Saturday, August 30, 2008

Aug 26, 2008

Dear Sis~
I'm reading Howard Fast's historical novel, Spartacus, which is excellent. Like most people, I suppose, my familiarity with this inspiring story came from the movie of the same name, starring Kirk Douglas, which I vividly recall enjoying as a child some 40 years ago. What I did not know, until I read Fast's forward in this new edition, was the remarkable story behind the book and how Fast was forced to self-publish it after J. Edgar Hoover cowed all the mainstream publishing houses into blackballing the manuscript. This was due to Fast's previous support of some left-leaning political causes (specifically for his support of Spain's democratically elected Republican government which had been routed by Facist forces in the 1930's with the support of Hitler & Mussolini) which had already led to Fast's imprisonment in America when he refused to rat out his friends and supporters to the US House Committee on Un-American Activities. This was a dark period of our nation (the late 1940's and early 1950's) which most current Americans are sadly unaware of, when Facism was raising its ugly head throughout our government, and anyone who questioned the establishment's smear tactics was labeled as "unpatriotic" or "Un-American" or as "Socialist" or, worse yet, a "Communist".
A young Richard Nixon played his part in all of this, and J. Edgar Hoover was the muscle. It reminds me of Bush-Cheney in post-9/11 America, using fear and labels of "unpatriotic" to silence any critics of their political policies. It's an old playbook, but tried and true, and sadly it works with so many sheepish Americans who don't dare to question what the Wizard is doing behind the curtain. Anyway, to the chagrin of Hoover, Spartacus became a best-seller and then was turned onto the 1960 movie starring Kirk Douglas and Lawrence Olivier. Howard Fast noted in his forward that it was his time in Federal prison which allowed him to write Spartacus, and that he had no regrets for anything. Fast was a prolific author (more than 50 books) and playwright, and a remarkable person, a man of principle whom I would have enjoyed knowing...
It's past my bedtime, Sis, so I'm going to close this up and hit the hay.
Love, Bill

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

August 13, 2008

Dear Sis~
I was looking out my little horizontal slit of a window today, gauging the weather in anticipation of going to rec, and I began observing a gaggle of sparrows sporting around in the long, overgrown grass. A mother sparrow was hopping around followed closely (more like chased, actually) by two big, plump babies almost as large as her. That they were her children was evident by their open beaks as they begged Mom for food. She would pick up a seed from the grass, hold it up, then pop it into a baby's beak. Then, she'd hop or fly a few feet away, the kids almost knocking her down as they crowded behind her, and she'd repeat the process. The more I watched, the more evident it became that she was trying to teach them to peck and hunt the abundant grass seeds for themselves. She'd point at the seeds with her beak, then look at the chicks expectantly. Finally, one baby bird figured it out and began eating seeds on its own. The other was was a little slower; it just kept sitting there, beak agape, demanding to be fed. Anyway, watching this play out, it dawned on me why I have not had the normal flocks of sparrows mobbing my bread crumbs that I throw out everyday at rec. Usually, the sparrows flock in as soon as I call them, or they are already waiting for me. But, for the last several weeks, only a few stragglers have shown up to eat. I figured it was just too hot for them, but now I've concluded that the momma birds (maybe the dads, too) are teaching their babies to forage for their natural foods, which are abundant this time of year. It would be counter-productive to simply let them eat bread crumbs, as they'd never learn to forage for themselves. In fact, I may be doing a disservice by feeding them now if the "free food" it is making them less self-sufficient. For that reason, I'm going to stop feeding them for awhile, at least until the fall. When it gets cold and the seeds are gone, perhaps they'll need some help. But for now, I'll let Mother Nature do what She does best...
I was mildly annoyed last week with the typical media coverage. Russia was invading Georgia, which counts as a substantial news event, and I was flipping through the channels, trying to find some coverage. All of our media outlets, however, were obsessed with breathlessly covering ex-senator John Edwards' 2-year old extra-marital affair. From local news to national news on every channel, that's all that was on, not a peep about the battling in Georgia. So, I waited for Nightline...I just knew they'd be covering this event. But no, the entire program was devoted to parsing and re-parsing every single aspect of this scandal, as if the fate of the free world hung in the balance. To me, this is a very personal matter, between Edwards and his wife, which they will personally work out (or not) and isn't worthy of much more than a mention. This is so typical of the American mindset, the puritanical obsession with anything involving sex, the rush to sacrifice and destroy and devour anyone who dares to "sin with sex." This is the mindset that believes sex is "dirty", the human body is sinful, and a sexual indiscretion is the highest crime. We'll impeach a president for a sexual matter, but a president who takes a nation to war based on a pack of lies and deception gets a free pass. This is the same crowd that's OK with blood-drenched slasher movies (killing, mayhem, guns and war are good!) but recoils if an actor dares to show a breast or if sex is implied (sex is bad!) What's wrong with this picture?
OK, they're pulling us for rec...I'm going to go out and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.
Love, Bill

Friday, August 08, 2008

August 5, 2008

Dear Sis~
Less than 90 days until the election and I can hardly wait to witness the changing of the guard. I'm confident Obama will be our next president and, while there are many reasons I'll be pleased to see that occur, at the top of my list is the long overdue opportunity to re balance the federal judiciary. The far majority of all federal judges were appointed by Republican presidents and most are knee-jerk, right-wing, conservative rubber stampers, exceedingly pro-state, pro-prosecution, pro-police and anti-prisoner, anti civil-rights, anti-libertarian judges who've never seen a death sentence they don't love, judges who are proud of the fact that they've never granted a habeas corpus petition in their career. Most citizens are unaware that most judges, by far, are ex-prosecutors, and this trend has only accelerated in the last decade under the prevalent "tough on crime" atmosphere permeating the political arena. The cliche of the "liberal activist judge" is a conservative fantasy for the most part. All I want to see are fair, intellectually honest judges who respect the constitution and are unafraid to stand up to the power structure when it has perpetuated injustices - that isn't much to expect, but it's a lot more than Americans are getting with the current crop of partisan political hacks turned judicial appointees...
I had a touching experience following one of our visits recently. You'd already left and I was stuck in the visiting booth awaiting an escort back to the cell block, just sitting there, casually watching the incoming visitors waiting to enter the general population visiting park. An exceptionally attractive woman was seated in one of those plastic chairs and she had two cute kids with her, a little boy and little girl, perhaps 4 or 5 years old. The kids were reaching up to the sill of that 4 foot tall dividing wall separating me from them, jumping up and down, trying to peek through the glass. All I could see was their little hands and the top of their heads. The woman and I locked eyes and we both smiled at each other - what a beautiful smile she had! - and then she spontaneously stood up, grabbed each child in her arms and lifted them up so they could see me. I waved at the kids, grinning like a fool (you know how much I love kids) and they happily waved back, all excited, as if I was a long-lost uncle. The mother and I locked eyes again and she beamed with pride. There was an almost electric connection between us. It was a very poignant experience for me, and a very sweet and kind gesture. Somehow, she intuitively knew that that simple gesture would bring me a measure of joy and she was willing to do it for a stranger. It's impossible to describe how much that affected me in that moment, and for the rest of the day I felt great joy. I guess that's a demonstration of how emotionally stunted I get from being confined in a cell 24/7, how hungry I am for human connection...
Alright, sis, I'll let you go for now. Give the doggies a pat on the head for me!
Love, Bill