Sunday, November 30, 2008

I'll Take "Plowshares" over Ploughshares Most Days

I began this blog nearly a year and a half ago, and I've found myself drawn equally--and maybe more--to the representations of dissent resistance increasingly available online--than simply to the poetry of dissent and resistance. Why is that?

Though I have recently co-edited a volume of peace poetry (Come Together: Imagine Peace), done a critical investigation of resistance poetry (Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941), and continue to write poems and review works of poetry, I find the major energies of poetry to be separate from the energies of the peace movement. At times, I'm disappointed with contemporary American poetry and its self-satisfactions, the ways in which it reflects its own cultural self-preoccupations. At other times, I'm disappointed by the peace movement's own foci and self-narrations. Still, something in me finds "Plowshares" (the campaign of radical symbolic actions for nuclear disarmament and demilitarization) more vital than Ploughshares (the highly esteemed literary journal). But I can't live without either the peace drive (pace Freud), or the poetry drive. So I give thanks that each exists, even if they exist in their own spheres. May some intrepid poets be the Venn between those spheres.


A Tribute to Tom Lewis

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"A Document of Listening"/An Interview with H.L. Hix


Check out my interview of H.L. Hix about his book, God Bless: A Political/Poetic Discourse in the new issue of Jacket Magazine.

Here's the opening:

"A Document of Listening"

H.L. Hix’s recent work, God Bless: A Political/Poetic Discourse (2007), comes almost entirely from speeches made by George Bush and Osama Bin Laden, which Hix transforms to create poems in various traditional Western and non-Western forms, from the sestina to the ghazal. It is a fascinating project, demonstrating an aesthetic attention that becomes a kind of ethical and political attention, a close reading of the first order. A document of close listening, God Bless aptly demonstrates the profound lack of listening at the heart of this administration’s decision-making process. Documentary poetry, in Hix’s rendering, becomes a kind of history lesson for the poet and his readers, a way of reading into the archive and thus extending the archive into poetry, poetry as “extending the document.”

Philip Metres: One of the things that struck me about God Bless in relation to your past work is the intense formal operation that underlies the book, its obsessive proceduralism. And yet, your work to date has not been quite this explicitly political. What procedural rules did you set for yourself to write these poems, and how did you try to make sure that you weren’t misquoting or manipulating your source material. In other words, for you, what are the aesthetics and ethics of collage?

H L Hix: The process itself, in some ways, was simple. I just hired an assistant to download from www.whitehouse.gov all the public statements Bush made in his first term and convert the text into a Microsoft Word file. I printed this giant document — several thousand pages of tiny type — and simply read through it, a month’s worth at a time, highlighter in hand. Then I would cut the highlighted passages and paste them into a smaller document, so that I would have everything in one place. So the gathering part of it was very straightforward — just reading and reading, collecting what seemed relevant.

Once I started composing, the primary rule I set for myself was that I could juxtapose passages, but not leave things out silently. So any time there’s a continuous passage with something that drops out, an ellipsis marks that it’s been chopped in that way. Otherwise, I’ve allowed myself to take a passage from here and from there and put them together. I’m sure this results in various forms of distortion — how could it not? — but my thought was that this project was in some way like caricature, where distortion of features is intentional: “yeah, your nose isn’t that big, but I drew it that big because it’s a prominent part of your face.” Even though the caricature is distorted, it’s recognizable. Maybe, in a certain way, it’s more accurate for the distortion. My objective was that sort of accuracy, that foregrounding of certain things. It’s too easy to take anyone’s words (Bush’s words, or anyone’s) and construct something just the opposite of what the speaker meant. I was interested in compressing things Bush said, putting together stuff said at different times but thematically connected, to test one by another. Political cartoons, a form of caricature, give one analogy for what I was up to.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Kafka is Alive and Well ("Held at Einab Junction: Inside Israel's New Terminals")

Held at Einab Junction: Inside Israel's New Terminals
by Anna Baltzer


When I first the West Bank in 2003, checkpoints were controlled by young Israeli soldiers, nervously clutching their weapons and yelling at Palestinians to stay in line. When I returned in 2005, I found many checkpoints replaced by metal turnstiles into which Palestinians were herded to wait for soldiers to push a button, letting them through one by one or sometimes not at all. Each year I return, the method of control over Palestinian movement is further institutionalized, most recently Israeli terminal-style buildings, entirely separating soldiers from the Palestinians whose movement they are controlling.

I first encountered one of these terminals after visiting a women's cooperative in Tulkarem to purchase embroidery to send home. Because there are no reliable postal services in the West Bank, and because I did not want to risk the products being damaged or confiscated by Israeli airport security if I transported them in my luggage, I knew I would have to send them to the US from a post office in Israel. I had traveled from Tulkarem to Tel Aviv once in the past by taking a shared
taxi to the nearby Einab junction, where I had walked from the Palestinian road to the Israeli one and caught transport into Israel.

This second time, I was traveling with my backpack and six plastic bags full of embroidery, and I assumed the trip would be as straightforward as it had been in the past. When I arrived at Einab junction, I found a large new building, fortified by several layers of metal fences, walls, and gates. The first layer reminded me of rural parts of the Wall—wire fence reinforced with electric sensory wire and razor wire with a heavy iron gate. The gate was open but nobody was on the other side. I walked through and came to two large iron turnstiles surrounded by a wall of iron bars. The turnstiles were locked.

Frustrated, I put down my six bags to rest for a moment. Maybe someone would come back? I waited, but still there was nobody.

I called out. "Hello? Anybody there?"

"Please wait a moment," a staticky voice above me blared. I looked up to find a speaker attached to the turnstile.

I didn't have much choice but to wait.

Whoever was operating the turnstiles didn't seem to be in much of a hurry, so I took out my camera.

"Excuse me!" the voice snapped.

"Yes," I answered as I took my first photo.

"Please put your camera away immediately!"

"Please let me in immediately," I answered.

"I said to wait," said the voice, and I answered, "And I am waiting."

The light above the turnstile turned from red to green and I put away my camera and picked up my bags to walk through. It was difficult squeezing into the tight rotating cage with all my bags, and by the time I'd made it to the other side, I was hot and cranky.

In front of me was a metal detector surrounded by iron bars. I began to walk through but the voice called out from another speaker above: "Stop!"

I continued through the metal detector and groaned, "What?!" into the air, wondering where he was watching me from.

"Go back and put down your bags."

I went back through the metal detector and set down my six bags, which were feeling heavier by the minute. I took the opportunity to take another picture. The soldier didn't bother protesting this time, but ordered me to walk through the metal detector again.

I tried to pick up my bags again but he ordered, "No, without your bags." I walked through. Nothing happened.

"Now, go back."

I closed my eyes with a sigh, walked back, picked up my six bags, and walked through again before he could give me the order to do so. Somehow this seemed so much worse than the turnstiles and metal detectors I had seen at Huwwara checkpoint. At least there you could see the people humiliating you. Or maybe it was more upsetting because I wasn't used to being the one humiliated.

Beyond the metal detector was another set of turnstiles, locked again. I took a deep breath and stared at the red light, hoping to see it turn green rather than let the guard hear my voice crack if I spoke.

Thankfully, the turnstile buzzed and I squeezed through to reach the building itself. That was the end of the pre-screening. Now it was time for the real screening.

The inside of the building reminded me of an airport terminal—high ceilings and multiple floors, and multilingual signs for travelers. The ones here read, "Prepare documents for inspection" in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The signs didn't clarify where one was supposed to go, however. There were a series of five doors with red lights on top, and I called out, "OK, my documents are ready... Now what?" I had yet to see a human face.

This time nobody answered, so I asked again. Again, nothing. I set my bags down, annoyed. My back was hurting, I was sweating, and I didn't know where I was or what was going to happen to me. I yelled, "Is anybody there?! Hellooooooo!"

Eventually a second staticky voice came through from a speaker on the wall. "Please proceed to the door."

"Which door?"

"The one on the left."

"Left of what? Where are you?"

"I can see you," the voice said. "Walk backwards and go left."

I saw a door behind me on the left and carried my bags over to it. Above the door was a red light, which I stared at. Nothing happened. I was ready to cry. "Now what?" I yelled. Silence. I yelled again, even louder.

"What am I supposed to do?!"

"Calm down!" yelled a cheerful soldier walking by on an upper level above me. He was finishing a conversation on his walkie-talkie, and put up his hand for me to wait. I glared at him. "Go there," he pointed to another door near the one I was standing at, and began to walk away.

"No, please!" I blurted out, forgetting my policy of not pleading with soldiers. "You're the first human face I've seen and I'm starting to lose it."

He motioned towards the door and promised that if I stood there, the light would eventually turn green. I picked up my bags, approached the door, set them down, and waited. Eventually, the light turned green, this time accompanied by a little buzz that unlatched the full iron door. I expected to find a soldier on the other side, but as the heavy door slammed behind me I found myself in a tiny room with white
walls, no windows, and a second iron door. That door eventually buzzed as well, and I struggled to open it as I held my bags, settling to kick one in front of me instead.

The next room had three walls and a double-paned window with a soldier on the other side. The soldier asked for my ID and I slipped it under the glass. He tried to make small talk and asked me what part of the United States I was from. I told him flatly, "For the first time in my life, I want to blow something up."

He must not have heard me because he let me through to the next tiny windowless room. The next buzzing heavy door led out into the other open-spaced side of the terminal, where I picked up the pace, hoping to get out finally, an hour after I'd arrived. No such luck.

One more soldier behind a window beckoned for my passport again. "Where's your visa?" he asked, not finding the stamped slip of paper issued by Israel when the passport itself is not stamped. I answered truthfully, "They told me at the airport that there were none left and that it would be OK." As the words came out, I realized how absurd this sounded, and I kicked myself for falling for it when I'd flown in the week before. How could the airport run out of visa sheets? Wasn't it more likely that they were deliberately trying to inhibit my travel in the Occupied Territories?

It was hard to blame the soldier, since, for all he knew, I'd snuck in over the hills of Jordan. "Whatever," I sighed. "Call airport security—I promise I'm in the system."

I knew it would be a while, so I sat down again. I thought I was past the point of anger until I noticed a line of 25 or so Palestinians waiting outside to come in from the other direction, heading back to Tulkarem. Had they been waiting there all this time? Why weren't they being processed? I asked the guard holding my passport and he said he'd tend to them after I left.

It was one thing to feel frustrated and humiliated, but another to know that my ordeal had held up dozens of Palestinians from getting back to their homes and families. "Wait," I said. "Are you telling me that in your fancy new facility you can't process people coming in two directions? Don't let the problem with me delay these people any longer."

He told me not to worry, that the Palestinians were used to waiting. This made me even more upset. I insisted that I would rather wait longer myself, and eventually he beckoned the group forward. I marveled as they waited patiently and yet somehow not submissively, beacons of dignity next to my defeated and angry presence. I took out my camera and took a few photos. Within seconds, a guard appeared next to me—in person, nothing but air between us!—and said sternly, "Come with me."

I followed the guard back towards the section of the terminal from which I had just come. We passed through the windowless rooms and into a new room with crates on the floor. From there, the guard opened another, even heavier iron door, and motioned for me to pass ahead of him. Expecting the guard to follow me in, I turned and instead found him placing my bags into the crates. Realizing that soldiers were going to go through my bags, I demanded to be present during the search to ensure that nothing would be damaged or stolen. "That's not possible," the guard said flatly, and the door slammed shut between me and my belongings.

I kicked the door with frustration, realizing that all my contact information for Palestinian organizers and friends was still on my computer. I realized that I still had my phone in my pocket and quickly called my friend Kobi, an Israeli activist. I told him where I was and asked if he might make some calls on my behalf. He said he'd do what he could and we hung up.

I looked around the room. It was empty except for a chair and an empty crate on the floor. There were no other doors, but there was a two-paned window with a soldier watching me from the other side of it. "What are you looking at?" I snapped at the soldier, and he walked out of view. Another soldier appeared, a young woman. She spoke into an intercom so that I could hear her through the window. "Please take off your clothes and put them in the container on the floor."

It took a moment for the words to sink in. Once they had, I looked the soldier straight in the eyes, and I began to undress. I removed each piece of clothing slowly, not once taking my eyes off hers. I watched her with a look of hurt. I wanted her to see that she was not just searching me—she was humiliating me. Several times she looked away. When I was down to my underwear, the soldier stopped me; she said that was enough. A part of me wished that she hadn't. Perhaps if I were completely naked, she would more likely recognize the extent of my humiliation and her role in it.

The iron door behind me buzzed and the soldier told me to place the crate containing my clothes and phone into the room where I had last seen the guard. My other belongings were long since gone, and I could hear soldiers in the next room going through them. When I got back to the room, the soldier in the window was gone. I sat down on the chair and waited. The soldiers next door were chatting and laughing. I imagined them examining my personal photographs and letters. I was too upset to sit still. I stood up and started pacing back and forth in the small room. I had to do something—anything—to express my emotions. If I could hear them, then they could hear me. I began to sing.

I sang an old song that I'd learned at summer camp as a child. Its words were meaningless, but I sang it at the top of my lungs. Within seconds, the female soldier was at the window, looking alarmed. I waved. I sang that stupid song until my voice hurt. It felt good to sing—I felt empowered. It was easier to act like a crazy person than a prisoner. If I was unpredictable, then they had lost the power to control me.

Half an hour passed. Or was it an hour? My energy had worn off and I sat down miserably on the chair. I was tired. The soldiers were gone from the next room now. What was taking them so long? It was cold in the room, and I had nothing to cover myself with. I began to shiver and rock back and forth on the chair. I had no more energy to yell. I began to cry. I cried for what felt like a long time. Eventually, the female soldier appeared in the window. I could tell she felt bad for me. I looked away. The door buzzed and she instructed me to open it. On the other side was a jacket and a cup of water. I put on the jacket and drank the water to soothe my throat, but I was unimpressed. I didn't want a jacket or water. I wanted my freedom to leave. I wanted my dignity back.

Time passed. I stopped looking at the soldiers and talking to them. I stopped thinking of ways to pass the time or express myself. I didn't even feel like myself anymore. I felt empty, defeated. I just sat and waited, with a feeling of profound loneliness.

After what felt like an eternity, the iron door buzzed and I opened it to find all my clothes and bags in a large pile brimming over the tops of the containers. The soldiers had emptied every single item separately into the crates. The papers from my notebook were strewn about loosely. Each piece of embroidery had been removed from its protective wrapper and crumpled into a pile. A can of tuna had been opened and left amidst the hand-sewn garments. Even the boxes of Turkish delight—a soft sticky candy covered with powdered sugar, which I'd brought for some friends—had been opened and rummaged through.

The only thing stronger than my anger was my desire to leave. I sat down miserably and folded everything back into my bags. I was crying uncontrollably, but I bit my tongue each time I was tempted to speak. When I was dressed and ready, I stood up, collected myself, and tried to open the door. It was locked.

"The door's still locked," I informed the soldier watching through the window.

"Yes, please wait a little longer."

"Why?" I asked. "You saw everything I have. You know I'm not a security threat, and surely you know by now that I have a visa."

"I'm sorry but you're going to have to wait," she said.

I couldn't hold myself back any longer. I lost it. I opened up my bags and took out what was left of my canned tuna. With my fingers, I began to spread the oily fish all over the window.

"What are you doing?" asked the soldier, disturbed.

"You don't respect my stuff, I don't respect yours," I answered.

Next, I opened a box of Turkish delight. "I'm not going to stop until you let me out," I announced as I began mashing the gummy cubes into the hinges of the iron door.

"OK, OK," said the soldier's voice over the intercom. "You can go now." The door buzzed.

I gathered my bags and walked out. A soldier was waiting for me on the other side. He gave me my passport and said I was free to leave. I called Kobi as soon as I was outside. He said it was the US Consulate that had helped get me released. The army claimed they were holding me because of the photographs I had taken inside the terminal. Interestingly, they hadn't bothered to delete the images from my camera when they searched my bags.

I told Kobi what had happened. I felt as if I had lost a part of myself inside that terminal as I had slowly lost control. Kobi reminded me that even the option of losing control was a sign of privilege—Palestinians who behaved as I had would not likely have been freed. I tried to imagine what it would be like to endure such an invasive screening every day of my life.

Kobi told me a story about his Palestinian friend, Sara, whom he'd met in Maryland. Sara would frequently travel back and forth between her home in Palestine and the United States, where she was studying. Each time she returned to Palestine, she was able to walk right through the checkpoints. She had enough confidence to just assert her will and go through, simply by the fact that she was used to being treated like a person. And each time, after a few months in Palestine, she would lose that ability.

In just a few hours I had gone from empowerment to craziness to submission to destructiveness. What would I become after months of such treatment? What about a lifetime of the even worse treatment that Palestinians experience?

It was dark outside the terminal as I hung up the phone. I had been held for 3 hours, and there were no more buses running. I could see the lights of a settlement on a nearby hill. I began walking in what seemed like the direction of Tel Aviv. I stuck my thumb out to the occasional passing car, and eventually a settler stopped. He moved his gun out of the front seat so that I could get in. Feeling lousy about it, I accepted a ride to the nearest bus stop from where buses were still running to Tel Aviv. I boarded the first bus out and cried the whole way back to the city.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"In Harm's Way" Looks at the Israel/Palestine Conflict



My jaw dropped when I saw scenes from Palestinian protests in Ni'lin (West Bank, Palestinian territory) about the separation wall in the middle of this Palestinian community on nightly TV, in Cleveland no less, half a world away. Despite the relative lack of contexts, and framing it as an heroic and harrowing endeavor principally for photojournalists, "In Harm's Way" went farther than I've seen in showing some of the aspects of the simmering conflict, and how the conflict gets framed...

Friday, November 14, 2008

from "The Cure at Troy" by Seamus Heaney/Thinking about Collective Subjectivity, Whitman, and Tempered Hopes

With the election of Barack Obama, many of us have felt that some tide of history has shifted, and some great possibility is awakened in us again. I came across Seamus Heaney's poem, "The Cure at Troy," and it reminded me again of that byword of the Obama campaign, "hope," which was employed to such moving effect with the song and video called "Yes We Can," by Will.i.am. Will.i.am's piece echoes and tunes itself around a speech by Barack Obama, in ways that evoke and embody the collective voice (the "we" of "yes we can") that the speech invokes.

In a powerful way, the song "Yes We Can" brings us into the nationalist project of Whitman, which "contains multitudes," and sings the larger song in which each of us participates--drawing back through the history of struggle--and forward into what the future holds. Relatedly, Heaney's poem, with its suffusion in classical Greek sources as well as the background of the Troubles of Northern Ireland, has the kind of tempered hope that feels appropriate to the moment--perhaps even more so--given the challenges ahead.
from "The Cure at Troy " by Seamus Heaney

Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured.

The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.

History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.

Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.
It means once in a lifetime
That justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Two Takes on Studs Terkel (R.I.P.), plus audio...

The death of Studs Terkel, the great documentarian of American life, came when I was reading Class Matters, selections of Karl Marx, and talking with other John Carroll faculty in a Poverty and Solidarity faculty learning group. I have become more and more interested in poetry which actively employs documentary modes as a way to introduce voices that have been left out of the wider conversations that constitute our national conversation; poets such as Muriel Rukeyser, Charles Reznikoff, and Mark Nowak interweave these (unheard) voices into their work in ways that activate what Walt Whitman famously wrote in "Song of Myself":
Through me many long dumb voices,
Voices of the interminable generations of prisoners and slaves,
Voices of the diseas'd and despairing and of thieves and dwarfs,
Voices of cycles of preparation and accretion,
And of the threads that connect the stars, and of wombs and of the father-stuff,
And of the rights of them the others are down upon,
Of the deform'd, trivial, flat, foolish, despised,
Fog in the air, beetles rolling balls of dung.

Through me forbidden voices,
Voices of sexes and lusts, voices veil'd and I remove the veil,
Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur'd.

Terkel, whatever his flaws, became such a medium of voices of "them the others are down upon."
Studs Terkel Audio Podcast from This American Life

And two takes on Studs Terkel, one liberal centrist, one radical:

Studs Terkel Gave a Voice to Many, Among Them Himself
By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN
Published: November 2, 2008
The voice is unforgettable, as if each phrase scraped the ear with a scoopful of gravel. What remains in the memory too is the earnestness that could turn both fervent and sentimental. And there was the music, jazz and blues that often provided a respite from the trademark persona.

Skip to next paragraph
Related
Studs Terkel, Listener to Americans, Dies at 96 (November 1, 2008)
Times Topics: Studs TerkelBut after hearing that Studs Terkel had died on Friday, I thought about his WFMT radio shows, which I had heard during my years in graduate school in Chicago. He seemed to be without pretense and compassionate but not terribly revealing or comforting. He had some terrific guests, but he rarely stood aside.

Since Mr. Terkel’s death, testimonials have proliferated. “I think he was the most extraordinary social observer this country has produced,” Robert Coles, professor of psychiatry at Harvard, told The Los Angeles Times.

“He was the quintessential American writer,” Representative Dennis J. Kucinich wrote on The Nation’s Web site, thenation.com. “He was our Boswell, our Whitman, our Sandburg.” (Though wasn’t Whitman already our Whitman and Sandburg our Sandburg?)

And without Mr. Terkel’s radio program, which was broadcast daily between 1952 and 1997, and without his books of oral history — including one that won him the Pulitzer Prize — it is difficult to imagine that National Public Radio would have evolved in the way it did, or that Ken Burns could have made oral history into a cinematic tradition. Just dip into some of the imposing volumes of oral history, in which Mr. Terkel took on the social world of the 20th century — “Hard Times,” “The Good War” or “Working” — and you are amazed at the range of people who spoke with him about the Depression, the Second World War or the world of the workplace: the bookmaker and the stockbroker, the carpenter and the washroom attendant, the mayor and the supermarket cashier. Mr. Terkel anticipated the academic movement of recent decades to tell history from below — not from the perspective of the makers of history but from the perspective of those who have been shaped by it. He once said he was interested in the masons who might have built the Chinese Wall, or the cooks in Caesar’s army. That is also one of oral history’s implicit ambitions: using a populist style to tell populist history. The oral historian does little more than hold up a mirror, just making sure the glass is clean. The practice claims to be self-effacing and world-revealing. How can a collection of interviews be anything else?

But if you look closely at these oral histories, you can never forget who has shaped them and to what end. It often seems easy to guess whom Mr. Terkel liked and who is there to make a particular point or provide ironic contrast. When in “Working” — compiled in the early 1970s — we read about a public-school teacher who is unfashionably strict in her classroom, the rhetorical blade cuts the shape of the account. She ends by telling of her most memorable pupil who was “special” and “never any trouble,” later a cashier at a supermarket who “gives no one trouble today either” and “has the same smile for everyone.” Neither the teacher nor her star pupil is meant to be admired.

The most admired are those who, because of personal gifts, transcend the monotony of working life; the most respected are those who come to recognize those horrors most clearly and speak of them. The interviews fit the intellectual framework set up by the “Working” introduction: “This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence — to the spirit as well as to the body.” That means it includes, in Mr. Terkel’s list, ulcers, accidents, shouting matches, fistfights, nervous breakdowns, daily humiliations and “scars, psychic as well as physical.” There are some, he says, who may enjoy their work, but these cases may “tell us more about the person than about his task.” He seems to cheer the questioning of the “work ethic,” though he himself clearly relished it and relied upon it.

This vision of work, though, is an obvious translation of a traditional Marxist view of the alienation of labor — the sense of disassociation that comes from the capitalist workplace. The most transformative accomplishment would be to recognize the causes of that alienation, because that would help usher in a new world; this is what Mr. Terkel seems to cherish in his most admired laborers and what he hopes to accomplish in the book itself.

It is, in fact, impossible to separate Mr. Terkel’s political vision from the contours of his oral history. You grow more cautious as you keep reading. Mr. Terkel seems less to be discovering the point latent in his conversations than he is in shaping the conversations to make a latent point.

This is not something often recognized about these books. Yet when Mr. Terkel’s 1970 oral history of the 1930s Depression, “Hard Times,” was reissued in 1986 in the heart of the Reagan administration, Mr. Terkel’s new introduction worked strenuously to show how the two eras were comparably nightmarish — though the 1980s never had anything like the 25 percent unemployment of the earlier era. Mr. Terkel writes: “In the ’30s, an administration recognized a need and lent a hand. Today an administration recognizes an image and lends a smile.” Similarly, Mr. Terkel’s 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Good War,” has a title in ironic quotation marks because the emphasis, again and again, is on World War II’s shadows and injustices, with allusions, in the words of one interviewer singled out for attention, to a contemporary “meanness of soul.”

All this is saying, perhaps, is that Mr. Terkel was a man of the political left — something of which he made no secret. The difficulty is for readers who presume they are being presented history without perspective, just a series of oral histories. But its perspective actually seems to guide its strategy, so one is no longer sure what is being omitted and how much is being fully seen. No part of history or human experience should be ignored, but all of it needs to be placed in a larger context.

Part of Mr. Terkel’s wide appeal was that he seemed to be a scrappy liberal in his choice of causes and concerns, but look more closely and it becomes less clear where his liberalism slips into radicalism. Though Mr. Terkel was not a theorist, nearly every one of the positions approvingly intimated by him seem to fit models shaped by Marxist theory; he even wore something red every day to affirm his attachment to the working class.

Mr. Terkel also provided a blurb for the memoirs of William Ayers, the Weatherman bomber whose connection with Barack Obama has been a point of controversy. “A deeply moving elegy to all those young dreamers who tried to live decently in an indecent world,” Mr. Terkel wrote. “Ayers provides a tribute to those better angels of ourselves.”

Mr. Terkel presented himself as an avuncular angel with close contact with the salt of the earth, a populist with a humane vision of the world. There are times such gifts are evident, but there are also times when such dreamers should make us wary.


and a second, a retort by Howard Zinn:

Comment
By Howard Zinn

November 6, 2008

Reading Edward Rothstein's sour commentary on Studs Terkel, I was surprised that Rothstein, presumably a sophisticated thinker, seems to believe one can separate one's political views from a historical narrative, even from oral history: "It is, in fact, impossible to separate Mr. Terkel's political vision from the contours of his oral history."

It turns out that Rothstein is not complaining about the intrusion of Studs's "political vision" into his oral histories. I doubt, knowing Studs pretty well, that he would deny that. Indeed, I suspect he would embrace it. Would he be proud of attempting (yes, attempting, because it cannot really be done) to be a neutral conduit of his interviewees' thoughts?

No, what Rothstein resents is the specific character of this intrusion, that is, Studs's political beliefs. On Studs's oral history: "You grow cautious as you keep reading." I'm inclined to think that Rothstein did not "grow" cautious but that he started out being cautious, on the alert for radical ideas, or worse, anything that might suggest Marxism.

Rothstein is disappointed in Studs, because "he seemed to be a scrappy liberal...but look more closely and it becomes less clear where his liberalism slips into radicalism." Rothstein is evidently a proud liberal, possibly scrappy. I suspect Terkel, were he still alive, would have approved what Norman Mailer wrote once to Playboy magazine:

I don't care if people call me a radical, a rebel, a red, a revolutionary, an outsider, an outlaw, a Bolshevik, an anarchist, a nihilist, or even a left conservative, but please don't ever call me a liberal.

Rothstein gives examples of Studs's "radicalism." These are positions so reasonable that they would give a good name to "radicalism," just as McCain's worry that Obama is "socialist" because he wants to redistribute wealth divests socialism of its worst connotations and makes it quite attractive. For instance, Rothstein objects to Terkel comparing FDR's reaction to the Depression to Reagan's reaction to economic distress, wherein Terkel says that FDR "recognized a need and lent a hand," while Reagan "lends a smile."

He doesn't like the quote marks around Studs's "The Good War" because "the emphasis, again and again, is on World War II's shadows and injustices." Would any reasonable and "balanced" assessment of that war not emphasize, precisely because that has been missing in the general romanticization of the "good war," the "shadows and injustices"--Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans, the segregation in the armed forces?

Rothstein finds that "nearly every one of the positions approvingly intimated by him seem to fit models shaped by Marxist theory." Should we be alarmed? I can understand why J. Edgar Hoover would be alarmed--but someone as well-educated as Edward Rothstein? Looking at the state of the world, observing capitalism self-destruct to the point where even the Wall Street Journal questions its viability, it would seem that it may be time to take a second look at "models shaped by Marxist theory."

"The difficulty is for readers who presume they are being presented history without perspective, just a series of oral histories." Is Rothstein one of those readers? Does he believe, does anyone believe, who has given some thought to the myth of "objective" history, that one can present history "without perspective"? Indeed, would that be desirable? Do we want from history, even oral history to be "just" a series of statements that suggest no perspective?

Rothstein worries that with Studs's oral histories "one is no longer sure what is being omitted and how much is being fully seen"...Surely, he must understand--unless he possesses a naiveté we would never suspect in a New York Times writer--that one is never sure what is being omitted, and therefore we must always look beyond the words set before us. And no phenomenon is "fully seen," so we try to see as much as we can, and add to the universe of knowledge, as Studs Terkel did so brilliantly, our little piece of truth.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Phil Donahue's Body of War

Thinking of you veterans out there today, what you have given, and what has been taken away. What we might give, and what we might take away. Because 90% of casualties of war in the last century were civilians, we need to broaden our sense of who is a veteran of war, while not forgetting and attending to those in this country who have seen and done more than they can tell, more than anyone should have to bear.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Come Together: Imagine Peace (An Anthology of Peace Poetry)



Purchase from SPD books
Purchase from Amazon
Poetry. Anthology. Edited by Ann Smith, Larry Smith, and Philip Metres. With an Introduction by Philip Metres. A grand collection of poetry (seventy poets both past and contemporary) written against war and for peace: poems that sustain us with their vision.

"Peace poetry is larger than a moral injunction against war; it is an articulation of the expanse, the horizon where we might come together. To adapt a line by the Sufi poet Rumi: beyond the realm of good and evil, there is a field."

--from the Introduction by Philip Metres.

100 poets voice their concern and vision for peace.

Poems of Witness & Elegy, Exhortation & Action, Reconciliation, Shared Humanity, Wildness & Home, Ritual & Vigil, Meditation & Prayer.

Precedents: Sappho, Whitman, Dickinson, Cavafy, Millay, Patchen, Rexroth, Shapiro, Lowell, Creeley, Rukeyser, Ginsberg, Levertov, Lorde, Stafford, Jordan, Amichai, Darwish

Contemporaries: Abinader, Ali, Bass, Berry, Bauer, Berrigan, Bly, Bodhrán, Bradley, Brazaitis, Bright, Bryner, Budbill, Cervine, Charara, Cording, Cone, Crooker, Daniels, di Prima, Davis, Dougherty, Ellis, Espada, Estes, Ferlinghetti, Forché, Frost, Gibson, Gundy, Gilberg, Habra, Hague, Hamill, Harter, Hassler, Haven, Heyen, Hirshfield, Hughes, Joudah, Jensen, Karmin, Kendig, Komunyakaa, Kovacik, Kryss, Krysl, LaFemina, Landis, Leslie, Lifshin, Loden, Lovin, Lucas, McCallum, McGuane, Machan, McQuaid, Meek, Metres, Miltner, Montgomery, Norman, Nye, Pankey, Pendarvis, Pinsky, Porterfield, Prevost, Ragain, Rashid, Rich, Roffman, Rosen, Ross, Rusk, Salinger, Sanders, Seltzer, Schneider, Shabtai, Shannon, Sheffield, Shipley, Shomer, Silano, Sklar, Smith, Snyder, Spahr, Sydlik, Szymborska, Trommer, Twichell, Volkmer, Waters, Weems, Wilson, Zale

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Women of Liberia: Fighting for Peace

Listen to what the Liberian women did for peace.

Nas' "Black President" and "Election Night"/"Yes We Can" Redux





Barack Obama:

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation.

Yes we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom.

Yes we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.

Yes we can.

It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballots; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.

Yes we can to justice and equality.

Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity.

Yes we can heal this nation.

Yes we can repair this world.

Yes we can.

We know the battle ahead will be long, but always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.

We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics...they will only grow louder and more dissonant ........... We've been asked to pause for a reality check. We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.

But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.

Now the hopes of the little girl who goes to a crumbling school in Dillon are the same as the dreams of the boy who learns on the streets of LA; we will remember that there is something happening in America; that we are not as divided as our politics suggests; that we are one people; we are one nation; and together, we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast; from sea to shining sea --

Yes. We. Can.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Derek Walcott, on Poetry and Isolation

Derek Walcott, from The Guardian piece called "A Life in Writing" (October 4, 2008):

Walcott is eager to forge a link between the damage done by "bad teachers" who urge students to throw out poetic technique - "to beware of melody" - and what he calls "the totalitarian view of anything, the callous view, the indifference to beauty. If you are indifferent to that, as part of your politics, then everything is permissible. If you can say God is dead, then harmony is dead, melody is dead, music is dead, therefore faith is dead. Therefore it's easy to do what you have to do in the name of necessity. The rules no longer apply. You have something that is a semi-poem, just as you have something that is a semi-democracy or a semi-foreign policy. And you don't count the dead in Iraq because it's not part of the melody."

He is critical of contemporary American poets generally, for not addressing the topic of war. "America is so isolated from what is happening that poets still don't write about the foreign policy of their country. You don't get anything from them that says: 'We are doing terrible shit to the world.'" It is part of the reason why he wanted to do the opera, and why he is making King Creon the head of a modern state. "It's about civilised, high-toned tyranny."


Is Derek Walcott the isolated one? Are we?

"Black Watch" by Gregory Burke from Studio 360

Translated By: Shaindel Beers talking with Philip Metres

If you have a little time, listen to my interview by poet Shaindel Beers on her show, "Translated By." We discuss the work of Lev Rubinstein and Sergey Gandlevsky in my translation.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Why Supporters of Palestinian Rights Worry about the New Obama Administration

Just before the election, I posted Ralph Nader's rather excoriating (and probably unfair) letter to Barack Obama regarding his recent statements about and recent visit to Israel and the Middle East; I got a couple of responses regarding the untimeliness of the letter, its rather self-congratulatory tone, and its factual errancy. Ali Abunimah's commentary about Obama's pick of Rahm Emmanuel as Chief of Staff underscores the concerns and fears that Palestinian rights activists feel about Obama's vision. There are moments of insinuation in this analysis that are frankly unfair, but they shed light on the real difficulties of navigating the fraught waters of the peace process ahead for Obama.

Obama picks pro-Israel hardliner for top post

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada
5 November 2008

http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article9939.shtml

During the United States election campaign, racists and
pro-Israel hardliners tried to make an issue out of
President-Elect Barack Obama's middle name, Hussein. Such
people might take comfort in another middle name, that of
Obama's pick for White House Chief of Staff: Rahm Israel
Emanuel.

Emanuel is Obama's first high-level appointment and it's
one likely to disappointment those who hoped the
president-elect would break with the George W. Bush
Administration's pro-Israel policies. White House Chief of
Staff is often considered the most powerful office in the
executive branch, next to the president. Obama has offered
Emanuel the position according to Democratic party sources
cited by media sources including Reuters and The New York
Times. While Emanuel is expected to accept the post, that
had not been confirmed by Wednesday evening the day after
the election.

Rahm Emanuel was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1959, the
son of Benjamin Emanuel, a pediatrician who helped smuggle
weapons to the Irgun, the Zionist militia of former
Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, in the 1940s. The
Irgun carried out numerous terrorist attacks on
Palestinian civilians including the bombing of Jerusalem's
King David Hotel in 1946.

Emanuel continued his father's tradition of active support
for Israel; during the 1991 Gulf War he volunteered to
help maintain Israeli army vehicles near the Lebanon
border when southern Lebanon was still occupied by Israeli
forces.

As White House political director in the first Clinton
administration, Emanuel orchestrated the famous 1993
signing ceremony of the "Declaration of Principles"
between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime
minister Yitzhak Rabin. Emanuel was elected to Congress
representing a north Chicago district in 2002 and he is
credited with a key role in delivering a Democratic
majority in the 2006 mid-term elections. He has been a
prominent supporter of neoliberal economic policies on
free trade and welfare reform.

One of the most influential politicians and fundraisers in
his party, Emanuel accompanied Obama to a meeting of
AIPAC's executive board just after the Illinois senator
had addressed the pro-Israel lobby's conference last June.

In Congress, Emanuel has been a consistent and vocal
pro-Israel hardliner, sometimes more so than President
Bush. In June 2003, for example, he signed a letter
criticizing Bush for being insufficiently supportive of
Israel. "We were deeply dismayed to hear your criticism of
Israel for fighting acts of terror," Emanuel, along with
33 other Democrats wrote to Bush. The letter said that
Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian political
leaders "was clearly justified as an application of
Israel's right to self-defense."

In July 2006, Emanuel was one of several members who
called for the cancellation of a speech to Congress by
visiting Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki because
al-Maliki had criticized Israel's bombing of Lebanon.
Emanuel called the Lebanese and Palestinian governments
"totalitarian entities with militias and terrorists acting
as democracies" in a 19 July 2006 speech supporting a
House resolution backing Israel's bombing of both
countries that caused thousands of civilian victims.

Emanuel has sometimes posed as a defender of Palestinian
lives, though never from the constant Israeli violence
that is responsible for the vast majority of deaths and
injuries. On 14 June 2007 he wrote to US Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice "on behalf of students in the Gaza
Strip whose future is threatened by the ongoing fighting
there" which he blamed on "the violence and militancy of
their elders." In fact, the fighting between members of
Hamas and Fatah, which claimed dozens of lives, was the
result of a failed scheme by US-backed militias to
violently overthrow the elected Hamas-led national unity
government. Emanuel's letter urged Rice "to work with
allies in the region, such as Egypt and Jordan, to either
find a secure location in Gaza for these students, or to
transport them to a neighboring country where they can
study and take their exams in peace." Palestinians often
view such proposals as a pretext to permanently "transfer"
them from their country, as many Israeli leaders have
threatened. Emanuel has never said anything in support of
millions of Palestinian children whose education has been
disrupted by Israeli occupation, closures and blockades.

Emanuel has also used his position to explicitly push
Israel's interests in normalizing relations with Arab
states and isolating Hamas. In 2006 he initiated a letter
to President Bush opposing United Arab Emirates
(UAE)-based Dubai Ports World's attempt to buy the
management business of six US seaports. The letter, signed
by dozens of other lawmakers, stated that "The UAE has
pledged to provide financial support to the Hamas-led
government of the Palestinian Authority and openly
participates in the Arab League boycott against Israel."
It argued that allowing the deal to go through "not only
could place the safety and security of US ports at risk,
but enhance the ability of the UAE to bolster the Hamas
regime and its efforts to promote terrorism and violence
against Israel" ("Dems Tie Israel, Ports," Forward, 10
March 2006).

Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish
Democratic Council, told Fox News that picking Emanuel is
"just another indication that despite the attempts to
imply that Obama would somehow appoint the wrong person or
listen to the wrong people when it comes to the US-Israel
relationship ... that was never true."

Over the course of the campaign, Obama publicly distanced
himself from friends and advisers suspected or accused of
having "pro-Palestinian" sympathies. There are no early
indications of a more balanced course.

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is
author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-
Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books, 2006).


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"On 24th and South, Philadelphia" from To See the Earth

Here's the final installment of poems from To See the Earth from the Crisis Chronicles, "On 24th and South, Philadelphia." Thanks to Jesus Crisis for this; check out his blogs, where now he is digitizing his prison diaries.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Did



Amen, American people. You chose the right man for the difficult job ahead. John McCain showed his better side in his best moment of the campaign, his concession speech.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bruce Springsteen and Obama in Cleveland

Obama and Springsteen in Cleveland










An Open Letter to Barack Obama from Ralph Nader

An Open Letter to Barack Obama by Ralph Nader
By QuiQui
Dear Senator Obama:

In your nearly two-year presidential campaign, the words "hope and change," "change and hope" have been your trademark declarations. Yet there is an asymmetry between those objectives and your political character that succumbs to contrary centers of power that want not "hope and change" but the continuation of the power-entrenched status quo.

Far more than Senator McCain, you have received enormous, unprecedented contributions from corporate interests, Wall Street interests and, most interestingly, big corporate law firm attorneys. Never before has a Democratic nominee for President achieved this supremacy over his Republican counterpart. Why, apart from your unconditional vote for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, are these large corporate interests investing so much in Senator Obama? Could it be that in your state Senate record, your U.S. Senate record and your presidential campaign record (favoring nuclear power, coal plants, offshore oil drilling, corporate subsidies including the 1872 Mining Act and avoiding any comprehensive program to crack down on the corporate crime wave and the bloated, wasteful military budget, for example) you have shown that you are their man?

To advance change and hope, the presidential persona requires character, courage, integrity-- not expediency, accommodation and short-range opportunism. Take, for example, your transformation from an articulate defender of Palestinian rights in Chicago before your run for the U.S. Senate to an acolyte, a dittoman for the hard-line AIPAC lobby, which bolsters the militaristic oppression, occupation, blockage, colonization and land-water seizures over the years of the Palestinian peoples and their shrunken territories in the West Bank and Gaza. Eric Alterman summarized numerous polls in a December 2007 issue of The Nation magazine showing that AIPAC policies are opposed by a majority of Jewish-Americans.

You know quite well that only when the U.S. Government supports the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements, that years ago worked out a detailed two-state solution (which is supported by a majority of Israelis and Palestinians), will there be a chance for a peaceful resolution of this 60-year plus conflict. Yet you align yourself with the hard-liners, so much so that in your infamous, demeaning speech to the AIPAC convention right after you gained the nomination of the Democratic Party, you supported an "undivided Jerusalem," and opposed negotiations with Hamas-- the elected government in Gaza. Once again, you ignored the will of the Israeli people who, in a March 1, 2008 poll by the respected newspaper Haaretz, showed that 64% of Israelis favored "direct negotiations with Hamas." Siding with the AIPAC hard-liners is what one of the many leading Palestinians advocating dialogue and peace with the Israeli people was describing when he wrote "Anti-semitism today is the persecution of Palestinian society by the Israeli state."

During your visit to Israel this summer, you scheduled a mere 45 minutes of your time for Palestinians with no news conference, and no visit to Palestinian refugee camps that would have focused the media on the brutalization of the Palestinians. Your trip supported the illegal, cruel blockade of Gaza in defiance of international law and the United Nations charter. You focused on southern Israeli casualties which during the past year have totaled one civilian casualty to every 400 Palestinian casualties on the Gaza side. Instead of a statesmanship that decried all violence and its replacement with acceptance of the Arab League's 2002 proposal to permit a viable Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in return for full economic and diplomatic relations between Arab countries and Israel, you played the role of a cheap politician, leaving the area and Palestinians with the feeling of much shock and little awe.

David Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, described your trip succinctly: "There was almost a willful display of indifference to the fact that there are two narratives here. This could serve him well as a candidate, but not as a President."

Palestinian American commentator, Ali Abunimah, noted that Obama did not utter a single criticism of Israel, "of its relentless settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life unlivable for millions of Palestinians. ...Even the Bush administration recently criticized Israeli's use of cluster bombs against Lebanese civilians [see www.atfl.org for elaboration]. But Obama defended Israeli's assault on Lebanon as an exercise of its 'legitimate right to defend itself.'"

In numerous columns Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz, strongly criticized the Israeli government's assault on civilians in Gaza, including attacks on "the heart of a crowded refugee camp... with horrible bloodshed" in early 2008.

Israeli writer and peace advocate-- Uri Avnery-- described Obama's appearance before AIPAC as one that "broke all records for obsequiousness and fawning, adding that Obama "is prepared to sacrifice the most basic American interests. After all, the US has a vital interest in achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace that will allow it to find ways to the hearts of the Arab masses from Iraq to Morocco. Obama has harmed his image in the Muslim world and mortgaged his future-- if and when he is elected president.," he said, adding, "Of one thing I am certain: Obama's declarations at the AIPAC conference are very, very bad for peace. And what is bad for peace is bad for Israel, bad for the world and bad for the Palestinian people."

A further illustration of your deficiency of character is the way you turned your back on the Muslim-Americans in this country. You refused to send surrogates to speak to voters at their events. Having visited numerous churches and synagogues, you refused to visit a single Mosque in America. Even George W. Bush visited the Grand Mosque in Washington D.C. after 9/11 to express proper sentiments of tolerance before a frightened major religious group of innocents.

Although the New York Times published a major article on June 24, 2008 titled "Muslim Voters Detect a Snub from Obama" (by Andrea Elliott), citing examples of your aversion to these Americans who come from all walks of life, who serve in the armed forces and who work to live the American dream. Three days earlier the International Herald Tribune published an article by Roger Cohen titled "Why Obama Should Visit a Mosque." None of these comments and reports change your political bigotry against Muslim-Americans-- even though your father was a Muslim from Kenya.

Perhaps nothing illustrated your utter lack of political courage or even the mildest version of this trait than your surrendering to demands of the hard-liners to prohibit former president Jimmy Carter from speaking at the Democratic National Convention. This is a tradition for former presidents and one accorded in prime time to Bill Clinton this year.

Here was a President who negotiated peace between Israel and Egypt, but his recent book pressing the dominant Israeli superpower to avoid Apartheid of the Palestinians and make peace was all that it took to sideline him. Instead of an important address to the nation by Jimmy Carter on this critical international problem, he was relegated to a stroll across the stage to "tumultuous applause," following a showing of a film about the Carter Center's post-Katrina work. Shame on you, Barack Obama!

But then your shameful behavior has extended to many other areas of American life. (See the factual analysis by my running mate, Matt Gonzalez, on www.votenader.org). You have turned your back on the 100-million poor Americans composed of poor whites, African-Americans, and Latinos. You always mention helping the "middle class" but you omit, repeatedly, mention of the "poor" in America.

Should you be elected President, it must be more than an unprecedented upward career move following a brilliantly unprincipled campaign that spoke "change" yet demonstrated actual obeisance to the concentration power of the "corporate supremacists." It must be about shifting the power from the few to the many. It must be a White House presided over by a black man who does not turn his back on the downtrodden here and abroad but challenges the forces of greed, dictatorial control of labor, consumers and taxpayers, and the militarization of foreign policy. It must be a White House that is transforming of American politics-- opening it up to the public funding of elections (through voluntary approaches)-- and allowing smaller candidates to have a chance to be heard on debates and in the fullness of their now restricted civil liberties. Call it a competitive democracy.

Your presidential campaign again and again has demonstrated cowardly stands. "Hope" some say springs eternal." But not when "reality" consumes it daily.

Sincerely,
Ralph Nader

If Obama Loses the Election, I'll Blame the Catholic Church

In church yesterday, the right wing was in full force; one guy at the exit handing out glossy cards stating that Obama was "opposed" to all sorts of "family values," while inside the church, a few people were passing out a letter from Bishop Richard Lennon (hailing from Boston, ground zero of the pedophile scandal and cover-up) which suggested, in light of the Bishops' letters, that basically the abortion issue trumps all other issues of Catholic social teaching.

I hear a lot about "voting your conscience" but that now reads like code for "vote for the 'pro-life' candidate." This is a travesty of the notion of citizenship in a pluralistic society, and a completely misguided attempt at "moral clarity" around an issue which is anything but morally clear. If the "pro-lifers" showed as much concern for putative "innocent life" that they do, they would have overthrown the bishops who covered up the pedophile scandal, played a key role in ending the war in Iraq in 1991 (which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of "innocent" lives), and marched on the streets against the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina.

And in Scranton, PA, we have this guy:

Catholic Bishop Causes Stir: Don't Vote for Pro-Abortion Candidates, Period
by Steven Ertelt

LifeNews.com Editor

October 22, 2008

Scranton, PA (LifeNews.com) -- A Catholic bishop in Pennsylvania has perhaps gone further than any other Catholic leader in the nation with a new statement saying Catholics shouldn't vote for any candidate who is pro-abortion. The statement has implications for the presidential race with a clear contrast between the candidates.

Scranton Bishop Joseph F. Martino showed up unexpectedly at a parish forum in his diocese and said he was upset that the letter he authored saying not to vote for pro-abortion candidates wasn't a part of the discussion.

Martino surprised the audience by saying that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops doesn't go far enough in laying out Catholic policy vis-a-vis voting priorities.

The bishops have said, in their document “Faithful Citizenship” that "“a Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion" if the voter is intending to support abortion. It says pro-abortion candidates can only be supported for proportionate reasons -- something Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput has said doesn't exist.

Bishop Martino went further and took issue with the USCCB statement, which was handed out to everyone at the meeting, and complained no one received his letter.

“No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese,” said Martino. “The USCCB doesn't speak for me.”

“The only relevant document ... is my letter,” he said. “There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”

The letter indicates that abortion is more important than any other political issue.

“Health care, education, economic security, immigration, and taxes are very important concerns. Neglect of any one of them has dire consequences as the recent financial crisis demonstrates," it says. "However, the solutions to problems in these areas do not usually involve a rejection of the sanctity of human life in the way that abortion does."

"National Right to Life reports that 48.5 million abortions have been performed since 1973. One would be too many. No war, no natural disaster, no illness or disability has claimed so great a price," it concludes. “No social issue has caused the death of 50 million people. This is madness, people."

After Bishop Martino's comments, most of the members of the audience gave him a standing ovation, but about one-fourth of the audience left afterwards.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Cockroaches and Barack Obama and Lucille Clifton's "Cruelty"




"Cruelty" by Lucille Clifton

cruelty. don’t talk to me about cruelty
or what i am capable of.

when i wanted the roaches dead i wanted them dead
and i killed them. i took a broom to their country

and smashed and sliced without warning
without stopping and i smiled all the time i was doing it.

it was a holocaust of roaches, bodies,
parts of bodies, red all over the ground.

i didn’t ask their names.
they had no names worth knowing.

now i watch myself whenever i enter a room.
i never know what i might do.


Clifton's poem, "Cruelty," was written during the time of the first Persian Gulf War (1991), and can be heard on the audio collection In Their Own Voices. This presidential campaign has led to some of the ugliest racism that I have heard in this country. While "Mary Poppins" from video 1 just happened to be naming her fears off the top of her head, the association between roaches/vermin and "the Other" has a long history, not least of which is the Nazi language regarding the Jews. It's time Americans begin listening to themselves. Our words reveal more than we can face.

Saturday, November 1, 2008