Tuesday, September 28, 2004

the elephant

I hear the word "balanced" thrown around alot lately with in political reporting. It is used as an antithesis of "biased" or "partisan." The meaning of "balanced" is not objectivity, but rather the presentation of opposing opinions. In politics, this refers to the right and the left.

The value of "balance" in political reporting is almost revered, as if a holy standard in journalism is achieved by its observance. Objectivity is still used by some people as a holy standard, although much less these days since it is so easily ridiculed by a more sophisticated public. Most people are aware that no one is objective, that even someone with a neutral stance interprets and omits evidence and is always ignorant of the whole picture. It is an essential fact of being a mortal that it is not given to any little being to know all. It is a worthy thing to attempt objectivity, and can improve one's perception of an issue, but anyone claiming to be objective can safely be relied upon to be either lying, crazy or stupid.

Balance, therefore, is a substitute for objectivity. While it is critical in a free society to have opposing and unpopular views reported, the concept of balance pits one view against its antithesis, and creates untruth on both sides. Like the analogy of the five blind men and the elephant, each man feeling a different part and each believing it to be an animal that it isn't, (one feels the trunk and believes it is a snake, one feels the ear and believes it is a bird, etc.), opposing views create an absurd sense of truth. No one under these conditions is searching for what is true and what is false, everyone is searching for evidence supporting the view they have sided with.

If you enter into politics, you must stand with some and oppose others. Crisis will not wait for a verdict. But this does not mean that the search for truth must end. Really, it becomes more urgent, because the sharper your sense of truth, the more your sense of what really is good will improve. It becomes easy to believe the crimes of enemies and the virtues of allies.

The search for truth does not mainly occur in debates or politics, does not happen in sorting and discarding claims and facts. It occurs inside, in the struggle to exercise one's conscience, to have the courage to ask painful questions. Or the pain to ask courageous questions.

Balance makes for a clumsy picture of life. We see the snake or the bird, but we don't see the elephant. The left isn't true, the right isn't true, but neither is a synthesis between the left and right.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

on someone i dont know

It's one of the few poems I've written that I think might be alright and that my friend who never says anything when you show him something you did said it was, "very nice." Its about this guy from the poet's scene here in city who killed himself who was older than us. I did not know him but my friend told me stories about him, this one time he was hanging out with his friends drinking and stuff and at 3 in the morning there was a knock at the door. He answered it and there was a naked woman, a stranger. The story is that he expressed no surprise and wrapped a blanket around her and sat her down in the room. He had some problems with pills too.

ON SARO (SACCO? VENZETTI?) AND THE INQUISITION

poetry, devil, monster on chills
the brother of my brother is my friend.

on monsters i um there is no fate
there is no war only murder
or there is no ghandi only love
there is no saro only poetry
there is a saro not only poetry
there was a saro

i forget...

maybe just be good to women

Friday, September 24, 2004

the flow of history

Roughly 8000 years ago, give or take a couple thousand years), the beginnings of human civilization emerged on old earth. Is this where civilization began?

No, it is where we pick up the thread. If I wished, I could take you to the first signs of human culture, the lonely red painted horses on cavern walls, or the garlands of flowers in the early graves of the dead, a 30,000 year old sign of love. Or back further maybe, to the beginnings of cooperation and pack-living among mammals, for it is these characteristics that define the nature of civilization. We could wander back as far as you can go, because at some point it is all the beginning of human civilization. Nothing in life is divided.

But I'll say 8000 years ago, around the time when agriculture was being adopted by different groups of humans around the world. Within a few thousand years, large scale domestication of food crops drastically changed human society from a hunting, migratory culture to a cultivating, settled one. In one of the great mysteries of the world, agriculture arose independently in several places on earth. Food surpluses made possible a class of specialists, people who did not have to get their own food. So craftsmen, laborers, soldiers and kings came into being. Agriculture created the early kingdoms.



The history of human civilization is dominated by the demands of survival. It is as though humanity was born drowning, the only urge was to get to the surface. It appears that way throughout history, the appeals of leaders to fight wars, to withold wealth, to demand obedience. But it is not true. We see from the pieces of the old world that constitute history - the books torn and translated and re-translated, from the broken works of art, the ruins often built with a sense of beauty and grace people do not possess today - that people thought and contemplated, loved and hated, people lived outside the progress of nations.

Survival so dominates human thinking that our dreams sometimes sound empty and stupid.

The progress of civilization is linear and real. generation has built from generation. some times they learned from the old ones, sometimes they destroyed what came before them.

This susceptibility to the survival instinct has not only preserved civilization, it has made it a nightmare for its victims. Hierarchies are the template of all human civilization, and millions of people lived short lives, treated with cruelty and humiliation at the hands of their brothers and sisters.

Between love and poetry, gentle ancient cities, the moon faithfully recorded by Tu Fu drunk by a river - and the lonely endurance of slaves and victims, who saw this paradise the earth as a cold wasteland, Spartacus and Daisy Cutters, is the truth of human history.



lascaux cave paintings, ca. 16000 years ago

Friday, September 17, 2004

pan


THE GREAT GOAT



In a very different age of the earth, some thousands of years ago, when in long-ancient Greece government was conducted under the early-morning sun, the men arguing and sitting lazily on marble blocks, the world was ruled by the forests. Cities were little places where people gathered together in the light against the dark sea of the world.

It's not like that now. A bear might take one of us out now and then, but we can call in an airstrike and take care of them pretty fast. The wilderness is still there, the dark trees still sing, that is where Pan is. Pan was our god of Ancient Greece when people still worshipped wild things. I once collapsed in the forest. Pan stood over me, half-man, half-goat, leaves growing out of his skin, ten feet tall, a barkish quality to his skin. The woods adore me.

Pan is the god of the unknown. So is Socrates. It has been said of Socrates that he had no doctrine, he just asked questions. It is no wonder that Pan was the model for Satan, he is the god that does not stand above and away, he is the symbol of the heart- living in all the dirt and blood of life, the unpretty impurely pure world, who makes sin noble.

The living world is an unbelievably beautiful and merciless thing, it is strange and no one knows why.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

president ralph nader

I was standing outside in the good September night, smoking a smoke and thinking about Ralph Nader and why he's running for president, and I think for more than anything he is running for poetic reasons- Nader is the America that might have been. He campaigns to destroy the myth of democracy. Every four years, America has its pageant, where millions of workers shuffle into elementary schools, press a button, and leave, never really understanding what happened and with a vague sense that they'd just been molested.

Ralph Nader campaigns because someone has to speak for the millions who want their government to act with decency and their country to be good. Someone running for president in one of the oldest democracies in the world has to say that the invasion of Iraq was a twisted and brutal act by a nationalist fanatic.

So Ralph Nader is a poet. He runs with no chance of winning. He is likely destroying whatever voting base he might have had given how unpopular his campaign is. But he runs because somebody has to. The Democractic and Republican parties are like two fat, dirty kids fighting over a popsicle. Somebody has to talk like a human being. Americans can't see that because it's hard to pretend you want to perceive your own weaknesses, Nader sounds like a madman unless you've been a mortal.

Maybe America will decide to elect mortals one day. That'd be a beautiful sight.


President Ralph

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

johnny & luther htoo




THE FALL OF GOD'S ARMY OF THE HOLY MOUNTAIN




The last I heard, the rebel leaders Johnny and Luther Htoo lived in a refugee camp on the Thailand side of the Thai-Myanmar border with their mother. When the twin brothers surrendered to Thai authorities in 2001, they claimed that they were 13 years old.

In 1998, the twins became the leaders of God’s Army of the Holy Mountain, an offshoot of the Karen rebel army, an ethnic group persecuted by the government of Myanmar for many years up until the present day. The brothers chain smoked, spoke casually of killing an enemy that in their words, “beat and rape Karen women… steal from us and burn down our homes,” and claimed that God had given them a divine mission to protect their people. Their faces carried a bleak expression, what you’d expect, I guess. They had been raised in a bad place. God’s Army was for the hopeless.

Development, in the sense of vast engineering projects or the conversion of farmers into factory workers, had come to Myanmar. Given how well foreign-initiated industrial development had worked out for indigenous people elsewhere, it must have seemed like a good idea to try it there. With obvious concern for the people of that nation, companies such as BP and Premier Oil had been working with the government to install a shiny new gas pipeline through the country, much of it passing through territory in which the Karen lived. The Army of Myanmar carried out, “Operation Spirit King,” which cleared and protected the route to the pipeline from obstacles, such as the Karen people. The Htoo brothers came from a village that had been cleared to make way for the pipeline.

Johnny and Luther were said to possess supernatural powers; that bullets glanced off of them, landmines would jump up in front of them. They led an army composed mostly of child fighters, with a few older mercenaries in charge. It is important to understand the significance of child soldiers: more than for land or power, people go to war to protect their children. There is no group of people on earth who would use them in this manner, unless there were no longer enough adults able to perform the task.

It kind of reminds me of another set of twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, whose empire of family entertainment and products has a net worth of somewhere around 300 million dollars. I’m not really sure what it is that the Olsen twins do, but I know it involves having their picture taken. To give you an idea of how much money 300 million is, Premier Oil claims that it has provided 1.8 million dollars for, “social development,” for those living in proximity to the Myanmar pipeline. In a vaguely disturbing coincidence, 300 million dollars is also roughly the amount Myanmar earns annually from its exports of natural gas.

Obviously, it would be vulgar and evil of me to compare the lives of the Olsen twins with the lives of Johnny and Luther Htoo. I’m sure the only respectable way to view the Olsen twins is as successful entrepreneurs, who are not responsible for the frantic idiocy that produces, well… them.

Be that as it may, I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch, “How the West Was Fun,” without getting a strange, creepy feeling down the back of my neck and spine. Then again, I most likely would have gotten that feeling anyway. There is something more than a little ugly about preparing the next generation for unending vapidity, just as there’s something unshakably eerie about building huge iron machines. Which is probably what constitutes the connection between industrial development and entertainment: its hardly a stretch to interpret the term, “underdeveloped,” as meaning, “yet to be annihilated by industrialization,” nor is it a stretch to accuse the dominant culture of mass-producing the morbidly inane. Culture tends to reflect the atmosphere that people live in. If people are rewarded for unoriginality, or just for making jokes that aren’t funny to anybody, that might be because the dominant world is afraid of thinking too hard about anything that it really does.

It is for this reason the Htoo twins don’t have the kind of drawing power that the Olsen twins have, except among angry dissidents and missionaries, which is probably for the best. “Drawing power,” is not something you want to use in connection with tragedy. Most likely you won’t hear from the Htoo twins anymore, now that they are no longer God’s warriors and only everyday, run-of-the-mill refugees, two kids among the 100,000 Karen that have claimed political refugee status in Thailand.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

the bristlecone pine

i dreamed about her last weekend for the first time in a couple of years. She was still a hooker, but she was happily alive. She looked older- a rough 25-year old if she were alive today, but she still had the beauty of her when she was 17. I must have dreamed about her being alive 6 or 7 times now. I saw her across the street, an anonymous downtown brokendown street, with powerlines sagging overhead under unmoving grey clouds. She was smoking a cigarette and smiled. i hope i keeping dreaming she is alive. it is good that she is a little alive in me. its a little piece they didn't get.





The Bristlecone Pine



We went out in secret for a month or two. We were crazy about each other. I think I once asked her to come east with me, i don't know if i meant it, but she said no in a wise way anyway. some things that are good only last a little while and aren't meant for ever. She loved her friends. She'd come over and have dinner and joke around. We drifted around under the streetlight glow in the hell someone had fashioned out of paradise. i see that every time i take a walk through the woods. i look out into all the green and yellow and i cant even breathe cause its so beautiful, and theyre just trees. do you think its impossible? i have this picture of her healthy and natural-like out on a farm somewhere. maybe one day people will be strong enough to be natural. The bristlecone pine is the longest-living species of tree on earth. There are some that are over 4,000 years old. They were growing when Caesar crossed the Rubicon, when the guru Nanak said, "there are no muslims, there are no hindus," when men thought powdered wigs looked dignified.