Bei Dao’s Lament

Although I’ve only read the first fifty pages of Bei Dao’s At The Sky’s Edge, as translated by David Hinton, his book seems to have much in common with Shinkichi Takahasi’s Triumph of the Sparrow, which I discussed a while ago. Bei Dao’s poetry seems to use many of the same kind of surrealistic images that Takahasi used.

As admitted before, my ignorance of contemporary Asian literature is truly profound. Thus, I’m uncertain whether it is pure coincidence that the two artists seem to have so much in common with Surrealism. Does the fact that the Chinese language seems more “concrete” than the English language contribute to this tendency? Perhaps it’s time for Jonathon Delacour to offer some insights into his favorite Asian poetry.

I could quite easily imagine many of Dao’s poems as surrealistic paintings. Indeed, they seem to gain much of their power from the conflicting, disparate images found within them. I must admit, though, that when I was taking art classes collages were my favorite medium, and perhaps that may explain why I like these poems so much.

One of my favorite poems is “Lament”:


incandescent arc welding the sky
like long-lost passions
searching for new wounds
searching for blizzards amid archives
sparks in the bellows-chamber

dreams drop with sweat
like underwater mines longing for a ship’s touch
now the sea’s gone suddenly dry
a forest of tents appears
and we wake like wounds

dignitaries speaking some other language
stroll through the refugee camp

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to look at a sunrise (or sunset) in quite the same where after the opening line of this poem. Anyone who has ever glanced out of the side of his at an arc welder will feel the power of this image. What do you imagine is being welded to the darkness? Is it our passion for life confronted by the abyss? What is the result of that fusion? Or, as suggested by the last line, what is being forged by these passions?

The first lines of the second stanza remind me of Langston Hughes’ “Dream Deferred,” dreams longing to explode, just waiting for the right target to drift by, perhaps a particularly relevant line when tied with the image of the refugee camp that ends the poem.

Most of us sitting securely at home in America very seldom think about “refugee camps,” much less what it must feel like to sit there dejectedly as “dignitaries” visit, all the time speaking a foreign language, perhaps even visiting for “publicity” rather than in an honest attempt to help the refugees.

Fighting the Good Fight

If I were to allow myself, I could easily get depressed over the current state of the nation.

I accepted that we were going to fight a war I did not believe in when Congress gave the president the power to attack Iraq with little more than a murmur months ago. It’s cheering, though, to see people protesting in the streets of Portland again.

I accepted that the Republicans care as little about the environment as they do about the health of those who cannot afford medical care. I’m cheered, though, by the corresponding rise in action among environmental groups. The increasing number of internet sites that encourage citizens to write congressmen will give those of us concerned with the environment increasing opportunities to talk to our congressmen.

I accepted that the Democrats have taken the worst beating in my lifetime in the last election. I’m cheered, though, by the fact that they haven’t given up hope of regaining the congress and that I’ve been inundated with fund raising letters from the Democratic party, both at the national and local level.

I’m even more cheered by the attempts of the local Sierra club to leverage email and the net to encourage their members to get more politically involved. I might even break all my rules and actually go to a meeting.

If these people can get me to attend a “political” meeting, there may be hope that they can energize others who have been less opposed to taking political action.

I’m equally cheered that Shelley , among many others, hasn’t given up the good fight.

Taxing Upward Mobility

A recent article in the Christian Scientist Monitor called “‘Upward mobility’ in real decline, studies charge”reminded me how many Americans equate “democracy” and “capitalism.” These are probably the same Americans who are sure we live in a democracy, whereas, strictly speaking, we live in a Republic, not a democracy.

Personally, I suspect that unfettered capitalism is more likely to lead to an oligarchy than to a democracy. In fact, if recent statistics are to be believed, America is moving away from a mobile society where people rise or fall based on merit to a society where people’s fate is largely determined by their birth status, not merit. One has to ask whether democracy is truly possible in such a society. Certainly, equal opportunity would have to take on a new meaning in such a society.

Some argue that taxes attempt to promote the kind of society that America wants. For instance, taxpayers are allowed to deduct the interest and taxes on their home because lawmakers felt that owning a home was an essential part of the American dream. Recent tax breaks for educational expenses and more recent breaks on savings all attempt to promote positive behavior.

If the purpose of taxes is to promote positive behavior, one has to wonder what kind of behavior the government is trying to promote by getting rid of the inheritance tax.

As far as I can see, repealing the inheritance tax because it is an unjust “death” tax will tend to buttress, not bridge, the divide between the “haves” and “have nots” discussed in the Monitor article.

The inheritance tax was originally seen as a way of insuring that America was not burdened with a permanent aristocracy the way Europe was. Yes, the richest families have found ways to get around most such laws, but at least the laws tried to level the playing field.

Today’s aristocracy is based on inherited wealth rather than on inherited titles, but the end result is not too different. If such wealth is allowed to build without any legal restraints, the divide will continue to widen and true democracy will become less and less viable.

How Much will the Dividend Tax Cut Save You?

Although I don’t consider myself a tax expert, friends sometimes ask me what effect proposed tax relief would have. Lately several have asked me what effect cutting the dividends tax will have on them.

My answer is that unless they own individual stocks it will have very little effect upon them. Yes, some people will gain small amounts on their mutual funds. My wife owns about $140, 000 in mutual stocks and we would have saved $48 last year if dividends hadn’t been taxed. Since not many of my friends own that much stock outside of their retirement plans, I imagine their savings would be even less.

I doubt that a tax saving of $48 would have engendered the kind of enthusiasm we see for this particular tax cut. I suspect it is those with millions of dollars in stock investments who’ve pushed for these cuts. Spending the $48 I saved last year is hardly going to spur the economy. You don’t have to be a genius to realize that it is the rich and the super-rich who are likely to gain any real benefit from this tax break and who will, if you believe the trickle-down theory, spur the economy to new heights.

Since all of my stock is tied up in my 403b, it’s doubtful that I would see any real tax benefit at all. I imagine that most of the 50% of people who own stock, if we are to accept those Republicans statistics, own it indirectly through their 401k, 403b or other retirement programs. They will gain very little benefit, if any, from this tax cut. After all, nothing is taxed until they pull their earnings out after retirement, and then it’s all taxable, isn’t it, even those untaxed dividends.

What the tax break will undoubtedly do, though, is to push the tax deficit up, further endangering the Social Security fund and Medicare. Taxpayers might ask themselves who will rely more on those funds in the future, themselves or those who want the dividends tax eliminated?