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Employees of the U.S. government refer to people they murder as "bugsplat." They pretend that the men, women, and children they are killing with drones are just bugs, because they just look like little fuzzy creatures on a computer screen. Thank goodness for the artists who have put a giant portrait of a child in a field for the drone murderers to see and think about. Maybe the rest of us could think about it, and do more than think about it, too.
In Davidson, North Carolina, among many other places in the world, wealthy people ignore the suffering of the poor right nearby them as well as thousands of miles away. A fraction of what the U.S. government spends killing people with drones could end starvation in the world, and many certainly seem not to care. A fraction of what someone spends in a shopping mall could make a real difference in the life of someone sleeping on a bench, but most people provide no help.
But in an odd irony, many people in North Carolina, among many other places in the world, cling to ancient magical beliefs that just happen to include worshiping a man who was poor and who recommended caring for the poor. A sculpture of a homeless Jesus, a man you're supposed to worship because he has nail marks on his metallic feet, has got some people wondering whether they should find a little decency and compassion for those homeless people on benches who are made of flesh and blood.
CIA Director John Brennan, aka Obama's Cheney, was dispatched to Ukraine, where the U.S. had already spent $5 billion stirring up trouble. Ukrainian troops were immediately sent to attack protesters in eastern cities. Brennan may have had drones in his head. Drones have been known to crash, but never to stop and have a beer with the enemy. Drones often blow up the "wrong people," but they don't invite people to climb on board and share a laugh. When unarmed Ukrainians confronted tanks, many soldiers joined the people. How Brennan thought Ukrainians could be sent to kill Ukrainians seems a mystery after the images of human decency have taken over. How Christians think the poor and homeless, the hungry and ill-clothed can be blamed for their own inability to satiate their greed seems baffling when faced with the homeless Jesus. How drone "pilots" can sit and take part in the world's worst real-life Milgram experiment ought to horrify anyone who stops and thinks -- and nothing can make people stop and think the way a great work of art can. A picture is worth a million words, and a few lives let's hope.
Young authors of fiction from Gaza, some of whom say they are finding Palestine on the internet while unable to see it exist in reality, have just published a collection of stories, written in English, marking the five-year anniversary of the 23 days from December 27, 2008, until Obama's inauguration, during which Israel bombed the people of Gaza far more heavily than usual. They're publishing a new excerpt of the book each of these 23 days on their FaceBook page. You can talk with them in an upcoming Google Hangout.
For five years, the world -- just like Obama -- has overwhelmingly been "looking forward" when it comes to crimes committed by nations aligned with the U.S. government. But the crimes in Gaza then and now, and in other countries, have been exposed to unprecedented "looking present" through immediate real-time blogging available to those actively looking, even in the places responsible for the far-away terrorism-too-big-to-call-by-that-name. If everyone turned off their television and searched on a computer for news about their own country as reported in other countries, injustice, rather than our natural environment, would be endangered.
The telling of truer-than-news stories by these young Gazans has the potential to reach many more minds, and to set an example that just might scare off the next "humanitarian war" no matter where it's targeted. If victims of military benevolence can have their stories read by people who matter, or who could matter if they acted, and if those stories inevitably effect understanding of the obvious-but-always-denied fact that they are like we, that those people are people just like these people, that something has "brought out their humanity," then the shock and awe might have to move from its fictional location in the streets of non-humans' cities to a real existence in the offices of Lockheed Martin.
The stories in this book are of childhood and family, love and loss, soccer and toothaches. As with any story, people are placed in particularly special circumstances. A visit to the doctor is a visit to someone making decisions of triage: Will your father be sent to a specialist to be saved, or will this baby who has a better chance at living be sent instead? Two farmers, a Gazan and an Israeli unknowingly stand just inches or feet away from each other, separated by an impenetrable wall. A Gazan and an Israeli are perhaps attracted to each other, but blocked by a wall that needs no physical presence. A child is listening to a bedtime story when a missile strikes the house. Who will live? And who will be traumatized? Or was everyone pre-traumatized already?
"I spent that night thinking of Thaer's home, of the distant life in Mama's eyes. I kept wondering what's more torturous: the awful buzz of the drone outside or the sounds of some tough questions inside. I guess I eventually slept with no answer, thanking the drone for not giving my inner uproar any chance to abate."
Children in Gaza know the names of books, of toys, of movies, of trees, and of deadly flying aircraft. Some of the latter are called "Apaches," named after a people marched, and imprisoned, and slaughtered by the U.S. military, people kept in camps that inspired the Nazis', whose camps in turn inspired what the nation of Israel now does to non-Jewish African immigrants. How long will it be before little children in China are pointing to the sky in fear of a swarm of "Gazas"?
These stories are of people and of land, and of efforts to understand other people on the land. Understanding is a challenge:
"If a Palestinian bulldozer were ever invented (Haha, I know!) and I were given the chance to be in an orchard, in Haifa for instance, I would never uproot a tree an Israeli planted. No Palestinian would. To Palestinians, the tree is sacred, and so is the Land bearing it."
Gazans try to imagine what goes on in the minds of Israeli soldiers, particularly those soldiers who have killed their family members. One story tells the tale of an Israeli soldier's regret (or what we like to clinically and cleanly call PTSD), and of the soldier's wife's efforts to ease his pain:
"Honey, you were doing your job to follow orders. It's alright."
These words come as kind words of comfort, spoken to a man beyond the point of being able to hear them. And at the same time they come as an articulation of an ongoing horror of immense proportions. The contrast of these multiple meanings might make us all stop and question what we hear too often without thinking. Here in the United States, for example, any soldier in uniform gets on any airplane first and is thanked for his or her "service." Surely not thanking someone for their service would be impolite. But those who flip the switch on our prisons' electric chairs aren't thanked. Those who risk their lives to put out fires are not thanked. Only those who kill in war, even as their largest current killing operation -- in Afghanistan -- has the support of 17% in the U.S. and polling around the globe finds a consensus that the United States is the leading threat to peace on earth.
The stories from Gaza are not essays. They do not address the inevitable "What about the Gazans' own violence?" One need not misunderstand the nature of the occupation, the slow genocide, the international injustice, the vastly disproportionate violence and suffering imposed on one side of this so-called conflict in order to believe that "What about the Gazans' own violence?" is a reasonable question. Nor need one be a Gazan or an inexcusably arrogant and unsympathetic fool to have the right to disagree with the usual answer. The stories come with an introduction from the editor in which he expresses support for this well-known concept: "by any means necessary." I prefer this phrasing: "by any means effective." Means that most easily express rage are sometimes misinterpreted as necessary, while means that have the best chance of succeeding are rejected for not having a greater chance than they do.
The stories themselves don't actually take up that debate. Rather they depict the struggle merely to survive, the bravery that we may in fact all need everywhere if the earth's climate goes the way scientists expect. These young people from Gaza may become leaders in a movement to create peace and justice before madness and disaster-imperialism overtake the comfortable and the forgotten alike. I wonder if, and hope, they know the Afghan Peace Volunteers, and the people of No Dal Molin in Italy, and of Gangjeong Village on Jeju Island, and I hope they will join a new worldwide movement to end war that will be launching next year.
Robert Shetterly is a painter who is producing a collection of portraits (currently 190 of them) of "Americans Who Tell the Truth." He discusses the selection of subjects, and the reception the collection has been receiving around the country, the educational and activism possibilities. For more see http://americanswhotellthetruth.org
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Parents: Have your kids been tired in the morning? Have you found wet bathing suits in their beds? Do they know things about far-away places that you didn’t teach them and they didn’t learn in school? Do children visiting your town from halfway around the world always seem to be friends with your kids, and to only be around during certain hours of the day? You won’t believe the explanation, but your kids might grin and wink at each other if you read it to them.
Kids: Did you know the center of the Earth was hollow? Do you know the words that can take you there, if you’re under the covers in your swimming suit and prepared for the trip? Can you imagine traveling anywhere in the world where there’s a swimming pool — and being home again in time for breakfast? If you haven’t been to Tube World yet, this book will tell you the secrets you need to know. And it will tell you about some children who discovered Tube World and used it to make the whole world a better place.
The paperback has been published in two versions, one with slightly better color, slightly better paper, and a dramatically higher price.
Buy the standard paperback from Amazon,
(If you order from Amazon it will ship right away even if Amazon says it won't ship for weeks; it is print-on-demand.)
Buy the premium paperback from Amazon,
Your local independent bookstore can order the book through Ingram.
Anyone can order the book in bulk at the lowest possible price right here.
Buy any of these versions for $8 right here:
coming this week
Advance Praise for Tube World:
“This book will make you laugh till water comes out your ears!”--Wesley
“This story is super flibba garibbidy schmibbadie libbidie awesome, mostly!”--Travis
“The best part is we saved 2,000 islands and pretty much the whole world in our swimming suits!”--Hallie
About Shane Burke:
Shane Burke lives in Denver Colorado and has been drawing and painting since he could hold a pencil. He took private art lessons when he was young and began winning awards and contests by the age of seven. His first big commission came at age nine when he created artwork for a billboard near his home town of Tracy California. His greatest influences came from his grandfather and elementary school teachers. He loved watching his grandfather paint landscapes and wanted to be just like him. Shane is a creative day dreamer and at complete peace when putting ink to paper. You can see more of Shane's work at www.beezink.com
I'm searching for a good children's book illustrator to illustrate my first children's book. If you are one or know one, please write to david at david swanson dot org
This is not an easy one to write about without spoiling the plot. Let me just say that it's politically and psychologically insightful. It doesn't simplify or glorify. It doesn't beautify or brutalize human behavior. And you will find yourself trusting that it's going somewhere good, but you will not be able to say exactly where.
If Bradley Manning didn't exist we would have to invent him. Kraske has invented a narrative that takes us inside the workings of our government in a way that no collection of State Department cables ever could. For better or worse, I suspect he's taken us to a place very closely resembling the real thing.
When Jesus used a good Samaritan to explain the need to appreciate foreigners, he can be forgiven for not having known that so many Samaritans would later convert to Islam. It's not as if he was omniscient or something! And think of how much he's forgiven us. Nonetheless, since we can't reasonably be expected to appreciate Muslims -- at least not while we're teaching young people that Muslims deserve genocide -- that whole parable falls apart.
I doubt one film can solve this problem, but I did just get a chance to preview a beautiful documentary that will be airing on PBS on July 6th, called "Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World." Susan Sarandon narrates, and the voices are all in English -- no dubbing or subtitles. They're the voices of professors, art scholars, and artists. The subtitle could be a reference to cultures of the distant past, as an early comment in the film suggests, or perhaps it carries some sort of religious meaning.
The art in the film is largely but not exclusively religious. It's all art and architecture of "the Muslim world," taken to mean geographic areas dominated by Muslim culture now or in the past. We learn about the heavy use of Arabic writing in Islamic art, in calligraphy, and in architectural inscriptions. We tour great works of architecture in Palestine, Syria, Spain, Turkey, Mali, and India. In the secular world, apart from the mosques, we see plates, bowls, pitchers, sculptures, and paintings depicting animals and people.
In Isfahan, in the middle of Iran, so easily bombed, we find the origin of the blue and white ceramics we associate with a nation they spread to: China -- as well as stunning images of a beautiful blue mosque. During the course of the movie we are told how various Muslim art forms were influenced by Christian or Hindu art. And of course, the opposite has been just as common. The interlocking histories of these cultures make it very difficult to speak of one as if it were separate from the others.
I have to assume that someone who identified with a religion other than Islam could have as easy a time appreciating Islamic art as I do, being an atheist who would prefer to see the world leave religion behind. Some of the experts heard in the film instruct us that various art objects refer to prayer or heaven, or that the art provides the viewer with a religious experience. And yet if I ignore the commentary what I see are incredible designs and colors developed around natural and mathematical beauty.
God said: to know me, know my creations, we're told, and yet the flower designs woven into wonderful tapestries in Western Asia inspire even if I'm not trying to know something else that I can know by knowing them, if you know what I mean.
You walk into a large, bright gallery full of large colorful portraits, portraits of men. They are fairly ordinary looking men. They could be from Western Asia or the "Middle East."
You approach one and look at him for an instant. He looks normal, relaxed, almost expressionless, certainly expressing no very strong emotion.
Before you can look long, your eyes are drawn to the curving lines of words swirling around the canvas like leaves in water. You read words like these, twisting your head almost upside down to follow them:
"FROM THE TIME OF MORNING PRAYERS THEY WOULD DRAW A CIRCLE ON THE WALL, AND I HAD TO STAND ON MY TOES TWO HOURS WITH MY NOSE TOUCHING THE CIRCLE."
Until our supply of tickets runs out, anyone who donates $10 or more per ticket will get their name on a list to get into these amazing events in New York City. Just donate and we'll contact you to confirm:
Both events are at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater, John Jay College, 899 Tenth Ave., NYC.
The Guantanamo Lawyers’ Panel
Thursday, September 8 at 5pm in the Gerald W. Lynch Theater lobby
This panel of lawyers who represent Guantanamo and other detainees and work to defend civil liberties at home is bound to create an incredible dialogue about some of the most hotly debated and contested issues surrounding the ongoing detainment of terrorism “suspects” and the line between interrogation and torture. Panelists: Jonathan Hafetz, Seton Hall and Rutgers Universities; Martha Rayner, Fordham Law, currently representing a Guantanamo detainee; Gita Gutierrez, the Center for Constitutional Rights; Alex Abdo, ACLU’s National Security Project; chaired by Kathleen Chalfant, award-winning actress of stage and screen and advocate of social justice.
Written and Directed by Karen Malpede (author/director of Prophecy, editor: Acts of War)
Starring George Bartenieff with Eunice Wong, Ariel Sharif, Omar Koury, Christen Clifford, Dorien Makhloghi
Co-Produced with Theater Three Collaborative
Invited Dress Rehearsal Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 7:30pm, following The Guantanamo Lawyers’ Panel
A surreal, real, and satiric story of a mogul and his daughter locked in a titanic struggle, Another Life offers a whirl-wind trip through the past ten years. Greed, torture, war-lust and sexual enslavement vie with a subtle but growing resistance that leads to brave acts of caring and whistle-blowing. Another Life employs inventive language and memorable characters to bring to light questions of complicity and conscience in civil society. For more information, visit www.theaterthreecollaborative.org
(Here's the Foreword I wrote for the forthcoming book. --David Swanson)
I need a graphic to use for linking to this site, to put on T-shirts, stickers, etc.
Does "Let's Try Democracy" inspire any graphic artistry from generous contributors?
I'll give you full credit and link to your site!
david at davidswanson dot org