Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Swiss speakers of English tend to say "same to you" where I would say "you too": that is, after someone says something nice like "have a good time" or "have a nice day." I would only say "same to you" after something mean, as a response to an insult, say. I assume this is just a feature of my personal usage; other native speakers of English must use "same to you" the same way the Swiss do, or they wouldn't put it that way, presumably. But perhaps it's a Helvetism from Swiss German or from French? In any case, this morning when my daughter Sara wished me a nice morning when she left for kindergarten, I said, "You too!" (Sometimes, I think I should say REM instead of U2.)
Monday, June 17, 2013
My band Human Shields played a set at the Bloomsday party at the English Department of the University of Basel last night, organized by the wondrous Michelle Witen, Ph. D.
The Morning after the Night Before
Better Never Than Late
The Bloom is on the Rye (lyrics Edward Fitzball, music Sir Henry Bishop)
Bright Cap and Streamers (lyrics James Joyce, music Andrew Shields)
1952 Vincent Black Lightning (Richard Thompson)
Land without Nightingales
We framed the songs with passages from Ulysses:
“Doublebasses helpless, gashes in their sides, musical duets, mandoline and guitar”
The Morning after the Night Before
“Sea, wind, leaves, thunder, waters, cows lowing, the cattlemarket, cocks, hens don't crow, snakes hissss. There's music everywhere”
Better Never Than Late
“they all write about some woman in their poetry well I suppose he wont find many like me where softly sighs of love the light guitar where poetry is in the air the blue sea and the moon shining so beautifully coming back on the nightboat from Tarifa the lighthouse at Europa point the guitar that fellow played was so expressive will I ever go back there again”
“—Leopoldo or the Bloom is on the Rye, Lenehan said.”
The Bloom is on the Rye
Bright Cap and Streamers
“It was like the paintings that man used to do on the pavement with all the coloured chalks and such a pity too leaving them there to be all blotted out, the evening and the clouds coming out and the Bailey light on Howth and to hear the music like that and the perfume of those incense they burned in the church like a kind of waft.”
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
“The human voice, two tiny silky chords, wonderful, more than all others.”
Land without nightingales
“Captain Moonlight, Captain Boycott, Dante Alighieri, Christopher Columbus, Andrew (Pisser) Burke"
“The void awaits surely all them that weave the wind: a menace, a disarming and a worsting from those embattled angels of the church, Michael's host, who defend her ever in the hour of conflict with their lances and their HUMAN shields.”
"Fabled by the daughters of memory. And yet it was in some way if not as memory fabled it. A phrase, then, of impatience, thud of Blake's wings of excess. I hear the ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry, and time one livid final flame. What's left us then?"
Thursday, May 09, 2013
There's a playlist on my iPhone that I call "AA playlist": first, I tried to write an "A playlist" of all my favorite artists (hey, why is my computer "correcting" the spelling of "favorite" by putting that British U into it?; time to check my settings, I guess). But that playlist was way too long to fit on my phone, so I split the A list into a AA list (my very best stuff) and an A list (the stuff it would be nice to have but that I wouldn't miss if it's not on the main list).
An hour or so ago, I was listening to the AA playlist on shuffle (as I am wont to do), and up came "The One I Love," by REM. I've got REM on the AA list because I like so many of their songs, but if pressed, I would have said I actually only truly love one of their songs: "You Are The Everything," which is quite close to being perfect; if it didn't say "eviscerate your memory," which is a bit too weird, then it would be perfect.
But when "The One I Love" came on, I had one of those moments where a song could be said to do just that: "eviscerate your memory." The rush of hearing that song everywhere back in 1987 came back to me: what a joy it was that a band that had been putting out such excellent music right from their first album had finally struck it big. What a joy that the song that was everywhere was so good. What a joy to hear them live, and what a surprise to discover that they were a hard-rocking band, not just the jangly light sound of their albums.
What a joy to feel those feelings again. A Robert Creeley poem:
I'll not write again
things a young man
thinks, not the words
of that feeling.
There is no world
except felt, no
one there but
must be here also.
If that time was
echoing, a vindication
apparent, if flesh
and bone coincided—
let the body be.
See faces float
over the horizon let
the day end.
Friday, April 26, 2013
This cartoon was published in 2005, on the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima, but I only just saw it today. A boy, who must have been born in the 90s, given the publication date of the cartoon, sits on the lap of his grandfather (or father, but I'll just call him a grandfather) and sees a huge explosion on television. The biography of such a boy would make such a question completely natural: it's quite likely that he would associate films of explosions with terrorism, so of course he might well ask his grandfather, "which terrorist group did that?" A boy at that time would have little reason to have the Second World War as a frame of reference, and even less reason to really be able to give much meaning to such expressions as "Pearl Harbor," "Holocaust," or "Hiroshima." His question is an attempt to understand what he sees in terms of what he knows.
The grandfather would certainly understand the question quite differently than that, though, especially if we assume that the man depicted here is an American. After all, he would then most likely see the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in the conventional fashion: it was a necessary step to force the Japanese to surrender; the alternative would have been a horrible war of attrition, with deaths at least an order of magnitude more than those caused by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Without addressing the debates about the historical accuracy of these tactical and strategic considerations (debates among historians who have looked at the primary sources), this grandfather would perhaps try to explain to the boy that this explosion was not an act of terrorism because it was part of a war. Explosions in wars are not terrorism, he might explain.
A 2005 reader of the cartoon might see the humor in it in such terms: a boy interprets what he sees in terms of what he knows, and his grandfather explains the not entirely straightforward distinctions to him. But such a reader might also respond to the boy's question without taking the rest of the picture into consideration. Such a reader might well get very upset about how the picture opens up the possibility of equating Hiroshima (a legitimate action as part of a formally declared war) and 9/11 (a violent act of what is legitimately called terrorism). Alternatively, a reader vehemently against the Iraq War might appreciate how the raising of this possibility calls the legitimacy of war in general and particular wars into question, even though such a reader would likely still consider the Second World War a just war (and even fully agree with the interpretation of Hiroshima that the grandfather might use to explain the situation to the boy).
Seeing the cartoon in 2013, I can see all these possible layers in it, but I also see it from the perspective of the current military actions of the United States. Whatever completely legitimate distinctions might be made between them, Hiroshima and 9/11 share at least one feature: they were attacks directed against civilians. The current American government justifies its ongoing missile attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere as part of a "War on Terror" and hence as militarily legitimate. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has a web page that summarizes known attacks using drone-based missiles in such countries; their reporting makes clear that the attacks are not solely directed at "military" targets that are part of the "war on terror." They also provide extensive evidence of the apparent American policy of attacking rescuers and funerals, a tactic which the American government justifiably condemns when it is used by those it calls "terrorists."
Given this context, the cartoon has an additional layer of meaning today: the current military actions undertaken by the United States are much harder to distinguish from "terrorism" than the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are. In fact, many of them are indistinguishable from terrorism, and their straightforward effect is not to defeat "terror" through a supposed "war on terror," but actually to generate more potential terrorists. Today, a well-informed grandfather asked such a question by a clever grandson might find it much harder to clarify to the boy how it is that military actions taken by the United States are not "terrorism."
There's an easy way for the United States to get out of the trap it has put itself and its grandfathers in. It could do what every other country that has been faced with terrorist attacks this century has done: it could use the criminal justice system to pursue and prosecute terrorists. It could demilitarize its response to "terrorism" and use the rule of law — again, as every other country has done — to bring the criminal perpetrators of terrorism to justice — justice, and not vengeance.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
President Obama wondered: "Why did these young men who grew up and studied here as part of our communities and our country resort to such violence?" And everyone looks to their background for answers. But the United States is rife with violence at home and perpetrates a great deal of violence abroad. "These young men" might well have learned some of what they know about violence precisely as a result of "growing up and studying here."
Saturday, April 13, 2013
"Front Row at the Dawn of Time," Lawrence M. Krauss's wonderfully titled editorial in the International Herald Tribune today, has two tidbits I wanted to note, both of them a little too long for a tweet. (At least for me, Twitter has become the replacement of blog posts that mostly just refer to an interesting article.)
The first has to do with cosmic background radiation, and it teaches "those of us old enough" something we might not have known:
... for those of us old enough to remember television before cable, when the TV stations went off the air and the screen filled with static, about 1 percent of the static visible on the screen was due to this radiation from the Big Bang.
So on the few occasions when I woke up in the middle of the night after falling asleep in front of the TV, mostly in the summer when time seemed to behave differently during the school vacation, and I would sometimes get into a rhythm of staying up until dawn to avoid the heat and humidity of the long days — on those few occasions, almost lost in the white noise, I was a witness to the Big Bang.
The second point is a reminder about the grain of salt necessary when reading science journalism in newspapers:
It is an unfortunate facet of science reporting that it isn’t often made clear that most anomalies in experiments tend to go away, just as most theoretical ideas turn out to be wrong.
Instead of attributing significance to potentially strange results, it is the business of science to try and prove them wrong before we blindly move forward. Skepticism is the business of the day, and it is wise to remember this next time you read an astounding discovery claimed in the press.
Science is about results, and proving things, but it approaches proof as much by disproving as it does by proving.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
In "honor" of the tenth anniversary of "Shock and Awe," here's a little ditty I wrote back in early 2003.
He are a drunken driver with a silver spoon
his Junker father spat into his tomcat mouth
(they is an old-time family founded on appointments,
an oily bunch of skull-and-boney schoolyard bullies).
He are no self-made man, no rocket scientist,
but just a five-to-four minority pretender,
a spastic spoiler of subject-verb agreement,
a legacy admission threatening to use
tactical atomic weapons to destroy
reinforced Iraqi bunkers underground.
When you hear the Serious People all agreeing about something, whether it's a war in Iraq or Iran, a "debt crisis," or the impending doom of Social Security—BEWARE.
And Rummy still can't admit he was wrong:
10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation.
— Donald Rumsfeld (@RumsfeldOffice) March 19, 2013