Yes, I’ve been neglecting this blog.

No, I haven’t given up on it.  It’s been a busy summer, and between being massively preoccupied with the healthcare debate–which I really should write about, and probably will–and taking photo excursions just about every weekend, there’s been no time.

But there will be, soon.


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Who needs al Qaeda, when we have plenty of terrorists at home?

Details are just unfolding about our latest act of domestic terrorism, committed this morning just inside the doors of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.James_von_Brunn

What we know at the moment is that 88-year-old white supremecist James W. von Brunn opened fire wounding a security guard before he was stopped (and wounded) by another security guard.  The attack happened when the museum was full of visitors, including several groups of school children.  I shudder to think what might’ve happened if the second guard had been unable to stop him–that guard should be lauded as a hero, as he likely saved many, many lives.

Von Brunn is a convicted felon, and worshiped by such groups as Stormfront and Holy Western Empire (you can google them if you’re curious, but I refuse to give them the link traffic here).  They refer to him as a “hero” and a “white racialist treasure.”  But what von Brunn really represents is the very ugliest bile and hatred that plagues this country.

For the second time in just over a week, we’ve experienced a terrorist attack on our own soil.  Anybody who tries to rationalize this and suggest it isn’t actually a form of terrorism is seriously deluded.

These violent criminals are funded, followed and encouraged by an organized network of racist and religious fundamentalist groups.  Both shooters also have ties to right-wing milita groups.  Roeder, the killer who gunned down Dr. Tiller inside the lobby of his own church last week, has even warned of further acts of violence to come this summer.  They carry out coordinated acts of violence and intimidation, and do so with impunity.

Explain to me, please, why these acts should not be considered terrorism?

When those of us who ask why the government wasn’t monitoring these groups, who’ve all threatened (and committed) violent acts against their fellow citizens for decades, we hear vague excuses about free speech and not violating civil rights.  Considering our government had absolutely no problem suspending habeus corpus for dubiously detained Arabs, most of whom likely have no ties to any terrorist groups, I find their excuses hollow and pathetic.  And very, very dangerous.

In Roeder’s case, especially, the victims of his vandalism and harassment had begged the FBI to do something about him, as his acts were clearly in violation of the Freedom of Acceses to Clinic Entrances Act (the FACE Act).  And they did nothing, even after being informed of Roeder’s most recent criminal acts 24 hours before Dr. Tiller was murdered.  Shamefully, the FBI only stepped in to begin a federal investigation of Dr. Tiller’s death after repeated and outraged complaints.

Compare that to law enforcement’s reaction to Abdulhakim Muhammed, who shot to death Private William Long outside an Army-Navy Career Center in Little Rock, Arkansas one day after the Tiller shooting.  Although there is no evidence that Muhammed is affiliated with any terrorist group, he was charged as a terrorist in the crime, which is a “special circumstances” designation that’ll allow a harsher punishment than just a charge of murder.

Roeder, and presumably von Brunn, will not be so charged, even though they were active members of multiple extremist groups whose actions fall well within the definition of terrorism.

What will it take before our government takes real action against these terrorist organizations which operate and thrive on our own soil?  How much more blood will be spilled before those in authority formally recognize the threat they pose to our national security?

I’m not getting my hopes up, unfortunately.  All of these organizations are affiliated with conservative politics.  No matter how much the right gravely intones that they Do Not Approve of the killers’ actions (while often, in the next breath, hinting that the victims had it coming), they are fathers to these terrible children. 

Connections need to be drawn, and protests from the right refuted with the truth.  And then the government needs to do something about these groups.  Lines have been crossed that leave these extremists well outside the protections of the First Amendment, and law enforcement must respond accordingly.  And if any howls of outrage commence from the right-wing sidelines,  hold the mirror to their faces and simply say “Patriot Act.”  If one is opposed to terrorism, then one should be opposed to it in all its forms. 

Those who have ignored or rationalized those groups on the right who fall under the definition of terrorism should be deeply ashamed of themselves.  Today, their hands are a little bloodier.

Update:  CNN is now reporting that the security guard who was wounded by von Brunn, Stephen Tyrone Johns, has died.  My thoughts are with his family, and with all who were witness to von Brunn’s terrorist attack today.

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Thoughts on D-Day, and why we write

There are truths, that are beyond us, transcendent truths, about beauty, truth, honor, etc. There are truths that man knows exist, but they cannot be seen – they are immaterial, but no less real, to us. It is only through the language of myth that we can speak of these truths.

–J. R. R. Tolkien

Words and war have always been close companions.  With Memorial Day and the D-Day anniversary passing back-to-back, I’m struck by the apparently universal need for eloquence in remembrance.  We do it to honor the dead, but also, I think, to make sense of that which seems senseless.d day map

As I listened to President Obama speak at the  services this morning at the American cemetery overlooking Normandy Beach, reminding us of the almost incomprehensible losses of that day, and relating the stories of individual soldiers and their acts of bravery and selflessness, I marveled at how this ritual has become so necessary, so important.

Why do carnage and death draw such poetry from men’s souls?  The horrific and the beautiful seem knit together for our species; Kant tried to understand it, to explain it, but nothing represents the relationship so well as the literature, poetry, and, ultimately, myth, that emerges from the aftermath of war.

Experience becomes shared experienced, shared experienced becomes history, then myth; myth becomes “Sing, O Muse, of the wrath of Achilleus.”

Wallace Stevens, in his beautiful poem “Sunday Morning,” says “Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her, alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams and our desires.”  War, the reasons we wage it, and its aftermath defines us as a society as perhaps nothing else does.  We shed blood, both our own and that of our enemy, and seek both meaning and explanation for those acts.  Sometimes the very immensity of war overwhelms the reasons stated when we first engaged in it, becomes larger than the cause itself.

As the decades slip by after WWII, it’s fascinating to watch the growth of myth that rises up behind it.  Since film has become a form of visual literature, we have an evolution of reaction to the war, beginning with propagandistic John Wayne movies and moving–with amazing speed, really–to the honesty of The Best Years of Our Lives as it examines the psychological toll war takes on men; to condemnation of the ugliness of war in Kubrick’s Paths of Glory; and most recently to the more complex take on the war in Saving Private Ryan, which portrays the futility and chaos of war while simultaneously recognizing the heroism of the common men swept up in it.

And so our myth begins to take shape.  Cold statistics of battlefield casualties become eloquent and poignant reminders of what was actually lost:

This note doth tell me of ten thousand French
That in the field lie slain: of princes, in this number,
And nobles bearing banners, there lie dead
One hundred twenty six: added to these,
Of knights, esquires, and gallant gentlemen,
Eight thousand and four hundred; of the which,
Five hundred were but yesterday dubb’d knights:
So that, in these ten thousand they have lost,
There are but sixteen hundred mercenaries;
The rest are princes, barons, lords, knights, squires,
And gentlemen of blood and quality.
The names of those their nobles that lie dead:
Charles Delabreth, high constable of France;
Jaques of Chatillon, admiral of France;
The master of the cross-bows, Lord Rambures;
Great Master of France, the brave Sir Guichard Dolphin,
John Duke of Alencon, Anthony Duke of Brabant,
The brother of the Duke of Burgundy,
And Edward Duke of Bar: of lusty earls,
Grandpre and Roussi, Fauconberg and Foix,
Beaumont and Marle, Vaudemont and Lestrale.
Here was a royal fellowship of death!

Henry V, Act IV, scene viii

We will continue to mark our dead, remember why and when and where they fought, and seek an explanation for our terrible loss.  We place red poppies in our lapels to symbolize that loss, fed into collective memory by way of John McCrae’s iconic poem.  Who would remember the bones that lie in Flanders Field, if not for the words that remind us?

Words and war will and must remain comrades in arms, the former following close behind the other so that we may never forget, seek our answers, and hope never to fight again, even as our myths show us our destiny is otherwise.

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One murder, four paragraphs.

That’s the first bit of news I saw when I logged on this morning.

Details are just emerging–hence the brevity of the AP story–but early reports say that Dr. George Tiller, a doctor in Kansas who provides abortions (among other women’s health services), was gunned down in the lobby of his church this morning as he walked in for Sunday services. Inside his church.Tiller

Dr. Tiller was horribly harassed over the years, and survived a previous attempt on his life in 1993, when a rightwing anti-choice fanatic shot him in both arms. He recovered from that, and bravely continued to operate his women’s clinic in Wichita, Kansas–a state where abortion services for women are extremely scarce.

One wonders, yet again, at the paradox of this particular group of fanatics. They profess to be pro-life, but encourage, incite, act out and rejoice in the violent murder of these doctors. They are encouraged, incredibly, by prominent rightwing media personalities. These are not regional DJs who exist on the fringe, but nationally syndicated voices like Bill O’Reilly, who targeted Tiller specifically and repeatedly over the last few years, making horrible accusations that were never backed up by facts. O’Reilly, you are partially responsible for Dr. Tiller’s murder this morning.

I’ve seen this up close to a degree I’d rather never have experienced. I was living in Pensacola, Florida attending graduate school when two abortion doctors there were gunned down: Dr. David Gunn in 1993, just a few blocks from my parents’ home, and Dr. John Britton in 1994. I happened to drive by the clinic just minutes after Dr. Britton’s murder, and saw Paul Hill–who’d been quite visible protesting on the sidewalk in front of the clinic for months–being taken into custody. In both those cases, the doctors and the clinics had been targets of relentless harassment; the clinics vandalized (even bombed, in the notorious Christmas morning firebombing in 1984), and patients screamed at and browbeaten.

Nobody was particularly surprised by any of these murders, and I’m sure most are not surprised at Tiller’s murder this morning. The protesters and zealots clearly telegraph their intentions, and are boosted and egged on by the angry voices on rightwing talk radio and across the internet. I remember seeing Hill, day after day, in front of the clinic in Pensacola, and feeling my stomach knot up every time, knowing that he would eventually act out violently. And so he did.

The bravery of these doctors cannot be underestimated. They provide vital services in all too dwindling numbers to women in need. Whether you agree with it or not, whether you like it or not, abortion is legal in this country and should be safe and available to the women who need it. It should be a private matter, and women should not be forced to endure the screams and threats so many are subjected to when they try to enter women’s clinics. And neither should the doctors who serve them.

Tiller apparently was targeted because he was one of the few doctors who provided late-term abortions, a procedure that has been incorrectly and hyperbolically labeled “partial-birth abortion,” which is not a medical term but a political one. When one considers that fewer than two percent of all abortions that are performed fall after the 20-week mark, it’s difficult to be outraged, and so the right is left with only empty arguments based on nothing but emotion. Sadly, that seems to be their approach to most of their positions lately.

In the weeks leading up to his murder, the threats and intimidation intensified. Earlier this month, his clinic was vandalized; according to AP reports, the wiring to security cameras and exterior lights were cut, the roof was broken through, and the downspouts plugged so that the interior of the clinic was severely flooded. One can only imagination the resignation and determination that Tiller surely felt as he refused to be frightened away by these hyper-violent zealots.

As of now, police reportedly have a license plate number and description of the shooter’s car, and hopefully will capture him soon. Let us hope he (or she) isn’t harbored by sympathizers as Eric Rudolph was for so many years.  This is our very own home-grown form of terrorism; there is no other way to describe it.  And it needs to be addressed as such.

And beyond that, let us fervently hope that the hatred and the violence can somehow be tamped down; for that, the clamoring voices of hate on the right need to take responsibility for what they’ve nurtured and tone the rhetoric way, way down. For that, there is very little hope, but hope I will.

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Do you know my old friend Ed?

That would be Ed Vega, or–as he embraced his full Puerto Rican name as an author late in life–Edgardo Vega Yunqué. I found out two weeks ago that he died late last August, and I’m still having a hard time getting him out of my thoughts.Ed Vega

Ed was a Puerto Rican-American writer from New York (his adopted hometown), and would probably tell you himself without hesitation that he was an Important Author. And so he was, and hopefully will be remembered as such outside the academic and New York literary circles where he was well known during his life.

He published several books over the last 20 years–novels and short story collections, among other things–and had finally achieved some commercial and critical success with his last three books. There are excellent obituaries about Ed here and here, so I’ll let those fill in the details of his death, and I’ll move on to his life, how I knew him, and my friendship with him.

We met, oddly enough, 15 years ago in the wee young days of AOL, in a specialized chat room for writers. It was an interesting place in those early internet days, and we were an insular group of 50 or so regulars, with some serious (and seriously successful) writers among us. I was a grad student in English lit at the time, and was immediately intrigued by the irascible Yunq, as he was known there.

We began to correspond regularly, and over the years spoke often by phone. After I finished grad school and moved to Washington D.C., I finally made a trip up to New York to visit Ed at the Clemente Soto Velez cultural center he founded and was running at the time on the lower east side. It remains one of the most important events in my life, for reasons too many to count. The primary memories that stay with me are of sitting in his (very illegal, as it wasn’t zoned for residencial use) loft apartment in the cultural center, listening to jazz from his beloved WBGO echoing around the cavernous place; catching several performances by different theatre groups at the cultural center; visiting the bodegas and neighborhood hangouts of his on the lower east side; eating a 3 AM dinner at the Odessa on Avenue A; and just soaking up all the energy that was Ed, and that, by extension, was the CSV center. Ed was my mentor as a writer, and in many ways, as a thinker.

Ed was not an easy mentor, or an easy friend, to have. As I scoured the internet for more information on his death, and read in more than one remembrance that “Ed was a difficult man,” I couldn’t help laughing through steady tears. Ed could be incredibly harsh, capable of lashing out viciously if he felt you’d slighted him or (worse) betrayed him, and could hold a grudge for years. We had one falling out several years ago over something incredibly pointless and minor, and he refused to speak to me for almost four years. Then one day, there was an email from Ed, checking in to see how I was doing as if nothing had ever happened. And on we went with our friendship just as before.

He alienated so many people in his life, including his own family, but I know from my many conversations with him that it pained him greatly–even if his sizable ego would never, ever allow him to admit this to those people. I was greatly relieved to know that he reconciled somewhat with one of his daughters in his later years, even if the reconciliation remained somewhat strife-filled. But as harsh as he could be, I can’t imagine a different Ed, and I’m not sure I’d have wished for one, because he could also be magnanimous and generous, especially to those of us who write.

Ed was alive, and vital, and very angry. He was deeply in love with his adopted country, and also profoundly pissed off at it. He loved sports, loved jazz even more, and was fascinated with the Irish in general, and women in particular. All of that, all of Ed’s passions, were reflected wonderfully in his writing. He was as gifted as he was angry and passionate, and, oh, did he ever know it. He was an immensely proud man, sometimes arrogant, but always sure that it was justified given his particular talent.

I will never forget his joy and relief after he met his last agent, Tom Colchie, related to me in a breathless, excited phone call. Colchie “got” Ed, as much as any of us could have, recognized his talent, showed him the respect that others hadn’t, and worked hard to get Ed published again. Ed’s “big book,” or “the jazz novel,” as he variously called the Bill Bailey novel, was finally picked up for publication after languishing for over 10 years, and Ed’s desire to write was renewed. He began sending me early drafts of the books that would become Blood Fugues and Omaha Bigelow–a book that was, in some ways, Ed’s response to the 9/11 attacks and our culpability and response to them–and was seemingly unstoppable.

And that’s why I’m still having such a hard time imagining him gone. I’m angry at myself for not calling him sooner, before he died, for one last conversation, to hear him rant about an editor, or this person or that who’d wronged him, or talk with great enthusiasm about what he was writing currently. For reasons I still don’t understand, Ed accepted me as a writer, as an intellectual, and as a friend. That’s not a commentary on my self-image (which is quite fine), just a recognition that Ed was a tough person with very high standards. I was privileged to know him, and more privileged to have been mentored by him.

If you don’t know his work, I strongly urge you to read any of his books, but especially the three published in the last five years. He hated being pigeon-holed as an “ethnic” writer–hated it with such gusto that it cost him one publishing contract (the first try with Bill Bailey in the early 90s)–but also wanted readers to understand the Puerto Rican-American identity in all its complexity. He wanted to be seen as an important author, and with Bill Bailey, accomplished that. He may, indeed, have written the great American novel. He was political, but not politically correct. If anything, he was post-PC. He was poetic and profane, obscene and musical, bitingly satirical and sometimes deeply romantic. And I miss him very much.


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So, this is where we begin.

And by “we,” I’m not using the royal reference, but instead do so to include you. I have no interest in this blog’s being an exercise in narcissism or monologue, so I entreat those who find their way here to engage in debate, and make good use of the comments section.

I’ve been wanting to start up a blog like this for ages, and ended up finally doing so in a bit of a rush, late in the week.** In other words, in complete contradiction to my title here, I have nothing erudite or detailed to offer yet (but I will, eventually). I thought I might as well dip a toe in the water, however, so I happily welcome all to the new digs.

To quote the not-so-erudite Terminator: I’ll be back.

**Honestly, I was more or less embarassed into starting this blog (at long last). I recently began a more income-oriented blog-cum-full-blown-website, Budget Girl. Whenever I started to tell someone I’d started my own site, the response was invariably along the lines of “Oooh, what’s it on? Politics? Literature?” So in addition to my little cash-oriented endeavor, I figured I’d better get busy meeting expectations and write something a little more substantive–and a lot closer to my heart (and mind).

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