Pandemic Diary: #NamingTheLost

Two days after my father, William Robert (Bob) Aldrich died of COVID-19 (May 10) in Hyannis, Massachusetts, I was a participant in an online video meeting. Just before it was my turn to speak, something caught my eye: a cardinal, small but rich red in color, alighted on the Rose of Sharon bush beside my window.

Not many birds choose to visit this bush; it is crowded with thin branches and it is smack against the side of the house here. Also, the flowers are not in bloom yet; when they are, the bees will comprise approximately ninety-eight percent of the bush’s visitors rather than birds: through the day, the sound of bumblebee collisions with the window next to the Rose of Sharon punctuates my day.

The red of the cardinal caught my eye, because red always does, and birds are somewhat rare on that exact spot and cardinals rarer still (this was the first time). I mentioned it as I spoke, mostly to make a joke about the fact that the previous speaker’s cat had leapt into her camera frame. (Her cat had chased this bird to me, was the quip. I’m a dad joke waiting to become a father.) Someone all but said that the cardinal was my dad; I do not remember if the thought was that a bird’s visit is spiritual or a cardinal’s visit is.

Red cardinals are the males of the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis); my dad was male, of course, but his hair was red when his hair had color. Red so noteworthy that his nickname in his hometown was “Red.” My friend had no way to know this.

I do not believe in a spiritual world, but sometimes it can almost seem (even to me) that the spirit world wants my attention. I do believe in a spiritual life in that I believe the only point to life is love; perhaps that is not “spiritual,” perhaps it is.
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Pam Bondi: Where Quid Meets Pro Quo

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (pictured above with the president) will join the team tasked with the defense of the president in his upcoming Senate impeachment trial, according to the Wall Street Journal today, January 17. The team will be led by current White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

Bondi’s role in the impeachment trial has not been delineated in public. She joins a team of specialists that includes former Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr; occasional constitutional-law professor Alan Dershowitz; Jay Sekulow, a personal lawyer to the president; and Robert Ray, who succeeded Starr in the Whitewater inquiry.

Before she joined the White House staff in its impeachment preparations in November 2019, Bondi was a registered foreign agent for the government of Qatar and a lobbyist for a Kuwaiti firm. The more famous members of the Trump legal team have long histories as public figures, but Bondi’s history is more entwined with the current president’s public life than theirs are so far.
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Allies Aren’t Silent; Why Was I?

A political friend wrote on Facebook on New Year’s Eve, “If I’ve been too tough on a political opponent in the last ten years, I apologize to them now. If I haven’t been tough enough on them, I apologize to everyone else.”

I have not been tough enough in my own little world, and the decade just past taught me that tolerance of others’ intolerance does not create a larger space for tolerance, and silence in the face of ugliness does not illuminate a brighter path toward kindness for the ill-mannered who choose to walk the road of insults and abuse. I do not speak out enough, and this is an important failure on my part.

My latest example came just this week. I do not know what I would like to have done instead or how I would prefer to feel about the incident right now other than how I feel, which is that I am a mouse and not a human being with a spine and a voice. (Nothing against mice, of course.)
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Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving Laugh at Fascism

A personal reflection in tribute to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”

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A friend and I were chatting about our different Thanksgiving Day plans one recent Thanksgiving and he asked me if I had ever been to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. (I almost marched in it one year, by accident of all things, but that is an anecdote for a different post.)

“Well, I just hope,” he said, “that no one tries any terrorism down there today, but if they do,” and here he looked like someone who perhaps hoped that “someone” would indeed “try terrorism down there” because he added, “If they do, I hope we go ahead and use our nuclear weapons the way they were meant to be used. Just go over there and flatten that whole place.”

Quietly infuriated, I found for myself something else to do somewhere else at our gathering. I hate that I do not ask the question, “Why would you think that?” of some of my acquaintances more often or at all, but I know that such a question is seen as confrontational more than a provocative expression of a hope that our nation uses nuclear weapons if and when it is attacked is seen as confrontational.

I did not ask where this place that he seemed to want to “flatten” is. I did not think I needed to inquire. Some of my neighbors walk around with the fear-hope that a horrible act of terrorism is a given in our country’s near future and that it will be, obviously, the act of someone from a part of the world whose foreign-ness (to them) is the only thing they care to know about. They, my neighbors, want to be angered so much that they already can smell the blood that they want the youth of our nation to spill.

They want to be angry perhaps more than they are angry.
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The Defining Dignity Initiative, an Essay by Matt DeHart

Published exclusively in The Gad About Town.

This is the fourth article in a series of prison essays by Matt DeHart. The first: “You don’t act like an American,” the second: “Hospitality in Mexico,” and Matt’s third: “Shattered.” It is a personal honor for me to publish his words from prison.

Matt DeHart’s voice is one worth listening to. In “Defining Dignity,” he challenges us all to put meaning—and action—behind that commandment that is so often expressed and so little heeded: “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” which of course is found in the Book of Matthew.

The essay published below is one of the few public statements he has made. It was sent to me by his mother, Leann DeHart, with the request that it is published as written.
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My Posts about Raif Badawi & Saudi Arabia

Raif Badawi is always in imminent danger of his punishment being resumed. He still awaits 950 lashes with a whip. Saudi Arabia’s thought-police know that any news about a prisoner can be one more form of punishment for his family. Raif Badawi is always in imminent danger. The mental torture never ceases.

When his story grows more prominent, as it has since the arrest of his sister, Samar Badawi, on July 30, 2018, that torture only becomes sharper. It becomes exquisitely more difficult to find hope.

For Raif—and for his lawyer and brother-in-law Waleed Abulkhair, who is also in prison in Saudi Arabia in a gross violation of his own human rights—and for their two brilliant and courageous wives, Ensaf Haidar and Samar Badawi, today is another challenging day. Each one is. Each day, news or none, is spent weighing the choice between daring to dream of freedom or to not expend energy in the risky business of dreaming.

Saudi Arabia arrested and imprisoned Samar Badawi on July 30, possible charges and location unknown as of this writing.

This post lists the articles I wrote over the last three-plus years about Raif Badawi, a young writer whom Saudi Arabia has punished for his essays, and whose story is finally an international matter this week in a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Canada. I will file a more current post tomorrow.

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‘Shattered,’ an essay by Matt DeHart

Published exclusively in The Gad About Town.

This is the third article in a series of prison essays by Matt DeHart. The first essay is here: “You don’t act like an American,” and the second is here: “Hospitality in Mexico.”
 
“Shattered” was written in May 2018.

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Last November, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) informed Matt DeHart, a former U.S. Air National Guard drone team member and alleged WikiLeaks courier, that it had reversed its decision that the fourteen months he spent detained in a Canadian prison would be credited toward his sentence as time served. No hearing was held. His release date of September 2018 is no longer in place.

The decision was announced in a letter that neither acknowledges DeHart’s right to due process nor concedes that he has been denied due process. “An inmate held pending a civil deportation determination is not being held in ‘official’ detention pending criminal charges,” the BOP letter reads. This reverses the stance the government took when it sentenced DeHart. It is worth noting that the BOP employed the quotation marks around the word “official” in its letter to Matt DeHart.

DeHart continues to appeal the BOP’s unilateral decision to effectively extend his prison sentence by fourteen months even though the BOP’s paperwork requirements are Kafka-esque: In December 2017, DeHart was required to include with his appeal of the extension of his sentence a sheet that detailed the computation of his time served; it was to be stapled to the document. This is a page that the BOP already possesses as it is that department’s own computation. DeHart did not staple it; he sent it in a separate envelope with explanatory statements (i.e.: This is exhibit 14 that was not included in the earlier letter which states exhibit 14 will be forthcoming). The BOP did not accept the documents (which is an insidious method of rejecting an appeal) and returned them to DeHart.
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