Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

miércoles, septiembre 29, 2010

Howling At The Moon

Can you hear that? That's me, howling. It's not complicated why. Last night I started to write a blog post, in fact, this blog post. I had maybe 500 words typed into the box and then I moved the mouse and the next thing I knew, poof, there was nada, zilch, nothing. All gone. Totally vaporized. That's when I started howling. I continue even now.

The blog post, well, this blog post is/was about state killing. There have been two horrendous, macabre executions in the last weeks. Let me briefly recall them for you before I move on to what I think might be my point.

First, Virginia killed Therese Lewis. Lewis, you will recall, has an IQ of 72. She didn't pull the trigger in the double murder for which she was executed. The two men who were triggermen got life. They, as far as I can tell, were not developmentally disabled. Therese Lewis's crack trial lawyers had her plead guilty to a capital murder (the DA never committed to taking the death penalty off the table). Then, believing that a judge would give her life and not order her to be killed (again I don't know what they thought that), they gave up her right to a jury on the punishment phase. And guess what? The judge decided that even though she had an IQ of 72 (it's not clear that the judge knew this) she should die by lethal injection. Governor McDonnell, harking back to Bill Clinton's execution of Ricky Lee Rexford 18 years ago, denied her clemency. Virginia killed her. This, I said, wasn't justice. If it was, the law is an ass.

Then, George killed Brandon Rhode. Talk about setting new levels of macabre. Rhode decided to kill himself, using a razor, on the eve of his scheduled lethal injection. He cut his throat and his arms. He almost killed himself, but alas, Georgia would have none of that. Only the state, in Georgia's view, could kill him. So they sewed him up, and restrained him, and added security, and then, last night, they killed him. Let's review. Rhode had no regard for the lives of the three victims, two of whom were children. He had no regard for his own life, which he tried to take. And Georgia had no regard for his life, and by killing him our names, they reduced us to his level, the level of people who don't think life is important.

These two executions right next to each other raise all of the usual reasons why state killing is barbaric. And should be abolished. There's nothing new in them. Not really. The state kills its most marginalized members out of proportion to their population numbers: the poor, people of color, immigrants, the developmentally disabled (who can test of 70 IQ), the mentally ill, GLBT people. The state claims that the killings deter other killings. The statistics don't bear this out. But that means that the state thinks that somebody with an IQ of 72 is able to figure out whether what she's doing amounts to capital murder. Or doesn't. And, of course, there's the age old revenge reason for killing killers. An eye for an eye might make the whole world blind, but the logic of that doesn't eclipse the state's determination to kill.

No, there's nothing new. But I've been haunted by two ideas this week that for some reason hadn't occurred to me before. First, maybe we should be conceptualizing state killing as if it were a vestige of pre-Colombian human sacrifice. It's a lot like what Montezuma, for example, did. You capture people, you confine them, you feed them and take care of them. And then, after time goes by, when the need arises to pacify the gods, to make supplication for rain, or a crop, or prosperity, or fertility, you take the appropriate number of prisoners, and you ritually kill them.

The Aztecs had temples and furniture and plates and altars designed for this killing. Cortez was horrified when he arrived and saw the racks of skulls. Now we don't have anything quite as grizzly. Now we do it with medical trappings: a gurney, an injection, the person tied down to the table. It's all very neat and quite bloodless. But it's still killing. And it has a late 20th century sterility to it. Maybe state killing should be seen as a last vestige of human sacrifice.

Don't like that idea? Don't want to be associated with that kind of barbarism? That kind of lack of regard for the value of human life? Don't want own the savagery of state killing?

Then there's the other idea that's bothering me. The Thirteenth Amendment ended chattel slavery in the United States, except as punishment for a crime. The Constitution has the very 18th Century conception in it that convicts are the slaves of the state. Now remember that when this lingo was written down, there was in fact slavery in the US. The people who wrote this understood precisely what was involved in slavery. And when slaves rebelled, or refused to do what their owners demanded, what happened to them? They were imprisoned and beaten. Were they also killed? Of course. Is being killed by the slave holder for something you did a "badge of slavery"? So is it possible then to see state killing as the transfer of the power of life and death from private slaveholders (who could no longer hold slaves) to the state, the only ones permitted in the US to hold slaves? And is this revenge killing, now with lethal injections, just a continuation of slavery? Yes, I know. It's all dressed up now, with medical instruments, and special rooms, and nice courthouses with walnut paneling, and judges wearing robes. But in essence, how close is it to the continuation of the prerogatives of the slave holder?

What's the difference between state killing and lynching? The difference, if it is one, is that state killing is supposedly based on a fair trial. Lynching doesn't have any process other than violence. If a persons trial is grotesquely inadequate and she is convicted of capital murder and executed, the distinction between lynching and state killing is illusory. Put another way, what are the real differences in Georgia's killing Brandon Rhode and Georgia's lynching Leo Frank?

I remain mortified by state killing. This week has been a pinnacle of ugliness. The only saving grace is that California's moratorium continued this week because of judicial ruling. And because they ran out of a chemical they need to kill. They won't have the chemical again in sufficient quantity for about 18 months.

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martes, septiembre 28, 2010

Brandon Rhode, RIP

The report:

Brandon Rhode, 31 the Georgia State prisoner who tried to kill himself on the day of his execution by cutting his arms and neck was executed on Monday night with a high security level. Rhonde's was convicted of Killing Steven Moss, 37 a trucking company owner, His daughter Kristin, 15 and his 11 year old son Bryan during a burglary of their home in Jones County.

Rhode's was executed at the State Prison in Jackson, Georgia. He was pronounced dead at 10:16 pm According to authorites Rode's declined any last words and gave a no when asked if he wanted a final prayer. Daniel Lucus, his partner in crime also sits on death row and was sentenced in a different trial. The execution of Rhode was scheduled for 7:00 pm but was pushed back waiting for the Supreme Court to make a decision on his plea for stay of execution. The United Supreme Court rejected his appeal later that night. Rhode was previously set to be executed on September 21. It took the mixture injected into his veins 14 minutes to kill him.

When we look back on this barbarianism, we'll wonder what kind of fixed, insane delusion we had that permitted this kind of state killing.

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domingo, septiembre 26, 2010

Kafka-Brod and Arlt-Piglia

Todays' NY Times Magazine gives us this tidbit:

During his lifetime, Franz Kafka burned an estimated 90 percent of his work. After his death at age 41, in 1924, a letter was discovered in his desk in Prague, addressed to his friend Max Brod. “Dearest Max,” it began. “My last request: Everything I leave behind me . . . in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others’), sketches and so on, to be burned unread.” Less than two months later, Brod, disregarding Kafka’s request, signed an agreement to prepare a posthumous edition of Kafka’s unpublished novels. “The Trial” came out in 1925, followed by “The Castle” (1926) and “Amerika” (1927). In 1939, carrying a suitcase stuffed with Kafka’s papers, Brod set out for Palestine on the last train to leave Prague, five minutes before the Nazis closed the Czech border. Thanks largely to Brod’s efforts, Kafka’s slim, enigmatic corpus was gradually recognized as one of the great monuments of 20th-century literature.

The contents of Brod’s suitcase, meanwhile, became subject to more than 50 years of legal wrangling. While about two-thirds of the Kafka estate eventually found its way to Oxford’s Bodleian Library, the remainder — believed to comprise drawings, travel diaries, letters and drafts — stayed in Brod’s possession until his death in Israel in 1968, when it passed to his secretary and presumed lover, Esther Hoffe. After Hoffe’s death in late 2007, at age 101, the National Library of Israel challenged the legality of her will, which bequeaths the materials to her two septuagenarian daughters, Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler. The library is claiming a right to the papers under the terms of Brod’s will. The case has dragged on for more than two years. If the court finds in the sisters’ favor, they will be free to follow Eva’s stated plan to sell some or all of the papers to the German Literature Archive in Marbach. They will also be free to keep whatever they don’t sell in their multiple Swiss and Israeli bank vaults and in the Tel Aviv apartment that Eva shares with an untold number of cats.

The situation has repeatedly been called Kafkaesque, reflecting, perhaps, the strangeness of the idea that Kafka can be anyone’s private property. Isn’t that what Brod demonstrated, when he disregarded Kafka’s last testament: that Kafka’s works weren’t even Kafka’s private property but, rather, belonged to humanity?

Which brings us to Ricardo Piglia's work, "Assumed Name," which tells the above story. And which presents a story claimed by Piglia to be written by Roberto Arlt. Apparently, the Arlt story was written by Piglia, but it's so cleverly done, and the story of the notes and outlines and sketches is so well put together, in fact, done in a fashion that Jorge Luis Borges himself would have loved, that Mrs. Arlt thought it was real. Was it? Does it matter?

The world is richer for Brod's disobedience of Kafka. And for Piglia's smashing whatever line there is between fact and fiction.

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Inequality Soup

This is a brilliant representation of the income inequality in the US. Since the 2008-2009 depression recession, the situation has become worse.

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sábado, septiembre 25, 2010

State Killing: Georgia Saves A Prisoner's Life So It Can Kill Him

As long as there is a death penalty in the United States, as long as the government persists in the barbaric practice of having the state kill those convicted of the most egregious murders, as long as the government continues to kill by lethal injection, there will continue to be egregious, shameful, disgraceful, inhuman, unfathomable executions.

Last week it was the Virginia execution of Teresa Lewis, a woman with a 72 IQ who was not the shooter in the double murder that led to her execution on Thursday. The two male gunmen each received life in prison. Little, whose guilt was never in doubt, pleaded guilty, waived her right to a jury trial on punishment, and to her then attorney's surprise, was sentenced to death by a judge without a jury. The judge said she was the "head of the serpent." I wrote that if this execution was justice, justice was an ass.

And now Georgia plans on executing Brandon Rhode on Monday.

Rhode, too, committed a horrendous, brutal multiple murder. Rhode killed two children and their father in the course of a burglary. The Atlanta Journal Constitution described the crime:

Rhode... and a partner, did not set out to commit murder when they broke into the Jones County house of Steven and Gerri Ann Moss on April 23, 1998, according to trial testimony.

Their plan was to commit a burglary.

But 11-year-old Bryan was murdered when he came home from school, then his 15-year-old sister, Kristin, and then their 37-year-old father, Steven Moss....

Bryan Moss was the first to come home.

The boy could see the two men through a front window as they were ransacking the house. The boy, armed with a baseball bat, came in through the back, but he was subdued by Rhode and Lucas, who were armed.

They put him in a chair as they discussed what to do with him. They were still talking about their options when Lucas shot the boy in the shoulder.

Moments later, Kristin Moss was seen coming up to the house, so Lucas took Bryan to a back bedroom while Rhode waited for the boy’s sister.

Rhode put her in the same chair and shot the teenager twice.

Simultaneously, Lucas, in the back with Bryan, shot the boy again.

Rhode shot and killed their father when he got to the house.

Then the partners shot the Moss siblings several more times to be certain they were dead.

There was never a serious dispute that Rhode was guilty of the crime, and Georgia was scheduled to kill Rhode was scheduled by lethal injection. According to a CBS report, Rhode tried to kill himself on Friday before the State of Georgia could kill him:

A federal judge has refused to block tonight's scheduled execution of a Georgia death row inmate who attempted to commit suicide on Tuesday, the day he was originally to be put to death.

According to court filings, 31-year-old Brandon Joseph Rhode used a razor to slash his elbows and his neck, which caused him to go into traumatic shock. Authorities say Rhodes may have also suffered brain damage as a result of immense blood loss.

Rhode was stabilized after his attempt and he's since been put in a restraining chair to prevent him from pulling out the sutures on his neck or doing any other harm to himself, a state attorney said.

Rhode's execution had already been rescheduled to 9:00 a.m. Friday after his suicide attempt, but the state moved his execution back 10 hours to 7:00 p.m. Friday, to allow for several appeals to work their way through the system, says corrections spokeswoman Sharmelle Brooks.

The execution has now been scheduled for Monday. And Georgia has reportedly put two additional guards on Rhode, so that nothing further will disrupt the state's killing him as scheduled. So in Rhode's case, the state finds itself saving Rhode's life so that it can strap him on a gurney and kill him by lethal injection.

There's a grim irony to this. Some prisoners condemned to death "volunteer" to be executed. They withdraw all of their appeals, they tell their lawyers not to seek a stay, they tell prison officials to schedule their execution. They give up. And they are killed. There are many reasons that this happens, and it happens frequently. Chief among the reasons for "volunteering" are the dehumanizing conditions on death row and the knowledge that eventually the state will succeed in killing by lethal injection. Prisoners just give up. That kind of suicide is acceptable on death rows across the country. It is a common occurrence. In fact, the list of those scheduled for execution released by various abolition organizations puts an asterisk next to these "volunteers" names, or states they are volunteers. That kind of suicide is permissible.

But Rhode's suicide evidently is not acceptable. He didn't create a legal framework for the state to kill him, he tried to do it without the state's participation. He tried to do it himself. And this, of course, could not be permitted. So now we have the spectacle of Georgia having saved his life, having stitched him up, having strapped him to a chair, having assigned additional guards, for what? So that Georgia can kill him in our names on Monday.

Put another way, Rhode had no regard for the lives of his victims. He has no regard for his own life. And now, because of the intervention of Georgia prison authorities, we are about to reduce ourselves to his level: we too have no regard for his life.

Yet again, the death penalty reduces all of us to the lowest common denominator of barbarism.

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jueves, septiembre 23, 2010

Teresa Lewis, RIP

The New York Daily News reports:

Teresa Lewis died by lethal injection on Thursday night, the first woman in Virginia to be executed in nearly a century.

Lewis was prounounced dead at 9:13 p.m. as a small crowd of supporters stood outside in protest.

Though lawyers for Lewis waged a public campaign for the Gov. of Virginia to intervene, there was no 11th hour reprieve for the 41-year-old woman, who was sentenced to death for plotting the 2002 murders of her husband and stepson.

Lewis reportedly spent her last day meeting with her immediate family, a spiritual adviser, and supporters at the prison where she was executed.

For her last supper, she requested a meal of fried chicken breasts, peas with butter, a slice of German cake or a piece of apple pie, and a Dr. Pepper, according to SkyNews.

And so a woman with the IQ of 72 is killed by Virginia, and those who actually fired the shots that resulted in the double murders received life sentences.

If this is justice, the law is an ass.

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miércoles, septiembre 22, 2010

State Killing: Almost Disabled Enough To Live

Virginia plans to execute Teresa Lewis on Thursday evening at 9 pm. There's no question she was deeply involved in two murders, that of her husband and of her son. But you have to ask why she's being killed when the two men who actually fired the weapons received life sentences. And you have to wonder what the point of killing someone with an IQ of 72 might be, even if you're not appalled at the prospect of lethally injecting this woman.

The crime in this case is horrendous. There's no question that it merits at the very least long term imprisonment. The New York Times provides the following about the crime:

Ms. Lewis’s guilt is not at issue. By her own admission, she plotted with the men to shoot her husband, Julian C. Lewis Jr., 51, and his son, Charles J. Lewis, 25, a reservist about to be deployed abroad.

Ms. Lewis, then 33, met her co-defendants, Matthew J. Shallenberger, who was 21, and his trailer-mate, Rodney L. Fuller, 20, in a line at Wal-Mart and, according to court records, they quickly started meeting and hatching murder plans. She became particularly attached to Mr. Shallenberger, showering him with gifts, but she had sex with both men and also encouraged her 16-year-old daughter to have sex with Mr. Fuller, the records say.

Ms. Lewis withdrew $1,200 and gave it to the two men to buy two shotguns and another weapon. The night of the murders, she admitted, she left a trailer door unlocked. Later, she stood by as the intruders blasted the victims with repeated shotgun blasts. As her husband lay dying, court records say, she took out his wallet and split the $300 she found with Mr. Shallenberger. She waited at least 45 minutes to call 911.

Her husband was moaning “baby, baby, baby” when a sheriff’s deputy arrived and he said, “My wife knows who done this to me,” before he died, the records indicate.

After initially claiming innocence, Ms. Lewis confessed and led police to the gunmen. In 2003, she was sentenced by Judge Charles J. Strauss of Pittsylvania Circuit Court, who concluded that Ms. Lewis had directed the scheme, enticing the killers with sex and promises of money and showing the “depravity of mind” that would justify a death sentence. In separate proceedings, the same judge gave life sentences to the gunmen.

The judge who imposed the death sentence said of Lewis, "She is clearly the head of this serpent.” But there are questions about that. According to the Times,

Ms. Lewis’s lawyers later unearthed what they called compelling evidence that it was Mr. Shallenberger who did the enticing, including his own statements that he devised the murder plan and a prison letter to a girlfriend in which he said he “got her to fall in love with me so she would give me the insurance money.” Mr. Shallenberger killed himself in prison in 2006.

But prosecutors, in fighting subsequent appeals, said that before and after the crimes, Ms. Lewis had engaged in concerted actions to obtain money from her husband’s account and then from insurance, showing that she was far more capable than her lawyers now assert.

No evidence about Shallenberger’s role has been presented in court, but it was given to Governor McDonnell in a plea for clemency, along with details of her limited intellect, her diagnosis of “dependent personality disorder” and her addiction to pain pills. He rejected her request for clemency stating that the appeals courts had upheld her sentence and that “no medical professional has concluded that Teresa Lewis meets the medical or statutory definition of mentally retarded.” Nice.

If Lewis's IQ were 70 instead of 72, she would be unable to be executed under the Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Atkins v. Virginia. She would be too developmentally disabled to perceive why she was being executed.

How seriously can one take the argument that the "mastermind" of a crime, "the head of this serpent" has an IQ of 72 and that's why she should be executed even when the gunmen aren't?

I consider the death penalty an exercise in barbarousness. Virginia's planned killing of Lewis exemplifies this. There is no reason why she cannot be incarcerated for a long time. And there is nothing to be gained from killing her that will not be accomplished by imprisonment: her execution for a 2002 crime will not deter others, particularly those with developmental disabilities, from committing murders. Once again the state will kill in our name. And the reason for the killing will elude us.

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miércoles, septiembre 15, 2010

A (Possibly Premature) TS Karl Update

Bahia Soliman, QR, Mexico--Thanks for the comments and the kind words and the link repair. The weather event seems to have been excessively over-horribl-ized. Why am I not surprised? And why, I wonder, does this hysterical kind of reporting always... (please fill in the ellipses). If I contributed to the craziness, perdon.

I'm back at the barbecue Internet. The cell phone is out, but the Internet's on. Amazingly, there is electricity. Mexico's infrastructure works. And, the good news, the storm seems to have gone someplace else. Or not to have materialized in the utterly devastating form predicted by some. Yes, we have high winds (imagine the wind map here), and yes, we have marea alto (high tide) (imagine photo of rolling waves here), and yeah, we had some crazy horizontal rain (imagine...). But all now seems to be in order: no real damage (2 plates and a tray), nobody hurt or injured, ocean churned up (of course), and winds blowing hard now still, but as things go, simply excellent. Considering that the storm was supposed, according to some, to bring the end of Western Civilization with it. And, lest I forget, the sun is out and has been in and out for the past couple of hours (image photo of such on turquoise water, cumulus clouds, palm trees slightly shaking).

Three pelicans decided to ride out the storm on the bow of Moonstar's boat (imagine cute photo). I decided to ride the storm out on the beach in a plastic chair (no beer logo this time)(imagine photo of Sol beer commercial chair). The pelicans and I were there all morning (except when occasionally wind and rain drove me inside) until somebody decided to move the boat next to it. That got the pelicans to move. I have no idea why they are moving the boat now, since the storm is apparently about played out, but maybe these guys know something I don't. My consultations today with locals yielded this appraisal: no big deal, what's for lunch.

Somebody really should do a treatise (ok, a short blog) on the affect Katrina has had on weather reportage and how it has made WR intentionally even more hysterical that before. Is it the goal of this kind of WR to desensitize us to climate changes? Just asking.

Thanks for all the good wishes.

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martes, septiembre 14, 2010

Tropical Storm Karl Coming Soon (To Me)

Please pardon the extremely low tech, wordy approach this extremely brief essay takes. I'm writing it "borrowing" Internet from my neighbor (who is away), so my laptop is sitting on the barbecue (no, it's not on) while I write this. I will not regale you (sorry for the wind pun) with why I don't have my own Internet this evening.

I'm in Bahia Soliman, which is just north of Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico. This afternoon I (and probably everyone else in the world who cares about this) learned that what we following as Invest 92 had indeed attained Tropical Storm Status (TST) and was now named TS Karl. TS Karl, the computer models and other models (imagine I had posted a map of that right here) is planning to come through the front door of my house tomorrow morning or afternoon. What's that mean? Who knows: it probably means up to 50 knot winds and up to 8" of rain. Knots, I am reliably told, are bigger than miles.

On one level, I consider this retribution. I have been working on my novel, working title "Tulum," here for more than a week. I am working in what IB Singer called the "literary factory," i.e. I write and I take breaks, I write and I take breaks, repeat and repeat again ad infinitum. So it is I who wrote the Hurricane scenes in the book, and now I have "called" in a real storm with my maniacal focus on storms. It's "the law of attraction" gone crazy, if you will. Or it's the Damapada. I am what I think, and I've been thinking a lot about TS's and Hurricanes, if you will. If you won't, fine, but it's thundering as I type this.

On another level, I consider this a study in how most people in the US don't give a rat's ass about what happens in Mexico. They and their media are obsessing about what will happen when the storm leaves the Yucatan Peninsula and heads towards South Texas. If TS Karl decides instead to come ashore (again) in Mexico the story won't merit a 1" column on page 23 of your local newspaper. But if it should head for Texas, there will be guys with slickers standing in the surf and reporting every 3 minutes on what it feels like.

Hell, I can tell you "what it feels like." And I'm not wearing one of those jackets. It feels like tomorrow the weather is really gonna suck here. High wind, lots of rain, high tides, flooding. You've seen it before on TV, right? It makes a mess of things.

I have taken my book, all almost 80,000 words of it, and saved the entire thing on two key drives, and put them in a safe, where they will be dry, no matter what. I will also put this 10 year old lap top, whose aging memory also contains my book, in a safe place. Everything of value is in a place where it cannot get ruined. By wind. By water. By anything. Everything that's not tied down is likely to end up in the next state, which is Campeche, and in Mayan means, the place of snakes and scorpions. In other words, you will not likely retrieve any of it.

Meanwhile, many of us stand on the beach looking at the lightning, listening to the wind, watching the tide.

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jueves, septiembre 02, 2010


In this huge oak tree
are acorns, stories, squirrels.
I am climbing it.



miércoles, septiembre 01, 2010


Tiny red insect
carries haikus on its wings.
Where are you hiding?