Have you ever seen something that absolutely renders you
speechless - that reaches inside and grips you, and makes
all the crap and pain and nonsense disappear - instantly
Little penguin families, being penguins - My sister sent me this
this morning - A day in the life of a penguin colony.
Another cute video about penguins - I love penguins. Okay. I'll watch.
Baby animals--being groomed, fed, taught, by their parent(s);
penguins playing, preening, being totally themselves - especially
with accompanying pretty music, warms the heart, makes us go
"awwwwwwww," with a warm smile spread across the face.
I was not prepared, however - in this one - for the overwhelming
depth of feeling it evoked - filling me with the most incredible
sense of - AWE . . . and sheer appreciation -
The State of Georgia executed Troy Davis last night at 11:08 PM by lethal injection. He had been convicted of killing a policeman working as a security guard 22 years ago. To his last breath Davis continually maintained his innocence. There seems to be no physical evidence proving he did the crime, seven of nine witnesses later recanted their testimony, saying they'd been coerced by police, and three jurors have since retracted their "guilty" verdicts. Plus another person was said to have confessed to the crime.
Thousands of people worldwide, including, Amnesty International, the Pope, former President Jimmy Carter, a former GA Supreme Court Justice, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 51 members of Congress, and even death penalty supporters, including former FBI Director William S. Sessions, as well as many more called for Troy Davis to be spared the death sentence. Over 660,000 petitions were delivered calling for the Powers-That-Be to spare his life. Around 500 protesters stood outside the prison entrance last night, waiting for a decision from the members of the Supreme Court of the United States, which refused to grant a stay of execution.
In a court of law, you often hear these words: "Innocent until proven guilty" and "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt." There seems to be no concrete proof that Troy Davis committed that particular crime and more than enough strong doubts, to suggest that this man may have been innocent. In the end, it didn't matter.
"Justice is done", say the family of the murdered policeman. But was it justice?
I don't know whether Troy Davis committed the crime as charged, or whether he was, as he steadfastly maintained, for 22 years, truly innocent. What bothers me is that someone can be put to death when grave doubts continue to remain as to his innocence, and that because of legal technicalities, possible incompetency, willful neglect, or sheer indifference important information can be and is often disregarded or suppressed.
When the decision is made to deliberately end someone's life, wouldn't it serve "justice" to make absolutely sure all questions about his/her guilt or innocence have been thoroughly addressed and/or resolved? That facts later coming to light that contradict those presented at trial as evidence may be reason to reconsider the terms of punishment? In the case of Troy Davis serious questions still remained. Testimonies at trial were later recanted, some jurors' guilty verdicts retracted, report of another person confessing to the same crime for which Troy Davis was convicted. It was decided this was not sufficient to overturn the original verdict or rescind the sentence of death.
I was once called for jury duty at a murder trial. One of the questions they asked me, in choosing who was to be on the jury, was: "Do you believe in the death penalty?" A fellow prospective juror, who'd apparently been called before to serve on juries, later told me as we were exiting the building, neither of us having been chosen as jurors, "If you ever want to get out of serving on a jury at a murder trial, just tell them you're against the death penalty." I took that to mean that people who sit on juries voting to decide whether or not a person is innocent or guilty, where the punishment may be death, are not considered good choices in a jury selection, because they would have difficulty accepting the idea that a proper punishment for killing is to then kill the killer. An eye for an eye comes to mind.
How powerful are words and how many meanings pop up around the word 'justice'. Jurors are supposed to listen and observe at trial, and based on each side's presentation and argument (prosecutor and defense attorneys') decide the truth of someone's innocence or guilt. Too much doubt results in delayed decisions; "hung juries" can result in a mistrial; mistrials can mean a criminal goes free. But jurors are not allowed to simply raise their hand during trial and ask a question when they feel a lawyer has not asked a question of a witness that the juror believes is pertinent. It's annoying to be told, "After everything you've heard today, you MUST come to the conclusion that ...." (meaning the particular lawyer's interpretation), etc. Uh, no, let us make our own interpretations, please.
Only the judge can allow or suppress a particular line of inquiry. If you've ever read trial transcripts, you can readily see sometimes, where the focus is being strategically directed (towards or away from certain areas) more for the benefit of the jury than to actually unearth the truth, often resulting in a distorted (or skillfully projected) perception. Some lawyers are better at jury persuasion than others. The judge must abide by the jury's decision as to guilt or innocence but only the judge has the power to say how the convicted person is going to be punished: "You're going to jail" or "You're going to die."
The Double Jeopardy provision of the Fifth Amendment prohibits a person from being tried twice for the same offense, unless required by the interests of justice. But even then, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, if I understand it correctly, bars second and successive petitions and limits the power of federal judges to grant relief. So there's not a whole lot of hope, even with a dedicated lawyer calling for a new investigation or massive public outcry for a reversal of the death sentence, that you will succeed. And as we've seen with Troy Davis, even the Supreme Court can decide your case ultimately has no merit and you will lose.
It seems to me there is something terribly wrong, though, with a system that allows someone like Luis Posada, a former CIA agent who admitted involvement in a string of bombings in 1997, and for which evidence of his role in the mid-air bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976, killing 73 people aboard, "is strong", to go free--yet executes Troy Davis, for killing a policeman, though the evidence against him remains questionable. For example, the statement of one witness (that Davis confessed to the crime) is accepted as an indication of guilt but when the witness later recants, it's discounted; and the testimony of another witness (declaring that someone *else* admitted to committing the crime) is disregarded based on a technicality. That other person was never put on the stand. I say, you say, we all say hear-say, now swear under oath that ... (except one of the witnesses, who was illiterate, was asked to sign a statement he couldn't read, which should have made it invalid).
Both Posada and Davis were judged by a jury of peers--one was found innocent, the other guilty. "Although he [Posada] has never been convicted for his various acts of violence, Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive has referred to him as "one of the most dangerous terrorists in recent history." But apparently to the anti-Cuban exile community in Miami, Posada is a hero. So, an admitted terrorist gets aquitted; a man proclaiming his innocence gets convicted and awarded the death penalty. I keep hearing those words, "Justice and mercy for all" but in this case it sounds like "Justice and mercy for some, depending ...." Depending on the jurors, the lawyers, the judges, the system--and of course, who you are or are not. It is this aspect of the justice system that seems to need tweaking, in my humble opinion.
I honestly don't know whether or not Troy Davis really did what he'd been convicted of or not--my mental jury's still out on that one. But I'm not ignorant of what sometimes happens in a courtroom vis-a-vis prosecution and defense presentations and the politics and manipulation of perception that comes into play. Too, Judges are powerful beings: they can ship you back to your country of origin where you risk being tortured or killed, denying your request for political asylum; they can give you a second chance to turn your life around and get some help; or they can send you to be lethally disposed of. If Troy Davis was innocent, as so many believe he was, may this injustice be righted. May the truth some day come out, not just about this but about other past investigations still being questioned, years after the fact, for which the public still would like answers.. Beyond a reasonable doubt. So that true justice, not revenge or payback, can be accomplished.
Just because the world is changing, getting darker and scarier by the minute, doesn't, I think, mean that we should change with it and react by ourselves becoming scarier. Rule of law: innocent until proven guilty. Allow all sides to be heard. Sounds fair. If information comes in later that radically contradicts an earlier investigation's report, examine it. Take the time to get it right. Correct it. Set 'the record' straight. The bottom line shouldn't be speed it up to get a conviction, imposing impossible-to-meet deadlines or restricting access to or sharing of information just to one-up the other side or as part of some turf war or just because you can.
In a perfect world, perhaps. I'm still in International Day of Peace mode, I guess (yesterday was International Day of Peace). But I don't get the prevailing mindset in some quarters sometimes: That it's okay to kill in certain circumstances, but not in others. That killers must be punished by killing them to show it is wrong to kill. That innocent children who happen to be family members of someone "suspected" of "insurgency" in a foreign land can be sacrificed as collateral damage, so long as the bad guy gets 'taken out.'. "Thou shalt not kill" . . . except (list the exceptions). All's fair in love and war (they say). Drone on. Kill or (maybe) be killed. When in doubt, pre-empt. Shoot first and ask questions later. Better yet: Stop asking questions.
Uh, I'm not gonna go there. This just in: I heard on CNN where somewhere in Mexico a drug cartel pulled up in the afternoon in front of a busy shopping area and dumped 35 dead bodies on the pavement, as a warning, I guess. No one stopped them, apparently, or pursued, much less was able to arrest them. They've done that kind of thing before, leaving headless bodies in public, to show that they 'can'. That's what having power does. No one can touch you. The word lawless floats in a bubble inside my mind. Kind of like what they used to call frontier towns in the old West where bandits just rode in and shot people and rode out again: lawless. The modern version I guess is drive-by shootings, individually or in bunches, only the shooters get younger and younger. We have laws but this still keeps happening. But even in lawful (full of Laws) societies, and even though scores of people (thousands and thousands, to be exact) are behind bars today, justice has not solved the problem, nor is real justice necessarily a given. Define 'justice' -- shooter-type justice, or innocent-type justice.
What is one to make of the news anymore. So many conflicting reports, misleading stories. People still hungering for . . . the truth. As if knowing it would change anything. But it might. If the truth were known, "justice" could be served. And if injustice is being intentionally ignored, allowed or perpetrated, that could be corrected. In a perfect world. But since we're not . . .
No reason not to not care though. Media overload and it can all just pass over one, in one big blur, occupation here, terrorist attack there, governments in crisis, this one bankrupt, that one starving, failed schools, infrastructure crumbling, earth being raped, execution last night, news at 11. It's enough to make you . . . tune out and stop listening. Turn the observation meter off a bit, redirect it. Or go take a nap.
Not everyone's asleep, though. Granted, even with the whole world watching, atrocities continue to happen, regularly; injustice continues. I'd hate to have to live as an empath, you know, those people who absorb and carry around the pain and suffering of the world on their backs, so to speak. I've known people like that, who've sacrificed any sort of personal life to go help others--not just volunteer here and there or send money, but actually leave home and go off somewhere for years, putting their lives on the line, because they care. No naps for them. I like that you can't stifle that kind of awareness, that even when it's mocked, defunded or physically crushed, it doesn't stop. Maybe for some. But not all. Which seems a good thing to know.
As for doubting, all thinking beings do that at one time or another. Well, most, anyway. Sometimes you're encouraged to question things, other times you're told to just accept what is for what it is and don't trouble yourself about the details. Leave the details up to the experts. Both sides have merit. Troy Davis won't have to worry about things like that anymore. In a week's time other news will fill the airwaves and the 'justice system' will plog on, everyone will go back to their everyday lives, doing whatever it is they do every day. It is amazing to me, how many supporters Troy Davis had. How many spoke out in his behalf, how many abhor the idea of capital punishment.
Perhaps those laws that permit us to kill, as punishment, are more and more raising reasonable doubts as to their, well . . . reasonableness.
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests
in his beauty on the water and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water
and feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
~ ~ Excerpt from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry,
Northpoint Press, 1998.
*Actually, it's a wasp. But 'bee, being' sounded better than 'wasp, wasping'. When I was a child we used to catch bees in our hands and run around with them closed inside our fists yelling "Bzzzzzzzzz, Bzzzzzzzz!" , then let them go. Did this dozens, hundreds of times, and never got stung. The next door neighbor boys told us "Yellow heads sting--but whiteheads don't"--whiteheads being a much lighter shade than the deep yellow of the yellowheads. So it must be true. Or else we were just lucky. I just looked it up on line and apparently the ones they called whiteheads were actually male carpenter bees that may seem aggressive but are not able to sting. We girls just accepted, after observing four or five demonstrations of "See! It didn't sting me!" that what Lloyd and Rollie next door said was true. They also taught us which of the "monkey vines" on the hillside were safe to swing from and which would break off and land you on your butt if you tried swinging from it. Ah, childhood!
So I'm not getting any better at Mr. Doob's Harmony Drawing Program but I find it interesting what emerges when the intended sketch takes an unexpected turn and an entirely different subject appears. This started out to be a young girl reaching for the stars, but morphed into a sad man with a scarred face and an elongated chin. I gave him some hair and a high-necked sweater but must have pushed a wrong button somewhere because Harmony saved the drawing before I had finished correcting it. The face reminded me I'd forgotten its ears and eyebrows and positively detested the hairdo I'd chosen, complaining it looked more like a woman's ill-fitting wig. This happens sometimes, a different entity emerges from the one you'd intended, wanting to say its say. So I let it.
I've been in kind of a creative writing slump lately, wishing I could weave words like the ones I read sometimes from others, that make the world stop and get my attention, that make me see something I never considered before, bestow an insight, or resonate so deeply it stuns.
Three poets got my attention this morning--two that've been interviewed by SmartishPace, the other sharing on his blog the words of a favorite poet. In an imaginary get-together I sat in the back of an imaginary room and took mental notes. I've extracted and am quoting liberally from what was said, addressing specific points that speak to my own oft unspoken wonderings.
But go read the original interviews and entire Rumi poem referenced (the links are embedded in each of the three poets' names--just click on the name). Interesting . . . and for me, very helpful. Especially--and in another context--after reading all the horrible world news lately. ("Find the antidote in the venom" -- Thanks, Don and Rumi! How can a single sentence like that . . . have such a dramatic, yet positive, impact. How the words that we read wake us up, enlighten, motivate and energize us.) Rae Armantrout:
On writing poetry:
Don’t write about what you think, or what you think you know, write about what puzzles you.
On language poetry:
Anything that will make us all stop and do a double take on what we hear (and see) instead of accepting it as natural is a positive exercise.
On not "getting" a poet's meaning in a poem: For the Reader: If you have spent a good bit of time with the poems already and you still don’t get anything from them, I suggest you give up. You aren’t required to like everything!
For the Poet: As to whether people will get it, you can’t think about things like that while you’re writing. It would be too inhibiting.
On writer's block:
After about two weeks, if no writing has surfaced, I start to feel nervous. Then I go looking for it. I do that really by just maintaining a certain state of alertness. I’ll read things that might get me going. I’ll sit outside somewhere with a notebook . . . make notes on the things I see. I find that, if I keep at it long enough, something will emerge. I take notes in my journal not knowing whether those notes will end up in a poem or not.
The notes will be jotted down on different days in different places. At some point, I’ll notice that several of these notes have an affinity for one another. They seem to establish a kind of dialogue. So I’ll put them together and edit. If the poem still doesn’t feel finished, I will wait for more material to appear. By then, I have at least a vague idea of what I’m looking for – still, I won’t recognize it until I see it. Things have to come to me from elsewhere.
On the risk of being a poet:
Most people in America really see poetry as a joke or a sign of childish narcissism. I am still reluctant to tell a stranger that I’m a poet. I can see that it makes them uncomfortable. So first you have to be willing to be ridiculous. . . You won't make any money directly from poetry – or at least not much. You have to find some other sort of work. And you may tend to resent your day job because it takes up time that you could spend writing.
On the state of poetry today:
The under appreciation of poetry in the U.S. frees the poet to do whatever he wants. In another sense, he can do what he wants because what he does doesn't matter. No Mandelstam-like repercussions here for writing an important anti-government poem. But it's important for me to write AS IF everything I write matters. And AS IF I have a concerned, intelligent audience. To not turn my back on the willing, intelligent reader as much as contemporary poetry has. The poet needs to make gestures to the willing intelligent reader. That same reader must make serious gestures of attentiveness to the poem.
On all the published poems out there:
At any given time in any culture most of the poems in print will be mediocre. Don't worry about it, it's a given. Just keep an eye out for what's wonderful.
On writing poetry:
Write the poems that you need to write. All other concerns are tertiary.
Advice to young poets:
Take your enterprise as seriously as other would-be artists do. No short cuts. Try to be as engaged and as disciplined as, say, a violinist or a dancer would.
A damp, chilly day
rain-splattered windows, having a mug of
tea made from hawthorne leaves & berries.
Not the windows, dummy, windows don't drink tea
okay Miss Grammarchek, where was i ...
oh yes, listening to an ancient, now departed
voice, from 1978, recalling the escape from Vienna and
the Nazis, she loses her train of thought at the podium.
I like transcribing oral histories, so many scenes
you never imagine, absent from the history
books. Speaking of, my notebook is empty, the pen out
of ink, the writing warehouse filled to bursting, why do
you procrastinate, why?
Only one cat showed up to eat this morning, our
oldest visiting stray, name of Blackie. The house is too
too silent. It needs music, not the klack-klack-klacking
of a keyboard mindful of deadline. This
is not a poem, just an impulsive wordtrain
sneaking in whilst I'm sipping tea and
eyeing rain on window, cut it out, get back to work, you
I met the charming gentleman above in an aisle of the pharmacy this morning and his face expressed how I feel sometimes, reading the latest "Can-things-get-ANY-WORSE-in-the-world?" news. He was propped up next to a witch having a bad hair day on his left.
Him I understood. Her--frankly, she gave me the creeps. Those maliciously malevolent red eyes and blackened, clawey fingernails were enough to scare the bejesus out of anyone, though even kids are so inured to frightful images these days, most just laugh. (Not the little babies, though--they haven't quite reached the age where they can distinguish fake from real. One little glance and that witch's beady red eyes could return, let loose in a nightmare.)
Over at the Dollar Store they were stocking rubber severed limbs with dye-bloodied red gashes, gigantic decorative spider webs, and of course, glow-in-the-dark skeleton keyrings. (Did I mention the edible gelatin eyeballs?)
It's not even Halloween for another month and a half yet, and the shelves are already being cleared and racks of expensive hobo, princess, dragon, devil, witch, Hulk and zombie costumes put into place. When I was a kid we rummaged in our grandma's attic for things to dress up as, and we'd get more apples than chocolate sometimes, in our little trick-or-treat bags. Now it's a retailer's heaven--a fun thing commercialized to death.
Once a year we get to spread phoney Fear and celebrate Greed. (Zombies!! Zombies!! Run for your life!!! Buy your jumbo size, orange candy bucket NOW, kids--before they run out!!! Hey Moms--sale in Aisle Four on chocolate Count Draculas, shipped straight from China. Flashlights, purple hair dye, wigs, teeth and fake blood in Aisle Six!
A man, unable to afford to buy candy for little Halloweeners potentially knocking at the door, embarrassed and ashamed, turns his porch light off and watches behind the curtain at his window, smiling, as a gaggle of little ones trudge past on the sidewalk: a Batman, a Spongebob, a fairy, and a bumblebee with an umbrella. He could be the man in the photo, in his reflective moments, mutely screaming at how he's forced to have to decide whether to buy food this winter, or get heat. "Let's see," you can almost hear him thinking: $4.69 for a bag of mini Hersey bars or marshmellow tarantulas; a handful of change to split for a package of Ramon noodles for him and a can of cat food for his cat. He wishes he could buy the candy. He wishes he had an apple to give them instead. This story is made up. But it's also not, for many people. I look at that store manikin's face and I imagine stories like this. I only went to the pharmacy this morning to buy toilet paper and look what happens, ha ha. It took me by surprise. A look that haunts, reminds. I've screamed inside like he's screaming. Haven't we all sometimes. I hear ya, bud.
The kid in me still loves Halloween. I once saw a ghost riding the bus, an adult probably going to a party, but it was so comical at the time (20 people's heads visible from the bus windows--plus a guy wearing a white sheet--all sitting there riding along, no one thinking it odd.) Okay, you had to have been there. I cracked up laughing and that scene still makes me smile.
Well before Thanksgiving this and other stores will probably begin displaying plastic Santas and reindeer. You begin thinking you're in a time warp. "Can't I just enjoy NOW now?" (Now, now, the robed wizard in Aisle 2 hushes me). (Monk costumes were very "in" last year, too, I forgot to add.) I can't believe I'm posting all this stuff about Halloween a month and a half before it even gets here, making fun of merchants who drag out all their Halloween merchandise a month and a half before it even gets here.
Wait. My new gentleman friend is trying to get my attention:
"Help!! I'm stuck in this photo!! Get me outta here!!!!!"
*[Over 500 people were arrested during a week-long protest in front of the White House asking President Obama to reconsider and not allow the massive XL-pipeline to transport unrefined oil from the Alberta tar sands in Canada down to Texas, which could result in an environmental catastrophe and which oil will likely not be for the U.S. but sold elsewhere). Asked about the protest, Obama said he hadn't been aware this week-long sit-in took place.]