Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Are you missing this?

Joy is not a four letter word      As a highly self-critical poet, I’m less concerned when I find that one of my newly written poems needs resuscitation than if it comes from me without being infused with one profoundly significant element. That said, it’s interesting to note that I can’t explain where it comes from. Or why. But it’s so noticeable when it’s missing that I’m alarmed. That element is joy.

Of course, it’s not just my poetry that joy nourishes. Relationships, too, can perish without it. I’m sure that’s why I feel like I’m staggering when I have a fight with someone I love. Often, joy perishes in such an environment. Indeed, a measure of the affection I share with that person is the extent to which I’ll go to reclaim our joy.

Most often, if I have wronged someone I love, I mourn when I find that the joy we’d created is irretrievable. Few things in life are as binding as joy shared with another human being whether a partner or a child, a friend or a relative. Few things are as painful to lose.

Reacting to such loss with temerity appears to be the norm. We retreat, shield our hearts, play our music a little louder. Instead, I’ve learned to grieve, to let those terrible feelings that come with confrontation shake me as if a storm were passing through me.

The process is never pleasant. But it’s essential. If I block the pain, it grows. If I pretend it’s not there, it infuses some other part of my life. So I allow it to grind its way through me. It can and has reduced me to a whimpering heap.

Losing love and its joy has that power. However, refusing to allow the impact of the dire effects to ripple through almost guarantees a kind of emotional damage that can permanently transform a person by replacing their openness to joy with wariness.

Knowing that causes me to place an extremely high value on comedians like Jackie Mason and Mel Brooks. Most often, they translate trauma or rely on it to stir creative juices. For them, the process becomes a discipline.

It came as no surprise when I found this about Mel Brooks at WIKIPEDIA:

…His father died of kidney disease, at 34, when Brooks was two years old.[5] Brooks has said of his father's death, that "there's an outrage there. I may be angry at God, or at the world, for that. And I'm sure a lot of my comedy is based on anger and hostility. Growing up in Williamsburg, I learned to clothe it in comedy to spare myself problems—like a punch in the face. "[6]

Jackie Mason, although just as funny as Brooks, is more combative:
Mason counseled Israeli leaders to consider the total expulsion of Palestinians from Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip.[8] Mason and Raoul Felder wrote, “We have paralyzed ourselves by our sickening fear of World Opinion, which is why we find it impossible to face one simple fact: We will never win this war unless we immediately threaten to drive every Arab out of Israel if the killing doesn't stop.”[8] They added:
“We are brain-dead if we accept the idea that we have to guess which Arab is our next killer. We are not obligated to victimize ourselves by letting the Arabs play Russian roulette with Jewish lives…” (WIKIPEDIA)

As an antidote to his perceptions of injustice, Jackie Mason makes people laugh. Chances are he finds joy in that as well as those small things in life, such as moments two people share when far from the rest of the world. That seemed the case when my partner and I saw and spoke to him at a tiny restaurant in Manhattan.

Today, I may return to the road to joy if I’m able to connect with my new classes of students. It may find its way back into my writing as my heart passes through an eclipse of sadness. I look forward to that, look forward to reclaiming those possibilities that joy produces.

That thought will never be far from me today as I think of my children, my mother, my family, my friends, and, especially, my partner and all the joy I have never stopped wanting to continue sharing with them.

                                                         B.Koplen 5/29/13

Not a laughing matter: A plea about and in behalf of a young soldier I admire:

My name is David Wahl.  I am the father of Michael Behenna’s girlfriend Shannon Wahl and run the website.  I have known Michael for several years going back to when Michael and Shannon first started dating.  I attended Michael’s officer school graduation at Fort Benning, his Ranger school graduation, and his deployment to Iraq from Fort Campbell.  I was in the courtroom for Michael’s trial for premeditated murder at Fort Campbell, including the moment when a jury of seven non-combat officers convicted him of unpremeditated murder.  I witnessed the stunned look of betrayal on Michael’s face.  I was in that same courtroom again three weeks later when the trial judge denied a request for a mistrial on a Brady law violation (the government had withheld evidence.)  And I was in the small room at the back of that courtroom with Michael and his family for his last thirty minutes of freedom before he was taken away.

These past four years that Michael has sat in a small prison cell at Fort Leavenworth have been a tortuous journey for those closest to him – but as you can imagine, most of all for his parents Vicki and Scott.  They have endured the emotional pain of seeing their son treated as a criminal at the hands of a broken and blind military justice system, of five hour drives to ‘celebrate’ birthdays and holidays in a noisy visitation center, of the heartbreak of one court ruling after another go against Michael, of bizarre prison rules that change from visit to visit and which make civilian prisons look like Club Med.

But beyond the emotional toll that the Behenna’s have carried is the financial burden of taking on the United States government that has unlimited resources at their disposal (our tax dollars hard at work.)  Starting with the original trial to the CAAF appeal which we lost by a narrow 3-2 vote the Behenna’s have spent well over $400,000 in their fight for their son’s freedom.  I know that so many of you have already graciously stepped forward and lightened this financial burden, but unfortunately a significant shortfall remains.  And if the Supreme Court decides to hear Michael’s case that shortfall will grow by at least another $100,000. 

The Behenna’s are a proud family and asking for financial support is not something they are comfortable doing, especially given how many people are in need today, including so many fellow Oklahoman’s devastated by the recent tornados.  So I humbly ask each of you who believe in Michael’s cause, to consider giving a few dollars to his legal fund, which can be found on his web site at  If each one of the thousands of supporters of Michael gave $20 then the Behenna’s would be able to cover most of the current deficit.  Donations can be made through PayPal on Michael’s web site, or if you prefer you can mail a check directly to his Michael’s defense fund at:
Michael Behenna Legal Defense Fund
c/o Jack Dawson, co-trustee
100 Park Avenue, Second Floor
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73102-8099

Please know that your support for Michael, whether in the form of a donation, a card, or a letter, is appreciated more than words can say.  For Michael and his parents this difficult journey has only been possible because of the outpouring of support from all of you.  It has sustained them in their darkest hours, of which there have been many. Finally, please keep Michael in your thoughts and prayers as we await the ultimate decision by the highest court in the land on whether they will hear Michael’s case.  
I remain, now and forever, a proud supporter of a young man who some day I hope will be my son-in-law.
David Wahl

Friday, May 24, 2013

When a genius is hoodwinked...

Protest gone wrong Perhaps it wasn’t a good day think about writing a letter to Dr. Stephen Hawking. I had to admit that I was upset about another celebrity, professional golfer Sergio Garcia, for having made inanely racist remarks about Tiger Woods. Most likely, my ire was sparked by the thought that Garcia, frustrated about not being able to beat the world’s top-ranked golfer, chose to demean Woods as did the lackluster bully who taunted a seemingly defenseless shepherd like King David.
Such taunts, in the sports arena, weren’t new to me. Even I, as the lone Jew on our high school football team, had encountered similar shallow barbs. Chances are that Tiger will respond as I did; I honed my skills, played with even more fervor.
But I digress. Last night, prior to writing, I also watched an award-winning documentary, Follow Me, The Yoni Netanyahu Story.  Although I knew its history, I hadn’t known why Yoni had been so revered. Now I do. He was a hero’s hero; on July 4, 1976, he led an Israeli commando raid he had planned that saved the lives of 102 (out of 106) hostages from Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Athens, Greece.
In Athens, four Palestinian terrorists had boarded and later hijacked the plane to Benghazi, Libya. There it refueled before heading for Entebbe.
In addition to four hostages killed during that pre-dawn raid, one Israeli commando died. He was a Harvard educated Israeli, Yoni Netanyahu, older brother of Israel’s Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu. Yoni’s mission occurred almost four years after Palestinian terrorists massacred Israeli Olympians in Munich, Germany in September 1972. [Munich massacre - Yahoo! Sports   Cached
From Yahoo! Sports: On Sept. 5, 1972, a Palestinian terrorist group took 11 Israeli Olympic team members hostage. The standoff lasted 21 hours and ended ...]
Having that perspective, I wanted to rail against Hawking. Nonetheless, I felt bad about taking on a completely paralyzed man although he communicates fairly clearly thanks to a computer device that features an Israeli-designed chip. Also impacting me were memories of my Uncle, my father’s brother, who died of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, a devastating illness very similar to Hawking’s.
I wouldn’t wish either of those diseases on anyone.
That said, I sought an article from the left leaning Israeli paper, Haaretz, regarding Hawking’s decision to boycott a conference that “…will bring together people from the fields of government, economics, technology, science and entertainment to discuss the question of how to shape a better future for the world, the Jewish people and Israel.[Stephen Hawking confirms he is boycotting Israeli conference Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has canceled his planned appearance at next month's Presidential Conference…]
In that article, I’d anticipated a hearty approval of Hawking’s decision to heed the advice of his Palestinian academic cohorts. However, although Hawking may have pleased them, the Haaretz article focused on a more global view of the boycott against Israel that Hawking sought to support. Near the end of the article came this:
"Every so often there are local successes, like the Hawking case. But if you look at Europe, which is the bastion of the academic boycott it has the most prestigious scientific foundation, the ERC, which every country is competing [to get money] from. The Hebrew University is in fifth or sixth place in terms of the number of ERC grants it has received. That's important, because the decisions on these funds are made by Europeans. With competitive foundations of this sort, it's enough for one person to vote against, and you won't get the grant. From this standpoint, it seems the boycott is ineffective." [my emphasis]
Although I defend Hawking’s right to voice his opposition, I’m saddened by his decision to protest by not attending the conference. What good did it do? If he had engaged in debate at the conference, wouldn’t he have seen that the issue isn’t one-sided? Apparently, according to the article in Haaretz, some Palestinians accepted the invitation that Hawking rejected.
If I were to write a letter to Hawking, I would include this excerpt from the same article. Chances are that Hawking might think, as I do, that he had been manipulated.
In a subsequent conversation with Haaretz, Maimon noted that Hawking was being more Palestinian than the Palestinians: While he was boycotting the conference, other Palestinians had agreed to attend it as speakers.
"Hawking's stance strengthens the extremists," Maimon added. "After all, extremists don't talk; moderates talk. This boycott isn't a path that encourages dialogue, it only encourages the extremists."

                                                            B.Koplen 5/24/13

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

on display...

                           Other than menorahs and Torahs

Art at a museum, its galleries, seen from remote backsides
gawking, standing, scratching; security guards’ perspective, their
paid-to-stand attention, openings and closings, all doors locked. Home.

Orderliness prevails, exhibits ebb and flow, precedents to sift and weave,
to recycle as collections, generational artifacts, familiar evidence
as dust from ancient graves, of ancestral permanence.

But I am my own museum, my art traced from scattered remains, untenable
provenance; I am a Jew with scrolls of faith, wall hangings of prayers,
remnants of synagogues, fragmented tombstones,

small museums; we Jews don’t need much space. Thousands of years cast
as tracks in sand, paths well known to those who chased us. We carried
what we could, parted with art left behind, vanished.

Mine won’t be. It’s hidden in my children’s hearts to cherish when that
impulse calls them to see shapes and signs their blood pours into
as I back away and leave them, keys to my museum.

                                                            B.Koplen  5/14/13

Monday, May 13, 2013

braver than I...

DAREDEVILS     “I’ve thought about this for three days,” said the usually confident Carlos. Although I’d hired him to remove what looked to be an oversized bay window insert of ½” to 1” thick plexiglass from my second story window, I hadn’t wanted to ask how he was going to do it. Designed and constructed by a friend who was an engineering genius, my bay window had developed a leak I couldn’t remedy; I was concerned about mold and mildew as it worsened.

“I’d taken out a third floor window before, but never this,” Carlos remarked after he’d finished the job.

I’d watched and took a few pictures until the scariest part of the removal began. Carlos and his acrobatic helper didn’t pause for even a moment; I had to leave the room. Ten minutes later, the men were cleaning the hole and measuring for the window to be installed where the insert had been. They would be doing that too.

I was more than a little relieved. We’d waited until Sunday and we’d roped off the site. We’d trusted in the plastic’s tensile strength even after stress cracks appeared. At least they did.

Although, by watching them, I’d learned how to do a future removal, I hope that task never comes. Nail biters like me don’t make good daredevils.

I’d thought about that the day before when I visited the Eno Gallery in Hillsborough. Behind the counter was Sue, the woman who had introduced me to the dirt racetrack near downtown Hillsborough made famous by the likes of Wendell Scott and Richard Petty.

“You missed our celebration in Danville at Wendell Scott’s house,” said Sue. She told me that his daughter, Sybil, had arranged the gigantic affair. “Even the chief of NASCAR was there,” Sue informed me. Her club, that maintains the racetrack, had brought one of Wendell’s racecars; they displayed it near Wendell’s house.

How had I missed that event? “When was it?” I asked.

Sue told me.

“I was in Israel, visiting my daughters,” I said. Otherwise, I knew I would have attended.

She was excited at hearing my travels; she listened, then shared stories about a trip she’d taken, a pilgrimage she’d made every year for seventeen years.

“Every February, I go to the Iditarod race,” she beamed. She told me about friends she’d made in Alaska, about the exciting things she does there, about the volunteer work for the race that allows her to interact with dogs and their drivers.

“This time, it was 50 degrees below zero,” she told me as she showed me a picture on her I-phone. “You can really tell a difference when it goes from 40 below to fifty.”

Like summer to spring, I thought to myself, jokingly. But I didn’t say a thing because she was serious. I looked at her picture, wondered how life forms manage to get their blood to circulate at such extreme temperatures. I asked her about protective clothing. She told me about her special wardrobe, much like what a modern Eskimo wears.

When it was much warmer (she may have said “only 15 degrees below”), she rode on a sled to make a 22-mile run with a driver she had met. When they reached their destination, he checked for bears, dangerous at that beautiful but lonesome place. They looked around, walked on a frozen lake, then heard that a white out was coming. The way Sue described it, I thought of a coastal sailor’s pea soup condition where visibility is naught. A similar condition in sub-zero weather was life threatening. They headed back.

Midway, the storm hit. They couldn’t stop. They couldn’t see. Fortunately, the driver knew the route, was able to rely on bright orange markers that somehow served as a trail. Although she admitted to being overjoyed to get back to Fairbanks (I think it was Fairbanks, but I may be wrong. I was too focused on their life or death struggle to hold that detail.), I sensed she might yearn to do it again.

That’s when I asked the big question. “Does your husband want to go too?”

Sue laughed. He never had. They shared a love of theater and Manhattan, but not the thrills of the far north. I didn’t blame him. Sue plans to return next year. She told me that as she showed me a picture of a blue-eyed sled dog she had befriended. She reminisced. It seems that the dogs are strong enough to do what they do because they exercise all year. When it’s warm, they’re hooked to a Jeep-sized vehicle they readily pull. They’re that strong!

Even so, I noticed they were wearing what looked to be boots when they pulled on the ice and snow. “That’s what they are,” she told me. I didn’t ask how the sled drivers had found out their dogs needed them. Nor did I ask about places to stay if ever I wanted to go there.

Like Sue’s husband, I wouldn’t want to. Instead, I dream of Belize and Aruba and Cuzco (in the summer!). Pictures of those tropic getaways seemed even more appealing as I left Sue and the Eno Gallery. Back at home, I thought about that. I accepted that I’m not a daredevil like Sue and the guys who removed my bay window.

I’m more into politics and hotly contested ideas. That’s why I write about fundamental Islam and its threat to our western culture. Chances are that I’ll be writing about that for quite some time. But I’m not the only one. At home, at my computer, I noticed an article about another group of daredevils who, in their own way, are much braver than I am, demonstrably so. Although we share the same thoughts, I’m not sure I will ever be able to make arguments as boldly as they. This is what I saw from the Atlantic:

Femen Stages a 'Topless Jihad'
APR 4, 2013

Earlier today, members of Ukrainian feminist group Femen staged protests across Europe as they called for a "topless jihad." The demonstrations were in support of a young Tunisian activist named Amina Tyler. Last month, Tyler posted naked images of herself online, with the words "I own my body; it's not the source of anyone's honor" written on her bare chest. The head of Tunisia's "Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice," reportedly called for Tyler to be stoned to death for her putatively obscene actions, lest they lead to an epidemic. Tyler has since gone quiet, leading some to fear for her safety. Below are images from Femen's protests today in Sweden, Italy, Ukraine, Belgium, and France...

                                                B.Koplen 5/13/13