Daily Archives: December 11, 2002

Another Volley in the Battle of the Sexes

When I was in Switzerland in 1994, I attended a number of lectures (it was learning abroad thingie through Ohio State University). One of those lectures was from the second in command of the Swiss Army, who said something very interesting. He said that women in the Swiss military could attain any rank that a man could, that all non-combat positions were not determined based on the sex of the applicant. However, women were NOT permitted to participate in combat. Not because the women were not capable, determined, qualified or willing to participate. But because they found that the men in combat were psychologically unable, by and large, to withstand the thought of a woman under torture, or in harm’s way. They restricted women’s activities in combat solely on that basis – that their male soldiers could not be relied upon to withstand the pressures of combat if they were concerned about the well-being and safety of their female counterparts.

BTW, women in Switzerland got the right to vote in 1974. Women in America got the vote in 1929. And today, the place of women in society in both countries is very similar.

Any thoughts on this from anyone?

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Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

I just watched a special on PBS that featured a lot of old folk singers from the late 50’s and 60’s, and I was struck by a very peculiar notion. That notion started to bubble through my brain a trickle at a time, and finally, when Barry McGuire came on and sang “Eve of Destruction” it found its way to the surface. What I started wondering was this: it has been said that we as a society have changed our focus over the last fifty years, and that focus shift is mirrored in the names of major trade magazines that are widely read. In the fifties, there was “Look”. In the sixties, “Life”. In the seventies, “People”. In the eighties, “Us”. In the nineties, “Self”.

As Barry McGuire sang the words to his poignant, troubling and magnificent anti-war, anti-apathy, anti-hate anthem, I looked as the camera swept around the auditorium, and I saw a lot of people, now aging and respectable, singing along. And I wondered … how many of them voted Republican in this last election? How many send their children to private schools? How many look back at their troubled youth and say, “Well, it was just a phase we were going through. We had to grow up, you know.”

I realize that in actual numbers, the percentage of the American public that opposed the war in Vietnam, at least publicly, was a miniscule number. Granted, they were a very vocal, colorful, and persistent minority, but they were definitely a minority. This country has not been about the underdog, the underprivileged, the dignity of mankind, or representation prior to taxation for a LONG time. This country is about the status quo. It is about comfort. It is about a place where revolution is against the law.

Where have all the flowers gone? Is it true, as Dennis Hopper quipped in the movie Flashback, that the nineties were gonna make the sixties look like the fifties?

You don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows. That sentiment is just as true now as it was in 1965.

When Stevie Wonder, at the Bob Dylan tribute concert a few years back, came out to do “Blowin’ in the Wind”, he said that the most troubling thing about the song was that it was still necessary to sing it. That people apparently didn’t get the message.

I felt the same way tonight watching Barry McGuire. And you could tell by watching him sing that he was asking some of the same questions. When will they ever learn? How can you not believe we’re on the eve of destruction? Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody REALLY care?

I still think, occasionally, that Musicians, poets, artists, writers, etc. serve society as its conscience. But does anyone REALLY listen to that conscience? Can the songs that I write make a difference, when a song has to be POPULAR to even get airplay in this country anymore?

Abbie Hoffman is burnt out. Lenny Bruce is dead. Timothy Leary, too. And so many others. Who is picking up the torch, and more importantly, who thinks that light is necessary, when you can flip on a switch and see “revival” and “reunion” and “comeback” tours of people who somehow, in a freak stroke of luck, by chance, convinced some other people, oh, so many years ago, that it was worth any price to give a damn?

Or has modern convenience progressed so far that the milk of human kindness, the bonds of brotherhood, are now available in a water-soluble form, easily washed off when you want to conceal the fact that you went to the meeting last night and had your hand stamped?

Eve of Destruction by P. F. Sloan

The Eastern world, it is explodin’,
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’.
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’,
You don’t believe in war — but what’s that gun you’re totin’?
An’ even the Jordan river has bodies floatin’.
But you tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say,
An’ can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away,
There’ll be no one to save, will the world in a grave.
Take a look around you, boy, it’s bound to scare you, boy.
An’ you tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

Yeah, my blood’s so mad feels like coagulatin’,
I’m sittin’ here just contemplatin’.
I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation,
Handful of senators don’t pass legislation,
An’ marches alone can’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin’,
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’.
An’ you tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China,
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama.
Ah, you may leave here for four days in space,
But when you return it’s the same ol’ place,
The poundin’ of the drums, the pride an’ disgrace.
You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace.
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace,
An’ tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction,
No, no, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

How Much More Time? — John Litzenberg, 1985

Time? How much more time?
Til we reach the point of no return
Must history’s sad lessons be re-learned?

War? What good is war?
When you reach the point of no return
And you can’t go back, because the only bridge
You had is burned?

Love, where is the love?
Have we come along so fast, so far
Have we forgotten who our friends and neighbors are?

You can call on your gods, feast and pray
That you can live to fight another day
And kill because your god says its OK.

Run, nowhere to run
When two opposing worlds collide
There is no where that you can hide your face

Cry, just sit and cry
For all your kings, police, and czars
Have signed away the humans and their race.
So send out your bombs and boys to the fray
Till the world is only a nuclear haze
And life on earth is a long forgotten phase.

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Mood for a Day

What rough beast…slouches towards Bethlehem, waiting to be born? – W.B. Yeats, from The Second Coming

There is a piece of writing sitting inside me now, fermenting and growing.

I am pregnant with it – it fills me, making it difficult to walk sometimes; it makes my bones ache and has affected my body chemistry.

It wakes me in the dead of the night, pressing against my side like a spear or a set of unseen fingers.

It wants to come out, it says, kicking against my diaphragm with no small level of impatience. Why are you keeping me in here, in this dark and fetid underworld?

My stomach is often in knots, thanks to its incessant yammering and its proclivity to loose bile from its being into my system. Sometimes, I feel as if I get flashes of what it will look like – like an ultrasound scan, some of these daily poems give fitful glimpses of what is to be. Sometimes, there is too much movement to make out its morphology clearly, and other times, when the camera is poised just right, there is almost a view of its future state.

Figuring out whether it is to be a poem, a song, a symphony, a novel, a play, a musical; and trying to do it in advance, so as to prepare for the accessorizing that will be required, seems very much like deciding beforehand, in advance of any real knowledge of their gifts and inclinations, what career an unborn child will be geared towards in its first years of schooling.

Truly, all that I can do at this point is paint the nursery, swab down the walls in some neutral color that will not offend, limit or otherwise predispose the young thing once it has been finally birthed. For now, I can but traipse around the edges.

You may ask, when is it due?

To which all I can truthfully answer is this: I do not know; but it feels as if the pressure is building. It is about to drop into position for delivery. I fear the labor pangs already, with a mixture of dread and anticipation. It will occupy my thoughts until it is safely in its cradle.

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Paradox Lost

Somewhat of a work in progress, that is based on a idea I had a few weeks ago when I dreamed up the title.

For Milton and Dante

Quotes from odd and esoteric pamphlets,
a sarcastic quip on theology,
blurred random notes from the wild underground,
scattered reference to deep philosophy –
my poetic idols throw devices
such as these, seeming oh so non-chalant,
off the ink-stained cuff, in the dry vacuum
of intellectual thought, to impress
each other and the rare occasional
reader, whose grand erudite ambitions
can be manipulated into praise
for completely meaningless poppycock.

Oh, with what symbols did these legends form
and secure their own place in language’s myth!

To prove mastery of a classic form,
curbing an ancient tongue with strange meter,
they will offer lavish experiments
in mixed metaphor and masked allusion,
citing the elders of their profession
(now too far advanced in their hoary graves
to refute proud, false interpretations)
who, they wisely claim, were guilty likewise
of some deliberate obfuscation
designed to wean the more clever reader
from the weak, average pulp-bound dullard,
and thus clearly demarcate those worthy
to even discuss the best Poetry.

Oh, with what patterns do the great ones weave
and defend their own skill with written words!

Perhaps that means I am a fool, or worse,
that my own mad delusions are fickle;
for in this dark chasm, this sad vortex
I have often found myself set adrift.
But I have no bulwark, no set anchor,
or touchstone against which to rest and gloat.

Against the literate precedent tide,
I have no formal credential to wield;
and surely, the educated wordsmiths
of the world laugh securely at their desks,
seeing my small craft approach in the night
and attempt to scale their high fortress walls.

Oh, with what gestures will the mighty make
their defense against the coming challenge?

11 DEC 2002

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