives are the only ones that matter.

How few examples of poetry that map such destructiveness, not only how these weapons "work," but also who produces them, who benefits from global weapons sales, etc. And if we saw its effects every day, how would it matter?

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 14 (IPS) - After refusing to join 111 nations in a treaty banning cluster munitions this past May, the George W. Bush administration recently made public its new policy on the controversial weapon.

In a policy memo dated Jun. 19, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates stated that while the U.S. finds a "blanket elimination of cluster munitions is unacceptable", by 2018 the military will no longer use cluster weapons with a failure rate greater than 1 percent. In the interim period the U.S. will deplete its existing stockpiles of cluster munitions with a greater than 1 percent dud rate by exporting them to foreign governments that agree not to use them starting in 2018.

Cluster munitions explode in midair, releasing dozens, sometimes hundreds of tiny bomblets. They have been documented as causing many civilian deaths during wartime and leaving behind deadly unexploded devices that take lives even after combat has ended.

The Pentagon justified their use in a Jul. 9 statement saying that cluster munitions are "legitimate weapons with clear military utility" and can "save U.S. lives".
However, for supporters of the Cluster Munitions Convention, the policy memo was a potentially dangerous response to a landmark agreement. The weapons that the U.S. intends to retain for the next 10 years are "proven killers of civilians", says Bonnie Docherty, a lecturer on international humanitarian law at Harvard Law
School and a participant in the campaign for the cluster munitions convention.
"[The] United States' own use in Iraq in 2003 caused hundreds of civilian casualties," she told IPS. And the promises of near perfect detonation rates have proven fallible in the recent past. The "most touted weapon", said Docherty, "has been the M85 which has been used by Israel in Lebanon. In the field, it had a 10-percent dud rate as opposed to the advertised 1 percent."

According to Mark Hiznay, a spokesperson for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, these failures are evidence of a problem with cluster munitions that may not be soluble.

"In perfect laboratory conditions, it may be possible to achieve a one-percent failure rate. In the field, under operational conditions, in various climates, the failure rate of submunitions is invariably higher than is claimed by manufacturers or government scientists. Every time cluster munitions are used, we hear that, 'failure rates were higher than anticipated.' That is why a comprehensive prohibition is inherently stronger than a purely technical solution," Hiznay said.
The memo is the latest instance of a U.S. cluster munitions policy that publicly insists on the importance of the weapons, but in practice has begun to shun them. In 2001, then Defence Secretary William Cohen issued a policy memo requiring that all cluster munitions procured by the U.S. after 2005 have a failure rate below 1
percent. This standard has eluded manufacturers, making the U.S. virtually incapable of acquiring new cluster bombs for the past three years.

The U.S. deployed cluster munitions during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but has not used them in either country since 2003. During the recent negotiations over the convention, the U.S. pressured its allies to word the treaty in such a way as to permit military cooperation between signatories and non-parties in exercises
that use cluster munitions.

However, the overall content of the treaty was a defeat for U.S. policy goals, which would have rather preserved the legitimacy of cluster munitions. Instead, over 100 nations resolved to stigmatise the weapon. The force of the treaty was even more jarring to the U.S. because principal allies such as Britain and Japan agreed not only to ban cluster munitions, but to pressure other states to do so as well.
According to Marc Garlasco, a military analyst at Human Rights Watch, evolving international norms are shaping the way the U.S. and other states are using anti-personnel weapons and making it unlikely that the U.S. will use cluster munitions again.

"As more states sign on to the treaty, it will eventually become moot," said Garlasco in an interview with IPS. "Once you have 150 states signed on it will move to the point of customary international law. The landmine treaty [which the U.S. did not join but has adhered to] is a perfect example of that. Right now the only country
using landmines is Burma. Even countries like Israel that did not sign the landmine treaty do not use them."

Garlasco says the policy memo is symptomatic of a "White House that is totally uninterested in treaties and negotiations that will improve civilian protections in conflict".

However, he says that in contrast to an official line that insists on their indispensability, the government has been "proactive" in phasing-out cluster munitions and points to the replacement of M26 cluster bombs by the
Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, a much more accurate weapon that launches a single warhead, as evidence of the nearing obsolescence of cluster munitions.
For activists dedicated to banning cluster munitions, the election of a new U.S. president is a hopeful event. The "next administration gives a chance to put added pressure on," says Docherty, who believes that Democratic candidate Barack Obama is more likely to be receptive to the ban than Republican John McCain would be.
In fact, Obama has voiced support for the Leahy-Feinstein Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2007, which would confine the use of cluster bombs to clearly defined military targets and bar the export of models with a less than 99 percent detonation rate.

But believing U.S. participation in the treaty is "not necessarily imminent", Docherty recommends that NGOs put pressure on states that adopted the treaty in May to sign it in December.

That may be the decisive step in the anti-cluster bomb campaign. "Once the treaty goes into effect I will be very surprised if anyone use cluster munitions again in the future unless it's a pariah state such as Burma," said Garlesco.

Monday, July 14, 2008

"Washing Away War"

I'm basically out of range of work, but because I can't seem to unplug myself completely, I happen to be typing this in my car in the tiny "downtown" of Naples, Maine, where a wireless network emanating from the library happens to reach outside.

Just tonight, my girls and I watched one of our first sunsets together, watched the lake change emanations and aspects as many times as they did in their first months of life. Beauty is a thing that's partly learned. There was much wrestling over a snorkel everyone wanted to breathe from. The sun kept descending. Everything is beautiful at first, then nothing is.

Then we have to coax it, or it, us. Leila mostly wants to climb the ladder to the slide, then descend again.

Then the bugs come out, which often means it's time to go in. In the meantime, it's always there, waiting for us.

This article is from Audubon Magazine, sent by a friend who happens to be both a birder and a worder--a life list a mile long, whose recent chapbook will be featured on this blog before too long.

Washing Away WarWhile visiting family that survived Lebanon’s bloodshed two years ago, a writer discovers firsthand an experiment to protect nature that may well be a model for the world.
By Gary Nabhan

It’s not every day that you can fly halfway around the world from your own home to see birds where bombs once flew, and be guided by men and women who share your surname. The black storks, great snipes, and Syrian serins of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley are always a thrilling sight, but their presence seems even more like a miracle when you see them with kinfolk who have recently survived a war.

When I first arrived at the Kfar Zabad Global Important Birding Area, I was expecting to be met by only Dalia Al-Jawhary, a conservation program officer working with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL). But much to my surprise, 20 men were also waiting there for me, some bulging uncomfortably out of their suits, some in farmworkers’ khakis. Seven of them were my cousins, all from the same Arab farming village where my grandparents were born. I knew only two of them well, but before we had sauntered a full circuit around the Kfar Zabad wetlands, three more cousins came to greet me, kissing me on the cheeks three times and hugging me so hard the binoculars around my neck crunched against my collarbone.

It had taken me 50 years of my life and 8,000 miles of travel to find some kin who love the spring migration of birds as much as I do. Now we were walking arm in arm around a rather heavenly habitat for herons and hawks that six months earlier had looked, sounded, and smelled like hell.

I had arrived in my grandfather’s village on the eastern edge of the Bekaa Valley just two seasons after a horrendous “July War” had forced a million people from their homes in Lebanon and Israel. It had also threatened the migratory stopovers used by a handful of endangered avian species. Year after year, from time immemorial, the success of the spring migration of hundreds of thousands of waterfowl has depended on finding safe havens along a corridor running up from the Red Sea, northward toward the Dead Sea and the greatly degraded rivulet known as the Jordan River, and on to the marshy islands in the desert sea known as the Bekaa.

The 360 acres of wetland habitat in Kfar Zabad, Lebanon, was one such stepping stone needed for crossing that formidable sea of aridity. In fact, until the birds reached the lakes in Turkey that lie between Tarsus and Ankara, the Kfar Zabad was their last safe harbor on their way north. It is also one of the few secure refuges for river otters and jungle cats, species that in the Middle East are often caught between a rock and a hard place. In the late summer of 2006 the safety of that millennia-old haven was nearly destroyed. And yet because farmers and conservationists found a way to work together, both avian and human communities somehow survived the war that broke the tranquillity of that wetland in the desert.

On other trips to Lebanon in the years prior to 9/11, my cousins had occasionally taken me by the Kfar Zabad marsh, where we would pause to watch the flurry of water birds rising up from a small lagoon stretching out below the towering slopes of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. Our family’s fields were just upslope from the artesian springs that have perennially fed hundreds of acres of open water, cattail marshes, willow thickets, moist meadows, and cottonwood gallery forests.

As we paused and watched a few gray herons and black storks lope along over the cattails, my older cousins would recall how they had spent many mornings of their childhood there, ostensibly to hunt ducks to bring back to family feasts. They teased me, pretending to scold me for not coming here while I was still a boy, so that I could have skinny-dipped and dived for amphibians with them. Today—with all of our clothes still on—we simply watched the wading birds and searched for signs in the marsh grasses that the river otters had recently passed through. Hunting was now prohibited, and I was too old to make much mischief here anyway.

One cousin, however, secretly admitted to me that even as a child, he had hardly ever fired a shot anywhere near the migratory birds that frequented the wetlands, preferring the unbroken silence and freshness of dawn to the cacophonous reports of shotguns and rifles. “When I caught a glimpse of those storks rising from the water, I couldn’t help but be in awe,” he said. “Hunting one of them never really ever crossed my mind, even when I was younger.”

We would savor the verdure there for a few minutes, then drive on to the ancient ruins of Anjar to the south or Baalbek to the north. Baalbek not only has world-class ruins but hosts internationally renowned jazz and dance festivals each summer. At that time, Anjar and Baalbek attracted far more attention than the marsh and its diversity of birds, for the tourism in the Bekaa had been focused exclusively on its archaeological antiquities of the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine eras.

But over the past few years, spurts of intense warfare and political assassinations, and the resulting civil unrest, have had an unsettling effect on the Lebanese economy, so that most tourism has waned. I myself had not returned to visit my cousins since 9/11. With most Americans expressing unjustified fear of Arabs as a whole—both Moslem and Christian—it proved increasingly difficult for any of my relatives in the Middle East to secure visas to visit us in the United States. My own travels to the region took me to Oman, Egypt, and the West Bank, but I had taken a six-year break from visiting Lebanon. Of course, when I finally set foot on Lebanese soil once more, I realized that renewed contact with both the people and the wildlife there quenched a deep thirst in my soul.

While my brothers and I had stayed in contact with cousins through phone calls and e-mails, we were only vaguely aware that a remarkable revival of an ancient and indigenous conservation custom had occurred in their own backyard. The designation of land and water commons as traditional hima refuges had been practiced in the Arab world for more than 1,400 years; in fact, the Prophet Mohammed himself had declared that protection of critical lands and waters for the common good took precedence over any individual or clan profiting from control of these resources at the expense of others.

Nevertheless, as Arab countries modernized and became influenced by such Western conservation creations as national parks and wilderness areas, the use of the hima concept fell into relative obscurity. That is, until the past few years, when Saudis, Jordanians, and Lebanese—among others—recognized its lasting value in protecting special habitats, and worked to revive its formal use. In 2004 the Kfar Zabad wetlands earned hima status through the collaboration of local municipality officials and landowners with the SPNL and other wildlife conservation and ecotourism organizations.

And yet I had remained unaware of this experiment’s significance until the July War prompted a flurry of e-mails between my cousins and me, after I had become desperate to learn whether all of them remained safe. My teenaged nieces in Kfar Zabad confessed that their safety had indeed been at risk. At dawn on the third morning of the war—as they gathered around the still-sleepy toddlers in their living room—multi-ton bombs and missiles hit the rocky ridge between their home and the wetlands, jarring everyone awake. The windows imploded into the room, showering them with glass as they dove to shield their children from the debris.

When they finally sat up to look at one another, they noticed that the raven-black hair of one of the girls was sparkling like diamonds—flecks of glass were everywhere. They had somehow avoided any physical harm, but the war had arrived at their doorstep. Later they learned that one of the missiles had hit a water truck that had been sent to the wetlands to bring drinking water back to the village, killing the driver.

Other e-mails bore witness to far more chilling sights, including medical supply convoys of the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders being hit by missile fire. One of my cousins had a nervous breakdown during the war, and all slept in their basements as jets and missiles shot over their heads. Hundreds of Lebanese escaping from the cities moved into the village, and 120 displaced families took refuge under the cottonwoods at the Kfar Zabad wetlands, hoping that neither side would directly bomb an internationally recognized protected area.

Unfortunately, the solid waste left by the refugees accumulated for several weeks, threatening to contaminate the waters of the wetlands just weeks before the fall migration. The villagers had no further access to food beyond what they themselves had grown, since bridges were bombed and cars were ordered off the roadways. Worst of all, perhaps, was that the crops were within a couple weeks of harvest, but the use of water supplies was restricted even though summer temperatures had already soared.

Kfar Zabad could have ended up as just one more calamity in the Lebanese landscape were it not for the friendships that had already developed between the local farmers and the bird conservationists engaged with creating the new hima. Their bonds were not superficial, for show or convenience. When SPNL staff in Beirut realized the stresses the Kfar Zabad community was enduring, and sensed that the collective work at the wetland might be set back, it rallied with a “Hope Campaign” to aid its rural collaborators. Just before the war officially ended, the SPNL organized the transport of 30 metric tons of food, water, and emergency supplies to help Kfar Zabad’s burgeoning population. Getting in with supplies long before the Red Cross and other relief organizations were able to do so, the bird conservationists demonstrated that they were far more than mere fair-weather friends.

The wildlife community at the wetlands would surely suffer other insults if the human community surrounding it remained in disarray. Until Kfar Zabad’s citizens recovered from the July War, their collaborative work could not continue. First things first: Help the people, and help for the birds would surely follow. As Bassima Khatib of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon has said over and over again, the “SPNL believes that sustainability in the conservation of natural sites is more ensured when local people are involved.”

On October 7, 2006—less than a month after the warring had died down—the SPNL organized a local gathering at the Kfar Zabad hima, just as the season for migratory birds began to gear up. More than 25 Kfar Zabad farmers participated in that event, including many of my cousins and other families that were most dramatically affected by the recent war. The mayor of Kfar Zabad, members of the Municipality Council, and the farmers themselves not only expressed their gratitude to the conservationists but pledged to be involved in the process of amplifying a plan to ensure that any emergency requiring the use of local water from the artesian springs would not affect the wetlands and its wildlife. The general director of the SPNL, Assad Sarhal, emphasized the global importance of the Kfar Zabad wetlands and the vital role the farmers play in protecting the habitat in general and its six endangered species in particular. Six months later, when I talked with the farmers, several were opting to go organic to reduce the nitrate enrichment and herbicide contamination that potentially occurs when runoff from their fields drains toward the wetlands.

In gratitude for their efforts to reduce any potentially negative impact from their farming, the SPNL and the ecotourism company Lebanese Adventure committed to involve them when tourists arrived, both in the interpretation of the site and in the direct sales of traditional food products to the visitors. As is customary in Lebanon, the gathering closed with more than 150 people sharing local fruits, vegetables, breads, and arak, the anisette liquor for which the Bekaa Valley is famous.

Within three weeks of the farmers’ gathering, local schools congregated at the hima for what they called the AEWA Festival, celebrating the International Day of Migratory Birds at the very height of migration. Children from six to twelve years old spent the entire day outdoors in a variety of activities that reminded them that they are stewards of a special place. Where bombs flew just two months before, the children now delighted at the sight of migratory hawks and falcons, herons and ducks. Some saw the rare Syrian serin, which nests on the edge of the wetlands.

When two of my young nieces joined me for two hours of sauntering and birdwatching within the hima several months later, I could sense that it had become their place, one that was just as much a haven for them as for the birds, reptiles, and small mammals we saw that afternoon. It was not so much what they said about the place as much as how comfortably they frolicked there, coming back now and then to listen to Dalia Al-Jawhary interpret the birds for them; these girls behaved as though they were safe within its midst. Dwelling in such a wetland haven can certainly not wash away all the horrors of war, but it can give local residents someplace tangible to invest their hope. In restoring the wetlands to their former richness and diversity, in a very real way they are also restoring their own spirits.

Gary Nabhan is the founder of the Renewing America’s Food Traditions Campaign, based at Slow Food USA, and the author of numerous books, including The Forgotten Pollinators, about the conservation of migratory pollinators and their nectar corridors. His most recent book is the newly released Arab/American: Landscape, Culture and Cuisine in Two Great Deserts.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Remembering (Again) the Catonsville Nine

In preparation for our anthology of peace poems, I was scrambling my way through Daniel Berrigan's selected edition, And the Risen Bread, and also found the above clip from the original action. I posted Chris Hedges' piece on the 40th anniversary, just a couple months ago, and a eulogy when one of the Nine, Tom Lewis, recently died.

Here's a poem by Dan Berrigan. If it emits slightly musty wafts of an earlier age, "FLOWER PEACE," it captures that daily dilemma of the news...

By Daniel Berrigan


Friday, July 11, 2008

About the Selling of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance"

Lennon 'Peace' lyrics sell at auction for $833,654
By Associated Press
10:54 PM CDT, July 10, 2008
LONDON - Christie's auction house has sold John Lennon's handwritten lyrics to "Give Peace a Chance" for $833,654.

The lyrics were written during Lennon's 1969 Bed-in protest for peace at the Queens Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.

Christie's spokeswoman Zoe Schoon said Lennon gave the sheet to 16-year-old Gail Renard during the eight-day Bed-in.

Lennon wrote the lyrics and recorded the song in the hotel room with about 50 guests, who included singer Petula Clark and beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

Here, have them for free:
(Written by John Lennon / Paul McCartney)
John Lennon - 1988

Everybody is talking about blagism
Shagism, dragism and madism
Ragism and tagism bob tailing
Thisism, thatism, ism, ism, ism
George Chisolm, yes

All we are saying
Is give peace a chance
All we are saying
Is give peace a chance

Everybody's talking about ministers
Sinisters, banisters, canisters
Roger Bannisters, bishops, bishops
Bishop Auckland, rabbis, Popeyes, bye-byes
Max Bygraves and everybody else

All we are saying
Is give peace a chance
All we are saying
Is give peace a chance

Everybody's talking about revolution
Evolution, The Everly Brothers, mastication
Euston Station, fladulation, flatulation
Regulations, integration, mediation
United Nations, congratulations

All we are saying
Is give peace a chance
All we are saying
Is give peace a chance

Everybody in the Soviet Union, unite
Go down to the shops and talk about John and Yoko
Timothy Leary, Barbara Windsor, Yoko Ono, Madonna
Bobby Dylan, Bobby Charlton, Eddie Charlton
Tommy Cooper and the Amazing Horseradish Dancers
Derek Baker, Norman Mailer, Alan Ginsberg and the Hare Krishna Three

All we are saying
Is give peace a chance
All we are saying
Is give peace a chance

Everybody's talking about gagism, tagism
Shagism, dragism, madism
Ragism, tagism, botulism, thisism, thatism
Listen to this

Everybody's talking about ministers
Sinisters, banisters, canisters
Bishops, bishops, Bishop's Avenue
Why not talk about Bishop's Avenue
I've got a lovely house on Bishop's Avenue

Everybody's talking about Popeye, Olive Oyl
Everybody, everybody, everybody, Mrs. Jean Schnook
Twenty Three Chepstow Villas
Because they are the next contestant on "Make a B-Side"

All we are saying
Is give peace a chance
All we are saying
Is give peace a chance

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Safety Instructions" to Appear on a Cleveland RTA Near You

"Safety Instructions" to appear on a Cleveland RTA near you, as part of the "Moving Minds" project. I hope no little old ladies (or big young men) take it literally--or if they do, I hope it helps them to poems.

Lather Up, People, It's Time for Your Shampoo

Shampoo issue 33 is now available.

Check it out at:
Gleefully pour out and pore over poems by Tim Yu,
Josh Wallaert, Zinovy “Zeke” Vayman, Cat Tyc, Mike
Topp, Kiely Sweatt, Paul Siegell, Ryan B. Richey, Sean
Reagan, Lanny Quarles, Mark Pawlak, Ronald Palmer,
Michelle Noteboom, Mark Navarro, Christopher
Mulrooney, Philip Metres, Hassan Melehy, Marie Larson,
Susanna Kittredge, Scott Inguito, Geof Huth, David
Highsmith, Jeff Harrison, Arpine Konyalian Grenier,
Robert Glück, Michael Farrell, Cindy Carlson, Eric Beeny,
Shane Allison and Malaika King Albrecht, along with
graphica poetica by Shane Allison, Diana Magallón and
Jeff Crouch, and neo-retro ShampooArt by Nico Wijaya.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Check Out Poetry Daily Today: "For the Fifty..."

The poetry gods smile upon me--my poem, "For the Fifty (Who Made PEACE With Their Bodies)," is the feature for Poetry Daily today.

UPDATE: The poem is now archived and can be viewed here.

Just when I was perversely witnessing the abyssal drop of my book sales of To See the Earth from the rank of the humble hundred thousands to the millions (resting somewhere around 1,200,000th place).

I was actually wondering if I could make the record lowest rank. Just how many books are out there, unsold? "America, why are your libraries full of tears?"

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Suheir Hammad's "On the Brink Of (for Rachel Corrie)"/More on Rampaging Bulldozers

Suheir Hammad's "On the Brink Of (for Rachel Corrie)" is an elegy for an American activist who died when an Israeli bulldozer crushed her to death as she knelt, trying to stop yet another house demolition. The IDF driver of the bulldozer was acquitted of wrongdoing, ostensibly because he said that he did not see her. Never mind that she was wearing an orange vest and held a bullhorn in her hands.

Whether or not this individual was guilty of seeing or not seeing, the larger blindness should be clear. Why are Palestinians routinely and pervasively denied housing permits, even Palestinians who are Israeli citizens? Why does Israel engage in collective punishment of Palestinians by destroying houses where a family member was suspected of participating in violence? Meanwhile, the Caterpillars keep building new Israeli settlements in occupied territories, in defiance of international law....

Monday, July 7, 2008

Behind the Bulldozer Rampage/The Story of Hosam Dwayyat

In a rather typical way, Steven Gutkin's AP story of a Palestinian's rampage with a bulldozer down Jerusalem streets (killing three, and wounding 45) buries the context in which a person might suddenly decide to rampage with a bulldozer down Jerusalem streets. As such, it creates the impression that this is simply a bloodthirsty madman.

Anyone who knows anything about the Israeli/Palestinian situation knows that bulldozers are not inert earthmovers, they are part of the weaponry of both Israeli expansion and Palestinian destruction. This story does not mention that the man had recently been denied the permit to expand his own house and was likely going to have to have it demolished (and fined $50,000). Here is Gutkin's AP story, then please read on to find Israel Shamir's story of the killer, Hosam Dwayyat, and what pushed him over the edge.

July 2, 2008, 7:28AM
Palestinian uses bulldozer in Jerusalem rampage

Associated Press

Chaos on Jerusalem street JERUSALEM — A Palestinian man plowed an enormous construction vehicle into cars, buses and pedestrians on a busy street today, killing at least three people and wounding at least 45 before he was shot dead by an off-duty soldier.

Traffic was halted and hundreds of people fled in panic through the streets in the heart of downtown Jerusalem as medics treated the wounded.

Three Palestinian militant groups took responsibility for the attack, but Israeli police referred to the attacker as a "terrorist" acting on his own.

The attack took place in front of a building housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media outlets. A TV camera captured the huge front loader crushing a vehicle and an off-duty soldier killing the perpetrator by shooting him in the head several times at point-blank range as onlookers screamed.

A half-dozen cars were flattened and others were overturned by the Caterpillar vehicle. A bus was overturned and another bus was heavily damaged. Israel's national rescue service confirmed three deaths, and the bodies lay motionless on the ground covered in plastic.

A woman sprinkled water over a baby's bloodied face, a rescue worker stroked the hair of a dazed elderly pedestrian and a loved one raised the bleeding leg of a woman sitting outside the overturned bus.

"I saw the bulldozer smash the car with its shovel. He smashed the guy sitting in the driver's seat," said Yaakov Ashkenazi, an 18-year-old seminary student.

Esther Valencia, a 52-year-old pedestrian said she barely escaped the carnage.

"He almost hit me. Someone pushed me out of the way at the last moment. It was a miracle that I got out of there."

Eyal Lang Ben-Hur, 16, was in a bus when the driver yelled out, "Get out of the vehicle! Everyone out!" People fled in a panic, he said, and the bus was hit an instant later.

The attack occurred in an area where Jerusalem is building a new train system. The project has turned many parts of the city into a big construction zone.

Today's attack represented a departure from militants' previous methods, which were mostly suicide bombings and shootings.

During the second Palestinian uprising, which erupted in late 2000, Jerusalem experienced dozens of suicide bombings and other attacks. The city has been largely quiet in the past three years, though sporadic attacks have persisted. In March, a Palestinian gunman entered a Jerusalem seminary and killed eight young students.

The three organizations that took responsibility for the attack included the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, which is affiliated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The other two are the Galilee Freedom Battalion, which is suspected of being affiliated with Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a fringe left-wing militant group.

The Hamas militant group, which runs the Gaza Strip and is currently maintaining a fragile cease-fire with Israel, said it did not carry out the attack but nevertheless praised it.

"We consider it as a natural reaction to the daily aggression and crimes committed against our people in the West Bank and all over the occupied lands," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

Despite the Palestinian claims of responsibility, Israeli police chief Dudi Cohen said the attacker appeared to be acting alone.

"It looks as if it was a spontaneous act," he said.

Abbas aide Saeb Erekat condemned the violence.

"We condemn any attacks that target civilians, whether Israelis or Palestinians, and President Abbas has been consistent in his position to condemn any attacks, including the one in west Jerusalem, that target civilians," he said.

Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said the man was an Arab from east Jerusalem and had a criminal background. Channel 1 TV, citing police, reported that the attacker, a man in his 30s, worked for a construction contractor. Police chief Cohen said the attacker was the father of two children.

In contrast to West Bank Palestinians, Arab residents of Jerusalem have full freedom to work and travel throughout Israel. Many Jerusalem Arabs work in the construction industry, possibly helping the attacker to easily gain control of a construction vehicle.

About two-thirds of Jerusalem's 700,000 residents are Jews, and the rest are Palestinians who came under Israeli control when Israel captured their part of the city in 1967. Jerusalem's Arabs are not Israeli citizens but hold Israeli ID cards that allow them freedom of movement in the city and throughout Israel.

Israel's national rescue service said at least 45 people were wounded in today's attack. At one point, a paramedic lowered a screaming baby into an ambulance.

Wounded people sat dazed on the ground amid piles of broken glass and blood stains on the street. A baby had blood all over its face, and the driver of the construction vehicle was slumped motionless over the steering wheel.

"Where's the baby? Where's the baby?" said one distraught man as he ran from the overturned bus.

Yosef Spielman, who witnessed the attack, said the construction vehicle picked up a car "like a toy."

"I was shocked. I saw a guy going crazy," he said. "All the people were running. They had no chance."

At one point, witnesses said a female traffic cop shot at the perpetrator, after which he slumped over with his eyes closed. Then he suddenly lifted himself back up and continued his rampage, the witnesses said.

Hen Shimon, a 19-year-old solider, said the whole scene was a "nightmare."

"I just got off the bus and I saw the tractor driving and knocking everything down in his path," she said. "Everything he saw he rammed. He had a gun and started shooting at a police officer."

Cassia Pereira, office manager for AP's Jerusalem bureau, watched the attack unfold outside her window.

"I saw him but it was too late and there was nothing to do," she said, with tears in her eyes. "I was in panic I couldn't say a word ... I realized something was not normal, something was wrong."

The mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski, said his daughter was on one of the buses rammed by the attacker, but was not injured.

"To our regret the attackers do not cease coming up with new ways to strike at the heart of the Jewish people here in Jerusalem," Lupolianski said.

Here's Shamir, providing some important context.
Heemeyer Rides Again
By Israel Shamir

?This is a human interest story. It could have happened anywhere, but it happened in Jerusalem. Yes, we have Jews and Arabs here, but this is a story about men and women. It would make a good subject for a film, or for a novel, as it includes romantic love, beautiful young lovers separated by prejudice, severe and unjust punishment meted out in the name of law and order - and untimely death.

A few days ago, a young Jerusalemite got aboard his Caterpillar tractor, ran amok on the main street, hitting buses and cars and was finally shot dead by a vigilante. Why did it happen? For the same reason an American, Marvin Heemeyer, did his deed. When a man is pushed too far, too hard, he snaps. One weeps, another one commits suicide, and yet another one takes a gun and shoots everybody in sight ­ or rolls his bulldozer over cars and people.

Marvin Heemeyer was a Colorado welder who, on June 4, 2004, drove his bulldozer through the town hall, the office of the hostile local newspaper that editorialized against him, the home of a judge and others. He was pushed too hard: the municipality had blocked his access road, his livelihood had been ruined, his simple requests were being refused. The young Jerusalemite, Hosam Dwayyat was pushed much harder.

Hosam was born in Jerusalem after the Jewish takeover, and grew up in a village on the outskirts of the city. Sur Bahr, his village on the edge of the desert with its shepherds and sheep, is not a bad place: it is walking distance from both the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Houses are nice, spacey and covered with white limestone, surrounded by small gardens.

Hosam, like all the youth of Sur Bahr lived in the twilight zone between Jews and Palestinians. He spoke Hebrew and Arabic, had Israeli and Palestinian friends, went to discos and concerts, could go to Tel Aviv or West Jerusalem like an ordinary human being, like you and me. However, on his way he would frequently be stopped, searched, ordered to present his documents, detained, beaten and released: Israeli security police, Border Guards, do this regularly in order to remind an Arab that he is an Arab. For this reason, the dwellers of East Jerusalem hesitate to venture westward, much like you'd hesitate to visit a violent South Bronx.

But Hosam was young, and youth does not surrender easily. Some eight years ago, and he was 24, he had met a young Russian girl Marina who was 19, and they fell in love. He was her first love, and she did not hide her happiness.

The Russians are a breed apart in the social mosaic of Israel. Though nominally "Jewish", they have kept their Russian identity, and their own ways. They were not infected with Jewish chauvinism in the cradle. For Russians, Jewishness is a private thing, not a public identity. In the internationalist Soviet Union and in its successor states, boys and girls fall in love with or befriend a person without regard to his or her ethnic and religious origin, and it does not cause a ripple, let alone a storm. Upon arrival to Israel, these good-natured young people are classified by rather arrogant Israelis as "Johnnys-come-lately". They are snubbed and socially rejected. They have little contact with youth of good social standing, while the children of poor Oriental Jewish suburbs are too foreign for them. The Russians do not share the ideals of other Israeli Jewish communities, i.e. military valour and the amassing of wealth.

The Palestinians, especially those brought up in the bigger cities of Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa-Tel Aviv and Ramallah, are closer to the Russians than are members of other communities: they are smarter, behave like gentlemen, and do not look down on Russians. They intermarry, or have romantic connections with them, quite often. Among my immediate friends, a young Russian girl married a boy from Batir, and now she lives in that village near Jerusalem with her new family. Another one had a Palestinian boyfriend for two years, before breaking up for personal reasons.

Hosam and Marina went steady; they lived together for a while in Tel Aviv. "Hosam liked Israelis", Marina told the newspaper this week. But their love was crushed upon the rocks of apartheid.

Liaisons between nominal "Jews" and goys cause much alarm or outright hatred in official Israel. A few days ago, the largest Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, informed its readers that "the Kiryat Gat municipality has decided to act against female teenagers falling in love with young Bedouins and they presented a 10-minute film titled Sleeping with the Enemy". In June, the Israeli army removed an Israeli girl named Melissa, 23, who married a local man named Muhammad Hamameh, 25, from the village of Husan. There is a vigilante organisation called Yad Leakhim that fights intermarriages and conversions to Christianity or Islam, and they are busy interfering with interracial happiness.

Marina's parents received hints and odd looks from neighbours. It was explained to them that "it is not done", that it is "sleeping with enemy". They conveyed this pressure to their daughter, but strong-willed Marina moved to live with her boyfriend and his family. He wanted to marry her, but Russian girls rarely marry so young, and ­ like other Western girls ­ they do not necessarily want to marry their first boyfriend. They still want to flirt with others, while seriously minded sincere young men may well disapprove of it. You do not have to be a Russian and/or Arab to know about this. Moreover, you do not have to be a Moor to be aware that jealousy may cause you to slap the flighty partner, and slap he did. In a moment of anger, Marina complained to the police, and they took away her lover. Marina tried to take her complaint back; at that time she was pregnant and lived with Hosam's parents. "He slapped me when he had reason to feel jealous", she said last week. But even her intervention in favour of Hosam in the court did not help ­ he was sentenced to 20 months of jail.

Jerusalem judges are notoriously anti-Arab; they'd have to be, as they approve of so many unjust acts towards Arabs. Here they saw a chance to break a forbidden liaison of a nominally Jewish girl with a goy, of teaching the Russians and the Palestinians a lesson. But there was another reason, and it was equally relevant. In post- feminist Israel, as in many other Western countries, a woman may not withdraw her complaint against a man. The state provides for the ham-fisted over-protection to women. It is ready to do violence to real women for the sake of "Women's Rights." In an unrelated case, Israeli minister Hayim Ramon kissed a soldier girl. She complained, but later withdrew her complaint. Police pursued her all the way to Latin America and forced her to complain, threatening her with charges of making a false accusation. The feminists witch-hunted Ramon all the way to court, and they still refer to him as a "rapist". So Hosam and Marina could suffer their same fate in any feminist-ridden European country.

Last week Marina, 27, still pretty, slim and blond, bewept Hosam and told a reporter that she was and still is in love with him, her first love and the father of her child she was now bringing up alone. She was angry at the vigilante, a far-right activist who kept shooting at unarmed Hosam. She shed tears for the man Israeli authorities and media had already judged to be an "evil terrorist". For years, Marina hoped he'd forgive her momentary lapse and come back to her after his release. But he did not return. His family arranged for his marriage, and he tried to reshape his life in the Palestinian milieu after his failure in the Israeli one.

This second try was even worse. Once his family had had much land, but it was confiscated to build nearby Jewish neighbourhood. The remainder of their land was confiscated to build the Wall, a fourteen-feet-tall monster that cut them off from Bethlehem and the desert. On what was left, he built a house for his new family, for his wife and two children.

But a Palestinian may not build a house in Jerusalem, even on his own land, and he can't ever get a permit. Hosam had been met by Israeli "justice" a second time, with equally disastrous consequences. They ordered him to demolish the house and fined him $50,000. After that, he snapped, took his front-loader tractor and ran amok in the centre of Jerusalem, ramming cars and buses. He was quickly shot dead.

There are some local specifics, and bulldozers as well as killing of an attacker are permanent fixture of the Arab-Israeli conflict: a Jewish bulldozer driver drove his armoured machine over the American peace activist Rachel Corrie who defended a Palestinian home from demolition and was never prosecuted. Another Jewish bulldozer driver shared with the world his experience of razing Jenin: "I had no mercy for anybody. I would erase anyone with the D-9, and I have demolished plenty. For three days, I just destroyed and destroyed. The whole area. I didn't see, with my own eyes, people dying under the blade of the D-9. But if there were any, I wouldn't care at all. If you knocked down a house, you buried 40 or 50 people. I had lots of satisfaction in Jenin". While the Jewish vigilante who killed Hosam was called "hero", Arabs who killed Jewish murderers in Hebron or in Shafa Amr were prosecuted for murder.

However, putting aside le couleur locale, such a story could happen almost anywhere, in the US or in Europe. Some prejudices are common: A young girl could get cold feet right before marriage. A jealous youngster could slap his flirty girlfriend. Feminist judges could separate a young couple. She could remain alone loving him and bearing his child. City hall could demolish anybody's house for being built without a permit or in order to build a bypass. A man could become incensed and mete his vengeance on whoever came his way Death Wish style. And here in Israel, as in your country, we are first of all human -- men and women. This is an optimistic tragedy: normalcy creeps in through the holes in apartheid.

It is not necessary to view every event through the binary, Jew- Goy, or Jew-Arab perception. This perspective is dearest with people for whom their Jewishness is more important than their humanity. For them, denial of the "tractor terrorist murder of Jews" is "another blood libel against Jewish people". They force their binary view onto others. Thus, Prime Minister Olmert and the Labour leader Barak immediately sent their police forces to disturb the mourning family, and, equally devoted to the Jewish paradigm, President Bush, UN chief Ban Ki-moon and sundry others condemned the "bloody terrorist". Even good guy Seth Freedman wrote that "Israelis should be under no illusions as to why we're being targeted by terrorist killers such as Hosan Dwayyat". Their counterparts in Hamas, Hezbollah and the mythic Galilee Liberation also claimed responsibility, or "understood" Hosam's actions as those of resistance. The yellow press of Israel and of Jewish communities abroad invented his criminal past ("the convicted rapist, burglar and drug dealer"), his terrorist call to God and his hatred of Jews.

But this miasma of obsessive hate can't transform the human tragedy: that of an unhappy man pushed too far, whose broken body was washed by the tears of a Russian Israeli girl named Marina.

PS. Only Gilad Atzmon, Israeli saxophonist and writer of note, wondered "why the Israelis are entirely sure that it was an act of terror. It may as well be that the man was slightly mad, he might have had a phone row with his wife or alternatively a soaring dispute with his Israeli boss that made him flip. I would assume that in order to declare an incident to be an act of terror, a terrorist motivation or a scenario must be established first. Without establishing such a motivation we are doomed to admit that we are dealing here with a criminal case that must be investigated. We should as well refrain from jumping to conclusions."

He was right here, though, in a moment of despair, he came to the wrong conclusion continuing "However, the Israelis seem to be pretty convinced here. The Israelis are indeed united, and it is good that they are so united because it allows us to see what the Jewish state is all about. Sadly, there is no partner for peace in the Israeli society Unfortunately, and this is indeed a tragedy, the Palestinians are at the forefront of the most crucial battle for a better world. The Palestinians have been captured in a grave encounter with a psychotic, phantasmic, bloodthirsty self-centric Jewish national identity that knows no mercy."

Not only native Palestinians, but Israelis too, including nominal Jews, are at odds with this Jewish paradigm, or identity. Just as normal women suffer from their feminist defenders, ordinary Israelis officially classified as "Jews" do not need defence from the binary perception priests. While abroad, every man can choose whether to accept Jewish identity -- in Israel we have it forced upon us. Israeli unity is a phantasm as seem from afar; up close, you see men and women with their own preoccupations, and "professional Jews" are even rarer in Israel than elsewhere.

Like Gilad, I doubt that 'Jews', i.e. the people who uphold this identity, will agree by their own good will to any fair arrangement with native Palestinians. But unlike Gilad, I consider Israelis, including nominal Jews, to be capable of such an arrangement. For we do not fight Jews, we fight the Jewish identity, and we can win. If the Russians succeeded in making Jewishness a private thing, not an identity, so can we.

As long as there are Israeli girls like Marina and Israeli men like Gilad, there is a chance for peace. Better than a chance -- a certainty!

No wonder Americans are so misinformed about the conflict.

Nil'in, in the Footsteps of Bil'in/Another Palestinian Town Fights the Wall

I just read about the recent siege of Nil'in on KABOBFEST blog, and I'm struck by how these towns have been engaging in (mostly) nonviolent resistance, as a result of Israel's "security barrier"/fence/apartheid wall (depending on which side you're on). The wall has separated Palestinians from each other (literally cutting through some towns), from their orchards and fields, and from easy movement.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Strokes' "Hard to Explain"/(Guilty Pleasures Series)

Rock and roll as puerile rebellion, as escape at all costs. Notice the video, how the archetypes of mobility as freedom are fully engaged. I first heard this in a friend's apartment in San Francisco, at the end of a long journey with a Russian poet, from coast to coast. A long journey where words could no longer bridge worlds. This song sent me back home.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Birth/Independence Days: Thinking of Whitman & Beginnings

It was my birthday yesterday, the unheralded number 38--after loving the fact that Whitman had begun his song in "Song of Myself" at 37--"I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,/Hoping to cease not till death...."

I'm reading Whitman these days, partly in preparation for a course, and partly because I like to go back to him on beginnings and anniversaries of all sorts--I recall, as a college student, bringing Whitman into a snowy Ryerson Woods on New Year's Day, as a way to welcome the year.

How they are provided for upon the earth, (appearing at intervals;)
How dear and dreadful they are to the earth;
How they inure to themselves as much as to any--
What a paradox appears their age;
How people respond to them, yet know them not;
How there is something relentless in their fate, all times;
How all times mischoose the objects of their adulation and reward,
And how the same inexorable price must still be paid for the same great purchase.

Walt Whitman

Thinking of Whitman writing those poems for his first edition of Leaves of Grass, essentially my age, I was struck by how much Whitman is the poet of the hale, and how remarkable that would have been in time (whether or not he was performing such healthiness!). (And how, again, Dickinson is the ideal counterweight to his magnanimity and brisk optimism, in her exploration of "pain" and its "element of blank.")

How happy I was, then, to find that the first edition of Whitman's Leaves of Grass was published on July 4th, 1855. On yesterday's Writers Almanac, I learned that "On this day in 1855, the first edition of Whitman's Leaves of Grass was printed. It consisted of 12 poems and a preface. The printers were friends of his, and they did not charge Whitman for their work. He helped set some of the type himself. 'Grass' is a printer's term; it refers to a casual job that can be set up between busy times."

(I had promised myself to read the first edition after reading Ron Silliman express his preference for it over the later editions, I'm committed.)

Whitman's excesses are, in small doses, delicious. They invite the grand permission, and even allow for self-conscious skeptics to say, perhaps under their breath: O Me! O Life!

How quickly it all seems to pass by.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Emily Wilson's Review of John Tipton's translation of Ajax (Flood Editions)

I have intended to write a review of Tipton's translation of Ajax, but it just hasn't happened yet; this review goes a good distance to describing why it's a timely and unfortunately timeless work--though it doesn't quite say, as it should, that it's one of the first examples of what we'd now call P.T.S.D. behavior (with a nod to Homer's depiction of Achilles' own rage/PTSD). Ajax as ancestor to Timothy McVeigh...

Bright Oblivion By Emily Wilson
This article appeared in the July 21, 2008 edition of The Nation.

July 1, 2008

Human civilization is premised on the idea that human beings should not kill one another. But in war, killing other people must somehow become acceptable--morally, legally and psychologically. One way to achieve this is to imagine the enemy in nonhuman terms. "They," our opponents, must be as unlike us as possible: we can kill them if we see them as demons, foreigners, heretics, dots on the radar screen--or, most common, as animals.

But by denying the opposition any humanity, and therefore making them killable, we risk making ourselves something less than human. The Chorus in John Tipton's haunting new version of Sophocles' Ajax comments on the hero's crazed attempt to massacre his own comrades in arms: "now it closes hoods the head/theft of feet that can move/to thrash for an oar/dropped from a quick ship." The images of hooded prisoners from Abu Ghraib told us more than we wanted to know about how hard it is to look an enemy in the eye. In medieval and early modern Europe, the executioners and torturers were the ones who wore hoods; in Abu Ghraib, young American soldiers were trussing their victims up to look like the aggressors. But is some kind of blinding--of the enemy, or of oneself--necessary to enable one to kill with a clear conscience? And how do you remove the blindfold when the war is over? The hooding of the head is associated, in Tipton's rendition of the play, with the madness of Ajax, which consists of a failure to tell the difference between animal and human, killer and victim, enemy and friend.

Ajax was composed by Sophocles probably sometime in the 440s BC--the decade before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. In this period, Athens was consolidating its military and economic power in the Greek world, forming new allegiances and breaking old ones. The city was also undergoing cultural and intellectual changes: the sophists ("wisdom-teachers") were introducing new ideas about science, society, religion and morality into the public and private spheres, which seemed to some citizens to threaten their traditional values and way of life.

Sophocles' tragedy tells of Ajax--a great hero of the Trojan War, but never the greatest, a warrior associated with old-fashioned valor and physical courage. After the Greek victory over the Trojans, the Greek generals held a contest to decide who should inherit the magical armor of Achilles, which his divine mother, Thetis, had given him. Ajax's archenemy, Odysseus, wins the competition. In Sophocles' play, as in Homer's Iliad, Odysseus seems--at least at first--like the exact opposite of Ajax: he represents brains over brawn; trickery over courage; the new sophistic values of flexibility, cleverness and rhetoric over the old ideal of death before dishonor.

As the play opens, Athena, goddess of wisdom, finds Odysseus, her favorite hero, prowling round Ajax's tent, like--in Tipton's translation--a "bloodhound--snout to the ground!" The image introduces the central idea that killing may erase the difference between human and animal. The goddess explains that Ajax, overwhelmed by rage at not getting the prize, tried to kill all the Greek leaders in the night. But the goddess deluded him, and instead, he killed the Greek's captive animals. The scary, Damien Hirst-like illustration on the cover of Tipton's translation (a color photo of nearly two dozen bloody heads of decapitated horned sheep) seems to hint that killing animals might be just as brutal as killing people. But Sophocles' play is not a call for animal rights. It is ironic, in the classic Sophoclean fashion: Ajax's killing of animals is a mark of insanity--whereas massacring people would have been, supposedly, sane. Throughout the play, Sophocles' focus is not on animals but on people, and on how little control we have over the consequences of our actions.

The most puzzling and memorable part of the play is the central episode (sometimes referred to as the Renunciation Speech), in which Ajax, who is known for his staunch inflexibility, suddenly speaks in a new and moving key. The defensiveness is gone, and he seems willing to submit to time and the gods:

All of everything--it never ends.
Secrets emerge and facts are buried.
Eventually nothing should surprise.
Time breaks
Our promises and our strong will.

His intention now is to carry away the sword he took from his old enemy, Hector:

I'll go to a trackless place
and I'll cover this ugly weapon,
bury it where no one sees.
Night and hell can have it.

The climax of the speech is a series of beautiful, ambiguous generalizations:

the stretch of worst night ends
in the white dazzle of day;
there are winds that can calm
any groaning ocean; and even sleep
in time must release its prisoners.
What else could we reasonably think?

Tipton captures something distinctively Sophoclean in his combination of the clear, almost clichéd gnomic utterance with flashes of surprising, alien imagery (such as "the white dazzle of day"): "the truth has teeth you know," as the Chorus comments later.

The "trackless place" in which Ajax will hide the sword turns out, of course, to be his own body. Ajax has changed only so much: he retains his "strong will" for honor, even when he declares that it is lost. Critics argue about whether honest Ajax really means to deceive his wife and friends here--an action surely more worthy of Odysseus. But deception is too crude a term. This Ajax is both different and the same as he ever was, and the speech is precisely intended to show that mutability and permanence are not opposites but are mutually reinforcing. There is even a kind of bleak comfort in knowing that nothing is always the same:

No one stays by you forever.
Companions will give you false shelter.
In the end it works out.

You might think that the play ought to end as soon as Ajax's companions discover his dead body. But it doesn't. The suicide of Ajax comes just past the play's midway point, and Sophocles lets things drag on into a squabble between the remaining Greek generals about whether to give a proper burial to Ajax's corpse. The tone and even the language, as Tipton notes, "degenerates into petty insults and seemingly pointless bickering." The pointlessness is the point. The end of Ajax shows us a world where there are no real heroes left--or, rather, where heroism and courage have to be reinvented as mental qualities rather than physical ones. In this play, the biggest reversals happen not on the battlefield but in the minds of men. Ajax tries to take on the most dangerous of enemies--Agamemnon and Odysseus--but ends up killing the weakest of creatures: a herd of sheep. Hector's sword kills Ajax even when Hector is dead. The lesson, as Odysseus learns it, is that any one of our actions may have unforeseen results. If you begin a war, or fight in one, you never know who will die. It could be them; it could be us. In such a world, the willingness to change with the times is a virtue. The old code of paying back evil with evil may keep people stuck in a cycle of killing, even when the war is supposedly over.

Menelaus (whose "problem launched 1,000 ships," as Tipton's Chorus comments) and his brother, Agamemnon, insist that the Greeks ought not to bury Ajax, who wanted to kill them all. Menelaus argues that leaving Ajax unburied is the only way to discipline him for his insubordination and restore discipline in the ranks: "But what goes around comes around./He burned hot--now I do." The final reversal of the play is that Odysseus, Ajax's old enemy, is the one who argues that he must be given a funeral. Agamemnon asks, "So should I permit this funeral?" and Odysseus answers, "Yes. I'll need one myself someday."

Tipton, who is highly conscious of the resonances of Sophocles' play with the current conflict in Iraq, includes a number of anachronisms, which anchor the play firmly in the present. For instance, his Ajax kills himself with Hector's gun, not his sword (a distracting mistake is that this Ajax also claims to be killed with "my own weapon," rather than simply "self-killed"); the Chorus compares Ajax to "a fast aircraft" and meditates on "the statistics of missiles." There are more obscenities than the conventions of Greek tragedy would have allowed: when Ajax realizes that he has "murdered farm animals" instead of soldiers, he shouts "Fuck. FUCK!" These details make it clear that we are to see these soldiers as modern combatants, struggling with the physical realities of modern warfare.

Tipton's language is spare yet dense, colloquial yet somehow foreign. His rendering of Sophocles is often very loose, perhaps not always deliberately (for instance, I could see no particular purpose in Ajax's woman, Tecmessa, saying, "You took my father from me," when the Greek means, "You deprived me of my father-land"--patris, not pater). Yet Tipton's play is intended to be not a crib but a re-imagination of Sophocles for our age. It corresponds line for line to the original and uses a strange metrical form, what Tipton calls "a counted line," one which uses one English word for every metrical foot in the Greek. Except for the choral passages and lyric interludes, every line in the play has six words. One might think this system would not sound or scan like poetry in English, but it is surprisingly effective and works as an equivalent for Greek meter (which is based on syllable length).

At his best, Tipton is able to break down the Greek text and rewrite it as if from scratch--digging up and reconstructing the force behind abstractions and alien idioms. His renderings of the Greek term tuche--a very common word meaning "fate," "luck" or "chance"--are a case in point. Tipton never uses the heavily archaic English word "fate." Instead, he unpacks the thought behind the line. When Tecmessa appeals to Ajax to accept what has happened, a pedestrian version of the Greek would go something like this: "O Ajax, my master, there is no greater evil for human beings than necessary fate." In Tipton, this becomes:

Ajax, there's nothing you can do.
There's never anything anyone can do.

Tipton's Greeks inhabit a world where the gods are almost entirely absent, and where there are no powers or abstract forces that explain the course of events. When somebody asks, "Why did this have to happen?" Tipton's Chorus replies, "it just did."

Sometimes, conversely, Tipton creates abstractions where there are none in the Greek. Odysseus pities Ajax in his madness and generalizes about his vision of human beings: "I see that we--all the people who are alive--are nothing but images or an empty shadow." In Tipton, the object of the verb in the first phrase is not "we" but "life":

If you stare hard at life
you see we're nothing but shadows.

Tipton's version has a chilling power that derives partly from its infidelity to Sophocles. His Odysseus creates a strange, alienating distance between the observer (not himself, but that impersonal "you") and the observed--shadowy human life. Similarly, Tipton's choral odes are deliberately "disembodied"--as he explains in the afterword, he eliminated all uses of the first person in order to turn the Chorus into the "disturbed unconscious to the play itself." The words of Tipton's Chorus bear almost no relation to the literal meaning of the Greek, but they contain some of his most arresting passages. Tipton picks up Sophocles' images and entirely ignores his syntax, producing a Surrealist, dreamlike effect:

the night now shot
dawn astounds from tomorrow
while crazy horses wander
the meadows kill Greeks
root and branch

The technique is similar to Ezra Pound's mistranslations in "Homage to Sextus Propertius." Pound's poem includes a number of apparent philological errors (such as translating "canes," which comes from the verb cano, "to sing," as if it came from canis, "dog"). One early reader of Pound commented, "If Mr. Pound were a professor of Latin, there would be nothing left for him but suicide." But Pound was a poet, not a professor, and he rejoined that "there was never any question of translation, let alone literal translation. My job was to bring a dead man to life, to present a living figure." Tipton, too, is a poet, and he succeeds brilliantly at creating a living, contemporary Sophocles. His version is a chilling mirror.

Even outside the choral passages, Tipton makes his characters far more alienated from one another than they are in Sophocles, and far more directly aggressive. Tipton does not capture much of Sophocles' tragic irony, which often depends on a frustrated desire for communication and an idea that language says more than we can hear. For instance, when Athena asks Ajax about what he thinks he has done, when he is still under the delusion that the victims he has killed were his human companions, she says, in the Greek, tethnasin andres? (The men are dead?). Ajax thinks that Athena is emphasizing the first word--"they are dead"--and answers, thanontes (dead). But of course, the audience realizes that the goddess is also asking whether Ajax still believes that those dead were men. In Tipton, the goddess's question becomes merely sarcastic, not ironic: "So I gather you killed them?" This goddess obviously knows better than dumb, crazy Ajax and has no time to drop oracular hints.

The human characters in Tipton's version yell accusations and imperatives at each other but almost never ask for help. Tecmessa, Ajax's concubine and baby-mother, becomes much ruder and more assertive than she is in Sophocles. An expression of pity becomes "You're pathetic," and when Tecmessa pleads for advice--oimoi, ti draso, teknon? (Alas, child, what shall I do?)--Tipton eliminates the hint of vulnerability: "No, I won't just sit here," she asserts. Tipton also gets rid of the complexity of Tecmessa's relationship with her master by presenting her as a wife, not a slave: when she says, simply and directly, "Now I am a slave," he translates, "Now you hold title to me." Sophocles' evocation of shifting allegiances and dependencies, friendships and enmities and complex social networks, is turned into a more brutal, simpler vision: it's a dog-eat-dog world.

But these characters' resistance to gentleness and frailty still honors something of the shock value in Sophocles' play. It allows, above all, for a riveting, goose-bumps-inducing presentation of Ajax--as the ultra-tough guy, the Marine, who tells Tecmessa, "Here, quick, take this kid away./Seal up the house. No crying./Stop being so damn sentimental, woman." We are reminded that the notion of death before dishonor is hardly confined to the ancient world. With such an attitude, after any kind of humiliating mistake, how can you ever act like Odysseus: give up, bury the dead and let the troops go home?