Friday, March 21, 2008

Writing about the War

In the East this week, veterans of the war in Iraq testified in an event called WINTER SOLDIER about the atrocities they had committed in Iraq. A documentary film will probably follow, and I am glad for that. I only hope it will be shown on a double bill with the previous WINTER SOLDIER documentary -- confessional testimony of those who served in the American War in Vietnam and committed equally horrible atrocities. The reasons will be the same: "They were not White so we did not see them as human," "I wanted to serve my country and believed my country would not lie to me" -- more than tiresome -- sickening, stupid, although one must have compassion for the victims on all sides. And then in 2045 there will be the WINTER SOLDIER testimony of stupid U.S.Americans committing atrocities in some future war. It is a crime that no-one educates each new generation -- certainly not the cowards of the media (including so-called Public Television). All this made me recall a verse I wrote early on in the war and how writing such a verse means nothing, has no effect whatever. I do not believe in courting despair, or in avoiding action by taking on the escapist attitude of cynicism, but I do wish I knew what asses might most effectively be kicked to try to dislodge this circle of ignorance. I was happy to hear from my friend Martha that Buffy St.-Marie was in Washington, D.C., on 19 March, and sang her song "Universal Soldier" -- It has been maddening to me that no-one -- not one of our so-called radical singers or radical organizations -- has been willing to sing that song or bring back to public attention that great anti-war song. There is moral cowardice on all sides. To urge soldiers to disobey orders is too fearsome, it appears. Anyway, in this mood I picked up the latest issue of POETRY FLASH today, and read this verse that reinforces what I was thinking, and what I am saying:

THE EFFORT - David Ray

He was feverish, nearly manic
when he turned out his poems,

staying up far into the night,
rising early, sometimes before

dawn, for he thought his poems
might stop the war. In time

they were published by a small
press, and received no reviews.

A few friends did not mind
being given copies, even asked

politely for them to be inscribed.
He went on writing poems,

although he now knew the war
would go on, and on, and on.

And no poem would stop it.

The gulf is wide, and the runner with the all-important message will never reach the ear of the distant Emperor (cf. Franz Kafka's brief parable, "The Great Wall of China"). I wrote one of those poems, but I knew that none of the literary journals would ever publish it (it is not dull enough, not abstract, does not conform to contemporary attitudes about writing verse as imposed by the American Academic Poetry cohort, and, on the other hand, it is poetry, and so no political journal would print it):

NOT WISE, NOT RATIONAL (23 March 2003)

Not wanting to add to anyone's pain or anger,
not knowing what's right or wrong, and meaning
no harm, and knowing everyone's beyond what
they can absorb already when it comes to world events,
should I refrain from saying that it feels as if

the white dove is charred meat in the flames
of Baghdad. My tears are molten lead and trivial.
The injured babies of Iraq – with eyes older than mine
or yours – listen to the daily complaints of Americans
and, meaning no harm, puke blood and grieve in our streets.

I cannot, I cannot see why. I cannot,
cannot keep from asking why?

So the male gender can demonstrate its latest
clever toys? Make up your own list of reasons – But, oh,
children of Iraq, don't listen. I wish all words were water,
or medicine, and not so stupid, not so hollow,
not so useless. I would that I could find a way to say Peace,
weaponless as a baby's hand as it shakes a scepter of air.

-- James McColley Eilers, copyright 2008

And here is Buffy St.-Marie's song -- too subversive as it addresses those who accept personal existential responsibility (in other words, none of those happy to get mindlessly diddled by some so-called "God") -- or those who appreciate Bob Dylan's "Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters."


He's five feet two and he's six feet four
He fights with missiles and with spears

He's all of 31 and he's only 17

He's been a soldier for a thousand years

He's a Catholic, a Hindu, an atheist, a Jain,
a Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew
and he knows he shouldn't kill
and he knows he always will
kill you for me my friend and me for you

And he's fighting for Canada,
he's fighting for France,

he's fighting for the USA,

and he's fighting for the Russians
and he's fighting for Japan,
and he thinks we'll put an end to war this way

And he's fighting for Democracy
and fighting for the Reds
He says it's for the peace of all
He's the one who must decide
who's to live and who's to die
and he never sees the writing on the walls

But without him how would Hitler have
condemned him at Dachau
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He's the one who gives his body
as a weapon to a war

and without him all this killing can't go on

He's the universal soldier and he
really is to blame
His orders come from far away no more
They come from him, and you, and me
and brothers can't you see
this is not the way we put an end to war.

[She writes, “I wrote "Universal Soldier" in the basement of The Purple Onion coffee house in Toronto in the early sixties. It's about individual responsibility for war and how the old feudal thinking kills us all. Donovan had a hit with it in 1965.”]


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Vernal Equinox

Fifth Anniversary of the American Invasion of Iraq

I always gravitate toward Code Pink, some of whom had come directly from having been arrested for blocking Senator Dianne Feinstein's office with a Die-In...

Monday, March 17, 2008

EASTER LADY on West Portal Avenue

I am always intrigued by the fantasy window displays of Alexander Collections, 309 West Portal Avenue, San Francisco.
When I saw this one, the light was such that reflections made it impossible to photograph through the front window...

Of course, click on the photo if you want to see the elaborate clothes more easily....

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Richard Rorty Speaks

In the introduction to THE FUTURE OF RELIGION, editor Santiago Zabala, seeming to draw on Rorty ideas, writes: "Accepting the constitutively divided, unstable, and plural condition that belongs to our own Being, destined to difference, to impermanency, and to multiplicity, means being able to actively practice solidarity, charity, and irony. ...

" ... The man who withdraws his attention from the supernatural world and concentrates on this world and this time ('saeculum' means also 'this present time') exerts himself to realize the ideals of pluralism and tolerance and to prevent any particular vision of the world from imposing itself by means of the authority attributed to it."

In THE FUTURE OF RELIGION, Richard Rorty says:

"Ecclesiastical institutions, despite all the good they do -- despite all the comfort they provide to those in need or in despair -- are dangerous to the health of democratic societies. Whereas the philosophers who claim that atheism, unlike theism, is backed up by evidence would say that religious belief is irrational, contemporary secularists like myself are content to say that it is politically dangerous. On our view, religion is unobjectionable as long as it is privatized -- as long as ecclesiastical institutions do not attempt to rally the faithful behind political proposals and as long as believers and unbelievers agree to follow a policy of live and let live."

"My sense of the holy, insofar as I have one, is bounded up with the hope that someday, any millennium now, my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law. In such a society, communication would be domination-free, class and caste would be unknown, hierarchy would be a matter of temporary pragmatic convenience, and power would be entirely at the disposal of the free agreement of a literate and well-educated electorate."

"Cutting oneself off from the metaphysical Logos is pretty much the same thing as ceasing to look for power and instead being content with charity. The gradual movement within Christiantiy in recent centuries in the direction of the social ideals of the Enlightenment is a sign of the gradual weakening of the worship of God as power and its gradual replacement with the worship of God as love. ... I think that if the churches gave up the attempt to dictate sexual behavior they would lose a lot of their reason for existing. What keeps them around is this deep, Freudianly explainable desire for purity, ritual purity. There is something deep to appeal to there, and the churches are good at doing so. But once Christiantiy is reduced to the claim that love is the only law, the ideal of purity loses its importance."

"It seems to me that the idea of a dialogue with Islam is pointless. There was no dialogue between the philosophes and the Vatican in the eighteenth century, and there is not going to be one between the mullahs of the Islamic world and the democratic West. The Vatican in the eighteenth century had its own best interests in mind, and the mullahs have theirs. They no more want to be displaced from their positions of power than the Catholic hierarchy did (or does). With luck, the educated middle class of the Islamic countries will bring about an Islamic Enlightenment, but this enlightenmenet will not have anything much to do with a 'dialogue with Islam.'"

"I'm very pessimistic about the political future because I think that democracy only works if you spread the wealth around -- if you eliminate the gap between the rich and the poor.
This has actually been happening in certain small Northern European countries like Holland and Norway. It happened to a limited extent in the United States during the fifties and sixties. But everything changed in the United States around 1973, with the first oil crisis. Since then we have become a more divided and a more selfish country."
"I do not have any faith either in socialism or in capitalism. It seems to me that in the industrialized countries capitalism only became tolerable when the state's intervention created the welfare state and thereby brought the capitalists, to some extent, under democratic control. What we are seeing now is that, in the absence of a world government -- in the absence of a global authority that could put global capitalism in the service of democracy -- all the worst features of capitalism are reemerging. ...

" ... We should have had economic globalization until we had a bureaucratic structure to regulate global capitalism, in the way that some countries have been able to regulate it within their own borders. We have unfortunately been overtaken by events. I cannot attach any meaning to socialism anymore. I used to think I was a socialist, but now I do not know what a socialist economy would be like."

Aspects of Magnolia

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Elephant Welcomes the Year of the Rat

When my god-daughter drew this when she was very small, her mother must have prompted the inclusion of a rodent. With its ability to gnaw, the rat is a good colleague for the Remover of Obstacles, the gentle elephant-headed god Ganesh (Ganesha).


Parrots at the Ferry Building, San Francisco

The Greater Scaup

The American White Pelican