Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Show Off

Open auto sliding doors set one. Open auto sliding doors set two. And enter the fish farm.

Immediately, as if it had been injected directly into my spine, I feel the familiar anxious academic-conference overwhelm. I must be hitting the lobby right between sessions. Conference-goers are all tagged up. They wear jeans, solid or hip shoes, interesting scarf arrangements, severe hair cuts with bad home dye jobs. Maybe not so much interesting facial hair as a few years ago when I last attended this conference. All are salmoning around on the glossy marble floor, pushing forward.

While dodging my way across the lobby to the registration desk, I notice one person in particular and can’t help but stare. Unusual even for a space filled with writers, which is to say introverted exhibitionists, a man is meditating right in the middle of the fish pen. He is seated on hard, bare marble next to one of Marriott’s trademark leatherette hassock/stool/tables, his left foot laid precisely on the bend of his right knee. Perfect half-lotus.

I started meditating about a year ago but have never seen the use of even attempting this uncomfortable posture, which is murder on a middle-aged person’s knees and lower back. The teacher who inspires me to keep “sitting” emphasizes that contortions have no particular purpose.

Some Buddhist traditions place more emphasis on asceticism than others. My teacher is much more a spirit than a letter man. I agree wholeheartedly that self-inflicted discomfort serves no purpose. And I’ll raise that and go one further. It is suspect and raises questions of character and motive.

While trying not to stare too obviously, I scrutinize the meditator. The face on top of his perfectly straight, smoothly muscled and erect torso is serene and blank, betraying no signs of agony.

The lesson comes back to me from childhood. This beautiful specimen on display reminds me of the man I saw riding bare chested on his bicycle one summer day in my childhood. He was flying downhill, no hands, no helmet, just as perfectly balanced. I was riding in a car. My mother was driving. I did a double take as we passed him, and as if sensing that she needed to correct my admiration, instruct and curb my something happening in my adolescent being, she spoke, intruding my thoughts, “Show off.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Three Poems

What’s Left Behind

Deric’s box was heavy.
Muscle, bone, sinew, organs
dissolved to a light dust.

The titanium bolts and bars
we had never thought
or wished to imagine
withstood the funerary fire.

His friends paid their respects
casually referring to “his metal”
as if they’d seen others,
shattered men who died young.

My sister managed the details.
She paid the bill, picked up the box,
—Careful there, hon, it’s heavy.

His brother hurried
through The House, his home,
my mother’s, his father’s
childhood home, directionless,
from room to room.

Where to put the unscatterable?

Doctor’s call them “pins,”
as if their artist’s hands perform a delicate handiwork,
as if mere filaments lace the bones back together
to the tiniest fragment, like a broken vase
held in place, gently, until the glue finally sets.

There are no pins.

Hard hands forge
an internal Frankenstein,
and the flesh heals over
to make the weight, the pain,
the unalterable invisible.

I can see him now,
heavier on one side,
habitually lost inside himself,
swaying, eyes half mast,
beer bottle in hand,
anchored to the ground
by his metal side.

How picking up that leg
required an act of will.

Coming Down

At his memorial meeting, meeting for worship, the wind is blowing, truly soughing. It pulls the trees toward us and pushes them away, drowning out the words spoken as the spirit moves, whooshing them away from the vanity of something to say. Their leaves come down on the garden ten friends tried to untangle.

My mother’s hands cup one golden leaf. Her hands are arthritic and twisted, unable to lie flat upon each other. She speaks. She says her faith tells her we are all cupped in God’s hands. Like so. Leaves come down faster than anyone could rake them, and my youngest sister’s hands are blistered and cut from trying. My mother asks us to take a leaf, maybe find it folded in a book. To remember.

My sisters and I speak. The spirit, or intolerable silence, always moves us to speak. Mary cannot stop the tears. “I’m sorry,” she says, and sits back down. Miriam struggles word after word toward a thought about his sensitivity. Helen speaks too softly to be heard. I look into my heart and find jealousy—that he was the oldest grandson and I only the oldest girl. What I say is “I remember how much my grandfather loved him, how very proud he was, how much he hoped.”

Upstairs, inside the house, his father is not coming down. Barely able to breathe, he looks toward the window, and lights another cigarette. One more floor up, hanging above him, sits his son’s big, heavy box.

What I Know

I feel this starting in the hollow beneath breasts
that never nursed a baby. I remember there was a time my mother
showed her body to me. My grandmother did too. Each without shame.

My mother often stood naked before her mirror,
while I waited for her to dress. I saw her broad bottom, her breasts,
emptied of milk four times, the nipples standing out like pink-brown leather.

In the last year of life, my grandmother stood
before me again, naked, gently bathed and washed,
stripped of the shame of soiled clothes, her breasts
flaps of skin against her belly, and under the folds of her belly,
the last wisps of pubic hair, lying flat.

They did this so I could know
what I will come to—
emptied again and again,
until the last breath,
held safe in their knuckled hands,
I will be filled with the knowing
of woman’s flesh as my flesh,
not hollow with its desire.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Henry Louis Gates and Reclaiming Language: The B-word and the N-word, Fag, and Redneck Too?

In a conventional multicultural vision, for every insult there is a culture: that is, if I can be denigrated as an X, I can be affirmed as an X. Perhaps not the most sophisticated remediation, but the intentions are good.

Way back, Henry Louis Gates, then president of the Modern Language Association, wrote those words in Profession 1993 and now he has incorporated the same passage into Tradition and the Black Atlantic: Critical Theory in the Black Diaspora (2010), quoted above (144). In the interim between 1993 and 2010, Gates jumped the shark as a "public intellectual" with Finding Oprah's Roots: Finding Your Own (2007). After the commercial success of that book, he virtually patented the formula of DNA testing famous Americans to determine their "true ancestry" and documenting the process in the PBS shows Faces of America,and Faces of America 2. There was also the obligatory PBS "companion book" Faces of America: How 12 Extraordinary Americans Reclaimed Their Pasts (2010). This built on the success of In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past (2009).

I have to make the disclaimer that I have not yet read Tradition and the Black Atlantic. I plan to. It looks like it might pull together a lot of his best thought. But I am going to approach the book gingerly. I saw Gates act out some ugly self-loathing and class bias at a lecture in Philadelphia in February 2009, and I won't be able to put aside that vision of him while I read.

Gates was visibly drunk, slurring slightly as he made reference at the outset to his hosts encouraging him to eat something at dinner. I'm a little hyper-sensitive to drunks, but I can hear it in his voice in the recording available from the Free Library. Mainly he was talking about Lincoln. At one point he stated

In the Lincoln, Douglas debates, Lincoln advocated gradual emancipation. You know how gradual? One-hundred-years. Now, I was born in 1950. That means I would have been eight! And Molefi [addressing Molefi Asante, his host from Temple University] I'd have been a lousy slave. [he laughs] I'd have flunked slavery. [laughs again] But if I'd have been a slave, I'd have been in the big house, let me tell you, [laughs] Cause it was rough out there in the fields. [laughs] But that was another life [laughs] "Massa hongry? Massa hongry?"...But, I'm almost finished, cause I've been given the high sign, but let me just say one more thing...

The "Massa hongry" line was delivered with an accent of some kind. That was the cue for a few audience members to stand up and leave with heads down and lips pursed, also apparently the sign to "get the hook" as indicated by his reference to the high sign.

Gates was at a low point in 2009. He had recently been handcuffed on his own front porch for allegedly being disorderly with police officers who had been sent to his house to investigate a break in. This happened when his neighbor saw him trying to get into his house after having locked himself out.

In the same lecture, he referred to finding Black history at the bottom of a bottle in his upcoming trip to the Napa Valley. And almost unbelievably, the denouement to the arrest on Gates's porch occurred at a "beer summit" (Gate's idea?) at the White House with Gates, Gates Sr., the arresting officer, and President Obama sitting around a table, tankards in hand.

Yet doubt not that drunk or no Gates's class bias and disdain for his audience was real. Standing at the podium in the dank basement auditorium of the crumbling Philadelphia Free Library, he seemed to think he was slumming. He asked his mainly African American audience to raise their hands if they had Native American blood. When a forest of hands went up, he laughed at them and said, "None of you do." He said one-hundred percent of African Americans think they have Native American blood, but only 5% of them do. Then this is where it gets beyond belief for me. You can listen to it in the Free Library archives, if you doubt it. He mocks people who have come up to him in the past at his book signings, again with the accent put on:
"Dr. Gates, what you say about them other Negroes, that's not true about me, because I've got a picture of my grandma right here."
So he thinks he's selling books and a chance to send in DNA for a paid analysis to a bunch of idiots. He's thinking, what a bunch of rubes, hicks, dupes, and he says it right to them.

That night, he sat upstairs in the formerly grand, now dingy great hall of the Philadelphia Free Library and signed books with a glass of red wine at his elbow. I don't want to wax too sentimental about my home town, but after all, the Free Library, down at the heels as it may be, seems to stand for something different than what Gates was doing there, cynically hawking his books and DNA tests (whether he gets a cut of those or not, I don't know). Even though he had just finished insulting prior supplicants at his book signings, the line of people waiting for Dr. Gates's signature snaked around the hall. I left with my friend, a professor of African American literature herself. She was fuming the whole way home about the way he treated his audience.

Since I'm white, I'm not going to venture into guessing myself what names Gates might really call the people waiting for him to sign his books, the people he seems to look so down upon.

One class slur that really can't be mistaken as applicable to anyone who isn't white is "redneck." Gates refers to rednecks too in his talk, if you care to listen to the whole thing. The more of that DNA-proven "white ancestry," as Gates would have it, the worse that painful red burn when you head out to do manual labor in the spring.

In the quote at the top of this post from Tradition and the Black Atlantic, Gates talks about how people attempt to blunt the power of insults by reclaiming them. At his lecture in Philadelphia, he went ahead and doled out the insults, liberally, both openly and implicitly. Strange isn't it?

In the Profession 93 essay, Gates talks about how power can't be ignored and isn't erased by attempts to turn language back on itself. In light of that helpful observation, which has been made by many others in different contexts, it is interesting to look at the wide variety of terms that "communities" have tried to reclaim. For example, there is a lot of debate over the title Bitch Magazine, which sees itself as a feminist response to pop culture.

An interesting article in Gay and Lesbian Times takes up the question of whether words like "fag" and "dyke" can be "ameliorated," the term used by linguists to describe the phenomenon Gates describes. And no word has come under more scrutiny then the "n-word" over the question of whether it can or should be used in a positive way in the Black community.

Lately, and I guess it would be pretty easy to find out when it started, the term redneck has been used as a term of "remediation," to quote Gates. And with a vengeance. It might have started harmlessly with Jeff Foxworthy's jokes, but it has taken on a harder edge.

Take, for example, the following from http://redneckpoetryshelf.com/:
We have enjoyed the redneck jokes for years. Maybe it's time to take a reflective look at the core beliefs of a culture that values home, family, country and God. If I had to stand before a dozen terrorists who threaten my life, I'd choose a half dozen or so rednecks to back me up. Tire irons, squirrel guns and grit -- that's what rednecks are made of.

To quote Gates again, the assumption behind embracing epithets as badges of honor is that "for every insult, there is a culture." So the culture denoted by the term redneck includes tire irons?! What are those used for besides beating people to death on back roads anymore?

I have to think this through some more, and what I want to know is whether Gates is going to help me do that with his latest book. He is such a strange combination of iconoclast and cynical sell out, but somewhere in there I have to believe he's still got it going on. The reason I am able to find the quote about insults and culture using Google (and find out that the new book is out) is because his words have somehow stayed in my head for 17 years. He knows how to nail something. At the moment, every time I try to identify the fundamental difference between reclaiming yourself as a "bitch," a "fag," or a "nigger," and reclaiming yourself as a "redneck" the distinctions fall apart. Almost. I think "tire irons" might be the key to the difference. Help me out here, Dr. Gates.

I do believe the redneck reclamation project is currently folded into the "Tea Party" "movement," the latest manifestation of rage against the so-called "liberal elite." And even if Tea Party representatives won't admit it when speaking on the record in the guise of Tea Party representatives, there are plenty of slip ups by Tea Party members (for example in March 2010 as reported in the Washington Post) that pretty well demonstrate that a big part of their motivation is against our president for being African American.

I hope to be a fan of Black Atlantic. I would be very disappointed to find out that someone as smart as Gates really is as completely lost to the powers he originally set out to explain as he appeared to be when I saw him last February. I fear that he is, but hope that he is not.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

What Were the Themes and Values Promoted by the Author?

This was one of the questions on the "book report" form for my 11-year-old daughter's sixth-grade English class. I spend twenty minutes translating this question for her while she lies on the kitchen floor. She keeps saying, "It doesn't say. IT DOESN'T SAY."

I say, "Remember the science vocabulary words? Inference? Think of it like you are a detective, looking for clues..."

I am interrupted here by a roar of protest, "No-o-o-o!! We are supposed to SHOW where we get our answer, and IT DOESN'T SAY."

The question is asking her to hold in mind the idea of "theme" and "value," both highly abstract concepts, consider possible themes and values she has encountered previously, and then look at the book for patterns that match that set of possible themes and values. This is really a process of deductive reasoning.

I remember my seventh grade teacher providing us with a list of possible themes. According to him, there were a total of three: man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. self. As reductionist (and sexist) as that list may have been, at least he was giving us some rote tools for performing the task.

If I can keep her interested in reading, it will be a miracle. "Why-y-y-y, do, we, have, to, do this?" she whines. Good question.

If her teacher glances back at her Piaget, she'll see that my daughter is still in the "concrete operations" phase, not "formal operations." This is pretty normal for age eleven. At some point this year, she will probably (maybe) start to be able to use deductive reasoning, the Sherlock Holmes stuff.

I can't cook with her writhing on the kitchen floor. We eat tortellini soup, pre-made tortellini with chicken broth poured over it, because I can't cut up vegetables with her writhing and moaning on the floor and dragging at my ankle.

I give up and say, "Don't worry about it. Just write down why you liked the book."

There are actually four prompts, not listed explicitly as a set of alternatives for answering the question:

What did you like or dislike about this book? Would you recommend it to a friend? Why or why not? What were the themes/values promoted by the author? What was his/her purpose in writing the book? (BE SPECIFIC)

For now when we get to the mandatory book report, we will just stick with something simple. "I liked Hatchet because there was a lot of adventure in it. He was surviving. It was like Survivor Man." "Why do you like Survivor Man?" "I just like it, OK????" "And what didn't you like about the book?" "I didn't like it because he was kind of repetitive. It kept saying, 'the secret, the secret, the secret.' over and over again. It was annoying. It was like, I get it already. 'Oooh, the big secret.' Boring! Stupid!"

And to be honest, at most of the "book clubs" I've attended, this is about the level of dialogue among, college-educated women. The only difference is that the women in the book club are most interested in whether or not they like the main character and why. "I didn't like her. I thought she was a bad person," etc. And often, "I couldn't really relate to some of the parts, so I skipped those."

So English class is clearly not working.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Essay Contest

I don't think I've left any information in the following that would identify anyone. I know I took a sledge hammer to "pity" as a cheap, empty, worthless emotion in my critique below, but these poor kids. They can't help it. They are just the product of an impoverished environment. Or should they be "tried as adults"?

Dear Parent Advisor:

Here is feedback for the contest entrants. I haven't sugar-coated the critique. My goal is to give these writers the unvarnished truth about the way college readers would see these samples. I am not their teacher, and a teacher wouldn't provide such stark feedback, but maybe even if painful, this feedback will be challenging in a way that is ultimately useful.

Actions speak louder than words and make a bigger difference in people's lives than just words. I am very impressed by the accomplishments of this student group! In the context of an essay, one is forced to reduce experience to words. Writing is hard. It's hard for me, and continues to be a lifelong and rewarding challenge. Trying to capture the complexity of experience in words and draw conclusions from experience without slipping into cliche or simplistic logic remains a challenge for me, even in middle age. When I was these students' age, I am certain I couldn't have done better than they did with their essays.

Very best,

Margaret Ervin

Essay #2: The Long Road

Strengths: This writer has some great experiences in his/her life to draw upon: a move to a new town, travel, and involvement in the student service project. There are some parts of each of these experiences that are intriguing and make me want to know more: shark fishing at age eight, the sorrow of leaving paradise, being a student ambassador (wow!), working with friends who have the same mindset, raising over $32,000 (wow!).

Weaknesses: The road metaphor. It is an overused cliche, and not a good way to frame the essay. The road metaphor is easy and takes the place of a thesis, but the writer shouldn't waste the opportunity to convey a thesis. There is also lack of specific details that draw the reader in. It may be that the author does not need to include all these experiences in the essay. If there is space on the application to list accomplishments, a list can be placed elsewhere. The purpose of the essay is to give the application readers insight that cannot be garnered from the application in other ways. This writer needs to think about what really matters to him/her. For example, if the focus is going to be the childhood paradise, how can that be connected to the present? How did that experience shape this writer? I can imagine an essay that starts with the scene of wrestling to land a shark. Does that experience connect in some way to being an ambassador or being part of a really successful service project--in some genuine way that is not forced? Alternatively, there is the travel story. However, there is no detail about travel provided in the current essay that stands out, only generalizations, such as "opened my eyes to worldwide problems like poverty." (Can't you just travel many places within a 20 mile radius to have your eyes opened to that anyway? What did the author learn about the differences between the poverty he/she sees here in the U.S. and the poverty he/she saw elsewhere?) Details! Maybe there are details in the writer's mind, but they aren't on the page. Where is the attention grabber? As the writer becomes more focused on detail in a new essay, he/she may be able to drop some of the overgeneralized, flowery language. If you remove all generalizations from the following sentences, there is nothing left: "I am my own individual (how so?) and that (what?) can never be replicated (why?). Every moment (for instance?) in life has left an impression (for example?) on me, changing the direction of travel (how? from where? to where?), and evidently the endless road (what road?) is unpredictable (how?)." Generalizations can be made, but they have to be earned--drawn in accurate, interesting ways from specific examples.

Essay #4 and #5: I am a privileged child...

Strengths: There is some good material here. The boy and the M&Ms. The accomplishments of the service project.

Weaknesses: The writer does not go any deeper than the assertion that having things (e.g., a finished basement) equals privilege, and that people who do not have as many consumer goods (e.g., M&Ms, new clothes, an octopus toothbrush holder) are to be pitied. "I am not only privileged but also a good person because I feel pity" is the primary message of the essay. Above all, the story about the "poor" boy in the writer's class is problematic. The writer seemed unsure about that story because he/she wrote a second essay that doesn't focus on him. The essay about that boy is the less good of the two essays. The essay about the boy paints a picture of the writer that I'm sure the writer did not intend: the writer portrayed him/herself as shallow, focused on appearances and things, and smug about his/her superiority. If you see [this boy] you think of him as an unintelligent kid. He is in the lowest level academic classes, and has an aid travel to all his classes with him." I'm thinking, a couple things here. First, I would really admire a person who DID NOT automatically assume this boy is unintelligent, who DOES NOT have the habit of thinking in either/or terms all the time: have/have not, privileged/poor, intelligent/unintelligent. The writer goes on at length about how surprising it is that this boy smiles all the time. To paraphrase, the writer is saying, isn't it amazing that a person can fall into the loser category on so many counts and still have the ability to smile? That is icky, for want of a better word, and doesn't make the writer look good. Second, I think as I read, it could be that the writer is correct about many fellow students' assumptions about this boy. Reading between this essay's lines, isn't that really an example of the failure of the middle-class suburban high school that trains students to think the way this writer thinks by tracking students into haves and have nots, a deeply flawed system, whose flaws escape the notice of the writer. By the end of the essay (both of them) I actually feel much more concerned for the well being of the person the writer has made him/herself out to be than for the people for whom the writer expresses pity. The writer has made him/herself sound like a person who would fall apart if his/her "privilege" were taken away. In the face of adversity, the person portrayed in this essay seems like one who would merely change from a pitying person into a self-pitying person. There is another example that the writer provides about the kid with who only puts three M&Ms on his ice cream sunday and how he had to be assured he could take as many as he wanted. That could be a great detail to make central in a new essay, but I'd like to suggest an alternate reading of that scene. The writer reads that event in terms of how sad it is not to have a lot of things, how very sad it is not to feel free to be greedy because you are privileged. A different way to read it would be in terms of that child's impulse to share with others and not take too many. What a kind, thoughtful little kid. The way this essay is written, I end up with a lot more admiration for the character of that child than for the character of the writer. I'm quite certain the writer did not mean to present him/herself in this way. Probably this writer thinks about many things in a complex way and thinks about the complexity of these experiences. If challenged to do so, no doubt this writer could compose a different essay, one that shows thoughtful, complex insight into the human condition. I would like to present this writer with that challenge.

Essay #1: Changing a person's life only becomes possible...

Strengths: This writer sees a challenge and forwards the thesis that the best way to solve problems such as poverty and epidemics is through science. Problem solving can change the world, and I want to be an engineer. When I see a problem, I analyze the primary cause of the problem and get started on a way to solve the problem. That is an admirable life plan, a plan to use one's talents in the service of others.

Weaknesses: What precisely does engineering have to do with solving the problems mentioned in the essay: HIV/AIDS and poverty? Wouldn't biochemist, doctor, economist, or not-for-profit business manager make better sense as career paths for someone who wants to solve the problems provided in these examples? The writer tries to tie in engineering in by saying that it requires critical thinking and problem solving, which would also be required to solve problems like the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the many ills caused by poverty. "Critical thinking and problem solving" are very generic terms, generally cited as desired in applicants, and merely naming and claiming them does not give me evidence that the writer actually possesses them. This essay feels like it was written a smart kid who is being encouraged to become an engineer because it's a sure-fire way to make money, but knows that "service" is a good topic for a college essay. I'm not saying I can really see who this writer is, but the writer has constructed an essay that gives that picture. This can be fixed. Either focus on the passion for engineering (if that passion truly exists) and come up with examples of problems engineers solve. What has this writer seen or experienced that constitutes an engineering challenge that really got the writer fired up about becoming an engineer. It does not have to be a problem directly connected with solving epidemics, poverty, or world peace. It just has to be real. If the writer is actually not passionate about engineering, now might be a good time to come to grips with that. Alternatively, focus on the service work and what the writer learned through the service work. I need to be convinced that the writer was observant about what happened during the service work. Speaking of critical thinking, let's see some critical thinking applied to the writers experience with the service project. Trying to jam "I want to be an engineer" and "I did service work in high school" into one essay isn't working. Genuine enthusiasm and believable commitment to either one or the other needs to be demonstrated. Demonstrating critical thinking and problem solving are much better than claiming them. If the writer demonstrates the possession of those qualities, mentioning the words themselves won't be needed.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Plumber Departs

Plumber 1: Betcha didn't think I was going to be here for that long.

Me: No, I did not. I didn't want to call you in for no reason, but I didn't think it would be that bad.

Plumber 1: (To Plumber 2) Reminds me of New Year's Day. Thirteen hours straight.

Plumber 2: Actually, I was on 17.

Me: Well, you make good money dontcha.

Plumber 2: Sometimes it isn't enough to make up for the times you missed at home.

Me: Yeah. (Trying to remember the last time I had to trade off good money for good time and pondering whether I've taken the right path.) I can see that. Yeah.

Plumber 1: It wasn't as bad as that lady with the exploding trap. Remember?

Plumber 2: That was bad.

Plumber 1: It exploded and hit him right here. (Gestures just below chin.)

Plumber 2: Filled my clothes right down to my shoes.

Me: Eew. Yes, I'm sure...

Plumber 1: Yeah, when we got back to the shop, just put on these...

Plumber 2: We have these thin paper smocks.

Me: Mmm.

Plubmer 1: Yeah. Just put those on and went home. Just chucked those clothes in the dumpster.

Plumber 2: Chucked them right out.

Me: I can imagine that you'd want to do that.

Plumber 2: Now, we did break the hinge on the door. So we'll just put a hold on the account. Nine times out of ten, it's Joanne you'll get when you call. You just tell her, take off $25 off. Just tell her.

Me: (Hesitantly. Working our way toward the door.) OK.

Plumber 1: Buy a lottery ticket. And tell them I told you so.

Plumber 2: (Wincing. He has already tried to pin door breakage on Jimmy and direct any ire I may have in that poor soul's direction.) As I said, just call, there's a hold on the account. It will say "Hold until customer calls."

Me: OK. Good night.

Plumber 1: You have a good night now. And remember, best not to put things on the rahdiator. My mother used to dry her clothes on them things, but best...

Plumber 2: (Interrupting Plumber 1's slightly too mid-Pennsylvanian assumptions.) So just call Joanne...

Plumber 2 and Me in unison: (Him thinking I made him late for dinner. Me thinking I'll be paying this off until June.) Good night.

Me: (Staring down at a bill that cites 2.5 hours with two plumbers. And the cost of ripping out a garbage disposal and replacing all the hardware under the sink. And wondering about the time/stress/cost coefficient of battling with them over the cost of fixing the door they broke.) Good night.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Blackwater Mercenaries off the Hook

On Thursday, Judge Ricardo M. Urbina threw out manslaughter and weapons charges against five Blackwater guards because he said prosecutors had violated the men’s rights by building the case based on sworn statements that had been given by the guards under the promise of immunity.

New York Times: January 1, 2010

This is not a good way to start off the new decade. I am not a news junky, but this horrific event stands out in my memory as one of the most hate-filled acts perpetrated by Bush's corporate-sponsored mercenaries. For me, it seemed to make visible the true, fundamentalist and crusade-inspired agenda of George Bush.

I felt at the time that although Cheney, who I always imagined as purely inspired by greed, was in charge of most things, you could see in this act the effects of George W. Bush's influence. This made visible the wacked-out religious fervor aspect usually not right on the surface. You would hear about this in Bush from a gossip-mag perspective (or MSNBC) because they said Bush had allegedly quit using through accepting Christ as his savior, being born again, or what have you. But you would usually not see a lot of this side of Bush from the evening news because of the presidential facade--the dark suit, red tie, approved facial expressions, imperial waving, brisk officious strides on the way to Airforce One, etc.

I remember the pictures on TV from this slaughter. I think that crushing Blackwater the corporation is more important than bringing the idividual perpetrators to justice, but those men did commit a horrific act. It seemed like they did it based on their own beliefs (perhaps partially brainwashed into them by the company) about why they were really in Iraq (to kill the infidels). It did not sound to me as if they were just following commands, and if that is true, they are primarily responsible. So yes, this is a bad decision.

If this is a sign of how little we are able to accomplish in the way of justice under a new administration, this is cause for great alarm. The benches are packed with Bush appointees, though I don't know how Urbino in particular got there. At least there is appeal, but the prosecutors must be very inept to bring a case so shoddily constructed that it can be "thrown out."