Wednesday, November 12, 2003

We Talk Physics into the Night - Poem by Dick Allen

We Talk Physics into the Night
by Dick Allen

“Nothing is finished,” Ye Feng says. “We’re going after nothing,
bending its wavelengths, breaking across its borders
as if it were something one hangs out to dry
or beats with a paddle. It’s like Zen,” he says,
“so filled with paradoxes that it jumps through hoops
that aren’t even there.” He sighs,
his fifth beer going flat. At twenty-nine,
Ye Feng already knows his life is flying into particles,
antisite disorders, temperature dependencies,
superparamagnetic clusters with at least two sizes of moments
but no heavy-fermion behavior. “It’s all optics,” he says,
“or our Great Wall of China, which often isn’t present
even when you’re walking it.” Beijing,
the black-and-white cat my wife and I have named
in honor of the birth city of the Fengs,
has utterly disappeared into the basement
or a black hole. On the mantelpiece,
the green-and-silver clock chimes 2:00 a.m.—another
twist of perception: how very late at night it’s also early morning
and vice versa. “Minneapolis,” says Ye Feng.
“My company’s moving me to Minneapolis.”
Outside the open window behind the couch,
a slight wind lazes through the dark, its passing
marked only by reactions of red maple leaves
and the soft tilting of grass and weeds. It’s nothing,
we say—at this late or early hour too tired or drunk
to be conscious of sounding clever—a shoulder
on the higher binding energy side of the main peak,
a local moment. How pretentious we sound,
even to ourselves, how arrogant, how sincere!

Source: The Georgia Review, Fall 2003.

Integer Vitae - Poem by Katha Pollitt

Integer Vitae
Katha Pollitt

The beautiful gray dog
loping across the lawn
all afternoon for the sheer joy
of summertime,

bees at their balm, the dragonfly
asleep on a raspberry leaf—
that's how we'd live
if living were enough

innocent, single-hearted
like the mourning dove who's called
his mate in the cool dawn
from one pine for a thousand years.

These do not wake in tears
nor does deception drive them
down to the blue pond
where the beaver, prince

of chaos, who appeared
alone as if from nowhere
is tirelessly constructing
his dark palace of many rooms.

Source: The Paris Review
Fall 2003
Issue 167

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The Lessons We Remember Today

Dear Readers,

The lessons we remember today, from that first and second world wars in trenches, millions of dead civilians and soldiers alike, so much devastations in that now forgotten era, is the lesson that the only way to achieve peace is not more war, but peace. The arms cadres, militia and military leadership would like us to believe otherwise as they did in the previous decades in that inglorious and senseless cold war that caused horrific regional wars with millions of more deaths and injuries in Korea, Vietnam, Africa, Latin America and many other parts of our world. Ordinary men, women and children, the soldiers comprised of regular folks like you and I, sacrificed their life in battles after battles, soaked with mud and blood, killing innocent civilians and combatants of other side, regular folks, indeed, in the process, in bombardments from sky, or tank shells, bayonet charges through skulls and bones, and dying in the fields, or demolished buildings. Precious lives were perished in the jungles, in desert, buried in deep, without ceremony or fanfare.

Let us remember those veterans, regardless of their nationality or creed, dead or alive, and countless civilians, whose lives were annihilated and consummated by the wraths of war, and let us denounce those heartless scalawags, comfortably placed and salivating for endless wars.

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
November 11, 2003

The lessons we remember today
By James Carroll, 11/11/2003

VETERANS DAY in Canada is called Remembrance Day. On this day in 1918, World War I ended, and the date was first set aside to honor that decimated generation of men who fell into the abyss of the trenches. Eventually, in the United States, Veterans Day became a time of remembrance for all Americans who lost their lives in war, as well as for those who served in defense of their country. Today, properly, the prayers of the nation go to the national cemeteries, and its thoughts to those in uniform. We carry in our hearts, especially, the young men and women serving in Iraq. Whatever the moral and political burdens of the war, and however much in dispute remain the decisions of the country's leadership, the people of the armed services deserve to feel the gratitude of their fellow citizens. Today we remember our soldiers, above all.

But the act of memory can be larger. We can recall, equally, what the searing experience of World War I did to the conscience of humanity. That war's unprecedented scale of mechanized death forced a new awareness on men and women that war is no longer tolerable. In their desperation to avoid future wars, they made a first stab at constructing a new social order. Old empires disappeared, new political arrangements were adopted, and finding alternatives to violence became an international priority.

After the "appeasement" of Munich, that idealistic impulse was regarded as a mistake. Hitler and Stalin exploited the soft legacy of Nov. 11, 1918. The urgent requirement of stopping each of them has been taken ever since as proof that the post-World War I dream of peace was not only unrealistic, but irresponsible.

And yet, on Remembrance Day, perhaps we can revisit the question. The post-World War I generation was determined never again to send the flower of youth into the maw of destruction.

After World War II, in which urban devastation and gas chambers replaced the trenches as signals of evil, the defeated nations reinvented themselves as pacifist peoples, and even the victors resolved to leave war behind.

"The weapons of war must be abolished," President Kennedy told the United Nations, "before they abolish us."

But again the vision fell short of being realized. In America, an open-ended embrace of those weapons, justified by the threat from Stalin's children, not only defined a main national purpose, but changed the meaning of politics, tied universities to war theory and defense grants, and created an unbreakable economic dependence on military manufacturing. Then the Cold War ended, and the whole world seemed ready, at last, for the establishment of a realistic and dependable peace. An ultimate "peace dividend" seemed about to pay out.

Washington alone, of the great powers, still regarded war as meaningful and war preparation as a priority. The now enemy-less Pentagon insisted on maintaining forever the "hedge" of its nuclear arsenal, and the White House, especially under George W. Bush, replaced the dream of an international order based on diplomatic agreement with the idea of a Pax Americana based on "full spectrum dominance."

On Remembrance Day, look at what has been forgotten. Washington's view of the world, replicating imperial Prussia's of 100 years ago, treats the main epiphany of the 20th century as if it did not happen. As if no lessons were learned in the trenches of Flanders, the fires of Dresden and Tokyo, the fallout of Hiroshima, the countless peasant wars which threw back the great powers, the genocides which sacrificed whole peoples to ferocious versions of the truth.

The much derided human impulse to find another way in fact succeeded, with the nonviolent overthrow of the Soviet empire from within, but that, too, is forgotten in a Washington that prefers to think of itself as the Cold War victor. The rituals of remembrance are all military, and the ethos of war is still made to seem ennobling. Alas, a new generation of the young are being fed with this lie -- and into it. That the roster of America's war dead is being added to on this Veterans Day should outrage the nation's conscience.

We began by thinking of Iraq, and we end there, too. Reports come back that many GIs have inadequate equipment and faulty protective gear, but their vulnerability is worse than that. They lack the protection of a clear and just cause. Their enemies multiply in the poison cloud of Bush's callow taunts. Bush has put this country's soldiers in an impossible position, for no good reason.

This betrayal of the young is a betrayal of the old, too. Bush's war defiles what the heroes of the last century saw when they saw through war, and betrays the memory of their bravely imagined alternative future -- peace -- which is the only future there can be.

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Knowing What's Nice

Dear Readers,

Criticizing the folks without conscience does not have to be humorless; Kurt Vonnegut proves it time and again in his articles and speeches. This revered writer is a proud humanist with conscience. He provides a definition of humanist: “Do you know what a Humanist is? I am honorary president of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that functionless capacity. We Humanists try to behave well without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. We serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any real familiarity, which is our community.”

About the people without consciences, Kurt writes: “Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort who are making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays. These are people born without consciences. They know full well the pain their actions may cause others to feel but do not care. They cannot care. They came into this world with a screw loose, and now they’re taking charge of everything. They appear to be great leaders because they are so decisive. Do this! Do that! What makes them so decisive is that they do not care and cannot care what happens next.”

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
November 8, 2003

Knowing What’s Nice
By Kurt Vonnegut | 11.6.03

Author’s note: I’m working on a novel, If God Were Alive Today, about a fictitious man, Gil Berman, 36 years my junior, who cracks jokes or whatever in front of college audiences from time to time, something I myself have done. Here are excerpts from some of what I myself said onstage at the University of Wisconsin in Madison on the evening of September 22, 2003, as we touch off the last chunks and drops and whiffs of fossil fuels.

September 24, 2003
Sagaponack, New York

It must be kind of spooky to be a student or teacher in a university as great as this one, with its libraries and laboratories and lecture halls, while knowing it is within the borders of a nation where wisdom, reason, knowledge and truth no longer apply.

I realize that some of you may have come in hopes of hearing tips on how to become a professional writer. I say to you, “If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. But do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

But actually, to practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it. Dance on your way out of here. Sing on your way out of here. Write a love poem when you get home. Draw a picture of your bed or roommate.

And hey, listen: A sappy woman sent me a letter a few years back. She knew I was sappy, too, which is to say a lifelong northern Democrat in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt mode, a friend of the working stiffs. She was about to have a baby, not mine, and wished to know if it was a bad thing to bring such a sweet and innocent creature into a world as bad as this one is. I replied that what made being alive almost worthwhile for me, besides music, was all the saints I met, who could be anywhere. By saints I meant people who behaved decently in a strikingly indecent society. Perhaps some of you are or will become saints for her child to meet.


And now I want to tell you about my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

That’s one favor I’ve asked of you.

Now I’ve got another one, a show of hands. How many of you have had a teacher at any point in your entire education who made you happier to be alive, prouder to be alive than you had previously believed possible? Now please say the name of that teacher out loud to someone sitting or standing near you.

OK? All done? “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”


I’ll be 81 on November 11. What’s it like to be this old? I can’t parallel park worth a damn anymore. Please don’t watch when I try to do it. But no matter how bad things may get for me, the music will still be wonderful. My epitaph, should I ever need one, God forbid: “The only proof he ever needed of the existence of God was music.”

You and the police are entitled to know, since I am going to spend the night near you, that I am both a Humanist and a Luddite. I may hold a Black Mass in the parking garage of the Best Western Hotel, if I can find a neo-conservative baby to sacrifice.

Do you know what a Humanist is? I am honorary president of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that functionless capacity. We Humanists try to behave well without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. We serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any real familiarity, which is our community.

We had a memorial services for Isaac a few years back, and at one point I said, “Isaac is up in Heaven now.” It was the funniest thing I could have said to a group of Humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, “Kurt is up in Heaven now.” That’s my favorite joke.

Do you know what a Luddite is? That’s a person who doesn’t like newfangled contraptions. Contraptions like nuclear submarines armed with Poseidon missiles that have H-bombs in their warheads, and like computers that cheat you out of becoming. Bill Gates says, “Wait till you can see what your computer can become.” But it’s you who should be doing the becoming. What you can become is the miracle you were born to work—not the damn fool computer.

Now you know what a Humanist and a Luddite are. Do you know what a Twerp is? When I was in high school in Indianapolis 65 years ago, a Twerp was a guy who stuck a set of false teeth up his rear end and bit the buttons off the back seats of taxicabs. (And a Snarf was a guy who sniffed the seats of girls’ bicycles.)

And I consider anybody a Twerp who hasn’t read the greatest American short story, which is “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” by Ambrose Bierce. It isn’t remotely political. It is a flawless example of American genius, like “Sophisticated Lady” by Duke Ellington or the Franklin stove. “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” by Ambrose Bierce.

I consider anybody a Twerp who hasn’t read Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. There can never be a better book than that one on the strengths and vulnerabilities inherent in our form of government.

Want a taste of that great book? He says, and he said it 168 years ago, that in no country other than ours has love of money taken stronger hold on the affections of men. OK?

And many of you, if not most, have surely at least dipped into that great book. But I can hardly call you Twerps, or even Snarfs, if you have never even heard of the next book I want to celebrate. Practically nobody has, since it is basically a medical text: The Mask of Sanity, first published in 1941 and written by the late Dr. Hervey Cleckley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia.

Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort who are making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays. These are people born without consciences. They know full well the pain their actions may cause others to feel but do not care. They cannot care. They came into this world with a screw loose, and now they’re taking charge of everything. They appear to be great leaders because they are so decisive. Do this! Do that! What makes them so decisive is that they do not care and cannot care what happens next.


Now then, there’s a good news and there’s a bad news tonight. The bad news is that the Martians have landed in New York City, and are staying at the Waldorf. The good news is that they only eat homeless man, women and children of all colors, and they pee gasoline.

But seriously, if you read the supermarket tabloids you know that for the past 10 years a team of Martian anthropologists has been studying our country, the only country worth a damn on the whole planet—forget Brazil and Argentina. Well, they went back home last week because they knew how really awful global warming is about to be. Their space ship wasn’t a flying saucer. It was more of a flying soup tureen. And they’re little, only six inches high, but they aren’t green. They’re mauve.

By way of farewell, their little mauve leader said there were two things about American culture no Martian could ever understand. “What is it,” she said in that teeny-weeny, tanny-wanny, toney-woney little voice of hers, “what can it possibly be about blow jobs and golf?”

That is stuff from a novel I’ve been working on for the past five years, about a standup comedian at the end of the world. It is about making jokes while we are killing all the fish in the ocean, and touching off the last chunks or drops or whiffs of fossil fuel. But it will not let itself be finished.

Its working title—or actually non-working title—is If God Were Alive Today. And hey, listen: It is time we thanked God that we are in a country where even the poor people are overweight. But the Bush diet could change that.

And about the novel I can never finish, If God Were Alive Today: The hero, the standup comedian on Doomsday, not only denounces our addiction to fossil fuels, with the pushers in the White House. Because of overpopulation, he is also against sexual intercourse. His name is Gil Berman, and he says to audiences like this one, “I am a flaming neuter. I am as celibate as at least 50 percent of the heterosexual Roman Catholic clergy. Celibacy is not a root canal, and it is so cheap and convenient. Talk about safe sex! You don’t have to do or say anything afterwards, because there is no afterwards.”

Gil Berman goes on: “When my tantrum, which is what I call my TV set, waves boobs in my face, and tells me that everybody but me is going to get laid tonight, and this is a national emergency, so I’ve got to rush out and buy pills or a car or a folding gymnasium I can hide under my bed, I laugh like a hyena. I know and you know there are millions upon millions of good Americans, present company not excepted, who aren’t going to get laid tonight.

“And we neuter vote! And I look forward to a day when the President of the United States, no less, who probably isn’t going to get laid that night either, decrees a National Neuter Pride Day. And out of our closets we’ll come. And we will go marching up main streets all over this great land of ours, shoulders squared, chins held high, and laughing like hyenas.”

What about God, if He were alive today? Gil Berman says, “God would have to be an Athiest, because the excrement has hit the air-conditioning big time, big time.”


Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Maher Arar’s Story

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
November 4, 2003

Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen and Ottawa computer consultant, 33-year-old, married and father of two children, was abducted in New York airport last year, and sent to prison of Syria for further torture.

Is this believable? Is this a far-fetched story?

Without providing him any lawyer during the interrogation, without going through due process of law, a Canadian citizen, who is entitled to all of his constitutional rights, were treated viciously, violating the norm of human rights that Canada is supposedly champion of upholding.

The moment Mr. Arar’s plane landed in Amman, Jordan, before going to Syria, the severe beatings began. They had beaten him with hands in the van in Jordan, with two inches thick shredded cables, in his stomach, on his neck, hip and lower back in Syrian prison. The Syrian “law enforcing” musclemen slapped him and boxed him for hours while Mr. Arar was screaming, in pain and despair, and trembling in uncontrollable fear. Fear for further torture, fear for his dear life.

Not only gruesome physical tortures that Mr. Arar was put through, he was also grinded with inhumane mental torment. At the end of his hours long physical abuses, the Syrian “law enforcing” officials with brutish smile would tell him that the next day would be worst so that Mr. Arar could have more nightmares in his grave like imprisonment. And the waiting period, interval for the torturers to get their refreshments, to build strength for further torture sessions, while Mr. Arar was put into a room where he could hear the agonizing screaming of other luckless prisoners in the compound, possibly other Maher Arars being brutalized away from public scrutiny.

It took almost a year of combined efforts of Canadian government (“quiet diplomacy”), Amnesty International and other organizations before Mr. Arar was released from his unfair imprisonment. After conducting a through investigation that also included severe beatings and outright tortures of the prisoner, the “benevolent” Syrian government found the allegations on Mr. Maher Arar to have any links with the terrorist organizations are not to be true.

Now that Mr. Maher Arar came back to Canada, he and his wife are requesting for a public inquiry of the entire horrific episode. But interestingly, Canadian solicitor general has denied the demands of the Canadian opposition parties for a full-scale public inquiry on the role that CSIS, RCMP and Canadian government played on this apparently unlawful deportation of Mr. Arar to Syria, subjecting him to tortures and brutality.

The story does not end here. Last week, before Mr. Arar decided to hold his press conference, someone in the Canadian Federal government had leaked the official Syrian interrogation transcripts that were not supposed to be disclosed to the public in such a conspiratorial way. A preemptive strike perhaps?

While the Syrian government’s “fair trial” had released Mr. Maher Arar from any wrongdoings or from any involvements with any terrorist groups, the reason for this timely leak of Syrian transcripts has raised a few eyebrows in Canadian Parliament.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mr. Graham was furious regarding these leaks, he said, “I think we have to totally condemn leaks or unsubstantiated statements by people. I totally, utterly, absolutely condemn all forms of these speculative statements about a person's life because it's not fair to them, it's not fair to the process.”

These leaks, perhaps were getting circulated by the Canadian neo-conservatives hidden behind chaotic shadows, to malign Mr. Maher Arar’s innocence, or to divert the issue of Government agency’s abuses to a more comfortable Halloween scare of our time, the Al Qaeda boogey men. The North has learned from the South. Steering public attention from the real pressing issues, just stoke the fear, name that unutterable Al Qaeda connections with anyone, proven or not proven does not matter, what matter is creating an effective smokescreen.

Perhaps, September 11 has maddened the entire world, East and the West. Subjecting anyone under brutal tortures, who would not say anything the torturer wants to hear, so that his or her body would not be sliced or punched no more?

Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? If justice is discarded in favor of injustice, if the Government who is suppose to uphold the rules of law, be fair to every citizens regardless one’s race or religion, shows the sign of unfairness, and aberration of laws, what an innocent family man can do to protect him and his family? Are we going back to the old days of gun toting cowboys or sword brandishing nomads?


Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: