Friday, April 27, 2007

For My Brothers and Sisters

How long can one man's lifetime last?
In the end we return to formlessness.
I think of you waiting to die.
A thousand things cause me distress -

Your kind old mother's still alive.
Your only daughter's only ten.
In the vast chilly wilderness
I hear the sounds of weeping men.

Clouds float into a great expanse.
Birds fly but do not sing in flight.
How lonely are the travellers.
Even the sun shines cold and white.

Alas, when you still lived, and asked
To study non-rebirth with me,
My exhortations were delayed-
And so the end came, fruitlessly.

All your old friends have brought you gifts
But for your life these too are late.
I've failed you in more ways than one.
Weeping, I walk back to my gate.

-- Wang Wei Vikram Seth

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Why George Bush is Insane

Earlier this year I had a major operation for cancer. The operation and its after-effects were something of a nightmare. I felt I was a man unable to swim bobbing about under water in a deep dark endless ocean. But I did not drown and I am very glad to be alive.

However, I found that to emerge from a personal nightmare was to enter an infinitely more pervasive public nightmare - the nightmare of American hysteria, ignorance, arrogance, stupidity and belligerence; the most powerful nation the world has ever known effectively waging war against the rest of the world. "If you are not with us you are against us" President Bush has said. He has also said "We will not allow the world's worst weapons to remain in the hands of the world's worst leaders". Quite right. Look in the mirror chum. That's you.

The US is at this moment developing advanced systems of "weapons of mass destruction" and it prepared to use them where it sees fit. It has more of them than the rest of the world put together. It has walked away from international agreements on biological and chemical weapons, refusing to allow inspection of its own factories. The hypocrisy behind its public declarations and its own actions is almost a joke.

The United States believes that the three thousand deaths in New York are the only deaths that count, the only deaths that matter. They are American deaths. Other deaths are unreal, abstract, of no consequence.

The three thousand deaths in Afghanistan are never referred to.

The hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children dead through US and British sanctions which have deprived them of essential medicines are never referred to.

The effect of depleted uranium, used by America in the Gulf War, is never referred to. Radiation levels in Iraq are appallingly high. Babies are born with no brain, no eyes, no genitals. Where they do have ears, mouths or rectums, all that issues from these orifices is blood.

The two hundred thousand deaths in East Timor in 1975 brought about by the Indonesian government but inspired and supported by the United States are never referred to.

The half a million deaths in Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Argentina and Haiti, in actions supported and subsidised by the United States are never referred to.

The millions of deaths in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are no longer referred to.

The desperate plight of the Palestinian people, the central factor in world unrest, is hardly referred to.

But what a misjudgement of the present and what a misreading of history this is.

People do not forget. They do not forget the death of their fellows, they do not forget torture and mutilation, they do not forget injustice, they do not forget oppression, they do not forget the terrorism of mighty powers. They not only don't forget. They strike back.

The atrocity in New York was predictable and inevitable. It was an act of retaliation against constant and systematic manifestations of state terrorism on the part of the United States over many years, in all parts of the world.

In Britain the public is now being warned to be "vigilant" in preparation for potential terrorist acts. The language is in itself preposterous.

How will - or can - public vigilance be embodied? Wearing a scarf over your mouth to keep out poison gas? However, terrorist attacks are quite likely, the inevitable result of our Prime Minister's contemptible and shameful subservience to the United States. Apparently, a terrorist poison gas attack on the London Underground system was recently prevented. But such an act may indeed take place. Thousands of school children travel on the London Underground every day. If there is a poison gas attack from which they die, the responsibility will rest entirely on the shoulders of our Prime Minister. Needless to say, the Prime Minister does not travel on the underground himself.

The planned war against Iraq is in fact a plan for premeditated murder of thousands of civilians in order, apparently, to rescue them from their dictator.

The United States and Britain are pursuing a course which can lead only to an escalation of violence throughout the world and finally to catastrophe.

It is obvious, however, that the United States is bursting at the seams to attack Iraq. I believe that it will do this - not just to take control of Iraqi oil - but because the US administration is now a bloodthirsty wild animal. Bombs are its only vocabulary. Many Americans, we know, are horrified by the posture of their government but seem to be helpless.

Unless Europe finds the solidarity, intelligence, courage and will to challenge and resist US power Europe itself will deserve Alexander Herzen's definition (as quoted in the Guardian newspaper in London recently) "We are not the doctors. We are the disease".

-- Harold Pinter

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

U.S. brings a wall to Baghdad

MEANWHILE, back in Baghdad, we're building a wall. Actually, quite a few walls.

While we were absorbed with the terrible tragedy at Virginia Tech -- and before that the Don Imus affair and the Alberto Gonzales tragicomedy -- the war in Iraq was pushed below the newspaper's page-one fold. While we weren't looking, the U.S. military started building high walls in parts of the Iraqi capital to separate Sunnis from Shiites.

Basically, we're turning Baghdad into Belfast.

This is supposed to be a temporary expedient, a way to tamp down Iraq's sectarian civil war -- in the capital, at least, which is the ostensible goal of President Bush's fraudulent "surge" policy -- by making it harder for the antagonists to get at each other's throats. The so-called "peace lines" in Belfast, separating Protestants from Catholics, were supposed to be temporary, too. That network of walls was begun in the 1970s.

The construction of barriers and checkpoints that turn Baghdad neighborhoods into what U.S. officers sardonically call "gated communities" is another sign -- as if more evidence were needed -- that Bush's "surge" is nothing more than a maneuver intended to buy time. His open-ended commitment for U.S. forces to patrol those barriers and guard those checkpoints will become the next president's problem.

The walls that have been built so far didn't prevent the car bombings in Baghdad last week, including at the Sadriya market, that killed nearly 200 people. Even the heavy fortifications surrounding the Green Zone, where the American presence and the Iraqi "unity" government are headquartered, couldn't keep a suicide bomber from detonating his explosives in the cafeteria of the Iraqi parliament.

But let's assume that if U.S. forces build enough walls and make it hard enough for Iraqis to move around their own capital, the violence in Baghdad may decline somewhat. In that event, the Shiite death squads and Sunni suicide bombers will simply do their killing elsewhere in Iraq. There's considerable evidence that this already is happening.

Both the president and his many critics say that the real problem in Iraq is political -- that there will be no genuine prospects for peace until Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite-dominated government reach a negotiated accommodation with the Sunni insurgency. The barriers going up right now -- the Washington Post reported that at least 10 Baghdad neighborhoods will be isolated behind walls -- likely will make Sunni-Shiite reconciliation a more distant goal. If anything, walls will accelerate the sectarian cleansing that has been purifying formerly mixed neighborhoods.

Walls divide; they do not unite. Walls give concrete expression to hatreds and prejudices, establishing them as artifacts not of the mind but of the landscape. When I was the Post's London correspondent in the early 1990s, I covered the Northern Ireland conflict. The first thing I went to see in Belfast was the notorious "peace line" between the Falls Road, a Catholic stronghold, and Shankill Road, a Protestant redoubt. Everything looked the same on both sides -- the houses, the shops, the people -- yet it was as if they were two different countries. Animosities had been passed down through generations. Even now, 15 years later, a civil exchange between two of the leading antagonists -- Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams -- is big news.

How many years will it take to get to that point in Baghdad?

Bush has enmeshed the United States in a civil conflict that will take years, probably decades, to resolve. The building of walls mocks the administration's happy-talk rhetoric about how much political progress the Iraqis are making. If the Iraqi government really is the exercise in inclusive democracy that Bush claims, walls would be coming down. Putting up new walls only makes sense if the White House foresees a substantial U.S. military presence in Iraq for many years to come.

Clearly, the Iraqi government is not ready to do the job of policing the enclaves that are being created. The government doesn't even want to do the job. Maliki complained Sunday about a new wall in Adhamiyah, a Sunni neighborhood, saying it "reminds us of other walls that we reject." Maybe he was thinking of Belfast, or maybe of Berlin, or maybe of the wall that the Israelis have built between themselves and the Palestinians.

Or maybe he is beginning to realize how easy it is to build walls and how hard to tear them down.

-- Eugene Robinson, Washington Post Writers Group

Saturday, April 21, 2007

News Bulletin

Evening clouds, the cathedral clock lit up,
dishevelled trees, cold, trash. You could still hear
shooting up in the hills. A little later
George arrived on a bicycle. He set down a guitar
that had broken strings. "We've carried the dead bodies," he said,
"down to the warehouse. No anthems or flags.
Hide this list at least, so that tomorrow we remember
their names, their ages -- I've even noted the size of their feet.
The three marble cutters were killed too. The only thing left
is that marble angel, headless -- you can put any head you want on it."
That's what he said, then went off. He didn't take the guitar.

-- Yannos Ritsos
written during the 1967--1974 Greek Dictatorship

Friday, April 20, 2007

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Aftermath of a Baghdad bombing: a reporter's view

One day after a bombing killed 135 people in Baghdad's predominantly Shiite Sadriya market, correspondent Sam Dagher visited the market.

The most striking image, for me, was the old lady. She was wrapped in a black abaya, wandering through the wreckage of charred buses and mangled vehicles. She kept repeating: "This is doomsday. God is greatest."

I also saw utter anger and disbelief among the residents and shopkeepers. Government officials I had reached by telephone and heard on state television earlier in the day insisted that the capital's security plan was still on track, despite suffering the biggest breach since it was launched in mid-February.

The US and Iraqi forces may have reduced sectarian street fighting. But Al Qaeda is making its presence felt with major bombings. And the Iraqi government's comments only served to highlight the widening disconnect between the government based inside the well-guarded Green Zone and its people in what is commonly referred to by Westerners as the Red Zone.

At the open-air food market, I saw Iraqis desperately clutching to shreds of normalcy.

I entered Sadriya with my Iraqi colleagues through a pedestrian-only section that had been barricaded on both ends after a bombing on Feb. 3 that killed 137 people. The hustle and bustle resembled similar working-class markets I've seen in Amman, Cairo, or Damascus.

Vendors were hawking fresh lettuce, radishes, and tomatoes heaped up on wooden carts. Inside the arcades on both sides of the street, raw meat hung in the windows of butcher shops, pastry shops displayed enormous trays of syrup-drenched sweets, and the smell of grilled kabobs wafted from the many restaurants.

I saw defiant banners signed by the local branch office of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Construction laborers were back working Thursday, rebuilding shops destroyed in February's bombing.

In one shop, Abu Ali was busy preparing round meat balls known as kubbah.

"What happened yesterday was a catastrophe. The security plan is working in some areas of the city, but not here," he told me. "But I must work to feed my children; we have no other source of income."

His business partner Abu Jassim nodded in agreement. He had been through this once already. He pulled his shirt back, displaying wounds on his shoulder sustained in the February bombing.

At the end of the street and beyond white-painted barricades, I stepped into a panorama of destruction.

The entire square was covered in soot, and hundreds of people were gathered around a crater. Behind them, there was an outer ring of burned car and bus skeletons. Revered Shiite leaders, Imam Hussein and the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, stared down from giant posters on the walls.

Most of those killed Wednesday were laborers working in the market, pushing carts and running errands. They had boarded buses that were going to transport them home after a hard day's work. Most were going back to Jameela, a neighborhood within the Sadr City slum. They earned on average 10,000 dinars ($8) a day.

I walked past the crater crowd and into one of the destroyed shops on one side of the square, known to most as Al Nahda.

Jaber Saleh, an elderly bespectacled man, sobbed as he sat amid the ruins of his hardware store. His door was reduced to a surreal sculpture of twisted metal. Emptied boxes of nails and dented gallon paint cans were scattered on the floor.

"We were strangled by Saddam and now this," said Mr. Saleh as tears rolled down his wrinkled cheeks. He put his hands around his neck to make the point.

His helper, Aqeel Shouli, told him to calm down.

"All the leaders are stealing, no one is clean, and we are dying," resumed Saleh.

He claimed that he'd seen policemen at checkpoints near the market were sometimes bribed to let through pickup trucks filled with heaps of vegetables or boxes without checking them.

He then pointed to the other side of the square.

"That road leads to Al-Fadhil. The Americans were there two hours before the blast and arrested people, but still they come from there to kill us," said Salih referring to a predominantly Sunni Arab area adjacent to Sadriya that is the scene of frequent clashes.

Mr. Shouli interrupts him to say, "the security plan is a failure, full stop."

Back in the square Amna Sadeq a Shiite Kurd curses Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government and parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashahdani, using words that are not fit to print.

"They have done nothing for us. They should make way for more competent people," she shouts.

At a bakery shop on another end of the square, Zaki Hashim, sits behind the counter. His face is bandaged.

"I was just handing bread out the window to a customer when a flame hit my face," he said.

He and all the other bakery shop workers are from the southern city of Nasariyah. They work in Baghdad and go back to their families once a month. They tell me they will remain in Baghdad despite the bombing and despite losing their friend three days ago to sectarian murder.

The dead man's photo is pinned to a giant poster of Imam Hussein behind the counter. Hussein ibn Ali is revered as the third Imam by Shiites, the grandson of Muhammad.

"The security forces are infiltrated and they even bombed the parliament, what do you expect," Mr. Hashim told me.

We had to wait in bakery shop until a funeral procession made its way through square. And faithful to Iraqi custom, some of those in the entourage were firing shots in the air.

Later, a trusted Interior Ministry adviser that often talks to me, without any of the official spin, agreed with the baker's assessment.

He said Iraqi forces are nearly helpless in the face of car bombs and suicide bombs. Their job was doubly made difficult by the fact that their ranks were infiltrated by insurgents, militias, and militants.

He nonetheless said the government needed to give the appearance it was making headway and winning through the media. "We have had some success in controlling roadside bombs and sectarian murders, so that's good and we need to say that loudly. It's a media war. The other side wants to grab the headlines with the mayhem its unleashing," he said.

Indeed, a report of the Sadriya bombing on state-owned Iraqiya television Wednesday night was followed by a statement from the spokesman of the Defense Ministry Mohammed al-Askari saying; "there may be bombs here and there, but the security plan is working."

After we left the Sadriya market, we saw municipal workers painting idyllic scenes of rolling pastures and galloping horses on a row of blast walls on Saadoun Street in the heart of Baghdad.

-- Sam Dagher - Christian Science Monitor

Insane: McCain's Public Behavior

As president, making such a joke of war could make an already tense situation with Iran even worse. There's no doubt that the Iranians would use the tape of McCain to rile up anti-American sentiments, and terror networks around the world would gleefully use it as a recruiting tool.

The fact that McCain didn't hesitate to act so stupidly shows just how dangerous he could be as president to our own security.

Secondly, it shows complete disregard for our troops in harm's way, thousands of whom would be killed and wounded if we did take military action against Iran. As you can view on the video blogs did with Wes Clark at, there's ample reason to believe that even air strikes against Iran would result in massive attacks on troops in Iraq. That McCain finds that scenario is worth yukking it up over demonstrates how far removed from reality - indeed dangerous - he has become.

I actually, surprisingly, agree with Secretary Gates on this one. Earlier in the week, he said in a press conference, "I stressed my view that it was important to deal with the Iranian nuclear problem through a diplomacy which appears to be working... With respect to the Iranian nuclear program and the diplomatic effort, I think first of all it's important that there have been two United Nations Resolutions, and that the international community is united in telling Iran what it needs to do with respect to its nuclear program. These things don't work overnight, but it seems to me clearly the preferable course to keep our focus on diplomatic initiatives and particularly because of the united front of the international community at this point."

The big questions are whether the president is listening to Gates, and whether John McCain even begins to grasp at how utterly stupid and dangerous his antics would be as president

-- Jon Soltz

g n o s t i c i s m v

". . . what the little word after means . . ."
—I. Kant, Inaugural Dissertation, 2.399.4-6

Stuffed September night, the hot leaves bump
on swollen breezes and a fat
black moonlessness.
I got up (3 am)

to clean the house, there was
so much pressure on it forcing the butt end down.
I scrubbed counters and mopped floors.
I didn’t turn the lights on.

in the dark makes a surprise for later. By then
I will have
slept, woke, come striding back
from infuriated interiors—ah

I dreamed Of Wordsworth—his little vials,
Wordsworth collected little vials,
had hundreds of them, his sister stored them on shelves
in the pantry—
and yes

to inspire me is why
I put in a bit of Wordsworth but then the page is over,
he weighs it to the
the autumn of him soaking my mop purple in the dyes of
what's falling
breathless under its own

-- Ann Carson

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Car bombs kill 170 in Baghdad after PM's pledge


By Dean Yates and Paul Tait

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Car bombs killed more than 170 people in Baghdad on Wednesday in the deadliest attacks in the city since U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a security crackdown aimed at halting the country's slide into civil war.

One car bomb alone in the mainly Shi'ite Sadriya neighbourhood killed 122 people and wounded 155, police said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking in Tel Aviv on a visit to the region, called the bombings "horrifying" and indicated Sunni Islamist al Qaeda was to blame.

The apparently coordinated attacks -- there were four within a short space of time -- occurred hours after Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Iraq would take security control of the whole country from foreign forces by the end of the year.

Maliki is under growing pressure to say when foreign soldiers will leave, but the attacks in mainly Shi'ite areas of Baghdad underscored the huge challenges for Iraq's security forces in taking charge of overall security from more than 150,000 U.S. and British troops.

The bombings wounded more than 200 people.

"I saw dozens of dead bodies. Some people were burned alive inside minibuses. Nobody could reach them after the explosion," said a witness at Sadriya, describing scenes of mayhem at an intersection where the bomb exploded near a market.

"Women were screaming and shouting for their loved ones who died," said the witness who did not wish to be identified, adding many of the dead were women and children.

One man waving his arms in the air screamed hysterically: "Where's Maliki? Let him come and see what is happening here."

U.S. and Iraqi forces began deploying thousands more troops onto Baghdad's streets in February.

Sectarian death squad killings have declined, but car bombs are much harder to stop, U.S. military officials say.

The bombings could inflame sectarian passions in Baghdad, especially among the Mehdi Army militia of anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which has kept a low profile so far during the two-month-old Baghdad security offensive.

Al Qaeda is blamed for most of the major bombings targeting Shi'ites in Iraq and there are fears the Mehdi Army may take to the streets to retaliate.

The attacks came several hours after Maliki again appealed for reconciliation between majority Shi'ites and once-dominant minority Sunni Arabs who form the backbone of the insurgency.

"There is no magic solution to put out the fire of sectarian sedition that some are trying to set up, especially al Qaeda," Maliki said in a speech made on his behalf before the attacks.


Among the other attacks on Wednesday, police said a suicide car bomber killed 35 people at a checkpoint in Sadr City, stronghold of the firebrand cleric Sadr.

At Sadriya, a thick, dark plume of smoke rose at the scene of the bombing. Fire fighters rushed to put out flames on burning bodies, while rescue workers tried to retrieve bodies from the blackened hulks of cars.

The Sadriya bombing was the highest death toll in a single attack in Baghdad since a truck bomb killed 135 people in the same area on Feb. 3.

Wednesday's attacks follow a suicide bombing in parliament last week that killed one lawmaker and also a truck bomb blast that destroyed one of Baghdad's most famous bridges.

In a speech at a ceremony marking the handover of southern Maysan province from British to Iraqi control, Maliki said three provinces in the autonomous Kurdistan region would be next, followed by Kerbala and Wasit provinces.

"Then it would be province by province until a full transfer had been completed by the end of the year," Maliki said in the speech, read by National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie.

Maysan is the fourth of Iraq's 18 provinces to be handed to Iraqi security forces, joining Muthanna, Najaf and Dhi Qar, all predominantly Shi'ite and relatively calm regions in the south.

Maliki says Iraq's security forces will only take back control from foreign forces when ready.

(With additional reporting by Ross Colvin in Amara, Aseel Kami, Ibon Villelabeitia, Yara Bayoumy and Waleed Ibrahim in Baghdad, and Kristin Roberts in Washington)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

BAGHDAD — Cars, minibuses and roadside bombs exploded in Shiite Muslim enclaves across the city Sunday, killing at least 45 people in sectarian violence that defied the Baghdad security crackdown, while a radical anti-U.S. cleric raised a new threat to Iraq’s government.

Two officials close to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said his followers would quit their six Cabinet posts Monday — a move that could leave Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s already weak administration without enough support to stay in power.

And in a rare gesture of dissent from America’s partners in Baghdad, dozens of Iraqi policemen demonstrated in front of their station, accusing U.S. troops of treating them like “animals” and “slaves.”

The U.S. military command announced the combat deaths of three more Americans. Two British service members died when their helicopters crashed in midair north of Baghdad, and hours later a U.S. helicopter was hit by ground fire near Mosul but landed safely with no injuries.

Six powerful bombs, gunfire and artillery blasts enveloped Baghdad in a near-constant din that seemed a setback for the nine-week-old U.S.-Iraqi military campaign to pacify the capital.

U.S. commanders previously cited a slight decrease in violence since the crackdown began Feb. 14, but urged patience for what they warned would be a long, tough fight.

“Although we’re making steady progress ... we have a long way to go,” Rear Adm. Mark Fox, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, told reporters Sunday. “We will continue to face attacks from those who attempt to tear down what the Iraqi people have worked so hard to build.”

The crackdown is believed to have driven many insurgents from Baghdad, and violence has soared in areas outside the capital, such as the bombing in the Shiite holy city of Karbala that killed 47 people and wounded 224 Saturday.

But violence has spiked upward again in Baghdad, with Sunday’s six bombings coming just three days after a suicide bomber blew himself up inside parliament and killed a lawmaker.

“This week has been difficult for the Iraqi people,” Fox acknowledged.

The carnage caused some to voice doubts about the Baghdad crackdown.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

-- WB Yeats

Monday, April 16, 2007

Catch a Fire

I arrive home to cyclones,
to trees broken like the heat
hasn't yet. Autumn
nowhere in sight except

a few leaves starting
their fall fire. Driving without
eyes for wreckage,
I don't notice right away—

Otis Redding sings A Change
Is Gonna Come and I sob
one last time you’re gone.
High up, the BILLIONS

SOLD sign mangled,
once golden arches turned
almost an ampersand—
a few miles along it dawns

what storms I've missed.
Signs ripped down.
Roofs made only of tarp.
Pink tongues of insulation

pulled from the mouths
of houses now silent.
Looking for a sign
from God?

one billboard asks—
This is it.
What's left
of the Hillview Motel

no longer needs say
Only the hill
still here. The corn

brown and shorn.
In a few weeks who can tell
what's being built
and what torn down—

flattened, the fields
all look the same. For now
this charcoal smell
fluttering past the hill—

It's been too hard living

And I’m afraid to die—
the thick smoke billowing
from burning
what's still green

but can't be saved.

-- Kevin Young

Friday, April 13, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut (November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007)

On pages 9 and 10 of his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Poems in Dialogue

"They Flee from Me That Sometime Did Me Seek"

They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle tame and meek
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range
Busily seeking with continual change.

Thank'd be fortune, it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she caught me in her arms long and small,
Therewith all sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said, Dear heart, how like you this?

It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
But all is turned from my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
And she also to use new-fangleness.
But since that I so kindely am served,
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

-- Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-42)


Before Time

On one or two occasions
It was different: she lingered

At the window, turned—I was
Desirable because for a moment

I was anybody. The distance
Seemed to disappear without us
Moving but more than what followed

I remember the open window.
Taxis idling by the park.
Streetlights shining

Through the hemlock and the usual sounds
Of traffic, shouts—all of it
Starkly present and at the same time

Incomplete; as if a space I'd never
Wanted had been filled

At the moment
I wanted it: branches

Swirling at the window as
Her clothing dropped
To the floor. If I have chance

To thank for this moment
I'd like to know what she deserved.

-- James Longenbach (1959–)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

3 Generals Spurn the Position of War 'Czar'

Bush Seeks Overseer For Iraq, Afghanistan

The White House wants to appoint a high-powered czar to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies, but it has had trouble finding anyone able and willing to take the job, according to people close to the situation.

At least three retired four-star generals approached by the White House in recent weeks have declined to be considered for the position, the sources said, underscoring the administration's difficulty in enlisting its top recruits to join the team after five years of warfare that have taxed the United States and its military.

"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," said retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks,' " he said.

The White House has not publicly disclosed its interest in creating the position, hoping to find someone President Bush can anoint and announce for the post all at once. Officials said they are still considering options for how to reorganize the White House's management of the two conflicts. If they cannot find a person suited for the sort of specially empowered office they envision, they said, they may have to retain the current structure.

The administration's interest in the idea stems from long-standing concern over the coordination of civilian and military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan by different parts of the U.S. government. The Defense and State departments have long struggled over their roles and responsibilities in Iraq, with the White House often forced to referee.

The highest-ranking White House official responsible exclusively for the wars is deputy national security adviser Meghan O'Sullivan, who reports to national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and does not have power to issue orders to agencies. O'Sullivan plans to step down soon, giving the White House the opportunity to rethink how it organizes the war effort.

Unlike O'Sullivan, the new czar would report directly to Bush and to Hadley and would have the title of assistant to the president, just as Hadley and the other highest-ranking White House officials have, the sources said. The new czar would also have "tasking authority," or the power to issue directions, over other agencies, they said.

To fill such a role, the White House is searching for someone with enough stature and confidence to deal directly with heavyweight administration figures such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Besides Sheehan, sources said, the White House or intermediaries have sounded out retired Army Gen. Jack Keane and retired Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, who also said they are not interested. Ralston declined to comment; Keane confirmed he declined the offer, adding: "It was discussed weeks ago."

Kurt Campbell, a Clinton administration Pentagon official who heads the Center for a New American Security, said the difficulty in finding someone to take the job shows that Bush has exhausted his ability to sign up top people to help salvage a disastrous war. "Who's sitting on the bench?" he asked. "Who is there to turn to? And who would want to take the job?"

All three generals who declined the job have been to varying degrees administration insiders. Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff, was one of the primary proponents of sending more troops to Iraq and presented Bush with his plan for a major force increase during an Oval Office meeting in December. The president adopted the concept in January, although he did not dispatch as many troops as Keane proposed.

Ralston, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was named by Rice last August to serve as her special envoy for countering the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a group designated a terrorist organization by the United States.

Sheehan, a 35-year Marine, served on the Defense Policy Board advising the Pentagon early in the Bush administration and at one point was reportedly considered by then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He now works as an executive at Bechtel Corp. developing oil projects in the Middle East.

In an interview yesterday, Sheehan said that Hadley contacted him and they discussed the job for two weeks but that he was dubious from the start. "I've never agreed on the basis of the war, and I'm still skeptical," Sheehan said. "Not only did we not plan properly for the war, we grossly underestimated the effect of sanctions and Saddam Hussein on the Iraqi people."

In the course of the discussions, Sheehan said, he called around to get a better feel for the administration landscape.

"There's the residue of the Cheney view -- 'We're going to win, al-Qaeda's there' -- that justifies anything we did," he said. "And then there's the pragmatist view -- how the hell do we get out of Dodge and survive? Unfortunately, the people with the former view are still in the positions of most influence." Sheehan said he wrote a note March 27 declining interest.

Gordon Johndroe, a National Security Council spokesman, would not discuss contacts with candidates but confirmed that officials are considering a newly empowered czar.

"The White House is looking at a number of options on how to structure the Iraq and Afghanistan office in light of Meghan O'Sullivan's departure and the completion of both the Iraq and Afghanistan strategic reviews," he said. He added that "No decisions have been made" and "a list of candidates has not been narrowed down."

The idea of someone overseeing the wars has been promoted to the White House by several outside advisers. "It would be definitely a good idea," said Frederick W. Kagan, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "Hope they do it, and hope they do it soon. And I hope they pick the right guy. It's a real problem that we don't have a single individual back here who is really capable of coordinating the effort."

Other variations are under consideration. House Democrats have put a provision in their version of a war spending bill that would designate a coordinator to oversee all assistance to Iraq. That person, who would report directly to the president, would require Senate confirmation; the White House said it opposes the proposal because Rice already has an aid coordinator.

Some administration critics said the ideas miss the point. "An individual can't fix a failed policy," said Carlos Pascual, former State Department coordinator of Iraq reconstruction, who is now a vice president at the Brookings Institution. "So the key thing is to figure out where the policy is wrong."

By Peter Baker and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Study of Two Pears

Opusculum paedagogum.
The pears are not viols,
Nudes or bottles.
They resemble nothing else.

They are yellow forms
Composed of curves
Bulging toward the base.
They are touched red.

They are not flat surfaces
Having curved outlines.
They are round
Tapering toward the top.

-- Wallace Stevens

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Psalm and Lament

Hialeah, Florida
in memory of my mother (1897–1974)

The clocks are sorry, the clocks are very sad.
One stops, one goes on striking the wrong hours.

And the grass burns terribly in the sun,
The grass turns yellow secretly at the roots.

Now suddenly the yard chairs look empty, the sky looks empty,
The sky looks vast and empty.

Out on Red Road the traffic continues; everything continues.
Nor does memory sleep; it goes on.

Out spring the butterflies of recollection,
And I think that for the first time I understand

The beautiful ordinary light of this patio
And even perhaps the dark rich earth of a heart.

(The bedclothes, they say, had been pulled down.
I will not describe it. I do not want to describe it.

No, but the sheets were drenched and twisted.
They were the very handkerchiefs of grief.)

Let summer come now with its schoolboy trumpets and fountains.
But the years are gone, the years are finally over.

And there is only
This long desolation of flower-bordered sidewalks

That runs to the corner, turns, and goes on,
That disappears and goes on

Into the black oblivion of a neighborhood and a world
Without billboards or yesterdays.

Sometimes a sad moon comes and waters the roof tiles.
But the years are gone. There are no more years.

-- Donald Justice


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