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-------------------- { May 10, 2002 } --------------------

Governor suspends death penalty
By Ben Pillow/SunSpot Staff

Could it be that no matter what the outcome of this state-funded study, Maryland, which is nestled right ON the Mason Dickson, plans to stick to it guns on Capital Punishment?

After granting convicted murderer Wesley Eugene Baker a stay of execution today, Gov. Parris N. Glendening went one step further and effectively issued a moratorium on the death penalty in Maryland until a state-funded study on capital punishment is completed in September. Glendening canceled next week's execution after Baker's lawyers formally asked the governor Tuesday to at least postpone it until the completion of the two-year study examining whether there is a racial bias in the application of the death penalty. "The most difficult decision that a governor must make is to determine whether or not the state should impose the death penalty," the governor said in a statement. "I continue to believe that there are certain crimes that are so brutal and so vile that they call for society to impose the ultimate punishment. However, reasonable questions have been raised in Maryland and across the country about the application of the death penalty." Glendening went on to cite some of those concerns: more than 60 percent of those on death row were convicted of murdering white victims, despite the fact that 80 percent of Maryland homicide victims are African-American; nine of the 13 inmates currently on death row come from Baltimore County; and errors made in other states on death sentences have recently come to light. The governor acknowledged Marylanders' support for the death penalty, but said "it is imperative ... that I and our citizens have complete confidence that our process is fair and impartial."

posted by Johanne Brown at 3:51 PM

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-------------------- { May 9, 2002 } --------------------

Magic Time
by Michael Davitt Bell/from The Atlantic Monthly

"Observations of a cancer casualty"...what we fear the most to discuss are invariably the things that need to be said.

FOR four years I've been battling (as they always say) cancer, and now I've lost. I'm told I have the proverbial six months to live -- which I might, with luck and additional chemotherapy, be able to stretch to a year. The sarcoma that appeared in my right thigh in the summer of 1992, that first metastasized in my lung in 1994 and cost me a kidney a year later, has now spread all through my lungs. Beyond doubt I'm dying. Nothing unusual here, of course -- except that I find I not only am reconciled to my fate but also have achieved a strange kind of happiness that's new in my experience. In 1979 I had another cancer, a melanoma that was removed in a simple outpatient procedure and did not recur. But by the end of my first year of treatment for the sarcoma, with chemotherapy, radiation, surgery to remove the original tumor, more chemotherapy, I had descended into a depression so severe that all sense of self was gone, all desire, except for a persistent, repetitive series of affect-free fantasies of specific and detailed ways I might kill myself. I doubt that I can account fully for the level of happiness, even euphoria, I've now reached, three years later and in the face of much worse news. But some of it comes, I'm sure, from the fact that since the cancer's appearance in my lung in the summer of 1994 revealed that the original treatment hadn't eliminated the disease, and thus the statistical odds of my surviving were close to nil, I have determined to be open and honest with other people about my disease and my prognosis. I think this has also allowed me to be open and honest with myself. My relationships with friends and family -- above all with my two daughters, now in their twenties, whose mother and I divorced when they were small -- have thus taken on an emotional openness and intensity almost inconceivable for someone who, like me, grew up in an upper-middle-class WASP family in the Midwest, a family in which the word "love" was never spoken or heard except, perhaps, to express admiration for an object or article of clothing ("I just love the way that sweater looks on you!"). So I find I'm not overcome with remorse or anger, or with terror of the fate awaiting me; instead I'm cherishing each moment, each mundane experience I have left. This is, for me, a magic time.

posted by Johanne Brown at 1:01 PM

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Will the Sleepers Awake?
By Boswell

Just before dawn in Brooklyn Heights a dream woke me.

It was one of those troubled, personal dreams where emblems of your past and present lives proliferate in an obscure but oddly familiar setting. I dutifully scribbled notes for discussion later in the week with my therapist, both out of fear of forgetting and out of fear that I would again find myself there with nothing substantive to talk about that seemed worthy of discussion.

Millions of Americans know, have known, or will know this petty little fear; you've paid for the hour, the hour is "all about you," and yet this stuff, your 'stuff', seems to you only shameful and small and not really worth discussing at all. Millions also know the response to this complaint from the therapist. 'It is your therapy and it is supposed to be all about you, and it's in these petty and small details that you find out the larger truths that will, it is hoped, will lead you into some future where, when all is understood, all is forgiven.'

In therapy, confessions, or even "sessions of sweet, silent thought," we seek this odd forgiveness for what we have become in ever increasing numbers. We seek it because we live in a culture that has given us nothing larger than ourselves and, even though we might yearn for things larger than ourselves, there seems to be nothing but ourselves at hand and so we work with this small lump of clay that will never be the stone of Mt. Rushmore. We seek it from the therapist, even though he will tell us it is ourselves that will forgive us, we seek it from our idea of God, even though our priests cannot be trusted and will tell us to "Go and sin no more" (Difficult advice to follow these days when you consider the source.), and even, it seems, we seek forgiveness from our dreams.

But we wake up from dreams and the world awaits us, much the same as it was the day before, and the work of the world is also there to be done, whatever our roles in that work may be, most of which are, if we were frank, absurd. And the world is not all about ourselves but pressingly, inevitably and enduringly about all the others with whom we share the world, its sordid and strange past, it's perplexing present and its unknowable future.

In our immediate orbit of work and family it is, in a sense, "our world" and is what we make it day by day. But it is of course involved in a much larger world of every expanding and overlapping circles where greater issues and duties than our small needs, fears and hopes hold sway. And, at times, these larger circles of events and moments impinge on our small and pleasant worlds and draw our attention to them.

In these last eight months, I've been reading an inordinate number of books and articles on war and on history and on what the immediate future might bring. Like millions of other Americans, the 11th of September drew my attention in an immediate and violent manner. I've become, I think, both more thoughtful about the present state of the world, as well as angry about America's unprepareed condition. Living where I do I've also become very sensitive to the sound of airplanes overhead. (A single engine plane is heading west to east at this moment, the sound fading to silence instead of an explosion so I assume that it is safe and being safely handled and tracked.) Indeed, it is usually airplanes overhead that wake me in the morning rather than dreams.

Smiling experts sitting knee to knee with the nation's morning television mavens tell us that lots of New Yorkers have trouble sleeping these last months because we have "unresolved issues and anxieties." I like to think we simply know first hand how quickly our enemies can effectively destroy your city, and that other Americans have yet to learn this lesson up close and personal. A lesson that I hope they will never learn, but one that I am resigned to seeing taught again in the near future, since many in my country seem not to have learned it yet, even those who stood in the ashes of all those who died in the Towers. In America in 2002 it still seems to me that we have an inordinate fondness for sleep, dreams and forgetting.

All of which is to say that, strangely, after waking and scribbling down the notes about the dream before they escaped me, my first thoughts went to a passage in a book I've been reading, "Culture and Carnage: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power" by Victor Davis Hanson. This is a book in which one deadly encounter between nations or other powers is detailed from the battle of Salamis in 480 BC to the Tet offensive in Vietnam. Two days ago I read Hanson's report on the fate of American torpedo bombers against the Japanese fleet at the battle of Midway. His report makes it clear that these bombers and the American crews were, because of the obsolescence of the machines and the commitment of the crews, doomed to destruction from the outset, but that their selfless courage in pressing forward made the victory of Midway, and the turning of the tide in the Pacific during the opening year of America's Second World War, possible. It's a vivid account of sacrifice for the sake of a greater good and a larger victory. But what came to my mind on waking today was not the details of the battle but of what Hanson writes as a kind of epitaph to the men of the torpedo bombers who sacrificed themselves:

"To the modern American at the millennium, these carrier pilots of more than a half century ago -- Massey, Waldron, and Lindsey last seen fighting to free themselves in a sea of flames as their planes were blasted apart by Zeros -- now appear as superhuman exemplars of what constituted heroism in the bleak months after the beginning of World War II. Even their names seem almost caricatures of an earlier stalwart American manhood -- Max Leslie, Lem Massey, Wade McClusky, Jack Waldron -- doomed fighters who were not all young eighteen-year-old conscripts, but often married and with children, enthusiastic rather than merely willing to fly their decrepit planes into a fiery end above the Japanese fleet, in a few seconds to orphan their families if need be to defend all that they held dear. One wonders if an America of suburban, video-playing Nicoles, Ashleys and Jasons shall ever see their like again."

A light rain is still falling on this street in Brooklyn Heights in the spring of 2002, and I would like to think that the kind of men described in that paragraph can still be called up our of this nation in the kind of numbers necessary to our tasks ahead. We've seen their like on horseback lately in Afghanistan, but these are our 'Special Forces,' and hence limited in number. I'd like to think that we have been woken from the long sleep of comfort, money, and ever-expanding special pleadings that have splintered us with the promise of bringing us together. But I know the temptation is always to roll over, hit the snooze bar, and try to grab a few more years of rest even as the enemies of our world patiently plan to assault us again and again, convinced of the weakness of our Nicoles, Ashleys, and Jasons, and the culture which created them.

They have, as they have shown, great patience. More patience than we have shown and far more commitment than we have shown to attaining their dark goals. They are the Believers while we are still the Dreamers, waking only briefly to write down a few notes for discussion later in the week, during the hour when all that is in the world is really only about ourselves.

posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 6:58 AM

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-------------------- { May 7, 2002 } --------------------

Hankie logic. The handkerchief is plain but not simple.
By Sarah Lehman/

It seems values are as disposable as tissues, hence the hiatus of the hankie--the calling card of the well bred and the sensible.

My mother was a great believer in handkerchiefs. Like silver napkin rings and well-polished shoes, handkerchiefs separated those who were properly brought up from those who were not -- they were one more outward sign of a life correctly led, priorities correctly set and implicit hierarchies correctly understood and maintained. A freshly ironed handkerchief belonged in every little girl's Sunday school purse, along with a shiny new quarter for the collection plate. A lacy handkerchief belonged in every lady's evening bag, together with a comb and a pink lipstick and something called "mad money." My father's dresser drawer was incomplete without a neat stack of Irish linen or Egyptian cotton squares, each one geometrically perfect and emblazoned with his monogram crisply in the corner. There was no difference in our home between handkerchiefs for showing and those for blowing. A flashy pocket square was the mark of self-indulgent foppery, but a proper handkerchief was a sign of correctness, moral rectitude and preparedness. Handkerchiefs let you know who you were and how you got there. Handkerchiefs were always a sensible present for people in one's life whom one didn't know too well and didn't particularly need to know better: fourth-grade teachers, maiden aunts, anonymous co-workers. Like their intended recipients, I found them tepid, frigid, cloying. Still, they advertised one's sensibilities in an unobtrusive way, never gave actual offense and were safely appropriate in an infinite number of gift-giving situations.

posted by Johanne Brown at 4:38 PM

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-------------------- { May 6, 2002 } --------------------

The Missing
By Jack Reno

Their silence keeps me sleepless for I know
Within the smoke their ash revolves as snow,
To settle on our skin as fading stars
Dissolve into pure dust at break of day.

At dawn a distant shudder in the earth
Disclosed the fold of fire into steel,
The rumbles not of crossings underground
But screams from out of flowers built from flame.

We stood upon the heights like men of straw
Transfixed by flames that started in the sky,
And watched them plunging down in death's ballet
To land among those dying deep below.

By noon the band of smoke leaned low
Upon the harbor's skin like some dark shawl;
A pall of smoke that in its curdled crawl
Kept reaching to extend its fatal fall.

The harp strung bridge held up ten thousand souls
Who'd screaming run beneath the paws of death,
As dusted ghosts that lived but were not sure
They lived in light or only in reprieve.

They'd writhed and spun within a storm of smoke
And stumbled out to light and clearer air,
To find upon the river's further shore
That sanctuary is not savored but secured.

The sirens scraped the sky and jets carved arcs
Within a heaven empty of all hope,
And marked its epicenter with one streak
Of black on polished bone where silver stood.

By evening all their ash had settled so
That on the leaves outside my window glowed
Their souls in small bright stars until the rain
Cleaned all that never could be clean again.

We breathed the smoke that bent and crept and crawled.
We learned to hate the smoke that lingered so.
We knew that blood could only answer blood,
And so we yearned to go and not to go.

That last lost summer faded into ash.
Their faces faded as endless autumn flowed
Through chill and heat into the winter sea
Where warships prowled in search of stones.

Within the city, shrines were our resolve.
We placed them where we stood or where they lay.
Upon our bricks and stones their faces loomed
To gaze at us from times beyond repeal.

In time, their ash and smoke became the shapes
Of stories told at dinner, found in books,
Or in the comments made by magazines
For whom the larger issues were of worth.

At first their faces faded with the rains,
The little altars thick with wax were scraped,
But now beneath clear plastic they endure
To remind the passing that we've not escaped.

Their silence keeps me sleepless for I know.

posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 3:03 PM

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