I haven’t written much about the war in Iraq because, really, what can I say? There are only so many synonyms for “horrific”. But now Mark Morford reminds me that there is one thing to say, one very important thing: this is what it’s like (WARNING: graphic images).

If you can’t handle seeing what really goes on in a war, maybe you don’t deserve to support it. If you can’t stomach the truths of what our soldiers are doing and how brutally and bloodily they’re dying and in just what manner they have to kill those innocent Iraqi civilians in the name of BushCo’s desperate lurch toward greed and power and Iraqi oil fields and empire, maybe you don’t have the right to stick that little flag on your oil-sucking SUV. Clear enough?

Damn straight. The link goes to Fallujah in Pictures (I follow River‘s spelling, and everyone should follow her blog), and I warn you again: it’s tough to look at. But if you still cling to some callow notion of the “glory of war” — if you still think there was or is any justification for this illegal, immoral invasion — if you have ever used the term “raghead” — if you believe or hope that there’s still a chance for the US to set things right on its own — if you can fool yourself for even a second that history will see this as anything but a vile stain on our permanent record — then you had better go look. It’s the very least you can do.

Posted in woe

Mona Van Duyn

poet Mona Van Duyn, 1921-2004Mona Van Duyn is dead at 83. There is some information at Modern American Poets, and the Academy of American Poets has a brief bio and three of her poems, including one of my favourites, which I’ve pasted below. I nicked the image from the St Louis Walk of Fame. (Via Dumbfoundry, of course.)

Letters from a Father
Ulcerated tooth keeps me awake, there is
such pain, would have to go to the hospital to have
it pulled or would bleed to death from the blood thinners,
but can’t leave Mother, she falls and forgets her salve
and her tranquilizers, her ankles swell so and her bowels
are so bad, she almost had a stoppage and sometimes
what she passes is green as grass. There are big holes
in my thigh where my leg brace buckles the size of dimes.
My head pounds from the high pressure. It is awful
not to be able to get out, and I fell in the bathroom
and the girl could hardly get me up at all.
Sure thought my back was broken, it will be next time.
Prostate is bad and heart has given out,
feel bloated after supper. Have made my peace
because am just plain done for and have no doubt
that the Lord will come any day with my release.
You say you enjoy your feeder, I don’t see why
you want to spend good money on grain for birds
and you say you have a hundred sparrows, I’d buy
poison and get rid of their diseases and turds.
We enjoyed your visit, it was nice of you to bring
the feeder but a terrible waste of your money
for that big bag of feed since we won’t be living
more than a few weeks long. We can see
them good from where we sit, big ones and little ones
but you know when I farmed I used to like to hunt
and we had many a good meal from pigeons
and quail and pheasant but these birds won’t
be good for nothing and are dirty to have so near
the house. Mother likes the redbirds though.
My bad knee is so sore and I can’t hardly hear
and Mother says she is hoarse from yelling but I know
it’s too late for a hearing aid. I belch up all the time
and have a sour mouth and of course with my heart
it’s no use to go to a doctor. Mother is the same.
Has a scab she thinks is going to turn to a wart.
The birds are eating and fighting, Ha! Ha! All shapes
and colors and sizes coming out of our woods
but we don’t know what they are. Your Mother hopes
you can send us a kind of book that tells about birds.
There is one the folks called snowbirds, they eat on the ground,
we had the girl sprinkle extra there, but say,
they eat something awful. I sent the girl to town
to buy some more feed, she had to go anyway.
Almost called you on the telephone
but it costs so much to call thought better write.
Say, the funniest thing is happening, one
day we had so many birds and they fight
and get excited at their feed you know
and it’s really something to watch and two or three
flew right at us and crashed into our window
and bang, poor little things knocked themselves silly.
They come to after while on the ground and flew away.
And they been doing that. We felt awful
and didn’t know what to do but the other day
a lady from our Church drove out to call
and a little bird knocked itself out while she sat
and she brought it in her hands right into the house,
it looked like dead. It had a kind of hat
of feathers sticking up on its head, kind of rose
or pinky color, don’t know what it was,
and I petted it and it come to life right there
in her hands and she took it out and it flew. She says
they think the window is the sky on a fair
day, she feeds birds too but hasn’t got
so many. She says to hang strips of aluminum foil
in the window so we’ll do that. She raved about
our birds. P.S. The book just come in the mail.
Say, that book is sure good, I study
in it every day and enjoy our birds.
Some of them I can’t identify
for sure, I guess they’re females, the Latin words
I just skip over. Bet you’d never guess
the sparrow I’ve got here, House Sparrow you wrote,
but I have Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows,
Pine Woods and Tree and Chipping and White Throat
and White Crowned Sparrows. I have six Cardinals,
three pairs, they come at early morning and night,
the males at the feeder and on the ground the females.
Juncos, maybe 25, they fight
for the ground, that’s what they used to call snowbirds. I miss
the Bluebirds since the weather warmed. Their breast
is the color of a good ripe muskmelon. Tufted Titmouse
is sort of blue with a little tiny crest.
And I have Flicker and Red-Bellied and Red-
Headed Woodpeckers, you would die laughing
to see Red-Bellied, he hangs on with his head
flat on the board, his tail braced up under,
wing out. And Dickcissel and Ruby Crowned Kinglet
and Nuthatch stands on his head and Veery on top
the color of a bird dog and Hermit Thrush with spot
on breast, Blue Jay so funny, he will hop
right on the backs of the other birds to get the grain.
We bought some sunflower seeds just for him.
And Purple Finch I bet you never seen,
color of a watermelon, sits on the rim
of the feeder with his streaky wife, and the squirrels,
you know, they are cute too, they sit tall
and eat with their little hands, they eat bucketfuls.
I pulled my own tooth, it didn’t bleed at all.
It’s sure a surprise how well Mother is doing,
she forgets her laxative but bowels move fine.
Now that windows are open she says our birds sing
all day. The girl took a Book of Knowledge on loan
from the library and I am reading up
on the habits of birds, did you know some males have three
wives, some migrate some don’t. I am going to keep
feeding all spring, maybe summer, you can see
they expect it. Will need thistle seed for Goldfinch and Pine
Siskin next winter. Some folks are going to come see us
from Church, some bird watchers, pretty soon.
They have birds in town but nothing to equal this.
So the world woos its children back for an evening kiss.

a note on trackbacks

Just a quick note for anyone sending trackback pings (hi, T, pericat!): they work, but don’t show up until I rebuild the site. I have no idea why this should be so, or how to fix it, and no way am I upgrading asking the spousal unit to upgrade me to a later version of MT until the bugs are ironed out, so in the meantime please just bear with me. I get email notification of comments and pings, so I’ll rebuild as soon as I see a ping.
Tangentially: Jay did a wonderful thing building MT-Blacklist and setting it free, and I’m appropriately grateful for all the time and hassle it’s saved me; similarly, niggly bugs and all, I like MT. I haven’t paid a dime for either product, so I can’t — and don’t mean to — complain here. But at the same time, I won’t be paying SA for software that I can see in advance is substantially more problematic than the setup I have. I think the company’s track record indicates that they will listen to feedback and solve the problems, so I’m just going to sit back and be a late adopter this time.

a few notes on the death penalty

In looking for news about Frances Newton’s case, I came across three others with similarly pressing deadlines: Thomas Bowling‘s execution has been postponed to allow two related cases to clear, Charles Walker‘s stay of execution is being appealed, and George Banks‘ execution has been halted so that his competence can be assessed.
The three cases are instructive. Bowling’s IQ has been assessed at somewhere between 74 and 87, meaning I’ve eaten salads that were smarter than this guy; part of his case hinges on a numerical cutoff for execution eligibility, since KY law bans exections of persons with IQs of or below 70. This is patently ridiculous, since neither the concept of IQ nor the methods of assessing same allow for the kind of accuracy needed to impose such a cutoff. Bowling’s (profound lack of) intelligence is at issue not only because it is generally accepted that it is wrong to execute a person incapable of understanding their crime or its consequences, but because it has direct bearing on his case: there is reason to suspect that he may have been framed, and he would certainly be a prime target for such a setup. In addition to the case to decide whether Bowling is legally retarded (enough to avoid execution), there is the question of method. KY, like 36 other states, kills by lethal injection, and along with 28 of those states it uses Pavulon (pancuronium bromide), a paralytic, in combination with — in KY’s case — sodium pentothal (anaesthetic) and potassium chloride (which causes a massive heart attack). The second of the pending cases for which Bowling’s execution has been postponed concerns the constitutionality of this method: Pavulon does not affect awareness or pain, for which reason it has been banned in animal euthanasia. There is reason to believe that a person executed by this method could suffer terrible pain but be unable to convey their status to medical staff.
Banks’ guilt is not at issue and no one is suggesting that he should be set free, but his history of mental illness was not properly taken into account by the original jury, because of faulty instructions that have since been found to be unconstitutional.
Walker, in contrast, was found guilty of murder in the absence of a body or any physical evidence of a crime. The conviction was based solely on the testimony of co-defendants, all of whom plead guilty to 2nd degree or accessory charges and are now free or eligible for parole. The case is further complicated by Walker’s mental illness, which was not adequately presented to the jury; nor were the jury given the option of life without parole, which would now be available in a similar case. Walker refused the 2nd degree plea offered him, and his counsel argue that his mental illness was a primary factor in this decision. More background on Walker here (including a letter you can send to the Governor of North Carolina) from the National Coalition for the Abolition of the Death Penalty.
These three cases illustrate just some of the reasons why the death penalty is barbaric and unsupportable. There are plenty such, including: execution of juveniles and the mentally ill or otherwise incompetent; significant racial and socioeconomic bias in the application of the death penalty; prosecutorial discretion and variable state laws and standards resulting in wide geographic disparities in capital cases; life without parole being vastly cheaper for the state than the death penalty; strong evidence that the death penalty is no deterrent against serious crime; and the undisputed fact that innocent people have been executed and will continue to be executed so long as the death penalty remains a legal option.
A few facts and figures from NCADP, ACLU, HRW, DPIC and AIUSA: There are eight other pending executions in the US right now, with deadlines extending to December next year, and more than 3500 people on death row. Since the reinstatement of capital punishment by the US Supreme Court in 1976, the US has executed 944 individuals. Only 12 States and the District of Columbia do not have death penalty statutes. The UN has resolved that execution of those 18 or younger at the time of the crime is “contrary to customary international law”, but at least 20 US states still have laws allowing for the execution of offenders as young as 16. In the past five years, the US has executed 13 juvenile offenders, while the rest of the world has recorded five such killings. Only the US and Somalia have yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in addition to the US only China, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iran and Pakistan have openly executed juveniles since 2000. Although execution of persons with “substantial intellectual impairment” is now illegal in the US, some 40 retarded people were executed between 1977 and 2002. Despite international law prohibiting execution of the mentally ill, virtually universal adoption of corresponding national laws and strong agreement between these bodies of law and the US Constitution, the US continues to execute the insane, most recently Larry Robison (schizophrenia, 2000), Thomas Provenzano (delusional, 2000) and John Satterwhite (retarded and mentally ill, 2000). Although non-whites make up around a quarter of the US population, they constitute 55% of death row and represent 43% of those executed since 1976. Although whites account for 50% of murder victims, in 80% of capital cases the victim was white. More than 60% of juvenile offender death sentences since 1976 have been passed on Blacks or Latinos. Of all death row inmates, 95% cannot afford an attorney and must rely on underfunded state programs, most of which do not have meaningful competency standards. There is enormous geographic disparity and apparent arbitrariness in the death penalty: state and federal jurisdictions vary in the crimes for which the death penalty can be sought and the likelihood that prosecutors will in fact seek it, so that location is a primary determinant of an offender’s chances of facing death and the same crime is likely to receive different punishment in different courts; only about 1% of convicted murderers are executed. The death penalty is expensive, costing between $1 and $7 million per case as opposed to around $500-600,000 per case for life without parole. The death penalty is not an effective deterrent. Canada’s murder rate has dropped 40% since abolition of the death penalty in 1975, whereas the US rate was 6.2/100,000 in 1967, 10.2/100,000 in 1980 and 5.6/100,000 in 2003. The five non-death penalty countries with the highest murder rates average 21.6 murders per 100,000 people, whereas the five death penalty countries with the highest rates average 41.6/100,000. From 1980 to 2000, the homicide rate in states with the death penalty was 48-101% higher than in states without the death penalty, and 10 of the 12 states without capital punishment have homicide rates below the national average.
Finally, and to me most compellingly, the death penalty takes innocent lives. Since 1973, 117 death row inmates have been exonerated, a rate of around one exoneration for every eight executions. A description of each case can be read here; unless I made an error, these inmates spent an average of 8.9 years in prison before being exonerated. This astonishing error rate alone should be enough to take death penalty statutes off the books.

Posted in woe

world AIDS day

Support World AIDS Day
In lieu of having anything worthwhile to say, here are the HIV links I’ve collected since I started using del.icio.us:

BBC NEWS | Programmes | This World | New York’s HIV experiment
2004-11-30 19:52
holy shit
French vaccine fuels hope in AIDS treatment
2004-11-30 06:38
extract uninfected dendritic cells and virus, mix cells and heat-killed virus, reinject into patient
New HIV co-factor found
2004-11-17 07:01
annexin2 and a host-derived factor important in membrane fusion
Science Blog – Scientists discover enzyme crucial to HIV replication
2004-11-02 06:39
Jeang has a point: a cellular enzyme can’t mutate
BBC NEWS Aids warning over bushmeat trade
2004-10-28 15:50
possibility of new human retroviruses arising the same way HIV did
Entrez PubMed: Wofe, SIV infections in hunters
2004-10-28 15:49
relates to BBC bushmeat story
The Lancet : Simian retroviral infections in human beings
2004-10-28 15:48
comment on Wolfe paper; submit to PLoSB as unsolved mystery?
Potential For Developing A New Cream Or Gel To Block AIDS Transmission During Heterosexual Sex
2004-10-21 17:56
this would save millions of African lives, just for starters, and put real power to fight HIV into the hands of women who currently have little or no defense
BBC NEWS | Health | HIV in monkeys ‘blocked by drug’
2004-10-18 07:42

probably too late, but try anyway

Newton.jpg Update 041201: Gov Perry has granted a stay of execution. He had this to say:

After a lengthy review of the trial transcript, appellate court rulings and clemency proceedings, I see no evidence of innocence.

Y’know, I thought there was supposed to be a presumption of innocence, with the burden of proof being on the prosecution.
——————-original post:
Frances Newton is scheduled to be killed today by the State of Texas. After 17 years and despite incompetent state-appointed counsel at her original trial, questionable forensics, new testing methods which could shed light on key evidence and expanded evidence from a key witness, the state looks set to deny her request for a 120-day delay of execution. Atrios and Norbizness have details and Amnesty International has a one-click message you can send to the Governor and the Presiding Officer of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Below is the letter I sent. (I stole the image from here.)

Dear Gov Perry/ PO Owens:
I am writing you to ask you to do everything in your power to commute the sentence of Frances Newton, prisoner number 922, and honor the 120-day minimum reprieve petition which would allow Ms. Newton