August 4th, 2008

ashes and snow - wings

Good Morning!

The fog is in and the temperature is brisk, so I succumbed and turned the heat on for a few moments.  I apologize to those of you who may be sweltering.

I read Mark Doty's book, Firebird last night.  It is a memoir, about growing up in the 50's and 60's and deals with, among other things, his recognition that he is gay.  I couldn't stop reading it until I finished so that is my recommendation.  The book is rich in his re-creation of his own life and the history of the times. 

His family moves a great deal as his father is rather out-spoken on the job.  He writes the following about their move to Tucson and his mother's sudden interest in painting, which is the first time she has had something of her own outside family and home.

"In my mind, as least, there is some link between this sudden flowering of desire to fill page and canvas with form and color, and my mother's new love, which is the desert itself: shift of light and shadow, blue and gold, the soft austerity of arroyo and foothill and mountain. The desert is sparse and intensely alive at once.  Suddenly this vivid place, for which she has no precedent, has won her allegiance, for the first time she seems to have found a landscape that speaks to her deeply, that in some inexplicable way hers.  When you love a place enough, it seems almost to be inside you, as if it were the physical equivalent of an inner life."

May your inner landscape be full today!

Book Cover

Finding a place to rejoice - Jon Carroll -

It certainly is a search.

Jon Carroll - Habeus Corpus

Monday, August 4, 2008

Even when we think we're paying attention, we're not. We're riveted by the campaign, we're bemused by the notion that an African American candidate for president could be called "overconfident" by pundits and many people would nod sagely ("Hey, I'm the black guy! History is on my side!"), we're alarmed that the Democrats in Congress, the majority party, still can't seem to get anything done.

And how much time do we spend thinking about Boumediene vs. Bush? Not a lot. And yet, as Ronald Dworkin points out in a fine article in the New York Review of Books, it's the biggest victory for the rule of law that we've had in some time. You want the audacity of hope? There it is.

Lakhdar Boumediene, born in Algeria, was arrested in Bosnia in October 2001 and charged with being part of a plot to blow up the U.S. Embassy there. He was almost immediately released by the Bosnian Supreme Court for lack of evidence, and then rearrested by American troops (evidence? That's what interrogation is for!) and shipped to the Guantanamo detention facility. He's still there today.
Naturally, Boumediene has not received any kind of trial. His lawyers have not been allowed to see evidence against him. He is, like almost all the people at Guantanamo, a hearsay prisoner with an indefinite sentence, imposed arbitrarily by ... well, somebody. He is an enemy combatant because the Bush administration says he is. He may be a bad guy, but he may not be. He has served six years behind bars and has yet to be charged with any crime.
That's kind of illegal, say many people.

Boumediene wants a hearing. He and some other prisoners sued the government, and the case went to the Supreme Court. The case was decided in June. To quote Dworkin: "The Court held by a 5-4 vote that aliens detained as enemy combatants in Guantanamo have a constitutional right to challenge their detention in American courts. The decision frees none of them, some of whom have been held without trial for six years, but it makes it possible for them to argue to a federal district court judge that the administration has no factual or legal ground for imprisoning them. If that judge is persuaded, he must order their release."

The entire article is available at

As usual these days, Judge Anthony Kennedy was the swing vote. Almost everyone is looking for a way out of Guantanamo, now a national embarrassment as well as a disgrace; Kennedy and the other "liberal" judges (I use the quotes because the meaning of the word doesn't actually refer to any particular political philosophy anymore) decided that the way out had to be through the Constitution.

Dworkin again: "Senator John McCain called the decision 'one of the worst' in the country's history. The conservative press was horrified: The Wall Street Journal said that Kennedy had turned the Constitution into a 'suicide pact.' No one explained why it would destroy America to allow people who claim innocence of any crime, or threat, a chance to defend that claim before an American judge who is presumably just as worried about his family's security as the president is. Why would it be suicidal to allow them the same opportunity for defense that we allow people indicted as serial killers?"

Well, exactly.

The Bush administration doesn't see it that way. We're now involved in a war on terror, and all the rules must be rewritten. Of course, within our short history, the White House burned and Washington was sacked; the prisoners at Guantanamo have been there longer than the War of 1812 lasted. We have seen Ohio and Pennsylvania invaded by an army representing a new nation claiming the right to enslave all people of African descent; the prisoners at Guantanamo have been there longer than the Civil War lasted. We fought a two-front war against an enemy who murdered 200,000 Chinese citizens in six weeks and another enemy who murdered 6 million Jews in five years; the prisoners at Guantanamo have been there longer than World War II lasted.

What is special about the war on terror? There are, of course, real terrorists and real threats. The "war on terror," however, is a convenient rubric that allows the Bush administration to do whatever it wants to do. As its incompetence is becoming obvious, it has struggled with an ever-expanding cover-up effort. One aspect of the cover-up: The prisoners at Guantanamo must never have real trials, because then the real - and often flimsy - evidence against them will come out.

The Supreme Court, by a slim but real majority, said: not on our watch. That's a real cause for rejoicing.

Book Cover

How we are affected by the internet -

My son sent me this link a few days ago and I have been struggling to find the place of calm within myself where I could fully absorb what the author, Sven Birkerts, is saying. Part of the problem is that it is online and so I struggle with length online. I have now printed it out.

I love his statement that: "Cyberspace is centrifugal; reading is centripetal. Cyberspace is intransitive; reading is, transitive."

He goes on to clarify that he is talking about reading "as a particular form of communion. When means I am talking about reading as an act of imagination, not as a path to information. Literary reading, I guess."

One thing I noticed at the conference is that I was working on my computer and then I would run into the computer room at the college to print it out. I had one glance with no time for revision and then off it went to be copied, but I could feel how my brain works differently when I read something on a piece of paper than when I read it on the screen. I don't know why that is, other than, for me, there seems to be something about the physicality of holding the paper and seeing how it looks there that affects how I process and take in.

One conversation at the conference was how submissions now are usually done on-line. Can a poem be as well appreciated or absorbed on the screen as on a piece of paper? I would say not, at least for me. I write on the computer, and then, when I print it out, usually see the changes needed, and maybe part of that is just seeing it in a different form. Often when I "preview" on livejournal, I see mistakes I didn't catch before I flipped to the different format.

This is a fascinating article and well worth your time.

blue jellyfish

more on the subject -

Here is the other link my son sent me on the subject of reading online, and whether, as The Atlantic headlined, Google is making us stupid.

It is the beginning of the conversation that the last post refers to.

The question, the pondering is on whether we are losing our ability to focus, and possibly our ability to more deeply process and imagine when we do our reading online.

Would you be better served right now by being immersed in War and Peace rather than reading this, or any other, blog? I think it is for each of us to balance both. This world is new, and the interactions, meetings, and communications that the internet allows are phenomenal, and we need sometimes to settle into a book with ourselves, with no other input but the majesty and integrity of our own mind, and that assumes that minds are separate, which, at times, I believe they must be to operate fully.

Check it out:
ashes and snow - wings

the internet -

Sven Birkerts wrote this in the mid-1990's.


The last two words in my book are "Refuse it." I don't mean that this is necessarily a realistic mass proposal. I mean that speaking subjectively, for myself, this is what my heart tells me to do…In living my own life, what seems most important to me is focus, a lack of distraction -- an environment that engenders a sustained and growing awareness of place, and face-to-face interaction with other people. I've deemed these to be the primary integers of building and sustaining this self. I see this whole breaking wave, this incursion of technologies, as being in so many ways designed to pull me from that center of focus. To give you a simple example: I am sitting in the living room playing with my son. There is an envelope of silence. I am focused. The phone rings. I am brought out. When I sit down again, the envelope has been broken. I am distracted. I am no longer in that moment. I have very nineteenth-century, romantic views of the self and what it can accomplish and be. I don't have a computer. I work on a typewriter. I don't do e-mail. It's enough for me to deal with mail. Mail itself almost feels like too much. I wish there were less of it and I could go about the business of living as an entity in my narrowed environment…But what I see happening instead is our wholesale wiring. And what the wires carry is not the stuff of the soul. I might feel differently if that was what they were transmitting. But it's not. It is data. The supreme capability that this particular chip-driven silicon technology has is to transfer binary units of information. And therefore, as it takes over the world, it privileges those units of information. When everyone is wired and humming, most of what will be going through those wires is that sort of information. If it were soul-data, that might be a different thing, but soul-data doesn't travel through the wires.

Again, I encourage you to read the whole conversation.  I feel it in my heart, which says yes, to me, that yes, we can have soul communication online and we also need to speak in person, the spread eye to eye.  Again, this conversation from the mid-1990's is fascinating.
alan - purple flowers

and this comes -

"The soul requires duration of time -- rich, thick, deep, velvety time -- and it thrives on rhythm. Soul can’t be hurried or harried .... We may go through many events in the day and experience nothing because the soul has not had the opportunity to feel them from many different points of view."

-- Robert Sardello

"We must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind us to the fact that each moment of life is a miracle and mystery."

-- H. G. Wells

Book Cover

Kevin Kelly -

Now, that my son has introduced me to Kevin Kelly, whose name I should have recognized from the Long Now Foundation of which I am a member, I see that his postings are key. We should all be reading him.

He just posted an answer to Sven Birkerts.

Now, check this out:

Read his blog. I'm going to. What a guy and what a conversation. I continue to think that the internet means as much to us as did the discovery of fire as useful and the making of the printing press. We are riding a wonderful edge of the wave, or maybe crouched in the curl.

Have fun!!
alice springs

Poem by Jane Hirshfield -

Standing Deer

As the house of a person
in age sometimes grows cluttered
with what is
too loved or too heavy to part with,
the heart may grow cluttered.
And still the house will be emptied,
and still the heart.

As the thoughts of a person
in age sometimes grow sparer,
like a great cleanness come into a room,
the soul may grow sparer;
one sparrow song carves it completely.
And still the room is full,
and still the heart.

Empty and filled,
like the curling half-light of morning,
in which everything is still possible and so why not.

Filled and empty,
like the curling half-light of evening,
in which everything now is finished and so why not.

Beloved, what can be, what was,
will be taken from us.
I have disappointed.
I am sorry. I knew no better.

A root seeks water.
Tenderness only breaks open the earth.
This morning, out the window,
the deer stood like a blessing, then vanished.

~ Jane Hirschfield ~
(The Lives of the Heart)