Saturday, November 12, 2011

Boat People

The cult of the presidency in America near deifies the incumbent with all the pomp and circumstance possible. Apparently, visiting aircraft carriers is part of that ceremony and protocol. That said, I think Obama does a much classier entrance than his predecessor.

I give Bush honorable mention for absolute strangeness, though. And Obama looks somehow uneasy in his rigid salute posture.


Friday, November 11, 2011


Veterans Day is a day of remembrance. To remember the sacrifices and courage of those the nation has asked to serve. As a veteran, I not only remember a long line of comrades but ALL victims of war. I remember the colossal damage inflicted on the earth, its people and cultures. I remember that war is a complete abandonment of what it means to be a thinking human being. I remember, too, that many good lives we remember on this day were wasted in pursuit of extremely flawed perceptions of reality and national interest.

These thoughts put me at odds with the celebration of military culture inherent in Veterans Day in America.

Still, today is not only an American holiday. Today is Remembrance Day or Armistice Day in many parts of the Western World. So I will remember, with those nations, all of the veterans and victims of war.


BEAT! beat! drums!--Blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows--through doors--burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation;
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet--no happiness must he have now with his bride;
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, plowing his field or gathering his grain;
So fierce you whirr and pound, you drums--so shrill you bugles blow.

Beat! beat! drums!--Blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities--over the rumble of wheels in the streets:
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? No sleepers must sleep in those beds;
No bargainers' bargains by day--no brokers or speculators--Would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums--you bugles wilder blow.

Beat! beat! drums!--Blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley--stop for no expostulation;
Mind not the timid--mind not the weeper or prayer;
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man;
Let not the child's voice be heard, nor the mother's entreaties;
Make even the trestles to shake the dead, where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump, O terrible drums--so loud you bugles blow.

--Walt Whitman 1862


SOLDIERS are citizens of death's gray land,
Drawing no dividend from time's to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.

Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds, and wives.

I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.

--Siegfried Sassoon 1920

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Mary Boyd Ellis (1930-2009)

As a newly published author one of my first tasks has been to recognize the many people who assisted my writing and publishing. That has put me in touch with some folks I'd not contacted in the four years since relocating to Washington State. Renewing acquaintances has been fun.

It can also bring some unwelcome news. I learned that my painting teacher, Mary Boyd Ellis died a couple of years ago at age 78. I took lessons from Mary during the last two years I lived in Window Rock, Arizona. Saturdays I would drive into Gallup, New Mexico to run town errands in the morning and in the afternoon I would join several other students in Mary's studio. She was a wonderful teacher and a generous friend. I have fond memories of those Saturday afternoons.

Despite all of Mary's talent as a teacher, I did not become much of a painter. She did, however, influence my book in a very important way. Part of her instruction was to have me sketch as a way of learning to understand shapes and shadows, form and perspective. Those lessons led me to carry a sketchbook on the Appalachian Trail and many of those sketches are prominently displayed along with the text. "Little windows through the words" as one reader described them.

On my return to the southwest from Maine in 2002, I spent a few days in Gallup and, of course, visited Mary. She was delighted to see the sketches and I would have been delighted to show her the finished product. Unfortunately, the delay in getting the book published precluded that opportunity. Even so, Mary is still very much alive in those sketches and I will always cherish her memory.

I last saw Mary in 2007. Her health was deteriorating but she still lived independently, still taught painting and was continuing a longstanding series of paintings based on TS Eliot's poem, "Ash Wednesday". The first of those paintings were completed when I was her student and she showed the series at an opening in Gallup in February 2008, just over a year before her death. The story about the show mentions that she had begun work on a new series which tells me that she most likely never stopped painting.

Mary faced numerous life challenges but managed to become the painter she wanted to be. In the process she added a great deal to many other lives. One was sufficiently inspired to set her paintings to music as a tribute. I cannot do that but I can certainly remember her influence and kindness.

Godspeed, Mary.


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

These (Not So) Honored Dead

Just in time for Veterans Day:

Lost body parts, sloppy handling of troops’ remains uncovered at Dover

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

More Than I Usually Expect

Give credit to the Washington Post for two provocative opinion pieces today. Taken together they ask some serious questions and offer strong support for their conclusions. Not the norm in the mainstream these days.

Stephen Pearlstein, who wrote cogently about economics as a regular Post columnist before moving to academe, writes about the latest financial bubble, commodities. He concludes:
What’s clear from this tale is how little the financial services industry has really changed since the crisis of 2008. The financialization of the economy continues undeterred, creating a bubble in commodities just as it did with houses and office buildings. The industry is still engaged in clever games to circumvent regulation, increase risk and find the cracks between one regulatory agency and another. And when regulators step in to try to restore some sanity to the markets, they inevitably run into a political buzz saw created by the industry and its Republican allies.

Big Finance is water running downhill. You cannot stop it. You may be able to control it but the force is imperative and always carries the potential for serious damage.

Alec MacGillis writes about additional occupations that will further illuminate the monstrous inequities in the American economy and their root causes. Among his targets is Wal-Mart for its success in destroying organized labor. MacGillis reminds the reader about why unions are important:
Harvard labor economist Richard Freeman says that organized labor diminishes income inequality mainly by forcing employers to give back more in compensation to workers that executives otherwise would claim for themselves. In a strong union environment, this dynamic even applies to nonunion firms, which must pay better wages to compete for workers.

But there’s also a broader contribution to inequality in the decline of organized labor in America — the loss of the “countervailing force” that strong unions used to provide in debates with business groups over, say, financial deregulation.

Which is why Wal-Mart and big business fought so relentlessly to destroy that countervailing force.

Yesterday Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation held a Jobs Not War workshop to explore ways to move toward a peace economy. Among the ideas for action was "shaming" corporations for social irresponsibility. The Occupy Movement has been one form of that shaming for the financial system as a whole. MacGillis has identified some other actors and practices worthy of shame. Pearlstein reminds me of why we need to be always vigilant when vested interests handle large sums of others' money.

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