Posts Tagged ‘burma’

SNEAKY PEOPLE

May 11, 2011
The Poet Dines Alone
The Poet Dines Alone

Excerpt: SNEAKY PEOPLE, unpublished novella.

Okay, this is a story about me.  It’s my diary, so I can write about anything I want – even things I wouldn’t tell other people (especially other men).  I’m a sneaky person.  I come from a long line of sneaky people – really sneaky people.  We’re part of the anonymous swarm that comes out like rats – day or night – picking off top or bottom of the midden heap (depending upon status in the pack) – seeking sustenance while awaiting the ever-approaching End of the World.

Which is pretty much occurring every day.  The End of the World is both cumulative and individual specific.  On the upper end of the End of the World Scale is Climate Change, which promises wholesale extinction (and, some bitch winters and summers between now and then); and, on the other is the latest starving Somali, homeless person, or helpless geriatric.  Somebody’s pretty much meeting the End of the World every single second.

I was born in San Francisco a bit before the mid-point of the Twentieth Century.  My parents were apprehensive about the spreading World War of that time and, I believe, my arrival was an oasis of joy for them – odd as that seems to me now.  My birth was an opportunity for them to hold the rest of the insane world temporarily at bay, basking in the momentary glow of life’s continuity.  Like all young people, they huddled secretly under the covers with their arms around each other, whispering about futures and possibilities – hopes.

My presence – miniscule and infantile – was accepted as God’s reassurance that all of us – each one: Dad, Mom, and Jr. – would come out all right.  In the end, the enemy would be defeated and the world brought majestically into the bright, painless peace of Forever After and the New Deal (which sounds like a rock group and if someone cops the name, I’ll sue).

However, my parents honestly felt that they were finishing the “undone business of World War I” – there were still German vermin to exterminate and, unexpectedly, the sudden need to fumigate Italy and delouse Japan.

Shortly after I was born, father was sent to the war by our beleaguered government and mother moved in with his mother – grandma – and three maiden aunts who were all destined to have affairs with transient servicemen who “might be killed in a matter of weeks,” and were.  None of my aunts’ fellahs made it back.  One aunt went bonkers, one married a dull-witted postman, and the third wed a fat automobile dealer and got a divorce from the rest of us.

Anyway, we waited at grandma’s for dad to come home.

He arrived late at night three years later.  He was flown into San Francisco International and taxied seventeen miles to his mother’s Oceanside home – to his wife and growing son.  I looked up at him as he stood over my bed.

“Did you fly home?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said with a pleased laugh.  “Do you remember me?”

“I have your picture,” I replied, pointing to his image on my dresser.

He looked at himself in the photograph for a long time, silent and withdrawn.  The day the photo had been taken, he had been a young soldier, vibrant, self-assured, and alive.  His face now was subtly different from the one in the photograph mounted between fifty-caliber machinegun rounds.  In the picture he was young and proud with new sergeant’s stripes on his Eighth Army Air Force uniform.  Standing there looking at himself, he was weary and grim.  A trace of the young man remained – a hint of optimism, which fired his eyes.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said at last, hardly believing that this would and could be so, that the bombs were left far behind, and gratefully forgetful that half the world’s population was still awakening in a world of ruins – picking hungrily through the rubble, hunting rats for nourishment.

I learned that he’d been in photo reconnaissance.  I liked the sound.  The French word “reconnaissance” had a lean mean underground battlefield resonance.  I was a romantic kid.  (That drove Dad nuts – among other things).  I learned, too, one evening when he was drinking, something he did more and more, that he had helped empty a rocket-hit orphanage one night in downtown London, carrying out its dead and dying children and their bloody parts.

He saw and lived with death as a routine for three years.  His photograph war souvenir album had pictures of massive bombers dumping lethal rain on Dresden, Berlin, German gun emplacements in Normandy, French coastal towns, war ships and hospitals, trains, cars, horses, wagons, canals and villages.  Now, home, he attacked normal civilian life as if it was the new enemy.  He had lost time to make up, things to do, family to feed and a top to possibly find.

In his free time, he watched boxing on the new-fangled television, tense with pleasure waiting for the knockouts, heavy K. O. punches, and T. K. O. s swimming in blood.  He watched the gymnastic exhibitions of professional wrestling until he realized that the mayhem wasn’t real.  He watched John Wayne repeatedly and successfully storm Iwo Jima.  He saw Errol Flynn shoot his way single-handedly through the entire Japanese Army in Burma.  He observed as Jeff Chandler really died of pleurisy while filming a mediocre account of Merrill’s Marauders on location in Imperial Indochina.  Pa’s latent violence had to translate into real life.

He punched Ma.  He punched me.  He drank himself finally and completely to death.  In his scarred wake, he left two sons, one daughter, and his frightened, yet indefatigable wife.  He also left behind the lingering echoes of Henry David Thoreau, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Father was a desperate man.

I’ve thought since that he was born in belief, raised in faith, condemned to hell, pardoned to purgatory, and eventually dispatched to…wherever he went.

Mother always said, “The War changed him.”  This is certainly so – I’ve seen other young men come back from Korea and Viet Nam.  They all have Dad’s eyes.  The men who fought at Salamis probably looked that way too.  Bloody fields and death process slowly.

Because of all this, justifications of violence appall me.  Its price is too high.  Brought home in the eyes of our young men, violence compounds as it seeks its vent.  Within the peacetime marketplace it ripples out on a high, spreading across the schoolyards, streaming into ghetto back alleys, finding its way into the boardroom.  Man against man, clan against clan.  So it goes, as Vonnegut says, and I?  I go on, watching to left and right, mindful of the dangers on the street, wary in my sleep – as restless as I was at the mouth of my cave one million years ago.

The history of mankind is a dry narration of famous battles, famous generals and famous kings, interspersed with profiles of failed political, social, economic and religious systems, which all rose and fell on the profit line.  The chronicle of anything else is incidental, a coffee table book.  Art, music, literature, dance, theater, magic are a sideshow to the main show.  Those things are the province of dreamers, romantics and fools.  For, if anyone is able to live a placid life, outside the maniacal slashing and hacking of whole peoples intent on the obliteration of other whole peoples, then one is, indeed, fortunate.

Life is a series of accidents.  Chance, not choice, governs (although, why we are in one spot at a particular time and not in another may be divinely inspired).  However, I doubt there is a Master Plan.  Master plans and master crimes require cumbersome plotting.  One can, or should be able to see their patterns, but impulse fires most of us.  We deal with consequences afterward, which is when they should properly be dealt with, I guess.

I’d like to do something to help my fellow human beings, but I don’t know what.  Everybody’s fighting and clawing, biting and scratching.  I’m hiding.  Scared to death.  Who wants to attract attention?  The threat to life may be worldwide conflagration, or in the mouth of some filthy city alley, with a knife wielding, coked-up assailant standing over one’s punctured corpse.  “Neither a peacekeeper, nor a lender be.” It’s too painful, too expensive, and too dangerous.  Experience is a great teacher; if we survive the lesson, but we’re still not gonna get out of this alive.

I wish I could stop the clock.  Turn back time until I’m just short of the primordial ooze – watch by degrees the slow progression of life.  See just how long it takes to make a human being out of all that gloop.  Think about just how quickly that complex organism can cancel itself out with a single bullet.

The universe is infinite.  I don’t really understand what that means, and it’s expanding, but into what?  It’s cosmic and vast and when you think about it, without the artificial augmentation of religious zealotry, perhaps meaningless.  Even so, this ship was pilotless before we knew that it had no pilot and continues so and nothing changes that.  Either way, I don’t expect the Creator to wash my dirty laundry or lift my heavy load.  It’s clear I gotta hoe my own corn.

I am alive, well, and living past the immoral end of the Twentieth Century and on the ignorant cusp of the early Twenty-first – unhappily still under threat of the nuclear-bomb, dismayed by Russians and Chinese, the System and the decay of the World, as ever.  “Is it just for the moment we live?”  You betcha.  What’s it all about, Alfie?  The End of the World is only a heartbeat away.  Whether one is one of a half million blown away at Hiroshima, drowning alone in the pool of a cliffside villa in Monterey, or choking in the arms of a lover on a sunny Egyptian Sunday.

Well, Diary, that’s my Summer Vacation.  I’m going home now.  Wonder what I’ll find?  It’s still the End of the World and Sissy Wagner doesn’t love me anymore.  Who’s going to do my laundry?

— JL:PDX, 8-09

Little Brown Bat with White-nose disease.

IMPORTANT LINK: Bats are present throughout most of the world and perform vital ecological roles such as pollinating flowers and dispersing fruit seeds. Many tropical plant species depend entirely on bats for the distribution of their seeds.

Bats are on a clear trajectory toward oblivion.  The Center for Biological Diversity has warned that the bat crisis is dire while calling for more funding to try to determine what, exactly, is killing America’s bats — and how the disease can be stopped.

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/bat_crisis_the_white-nose_syndrome/index.html

Little Brown Bat with White-nose disease.

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AVAAZ – “VOICES”

July 16, 2009

This is a very interesting group.  They’re doing a lot of good and significant things for the right reasons, using positive methods. 

ABOUT AVAAZ Avaaz.org is an independent, not-for-profit global campaigning organization that works to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people inform global decision-making. (Avaaz means “voice” in many languages.) Avaaz receives no money from governments or corporations, and is staffed by a global team based in Ottawa, London, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Buenos Aires, and Geneva.

Dear friends,

Here’s a quick report back on recent campaigning at Avaaz. Our community has grown like wildfire and is becoming really extraordinary — the pace and impact of our advocacy is intense. In just the last 8 weeks, we’ve run 9 major national and global campaigns on issues ranging from climate change to Iran to Guantanamo. Much more remains to be done on all these issues — but together we’re contributing in powerful ways. Here are some highlights from the last 8 weeks:

Brazilian rainforest – Brazilian Avaaz members made 14000 phone calls and sent 30,000 online messages to President Lula’s office in two days(!) and in the 11th hour successfully reversed a law that would hand over much of the Amazon rainforest to agrobusiness for exploitation – this was a major victory on climate change since the Amazon consumes enormous amounts of the greenhouse gasses that are warming the earth.

G8 Summit – last week 130,000 Avaaz members signed a petition in 48 hours calling for the G8 industrial countries to limit global warming to 2 degrees celsius – focusing on shaming 3 countries who were blocking progress. The petition was delivered at the summit to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown (see image at right), along with giant personalized postcards.

Outside the summit, Avaaz members stripped down to green underwear in a humorous theatrical delivery of the campaign’s message that generated substantial media coverage (pictured at right). As Avaaz and partners built pressure in Italy and around the world, the blocking countries relented, and the G8 leaders agreed to the 2 degree goal! However, they failed to agree on specific actions to make the goal a reality — our challenge now is to make sure leaders live up to their rhetorical commitments with a binding global treaty at the UN summit in Copenhagen this December.

Iran Protests – our community rapidly responded to the election crisis in Iran with an opinion poll to gauge the views of ordinary Iranians, a petition to world leaders to withhold recognition of the new President until the crackdown on protests ceased, and a fundraiser to support technology that would allow Iranians to freely access the internet. The rapidly deteriorating security situation has made it difficult to conduct the poll (final word on that coming this week), but the technology fundraiser has raised over a hundred thousand dollars to support the best tools for Iranians to access the internet and communicate freely. The situation in Iran remains uncertain, and we will continue to both support freedom of expression and oppose those who would exploit this crisis to justify military action against Iran.

Japan climate targets – In Japan, we raised the alarm as the Prime Minister Taro Aso was about to choose a damagingly weak climate targets. Funded by small online donations, Avaaz ran a national opinion poll that showed that 63% of Japanese people wanted strong targets, publicized it in the press, in a full page ad in the country’s largest business newspaper, and one in the Aso’s favourite comic book (see right). Internationally, Avaaz ran a front page ad in the Financial Times, and Avaaz members demonstrated and met with Japanese climate negotiators at summits in Paris and Bonn.

At last, the Prime Minister announced a target stronger than polluting industries had urged — but far from strong enough to stop catastrophic climate change. So we redoubled the pressure with a widely-covered international press conference dubbing the Japanese leader “George W. Aso” — comparing him to Bush for holding back progress on climate change.


Free Burma’s political prisoners
– Over 400,000 of us signed a major petition to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon asking him to make the release of Nobel prize winning political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners his top priority. The petition was delivered in an extended meeting with Moon’s office and in a press conference at the UN in New York. The UN chief issued a strong statement backing the release of Suu Kyi and traveled to Burma to attempt to meet with her, but was rebuffed by Burma’s military junta. International pressure did cause the junta to delay a new show trial to extend Aung San Suu Kyi’s prison sentence, but it will take much more pressure to secure her release.

United States and Torture – A global fundraiser and petition on stopping torture and closing Guantanamo prison allowed Avaaz to secure a giant, 9 story billboard just blocks from the White House in the heart of Washington DC to deliver our message — but at the last minute the company selling the ad space refused, despite members of the US congress offering to help unveil the billboard in a press conference. Avaaz has now secured an alternative option for delivering our edgy message that will have Washington DC buzzing with our call for justice.

UN Climate Summit – At a major summit on climate change in Bonn, Avaaz recruited among members in Germany to help our partners organize a massive 500 person aerial photo spelling out ‘Yes You Can’ as a message to leaders discussing climate targets (see right). It helped raise the profile and urgency of these faltering but urgent talks. Avaaz also sent a 16-person lobbying/activist team to the summit negotiations and members in 10 key countries joined “negotiator tracking teams” that are following and responding to urgent needs to press individual country negotiators at these summits.

Peru – Avaaz arranged with local indigenous and top political allies to deliver a global petition against new laws that would cause massive devastation to the Peruvian rainforest and its people, taking out an ad in the national newspaper (at right). The ad and campaign generated much attention, and the domestic and international pressure worked, for now — the Peruvian congress has revoked the controversial laws!

Israel – As Prime Minister Netanyahu prepared to make a speech responding to Obama’s historic Cairo address and demand that Israel stop illegal settlements of Palestinian land, Avaaz took out a front page ad in a major newspaper – Haaretz – delivering a joint petition from global and Israeli Avaaz members edgily asking Netanyahu to ‘be more like Obama’ and stop the settlements. Netanyahu has so far refused, but we’re helping to build an unprecedented wave of Israeli and global pressure and attention on this issue.

The petitions, fundraisers, rallies, and lobbying campaigns our community is doing are having an incredible impact. Avaaz has grown by 50,000 people a week and is now almost 3.6 million engaged citizens in every country of the world — and we’re truly global – operating in 14 languages our community has 25,000 members in Singapore, 35,000 in South Africa, 130,000 in Italy, 50,000 in Mexico… There hasn’t really been a community like ours before, able to rapidly and effectively mobilize people power all over the world to the greatest needs and concerns of all human beings — it’s a reason for hope.

It’s also an exciting journey — looking forward to taking on the next 8 weeks, and 8 months, and 8 years together!

With hope,
Ricken, Alice, Pascal, Ben, Veronique, Paul, Graziela, Brett, Raluca, Luis, Raj, Milena, Paula, Iain, Taren, Margaret and the whole Avaaz team.

PS – To see some of the highlights of Avaaz campaigning in 2007 and 2008 and leave a comment, click here:
https://secure.avaaz.org/en/report_back_2/

And to check out other recent Avaaz campaigning highlights like our climate victory in Germany, our messages to Obama wall in DC, the delivery of our Swine Flu petition to the WHO, our Green Recovery march at G20 Summit in London, or our support to Tibetan organizations to break the blackout on their communications — visit the Avaaz blog: http://www.avaaz.org/blog/en/.

Click here to learn more about our largest campaigns.

Don’t forget to check out our Facebook and Myspace and Bebo pages! You can also follow Avaaz on Twitter!