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Iraq

dreaming in the grey light nolank winkler

dreaming in the grey light painting by nolan winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2014)

“One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror.” George W. Bush

Shortly before George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to topple our former ally Saddam Hussein, a Sunni strong man, George invited a few learned English-speaking Iraqis to Washington to talk to him about the country he was soon to invade. One of the Iraqis explained that it was essential George understand the ancient enmity between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims that underpinned every aspect of political and social reality in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. To which our commander-in-chief famously replied, “There’s more than one kind of Muslim? I didn’t know that.”

Today, eleven years after George made his remarkable confession (remarkable for a President of the United States) and a rapidly escalating civil war engulfs Iraq, understanding the ancient enmity between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims is, indeed, essential to making even a little bit of sense of what’s going on in Iraq. The supranational corporations have manipulated this Sunni-Shi’ite enmity for a hundred years whenever such manipulation would enhance their sucking trillions of dollars worth of oil from Iraq and other oil-rich kingdoms of the Middle East.

A few years before George H. Bush, launched the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein in 1990, National Geographic magazine ran a lush spread of photos of the beautiful thriving country of Iraq, including flattering portraits of the handsome Saddam and his beautiful wife. The text of the article hailed Saddam as a forward-thinking benevolent leader who had masterfully used billions of petro dollars to vault the formerly impoverished cradle of civilization to the forefront of modernity. In Saddam’s Iraq, women were college professors and doctors and business owners, and though Saddam was a devout Sunni, more and more Iraqis were casting off the shackles of Muslim orthodoxy, both Shi’ite and Sunni, to embrace the exciting possibilities of secularism and equality.

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” George W. Bush

For the eight years Bill Clinton was President of the United States, from 1992 to 2000, Bill knowingly approved thousands of aerial bombings of Iraq by our unchallenged air force targeting power plants, water pipelines, water purification plants, schools, hospitals, bridges, roads and all basic infrastructure. Yes, Bill knowingly bombed the once thriving country of Iraq back into the stone age before George W. Bush’s puppeteers began promoting the lie that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and the toppling of the World Trade Center, and further cooked up the myth that Saddam possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction, both fictions used to justify the second invasion of Iraq.

I am reminded of these sad and terrible facts as I read about Iraq today and recall marching against the first Gulf War in 1990, our signs reading No Blood For Oil, and marching again in 2003, our signs still reading No Blood For Oil. Both wars were spearheaded by the Bush family, and because the Bush family fortune was deeply enmeshed with the Saudi royal family via Chevron Oil, I thought Chevron would be the ideal corporate target for a boycott to give some teeth to the anti-war movement—a boycott I could never convince any anti-war leader or group to promote.

Now there are cries from reactionary politicians and pundits who want the United States to act militarily to prop up the incredibly corrupt and inept Shi’ite government the United States installed in Iraq. These not-very-bright politicians and pundits are urging Obama to strike from the air to…what? How will more death and destruction resolve the enmity between the Sunnis and Shi’ites that was, according to that 1980’s National Geographic article, fading away as Iraq emerged into modernity and peace?

How corrupt is the current Iraqi regime? Here is one example reported by Alexander Reed Kelly. “By 2014, the going price for command of an Iraqi army division was reported to be around one million dollars, payable over two years as the purchaser recouped his investment via fees levied at roadblocks and other revenue streams. Little wonder that when called on to fight the disciplined and ruthless ISIS, the Iraqi army has melted away.”

 “The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measure it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.” Daniel Moynihan

According to Noam Chomsky, the invasion of Iraq in 1990 by the United States and Britain to dislodge Iraqi troops from Kuwait, an invasion resulting in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Iraqi troops, was entirely unnecessary. Crippling sanctions against Iraq were working and the United Nations was preparing to oversee negotiations to peacefully resolve the border dispute between Kuwait and Iraq that had inspired Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the first place.

But George H. Bush urgently wanted a war and so rushed to attack before non-military tactics might have defused the situation. While refreshing my memory about this moment in history, I found an online video made in 1991 of Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal discussing the invasion of Iraq that had just occurred. In the course of their conversation, they reminded each other that shortly before the invasion, the national media was buzzing with stories about Neil Bush being sued (and nearly being indicted on criminal charges) for his part in the Savings & Loan debacle that cost American taxpayers, according to Vidal, as much as the entire cost of World War Two!

By using war to divert public attention from his Ponzi scheming son and the massive crime perpetrated by bankers who were then bailed out by Congress (foreshadowing the economic meltdown of 2008 and the government’s bailout of the perpetrators) President George H. Bush was using a strategy employed by despots for thousands of years. Domestic improprieties got you down? Create a foreign threat, preferably from a country that isn’t really a threat, and make a patriotic fuss about going to war to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of pleasure.

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill

In 2003, when the anti-war movement in America vanished within days of the United States invading Iraq for the second time, I came to the conclusion that the disappearance of even symbolic resistance to the illegal war and occupation was directly connected to the unwillingness of any anti-war leader or anti-war organization in America to undertake a boycott of Chevron Oil.

I think such a boycott was never undertaken because the war in Iraq was the first major military operation launched by the United States that was obviously about securing and maintaining a constant supply of cheap gasoline for our cars, and we, the people of the United States, even so-called peaceniks, wanted and still want cheap gas more than we want anything else, even peace and freedom, even a habitable planet.

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Shakespeare

Shakespeare PC Map (todd)

 ©  1998 David Jouris/Hold the Mustard

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2014)

“I know not, sir, whether Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare, but if he did not, it seems to me that he missed the opportunity of his life.” James M. Barrie

A year ago we took possession of a spanking new paperback edition of The Oxford Companion To Shakespeare, the large handsome tome coming our way in a manner worthy of Shakespeare, and by that I mean in the way of the Bard’s zanier comedies in which complicated circumstantial chaos ends well—lovers united, villains chastised, parents pleased, gods appeased, and fools revealed to be wise. I should add that I never would have bought this book due to my limited financial reserves, thus it was only through cosmic largesse that the goodly tome became ours.

Here is the story. Our friend David Jouris, charming Berkeley eccentric, peripatetic photographer of dance companies, and indefatigable collector of quotations, is also the author of two unusual atlases of North America entitled All Over The Map and All Over the Map Again. These two delightful volumes are composed of thirty-three and thirty-four thematic maps featuring towns that really exist, accompanied by fascinating stories about the origins of some of the more intriguing town names. Among my favorites are an Optimistic map showing towns such as What Cheer, Windfall and Sublime, and a Pessimistic map showing such towns as Troublesome, Gripe, Last Chance and Bitter Springs. There are Theatrical, Dancing, Armed & Dangerous, Utopian, Literary, Animal, Musical, Eccentric, Egotistical, Numerical, Sporting, Lovers’, Saintly, and Mythical maps, to name a few, and most importantly, for the purpose of this tale, a Shakespearean map featuring such towns as Desdemona Texas, Rialto California and Romeo Colorado.

Some years before 10-Speed Press published David’s atlases, he brought out several of his thematic maps as black and white postcards under the aegis of his Hold the Mustard postcard line, and these map cards were deemed so groovy by the Library of Congress that several of David’s thematic maps were blown up huge and displayed in the Library of Congress lobby in Washington D.C. Then one day, two years after All Over The Map Again was published, and for reasons cloaked in mystery, David asked me if I thought he should bring out a color postcard of his Shakespearean map. The mystery is: why would David ask my advice when he unfailingly does whatever he wants regardless of what anybody else thinks? But not only did David ask my opinion about the Shakespearean postcard, he heeded my enthusiastic prediction that such a card would be a huge success, and he proceeded to publish the beautiful thing, thus making possible the comedy of errors I am recounting here.

Despite the ensuing (and mystifying) commercial failure of David’s Shakespearean postcard, I am ever happy to have this card on hand for sending to friends and to use as the self-addressed stamped postcard I include with my plays when I submit them to theater companies hither and yon. Shakespeare, it seems to me, is a most appropriate messenger for the ongoing and unanimous (so far) rejection of my plays.

Then one day David made a startling discovery: Oxford University Press was featuring his Shakespearean map in recent editions of The Oxford Companion To Shakespeare, the striking half-page reproduction captioned with, “This 1998 novelty postcard, which assumes a thorough familiarity with the Shakespeare canon, attests to the continuing presence of Shakespeare in American popular culture.”

Perhaps due to their excitement at finding such an ideal illustration, the editors at Oxford University Press neglected to secure the rights to use David’s creation for their book and thus had not recompensed him. Conveniently for David, the Oxford numbskulls published his map with © DAVID JOURIS/HOLD THE MUSTARD prominently displayed across northern Mexico, and thus were not only caught with damn spots on their hands, but with their spotted hands deep in the cookie jar.

Following relatively civil negotiations, the Brits agreed to pay David a paltry sum along with two copies of the hardback edition and two copies of the paperback edition of The Oxford Companion To Shakespeare, one of those paperbacks my reward for convincing David to manufacture the blessed card in the first place. And for the past year the good book has gone largely unread by moi until two weeks ago when, having finally completed the novel I’ve been madly writing for a year, I thought I’d try reading something I didn’t write, and possibly something I hadn’t read before.

So one tempestuous night, the fire crackling, the kettle burbling, I began to read that encyclopedia of Shakespearean factoids, and found the contents fascinating, entertaining, and scrumptious food for thought—may the gods of improbable probability be thanked for this gift. Here are a few brief selections from the tome.

acting, Elizabethan. The Elizabethan word for what we call acting was ‘playing’, and the word ‘acting’ was reserved for the gesticulations of an orator.

acting profession, Elizabethan and Jacobean. The Elizabethan word for an actor was ‘player’ and there were three classes: the sharer, the hired man, and the apprentice. The nucleus of the company was the sharers, typically between four and ten men, who were named on the patent which gave them the authority to perform and which identified their aristocratic patron.

Shakespeare, William (1564-1616), actor, playwright, poet, theatre administrator, and landowner; baptized, probably by John Bretchgirdle, in Holy Trinity church, Stratford-upon-Avon, on Wednesday, 26 April 1564, the third child and first son of John Shakespeare and his wife Mary.

Oxfordian theory, a term for what has since the mid-20th century been the most visible strand in the Authorship Controversy, the claim that Shakespeare’s works were in fact written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604).

“And melancholy is the nurse of frenzy.

Therefore they thought it good you hear a play

And frame your mind to mirth and merriment,

Which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life.”

            from The Taming of the Shrew

While there is no debate that William Shakespeare was involved in the theatrical world of London, there has been much and continuous speculation for five hundred years about whether William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays, any of them, attributed to William Shakespeare. Now that I have gobbled The Oxford Companion To Shakespeare, which prompted me to re-read The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet, I have my own theory about who wrote the plays of William Shakespeare.

Those who argue that Will Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon could not have writ the plays attributed to him ask: how could a man reputed to be one of the most prolific and learned writers in history not leave behind even a scrap of his plays and poetry in his own handwriting? Not a shred, not a line, not a tattered fragment of a tiny piece of a page in Shakespeare’s own hand survived even into the latter stages of his relatively short life, a time when various publishers and their agents were searching for such fragments from which to publish the plays! Why does Shakespeare’s last will and testament contain no directives regarding his plays and sonnets, or any mention of his writing at all, yet makes a fuss about who gets his second-best bed?

How could Shakespeare, at the height of his fame and influence, become so completely divorced from the London theatre scene, of which he was supposedly a massive pillar, and carry on with the wholly non-theatrical business ventures in Stratford-upon-Avon that apparently occupied him for his entire life? Why are there so few (virtually none) first or even secondhand descriptions of, or anecdotes about, Shakespeare, the actual person, by any of his contemporaries, literary or otherwise? And how can we explain that several of Shakespeare’s plays are set in Italy and nearly all his tragedies are set among royals and aristocrats, though Shakespeare never went abroad, his education was minimal, his children were illiterate, and the social milieu he occupied was that of the merchant class? From whence came his uncanny understanding of the ways and workings and subtleties of royalty, let alone his intimate knowledge of their histories?

What is irrefutable about the plays attributed to Shakespeare is that in the absence of original manuscripts, the extant texts are, without exception, collages of versions of those plays remembered by various actors who supposedly acted in those plays, which versions were written down and edited by several different men and different groups of men, and these written-down versions were then futzed with until deemed Close Enough by yet other men who then published the plays. The First Folio, entitled Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies—the foundational texts—was published in 1623, and the Second Folio was published ten years later, for which the editors made…wait for it…several hundred changes to the text of the First Folio. Several hundred! What were these changes based on? No one knows.

Along with the third and fourth and possibly fifth-hand nature of the “original” plays, is the undeniable fact that virtually every production of these plays, both in Shakespeare’s time and for centuries thereafter, and continuing to this day, employ scripts that are either edited, rewritten or wholly reimagined versions of the so-called originals. Thus the plays of Shakespeare, whoever wrote them, have never been static works and have always been treated as foundational forms to be modified and interpreted by directors who, like jazz musicians, knowingly improvise on popular standards and feel perfectly justified in doing so.

My theory runs thusly: William Shakespeare, a savvy business guy, travels to London to do business, buys his way into an ambitious company of actors, and quickly figures out that the better and more timely the plays a troupe has the exclusive rights to perform, the more successful that troupe will be, which success can lead to royal dispensation to build and own theaters and profit handsomely therefrom. A shrewd dude with a good ear for dialogue, William collaborates with a few talented writers on an early success or two, among them The Taming of the Shrew, and thereafter becomes a literary fence, so to speak, through which numerous writers—struggling actors, aristocrats wishing to remain anonymous, and talented provincials having flings at glory—benefit from the public perception that their plays were written by the hottest playwright in town.

The facts, such as they are, do not contradict my theory that Shakespeare was a superlative merchant of ghost writers or possibly the front man for a syndicate of play brokers, which would explain the wide-ranging stylistic variations in his plays, the comedies perhaps worked over by the Elizabethan equivalent of the gang of comics who wrote for the late great Sid Caesar—Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Woody Allen—the tragedies composed by brilliant and frustrated royals—latter day Gore Vidals—or persons associated with royalty.

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Blackberries & Firewood

a9-Promise of Spring

Promise of Spring photograph by Ellen Jantzen

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2013)

“Looks can be deceiving—it’s eating that’s believing.” James Thurber

A few days ago, Marion Crombie, our musical neighbor and fellow fruit forager, reported that two of the most promising and easily accessible stands of blackberries hereabouts have begun to fulfill their promise, so the next morning Marcia and I set forth with our knapsack full of glass jars (with lids) to harvest the luscious berries pursuant to making blackberry jam.

This is that marvelous time of year around here when the garden is producing copious edibles, the local apple crop is coming ripe, the plums have peaked but are still hanging about, and the berries—huckle, black, rasp and boysen—are profuse upon their vines. We managed to pick three quarts of black beauties in an hour or so, and with five apples cut up in the mix and using only one-third of the sugar called for in the jam recipe, we cooked up three quarts of the best blackberry jam money can’t buy.

“As an instrument of planetary home repair, it is hard to imagine anything as safe as a tree.” Jonathan Weiner

Yesterday, with the Mendocino air by turns muggy and cold and muggy and cold, the huge green dump truck from Frank’s Firewood arrived from Boonville to deliver two cords of seasoned tan oak destined for our wonderfully efficient Norwegian woodstove. The driver of that well-known truck is Neil Vaine, a master backer upper and superior dumping strategist, accompanied on his rounds by his trusty pooch, a handsome dog with a sweet disposition and a love of riding hither and yon with Neil.

The two cords had to be dumped a good fifty yards from our woodshed, and I look upon that great mass of yet-to-be-released solar power as hours of invigorating hauling and stacking that will ultimately result in thousands of hours of comforting heat when winter is upon us and the rains and cold keep us inside more than out. I am well aware of how lucky we are to live where we’re allowed to heat our homes with firewood, and luckier still to live in a place where firewood is available at all.

I love building fires and feeding them and watching the flames, and I have loved all that since I was little boy. When I was six-years-old, my father taught me how to build a campfire without the use of paper or lighter fluid. He showed me how to build a spacious little structure of tiny twigs around which and on top of I would lay slightly larger pieces of wood, and so on, while being careful to leave an opening for the match to reach those underlying twigs. For some years thereafter it was a point of pride that I make my fires in the fireplace at home or on backpack trips without resorting to paper to ignite the kindling. Nowadays I have no pride when it comes to using old newspapers to start the fire, though now and again I will build a fire without paper just to prove I can.

“Why, if a fish came to me, and told me he was going on a journey, I should say, “With what porpoise?” Lewis Carroll

Speaking of abundance, this used to be the time of year when we would frequently partake of delicious and nutritious locally caught salmon, but now we have drastically reduced our intake of fish in response to the ongoing meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan that have permanently poisoned the Pacific Ocean, with millions of gallons of radioactive water being released into the ocean every day from those dangerously crippled reactors because the Japanese lack the technology and sufficient money to stop the radioactive bleeding. Where are you when we need you, President Obama, Senators Feinstein and Boxer, billionaires Gates and Buffet, along with the rest of the entire supposedly civilized world?

Yesterday I read an excellent and terrifying article online from which I learned that a huge mass of radioactive contaminants dumped into the ocean from the Fukushima plants is fast approaching the west coast of North America, this on top of the enormous amounts of radioactive molecules that have already reached our shores and spread through the air around the world. And then I did something I rarely do; I read the comments from readers at the end of that online article, most of which contained the line, “I’m glad I don’t live on the west coast,” and many of which contained the shocking (to me) sentiment that the radioactive onslaught would “serve those rich people in Carmel and Malibu right.”

“Food is an important part of a balanced diet.” Fran Lebowitz

Today I stop in at the GoodLife Café and Bakery and purchase a loaf of excellent gluten-free bread, and the thought of a piece of toast made from that yummy bread lathered with our homemade blackberry jam propels me up the steep hill to home, my daily walk to and from the village of Mendocino the centerpiece of my current fitness regime that now also includes hauling and stacking firewood.

As I climb the hill, I rejoice about the abundance of fresh blackberries and our ample supply of firewood while simultaneously feeling sad about the ongoing catastrophe at Fukushima and the radioactive tides approaching our shores. I wave to a smiling friend driving by and try not to think about the corporations of mass destruction holding sway over the United States and much of the world. I stop to marvel at a hummingbird visiting the fanciful blooms of a fuchsia and think about brave Bradley Manning, one of the great heroes of our time, being sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for trying to do something about the out-of-control military-industrial complex that has made of the entire world a battle field.

“There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” Gore Vidal

I think we humans made a terrible mistake when we stopped living in or near villages, and by near I mean within a couple miles. I have the feeling that if humans are to survive and thrive on earth beyond the next little while, pretty much all of us will have to become villagers again, and even those who live in large cities will live in village-like neighborhoods within those cities. I think we will also have to become an egalitarian society again if we are to survive and thrive.

When were humans egalitarian? Haven’t there always been people who had much more than other people? Actually, no. Having much more than others made no practical sense for most of human evolution. Have you seen the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy? A purely egalitarian band (mobile village) of Bushmen, who have never left the Kalahari and never encountered non-Bushmen, come upon a glass Coca Cola bottle dropped from an airplane, and the Bushmen assume that this amazing thing came from the gods.

This glass bottle, duplicates of which the Bushmen cannot fashion out of animal skin or ostrich eggs or bones or wood, becomes the source of conflict among a people who cannot tolerate conflict because conflict seriously endangers their survival. And so it is decided that the man who found the evil thing must travel to the end of the earth and throw the thing into the abyss so it shall nevermore disturb the peace of these peaceful people.

I think the reason that little movie was so hugely successful all over the world is because we saw ourselves in those hunters and gatherers, and we saw most of the world’s problems in that Coca Cola bottle. Yes, people all over the world loved the idea of solving our biggest problems by getting rid of the sources of those problems, those sources being inequality coupled with the manufacture of things harmful to the earth and all her children: nuclear power plants and genetically modified organisms and pesticides and gasoline-powered automobiles and guns and bombs and poisonous chemicals and power plants that burn fossil fuels, to name a few.

And as I veer off the main road to check on a promising berry bush, I am fairly certain the gods are not the crazy ones.

“We must risk delight.” Jack Gilbert

I arrive home to a letter from a friend containing a poem by Jack Gilbert entitled A Brief For The Defense, which is about the mystical and unfathomable and beautiful and horrible and ecstatic and painful experience of living amidst the sorrows and joys of life. Gilbert wrote: “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, we should give thanks that the end had magnitude. We must admit there will be music despite everything.”