Scríobhim faoi Lá Cuimhneacháin inniu. Ceapaim faoi uncail agam. Is fear de m'ainm féin. Fuair sé bás ar feadh an cogadh mara níos mór. Bhí cúig agus trí scór fadó ann.
Bhí oifeageach ceannais ar mbád bídeach dul i dtír. Chuaigh cabhlach cogaidh go gcladaigh leis trúpaí. Ní raibh longa chogaidh ábalta ag dul i dtír in aice leis. Iarr saighdúirí ag breith longa iompair níos lu ag dul idir na longa mór agus an targaid talamh.
Mar sin, bhí díth acusan féin ag dul ina báid iompair ag coinneáil leis an gcladach. D'imigh saighdúir amháin leis mo h-uncail agus an tiománaí eile. Thug an dhá féin na trúpaí leis acusan de longa chogaidh amach i bhfarraige.
Tháinig na trúpaí gálanta rith cladaigh díobh láithreach. D'fhág an cath cóirithe ar aghaidh na tSeapáinaigh is daingean láithreach. Chuaigh Meiriceánaigh ag dulta i ndeabhadh greadadh ar an dá thaobh. Chaill saol idir chríon agus óg na mílte míle, a dhá is tríocha duine, mar sin go raibh inis straitéiseach agus bolcánachann.
D'ordaigh Jack do saighdúirí ag fanacht leis seisean féin mar a ordaítear. Rinne siad dhá uair ag dul trasna na habhann i mbád a ainmniú "an Lacha." Ina dhiadh dhá dul i dtír na hoilean na tSaipan uafásach, long a bhá ansuid. Fuair dhá bás mar bombardú is marfach i dtíortha i gcéin an t-Aigéan Ciúin anois aríst.
Uncle Jack & Memorial Day again.
I write about Memorial Day today. I think about my uncle. He's my namesake. He died during a very great naval battle. It was sixty-five (=five and three score) years ago.
He was a head officer on a tiny landing boat. The wartime navy went on the shore with troops. The warships were not able to land close. The soldiers attempted to take off to smaller transport boats landing between the great ships and the shore target.
Therefore, there was a need for themselves to go in transport boats to keep close to the shore. The soldiers only went with my uncle and another driver. The two themselves carried the troops with them from the battleships off shore.
The brave troops came to hit the shore. They left facing a pitched battle against the most determined Japanese straightaway. The Americans went into a horrendous melee on both sides. Thirty-two thousand lost young and old life both because there was a strategic, volcanic island.
Jack commanded the soldiers going out with themselves according to his orders. They made two times ferries in the boat called "the Duck." After two landings on the fearful island of Saipan, the boat drowned. Death had taken the two during a fierce bombardment there on distant shores of the now again "quiet ocean" (="Pacific").
Illustration/ íomhá: Chonaic mé an grianghraf seo nuair bhí mé óg. Iarr mé a bheith mairnéalach sula an radharc láidir. Tá íomhá sin is cosúil mar dán na h-uncail agam ag tSaipan. D'athraim mé sé. Tháinig an bás air agus eile go leor sa 17 Meitheamh 1944. Suaimhneas síoraí díobh anam gach lá./ I saw this photograph when I was young. I had wanted to be a sailor, before that strong sight. It changed me. That image is most similar to my uncle's fate on Saipan. Death took him and many others 17 June 1944. Let them rest in peace every day. "1943, Papua New Guinea/ Guine na Nua-Papua: Dead on the beach/ Na marbh as an bhfarraige."
Monday, May 25, 2009
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Jonathan Raban's "Surveillance" Book Review
Finally, a novel in which the protagonist checks Amazon reviews as part of her research. Lucy Bengstrom, a Seattle journalist interviewing a Holocaust survivor and wondering about the veracity of his best-selling memoir, thinks as she skims its nine hundred Amazon reviews: "It seemed to be part of the house rules that to praise a book you had to manifest an exaggerated response-- laughing until you cried, cracking up, or, as a woman from Akron, Ohio, claimed, wetting yourself, choking for breath, depriving yourself of sleep, as if readers were competing for some emotional dysfunction award." (204) I admit only to staying up late last night, and reading the book thus in two sittings. It flowed faster than I'd expected, and as I had only eighty pages to go at the point I had briefly separated my awareness from the page, I finished it summarily.
Emotionally speaking, happiness remains a will-o'the-wisp for Lucy and her daughter Alida, their neighbor Tad a bitter aging gay actor, August Venags the memoirist and his wife Minna, and Charles Lee-- an Asian immigrant, half-comic and half-sinister as his attempts to woo Lucy as he buys the apartment flat she, Alida and Tad occupy. Without giving away the climax of the novel, he puts notices in the tenant's mailboxes: "Notice of Demolition," and this phrase can stand for this story, set about five years from now. Lucy happens to be the same age I am, so reading this caused me a considerable amount of identification with her! Often, the travails of a writer make for thinly disguised agonies of the real writer of a novel. However, British-born transplant Raban, who I knew only for his early travelogue that I enjoyed twenty-odd years ago, "Arabia," integrates easily his adopted city's Seattle setting into a plot rich in character rather than description. That is, instead of focusing upon the natural beauties of the Northwest, he usually limits his omniscient, indirect first-person narrator to convey what each of the personae I listed above see of this city and the nearby islands.
What they notice tends towards the grim. Global warming leads to torrential rain and spring heat waves. In a clever detail, cars leave the engines on for the air conditioning as they wait for the ferry as a security check holds them up; on the ferry a short time later, Alida gives a thumbs-up to the boat's sign boasting its soybean-powered fuel!
The novel, in a scene that I admit weakens the novel's beginning and almost caused me to abandon it (until Charles Lee's entry made me pause and give it a second chance, overall earning more a low four stars or a high three as I think this incident weighs the book down in its early stages), begins with Lucy nearly involved in and eyewitness to a fatal car accident on the way to interview Augie the Latvian child grown U Dub professor and now retired political analyst. Now, most people would take the day off, beg off their engagement (even if it was hard to arrange that meeting with a famous reclusive author), and recoup. But, Lucy heads off with apparently less trauma than one'd expect, and while this may parallel her own brush with death to the many such close encounters attested to by Augie, it appears too contrived. The rest of the novel gathers momentum, as Lucy and Alida befriend Augie and Minna, and as Tad finds himself employed in dramatic enactments of staged emergencies indistinguishable from real attacks that the feds stage without warning in a near-future when neither side has won the war on/as terror.
Augie and Tad although they never meet provide the two polarities about the rationality of this war, and Lucy, although clearly the NPR listening liberal that one would expect of a writer who contributes to "The New Yorker" and "GQ," has therefore a chance to channel both views for the reader. Tad haunts the Net and convinces himself of conspiracies hatched by the Pentagon; Augie passionately defends a neo-con perspective that demands the fight for democracy and thus NPR's own demographic's choices means that eternal vigilance must be the price of freedom. Raban allows Augie's view to be conveyed through Lucy, while Tad's paranoia comes directly from his own mind: a clever touch that keeps the ideas of this novel alive.
The novel does not end tidily, to its credit. Near the final episode, as Lucy continues to wrestle with the truth of Augie's account, she begins to compose the profile on the enigmatic man's tale. "There'd be no bottom to this piece, no key to the 'real' Augie, no problems solved, no pseudo-urbane assembly of Augie in legible, transparent form on the page. Rather, readers would find themselves in the same position as the writer-- perplexed, fascinated, engaged, and sometimes repelled by August Vanags-- just as aware of their own shortcomings as she was of hers, aware that features and surfaces unregister themselves, and that like the writer, they must not conclude." Many reviewers, outraged at the novel's sudden end, may have failed to notice this foreshadowing on pp. 242-3, only a few pages from the dramatic conclusion.
I, too, would welcome a sequel. All the characters will be missed by me. But I am not sure if this would violate the narrative "rules" that the interviewer Lucy and the autobiographer Augie have themselves set up, not to forget the episode of Finn's freaking-out, so to speak.
While this novel may tilt for some more to a novel of ideas, or an Augie and Tad as mouthpieces to express the conflict we share in fighting a war against an often undetectable enemy in a time of sudden disaster, Raban is to be commended for keeping us all off balance, just as his Seattleites find themselves at the climactic event.
How better to finish off a novel about unpredictable times, when despite all the surveillance done personally or governmentally we must remember with a deus ex machina or a quick sharp shock how frail a human body is against the whole wide world? All of these topics, even if imperfectly integrated, attest to human frailty. Raban intentionally or subtly has proven how fragile are the electronic networks as well as the human connections in this novel of a time nearly identical to our own, as Amazon readers and reviewers!
(Posted, of course, to Amazon US today.)
Monday, June 18, 2007
Pragmatism or Practicality?
Edward Rothstein in "Connections," like his colleague in the Arts section who reviews TV, Virginia Heffernan, makes the NY Times worth reading. This on a day that the wife and I ponder whether to simply dump the LA Times, which announced it cannot even keep its "Parade"-level Sunday supplement, once grandly named the Los Angeles Times Magazine in imitation of you know who before reverting to the retro 70s moniker that it used to assume (when the paper also had "Home" as a separate magazine), "West." I do read Tim Rutten in the LAT Calendar section, although I often disagree with him, as he gets to review Michael Longley and Ciaran Carson's poetry collections and has a rare background these days in what used to be called Western civ. Still PC as to be expected from nearly any but the jokey conservative or the serious one they have goofing on the Op-Ed pages as a tag-team white boy Washington Capitols vs. the journalists of a Harlem Globetrotters people of colors not pink or swarthy. An earnest and properly liberal ESL teacher I knew (who was a WASP who posed once for Israeli Playboy in that halcyon era post-Six Day and pre-Yom Kippur Wars) fulminated against the shade labelled on old Crayola 64 as "flesh."
This leads me, actually, to this article comparing a formidable pair of heavyweights in any PC ring the past couple of generations, at least on campuses that may be more like the U of Chicago than, well, USC. (Had to get that dig in as a Bruin. See my photo on the profile!) Richard Rorty vs. Claude Levi-Strauss, as seen through the p-o-v of Rothstein, might have different ideas about variable truths and live and let die if they met the haughty Caduveo, a decidedly non-noble lot of sauvages who lorded over all whom they met, despising nature itself, in Brazilian Amazonia.
Rothstein then cites Rorty, who reacted as I did, after the initial surprise, on hearing what occurred Sept. 11, 2001. The journalist appears to criticize Rorty for his remark, but it seems perfectly sensible to me. Internal failure of G. W. Bush, in this case, to step aside from the attack on our nation may be immediately understandable, given our collective and individual shock, but the consistency of the past nearly six years now of Patriot Acts and zero tolerance and excuses to pump up our military-industrial complex both psychologically and, well, pragmatically appear to bear Rorty's own "first thought" out all too well.
One tendency of pragmatism might be to so focus on the ways in which one’s own worldview is flawed that trauma is more readily attributed to internal failure than to external challenges. In one of his last interviews Mr. Rorty recalled the events of 9/11: “When I heard the news about the twin towers, my first thought was: ‘Oh, God. Bush will use this the way Hitler used the Reichstag fire.’ ”
If that really was his first thought, it reflects a certain amount of reluctance to comprehend forces lying beyond the boundaries of his familiar world, an inability fully to imagine what confrontations over truth might look like, possibly even a resistance to stepping outside of one’s skin or mental habits.
Look, it's a very young, and fetching, Ms. Heffernan, according to her picture. I find she has a blog, "Screens," but I cannot get it to permalink here. It wants me to comment instead. Prefer to cut-and-paste her intro from June 18, "What Died When Rorty Died?", sans the You Tube epitaph! But she recommends it highly, so go for it.
Screens plans to go broke overestimating everyone’s intelligence today, including its own.
There is a poem by Philip Larkin that Richard Rorty liked. Here is how it ends:
And once you have walked the length of your mind, what
You command is clear as a lading-list.
Anything else must not, for you, be thought
And what’s the profit? Only that, in time,
We half-identify the blind impress
All our behavings bear, may trace it home.
But to confess,
On that green evening when our death begins,
Just what it was, is hardly satisfying,
Since it applied only to one man once,
And that one dying.
Citing this poem in the book “Contingency, Irony and Solidarity,” Mr. Rorty, the great American philosopher, urged us to create ourselves, invent our own vocabularies and thereby form something rich and interesting that — as he put it — will die when we die.
On June 8, he himself died.
What follows is a droll and meandering discussion of Mr. Rorty: a well-tailored film cut down for YouTube. Watch it to see his amazing repose and hear his unimpeachable sonority. Just try to doubt a word he says. Richard Rorty — pragmatist, ironist, skeptic, moralist — was brilliant, brave and funny, and what he said made sense and it mattered.
I turn now back to (tonight's electronic version of this morning's) printed page, favoring ink over streams for my imagery, and read confirmation of Rorty's philosophical refusal to place as paramount any truth verifiable or universal, in a secular worldview of course. These rules mark the game we play in our modern NYT-reading, PC-worshipping, "we are the world" mentality when we go to the U of Chicago. I am not sure about where I teach or USC, for that matter. The acceptance of nominalism rather than realism, to put it in 12c terms that Abelard might have understood, remains our destiny once Church and mullah and rabbi become caretakers of their houses of worship rather than arbiters of the state, kingmakers, and masters of puppets. This polity-- and no less powerful does it reign over universities and the NYT and LAT-- has been colonized by the resurgent mandarins such as Rorty led into philosophy and, I note, lit crit and the humanities, the position of professorship in which he retired being the latter categories...blurred for and by such intellectual whirlwinds. After all, as I pondered in this blog last week about the fatwa article in the NYT-- once we in the West have dethroned Queen Theologia, we wind up along with Pilate asking "quod est veritas?"
Alessandra Stanley reviews a TV series for the hip (naturally) "Simon Schama's Power of Art." Note placement of the presenter before the subject matter. Harvard prof, educated at Cambridge and Oxford, he's primo PBS, for us what Sir Kenneth Clarke was to 1969. Re-enactments of angry Rothko, Nazi jackboots, what Stanley calls genially "the Bob Barker of art criticism" beckons us to come on down and leap into the embrace of Van Gogh and Picasso. Why not start there?
Schama's an intriguing case of the shift from servant to Queen Theology to ruler as Tenured Philosopher, having grown up Orthodox in postwar London of Dutch Sephardic descent. Child of the 60s, he went to Oxbridge and decided one day keeping kosher was silly, so thus began his "enlightenment," at least in his own estimation. His segment about "Guernica" sounds promising; a possibly apocryphal anecdote dramatizes Picasso denying that the artwork was "his." No, he tells the helmeted goon, "it was yours." The fearless artist, the voice of the fragile against the fury. That cliché about speaking truth to power didn't work so well, however, a year and a half after 9/11 forced the US to make good its unwise vow to end the war on terror.
Mr. Schama ends the segment with another anecdote, describing the moment in 2003 when Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, went to the United Nations to make the case for war against Saddam Hussein, and United Nations officials covered the tapestry version of “Guernica” with a large blue cloth, concerned that Picasso’s dead children, weeping mothers and screaming horses might clash with Mr. Powell’s message.
Mr. Schama says this is proof that art has a power that even a superpower cannot defuse. “You’re the mightiest country in the world, you can throw your armies around, you can get rid of dictators,” he says. “But, hey, don’t tangle with a masterpiece.”
The power of the pen vs. the sword, Dept. of Homeland Security vs. my blog. My humanities education applied daily to a working class, hardscrabble classroom level that Rorty never had to survive in, for all his desire in his later years, after the excesses of the radical movement, to make his teaching relevant. What do my charges know about art and politics and their confrontation?
Typing this, I prepare for my own tiny bit of research frantically completed in the midst of teaching 45 weeks annually. Having been the victim of name-caused holdups whenever flying the past few years, I received in response to my inquiry to our guardians of liberty my own form letter from the TSA. Telling me in dense paragraphs of bureaucratese that Orwell could have cited in "Politics & the English Language" as models that they could or could not remove me from the "don't make life easy when this guy tries to board and forget about any self-check kiosk" list. My military vets in class assure me the government's fifteen to twenty years ahead in the tech that I peck away at this evening. I only hope my tax dollars at work give my children a reason to sleep better at night, for the debt that they will inherit.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
How to film time?
Philip Groening's interview with Angela Zito (sorry, I only can hit the umlaut when I accidentally mean for a fada, the long vowel accent in Irish on this silly keyboard that shows off its American ethnocentrism) opens up even more his epic effort in "Into Great Silence/ Die Grosse Stille." The "daily review of religion and the press" at "The Revealer" has an excellent talk with the director on why he had to make the film by himself, how chronology and repetition work for the editor, and the effort to come to terms with his own conflict over Catholicism. Groening learned much about his own aesthetic and spiritual tendencies, and I find it intriguing how his art reveals his own inner longing while embracing the outer swirl at La Grande Chartreuse. The interview's worth reading even if you have no interest in the film. Although after you ponder his thoughts, if you still remain indifferent to seeing this nearly three-hour pilgrimage into the Other, you must be a heretic beyond any redemption, cinematic or communicant (in more than one sense of the latter term!)...
Oh yeah. The problem with getting a keyboard to type accents and foreign characters. How our machines reflect our mindsets. Our cars show off our status. Our engines driven by our desires.
Don't get me started this Memorial Day weekend. Patriotism and scoundrels. There's this commercial by GM, buzzers of the Hummer and builders of behemoths, with the gall to simper about helping Our Troops feel needed with the GM dealers' effort to collect cards and letters for our war-weary soldiers fighting for our right not to drive 55 or 65. The thought's nice, but the action belies their charity when their lots are full of vehicles costing $80 to fill up while the GM's EV1's lie in a stack of rusting compressed tin in Arizona, all 4000 or so of the plucky electric cars being collected and discarded in 2004. Meanwhile, patents get bought out, inventors sidelined, and it looks like the automakers, American buyers, and OPEC in line with our Cheney-Bush Halliburton-Saudi manipulators will build Dubai into a Allah-baiting green wonderland of fake plastic trees as our globe warms, gas climbs to near $4 for me a gallon, and this century sees the other three billion of us on this sweltering orb climb into their own drivers' seats.
How to get us out of our seats by raising fares that supposedly will fund more trains to get us out of our cars is a Catch-22. With its outrageous increases, the MTA will lose money. Result one: the poor will not pay and hope not to get called on to produce a ticket, which I calculate is about a 1:200 chance from my observation and experience. Result two: the poor as they did during the MTA strike will find ways to bum rides. Or drive. Roads congest. Result three: the MTA will lose revenue and the congestion will increase as fewer of us take the trouble (considerable as it is even when there are now lines running every half-hour for the bus or twenty minutes for many trains; the MTA warns they will keep hiking fares and charge per mile ridden by 2012) to board the bus or train when a day pass runs not $3 but $5 and soon $6. Why double your commute, at the least, when you pay more and can drive and waste the same amount of gas for your dollar? Better air-conditioning, and you can install air-fresheners.
How will this punishment of those who take the trouble to get off the highway out of public duty, poverty, or convenience? Our motives may be mixed, but a million riders a day on MTA help a the rest of us when we drive about this LA County that grows by 100,000 people a year? How will this ease our smog as our emissions standards stringent as they were weaken due to relentless population growth? 5% of us may commute by bus and train as it is now. We all know what a few more cars only on the road can do to overload the system. The cynical fare increase for those of us trying to take local public transit, furthermore, is a spit in the eye of the vast majority of those I see with me on the MTA each day's commute as the Blue Line squeals through Compton and Vernon and Long Beach.
One appointee who defended the increases had written a letter-- he in Sherman Oaks probably avails himself little of the Orange Line-- that characterized the MTA with its cheaper fares only a "floating hotel for transients and gangbangers." I am the first to thank technology for my IEMs and the ability to shut out the sounds of transit, but this language by a member of the MTA board speaks of the attitude of those backing the fare hikes. The Bus Riders Union too errs in claiming that only "whites" (and by extension we are all rich in their lefty eyes) ride rail, and its urging of more buses to clog streets at the expense of more rail to ease commutes is again part of the problem. I admire their protests the other day against the MTA, but casting this as a racist plot against the proles I find risible. The agitproppers at Revolution Books on Pico need to take off their Ché bandannas and look about who rides the Red and Blue and yes even the Gold Line. Do the math of parity that Pacifica Radio fixates on as the Golden Mean of all measures upon us, and work out the ethnic percentages to see that indeed the rails as the buses reflect their neighborhoods. And, contrasting the average annual income of $11k for bus riders vs. a whopping $22k for railroaders does not exactly speak to the affluence of either demographic who gets to watch the Hummers and Hyundais whir past the windows in traffic.
A charade for our Green Day Heal the Earth postures in this city indulged in lately by Mayor Villaraigosa. The homeboy who can do no wrong for the LA Times, last week came to Griffith Park (1/4 burned thanks to global warming and the dryest year in 140 years) in a chartered bus to show off his devotion to public transit. He left the same lovefest in a Yukon. Security reasons, rationalized his omnipresent handlers. The wife (mine not his) used to see him with the like entourage on his jog at 5-ish in the morn, and he only a city councillor back then not Hizzoner.
All these crocodile tears about sacrificing for our boys and girls in Iraq as if putting a yellow-ribbon on our own Yukon (where'd the snow go?) or Tundra (watch it melt) SUV makes up for our hypocritical binge of conspicuous consumption brings out the reactionary g-damned independent monkey wrenching anarchist in me. Reading about the fame-conflicted narcissist-solitary Thomas Merton, the embitteredly pure pacifist Dorothy Day and the self-conscious visionary Flannery O'Connor and the by comparison dull doctor Walker Percy in Paul Elie's "The Life You Save Might Be Your Own" reminds me of the little that I have kept in my soul from my college years of reading. Picking up the Catholic Worker myself, registering with Pax Christi after my year was the first to have to sign up for Selective Service, stumbling upon "The Seven Storey Mountain" at the age of thirteen, and methodically working my way through both O'Connor's fearsome fiction and the rather arid but curiously intimate novels of Percy's Southern scions in college for and not for credit: all of these authors and so many more from that mid-century burst of Catholic culture moved me. Turning the pages of "Jubilee" in the LMU stacks as I sat at a carrel and looked out over the roof's white gravel slanting in harsh sun. They all touched me and still do, I now realize, deeply despite my carapace of gloom. My cynical crust.
I hope in my few better moments I can still cherish the Jesuit imperative for social justice, for simplicity, knowledge as opposed to information, and that the choices we make should be informed by the imagination and tempered by reason. By my teaching and writing and thinking, even grumpy aloof me tries his best to ease the way of others. Even if the Dodgers lose and my son erupts with the same relentless resignation and Irish fatalism his progenitor carries so deep it's DNA. Nature + Nurture= Niall.
I too try to cultivate awareness, as the adepts of the East (or the Westside of Manhattan and LA-- latest flyer in window at Bodhi Tree for a talk on healing the self by the magic crystals of Chakra or to that effect I kid you not) might phrase it when striving for a bit of detachment from Chavez Ravine's hapless Blue Crew (as my dear co-habitant in her own blog entry the other day has also mused). I read about Leonard Cohen up there 600o feet at the Mount Baldy Zen center a mile above my childhood home (pre-tract houses, pro-citrus groves) and how he sees the fulfillment of his own path in between a waitress's breasts as she leans down to call him "honey." I commend the 70-ish bard's insight, and his physical sight, and bet he gave her a great tip as well as a fine poem. Cohen reminds us hipsters aging along with him that the ability to see the beauty in the beloved and the erotic in the everyday is part of our salvation. If we want to detach from the world, we must love it even more. By the bittersweet separation that in Merton's phrase will hit us one day as a blast of "not-there-ness" we learn to live before that death.
As the monks and hermits and radicals and misfit writers in Elie all agree: our divine quest begins with the domestic and the habitual. More and more the labels of denominations, the strictures of sects, and the dogma of hairsplitters fascinates me even as I remain increasingly apart from the debate. Blame it on that yoga lesson my dear co-respondent makes me take once a week. Ok, ok, enough-- ahimsa.