Tuesday, November 27, 2012

491. Samurai

Slowly, slowly
the little snail
climbs Mount Fuji -

sends a message to his wife:
pretty good day today!
Snails have their systems.

Well, dear, I made – oh - 2.5?
He’d be talking about metres:
Fuji has 3776 of those things

going up into the snowline
getting gradually colder, so
pure, apart from the sweltering

skin-itching, sleep-depriving
bugfucked Japanese summers
the people endure below.

Even snails in their shell
have been known to complain
among the raucous cicadas

in their dusty pines
down on the plain.
Don’t take a chill my honey

says Mrs. Snail. I want you
back here safe and sound.
It’s all right my darling.

I know my way along the ground.
I do not share the human hell
of doing things for money.

I do what I must do
for the snails of Japan, for the Emperor,
but most of all for you!

Friday, November 23, 2012

490. Eyeless in Gaza: An Exchange of Views

AMIT: What truth is that exactly? What I see is the face of a person who doesn't know what he is talking about. Do you really think that Israel is in it for the purpose of killing Palestinians? If that was the case there would have been thousands dead. Israel is going out of its way NOT to kill innocents! Sadly, it is not always possible, especially when the enemy is "bravely" hiding behind civilians. The who shoot indiscriminately into civilian population are Hamas. The only reason there aren't many, many more casualties on our side is that their weapons are crap and our defense system are better and for that, we don't need to apologize. If Hamas had the ability, every one of their missiles would have hit a school. So please, Facts first, then talk!

BRENDAN: Everyone has a right to live in peace and dignity. After Shoah many countries supported the creation of the State of Israel. Israeli treatment of the Palestinians who lived on the same land before them has been very brutal. This is the main problem. The right of the State of Israel to exist is accepted but within what borders - 1948 or 1967? You say you cannot make a settlement with the Palestinians because they are terrorists. Israeli settlements and military occupation have created these "terrorists" just as British stupidity in Northern Ireland created the IRA. In fact, you had to fight against the British yourselves with Haganah and Irgun in the post-WWII period when they still maintained the Palestinian Mandate. Now you are taking on the attitudes and policies of your former occupiers with regard to the Palestinians because you are the people with the real power, and, among other things, "their weapons are crap". This is not a military war, in the final analysis, it is a political conflict. So far America supports you no matter what you do. This will not last forever. Your support in Western Europe is already fading. You cannot simply lash out at people who don't support you and label them "anti-Semitic". The war in Europe and the Holocaust has been over for 77 years. People around the world tend to judge your government by its present actions. In spite of these sharp differences of opinion, I hope we can remain friends in the more-or-less "neutral" surroundings of Hamamatsu!

BRENDAN: Oops! 2012-1945 = 67. Another mathematical bloop. No wonder I can't understand the family finances, never mind Wall Street ....

AMIT: Brendan, on the point that Israel and the Palestinians should exist as 2 states side by side I couldn't agree more. But whose fault is it that it's not the case? What happened in 48 a day after the UN declared the Jewish and Palestinian states? A DAY AFTER! 1 DAY! That's what it took the Arab world to decide that Israel doesn't have the right to exist and to attack the day old country. Hamas shares that point of view to this day. How do you negotiate with someone who does not recognize your right to exist? Answer me that because I really want to know. The fact that Israel should have withdrawn from all the conquered land after 67 (another win or die war) will not be argued by me. But why did the Arab world, who is so "concerned" with the well being of their Palestinian "brothers", (namely Egypt) did not demand to get the Gaza strip back in 79? They demanded, and got every last inch of Sinai. Why did Jordan didn't demand the West Bank in 95? I'll tell why. Because the Palestinians are a thorn in Israels ass and the Arabs like them to stay that way. Why Does the Arab world, namely Iran, instead of sending doctors, civil engineers, building schools and infrastructure, why instead of that do they send weapons and weapon expert? See the reason above. You are talking about 67 borders. Why after the war of 48 didn't Jordan and Egypt establish a Palestinian state and instead kept those areas as their own? You are talking about the people who lived there before us. How far back do you want to look? Jewish people lived in that land and were kicked out. There was never in all of history a Palestinian state except for 1 day after the deceleration in 48 and that state died as a sad side effect to the failed attempt to destroy Israel. It's very easy to blame "big, bad" Israel in all the shit that is going on (and you will never hear me say that Israel is totally blameless) but again, I suggest knowing the facts, all the facts not only those that fit you worldview, before doing that.

AMIT: By the way, you craftily managed to dodge my more urgent concern that if Hamas could, each and every one of their missiles would have hit a school. Or perhaps you disagree on that too?

BRENDAN: I am not going to get further involved in this discussion, Amit, not because I don't stand by the opinions previously stated, but owing to the fact that this is an endless argumentative swamp with heated emotions going back and forth for the last half-century and more. This is one of the so-called "intractable" problems, with the Indo-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir running a close second. The Northern Ireland business was up there as well for about thirty years but wonder of wonders (!) we managed to hammer out an Agreement in 1998 which left the area under UK sovereignty for the forseeable future but brought Nationalists into a power-sharing political settlement in NI for the first time since the partition of the island in 1922. If we can hammer out our differences, which actually go back far longer to the early 1600s when the Crown repopulated confiscated lands with Protestant settlers brought over from the British mainland (maybe that sounds a little familiar), then there is some hope that Israelis and Palestinians might one day do the same.

AMIT: I know you too well, Brendan, to know that you won't change you mind and I too, have no intention to get any further into it. I was actually debating long and hard before I wrote my first reply but decided it's important to give my point of view because there are too many people out there who like you (at least judging by your words), think that Israel is 100% in the wrong while the Palestinians are 100% in the right. In my experience people who see the world in black and white are, in most cases, wrong. That's actually what bothers me the most Brendan, that I never once heard you indicate that you feel any other way. That's the reason I kind of insisted on getting an answer to my question about Hamas' intentions. But I guess answering it will force you to admit that maybe, just maybe, the Palestinians are not always the "good guy" in this ongoing tragedy. About the possibility of ever seeing this conflict resolved. I remember clearly when I read the newspaper about Rabin and Arafat's meeting (ironically I was a soldier in the West Bank at the time..). I'm not exaggerating when I'm saying that I was shivering with excitement at the thought that this senseless war (is there any other kind) is finally about to be over. I was actually imagining myself getting in a car, driving up north through Lebanon, Syria, and into Europe. 20 years later I'm much less of an optimist and much more of a realist and I do not believe that I will see peace in my lifetime. And that's all I'm going to say.


POSTSCRIPT: Dear Amit – I believe the Palestinian people are the victims in the ongoing situation but I do NOT think they are 100% correct. In fact, they have been pawns of a corrupt local political leadership – Arafat and the PLO for many years – not to mention the manipulation of their condition by other Arab states and Iran as a way of striking at Israel. The situation is extremely complicated and it is certainly not black-and-white. Hamas can be seen as a reaction against the PLO and these two groups hate each other intensely. In any case Hamas won the last election in Gaza and they were duly punished for it by both the USA and the EU through withdrawal of aid funds: they were not supposed to win. As I said in my first post the problem needs a political, not a military, solution. The best chance came at Camp David in 2000 when Barak met Arafat and the Clinton government were trying hard to reach a settlement. Clinton was also very active in the Northern Ireland settlement which was also very difficult but managed to reach a compromise agreement. By and large, this agreement continues to work in spite of occasional violence by hardline idiots such as the Real IRA (the Omagh bombing) and ongoing distrust between Protestants and Catholics. After all, the problem goes back 400 years, but all sides finally came to the conclusion that violence was not the answer. The two situations are historically quite different, I know, but the need for a political settlement is the parallel that draws them together. In order for that to happen both sides need a credible political leadership with overwhelming support from its electorate and a bit of help from the outside, preferably the USA. This happened to come about in 1997-1998 after Tony Blair replaced John Major as the British prime minister, after Sinn Féin under Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had convinced the membership of the IRA to accept their political lead, and both sides had their leadership confirmed by very strong electoral support. And of course Clinton was there and ready to help. Unfortunately this combination didn’t work two years later at Camp David. Barak, like Rabin before him, was entirely credible to the Israeli electorate, not least because of his military record. Arafat, fearful of his own position, was the one who faltered. Then, of course, we had Ariel Sharon and his provocative march to the Temple Mount and the Second Intifada. Now we have Netanyahu, and I’m not even sure who we have on the Palestinian side. Bush simply didn’t want to get involved and Obama has a load of other problems on his mind. So I agree with you … it doesn’t look good. Nevertheless, the only possible settlement will be political when the factors I have outlined above (hopefully) come together again.

I had no info on Hamas declaring they intended to hit schools with their rockets, and doubt they could have done so anyway. This was the only point in our public exchange when the tone became a little personal … “craftily …”?

Our public exchange of views is officially over, by mutual agreement, and I want you to know that I do not hold a completely black-and-white view of the situation. Hope to see you soon and exchange a couple of beers!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

489. Prince Charles

Birthday Boy. Same year.
I am five days older than this idiot.

like fire
lights up the world.

Banners unfurled
and toes upcurled
we walk the wire

with equanimity.
An infinity
of glowing light

underlies the night
and we know
from long ago

the fire of desire
can turn. And burn
us into anonymity.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

488. Prague Concerto

Snow in the wind, my thoughts
slide over to the Winter Queen, so easily
brought to mind in this unbombed
Central European city: War, having
taken its pound of flesh from the people
spared its buildings.

The Munich betrayal. Heydrich.
No wonder they feel the way they do.
Chamberlain. J’aime Berlin.

I visited you before and after.
In the summer of 1989, the border
was a nest of guns and barbed wire
with apologetic young recruits
going through your bags. In 1991,
when I came again with my family,
all of that stuff had gone.

The river, the Charles Bridge, the palace,
all of that stuff was still there.

The West betrayed you, England and France,
and condemned you to a half-century
of misery: fascists followed by communists,
and if I were Czech, I’d be angry.

Surprisingly, you are not angry. Rueful,
I think is the tone. You sure as hell
got rid of the Sudeten Germans, every
last single one of the Nazi bastards,
which in its way is a pity, when you think

Of Kafka, for example, no Sudeten farmer,
just a person who thought and wrote in German,
and most of that has been lost. Also Slovakia,
who were not much help to you during the war.
Pity the countries with no seas as shelter!

Land borders in Europe pay no attention
to the people who happen to live within them
and never really have. The Versailles Conference,
post-Great War, was supposed to change all that
and didn’t. They simply carved up Europe
and set the seeds for the next great war.

And they carved up the Arab world as well,
drawing straight lines with rulers on maps,
setting up "mandates" for France and Britain,
promising everything to everyone, including,
of course, the Jews. Which is why, Ladies & Gentleman,
we get 9/11, the problems that continue today.

No, I haven’t forgotten about Prague. The food
improves (MacDonald’s was a step up, if you can imagine!)
and the beer has always been good. It is a quaint
and lovely city with its old clock towers and cobblestones,
with its trace of the nostalgic Old World “Mitteleuropa”,
which hasn’t been seen since the 1930s. America

has a great deal going for it, or had at one stage,
but it will never never replace, with its Disney dreams,
the real and honest thing.

487. Elvis: "Last Train to Memphis"

I was a small Irish kid in Germany in 1958 (my Dad worked in the AFEX system as an accountant) when Elvis came over as an army draftee. A family friend got his autograph for me which I lost soon after (damn & double-damn!) and this is the point where this book - the first of a two-part biography - closes. The first part of this biography takes us back from the arrival in Germany to Elvis' birth in Tupelo, to his family's move to Memphis, his geeky high school days, the $12 guitar his father bought for him, and his burning desire to cut a record. This brought him to Sam Phillips and Sun Records. This early recording took off thanks to radio play throughout the South and a series of live gigs followed,  getting ever bigger and bigger. Soon things became so big they nearly got out of control. From some peculiar mixture of gospel, hillbilly, and Negro blues Elvis had hit on a new sound that caught the imagination of teenage America. By the age of 21 (1956) he was pulling in huge audiences and the music moguls were taking an interest. The predatory ex-Carnie barker "Colonel" Tom Parker moved in to guide this boy along and in his manipulatory and conniving ways made Elvis a national phenomenon.

What makes this story so fascinating is the way it is told. The author, an early fan of the music, spent 11 years tracking down all the surviving friends and associates of Elvis and tells the story as if he were looking through a keyhole, recording conversations and first impressions and opinions from such a wide number of people that you begin to feel you are there yourself. The way this book was put together is extremely impressive: by no means is it your "standard" biography. Whether you like the music or not (I did even then, I still do!) you cannot help but get caught up in the story. After such a meteoric rise you just know that a fall is bound to come: hubris, as we know from the wise old Greeks, is followed by nemesis.

A second volume of the biography entitled "Careless Love" charts the course of Elvis' career from the time he was released from the army to his early death at the age of 42. That will require another review.