Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Adult in the Race

It comes as no surprise to those who are regular readers of this blog when I say that I am 100% biased about former Congressman Richard Stallings. As the "Keeper of the Papers," as I considered myself for the 4 years that I processed and cataloged his congressional papers at Idaho State University, I came to know Stallings' career inside and out. I came to respect his congressional service as much as I respected him as a professor and a man. He is a devoted husband, father and grandfather. He's a man who has dedicated much of his adult life to public service, rather that be in public office or in the non-profit world. And, something I especially admire about him, he's an historian. I was thrilled when he jumped into the 2nd congressional district race and have been privileged to attend a few campaign events with him recently. This new ad is a great summation of why the second congressional district needs Richard Stallings again. He is, without question, the adult in the race.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

New Music Tuesday

Though I am a week behind in mentioning it, Sarah McLachlan has a new album out, Shine On, and it is chalk full of goodness. "Brink of Destruction" is lyrically as strong as "Building a Mystery" or any of her mid-90s stuff.

Monday, May 12, 2014

2014 Reading List

While I am not one for resolutions, I had intended to do more of two things in 2014: Read and write. Clearly from my nearly five month absence from this space, writing has been hard to dedicate myself to. Reading, on the other hand, has been something I have done with total abandon in recent months.

I tend to read far more non-fiction than fiction, but lately I've given myself the latitude to read broadly and without guilt. We truly should read what we want to read rather than what we are told to, as the late Doris Lessing wrote. What I've wanted to read has been an interesting mix of mysteries, politics and everything I can get my hands on about Ezra Pound. While his poetry will forever confound, his life is beginning to take shape in my mind.

By no means a way of explaining my absence, I offer my 2014 reading list. I've grouped together the titles I've already finished, those I am currently absorbing and those I hope to get to before the year is out. Perhaps I'll add to the latter list as the year proceeds.

Recent Reads
  • E.E. Cummings: A Life by Susan Cheever (2014)
  • The Caged Panther: Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeths by Harry Meacham (1967)
  • Donna Leon's Uniform Justice (2003), Doctored Evidence (2004), Blood from a Stone (2005), Through a Glass, Darkly (2006) and Suffer the Little Children (2007).
  • Henning Mankell's Faceless Killers (1997), The Dogs of Riga (2001) and The White Lioness (1998).
  • Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin (1987)
  • End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson (2013)
  • The Intercept (2013) and The Execution (2014) by Dick Wolf
  • Ezra Pound's Fascist Propaganda, 1935-1945 by Matthew Feldman (2013)
  • Ezra Pound and His World by Peter Ackroyd (1980)
Currently Reading
  • Elizabeth Warren's A Fighting Chance (2014)
  • Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution by Justice John Paul Stevens (2014)
  • Modernism on File: Writers, Artists, and the FBI 1920-1950 by Claire A. Culleton and Karen Leick (2008)
  • Ezra and Dorothy Pound: Letters in Captivity, 1945-1946 edited by Omar Pound and Robert Spoo (1999)
In the Queue
  • The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume 1: 1886-1920 (2014)
  • Unlucky 13 by James Patterson (2014)
  • Jim Abbott's Imperfect (2013)
  • The Archivist's Story by Travis Holland (2008)
  • Herman Hesse's The Glass Bead Game (2002 edition)
  • Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin (1991)
  • The Girl of His Dreams by Donna Leon (2008)
  • The Man Who Smiled by Henning Mankell (2005)
  • Ezra Pound, Father and Teacher: Discretions by Mary de Rachewiltz
  • John Quincy Adams: American Visionary by Fred Kaplan (2014)
The themes in my reading point to my interests as well as projects I toy with from time to time. In a life long past, the early years of this now nearly ten-year-old blog, I would have written extensively about the ideas that I find myself laboring over in my mind on a daily basis. This blog will never return to that type of presence. I, however, was taught to be and always be a curious reader.

Monday, May 5, 2014

TDIH: Ezra Pound Detained in Italy

On this day in 1945, American poet Ezra Pound was officially detained and interrogated in Genoa, Italy on the charge of treason. It was the beginning of what would become a 13-year legal limbo for Pound.

From Genoa, Pound, whose treasonous action was his broadcasts on Radio Rome, would be transferred to the United States Army Disciplinary Training Center north of Pisa where he was placed in a steel cage and left to slowly lose what was left of his mind.

An excerpt from Susan Cheever's new biography of e.e. cummings:
"In Pisa, a temporary U.S. commander had him detained in a six-by-six foot steel cage lit up at night by floodlights. With no exercise, eyes inflamed by dust, no bed, no belt or shoelaces and no communication with other human beings, Pound slowly went mad. Whatever vestiges of his former brilliance remained him were wiped out by the three weeks he spent like a caged animal in American custody. He had not yet been tried. Confinement in a floodlit cage is torture, against the law, cruelty beyond imagining. Pound was sixty years old. Later, he recorded some of what happened in the Pisan Cantos, Canto 80, when Odysseys drowns 'when the raft broke and the waters went over me.' In July he was finally diagnosed with a mental breakdown and transferred to a tent and given reading material." (E.E. Cummings: A Life, 136)
The poet spent three weeks in what he would later refer to as "the gorilla cage." Exposed to the elements, isolated from any interaction with other prisoners or guards and deprived of the methods of communication that he had spent his entire life utilizing, Pound was allowed a Chinese dictionary, a book of Confucius and a standard-issue Bible. In his moments of coherence, he translated Confucius and began writing what would be published as the Pisan Cantos.

Pound's breakdown would signal the end of any possibility of him participating in his own defense. His crime would therefore never be debated in court, his case never actually tried. Once the seriousness of his mental collapse was understood, he was sent back to the United States where he would spend twelve years and two months incarcerated at St. Elizabeths Hospital.

His total detention by the United States government, his own government, lasted thirteen years and thirteen days.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

New Music Tuesday

Glen Hansard has a new EP out today and on it he covers Bruce Springsteen's "Drive All Night" with none other than Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. Seriously. Two amazing voices, one amazing song. Check it out!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Four Days In 1963

Four days in 1963 saw a young, vibrant president arrive in Texas on a whirlwind trip to establish his hopes for a second term, that president assassinated in his prime, Americans across the country grapple with the terrible news out of Dallas as live television came of age, the swearing in of a new president, the murder of a young Dallas policeman as he approached the president's assassin, the arrest of the president's assassin, the televised murder of the assassin himself, the funeral and burial of the slain president and a transition of power unlike any other in sixty-two years. Four days in 1963 left a mark on the soul of America that fifty years later is nearly indescribable despite thousands of attempts to do so.

I cannot contribute to the many memories of that day in Dallas, an event that happened twenty-two years before my birth. I cannot contribute to the analysis of what Kennedy meant to the broader twentieth century. There are great historians like Robert Dallek, Richard Reeves and Robert Caro for this. What I can offer is my own reflections on what it feels like in Dealey Plaza and how the fiftieth anniversary is seen through the eyes of a young historian raised on the stories of Camelot, the Kennedy myth and the legacy of our thirty-fifth president.

When you walk into Dealey Plaza in Dallas for the first time, you are overwhelmed by the intimacy of the location. Your stomach rises to your throat. It is surreal, sad. You realize quickly that had you been there on November 22, 1963, you would have had an intimate view of one of the darkest moments in American history. There is hardly a spot in that small plaza that would not have given you a view to the horrifying shot that ended the life of a president. Had you been there on November 22, 1963, Dealey Plaza would have looked much the same. The trees are taller, the structures built by the Works Progress Administration older and the people there for entirely different reasons. Dealey Plaza remains the same because every day in that small West End Dallas location is November 22, 1963.

It is a deafeningly silent place, Dealey Plaza. There is a reverent consideration only interrupted by the men hawking their theories and despicable merchandise. It is the living reminder of a long gone man and the promise he offered his country. It is the reminder that innocence is neither definite nor abiding.

Americans converge on Dealey Plaza seeking closure, searching for answers, pleading for the return of something ripped from us that day, and yet, in the early morning hours before the sun has risen over the streets or as dusk settles on the plaza where our president lost his life, we continue to mourn a loss, the cost of which cannot be quantified or explained to our liking. On the brightest of days, Dealey Plaza remains a terribly dark place.

Tourists, skeptics, and historians alike visit Dealey Plaza every year. They wander through looking and pointing, speculating and paying their respects. His body may not have been laid to rest there, but his legacy lingers.

In the middle of Dealey Plaza stands a flag pole, a flag that must have flown at half-staff after the President of the United States was killed there. The flag pole seems a symbol of something more--no longer only death, but hope and the future. Each day going forward that flag would rise and the country would move forward. Each day after November 22, 1963, the sun came up, the flag went up and the country was pushed forward.

There are few places within the intimate confines of the plaza that don't allow a view of the sixth floor window of the former Texas School Book Depository. The tourists who flock to this place stare up at that window in wonder and horror. Most, in a non-conspiratorial manner, wonder how the leader of the free world could be struck down so quickly from shots fired from that very window. It's a museum now, the Texas School Book Depository. It's neither morbid nor an attempt to feed conspiracy. It's a memorial to Kennedy's legacy.

It is a gorgeous place, Dealey Plaza. Kept green and welcoming for the thousands who visit every year. Standing in that space, it is impossible to appreciate any of the visual niceties because the intimacy of the space, the darkness that looms there is unavoidable. The reality of seeing a man's head explode is inescapable. What the people in that plaza saw that day is stomach-churning as you stand there and realize how much they all must have seen. Knowing what we do now about PTSD, it's hard to imagine anyone that witnessed the final shot that day, whether it be the Secret Service agents there to protect the president or even the children there with their parents to see the president, not struggling for the rest of their lives with that image. Zapruder's film does not do justice to the horror of those terrible seconds as the motorcade turned onto Elm Street.

Along the motorcade route in that intimate space lied a painted 'X' on the pavement marking the place where the limousine was when the fatal shot occurred. Inevitably, there were older tourists staring at that 'X' and shedding tears for a moment in time that was truly the end of their innocence. There will be disinterested kids who can't comprehend the weight of what happened in that place. And there were those who looked at that 'X' and couldn't fathom how white paint on dark pavement can affect them so deeply. Fortunately, the city of Dallas decided this year to pave over the 'X'.

Before I visited Dealey Plaza for the first time, I read Gerald Posner's Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK. Standing on the ground, looking up from that 'X' at the Texas School Book Depository and seeing the vultures all around the plaza selling their propaganda to gullible tourists, I thought about what Posner wrote:
"The search for a darker truth than the lone assassin seems unquenchable. The desire to find a conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination will continue to be answered for years by more 'confessions,' witnesses who change their testimony to recall disturbing events, the appearance of papers of dubious authenticity, and by writers and researchers who present cases of guilt by association supported by rumor and innuendo. But for those seeking the truth, the facts are incontrovertible. They can be tested against credible testimony, documents, and the latest scientific advances. Chasing shadows on the grassy knoll will never substitute for real history. Lee Harvey Oswald, driven by his own impenetrable furies, was the only assassin at Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963. To say otherwise, in light of the overwhelming evidence, is to absolve a man with blood on his hands, and to mock the President he killed."  
 I, like so many Americans and a majority of my generation, wonder about what happened that day in Dallas. I don't necessarily agree with the conclusion of men like Posner and Bugliosi. But what's lost too often in the curiosity and skepticism is the truth. The truth being the tragedy of that day, the loss for our country and what John F. Kennedy represented for not only Americans, but citizens of the world.

A few short blocks from the very place John F. Kennedy was taken down by a sniper's bullet stands a memorial to him. It is a prodigous white concrete structure designed, presumably, to resemble an open tomb. Inside the four walls stands a granite slab with the slain leader's name inscribed on both sides. It feels a betrayal in design to the man, both the reality of who he was and the myth that has grown since his death fifty years ago. A betrayal in the very city that betrayed him and has grappled with their role and place in such a dark piece of history.

With Kennedy died so much that day in Dallas. The hopes of a nation rested on the shoulders of that man riding through downtown Dallas, waving at the crowds who came to greet him. With Kennedy died a hope for peace; a hope for civil rights; a hope for a peaceful and decisive end to the war in Vietnam; and as his widow would shape the story, so died Camelot.

I don't know if Vietnam would have ended sooner. I don't know if Kennedy and Khrushchev would have found a way to end the Cold War. But I do know we still would have landed on the moon. We still would have seen the passage of civil rights legislation. We still would have the Peace Corps and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. We have these things because the legacy of Kennedy allowed for them to be carried forward. We may not know what would have happened had he lived, but we know what did happen. A thousand days in office seems so few, yet so much we have today depended on those thousand days. We survived the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world never experiencing nuclear war. We agreed to the first test ban treaty. Universities in the south were integrated.
It has been fifty years since Lee Harvey Oswald infamously killed the leader of the free world. It has been fifty years since America said goodbye to its innocence. It has been fifty years since families across the country sat around their television sets as their young president's body was returned to the nation's capital to lie in state and to be laid to rest. Fifty years and those black and white images still capture our hearts as if we were all there in that moment when Walter Cronkite choked up as he read the flash "apparently official" about the death of the president. 

Four days in 1963 remain, fifty years later, four of the longest, darkest days in our history.

Thursday, November 21, 2013