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Saturday Art: My Poem for Gaza

11:43 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Google map of Gaza

Google map of Gaza

Almost 40 years ago, after showing my girlfriend (now my wife) my latest poem, she diplomatically told me that poetry was perhaps “the least of my many artistic talents.”  Since then, I haven’t written many verses, though I’ve set over 50 by others to song.

However, the ongoing Gaza butchery has shaken me to the core.  I am not alone.  This has been a pivotal event for many others.

How dare this shitty little country, run by audacious ingrates and uncouth boors, dictate a new paradigm for blowing up hospitals?  How dare their ambassadors and spokes-creeps drive more stakes into the heart of what little remains of 21st century ethics and humanitarianism?

On the way to the Anchorage airport Wednesday evening, my wife and I cried as we listened to Democracy Now.  Ms. ET is far less political than me, but the stories of this atrocity cannot pass one by.

My poem is partially derived from the King James Version of the Old Testament books of Lamentations and Hosea.  The quote from Albert Einstein is from an April 1938 speech he gave at the Commodore Hotel in New York City, and is based on my own re-transcription of a long-ago deleted article on it in the New York press.

The poem is for Siun.

Poem for Gaza

Prologue:

Gaza, ancient city by the azure sea,
“How doth this city sit so solitary?

“She that was full of people!
How is she become as a widow,
a mother of countless orphans
and parents with unburied children!”

I.

The prophets warned the kings, the generals, the courtiers,
The scribes, the rabbis, the lesser soldiers and teachers.

Now, let these craven men come before the Lord:
“Let all their wickedness come before thee; and do unto them,
As thou hast done unto me for all my transgressions:
For my sighs are many, and my heart is faint.”

Her courtiers cry out: “Distant Brazil, you be a cultural giant,
A diplomatic dwarf, for daring to condemn our campaign
to make alien hospitals the newest baths of blood.”

Her generals cry out: “World, we demand one child per hour
to satisfy our replacement for YHWH – our Lockheed-HP-Motorola-
Caterpillar-SodaStream Moloch.”

Her rabbis call out: “Scalp their children’s foreskins,
make them trophies to your bravery,
rape their women, steal back their pride, for it is yours.”

Her soldiers call out: “Make your shots count.
Aim at the pregnant woman’s belly and you get two for one.”

Her teachers call out: “There is no Palestine, no Palestinians,
No people there, but rather our land waiting to be sanctified
By our return – when the other is no longer there.”

Her scribes write: “They are lesser beings than we,
Less deserving of life, happiness, health, pride or dignity,
for we are G*d’s chosen, they are scum between our toes.”

Yet G*d senses a flood of falsehoods from these flagrant proclamations:
“Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel:

“For the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land,
Because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.

“By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing rapine,They break out, and blood toucheth blood.

“Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein
Shall languish, with the beasts of the field,and with the fowls of heaven; Yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away.”

II.

The prophets of ancient times are to become united
With the prophets of our own. Einstein was the harbinger:

I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs On the basis of living together in peace
Than the creation of a Jewish State.

Apart from practical considerations,
My awareness of the essential nature of Judaism
Resists the idea of a Jewish State,
With borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power,
no matter how modest.

I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain
Especially from the development of a narrow nationalism
within our own ranks,
Against which we have already had to fight strongly,
Even without a Jewish State.

We are no longer the Jews of the Maccabee period.

A return to a nation in the political sense of the word,
Would be equivalent to turning away from the spiritualization
of our community
Which we owe to the genius of our prophets.

The harbinger has not yet brought a Messiah,
And his message has been unheeded countless times.

Is the messenger who will bring peace yet among us?
Is it a man or a woman?
How long must we wait?
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Saturday Art: Thoughts on the Günter Grass Poem ”what must be said,” and Increasingly Assertive Criticism by Artists of Israeli Policies

11:36 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

I. Günter Grass, Germany’s most honored living novelist, disseminated a new poem this week.  What Must Be Said has brought the 84-year-old antiwar icon into the crosshairs of militant Zionist expansionists and those seeking to vilify Iran.

The author wrote the poem in German.  There have been numerous translations into English and several other languages.  Here is what I consider to be the most resonant English language translation yet, by Heather Horn, for The Atlantic:

What Must Be Said

Why do I stay silent, conceal for too long
What clearly is and has been
Practiced in war games, at the end of which we as survivors
Are at best footnotes.

It is the alleged right to first strike
That could annihilate the Iranian people–
Enslaved by a loud-mouth
And guided to organized jubilation–
Because in their territory,
It is suspected, a bomb is being built.

Yet why do I forbid myself
To name that other country
In which, for years, even if secretly,
There has been a growing nuclear potential at hand
But beyond control, because no testing is available?

The universal concealment of these facts,
To which my silence subordinated itself,
I sense as incriminating lies
And force–the punishment is promised
As soon as it is ignored;
The verdict of “anti-Semitism” is familiar.

Now, though, because in my country
Which from time to time has sought and confronted
The very crime
That is without compare
In turn on a purely commercial basis, if also
With nimble lips calling it a reparation, declares
A further U-boat should be delivered to Israel,
Whose specialty consists of guiding all-destroying warheads to where the existence
Of a single atomic bomb is unproven,
But through fear of what may be conclusive,
I say what must be said.

Why though have I stayed silent until now?
Because I think my origin,
Which has never been affected by this obliterating flaw,
Forbids this fact to be expected as pronounced truth
Of the country of Israel, to which I am bound
And wish to stay bound.

Why do I say only now,
Aged and with my last ink,
That the nuclear power of Israel endangers
The already fragile world peace?
Because it must be said
What even tomorrow may be too late to say;
Also because we–as Germans burdened enough–
Could be the suppliers to a crime
That is foreseeable, wherefore our complicity
Could not be redeemed through any of the usual excuses.

And granted: I am silent no longer
Because I am tired of the hypocrisy
Of the West; in addition to which it is to be hoped
That this will free many from silence,
Prompt the perpetrator of the recognized danger
To renounce violence and
Likewise insist
That an unhindered and permanent control
Of the Israeli nuclear potential
And the Iranian nuclear sites
Be authorized through an international agency
Of the governments of both countries.

Only this way are all, the Israelis and Palestinians,
Even more, all people, that in this
Region occupied by mania
Live cheek by jowl among enemies,
In the end also to help us.

It is being quickly spread, along the lines of multi-lingual, global, 21st century Samidzat.  And, like a piece of 1960s Samidzat that went viral, the authorities, knowing it is impossible to stop the word, seek to either belittle the author or claim he is something of an anti-Semitic ex-Nazi.  Here’s the first approach:

There is a man-child who never grew up
Who wants to warn the world that it might blow up
He is known as The Tin Ear
And lives in fear
that the world will go kablooie
Or as George Bush would say, nukleer

He is old but was always somewhat confused
For many years the truth to tell he refused
He wrote a book that told a tale
Of a German war of massive scale
When the world went berzerk with war
Because the Nazis did assail

The fact he omitted as he lectured others
Is that he himself was one of the brothers….

and:

Unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently confided in him, [Grass'] opinion is vacuous. Grass criticizes the German government for selling Israel another submarine. This is a legitimate view on a matter that should be decided democratically by the German people.

But Grass’ comparison of Israel and Iran is unfair, because unlike Iran, Israel has never threatened to wipe another country off the map.

Grass is critical of Israeli governments, more than of the Israeli people, it seems to me.  His critics, in many articles, including that above, are more careless,  claiming “Iran,” rather than its very lame-duck President, wants to erase Israel from the map.

Several articles have claimed Grass’ acquiescence, through his three-month-long action at the age of 17, on the rapidly crumbling eastern borders of Germany in the last months of World War II, after being forcibly inducted from anti-aircraft defense into the Waffen SS, as having constituted his being a member of the Nazi Party or of his having been some sort of war criminal:

Grass, who revealed in 2006 that he had been a member of the Nazi Waffen SS, a group committed to eliminating European Jewry during World War II….

and:

Ultimately, Grass demonstrates in his poem that the meaning of the pledge “never again” is very different for the historic perpetrators and their victims: for the former Waffen SS recruit, the most important thing is to be never again seen as a perpetrator….

and, the inevitable label of anti-Semitism:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you think of Günter Grass’s poem, “What Must Be Said,” which was published in Germany’s center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper on Wednesday?

Wolffsohn: It would have fit well in the (German far-right weekly) National Zeitung – and I mean that with no ifs or buts. In the poem, Grass makes the victims into perpetrators, and otherwise it contains pretty much every other anti-Semitic stereotype that we know from the far-right scene. And, on top of that, the language is completely lacking in sophistication.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In a statement on Wednesday, the Israeli Embassy in Berlin pointed out that the poem was published just before the feast of Passover.

Wolffsohn: I noticed that, too. In doing so, Grass is following an ignoble tradition. The time around Passover has always been the time of pogroms and a time when the blood-libel myth about Jews is disseminated.

One should read Grass’ own account of his wartime service, published in The New Yorker on June 4, 2007, titled How I Spent the War.

Author Grass has his many detractors.  What is more interesting in this 21st century climate of growing resistance to Israeli government bellicosity, are the views of his defenders.  His poem has been parsed more thoroughly than any in recent memory.  It has been paraphrased and mocked.  Perhaps the best line-by-line defense of the content of Grass’ unmetered verses has been that of Israeli blogger Yossi Gurvitz, at his niche at + 972, Wish You Orwell. Here’s Yossi:

So, basically everything said by Grass is plausible, at least within the frame of the psychological warfare waged by Israel. The truth is never anti-Semitic. There was no blood libel here, no anti-Semitism, no claim of children’s blood used for ritual purposes. Furthermore, criticism of Israel’s intended policy has nothing whatsoever to do with Judaism or Jews. The claim (often made by Israeli officials) that Israel represents world Jewry, and that hence any attack on it is an attack on them, is a claim that Jews everywhere owe allegiance to a country of which they are not citizens and to which they never made any formal vow of loyalty, and thus can credibly be considered to be itself anti-Semitic.

Had the Israeli Foreign Ministry any shame left, it would not use the phrases it did against Grass. But, unsurprisingly, it did. The good thing which may come out of this affair is that people may learn to discount screeches of anti-Semitism from Israel with a sigh of “there they go again.”

II. Indeed.  I’m coming up, on April 8th, the eighth anniversary of my “there they go again” moment.  Since then I’ve seen hundreds of good people and dozens of artists slandered with the anti-Semitism label.  This cynical use of the term has gone beyond “The boy who cried ‘Wolf!’” territory, though.

More importantly, artists, especially young ones – in spite of Grass’ octogenarian creds – are ratcheting up their creative work denouncing Zionist expansionism, and instead supporting Palestinian rights, self determination and cultural aspirations.  They are continuing to either denounce ties between Israeli cultural institutions and the illegal West Bank settlements, or passing up on performance opportunities in Israel.

For instance, just this past week the debate in the UK about whether or not the Israeli theater organization, Habima, should be able to participate in the upcoming Globe Theater Shakespeare Festival, with its production of The Merchant of Venice, is heating up.

At the heart of the issue for proponents of the ban is Habima’s support for settlement activities in the West Bank, through performances there.  This is direct support of illegal, apartheid policy, pure and simple.

Writers supporting Habima generally fail to mention this aspect of the theater company’s activities.  No articles supportive of Habima dare to quote their artistic director, Ilan Ronen:

As a national theater company, Habima will perform for all residents of Israel. Residents of Ariel are residents of Israel and Habima will stage shows for them.

Ariel is a very large illegal town, erected on Palestinian land in violation of international law.  To support Habima, especially in view of this recent statement, is to become complicit in a view that accepts violation of such laws as routine, even acceptable.

On top of that, Habima co-manager, Odelia Friedman, has declared, regarding the troupe:

We see culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between propaganda and culture.

Stalin would be proud.

Günter Grass, delving into the junction between propaganda and culture, is dismissed as a cranky old man, previously caught skulking from his secret, hideous past.  Yet Israeli cultural institutions and their apparatchiks and favored artists practice this lack of differentiation day in and day out.

Fortunately, those of us who write about this are growing in numbers and venues at which we express ourselves.

Every day.

Saturday Art: Alice Walker’s Poem, “Sailing the Hot Streets of Athens, Greece”

12:54 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Alice Walker

[image of Alice Walker from Books Alive's flickr photo stream]

 

American poets, novelists, playwrights, painters, sculptors, architects and composers have found inspiration in Athens throughout most of our country’s life.  Whether the inspiration came from Athenian contributions to Greek mythology, the iconic plays of the three Greek tragedians, the teachings of Socrates, the writings of Plato, the speeches of Solon, the replicas of lost sculptures of Praxiteles, the grandeur of the Parthenon, or the clear skies and Mediterranean warmth, American Classicism and Neo-Classicism owe as much to Athens as to any other city.

Mark Twain, attempting to visit Athens in 1867, was forced to remain aboard his vessel in Piraeus Harbor.  He recounted his experiences there in Chapter XXXII of Innocents Abroad:

But bad news came. The commandant of the Piraeus came in his boat, and said we must either depart or else get outside the harbor and remain imprisoned in our ship, under rigid quarantine, for eleven days! So we took up the anchor and moved outside, to lie a dozen hours or so, taking in supplies, and then sail for Constantinople. It was the bitterest disappointment we had yet experienced. To lie a whole day in sight of the Acropolis, and yet be obliged to go away without visiting Athens! Disappointment was hardly a strong enough word to describe the circumstances.

The passengers conspired to get ashore, one way or another:

We inquired of every body who came near the ship, whether there were guards in the Piraeus, whether they were strict, what the chances were of capture should any of us slip ashore, and in case any of us made the venture and were caught, what would be probably done to us? The answers were discouraging: There was a strong guard or police force; the Piraeus was a small town, and any stranger seen in it would surely attract attention—capture would be certain. The commandant said the punishment would be “heavy;” when asked “how heavy?” he said it would be “very severe”—that was all we could get out of him.

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Imagine Reading a Poem by Liu Xiaobo to President Obama

10:49 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Last Friday, as the U.S. State Department and Justice Department continued efforts to have Australian journalist, writer, blogger and global civil rights activist Julian Assange illegally transported from Europe to the U.S. or Guantanamo Bay, and as Sen. Bernie Sanders made his epic 8 hour and 35 minute speech against President Obama’s tax sellout to billionaires, Obama made what arguably was the most self-serving announcement ever on the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. It began, quite inappropriately, with:

One year ago, I was humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize — an award that speaks to our highest aspirations, and that has been claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice.

Obama went on:

We respect China’s extraordinary accomplishment in lifting millions out of poverty, and believe that human rights include the dignity that comes with freedom from want.

and:

Mr. Liu reminds us that human dignity also depends upon the advance of democracy, open society, and the rule of law. The values he espouses are universal, his struggle is peaceful, and he should be released as soon as possible.

What a crock of horse shit.

While on the one hand, Obama touts “the advance of democracy,” his administration has stifled democracy in Honduras, burying the advice of our Honduran ambassador when a bunch of aqcuaintences of Attorney General Eric Holder (from Holder’s union busting for Chiquita Banana days) crushed democracy in that country, turning it back into a Nixonesque “banana republic.” If it weren’t for Julian Assange’s efforts, we wouldn’t know about that and a lot of other burying of democracy on Obama’s hands.

Open society and the rule of law? Again, as jailed open democracy and rule of law advocate Assange has shown us, Obama’s State Department routinely quashes open societies and could give a rat’s ass about the rule of law, both here and abroad. And an open society? Here’s Glenn Greenwald’s take when Assange initially appeared publicly to answer questions about the State Department WikiLeaks initial release:

This weekend, WikiLeaks released over 400,000 classified documents of the Iraq War detailing genuinely horrific facts about massive civilian death, U.S. complicity in widespread Iraqi torture, systematic government deceit over body counts, and the slaughter of civilians by American forces about which Daniel Ellsberg himself said, as the New York Times put it: “many of the civilian deaths there could be counted as murder.”

Predictably, just as happened with Ellsberg, there is now a major, coordinated effort underway to smear WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, and to malign his mental health — all as a means of distracting attention away from these highly disturbing revelations and to impede the ability of WikiLeaks to further expose government secrets and wrongdoing with its leaks. But now, the smear campaign is led not by Executive Branch officials, but by members of the establishment media. As the intelligence community reporter Tim Shorrock wrote today on Twitter: “When Dan Ellsberg leaked [the] Pentagon Papers, Nixon’s henchmen tried to destroy his reputation. Today w/Wikileaks & Assange, media does the job.”

Yesterday, Assange walked out of an interview with CNN, which he thought had been arranged to discuss the significance of the Iraq War revelations, because the CNN “reporter” seemed interested in asking only about petty, vapid rumors about Assange himself, not the substance of the leaks. The Nation‘s Greg Mitchell summarized that interview this way: “Assange to CNN: ‘Do you want to talk about deaths of 104,000 people or my personal life?’” CNN’s answer could not have been clearer: the latter, definitely.

Obama’s immense hypocrisy in his statement on the awarding of this prize to Liu Xiaobo will no doubt be matched as he and his legal and diplomatic department heads continue to paint Julian Asssange as some sort of Lord Haw-Haw, Tokyo Rose, Julius/Ethel Rosenberg or – as they may well be attempting – a more pathetic kind of character, such as Cynthia Murphy.

Obama did get one thing right in his statement on his Nobel Peace Prize successor:

Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was.

Here’s a poem by Liu Xiaobo. I’ll imagine I’m reading it to President Obama, after I’ve told him the reading is dedicated to Julian Assange:

A Small Rat in Prison
for little Xia

A small rat passes through the iron bars
paces back and forth on the window ledge
the peeling walls are watching him
the blood-filled mosquitoes are watching him
he even draws the moon from the sky,
silver
shadow casts down
beauty, as if in flight

a very gentryman the rat tonight
doesn’t eat nor drink nor grind his teeth
as he stares with his sly bright eyes,
strolling in the moonlight