June 2009


Strawberry Fields 8x10 jpg copy

To be honest, I never cared much for Michael Jackson. My era of keen pop interest was back in the 1960s, good ole rock’n roll. I had no idols. Some voices spoke more directly to me than others, one being John Lennon and The Beatles.

Though he looked like an intellectual, John Lennon was solidly an artist and entertainer. He was a lousy student and dropped out of school. He had a gift for doodling; maybe he learned something in art school. Lennon and the Beatles drove the girls wild. I remember the Ed Sullivan show when the Beatles first came to America. They were the mop tops, and the girls shook their heads right off their bodies.

All the singer idols seem to that that visceral power, that animal magnetism. Slender Frankie Boy after World War II, Elvis the Pelvis, sweaty Englebert Humperdink, Michael Jackson, King of Pop. What was Michael Jackson’s appeal? This crotch-grabbing, shrieking android?

Michael Jackson was energy, or was the focal point or transmission node of vast cultural charges as he went through his onstage routine, making sharp James Brown moves with his dancers like a martinet leading a crack drill team: a quick spin, pelvic thrust, and the moon walk, with fireworks going off all around. Viewed from a distance, he seemed remote, alien, which he joked about in public. He was soft-spoken, unquestionably generous and kind, enigmatic behind heavy shades.

Elvis was a southern white boy that smoked of black sexuality. In cape and rhinestones he was identifiably a king. He was a man. Michael Jackson was a black kid from the Midwest who, in his success became white, as literally as he could, and slept with prepubescent white boys innocent as Peter Pan at his Neverland Ranch, except that we all knew that firkytoodling was going on in the bedroom.

A contemporary of Madonna, Michael Jackson made costumes an important feature of his act. Michael looked more like a band leader or prince of some fantasy kingdom than a soldier in his quasi-military outfits. Maybe he secretly yearned to perform in “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” He performed at U.S. military bases. Elvis actually served in the Army. Lennon protested the Vietnam War.

John Lennon came from a broken home and lived a roller coaster life, with violence in it as well the peace message the age committed him to. He seemed to have found moments of peace with Yoko Ono. It was during his marriage to Yoko Ono that JL produced several of his biggest hits: “Give Peace a Chance” and “Imagine.”

Lennon’s artistic influences were heavily literary. The English poet and comedian Spike Milligan was a big influence. Jackson’s mentors were performers, including the fore-mentioned James Brown. Jackson was a dancer, song writer, business man. . When you think of Lennon, you think of the long hair and wire rim spectacles, seldom his clothes. Lennon wrote, played guitar and did “bed-ins” with his artist wife, in the age of happenings.

Michel Jackson is noted in the Guinness Book of World Records as The Most Successful Entertainer of All Time. His album “Thriller” sold 45 million copies, all-time record. You can’t beat that. In 2002, the BBC conducted a poll to choose the 100 greatest Britons of all time—John came in 8th. Not bad, considering the competition included real people like Winston Churchill, who came in first. Princess Diana came in third, ahead of Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare and Sir Isaac Newton. One might ask: What is the meaning of greatness?

The current world wide outpouring of grief and affection at the sudden death of Michael Jackson is reminiscent of similar outpourings at the death of Princess Di. I remember when the news came in on TV of Diana’s death in a traffic accident late Friday night my time. It went on and on for weeks, exhausting the flower sellers of Britain.

It was the quizzical, poetic side of John Lennon that appealed to me. He belonged to a more literate time when thought had not quite been blown away by circus and sheer voltaic energy. It seems to me that you can enjoy a video of Michael Jackson and not clearly understand the words. I can’t imagine listening to a Lennon song and enjoying it without catching the lyrics.

Michael Jackson outlived John Lennon by 10 years. Jackson seemed to have ceased aging after he had his face reconstructed. Michael, like Elvis, died of cardiac arrest. Lennon was shot to death on the night of December 8, 1980 by Mark David Chapman outside his residence in New York City. Every year on that date New Yorkers hold a vigil outside the building where he lived. Across the street is a small park with an “Imagine” emblem in black and white tiles on the earth.

Super stars like that don’t really die anymore. They just stop making albums.

Poem, image, and artwork by Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

River God of Athens 8x10 JPG

In 1798 Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, was appointed as Ambassador to the court of the Sultan of Turkey. Prior to his departure to take up the post, he had approached the British government to inquire if they would be interested in employing artists to take casts and drawings of the sculptured portions of the Acropolis. The British government said no. At that time, the Acropolis was an Ottoman fort.

In 1801, supposedly with the permission of the Sultan, Lord Elgin began to remove material from the Parthenon and its surrounding structures at his own expense. The work was completed in 1812 at a personal cost of £74,240, quite a large sum. Lord Elgin began negotiations for the sale of the collection to the British Museum in 1811. Again, the government said no.

However, a revival in interest in classical Greece prompted the House of Commons to finally make an offer for the sculptures, at less than half of the cost Lord Elgin had sustained in obtaining them, and in 1816 the deal was struck. It was controversial from the beginning. Lord Byron opposed the removal of the sculptures, and wrote in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:

Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands, which it had best behoved
To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.

The fact that the sculptures were “mouldering,” indeed damaged in part by the ravages of war, has been an argument for the British rescue of the marbles and keeping them safely on display in the British Museum for the world to see. Now the Greeks have built a spacious new Acropolis Museum, and want their precious stones back.

The new Acropolis Museum seems to have been built as a kind of “museum of dreams,” with empty spaces for the missing pieces in Britain alongside what the Greeks have installed, on the notion that “if you build it, they will come.”

The Greek argument is simple: “The sculptures are ours. Our ancestors created them, and now it’s time for them to come home.” This is certainly a compelling, linear argument, and has many supporters, even among the British people.

Those in favor of the British Museum make the following arguments:

The charter of the BM forbids sale of objects in the museum, which has been upheld by the law with rare exceptions. More than half of the original marbles have been lost, therefore, the return of the British collection would not make a complete collection in the Acropolis Museum. In his June 24, 2009 article in The New York Times, Michael Kimmelman quotes the Greek writer Nikos Dimou on the subject. “If they (marbles) were returned, would Greeks be wiser, better? Other objects of incredible importance are scattered around Greece and no one visits them.” If one goes by the slides accompanying Mr. Kimmelman’s article, the Acropolis Museum is not starved for artifacts.

The Greeks finished the sculptures mounted on the east and west pediments of the Parthenon in the round because they believed the gods could see them from behind. The Greeks also covered them in bright polychrome colors: red, blue and gold. I have never heard anyone talk of painting the “noble” white marbles, actually a beautiful rose color in some pieces.

Who owns history? Mostly, the victors, who claim the spoils. In recent times of resurgent nationalism, native peoples and nation states have reclaimed their historical legacies. In New York City, the excavated Negro burial grounds led the city to protect that land from further development. Picasso’s masterpiece “Guernica” was removed from the Museum of Modern Art and sent to Spain. But what of the other thousands of trophies and spoils of war and foreign acquisitions by wealthy individuals?

Should we be required to travel to the Netherlands to view Rembrandt and Van Gogh? To the little town of Vinci to view the artistic and scientific works ob Leonardo da Vinci? Speaking personally, I have never traveled to Greece, although I would love to do so, and would not have seen the Elgin Marbles on my trip to London if they had not been in the British Museum, where they are well displayed. There is something to be said for having such a valuable collection on display in two locales for the benefit of the world.

I suspect the Greeks will continue to press their claim for the return of the Elgin Marbles and might eventually win, although probably not the return of the entire collection. I would guess that some compromise will be reached.

The poem “A River God of Athens, The Elgin Marbles” is from Selected Poems 1967 – 1987 by Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved. The photograph is also the property of the author.

Supported handless on his fluted drape,
Breasting neckless—the collarbones would speak—
He only tells of how the human shape
Was perfect in marble, noble and Greek.

Down, like an athlete forgotten from sport,
He bears a myth, yet what does stir the eye?
A potent grace and fullness rise cut short;
The action splays uncocked against the thigh.

How precious are these ancient stones to view,
Far removed from craftsman, faith and state?
If we could see our things a scattered few,
What would our broken biceps indicate?

Cameras are allowed, and do not touch;
The past is here to see and feel, as such.

The dramatic election-related events in Iran have loosened an old memory, of a different demonstration miles away and years ago, the March on the Pentagon in October of 1967, 42 years ago, in which I participated. It was the largest anti-Vietnam War demonstration of its time, and one of the best storied, especially as recounted in Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History.

I never met Mailer, but I did cross paths with him once at the Clark Street subway station in Brooklyn. He was walking in to pick up the morning news and showed me the coldest blue eyes I have ever seen on a man. I have no idea what that was about.

What I am writing here is my own account of the event. Although this is not a scholarly piece, I have tried to be careful with facts. One thing that struck me in searching the Web, to fill in holes in my memory, was the general paucity of articles directly related to the march. Googling “Pentagon March 1967” quickly picked up the march of 2007, a kind of commemorative demonstration, with a new war—Iraq—and a new Villain-In-Chief, George W. Bush instead of Lyndon B. Johnson. Protesting foreign wars has almost become almost axiomatic in America since the Vietnam War era, something I find a bit disturbing in our post-9/11 era when we now have real enemies.

* * * * * * * *

In the summer of 1967 I dropped out of college at the end of my junior year. The immediate cause of this was my failure to complete a summer French course at the University of Delaware, in preparation for my senior year at college. I had no receptivity to the foreign words in the language lab, and so removed my headphones and walked out. This portended an impossible schedule for my senior year at the College of Wooster. A large portion of my senior credits would be an independent study project, which, in my case, as an English Major, meant creative writing, maybe a novel, for which I knew I was unprepared.

I had already decided to become a writer. I did not want to teach English. So finishing my bachelor’s degree became unimportant to me. This freed me to put my oar into the swift moving current of the times. This was the Love Summer, the summer of riots, when the political, social and cultural ferment in California swept across the country, and it swept up me.

I was living at home at the time, in northern Delaware. I had a job working on a landscaping crew, shoveling dirt—a job I did not want to place in jeopardy by protesting against the war. Nonetheless, I took the risk when the time came.

Nick and I drove to Washington, D.C. for a planning session for the march in an office near Dupont Circle. Nick was my friend from high school who had also dropped out of college and was in similar hot water with the draft; both of us had applied for conscientious objector status, a struggle with our draft board that would continue for some time. I remember little about this planning session, what I was supposed to do if anything. Nick, I think, was the Delaware representative of SDS. Anyway, I sat across the table from Jerry Rubin, co-founder with Abbie Hoffman of the Youth International Party aka Yippies. I don’t know whether that came before or after. David Dellinger, a pacifist and co-ordinator of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam had asked Jerry Rubin, with his Berkeley credentials, to be project director of the march. So this was likely a Mobe meeting. I vaguely remember diagrams, maps. Perhaps they were discussing march routes to the Pentagon. What I remember about Rubin was his wooly hair. Nick and I resembled normal middle class students, which lately we had been. We fit in.

A week or two before the October 21st march, Nick and I attended an SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) party in Newark, Delaware. I did not formerly belong to SDS; it was the anti-war crowd I hung out with. There was booze and loud music, and the neighbors complained and the police showed up and arrested everyone. I was fingerprinted and booked, the only time I have been arrested.

Someone hired a lawyer and we all had a meeting together. Some expressed the fear that the judge might set a court date for Saturday the 21st thus depriving us of our anticipated plans to demonstrate in Washington. Our lawyer got the charges dropped, and that was the end of that. My parents were not particularly pleased about this episode.

* * * * * * * *

On the morning of the 21st, Nick and I drove to Washington. The streets were pretty much deserted, as I recall. Federal buildings were closed, and there were cops or National Guard troops or otherwise armed and ready men in front of federal and other key buildings. The Army of the Potomac was positioning itself.

However, nothing of the spirit of an army presided at the gathering in front of the Lincoln Memorial, covering both sides of the long reflecting pool and stretching on toward the Washington Memorial. It was the same arrangement as the 1963 civil rights march in which Martin Luther King Jr. announced his “I Have a Dream” speech-prayer-poem. Different colleges and affiliations were assembled under their banners. I recall a small group of Communists, The Progressive Labor Party, with their red banner and remember thinking how irrelevant they were to the driving purpose of the event. I think they were happy to be there more or less as hangers-on. Records indicate that Quakers attended and veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade that had fought against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War.

The atmosphere was that of a big American picnic. It was sunny and warm, if memory serves. I was comfortable in a medium weight wool jacket and jeans. One thing that struck me at the time was the catholic nature of the throng. Youth prevailed, but grown-ups there in attendance. Thousands of Americans had come from far and wide, many by bus, to the nation’s capital to express their concern about the war and civil unrest. Were there cops there? Probably, though I don’t remember their presence, and I doubt if there were troops.

There were three main goals or activities of the march. First, in a small ceremony the day before, a thousand or so draft cards had been collected and turned in to the attorney general. The main purpose for most of the demonstrators on the 21sst was to protest the Vietnam War. And for a small minority, the plan was to attack the Pentagon itself and disrupt its operation.

Though the microphones were seldom silent, no one said anything memorable like “I have a dream.” There were black speakers. I remember Phil Ochs singing a folk song. So all hung out and mixed and mingled and had a good time and were ready for the next phase: the actual march on the Pentagon, where we became the Army of Dissent.

* * * * * * * *

Norman Mailer and his coterie of friends and sympathizers, including poet Robert Lowell and linguist Noam Chomsky, were at the head of the march, several hours ahead of Nick and myself as we began the two mile trek across the Arlington Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River toward the north parking lot of the Pentagon. It took more than an hour to make this journey. YouTube footage shows thousands of placards, motorcycle police moving easily among the marchers, helicopters buzzing overhead, street bands and puppets, chants of “Peace Now.” Nick and I did not carry placards.

When I review the personal and news footage on YouTube, I see people making all the motions and gestures of alert, healthy beings: walking forward, looking left and right, avoiding traffic, squinting in the sun, laughing, dancing, jumping up and down. None of this sticks as individual memories in my brain. All I recall is that I was part of the throng that crossed the bridge, estimated at between 30,000 and 50,000 persons. I was there; I walked the walk.

By the time we got to the Pentagon, several tens of thousands of demonstrators were already piled up in front of the Versailles-style converging stairways leading up to the Pentagon plaza. The inexorable movement of the throng was up the steps to whatever fate awaited them in their confrontation with the authorities. This procession was agonizingly slow, in the days before cell phones, iPods and Blackberrys. I should have brought a book. I remember nothing I said or said to anyone, not new acquaintances, not striking observations of female beauty. Come to think of it, if everyone had had cell phones, the din would have been overwhelming.

I would say it took a good two hours to work my way up to the top of the staircase to where I could see what was happening. It is said that in the army you hurry up and wait. This goes for protests too.

The Pentagon is the world’s largest office building. It is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense. It contains the floor space of three Empire State Buildings. Built in 16 months on swampland during World War II from sand and gravel dredged from the Potomac River, it is a wonder of the modern world. It is both radical in design and crushingly dull in its exterior grayness. Five sides, five stories. It resembles a fortress.

At the top of the staircase was a vast plaza one hundred yards or more to the building itself. The demonstrators had established themselves on the plaza, facing off against ranks of military police in dress uniforms and armed with M-14 rifles. These were sturdier than the later M-16, and had wood stocks, which made them dangerous as clubs. No one knew if the guns were loaded. I figured they were not, on the assumption that there were sons and daughters of important people in the crowd and that Army brass did not want the responsibility for some grunt popping off a few lethal rounds. On the other hand, the troops were charged with defending the building from invasion.

In the late afternoon sun, the things you have read and heard about, if you know anything at all about that day, actually happened. Hippie chicks placed flowers into the muzzles of those rifles, demonstrators jawed nose-to-nose in intense conversation with the MPs, we sang songs; we sang “The soldiers are our brothers.” A few demonstrators burned their draft cards. I saw at least one trooper jump across the line and join us, which drew a big round of applause. It could not have gone the other way, of course: one of ours joining them and asking for a rifle. I saw a few demonstrators wearing Army helmets and other hardy souls who had come to fight wearing football helmets. I had come to protest and had no intention of mixing it up with the U.S. Army.

A small contingent of our forces broke through the lines and rushed a side entrance to the building and broke in. This penetration lasted less than half a minute as members of the 82nd Airborne Division, waiting in the corridors with squat to do had their moment of action and expelled our guys like angry hornets protecting the hive.

My draft card stayed safely in my wallet until a canoe trip in the sub-Arctic in 1970 when it went down with my pack in a storm. Thus it perished by water rather than by fire.

This standoff went on for some time, the line moving forward or back a few feet. During this period U.S. Marshals were roving behind the line of MPs making arrests. The arrestees generally volunteered themselves by pushing through the line, at which time they were hustled off to buses waiting near the building to take them to prison. I watched this procedure carefully as I was moving closer and closer to the line by backward pressure from the crowd.

Every hour or so the troops on the line were relieved by reinforcements who marched from inside the building in formation. Some soldiers wore white dress gloves, as I recall. Some had sheathed bayonets fixed to their rifles. Jeeps drove back and forth; men got out and exchanged salutes. I’ll bet that some of this maneuvering was for show—Army theater.

* * * * * * * *

Now it is dark. If I have flashed forward a bit, so be it. I am not writing a book here, and I don’t remember everything. I remember that it was after sundown and chilly and I was sitting packed body-to-body with fellow protestors, and I had become separated from Nick. I had kept visual contact with him and we had exchanged shouts, and now he had vanished. It was dark and I was pretty certain at this point that I was about to be arrested, as there was only a thin line of us between me and the arrest meatgrinder.

These U.S. Marshals, now at my back, as I was facing the demonstrators, were the meanest looking troops on their side. Some of us were of the opinion that they weren’t real marshals but thugs pressed into service by the Army. They wore helmets, thick padded coats, and carried long batons.

I looked around and saw that I was part of a group of four separated by a six feet from the mass of seated demonstrators. To my left was a young priest from Detroit, wearing his clerical collar. To my right was an older bearded hippie wearing a hillbilly hat, and there was a third fellow. The priest was talking about the summer riots in his city when tanks had rumbled through the streets. Detroit had suffered the highest civilian casualties of any U.S. city that summer. After five days of rioting, 43 people lay dead, 1189 were injured and over 7000 people had been arrested. In Newark, New Jersey, the downtown was gutted by fire and 23 persons were killed. In Wilmington, Delaware, a National Guardsman shot a suspect in the head from a block away while the police were in the act of arresting the man!

The priest was soft-spoken, as I recalled, though not silent like the old fellow, on a different wave length altogether. The older man sat still with his arms folded across his chest. Well, that was the question. Would we resist arrest, cooperate, or what? The third fellow said that we all should lock arms. I replied that I didn’t want to lock arms, because if we did, we would get smashed apart by clubs and rifle butts, and I wouldn’t be able to wield a shovel come Monday morning on my landscaping job.

The way I saw it, as soon as I got pulled through and lifted to my feet, I would keep pace with the arresting officers, so that no one dragged me anywhere, until we got to the bus. That was the way I had imagined it from watching multiple arrests. So no arm locking for me.

One by one my compatriots disappeared. First, the old timer, then the priest, then the third fellow. I was all alone. That six feet of separation was a canyon. Maybe I said something, or maybe I didn’t. The marshal standing behind me said: “What’s that? What did you say?” He rubbed his club into my back. I froze. That, indelibly. The next thing I knew, I lay sprawled across the seated demonstrators. I had been picked up and tossed back into the ranks. A girl turned and asked if I was hurt, and I said no.

I hadn’t been pulled through the line and arrested, after all.

* * * * * * * *

It was about this time, maybe 11 PM, that the lights set up outside went out. I think they had been set up for the media. Anyway, they went out. The problem for the Army was that the arrest process, while efficient and orderly, was too slow. There were too many of us packed tightly together and they weren’t clearing the plaza fast enough. In someone’s eyes, they were losing the battle. So they turned out the lights and went on the offensive.

The girl who had just spoken to me and everyone on the line near her came under attack. The soldiers and U.S. Marshals laid into them with clubs and rifle butts, a whirling windmill of flailing arms and weapons, in my memory. I scrambled over bodies to the back of the seated ranks and retreated to the first campfires, maybe 50 or 70 feet to the rear from the line. Then it stopped as swiftly as it began. It wasn’t working. The Army gave up.

Our verbal offensive continued. One grownup with a bullhorn challenged the dark Pentagon. “Why are you doing this?” he said, over and over. “Why are you hurting our people? We have a permit. General Van Fleet, why are you doing this?” The organizers did have a lawful permit to march, though there was some confusion as to when it had expired. General Van Fleet presumably was inside the Pentagon in some leadership role. He had made a name for himself in Korea with his “Van Fleet load,” a much heavier artillery barrage than average. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had been observing events all day from inside the Pentagon. Photographs were taken of him standing alone in his office at night. McNamara had given a speech during this period in which he had casually referred to the Vietnam War as but one of a series of wars America would need to stay safe, to keep the military industrial complex humming at peak capacity and the thousands of telephones at the Pentagon ringing constantly. To his credit, he apparently refused a request by a General Johnson to use “cold steel and gas” against us after the break-in through the side door. That night the Pentagon was stone silent. No one answered our question: Why are you doing this?

There were plenty of placards around and newspapers, leaflets and such, and campfires had been build against the cold, and maybe to cook food. I sat down by the fire and warmed myself, much relieved now that it was clear that the Army would not massacre us. I saw wounded at the fire, blood. No doubt about it. Later, after Monday night, when the last demonstrators were arrested and the whole thing was over, rumors circulated, maybe also newspaper stories, that several of our number had died in local hospitals from wounds. I do know that, later in Boston, where Nick and I moved after Wilmington, I met a cockeyed youth, a mellow fellow, who said he had been severely beaten on the head at the Pentagon and was now living on disability.

* * * * * * * *

After the failed offensive to clear the steps, the Army settled in, and we settled in. Some with sleeping bags parked themselves at the bootsof the military, an act which I thought had a certain distinction to it. One solder, that I saw, slowly emptied the contents of his canteen on the sleeper at his feet. That didn’t work, either, failing to dislodge the stubborn youth. I saw one young woman who clearly wanted to be arrested charge into the ranks, which stood firm against her and did not try to arrest her. Again and again, she charged the line, screaming at them, until she finally broke through and got her wish.

I had brought no provisions to spend the night. All I had, probably, was cigarettes. Some groups went into town and came back with burgers and such and tales of harassment, and passed out food. There were no portable toilets on Pentagon grounds. I don’t remember anything about relieving myself or that human waste was a problem. I might have nodded off. I watched the line for further developments, just in case.

Come Sunday morning, I left with a large bunch of us–large for safety–and we walked into the city. We stood across from the White House, which looked curiously unguarded and unattended, even unimportant. We chanted: “Hey hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” Just like the stories say we did. And that was pretty much it for me. Sans Nick and his car, if memory serves, I took the train home to Wilmington. Nick spent the night in a prison outside of the city, and was released. We both arrived home in one piece.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

Like many of you, I have been closely following the events in Iran since the June 12th election for president. According to all credible reports, the announced election results could not possibly be accurate, with incumbent President Ahmadinejad winning by an impossible margin, especially considering that not all the votes, or perhaps even most of the ballots, had been counted when Ahmadinejad’s victory was announced.

In the streets of Tehran, the capital, and in other Iranian cities, large crowds have been protesting the absurd results, so far with a minimum of violence, though with a great deal of passion and energy. Iranians know how to take to the streets and demonstrate—they’ve been doing it for years—especially students. But unlike previous student protests, bloodily crushed by the Republican Guard and state militias, this crisis features adults, especially women, and clerics.

The main loser in the election and galvanizer of anti-establishment sentiment, is Mir Hossein Mousavi, former Prime Minister, historically conservative, who has emerged as a kind of George McGovern figure to the youth vote. Sitting at the top of the ruling heap is supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Kamenei, who nonetheless can be replaced by the Assembly of Experts. The most influential member of the group is Hashemi Rafsanjani, former president of the country and an ayatollah himself, who is opposed to President Ahmandinejad.

This rich and diverse cast makes for an interesting stew of events. The demonstrators are not protesting against articles of faith; they shout “God is Great,” from the roof tops as a younger generation did in the primary revolution of the Islamic Republic in 1979. They are protesting an obvious case of fraud in the voting, and the governance of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, particularly his abrasive style toward the West and his poor handling of the economy.

Ahmadinejad infuriates his foes with his smiling dismissal of their concerns, especially the educated classes, who do not back him and suffer much from his policies, replacing thousands of competent professors with party hacks, for one thing. Iranians value their voting rights even though their choice of candidates is limited by the reigning mullahs. So when an election goes awry as badly as this one has, the people are up in arms.

The underlying energy of the demonstrations comes from the election results, dissatisfaction of the sitting president, who is charged with running day-to-day affairs of the state, Iran’s increasing isolation in the world as a result of his policies, and class/generation differences. An explosive mix.

Especially, I think, this is a cultural and generational clash. The students and upper classes see themselves as suffering financially and being marginalized by their bumpkin president and his lumpenproletariat adherents. The upper classes, the intelligentsia, are historically the essential ingredients of revolution, the movers and shakers, especially in the West. They know how to lead, and they cannot be ignored.

They want a more open and freer society, which they had enjoyed previously under more moderate leadership, such as that of Rafsanjani. They do not challenge the system per se, but as the mullahs understand, they represent a more tolerant, more secular state, which the grey beards cannot permit. But since the intelligentsia cannot be ignored, the mullahs have a real problem on their hands.

In the short run, the big demonstrations will peter out in a week or so as people get back to work, and as the regime arrests more of them and slowly chokes off their means of demonstrating and communicating with the outside world. However, a partial recount of the vote, as promised by Ayatollah Ali Kamenei, will not mollify them, either. In the long run, it is difficult to see how newly elected President Ahmadinejad can run the country smoothly to the end of his term.

The reigning mullahs have already miscalculated badly in falsely reporting the election results. They have smartly abstained from massive lethal force to date, but that is precisely the instrument of state they must rely on to stop the demonstrations cold unless they try to starve the population or something like that. If they do bring tanks into the streets and hundreds of people are killed, then everyone with an ax to grind against Iran will up and hollar for their heads.

The government has been preoccupied with foreign affairs, particularly arming and supporting their proxies in Lebanon, Gaza and Syria, in the war against Israel. They have been busy with playing the Great Game. Now they must look inward and attend to their own people. You can almost hear them sigh. Iranians are a sensitive, intelligent people, numbering many poets and artists among them. They know how to suffer; they suffered terribly during the long war with Iraq.

During that war, in which Saddam Hussein used poison gas and chemical weapons against waves of poorly armed infantrymen, including large numbers of children, they died by the thousands in frontal attacks. Finally, it was those attacks, with outside help from the United States, that forced Iran to accept a standoff with Iraq. But the war also bled Iraq, making its adventure in Iran a costly one. Many thousands of Iranian veterans of that war still linger in special hospitals designed to treat chemical wounds.

What the mullahs do not want, and ultimately do not have the stomach for, is using similar evil measures against their own youths in their own streets. There is a limit to the suffering they will inflict. Change will come to Iran whatever happens in the next few days. Escalating the violence dramatically will crack the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, even if few people intended for that to happen.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

Charles M. Blow begins his June 13, 2009 New York Times op-ed “Hate in a Cocoon of Silence” ominously. “We were warned,” he writes. He highlights a recent example of a violent hate crime: the shooting of a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

“Slowly, but steadily, these bigots are slithering from beneath their rocks, armed and deadly,” Mr. Blow writes. “Just as disturbing as the incidents themselves are the lineups of family, friends and neighbors who emerge to talk about the vitriol they heard and the warning signs they saw. I always want the interviewer to stop and ask them this simple question: “And when he said or did that, how did you respond?…My suspicion is that far too many do far too little.” Hence the cocoon of silence of the title.

Fair enough. We always need to be vigilant as a society for the emergence of violent criminals among us who would tear at the fabric of our community, whether they are motivated by hate, per se, perceived instructions from God or the Devil, or some other dark and violent emotion or dementia. Mr. Blow continues:

“The authorities won’t be able to stop every ‘lone wolf’ with a gun and a gripe. But we, as a society can do a much better job of creating an environment where hateful beliefs are never ignored and suspicious behavior never goes unreported.” (Italics are mine.)

This last caution drew quite a response from readers, including myself, who generally conceded the author’s main point about dangerous members of society, but warned of usurpation of our Bill of Rights.

I don’t know how old Mr. Blow is, but he seems to fit right in with the language of political correctness, multiculturalism, diversity. That is to say, with the predominant cultural language of the age. Even if you do not espouse pc, as a writer, you are wary of it, its effects and defenders, its true believers. In Mr. Blow’s world, the epithet “extremist” almost always is attached to “right wing,” which is anything and anyone to the right of his own views. And once a person, idea, writing or utterance is identified as “right wing extremist,” it is a quick mental step to “hate speech” being appended to that writing or utterance.

My purpose in writing this is not to defend a particular political point of view, right or left, but to shine a light on abuses and misuses of language, as I see it. In my world, there are moments of clarity when direct action is required: stop the gunman, the madman, the terrorist, even at risk to your own well being. However, there are many more moments clouded by ambiguity, uncertainty, irony, that make for the complexity of the real world we see and experience; and that influence the fictional world of great writing.

How would you apply “hate speech” to Shakespeare, to Richard III or Othello or King Lear? Therein lies the rub. You really can’t apply such a standard to literary and dramatic works and the world in which they are created, published and produced without doing extreme violence to them, their authors and audience.

Mr. Blow’s vision is directly informed by the civil rights movement and the obvious villains who gunned down the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. My vision is rather more informed by the 1950s and 60s, and the use of authoritarian language coming from the 1930s and World War II, in which the end justifies the means and jack boot pressure is applied to squelch so-called anti-revolutionary sentiments in the name of the people for the sake of good intentions. (See my essay “Relearning Orwell.”)

The civil rights movement triumphed and produced men like Charles M. Blow and Barack Obama, gave them a chance and handsomely rewarded them. It also produced—at the doing of white intellectuals and anti-intellectuals—political correctness, in which the lessons of Orwell’s Animal Farm and Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, were put away for a fresh round of authoritarian muscle-flexing, new assignments for Orwell’s thought police without reference to Orwell and that generation.

Many on the Left decried measures of the Patriot Act and domestic wiretapping under the Bush administration as an unnecessary invasion of privacy. I was, and remain, more accepting of these practices because I trusted the motives of that administration to protect my safety in New York. However, I do not trust the motives of those who systematically, in war and in peace, want to limit my artistic and personal freedoms for their self-assigned good purposes. So that when I read a phrase like Mr. Blow’s “where hateful beliefs are never ignored and suspicious behavior never goes unreported.” I cringe, for it brings to mind images of zealots and government informers, stooges and snitches such as operated recently in Czechoslovakia and East Germany, political re-education camps in China and Southeast Asia; especially in this time when government is extending its powers with breath taking speed into all walks of life in this country.

An interfaith coalition called So We Might See, in conjunction with The National Hispanic Media Coalition, has started a campaign to squelch anti-illegal immigrant opinions in the media called “We Can Stop The Hate.” Their goal is to drive anti-illegal immigrant sentiments, which a great many Americans share, off the airwaves even if that violates First Amendment free speech rights.

Is it hate speech if I disagree with you, or if you disagree with me, and who gets to decide?

My complete response to Mr. Blow’s article appears below.

“Fear not, Mr. Blow. I hereby promise to monitor and report any suspicious behavior I notice, whether it is friend or family. Anyone who expresses some personal view a bit too strongly, who looks at me funny in the subway, gives someone the “evil eye,” talks in a suspicious manner on his or her cell phone–especially in a foreign language–makes threatening gestures, carries a large unmarked package, etc., will get my immediate attention and response. I will nip hate in the bud. You can count on it.”

By Hudson Owen. Some Rights Reserved.

(On the 1991 U.S. Open)

Here’s to a champion
who slipped unseeded into the arena,
into his old house,

plucked a gutsy-strung racquet
and lobbed our spirits skyward
with the citrus colored balls;

dueling by sweat-drenching day,
dueling beneath the lights
against ranked green youth:

those heart-stopping rallies,
games that were matches in themselves,
your finger saying, yea, one more time;

until the penultimate test
when the gods of summer no longer
could grant you the gift of victory.

Had you prevailed, the markets,
shaky in turbulent times,
would have fallen and reason foundered.

Ah, but in packing your bags,
gracious, who knows, for another run,
you took home the glory and our praise.

From Selected Poems 1967 -2007
by Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

The following is excerpted from a long thread on The NY Times blog Paper Cuts, “The Sonnets at 400,” by William Neiderkorn, on May 20, 2009. See also my essay “The First Folio.”

The Sonnets make no sense if you accept the traditional biography of the man from Stratford, Indeed, they are positively baffling.
The sonnets are written by a man who is clearly much older. Conventional chronology dates the sonnets to between 1592 and 1596. At this time, William of Stratford would have been in his late twenties and early thirties. Even if we up the date to 1599, William of Stratford was still in his thirties.
The sonnets tell us that the poet was in his declining years when writing them. He was “Beated and chopped with tanned antiquity,” “With Time’s injurious hand crushed and o’er worn”, in the “twilight of life”. He is lamenting “all those friends” who have died, “my lovers gone”. His is “That time of year/When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/Upon those boughs that shake against the cold.”
The sonnets that most contradict Will of Stratford’s life story are those about shame and disgrace to name and reputation. Here Shakespeare’s biographers have nothing to go on. In addition, he refers to having “born the canopy” (Sonnet 125), a reference to carrying the canopy over the head of the monarch during a wedding procession. There is no evidence that the actor from Stratford ever came within a thousand yards of the Queen or ever carried any canopy. It would have been forbidden to a commoner.
— Howard Schumann
12. May 23, 2009 2:17 am

Some years ago I had the opportunity to handle–unattended– and read the First Folio, published seven years after Shakespeare’s death. It’s a massive book with thick boards, sewn signatures, and very dark nut brown pages, barely legible because of that and the crooked type.
The thing that struck me most about it was the front matter including the full page woodcut portrait of W.S. and the attributions of half a dozen men, including Ben Johnson and two men of S’s company, The King’s Men, John Hemminge and Henry Condell. If ever there was a book that proclaimed its author to the world, it was this book.
Certainly from our viewpoint today we can understand why these men celebrated their Bard, his achievement stands as remarkable now as it seemed to them in their time. However mysterious S may seem, to assert that the man depicted in the book by the name of W.S. was not the author of the plays, creates many more puzzles than to accept that S. was in fact Shakespeare, author of the poems and plays.
If the book was a fraud, it was a very expensive fraud. Why would a man of Ben Johnson’s reputation sign his name to such a fraud? All the men who signed attributions to the Master would have known who S really was–so why has not the secret be outed after four centuries? If not Stratford, then where did W.S. come from?
Shakespeare is mysterious, no doubt, somewhat in the way that Jesus of Nazareth is, except that S poured out thousands of words to us, telling us a great deal about his inner life. It is his outer life that puzzles us because it seems so unlike a man with such a rich and well-informed imagination. But then literature is filled with examples of authors who lived cloistered or unreported lives the opposite of their imaginary lives. Think of Emily Dickinson who lived almost entirely in her room.
In handling the First Folio, I was handling a book touched by men, and possibly women, who certainly knew of the man if they had not met him personally–perhaps they stood him a drink, swapped him a story. That gave me an eerie feeling, a wonderful feeling, if I may say so.
— Hudson
13. May 23, 2009 12:02 pm

To Hudson: It seems a bit strange to me that the only testimonials to Shakespeare occurred seven years after his death. While the First Folio is evidence for the attribution of the plays and poems to WS of Stratford, it is full of contradictions (see Diana Price “Shakespeare’s Unauthorized Biography”.
The truth is that during his lifetime, he was not celebrated as a writer. The fact that some works were published under the attribute of William Shakespeare does not identify the man behind the name. There is nothing in his handwriting ever discovered except for six almost illegible signatures. There are no letters, no correspondence, no manuscripts, no paper trail at all to identify the man behind the name, not a single word. Huckleberry Finn was published under the name of Mark Twain but there is nothing to identify him as Samuel Clemens.
When contemporaries refer to William Shakespeare, they are referring to the name on the title page and nothing else. When he died, no eulogies were forthcoming. Indeed, no mention was made.
There is no dedication by the poet in the Sonnets and scholars have been baffled for centuries by the apparent absence of the poet in the publication and proof-reading process. .Ask yourself this question – Would the greatest writer in the English language have allowed his daughters to remain illiterate?
— Howard Schumann
15. May 23, 2009 9:08 pm

To Howard Schumann:
To Howard: If you can’t get your hands on the First Folio, then I recommend Michael Wood’s four-episode 2004 PBS series “In Search of Shakespeare,” which covers the man’s life from cradle to grave, as quite a good doubt-queller. I know there was a book of the series, and I’d imagine a cd or dvd, also.
I think the unknown gentleman stand-in theory works best for a poet, working at his leisure in his library away from the scrutiny of the world. However, playwrighting is a hands-on experience. Over the course of a long and successful career, WS must have known and been known to hundreds, if not thousands, of people, including every tattle tale in London. Not even the Queen could keep all those tongues silent.
— Hudson
18. May 29, 2009 12:32 pm

Hudson – Yes, I have seen Wood’s film. After four hours, I’m still scratching my head.
Although the dating of the plays is guesswork at best, Mr. Wood boldly asserts the chronology of Shakespeare’s work as if it was agreed by all, confusing dates of publication with dates of composition, desperately trying to fit the plays into contemporary events. One must forgive Mr. Wood for his over zealous attachment to the Stratfordian agenda when he makes statements for which there is no evidence. These include:
• Will was an usher at King James’ coronation and “bore the canopy”, a reference to the first line of Sonnet 125 “Were’t aught to me I bore the canopy”.
• Will was the recipient of a “privileged education”
• Shakespeare joined The Queen’s Men and was a traveling player
• By his early twenties, Will had acted in plays and had written poems
• Sonnet 145 is a love poem to Anne Hathaway written at age 19 in which the words “hate away” are a clever pun on his wife’s name.
Old myths die hard. “In Search of Shakespeare” may be looked upon by future generations as one of the last attempts to cling to the myth of the unlettered common man as literary genius. In spite of ferocious opposition by the academic establishment and British Tourism to even consider the question, I think the average person has serious doubts about the attribution of the Stratford man as the author of the Shakespeare canon. Many of course, simply don’t want to know. They prefer their Shakespeare to be a kind of a disembodied intelligence looking into our lives like some literary Jehovah, a man who understands and knows everything.
We recoil at the thought that Shakespeare was an ordinary man, a spendthrift who could not manage his money, an adventurer, a womanizer, a man with a villainous streak, or even (heaven forbid) the lover of the Queen who produced a bastard child. So we don’t want to know too much and the Oxford challenge makes us confront both our urgent need to know and our strongest fears that it is better not to know.
— Howard Schumann
19. May 29, 2009 4:17 pm

June 3, 2009 4:44 am
Howard: You are right that Shakespeare Inc. has a vested interest in the cottage industry of W.S., and that the keepers of the trust, as it were, would certainly be loathe to let go of, or have conclusively disproved, their legacy image of W.S.
However, I think you err is saying that: “We recoil at the thought that Shakespeare was an ordinary man, a spendthrift who could not manage his money, an adventurer, a womanizer, a man with a villainous streak, or even (heaven forbid) the lover of the Queen who produced a bastard child.”
What writers like myself recoil at is the idea that the poems and plays were a confabulation of some literary expert, that the wisdom and humanity of the works was invented in vitro rather than in vivo; that it was unlived and sprang from the imagination of some “evil” genius.
This offends our sense of how literary works are written, our sense of the connection between the man, his life, and the words that flow from his pen, modern deconstruction theories notwithstanding. We happily accept that W.S. was a flawed human who took some secrets to his grave, whose foibles and failings found their way into his characters instead of a tell-all autobiography. That makes sense to us.
What does not make sense to us is the notion that all of W.S. was a kind of secret plot, a government conspiracy, or the machinations of an individual, in the case of the E. of Oxford or F. Bacon, who in his acknowledged writings fell far short of the Bard’s success and caliber, or was some unknown without any other literary life who somehow “hijacked” or otherwise constructed the entire Shakespeare life and canon.
— Hudson