Friday, September 22, 2006

hugo chavez and the devil

Chavez speaking with a voter in 2005

As I sat down to watch Fox News last night, I was delighted to catch Neil Cavuto’s coverage of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s address to the UN General Assembly. Fox never fails to disappoint the political viewer, right or left, by managing to deliberately outrage, incite or offend somebody somewhere. Indeed, I sometimes suspect that Fox’s burgeoning audience half consists of right-wingers looking for reasons to be outraged, and the other half of left-wingers looking for reasons to be offended.

So one can imagine the slow smile that crept across my face when a Fox correspondent told of how he caught up with Chavez after his speech and asked him the obvious question, “Why do you hate America?”

To Fox’s credit, they did air Chavez’ reply to this most important question. The Venezuelan president placidly explained that he did not hate America, in fact he loved America and its people, only hated its imperialism and its current administration. While there were raised, disapproving eyebrows all round at Fox News, no one outright called him a liar.

Like Fox News, Chavez likes to gain attention for his political cause by making outrageous statements. His address to the UN General Assembly was not just a tirade against the U.S.-directed geopolitical model (especially against President Bush himself) and a promotion of the Venezuelan Republic as a global defender of justice and truth, it was deliberately insulting. Not only did Chavez refer numerous times to Bush as, “the Devil,” he at one point called the “American Empire” every bad name he could summon, such as racists, assassins, and genocidal. Chavez went so far as to declare that the world was rising up against its real oppressor, the United States. Promoting Noam Chomsky’s “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance” was, I thought, a charming touch.

These are the sort of statements that cast international politics in a whole new light. Chavez is not a rebel in the same sense as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose dissent is exclusively concerned with problems facing the Islamic world. Chavez is taking on the capitalist system in the name of the world community, many years after history was supposed to have ended and communism tossed onto the same scrap heap as totalitarianism. The Venezuelan president is claiming the privilege of defining global democracy, something that traditionally only the West is supposed to do.

The truth is had Chavez refrained from calling Bush names, no one would have paid any attention to his address, nor to any of the reforms and criticisms that he put forth. The Brazilian president Lula DaSilva’s UN address went comparatively unnoticed, despite the fact that Brazil is a far bigger player on the world stage and is really the greater power in the South American sphere. Brazil is part of the “second-world”, along with countries like India or Turkey, the “second world” being defined as a country of first-world relevance possessing third-world influence. For an eternity, it seems, these sorts of nations have been struggling for a share in the debate and determination of global policy, and have largely gone ignored.

Venezuela could also be considered a “second-world” nation, but thanks to Chavez newspapers will be printing articles, editorials and commentaries all over the world today discussing Venezuela’s elected leader. In a rare moment, the first world lost the spotlight to a politician speaking for the rest of the world.

Tragically, however, whatever media attention Chavez has gained through his admittedly hilarious statements regarding Bush’s metaphysical origin, none of his more grounded criticisms will be understood, much less discussed in the public arena. In his address, the Venezuelan president asked why the alleged terrorist Luis Posada Carriles was allowed to remain free in the US, (he is held responsible for blowing up a Cubana plane in the 1970’s killing 73 people, as well as several terror bombings in Havana), if the US is so dedicated to its War on Terror? He raised the uncomfortable memory of the procrastination of the Security Council during the Israeli devastation of Lebanon only a few weeks ago. Chavez went on to challenge the Bush doctrine’s notion of global democracy, calling it “the false democracy of elites.”

Additionally, he made some bold and necessary statements concerning the mission and function of the United Nations. He told the General Assembly that it remained a “purely deliberative organ” of little consequence. He reminded them of four proposals made the previous year for UN reform, all of which deserve repeating here: an expanded Security Council, an effective and transparent method to address regional conflicts, the suppression of the veto currently held by the five permanent members of the Security Council, and increasing the powers of the office of Secretary General.

Chavez was proposing nothing less than the removal of power in the UN from the hands of the big five and turning it over to the rest of the world. It’s a brave statement, not least because its generally understood that countries like the United States would sooner leave the UN than give up its veto. Perhaps that is what Chavez is hoping for.

Whatever effect he intended to have on his audience and on the public discourse, his more substantial arguments were not discussed in the news today. Not one mainstream news organization made any mention of the four proposed UN reforms (with the exception of mentioning in all seriousness Chavez’s joke about moving the UN out of America and relocating it in Venezuela). In the world presented by the major media, UN reform is the domain of American critics like UN Ambassador John Bolton, not third world proponents of its democratization. Nor did any of them mention the name of Carriles, or for that matter the names of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and US citizen Ronni Moffit (the day of his speech, September 20, Chavez observed, just happened to be the 30th anniversary of their assassination as part of a US-backed campaign against Chilean activists). On the other hand, Chavez’s indictments of American foreign policy were well documented, but only in the context of his devilish slurs against Bush, and so lost much of their political potency.

So to a certain extent President Chavez bears the blame for the reception of his remarks, and I’m sure he would happily accept responsibility for them. For anyone following the career of Hugo Chavez, it is well-known that he detests George W. Bush, and this type of rhetoric is nothing new. From his speech a few years ago calling Bush “an asshole” for believing Iraq had WMD’s, to his assertion that Bush is the world’s number one terrorist (Chavez was clutching an AK-47 at the time, don‘t ask me why), the Venezuelan president dislikes his American counterpart not just in matters of policy, but seemingly on a very personal level. Perhaps this is understandable when Chavez himself was nearly deposed from power in 2002 in a coup attempt, with credible evidence to suggest it was backed by the Bush administration.

None of this will be understood in the mainstream media. He will be seen only as either an amusing or dangerous lunatic, but as Neil Cavuto put it, “he may be a nut, but he’s not stupid.”

Monday, September 18, 2006

lady, i'm drunk

In this gentle year of 2000 and 6 I lie at my ease here under the English sun - with clouds, kind air… clouds that move and don’t ask why. Away across the land and oceans is blood on the walls of Lebanese towns, weeping mothers in darkened Israel’s livingrooms, the thousand forgotten anonymous murders, farther down the land, soft dying Sudanese mothers holding growling-stomached little boys, too young but still so curious with the curves of cirrus clouds like me and my eyes, across all this earth and its talking wind (and there are songs in the wind, hear the songs of Ancient Afternoon, a drifting song carrying bird songs, lapping of waves songs, winds through forests of a million million million evergreens, a flood of triumphant leaves, and above us Sunlight flowing from our most almighty star, Miss Sun, who bulges pregnantly and always is just light, pure light that drips onto leaves, leaves that… listen – these leaves contain so much miracles of that which is holy or rare or impossible – in their stomata and cells and chlorophylls, that they gather light in green bowls and send them tripping, stumbling into new leaves, new grass: light dancing in a ballroom of crystal sugar, waiting to send more laughing, crazed light streaming into the wet cacophony of all life, then this light makes little teeth, ladybugs, horses, aneurysms, wildfires, carrion birds, then, then always and then, always light making everything madly and why o why oh no, no why, you child: no why, only something more than why, always and

Who would publish this the seditious truth: that nation-states, corporations, depressions, words of honor, heartbreak, curves of history, great wars, dead heroes, are just light trapped by sugar? Light of this right here on the ground, the column of Wellington in Trafalgar square “ruling” the world, is made of light? I am light, and what else?

And what more than light? not only an impossible miracle, not only a breathing walking talking laughing death delusioned miracle, but more, impossibly more, and you dearest you, a casual miracle,

ah look down now at my hands, these hands that are casually countries of rivers of blood by veins and rolling hills of skin, healthy good blood, giving and now giving dancing breath and crystal palaces of living, look at all they’ve done- they touched you and sent waves, these same ones who bandaged holes in the bodies of dying children, and dug into soil (soil growing all life), cut and smashed through the black wet soil of living beings, digging into the ground of worms and dead flowers and the shit of animals, these hands that make words with scratches that say this, words for what? What could we possibly add?

Maybe I should have been born a river, that I could send water now into the hearts of fields, that I could have moved across the land, but maybe a river that could run into the stars of night, and past little houses warm and feeling eternal, made a million sunflowers

As a human back here I recline, I remember dimly feeling anguish, I remember that I betrayed myself and you and everyone else, though I knew or think I knew that life forgave me, laughed and said I love you and forgive you everything. I forgive you for everything, and maybe we cry when we know this and because we are not innocent enough to understand we can redeem ourselves without rebirth,

as a human again, alien, not starving, not a slave, not trapped in dead slums, not cut into, not loping along, but free, and almost perfect, I am almost a perfect human, no diseases, white as a cloud, insanity in me perfectly willing to sit as a dark subterranean lake, living among the shining cold metal of the conquerors of Paradise, people fight wars and I only have to listen to them, I had a dream once where the sky was an ocean.

Maybe instead I should have been a cloud, maybe I should have been rain, I could have made something of my body worthy of the noble weeds, curled myself into a storm and rained across the mountains and poured roars onto the pines until they sang back, bled new rivers down hillsides and carried a thousand children of flowers, daisies, asters, black-eyed susans, down into valleys where I would have called them to grow into anonymous fields of real beauty,

You don’t understand. I could have been a general, I could have killed a thousand birds and made a thousand widows, I could have opened the mouths of a thousand tigers and their maws would have made storms of fire. Power singing through my veins, my every word a contained fire, my eyes painted steel: a small child who shouted statues are men,

To say there is no god is to laugh at one’s eyes, for me here is a miracle, that I am alive at all.
And if I am alive then everyone is alive, and then everything is alive.

Think of that – everything is alive. And they all try.

To try,
This moment is only now, here, the restless eternal part of me pushes against my ribs, asks what civilizations are to come? What do other stars look like? What other galaxies? What new wildernesses of centuries?
But look, here are little… the smallest, of leaves dangling in the summersun, humbly breathing.
if I am honest,
then I am a glow, born from the womb,
wishing I was more,

Sunday, September 03, 2006

the second wave of socialism

Damien Walker came back from China and we got coffee and sat on the steps of the old church on the corner. Little kids, crying or laughing or screaming or meditating, would pass on the street every once in a while and make us both pause unintentionally.

His face is harder after two years over there, or maybe just after two years of living. He turns up his forearm to show me a little tattoo of a hammer and sickle nested inside the red star of socialism. There is a seriousness in his eyes when he looks down at it.

“The communists are fucked,” he says and takes a drag off his cigarette.

He’s become more political since the last time we talked. He tells me in fierce words the necessity for armed revolution in order to create real socialism in the world. He is clearly inspired by Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, who while clutching an AK-47 told a group of reporters that the United States was the world’s number one terrorist.

We’ve been friends for around fifteen years now, and I remember when I met him, he still wore an intense militant frown, but then he had a safety pin through his ear.

He came from a small mining town in Northern Ontario; only the mining industry was contracting when he grew up. The culture in his world was hostile, unforgiving and proudly ignorant. The boys liked cars and drinking and fighting. Damien loved to read and think. He would go out into the bush with the one or two kindred fellows that there were, and invent fictitious worlds in which they were heroes, explorers or magicians.

They invented whole mythologies of magic they attributed to the land and themselves. They would take rifles and bread and camp out winter and summer in the enduring wilderness that seemed to embrace them. Out there, the world was alive. It was possible to believe among the thriving forests that the world was not really dead and heartless.

In the towns his little clan were bonded mainly because they were scorned as freaks in their schools and in their families. Damien was chased by bigger kids and beaten regularly by them through his childhood. As the mines cut back and laid people off, his already bleak industrial town grew in alcoholics and brooding, angry fathers.

He escaped that place when he was sixteen and went to live in the city with his father. He escaped the place where thought and imagination was despised and punished by a brutal cult of the hard-working, unsoft, factory-worshipper. Damien was conscious of his own life, and was curious about what it meant. He loved that the world was a potential ocean of beautiful and strange things. And growing up he had to arm himself against his own world, which tried to kill these things in him until he too would only like cars and beer and violence. Many of the friends he left behind, the other magicians, crumbled and suffered mental illnesses and depression and suicide.

So Damien had been prepared for warfare at an early age, but a war no one in his town could even grasp. In the city he was free and left to move in whatever direction he wanted. His father was schizophrenic and a serious alcoholic who could only relate to his son as some sort of intellectual colleague of his conspiracy theories and grand schemes. When his father moved in to tell him drunkenly about the telephone company’s secret plan to control the world, Damien’s hands would curl into fists and through his jaws would say,

“Yes, yes. Right, dad.”

At sixteen Damien became the adult in his father’s house.
Already he saw himself only somewhat consciously as being engaged in a psychic war with the world around him. Being free he now started to grow unchallenged, becoming enamoured with poets like Rimbaud and Baudelaire, with intense mystical philosophies, with Nihilism, with fantasy worlds. He was trying to transform himself into something that was not normal and dead, and he adorned himself with dark spirits, black thorns, but also shining lights, and ancient words.

I remember him, a skinny, intense teenager, telling me that Nihilism offered the path to truth; to destroy everything, he said fiercely, to eradicate oneself because you are composed of lies, good is a lie, evil is a lie. Around this time Damien’s arms gradually became a mass of burn marks and huge slashes.

I’d almost forgotten them, but they were actually beautiful. Even in self-destruction he believed in grace and care. I actually helped burn one of those marks into his arm. The slashes were deep and ugly, and remained there for years. The cigarette burns were huge, but they formed together an abstract pattern. He turned his arms into Jackson Pollocks. For him, they symbolized sorrow and change.

We parted ways around this time for awhile, because Damien had become as dark and hostile as the city, his new home. The city could have easily swallowed him up and made him one of its own, but in the end Damien’s soul is gentle and thoughtful, not violent.

He emerged from this darkness to find himself alone, in a small university town. He says that for a couple of years he had no contact with any friends. He thought a lot about god, and himself. He began to see himself as a humble soul, and no longer as an aspiring demigod. His natural mind began to assert itself, and he looked deeper into the world around him.

I have a great affection of Damien, although this would still embarrass him I think. He was born into a world that was grooming him for nightmares, instructing him self-hatred and perversion of life. He is driven to rigorously hold himself to an inner standard. He was being trained to use his mind to transform his character into a thing of power and contempt, and instead chose to turn and face his own character. There he found a real being, a thing of light and curiosity.

He still contains a sense of being at war, and he is not necessarily wrong. Yet, like most of my friends, he has begun to drift through life. When we were young, transformation seemed to be what made life meaningful. We were obsessed with changing into things greater than what we were, better, not ugly like how we felt. Then slowly, that frantic urge to chrysalis ebbs away, and you begin to feel that changing was something you did because you’d been a victim of the world. Once you survive, you begin to reach out for other meanings. In the end, transformation meant to prepare you for the real work of life. But neither of us had found it.

Damien drifted on to China to teach, and has come back with politics in his heart. Chinese communism to Damien is a vicious fascism, no more a socialist country than Cuba is a capitalist country. He sits there on the steps of the church, the big maples that line the street waving their leaves and making the sunlight around us jump and blink, staring out onto the street, telling me about how Mao’s ideas were betrayed, (he shows me the Little Red Book he carries around with him). He tells me about ugly disparities in wealth; a top of the line Audi or shining Hummer roaring down the street past a shrivelled old man in sandals pulling a cart and donkey. Few understand or care about the revolution in China, he remarks, they are like kids all over the world, concerned with pop stars, their personal success, or seemingly nothing at all. China is the worst of communism and capitalism, without free speech, and with massive exploitation of the working poor.

He wants to practice shooting rifles, and make enough money to get to a place like Cuba or Venezuela, and contribute to a real communist revolution. He does not see himself as a brilliant thinker or political leader. He is very practical about it,

“Well, I would go and teach. I would teach English or art or the principles of the revolution.

Maybe I would teach people how to think for themselves.”

I think he is serious. I can very easily see him teaching in some tropical country, living simply, trying to be as good a human being as possible, trying to protect the poor and the weak in the way that seems best to him.

We argue most of the day about politics. But we are very happy to do so, delighted with going deeper into questions of what is good and what is true. After fifteen years of friendship we have easy conversations ranging over every subject; history, politics, god, philosophy, science, art. Usually they are all tied together, flow naturally from one thing to the next. I do not agree with a lot of what he is telling me, which only makes our talk more interesting.

I like socialism but I’m not really interested in revolution. The problems go deeper and I’ve never heard a really good solution to them. I see communism as a pointless alternative to the injustices of capitalism. For me, real socialism means building wherever possible, not destroying, defending the innocent more than attacking the guilty. But I don’t really mind if Damien runs off and joins the communists. I don’t see any reason to question the purity of those hearts or intentions any more than anyone else’s. He traded cigarette burns on his arms for the Red Star, and if he represents a new socialism, it is of people armed not with an ideology but a spirit.