Saheli*: Musings and Observations
It's been a while. Got a brief weekend visit from my friend Asad, and we spent a good chunk of Saturday wandering around Central Park--all the way from 110th street to 63rd, in a fairly rambling path. I'd say my favorite bit was Belvedere Castle just because I like castles, and because it had a view of Turtle Pond. . ."turtles all the way down," quoth Asad. We saw some people filming a guy hamming it up in one of the turrets, and randomly both commented on the sorrow of his tracksuit. Asad asked one of the crew what they were filming for, and when she told us he was a subject of TLC's What Not To Wear
I blurted out, "So is he before or after?". After, I'm afraid.
We have an exercise for our critical issues class which is annoying and enlightening at the same time. We have to go through last Friday's New York Times and list the sources for each and every article in sections A, B, and C. (Front, Metro, Business.) The story about an engineer who (sorta) tried to do something
to prevent the Columbia Shuttle disaster was pretty depressing. I just have a vision of a bunch of sad, sad geeks who don't know how to fight for their convictions because no one ever taught them to.
I've been a member of NYTimes.com about 8 years, or as long as I've been on the Internet, and their search engine never quite keeps up with current technology to satisfy me. I think Google's convention that all search terms entered into the query field are assumed to be connected by a logical AND unless otherwise specified should be considered a standard by now. It's silly to have to put an AND in between each search term, and in this Google-era, highly counterintuitive.
I've been reading the trial summaries published by the Center for Justice and Accountability in the Estate of Winston Cabello, et al. vs Armando Fernandez-Larios
, a case going on now in Miami. No, not a totally neutral account, but I don't claim to be neutral on this one. Winston Cabello was my friend Roberto's uncle, murdered during the Pinochet coup. Roberto's parents and Cabello worked for Allende.
A J-school alumnus, David Makali, the class President from 2001, has been arrested in Kenya
after publishing an article about the possibility the ruling party had ordered a recent killing. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists
, this year at least 24 journalists have been killed in the line of duty, so to speak.
I covered my first court case today, a day in the retrial of Christopher Prince, 23, of Elmont, New York. Barely older than me, this man is accused of shooting into a crowd of St. Johns University students on the night of March 11, 2001 after a confrontation between them and a smaller group, including some of his friends. The shooting wounded today's main witness, Reshawn Fray, in the leg. He was a 17-year old visiting the campus and his cousin who was a student there, now he's a senior there himself. It made a paraplegic of Corey Mitchell, who had been a star linebacker for the school. Both of them positively identified Prince as the shooter in the last trial. In the last trial a guy named Stanley Heriveaux had testified that he was at the shooting (something confirmed by the records kept by a campus guard box) but that Prince wasn't there and that he had never met Prince; since last year's hung jury he has pled guilty to perjury and is expected to testify that he in fact drove Prince to and from the scene of the crime but lied under oath under at Prince's insistence. The bulk of the defense's argument is still supposed to be a case of mistaken identity, but I don't know of any other expected substantial rebuttals to the prosecution's 8 eyewitnesses. At least one of them, Prince's former friend Eric Mateo, could be considered a suspect himself, and therefore dubious. Apparently the prosecution's previous argument had been that the eyewitnesses were confused between Mateo and Prince, particularly because both men had had long braids on the night of the shooting, but Mateo cut his the next morning.
The gun was never recovered nor tied to Prince, who had an armed robbery and criminal posession of a gun on his juvenile record. The motive mystifies me regardless of who the shooter is. Apparently there was some kind of shoving incident earlier in the evening at Traditions, a local bar where Mitchell and his friends worked as bouncers. They calmed the parties down, but Mateo's group felt offended and found Mitchell and his friends on the University campus later, allegedly looking for a fight. Fray's description of the confrontation seems rather bizarre and mundane, though also fairly self-consistent and consistent with that of the other witness we saw. He said somebody (presumably Mateo, though he wasn't asked to make that identification during the trial) told him and his cousins and their fellow students "I'll fight anyone who wants to fight me," several times in a loud but still normal tone of voice. After Mateo stopped that, Fray claims Prince said something like, "This shit is case," and some kind of similar comments before pulling out a gun. Seeing Prince sit expressionlessly and calmly, it was hard to imagine him doing such a bizarre thing. But he's also been indicted for shooting the father of his girlfriend's baby, a man named Orville Mongol, in a separate trial. Motives and means are apparently not issues though, according to both sides.
The judge was unexpectedly helpful in explaining the workings of the court to us, though he was ethically forbidden from giving us his opinions on the case. His daughter went to Columbia J-school and he seemed to be in favor of Bollinger and Lemann's plan to increase the length of the program to two years, citing our obvious oblviousness of New York criminal law.
When I got back Columbia was teeming with crowds, big dark SUVs, police cars and Men in Black: Putin and Karzai were on campus. Sitting in the 6th floor computer lab some of us noticed snipers on the rooftop across. We climbed onto the wide windowsill to watch Putin emerge from Lowe Library with giant flanks of body guards, to enormous applause from the gathered crowd. There was some kind of weird photo op involving Little League players, and then he stalked off and we went back to writing about a little Queens trial.
Well, I saw General Wesley Clark give a speech this morning in the East River Park, a fairly ordinary expanse of grass and groundcover and muddy baseball fields. That's probably as close as I've ever gotten to someone as famous as him, unless you think Oscar the Grouch is more famous. Hmm, I think Oscar the Grouch is
more famous. Okay, as politically famous.
It was a well-written speech, and he didn't stumble the way I was expecting based on others' reports. I still have to figure out how to crunch the numbers on his job creation plan, but basically it sounds like instead of diverting "Bush's tax cut" into health insurance like Gephardt, he wants to divert it into job creation programs, 40% of which will be creating Homeland Security type jobs. Even though that was the nominal reason for the speech, and the reason for the setting (across the river from a recently closed sugar factory), the real focus was his "New Patriotism." Slate's Will Saletan lists this as one of several stolen Kerry issues
, but I think Clark makes a good and specific claim to his version of it. He's not just espousing Kennedyesque (and now generic) ideals of service, he's specifically calling for the appreciation of dissent.
His supporters are certainly enthusiastic, though I can't compare them for number or intensity to, say, Dean supporters, since this is my first direct look at the campaign. One woman came from Queens:
"I said God, I gotta get there, I'm so crazy about that man. He's marvelous, he's our hope--[seeing me writing her words down]--glowing terms, anything you can say about him, I'll subscribe to."
The park was difficult to get to, the crowd of supporters was not obviously thick (you'd never know it from the photographs, and then again, I don't have direct experience to compare), Clark was positioned facing away from the morning sun, and no one knew if he had named a campaign manager yet. These could be troubling signs of disorganization or endearing signs of a campaign that really was drafted. We shall see.
A moment I would dearly have loved to have been fast enough to photograph, since my view from the side of all the action (as opposed to in it on one or another side) was probably the best:
As General Clark entered the park, the greeting press rushed backwards to film and photograph him, unwary of the mud behind them. Clark lurched forward, crying out, "Watch out for the mud!" just as a TV cameraman stepped ankle deep into an oozing ochre puddle.
George Stephanopoulos was there with a giant red DKNY bag, apparently as a member of the press, and he seemed annoyed with me for taking his picture. Speaking of Stephanopoulous, I'll have to look up his and others' accounts of the early days of the Clinton presidency. I asked one of the Clark representatives, a woman named Beatrice, about his opinion on gays in the military, and she said that he favored a British style policy of acceptance, but implemented in cooperation with the military leadership. While today's Joint Chiefs of Staff are very different from those of 10 years ago, it might be instructive to review the mechanics of Clinton's attempts in that arena, and see if time and experience can be on Clark's side in a similar situation.
I was up at a (for me) ungodly hour to make it to the computer lab and the drug store before catching Wesley Clark supporters outside of the Today Show studio. It's interesting how dark and cold and empty the streets are. In New York, is 5 am the new midnight? Well, new may not be the right word since it's probably been this way for decades.
noted in slate's today's papers: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A49361-2003Sep22.html
as today's paper's eric umansky calls it, check out the compare and contrast at the end.
Some thoughts on my long day in class:
We were talking about our police ride-along assignment (which I will not be able to write about here or on any other public forum) and our professor was (as usual) inundating us with amazing and clever examples from her own students. (One of the nice things about having such a veteran professor is that she can cite her own accomplished students and you realize that there is hope.) A former student of hers had encountered a corpse on his
ride-along, and his piece was full of the grim and seemingly insensitive humor that the cops employed while dealing with the decayig body. At the end of the story the student noted that all such humor evaporated when the police contemplated facing the dead boy's family.
I was thinking about that in light of my weekend encounters with Neil Gaiman, who, as I said, is a charming and pleasant gentleman in person and on his blog. But his fictional work is full of very dark and often gory scenes, and has a very dark humor; lots of people find it really disturbing and weird. Yet I know there is a value in being able to laugh at your own worst experiences. On the second night that I saw Gaiman, he was in conversation with Art Spiegelman. Spiegelman came to fame writing Maus, a comic featuring himself as a mouse and memorializing his parents' experience in the Holocaust. What I think is important to remember is that such humor and laughter is not a way of tying up and throwing away the grief, but simply a way swabbing at it when necessary. Just because someone is laughing at their own experience doesn't mean they have to stop grieving over it.
The question is: how does this work when we're tossing and rechewing and reformulating experience between ourselves in society in the forms of journalism and art? How much and when can we laugh at someone else's experience as a way of staving off our own nightmares? I know we can't be purists and ascetics, maintaining absolute and sober respect for any experience not our own. For example, I'm sure someone somewhere has been injured by wolves. They might be offended at Gaiman's newest children's book, The Wolves in the Walls, which apparently portrays them playing video games and eating jam. But his daughter had a nightmare about wolves as a child, and he spun tales to comfort her. Dreams and archetypes and stories, whether fictional or real, once cannibalized by culture (the newspaper, the movies) have a ghostly impact on all of us, and we might all have to deal with them.
If the intent of classical tragedy was to provide catharsis for the audience, the Elizabethan improvement* of injecting comic relief into even Hamlet's tale must have only improved that process. The cops aren't going to laugh in the face of the family, whose share of the experience is heavier than their own, but they can laugh in front of the student reporter, who only has to see this kind of thing once and not every few days. The reporter can have more grim laughter than the reader, who didn't have to see the decay. The reader can smile at the joke more than someone being told about the article, who would probably be offended at being asked to laugh at such a subject. Experience spreads out in concentric circles like waves from a dropped stone, transmitted through briefly touching lives and then art and journalism. If we can be sophisticated enough to analyze our reactions with weights and densities, shades of gray instead of black and white, then we can afford to profit from the spreading without become completely numb or completely sensitive.
*Somebody with some scholarly knowledge let me know if I'm correct in guessing that comic relief is a fairly modern addition to tragedies? I can't remember much humor in the Oresteia or Sophocles, but then there's the Bacchae. . .and who knows about the Romans. Obviously I'm taking a Eurocentric viewpoint here.
I'm sitting in my new media class right now, and I walk over to ask the professor a question, and then I go back to my chair to email him something and as I turn to go back I pass in front of the projector and as I'm standing in front of the projector I hear this awful cross between a pop and a
The projector bulb exploded. I guess the lens cap saved me. There are still little bits of glass and plastic sitting on the table underneath a newspaper the professor put there in case one of us accidentally leaned on it.
This is my first attempt at using Blogger. I just got off the subway, achy and smiley from having a book signed (again) by my favorite Blogger, Mr. Neil Gaiman
. He was, today as yesterday, as charming and amusing as you'd think he'd be. I told him I wanted to be a writer too, and he told me best of luck, and I'll take that as about as luck inducing an encounter with fame as a writer can hope for.
Oddly, I'm starting this blog on the day that I have no computer. It coughed and sputtered and claimed to have no operating system today. I blame Henrietta at Belkin, who I'm sure is not actually named that, for insisting that I hotswap the Belkin card. I am very sad without my computer. I have been pondering freedom of the press and the duty of the journalist and civil disobedience and the importance of choice in heroism. I would also like to write stories
, and I wish that there were more hours in the day and active cells in my brain. I also wish I had a working computer all my own, warm and waiting for me at home.