Sunday, September 1, 2013

"There is no crisis in which political poets and orators may not speak of trees..."

Even though it's been pretty darned well established that this here is my blog, not yours, not the government's, not the world's, and that it's not even a faint and flagging reflection of the one true universe, I feel I must defend myself.  It came as a sign unto moi, a sign from Lo, the Angel of the Lord, a sign in the form of blood-tainted sputum and high fever, nightmares about the death penalty ("They say it's easier on ya if -- when ya hear the cyanide eggs drop -- ya count to ten, then take a deep breath..."), nightmares about waitressing (I dunno!).  Mostly the shock of bloody sputum in the comfort of a USAmerican home -- Lo, the Angel of the Lord wants me to make that clear.

It's not a diversionary tactic, opening the gates to the past words of greater writers;  It's not a passing of the baton, except as a reflection of how the race, the game, the run around the track, is prolonged.

On the eve of WWII, Bertolt Brecht wrote, “What kind of times are they when / A talk about trees is almost a crime / Because it implies silence about so many other horrors.” Nearly twenty years after the war, the American poet George Oppen responded: “There is no crisis in which political poets and orators may not speak of trees.” Oppen reads Brecht’s reference to “talk about trees” as Brecht’s own aversion to the aesthetic at a time of sociopolitical crisis. For Oppen, however, the aesthetic is critical for “the good life,” which he argues requires an aesthetic definition, and “will be defined outside of anybody’s politics, or defined wrongly.” 
Brecht rejects the sentimentalized tree in the interest of politics. Oppen rejects politics in the interest of the unsentimental tree.

So many call Oppen naive, the kindest thing so many can think of for a brilliant Marxist poet who, also, cast himself as a nexus -- a painful, jarring point -- for so many voices.  I stand with him.

In more prosaic moments, I think of Eli Cohen planting trees on the Golan Heights, outlining Syrian fortifications in feigned sympathy for the soldiers, unprotected from the sun's harsh, harsh rays.



Dulce et Decorum Est 

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! -- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, --
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen
8 October 1917 - March, 1918


Syria wins two medals in International Chemistry Olympiad

Students Yazan Ghannam and Issam al-Anouf won the medals for the team.

Last week, Syrian student Osama Yaghi won a bronze medal in the International Physics Olympiad held in Denmark.

Head of the National Commission of the Syrian Science Olympiad Imad al-Azzb told SANA reporter that the success that has been achieved today is unprecedented for Syria due to the participation of 77 countries, pointing out that  this was the 5th participation of Syria in this world competition...


The teacher passed out and fell right off her chair.
My classmates are crying and gasping for air.
The hamster is howling and hiding his head.
The plants by the window are practically dead.

There's gas in the class; it's completely my fault,
and smells like a chemical weapons assault.
So try to remember this lesson from me:
Don't take off your shoes in class after P.E.
--Kenn Nesbitt


Kerry: Samples from Syria tested positive for sarin
By Carrie Dann, Political Reporter, NBC News

"In the last 24 hours, we have learned through samples that were provided to the United States that have now been tested from first responders in east Damascus and hair samples and blood samples have tested positive for signatures of sarin," Kerry said on NBC's Meet The Press. "So this case is building and this case will build."  
Sarin is a man-made chemical warfare agent considered the most toxic and fast-acting of its kind. The odorless, colorless nerve agent interferes with an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase, which controls nerve signals to the muscles. 


Song of Napalm

for my wife

After the storm, after the rain stopped pounding,
We stood in the doorway watching horses
Walk off lazily across the pasture’s hill.
We stared through the black screen,
Our vision altered by the distance
So I thought I saw a mist
Kicked up around their hooves when they faded
Like cut-out horses
Away from us.
The grass was never more blue in that light, more
Scarlet; beyond the pasture
Trees scraped their voices into the wind, branches
Crisscrossed the sky like barbed wire
But you said they were only branches.

Okay. The storm stopped pounding.
I am trying to say this straight: for once
I was sane enough to pause and breathe
Outside my wild plans and after the hard rain
I turned my back on the old curses. I believed
They swung finally away from me ...

But still the branches are wire
And thunder is the pounding mortar,
Still I close my eyes and see the girl
Running from her village, napalm
Stuck to her dress like jelly,
Her hands reaching for the no one
Who waits in waves of heat before her.

So I can keep on living,
So I can stay here beside you,
I try to imagine she runs down the road and wings
Beat inside her until she rises
Above the stinking jungle and her pain
Eases, and your pain, and mine.

But the lie swings back again.
The lie works only as long as it takes to speak
And the girl runs only as far
As the napalm allows
Until her burning tendons and crackling
Muscles draw her up
into that final position

Burning bodies so perfectly assume. Nothing
Can change that; she is burned behind my eyes
And not your good love and not the rain-swept air
And not the jungle green
Pasture unfolding before us can deny it.

-- Bruce Weigl, “Song of Napalm” from Archaeology of the Circle: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1999 by Bruce Weigl.

This is how sarin kills
By Max Fisher, Published: May 6 - Washington Post

Sarin was first developed in Nazi Germany and later used by Saddam Hussein’s forces against Iraqi Kurdish civilians. But what does it actually do to those exposed to it? The Atlantic’s James Hamblin takes a look at the compound and its history. He also explains, in medical detail, how it can turn our own nervous system against us:

Sarin is unique in potency but not in mechanism. There are other drugs, pesticides, and plants that work the same way. They are called cholinesterase inhibitors.

Our nerves talk to each other by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters. The amount of a particular neurotransmitter helps determine whether a nerve fires or not. What so-called nerve agents do is alter those neurotransmitters. They kink the signaling between our nerves, telling them to do things they normally do, but with altered frequency.

After a neurotransmitter has done its job, delivered its message, an enzyme usually comes along and demolishes it. But nerve agents block those enzymes. The enzyme can’t break down the neurotransmitter, so the neurotransmitter stays around and keeps giving its message. If that message was, say, to release a little water onto your eye because your eye was dry, now the repeated message becomes “make your eyes water uncontrollably.”

Within seconds of exposure to sarin gas (or liquid, which evaporates easily), we start to notice the immediate effects of acetylcholine buildup. First, our smooth muscles and secretions go crazy. The nerves to those areas keep firing, keep telling them to go. The nose runs, the eyes cry, the mouth drools and vomits, and bowels and bladder evacuate themselves. It is not a dignified state.

Since sarin has no smell or taste, the person may very well have no idea what’s going on. Their chest tightens, vision blurs. If the exposure was great enough, that can progress to convulsions, paralysis, and death within 1 to 10 minutes.

Sarin’s horrific effects help explain why the Obama administration is so intent on holding a “red line” against its use. The taboo against chemical weapons has largely held for decades, one of the world’s few successes in restricting war. A chemical war, because its tools are so much better suited for use against large numbers of civilians than for defeating an armed enemy, is, as I wrote recently, a qualitatively different kind of war.
Of course, the fighting in Syria has already claimed tens of thousands of lives, often in attacks that target civilians or use mortars and air strikes that kill indiscriminately. Is that just as bad as using a small amount of sarin, which is all it would take to cross the red line? Is it worse? It depends how you draw the line.


Father Death Blues

Hey Father Death, I'm flying home
Hey poor man, you're all alone
Hey old daddy, I know where I'm going

Father Death, Don't cry any more
Mama's there, underneath the floor
Brother Death, please mind the store

Old Aunty Death Don't hide your bones
Old Uncle Death I hear your groans
O Sister Death how sweet your moans

O Children Deaths go breathe your breaths
Sobbing breasts'll ease your Deaths
Pain is gone, tears take the rest

Genius Death your art is done
Lover Death your body's gone
Father Death I'm coming home

Guru Death your words are true
Teacher Death I do thank you
For inspiring me to sing this Blues

Buddha Death, I wake with you
Dharma Death, your mind is new
Sangha Death, we'll work it through

Suffering is what was born
Ignorance made me forlorn
Tearful truths I cannot scorn

Father Breath once more farewell
Birth you gave was no thing ill
My heart is still, as time will tell. 

--Allen Ginsberg

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