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Unexpected Optimism

September 1, 2009.

Bought a new unlimited MetroCard. $89 gets me all the subway and busrides I want for 30 days. Sweet. Expensive, but sweet.

Got me something else today too.

Look what’s on the flip.  

Politico: Gates agrees to stay on under Obama

ABCNews earlier reported this is a “done deal,” as diaried earlier by bugscuffle. Now Politico comes seems to confirm this:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has agreed to stay on under President-elect Obama, according to officials in both parties. Obama plans to announce a national-security team early next week that includes Gates at the Pentagon and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as secretary of State, officials said.

Note that this is not sourced to the campaign.  

Another Middle Way

He is moving to the center, so they say.

The pragmatists, so-called, recognize a strategic need for this move to the middle, and trusting Obama, applaud it; the purists so-called, wonder what we’re going to win, if moving to the middle is needed to win.

For my part, I’m a pragmatic purist, an idealistic pragmatist, and always worried about falling into what the great writer Walter Benjamin called “left melancholy“–his take, I suppose, on the ways in which “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

Not An Essay

Just a video that’s got me hitting “Replay” and smiling and smiling and smiling. Feeling the warmth of love.

FBI Ordered to Shut Down GITMO “War Crimes” File

(h/t to GreyHawk for pointing to this story. GH’s post at epluribus media.)

Yes, the FBI kept a “War Crimes” file about GTMO. So reports the NY Times in  Report Details Dissent on Guantánamo Tactics:

WASHINGTON – In 2002, as evidence of prisoner mistreatment at Guantánamo Bay began to mount, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents at the base created a “war crimes file” to document accusations against American military personnel, but were eventually ordered to close down the file, a Justice Department report revealed Tuesday.

Ordered closed down by whom exactly?

US Cmdr in Iraq: Human Rights Law Doesn’t Apply

I’m in kind of a cranky mood. I don’t have much to say about this article, and I’m sure many of you have already read it: Iraqi court rulings stop at U.S. detention sites.

BushCo are masters at trying to legitimize illegality. It is their terrifying, unjust, enraging M.O. We see it at home, and abroad, in the conduct of this so-called GWOT. It is S.O.P.

They create legal limbo for all kinds of our fellow human beings, most innocent of any crime. GITMO is a terrible, shocking example of being in and out of the law.

Coup Coming in Khartoum?

Khartoum has been relatively untouched by the civil wars and genocide around it.

The capital of the Sudan has now been breached by fighting for the first time. Now Darfur rebel leaders are claiming that they are going to try and take Khartoum and topple the government.

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – A Darfur rebel commander said on Saturday his JEM group had entered Khartoum and was aiming to take power in Sudan.

Khartoum was placed under an overnight curfew after fighting in the west of the capital on Saturday. It would be the first time a rebel group has entered Khartoum

The Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels said they had taken control of Omdurman which lies on the opposite bank of the River Nile from Khartoum.

“We are now trying to control Khartoum. God willing we will take power, it’s just a matter of time,” senior JEM commander Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr told Reuters by telephone.

“We have support from inside Khartoum even from within the armed forces.”

[UPDATE] Burma, Burma: Aid Refused, What to do? Ethical Questions

We all know that Burma is in a terrible crisis because of the devastation of Cyclone Nargis. Tens of thousands are confirmed dead. It may be hundreds of thousands. Millions are displaced and at risk of death due to lack of clean water and food. The first reports of cholera  are coming.

And now the World Food Programme of the UN has suspended aid, because the junta impounded the first shipments.

Who Cares?

Yes, we are thrilled that our long and increasingly ugly primary process is drawing to a close, and that the prospect of a unified and strong Democratic party is increasingly possible and likely. We are thrilled to be on the verge of a major electoral victory in November.

But isn’t part of what defines us as Democrats and progressives, lefties of various stripes that we exit a narrow American exceptionalist view of world, that we understand all of our strengths and weaknesses in a global context?

There has been a major, major catastrophe in Burma. The blog of record of the so-called progressosphere has nary a mention of this on the Obama rec list. In addition to the need to help through donations, there are major human rights and internationalist issues to address: the question of humanitarian intervention.  

The Impunity Index

The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent non-profit organization devoted to protecting freedom of the press worldwide. Without freedom of the press, there can be no freedom for citizens, no true democracy.

We decry the erosion of our free press here, an erosion unfortunately perpetrated by the willing complicity of the media with the government. Here, the press has moved further and further away from its true task and responsibility–to animate our democracy with truthful reporting and penetrating analyses. Now the press for the most part seems to just be another corporation with something to sell.

In many parts of the world, however, journalists struggle to fulfill the true responsibilities of the free press–they struggle to exercise freedom in situations of true governmental repression, open and covert, and they even lose their lives for it.


I lived in Berkeley for a time. On a quiet street, bursting with flowers and trees and a good mix of people, not too far from the campus. It was big and cheap, the first floor flat of a somewhat rickety house. My friends lived in the flat upstairs. And for a year, my brother lived in the other upstairs flat. These Berkeley years were some particularly good years of life. I was poor. A graduate student. But I was devoted to life and to literature, thrilling to their proximity, exuberant about philosophy and poetry. Even my depressions felt luxurious at the time. I was poor, but rich.

Wherever I am, I love walking around, and Berkeley was no exception. Weekends meant yard-sales, and I’d often pick up a little this or that, maybe even a $5 splurge. One weekend I spotted a vintage typewriter. For five bucks it was mine. That night, at home I fed one end of a long roll of yellow paper into it and started clacking. It wasn’t a fast typewriter; it was old and dirty, but even clean and oiled, I imagine you had to earn every word. I thought it would be fun to just leave it out and encourage visitors and friends to peck out a this or that, whatever struck them. Maybe I’d even bang out a few lines. Or my husband.

Over two years, the scroll grew longer, the yellow paper bunching up behind the typewriter and eventually, when I moved the table away from the wall, cascading onto the floor in a lazy, curving pile.

When we moved back to New York, scroll and typewriter came with us. It was such frenzied packing, I didn’t reread the scroll, just pulled it out of the typerwriter, rolled it up, and packed it and the typewriter away.  

Back in New York, the unpacking was fairly leisurely. I hadn’t sifted and sorted and pitched before moving, and was doing that as I unpacked. I was happy to come across that yellow roll of paper and I sat down to read it through. Certain things brought back clear memories, other things I was delighted to find as if for the first time, some things bored me, other things made me laugh, and I even cried a few times. I was taken by the idea of slowly reading, unfurling this scroll, an eclectic version of my history for the past two years. Unrolling, unrolling, at the top of the scroll were the oldest entries, moving further and further into the future the more I unrolled.

The last entry was one that I had never read before. I had to read it twice to really understand it. It made my heart race with fear, then anger, and sadness. It made me cry, my body vibrating with discord. From memory here:

Ha! Ha! Ha! you in your cushy rich happy life here in berkeley.who would’ve thought that the hippies parked in the van across the street for the past two weeks would crash in and break your world. What makes you think you should live this life. You think the world is just fucking beautiful don’t you? well, we’re here to tell you it’s not yours so we’re taking what should be ours. you only got what you have by ripping people off. [then, iirc, there was a long kind of nonsensical “poem” or quote or stream of consciousness. it was syntaxless in some ways, but portended some private meaning or menace]

Smack. On the second reading. It clicked.

A few months earlier, still in Berkeley, coming home one day from German class, I found the outer front door was open and the inner one slightly ajar. I pushed it open tentatively, nervous, calling out my husband’s name. Silence. And then I realized what else was so strange. The cats were nowhere to be seen. They were hiding. Silence and absence. And then it came into focus what wasn’t there: the CDs, the T.V., stereo, computers, deeper into the apartment, drawers were open, things flung about. I noticed on the mantle that beautiful clock my parents had given as a wedding present was askew; perhaps they left it there, like that, at an angle, when they saw it was engraved on the back. Later, the police would dust it for prints. The dusting powder was black and a strange consistency. I couldn’t altogether get it out of the cracks in the white paint of the mantle. We never got any of the items back, of course. We never expected to. It was just part of a social ritual, I suppose, to have the police over, and fill out a report.

And so, I discovered 3,000 miles and several months at a distance, reading the last entry rolled up inside that scroll of yellow paper, not only had we been robbed and violated,  but the thief had taken the time to bang out a nasty message, deride me, judge me, hurt me even more–pure venom and insult, which also hurt because it was so wrong; it seemed so unjust.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, it’s not a hurt unbearable; it may even have a lesson in it somewhere. I’m not sure where.  


I love the subway. Even when it’s crowded. I love the solitude in the crowd. I like the act of faith of hundreds of bodies pressing into a machine so far underground. I like that it has mostly served us well for over a hundred years. I love it when it’s empty. I even probably love it when I’m cursing it, when it’s letting me down. It’s like family. Or it feels like home. Familiar.

I remember riding the subway as a child. My mother holding my hand on the platform. The train literally covered in fantastic, colorful graffiti. I remember one rush hour when I was a young girl, mom clutching me as we squeezed in (or out)–and my shoe, one shoe, was left behind–on the platform, or in the car. I don’t remember what happened after that. I loved falling asleep on mom’s shoulder when we were riding the subway on the way home. Yes, I loved the subway as a child, but I was also taught that it was dangerous, and sometimes, late at night, I have felt that fear.

I love watching people on the subway. I like the sociality. But I like the solitude you can also find in that intimate, public space. I like reading and writing and knitting on the subway. I like doing mindfulness meditation on the subway. My mind often blooms on the subway. Poems or ideas or things to be written bubble up. I take them down. Revisit them later. Leave some as is, subway artifacts, and take others up, tinker, expand.

What is it about the subway that stirs creativity? The noise-cancelling, rhythmic whoosh and rocking–is it like being in the womb? Being underground, in the subway, does it tap the unconscious in a distinctive way?

It’s not just that creativity breeds there. Violence too. I have seen the spontaneous eruption of hatred, racism, burst into physical violence. I have seen teenagers fighting. Children being spanked and hit. Women too. I have sometimes tried to intervene with one sentence, as if to bring someone to their senses. I have then wondered if this didn’t make things worse later.

I’ve seen and been involved in acts of kindness on the subway, too. And moments of shared humor. Or just shared moments. A smile. A conversation. A performance. It’s all there. In the subway. What racist pitcher John Rocker hated about the subway–the mixture and mass of humanity in all of its difference, and glory, and failing, and rage, and vulnerability–I love.

What kind of song of himself, of our world, would Whitman have penned on the subway?

Do you have a subway story? Or an unexpected place that tickles your creative bone? I’ll close out this ditty and turn it over to you with a poem that sprouted up on the subway.


By what right do I

conjure you,

stir you from sleep,

snag your attention,

turn you around?

Would an invitation

blunt the blow

reduce the weight

the freight

of solitude?

Oh, unintended companions,

by rude strokes,

I pray to you on this downtown C.

Tired man, pants rumpled,

I worry for your shoe untied.

I thank you, woman and child,

holding hands, blinking,

silent in the crushing rush

of our wondrous speed.

I see you, young man, opposite corner,

steady in the shelter of a book.

And you and you and you –

all signposts of everything else there is.

Like this, I come to my stop.

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