Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (poem)

I loved her, God knows I did,
her pale oval face
her shining eyes,
her tumbled tangling hair
just drove me
to distraction.

Jane, dear Jane, just happened,
a pretty prostitute
met by chance;
her clever fondling fingers
gave me sexual

Dizzy, drugged with love,
I painted
both of them,
many times over, paintings
that scandalized, met critical
harsh reaction

Lizzie I married, she died,
and so did our baby girl
(whose footsteps I heard
for the rest of my life);
Jane understood, restored me
from inaction.

My poems, buried with Lizzie,
I couldn't recall:
I began to fret, wilfully
opened her sleeping grave,
reclaimed the little book, reeking
of putrefaction.

These things I did, I freely confess,
I was an artist!
I followed my art, unwilling
to assist in the life of my time,
careless of young women, ignoring
human decency.

Biographical details on DGR:

Friday, August 27, 2004

Kerry and the SwiftVets

With slightly over two months left to go before the US presidential election one would expect that the candidates and their supporters, not to mention the rest of the American nation, would be deeply involved in arguments and debate over the war in Iraq, the terror threat from Al Quaeda, escalating oil prices, the economy, genocide in Sudan,and a host of other problems surrounding health, education and the environment. Not a bit of it. All the fire and heat generated by the campaign these days is centred on what the Democratic challenger John Kerry did or did not do in Vietnam 35 years ago.

Kerry and his advisors have themselves to blame for painting themselves into this pathetically irrelevant corner. No doubt the emphasis on Kerry's military service in Vietnam was an attempt to portray the man as a young hero who put himself in danger to serve his country while George W. Bush used his Daddy's political influence to get himself a safe posting in the National Guard. As far as it goes, this is quite true and the Kerry people would have been wise to leave it at that. Instead they never missed a single opportunity to trumpet the heroism of their man in Vietnam and it was only a matter of time before the Republican attack dogs circled in search of a weak spot.

Not surprisingly, they have found a few discrepancies in the gaps between what Kerry says and what the record actually shows. After all, these events happened a long time ago, before many in the US electorate were born. The main themes are undisputed (Kerry did serve in Vietnam, he was awarded medals for bravery) but the death of a thousand cuts lies in the details.

The people who are making the attacks are not the Bush people themselves. No, that would be too obvious. Much to Kerry's chagrin, his opponents are veterans of the same unit in which he saw service in Vietnam. This is very damaging in the eyes of voters, particularly military veterans who can't help wonder why Kerry's wartime comrades would unite to make TV ads challenging the candidate and advising people not to vote for him.

The questions raised are about Kerry's three Purple Hearts (a medal awarded for getting wounded, a strange concept in other armies)and whether he actually deserved them. This is highly pertinent because Kerry exercised the option of cancelling the remainder of his active service - about 8 months of a year's tour - and returning to the safety of the United States, leaving his less fortunate crewmates behind. Three wound medals entitled him to do so and it would appear he had no hesitation in getting the hell out of Vietnam. That part doesn't look too good. His medals for bravery are also being disputed and so is a comment that he made on the Senate floor to the effect that he had served secretly in Cambodia.

The Kerry people are understandably quite upset at this turn of events. Their great campaign plus shows signs of becoming a dangerous minus. Their reaction so far has been inept and rather whiny - first they tried to get the ads banned by sending legal letters to various TV stations; then they attacked the motives and the character of the veterans who appeared in the ads; just recently they have been appealing to President Bush directly to disavow the ads and have them removed.

Bush was delighted to take the opportunity to condemn all 527s out of hand. A 527 is a privately funded ad, not paid for or endorsed by the official campaign. The Swift Boat ad falls under this category (the Bush people are very careful to deny any connection) but so do nine of the top ten 527 ads which happen to be hostile to Bush. This is not what the Kerry campaign wants to hear at all.

The controversy over these ads is a good example of the low level of discourse in the current campaign. The indignation and incipient panic of the Kerry people in responding to these unwelcome attacks on their candidate's heroic military record (a record which they themselves chose to emphasize)would be rather funny in normal circumstances - after all, people tend to get tired of heroes who keep reminding them of their long-ago moments of glory - were it not for the fact that this largely irrelevant topic has taken over as one of the main issues in the campaign.

The world (and much of America, one suspects) observes this latest nonsense with rueful disbelief - and begins to wonder if this chap Kerry is a bit of a fool.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

An Indian Summer (extracts)

There were so many new pleasures in those early days. Everything was of course pain-pleasure; there is no happiness in India without regret, but of this I was barely aware when for the first time I came to Delhi and found, as better men have found, no room at the inn, or at least not in the Imperial. Instead I bestowed myself in Old Delhi, in the Cecil – and the Cecil cushioned me sweetly from everything of truth. My room opened onto a courtyard almost filled with a pool in which the waterlilies grew and from which at night the fine fat frogs sent out their uxurious honking which so maddens some people but which to me is a most satisfying sound, the deep onkh-onkh which is that of the Tibetan horns on the Himalayan passes, and of the fat frogs in a Delhi pond.

But before night fell I would walk into town by the Kashmiri Gate, or down towards the Jumna River; it mattered little to me, everything was new and everything was wonderful. There was a time they called the cow-dust hour. The term came from the villages, as everything in India does, but here, walking along the Ridge, anywhere around the perimeter of the Delhi walls, it just meant the vague blue haze through a hundred trees, the smoke of a thousand evening mealtime fires, a thousand Indian wives crouching over chapattis and dhal on mudbrick stoves, the scent of the burning fuel-dung, the spectral cawing of the crows, homeward bound like us all. It was preposterously romanticized and possibly even dishonest, but it was my first knowledge of India and it never left my mind. (p. 89)


As a young learner of journalism in the India of the 40s, I was zealous enough to feel inadequate without some means of talking to and understanding those about me. I bought an elaborate book called Hindustani Self-Taught, and spent long hours in its study. I worked up a hesitant acquaintance with the simpler clichés. If I wanted a bath at seven I could bring myself to say: “Ham sat baje guram gusal maingte hain.” If I wanted a message delivered I said: “Chithi lejao aur jawab lao.” When repeated often enough and loudly enough, and if I waved an envelope in my hand and gestured urgently towards the street, the phrase worked wonders; the chaprassi would nod eagerly and say: “Okay, sahib want letter taken.”

I felt as one always does in a new country the need to go a little farther than this and to be able to articulate the few courtesies that might indicate, at the least, goodwill. My phrase-book, however, suffered from the incurable complaint of all phrasebooks designed for communication between masters and servant: it was unable to think otherwise than in brusque and peremptory commands. “Keep quiet. Come here. Go away. Cook more quickly and more better the tiffin. Wash more. Wake up. Stand still. Bring me instantly tea/coffee/whisky-soda/ammunition/good shirts/vinegar. Do not lie to me. Go. Stay. Withdraw.”

There was no tense but the imperative, no mood but the irascible. The work had been ‘Specially Composed for Visiting Persons and Allied Officers’ by a Mr H. Achmed Ismail. There was a daunting section on ‘The Engagement of Body-Servants’: “Look sharp. Come tomorrow. Shut the door. What is your pay? It is too much. I shall pay you far less. Put on the fan. Put off the fan. If you break crockeries I shall cut your pay. You feign sickness. You are indeed dirty, make clean yourself. You are underdone. You are too old, too young. I shall engage another bearer.”

Even in the ‘Sickness’ section Mr Ismail maintained an impatient, choleric manner. “The bowel is distracted. The tongue is hairy. I demand my teeth to be drawn.” The personality of the embittered Mr Ismail permeated the book as with a wry satisfaction he put into the master’s hands every assistance to their natural bad manners. (pp. 48-50)


For myself there were times when I became aware of my otherness to the environment, of my personal gracelessness of movement, a well-intentioned clumsiness of gesture, possibly even of thought. Even after twenty-five years of acquaintanceship with the surface mores of the country I am still caught out in somehow clodhopping attitudes. I think I could avoid the grosser solecisms, but I could never walk like an Indian. No European could imitate the extraordinary flexibility and manoeuvrability of the Indian hands. Indians talk with their hands as they dance with their hands. There is none of the Latin shoulder-shrugging, eyebrow-raising, broad-swinging gestures, but a continual rippling of the palms and the fingers, with each nuance moulded out of the air, as though sculpturing syntax out of space.

I was continually learning something. The sari – the most elegant of garments, with an inscrutable architecture: Moni told me of its variants, its subtleties, the imperceptible differences of folding that indicated its wearer’s region.
“What does it mean if the sari falls over the right shoulder?”
“It never in any circumstances does. The whole point is not to inconvenience the right arm.”
I pointed out a woman no more than ten feet away whose sari fell over her right shoulder.
“Well. Must be a left-handed woman.”

The situation was familiar to me. On my very first visit so ling ago I had been taken by a dedicated and bird-minded Old Hand through a relentless course of domestic fauna.
“Look quickly – the ring-necked parakeet. The speck in the sky is a white-back vulture; they eat Parsis. This peacock, very holy indeed, it represents the Lord Krishna – not this particular one, of course, it belongs to the hotel.” He flung a stick at the sacred fowl which rushed away screeching venomously. “Now here’s an absorbing sight – those little birds there; they are called the Seven Sisters. They are never to be seen except in groups of exactly seven.
“I can only see five.”
“Strange. It must be a curious mutation.”
In years to come I was to observe the Seven Sisters birds in every grouping and combination from two to twelve, snapping and disputing with each other like ill-tempered old women. To the experts they are always curious mutations. So much in India is. (p.57)

(taken from James Cameron’s “An Indian Summer”, Penguin Books, London: 1974)

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

star-spangled summer (poem)

Close in, surround
the Ali Imam Shrine,
use radio, call in
the body count
of anti-Iraqi

All right, stand up
on stadium seats,
wave flags, cheer
another medal
for USA

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Early Days: The Mission (poem)

We got thrown together
back in those days, we were all
half-drunk on fear;
you could smell it,
you could actually smell the fear
that time we got the orders
to work together
and I thought, no way
am I going to operate
with this wee hoor
and I think she felt the same
from the brassy hard
look she gave me
dressed in her black jeans
and her battered leather
flyboy's jacket with a yellow
patch on the shoulder:
and hoo are yoo, she said
with a lipstick smile
and I said, you can call
me Michael, but it's not
my right name: Michael!
she hooted, my own blessed
archangel, give us a kiss,
Mickey without the wings!
I hated her, straight off,
tried to get out of it, talked
to John Joe, the other lads,
and was told it was decided
higher up, nothing to be done,
we'd be off to France, as soon
as the passports were ready
and we were to move quickly
by train, a couple of tourists,
and were to cross the border
at a certain time, they'd be
waiting in Czechoslovakia.
We were given an awful lot
of money, had to sign for it,
then the leadership called us in
and said it was important:
the negotiations have been
made, they said, your job
is to make sure the merchandise
really exists, there's a bank code
which we will give you, a code
you will memorize, but under
no circumstances, even if things
go wrong, will you ever reveal
this number, even under torture.
Is that understood? No bother,
says I, but do I have to hang about
with this flaky wee bitch? The look
she gave me would strip paint
(she was standing beside me);
coolly the man looked me over,
reminded me I was a sworn soldier
of the Republic, a standard bearer
for the Risen People blah-blah,
and besides, they could put a bullet
in my head right now if I liked,
if I didn't shut my trap, this minute,
and do as I was feckin told.

This was persuasive.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Perspectives (poem)

Not every generation
has its moment of truth
its jolt and sudden shock of knowledge:
an instant addition to collective memory
dividing the past from whatever follows,
changing the world forever.

August 1914
The Wall Street Crash
Pearl Harbor
Kennedy in Dallas
September 11

Not every generation
gets dragged into history:
(when the Chinese dislike you
they politely extend the hope
you may live in "interesting" times).
If it happens, endure.



Everyone dies eventually. My point is that -- allowing for the usual car wrecks and gun-toting criminals in the USA, and allowing for the shameful deprivation and lack of basic infrastructure in the developing world -- it is becoming progressively harder to die of old age because of organized ideological violence: good guys and bad guys alike. Historically, of course, this is nothing new.

The list of "memorable events" in the poem is brief, selective, and culturally slanted. To make up for that I would like to provide a more extended list below. Somebody can "Google" the exact casualty figures, but it comes down to the same thing in the end. I use the convenient letter "M" to represent million: 1,000,000.

A million (M) is a lot. A million dollars in $100 dollar bills weighs 44 pounds (20 kilograms). In $1 dollar bills it would weigh 4400 lbs (2000 kg.) That would fill up the flatbed of a pickup truck. I don't know how much a million people would weigh. According to Hoess (commandant at Auschwitz) killing people in large numbers is easy. What's hard is disposing of the bodies. That's what took up most of our time, he said, it really slowed us down.

So when you look at these numbers, don't think of zeroes, think of individual people who weigh (let's say) 150 lbs on average. Hmmm: 150,000,000 lbs. How many trucks or trains or containers will that take? And that is only ONE million. It's not just the physical presence of these people that gets destroyed -- obviously! -- but that's where you begin when you try to imagine what these numbers really mean.

6-7 M Mongols drop in to visit Europe (13 C)
20-30M Black Death (bubonic plague) hits Europe (14C)
4-5M Tamerlane visits the Middle East (15C)
3-4M Spain ravages Mexico & S. America (16C)
2-3M Europe goes to war over religion (17C)
2-4M European diseases decimate native populations (18C)
2M French kill themselves and others (1789-1815)
1.5M Irish Potato famine (1845-50)
0.8M American Civil War (1861-65)
0.4M Paraguay War (1864-70): two-thirds of population killed.
4M European genocide in Africa (1880-1910)
11M First World War (1914-18)
30M Russia under Stalin (1927-53)
0.5M Spanish Civil War (1936-39)
50M Second World War (1939-45)
15M China under Mao (1949-69)
2M Vietnam vs. Outsiders (1941-75)
1.8M Cambodia under Khmer Rouge (1975-80)
1.5M Rwanda (1994)

This is a partial list, leaving out atrocities and wars which have left less than a million (M) casualties with the exceptions above of the American and Spanish Civil Wars and the devastation in 19th century Paraguay. It's amazing what people will put up with; what's worse is that they actively take part in it.

It's a wonder we are still around.

50,000 (War on Terror)
this number includes about 5000 US casualties at the WTC in New York plus subsequent military and civilian losses in Afghanistan and Iraq. The remainder are (presumably hostile) foreign nationals in those two countries.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Déjà vu All Over Again

(Extracts from "Colossus: The Price of America's Empire” by Niall Ferguson)

“What happened in the Philippines has unfortunately proved to be far more typical of overseas American experience than what happened in Hawaii and Puerto Rico (the former became a state in 1959; the latter remains in limbo between a state and an overseas possession – ed). To be precise seven characteristic phases of American engagement can be discerned:

1. Impressive initial military success.
2. A flawed assessment of indigineous sentiment.
3. A strategy of limited war and gradual escalation of forces.
4. Domestic disillusionment in the face of protracted and nasty conflict.
5. Premature democratization
6. The ascendancy of domestic economic considerations
7. Ultimate withdrawal.

(compare with the 20-point list in the article “Joyce, Iraq, Michael Collins, and a few other thoughts” in the June Archive of this Blog –ed)

“The speed of the American victory over Spain in 1898 was certainly striking. Within just three months of the American declaration of war – the trumped-up pretext for which was the accidental explosion of the battleship “Maine” in Havana Bay, supposedly the fault of Spain – the Spanish forces in both the Caribbean and the Philippines were defeated. However the Americans refused to recognize that the Filipinos who had sided with them against Spain had been fighting for their independence, not for a change of colonial master ….”

“The rebellion against American annexation, led by Emilio Aguinaldo, began soon after the publication of the terms of the Treaty of Paris, which ceded the Philippines to the United States … In the space of three years the number of troops committed to the Philippines rose from just 12,000 to 126,000. Although Aguinaldo was captured in March 1901, and the war declared officially over in July 1902, resistance continued on some islands for years afterward. It was not a pleasant war; nor was it to be the American military’s last taste of jungle warfare against guerrillas indistinguishable from civilians. Senior officers swiftly resorted to harsh measures: Brigadier General Jacob H. Smith ordered his men on the island of Samar to take no prisoners – a breach of the laws of war – adding: ‘I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and the more you burn the better you will please me … I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms.’ By the time the fighting was over, more than 4000 American servicemen had lost their lives, over 1000 more than had been killed in the war against Spain. Approximately four times as many Filipinos were killed in action, to say nothing of civilians who died because of war-related hunger and disease. Meanwhile, William Howard Taft, a judge from Ohio, was put in charge of a five-man civilian commission that sought to win Filipinos over by building schools and improving sanitation, proving, as one of the commissioners ingenuously put it, that ‘American sovereignty was … another name for the liberty of the Filipinos.’ The war alone had cost six hundred million dollars (12 billion dollars at current prices –ed). How much would postwar reconstruction add to the bill?

“It was not, however, its cost that aroused the initial domestic opposition to the war in the Philippines so much as the principle of the thing… Mark Twain’s attitudes anticipate those of future generations of American antiwar intellectuals. He had begun by welcoming the ‘liberation’ of the Philippines from Spain, writing to a friend in June 1898: ‘It is a worthy thing to fight for one’s freedom. It is another sight finer to fight for another man’s. And I think this is the first time it has been done.' But by October 1900 he had ‘read carefully’ the Treaty of Paris and concluded ‘that we do not intend to free but to subjugate the people of the Philippines ... And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons in any other land.’ Twain’s voice was muffled. Harper’s Bazaar rejected his short story “The War Prayer,” in which an aged stranger utters the following prayer before a congregation:

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriotic dead; … help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children wandering and unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land."

“Privately, but not publicly, Twain described (President) McKinley as the man who had sent U.S. troops to ‘fight with a disgraced musket under a polluted flag’ and suggested that the flag in question should have ‘ the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and crossbones.’ His disapprobation carried weight. Opponents of a war do not need to command majority support to undermine a war effort….

Theodore Roosevelt had once likened the Filipinos to the Apaches and Aguinaldo to Sitting Bull. Thrust into the presidency by McKinley’s assassination, he nevertheless hastened to create at least a semblance of democracy in the Philippines, privately admitting that he would ‘only be too glad to withdraw’ from what seemed to be America’s Boer War’ … the so-called Jones Act (1916) confirmed that the islands would be granted independence ‘as soon as a stable government can be established’ … (but) so harsh were the provisions of the original American independence offer of 1933 that the islands’ legislature refused to accept it …There was much less for Filipinos to celebrate when independence finally came in 1946 than is generally appreciated.”

-- “Colossus: The Price of America’s Empire”, The Penguin Press, New York (2004): pp 48-52

Hindu Temple, Singapore (photo) Posted by Hello

Monday, August 16, 2004

patriot act (poem)

of the
to lock
is because
going out
we just
the time
follow you

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Nagasaki (auf deutsch)

(translated by Sybille Castens)

Weißes Licht
Auf meinem Schulweg
dann plötzlich Hitze:
irgendwann später
wachte ich auf
sah Schatten von Menschen
in Mauern;
Schutt, herumgewirbelt
Brillen, Sandalen
meine Brotdose

Ich ging heim
Da war
kein Heim
nicht Mutter
Schwester, niemand
Meine Haut begann
Sich zu schälen wie
Ein Apfel,
eine Orange
unter warmem
schwarzem Regen
nichts fühlend

Schulweg: es geht auch Weg zur Schule, wobei Schule weich (–e) endet. Der Unterschied wäre, dass auch andere Kinder den Schulweg gehen können, der Weg zur Schule sich eher auf den Erzähler bezieht, auf seinen ganz eigenen Weg.

Blendend: man könnte sagen: blind machend, was sich aber holperig anhört. Jmd. zu blenden heißt auch: Augen ausstechen, insofern passt blendend.

Brillen: meintest Du Brillen oder Ansichten/ Perspektiven/ vorher Gesehenes?

Allein: könnte auch einsam sein. Man kann unter vielen Menschen einsam sein, verlassen, abgeschnitten, verloren. Ich glaube aber, Du hättest dann lost geschrieben, bin mir aber nicht sicher.

nichts fühlend: es geht auch fühle nichts, wobei nach meinem Sprachverständnis nf eher einen Umstand in der Vergangenheit beschreibt der eventuell noch andauert, und fn auf jeden Fall bis heute fortgesetzt würde. Da Du was no home schreibst, ist das etwas schwierig zu übersetzen, ohne zeitlich zu interpretieren.

Friday, August 13, 2004

sex and the single officer (poem)

Aunt Jane
sipping tea in the garden
lifted her voluminous skirts
hoops and all, to avoid
a licentious beetle.

That moment
for the very first time
the sheer joy of sex
hoops and all, entered
my innocent mind.

demanded my attention.
Under dry and careful masters
clocks ticked, I prepared
to enter Balliol.

My gown
was a source of delight,
my rooms in a village of stone.
War came, I enlisted,
went to France.

The trenches
a sharp and ghastly smell
of blood and shit and cabbage
unnerved me, I decided
to become a hero.

Leftenant --
Sah! I sprang to attention.
You will take a little walk this evening:
Yellow-fanged, my drunken
commanding officer.

The Huns
will never expect you dear boy
if you follow this line on the map:
sheer suicide, the idiot
was drunk and rambling.

Right lads
I said to the sullen soldiery
fix bayonets and follow the tapes
piece of cake, simply
do what you're told.

Steel helmet
useless revolver at my side
an unexpected stiffness in my groin
Aunt Jane, the hoops,
God will I die a virgin

Thursday, August 12, 2004

History Corner (Germany v. Ireland, 2002 World Cup)

Well, I'm just back from the match at Kashima Stadium and it was pure brilliant. To begin with there have never been so many Irish in Japan before. Tokyo was full of them in their green jerseys and flags and funny hats and it was a delight to the eyes: never before, and probably never again ....

I connected with two lads from Ireland (otherwise, no ticket) and we descended on Tokyo Station to take one of the 'Match Special' trains on the Sobu Line. What a joke! We were packed in like cattle for a two-and-a-half hour journey. We were happy enough for the first hour but then it was a feeling of Baaaa! Baaa! Next stop Auschwitz ... there were a couple of five-minute stops along the way and the lads piled out for quick smokes on the platform. The hovering officials were not too pleased about that but they didn't know what to do when two hulking brutes decided to empty their beer-swollen bladders on the opposite line. The whole train gave them a great cheer. They were pissing for Ireland.

When we got out to Kashima at long bloody last there was a sea of green jerseys in the town as far as the eye could see. Where were the Germans? We were actually getting concerned at this stage, where the hell were they? Had we come to the wrong place or what? There was a marked absence of these occasionally lovable and deeply misunderstood people.

Drinks and palaver, we were all having a great time. People had come in from all over, from Ireland of course, but also from the States and Australia.

Packed on to buses next for the 10-minute shuttle to the stadium. This place is on the edge of nowhere and lit up like something out of Star Wars. The closer you got to the entry points the more police and security people came into view. For what? Japan has been geared up to expect "fooligans" and so far has been severely disappointed. The crowds were amiable, raucous, and singing away. Where were the Germans?

The stadium is fantastic. It's state-of-the-art. The field was like a billiard table just down below us, lit up like a spaceship in the midst of acres and acres of paddy fields. The teams were out warming up and we were singing away in great form:

Come on you Boys in Green, come on you Boys in Green
Come on you Boys, come on you Boys in Green ...

... which is a very catchy number and not so hard to remember.

The teams come out. Roars for the Irish, boos for the Germans. National anthems. The German thing comes first and it's an instrumental, listened to in polite silence. Then comes 'Amhrainn na bFhiann' and the crowd are roaring it out ... in Irish, mind you ... and everywhere you look there is a sea of green jerseys and tricolours: Irish fans 1, German fans nil even before the match begins.

And then it does begin. Damn, the Germans are good. It goes backwards and forwards and towards the end of the first half Michael Ballack (is it the left one or the right (Irish joke)?) comes tearing down on the left wing and sends a perfect cross to Klose in the box and he puts his head to it and it's in the back of the net, no chance for Shay Given.

Germany 1; Ireland 0

Klose, the product of a poor upbringing, struts to the goal line and shoves his fist at the Irish supporters. He's rewarded with a shower of boos and jeers. OK, we're one down but the supporters are doing the Germans' heads in and that's the first sign of it. Good, we'll keep it up.

It's a constant roar throughout the second half and when Robbie Keane comes through with the equalizer in the FOURTH minute of overtime (only seconds left in the game) the crowd goes wild. The Germans deflate and exit immediately after the final whistle. The Irish team stays on the field for the next ten, fifteen minutes saying thank you to the fans. So they should. We have to spend another two hours on the cattle trains back to Tokyo ... !

Family Problems (poem)

This is a re-enactment, with artistic licence, of a true event in our tuatha/clan history, circa 280 BC. Labraid Loinseach -- later known as Moen -- was the son of Aillil Aine, a king in eastern Ireland. Aillil was poisoned by his brother Cobhthach who usurped his throne. Following this event our poem begins ….


He was your loving Daddy, I know,
Arra, Moen mo chara, but listen,
Am I not the same blood as you,
As you and your Daddy and all your kin?
Am I not your uncle, lad,
And aren't we all the same family
When all is said and done?

'Twas a sad business, I know,
And the shock is still with you ,
But it's only a wee lad you are,
And there are ways in this world
That are hard to understand:
The gods with all their glory, son, change
Nary a moment of what's gone by.

Listen close to me, boy, when a thing
Is done, it's done, and it's done forever;
The necessity is within the family, our family,
And not a person outside will dare say one word,
And this, this is the truth I'm telling you.
Now will you stop your tears, 'tis no manly thing,
Even for the age that's on you.


This is a hard fractured land
We live in, boy, with enemies
North and South of us, aye,
Enemies to the West as well.
The job of a king is a hard business
('Tis a thing you wouldn't understand)
And the hawking and the feasting and the harpers
In the style of your father
Was the road to rapid ruin.

Wheesht, here it comes, something just for you!
Haven't I had orders sent down to the kitchen
Something in the way of showing you, boy,
How I love you, how I guard for your health.
Set the dish down, give the boy the smell of it.
Eat now, darling boy, eat hearty,
And it's afterwards, nephew, you and me,
'Tis afterwards we'll know where we stand.


Móen was only a young child of 8 or 9 at the time of the murder of his father and he was rescued from the clutches of his uncle Cobhthac ("Kovhak) by the intercession of his father's true companions, who spirited the young boy away and accompanied him to Gaul, now France, then a Celtic territory of many separate kingdoms.

Owing to the horror of having (unwittingly) eaten his father's heart -- and that's what the subject of the poem is all about -- he lost the power of speech.

He was received kindly in Gaul and gradually the power of speech was restored to him in the kingdom of Fir Morc. The local king, Scoriath, gave him the hand of his daughter and provided him with an army of spearmen to reclaim his stolen inheritance. They were called "Laighin" which referred to the blue steel of their speartips.

The invasion (268 BC) was successful and Móen was restored as king (his wicked uncle was executed straight away or after a subsequent act of treachery, there are two different stories) and thus became the ancestor of our clan in Ireland, which flourished with its capital at Tara until overthrown by the northern O'Neill's in the 4th century AD.

The eastern province of Ireland is still known as "Laighin" in the Irish language, We are an extremely conservative people (until we go to America and become Democrats). In English the province is known as "Leinster", which is a combination of the Gaelic "Laighin" with the later Viking suffix of "stadr" (state): thus "Laighin-stadr" becomes "Leinster". If you think I am making this up, please have a look at any map of modern Ireland ….

Scholars and skeptics (same thing) can always check out the historical record. The Annals go back to about 600 BC -- we were latecomers, I guess -- but modern scholarship and archaeology have been combining to show that the surviving written records are extremely accurate. For the historical background to this poem check the following:

Peter Beresford Ellis. "The Celtic Empire": Constable & Co. (London), 1991: pp 184-85

I am sorry to say that in spite of our dramatic origins, the clan/tuatha hasn't done a single thing of historical interest or importance for the last 1600 years, since losing Tara, in fact, although we continue to reproduce alarmingly. That's how family names survive for 2000 years, but you might as well be an iguana. They keep out of trouble, too. I think it's far more fun to give your enemies a whack.

crosscultural communications (poem)

Look here, my good man,
I have no idea
What you think you
Are doing, but you can't
Just walk into the Lord's House
Half-naked; and furthermore,
Be so good as to explain
The meaning of that weapon
and that rope in your hands.
Have you no proper sense
Of what is fitting and seemly?
There are times, give me patience,
When I truly despair of you people,
Of your willful ignorance
And your dark savage ways.
What? Speak up, boy, what?
Your uncle says I must turn
Around, I must close my eyes?
Preposterous! What's that?
Your uncle has a surprise for me?
Young man, I can tell you
Most assuredly, after all I have seen
This day, there is absolutely nothing
Your wretched uncle can propose
That could possibly surprise me.

"The Reverend Carl S. Volkener came to New Zealand in the 1850s, but fell out of favour with the Opitiki Maoris by urging them to desist from bloodshed when war broke out with a rival clan in 1865. One of the Opitiki chiefs hanged him, shot him, decapitated him in his own church, drank his blood and swallowed both his eyes."
-- Niall Ferguson, "Empire": Penguin Books, 2003. Page 121

Monday, August 09, 2004

The Interview (poem)

This poem is very loosely based on the career of Traudl Junge, a 22-year old who became one of Hitler's private secretaries from 1942-45. She loved her Boss and didn't understand what was going on. She represents all young people who get caught up in the patriotism of the times (be careful, America!).

The Interview

I was in awe of him, of course, having
Seen him as a child in the newsreels,
So I couldn't believe it, pinch me,
I was going to work for him.

They told me to come in on Friday
I chose my best blue dress, my sister
Gave me her last pair of silk stockings,
My mother fussing about (as usual)

Wanted me to wear Daddy's
Party badge, I said
"Hau ab, bin doch Berlinerin"*
And she sighed, exasperated.

I went in on the tram, slowly,
So many bombs, stepped over
The rubble, re-arranged my hat
In the Pariserplatz

A touch of eau de cologne
Behind each ear, not much,
Smoothed my dress,
Walked to the Reichskanzlei.

Young SS guards at the entrance
Grinned, I smiled back, these
Stupid country boys: all men
Just don't make sense.

I had to wait inside, several people,
Sitting in a large dark room
With the sound of boots on marble floors,
Officers marching about with files.

"Nancy boys, no guts, no medals" some old
fellow said, burnt face, Knight's Cross,
I don't understand the ranks: I gave him
My Garbo face, he flushed, looked away.

Even the old grandads try it on,
Makes you sick. I pressed my knees
Together; straightened my back
And thought of Germany.

* Get lost, I'm a city girl


Sunday, August 08, 2004

a suspicious death in amsterdam (poem)

My love, my life
is dead:
we shall no longer walk
in crimson glory.

My wife, chosen
by elderly parents,
but beloved

stood, bore my
tried to warn me
and departed.

My brother, young,
smiles when he talks,
says little.

election fever (poem)

yesterday, aging generals
laid plans for the last war,
ignoring, testily, technology
time and change --

yesterday, politicians
stepped in to save us
from these murderous old men
in fancy uniforms --

today, living under
a different dispensation,
with war-drunk politicians
and sober generals

it slowly sinks in,
as we watch TV, why,
with a real war on our hands,
the talk is vietnam.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Summer Anniversaries

This summer (July and August) brings around a number of anniversaries. It was 90 years ago this week that Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, gazed out on the evening streets of Whitehall and said, as if to himself, “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.” Britain had just declared war on the Kaiser’s Germany. On August 4 this year four of the remaining handful of living veterans of that war gathered in front of the Cenotaph in central London. All were over 100 years old and the eldest, Henry Allingham, was 108. Their memories of the War to End All Wars were still sharp and clear; but when they and their few remaining comrades pass away there will be no living connection with the events that began the Great Twentieth Century War, a conflict which began in August 1914 and whose repercussions were to last until the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 (see “Reflections on the Great War” in the June archives of this Blog).

Also this summer we mark the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, when the brave but totally outgunned remnants of the Polish Army joined together with the citizens of Warsaw to drive out the German occupiers. The Russian Army, already in Poland, called a halt to their advance instead of rushing to the aid of the Poles. Stalin was content to let the last of the free and independent Polish patriots meet destruction and death at the hands of the Nazis: after the inevitable defeat of the Third Reich, it would be a lot easier for the Soviets to set up a puppet state in Poland without such people. The German prime minister has recently visited Poland to offer his regrets in person – one wonders how much longer German statesmen will be carrying out such missions; Mr Schroeder was also on hand in Normandy in June to mark the 1944 invasion of Nazi-occupied France – but the Russians have pointedly stayed away and reacted angrily to renewed Polish accusations of betrayal. For some reason the Polish prime minister Marek Belka has expressed his annoyance with the English, whom he seems to believe could have done more to help. It’s hard to see what they could have done at the time, and it seems a little churlish to overlook the fact that Britain declared war on Nazi Germany as a direct consequence of its support for Poland. (See here for an account of the Uprising and here for a British reaction to Mr Belka).

It is interesting if rather pointless to note that Britain would have been in a much stronger position had it gone to war with Germany over the occupation of the Sudetenland (Czechoslovakia) in 1938. The German General Staff was adamantly opposed to Hitler’s plans and some officers with social contacts in Britain were desperately seeking outside help in an attempt to depose him. The Czech Army was large and had erected formidable defense positions which the Germans themselves later admitted would have caused them fearful casualties. In addition to the British and French armies in the West the armies of the smaller nations within the League of Nations (Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, even Ireland, which then held the Presidency) would have rallied against a direct German challenge to the peace of Europe. The German Army itself was not yet the fully-equipped and trained force it was to become by 1939-40. Hitler could well have been defeated and removed from power. In the event, we all know what happened. Chamberlain of Britain and Daladier of France negotiated directly with Hitler and sold Czechoslovakia down the river (a shameful episode for which Margaret Thatcher as British PM apologized in 1988). The League of Nations, already shaken by the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and the Spanish Civil War, ceased to have any further significance in European affairs. When war came in September 1939 the smaller nations all declared their neutrality – not that the Germans paid very much attention to neutrality – on the grounds that the British and French guarantees to Poland were unilateral agreements entered upon without consultation with other members of the League. This is one of the reasons Ireland remained neutral (on the British side, it must be admitted) and continued to maintain an Embassy in Berlin throughout the war. Eamon de Valera, the Irish PM, even made an infamous condolence call on the German Embassy in Dublin after the death of Hitler. This was predominantly an electoral move on the part of this sly old fox since his favoured candidate for President was running behind in the polls and the predictable wave of Ireland-bashing in the British press rallied the country behind him. Ah, politics ….

The third commemoration this summer is the 60th anniversary of the July 20, 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler in his military headquarters in East Prussia. A young staff officer, Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, carried a briefcase bomb into the room where Hitler was meeting with his generals. Somebody noticed the briefcase under the table and moved its location minutes before the bomb went off, thereby undoubtedly saving Hitler’s life. The plot was uncovered and Stauffenberg and his fellow conspirators were executed; in fact the paranoia engendered in Hitler by his close escape led to the arrest and execution of hundreds of people, many of whom were simply family members of those implicated in the plot. Stauffenberg and the plan to kill Hitler is commemorated as an heroic act in modern Germany, but this was not the case at the time and not for some considerable passage of years after the war. As it happens, I was having a beer with three German friends the other day and brought up the subject. They looked a bit gobsmacked at first (here we are having a quiet beer and this Irish nutcase starts up) but the consensus was unanimous and unequivocal: trying to get rid of Hitler was a good idea, but by 1944 it was much too late. It’s like a skeleton going to the dentist, one of them explained, a nice idea but something that should have been thought of before. Hitler should have been removed much earlier, but how?

There were a number of attempts to arouse the German people to the dangers of Hitler, but none of them met with any popular support. The Protestant pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained it this way (in paraphrase): “When they came for the trade unionists I said nothing because I wasn’t a trade unionist; when they came for the Jews I said nothing because I wasn’t a Jew; when they came for the Catholics I said nothing because I wasn’t a Catholic; and then when they came for me, I looked around for support but there was nobody left.” Hans and Sophie Scholl, a brother and sister at the University of Munich set up a resistance group in 1942 known as the White Rose (a symbol of the German Christian spirit) and established contacts with student resistance groups at other universities. They distributed leaflets and even organized and participated in an unheard of demonstration against the regime. They were arrested, interrogated and ultimately executed in February 1943. Even more unusual (astounding, for anyone who thinks they know anything about Germany under the Nazis) were the large and popular youth gangs such as the Edelweiss Pirates and the Swing Youth who openly defied the regime and went around listening to American jazz and beating up Hitler Youth. They deserve a completely different article all to themselves, but for the time being you can read about them here and here.

Three Poems

Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

-- W.S

Greenwich Mean Time

that day south of the river
he walked, or was it I who walked,
over the damp grass, past naked trees,
over the line and measure
of fleetfoot time;

another day it was drink
and awaking in the white room
with footprints, inexplicable,
distinct, stepping around
bloodstains on the ceiling;

this day, as on all days,
other footprints skirt the edge
of an unforgiving canyon, an abyss;
and if you stare long enough
it will stare back.


In the end, perhaps, we all end up
with the politics we deserve:
but there was somethink very strange
about these people, as if
for all their stalwart pride
and flashing eyes, hawklike eyes,
(often enhanced with charcoal)
there was something missing,
some essential human element
absent, just not there: they were
clever, charming and witty,
quick to anger and quick to sing,
emotional, happy and friendly,
but cold, cruel and treacherous.
Dangerous and attractive, no wonder
they have their history; how I miss
that fearful country, those people.


one of my childhood friends
walked into the sea, another
walked out of his mind, his
family prays for a safe return.

another went away to war
and when it was time to leave
the war came home with him,
it lives with him now in the night.

all the "ills this flesh is heir to",
diseases, conflicts, accidents:
I watch them make steady
inroads, erasing names I knew.

yet this life can be no different,
(reason and religion teach us)
alike in all but detail, we share
in its grim but glorious mystery.

(but from the loss of a child
there is no recovery

yesterday, today, tomorrow,
beady-eyed, coldly glistening,
a dark uncoiling presence
lives, unwelcome, in my heart.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

John Kerry

There are three facts about John Kerry that tend to stay in one's memory. The first is that he spent a total of about four months in Vietnam in 1969, and has made this one of the main issues in his presidential campaign; the second is that he has spent nearly 20 years in the US Senate (he was first elected in 1984)and hardly talks about that at all; the third is that he has had the good fortune (or foresight) to marry two extremely rich women.

Whether this will make him a good President of the US is a moot point. It may well be a totally irrelevant point. As I say, though, it's what one tends to remember about him.

The Democrats after their Convention in Boston are ratcheting up the rhetoric in an all-out effort to beat Bush and the Republicans in November. Kerry happens to be their chosen and anointed candidate but one gets the occasionally unsettling feeling that Kerry is not all that wildly popular among the Democratic faithful. He is seen as the guy who is more likely to beat Bush than the other candidates in the primaries.

This is fine as far as it goes -- four more years of Bush and his colorful but sinister crew is not something any sane person would look forward to -- but I have a feeling that the President Kerry we end up getting (if he is elected) is going to be a lot different from the President Kerry we thought we were going to get.

This is the kind of thing that worries me; if anything, this article worries me even more, particularly the quote from Admiral Zumwalt in the final paragraph!!

Buddhist temple, Japan (photo) Posted by Hello

Seisiun, Castle Bar, Derry (photo) Posted by Hello

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Post turtle story (original)

Ever wondered what real Texans think of Dubya? Well, wonder no more:

While suturing a laceration on the hand of a 70-year-old Texas rancher (whose hand had caught in a gate while working cattle), a doctor and the old man were talking about George W. Bush being in the White House.

The old Texan said, "Well, ya know, Bush is a 'post turtle'."

Not knowing what the old man meant, the doctor asked him what a post turtle was.

The old man said, "When you're driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a post turtle."

The old man saw a puzzled look on the doctor's face, so he continued to explain, "You know he didn't get there by himself, he doesn't belong there, he doesn't know what to do while he's up there, and you just want to help the poor stupid guy get down."


Also ....

Notes from the DNC (from 'The Scotsman')

When Alexandra (one of Kerry's two daughters) told delegates how her father dived into a lake to save a hamster named Licorice, it did not seem impossible that the animal itself would be taken on stage and reunited with Kerry. Politics had met American schmaltz.