Friday, January 16, 2009


Thank you so much for reading. I'm going to take a hiatus now. I realize I simply don't have space in my head to learn another new thing everyday. It was a really great year. I learned far more than 365 things. I will be back when I can do it again.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Killing Floor

Killing Floor

by Ai (Florence Anthony )

1. RUSSIA, 1927

On the day the sienna-skinned man
held my shoulders between his spade-shaped hands,
easing me down into the azure water of Jordan,
I woke ninety-three million miles from myself,
Lev Davidovich Bronstein,
shoulder-deep in the Volga,
while the cheap dye of my black silk shirt darkened the water.

My head wet, water caught in my lashes.
Am I blind?
I rub my eyes, then wade back to shore,
undress and lie down,
until Stalin comes from his place beneath the birch tree.
He folds my clothes
and I button myself in my marmot coat,
and together we start the long walk back to Moscow.
He doesn’t ask, what did you see in the river?,
but I hear the hosts of a man drowning in water and holiness,
the castrati voices I can’t recognize,
skating on knives, from trees, from air
on the thin ice of my last night in Russia.
Leon Trotsky. Bread.
I want to scream, but silence holds my tongue
with small spade-shaped hands
and only this comes, so quietly
Stalin has to press his ear to my mouth:
I have only myself. Put me on the train.
I won’t look back.

2. MEXICO, 1940

At noon today, I woke from a nightmare:
my friend Jacques ran toward me with an ax,
as I stepped from the train in Alma-Ata.
He was dressed in yellow satin pants and shirt.
A marigold in winter.
When I held out my arms to embrace him,
he raised the ax and struck me at the neck,
my head fell to one side, hanging only by skin.
A river of sighs poured from the cut.

3. MEXICO, August 20, 1940

The machine-gun bullets
hit my wife in the legs,
then zigzagged up her body.
I took the shears, cut open her gown
and lay on top of her for hours.
Blood soaked through my clothes
and when I tried to rise, I couldn’t.

I wake then. Another nightmare.
I rise from my desk, walk to the bedroom
and sit down at my wife’s mirrored vanity.
I rouge my cheeks and lips,
stare at my bone-white, speckled egg of a face:
lined and empty.
I lean forward and see Jacques’s reflection.
I half-turn, smile, then turn back to the mirror.
He moves from the doorway,
lifts the pickax
and strikes the top of my head.
My brain splits.
The pickax keeps going
and when it hits the tile floor,
it flies from his hands,
a black dove on whose back I ride,
two men, one cursing,
the other blessing all things:
Lev Davidovich Bronstein,
I step from Jordan without you.

Ai, “Killing Floor” from Vice: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1999 by Ai. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.,

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


It's 65 degrees in Gaza today; there is no running water. I saw a photograph today of a man sobbing next to three tiny dead bodies.

"Inside Gaza City, windows are blown out, electricity is cut and drinking water scarce." NYT

Monday, January 5, 2009

In Hot Water

It's a hard time of year. So dark. Post holiday -- all that may have encompassed -- from too many cookies to too many relatives. Anyone involved in academics is getting ready to go back, thinking -- that was the long break? Kids are off their schedule -- so they have to get up and feel like it's hours too early. I've heard "I Hate You" three times today so far and it isn't even 8 a.m. ...

I need a hot tub.
I think the kids could use one too.

In Hot Water

Published: December 22, 2008

A. While there are plenty of common-sense reasons to keep people with childish judgment out of heat and water at any age, studies (mostly in Finland) have not linked careful sauna use to serious medical problems in healthy children. The chief injury risk to children seems to be scalding.

Whirlpool baths appear to be dangerous to children — and adults — chiefly as a drowning risk, especially if a strong whirlpool mechanism traps a small body. Another possible risk is bacteria in a whirlpool that is not properly maintained, but again, the risk is not age-specific.

A Finnish review article published in 2006 in The International Journal of Circumpolar Health noted that children in Finland were first taken to the sauna at an average age of 5 months. A single physiological study of healthy babies with an average age of 7 months found no harmful cardiovascular responses after a three-minute exposure. But the review also said that a sauna put bigger demands on a child’s circulatory regulation than on that of an adult, and it reported that a study of 20 children 5 to 10 years old found moderate hormonal changes. The review concluded that healthy children older than 2 could be allowed in a sauna with adequate adult supervision.

There were some caveats for children who had specific heart disorders, but a study of sauna-like heat as a treatment to dilate blood vessels in some very young infants with heart failure because of ventricular defects found benefits that avoided surgery in some cases.

Readers are invited to submit questions by mail to Question,
Science Times, The New York Times, 620 8th Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018, or by e-mail to

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Water in Gaza

By MEL FRYKBERG (Middle East Times)

More than 1.4 million Gaza Palestinians are facing an impending health disaster from decaying sewage and water systems that lack vital spare parts, fuel, and maintenance work, due to an Israeli economic siege on the Gaza Strip.

"We are a one-generator-failure away from disaster," Michael Bailey, an Oxfam spokesman, told the Middle East Times.

"The situation is verging on critical. There are 35 sewage pumping stations operational in Gaza. If one of the pumps breaks there is no way to replace it, because of a lack of spare parts," said Bailey, whose organization works with Gaza's Coastal Municipalities Water Utilities. "This would mean sewage backing into homes and onto the streets and the resulting health problems associated with it."

the topic of Israel is so big and complicated.
the topic of war.
the topic of ownership of reparations of belonging of slavery. of what one person can do to another. about how homes and bones and lives are turned to dust one generation after another...

May the people of Gaza be safe. May the people of Gaza be happy.
today even the prayer seems like blasphemy.
that there is war is a tragedy unlike any other.
that what little water we have should be soiled by war
as if the poison from the gas chambers still prevented our breath...
prevents our breath still.


by Czeslaw Milosz

Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.
It establishes the universal ideas in language,
And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice
With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.
It puts what should be above things as they are,
Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.
It does not know Jew from Greek or slave from master,
Giving us the estate of the world to manage.
It saves austere and transparent phrases
From the filthy discord of tortured words.
It says that everything is new under the sun,
Opens the congealed fist of the past.
Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia
And poetry, her ally in the service of the good.
As late as yesterday Nature celebrated their birth,
The news was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo.
Their friendship will be glorious, their time has no limit.
Their enemies have delivered themselves to destruction.

Berkeley, 1968

Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Pinsky

Friday, January 2, 2009

What Else Can We Do?

Because, of course, there's no ignoring it...

Metal Levels Found High in Tributary After Spill
Published: January 1, 2009

An environmental advocacy group’s tests of river water and ash near the site of a huge coal ash spill in East Tennessee showed levels of arsenic, lead, chromium and other metals at 2 to 300 times higher than drinking water standards, the group said Thursday.


“These are some of the most astonishing water-quality sampling results I’ve ever seen in my 10 years of working on rivers,” said Donna Lisenby, a spokeswoman for Appalachian Voices who helped collect the samples.

A news release from the group included a statement by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., chairman of the national Waterkeeper Alliance, who said, “Although these results are preliminary, we want to release them because of the public health concern and because we believe the T.V.A. and E.P.A. aren’t being candid.”

By not being candid, of course, they mean people are still drinking.
Of course, what do you do if you know... start brushing your teeth with Coca-Cola? In Ecuador the water in one area has an oil-sheen -- everyone is dying of cancer -- but they drink it anyway. "What else can we do?"

Tomorrow I will look at the Waterkeeper Alliance. Didn't know we had one of those.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

It's not like it's toxic or anything.

I'm having trouble with this notion of studying water. As I am writing, a video of the coal slide in TN is playing -- so the sound of a helicopter is thrumming in the background.

I suppose really the idea is to understand something elemental...
to understand, too, our treatment...

Published: December 24, 2008

KINGSTON, Tenn. — What may be the nation’s largest spill of coal ash lay thick and largely untouched over hundreds of acres of land and waterways Wednesday after a dam broke this week, as officials and environmentalists argued over its potential toxicity.


The Tennessee Valley Authority has issued no warnings about the potential chemical dangers of the spill, saying there was as yet no evidence of toxic substances. “Most of that material is inert,” said Gilbert Francis Jr., a spokesman for the authority. “It does have some heavy metals within it, but it’s not toxic or anything.”

Mr. Francis said contaminants in water samples taken near the spill site and at the intake for the town of Kingston, six miles downstream, were within acceptable levels.

But a draft report last year by the federal Environmental Protection Agency found that fly ash, a byproduct of the burning of coal to produce electricity, does contain significant amounts of carcinogens and retains the heavy metal present in coal in far higher concentrations. The report found that the concentrations of arsenic to which people might be exposed through drinking water contaminated by fly ash could increase cancer risks several hundredfold.

J. Miles Carey/Knoxville News Sentinel, via Associated Press

For the past year I have often been baffled by the lack of common sense involved in conversations.

it isn't toxic or anything...

There are reasons to live in proximity to toxicity -- but not to deny it...