Wednesday, April 27, 2005

April is indeed the cruelest month... Part 1

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”

- T.S. Eliot
The Burial of the Dead,
from The Waste Land

April has nearly passed; and I, for one, wish it good riddance.

April, for the uninitiated, is National Poetry Month; a month where the proselytisers of verse, or things approximating verse, gain the fleeting attention of the manic news cycle if only for an instant. Magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals along with television, radio, and other forms of electronic media make a little space for the art form we call poetry. Readings spring from the ground like Morrell mushrooms in the rain. Snippets of verse are splashed upon posters in subways and buses; banners on street corners proclaim that poetry is good for you. I know “Guinness is good for you” (their marketing is more convincing), but poetry?

This would be all be well and good, if it were not so damned patronizing. Poets are paraded out, interviewed, and flattered for thirty glorious days every spring. Well, at least since 1996 anyway, when the Academy of American Poets created NPM. Withering like blooming dogwoods and daffodils; at the stroke of midnight on the eve of May Day, the poets are expected to return to their lairs and garrets for another 335 days of consulting their muses or, more probably, teaching creative writing courses. Patted on the head and sent on their way with a dismissive “Same time next year?”

Every year editorials in small literary journals figuratively wring their hands and ask the question: Is there an audience for poetry? To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on what you mean by audience?

With the massive expansion of creative writing programs both on the undergraduate and graduate level, the United States is producing poets far in excess of its readers. While the teaching posts and literary magazines have increased exponentially, the numbers of general readers of poetry (along with all literary forms) has plummeted precipitously. There are a myriad of reasons this has occurred – modern forms of entertainment such as movies, television, etc., but there are some who blame the poets themselves.

In the 2500 years between Homer and Ezra Pound there is an unbroken tradition that only started breaking down in the twentieth century. A hundred years ago the term “free verse” was unknown to those studying prosody. “The long revolt against inherited forms,” Billy Collins, the former Poet Laureate of the US, said, “has become the narrative of 20th poetry in English”

Every morning I find missives, or rather e-missives, in my mailbox from various literary ‘zines reminding me to peruse their latest poetic offerings on the World Wide Web. Poetry Daily, one of the better sites, features a poet every day from what is considered the best contemporary poetry has to offer. After avidly reading the site for several months, the frequency of my visits declined because I found less and less to bring me back. Still, hope springs eternal and I clicked on the link to find this poem by Stephanie Marlis some time ago that had been published in the Chicago Review:

Transsexual Cloud

all through this metamorphosis we hunt for therapies.....burly reasons
ours, a knot that does not slip............ thunderclap
yellow basin..... settles behind a cloud......... lemon blouse...... carries the trash
only curly leaves befuddle me and you........ were a chiseled man
so long

My first thought upon reading these two “poems” was how wonderful it is that the Chicago Review should publish the works of recovering stroke victims. The lack of grammar, scansion, the non sequiturs, the erratic spacing and the utter lack of sense would lead the reader to believe he was reading the work of someone who had suffered severe damage to the part of the brain controlling language.

I made several attempts to unravel the puzzle, including reading it from top to bottom like Chinese, but to no avail. Not least of all, I was befuddled by such an archaic and fussy word like, well… befuddled. Like an orphan stranded at the train station of avant-gardism, its glaring antiquated presence appears to be a cry for help. This is not to say that nonsense poetry hasn’t had a place in literature, we have Edward Lear and Edith Sitwell. However, Lear and Sitwell relied on the euphonic quality of the words and adhered to a strict sense of meter and rhyme. In short, there was some sense of aesthetic – something remarkably lacking in Ms. Marlis’s exercise.

How would one recite one of these? The only recourse I could think of was to bark out the fragments in the deranged manner of a homeless man who is encountering a delusional episode. And the listener? (Or reader?) Well, what on earth would make you think the listener should have anything to do with the crafting of a poem? As the poet and critic Joan Houlihan remarked in her essay “Post-Post Dementia” that these poems are driven less by a need to communicate than a need to afflict.

“Like the almost-dead in the film ‘28 Days Later’ these poems are poised to bite any reader who ventures too close, hoping to infect them with the same virulent strain of avant-gardism inflicted on them by their maker who has doomed them to a life of aimless, disembodied wandering through people-less landscapes. Who has loosed these babbling and afflicted beings into our public byways, and why? Who are their makers?”

You have seen their makers if you have attended a poetry function (I hesitate to use the word “reading” here) in the past decade: their navels proudly displayed and duly pierced; festooned with colorful tattoos that would turn a Pictish chieftain green (or should I say, blue) with envy, chattering away in that curious gurgling argot born of MFA programs and post-post feminism. These are, after all, people who can actually mouth the words “ongoing hegemonic appropriations” with a straight face. And it should come as no surprise that in her brief bio, Ms. Marlis tells us she has named her dog “Sappho”.

Imaging one of these denizens of the underground (or their spawned poems) leaping out and biting you with a virulent strain of anything does not take nearly the leap of imagination you might suspect.

How did poetry become so, well, so damned ugly?

Monday, April 25, 2005

Screaming Banshee of the Right

Time magazine makes an attempt to humanize the slanderous, shrill-voiced Ann Coulter in their cover story this week. This is a woman who thinks Joe McCarthy was a great American and everyone…yes, everyone who describes themselves as “liberal” is a traitor. Like Tom Tomorrow, I have to wonder why the editors of Time choose this week, the 10th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombings, to have Coulter as their cover girl in view of her flippant remarks about that horrific incident:

"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building."

-Ann Coulter as quoted in the New York Observer, Aug. 20, 2002

"RE: McVeigh quote. Of course I regret it. I should have added, 'after everyone had left the building except the editors and reporters.'"

-Ann Coulter, from an interview with Right Wing News

But, taste has never been Coulter’s strong suite.

Have they no shame? Posted by Hello

Some other gems from Coulter:

"I think [women] should be armed but should not [be allowed to] vote. No, they all have to give up their vote, not just, you know, the lady clapping and me. The problem with women voting -- and your Communists will back me up on this -- is that, you know, women have no capacity to understand how money is earned. They have a lot of ideas on how to spend it. And when they take these polls, it's always more money on education, more money on child care, more money on day care."

- Politically Incorrect, Feb. 26, 2001

"No wonder you guys lost.." (to a disabled Vietnam Veteran)

- MSNBC (Source)

Phil Donahue: "I just want to make sure we got this right. Liberals hate America. They hate all religions except Islam. Liberals love Islam, hate all other religions."

Ann Coulter: "Post 9/11."

Donahue: "Well, good for you."

- The Phil Donahue Show, MSNBC, July 19, 2002

Saturday, April 23, 2005

UN Human Rights Commission passes pro-Islamist resolution


Humanist Network News
April 13, 2005

On April 12, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution at its meeting in Geneva that condemns the defamation of religion.

The resolution, titled "Combating Defamation of Religions," expresses "deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism."

Humanist organizations are protesting the resolution for failing to mention or condemn those who defame a religion by carrying out acts of violence in its name.

Five days before the vote, the International Humanist and Ethical Union -- the worldwide federation of humanist, freethought and ethical culture groups -- sent an appeal to delegations of the 53 member states. The IHEU asked the delegates not to accept the draft resolution without inserting a paragraph calling upon the international community "to condemn all who defame religion by claiming to kill in the name of their religion or God."

That appeal went unheeded.

The commission passed the resolution by 31 votes to 16, with 5 member states abstaining. (See PDF of record of votes.) The resolution was sponsored by Pakistan on behalf of the 57 states belonging to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Last week, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan criticized the political use of the Human Rights Commission by states with bad human rights records, saying that the "Commission's declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole."

"Just days after Annan's remarks we see the countries with the worst human rights records lining up to denounce attacks on Islam 'especially in human rights forums.' These countries should stop trying to silence human rights advocates and start living up to their human rights obligations," said Matt Cherry, executive director of the Institute for Humanist Studies and president of the NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief at the UN in New York City.

"The irony of the OIC calling for tolerance and respect for all religions and their value systems appears to have escaped most of the states voting for this resolution," said Roy Brown, president of the IHEU. "The Islamic states would do well to practice tolerance and respect for diversity at home before preaching about it at the UN."

Brown said that "attempting to silence criticism of Islamic abuse of human rights while failing to condemn those who kill in the name of Islam speaks volumes for what this issue is really about."

A similar resolution was passed by the Commission in 2004, but by a smaller margin.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

God's Rottweiler

Oh great, it’s the scary one. The Roman Catholic Church has decided not to be left out as the rest of the world’s religions take a giant step backwards to the Middle Ages and elected a reactionary German who was head of the Inquisition, aka “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Obligatory Pope Picture - Benedict XVI a.k.a Joseph Ratzinger Posted by Hello

If stifling dissent, hatred of gays and adhering to backward doctrines is your thing – you’re gonna love this guy! Wasn’t JPII bad enough?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I'm Back....

Look ma, no hands!Posted by Hello

I've arrived home from nearly two weeks in the craziness of Florida. Also, I made a few interesting stops along the way including one in Dayton, Tennessee - home of the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial."

I should have some new posts up starting tomorrow.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Another Roadside Attraction

Gatorland's famous entrance Posted by Hello

I have a confession to make - I love roadside attractions. Who could resist the unadulterated kitsch of “Arnold, the piano playing pig” or a “Gator Jumperoo show”? In a world distracted by hi-tech gadgetry and special effects these low rent sideshows serve as an antidote to our jaded senses. Give me cigarette smoking chimps and alligator wrestlers and you have made me a happy man.

It started years ago when I would go on family vacations. My family could never resist a come-on from the garishly painted signs along some lonely stretch of Arkansas highway or the siren call of the mermaids of Weeki Wachee near the Crystal River on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Perhaps it gave us a sense of superiority to peruse the gift shops where tackiness was raised to a whole new level. Sure, grandma would love the shell shaped ashtray with the pink flamingos crudely painted upon them. While we are here, why not get the matching set of salt and pepper shakers to go with the ashtray?

But times have been hard for this uniquely American form of entertainment. We, as a nation, have grown too sophisticated for such amateurish enthusiasms. After all, we now have reality television programming and Britney Spears.

One of the survivors is one of my favorites, Gatorland. Billed as the largest working alligator farm in the world with over 5,000 alligators there at any given time. The movie “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” had the now famous ending scene where the bad guys fell off the cliff into the waiting crocodiles’ mouths filmed there. The real highlight to this attraction, a few miles south of Orlando, is the “Gator Jumperoo” show. Whole chickens are pinned to a clothesline while the largest ‘gators leap up from the pond below and snatch the chickens off the wire. Now that’s entertainment.

Gatorland’s gift shop is second to none; pink flamingos, hula girls, and every minutia of alligator trinkets are to be found.

The “Chimp Farm” north of Clearwater was also one of my favorites before it closed a few years ago. Set up as a “retirement home” for chimpanzees that had grown too old or uncontrollable for their former employers in circuses or other attractions. Actually, the whole affair was a little depressing. When you went to visit, it was advisable to bring an extra pack of cigarettes. Apparently, in less politically correct times, it was fashionable to teach the chimps to smoke. While you walked between the cages, a sort of primate skid row, the chimps would “beg” for a cigarette. After taking the cigarette, they would press their faces against the chain link fencing waiting for their light. While I know this is deplorable on so many levels, there is something about watching our closest relatives in the animal kingdom taking a big drag. Also, there is nothing meaner than a chimp jonesing for a smoke!

Weeki Wachee cir. 1950's 1 Posted by Hello

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Road to Wigan Pier

George Orwell 1903 - 1950 Posted by Hello

When I was seventeen, I found a paperback copy of George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier at a yard sale. The acid paper of the cheap Signet edition had browned with age and was crumbly to the touch. The drab, gray cover gave the retail price of thirty-five cents, inside the sale price of ten cents was written. No name, no inscription was to found on the inside of the cover; a brief description of the contents was printed on the back above a catalogue list of other inexpensive Signet editions.

What exactly a copy of this book was doing at a yard sale in western Indiana, I couldn’t say. I’ve speculated about it numerous times since; perhaps its subject matter - the conditions of coalminers in Northern England in the 1930’s - struck a familiar note with some of the locals as it was a coal mining region also, or its lengthy argument for joining the Socialist movement for Indiana was the home of the great American socialist, Eugene V. Debs might explain its presence, but there is no real way of knowing why the book was there.

If it seems I am inferring precociousness on my part, I would like to disabuse you of that now. I was only vaguely aware of the coal mining industry and its history in my corner of the world. Of course, the slag heaps, and the occasional tunnel collapse brought it to the dimmest reaches of my consciousness, but I had no sense of its history or the effect it had on my home.

As for the socialist aspect, it was certainly quite fashionable in 1970 to describe oneself a socialist, or a radical of some kind; but again, it was hardly a well thought out political or philosophical stance. Suffice it to say the authority figures in my life - teachers, coaches, priests, and policemen - were all unified in the view that socialism was a bad thing: therefore, it deserved my unswerving attention.

It was as a result of one of my many infractions with the aforementioned authorities that I came to read The Road to Wigan Pier. I had been sentenced to several days confinement to a study carroll to think over what I had done. Truthfully, I have no recollection of my transgression, but in all probability it had something to do with some surly remark, or insolent rolling of the eyes that were correctly perceived as a sign of disrespect.

If I read the introduction, I have no memory of it. It was not until several years later while at the university did I understand the significance of Victor Gollancz disavowel of Orwell's peculiar take on what he had been commissioned to do. Gollancz had assigned Orwell to produce a documentary account of unemployment in the North of England for the Left Book Club. In part, Orwell succeeded, but it was nothing the orthodox leftists had expected and I will return to that in a moment.

But, there is one memory of that day seared into the very fiber of my being, and that was the following passage:

"The train bore me away, through the monstrous scenery of slag-heaps, chimneys, piled scrap-iron, foul canals, paths of cindery mud criss-crossed by the prints of clogs. This was March, but the weather had been horribly cold and everywhere there were mounds of blackened snow. As we moved slowly through the outskirts of the town we passed row after row of little grey slum houses running at right angles to the embankment. At the back of one of the houses a young woman was kneeling on the stones, poking a stick up the leaden waste-pipe which ran from the sink inside and which I suppose was blocked. I had time to see everything about her—her sacking apron, her clumsy clogs, her arms reddened by the cold. She looked up as the train passed, and I was almost near enough to catch her eye. She had a round pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty-five and looks forty, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever seen. It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that ‘It isn’t the same for them as it would be for us,’ and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums. For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her—understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe."

Although I did not find the subject matter of the book compelling at that time , it was the descriptive power of Orwell's writing that kept me riveted to the page. I had not read Orwell's more "popular" works at that time. His two biggest sellers, "Animal Farm" and "1984" were and, I suppose, still are the standard introduction to Orwell's oeuvre. But, it is in his journalism, where his real power lay, as in his essays such as "Shooting an Elephant", or his other two nonfiction books, "Down and Out in Paris and London," and "Homage to Catalonia".

Gollancz admits as much. What he was apologizing for was Orwell's rather blunt assessment of what the ordinary person thought of socialism in general. The following passages were just a few examples of what made the publisher of a rather orthodox leftist book club more than a little squeamish:

"In addition to this there is the horrible - the really disquieting - prevalence of cranks wherever Socialist are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words "Socialism" and "Communism" draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, "Nature Cure" quack, pacifist, and feminist in England."

"Sometimes I look at a Socialist - the intellectual, tract-writing type of Socialist, with his pullover, his fuzzy hair, and his Marxist quotation - and wonder what the devil his motive really is. It is often difficult to believe that it is a love of anybody, especially of the working class…"

"…And all that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of "progress" like blue-bottles to a dead cat."

Keep in mind; this was Orwell's argument for socialism! At this point, his strong anti-communist stance was not as clear, that was to come later in his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, but what is clear is his perception and what he thought the majority of his fellow countrymen's perceptions of socialism were. Although he remained a socialist until the day he died, he hated, in that very English way, cant and orthodoxy excusing totalitarianism whether it came from the right or the left.

Timothy Garton Ash in his essay "Orwell in 1998" sums up for me why Orwell became the predominant figure in my development:

"In his best articles and letters, he gives us a gritty, personal example of how to engage as a writer in politics. He takes sides, but remains his own man. He will not put himself at the service of political parties exercising or pursuing power, since that means using half-truths, in a democracy, or whole lies in a dictatorship. He gets things wrong, but then corrects them. Sometimes he joins with others in volunteer brigades or boring committee work, to defend freedom. But if need be, he stands alone, against all the “smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls”."

2005 Barney F. McClelland

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Make My Day, Punk!

I safely arrived in Florida yesterday afternoon, but how safe I am, now that I am here, has become somewhat more problematic.

Back off, buddy, I'm packing! Posted by Hello

This past Tuesday, both houses of the Republican controlled Florida Legislature passed what is becoming in popular parlance known as the "open fire" law. The new "anti-crime" measure will allow Florida residents to open against anyone they perceive as a threat in public, instead of having to try to avoid a conflict as under prevailing law.

Florida has long been rather open-minded about citizens' right to protect their property, allowing residents to "shoot to kill if their property, such as their home or car, is invaded by an unknown assailant." But it also states that if a resident is confronted or threatened in a public place, he or she must first try to avoid the confrontation or flee before taking any violent step in self defense against an assailant.

The new law, which is supported by Governor Jeb Bush who has said he intends to sign the bill, was actively supported by the National Rifle Association. Governor Bush describes the law as "a good, commonsense, anti-crime issue."

Let's say I find myself in a barroom argument, apparently now the object of my rhetoric has the inalienable right under Florida law to blow my head off and walk away without any accountability.

Charles Bronson would be proud.

Click on image to enlargePosted by Hello

Thursday, April 07, 2005

It Neither Picks My Pocket nor Breaks My Leg

“But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

-Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

Nearly thirty years ago, I stood at a rally in the Glens of Antrim to hear a “sermon” given by one of the great demagogues of our time, the Rev. Ian Paisley. Paisley, a minister and head of the Free Presbyterian Church, opened in his sonorous voice with the line, “I have hated God’s enemies with a perfect hate.” Those enemies: Papists, of course, and the Whore of Babylon (the Roman Catholic Church), the Anti-Christ (better know as the Pope) and all their allies – consisting, as far as I could tell, of anyone who disagreed with his particular vision of the world. No touchy-feely New Testament - Sermon on the Mount - “love thy enemy” - nonsense from our Ian; it was strictly the God of Abraham for the lads.

The rally was a festival of Orange paranoid delusions and thinly veiled threats toward the “minority” community. Conspiracy theories abounded. One of the warm up acts for “Big Ian” announced that the IRA was an agent of the international conspiracy of “Communists, Freemasons and Jesuits.” Also, it was common knowledge the six northeastern counties of Ireland would soon be the sight of an apocalyptic battle worthy of the Book of Revelations. They, the good Protestants of Ulster, were a besieged people.

My “guide” to this event flashed me a stern look as if to warn me not to give in to my instincts and roll on the ground in fits of convulsive laughter. He needn’t have worried. A quick survey of the grim Ulster visages surrounding me gave no doubt to the folly of guffawing out loud. Even a knowing smirk might prove not only inappropriate, but potentially deadly as well. After all, Paisely justified his violent anti-Catholic pogroms in 1968, by saying, "Catholic homes caught fire because they were loaded with petrol bombs; Catholic churches were attacked and burned because they were arsenals and priests handed out sub-machine guns to parishioners"; he also attributed the massive discrimination in employment and housing for Catholics were simply because "they breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin".

This was not a group of people to trifle with – especially if you might be perceived to be one of the “vermin”.

"I have hated God's enemies with a perfect hate." Posted by Hello

So, why exhume a long ago rally in an obscure corner of the planet where insanity and fanaticism are assumed to be the norm? Only one reason - I have personally traveled to the nexus of where religion and politics have crossed, often with tragic results. Paisley was not only the leader of a church; he was also the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – the largest political party in Northern Ireland. Not only could Paisley lay claim to moral authority, he had the political clout to carry out his “mission”.

While the fusion of the political and the religious in Ireland dates back to the 16th century, its unhappy history still serves as a chilling reminder of what happens when gods and princes join forces, and are bent toward any enterprise. I thought to myself, perhaps a little too smugly in retrospect; as I left that rally in 1977, that what I had witnessed was an anachronism, a vestigial nightmare peculiar to a backwater where the events of three hundred years ago were spoken of as if they were last week. And, how lucky I was to reside in a country where this sort of nonsense cannot take place or, at least, it was confined to the lunatic fringe.

Now, nearly three decades later we seem to have found ourselves in the pages of Ronan Bennett’s bête noir novel, Havoc, in its Third Year. Set in 1630’s Northern England on the verge of civil war, Bennett’s depiction of Puritan theocracy has a decidedly modern ring. Adam, the manservant to the protagonist, John Brigge has recently been converted to the zealots’ camp, envisioning the world thusly:

“We live in bitter times and the world is divided in two: those who live inside the godly nation, and those outside. Inside is righteousness and strength. Outside is barbarism and terror.”

This, of course, is the language of fanatics; the language you might expect from demagogues like Paisley and his Orange brethren, or a mullah from the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the mindset of Mohammed Atta – leader of the 9/11 hijackers. The wizened rabbis of Judaism’s Ultra-Orthodox sect would be comfortable with it as would be the Sikhs who attacked a theater in England causing the playwright to flee into hiding. Radical Hindu nationalists, when they take time out from killing their Muslim neighbors, to trash and burn shops selling St. Valentine’s Day cards would also be in agreement.

The famously tolerant Netherlands has lately experienced a spate of Islamic radicalism that has turned murderous, resulting in the death of one of its film directors, Theo Van Gogh, and resulting in the protective custody of two of its MP’s. Several other European countries, including Great Britain, Germany and Sweden, have seen a rash of “honor” killings involving young women who have somehow violated the honor of their Muslim families.

There doesn’t seem to be a major religion in the world (or any of their attending sects) that has not been infected with the dangerous virus of fundamentalism. A virus that is spreading as the spirit of the Enlightenment - rationalism, scientific inquiry, religious tolerance and economic liberalism – is weakening under the onslaught.

Thomas Jefferson’s plea, “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg” is barely audible in the Babel of religious bigotry consuming large swaths of the planet.

Thomas Jefferson Posted by Hello

Increasingly, Adam’s admonition is also becoming the language of the body politic in the United States. From President Bush on down there seems to be nearly a daily invocation of the “Lord” from political hacks that Thomas Franks describes as “nearly blasphemous”. The religious Right, straying far from the principles of traditional conservatism where government is to a minimum, seeks to use the power of government to impose their “inerrant” plan for the rest of us.

The religious Right’s victories in the 2004 election, where anti-gay referendums were passed in thirteen states, are a frightening reminder that the well of intolerance is deep indeed. Hardly a day passes where there is not a story of another assault on the First Amendment and the protections provided in the separation of church and state. School boards are feeling the growing pressure from well-organized groups to teach creation myths in place of scientifically based evolutionary theory. Nearly a third of biology teachers report they are hesitant to even mention the term in their classes.

The recent media spectacle surrounding the Terri Shiavo case highlighted how tightly interwoven the fundamentalist movement and the current administration really are. The Republican Party, at this point in time, seems to have misjudged the American public’s reception to these fringe ideas as reflected in recent polls, but they are beholding to the fanatics and their battle is hardly through.

While we here in the United States have yet to see the violent nature of religious zealotry, unless you count abortion clinic bombings, the rhetoric of these demagogues is growing shriller and coming more to resemble the language of that rally in Northern Ireland so many years ago.

As I said earlier, I thought I had witnessed a ghost from the past outside that market town in County Antrim, something that would soon be going out of the world. Little did I realize at the time, I might have been privy to a ghastly vision of the future.

©2005 Barney F. McClelland

You can read more of Barney F. McClelland’s work at Butterflies and Wheels

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Ted Kooser Wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

Current Poet Laureate of the United States, Ted Kooser, won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for his latest collection, “Delights and Shadows”.

Kooser, a retired life insurance executive, has published ten books of poetry over the past thirty-five years and has received numerous awards. A native of Iowa, he has lived for years in the Lincoln, Nebraska area. There is a hilarious interview with him in the New York Times.

This past December, while attending Jared Carter’s reading at the Library of Congress, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Kooser, whose work I have admired for a number of years. His quiet understated humor was what anyone who had read his poetry would expect. While most poets are a notoriously jealous lot, it is hard to begrudge such a craftsmen and gentleman his good fortune.

Below is one of my favorites:

Ted Kooser Posted by Hello

The Blind Always Come as Such a Surprise

The blind always come as such a surprise,
suddenly filling an elevator
with a great white porcupine of canes,
or coming down upon us in a noisy crowd
like the eye of a hurricane.
The dashboards of cars stopped at crosswalks
and the shoes of commuters on trains
are covered with sentences
struck down in mid-flight by the canes of the blind.
Each of them changes our lives,
tapping across the bright circle of our ambitions
like cracks traversing the favorite china.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Without DeLay....

Tom "The Hammer" DeLay is the most corrupt politician in Washington. DeLay's anti-democratic, pro-special interest agenda - all in the pursuit of personal power and partisan gain – is cause for even the most disreputable used car salesmen to hold up his head with pride and say, “thank God, I’m not Tom DeLay.” The ethically-challenged DeLay, a darling son of the far right and religious fanatics, stepped over the line last week when he threatened the federal judges judges who refused to hear appeals on behalf of Terri Shiavo.

"We will look at an arrogant, out of control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at the Congress and president when given jurisdiction to hear this case anew and look at all the facts ... The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today."

The New Ayatolla Posted by Hello

In light of the fact judges and their families are increasingly under attack, with several losing their life and that of family members; is this conduct becoming the second most powerful member of the House of Representatives?

Perhaps the House Majority leader might want to consult someone on the matter of constitutional law. One of the reasons many judges are given life terms is to free them from exactly the kind of demagoguery “The Hammer” espouses.

Of course, the sleaze-ball from Sugarland only joined the “save Terri Shiavo” brigade in the 23rd hour in order to divert attention from the scrutiny being given to his own disgraceful political shenanigans. Such transparent maneuvers translated into polls showing 60 to 80 percent (depending on which poll you choose) are not in agreement with his “culture of life” crusade and think Congress would be better off minding its own business in this matter.

Now, even his own rightwing buddies are beginning to desert him. An increasing number of conservative publications and columnist are calling for his resignation, including The Wall Street Journal. The Ledger, a newspaper serving Lakeland, Florida and hardly known for its liberal views, put it most succintly in their editorial this past Friday:

“DeLay is a disgrace to his party and to the Congress. If he doesn't resign his leadership position, members of the House Republican caucus should remove him.”

"Tom DeLay gives us a bad name," says Wally the Weasel Posted by Hello

This is from the Daily Delay

10 reasons why Tom DeLay should resign from Congress

1. Tom DeLay violates ethics rules at will, making him a national embarrassment. Indeed, he has earned four formal ethics violations, a truly rare achievement as only five Members of Congress have been chastised by the committee in the last six years.

2. Tom DeLay embodies the worst of pay-to-play politics – he puts big donors like Enron ahead of the rest of us.

3. Tom DeLay abuses his position as House Majority Leader to trample on the legislative process and stretches the rules of campaign fundraising far as he can.

4. Tom DeLay accepted travel expenses from a registered foreign agent, in apparent violation of House rules.

5. Tom DeLay used illegal corporate contributions to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Texas voters with his anti-democratic re-districting scheme.

6. Tom DeLay uses tax dollars and government resources for partisan political gain.

7. Tom DeLay opposes any reasonable campaign finance laws, even disclosure of donations.

8. Tom DeLay shakes down small business owners for campaign contributions.

9. Tom DeLay received all expenses-paid junket from a lobbyist accused of bilking tens of millions of dollars from six Native American tribes.

10. Tom DeLay believes he is above the law.

Thanks to Brian's Political Donnybrook for the cartoon.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Jared Carter Appears in Bohème Magazine

Acclaimed Midwestern poet Jared Carter’s short story "The Old Musician" is featured in the April edition of Bohème Magazine. Bohème is an online magazine of arts, literature and opinion created by a group of artists and writers and has been published in Paris, France since 2003.

Carter, a native of Elwood, Indiana, is the author of 3 collections of poetry. His first collection “Work, for the Night is Coming” and the winner of the Walt Whitman Award. His second collection, “After the Rain” was award the 1995 Poets’ Prize.

In December, Carter read at the Library of Congress and was introduced by U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser as part of a series of readings made possible by the Gertrude Clark Whittall Poetry and Literature Fund. His reading was recorded for the library's archive.

Jared Carter Posted by Hello

Don't miss the "Insider's Report" on Jared Carter and his poetry as featured in the 2005 Poet's Market, published annually by Writer's Digest Books and edited by Nancy Breen.

"The Universality of the Local," in which Carter discusses some of the influences on his work, was contributed by poet and critic Barney F. McClelland, and begins on page 104.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Orwell, Toads and the Inevitability of Spring

Where I am sitting, it is a cold blustery day. This past week, we have a had a brief flirtation with spring, but it did not last. There is a possibility that it might snow today, and it the second day of April! Where is global warming when you really need it?

In preparing yesterday's posting, I came across a number of excellent animal photo sites (and no little trouble learning how to upload pictures to this sight!), I also reread some of my favorites essays by Orwell which resulted in the following:

Although he is best known for his "novels" Animal Farm and 1984, George Orwell wrote dozens of excellent essays in his short career. In fact, it would not be a stretch to say he is one of the finest essayists in English along with Hazlitt, Arnold and Swift.

The best known of these are "Politics and the English Language," "A Hanging," "The Prevention of Literature," and "".

One of my personal favorites is a less well-known piece entitled "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad." It is interesting because it reveals Orwell as a nature lover. It was written within a year of the end of the Second World War and much of the dreariness and privation of a wartime economy still held true. It is this war torn landscape that provides the backdrop for the nightmare world of Oceania. Hardly a time or place for a pastoral reflection. Still, Orwell argues convincingly as to why we should take time out to appreciate nature.

Bufo Americanus Posted by Hello

"I mention the spawning of the toads because it is one of the phenomena of spring which most deeply appeal to me, and because the toad, unlike the skylark and the primrose, has never had much of a boost from poets."

Yet, the recent scars of war are never very far away:

"As for spring, not even the narrow and gloomy streets round the Bank of England are quite able to exclude it. It comes seeping in everywhere, like one of those new poison gases which pass through all filters. The spring is commonly referred to as `a miracle', and during the past five or six years this worn-out figure of speech has taken on a new lease of life."

And the political is always the primary concern for Orwell. In another essay explaining his motives for writing he tells us:

"And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally."

In a world where even the personal is political (much more so now than in his day) it would probably do us all well to remember that there are some things that government, corporations and the masters of Madison avenue cannot control.

"At any rate, spring is here, even in London N.1, and they can't stop you enjoying it. This is a satisfying reflection. How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, spring is still spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it."

Friday, April 01, 2005

Satanic Terrapins...Oh My!

It appears that the semi-aquatic turtle species Trachemys scripta elegans, better known as the “Red-eared Slider” and often called the “dimestore turtle”, is now in league with the Prince of Darkness. According to pet shop owner, Bryan Dora, the image of Satan has appeared on the carapace of Lucky, the sole survivor of a fire which destroyed his Frankfort, Indiana pet store, Dora's A-Dora-ble Pet Shop. "The marking on the shell was like the devil wanted us to know he was down there," Dora said. "To me, it's too coincidental that the only thing to come out unscathed would have this image on it."

Dora is currently trying to sell Belial's Lucky online Posted by Hello

Meanwhile, several fundamentalist theologians have speculated as to why Beelzebub would choose such a humble species on which to reveal himself.

“I’m sure he [Satan] was pretty hacked off about the Blessed Virgin appearing on a grilled cheese sandwich several months ago,” said Rev. Bobby Ray Hinton, “and it brought a pretty penny on E-bay, which couldn’t make him too happy.”

Rev. Billy Earl McGuffy believes it is the devil’s way of foisting the dreaded theory of evolution on America’s innocent children. “Them evil-utionists is always saying that turtles have been on earth for 225 million years, but Holy Scripture clearly states that the Almighty created the world less than 6,000 years ago!,” McGuffey bellowed, “This is just one of the Devil’s tricks to confuse our children and spread the unholy gospel of Darwin!”

Other Biblical literalists are reserving comment until they can consult the book of “Revelations” to see if there is any mention of turtles.

Satan's emissary on Earth? Posted by Hello

In related news, Butterflies and Wheels editor, Ophelia Benson claims to have seen the nappy rash of the Baby Jesus while spreading marmalade on her toast.