Jul. 17, 2009

Sober Song

by Barton Sutter

Farewell to the starlight in whiskey,
So long to the sunshine in beer.
The booze made me cocky and frisky
But worried the man in the mirror.

Good night to the moonlight in brandy,
Adieu to the warmth of the wine.
I think I can finally stand me
Without a glass or a stein.

Bye-bye to the balm in the vodka,
Ta-ta to the menthol in gin.
I'm trying to do what I ought to,
Rejecting that snake medicine.

I won't miss the blackouts and vomit,
The accidents and regret.
If I can stay off the rotgut,
There might be a chance for me yet.

So so long to God in a bottle,
To the lies of rum and vermouth.
Let me slake my thirst with water
And the sweet, transparent truth.

"Sober Song" by Barton Sutter, from Farewell to the Starlight in Whiskey. © BOA Editions, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the Israeli writer S.Y. Agnon, (books by this author) born in a small village in Ukraine (1888). His greatest work, The Day Before Yesterday (1945), was about the difficult lives of Westernized Jews in Israel.

It's the birthday of the great church composer Isaac Watts, born in Southampton, England (1674). He wrote more than 600 hymns, including "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"and "Joy to the World."

It's the birthday of American mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner, (books by this author) born in Malden, Massachusetts (1889). He wrote more than 80 mystery novels featuring the brilliant lawyer Perry Mason. He's one of the best-selling American authors of all time.

Today is the 70th birthday of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, born in Mashhad, Iran (1939). He's one of the most powerful people in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

He is a Shiite cleric by education and training, having started religious studies before finishing elementary school. He made a pilgrimage to the Shiite holy city of Najaf, in Iraq, when he was 18 years old, and continued studying under top Iranian Islamic clerics. By his early 20s, he'd become very active in politics, even getting arrested in 1963 for taking part in revolutionary activities.

He helped to found the Islamic Republic Party in 1979 and to orchestrate the famous Islamic Revolution in Iran that year. The secular shah of Iran was exiled, and the Iranian government was replaced by Islamic conservatives. Within a couple of years of the revolution, Khamenei had been appointed as Tehran's Friday Prayer Leader, as the deputy Defense Minister, and as Supervisor of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards.

He was the first cleric to be president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He was elected in a landslide victory; the numbers released show that he garnered 95 percent of the votes cast in the election. In the first speech he gave as president, he promised to eradicate "deviation, liberalism, and American-influenced leftists" from the new republic. Iranian people protested and revolted in violent and nonviolent manners through out the early 1980s, but the government cracked down, often using the revolutionary courts as the vehicle to kill dissidents. People were arrested, summarily tried, and sentenced to death. Khamenei was elected to a second term as president in 1985, in another landslide election. In 1989, the same year that his second term as president ended, he became the Supreme Leader of Iran, the position he still holds now.

At first, he was supposed to be part of a council of three ruling clerics, and the two other men were also chosen. But then the Assembly of Experts (which chooses the leadership positions) rejected the idea of a three-person council, and Khamenei was made the sole Supreme Leader of Iran. Immediately, his appointment to Supreme Leader was controversial in Iran. The clergy and others complained that Khamenei lacked the religious scholarship credentials or academic authority to hold the Supreme Leader position.

It's an incredibly powerful position in Iran. The role of Supreme Leader was written into the constitution of the Islamic Republic in 1979. No decision becomes part of Iran's law until it is approved by the Supreme Leader. As Supreme Leader, Khamenei is commander-in-chief of Iran's military, and it's his decision (not that of the president) about whether or not the country goes to war. The Supreme Leader also has the power to dismiss the democratically elected president of Iran. Khamenei appoints the heads of state television and state radio, and the country's national security council members. He also appoints nearly every high-ranking member in Iran's judiciary system.

Growing up, Khamenei liked poetry and music, but once he became Supreme Leader of Iran, he disavowed the art forms, issuing a fatwa in 1996 stating that music education "corrupts the minds of young children." Music schools across the country were closed, and it became illegal for public schools to provide musical instruction to students under age 16. He said, "The promotion of music [both traditional and Western] in schools is contrary to the goals and teachings of Islam."

His role has been a point of contention for decades among Iranians, many of whom feel that it's ridiculous to give one person so much power. But it's also a crime in Iran to criticize or insult the Supreme Leader of Iran.

There's also ample evidence that he has rigged elections, particularly in 2004 when he and his political appointees helped disqualify thousands of reformist candidates and incumbents, so that these candidates could not even appear on the ballot.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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