Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Oh, God!
What happened here?

The blue-green ball of mineral and animal

Hurtling through space
Tethered to a minor star
Is turning brown
With mold and smog
And plastic plastic.

Shit happens, they say,
And once upon a time when earth was young
Made flowers grow;
But this thingamajig, doohickey, gizmo waste
spread unevenly around the planet
Is more condom than fertilizer.
Puppy dogs and daffodils donĂ‚’t stand a chance.

Oh, Man!
What happened here?

Sunday, October 29, 2006


My son David made this photograph earlier this month on a visit to Paris. I was so taken by it in both color and in black and white that I asked his permission to use it in my Blog. "Concorde" is a word whose meanings include "agreement between persons, groups, nations; concurrence in attitudes, feelings; unanimity; accord; mutual fitness; harmony; peace; amity, and harmonious combination of tones; a chord needing no resolution... During the Revolution, this was a "place de revolution" rather than a "place de concorde." It actually had the name "Place de Revolution." It was right here that many of the 2,780 beheaded during the Revolution lost their bodies. The guillotine sat on this square. There is a bronze plaque in the ground in front of the obelish on the exact spot where Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Georges Danton, Charlotte Corday and Maximilien de Robespierre, among many others, were made "a foot shorter on top." Charles X, brother of the executed Louis XVI, honored those executed by installing the 3,300-year-old, 72-foot, 220-ton, red granite, hieroglyphic-inscribed obelisk of Luxor.

The photograph is David's; the poem is mine. I thought they somehow fit together.


Now as for reality,
It’s true you’re going to get it;
Everybody does, usually without apologies.
Almost all of it comes processed,
And you usually can’t have it the way you want it;
Life isn’t a short order situation.

Some like it straight;
Fewer on the rocks or with a twist.
There may be penalties for stating your preference.
The trick is to look ahead
And try to figure out how you’re going to get it
And make yourself believe that’s the way you like it.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


My friend, Robert Duver, submitted the following letter to the Lawrence World-Journal in Lawrence, Kansas. What he says regarding candidates for political office in Kansas should be considered carefully by everyone who votes in any state in these mid-term elections. I am thinking particularly of the tight race between Brian Bilbray and Francine Busby in one of San Diego’s Congressional districts. Last spring Bilbray maneuvered quickly to a new place of residence so he could be on the ballot to finish out the few months left in the term of disgraced Republican congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who is now serving a long term in Federal prison for his blatantly illegal dealings with government contractors and lobbyists. Bilbray was working as a lobbyist in Washington before his new run for congress in a new district,. He had served a term in congress but was defeated in an earlier election in a different San Diego district.

As if her work for children in the community can be considered of no importance, Busby is criticized by Bilbray because she has served in public office “only” as a member of the school board. Bilbray has made it clear that he fully supports the Bush Administration’s position on “torture compromise legislation.”

Mr. Duver’s comments to the Lawrence World-Journal:

“In considering whether to retain any current incumbent in office, one issue seems especially important to me during these rather trying times in which many of our civil rights seem to be slipping away. Do we want a person to represent us who is concerned with supporting the rule of law with appropriate checks and balances between the three branches of government? For me, the answer is a resounding yes! Therefore, prior to voting, it seems imperative to determine whether the representative, up for re-election, voted for the “torture compromise legislation” recently passed by Congress. If so, it does not appear that such a representative is one that a democratic society would wish to retain. This legislation allows Mr. Bush to decide what constitutes torture (and possibly redefine the Geneva Convention guidelines in the process), to keep prisoners, labeled “enemy combatants” or “terrorists”, including U.S. citizens who may have unwittingly supported a terrorist organization, confined for years without due process, and to deny habeas corpus (appeal incarceration to the courts). Such legislation seems inconsistent with the America that was once a shining beacon of justice and equality for all. Instead of such a candidate, let’s vote for a representative who is concerned with equal rights for all, as framed by the constitution, rather than what Mr. Bush may “feel is right in his gut”, or what the “religious right” may decide is right for the rest of us based on their religious views.:

--Robert Duver
Lawrence, Kansas

Thursday, October 26, 2006


The pen is mightier than the sword
Is insight of doubtful value
To teenage girls in love
And skydivers whose chutes don’t open,

Or poor Robert on the kitchen floor
With blood spilled
And body torn beyond repair
Or Martin L. K. after his eyes rolled back,

Or the guy against the wall
Facing the firing squad
Or his mother collecting the body
After the smoke clears.

But on Saturdays in summer
With twenty-five dollars in yen
It will get you a cantaloupe in Nagasaki.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

President Bush today tried to reassure the American people that America is winning the war in Iraq. He insists that the country is not near a civil war but is struggling with “sectarian violence.” He said “There has been a cycle of sectarian violence that has erupted into what--a raging conflict.” He said that there will be plenty of tough fighting and that it is the U.S. military’s job to prevent an all-out civil war.

Mr. Bush refused today to speak about what he called hypotheticals--such as when U.S. troops may leave the country. “America has no intention of taking sides in a sectarian struggle or standing in the crossfire between rival factions,” he said. I wonder what he calls, in the privacy of his mind, what we did when we invaded Iraq and what we have been doing in a war that has lead to the death of more than 650,000 Iraqis and almost 3000 American service soldiers.

Mr. Bush again expressed confidence in the Iraqi government and in his own administration leaders. When he was asked about who should be held accountable for the situation in Iraq and who will be held responsible if the war plan fails. “Absolutely we are winning,” he said. “If people want to...if people are unhappy about it, look right to the president.”

As the President attempted to answer reasonable questions from intelligent reporters, his ineptitude and his inadequacy became progressively clearer. He refused to acknowledge that the news reports on the situation in Iraq are accurate. Perhaps his seclusion insulates him from the news that the rest of us in America are getting. He seems not to be getting an accurate picture. He is either uninformed or he is not telling the truth. In an earlier press conference he applauded the courage of the Iraqis saying that he is “amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they’re willing to--you know, that there’s a level of violence that they tolerate.” In reality, 890,000 Iraqis have moved to Jordan, Iran and Syria since the invasion by coalition forces and the fall of Hussein, and more than 300,000 have fled to other parts of Iraq to escape the violence. Polls show that 71 percent of Iraqis want the U.S. forces to leave within a year. It is apparent that these people are not “tolerating” the violence. They’re just trying to survive it.

Many Americans are also just trying to survive, especially the families of the three thousand sons, daughters, wives, husbands, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, and friends who have been killed. And families of the many thousands who have come back terribly maimed are just trying to survive.

I must say that in spite of his mumbling, stumbling, and reading from a text that had obviously been prepared by somebody else, the President seemed today at last to acknowledge that he knows there is a problem with the situation in Iraq. I noticed at one point in his news conference today he began a sentence, “If we succeed,” then abruptly backed up and changed to, “When we succeed.” It means that he has fleeting thoughts that what he has begun may not turn out well. Considering the graveness of the situation, that would be small comfort; but at least it would be progress.

Who was it, I wonder,
who first thought
of making music
with nothing but his voice?

Was it a woman who got playful
with the sounds from her own head,
humming or clucking or whistling
or perhaps letting the vibrations
from deep in the throat rise slowly
increasing in volume until
a cave or a pine grove
or maybe a wide meadow
resonated with joy...someone
who didn’t have work to do...
sounds of elation or grief
or just plain celebration of being,
sound for the sound of sound...

A quiet hum that starts
in the back of the throat
and moves slowly to the hollows
of the upper nose
with vibrations that stir the soul
and comfort the heart
or sooth the broken spirit?

Was it a Mother looking
at her beautiful baby
saying over and over
go to sleep, my pretty,
close your eyes, my love;
or was it a man coming home
from the hunt with more food
than he had dreamed possible,
exulting, remembering, bragging
about his power?

And who then was it
that decided to put voices together...
perhaps two lovers together
after lovemaking, intimacy so intense
simple talk wasn’t enough?

When did they learn...
several people could sing the same song,
the same glad noise or sad chant...
that making music together
with one other person or a group
could make loneliness vanish?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


All the people coming and going in the city,
where do they spend their lives
when they are not on the stage with me?
When I’m riding in it, the subway car is mine
and all those people are hitching a ride with me.
But where from and where to
I feel like asking but check the impulse
knowing someone among them
may think the car belongs to him
and might contest my claim to ownership.

Everything I see belongs to me.
The sky blue as a Robin’s egg is mine,
and that river rolling under the bridge yonder is mine,
and the road and the meadow and hill are mine.
I’m not so selfish that I want the world,
all of it, to have only for myself.
I’m willing to share with anybody
who loves it as much as I do.

I could say to the blind man,
Brother, let me tell you about my patch of sky,
blue like sapphire, but he doesn’t know sapphire;
Brother let me tell you about the canopy above us
that looks like finest velvet feels.
It’s yours to keep as long as you like,
a kind of joint ownership arrangement.
Then I’d like to know where he goes with his dog
when he leaves my street under our sky, his and mine.
Where? Where is he when he’s not here?

And that deaf boy who has never
heard the subway roar into the station
like an earthbound space ship trying to break free;
I’d like to take his hands and lead him
to where the river moans and sighs
and with touching and looking and trying
help him hear exactly what I see
and give freely to him to keep forever.
I’d like to know where he lies awake at night
in absolute silence listening, listening, listening.

And who wrote this play, anyway,
that all of us are acting in,
and who decided I should have the best part?
Did I audition for this role one day
that I can’t remember?
And when the curtain falls,
where do these others go?
And when the curtain falls,
how will I remember where it is
that I must go to sleep?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

THE KIMBELL ART MUSEUM is one of the best reasons to visit Fort Worth, Texas. The museum building, designed by Louis Kahn, is a series of parallel barrel vaults with perfect lighting for viewing modestly sized works of art. It is named for the Texas industrialist and art collector, Kay Kimbell, whose wife left the entire Kimbell estate to fund a “free” art institute for the people of Texas. There is no charge to see the museum’s collection, even for people from other states, but an admission may be charged for special traveling exhibitions, such as the “Hatshepsut, Queen to Pharoah” exhibit which is there until December.

The permanent collection is small, but extraordinary by any standard. Included are important works by Mondrian, Picasso, Caravaggio, El Greco, Rembrandt, Monet, Gainsborough, and Rubens, among many other works by European artists.There is also a small collection of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian antiquities. Though small, the Asian collection is as extraordinary as the works by European masters.
The collection includes one of my favorite modern paintings, "Abstraction" by Piet Mondrian. The painting is a grid consisting of straight horizontal and vertical lines and rectangular shapes; Black, white, and the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue are used abstractly. Mondrian began the painting in 1939 in London and finished it in New York in 1942. A Dutchman, he had fled from Paris to London and then to New York to escape the spreading danger of World War II. I don’t know what the painting means, but I know I have liked it from the first time I saw a picture of it in a book about modern art.

The Kimbell owns two Picassos: “Man Smoking a Pipe” and “Nude Combing Her Hair.” We are told that the model for “Nude” was Ferdnande Olivier who came into Picasso’s life in 1902 and was the person who persuaded him to leave his Blue Period. It was painted about the time Picasso met Matisse. The museum’s only Matisse, “L’Asie (Asia)” was painted much later, near the end of the artist’s life. In September I saw again the two large Matisse “Dancers” at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
“Girls on a Pier” is one of several versions of the same scene by Edvard Munch, the Norwegian painter. Anybody who has ever been captivated and mystified by Munch’s “The Scream” will have the same response to “Girls.” Anxiety is the dominant mood of both paintings. The blank face of the girl who seems to turn and face the viewer is haunting.

Camille Pissarro’s “Near Sydenham Hill” is a painting I could enjoy seeing every day. One of the leading painters in the French Impressionist Movement, In 1871 Pissarro moved from Paris to England with his wife and two children to escape war. His friend Monet had already made the same move. I wonder if a French painter looking at an English landscape sees it differently from the way he might see it if he had always lived there. I often wonder when I am looking at the countryside in a foreign place if I am seeing the same things natives to the place are seeing...which makes me wonder how we can ever be objective when we look at anything.
Monet was back in France and another war was raging when he painted “The Willow Tree.” In this war he refused to leave his gardens at Giverny. His only surviving son was in constant danger at the front, and the fighting was so close to Giverny that at times Monet could hear artillery fire as he painted. He was losing his eyesight, and this painting (one of ten of the same tree that stood on the bank of his lily pond) was one of the last easel-sized paintings he did.

The Kimbell owns Rembrandt’s “Head of A Young Jew.” Rembrandt was not a Jew. What is he trying to say in the painting about the young man? Would it be the same if Rembrandt had not known the man was Jewish when he was doing the painting? Does Rembrandt consider the man kind...or cunning...or...?

Among the Asian works in the museum is this Japanese Gigaku Mask. It depicts Karura, one of the fourteen characters in a religious dance-drama that was performed for the royal court at Buddhist temple ceremonies from the 7th to the 10th century. In the performance, Karura is a mythical giant bird that protects the Buddhist faith.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

HORTON FOOTE, a special lecturer tonight at the University of Texas at Arlington, at age 90 is still one of the most vigorous writers in America. He is working on his sixty-first play. "The Trip to Bountiful" played on Broadway and on television fifty years ago. "The Trip to Bountiful" and "Tender Mercies" are his best known works, but he got his first Oscar for the screenplay for "To Kill a Mocking Bird." He acknowledges his debt to William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, writers whom he knew personally.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

In 1832 President Andrew Jackson made Hot Springs the first place to be set aside as a federal reservation. It was, in effect, America’s first national park. Early in the Nineteenth Century people began coming to the springs to take baths in the thermal waters from forty seven springs which gush forth around a million gallons of hot water very day. It is thought that the Spanish explorer Ferdinand de Soto was the first European to visit the area, which was known by Native Americans in the region as the “Valley of the Vapors.” Fifty years ago when I was a young teacher, books used in American history classes referred to de Soto as the “discoverer of the Mississippi River.” One of my great grandmothers was Cherokee. I wondered how writers of textbooks could ignore the obvious fact that the indigenous people on the continent obviously knew the river was there.

By the early Twentieth Century, Bath House Row on Central Avenue was a European-style spa lined with bath houses. People came from all over the world to take the baths. During the period known now as “prohibition,” Hot Springs was a jumping place. It was definitely not “dry.” Entertainers and gangsters from cities like Chicago were regulars at the race track and speakeasies.

A couple of my uncles spent time in prison for making and selling the moonshine sold in Hot Springs. A couple of other uncles didn’t spend time in jail only because they didn’t get caught.

A visit to Hot Springs is a trip back in time.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

WHOSE WOODS THESE ARE, I really don't have a clue; but stopping by them reminded me of Robert Frosts' wonderful poem. I don't think he'd mind my printing it here. Most of the writing in my Blog is my own, but sometimes I need to pay homage to a real poet.


Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though.
He will not see me stopping here,
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer,
To stop without a farmhouse near,
Between the woods and frozen lake,
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake,
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep,
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

-- Robert Frost

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Saturday, October 14, 2006

The President and the Secretary of Defense were on hand for the dedication of the new Air Force Monument. Both of them made speeches in which they assured the audience of 60,000 that the war on terrorism is definitely being won.

The President came to the speaker's platform in the middle of the ceremony. The audience was polite, but neither Bush nor Rumsfeld got enthusiastic applause (many of us kept our hands in our pockets). The President seems to have lost his swagger. Rumsfeld made jokes, but Bush did not. If Mr. Bush were a brighter man, we might consider him a tragic figure; but he lacks the intelligence and the nobility for that.

The monument is spectacular. Three tapering towers of stainless steel rise from a base like contrails rising in a Thunderbirds demonstration. Airplanes from each decade of eighty years of Air Force history flew overhead at appropriate times during the ceremony. For finale the Thunderbirds flew in formation into a space directly above us and then went straight up, leaving the iconic contrails.

The monument sits on a slight hill behind the Pentagon, a little to the south of Arlington Cemetery. I like to think of it not as a monument to war but as a symbol of my appreciation for good guys like Joe and Doug.

Friday, October 13, 2006

As it was conceived by our founding fathers, American democracy is a beautiful construct. It deserves better promotion than the government in washington is providing. The branches of government under the incompetent leadership of the Bush administration are behaving like amateur committees of a dysfunctional school board.

George Bush might make a reasonably capable school board president if he were free to hear what educators say about the issues and needs of a small community; and, even more important, if he were to become aware of the unvarnished and uncensored truths about education in his community, and if he were to have the courage to make decisions that would be right for the people in his community, whether the people liked it or not. He is obviously intellectually and emotionally incapable of the kind of leadership the presidency of the United States requires even in good times...and these are not good times. He is surrounded by petty officials whose personal interests compete. The Congress led by his own party is dysfunctional, and the Democrats in Congress are engaged more in turf wars than in cooperative activities that might possibly lead to solutions to problems.

I would be encouraged if I could believe the majority of Americans would rise up in the election year and demand responsible leadership. But I am not encouraged. I see members of Congress from both parties standing with fingers raised to see which way the political wind is blowing before they say what they believe should be done. They wait to know public opinion before they take a stand. Unfortunately public opinion is not always right. In fact, it has sometimes been dead wrong at critical junctures in history. A country needs leaders with the courage to do the right thing even when polls show the majority will disagree. If democracy is to work, we must assume elected officials will be permitted to know uncensored truths, the facts unvarnished by sensationalism; and knowing the truth, whether constituents know the truth or not, they will act responsibly.

The plan for democracy was not for our leaders to be constantly responding to poll reports but to intelligently study issues and to decide wisely. I want my leaders to decide on the basis of the rightness of a proposition not on its popularity. For example, stem cell research is either the right thing to do or it is not. Outlawing same-sex marriage either discriminates against a class of American citizens or it does not. The war in Iraq is either wrong or it is right. I want my representatives in government to decide on the basis of rightness, not on level of popularity among constituents or the dogma of any religion. I want my representatives, as Walter Lippman suggested, to put service to the truth above service to the people.


"Absolute despair would be the wrong response. Instead, the disaster that is the West's current strategy in Iraq must be used as a constructive call to the international community to reconfigure its foreign policy around human security rather than national security, around health and well-being in addition to the protection of territorial boundaries and economic stability."

-- Richard Horton, editor of the British medical journal The Lancet, which published a study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimating the total civilian death toll in the Iraq conflict to be approximately 655,000. (Source: The Guardian)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum reopened last year after being closed five years for renovation. The building, which Walt Whitman called the most beautiful in Washington, was the Government Patent Office Building until the Smithsonian Institution saved it from demolition in the 1950s.The renovation has turned it into what can certainly be called one of the most beautiful buildings in Washington, if it is not indeed the most beautiful. It is filled with some of the most wonderful art in the world.

Along with appropriate attention to restoring and enhancing architectural features of the old building, special care was taken to preserve evidence that the place had been touched by ordinary Americans. An unidentified person carved the initials “C.H.F,” and the date, “August 8, 1864,” in a window sill. That date marks a troubled time in the history of the nation and of Washington, D.C. The Civil War was in its third long year, and the city was flooded with Union troops, both those defending the capital and those being treated for wounds from previous battles. Perhaps the initials were carved by a wounded Union soldier. The carved initials are now protected under plexiglass and have been given an exhibit marker.

Washington, D.C., including the Patent Office Building, was traumatized by the Civil War. In the early days of the conflict the soldiers of the First Rhode Island Regiment were quartered in the west wing of the Patent Office. Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg battles were fought nearby, and the wounded were brought to the military hospital that had been set up in the Patent Office. As many as three thousand beds were set up in the east, west, and north exhibition galleries. President and Mrs. Lincoln visited the wounded soldiers housed in these halls. So did Walt Whitman. Clara Barton, who went on to found the American Red Cross, interrupted her duties as a clerk at the Patent Office to serve the wounded.

From 1861 to 1863 Whitman tended soldiers there when the top floor served as hospital. “It was a strange, solemn sight,” he wrote, “the glass (model) cases, the beds, the forms lying there, the gallery above, and the marble pavement under foot.”

In 1865 Whitman worked for a time as a clerk in the Indian Affairs Bureau located in the building. He was working there at the time of Lincoln’s second inaugural ball: “I have been up to look at the dance and supper rooms...What a different scene they presented to my (earlier) view, filled with a crowded mass of the worst wounded of the war. Tonight, beautiful women, perfumes, the violins’ sweetness, the polka and the waltz; then the amputation, the blue face, the groan, the glassy eye of the dying.”

Whitman was dismissed from his position at Indian Affairs when Interior Secretary James Harlan discovered that he was the author of Leaves of Grass. Harlan declared that the book was “indecent.”

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

In this Annapolis, Maryland, State House, oldest in the nation still in legislative use, General George Washington resigned his commission before the Continental Congress in December, 1783. Here on January 14, 1784, Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris to end the Revolutionary War; and on May 7, 1784, Congress appointed Thomas Jefferson minister plenipotentiary. From here, September 14, 1786, The Annapolis Convention issued the call to the states that led to the Constitutional Convention. Americans have a glorious history. We did some things wrong, but mostly we worked toward getting it right.

Today we've got another kind of problem.


...because he tried to kill my dad!”
--This from the president who likes to say (especially to the one-third of the nation who are characterized as “the religious right”) that he is a born-again Christian. The New Testament record of the life of Jesus leaves no doubt that he was a man of peace. Jesus had specific things to say about how we are to respond to our enemies. He encouraged his followers to love their enemies and not to seek revenge against them and not to impose suffering on them.

George Bush got his war started by convincing Congress that Saddam Hussein controlled an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and that he was an immediate threat to the United States. Congress and the nation subsequently learned that Saddam has no weapons of mass destruction. The president, with no basis in fact, also declared that Saddam Hussein was working with Al Queda and therefore was partly responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center towers. Later he said one of the reasons he wanted to get Saddam was that the Iraqi leader had made a plan to kill his father.

The cowboy president has unleashed a Texas-style international range war that has spread out of control. This president, who wasn’t legitimately elected to his office the first time, obviously wanted to be a war president...probably because his advisors convinced him that presidents who seek reelection are more likely to be successful if the country is at war. He got his war. The cost so far is more than 655,000 Iraqi (Washington Post, October 11) and more than 3000 American lives lost and many more destroyed.

The range war in Iraq has re-ignited the flames of centuries-old tribal feuds and religious wars. Thousands of young Muslims all over the world who are looking for purpose in their lives have joined terrorist movements and are sworn to destroy the United States. For almost a century before Mr. Bush became president, America had been the model of democracy for the world. Waging war in Iraq, and in his war against “terrorism,” he has sought to excuse himself and our country from having to adhere to international laws regarding treatment of prisoners of war. We had been known throughout the world as a nation of laws. Now many who were our friends in the world are not sure that we love and respect law as we said we did. And the president who insisted that he was making us safer has made the whole world less safe for us and for others.

Monday, October 09, 2006




The moon full bright three days ago
is waning now,
audacious roundness brash and fresh
for just one day.

Under the same moon Alexander wept
and cursed the gods
the day Hesphastian died in foolish war,
pain and grief and loss of faith in oracles
who’d promised more.

This arrogant moon makes men mad
who look to it
for assurance life and love and fortune
are forever.
This rising full moon mocks each month
our transience.

Li Po leaped from his boat under the full moon
to capture it
reflected in the clear mirror lake beside
Yellow Crane Tower.
He’d had too much to drink they said;
I know better.
It was the beguiling moon that did it...
pulled him under.

And they said Alexander should have
been satisfied.
Wasn’t Roxanne enough for him?
How could he think
his life and love were different
from all others?
The arrogant moon moved not at all by bravery
or wine or love
goes on its journey round and round and round.