January 31, 2007

Nice words about Good War

Book reviewer Colleen Mondor is working on a review/article about my book for Bookslut and posts on her blog:

Griffith's book is deeply personal; it's a collection of essays of his thoughts on everything from Hiroshima, the bombing of Dresden, the Abu Ghraib scandal and the motivations of those directly involved that draws on all sorts of pop culture references. He writes about Flannery O'Conner at one point and Deliverance and Pulp Fiction at another. High culture, low culture, even the weirdness of his wife's old boyfriend having a home built electric chair in his living room (college boys are such fun, aren't they?). It all wraps around and comes together in Griffith's mind as he tries to understand and come to terms with his place in a country that largely identifies itself as Christian and knows about such violence but determinedly remains oblivious to the real impact of that violence on others.

This is exactly the sort of small thought provoking book that I think should win awards and I'd love to know if anyone on any of the big nominating committees has even ever heard of it.

Thanks, Colleen!!

January 20, 2007

A Brief History of Bohemianism (a working title)

We live in an old brick apartment building within a few blocks from the center of downtown South Bend, county seat of St. Joseph County in northcentral Indiana. When people ask where we live I tell them that our building is one block from a great stone, ivy-covered mansion built by the Studebakers, the once great car manufacturers whose plant closing in 1964 left 30,000 people jobless. South Bend hasn’t bend the same since. The mansion is now a restaurant that is known for their fancy brunch and as a destination for summertime wedding receptions. Big white tents are pitched on the lawn and when it gets dark luminaria mark the stone steps leading down to the dark grass so tipsy twenty-somethings don’t trip and sue. When I was a student I never went to this part of town at night, now I live here.

We chose to live here so we could be closer to downtown where there is a well-appointed liquor store, two coffee shops, a decent breakfast spot, a bar that doesn’t allow smoking and even a couple art galleries, but we are also on the verge of one of the worst neighborhoods in South Bend, the near west side, where just two weeks ago two men were found bludgeoned to death at the bottom of a manhole on the crest of a railroad trestle, four blocks away. Three days later two more men were found in a similar state in a manhole just one block east from the first. As it happens, the men are all known to be homeless, frequenters of the Hope Rescue Mission, a few blocks east of where their bodies were found, and the St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker House, which is one block further. Police are treating the deaths as murders, most likely connected to the underground “scrapping” business, a hustle in which scrap metal is collected and redeemed for cents on the pound at scrap yards. Although to say it’s “collected” is to overlook that fact that much of the time the metal is copper wiring, plumbing pipes and aluminum siding stripped from vacant homes; or, in the case of these four men, from old industrial sites, such as the half-demolished Stuebaker manufacturing plant. The police say that the manholes the men were found in provide access to long tunnels that run beneath the old Studebaker plant and give access to the decimated factory, tunnels that contain electrical wiring that could be cut and stripped of its copper and sold. The police cautioned that the tunnels are so long that after awhile they cease to contain breathable air, which sounded like an urban myth purposefully perpetuated in order to dissuade future scrappers. In any case, it is believed that these men were in the process of scrapping—perhaps even working together to pull off a large scrap score. An acquaintance of one of the men is quoted in the South Bend Tribune that his friend asked him if he wanted to make 250 bucks and then hinted at a plan to push something out of a window, possibility something far too heavy to carry—maybe an old piece of machinery or a boiler.

When the third and fourth bodies were found is when I began to worry about my family; specifically, I worried that Jessica would hyperbolically conclude—as she usually does—that we were all going to die at the hands of some homeless serial killer lurking in the sewers bopping people over the head; that he would find his way into the building through the drain in the laundry room. I decided not to tell her because as I parked the car at the curb outside I happened to look up and see the train underpass in the distance and realize that it was the very place that the men were found.

January 16, 2007

Four Murdered Homeless Men Found Blocks from Our Apartment

This week I've begun work on an essay about the recent discovery of the bodies of four homeless men at the bottom of a manhole. They were found a couple days apart in manholes near railroad tracks owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad, the same railroad my dad has worked for for 30 plus years. My interest in what the police are calling murders is that I can see the railroad viaduct from the front of our apartment here in South Bend. Police believe that the men were murdered while in the act of "scrapping," a slang term for salvaging scrap metal for money. This past May, amid a rash of house guttings in which copper wire, plumbing and aluminium siding were stolen from abandoned houses and construction sites, South Bend passed an ordinance making scrapping a more serious offense. Click on the title of this post for more on the murders.

Above are pictures I snapped of the area near where the bodies were found. Stay tuned for more and excerpts from the essay.

January 08, 2007

Link to Harvard op-ed


Harvard Faculty Shoots Down "Faith and Reason" Requirement

I've just been forwarded a pdf of an op-ed from the Dec 15, 2006 Wall Street Journal in which Professor of Religion Richard Schmaulzbauer of Missouri State U takes Harvard to task for not following through on the university's Task Force for General Education proposal to require all students take a course that would fall under the broad heading, "Faith and Reason."  The proposal came with the rational that the tension between religious faith and reason is one of the defining issues of our times and a course broaching the subject is necessary for molding informed citizens.

I reported on  this back in October or November, I believe, and was very excited by the prospect.  In fact, I figured this was a done deal, but didn't know at the time that such a proposal would be voted on by the faculty.

Schmaulzbauer laments the defeat of the proposal as a missed opportunity for Harvard to set a precdent for other universities and colleges to take faith seriously.

In place of a course on "Faith and Reason", the faculty has countered with a course on "what it means to be a human being."

It seems to me that such a course must deal in some way with religion, right?  We'll see.

The books I'm reading right now in preparation for my next book project would make for an interesting reading list for their proposed class on "being human":

William James' Varities of Religious Experience

Harvey Cox's Religion in the Secular City

On Killing by Lt. Dave Grossman

What books would you add?

January 07, 2007

Excerpt from Good War in Jan/Feb Utne Reader

Don't know if I mentioned this or not, but the check out the latest Utne Reader for an excerpt from my book.  It has a snazzy title: "An Orchestrated Attack : War's sound track echoes from Dresden to Baghdad." 

The chapter concerns the my experience playing Daniel Bukvich's  Symphony No. 1 (In Memoriam Dresden) as a sophomore in high school and how it changed my life.  Ok, a little dramatic, but true.

Recordings of Bukvich's symphony aren't readily available. Trish from San Mateo, CA already wrote to ask where she could get her hands on a recording.  You can download recordings of it here:


January 05, 2007

Boy hangs self after seeing Saddam death

HOUSTON, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- A 10-year-old Houston-area boy apparently hanged himself accidentally while mimicking Saddam Hussein's execution, police said Thursday.
Sergio Pelico's mother told authorities the boy had been watching a TV report on the execution of former Iraqi president on a Telemundo news broadcast before he hanged himself.
"It appears to be accidental," Police Lt. Tom Claunch told the Houston Chronicle. "Our gut reaction is that he was experimenting."

Box Office Faire Reflects Cultural Appetites?

Same old same old, but it's a question that must be asked over and over until...

From the Houston Chronicle:


Contractors Are Cited in Abuses at Guantanamo

From the Washington Post:


January 03, 2007

FBI reports that Gitmo Abuses No Myth


The FBI inquiry reveals the details of 26 incidents of abuse witnessed by FBI agents, including abuses that previously were thought to be mere rumor, including the use of naked female interrogators, tricking detainees into believing they were being defiled with menstrual blood.  

This has to be the nail in coffin for those who were holding out hope that reports of abuse at the Guantanamo Bay prison were overblown and isolated incidents.

Read the official report here:


The interesting thing about the release of the FBI's report is that it was completed in Sept 2004 but not released to the public until now as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request.  However, the FBI was quick to point out, the substance of many of these allegations has previously been reported elsewhere.  Those of you that have been keeping up with allegations of abuse at Gitmo will recall that FBI agents have indeed come forward several times over the past few years.  The importance of this report seems to be that we now have an official document from the FBI saying that they back the witness(es) of these abuses.  Previous allegations would be reported and then forgotten because they seemed to lack credibility and corroboration.

It will be interesting to see if this leads to the closure--once and for all--of Gitmo.

January 02, 2007

Refusing to Deploy Because the Iraq War is Illegal

The Court-Martial of Ehren Watada Begins


From Truthout.org:

A pre-trial hearing is scheduled to take place Thursday in Tacoma, Washington, in the court-martial of Ehren Watada, the 28-year-old Army lieutenant who is the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq on the basis that the war is illegal. Captain Dan Kuecker, the Army prosecutor based at Fort Lewis, Washington, has subpoenaed Truthout contributing reporter Sarah Olson and Gregg Kakesako, a Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter. Kuecker had also stated his intent to subpoena Truthout's executive director Marc Ash, assistant editor Sari Gelzer, and contributing reporter Dahr Jamail to appear at Watada's trial in February.