Thursday, September 30, 2004

88. Darren and Susan (poem)

laughing down
a corridor of days, doors
opened like magic
in a bewildering sequence
of suspended

we could do
whatever we wanted

awaiting trial
with expensive lawyers, smile
at the separate panic-
driven strategies
of our distraught

it had hardly begun
before it was over

sliding down
this slippery slope, don't
forget what we decided
you and me:
whatever happens
stay cool

I still love you, babe,
do you love me?

87. Festival (click on photo) Posted by Hello

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

86. A Day in the Life

I get e-mails from my hordes of female fans (all 3) wanting to know why I don't post more personal details about my life. The simple answer is that I don't want to. Bending to popular demand (a second e-mail) here is what happened today:

6.30 - Alarm rings. Ignore it.
6.45 - One eye opens.
6.55 - Groan and get out of bed
7.00 - Go into bathroom and look in mirror. Retreat.
7.02 - Put on kettle and pop frozen bread slice into toaster.
(the weather is still mid-summer, so any food or milk left out goes bad in a couple of hours.)
7.04- Crank up computer, return to bathroom to wash, shave, etc.
7.12 - Say 'Good Morning" to bleary-eyed wife, mother of my child.
7.13 - Remove burnt toast and put marmalade on it. Make tea.
7.20 - Finish breakfast and riff through the newspaper.
7.25 - Remember computer and go to have a look.
7.40 - Finally delete and trash all overnight Spam.
7.50 - Finish reading genuine messages and look at on-line newspapers.
8.00 - Decide not to wear a tie; get dressed.
8.05 - Say emotional farewell to half-dressed wife; take out trash.
8.20 - Arrive at school, listen to announcements at morning meeting.
8.30 - Go to my Homeroom, smile, give them Kanji Test.
8.40 - Get asked something by somebody in the Staff Room.
8.45 - Go to my first lesson; wonder (momentarily) which textbook to use.
9.30 - Finish first lesson. Lots of fun. Energy level on the rise.
9.40 - Download photos into desk laptop. Edit, crop, delete extras.
10.00 - Have a cup of Instant Coffee. Talk to a colleague in Japanese.
10.15 - Check homework and do a lot of necessary boring admin things.
11.00 - Edit and upload a student essay to our class website.
11.15 - Head off to my Senior English (Reading) class.
11.20 - Enjoy a brilliant class with my favourite kids.
12.15 - Stick around and answer questions.
12.30 - Arrive home to pick up forgotten reading glasses. Wife is on the phone to daughter in Pennsylvania about plane tickets for next Christmas. Talk to beloved daughter ("Gee, Daddy, it's really cheap -- only $930!!"). Think $930 is NOT cheap, not in my day when dinosaurs used to roam, but make encouraging gurgling noises. Tell daughter to write more often. Say good-bye to wife as she heads off to work at 1 pm. Decide, what the hell --why not go out for lunch?
1.05 - Order Lunch Special in neighbourhood Spanish restaurant. Swordfish steak in a mild tomato and caper sauce, followed by two cups of Espresso. Feel distinctly human and forget airfares and school fees. Read a couple of disturbing articles in James Carroll's new book "Crusade". I shall have to write something about this book later.
2.00 - Race back to school to watch students preparing for the Sports Day next Friday. No classes this afternoon which is why I could have a pleasant lunch and a break from the schedule. I usually do 4-5 classes a day with at least one boring meeting.
2.25 - Design a new name card on the laptop in the Staff Room since I have run out of the old ones and need some new ones for a major high school teachers' conference next month.
2.50 - Check out the news on various newspapers and Blogs.
3.10 - Go to the LL Classroom and pop in an Inspector Morse video ("The Remorseful Day") which happens to be the book I am re-reading. Do corrections while listening and half-watching video. Think about Hans and the T-shirt. What to do?
3.55 - Chivvy kids into washing the windows in the LL before dashing over to clean the Staff (Mens) toilet. We have no janitors. We do the cleaning ourselves. The guys take it in turns to swab out the toilets and the duty comes up about once every six weeks. The main thing is to splash a lot of water around.
4.10 - Check out the kids in my Homeroom. Give them time to organize all the details of the Sports Day among themselves before calling them to order. Little pep talk, then the usual "See you tomorrow!"
4.15- Get hijacked by kids from my Club who don't want to run in the Sports Day relay. Sort that out and get 3 definite names -- "I know where you live!", sort of thing.
4.30 - Get told by another teacher that my two students in Ireland haven't responded to an urgent questionnaire sent out to them (by me, as it happens). Start on an e-mail to the agency in Dublin: do it yesterday!
4.31- Another teacher wants digital photos right now of the kid who won the regional English Speech Contest last Saturday -- 3 years in a row, our school, YESSS!! -- but I am ready for him. Did it this morning at, let me see, between 9.40 and 10 am. E-mail gets delayed.
4.50 - Wander over to LL to pick up bag and recharging mobile phone. Three hardcore kids are sitting there. What's this? No club today -- big sign on the board. You should be practicing your dance for the Sports Day next Friday. No interest in that shite. They're disappointed that I won't be showing them more of the strange movies I choose to show every Tuesday in the interests of "English Listening Practice". Too bad, kids, get lost. See you next Tuesday.
5.00 - Out the door as the chimes are sounding. This is the OFFICIAL end of the work day. Most days I'm in the school till about 6.30, along with 80% of the other teachers. Not today.
5.15 - Quick pit stop at home to pick up the T-shirt. It's the right thing to do.
5.30 - Supermarket for ingredients. The wife is away this evening to her weekly concert practice (she nearly got me to join as well last year) for a Christmas performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. They spend six months learning how to sing the "Ode to Joy" in German. Every year. And then they come back and do it again and again -- each time with six months' practice. One day I will understand this country. Today I have Texas Chili on my mind, which is not usually on the family menu. There are certain things about Texas and the expansive mellow Austin lifestyle of the 1970s which will stay with me for the rest of my life -- but George W Bush is definitely not one of them. To start with, he's not the "rill thang". I'm beginning to really hate this guy, so don't get me started.
5.40 - Drop off the video from the English Club -- it was a 7-Day rental.
5.55 - Park in town.
6.00 - Talk to the printers about my name card design. Choose paper type and talk about point sizes. Settle on a reasonable price for delivery next week.
6.20 - Drop over to the "Lion" for a pint of draught Guinness. There are two places in town that serve Guinness on draught. The other place I got thrown out of. I could understand getting thrown out for ribald and licentious behaviour, or perhaps throwing up on the plants or the carpet or whatever, but as far as I can figure out I got thrown out for going in there to read a newspaper . I had no interest in talking to the owner (a rabid little piece called Tomoko-Something who loved England) so I just ordered my pint and ignored her. Bad move, apparently. She put a notice on the door to say I wasn't to come back. It was weeks if not months before I wandered back in, and by then how many people had read her note on the door? I have to admit it made me a bit angry. Not the way we do things at home ....
6.45 - Decide to have a third pint, but this is the last.
7.00 - March into the Garlic House and ask if Hans is there. He is. I am directed to his table. There's just himself and Howie. I don't want to stay. I can't stay. But I wasn't about to call him up on the phone and say, Sorry, pal, I can't make it to your last night in town. We had a good session last Sunday, anyway, but it's not the same. He came in with a cold at 3 and said he would stay for just the one. No worries. Then he decided to have just one more -- I really can't taste it at all, he said. We got talking and we stayed talking (and drinking) until close to 9. I like Hans. He's a German guy, from the former DDR, who was a young Pioneer and even a soldier in their army. If the rest of the East German Army was like Hans we had nothing to worry about, believe me. I like the guy a lot and he has done wonders for my German over the last two months. He is the only German person I have met in Japan who will glare at me and correct me when I make mistakes. We've been "talking story" since we met and have become -- what? -- aware of each other as similar types? Maybe it's just a recognition that, there but for fortune, we could have turned out the same way if our families and nationalities had been reversed. Hans, from the beginning, has had his eye on a particular T-shirt of mine. In his cups he has offered to buy it several times, going as high as $100. It's a simple black T-shirt from Belfast. It shows a hooded young gentleman with a rifle and underneath in very large letters it reads "IRA". Underneath that again, in smaller block print: "The Undefeated Army". God, how Hans craved that T-shirt and begged me for it. I laughed at him and told him to fuck off, as you would. Anyway, this last night at the Garlic House I showed up and I gave it to him in a yellow plastic bag. His eyes opened wide, he let a roar out of him and he grabbed me in a bear hug. He was so pleased. That was good enough for me and I left him. I was wondering whether to let go of the T-shirt all day. Not easy to get another, for obvious reasons.
7.20 - Stop off for milk and a can of beer (make it 2) at the convenience store.
7.27 - Arrive home, fire up the TV to tape wife's favourite programme starting at 7.30.
7.40 - Take a long delicious shower.
8.05 - Notice that loving but absent (singing) wife has left stew to be warmed on stove.
8.10 - Delay food decisions and decide to watch rest of BBC News.
8.30 - Postpone Chili Day and cook noodles to mix with stew.
8.50 - Deleting Spam, checking e-mail, nearly allow noodles to burn.
8.55 - Simmer unburnt (Thank God) noodles & stew with a dollop of claret.
9.10 - Settle down to watch Inspector Morse unravel the case.
9.50 - Singing spouse comes home; conversation.
10.20 - Wife calls daughter to check on air ticket details.
11.40 - Finish writing a clatter of e-mails to various people.
11.45 - Decide to write a record of the day.
02.25 - Finish what I've written. Time to go to bed.

Well, I'm not going to do that again. It took more than two hours to write the damn thing and I wouldn't call it 'exciting' or 'breathtaking' by any stretch. But it was the record of a pretty normal day. If you are out dodging bullets and bombs in Iraq it will seem unreal. If you are out of your head on meths in Clondalkin or Sioux City it might seem a bit hyperactive. I can't help that. Tomorrow will be pretty much the same.

85. Osama writes to Bush

After numerous rounds of "We don't even know if Osama is still
alive", Osama himself decided to send George W. a letter in his own
handwriting. Bush opened the letter and it appeared to contain a
coded message:


Bush was baffled, so he emailed it to Colin Powell. Colin and his
aides had no clue either - so they sent it to the FBI. No one could
solve it so it went to the CIA, then on to NASA, the to the Secret
Service. With no clue as to it's meaning, they eventually asked
Canada's RCMP for help.

The RCMP cabled the White House as follows:

"Tell the President he is looking at the message upside down."

-- with thanks to Malcolm who posted this on JALTCALL

Monday, September 27, 2004

84. A Reply from Spain

I agree with your on-the-instant analysis: If only Yurp could get its
act together, especially over more democracy and transparency, we could
perhaps offer a Third Way (oops!) to the bifurcated hell we face. The
Fludd of immigrants is less than the redtops would have us believe, but
it really +is+ about beliefs, isn't it? The Prince of Darkness would
take Ukania out of refugee conventions, which have served us (and his
own family) well over the years. Ukip would take us out of Yurp
altogether, even at the cost of a war if you can believe that. Spain
takes a helluva lot of refugees/asylum-seekers/economic migrants/take
yer pick as they come over from Ceuta and Melilla, many ending up as
corpses on Spanish beaches and it a big issue in the media and, I
think, in the south. Not so up here, where we see few black/brown faces
and most of the peripatetic workers are either Portuguese or
Polish—great wall builders, the latter—although Santa does have its
share of Maghrebis of course. Most of those who do survive the crossing
move on to other countries. Under Zapateros Spain seems to be slowly
moving in a better direction. Examples of state funding for Muslim
schools while cutting down on the role of the catholic church which,
under Aznar, was all set to renew the infamous Concordat with the

Immigrants: Some integrate and some don't, and it's still early days on
this. It took the Jews a long time in parts of London and Manchester
(in parts of Manchester there is a Shabbat ghetto to this day); the W
Indians adapted and integrated more easily, having more in common such
as religion and educational systems. The Pakistanis, Kashmiris and
Bangladeshis I see in Lancashire towns when I get back seem to fall
into two or perhaps three groups: those earlier arrivals who never
learned the language or customs and whose wives and daughters still
live totally isolated lives; those, especially Kashmiris whose sons and
daughters were born here and run all the taxi services, who have been
through UK educational systems and are more or less integrated (some go
to pubs, some don't, most date local girls, etc); and the third group,
mainly Pakistani, whose young people are really half and half—born and
educated in Britain but, for a variety of reasons, never fully
integrated who, now without jobs and reviled by the locals, are easy
prey to the loonies. Why did they not integrate? Partly internal,
familial and social pressures and partly external discrimination, both
personal and institutional. It's far more complex than this, of course,
but I think I have the broad outlines correct.

Barbs at the gates indeed, especially when all we want to do is, as you
say, enjoy what is left of our (in parts admirable and yet in parts
blood-soaked) civilisation: eat decent and healthy foods, drink good
wines, enjoy our national sports and keep our traditions from
languishing (black puddings in Lancashire, Euskera in Euskadi, Celtic
folk music on Spain's N coast, French cuisine everywhere in France and
so on) while at the same time not allowing them to become parodical and
vacuous Disneyfications.

> Why are we being prodded to choose between two CLEARLY idiotic choices,
> neither of which promises joy or delivery from the human condition.
> Why are both sides of this idiotic equation using violence and the threat of
> violence to scare us into complicity? The simple answer, I think, is that we
> are dealing with political gangsters on both sides.

Right, but not so simple. The US is determinedly set under the neo-cons
on an American Imperium, the end of the Cold War (tell that to the
Vietnamese, Afghans and Czechs!) gave the US the position of
overwhelming superiority ripe for advantage-taking, and this has
coincided (?) with a revival of Islam as colonial and subaltern studies
and post-structuralist notions have filtered through. Note the great
revival of Arabic/Islamic literature and music here, the rise of true
intellectuals in the Arab world (even if many of them are working in
the West now) and in many Arab countries determined moves to more
openness. Sadly Wahabism has also emerged from its sleep, but it is
just one manifestation of the Arab Awakening predicted by George
Antoninus and others, the worst one, of course. The festering
Palestinian problem needs lancing, too, to remove at least one source
of justified grievance.

I could go on, I know, but what good would it do? With Blair in thrall
to the Shrub and disdainful as ever of Europe there's no point looking
in that direction. Perhaps we should just drink all that good wine
while we have it before the Muslims pour it down the drain or it is
magically converted in Coca Cola at some latter-day Marriage at Cana.

More in sadness, Stew

Sunday, September 26, 2004

83. Adam

I got an e-mail from my mother the other day. Mom is 81-years-old. She bought a computer last year and has forced her children, her neighbours, and just about everybody else to teach her how to use it.

The message was a bit hard to take in.

My brother is married to a delightful Texan lady who has two children from a previous marriage. This is not an unusual arrangement in modern America. They are a very happy and devoted couple. My brother went through a rough patch as a young man and this marriage has brought a necessary measure of peace and stability to his life.

We get on pretty well. We talk to each other at length on the phone every month or so. When our father died a couple of years ago, my brother read out the speech I had written because I couldn't get back for the funeral. Well, I could have, but I was told not to. That was a family thing. My brother and I are pretty close. I have two sisters as well. I think all of us are pretty tightly connected.

The e-mail I got from my mother was long and rambling with a lot of background info which I didn't really take in. What she was leading up to was to tell me that the eldest son of my brother's wife had put a gun to his head and taken his own life.

Why? Well, we still don't know why.

I called my brother on the phone and we talked. He was still in a state of shock. His wife's kids were grown when he married but he treated them like his own kids. They used to come by the house and he got on great with them. For some reason, Adam, the eldest, had chosen to stay with them for three days last week. This was unusual. Usually he dropped by to visit once or twice a month on weekends.

He left the house. He had said nothing about any problems or difficulties in his life. He went to a pawn shop where he bought a second-hand handgun. Next he went to Walmart where he bought a package of bullets. It's that simple.

He went home. He loaded the gun. He put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

Now Adam is dead. He was 23.

I know it is unreasonable, but ... well, when I think about it, I blame Texas. Why do they make it so goddam easy?

Friday, September 24, 2004

82. Letter to a Friend in Spain

I just know they are going to re-elect Bush. It's like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Twenty years of war, conscription revived (how can they do it otherwise?), fear, travel restrictions - Cat Stevens? - while America tries to take over the world. It's not going to happen. We can't let it happen. Yeah, right, how?

Dear old civilised (blood-drenched) Europe. What are we going to do with this idiot? What are we going to do with the flood of immigrants?

The European governments finally make sense. They have actually learned something from the nationalistic rivalries of the last two centuries, as in leave that stuff behind. The problems they face now are different problems. One is the dangerous behaviour of the United States and the other is the very real pressure from economic immigrants with no intention whatsoever to integrate into the local cultures. This is a serious consideration. How can little countries absorb all these people and still hold on to a national identity that goes back in most cases for a 1000 years and more? Denmark, Norway, Ireland, for example? We have seen the problems already in Britain, France and Italy.

Spain, too, perhaps.

Europe has reached a point in its history where it wants to be liberal, sophisticated, and relaxed. We adore travelling, exercising our language skills, eating well, and drinking fine wines. It's all very pleasant and civilised. Unfortunately. it's like the latter stages of the Roman Empire with the barbarians at the gates. We have two lots of barbarians to choose from. On one side we have the Americans and on the other we have about 900 years of built-up resentment against the West in general and the Yanks in particular (now, anyway) on the part of the Islamic World. A war of civilizations, we are told -- the last thing we bloody well need. Is this really necessary? Nevertheless, we are being asked to choose sides. This is not only unwanted and tiresome but we are also being forced into a situation which is perilous and not of our own making.

Fight? We know how to fight only too well. The history of Europe is a record of endless warfare and violence. We've been through it for centuries and we are sick of it. Only a few years ago we saw how easy it is for prejudice and hatred to get started again. That was the Balkans. People say the Balkans are always going to be difficult because the people are "backward" and the area is a patchwork of ethnic resentments. Look around. Put a compass on a map with the centre where you live. Draw a circle with a 100 km radius and tell me everybody is the same. Oh, yes, but that was the old days of Napoleon, Bismarck, the Kaiser, and Hitler.

True. In the past all our enemies were local. Not any more.

Nobody in their right mind would want the materialistic culture of America to replace the worlds of feeling with which we have all grown up with in our separate countries (let there be a curse on MacDonalds, Burger King, Monday Night Football, Playboy, Hollywood, and porn-on-demand) but nobody in civilised Europe wants to go back to the strictures of the (Islamic) 7th century either. Absolutely not!!

Why are we being prodded to choose between two CLEARLY idiotic choices, neither of which promises joy and neither of which holds out any form of credible solution or even simple delivery from the human condition? Why are both sides of this idiotic equation using violence and the threat of violence to scare us into complicity? The simple answer, I think, is that we are living in hard-won decent democratic countries with political gangsters crowding in from both sides -- the Americans and the Islamists alike Sooner or later we are going to have to fight again. Nobody wants to, I know. We've been through all this before -- 2000 years of fighting, even more. I don't believe we can take sides this time. Political Islam has to be resisted, if not the religion itself, and we also need to keep the Americans out of our daily lives and on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. They have their own country. Apart from tourists and friendly deputations let them stay there. Stop interfering, and by the Grace of God, we will slowly work things out. The bad guys deserve to get nailed, yes, but not at the price of burying innocent women and children under "precision" air strikes. Killing people is easy but it is not always a good idea. Your own soldiers will come home and tell you.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

80. The GUBU Factor

For forty years Charlie Haughey was one of the most controversial politicians in Ireland, a 'cute hoor' as we say, which has nothing to do with being pretty but a lot to do with being cunning and sly. In 1982 when Charlie was prime minister (he was in and out of office like a jack-in-the-box during the 1980s), a murder suspect was tracked down to the home of the Attorney General where he had been hiding out as a house guest. Only in Ireland, I can hear you thinking, but it was unusual even for us. Charlie's comment to the press was that the affair was "Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre and Unprecedented." From that moment the term GUBU passed into the language.

Today I would like to make a present of this term to the American people. I think it will come in useful while attempting to explain the current presidential campaign to foreigners - not to mention each other.

Here we have two rich guys who went to Yale, both members of the secretive Skull&Bones society. One is a Democrat and the other is a Republican. One went to Vietnam and the other didn't. One was a state governor and the other was a senator. One looks like a chimp and the other looks like a refugee from the Addams Family. This is America's choice. One of these guys will end up as the most powerful man on the planet and both America and the rest of the world will have to live with him, and very likely subject to his decisions, for the next four years. GUBU, indeed.

The incumbent started a war in Iraq which is rapidly spinning out of control. US military casualties have taken a sharp upward swing and the number of Iraqi victims of the ongoing violence is somewhere around the 30,000 mark - about ten times the number of victims of the 9/11 attacks. This is just a guesstimate, based on various web sources, because the US military is no longer in the business of body counts - unless it comes to their own people, and there is no way of getting around that. Every day certain families are receiving that dreaded knock on the door. Within the military itself, there are the beginning rumbles of dissent and alienation from the political direction and the military tactics and strategy employed in this war.

Since it is an election year, one would naturally expect that the progress of the war would be front and center in the domestic political debate. It isn't. Both political camps are arguing about a war that took place thirty years ago in Southeast Asia and about what the rival candidates did or didn't do when they were young men in their twenties: GUBU.

Young soldiers are dying on a daily basis in Iraq and these deaths are being pushed into the back pages of national newspapers, and tacked on as an afterthought to the main TV News. What do we read about in these newspapers and what do we see on TV?

- Swiftvets arguing about Kerry's Purple heart medals.
- Bloggers attacking Dan Rather and CBS News about fonts and spacing in documents purporting to show Bush wasn't a serious member of the Texas Air National Guard.

Hello? Is anybody awake over there?

Here we have a President and an administration that have gulled the American people into a war on a false claim of WMDs, hiding the real reasons for the war which have absolutely nothing to do with bringing democracy to Iraq. There will be no freedom or real democracy in Iraq for decades to come, if ever. This is a geopolitical war based on the need to exert control over dwindling energy resources which happen to exist in the Middle East and Central Asia. America plans to establish permanent bases in Iraq, similar to the bases it has already established in Afghanistan which (strangely enough) lie exactly on the path of a proposed natural gas pipeline from Central Asia to Pakistan. This is the real purpose of the war. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.

Bases in Iraq were intended to intimidate Syria and Iran (the Iraqi situation wasn't supposed to spin out of control like it has) and provide a backup to Israel in the region. This is all part of a radical plan put forward by the so-called Neocons to project American power into an unstable area. The bottom line is to ensure access to energy resources.

President Putin of Russia is having a very hard time with the revolt in Chechenya. One would presume that America would immediately rally to his support against another Islamist terror campaign with Al Quaida undertones. But that's not what's happening. Instead America is treating the Chechen war as a separate issue (in spite of the horrific school hostage tragedy for which the Chechen leadership has now admitted responsibility) because they want to get the Russians out of the Caucasus. This will give America a free hand with a collection of weak but quasi-independent regimes who will allow them military bases and energy exploitation privileges in return for financial support.

Total fantasy? Have a look. It's happening already. GUBU.

Is there a connection between the 9/11 attacks and the war in Iraq? Of course there is. Without 9/11 the administration would not have been able to embark so quickly (and without a lot of tedious congressional debate) on its grand plan for controlling energy resources in the Middle East and Central Asia. They don't explain what they are doing because they don't believe the American public needs to know. This is grand global strategy - one of the hallmarks of an empire - which simply doesn't play with the voters at home. So for that reason the administration uses the War on Terror as an excuse to keep the public confused and worried and simply goes ahead and carries out its secret policies.

Holding an election in the middle is a bit of a nuisance, but there is no question of losing it. Just hammer away at the Fear button with the public, and involve your incompetent adversary in a series of trivial press (and blogger) controversies that have nothing to do with the real issues. Stonewall the worsening situation in Iraq, and, if you have to, just tell lies. Some of the people will believe you all of the time, and all of the people - we ARE the government - will believe you some of the time. It should be enough to get 51%.

Grotesque. Unbelievable. Bizarre. Unprecedented.


I am removing Bill Moyer's speech from this site, previously Posts 81 & 82, because it confuses people when they hit a solid wall of text. You can still access this reflective and very angry and hard-hitting speech -- and I urge you to do so! -- at or by clicking on the link.

Also, be sure to check out Murasaki Angels, my beloved Reeding & Riting class of high school seniors. Go to the start of the September archives for the photos!!

79. Letter to a friend in Sweden

No need to be sorry -- it is me who should be sorry because I haven't even seen your messages until today. Yes, I have been damnably busy. I'm not writing poems because I don't have the time to walk around the lake and sit on the grass and laugh out loud when the good ideas come. Instead I'm doing all kinds of short-term necessary things and trying to take care of my kids who really trust me. I set up a blog for my writing class and I tell them to use their imagination and forget about the damn rules, which is all they ever get in their lessons with Japanese teachers. Unfortunately (for me) I have to give a lecture about my methods to the regional education board in October in front of (Japanese) teachers from about ??? high schools. This is the punishment you get for having fun with your students. Teaching English is a serious business, it's not supposed to be fun.

I'm working on my speech. I'm going to start with the fact that English is a mongrel language with ridiculous spelling and go on from there. Lighten up. They won't. Everything is so goddam serious.

The kids are fine but the teachers (adults) are crap. The teachers want to analyze the language and get tied into knots over grammar. English is a living thing. They're not interested in that: they want to murder it, pin it down on a table and dissect it. I refuse to do that because this approach is stupid and it simply doesn't work.

This is how I get into trouble. The whole education system here depends on making simple things difficult, and making interesting things boring. My school leaves me alone but the Board of Education has heard about me so now I have to defend my methods in front of a hostile audience of Japanese teachers who hate innovations of any kind and who (basically) can't even speak English.

So maybe that's why I'm not writing so many poems these days ....


Friday, September 17, 2004

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

77. Quaint Native Ritual (click on photo) Posted by Hello

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

76. Cleared for takeoff (click on photo) Posted by Hello

75. Riff on Van the Man (poem)

I love the love I love, I love
the love I lost, the love I lost,
the love I love, the love I lost,
a love I'll never love again.


Saturday, September 11, 2004

74. 9/11 - Three Years On

Today marks the third anniversary of the terror attacks in New York and Washington. Most of us can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we first heard the news. The images of that day have become iconic; 9/11 has become one of those benchmark dates which leaves a mark on public consciousness, providing a psychological divide between a world of Before and After. It joins the pantheon of other such significant dates during the last turbulent century:

August 3, 1914 - the day the nations of Europe marched into a war they believed would be over by Christmas;

October 29, 1929 - the day the stock market on Wall Street collapsed and the world was plunged into the Great Depression;

December 7, 1941 - the day the Japanese Navy attacked the American Fleet in Pearl Harbor and America went to war;

November 22, 1963 - the day President John F Kennedy was assassinated and a darkness descended over American political life;

November 9, 1989 - the day the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and two generations of postwar Soviet occupation collapsed in disorder.

And then came September 11, 2001.

Looking back on the events of the last three years, can we tell ourselves that the world is a safer place? I doubt that anybody believes that. In the stunned aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, an outraged and fearful American public rallied around its (until then) decidedly unpopular President, George W. Bush. The Bush Administration, which had clearly been taken by surprise by one of the most egregious intelligence failures since Pearl Harbor, roused itself from confusion to threaten Biblical retribution on its enemies. In the weeks and months following the attacks, this same administration realised it had been granted a free hand by a frightened public and a cowed legislature to push through plans and policies that would have been unthinkable in normal times. A series of wrong assumptions and arrogant, muddle-headed decisions (none of which were actively challenged until it was too late) have led us to where we are today.

Sympathy for America and condemnation of the attacks was a worldwide phenomenon. A genuine sense of shock and anger was felt all over our shared planet and these feelings of solidarity presented a clear opportunity for America to forge an international alliance against the Al Quaida network. There was widespread support for going after the Taliban and Usama bin Laden in Afghanistan and nations such as Germany and France (yes, France!), among others, willingly supplied support troops for the American military effort. In the event this effort was bungled. The Taliban were quite easily overthrown, as everyone had expected, but follow-up operations to isolate and crush the Al Quaida fighters and capture Bin Laden were poorly planned and badly executed. He and his followers remain at large in the mountainous tribal districts along the Afghan-Pakistan border - the notoriously uncontrollable Northwest Frontier of Kipling's India. Operations in Afghanistan have since fizzled to an inglorious and half-forgotten standoff in which an American-supported puppet government rules over Kabul and little else, while the squabbling warlords of pre-Taliban days have reasserted control over their former fiefdoms and revitalised their main source of income, the lucrative heroin trade. America does little to prevent poor battered Afghanistan - a country that has known nothing but war for the last 25 years - from sliding back into its familiar anarchic patterns. America's interests lie elsewhere.


From documents and memoirs that have recently come to light, we now know that Bush and his closest associates, Vice President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, were obsessed with the "problem" of Iraq and its dictator Saddam Hussein from the time they came into office. Richard Clark, the head of the White House CSG or Counterterrorism Security Group, reveals in his book "Against All Enemies" that Bush and his National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice ignored repeated warnings about Al Quaida intentions to target the US mainland. On the day of the Al Quaida attacks in New York and on the Pentagon, Clark is astonished when he is drawn aside by the President and asked to look for connections with Iraq. "There are none," he blurts out, but this is clearly not the answer the President wishes to hear. Even as the initial strikes in Afghanistan are taking place, the President is consulting with Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks about a battle plan for Iraq.

As the confused and indecisive campaign in Afghanistan rumbled on, the press began to report on a number of saber-rattling speeches from various administration officials directed against Saddam Hussein and his regime. An ideologically linked grouping of government appointees and Think Tank policy wonks (Paul Wolfowitz, Daniel Perle, "Scooter" Libby, Douglas Feith, among others) came to be known as the "Neocons", or Neo-Conservatives. It's difficult to assess how much influence these people really had over administration thinking, but they certainly supplied a form of theoretical window-dressing which allowed Bush, Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld (The Gang of Four) to proceed with their plans against Saddam Hussein. The interlocking position papers of the Neocons can be perused at their website (Project for an American Century) or in the op-ed columns of the Washington "Weekly Standard".

The Neocons propose exporting "democracy" to the Middle East by the projection of American military power. A hostile Iraq will be replaced with a new democratic regime that will (somehow) maintain friendly relations with America and Israel (!) while acting as a beacon of light to such neighboring states as Syria and Iran. It sounds brilliant on paper but Neocon projections show scant knowledge of actual conditions in the Middle East. Much to their annoyance, they came under sharp and frequent attack from foreign service professionals in the State Department. This led to a rift between the departments of State and Defense to the extent that Rumsfeld and Cheney - a man with his finger in every pie - began maneuvering to sideline Colin Powell and reduce the influence of the State Department . In this they were largely successful.

The administration, having decided to attack Iraq, now needed to drum up public support for a new war (remember, there were still troops wandering around Afghanistan) and were faced with the problem of how to do this. Somehow Saddam Hussein had to be connected with the War on Terror. The answer they hit upon was to emphasize the threat from Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), which, even if they were not used directly by the Iraqi regime, could be passed on to terrorists . To its everlasting shame, large portions of the US press (including such newspapers of record as the New York Times and Washington Post), not to mention a supine Congress, bought into this fantasy. A confused and hyper-patriotic public wanted to lash out at America's enemies and the momentum for war began to pick up noticeably.

The rest of the world (not subject to the constant pounding of American TV) began to get alarmed at this new development. Allies who firmly supported the campaign against Usama bin Laden and Al Quaida could not understand this apparently sudden shift of emphasis towards Iraq. Unlike the American Congress, still wrapping themselves in the Stars and Stripes, they began asking awkward questions. Patriotic Americans - non-American patriots are called "nationalists", by the way - were outraged at this foreign impertinence and a round of France-bashing and nasty remarks about ungrateful friends ("we saved their asses in WWII!!") began to resound on the airwaves and in Internet chat rooms. So Bush & Co. got their war.

Three years on from the carnage and horror of the 9/11 attacks, we are living in a world that is more polarised and distrustful than at any time since the end of the Cold War. This is largely the result of US government actions under the present regime. In November these actions come up for review in the form of the US Presidential Election. As I write, Bush holds about a 10-point lead over his opponent John Kerry after a particularly self-serving party convention held in New York just blocks away from the site of the destroyed World Trade Center towers. The propaganda machine that brought us the war in Iraq is now in top gear to ensure that America and the world gets another four years of George W. Bush and his cronies.

The rest of the world has already made its opinions clear about Mr. Bush and the kind of America he wants to create - in fact, has created. Now it is up to the American public to decide if this is what they really want.

Tomgram: James Carroll on Bush's war

To my mind, Boston Globe columnist James Carroll, along with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, has consistently been the strongest voice in the op-ed page media mainstream of our country. In his first post-9/11 column, aptly titled "Law not War," Carroll promptly asked whether "the launching of war [is] really the only way to demonstrate our love for America?" In his column last March on the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, he wrote, "Whatever happens from this week forward in Iraq, the main outcome of the war, for the United States, is clear. We have defeated ourselves." These two columns are the bookends of his remarkable, just published record of Bush's war -- Crusade, Chronicles of an Unjust War (Metropolitan Books, 2004). In that very first essay, written on September 15, 2001, he concluded: "How we respond to this catastrophe will define our patriotism, shape the century, and memorialize our beloved dead." How painfully prophetic that sentence has proved.


Thursday, September 09, 2004

73. Kylemore, Co. Galway (click on photo) Posted by Hello

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

72. Long before 9/11 ... (click on photo) Posted by Hello