Posts from the ‘U.S. Politics’ Category

Crimea and I

My  “commentary”  on today’s news:  Crimean war and rumours.

 

 

 

Krim i Moi

             2 March, 2014

 

 

I’m scared. Again.

Not as usual, but again.

 

I want to write “September 1, 1939,”

but really don’t even want to think that.

I’d like to hold a candle to Auden,

but not sit in some dive reflecting

on a newish, dishonest jackbooted cybersnooping

Hellfire droning millennium.

 

Do Putin’s crewcut minions wear jackboots? Overcoats?

(Gogol’s usually there when you need him.)

Does it matter that I’m Jewish

and haven’t made a minyan since before

our Iraq war.

 

I sit in a dive my own dining room.

On the table, by tart coincidence:

Inferno…1939-1945 (My dad was there,

barely got singed, unlike mom’s family —  ashes.)

The Collapse of Complex Societies (Do we have time

to fall apart, for global anaphylactic carbon, or will it be

we dinosaurs, monster asteroid, Sakharov cocktail?)

and This Is Your Brain on Music ( O tempora! O B-flat sonata,

Oh neuroscience and Mercedes Sosa.)

 

Munich Potsdam Yalta (There it is: Stalin-Churchill-

Roosevelt in their Black Sea overcoats, Sochi

Olympics just ended another resort. The human race

courting of last resort but for us and our exceptional

President “endangered species” means the middle class.

How quaint. How fatal. An angle

to make the lovely First Lady obtuse.)

 

Budapest, 1956.

 

Forgive me e.e. Cummings and Allen Ginsberg.

I presume to sit in a dive with you and Auden

crying in my beer for Wilfred Owen.

 

Forgive me, my fellow- humans,

one way or another

refried-beans-to-be.

 

Forgive us our trespasses

as we have forgotten how to forgive

those who have institutionalized

their fear, avarice and violence.

Give us this day our vision within

the translucent scrim of lies.

 

For if we can forgive the unforgivable,

we may also forgive ourselves

for the fathomless wound we have made

and allowed fashionable in our name.

Amen. God freaking damn.

World without end

or otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Life, Music… and Difficult Memory

 

 

 

There was a man who kissed me the day we met. He was already 90; his musician wife stood smiling beside him.

 There was a woman whom I never met. One day I saw the words “Music saved my life,” and I knew that we were connected, close. That was this winter. Last week I found a DVD on my disorderly desk, and got to know “The Lady in Number 6” a bit better.

 Harry Jagoda, 100, and Alice Herz-Sommer, 110, both died this week.

 

 

 

 

Lady6PHARRY_J

 

 

 

 Although it visits us all, grief is a strange, strange bird – different at each appearance. Perhaps because I knew neither of them intimately, perhaps because of the Holocaust, I am grieving publicly. Certainly because of music.

 In Italy a lifetime or two ago (few years before I was born) Sgt. Harry Jagoda had an employee named Flory. Her mother, her first music teacher, put her on a train saying Don’t talk with anyone; just play your accordion.

Flory Accordion Her mother’s last words were like a charm. No one asked the charming accordionist if she was Jewish. She made it to Italy. Soon the Gis were presenting their sergeant  with wedding dress, made from a parachute, for his new bride.

 Meanwhile Alice, already a concert pianist, was sent with her son Raphael to the showcase Nazi camp at Terezin. Her husband was put on another train, and disappeared into Dachau. “Every day in life is beautiful,” said Alice a few years ago, in Malcolm Clarke’s beautiful and modest documentary about her life. [ http://nickreedent.com/ ] She had earned the right to say that,  in a way we would wish on no one. Yet her voice rings more true for that.

 My grandmother, no musician, sang songs like the ones Flory Jagoda still sings and writes. One day I will ask Flory if Harry fell in love with her songs, when he fell in love with her. Sixty years later I was fortunate to become a minor voice in that counterpoint of love. Even now, in grief that the rest of us can barely guess at, Harry and Flory are circled’ round with love.

 My grandmother sang “Los Bibilicos” and the other songs because she, like Flory, grew up singing and speaking Ladino, Djudeo-Espanol, the language of those Jews who thrived in Al Andalus (Muslim Spain) and fled the Inquisition at the end of the 15th century. Their descendents were, like my grandmother’s family, thriving in Greece in the 1930s. And in Bosnia like Flory’s family. (When Their Catholic Majesties declared the Expulsion in 1492, the Ottoman Sultan welcomed Jews into his North African and Mediterranean empire.)

 As I said, I am writing this because grief is a strange bird. My grandmother survived a stillborn child, her entire family from Salonika swallowed by the Holocaust, and years later her only granddaughter. But after a minor accident she told me, her only grandson, that she had had enough. She died two days later.

 In 1955, I think, we all shared her one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx. We shared it with a couple from grandma’s home town. I was eight, and I didn’t know what the blue numbers on their arms were for, the tatooes that enrolled them at Auschwitz.

 While my father– another sergeant –served in t North Africa and Italy, the world of European Jews ( like his fathers Polish parents and his wife’s Greek ones) came to an end. Although blissfully or willfully ignorant of that fate, other Americans in 1941 were looking at the possibility that Hitler’s war of conquest would succeed – and maybe that the world as they knew it would also end.

 “You don’t have to be Jewish” to believe in 2014 that are entire world, our planet itself, is in deep danger. Political violence and climate change are both products of human arrogance and domination, that now appear in the clothing of corporatist transnational Power.

 Some will say that to mix politics and personal grief is a sin, a desecration, or at best a sad delusion.

 But I reject all pious complacency, all denial – however sympathetic and understandable –- of the magnitude of our danger. Harry and Alice both lived long, beautiful, life-affirming lives. They chose affirmation as does Flory, in her life and her music. They know at what cost the preciousness of life is maintained.

 They knew and know (I imagine Alice Herz Sommer nodding here) what Franz Schubert somehow composed  before dying at 31. What the young officer and poet Wilfred Owen left us before the last guns of World War I stopped his mouth.

 Goodbye Harry whom I knew for a few mere hugs and kisses. Goodbye Alice whom I knew only as a voice, an image, a smile. Who said we should thank Bach and Beethoven and Schubert for making us happy.

 Through my tears I say thank you Harry Jagoda and Alice Herz Sommer. You are gone and you remain, while we remain.

Lay6cara

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/alice-herz-sommer-concert-pianist-and-holocaust-survivor-dies-at-110/2014/02/26/f3f38f40-9e6a-11e3-a050-dc3322a94fa7_story.html

The Map of Syria: Another Graveyard?

In Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, a ghostly old couple adopt a baby that has been in desperation left in their cemetary. Thus the dead again care for the living – as we must care for the dead. Neither of “us” have done such a good job.

Such were my thoughts after reading Liz Sly’s brutally comprehensive front-page Washington Post piece this morning. on the history of the “map” – political, sectarian, religious – of the former Ottoman empire. After three years of war and no end in sight, Syria is of course the focus.

Here are some quotes taken, but re-arranged,  from the article. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/syrias-civil-war-tests-whether-borders-drawn-less-than-a-century-ago-will-last/2013/12/26/6718111c-68e2-11e3-997b-9213b17dac97_story.html)

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We never had borders…. a long time ago, the French came and drew these lines. —  Mohammed Shamas,  shopkeeper near the line between Syria and Lebanon

If Syria is partitioned, there will be war for 100 years to come. The Alawites will have the coast, the Kurds will have the oil, and the Sunnis will be in the middle with nothing. — Abu Zeid, 37, Syrian refugee.

They made sure when those borders were drawn to maintain trouble between us forever. —  Mohammed al-Jamalhis farm in Syria and Lebanon.

The wars will change, but there will always be wars. — Issam Bleibeh, deputy mayor of Hermel, Lebanon-Syria.

The only solution is to share everything. Abu Zeid.

…it is all very difficult to predict.  Fawaz Gerges, London School of Economics.

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Inaugural

Presidential Politics
 
In 2008 I worked hard to elect him.
In 2009 I was heartbroken,
in 2010 — numb.
In 2012 I “threw my vote away”.
 
On inauguration night, 2013, I dreamed of Barack Obama.
It was anxious, conflicted, and short.
Second chances? Maybe.
But I am again heartbroken,
that even now  my dreams
are strangers to audacity.
 

Limbaugh nabbed by Epic Poet!

Noetic Justice

When Dante Alighieri arrived in the  21st century, he found in Washington one institution, and one fortuitous circumstance, that gladdened his exile’s heart. The institution was the Supreme Court; the circumstance was named Rush Limbaugh.

Dante had become, as ages had passed, saddened by something he had in fact helped popularize: the practice of consigning to Hell persons who were still nominally alive. He also noted that 700 more years had not improved the fruits by which the self-professed pious could be known.

But Dante did not wish to cease passing judgment on the living: He had simply learned a modicum of compassion, and needed a mechanism to temper his judgments. That mechanism was Rush Limbaugh.

Our poet had observed the contemporary practice of tagging everything from transportation to software with the word “express”. Just what he needed, for a world with always-on computers and an always-on news cycle. Thus Rush Limbo was added to the 2009 edition of the Divina Commedia, revised.

What could a master of moral epic do, for example, when conservatives both nerdy (Newt Gingrich) and not (Limbaugh) branded a Supreme Court nominee a “racist”? Or when a journalist (whose writings had dignified a U. S. President ‘s speeches) accused a sitting Supreme Court Justice of  “simplistic pro-choice rant”? And that the objects of both of these slanders were women? Even Dante had to blush.

Dante put Socrates here; the neighborhood has since deteriorated

Dante put Socrates here; the neighborhood has since deteriorated

It is said that God needs merely to think something, for that thought to become reality. Authors claim the more modest capacity to turn their thoughts into books. As much as some citizens could wish to whisk Limbaugh, Michael Gerson, or most of the Republican Senate leadership off to an insane asylum, this is not feasible. (Indeed, liberals had closed many of those institutions in the name of compassion. The ranks of the homeless then swelled with an influx of former psychiatric inmates.)

But neither venomous pundits nor legislators risk homelessness, nor lack of medical care or other material comforts. With poetic justice, however, Dante Alighieri now hustles these malefactors onto the Limbo Express, which takes them almost instantly to the land of the undead, the Rush Limbo, where they can do no further harm.

A Dream Deferred?

Maybe an official of some Asian consulate has read Harold Meyerson’s column on the President’ s untapped army. “A paper tiger,” the bored functionary sighs.

What is... and what should be

What is... and what should be

That reader might be more perceptive than anyone at present realizes.  An e-mail  list is not an army. A year ago millions of people like myself were indeed “fired up and ready to go” knocking on doors,  and telephones,  and credit cards. Electronic networking was a terrific tool for turning ferment  into  political mobilization.  But I believe that Obama’s first six months in office has demobilized —  or at least immobilized — a significant part of his army:

Health care — If a “government option” is the extreme left of the debate (possibly even to be sacrificed through negotiation, and subject to mixed messages from the administration) the battle is already largely lost. Sure I favor single payer, but if it’s not even in the discussion, then the “progressive” side is at the mercy of insurance companies and related forces.

The Economy — The effort and money devoted to saving capitalism from itself dwarfs everything done for everyone else.  ’nuff said on the subject, except that…

War and Peace issues are  proceeding as promised, with a shrinking mess in Iraq and a growing one in Afghanistan/Pakistan. The economics of this “smarter”  superpower warfighting will cripple  progressive domestic initiatives, i.e.,  those that get past the snarls of Republicans, blue dogs, and the lobbyists they pay attention to.

Hope, by its nature, never entirely dies. Obama tapped into and became the symbol of a pwerful impulse. In office, he has blunted it.  Meanwhile the raving Right has increasing become the respectable opposition. This foretells failure at the top and dangerous mass polarization below. I do not want this to happen. But it seems that at this point Obama’s vaunted confidence  has led him into dangerous waters, and perhaps blinded him to necessary corrections of course. Read more…

The Washington Post and Israel

Today’s lead Washington Post editorial rejoices over the withdrawl of the putatively pro-Arab Charles Freeman as appointed head of Obama’s National Intelligence council. As the post now has online “debates” with the editorial board, I jumped in to say “shame on you” to the Post:

First read Post editorials every day, noticing the even tone and careful writing, even on positions you oppose. Then notice the patronizing slop that begins with “latest failed nominee peddles a conspiracy theory” in this editorial

Why? Because all debates start with assumptions of what is reasonable and respectable. And the best “spin” is that which reinforces a desired environment of assumptions.

It is only in the past few years that challenging what the Israeli Government and AIPAC et al. say is good for Israel has become even half-respectable. That is why the editorial can smugly equate the Israel Lobby (supporting muscular democracy — for Israeli Jews) and “Americans who support Israel” (I am one), going on to call Freeman’s statement “grotesque libel”.

And so the usually impeccably dressed editorial board drops its pants on this issue. It’s a good sign that consummate professionals and old-timers like Pincus and Broder can keep their heads — and belts — when the topic is Israel/Palestine.

The real story is a vicious tragedy in which the leaders on both sides embrace arrogance, hatred, and violence. American cheerleading for “Israel” a la the Post editorial makes things worse — but American political support and money have almost always sustained the catastrophe.

Perhaps Freeman meant “change” on this fundamental level. Then perhaps he was unseated by the combination of fear, influence and self-righteousness that can reasonably be called “the Israel Lobby.”

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