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Padilla, Hamdi & Guantanamo

In detaining U.S. citizens Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi in a U.S. Navy brig and another 650 foreign nationals at the Army base at Guantanamo Bay, the Bush Adminstration claims that the ongoing "war on terrorism" allows it to detain "enemy combatants" indefinitely, without allowing them access to legal counsel or any other due process rights. In effect, Bush says we're at war, and the detainees are prisoners of war who can be held as long as the conflict continues, invoking a long-accepted custom. (However, it should be noted that the administration uses the term "enemy combatants" rather than "prisoners of war", despite its insistence that we're at war, probably due to the fact that the latter term would instill an expectation of human rights consistent with the Geneva Convention.)

The problem here is the concept of a "war on terrorism." In traditional military conflicts, the U.S. faced tangible foreign regimes--Hitler's Germany, Hirohito's Japan, King George's England. Once the enemy was defeated and a formal peace treaty executed, the war would officially be considered to be at an end, and thus any war prisoners would no longer constitute a threat to U.S. security and could be safely returned to their vanquished home countries.

But by its very definition, the "war on terrorism" will never end, as terrorism is a means for non-state entities to attack stronger powers to advance its own political interests. No peace treaty will ever be negotiated with a terrorist organization, which by its very nature lacks the official legitimacy to be subject to legally-binding agreements. Terrorism has been with us for centuries and, being a fairly effective tactic for relatively powerless groups to advance their interests, it will be with us for centuries to come.

The administration's policy seeks to define its "war on terrorism" and "enemy combatants" entirely on its own terms, without interference from the courts, and thus reserve the right to jail anyone it unilaterally determines to be a threat to U.S. security. If this policy is allowed to continue, the administration could claim that other ordinary citizens--say, antiwar protesters and civil rights activists fighting against the Patriot Act--are undermining its efforts to combat terrorism, and thus jail those non-violent parties indefinitely as well.

If the Supreme Court is truly committed to its responsibility to uphold the Constitution, it will quash any and all Bush Administration efforts to circumvent the Constitutional guarantee of due process.

Otherwise, what we'll be living under won't be democracy. It will be Stalinism.

April 30, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

John Darnielle

I'm listening to the Mountain Goats (the nom de band of John Darnielle) right now, after a somewhat lengthy hiatus. Darnielle is one of my most rewarding musical discoveries of the past decade. Yes, his guitar work is somewhat basic, his production very primitive, and his nasal voice is unquestionably a required taste. Oh, but those lyrics. Darnielle is one of the most riveting and evocative lyricists I've ever come across; his lyrics often approach "literary" territory, and I could easily see him becoming a fiction writer if he was so inclined.

Here's the lyrics of his "You're In Maya", just one song that I heartily recommend.

he hit me right in the face
i drove the falcon uptown
hung out in the library parking lot
the swelling'll never go down
tied a hiram walker in the lining of my father's old corduroy coat
big, big plans hatching in my brain
and a big ugly lump in my throat
i drove up to harvey mudd and i played pinball
'till i didn't want to kill anyone
polished off all my cheap whiskey and stepped out into the california sun

singing bainne na mo is a gamna,
and the juice of the barley for me
singing bainne na mo is a gamna,
and the juice of the barley for me

my thirst carried me up the coast
where it only got sharper god damn it
in a small room that got even smaller a block away from the wilamette
there was nowhere i needed to go
and nowhere i wanted to be
from my window looked out upon nothing
and nothing looked right back at me
i had a couple of things on my mind
a couple of problems to think through
and i drank 'till i couldn't see straight anymore
until there was nothing to drink to

singing bainne na mo is a gamna,
and the juice of the barley for me
singing bainne na mo is a gamna,
and the juice of the barley for me

April 29, 2004 in Music | Permalink | Comments (2)

Another Submission Attempt

Yesterday, I submitted a new short piece, "Guaranteed", to the intriguing lit journal The First Line. Financial compensation is minimal, but at least it would give my work a bit more exposure. I'll post it to my Writings page if they decline it.

April 28, 2004 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Signature Only, Please

The author Lawrence Block has an interesting piece on book signings in this week's Village Voice:

The whole signed-books issue got accelerated with the 1992 publication of John Dunning's Booked to Die, which noted that books simply signed by the author had more collector value than those inscribed to a specific reader. Almost immediately, I noticed an upsurge of buyers who murmured "Signature only, please." It's much quicker just signing one's name, and not having to write "To Cathy, I'll never forget that heavenly night in Sioux Falls."

April 28, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hubert Selby

Hubert Selby, acclaimed author of Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream, has passed away, at age 75. I'm not familiar with his work (though I'll be on the lookout for Brooklyn), but he had a rather interesting writing technique:

Selby often wrote at an apartment he kept in West Hollywood. He worked in a bedroom there for at least five hours most days, and always left one line unfinished at night to have a place to start the next morning.

I might try this myself, at the risk of completely forgetting where I was going with the unfinished line.

(Via Maud.)

April 27, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

He Was Rational, Once...

"Once you've got Baghdad, it's not clear what you do with it. It's not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that's currently there...How much credibility is that government going to have if it's set up by the United States military when it's there?...I think to have American military forces engaged in a civil war inside Iraq would fit the definition of quagmire, and we have absolutely no desire to get bogged down in that fashion."

Who said this bit of wisdom? Paul Krugman? Jonathan Schell? A bleeding-heart disk jockey on Air America? No, it was none other than that loveable neocon teddy bear, Dick Cheney. Trouble is, he said it back in 1991, when explaining the rationale for prematurely ending the Gulf War after Iraq had been expelled from Kuwait, rather than taking the next logical step and forcing Saddam Hussein from power.

(Cheney quote via the 4/26/04 issue of The Nation.)

April 27, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

The New House


We're celebrating. The photo is of our new house, located in the older Near West Side of Joliet. As of this morning, our current house is sold. (Or we have a signed deal to sell it. Mere technicality...I hope.) We're quite thrilled. Our current home is nice, but it's not really "us" and it's never really felt like home. But the older home we're buying (built in 1927) is almost exactly what we've been looking for, and we can easily envision living in it for the rest of our lives.

More photos here.

April 25, 2004 in Joliet, Personal | Permalink | Comments (6)

Errol Morris on Truth

Renowned filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War, The Thin Blue Line) has some fascinating observations about fiction versus nonfiction (as well as varying ways of presenting nonfiction in documentary films) in the April issue of The Believer:

Does style guarantee truth? Does printing something in the New York Times guarantee its truth? Because it appears in a certain paper in a certain font, a certain look, can we just say that because of that fact, it's true? A lot of people do think that way. It's interesting that the New York Times has had a font facelift. It's now all Cheltenham. All the time. No more Latin Extra Condensed. No more Century Bold Italic. Just Cheltenham. Maybe people were worried. I'm not sure about what. But maybe they were worried. Maybe the mixture of fonts looked less truthful.

The use of Cheltenham in the New York Times doesn't guarantee the truthfulness of the reporting. Presumably, Jayson Blair also used Cheltenham. By the way, I also have a theory about why the National Enquirer is more reliable than the New York Times:

Elizabeth Taylor can sue; the Kurds can't.

April 25, 2004 in Current Affairs, Film | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mind Your Valuables

"I got off the bus with two cardboard suitcases under my arms in downtown Chicago and stopped in front of the Sears Tower. I put the suitcases down, and I looked up at the Tower and I said to myself, I'm going to conquer Chicago! When I looked down, the suitcases were gone." --Former heavyweight boxer James (Quick) Tillis, on his arrival in Chicago from his hometown Tulsa

I'm sure Carl Sandburg ("They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys") would have appreciated Tillis' anecdote. Algren too.

April 25, 2004 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mistakes Were Made

I had been meaning to comment on Bush's inability to recall any mistakes made during the Iraq War. But after seeing this video, no further comment is necessary on my part.

April 17, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Literary Chain Letter, Ad Nauseum

Extremely late to the party. (Via Golden Rule Jones).

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

"By now this one too had come to detest plots and to deplore the requirement of coping with their contrived complications." Joseph Heller, Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man

April 16, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reading Habits of the Rich and Famous

Per Jen at Bookslut:

National Library Week (only a week?) is starting off with a list of famous people's reading habits. Including Laura Bush. A former librarian herself, she reads Willa Cather, Truman Capote and Dostoyevsky.

She demurely declines to mention a clandestine fascination with the oeuvre of Lynne Cheney.

April 15, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

The King of All Media

Howard Stern's radio show has been dropped by Clear Channel due to a half-million-dollar fine levied by the FCC against the company for indecency. At issue was the April 9, 2003 broadcast of Stern's show, which included descriptions of anal and oral sex. Reading the transcript, this broadcast sounds like a fairly typical Stern show, and is certainly no more indecent than anything else he's done over the years. The draconian fines to be levied against Infinity Broadcasting and other syndicatees may ultimately result in Stern being completely removed from the airwaves.

Several things to note about this:

+ This broadcast was from a year ago, and the FCC is just now getting around to assessing a penalty. If the FCC is truly outraged by this particular broadcast, why have they taken so long to act?

+ The FCC hasn't fined Stern for indecency in almost a decade. Again, if Stern is such a threat to common decency, why haven't any other actions been taking against him recently?

+ The FCC's sudden action just happens to coincide with Stern's recent anti-Bush rhetoric, which has developed after years of what could either be considered Republican sympathizing or political apathy. Isn't the timing of the FCC fine rather curious? And if Rush Limbaugh were to start discussing his sex life on the air, would he face similar punishment?

Per Eric Boehlert's article, "Howard Stern Unplugged", at Salon.com:

The recent barrage of fines has galvanized Stern, turning the former Republican sympathizer into a fierce critic of not just the FCC but of President Bush as well. "I strategize more about my radio show than Bush does about the war in Iraq," Stern quipped on Monday. The jock claims Bush has sold out to the religious right and ordered the FCC to crack down on broadcasters to appease this political base. He saves many of his most stinging barbs these days for Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose fundamentalist critique of popular culture puts Stern in mind of the black-robed jihadis America is fighting in the Middle East.

The lesson here? Say whatever you want, but don't rip the Administration.

April 14, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Other Voices #39

I just finished reading issue 39 of Other Voices, a literary journal published at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Very fine short fiction throughout, with the most noteworthy contributions being:

Joe Meno, "Happiness Will Be Yours": Elegaic story of two young men who escaped a horrific incident as kids, and are now trying to move on and put their past behind them. They make one last trip to the amusement park that has been their emotional balm ever since the incident. (Meno won last year's Nelson Algren Literary Award for short fiction.)

Leelila Strogov, "Paper Slippers": Wonderful little piece about a woman with an unplanned pregnancy and an inevitably major decision to make. Her thoughts of what her child's life could become, both good and bad, is particularly poignant and points to the excruciating dilemma women face in such a situation. (Strogov is the editor of the recently launched journal Swink.)

Shirley Asano, "Okaachan's Kitchen": A Chinese-American couple runs their own catering business, the latest in a long line of ventures, all of the previous ones having apparently been failures. The pressure the woman feels to be subservient and sacrifice her dignity for the good of her husband's business is quietly compelling.

Christine Sneed, "Optimism": A narrative in diary format which shows the inner thoughts of a directionless, approaching-middle-age woman who is envious of the domestic bliss her ex has recently discovered, and whose only emotional outlet is the possibly troubled "Big Sister" kid she sponsors.

Sharon May, "Curve of Flight": Very little happens in terms of plot, but the writer presents both the setting of a dead-end Australian town and its odd lifer inhabitants very effectively in just a few pages. I could easily see this being developed into a novel.

Stacy Bierlein also had a nice interview with Glen David Gold, author of Carter Beats the Devil. Bierlein noted how controlled Gold's prose was ("In the good way—the way a ballet is controlled yet looks effortless"). I'm in the rewrite stage myself at the moment, which made Gold's response particularly resonant:

"The control question has one of those squishy, relative answers. I'm not like Nabokov, who said that fictional trees shed their leaves in fear when he passed by, but I'm not on the other hand like Kafka, blacking out and then waking up with a story in front of me. I wrote at first to surprise myself and to keep the marquee lights flashing, and then when it was time to start reining things in, I made a lot of notes and 3x5 cards about what had to happen when. But still, every scene had to surprise me as I was writing it. In rewriting it, it was all about control and cutting out things that were funny or interesting but which didn't fit."

April 14, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Condoleezza Rice, "Historian"

Condoleezza Rice is a professional historian and political scientist. Her first book, The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army, 1948-1983: Uncertain Allegiance was less than well-received by The American Historical Review, which charged that she

"frequently does not sift facts from propaganda and valid information from disinformation or misinformation" and "passes judgments and expresses opinions without adequate knowledge of the facts."

Is it any wonder that George Bush hired her?

(Quoted from an article by Sean Wilentz at Salon.com.)

April 13, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Fiction Piece

Just added a new fiction piece, Displaced, to my Writings page. I wrote it on this morning's endless train ride, after seeing a very out-of-place young woman at the 80th Avenue station in Tinley Park.

April 12, 2004 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Admitting Mistakes

From an essay by Col. E.W. Chamberlain III., U.S. Army (Retired) in yesterday's Chicago Tribune:

It takes an incredible amount of personal courage to admit mistakes. It is very much against our nature as humans to admit that we were wrong. Administrations take on human traits, but in a hyper-elevated way.

It is even harder for them to admit mistakes because the existence of the administration might be at stake. But no administration is this country--past, present or future--has the right to persist in a course of action that is clearly detrimental to the nation.

April 12, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)


She waited casually, standing with her shoulder blades against the pillar, smoking another Virginia Slim. The train was idling but the doors had not been opened, but she could wait a while longer. Her smoke was only half gone. No sense in it going to waste.

Her eyes were vacant, slightly watery from the smoke, and they focused barely outward at nothing in particular. As did her mind. She really thought of nothing at the moment, content to simply let the nicotine flow pleasantly through her head, soothing her from the concerns which might have otherwise agitated her.

Her age, for one. She was middle-aged, well past fifty, her body doughy and hair long since gone gray. But as long as her mind didn't dwell on aging, hers or anyone else's, none of it would bother her much.

Which made the sight an irritant. Her slumping, thoughtless reverie was suddenly broken as an even older man, leaning heavily on a cane, stood in front of the closed door, peering in eager anticipation through the window for a conductor to let him inside.

Like a dog whining at the back door in the cold, she thought to herself.

But her relative superiority over the man only satisfied her for a moment, for now the sight of him only annoyed her. Though his posture was pathetic, worthy of her disdain, the feeling was soon replaced by thoughts of her own advancing age. Her years were rapidly accumulating, too, and she realized she was looking at herself in the not-distant future. After all, this hip of hers seemed to be getting worse by the week.

She knew the train door would open in only a minute or so. She pulled out her lighter and lit another cigarette.

April 9, 2004 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mercury Poisoning? Bah!

In case you were wondering whose interests the Bush Administration serves--yours or Corporate America's--here's another strong hint.

White House Minimized the Risks of Mercury in Proposed Rules, Scientists Say
By JENNIFER 8. LEE, New York Times

WASHINGTON, April 5 — While working with Environmental Protection Agency officials to write regulations for coal-fired power plants over several recent months, White House staff members played down the toxic effects of mercury, hundreds of pages of documents and e-mail messages show.

The staff members deleted or modified information on mercury that employees of the environmental agency say was drawn largely from a 2000 report by the National Academy of Sciences that Congress had commissioned to settle the scientific debate about the risks of mercury.

In interviews, 6 of 10 members of the academy's panel on mercury said the changes did not introduce inaccuracies. They said that many of the revisions sharpened the scientific points being made and that justification could be made for or against other changes. Most changes were made by the White House's Office of Management and Budget, which employs economists and scientists to review regulations.

But scientists on the academy panel and others outside it as well as environmentalists and politicians expressed concern in recent interviews that a host of subtle changes by White House staff members resulted in proposed rules that played down the health risks associated with mercury from coal-fired power plants. The proposal largely tracks suggestions from the energy industry.

While the panel members said the changes did not introduce outright errors, they said they were concerned because the White House almost uniformly minimized the health risks in instances where there could be disagreement.

"What they are saying is not scientifically invalid on its face," said Alan Stern, a New Jersey toxicologist who served on the panel. "Partially they edited for clarity and relevance from a scientific standpoint. But there appears to be an emphasis on wordsmithing that is not necessarily dictated by the science."

Full article here (site registration required).

April 8, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stuart Dybek

The chain bookstore in the office building next door (one which somehow does a pretty good job of stocking Chicago-related nonfiction) has a pile of Stuart Dybek's The Coast of Chicago for sale, which isn't surprising given that it's now been municipally-blessed as the current "One Book, One Chicago" selection.

But Dybek's new, highly-acclaimed I Sailed With Magellan? Not a copy to be found.

The cruel vagaries of modern bookselling.

April 8, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

I Don't Care If I Ever Get Back


In belated honor of Opening Day, here's an old view of the West Side Grounds, the Cubs' home prior to Wrigley Field. (Courtesy of ePodunk.com.) The West Side Grounds (at Polk and Wolcott, where the hospital campus now stands) was the site of the Cubs' last World Series championship. Now, that's old.

Legend has it that the phrase "out in left field" originated here, as there was a mental hospital just beyond the left field wall. (Insert punchline about Cub fan loyalty here.)

April 7, 2004 in History | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Poetry of Steel

Here's one of the more interesting "requests for submissions" that I've come across, in the current issue of Poets & Writers. (Presumably, Mr. Sisson is a man of many hats at that trade journal.)

Modern Steel Construction magazine, published by the American Institute of Steel Construction, Inc., is looking for a wonderful poem to include in its August 2004 issue.

Poems should be no longer than 25 lines and should focus on steel in construction or on engineering/architecture--with an emphasis on steel.

Send up to four poems (please include poet's name, address, email, SASE and work/home phone numbers) to:

Matthew S. Sisson, Poetry Editor
Modern Steel Construction
39 Wayne Road
Newton, MA 02459

Payment for winning submission(s): $50 plus five copies of the issue.

Visit Modern Steel Construction online at www.modernsteel.com

April 7, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Who Says I'm Not Readable?

Apparently, my blog comes in on the low end of the readability scale, per this post at Golden Rule Jones. (Thanks, Sam.) But looking at the others on the list, I'm in pretty good company. Perhaps the model doesn't recognize my offbeat creative brilliance.

Incidentally, Julie's blog rates much better, at 7.7. I guess this tells you who's the English major in the family, and who frittered away countless hours studying finance.

April 6, 2004 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bob Hicok

Poets & Writers has an interesting profile of poet Bob Hicok. Hicok is a self-taught poet, without an MFA or even a bachelor's degree, who was an automotive diemaker before getting into writing. He didn't even grow up in a literary household--his father was also a diemaker, and "there weren't even many books around the house. I've come to believe the desire is biological, that there is no other reason than this is what I was going to do." Hicok's lack of pretension is quite refreshing: even after having one of his books be named as a Booklist Notable Book of the Year, he contacted a fellow writer and "asked, basically, if I should be excited about this. He said yes, so I was."

(Huzzahs to Virginia Tech for hiring him to teach in their creative writing program, recognizing quality of work over years of formal education accrued.)

Hicok had some interesting thoughts on the creative process:

"Once the poem hits some sort of critical mass, what I intended to write no longer matters...It's almost like a collaboration between my past--all those things I thought the poem was going to be--and the future--all the things it might become. If I get too wrapped up in what I thought the poem should have been, it will never reach one of those possible futures."

"If you sit down to write only fifty times in a year, versus someone who has pretty much gone at it every day, their one year would be seven years for you. A work ethic is incredibly important to people in the arts, and yet we tend not to think of that way. Particularly poets. We are so much taken with this idea of inspiration. Many of us don't get used to the idea that we have to make these things happen, that they are acts of will."

April 6, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kafka Meets Kuper

Here's a fascinating concept: Franz Kafka's classic The Metamorphosis as a graphic novel, by renowned artist Peter Kuper. Very strong assessments here, here and here.

I'll definitely have to check this one out, although in the literal sense that will depend on whether or not my library honors my borrowing privileges, what with all the unpaid overdue fees I have.

April 5, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Coming to Chicago

Chicago may be losing corporate headquarters at an alarming pace, but at least we're getting Jeffrey Eugenides (from NewcityChicago):

Word is that Jeffrey Eugenides, author of "The Virgin Suicides" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Middlesex," plans to call Chicago home in the near future. On the phone from Berlin, where the ex-pat currently lives with his family, Eugenides confirms the move. It's not an academic post pulling him to the Midwest, but our city's schooling system. "Our daughter is beginning school," he says, "and we needed to decide to send her through the German system, or come back to the States. Plus, we also have family that lives on the North Shore." But those aren't the only reasons Eugenides likes the Midwest. "Coming from Detroit, certain things just appeal to me from Midwest childhood memories. We came through in February and had a really great stay. It was the first time I began to be excited. It's a big city, but not the ultimate city. It's a little bit more livable." Eugenides, who moved to Berlin from New York five years ago, prefers Chicago to its rival in the East. "Chicago seems more interesting than New York, because there's a little more chance of changing, an open-endedness to the city that we like. I don't know the city terribly well, but after our last trip through, it seemed quite good." Eugenides and his family haven't decided on a neighborhood yet. "We're thinking Wicker Park or Bucktown. Maybe near our daughter's school in Lincoln Park."

April 2, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ramsin Canon on Wal-Mart

Excellent article by Ramsin Canon on Wal-Mart and its attempt to build its first store in the city of Chicago:

Kill The Juggernaut

I agree with him. While I'm a capitalist, I believe strongly in regulated capitalism. Left entirely to their own devices, monoliths like Wal-Mart will wreck local economies and exploit their workers, Clear Channel will homogenize the public airwaves and restrict public debate, and Exxon will befoul the Alaskan coastline and use the inefficient court system to avoid paying damages, all in the interest of preserving their bottom lines.

April 1, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3)

How the Grinch Stole America

Excellent satirical piece by Salman Rushdie (via Maud). I can't believe it took me over three years to discover this.

April 1, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)