January 15th, 2006

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Editorial in the New York Times today.


The Imperial Presidency at Work

Published: January 15, 2006

You would think that Senators Carl Levin and John McCain would have learned by now that you cannot deal in good faith with a White House that does not act in good faith. Yet both men struck bargains intended to restore the rule of law to American prison camps. And President Bush tossed them aside at the first opportunity.

Mr. Bush made a grand show of inviting Mr. McCain into the Oval Office last month to announce his support for a bill to require humane treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and other prisons run by the American military and intelligence agencies. He seemed to have managed to get Vice President Dick Cheney to stop trying to kill the proposed Congressional ban on torture of prisoners.

The White House also endorsed a bargain between Mr. Levin and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, which tempered somewhat a noxious proposal by Mr. Graham to deny a court hearing to anyone the president declares to be an "unlawful enemy combatant." The bargain with Mr. Levin removed language that stripped away cases already before the courts, which would have been an egregious usurpation of power by one branch of government, and it made clear that those cases should remain in the courts.

Mr. Bush, however, seems to see no limit to his imperial presidency. First, he issued a constitutionally ludicrous "signing statement" on the McCain bill. The message: Whatever Congress intended the law to say, he intended to ignore it on the pretext the commander in chief is above the law. That twisted reasoning is what led to the legalized torture policies, not to mention the domestic spying program.

Then Mr. Bush went after the judiciary, scrapping the Levin-Graham bargain. The solicitor general informed the Supreme Court last week that it no longer had jurisdiction over detainee cases. It said the court should drop an existing case in which a Yemeni national is challenging the military tribunals invented by Mr. Bush's morally challenged lawyers after 9/11. The administration is seeking to eliminate all other lawsuits filed by some of the approximately 500 men at Gitmo, the vast majority of whom have not been shown to pose any threat.

Both of the offensive theories at work here - that a president's intent in signing a bill trumps the intent of Congress in writing it, and that a president can claim power without restriction or supervision by the courts or Congress - are pet theories of Judge Samuel Alito, the man Mr. Bush chose to tilt the Supreme Court to the right.

The administration's behavior shows how high and immediate the stakes are in the Alito nomination, and how urgent it is for Congress to curtail Mr. Bush's expansion of power. Nothing in the national consensus to combat terrorism after 9/11 envisioned the unilateral rewriting of more than 200 years of tradition and law by one president embarked on an ideological crusade.

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News today!!

What a visionary idea by Al Gore, and how sadly trounced.
Read of Triana, sadly denounced as "Gore's screen saver."
What a heart-breaking article this is.   So much is lost that might have been, and we must continue to hope that what is lost, again begins.  Perhaps that is the point of chemo.  My hair will come back, and stronger than before.   May the same be said of Triana.  As we look in the mirror each day and see ourselves, may we one day just as easily see the whole earth, and check it thoroughly each day for hopeful, continuing change. 

Op-Ed Contributor

Scorched Earth

Published: January 15, 2006

College Park, Md.

NASA has quietly terminated the Deep Space Climate Observatory, citing "competing priorities." The news media took little notice. Few Americans, after all, had even heard of the program. But the entire world may come to mourn its passing.

Earth is growing warmer. Even the most strident global-warming deniers have taken to saying that a little warming is a good thing. If the trend continues, however, it will have catastrophic consequences for life on this planet. Correctly identifying the cause could be the most important problem facing humanity.

Most scientists link global warming to unrestrained burning of fossil fuels, which shrouds Earth in a blanket of carbon dioxide, trapping the Sun's energy. Others, backed by industries that spew pollutants into the atmosphere, insist that greenhouse emissions are not the problem. They prefer to attribute warming to natural variations in solar output. Scientists are skeptical, but they don't deny the possibility. The issue cries out to be resolved.

Even in a world wracked by wars, battles are not fought over scientific disagreements. In science, nature is the sole arbiter. Disputes are resolved only by better experiments.

The better experiment when it comes to global warming was to be the climate observatory, situated in space at the neutral-gravity point between the Sun and Earth. Called Lagrange 1, or L1, this point is about one million miles from Earth. At L1, with a view of the full disk of the Sun in one direction, and a full sunlit Earth in the opposite, the observatory could continuously monitor Earth's energy balance. It was given a poetic name, Triana, after Rodrigo de Triana, the sailor aboard Christopher Columbus's ship who first sighted the New World.

Development began in November 1998 and it was ready for launching three years later. The cost was only about $100 million. For comparison, that is only one-thousandth the cost of the International Space Station, which serves no useful purpose.

Before Triana could be launched, however, there was a presidential election. Many of the industries favored by the new Bush White House were not anxious to have the cause of global warming pinned down. The launching was put on hold.

The disdain of the Bush White House for Triana goes much deeper than just a desire to avoid the truth about global warming. Triana began life in early 1998 as a brainchild of Al Gore, who was then the vice president. Mr. Gore, the story goes, woke up one morning wondering if it would be possible to beam a continuous image of the full Earth back from space to inspire people with the need to care for our planet. The 1972 portrait of the full Earth, taken from the Moon, had inspired millions with the fragile beauty of our blue planet. Why not beam the image live into classrooms, allowing students to view weather systems marching around the globe?

Scientists had dreamed of such an observatory for years. They hoped Mr. Gore's influence would make it happen. Mr. Gore's support would end up destroying it. Those who hated him, hated Triana. His dream of inspiring environmentalists and schoolchildren served only to trivialize the project. It was ridiculed as "Gore's screen saver."

Triana is terminated, but global warming is not. Someday, there will have to be an observatory at L1. Perhaps the most important lesson from our exploration of the solar system is that the most terrible place on Earth is a Garden of Eden compared to the best place anywhere else. We must find out how to keep it that way.

Robert L.Park, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland, is the author of "Voodoo Science: The Road From Foolishness to Fraud."

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Mary Karr on fiction and memoir -

I can't seem to let go of this subject. Here is the first half of her article today. The next posting will have page two.

Op-Ed Contributor

Published: January 15, 2006

NOW that J T Leroy and James Frey have been busted for duping the public in order to sell second-rate books, the monstrous question of what's fair and foul in fiction and nonfiction has reared its much-bashed head. Asked to referee the ethical contest between the two writers, I'd call J T Leroy a fine little prankster and Mr. Frey a skunk.

Distinguishing between fiction and non- isn't nearly the taxing endeavor some would have us believe. Sexing a chicken is way harder. The nitty-gritty is that the novelist creates events for truthful interpretation, whereas the memoirist tries to honestly interpret events plagiarized from reality. And here's how readers know the difference: the label slapped on the jacket of the book.

J T Leroy's work was packaged as fiction, though alluded to as fact. If readers bought the Leroy novel "Sarah" - which tells the story of a young boy whose hooker mom dressed him as a girl and sold him to truckers - because it was allegedly autobiographical, well, they still got what they ponied up for. It's a melodramatic gallop through the psychic landscape of someone blurring the boundaries of gender and identity.

Some years back, Mr. Leroy weaseled me into taking a call by dropping Mary Gaitskill's name. But he dropped the literary pretext right off. He didn't read the books I suggested, and instead asked advice about his addictions or the kid he claimed to be raising with a couple who had "adopted" him. He bragged a lot about meeting celebrities like Gus Van Sant and Diane Keaton. He was flattering and coquettish and pathologically indirect.

But while Mr. Leroy was besotted with the news media, he was skittish about scrutiny, and initially, refused to be photographed or give readings. The only time I saw him, at a reading in a packed Soho gallery, he shyly mounted the stage for a few minutes, then let the likes of Nancy Sinatra and Lou Reed do the reading he was "too timid" too undertake (this from somebody wearing a platinum wig the average drag queen would dust furniture with and a flamenco-esque hat like the one Michael Jackson flaunted in his "Black or White" video).

In the end, Mr. Leroy's whole enterprise was predicated on the tenets of drag - lots of veils and subterfuge. It also played on the desire of readers to confuse author with character, a fallacy that permits fans of J. D. Salinger, for example, to believe that he really is Holden Caulfield. So it's fitting somehow that "J T Leroy" turned out to be a mirage.

In nonfiction, though, there's a different contract with the reader: you don't make stuff up. That's the cardinal rule James Frey broke when he embellished his criminal history in his memoir "A Million Little Pieces." (One example: three months in the joint, reporters found, was actually a few unchained hours in an Ohio police station.)

Now, Mr. Frey wants us to believe that the forms of fiction and nonfiction are so intertwined we can't distinguish between them.

In an interview last week, Larry King asked Mr. Frey why he shopped "A Million Little Pieces" around as a novel, but published it as a memoir. Instead of answering directly, Mr. Frey asserted that his book was in the American literary tradition of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Bukowski and Kerouac.

When Mr. King noted they all wrote fiction, Mr. Frey countered: "At the time of their books being published, the genre of memoir didn't exist." Forget St. Augustine and the intervening 16 centuries of autobiography.

In fact, Mr. Frey seems never to have read a memoir, or at least not one he found worthy of mention. "Memoirs don't generally come under the type of scrutiny that mine has," Mr. Frey whined during the interview.

But memoirs should always come under scrutiny: by their authors, as the books are being written.

I fell in love with memoir when I read Helen Keller's in fourth grade; had it turned out she was merely nearsighted, not deaf, blind and mute, my bubble might have popped.

And now, writing my own memoirs, I know God is in the truth. Only by studying actual events and questioning your own motives will the complex inner truths ever emerge from the darkness. I tell aspiring memoirists, if you're the kind of person who can't apologize, who digs in, trusts only the first impulse, then this won't be your form. The convenient sound bites into which I store my sense of self are rarely accurate - whose are? They have to be unpacked and pecked at - warily, with unalloyed suspicion. You must testify and recant, type and delete.

Mary Karr, a professor of literature at Syracuse University, is the author of "The Liars' Club," a memoir, and the forthcoming "Sinners Welcome."

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the second page of Mary Karr's article -

Mary Karr continues:

Call me outdated, but I want to stay hamstrung by objective truth, when the very notion has been eroding for at least a century. When Mary McCarthy wrote "Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood" in 1957, she felt obliged to clarify how she recreated dialogue. In her preface, she wrote: "This record lays a claim to being historical - that is, much of it can be checked. If there is more fiction in it than I know, I should like to be set right."

IN the decades since, objective truth (a phrase it's hard not to put quotes around) has lost power; subjective experience has gained authority. For many in my generation, Michael Herr's hallucinatory Vietnam memoir, "Dispatches," has become a truer record of the war than the "official" reports, which are clotted with fabricated body counts and the White House's lies.

As subjective experience has gained clout, memoirists have begun to employ novelistic devices to improve the genre's literary prospects, increasing their readership in the process. Since memory is informed by imagination, what we write is innately distorted, which undermines any memoir's "accuracy" in historical terms. (A paradox to me, since historians value diaries and letters as "first-hand" evidence.) Readers understand, of course, that no one lives with a Handycam strapped to her head for research purposes.

While writing my first memoir, "The Liars' Club," I sought advice from autobiographers whose works gave me a reverence for the genre - Mr. Herr, Frank Conroy, Maxine Hong Kingston. As a graduate student at Goddard College, I'd heard Geoffrey Wolff read from "Duke of Deception," which he researched using a historian's tools: interviews taped with his mother and his conman father's jail and medical records. Still, he told me: "Documents are funny things. I'm looking at a copy of my dad's résumé right now. It says he holds degrees from the Sorbonne. It lists the head of the C.I.A. as a reference."

His brother Tobias's "This Boy's Life," drawn solely from recollection, was an act of memory, not history. But that in no way casts it in the same pit as Mr. Frey's fairy tale, where events were seemingly concocted with impunity.

Both brothers Wolff told me that the truth was elusive and hard won. Morally speaking, we memoirists occupy inherently muddy turf - cashing in on the misery of our loved ones and exploiting those who trust us. "Take no care for your dignity," Toby wrote to me in a letter. Their example convinced me that truth in memoir was possible, even if it's imperfectly wrung from flawed introspection. And for some 15 years, I have clung like a marsupial to that idea - well as I could.

So I rejected the strong suggestion of one publishing executive that I include a touching goodbye scene with my mother. "But I don't remember it, " I told him, and readers were left without what I'm sure would have been a narratively comforting farewell. Sometimes to forget an event may be the most radiantly true way of representing it.

Mr. Frey seems to have started with his perceived truth, and then manufactured events to support his vision of himself as a criminal. But how could a memoirist even begin to unearth his life's truths with fake events? At one point, I wrote a goodbye scene to show how my hard-drinking, cowboy daddy had bailed out on me when I hit puberty.

When I actually searched for the teenage reminiscences to prove this, the facts told a different story: my daddy had continued to pick me up on time and make me breakfast, to invite me on hunting and fishing trips. I was the one who said no. I left him for Mexico and California with a posse of drug dealers, and then for college.

This was far sadder than the cartoonish self-portrait I'd started out with. If I'd hung on to my assumptions, believing my drama came from obstacles I'd never had to overcome - a portrait of myself as scrappy survivor of unearned cruelties - I wouldn't have learned what really happened. Which is what I mean when I say God is in the truth.

After the Frey scandal broke, I spent the day pacing my apartment like a prosecutor, cursing him. But on "Larry King Live" the other night, he looked so cudgeled that all my talked-up piety dissolved into pathos. Mr. Frey was being forced to do in the klieg lights what so many others have been schooled to do on the page. The pain in his expression would fill a book - a true one, I hope.

Mary Karr, a professor of literature at Syracuse University, is the author of "The Liars' Club," a memoir, and the forthcoming "Sinners Welcome."

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How am I today?

I am feeling well. I am contemplative, trying to better understand and feel into myself, to not run away from any of this, and also, to stay somewhat objective, to stand back and witness. I am trying to balance the two, as I look out the window on a day still uncolored, just shadow, shade, gray. The leaves on the trees, and the pine needles stand distinct against the morning lightening in the sky, and, then, there are the birds. Well, they are ecstatically singing and flying; darts spring my eyes.

We lost power last night. I was listening to Billy Collins, and then, I was sitting in candlelight. And then the power returned, and silence was my guide. And, then,the power went out again. It was a chance to see. Do I like it this way, or that? I enjoy heat, which a fire can provide, and warm food, which a camping stove offers, and I love my computer, and I have pen and paper. Of course, there is email but, perhaps we share thought and mood instantaneously through the air. It seems so often Jane and I in our morning writing coincide. What is that? Are we instant messengering all the time?

I ask myself what I need as I wait for the sun to color the sky, and I know I have all I need. My breath is full this morning. I can color it if I want or allow it to be clear like my white blood cells, my immune system, my strengthening will to be here in the ever-expanding beauty, joy, and love of you and me and the intricately simple connectedness we share.

Sunlight touches now the top of the hill and slips down. I bathe the same as my mirror neurons create the touch of the sun warming the hills in me. The sky ripens, as do I.
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Tulips -

When the tulips arrived, they were closed, and rose-pink-apricot on the outside. Now, the petals lie open upon the table like hearts. They are yellow at the tip, merging into green, then, red-orange, orange, and yellow rims the curved, roundness at the top. I am astonished at how each petal is in the shape of a heart and also, how near the top there is a seam. It is so much one, as two, as one, like each, of us.
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This is my experience!

When I studied Sensory Awareness with Charlotte Selver, we would sit to discuss our experiments and experiences. After each person shared, Charlotte would conclude with, "That was your experience." I didn't really understand that, at the time. Sometimes, I was delighted to have had the same experience of another, feeling some sense of normalcy in that, inclusion in the group. I listened, though, to all that occurred, and sat, and absorbed. I think of that now, as I look at all these tulip petals. Though there is resemblance between the petals lying on my table, each one does have it's own shading and presentation of itself, alone and within the group.
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Authentic Happiness!!

Martin Seligman has a wonderful book called Authentic Happiness. He believes we can create our set-point for happiness, the place we go back to as to joy when all settles out. So, when we win the lottery or learn we have cancer, there is joy or sorrow, but, then, within a few months, we are back at our set-point. You can check him out on-line, or read his book. I recommend it. My women's group with Mudita spent nine months with this book, and it allowed each of us to identify our core strengths, and, though, some members of the group wanted other "fancier" core strengths, I think it is good for each of us to take a peek, and see our own personal response. I was delighted with my core strengths, and I still am, and that is my experience. Only you can experience yours. See where your tulip petal falls, and when.
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Checking in -

We went over to Berkeley today and saw Chris's apartment which I love. We enjoyed lunch together, and he made a fire in the fireplace.  Quite relaxing indeed!  We came home, and I was tired, so rested the rest of the day, and then, I wanted to check my email before I went to bed. I find many emails of love and support there. I am touched by each one, but I will place the one from my ten year old niece Katy here. She is studying Mandarin Chinese, and is waiting for the two of us to go to China together. We had thought we would go in a year this June, but I had been thinking since this happened that perhaps that was a bit premature. It seems Katy, too, has come to this conclusion. I receive the following email today, titled, "I miss you!" "Wo ai ni" is "I love you," in Mandarin Chinese. Every time I read her words,  tears fill my eyes.  I am blessed beyond measure.  It is a tremendous amount to absorb.  Jan offered to cut her hair for me, and give it to me for a wig.  And now, there is this from a ten year old. 

Katy's email:

I miss you so much.  I wish that we could travel, but don't worry, I can wait.  I probably have 3 more years or so until I speak fluently.  I am going to start ballet with Lauren.  I'm also gonna try to grow out my hair and donate it to Locks of Love.  I'm going to dedicate it to you, so that you'll feel better soon.  I love you.  Did you get the polar bear picture yet?  I love that.  I also love you. wo ai ni