Notes from Winter Soldier on the Hill, part one

“I joined the military to kill Iraqi people,” Kristofer Goldsmith said softly in a Congressional hearing room on Thursday. The slim young veteran, his Mohawk pulled back from his head in a half-braid, kept his eyes focused forward as news photographers scurried under the table at which he sat, snapping photographs as he continued: ”Continue reading “Notes from Winter Soldier on the Hill, part one”

a villanelle for betrayal

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to note this piece by the incredible Col. Ann Wright. Its title skittered over military history listservs, but in question form — Is There an Army Cover-Up of Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers? — that made it appear academic, and not the rigorous prosecutorial brief thatContinue reading “a villanelle for betrayal”

neither soldier nor civilian

Yesterday, I went to a benefit performance of the Off- Broadway show “The Castle,” in which four former inmates tell their stories and praise The Fortune Society. For 40 years, the society has worked on such folks’ behalf, and ten years ago bought the castle where this movie was filmed and turned it into aContinue reading “neither soldier nor civilian”

yearning for the engineers?

My friend Lily was one of the first on the net with this story you might have seen on CNN — the first, that is, after the dad whose desperation threw on Youtube the substandard housing contractors had built at Fort Bragg: The screen capture to the left is a soldier plunging a clogged bathroomContinue reading “yearning for the engineers?”

davy crockett, whose name should be on a casino

Miraculously, I’ve somehow managed to spend much of my weekend on the book, thinking less about current controversies —including super-burning issues like this week’s Rand study documenting this country’s ongoing betrayal of new veterans — than about those of 1830: how long slavery should last, and what to do about the pesky presence of theContinue reading “davy crockett, whose name should be on a casino”

…..the more they stay the same

Now we know for sure: military doublespeak has always sounded just like that. First, as the War of 1812 began and rumors surged through the military town of New-York that young men stationed at Staten Island would be deployed in the invasion of Canada, a pro-government newspaper scoffed: “We are authorized to state that no troops stationed on Governor’s Island have proceeded or are ordered to proceed to the North. The rumour that such an order is to be given is false and groundless.” Read that carefully for what it doesn’t say.

the things we stumble on looking for something else

 From Peter Doyle, a train conductor who came across  a New York poet named Walt Whitman one evening: “He was the only passenger; it was a lonely night, so I thought I would go in and talk with him. Something in me made me do it and something in him drew me that way. HeContinue reading “the things we stumble on looking for something else”

what writers block?

Last night we were hanging out with our  neighbors Mike and Betsy Fitelson  (a somewhat unprecedented event, despite the fact that he’s a fellow journo and they live in the apartment next to ours). Midway through,   Mike said something I’ve often tossed off just as easily:  “I don’t know what writers’  block means.” Given aContinue reading “what writers block?”

studying with e.l. doctorow

So when I came across a battered copy of his acclaimed historical fantasia Ragtime, the 1975 book so many of my colleagues at LAGCC used as the spine of entire composition classes, I thought: now’s the time. And like many readers before me, I first ate it up with a spoon, laughing and gaping as people I long knew in other contexts —Houdini, Emma Goldman, and Stanford White (who designed the late lamented Pennsylvania Station) — turned up as full-throated characters. I thought of Tony Kushner’s Ethel when I read of Emma, too – I want to ask him if he did.

And I was jealous, as always, of the ability of fiction writers to create composites, make up dialogue, and weave events whose plots match their themes. Of course, turns out he was jealous himself, as he told the New York Times in 2005: it was 1974, the world was abuzz with New Journalism, and “My feeling was ‘if they want facts, I’ll give ’em facts like they’ve never had before.’ ”

Now, I’m reading the book again, and wondering if there are lessons I can draw from it without crossing over into making shit up (as he acknowledges having done again in The March) or even crossing the line into “creative nonfiction,” a la John Edgar Wideman or Terry Tempest Williams (both of whom my admiration threatens to cross that borderline into worship).

The non-belongers: George Packer's Betrayed

“To this moment, I dream about America.”As the last line of “Betrayed,” George Packer’s acclaimed 2007 New Yorker article about Iraqis working for Americans in Iraq, that sentence was moving and near-elegiac. But as Waleed Zulaiter speaks that line on the stage of the Culture Project, ending Packer’s play BETRAYED, the pain in his voiceContinue reading “The non-belongers: George Packer's Betrayed”