About 60% of eligible men escaped military service during the Vietnam era

About 60% of eligible men escaped military service during the Vietnam era
Upper class liberal Christians such as myself were proud draft dodgers.

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Letter to the blog

"Greetings From the Dr. Bob Jones Institute Think Tank."

"As national director of BJI, it is my duty to inform you and/or your organization that a detailed analysis of your positions regarding the Bible, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and in particular your political positions are not compatible with our own. The Dr. Bob Jones Institute stands for strict morality and a totally Christian Theocratic federal government. These of course are the wishes of Jesus."

"Since you or your organization have been tried and found wanting, we must insist that you disband your website immediately and no longer espouse the none sense "we have found there. Since the election of George W. Bush as our 43rd and BORN AGAIN president, and since as you know Mr. Bush did speak at the Bob Jones University and is close friends with Dr. Bob Jones III, BJI hopes you will agree it would be wise for you to obey God's will and to do so promptly."


Michael C. Kelley

Our Kind

Our Kind
We are the educated elite. We are secular humanists.

"Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore"

"God has no religion" - Gandhi

The One

The One

Dr. Mr. Liberal Christian WASP, the smartest man in the world.

Dr. Mr. Liberal Christian WASP, the smartest man in the world.
I will be your pastor today.

Dr. Mr. Liberal Christian WASP

Dr. Mr. Liberal Christian WASP
Proud Vietnam Draft Dodger

Can I be a Chickenhawk Too?

Can I Be a Chickenhawk Too? You sure can! If you never served in the military, but you go around mouthing off, supporting the war, beating the drum, and advocating that we send Democratic kids off to kill Iraqi kids so that Republican kids can become billionaires, you're a junior chickenhawk!

Brave New World

Brave New World
Only I, Dr. Mr. Liberal Christian WASP can guide you to happiness. Throw off your Jesus shackles and follow me, for only I can lead you to happiness. Tut tut, my good man.

Dr. Mr. Liberal Christian WASP has an Rx for you.

"Under the wise leadership of president Obama, two thousand pharmacologists and bio-chemists were subsidized. Six years later it was being produced commercially. The perfect drug. Euphoric, narcotic, pleasantly hallucinant. All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects. Take a holiday from reality whenever you like, and come back without so much as a headache or a mythology. Stability was practically assured."
ALDOUS HUXLEY ( Brave New World )

"Who lives longer? the man who takes heroin for two years and dies, or a man who lives on roast beef, water and potatoes 'till 95? One passes his 24 months in eternity. All the years of the beefeater are lived only in time."
Aldous Huxley

Dr. Mr. Liberal Christian WASP says,

Drawing life to a close with a transcendentally orgasmic bang, and not a pathetic and god-forsaken whimper, can turn dying into the culmination of one's existence rather than its present messy and protracted anti-climax.

There is another good reason to finish life on a high note. In a predominantly secular society, adopting a hedonisticdeath-style is much more responsible from an ethical utilitarian perspective. For it promises to spare friends and relations the miseries of vicarious suffering and distress they are liable to undergo at present as they witness one's decline.

A few generations hence, the elimination of primitive evolutionary holdovers such as the ageing process andsuffering will make the hedonistic death advocated here redundant. In the meanwhile, one is conceived in pleasure and may reasonably hope to die in it.

Liberal Christians

Also sometimes referred to as secular, modern, or humanistic. This is an umbrella term for Protestant denominations, or churches within denominations, that view the Bible as the witness of God rather than the word of God, to be interpreted in its historical context through critical analysis. Examples include some churches within Anglican/Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ. There are more than 2,000 Protestant denominations offering a wide range of beliefs from extremely liberal to mainline to ultra-conservative and those that include characteristics on both ends.

Belief in Deity
Trinity of the Father (God), the Son (Christ), and the Holy Spirit that comprises one God Almighty. Many believe God is incorporeal.

Beliefs vary from the literal to the symbolic belief in Jesus Christ as God's incarnation. Some believe we are all sons and daughters of God and that Christ was exemplary, but not God.

Origin of Universe and Life
The Bible's account is symbolic. God created and controls the processes that account for the universe and life (e.g. evolution), as continually revealed by modern science.

After Death
Goodness will somehow be rewarded and evil punished after death, but what is most important is how you show your faith and conduct your life on earth.

Why Evil?
Most do not believe that humanity inherited original sin from Adam and Eve or that Satan actually exists. Most believe that God is good and made people inherently good, but also with free will and imperfect nature, which leads some to immoral behavior.

Various beliefs: Some believe all will go to heaven, as God is loving and forgiving. Others believe salvation lies in doing good works and no harm to others, regardless of faith. Some believe baptism is important. Some believe the concept of salvation after death is symbolic or nonexistent.

Undeserved Suffering
Most Liberal Christians do not believe that Satan causes suffering. Some believe suffering is part of God's plan, will, or design, even if we don't immediately understand it. Some don't believe in any spiritual reasons for suffering, and most take a humanistic approach to helping those in need.

Contemporary Issues
Most churches teach that abortion is morally wrong, but many ultimately support a woman's right to choose, usually accompanied by policies to provide counseling on alternatives. Many are accepting of homosexuality and gay rights.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The 'T.S.' stands for 'tough shit.'

T.S. Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, or, All at Sea with T.S.E.

by Robert Sward

In 1952, sailing to Korea, a U.S. Navy librarian for Landing Ship Tank 914, I read T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Ill- educated, a product of Chicago's public school system, I was nineteen years old and, awakened by Whitman, Eliot and Williams, had just begun writing poetry. I was also reading all the books I could get my hands on.

Eliot had won the Nobel Prize in 1948 and, curious, I was trying to make sense of poems like Prufrock and The Waste Land.

"What do you know about T.S. Eliot?" I asked a young officer who'd been to college and studied English Literature. I knew from earlier conversations that we shared an interest in what he called "modern poetry." A Yeoman Third Class, two weeks at sea and bored, I longed for someone to talk to.

"T.S. Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but he lives now in England and is studying to become an Englishman," the officer said, tapping tobacco into his pipe. "The 'T.S.' stands for 'tough shit.' You read Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, what one English Prof. called 'the first poem of the modern movement,' and if you don't understand it, 'tough shit.' All I can say is that's some love song."

An anthology of poetry open before us, we were sitting in the ship's all- metal, 8-foot by 8-foot library eating baloney sandwiches and drinking coffee. Fortunately, the Captain kept out of sight and life on the slow-moving (8-10 knots) flat-bottomed amphibious ship was unhurried and anything but formal.

"Then why does Eliot bother calling it a love song?" I asked, as the ship rolled and the coffee sloshed onto a steel table. The tight metal room smelled like a cross between a diesel engine and a New York deli.

"Eliot's being ironic, sailor. Prufrock is the love song of a sexually repressed and horny man who has no one but himself to sing to." Drawing on his pipe, the officer scratched his head.

"Like you and I, Mr. Prufrock is a lonely man on his way to a war zone. We're sailing to Korea and we know the truth, don't we? We may never make it back. Prufrock marches like a brave soldier to a British drawing room that, he tells us, may be the death of him. He's a mock heroic figure who sings of mermaids and peaches and drowning.

Pointing to lines 129-130, the officer read aloud:

"We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wakes us and we drown."

"Prufrock is also singing because he's a poet. Prufrock is T.S. Eliot and, the truth is, Eliot is so much like Prufrock that he has to distance himself from his creation. That's why he gives the man that pompous name. Did you know 'Tough Shit,' as a young man, sometimes signed himself 'T. Stearns Eliot?' You have to see the humor - the irony - in Prufrock to understand the poem."

"I read it, I hear it in my head, but I still don't get it," I confessed. What is Prufrock about?"

"'Birth, death and copulation, that's all there is.' That's what Eliot himself says. Of course the poem also touches on aging, social status, and fashion."

"Aging and fashion?" I asked.

The officer threw back his head and recited:

"They will say: 'How his hair is growing thin!'
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin."

He paused, then went on:

"I grow old... I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."

"At the time the poem was written it was fashionable for young men to roll their trousers. In lines 120-121, Thomas Stearns Prufrock is laughing at himself for being middle-aged and vain.

"Anyway, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is an interior monologue," said the officer, finishing his balogna sandwich and washing it down with dark rum. Wiping mustard from his mouth, he continued. "The whole thing takes place in J. Alfred Prufrock's head. That's clear, isn't it?"

I had read Browning's My Last Duchess and understood about interior monologues.

"Listen, sailor: Prufrock thinks about drawing rooms, but he never actually sets foot in one. Am I right?"

"Yeah," I said after re-reading the first ten lines. "I think so."

"The poem is about what goes through Prufrock's mind on his way to some upper-class drawing room. It's a foggy evening in October, and what Mr. Prufrock really needs is a drink. He's a tightass Victorian, a lonely teetotalling intellectual. Anyone else would forget the toast and marmalade and step into a pub and ask for a pint of beer."

Setting down his pipe, the naval officer opened the flask and re-filled our coffee mugs.

"Every time I think I know what Prufrock means it turns out to mean something else," I said. "Eliot uses too many symbols. Why doesn't he just say what he means?"

"The city - 'the lonely men in shirt sleeves' and the 'one-night cheap hotels' - are masculine," said the officer. "That's what cities are like, aren't they: ugly and oppressive. What's symbolic - or should I say what's obscure - about that?"

"Nothing," I said. "That's the easy part - Prufrock walking along like that."

"Okay," said the officer. "And in contrast to city streets, you've got the oppressive drawing room which, in Prufrock's mind, is feminine - 'arms that are braceleted and white and bare' and 'the marmalade, the tea,/Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me...?'" Using a pencil, the officer underlined those images in the paperback anthology.

"You ever been to a tea party, Sward?"

"No, sir, I haven't. Not like Prufrock's."

"Well," said the officer, "I have and I have a theory about that 'overwhelming question' Prufrock wants to ask in line 10 - and again in line 93. Twice in the poem we hear about an 'overwhelming question.' What do you think he's getting at with that 'overwhelming question,' sailor?"

"Prufrock wants to ask the women what they're doing with their lives, but he's afraid they'll laugh at him," I said.

"Guess again, Sward," he said leaning back in his chair, stretching his arms.

"What's your theory, sir?"

"Sex," said the officer. "On the one hand, it's true, he wants to fit in and play the game because, after all, he's privileged. He belongs in the drawing room with the clever Englishwomen. At the same time he fantasizes. If he could, I think he'd like to shock them. Prufrock longs to put down his dainty porcelain teacup and shout, 'I am Lazarus, come from the dead,/Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all...'"

"Why doesn't he do it?" I asked.

"Because Prufrock is convinced no matter what he says he won't reach them. He feels the English gentlewomen he's dealing with are unreachable. He believes his situation is as hopeless as theirs. He's dead and they're dead too. That's why the poem begins with an image of sickness, 'a patient etherized upon a table' and ends with people drowning. Prufrock is tough shit, man."

"You said you think there's a connection between Eliot the poet and J. Alfred Prufrock," I said.

"Of course there's a connection. Tommy Eliot from St. Louis, Missouri," said the officer. "Try as he will, he doesn't fit in. His English friends call him 'The American' and laugh. Tom Eliot the outsider with his rolled umbrella. T.S. Eliot is a self-conscious, make-believe Englishman and you have to understand that to understand Prufrock.

"The poem is dark and funny at the same time. It's filled with humor and Prufrock is capable of laughing at himself. Just read those lines, 'Is it perfume from a dress/that makes me so digress?'

"You were talking about Prufrock being sexually attracted to the women. How could that be if he is, as you say, 'dead.'" I asked.

"By 'dead' I mean desolate - inwardly barren - godforsaken. Inwardly, spiritually, Prufrock is a desolate creature. He's a moral man, he's a civilized man, but he's also hollow. But there's hope for him. In spite of himself, Prufrock is drawn to women.

"Look at line 65. He's attracted and repelled. Prufrock attends these teas, notices the women's' arms 'downed with light brown hair!' and it scares the hell out of him because what he longs to do is to get them onto a drawing room floor or a beach somewhere and bury his face in that same wonderfully tantalizing 'light brown hair'. What do you think of that, sailor?"

"I think you're right, sir."

"Then tell me this, Mr. Sward: Why doesn't he ask the overwhelming question? Hell, man, maybe it's not sexual. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe what he wants to do is to ask some question like - like what you yourself suggested: 'What's the point in going on living when, in some sense, we're all already dead?'"

"I think he doesn't ask the question because he's so repressed, sir. He longs for physical contact, like you say, but he also wants another kind of intimacy, and he's afraid to ask for it and it's making him crazy."

"That's right, sailor. He's afraid. Eliot wrote the poem in 1911 when women were beginning to break free."

"Break free of what?" I asked.

"Of the prim and proper Victorian ideal. Suffragettes, feminists they called themselves. At the time Eliot wrote Prufrock, women in England and America were catching on to the fact that they were disfranchised and had begun fighting for the right to vote - among other things - and for liberation, equality with men.

"Of course Prufrock is more prim and proper than the bored, over- civilized women in the poem. And it's ironic, isn't it, that he doesn't understand that the women are one step ahead of him. What you have in Prufrock is a man who tries to reconcile the image of real women with 'light brown hair' on their arms with some ideal, women who are a cross between the goddess Juno and a sweet Victorian maiden."

"Prufrock seems to know pretty well what he's feeling," I said. "He's not a liar and he's not a coward. To be honest, sir, I identify with Prufrock. He may try on one mask or another, but he ends up removing the mask and exposing himself..."

"Now, about interior monologues: To understand Prufrock you have to understand that most poems have one or more speakers and an audience - implied or otherwise. Let's go back to line 1. Who is this "you and I" Eliot writes about?"

"Prufrock is talking to both his inner self and the reader," I said.

"How do you interpret the first ten lines?" the officer asked, pointing with his pencil.

"'Let us go then, you and I,'" he's saying, let us stroll, somnolent and numb as a sedated patient, through these seedy "half-deserted streets,/The muttering retreats/Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels...'"

"That's it, sailor. And while one might argue that Prufrock 'wakes' at the end of the poem, he is for the most part a ghostly inhabitant of a world that is, for him, a sort of hell. He is like the speaker in the Italian epigraph, from Dante's Inferno, who says, essentially, 'Like you, reader, I'm in purgatory and there is no way out. Nobody ever escapes from this pit and, for that reason, I can speak the truth without fear of ill fame.'

"Despairing and sick of heart, Prufrock is a prisoner. Trapped in himself and trapped in society, he attends another and another in an endless series of effete, decorous teas. "In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo."

"Do you get it now? Do you see what I mean when I say 'tough shit,'" said the officer.

"Yeah, I'm beginning to," I said.

"T. S. Eliot's Prufrock has become so much a part of the English language that people who have never read the poem are familiar with phrases like "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" and "I grow old... I grow old.../ I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled" and "Do I dare to eat a peach?" and "In the room the women come and go..."

"Do you get it now? Eliot's irregularly rhymed, 131-line interior monologue has become part of the monologue all of us carry on in our heads. We are all of us, whether we know it or not, love-hungry, sex-crazed soldiers and sailors, brave, bored and lonely. At some level in our hearts, we are all J. Alfred Prufrock, every one of us, and we are all sailing into a war zone from which, as the last line of the poem implies, we will never return."

Winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Robert Sward has taught at Cornell University, the Iowa Writers' Workshop and University of California Extension in Santa Cruz. Sward's Four Incarnations, New & Selected Poems 1957-1991 was published by Coffee House Press (Minneapolis). A Much- Married Man, A Novel, Ekstasis Editions (Canada-USA), appeared in 1996.

© Robert Sward

1 comment:

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