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Friday, 4 April 2008
A poem to help commemorate National Poetry Month
Topic: poetry
Campbell’s Ledge

From across the Susquehanna
The striated ledge looks
Like a bundle of taut springs
Capable of lobbing a
Volley of boulders
Smack into the floodplain, crumpling
The rail depot
Like a broken toy.
I come the long way around
To be safe.
There’s the trailhead
At the base of the mountain,
Carpeted with sheet metal scraps
And, naturally, coal and cinders
Arranged like scat.
Then comes something of a gate:
A refrigerator frame
Pierced with red maples about my age.
And then comes the climb with a
Vengeance on clay stairs,
More handholds than footholds,
And gusts that could throw you down
As legend says these heights
Threw a man named Campbell,
The only man who knew
If he really made his escape.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 15:56 EDT
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Tuesday, 25 March 2008
Five years... and 95 to go?
Topic: antiwar
Five years and counting... you all know the meaning of the numbers. A million Iraqi dead; countless other Iraqis maimed or terrorized. This on top of a million or more Iraqis who died or whose lives were shattered by the 1990s Sanctions of the Liberals (one of whose backroom players now lusts for the White House). And of course, 4,000 American military deaths in Iraq, plus 15 times that number seriously wounded.

The order of the numbers reporting means a lot, too. Have you noticed that US media always update the casualty totals with the lowest figure first - that is, the 4,000 - or often give nothing in addition for context? That's just their way of doing what they and Hollywood (e.g. Deer Hunter) did throughout the Vietnam war: convince us that our victim is actually the aggressor, and the victims are us. The doctrinal system requires that we see ourselves as innocent targets of the evildoer. Even liberals, sometimes especially liberals, hold this self-image as dear as does a fascist monster like Dick Cheney.

(Here I have to emphasize, though, that I mourn every American death from this and past disasters. I do not blame American military personnel, at least not the lower ranks, for what's happened. Nor - equally important - do I excuse them entirely. In my own military service, I avoided directly participating in the mass murder of Vietnamese and others, but I didn't directly resist the war, either. This has left me with a strange mixture of satisfaction and shame. Oh, to have been a conscientious objector from Day One.)

All this brings us to the rhetorical blood-brother of the numbers game: the "mistake" fallacy.

Look through media coverage of the Iraq war's fifth anniversary and you'll see the word "mistake" everywhere. Sometimes "blunder" or "error" will be the mot injuste. In any case, the meaning is consistent: we're supposed to believe the war was simply the outcome of a bad business plan, or the like. Practicality is king in this society - and so when Americans, elite or rank-and-file, call something a mistake, they may believe they're deploying their most devastating charge. Yet Americans never describe, say, a home invasion-murder as a mistake. We fall all over ourselves in such cases to find words commensurate with the facts: heinous, deplorable, disgusting, outrageous, etc. And always, always such things are described as what they clearly are in legal terms: crimes.

Remember the infamous "doughnut hole" people talked about when the Medicare prescription drug plan first came up? Basically, the plan only covers the lowest and highest costs, with beneficiaries bled dry to pay for the bulk of costs that fall in the middle. Something analogous to this goes on in the world of rhetoric: terms like crime, aggression, ethnic cleansing, and sometimes genocide, are attached to what "retail" purveyors of violence do (al Qaeda or small rogue states), or to what defeated maniacal regimes (like Nazi Germany) have done. But terms like mistake, error, and blunder are reserved for the doughnut hole: actions like those of our own country and close allies over a half century, that is, strategies as cowardly and bloodthirsty as those of any past national power, and outcomes as quantitatively horrific as what our most despicable enemies have ever produced.

And so, as I've said again and again: we've got to call the War Against Iraq by the right name. It's a crime, crime, crime. This truth won't change with the passage of time, not even if the occupation of Iraq turns out to be John McCain's new Hundred Years' War. (Let's pause to acknowledge McCain, whose mad-bomber role in the 1960s Rolling Thunder air war in Southeast Asia should temper our view of his admittedly horrendous experience as a POW.) And no crime should be characterized merely as "the biggest foreign policy mistake since Vietnam" - a galling understatement now regularly uttered by liberals like Diane Rehm, probably imagining they've delivered a verbal coup de grace.

As I and many others have pointed out before, the Iraq war, like all "preventive" wars or wars of aggression, is (in Justice Robert Jackson's words) an example of "the supreme international crime." I almost said Jackson's "immortal words," but I'm not betting that the US media, along with other propaganda and "information" systems, won't succeed in erasing from historical memory the lessons of the Nuremberg tribunals. They've done their damndest to do this for a lot more years than five. But thankfully, they're not quite able to strut on the deck of American moral consciousness - which sleeps but still is alive - and declare "mission accomplished."

Peace folks can stay focused on the only proper objectives (a short list): immediate withdrawal of all US and allied forces, based on binding agreements to insure Iraqis control their political institutions and economy for their own national benefit; introduction of a neutral multinational force acceptable to the Iraqi people and their contiguous neighboring states to secure peace and human rights; and prompt payment of reparations by the US to the Iraqi people for decades, not just five years, of US war crimes.

But let's start with something more rhetorically uncomplicated: Get the fuck out now!

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:44 EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 9 April 2008 22:17 EDT
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Sunday, 23 March 2008

Here's a poem from my reading the other night. (Thanks again to Frank Judge, Ed Downey and the Free Speech Zone poetry series at The Mez.)

Bridge out

-Jack Bradigan Spula

Upland, a piddling rain gathered
All night, then sought the open routes
Downward, and where nothing could be found,
It made a new way.
And so both a hillside, the work of an age,
And a country road, the project of a mere
Lifetime or two back to back,
Ended up together sunk in gravel.

And ended quiet, too, while the world
Took the long way around, and keeps
Taking it
In its good time.
So you stand there,
The long gone promises and threats
Of fast water on your mind.
You stand
Your ground: what's yours only
Till the next big one.

But wouldn't you know it -
A vehicle appears
Out of nowhere,
Running smack into your thoughts.
A family on an unplanned detour
Has wound up behind the warning sign
On the remaining firm ground.
Wasting no time, four doors open,
And a man and woman
And three noisy kids step out.

The kids soon have seized
A footpath upstream
Behind an old beaver lodge
Whose broken ribs make it clear,
Even through the primordial mud,
This is not the home
It was taken for.

You're tempted to see in these people
An uninterest in natural history.
Maybe their pace
Over the loose earth is too much like
Desire as you now understand it,
Just harder to watch
As the energy bleeds.

But what can you do?
The kids skip a few stones
On the small surface left, after they've
Kicked some round, useless stones aside.
The man and woman, crossing their arms,
Planting their feet, act
As if they've got nothing to add.
And then a general moment
Of stillness, and then everybody
Piles back into the car,
The kids looking unhappy
With each other.
Then the tires turn
And pebbles and wetness
Are spun off
With force, and the miles
Begin singing
Little ones to sleep.

Surely these parents are glad
To have their eyes on the road again,
And off the map. Any road
At all might be the short way back.
You are resolved to remember
That any drive
Is a long one
Without singing.
How long must you
Stand like a statue
In this weather?

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 12:51 EDT
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Tuesday, 18 March 2008
Poetry reading Thurs. March 20
Topic: poetry

Though I've got many thoughts rumbling through my brain about the fifth anniversary of the US war against Iraq, and also about comparative trivia like l'affaire Spitzer, I've been concentrating lately on getting my poems together for a reading this Thursday (3/20), 8 pm, at The Mez (a.k.a. House of Hamez, and formerly Daily Perks), 389 Gregory St., corner of Cayuga - in the same building as the Genesee Coop Federal Credit Union, another destination for you. The reading is part of the Free Speech Zone series and is supported by Rochester Poets, organized by Frank Judge.

As you can see below, some of my poems are posted on this blog. Check them out, and send feedback. (Sorry for the unintended double-spacing: it's some accident of computer code, I think. Please advise!)


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 22:26 EDT
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Wednesday, 5 March 2008
Gandhi revisited
Topic: politics

New chapters are being added to the Arun Gandhi story.

It’s mostly Gandhi’s critics who are writing these chapters; the defense has mostly fallen silent. But I believe Gandhi has once again shot himself in the foot, to use an expression quite alien to his philosophy of nonviolence. I think he has failed to clarify sufficiently the views that resulted in so many guns trained on him. (See my comments in a blogpost below.) Still, he did not deserve to be forced into resigning from the institute he founded and led – and certainly it’s a shame his work as a true man of peace will be hobbled, at a minimum.

It’s also shameful that local media are looking the other way regarding certain things his critics have said - things that go way beyond the bounds of “misstatement,” over-generalization, and other venial sins Gandhi was guilty of. These critics are purveying myths and factoids that lend a false legitimacy to Israeli/US government military policies, thus almost ensuring that Israel, with indispensable US support, will commit further war crimes against Palestinians (civilians and combatants) in Gaza, vastly out of proportion to the rocket attacks launched against Israeli communities by some Palestinian fighters. (For up-to-date information on casualties and atrocities on both sides, and thus for an understanding of the huge asymmetry of suffering, consult the preeminent Israeli human rights monitoring group B’tselem,

Foolish critic number one: the Democrat and Chronicle. In a critique of Arun Gandhi that read like a parody of satygraha, the D&C editors claimed Israel has been driven historically by “desires… not unlike those of Mahatma Gandhi.” I’m accustomed to whoppers and knee-slappers from the D&C, but this one takes the prize. I doubt any serious Israeli journalist would attempt such a rhetorical high-jump. Indeed, the serious Israeli press is full of pieces deploring the nation’s militarism and regular resort to violence instead of diplomacy. See, for example, the excellent work of writers Gideon Levy and Amira Hass in Ha’aretz.

The D&C poses as centrist in the Gandhi affair, but some liberals, too, have perhaps unwittingly provided cover for IDF atrocities in Gaza. Take a letter that appeared - without comment or rebuttal - in City Newspaper late last month. The letter, from a noteworthy local activist, did raise some good points about Arun Gandhi’s missteps and flubs. But one paragraph credited the Israeli government with “one of the largest acts of nonviolence in military history.”

If you understand the history not just of Israel but of any nation-state, you may now be rubbing your eyes and asking yourself just what this nonviolent act might have been. Well, the writer was talking about former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon’s so-called unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip. But Sharon’s maneuver – it was surely no more than this – wasn’t remotely nonviolent in execution or intent.

One leading analyst, Phyllis Bennis of the Insitute for Policy Studies, has offered an analysis that debunks the conservative-liberal US elite consensus on Gaza, a consensus which accommodates the Sharon-as-peacemaker fallacy and similar dreck. Consider the following from Bennis, who begins with obvious foundational facts that almost never are mentioned in American media:


By Phyllis Bennis, July 27, 2005 (via Znet)

“Israel has a unilateral obligation to withdraw its troops and settlers and end its occupation of Gaza as well as of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But the Gaza ‘disengagement’ is not designed to, and will not result in an end to occupation.

“The ‘disengagement’ will leave Gazans worse off economically, socially and politically than they are now, isolating the 1.2 million Palestinians in a besieged prison surrounded and controlled on all sides by Israel.

“Sharon's goal is to maximize the chaos and televised scenes of Israeli pain and division, so he can refuse any U.S. or international demands that he withdraw from the West Bank and Jerusalem, claiming that the price Israel is paying is too high to go further. ‘Gaza first’ will become Gaza last.

“The construction of Israel's Wall continues despite the rulings of the International Court of Justice finding it illegal; it will soon be completed, locking West Bank Palestinians into tiny cantons separated from each other and from their own land.

“All Israeli settlements - from tiny ‘outposts’ to the largest settlement cities such as Ma'ale Adumim and Ariel - are illegal, violating the Fourth Geneva Convention's prohibition against moving any population from the occupying country into the occupied territory.

“There is no question that Israel, as the illegal occupying power, bears full responsibility under international law to end its occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But Sharon's planned "disengagement" from Gaza is not a step towards ending occupation; it is designed to change the character of Gaza’s occupation from direct troops-in-the-streets and settlers-on-the-land occupation to a kind of occupation-by-siege, in which Gaza will be completely encircled by an Israeli fence, as well as Israeli troops and military force. All entry and exit to and from Gaza will be controlled by Israel. The Israeli military will control all crossing points, Israel will control Gaza's skies and seas, the building and operation of any future port or airport will be under Israeli permission (or denied permission), and the people of Gaza will have no ability to move in and out of their land, to ship agricultural products out or bring crucial medicines in, except under intrusive Israeli control.

“Although the "disengagement" may well result in the withdrawal of all settlers out of Gaza, and the redeployment of all Israeli soldiers to the Gazan borders (though not completely out of Palestinian territory), Gaza will be far from independent. Israel has announced that it retains what it calls the "right" to reoccupy Gaza at any time it sees fit. Further, Gaza is an inseparable part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories; withdrawing from one sector of that land, while the military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem remains, does not constitute an end to occupation.

“Sharon has announced that once the settlers and soldiers are out of Gaza (a process which may take months, because of soldiers remaining throughout the process of demolishing settler houses) Israel will no longer have any responsibility towards the people of Gaza. This is a false claim. Under international law, a besieging power has exactly the same obligations as any other occupying power - to provide for the humanitarian needs of the occupied population, including provision of food, health care, education, etc. Whatever Sharon may claim, "disengaging" from Gaza does not constitute an end to occupation. The end of occupation was defined by the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal: "The test for application of the legal regime of occupation is not whether the occupying power fails to exercise effective control over the territory, but whether it has the ability to exercise such power." As long as Israel surrounds Gaza, controlling its borders, skies and seas, it "has the ability" to control the territory. Israel's plan for Gaza will turn the Strip into a big prison, surrounded by guards, in which the 1.2 million Palestinian inmates may be allowed to move on their own within the walls but will remain imprisoned…”

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:39 EST
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