Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Follow Up


Following up the Mark Strand related post, the Reader printed my letter. A response was offered by the author of the offending article, a rather lame response. He sent me to a web site wherein I might read stats about the lack of sales for poetry, which was no new news. Still, while that is hard to argue, it seems he missed the point I was trying to make and anyway he ignored most of my other criticisms, instead pointed out that one of them was against the headline for the coulmn, which he did not write. Thank god I will never be a journalist; I'd hate it if anyone put their words in my mouth, or even alongside my name.

Oh, and he pointed out that he does not care for Strand's "Eating Poetry" though he knows many people like it, implying that many people have read it and Strand and therefore contradicting his own point that no one reads contemporary poetry. I feel good about all this.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Better than you

I felt a strange sort of pride today when I realized I have never used an emoticon or abbreviated the words “laugh out loud.”

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Put that in your smoke and pipe it

Anyone unfamiliar with Mark Strand read this:

Eating Poetry

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man,
I snarl at her and bark,
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

I read that over a decade ago and never forgot the name or the poem. I like this poem. It’s cute, postmodern (if we must impose a distinction upon it) and it stuck with me as a young guy in junior college who thought he might someday write something as cute and postmodern, even if I didn’t know or care what the fuck postmodernism was. Whatever the case, I liked the poem then and I like it now. That being said, I never followed Strand’s career as poet laureate or celebrated writer who will forever find his lines eating up space in The New Yorker. I once saw a singed copy of one of his books at a store in Evanston and snatched it up. Why not, I thought. Further reading of Strand allows me to report that I like some of what he does, which is more than I can say for a lot of writers.

Flash to this week’s copy of The Reader or go to http://www.chireader.com/ if you want to read in full the review of Strand’s new collection, Man and Camel. There’s some downright heavy critiques of the newest work by one of America’s biggest names in contemporary poetry. And I can’t disagree with the weight of these criticisms, yet I have not read the actual poems, just the vivisected bits in Noah Berlatsky’s review. As a result, it’s hard to make a fair judgment. I will agree with Berlatsky that the image of drinking whiskey at sunset is pretty goddamned clichéd, but maybe that’s because I drink every single day as the sun starts to set. Ah, liquor at dusk… my best friend, the only one who understands and always forgives.


I decided recently that I would rather write poems than literary criticism, although it appears that writing literary criticism would assure me publication, whereas writing poetry will not. And someone someday would read my critical writing, I am sure— maybe even use such brilliant insights as the basis of their lousy undergraduate term paper— though not many are likely to read my poems ever. Still, I made my decision and am sticking to it. Seeing Strand get his ass handed to him in this week’s Chicago Reader was fun, but it made me remember what Alexander Pope said (or what is at least attributed to him), and what I might offer to the Noah Berlatskys of the world who always seem to know exactly what “another nail in the coffin of contemporary poetry” looks like:

Sir, I admit your general rule,
That every poet is a fool.
But you yourself may serve to show it,
Every fool is not a poet.

Shred, shred, shred

Read: "The new law also defines this term broadly to include not just terrorists and fighters but also people -- including American citizens -- who have "materially supported hostilities against the United States."

Get scared. Story in full:

Habeas corpus suspension a first
Many legal scholars predict that the new law, created by Bush on Tuesday, will be struck down as unconstitutional

WASHINGTON - The military tribunals bill signed by President Bush on Tuesday marks the first time the right of habeas corpus has been curtailed by law for millions of people in the United States.

Although the debate about the law focused on trials at Guantanamo Bay, it also takes away the right to go to court for immigrants and noncitizens in the United States -- including more than 12 million permanent residents -- if they are declared "unlawful enemy combatants."

No one has suggested the Bush administration plans to use its newly won power to round up large numbers of immigrants.

But before Tuesday, the principle of habeas corpus meant that anyone thrown into jail had a right to ask a judge to hear the case. He or she also had a right to go free if the government could not show a legal basis for detainment.

Many legal scholars predict the law's partial repeal of habeas corpus will be struck down as unconstitutional.

"This is an outright slap at the Supreme Court, and it is heading for invalidation," said Eric Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University in New York and an expert on habeas corpus. "This is a core principle of law that was established by the prisoners who were tossed into the Tower of London by the king, and it was preserved in the Constitution. Now, Congress is saying it doesn't apply to this disfavored group of prisoners."

The new law says: "No court, justice or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined ... to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination." In early drafts, the bill would have cut off habeas corpus only for unlawful combatants detained "outside the United States" and at Guantanamo Bay. However, the final version deleted that phrase.

Now, it not only bars the men held at Guantanamo Bay from challenging their detention in court, but it also closes the courthouse door to noncitizens who are arrested in Los Angeles or Chicago and held by the military as a possible "unlawful enemy combatant."

The new law also defines this term broadly to include not just terrorists and fighters but also people -- including American citizens -- who have "materially supported hostilities against the United States." While a citizen could be arrested as an "enemy combatant," he or she could still challenge the government's action in court.

Some legal experts say the fate of this repeal of habeas corpus is uncertain because it is entirely unprecedented.

"This is one of the great unresolved questions because this has never happened before," said Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, a critic of the Bush administration. "The question is whether this is an unconstitutional suspension of the writ of habeas corpus."

The Constitution makes clear habeas corpus can be "suspended," but only during extreme emergencies. It says, "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it."

In the most famous example, President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War.

The courts have not always come to the aid of people who say they are being wrongly detained by the government. During World War II, the Supreme Court upheld the government's internment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast.

Bush administration lawyers have said this, too, is wartime and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were akin to an invasion. Moreover, Congress has now endorsed the president's power to hold "enemy combatants."

But others say the court will look first to the words of the Constitution.
This limited repeal of habeas corpus fails all three tests, said John Hutson, a former Judge Advocate General of the Navy and dean of the Franklin Pierce Law School in New Hampshire. "This is not a time of rebellion. There has not been an invasion, and there's no evidence the 'public safety' requires it," he said. "Let's not kid ourselves. This is not about an invasion. It is about the embarrassment of holding people who, if they got to court, could show they should not have been held."
Still, the outcome of any case that reaches the Supreme Court is hard to predict because the justices have been closely split when faced with a clash between civil liberties and wartime powers.

Pepperdine University law professor Douglas Kmiec said Congress and the White House were on solid ground in seeking to cut off legal appeals from foreign fighters held by the U.S. military abroad, including at Guantanamo Bay.

"I would say habeas has no application to wartime detention outside the United States," said Kmiec, who has generally defended the administration. After World War II, the Supreme Court ruled German military prisoners held by U.S. authorities had no right to challenge their detentions through a writ of habeas corpus, he noted.

But detentions within this country have been seen differently, he added. "This is one of the most difficult questions posed by this act. There is no question that a habeas right has existed within the territorial United States for citizens and legal residents," Kmiec said.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Are We Really So Fearful?

By Ariel Dorfman
Sunday, September 24, 2006;
Washington Post, Page B01

It still haunts me, the first time -- it was in Chile, in October of 1973 -- that I met someone who had been tortured. To save my life, I had sought refuge in the Argentine Embassy some weeks after the coup that had toppled the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, a government for which I had worked. And then, suddenly, one afternoon, there he was. A large-boned man, gaunt and yet strangely flabby, with eyes like a child, eyes that could not stop blinking and a body that could not stop shivering.

That is what stays with me -- that he was cold under the balmy afternoon sun of Santiago de Chile, trembling as though he would never be warm again, as though the electric current was still coursing through him. Still possessed, somehow still inhabited by his captors, still imprisoned in that cell in the National Stadium, his hands disobeying the orders from his brain to quell the shuddering, his body unable to forget what had been done to it just as, nearly 33 years later, I, too, cannot banish that devastated life from my memory.

It was his image, in fact, that swirled up from the past as I pondered the current political debate in the United States about the practicality of torture. Something in me must have needed to resurrect that victim, force my fellow citizens here to spend a few minutes with the eternal iciness that had settled into that man's heart and flesh, and demand that they take a good hard look at him before anyone dare maintain that, to save lives, it might be necessary to inflict unbearable pain on a fellow human being. Perhaps the optimist in me hoped that this damaged Argentine man could, all these decades later, help shatter the perverse innocence of contemporary Americans, just as he had burst the bubble of ignorance protecting the young Chilean I used to be, someone who back then had encountered torture mainly through books and movies and newspaper reports.

That is not, however, the only lesson that today's ruthless world can learn from that distant man condemned to shiver forever.

All those years ago, that torture victim kept moving his lips, trying to articulate an explanation, muttering the same words over and over. "It was a mistake," he repeated, and in the next few days I pieced together his sad and foolish tale. He was an Argentine revolutionary who had fled his homeland and, as soon as he had crossed the mountains into Chile, had begun to boast about what he would do to the military there if it staged a coup, about his expertise with arms of every sort, about his colossal stash of weapons. Bluster and braggadocio -- and every word of it false.
But how could he convince those men who were beating him, hooking his penis to electric wires and waterboarding him? How could he prove to them that he had been lying, prancing in front of his Chilean comrades, just trying to impress the ladies with his fraudulent insurgent persona?
Of course, he couldn't. He confessed to anything and everything they wanted to drag from his hoarse, howling throat; he invented accomplices and addresses and culprits; and then, when it became apparent that all this was imaginary, he was subjected to further ordeals.

There was no escape.

That is the hideous predicament of the torture victim. It was always the same story, what I discovered in the ensuing years, as I became an unwilling expert on all manner of torments and degradations, my life and my writing overflowing with grief from every continent. Each of those mutilated spines and fractured lives -- Chinese, Guatemalan, Egyptian, Indonesian, Iranian, Uzbek, need I go on? -- all of them, men and women alike, surrendered the same story of essential asymmetry, where one man has all the power in the world and the other has nothing but pain, where one man can decree death at the flick of a wrist and the other can only pray that the wrist will be flicked soon.

It is a story that our species has listened to with mounting revulsion, a horror that has led almost every nation to sign treaties over the past decades declaring these abominations as crimes against humanity, transgressions interdicted all across the earth. That is the wisdom, national and international, that has taken us thousands of years of tribulation and shame to achieve. That is the wisdom we are being asked to throw away when we formulate the question -- Does torture work? -- when we allow ourselves to ask whether we can afford to outlaw torture if we want to defeat terrorism.

I will leave others to claim that torture, in fact, does not work, that confessions obtained under duress -- such as that extracted from the heaving body of that poor Argentine braggart in some Santiago cesspool in 1973 -- are useless. Or to contend that the United States had better not do that to anyone in our custody lest someday another nation or entity or group decides to treat our prisoners the same way.

I find these arguments -- and there are many more -- to be irrefutable. But I cannot bring myself to use them, for fear of honoring the debate by participating in it.

Can't the United States see that when we allow someone to be tortured by our agents, it is not only the victim and the perpetrator who are corrupted, not only the "intelligence" that is contaminated, but also everyone who looked away and said they did not know, everyone who consented tacitly to that outrage so they could sleep a little safer at night, all the citizens who did not march in the streets by the millions to demand the resignation of whoever suggested, even whispered, that torture is inevitable in our day and age, that we must embrace its darkness?

Are we so morally sick, so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand this? Are we so fearful, so in love with our own security and steeped in our own pain, that we are really willing to let people be tortured in the name of America? Have we so lost our bearings that we do not realize that each of us could be that hapless Argentine who sat under the Santiago sun, so possessed by the evil done to him that he could not stop shivering?


Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean American writer and professor at Duke University, is author of "Death and the Maiden."

Mom Uses Baby As Weapon To Beat Man

From: The Indy Channel ^ October 9, 2006 AP via Carla. Thanks.

ERIE, Pa. -- A woman used her 4-week-old baby as a weapon in a domestic dispute, swinging the infant through the air and striking her boyfriend with the child, authorities said.

"The baby was swung at the individual that she was arguing with," Erie 4th Ward District Judge Tom Robie said.

The baby was critically injured in the attack early Sunday, said District Attorney Bradley Foulk.

"Never, never, never. I can never remember anything like this," Foulk told the Erie Times-News.

Chytoria Graham, 27, of Erie, was charged with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and simple assault. She was held Monday in the Erie County Jail in lieu of $75,000 bail.
The infant, whose name and gender were not released, was taken to a hospital in Pittsburgh. Authorities did not identify the hospital, and the baby's condition Monday was not released.
Four other children were removed from the home by child welfare officials, Foulk said. The oldest of those children was 8 years old.

There was no immediate indication whether the man Graham is accused of attacking was the baby's father.

Authorities removed four other children from Graham's home and placed them with the Erie County Office of Children and Youth, Foulk said.