Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The New Americanism




If there is a war and your country manages to lose enough jobs the government doesn’t have to conscript an army. Soldiering becomes the natural choice for the poor. It’s like government welfare but more honorable because you can die. The soldiers have job security because the plunder has already occurred back home. It does not matter who you are fighting or what cities are taken or where, or whether you win or lose the war. You just have to show up.

Casualty, by the way, by definition, means: a matter of chance.

War is an investment. That's why the US is squeamish about casualties. A loss of confidence can occur at any stage of the transaction, but there is one dependable correlation: dead US soldiers = loss of investors. The public invests in its elected officials, they invest in the military, the military invests in the soldiers, and the soldiers invest their bodies. When living soldiers lose confidence they begin protecting their bodies or destroying them, which, from the standpoint of their profession, is the same thing.

If you make the ultimate sacrifice all you did was crap out. There is no honor in losing a bet you don’t have the collateral to pay. So there is no sense in allowing men with families to play. How can you even begin to console the wife of a husband who put the house up and the three kids up in a desperate game of cards? Casually.

In the 20th Century you had countries behaving like men. They became depressed and killed and stole when they ran into financial trouble and the democracies provided the counterbalance. Like a drunk crowd restraining a drunk in a bar: “Easy there big fella!" It took 750,000 German soldiers dead in Stalingrad to slow the Nazi’s down. And they all died between July and February of 1943.

Over the last 13 years we lost 5,000 men in two countries. We couldn't win because Iraq and Afghanistan weren't worth 750,000 lives. They weren't worth 10,000. So why go at all? An enemy deserving of blood is one that provokes such hate, such rapturous fury, that each shot fired is a crime of passion.




How could it be that the Atlantic slave trade and the Enlightenment occurred in the same societies at the same time? Was it a lingering sense of foreignness about the world and its people that allowed the massive economization of human beings, coincidentally, just as the fundamental rights of human beings were being codified? Could the Enlightenment have been just a pit-stop in an otherwise uninterrupted tale of human barbarism?

Maybe the Western psyche is still struggling to reconcile the conflicting attitudes of scientific pragmatism and humanistic idealism it projected so strongly, and implemented so selectively, on the world. And that’s where the schizophrenic nature of U.S. foreign affairs was borne.

The principles laid out by the founding fathers were a little obtuse and contradictory. They philosophically necessitated that slavery decline but not the economy nor the comforts slavery provided. That racial discrimination decline but not the economy nor the comforts it provided, that the exploitation of workers decline but not the economy nor the comforts it provided. And who was left then? The Spanish were looking weak…Oh, then the liberals demanded that imperialism decline because of old, dead Jefferson who didn’t mention all the niceties slavery provided, but certainly enjoyed them. And then when the industry had left someone on the right shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well that’s all that’s left,” and let the market do the rest.

Prior to World War I socialists and communists presented a legitimate challenge to capitalistic democracy in the United States. The people had had enough abuse and exploitation. Seeking a patriotic upswing, an ease to class tensions, and a distraction, the United States government entered World War I and used laws passed to detect and prosecute German spies to round up and jail socialists, communists, pacifists, and union leaders. World War I was heralded as the first big encroachment on the Bill of Rights. Indeed it was. All of it is well documented and well forgotten.

We’re like a kid drawn to a white-hot burner on the stove. OUCH! Shocked and enraged. Then we do it again. OUCH! We're shocked and enraged. Again and again. It seems sterile, benign, and boring to talk about the Lusitania and World War I, but it's just one small example of the innumerable glazing-overs that children encounter in schooling. No, it is not a conspiracy; the lie is just quicker than the alternative. The alternative takes courage. People think you're crazy. It is risky. Someone's dad, a veteran, might kick your ass (because a veteran does not like that you read your way into the same enlightenment that his friends had to die for him to achieve).

What if we had a class in school that taught the history of the United States with all of the untrue things replaced by true things? I apologize if I seem patronizing, but it is quite simple. One does not need to be a radical to see that endless war is not the price of freedom.

We are living in a time when to be suspicious of the government is to be outrageously naive and to accuse is only to be slightly more articulate and specific than the national news. Still, to act is to go to jail or kill someone or both. You cannot impinge on anybody else’s rights to save your own. When you decide to change things, sadly there is always that first security guard, who, you must remind yourself as you put the gun to his head and blow his misunderstanding into the leaves, must be eliminated. For the greater good. See, all revolutionaries begin as murderers. The key is to keep killing until you've got it right. Till you get to the cerebrum. Yes, you must murder a husband and father who lives and suffers, like you, perhaps, with a wife and two kids in a humble home who suspects why he suffers, and accuses, albeit quietly, at home around the dinner table, but too late.

No sooner are we out of one, no two, quagmires then the next two present themselves. Like whispers to ourselves. Us, we? You sure? I think we really have gone mad. It's this we-play-hard-but-we-play-fair fantasy, that we've got to get rid of. Fair is ok. Hard is ok. But don't tell me it's both.

The new Americanism can go two ways. One way requires that we allow our standard of living to decline and then build it up again with domestic industry that regenerates the means of labor and does not harm the environment. After all, the essence of both patriotism and patronage is aiming for our sons to have the means to be fathers themselves.

The other option is to continue without shame on our path. We set loose the dogs of war in broad daylight and tell our sons why they must scorch the earth: “For survival. Nothing has changed. It has always been this way and always will be." That is another way of turning a boy into a man.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Two Muhammads




Do you know the saying: “No matter where you go, there you are.” If you tend to think too much, like I do from time to time, it’s not a good saying. I realize that it’s a matter of choice. One of the glass-half-empty or glass-half-full variety. To some it is a simple matter of geography: you are where you are. These are the people who sleep well at night who are not often thought of by other people during the night. I believe that you are free to think of the world in any way you like, to the extent which your cultural and economic biases and subjective emotional responses to objective truths confine your ability to choose anything at all. After all, it’s a free country.


The world used to be big enough that you could find a place where what you wanted to do was acceptable. You want to maybe marry a 12 year old? You go to a place where it’s not only legal, but, in our sense of the word, correct. You want to watch 14 year old boys swallow semen? Sure thing. Go to Kunar province in Afghanistan and have a ball, guilt free.


It’s the Kunar-style bar mitzvah! Every burgeoning man imbibes that which ensures the continued existence of humanity. For that we go to doctors who give us medicine, but no matter. It is to live. To pass on virility. It may be hard to accept, but it’s not intrinsically wrong. Like debased currency and so many other things that are not wrong if enough people buy in.


So we have Muhammad in two places at the same time. A headline from the Kunar Gazette: "Muhammad passes into adulthood." And one from Township Times (Saginaw, MI) "Sexual Abuse Under Taliban Described as 'Institutionalized.'"


In the United States, Muhammad develops emotional problems. He struggles to achieve intimacy. His psychologist says its because he feels like people are taking advantage of him, but is reassured that these are only the ghosts in his head. He never has a wife or a child and he dies alone in Saginaw, Michigan. A lifetime gas station attendant.


Meanwhile, back in Kunar, Muhammad marries a first cousin, builds a home, and lives to have three children. The two sons are blown apart by a hellfire missile fired from a $14,000,000 dollar helicopter after being paid $5 each to drop a mortar into a tube. There is still the daughter. Prayer beads. Life is strange and Muhammad lives to see some unexpected things.


For instance, the Americans dig a well next to his home. It affords him hours and hours of time previously spent climbing up and down the ridge to the river. He lives to see his childhood home, where his uncle now lives, support goats. A dry, unforgiving slope turned green. His daughter marries an elder’s son. Then, while he is pumping clean, drinkable water from the American-dug well, he sees his wife, his uncle, his two cousins, his daughter’s new husband, the in-laws, and his daughter swept forever from the earth as a $27,000 laser-guided Mark 82 General Purpose Bomb falls through the roof of the home and detonates. Unexpected, like a handful of flour tossed into the wind. Poof.


As compensation for the error the Americans send a U.S. Army grief counselor with $10,000 in crisp, freshly printed bills and a letter of condolence from the president of the United States.


The grief counselor is from Saginaw, MI. His name is Dick. Dick asks Muhammad, through an interpreter, if he is an elder. The man with no family says no. Dick asks if he ever performed oral sex on an elder. "No!" the man says and looks in outrage at the translator, who is about the age his youngest son would be and indeed looks like him in the eyes. His son then utters the Pashto word for the male rite of passage and the man with no family says, “Yes, I am a man, but now that your mother and sister are gone I have nothing to show for it."


Dick hands the translator a canteen and directs him to the well. “Give us a minute,” he says. Dick doesn’t speak Pashto. Stands there. The translator returns to report that there is no water. Dick frowns, supposing habits of a thousand years are tough to break. But why let a well go dry? All it requires is a few pumps a day. Dick takes his canteen off his hip and hands it to the weeping man. “There you are."


Muhammad holds his hand in front of him after the canteen has fallen, reaching for something. The slopes turning brown. He sees the faces of his sons. The water dividing into tiny rivers in the ground between his feet.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Poetry

I don’t get it!
It's supposed to be difficult.
It’s stupid!
A good poem will come just short of resisting your intelligence.
FUCK I DON'T GET IT
Keep reading.
It doesn’t make any sense.
Read it until you understand.
How will I know that I understand?
The same way you know when sex has finished.
What?
It's obvious to you, isn't it. But you can’t explain it to me, can you?
Not without being vulgar.
That's why some people write poetry.


Lots of people who don't understand poetry write poetry.
Would-be poets ask themselves: What is a poem?
and the answer is: Something that doesn't quite make sense.
So then they write something that doesn't quite make sense
and the result is a lot of bad poems masquerading as good poems.


The difference is equivalent to that
between the feeling produced by internet porn
and the felt reality of human love.


Those unfamiliar with the latter
should steer clear of the former.


If you’re interested in understanding poetry,
pick a poem by a universally acclaimed poet
study it until you feel insane
and don't ever, ever look up what it means.


Focus, patience, and attention to detail
will make every poem laid before you seem beautiful.
Focus, patience, and attention to detail are what the poem asks for,
and unless you’re a selfish prick, you won’t feel satisfied until you’ve matched the effort of the poet.


But don't take my word for it.


People who need to be assured that they have a purpose
lead purposeless lives.
People who need to be told that there is a point to it all
rarely find a point in it all.


Because that's something you have to do yourself.


Most people don't know that the end of a poem
only occasionally comes
in the last line
of the last stanza.


Often it comes too soon.


Most people don't know how to end a poem like this one,
but I do.

The Voice

I had always wanted to write pretty poems
and one day they showed up.
They made no sense.
Soon they were being published.

But it wasn’t really me writing them;

A little voice in my head
would
come along
and do them for me.

The only problem was that I had to wait.
Sometimes it took weeks.

Eventually I started writing them myself.

They don't get published.
I don't submit them.
They're not exactly pretty,
but neither are you.

It’s been two months
and I'm getting better every day
at ending good things
abruptly.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Why I Love Mountains: Part II





In walking the hills around Juticalpa I have found it difficult to make myself climb over or under barbed wire fences. This is not for fear of getting hurt; the fences are short, the wire is loose, and one could easily break the posts in half. My city education has taught me that trespassing, particularly through barbed wire, is a way to be legally shot and killed. I realize now that the barbed wire is for animals, not people, but naturally, my sense of danger has translated to Honduras where the murder rate is famously high.

So, with this apprehension in mind, I walk down the bending roads toward the mountains and approached houses. To see if the land is private. To see if it is OK. Invariably, I am told that the land is not private and invariably I am told that it is OK. Me standing out front, soon the whole family is there. The little boys and girls with fingers hooked in their mouths. A grandparent hunched behind the screen window like a stuffed falcon.

Then, someone, a son or daughter says "Pass. That you go well. Straight ahead." But why is there barbed wire if the land has no owner? And how can you give me permission if you do not own the land? And if I ask them anything at all, I ask them their names. Names are like flags.

The dogs snap at me again, then I climb those fuckers and come back down covered in shit they didn't even know they owned.

One time I aimed for a solitary palm tree atop a ridge and was delighted when I found a trail break off from the barbed wire, lead up to a windy landing, and continue into the middle of a line of lush, leafy, rustling bushes that lay in the shade of the palm tree. Stepping first around a large snake hole and then into the clear air of the top, I stood in the temporary darkness of the palm tree where, no more than four feet away, a white pony jerked its head from the deep green grass and bolted across a hidden saddle, then froze, like in a film, at the base of a grassy peak that rose from where I was to a point of perfection.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

That's Why I Live in a Car

Being single is like subjecting your heart to the disorienting sensation that’s common when you are sitting in a car and the adjacent car begins to drive away. At first you think you are the one rolling away so you hit the brakes and then panic and look at a thousand things at once before you realize you had it right the first time. The sickening ripple of equilibrium returns you from the accident you thought you were in, but weren’t, to where you already were.

Eventually you start the car, put it into drive, and take off like an idiot. You stop at a gas station and talk to a homeless man for an hour. His puffy jacket reminds you of going to Sears with your mother to buy winter jackets when you were a kid, and the guilt of losing them. Mom checking the tags to see if they are down or not. Those were low times.

“Hell!” the homeless man says. “You’re just like me!” and you look at him, and look around, and yell out: “fill it up!” but it’s not that type of gas station. You’re walking toward the car.

“How come none of my children ask me to live with them?” he calls after you. A flash of lightning above. You get in the car and close the door. Starts raining. You settle back, noticing the gas tank is full. Smile as the muffled voice comes through the door, remembering your favorite part of childhood camping trips was being in the tent in the rain. The safe feeling of--

“Ahhhhh! ya!” SMACK!

It’s the homeless man. Smashing his cave head against the window.

SMACK! again. The suction-cup mouth. The tongue trying to find a way out, maybe to find the teeth. “AHHHHHHHHHHHH! Where are you going!?”

“Get the fuck off my car!”

“Ahhhhhhhhh ya!”

SMACK!

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh ya!”

SMACK!

“Ahh! Ow! Ohh. Wow. Haha.”

“Serves you right!”

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. ohhhh. Oooooo. Ok.”

Then he rears the head back, seeming, for whatever reason, triumphant.

“Ahhhhhh...”

“Hey!” you yell.

“…..ahhhhhh!”

“Hey!”

But it’s too late. He swings his solitary brain toward the glass, putting his hand out for the retractable side mirror, which retracts, and he falls, letting out a retroactive: “Ya!” He rises with a squeegee, no worse for wear, wiping the rain and blood from the window. He looks inside. Looking for a change. His face an ocean. You look into it, and at it, but..and he sees the change, and lunges for the door, which is locked, and he drops the squeegee and you drive away.

It’s fucked up. Some people have nobody.

So you drive onto a main street with lights and bars. An attractive woman is standing on the corner. You’re an OK guy so she opens the door and sits beside you and instead of telling you where to go she says thanks for the ride. And instead of asking her her name you drive without aim and pretend the car or the rain will go on forever.

“Hey,” she says, looking out the window, “is that blood?”

You look over your shoulder.

“No.”

“Well it looks like blood.”

You think, “Now what does that add to the conversation?” and then she says, “So! What do you want to do?” and you slow the car and ask, “Why do you care? Didn’t you just want to get out of the rain?”

Having been in love, you forget to tell yourself the little lies that make people want to have casual sex with you.

So then you’re parked again. Same spot. If only you could go back. That’s another thing that you forgot when you were in love: the importance of location. Single people always worried about locations. Why is that? You have nothing to do and you get finicky about time? Worried about wasting it I suppose. That’s a waste. Worrying. I'm single again and I'm loving it. That’s why I live in a car.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Game

The game was that I was walking ahead of you
on a Main Street on a long hill
that always curved to the left
so one could not see around the corners.

I could stop
or turn into a store
on the left side of the street
but I could not turn back.

You were behind me
but i don’t know if we’d agreed
that you could stop
or turn around.

Like most dreams
this one was full of illogical rules
and they were followed to illogical ends.
I could only continue living my life
on this side of the street
so that you would know where to find me.

This was something of a metaphor.

I woke up five or so minutes later
and walked onto my balcony
and lit a cigarette.
The rain was splashing off of an awning
and hitting my feet
so i finished it
in the bathroom
on the toilet
where I realized
that if I had left notes in the stores I visited
I could have walked on the other side of the street
or let you know that I was still waiting for you
despite the rules.

I laid down in bed.
It is always a struggle 
writing notes
not knowing if they will be read.