Saturday, June 27, 2015

ISIS: A Dialogue

-- The Times carried a pretty disturbing piece today about how ISIS manipulates people on the internet into joining them—wasn’t sure if you saw it.
-- No, I didn’t. What was it that particularly struck you?
-- I don’t know – I guess it was just the seeming impossibility of it. They find some person on the other side of the world who’s basically decent – someone who if you met them you’d say was about as far away as they could get from wanting to murder and terrorize people. And by the time they’re done with her they’ve gotten her around to thinking it’s okay to cut people’s heads off and set people on fire just for being tourists or aid workers or journalists trying to report on human rights. But then there’s an even wilder contrast that follows. There's that first impression of total impossibility, but then the fact that by the time you’ve finished reading, it all makes a perverse kind of sense.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Yesterday's Sentence

I followed the events yesterday in the formal sentencing of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in two capacities – first as one of a small number of protestors standing outside the Moakley Courthouse, where it was scheduled to be handed down later that day, and then as only one more helpless radio listener and web surfer, without even that morning's illusion of influence. To try at this point to describe everything I thought and felt that day would result in an inchoate mess, but the word heartbroken goes some way toward the truth. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"Mad Max" (1979): A Review

The appearance in theaters this month of a new Mad Max movie made me aware for the first time of a cultural touchstone in most of my friends’ lives that I had completely missed. I’ve heard the question “You saw the original Mad Max right?” at least three times now, and each time I've had to shake my head no – a silent legacy of my parents’ strict embargo on all violent movies when my sister and I were growing up. Being an adult now and in charge of my own import restrictions, I decided I wanted to know what everyone was talking about and what I had been missing. I wish now I had left well enough alone. I came away from watching the 1979 Mad Max unsure of whether I’d seen a good film or a bad one – sure only of the fact that I couldn’t stop thinking about it – but, one way or the other, feeling a new respect for the strictures of my childhood. This is a disturbing film and a vehicle for a lot of the more pervasive and damaging moral delusions in our society-- not something I'd gladly show to young people.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Notes on Clinton-Bashing

Isn’t it typical that in the Fox-fed blow-up the past few weeks over the Clinton Foundation and the sources of its fortune, the few truly disturbing stories to emerge flashed only briefly onto the news, and then vanished just as quickly-- while the ridiculous non-scandals seem more stubbornly to hang around? Such ironies in this latest tattle-fest are only one iteration of a well-established pattern in the way the media treats the Clintons. From Whitewater to the whole raft of inane accusations now denoted by the word “Benghazi,” we have been here plenty of times before.

Monday, June 8, 2015


I'm as shocked as you are that I'm still talking about this-- indeed I hear the soft patter of earth hitting ground behind me at the moment, as I dig myself in yet deeper-- but the reporting on this Josh Duggar story seems to be getting worse rather than better – or at least, I keep hearing over again the same journalistic prevarication that I heard at the outset, but now from media sources I respect, which is much more distressing. So I'm wading in this one last time to repeat what I said at the beginning.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

An Apology

Some disorganized online reading last night led me, through a process I don’t remember, to a short essay by Scottish poet Tom Leonard, which he wrote in response to the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. In it, he describes in plain language his experience of being raped as a child. The man who did this to him was not a priest or anyone associated with the church, but when Leonard took the matter to his confessor, he recalls that he was told to perform a “penance” for it. He was, in short, doubly violated – first by sexual violence, and then by a burden of guilt that he – the victim – was made to bear for it. It was a burden he took into adulthood, writing that he "would later search in myself for ways in which I must have been to blame for what had happened, for I was left feeling somehow to blame.”

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Reading Habits

It’s odd, but the one thing I’ve never seen close to accurately represented in a novel is the activity of reading one. You’d think that novelists, being egotists like the rest of us, would find novel-reading an especially interesting activity to describe. You would certainly think it was one they would have the knowledge to depict with realism. But I still have yet to see true, immersive reading described at length in a novel. We may learn of some impossible duchess who “tried to lose herself in the pages of an old novel,” but simply could not purge from her mind the dreadful scene that had just unfolded at the ball. (At some point soon she will “ring for the maid and ask her to draw a bath,” we can be certain, and the old novel will be forgotten.) Or perhaps we read of some gallant fresh from the riding grounds who “idly thumbed through” a book found in the tea room, “some trifling romance left perhaps by a maiden aunt at her last visit.” Maybe a professor and heroine spending the night in some Gothic structure will allow their eyes to dance over the words on a written page before them, or flip, “idly” again, through a chapter, but do not fear: eventually they will put it down in order to take up the candelabra and explore the dark passageway to learn the source of the creaking. The author may describe these very same individuals as fantastically well-read (usually because they are authorial stand-ins), but we never learn how they got to be that way, or when they could have found the time to become that way, when their lives and attentions seem to be entirely used up in a round of love affairs and duels, marriages and murders.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Poems for Prisoners


“Life Sentence” – put that way,
Doesn’t sound so bad
(Life is what a lot of folks
Round here
Wish they’d had)
But say instead they measured it
In centuries of time?