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Missed Opportunity

April 20, 2009 Leave a comment
Saidah Arrika Ekulona, left, and Russell Gebert Jones in Ruined

Saidah Arrika Ekulona, left, and Russell Gebert Jones in Ruined

When we went to Chicago last November, we had one free evening, a Saturday, which I hoped we could use to see the Chicago Symphony. But they weren’t playing that night. Instead, Orchestra Hall was home to a special concert by the Chinese pianist Lang Lang and friends. Given all the time I spent at Orchestra Hall when I lived in Chicago during the 1980-1981 academic year, I was eager to return. But I was also eager to attend a play at the Goodman Theater, and that same evening we had the option of seeing a new play, Ruined, by the playwright Lynn Nottage, who received a MacArthur Award in 2007. From what I read at the Goodman website, the play sounded interesting, though also perhaps painful, dealing with Congolese women who were rape victims. No doubt this is a simplistic description, but it’s what stayed with me, and I thought I might just rather go to a concert. Gail was content to let me decide, so that’s what we did.

I wrote about our evening with Lang Lang here. In February, Ruined opened in New York at the Manhattan Theater Club and received some good reviews, such as Ben Brantley’s in the NYT and Hilton Als’ in the New Yorker. When I read them, I wondered if we had made the wrong choice. But we did enjoy Lang Lang, and you can’t do everything.

The point of all this is that Ruined was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Drama today. The citation reads:

Awarded to “Ruined,” by Lynn Nottage, a searing drama set in chaotic Congo that compels audiences to face the horror of wartime rape and brutality while still finding affirmation of life and hope amid hopelessness.

Oh well.

Categories: Theater, Today's News

Where’s George

April 5, 2009 Leave a comment

wheresgeorge1

On Friday, I noticed that a dollar bill in my wallet had a website written on it along the top margin. Looking more closely, I saw that it said www.wheresgeorge.com. I got curious, typed in the URL, and was taken to the website. Once there, I realized I had read about this years ago. Along the top of the page is the banner UNITED STATES CURRENCY TRACKING PROJECT. I learned that if I typed in the denomination, bill series, and serial number, I could find out where the bill had been before it circulated to me. How could I resist? Of course, this only works provided previous holders of the bill have entered it at the site. And obviously someone had done so, whoever wrote the URL on the bill itself, which I realized is a good way to increase the odds that some later bill holder will discover the site and enter the bill, as I was doing.

To my astonishment, once I entered the bill, I discovered that it had been entered only once before, presumably by the person who wrote the URL on it, and this was way back on March 16, 2003. Somehow, despite the presence of the URL, it took over 6 years for someone to get curious enough to go to the website, figure out how it works, and enter the bill. The person who introduced the bill is from Chesapeake, Virginia but picked up the bill in Blanco, Texas.

I entered two more ones, both of which had histories. One was passed on by someone in Pasco, Washington last month and then passed through Blaine, Washington. The other was entered in Ypsilanti, Michigan on June 1, 2007 and then ignored until I tagged it on Friday.

I need to post more bills, but I realized that it’s best to do so when you can add in the comments section a statement about where you got the bill, and I have no idea where I got the bills currently in my wallet. So I’m waiting until I get some more bills as change.

I don’t know how much time I’ll invest in this. It’s not a high priority. But I’m looking forward to finding out where the bills I’ve entered end up. Oh, that’s another thing about how the site works — you can enter bills and learn their history, but if you want to be kept informed about future hits on bills you enter, you need to register and set up an account (for free), which I’ve done. Consider doing so yourself. It might be fun.

Categories: Today's News

Torture and the Courts

March 29, 2009 Leave a comment
Baltasar Garzón

Baltasar Garzón

In case you missed it, Scott Horton wrote at Harper’s yesterday about actions taken by a Spanish national security court with regard to Bush administration lawyers who approved torture at Guantánamo:

Spain’s national newspapers, El País and Público reported that the Spanish national security court has opened a criminal probe focusing on Bush Administration lawyers who pioneered the descent into torture at the prison in Guantánamo. … Público identifies the targets as University of California law professor John Yoo, former Department of Defense general counsel William J. Haynes II (now a lawyer working for Chevron), former vice presidential chief-of-staff David Addington, former attorney general and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, now a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith.

The Spanish criminal court now may seek the arrest of any of the targets if they travel to Spain or any of the 24 nations that participate in the European extraditions convention (it would have to follow a more formal extradition process in other countries beyond the 24). The Bush lawyers will therefore run a serious risk of being apprehended if they travel outside of the United States.

Judge Baltasar Garzón is involved in the investigation, according to the El País report. Garzón is Europe’s best known counterterrorism magistrate, responsible for hundreds of cases targeting the activities of ETA and related Basque terrorist organizations. He also spearheaded the successful investigation of Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organizations operating in the Maghreb region, including Spanish enclaves in Morocco. But Garzón is best known for his prosecution of a criminal investigation against Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet that resulted in the issuance of an arrest warrant for Pinochet while he was visiting England.

I don’t imagine Yoo and his colleagues will be traveling much. Perhaps our own courts could follow suit.

Categories: Politics, Today's News

Border Fence

March 29, 2009 Leave a comment

borderfence

The photo accompanied a NYT story three days ago on Secretary of State Clinton’s arrival in Mexico City, during which she acknowledged that “Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.” She also announced a new initiative to deploy 450 more law enforcement officers at the border.

But I include the photo simply for its own sake, since it is so stunning. The caption describes it as “a recently completed section of the fence the United States is building along the Mexican border crosses desert sands between Yuma, Ariz., and Calexico, Calif.” I was tipped off to it in a blog post by David Gibson at the Commonweal blog. Gibson notes that “at first I thought it might be a new installation by the artist Richard Serra.” I thought instead of Christo. For example, here is a shot of Valley Curtain in Colorado, 1970-1972.

christo

Categories: Arts, Politics, Today's News

Life After War Crimes

March 23, 2009 Leave a comment

rice1

Not a bad gig, I guess. As I noted in my last post, Mark Danner’s article in the current New York Review of Books on the ICRC report on CIA torture of detainees is a must read. It provides (yet more) unequivocal evidence of the authorization of torture by President Bush and his fellow lawbreakers. Yet, we are somehow supposed to be charmed and amused by Condoleezza Rice’s appearance yesterday at the NFL owners meeting at the St. Regis in Dana Point, on the coast in Orange County. Here’s the start of the AP report:

Condoleezza Rice finally got her chance to address the NFL. Judging by the numerous standing ovations she received, Rice scored a touchdown.

The Secretary of State under the Bush administration, who once aspired to be the league’s commissioner, was invited by Roger Goodell to speak to the “NFL family” Sunday at the owners meetings. She spoke to several hundred rapt listeners about everything from football to politics to the need for American optimism in a trying time.

“I am prepared to answer any questions on Russia, the Middle East, advice for the draft, the zone blitz,” Rice said, drawing laughs from everyone, especially Goodell. “And why no one should ever run a prevent defense.”

Rice was mentioned as a potential candidate to replace Paul Tagliabue, and Goodell thanked her “when you were busy three years ago when they selected a commissioner.”

“I’ve invited somebody who wants my job in front of the same people who hired me,” Goodell joked.

On a related note, see Glenn Greenwald’s blog post last Tuesday on the shocking disrespect shown by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs in speaking of Dick Cheney. He may be head torturer, but he’s a former vice president. Deference, please.

Greenwald’s closing passage is below:
Read more…

Categories: Politics, Sports, Today's News

ICRC Torture Report

March 23, 2009 Leave a comment

icrc1

When I was away in Detroit last week, I read several references in blogs and the news to Mark Danner’s article in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books about the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the treatment of fourteen “high value detainees” in CIA custody. The report was submitted on February 14, 2007 to John Rizzo, then the acting general counsel of the CIA, and intended only for senior American officials. I got my copy of the NY Review on Saturday afternoon and went directly Danner’s article. You should do so too. It provides yet more clarity for those who might still think, as perhaps President Bush actually does, that our government did not torture people.

At one point in the article, Danner draws some conclusions. “In the wake of the ICRC report one can make several definitive statements:
Read more…

Categories: Politics, Today's News

Education and the Stimulus

February 8, 2009 Leave a comment

eductech

In his blog two days ago, NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a post, Throwing Schools out the Window, that opens with the observation, “So this is what the Senate seems to be coming down to: keeping bridges and throwing students out the window. The effort to prune the stimulus package to make it more palatable to Republicans is focused on slashing money for education.”

Let me quote more from Kristof, since his remarks made a strong impression on me:
Read more…

Dr. Strangelove/Cheney

January 20, 2009 Leave a comment

In my last post, I described how Bush’s departure reminded me of Nixon’s more unorthodox (and equally welcome) departure in August 1974. I enjoyed reading this afternoon, in a post on the blog of The New Yorker’s Rick Hertzberg, about a connection his colleague Nick Paumgarten made between Dick Cheney and Dr. Strangelove. The two have much in common, but the relevant connection here is the wheelchair. As Hertzberg describes, New Yorker staff members were watching the inaugural activities mostly in silence, but “when Dick Cheney and his wheelchair filled the screen, a voice spoke up from the back of the room: ‘Mein Führer! I can walk!’ Kudos, please, to Nick Paumgarten for his instant recall of a great—and apt—moment in cinema history.” If you need to review the moment, see the video above.

Madoff, Kitt, and g-dropping

January 11, 2009 Leave a comment

I wrote about g-dropping here and here and here during my two-month obsession with Sarah Palin. (It seems like a dream now. Does she actually exist? Did she really run for vice president? Wake me up.)

I return to this topic via an unexpected route, with stops at Bernie Madoff and Eartha Kitt. How do these all connect? Let me explain.
Read more…

Categories: Language, Music, Today's News

The Junior Senator from Illinois

January 7, 2009 Leave a comment

Roland Burris, Governor Blagojevich’s choice to replace Barack Obama as the junior senator from Illinois, has been much in the news this week. (See for instance this article in today’s NYT and Gail Collins’ light-hearted column in tomorrow’s NYT.) As we prepare to welcome him to the Senate, I would recommend reading this column by Eric Zorn in the Chicago Tribune last week. (Hat tip: von.) It’s actually a reprint of his column from March 3, 1998.

You may recall that Blagojevich’s predecessor as governor of Illinois, George Ryan, was in the national news just before he left office in January 2003 for commuting to life terms the sentences of everyone then on Illinois’ death row — some 167 convicts — because he believed the death penalty could not be administered fairly. One of the cases on his mind was that of Rolando Cruz, whose conviction for murder had been reversed in 1995 because of recanted testimony, the DNA evidence, and the lack of any substantiated evidence against Cruz. Governor Ryan pardoned him in 2002.

Why did Cruz have to wait until 1995 to be acquitted? Well, as Zorn explains in his column, part of the problem was the unwillingness of the state attorney general to take action in 1992. And who was the state attorney general in 1992? Yes, Roland Burris. Here’s a portion of Zorn’s column:

On Valentine’s Day 1992, Mary Brigid Kenney, the assistant attorney general whom Burris had assigned to fight the appeal of Death Row inmate Rolando Cruz, sent Burris a memo identifying numerous errors in the investigation and trial that had put Cruz on Death Row for the 1983 murder of 11-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in DuPage County.

The memo concluded, “I cannot, in good conscience, allow my name to appear on a brief asking . . . to affirm this conviction.” Rather than re-examining the case, Burris took Kenney off it.

She then resigned with a stinging letter to Burris. “I was being asked to help execute an innocent man,” she told him. “Unfortunately, you have seen fit to ignore the evidence in this case.”

The evidence he ignored included apparent “perjured testimony” and “fraudulent investigations by local officials,” to use Burris’ words from last Thursday.

The context for Zorn’s 1998 column was the race then taking place for governor, Burris being one of the candidates. Zorn concludes, “So when he speaks today of the experience in office that makes him qualified to be our governor, I can’t help but imagine him sitting at a desk in 1992 behind a little sign that reads: ‘Stopping the buck is not my job.'”

As for George Ryan, he of course is now in jail.

Categories: Politics, Today's News