Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Cycling into the Day

The heat is upon us here in Phoenix these days. Daytime temperatures have been in the 90's for several weeks and have moved into the 100's where they will stay for a very long three months at least. Anyone with sense just stays indoors from noon to 6:00 pm. I do. But I still want to ride my bike, which these days means racing the sun. I head out about an hour before sunrise when the day is still refreshingly cool and (a bonus!) traffic is nil.

A few weeks ago the pre-dawn offered a grand view of the morning sky, with Venus shining brightly in the east and Jupiter hovering just above the western horizon. Despite the great discrepancy in brightness, the two planets seemed to represent a cosmic balance on the edge of a dawning day. Jupiter is gone from the morning sky, setting but a very pale yellow Venus still lingers over the darkened silhouette of Camelback Mountain as morning light filters into the eastern sky. In the still darkness before twilight, I have the streets and the city pretty much to myself. Riding will be less pleasant when the monsoon arrives in early July bringing its considerable humidity to this desert metropolis.

But in the meantime, my morning rides are a real joy. I have two routes that I particularly like. One takes me due north about three or four miles into the foothills of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Riding north offers the grand view of Venus and Jupiter with a simple turn of my head. It also takes me into the very rich enclave of Paradise Valley with its wide streets, very large sprawling houses and (best of all) no street lights. Virtually all the landscaping is natural desert and I often see rabbits and quail. One morning, after the merest shower during the night, the air was redolent with creosote. The ride tops out on with a view of the city below. The return is a wonderful downhill that winds through neighborhood streets with the occasional rabbit or quail visible along the way.

The second route takes me around Papago Buttes that straddle the Phoenix-Scottsdale border. It’s not as scenic as Paradise Valley but in the early morning even non-descript neighborhoods have their own mystery. One neighborhood still has some of the older homes on large lots that were common in Phoenix in the 50's and 60's. I pass one house has a huge pasture with three horses and five or six goats; other houses are set back from the road behind large trees and extensive foliage. The high point of this route crests the pass between the buttes where I can see Phoenix stretching into the western horizon. Behind me I can look across the Scottsdale to see Four Peaks and the Superstition Mountains. Coming off the pass is a long downhill where, if I push it, I can hit 30 miles per hour.

Morning has long been my favorite time of day, the earlier the better. Riding before dawn clears my head and opens my mind to the possibilities the day offers. It’s also somewhat mindless–I can ride on autopilot and remember my good fortune: health, friends, living in a peaceful place, opportunity. All the things that so many people in the world only dream about. Riding is a simple act that takes me places well beyond the route I follow.

Cost of War

Death always leaves a gaping hole but death in war leaves a crater.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Post Memorial Day 2006

Arizonans assembled at the National Cemetery of Arizona on Memorial Day 2006 heard a great deal of patriotic cant and pap. Lofty words that spoke of honor and duty. They spoke of what Chris Hedges calls mythic war. War’s brutality went unmentioned in much of the ceremony. Only the toll of the dead, rifle volley and Taps truly acknowledged war for what it is. Nowhere did anyone speak of peace. Even when the ceremony ended with the release of white dove, no speaker mentioned their symbolism. Peace is the logical conclusion, the essential purpose of remembering our war dead. Instead the speakers hailed more, not less, war as the fitting memory of the dead.

Five Phoenix Veterans For Peace were a few tee shirts in a sea of uniformed veterans of all stripes. VFW, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans Association but also native American veterans, Buffalo Soldiers and civil war re-enactors. They all paraded by the speakers stand, which included the governor and Secretary of Veterans Affairs along with several odious politicians and a other officials After recognizing the various veterans, many of these same groups placed wreaths. Navajo Code Talkers received the greatest applause. Even the Woodmen of the World placed a wreath. Next year Veterans for Peace will be part of the ceremony, not just bystanders..

The ceremony is only the second I’ve attended. I marched with VFP on Veterans Day last year. Being an anti-war veteran among so many uniformed types left me feeling vulnerable, as if VFP was not welcome. For some there, maybe, but not all I’m pretty sure. Amidst the sea of uniforms, I thought my tee-shirt was pretty muted. Many wore full field fatigues or dress uniforms. Others wore vests or fatigue shirts. I saw a 1st Cavalry helicopter crewman in the crowd. His broad brimmed cavalry hat was pretty noticeable. When he turned I could see that big Cav patch. A sheriff’s posse attended wearing kilts.

The organizers were smart to schedule the ceremony for 8:00 am. No sane person wants to be standing on hot desert gravel mid day on Memorial Day in Phoenix. The morning was pleasant throughout the ceremony. The memorial area is grass with desert trees and decent shade. Two canopies shaded most of the seating on the open lawn. Chairs originally placed in the sun behind the canopies soon migrated to shade. JROTC cadets walked through the crowd earnestly distributing water. Their water cooler was just behind us. It was a large rectangular black tub, the cover strapped over caskets shipped back to the States, according to one of my colleagues.

Maggie said the cadets reminded her of Hitler Youth but I think that is mostly the combination of uniform and youth. None of the cadets looked like they had the programmed intensity of 1930's German youth. Still JROTC is a form of indoctrination that limits individual thinking and judgment. The Soviets had the Pioneers. At least JROTC is still voluntary. I thought the cadets looked out of place, especially the youngest. They were kids in uniform, more like boy scouts (which is also a form of indoctrination). Maggie thinks they should just be kids.

The core of the ceremony–the roll of the dead, rifle volley and Taps--was the most meaningful. I liked that part. The actual ceremony–the time honored military tradition–speaks of loss even as the politicians talk of America’s ongoing mission in Iraq and the need to sacrifice more for a dubious war that does nothing to make America safer. Using the dead to sell BushCheney’s war angered me. If anything, Memorial Day should make us stop and think about how little the deaths of these fine Americans has contributed to their nation. BushCheney and his apologists parrot the big lie about betraying the sacrifices of dead if we don’t send even more to die. The brutal reality is that the BushCheney is the traitor who sent them to die for no good purpose.

Fortunately, the traditions counterbalanced the hype. The roll of the dead recognized Arizonans who died in Iraq since last year’s Memorial Day. The toll of a bell followed each name. A rifle team fired a nine shot volley. A bugler played taps. The white doves were released after the last notes faded. A word of peace would have been appropriate but at least the ceremony made the gesture. Next year Veterans For Peace will make that gesture more explicit.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Food Chain

Vietnam now has a contract to supply rice to Iraq.

Thanks to Juan Cole for the link.

Local Initiative

Anonymous donors in Kalamazoo, Michigan are supporting a program that pays college tuition for the city's public school graduates. This is the kind of initiative that I am always looking for: innovative, progressive, where private wealth serves the public, w individuals and the community benefit.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day Words

Other words for this time of remembrance.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!-An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918)

I also recommend Jay Elias' Daily Kos diary.

Memorial Day 2006

This Memorial Day I find myself overcome with emotion. Great love and sadness for the fallen Americans who died in service to this nation. Anger at the loss and waste from so many wars. Despair that nations of this world will ever live in peace, will ever learn to compete and resolve disputes without killing each other and destroying what civilization our species has achieved.

Last night on “Prairie Home Companio”n Garrison Keillor sang an Americanized version of “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”(look in the chat around 6:00 pm). The original lyrics are here. Keillor’s version was “And the Band Played the Star Spangled Banner”, recounting a World War II veteran’s experience and the eternal question of why we celebrate war. He segued into the “Star Spangled Banner” with the audience. Hearing the two anthems together brought tears to my eyes. Simply recalling the moment now does the same.

My feelings spring from many sources. I am forever grateful to the many who defended this country with their lives. They are the “honored dead...who gave their last full measure of devotion.” Theirs is a legacy which honors us and obligates us to serve our own and future generations. Pride is also part of my emotional mix; after 35 years I can finally say that I am proud to have served, to have been associated in some small way with these fallen heroes . Rage about the Iraq war roils me. When I see my country squandering dedicated men and women in such a specious cause, the same anger that I felt about Vietnam seethes back into my head. Iraq rubs raw the wound that has only recently healed. Finally, I am sad at the loss. So many lives. So much treasure. So much of our hard won humanity.

If I were king of the world, I would ban all war and destroy all weapons. I would demand that human beings learn to respect and cooperate with each other. I would insist on peace and nonviolence. If I were king of the world, the long roll of war dead would end; their names would not pass from memory but they would pass into history, a reminder of a time when humans fought and killed one another.

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

--John Lennon