The U.S. Poet Laureate

I don’t think I’ve written about it here before, but we’ve been gradually working through the West Wing this year, and are nearly finished season 3. Last night we watched The U.S. Poet Laureate which I really loved for a number of reasons. I sympathised with Josh, understandably feeling that he must respond to the on-line crap being written, and unwisely giving in to the temptation to respond. I loved Toby being starstruck by the Poet Laureate herself. C.J. and the president together insulting their opponent’s intelligence was pretty glorious.

It tied in also with one real-world issue that resonates with me: the worldwide ban on landmines. It wasn’t until I’d personally had the experience of driving along a road with the occasional orange warning flag barely visible in the undergrowth, not being able to be sure if they have all been identified, that I really took it seriously. The arguments made by the poet about why landmines are militarily counter-productive and morally indefensible are all totally valid, and Toby’s Pentagon-produced rebuttal is crap (and he knows it).

Then, of course, the story came really close to home, with the poet recounting how, on a visit to Banja Luka, she had witnessed a little boy on a fishing trip being blown up by a landmine which had washed into the river Sava. It’s a part of the world I know very well, and while purists will argue that Banja Luka is actually on the Vrbas rather than the Sava, I would respond that the Sava is only an hour’s drive from Banja Luka and has better fishing than the Vrbas (as well as a higher risk of landmines washing into it in the rain, partlicularly from the Croatian side of the river). We even had the occasional American poet pass through.

I remember my colleague from central Bosnia, a tall blond Muslim who’d been his village’s skiing champion before the war, whose leg was wrecked by a mine planted by his Croat neighbours (who, to do them credit, rushed him to hospital and probably saved his limb). That was a case where it had, in fact, been washed into a stream by rainfall. In the two years we lived in the Balkans, 1997 and 1998, the war was still recent enough that we were inculcated with advice against pulling over onto a grass verge in case it had not been adequately cleared, something that still makes me twitchy even today.

You’ll occasionally see reminders of this even in the comfortable West. In Geneva there is a stunning giant sculpture of a chair with one of its legs blown off. The Rond Point Schuman had a big though temporary statue making a point about the issue a couple of years back. I’m very pleased on the rare occasions when I help produce a minor bit of progress in the real world on mine clearance. Well done to the Ottawa Treaty activists for getting the issue the prominence it enjoys, and boo to those countries (the usual suspects) who haven’t signed it.

Edited to add: Googling produces this rather good briefing about landmines in the Banja Luka area (1 MB PDF), from about 2003. Notice how the fatalities each year tend to peak with the spring rains.

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1 Response to The U.S. Poet Laureate

  1. yea_mon says:

    Even though I dislike Salmon – for one man’s canny operator is another man’s twister, his push for 16-17 year-olds to vote in the referendum is very sly: today’s 16 and 17 year-olds will be old enough to vote come 2014, and will likely remember which side tried to ‘deny’ them a vote in 2012.

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