Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Here's to Frida Berrigan and Patrick Sheehan-Gaumer: Love, Not War

July 15, 2011
Frida Berrigan and Patrick Sheehan-Gaumer
from The New York Times Society Pages


AFTER breaking up with a longtime boyfriend in the summer of 2009,
Frida Berrigan decided she wanted her entire life to change.

By February 2010, she had quit her job as a senior program associate
with the Arms and Security Initiative, a research group based in SoHo
and focused on military policy. She moved out of her apartment in Red
Hook, Brooklyn. She started running, partly because it helped her
think about what to do next.

"You need time to let something new blossom," said Ms. Berrigan, now
37. "None of us do U-turns. We're kind of like boats. You don't turn
on a dime, and if you do, you don't stay turned."

Seeking a contemplative place, she signed up to work and live in the
Lower East Side headquarters of the Catholic Worker Movement, whose
mission is to help the poor and homeless. Ms. Berrigan's bedroom there
was so small, it could not fit a bed, only a sleeping bag.

"No bed bugs!" she said cheerily. She cooked and served lunch to the
homeless, and provided them with everything from fresh clothes to long

Ms. Berrigan has bright blue eyes that rarely dart around when she is
in conversation. Although she often discusses serious topics - banning
nuclear weapons, the conditions at prison camps - she has a way of
treading across them very lightly, like a deer.

Ms. Berrigan is the eldest child of Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth
McAlister, a Roman Catholic priest and a nun who left their callings
and founded Jonah House together in 1973. Jonah House, which still
exists, is a Christian-based community of peace activists living,
sharing meals and planning antiwar protests together in a Baltimore
town house. Mr. Berrigan, who died in 2002, was known for dramatic
acts of civil disobedience, as when, as part of the Baltimore Four, he
poured blood over draft records in the Baltimore Customs House to
protest blood lost in the Vietnam War.

Ms. Berrigan and her two siblings grew up in Jonah House, reading the
Bible at night (as well as Dickens and Shakespeare). She attended
marches with her parents, shopped for clothes in thrift stores and
recycled everything, even plastic bags, which the Berrigans washed and
hung to dry.

"We had this pretty extreme life," Ms. Berrigan said. "We were poor,
we didn't have any nice stuff, our parents were going off to jail all
the time."

In some ways, life at the Catholic Worker was like Jonah House. The
work was intense and purposeful, which she loved. She planned to stay
for years, until she started spending time with Patrick
Sheehan-Gaumer, an old friend and a fellow member of the War Resisters

They had always liked each other, but never been unattached at the
same time. "We definitely had a spark," he said. "Our eye contact had
something more than normal."

Mr. Sheehan-Gaumer, now 29, is a caseworker for the Fatherhood
Initiative at Madonna Place in Norwich, Conn. A single father with
joint custody of his 4-year-old daughter, Rosena Jane, he helps
troubled fathers become better fathers. He is soft-spoken and
mild-mannered, yet magnetic. He resembles a character from a Walker
Evans photograph, with a bushy black beard, short hair and eyes that
shine abnormally bright.

"Patrick has an ability to relate to people that boggles my mind,"
said Rick Gaumer, his father. Mr. Gaumer was a founder of the New
England chapter of the War Resisters League with Joanne Sheehan, Mr.
Sheehan-Gaumer's mother.

The couple had their first real date on Valentine's Day 2010. They
went to Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, but mostly talked. "She's
smart, she knows herself, she has a ridiculous vocabulary," he said.
"She can out-talk most people in any debate simply by using words no
one else can understand."

He described their chemistry as "off the charts."

On their next few dates, they took long walks around New York. She was
always amazed by the quirky things he pointed out. He brought her to a
cemetery on the Lower East Side, for instance, just to show her the
peculiar name - Preserved Fish - of a person buried there.

"I wanted to dig into this new life I'd planned for myself at the
Catholic Worker," Ms. Berrigan said. "But from the beginning, Patrick
was just so solid and forthright and honest and a lot of fun. Those
qualities just overwhelmed me."

Occasionally, Rosena joined them on their outings. "Falling in love
with Patrick also meant falling in love with Rosena, and falling in
love with a family," Ms. Berrigan said. "That was really easy."

Still, their courtship was slow and old-fashioned in many ways. They
saw each other only on weekends. He wasn't allowed in her room at the
Catholic Worker. They rarely talked on the phone. They communicated via
handwritten letters and packages.

"Every week, I'd get a very tiny envelope in the mail, an old love
card," she said. "He probably got them at a flea market." She added:
"One time, he sent me a bag of couscous. It was from Turkey, and it
was called Frida couscous. I just got this sense, 'Wow, he's out there
in the world thinking about me.' "

Soon, they wanted to spend all of their time together.

"From very early on," she said, "I would look at him and think: This
is someone I want a family with. This is a person I want to grow old
with. This is the person I want to struggle with."

After four months of dating, he formally proposed to her in his own
informal way. "I said, 'I don't have a ring, I don't have a plan, but
I want to marry you,' " he remembered.

She recalled: "I said yes because Patrick makes me feel really happy
and safe and inspired all at the same time. I said yes because I learn
a lot from him, and not just about the Red Sox." She also said yes
because he never tried to take her out to big fancy dinners or buy her
expensive things.

"Part of our vows to one another is wanting freedom, and part of being
free is living simply and not being encumbered by stuff," said Ms.
Berrigan, who moved in with Mr. Sheehan-Gaumer last November. "That is
something I learned from my family. You really don't need a lot of
stuff to be happy."

They definitely do not own a lot of stuff. They bought furniture from
the Salvation Army and Craigslist. "Our couch was 40-something
dollars, which was actually more than I wanted to pay," Mr.
Sheehan-Gaumer said. "I was looking for a $25 couch." They do not have
a TV. They buy food from the "get rid of it" discount bin at the
supermarket. They purposely keep their incomes below taxable level so
they do not "give money to the Pentagon," Mr. Sheehan-Gaumer said.

Ms. Berrigan now mainly works with Witness Against Torture, a
loose-knit group of volunteers trying to shut down the military prison
in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. She continues to practice Catholicism; he is

They wrote their own vows and said them twice, in two very different
ceremonies. The first was a big, communal "union party," as they
called it, on June 11 at Camp Happyland in Prince William Forest Park
near Manassas, Va. The weekend-long celebration emphasized simplicity,
frugality, peace and chores. Three hundred friends and family members
pitched in, cooking meals and decorating the pavilion where the
wedding took place with sunflowers, Christmas lights and strings of
paper peace cranes.

Their second ceremony, the official one, happened on June 27 at All
Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation in New London, Conn. The
bride wore a long gray dress, a short veil pinned to the top of her
head, evoking the look of a nun, and a necklace that was so simple it
was practically invisible. The bridegroom, who wore a $10 three-piece
suit he found at the Salvation Army, said to Ms. Berrigan, "I feel so
lucky, so privileged and ridiculously happy to have your love." There
were no guests, just their friend and officiant, the Rev. Carolyn
Patierno, pastor of the church.

About their future, Ms. Berrigan said: "I have a sense there's nothing
we can't do together. Except shut down Guantánamo or end war. If
you're going to be involved in seemingly futile undertakings, you
might as well do it with someone you love."

Susan Brennan's "Poets Against the War"/from SPLIT THIS ROCK

Poets Against the War

We stand at the Capitol
seized in snapshots
of curious tourists

our rumpled posters reflect
in an officer's shades as he speaks
so softly it surprises me

asking us to step off the sidewalk
his voice as a shepherd beckons
his flock, his accent sunned in Southern

syllables. Maybe "sheep" is not the most
desirable metaphor for human protestors
but clumped with the others I let go

of my small life to be a cluster
warmed by fellow shoulders
our faces a brief constellation of togetherness.

In the February chill as the Capitol
glows lunar behind us, our silence
mushrooms into a vortex

a great ear hinged to the cold skull of the sky.
Poets, watchers, news camera, officers,
residents hurrying by on their cells, callers

on the other end of those phones -- pinched
together in an irrevocable clay.
From the far end of Lafayette Park a drove

of starlings twists and wheels
silver flash under wings, black top feathers
sweep the space between us and the sun

as if to clean the sky
of blood and bone wind-born.
I'm not listening to the birds now clamped

to a single tree top, chattering whether
to stay or move on; I'm not listening to the listening,
the fruit of silence; I'm not listening to the deaf bell

stamping its hard thick notes to the downward wind --
I'm listening to the war. To its silence.
It sounds like peace, it sounds like rest;

but it is hollow, it is the whole endless groan
of mothers who have lost their motherhood.

- Susan Brennan
Used by permission.

Susan Brennan's poems appear in various publications. Her manuscript, Sweet Demons has been nominated as a finalist for several book awards. Vegas,a film she co-wrote, premiered in competition at the Venice and Tribeca Film Festivals.Her script for the web series Verse, a poetry murder mystery was awarded first place at the LA Webfest for dramatic script. She received her MFA in Poetry at NYU and is a yoga teacher. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Ed.

Brennan was on the panels The Yogic Path to Poetry and Off the Page and Into the Streets - Reports From the Field at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2008 and attended 2010.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Perils of Drone Attacks, and Noor Behram's Documentary Photography

I've written elsewhere about the perils of drone attacks as war policy, and this recent article in the Guardian corroborates the collateral damage from drones is far worse than has been reported. Noor Behram is doing the documentary work that uncovers what governments would rather hide:

For the past three years, Noor Behram has hurried to the site of drone strikes in his native Waziristan. His purpose: to photograph and document the impact of missiles controlled by a joystick thousands of miles away, on US air force bases in Nevada and elsewhere. The drones are America's only weapon for hunting al-Qaida and the Taliban in what is supposed to be the most dangerous place in the world.

Sometimes arriving on the scene just minutes after the explosion, he first has to put his camera aside and start digging through the debris to see if there are any survivors. It's dangerous, unpleasant work. The drones frequently hit the same place again, a few minutes after the first strike, so looking for the injured is risky. There are other dangers too: militants and locals are suspicious of anyone with a camera. After all, it is a local network of spies working for the CIA that are directing the drone strikes.

But Noor Behram says his painstaking work has uncovered an important – and unreported – truth about the US drone campaign in Pakistan's tribal region: that far more civilians are being injured or dying than the Americans and Pakistanis admit. The world's media quickly reports on how many militants were killed in each strike. But reporters don't go to the spot, relying on unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials. Noor Behram believes you have to go to the spot to figure out whether those killed were really extremists or ordinary people living in Waziristan. And he's in no doubt.

"For every 10 to 15 people killed, maybe they get one militant," he said. "I don't go to count how many Taliban are killed. I go to count how many children, women, innocent people, are killed."

The drone strikes are a secret programme run by the CIA to assassinate al-Qaida and Taliban extremists using remote, wild Waziristan as a refuge. The CIA does not comment on drones, but privately claims civilian casualties are rare.

The Guardian was unable to independently verify the photographs. Noor Behram's account of taking the pictures appeared detailed and consistent however. Other anecdotal evidence from Waziristan is conflicting: some insist the drones are accurate, while others strongly disagree.

According to Noor Behram, the strikes not only kill the innocent but injure untold numbers and radicalise the population. "There are just pieces of flesh lying around after a strike. You can't find bodies. So the locals pick up the flesh and curse America. They say that America is killing us inside our own country, inside our own homes, and only because we are Muslims.

"The youth in the area surrounding a strike gets crazed. Hatred builds up inside those who have seen a drone attack. The Americans think it is working, but the damage they're doing is far greater."

Even when the drones hit the right compound, the force of the blast is such that neighbours' houses, often made of baked mud, are also demolished, crushing those inside, said Noor Behram. One of the photographs shows a tangle of debris he said were the remains of five houses blitzed together.

The photographs make for difficult viewing and leave no doubt about the destructive power of the Hellfire missiles unleashed: a boy with the top of his head missing, a severed hand, flattened houses, the parents of children killed in a strike. The chassis is all that remains of a car in one photo, another shows the funeral of a seven-year-old child. There are pictures, too, of the cheap rubber flip-flops worn by children and adults, which often survive: signs that life once existed there. A 10-year-old boy's body, prepared for burial, shows lipstick on him and flowers in his hair – a mother's last loving touch.

There are photos of burned and battered Qur'ans – but no pictures of women: the conservative culture in Waziristan will not allow Noor Behram to photograph the women, even dead and dismembered. So he makes do with documenting shredded pieces of women's clothing.

The jagged terrain, the often isolated location of strikes, curfews and the presence of Taliban, all mean that it is a major challenge to get to the site of a drone strike. Noor Behram has managed to reach 60, in both North and South Waziristan, in which he estimates more than 600 people were killed. An exhibition of his work, at London's Beaconsfield gallery opening on Tuesday, features pictures from 27 different drone strikes. Clive Stafford Smith, head of Reprieve, the campaigning group, has launched a lawsuit along with a Pakistani lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, seeking to bring to justice those responsible for civilian deaths from drones. "I think these pictures are deeply important evidence," said Stafford Smith. "They put a human face [on the drone strike campaign] that is in marked contrast to what the US is suggesting its operators in Nevada and elsewhere are doing. "They show the reality of ordinary people being killed and losing their homes, not senior al-Qaida members."

Friday, July 15, 2011

"To World War Two" by Kenneth Koch

To World War Two

by Kenneth Koch

Early on you introduced me to young women in bars
You were large, and with a large hand
You presented them in different cities,
Made me in San Luis Obispo, drunk
On French seventy-fives, in Los Angeles, on pousse-cafe's.
It was a time of general confusion
Of being a body hurled at a wall.
I didn't do much fighting. I sat, rather I stood, in a foxhole.
I stood while the typhoon splashed us into morning.
It felt unusual
Even if for a good cause
To be part of a destructive force
With my rifle in my hands
And in my head
My serial number
The entire object of my existence
To eliminate Japanese soldiers
By killing them
With a rifle or with a grenade
And then, many years after that,
I could write poetry
Fall in love
And have a daughter
And think about these things
From a great distance
If I survived
I was "paying my debt
To society" a paid
Killer. It wasn't
Like anything I'd done
Before, on the paved
Streets of Cincinatti
Or on the ballroom floor
At Mr. Vathe's dancing class
What would Anne Marie Goldsmith
Have thought of me
If instead of asking her to dance
I had put my BAR to my shoulder
And shot her in the face
I thought about her in my foxhole--
One, in a foxhole near me, has his throat cut during the night
We take precautions but it is night and it is you.
The typhoon continues and so do you.
"I can't be killed--because of my poetry. I have to live on in order to write it."
I thought--even crazier thought, or just as crazy--
"If I'm killed while thinking of lines, it will be too corny
When it's reported" (I imagined it would be reported!)
So I kept thinking of lines of poetry. One that came to me on the beach on
Was "The surf comes in like masochistic lions."
I loved this terrible line. It was keeping me alive. My Uncle Leo wrote to me,
"You won't believe this, but some day you may wish
You were footloose and twenty on Leyte again." I have never wanted
To be on Leyte again,
With you, whispering into my ear,
"Go on and win me! Tomorrow you might not be alive,
So do it today!" How could anyone win you?
You were too much for me, though I
Was older than you were and in camouflage. But for you
Who threw everything together, and had all the systems
Working for you all the time, this was trivial. If you could use me
You'd use me, and then forget. How else
Did I think you'd behave?
I'm glad you ended. I'm glad I didn't die. Or lose my mind.
As machines make ice
We made dead enemy soldiers, in
Dark jungle alleys, with weapons in our hands
That produced fire and kept going straight through
I was carrying one,
I who had gone about for years as a child
Praying God don't let there be another war
Or if there is, don't let me be in it. Well, I was in you.
All you cared about was existing and being won.
You died of a bomb blast in Nagasaki, and there were parades.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Slavoj Zizek and Julian Assange on Democracy Now!

Thanks to Frank Sherlock for posting this elsewhere.  The anarchism of WikiLeaks has continued to cause much wringing of hands, and deserves much further debate; simply on the level of cultural phenomenon, WikiLeaks appears, on the one hand, to be a symptom of the dangers of increasing digital information flow, and, on the other, a poisonous antidote to the National Secrecy State, in which post-9/11, securitization has meant declining transparency in government.