the view from here


I’ve been staring at the screen for some time this evening because I feel like I have nothing new to say, or at least nothing new to say that’s not about our move. Most all of my thought and energy of late has been about me: how I will move, what I will do, how I will say goodbye. I’m starting to feel like Bette Midler in Beaches: “Enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?”

(You know things are out of whack when you start to feel like Bette Midler.)

Meaningful perspective – living in the context of a world bigger than ourselves – is difficult to maintain. The Duck Boats were hardly parked from the Red Sox parade when Curt Schilling began talking about the possibility he might not pitch in Boston next season. He’s 41, nearing the end of his wonderful career, and he may leave Boston if they don’t offer him a one-year contract at the same salary as this year: thirteen million dollars. (And his is not the highest salary by far.) He talks about the money (a) as if he deserves it and (b) as though he needs it to be able to live his life beyond baseball.

If we’re looking for meaningful perspective, let’s start here: no ball player is worth thirteen million dollars. No ball player needs thirteen million dollars. I will live my whole life and not make a total of thirteen million dollars and will have lived quite well on lots of levels, thank you. The only way baseball salaries make any kind of sense is if they are taken out of any context beyond professional sports. He’s a blinded by the money as I am by the moving boxes.

I got off early tonight and drove home listening to NPR where they were discussing the confirmation hearings for Michael Mukasey to be the new attorney general. The conversation swirled around his unwillingness to define waterboarding as torture. I had to do a little work to get up to speed on exactly what they were talking about. Here’s what I learned. First, a definition:

Water boarding as it is currently described involves strapping a person to an inclined board, with his feet raised and his head lowered. The interrogators bind the person’s arms and legs so he can’t move at all, and they cover his face. In some descriptions, the person is gagged, and some sort of cloth covers his nose and mouth; in others, his face is wrapped in cellophane. The interrogator then repeatedly pours water onto the person’s face. Depending on the exact setup, the water may or may not actually get into the person’s mouth and nose; but the physical experience of being underneath a wave of water seems to be secondary to the psychological experience. The person’s mind believes he is drowning, and his gag reflex kicks in as if he were choking on all that water falling on his face.

Second, an image of an actual waterboarding setup used by the Khmer Rouge:

Third, a little history. The practice, in various forms, goes back as far as the Spanish Inquisition and has been used many times across the centuries. After World War Two, the United States prosecuted Yukio Asano as a war criminal and sentenced him to fifteen years of hard labor for waterboarding US prisioners.

On the issue of waterboarding, the United States charged Yukio Asano, a Japanese officer on May 1 to 28, 1947, with war crimes. The offenses were recounted by John Henry Burton, a civilian victim: After taking me down into the hallway they laid me out on a stretcher and strapped me on. The stretcher was then stood on end with my head almost touching the floor and my feet in the air. They then began pouring water over my face and at times it was impossible for me to breathe without sucking in water. The torture continued and continued. Yukio Asano was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor.

The issue has come up in the hearings because the CIA has been waterboarding as a means of interrogation in response to 9/11, as though we must become torturers in order to protect ourselves. Once again, we have lost any sense of meaningful perspective.

I’m not trying to stir up a political hornet’s nest as much as I am working to notice what gets lost when we become the center of our own universe, or even of our own existence.

  • Hurting others because we have been hurt doesn’t help us learn anything of lasting value.
  • Nobody’s worth thirteen million dollars.
  • My move is not the most important thing going on in the world, or even in my world.

I think I’ll just concentrate on that last one.


P. S. – There’s a new recipe.


  1. Heaven help us…please…heaven help us! A year ago I was in Cambodia and visited Toul Sleng where Pol Pot carried out those hideous atrocities, and saw that waterboard that was pictured along with many other creative ways to invoke pain, torture and humiliation. All of us occasionally lose perspective and believe the sun revolves around the earth…even to the tune of 13 mil…but it is inconceivable to me after standing in those torture halls, how one could lose perspective that totally… and to justify dehumanizing another human being in the throes of war or a confirmation hearing is beyond my comprehension…I need to go throw up now.


  2. Dear God, that a supposedly civilised country can even be debating whether something like this ‘counts’ as torture.

    We are hit, we hit back, we teach others to hit, we prolong the cycle. Someone has to break the cycle.

    Thanks for writing about this terrible thing.

    PS: Bette Midler is not the worst role model in the world…

  3. I could have lived my life without seeing that image… have been hearing enough about it as it is. Still, it is wise to know one’s enemy – to quote Pogo, “and he is us .”

    God help us, indeed.

  4. I found this blogger’s explanation of and discussion of waterboarding to be very informative (and terrifying). It astounds me that a supposedly democratic, western country would consider this a defensible practice.

  5. I am so wounded over this. How can we come to any conclusion except that we have become an evil nation. We are an evil empire who takes people away in the night to gulags were they endure torture and are never told what they did and how long they will be there.

    We are doing that. We better rise up in 2008 and make the Republicans fucking pay for doing this. How long will it take to get our economy back? How long until we find a few dollars to help some people at home? How long before the world forgives us?

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